Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Star Myths in the New Testament: from the Triumphal Entry through the Betrayal by Judas Iscariot

CAUTION: The above video examines powerful evidence indicating that the scriptures of the New Testament gospel accounts are based upon a system of celestial allegory rather than being accounts of literal terrestrial historical events. If you are not comfortable with this subject, please consider refraining from watching.

Here is a new video in which I am testing out the "dry-erase board" technique for presenting information in video form (still have a few glitches to iron out! thanks for your patience with those!).

The video explores the New Testament story of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem and the subsequent Betrayal by Judas Iscariot, both of which are found in all four canonical gospel accounts (albeit from very different perspectives, as we might expect if the four Evangelists represent celestial beings -- i.e. stars -- who are located at the four different corners of the year).

The examination of some of the specific symbols surrounding the Triumphal Entry and the Betrayal by Judas Iscariot indicate very clearly that, as with the sacred scriptures and myths of nearly every culture around the globe, the stories of the New Testament gospel accounts are built squarely upon a foundation of celestial allegory.

This celestial basis indicates that the New Testament stories are in fact closely related to the myths of ancient Egypt, as well as those of the ancient Greeks, the Norse, and the peoples of Native America, all of which can be shown to share the same system of celestial allegory.

For an index of over sixty previous posts explaining the celestial allegory at the heart of other stories in the Bible as well as in other sacred scripture and myth from around the world, see the previous post entitled "Star Myth Index."

This commonality proves that far from being separate and distinctly different from the rest of the world's ancient sacred traditions, the original purpose of the scriptures in the Old and New Testament was almost certainly the same.

In other words, this understanding of scripture actually unites rather than divides -- the very opposite of the way the scriptures are commonly understood and taught by the proponents of the literal-historical-terrestrial approach to their contents.

I have written at some length that, based upon extensive consideration of the evidence in these ancient wisdom traditions, the purpose of the esoteric myths was to convey an understanding that the  physical universe we inhabit is connected to, interpenetrated by, and even projected from an invisible realm -- the realm of spirit, figured in these stories by the realm of the sky and of the sun, moon, stars, and visible planets. Likewise, the same understanding applies to each and every man and woman (and creature, and even rock, tree, plant, and place) -- each has an invisible and spiritual component and connection to the invisible world and hence to everyone and everything else.

This celestial, esoteric, and allegorical understanding of the scriptures thus unites men and women with one another, with the rest of nature, with the entire universe, and with themselves -- while the literal and historical understanding tends to divide men and women against one another, against the rest of nature, against the entire universe, and ultimately even against and within themselves as individuals.

Thus, it is my conclusion that forcing a literal and historical reading upon these texts not only misses their true message but that this erroneous approach has actually been used to force the scriptures to teach something almost "180-degrees the opposite" of their original intended message.

As you will see in the above video, the episode of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, and then of the Betrayal by Judas Iscariot which leads inevitably downwards to the Agony in the Garden and to the sacrifice upon the Cross, are both replete with imagery that has to do with the zodiac wheel and the motion of the annual cycles of the year, as seen in the motions of the sun and of the background band of the zodiac stars.

However, the actual celestial motions are not (in and of themselves) the main message that we are supposed to receive from these sacred stories, according to my analysis of this subject for many years. I believe that these celestial motions were used as esoteric "teaching aids" to help us grasp something about ourselves -- about our human condition, about our connection to the universe and especially to its invisible spiritual source-bed, and about our soul's sojourn in these physical incarnate bodies, as well as our soul's constant connection with, and periodic return to, the realm of spirit and fire.

As Alvin Boyd Kuhn explains in an important quotation that has been discussed in previous posts (see here, here and here):
The Bible is the drama of our history here and now; and it is not apprehended in its full force and applicability until every reader discerns himself [or herself] to be the central figure in it! The Bible is about the mystery of human life. Instead of relating to the incidents of a remote epoch in temporal history, it deals with the reality of the living present in the life of every soul on earth.
The symbols of the Triumphal Entry and the Betrayal by Judas Iscariot relate to symbols and concepts explored in many, many previous posts. Some of those include the symbols of the Ankh and the Djed of ancient Egypt, as well as the "top of the year" and the Land Flowing with Milk and Honey (which is also the City whose streets are paved with gold).

And, because each individual man and woman reflects and embodies the entire infinite universe (a concept expressed in the saying "As above, so below" and in the terms macrocosm and microcosm), the top of the zodiac wheel accompanied by the symbols of the starry constellation of Cancer in the infinite heavens is also reflected in the "Upper Room" of every individual person: symbols that are connected in the Biblical passages.

From this we can understand that we do not have to go anywhere in order to connect to infinity: the depths of the universe are already right inside of us.

There are also strong connections here to the profound subjects discussed in the work of authors such as Peter Kingsley and his book In the Dark Places of Wisdom, as well as the worldview commonly described today as shamanic, which I believe is actually the understanding of the world and of the human condition which underlies virtually all of humanity's ancient wisdom and sacred traditions.

As such, although the symbols and concepts discussed in the above video may at first seem difficult to grasp or to follow, they are extremely vital, powerful, and liberating -- and thus worthy of careful contemplation and deep meditation.

One possible source of additional help regarding myths and symbols related to Cancer the Crab may be found in previous posts regarding that important zodiac constellation, such as this one, this one, and this one.

Those interested may also wish to go back and view the previous video which contains some discussion of Asellus Borealis and Asellus Australis in the constellation Cancer, entitled Star Myths: 1,000 times more precious . . .

1 And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples,
2 Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me.
3 And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. Luke21:1-3. 
4 And they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door without in a place where two ways met; and they loose him. Mark 11:4.

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

How long? Not long! Because no lie can live forever

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

March 25, 2015 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the culmination of the Selma civil rights marches, which finally arrived at the capitol of Alabama on March 25, 1965. 

Approximately twenty-five thousand marchers converged on the capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama and stayed there until they delivered their petition to the governor's representative.

There, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous speech referred to today by its rousing series of rhetorical questions during the finale: "How long? Not long!"

A written transcript of that speech can be read in its entirety here, and a portion of the actual speech given by Dr. King on that day fifty years ago can be heard and seen here.

And, on that same day fifty years ago, between 8:30 and 8:55 pm, Viola Liuzzo was murdered when the car in which she and Leroy Moton were traveling on highway 80 was fired upon by another vehicle.

Those not familiar with this terrible crime can (and should) seek to learn more -- a good start might be reading (or re-reading) the excellent examination of the sickening events of the murder and the events which led up to it and which followed afterwards, written by Mary Stanton, first published in 1998, entitled From Selma to Sorrow: The Life and Death of Viola Liuzzo.

Many questions remain regarding that tragic incident, around which many deliberate lies were fabricated for various reasons, all of them sinister.

It is clear that violence and deliberate deception are often used together in order to oppress people and to keep others from seeing the injustice that is being perpetrated.

It is clear that Martin Luther King was well aware of the central role which lies always play in the perpetration of such injustice and oppression -- and that he was aware that for those lies to lose their power, the truth must be made known.

In his speech How long? Not long! delivered on that day, fifty long years ago and yet not so long ago, he proclaims:
How long will it take? Somebody's asking: "How long will prejudice blind the visions of men?"
I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment -- however frustrating the hour: 
It will not be long.  Because truth crushed to earth will rise again.
How long? Not long!
Because no lie can live forever.
How long? Not long!
Because ye shall reap what ye sow.
How long? Not long! 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Fire and Water

Many previous posts have explored Alvin Boyd Kuhn's assertion that the central theme of the ancient scriptures and sacred stories of humanity is the message that we are beings of spirit, mysteriously infused into a body of matter -- "fire plunged down into water" -- and inhabiting a universe which itself appears to be material but is at every point intertwined with, and even projected from and constantly sustained by, an invisible realm of spirit.

Most recently we examined this vitally-important theme in a post honoring a famous personage born of the admixture of parents from the planet Vulcan (named for an ancient god of fire) and from the planet Earth (a planet famous for its great oceans of water), a personage who is perhaps best known for pronouncing words of blessing while holding up his hand in a gesture that recalls a specific symbol associated with divine fire.

The fact that specific symbols which we call "letters" or "glyphs," designed to preserve words and thoughts in written form (whether lined or brushed onto paper, or carved into stone or wood or metal) can themselves be designed to convey that central message regarding the nature of human existence and the nature of the dual physical-spiritual universe we inhabit is most remarkable, and most worthy of further consideration. Alvin Boyd Kuhn, in fact, explored that very aspect of the symbolic vessels of written language in an essay he gave entitled The Esoteric Structure of the Alphabet, which was published as a book and is still available in hardcopy version here (a facsimile of the original imprint), and online in its entirety here.

There, we find some of Kuhn's clearest statements of this theme, that "the vast body of ancient Scripture [by which he means the sacred wisdom found in all the world's sacred myths and teachings] discoursed on but one subject -- the descent of souls" (20), "the old basic story of divine fire plunging down into water" (30), "the immersion of fiery spiritual units of consciousness in their actual baptism in the water of physical bodies" (34), all for the purpose of undergoing experiences which would serve their "continued growth through the ranges and planes of expanding consciousness" (20).  

In addition, he argues that this essential message can be found "not only in the scripts of religion, however, but also in a wide variety of other modes of expression [. . .] -- in ancient art, in architecture, in myth-making, secret society ritual, dramatic scenario, music, mathematics, anthropological science, logic, rhetoric, philosophy, astronomy, astrology, semantics, psychology, festival ordinances, social ceremonies and throughout the warp and woof of life generally" (4).

Then he reflects on one other supremely important way in which the ancients conveyed this central theme of our dual spiritual and physical nature:
Now, perhaps the strangest of all the channels through which it was given expression, comes the momentous revelation that the sagacious genius of antiquity had even insinuated a form of its basic outline into the very structure of that ground-base of all literature, -- the alphabet. 4.
He then proceeds to unpack the ways that the actual form of the letters in the Hebrew, Greek, and especially the Latin alphabets (the latter being the one used, for example, on this blog to convey these thoughts) remind us that we are divine fire plunged down into physical bodies for the purpose of expanding consciousness.  

In this way, Kuhn argues, our own familiar letters, which we typically regard as nothing more than random shapes (when we even think about them at all) are actually pictures, depicting invisible ideas in symbolic form: symbolic metaphors, reminding us of spiritual reality in a world that often conspires to obscure it. 

"They are," he writes, "true ideograms" (5). 
Amazingly, there is an extremely ancient form of writing, still in use to this day by billions of people around the world and even (in slightly modified forms) across many different cultures and languages, which is well-known to be composed almost entirely of "true ideograms" -- the Chinese characters which remain one of the most widely-used systems of writing in the world today.

As most readers are already aware, in this system of writing and its close relatives, each complete character stands for a complete word or thought, rather than for a sound or "phoneme" the way the letters in alphabetical systems do (it is logographic rather than phonologic).

Amazingly enough, there is some evidence that the assertions Alvin Boyd Kuhn made about the alphabetical systems of writing may apply to the characters of Chinese, which after all are extremely ancient and were in use when the other systems he writes about were in use further to the west.

Most remarkable, perhaps, is the Chinese character for the word "fire" itself, shown at top, above. The symbol for "fire" consists of the symbol for "person," shown immediately below and clearly symbolic of the human form, with two added "sparks" on either side, in the form of small strokes that (like flames) are nearly vertical:



The connection of the symbol for "fire" with the symbol for a person would appear to be conveying very much the same message that Alvin Boyd Kuhn finds encoded in the very shapes and "ideograms" of the letters of the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin alphabets.

It is a message that reminds us that we ourselves, as well as every single person we meet, are like stars who have come down to this lower realm of earth and water for a time: even though we cannot see it, we are each in contact at all times with the divine infinite and are constantly connected to the infinite realm, even though we are prone to forget it. This is the message and the reminder conveyed by the expression Namaste, and it is the heart of the blessing accompanied by the hand-gesture of the Hebrew letter shin, associated both with fire and with the sound of fire plunging into water.

But what of this "plunging down into water" -- why would spirit be subjected to immersion in this physical world of incarnation, and what purpose could it serve?

It would seem to be a question in which we all can be said to have some interest or personal involvement, seeing that it is probably (probably) safe to assume that all of us who are looking at this page are presently in an incarnate form.

And as it turns out, Alvin Boyd Kuhn has ventured to explore that difficult question as well. In his 1940 book Lost Light, he argues that this is in fact the very question with which Paul wrestled in his famous seventh chapter of the epistle to the Romans. We come down from the invisible realm of spirit into the incarnate material body ("the body of death," as Paul says) because of something which he calls "the Law." This has been reinterpreted very differently by traditional (literal) Christianity, but Kuhn argues that it is the mandate which brings us into the body for our own spiritual growth and blessing, as well as for the ultimate blessing of others and of all the material creation.

Beginning on page 170, explaining his argument that Paul was indicating concepts which go far beyond those taught by literalist Christianity when using the words "Law" and "sin" and "death," Alvin Boyd Kuhn writes of Paul's seventh of Romans:
In this chapter Paul concatenates the steps of a dialectical process which has not been understood in its deep meaning for theology. It is concerned with the relation of the three things: the law, sin and death. He asks: "Is the Law equivalent to sin?" And he replies that sin developed in us "under the Law." What is this mysterious Law that the Apostle harps on with such frequency? Theology has not possessed the resources for a capable answer, beyond the mere statement that it is the power of the carnal nature in man. It is that, in part; but the profounder meaning could not be gained without the esoteric wisdom -- which had been discarded. This Law -- St. Paul's bete noir -- is that cosmic impulsion which draws all spiritual entities down from the heights into the coils of matter in incarnation. It is the ever-resolving Wheel of Birth and Death, the Cyclic Law, the Cycle of Necessity. As every cycle of embodiment runs through seven sub-cycles or stages, it is the seven-coiled serpent of Genesis that encircles man in its folds.
Now, says the Mystery initiate [he means by "the Mystery initiate" none other than Paul himself], by the Law came sin, and by sin came death. [. . .] Sin is just the soul's condition of immersion or entanglement in the nature of the flesh. And happily much of its gruesome and morbid taint by the theological mind can be dismissed as a mistaken and needless gesture of ignorant pietism. [. . .]
[. . .] Paul even says that at one time he lived without the law himself; this was before "the command" came to him. And what was this command? Again theology has missed rational sense because it has lost ancient cosmologies and anthropologies [that is to say, "ancient understanding of the nature of the universe, or cosmologies," and "ancient understanding of the nature of human existence in this universe, or anthropologies"]. The "command" was the Demiurgus' order to incarnate. It is found in the Timaeus of Plato and Proclus' work on Plato's theology. Then the Apostle states the entire case with such clarity that only purblind benightedness of mind could miss it: "When the command came home to me, sin sprang to life, and I died; . . ." He means to say that sin sprang to life as he died, i. e,. incarnated. And then he adds the crowning utterance on this matter to be found in all sacred literature: "the command that meant life proved death to me." He explains further: "The command gave an impulse to sin, sin beguiled me and used the command to kill me." And he proceeds to defend the entire procedure of nature and life against the unwarranted imputations of its being all an evil miscarriage of beneficence: "So the Law at any rate is holy, the command is holy, just and for our good. Then did what was meant for my good prove fatal to me? Never. It was sin; sin resulted in death for me to make use of this good thing." 170 - 173.
In order to understand the above explication, remember that by death, Kuhn avers, Paul is referring to incarnation in this body. When Paul speaks of the "command" that was given "to kill me," Paul means "the command -- the Law -- by which I incarnated in this body." That is to say, the Law which plunged him down into this human body, composed as it is of seven-eighths water: the Law that submerged his undying soul of fire within a material form.

And note that Paul expressly declares that this Law which impels us into incarnation is a good thing (a point he makes very strongly, and in a manner which shows that he anticipated that his listeners or readers would be wondering if such an impulsion might not be a very bad thing, rather than a blessing). But, as Kuhn explains in other parts of his book, and especially in a discussion on pages 573 and 574 regarding Paul's letter to the Corinthians, Paul explains that "What you sow never comes to life unless it dies" (i.e., "unless it incarnates") -- and that our incarnation in these physical bodies of death is exactly parallel in terms of being necessary for our growth: "What is sown is mortal, what rises is immortal; sown inglorious, it rises in glory; sown in weakness, it rises in power; sown in an animal body, it rises in a spiritual body" (574).

Note that we previously saw compelling arguments offered by Gerald Massey which suggest that Paul was not teaching the same thing that the literalists were teaching and that they would later claim he was teaching as well -- and that in fact he seems to have been teaching almost the exact opposite.

It is worth re-reading the above-quoted passage in light of this new understanding of the terminology, for the concepts Kuhn is exploring (and that the writer known as Paul may have been asserting, so many centuries ago) are of tremendous importance.

In fact, it is worth going to Lost Light itself and reading the entire chapters surrounding the cited passages above. However, since the scope of this particular discussion is actually about the fact that the very elements of writing contain this same message of spirit-fire submerged in incarnation as if in water,  let us examine one more Chinese ideogram which seems to beautifully express its meaning in its symbolic composition: the character for "Law" itself (shown below).


image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The Chinese character for "Law" is a composite, with a compressed or abbreviated version of the symbol for "water" on the left-hand side, and the symbol for "to go" on the right (the symbol for "water" is here rendered as only three small individual strokes, almost three "dots").


On even a non-esoteric level, the fact that the character for "Law" is composed of the characters for "water" and "go" is worthy of remark, for it seems to express the idea of the "law of nature," the law that causes water to seek the paths along which it "goes" or flows. To create laws out of harmony with such a concept would be to make laws that would attempt to go against "the flow of the universe" -- and thus the symbol seems to embody a message that law is part of nature and cannot really be altered by artificial constructs which people try to pass-off as "law" (a concept which was forcefully articulated by "natural law" proponent Lysander Spooner in the nineteenth century).

But, even beyond that message, this character for "Law" would appear to incorporate the teaching that Kuhn believes Paul (whom Kuhn calls "the Mystery initiate," the participant in the knowledge passed on from remote antiquity through the various Mysteries) was articulating: that it is the Law of the universe which sends us along our Way, into this body of incarnation -- the Law which plunges fire into water.

That which Paul calls "the Law" is none other than the "Way of Water," beautifully contained in the Chinese character for "Law" as well: Water-Go.

It is most remarkable to consider that our familiar alphabet is in fact composed of ideograms, and what's more of ideograms which express the same central truth that was conveyed by the myths and sacred texts of antiquity, and by the symbols of ancient architecture and the ancient understanding of the meaning and message of the stars.

It is even more remarkable to consider that the actual ideograms of the ancient Chinese characters appear in at least some significant cases to be expressing the same profound concepts.

It is a message which we are prone to forget, and that we must therefore remind ourselves, which may explain why it was incorporated into everyday greetings (such as Namaste) and into the sacred forms of writing.

Indeed, in many ways, writing itself is a metaphor, in that it is in a real sense invisible thought taking physical form -- and thus it pictures the truth of who we are and of what this entire physical universe is, at its heart: a projection or embodiment in physical form of beings and realities which actually exist or have their origins in the invisible world of spirit.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Isis and Nephthys: March Equinox 2015

foreground image: Book of the Dead, Papyrus of Ani, c. 1250 BC (modified), Wikimedia commons (link).
background image: Zodiac Wheel, Opus Medico-Chymicum, Johann Daniel Mylius, AD1618 (link).

As the earth speeds past the point of March equinox, days in the northern hemisphere begin to grow noticeably longer than nights, "crossing over" from the half of the year in which night rules over day, and ascending into the "upper half" of the year in which day, light, and warmth become more and more dominant.

The spinning earth will hurtle past the exact point of the equinox at 2245 UTC on 20 March this year, which corresponds to 1845 or 6:45 pm for observers in North America on the east coast, and 1545 or 3:45 pm for observers in North America on the west coast (and, if you are not in one of those two slices of the planet, you should be able to calculate the local time for your particular spot on the spinning globe based on the difference in longitude to your location from the line of UTC).

As previous posts have explained, the equinox marks the crossing of the plane of the ecliptic (the arc along which the sun appears to travel each day, due to the fact that we are standing on a spinning earth) and the celestial equator (that imaginary line in the sky that is 90 degrees down from the north celestial pole, or 90 degrees up from the south celestial pole, which are best visualized using the diagrams in this previous post, in which the celestial equator is the third and largest of the circles in each diagram), such that the sun's daily arc is north of the celestial equator during the day, which means it will be "above" it and closer to the apex-point of the sky for viewers in the northern hemisphere, and "below" it or closer to the horizon for viewers in the southern hemisphere.

Other significant actions will be taking place this year on the same day -- even as the "ship" of the earth passes "broadsides" to the sun (in the "earth-ship metaphor" in which the prow or bowsprit of the ship equates to the north pole, and the lantern in the stern of the ship equates to the south pole, as described in this previous post from winter solstice of 2011, the solstices being the two points at which either the bowsprit or the stern are pointing at the sun), the moon which is orbiting in circles around the earth is also passing directly between the earth and the sun itself, creating the monthly phenomenon of New Moon. The moon will pass that point of New Moon at 0938 UTC on 20 March.

Additionally, because the moon will simultaneously be crossing the ecliptic plane as it passes through the point of New Moon this month, it will create an eclipse of the sun which will be visible to many observers in northern portions of the eastern hemisphere

Because the moon does not orbit the earth on the plane of the ecliptic, but along a plane that is inclined to the plane of the ecliptic, it does not create an eclipse every time it passes between the earth and the sun. However, during its monthly orbit, its tilted orbital plane crosses once from "above to below," and once more from "below to above," the plane of the ecliptic. These lunar "crossing points" are referred to as the two "lunar nodes," also known as the "draconitic points." When the moon crosses through a lunar node at the point of New Moon, it blocks the sun for observers on some parts of our globe, and creates a solar eclipse (and when it passes a lunar node at the point of Full Moon, the earth blocks the sun and creates a lunar eclipse). These lunar nodes or draconitic points are discussed in this previous post, along with some diagrams and helpful links.

So, as the earth hurtles past one of the two annual "crossing points" that cause the ecliptic line to cross the celestial equator, the moon is also passing through one of the two monthly "crossing points" at which its path crosses the ecliptic, and it is doing so at the point of New Moon, to create a solar eclipse (the moon is "crossing down" on this particular New Moon).

Truly a stunning array of crossings! And one which cannot fail to produce feelings among us here on earth that these motions must somehow have significance in our own lives and persons.

In fact, the March equinox, when we leave the "lower half" of the year (for those in the northern hemisphere), was invested with profound significance in the ancient systems of sacred metaphor. 

It was encoded in myth and sacred scriptures and legends as the point of crossing up out of the land of bondage, or out of the underworld, such as in the Old Testament story of the escape from Egypt by means of the crossing of the Red Sea (see discussion in this previous post).

It was also seen as a place of sacrifice, as was the downward crossing point on the other side of the year, at the September equinox. 

As discussed in this previous post, the story of Abraham taking Isaac up the sacred mountain in order (he thinks) to sacrifice him contains numerous clues which show that it encodes the point of the year of the March equinox, when the sun and its ecliptic path are "climbing up" towards the summit of the year (for observers in the northern hemisphere). Because the upward crossing point at the March equinox took place each year when the sun was rising in the sign of Aries the Ram (during the precessional Age of Aries, discussed here and explained further in the video here), that story of sacrifice involving a trip up the mountain concludes with the substitutionary sacrifice of a Ram rather than of Isaac himself.

Similarly, the sacrifice of the Passover lambs took place immediately prior to the escape from enslavement in the land of Egypt (the "house of bondage," an esoteric and allegorical portrayal in myth of the lower half of the year), and the crossing of the Red Sea discussed earlier. The lamb is another indicator of the sign of Aries the Ram, the sign in which the sun would rise on the spring equinox during the Age of Aries. This is why the date of the Passover is tied to the March equinox, as is the Easter celebration of the sacrifice and subsequent rising of the Christ (described in Revelation 13:8 as "the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world"). 

These sacred writings are describing the annual crossing upwards, from death (the lower half of the year) to life. 

But it is very easy to make the mistake of concluding that this discovery means these ancient sacred stories are "only" about the natural phenomena of the annual cycle, the return of spring, the rebirth of flowers and growing things, etc. 

In other words, some who have noticed the undeniable connection between the scriptures and the motions of the heavens have concluded that this somehow diminishes their message, and makes it less about spiritual things and merely an ancient attempt to explain and perhaps to honor our amazing physical world.

This conclusion would be mistaken. 

It is in fact self-evident that the ancient scriptures and sacred traditions of humanity are concerned with  imparting profoundly spiritual truths, in addition to the fact that they demonstrate an incredibly sophisticated understanding of the glories of our universe and the motions of the earth in relation to the sun, moon, planets and stars, and the cycles of the seasons and the heavenly bodies and even the cycles of the subtle motion of precession.

The originators of the myths and sacred stories and ancient scriptures of the world do not go to the trouble of encoding all these motions in their stories about men and women, gods and goddesses, giants and demons and spirits, just because they were trying to explain where lightning came from or why eclipses occurred: they were using these cycles of heavenly bodies that we can see in order to impart knowledge of what we cannot see -- the invisible realm of spirit which lies within and behind everything in this physical universe, and which may actually be the true source from which the material universe is projected

And, by the very act of turning the motions of these heavenly bodies into stories involving men and women, they are showing that we are intimately connected to the entire universe, and that thus we ourselves have a physical and a spiritual nature, a dual nature just like the dual nature of the infinite universe which we ourselves embody and reflect and even contain. 

This dual nature -- of both the macrocosmic universe and the individual man or woman who contains and represents the universe as its microcosmic reflection -- is conveyed in the world's myths through the dual nature of the zodiac wheel (divided into the upper half and lower half, the land of spirit and the land of incarnation), the dual symbols of the equinoxes (one marking the crossing point down, into material incarnation and hence into the underworld of incarnation and death, and one marking the crossing point up, into the realm of spirit and spiritual life), and the dual nature of the moon (passing from New Moon to Full Moon, and crossing through the lunar nodes upwards and downwards just as the ecliptic crosses upwards and downwards during the solar cycle).

As has been discussed in countless previous posts, this dual nature of our incarnate existence is seen in the ancient symbols of the Cross and the Ankh, each with its horizontal beam (representative of being cast down into matter, and hence representative of our physical, animal nature while incarnate in these physical bodies) and its vertical pillar (representative of the spirit rising up, the invisible aspect of our nature which overcomes and transcends the physical body and which, unlike the body, does not experience physical death).  

It was also conveyed in the ancient myths involving the Djed column of ancient Egypt, which was cast down when Osiris entered the realm of death and was layed out horizontally, and which is then raised up to represent the same "vertical component" of spirit and triumph over death and incarnation.

The equinox points, then, represent the "crossing" points of the spirit, down into incarnation (depicted by the lower half of the year, and by the underworlds of myth, including the "house of bondage" of Egypt in the Old Testament, or of Tartarus and Hades and many others around the world) and up into greater spiritual awakening and transcendence (and ultimately into spiritual life beyond the body).

Alvin Boyd Kuhn has offered the tremendous insight that, in order to convey this important understanding of our dual physical-spiritual nature, these two crossing points were sometimes depicted in mythology around the world as the two mothers of the god, sometimes seen as two goddesses stationed at those two important crossing points of the year, the fall and spring equinoxes. There, they would give birth to the hero, or the god, one being a birth down into physical incarnation, and the other being a second birth or spiritual birth, upwards into greater consciousness and spiritual life.

He notes that these two goddesses, or two mothers, are depicted on either side of the Ankh cross of ancient Egypt in some important representations -- such as the Ankh with upraised arms shown above, from the Papyrus of Ani, in which the goddesses Isis and Nephthys are shown on either side of the Ankh itself, in the positions corresponding to the two equinoxes (the upraised arms represent summer solstice and the constellation of Cancer the Crab at the top of the year during the Age of Aries, as discussed in previous posts such as this one).

Elaborating on the importance of these two goddesses and the two births, Alvin Boyd Kuhn writes in Lost Light (1940):
Man is, then, a natural man and a god, in combination. Our natural body gives the soul of man its baptism by water; our nascent spiritual body is to give us the later baptism by fire! We are born first as the natural man; then as the spiritual. Or we are born first by water and then by fire. Of vital significance at this point are two statements by St. Paul: "That was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural"; and, "First that which is natural, then that which is spiritual." Again he says: "For the natural man comprehendeth not the things of the spirit of God, neither can he." [. . .]
Using astrological bases for portraying cosmic truths, the ancients localized the birth of the natural man in the zodiacal house of Virgo and that of the spiritual man in the opposite house of Pisces. These then were the houses of the two mothers of life. The first was the Virgin Mother (Virgo), the primeval symbol of the Virgin Mary thousands of years BC. Virgo gave man his natural birth by water and became known as the Water-Mother; Pisces (the Fishes by name) gave him his birth by the Fish and was denominated the Fish-Mother. The virgin mothers are all identified with water as symbol and their various names, such as Meri, Mary, Venus (born of the sea-foam), Tiamat, Typhon and Thallath (Greek for "sea") are designations for water. On the other side there are the Fish Avatars of Vishnu, such as the Babylonian Ioannes, or Dagon, and the Assyrian goddess Atergatis was called "the Fish-Mother." Virgo stood as the mother of birth by water, or the birth of man the first, of the earth, earthy; Pisces stood as the mother of birth by spirit or fire, or the birth of man the second, described by St. Paul as "the Lord from heaven." Virgo was the water-mother of the natural man, Pisces the fish-mother of the spiritual man.
[. . .]
The ancient books always grouped the two mothers in pairs. They were called "the two mothers" or sometimes the "two divine sisters." Or they were the wife and sister of the God, under the names of Juno, Venus, Isis, Ishtar, Cybele or Mylitta. In old Egypt they were first Apt and Neith; and later Isis and Nephthys. Massey relates Neith to "net," i.e., fish-net! Clues to their functions were picked up in the great Book of the Dead: "Isis conceived him; Nephthys gave him birth." Or: "Isis bore him; Nephthys suckled him," or reared him. 6 - 8.
Just to make the positioning of the two goddesses or two mothers discussed in this passage by Kuhn more visually clear to the reader, note in the diagram below that the positions of Virgo and Pisces are each directly before the crossing points of the year, and are outlined on the zodiac wheel in blue (for the birth by water, into physical incarnation) and red (for the birth by fire, into spiritual life) on the modified picture here:

One of the passages of the Book of the Dead that Kuhn quotes above is, interestingly enough, section 134, which can be found on page 39 of this online pdf version of the old translation by Budge (1895). That section is known as the Hymn to Ra on the Day of the Month (the Day of the New Moon) When the Boat of Ra Saileth

The title of that Hymn to Ra seems most appropriate for this particular day of the year, which is the Day of the New Moon as well as the Day of the Equinox, and of the equinox in which the sun in the Solar Bark is leaping upwards, across the horizontal line of the equinoxes, into the upper half of the year, out of the lower house of bondage and into the heavens!

In that hymn (as translated by Budge) we read:
The heart of the Osiris Ani, whose word is truth, shall live. His mother Isis giveth birth to him, and Nephthys nurses him, just as Isis gave birth to Horus, and Nephthys nursed him.
This is very significant, as Ani was a human priest of ancient Egypt, and yet he is here identified explicitly (by name) with "the Osiris" and he is told that he too shall have two births, by two goddess mothers, one of whom gave birth to him and one of whom nurtured him towards his spiritual birth.

In other words, this description is not a myth: it is teaching a truth that applies to actual human beings in this incarnate existence -- it teaches us of our dual physical-spiritual nature (in a universe which itself has a dual physical-spiritual nature), and that we are to be aware of and growing in awareness of our spiritual life even as we inhabit a physical body in a world that tries to tell us that the physical is all that matters.

Note also that just because Kuhn uses the masculine pronoun, and just because the ancient symbology uses two mothers for a male god (such as Osiris and Horus in ancient Egypt), does not mean that this truth is not meant to apply equally to every man or woman who has ever lived. Elsewhere we cited the extremely memorable and helpful quotation from Alvin Boyd Kuhn in a different work, in which he said that "the actors [in the sacred myths of humanity] are not old kings, priests and warriors; the one actor in every portrayal, in every scene, is the human soul."

And so, as we ponder this important day of equinox (and of New Moon!), we realize that it can point us towards deep spiritual truths concerning our own human condition. It can remind us of the invisible spirit-world around us, and within us -- and as we become more and more aware of the truth of this dual nature, it may cause us to be resolved to live a life that is more and more about blessing (lifting up the spirit of others and of creation, and our own as well), and not cursing (casting down the spirit, degrading, or brutalizing). This is what the ancients intended, when they encoded these awesome and majestic celestial motions into the actions of the sacred stories and scriptures of the human race.

And, as we participate in celebrations (such as Easter, or Passover, or Equinox observances, or others) which tie the motions of the heavens to our own motions and actions here on the ground, we declare the truth "as above, so below" -- that we ourselves contain an invisible and infinite spiritual side, the very truth that the heavens proclaim.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Profound Lessons of the Lantern Festival

image: detail from Ming Dynasty painting, late 15th century, Wikimedia commons (link). 

While on the subject of important festivals and holidays taking place this month, let's briefly discuss some of the significance of the traditional Chinese celebration of the Lantern Festival, which takes place each year on the night of the fifteenth day after the date of the lunar New Year.

Because the traditional lunar New Year takes place on the first New Moon after winter solstice, a festival timed to take place fifteen days after a New Moon is a festival which will always correspond to the Full Moon (for a discussion of the lunar New Year and moon cycles, see here, for example).

Thus we can immediately perceive that a celebration in which participants (and especially children) carry around lanterns through the streets and pathways and gardens underneath the first Full Moon of the year is declaring, establishing, and reinforcing a connection between the events taking place in the heavenly sphere and the events taking place here on earth, and between the motions of the heavenly bodies and our lives in these physical bodies: a proclamation of "as above, so below."

The image above, most likely painted in the year 1485, is a detail of a long series of painted panels showing the Ming Emperor Xianzong enjoying the Lantern Festival. To enjoy the entire painting, follow this link and then click on the image itself in order to enlarge it (until you do so, it will appear as a very thin strip across the top of the page, with its detail barely visible). Once you click on it, the entire series of episodes in the painting will be too wide to fit on most screens, so you can scroll left and right to view the entire painting, taking time to appreciate all the details included by the original artist, so many centuries ago.

In the image above, children can be seen carrying their lanterns suspended from long red poles. Some of the lanterns are in the shapes of animals or people, while others are more traditional globes with tassels. Vendors can be seen providing the lanterns to the children, from portable tables or booths, each with their own colorful canopies.

The progress of the moon, from New Moon to Full Moon, celebrated in the lunar New Year and the Lantern Festival, was understood by the ancient cultures around the world as conveying deep truths about our condition in this human life. Along with the motions of the sun, the planets, and the glorious backdrop of stars in the celestial sphere, the moon's monthly progress was understood as depicting for us the dual spiritual-physical nature of this universe we inhabit, and the dual spiritual-physical nature of our own human condition in this incarnate life.

In a short lecture on some of the spiritual truths that the ancients saw depicted in the motions of sun and moon, entitled Spiritual Symbolism of the Sun and Moon, Alvin Boyd Kuhn (1880 - 1963) said of the moon:
It is a reflector of the sun's light, and this reflection is made at night, when the sun is out of sight of man! The moon is our sun-by-night, and it is well to delve more deeply into the implications of this datum. The moon conveys to us the sun's light in our darkness. What does this mean on the wider scale of values? It means this: as the night typifies our time of incarnation, the diminished solar light reflected on the lunar surface is an index of the fact that by no means the full power and radiance of the sun (our divine light or spirit) can fall upon us or shine for us while in the life in body. As the moon stands for the body, the reflected light of the sun upon it and from it to us betokens that we can have access only to as much of the spiritual glory as our bodies can give passage to, or give expression to, or become susceptible to. In incarnation we are in spiritual darkness, or have access only to that spiritual force and radiance that can get down to us through the intervening medium of the physical mechanism. [. . .] When in incarnation, we are deprived of the full glow of our inner light. Our god is then as the hidden sun, and we must get its rays through a reflecting-medium, the body. [. . .] It thus also symbolizes the human body, which is surely not the light of spirit, yet in its structure and in its outward countenance, it reflects and bears witness to the divine spirit that animates it, the god hidden within. A man's spirit shines out on his face as the sun shines on the moon! 7 - 8.
Note that, as with other authors from previous generations, Kuhn is accustomed to using the term "man" to refer to "humanity," but that he is quite explicit, both in this lecture and in his other work, to indicate that he is referring to both men and women equally when discussing these great spiritual truths.

It is also important to note that Kuhn is not in any way indicating that he believes the moon's importance is somehow "lesser" as a heavenly teacher than the importance of the sun or any other heavenly light: he is simply saying that by nature of the moon's unique properties, the ancients saw it as perfect for conveying certain truths about our human condition that related to the fact that in these bodies we inhabit, our divine invisible spirit nature is hidden, and not seen directly or in full force. The contrast between the moon and the sun was seen as perfect for conveying that message.

Later in the same portion of his lecture, Kuhn goes on to explain that the moon was in no way inferior as a symbol of our human condition and as a teacher of our purpose in this life of remembering the spiritual that is within and behind everything physical that we see, in other beings and in ourselves, and calling forth the spirit, raising it up, and in doing so blessing them and creation:
But the most sublime element in the spiritual symbolism we are trying to depict comes next in the development of our theme. This is the eternal meaning connected with the sun's light on the moon that we are desirous of impressing in unforgettable vividness upon the imagination. This is the great fact which we would have you call to mind whenever you gaze upon the silvery orb from night to night. As the young crescent fills with light and rounds out its luminous circle, it is writing our spiritual history! It is preaching to us uncomprehending mortals the gospel truth about our own divination. The growing expanse of light on the moon, we repeat, is the sign, symbol and seal of our own transfiguration into godhood! The spark of divinity implanted in our organisms must, to use one Biblical figure, gradually leaven the whole lump; to use another, must illuminate the whole bodily house. [. . .] As we gaze upon the lunar crescent and see it go on toward the full, the vision should fortify us with the profoundest and sublimest truth about this mortal existence of ours, viz.: that we are in process of filling our very bodies with the mantling glow of an interior hidden light, which will steadily transform our whole nature with the beauty of its gleaming. 9.
The existence of Lantern Festivals such as that celebrated in China and other nearby countries and cultures on the fifteenth night after the lunar New Year "brings down" the message of the heavens to us here below, so that we can be reminded of our true condition as beings dwelling indeed in physical bodies, but possessed of an invisible, interior, submerged and hidden divine spark. The fact that children are the ones given the lanterns to carry about seems to emphasize this message -- their carrying about their "little moons" serves as a way of teaching it to them (through symbolism) and of reminding those of all ages who see this drama enacted each year of this message which the world always seems to be conspiring to make us forget.

Lest any skeptical readers doubt that the celestial connotations of this festival have long been part of the culture that observes this annual festival of lanterns, they should consider this beautiful poem by Xin Qiji 辛棄疾 (AD 1140 - AD 1207) which evokes the Lantern Festival and is "set to the Tune of the Jade Table" -- a very well-known poem in China:



Personally, I am not currently capable of reading and translating all of that, but it is included for those who can, as translations inevitably must sacrifice some aspect of the poetry (here's the source). The translation found here, from An Introduction to Chinese Literature by Liu Wu-chi (page 122), reads as follows:
At night the east wind blows open the blooms on a thousand trees,
And it blows down the stars that shower like rain.
Noble steeds and carved carriages -- the sweet flower scent covers the road;
The sound of the phoenix flute wafts gently;
The light of the jade vase revolves;
All night the fish and dragons dance.
Decked in moths, snowy willows, and yellow-gold threads,
She laughs and talks, then disappears like a hidden fragrance.
Among the crowds I have sought her a thousand times;
Suddenly as I turn my head around,
There she is, where the lantern light dimly flickers.
The possibility that the opening two lines of verse (which are rendered rather nicely in this translation as "One night's east wind adorns a thousand trees with flowers / and blows down stars in showers") refers to not only the lanterns of the festival but also the people themselves, who are themselves stars  "blown down in showers" to earth and incarnation by the night's east wind (that is, a wind which originates in the east, but proceeds towards the west and thus towards the place of incarnation, where stars plunge beneath the western horizon, out of the heavens and into the realm of earth and water), would seem to be very defendable.

In other words, the poem evokes the Lantern Festival, and the poignant search for the woman the speaker has seen talking and laughing, but who disappears among the crowds . . . but it also evokes our condition in this incarnate life, in which we are like stars blown down from another world, searching for something of great beauty which we have glimpsed but lost among the jostling crowds of this physical world, but which we suddenly encounter again when we are least expecting it (perhaps when we are not even trying: in the peace of utter stillness).

Further support for the assertion that this poem is working on such multiple levels (even as the Lantern Festival itself is working on these multiple levels) can be found in the imagery of the "fish and dragons" in the final line of the first stanza, referring to the lanterns in the shapes of fish and dragons, carried by the revelers through the streets, but also evoking the tradition in China that carp can eventually transform into dragons. Both creatures, of course, have long barbels at their mouths, which suggests that dragons may once have been carp, or that carp may one day become dragons: but carp are creatures of water and hence represent our lower, human condition in these human bodies, seven-eighths of which are water, while dragons are creatures of air and fire, and represent the unbound power of the spirit-nature, which we all contain.

The poet's choice of creatures, fish and dragons, in the lanterns described as dancing through the night at the festival thus carries the idea of our dual nature, just as the lanterns themselves with their glowing inner candle shining within the delicate outer paper wrapper also depict an aspect of our condition in this incarnate passage through night, when we carry an inner divine spark dimly glowing through our fragile "reflecting-medium" of the body (as Alvin Boyd Kuhn describes it in the passages cited above).

The fact that this poem is "To the tune of the Jade Table" might also be a hint, in that the "Jade Table" may poetically refer not just to a specific tune about a piece of furniture but to this green table of the earth upon which we have been blown by the east wind to blossom like spring flowers on the trees, or upon which we fall as a rainstorm, even though we are (spiritually speaking) stars who come to earth from the realm of spirit.

And then there is this legend associated with the origin of the Lantern Festival itself, which says that in ancient times, a beautiful bird beloved of the heavenly Jade Emperor flew down to earth, and the people in their ignorance chased the bird and killed it. Engraged, the Jade Emperor vowed to destroy the people by raining fire down upon them, and what is more to do it upon the night of the fifteenth lunar day of the year.

The Jade Emperor's beautiful daughter heard of this terrible plan, and sent warning to the villagers of earth. One of the people, an old man who was very wise, came up with an idea to avert the storm of fire. He instructed all the people to hang lanterns on that night, so that the Jade Emperor and his heavenly army would look down and see what looked like a river of fire already blanketing the towns and villages. The old man also instructed them to set off firecrackers all night, so that the heavenly army would think that all the people were already perishing. In this way, they would no longer feel the need to rain fire down upon the villagers.

And so, the lanterns and fireworks averted the vengeance of the Jade Emperor for the loss of his favorite bird of heaven, and the event is still observed all these thousands of years later on the same night (and perhaps to ensure that the Jade Emperor continues to hold off the rain of fire -- who knows).

The story can also be found in this and other children's books describing the origin and meaning of the Lantern Festival.

Now, this story is a clear giveaway that the Lantern Festival has celestial origins and foundations, because a descending heavenly bird and fire from heaven should by now ring bells for readers who have followed some of the more than fifty "Star Myth" explanations detailed in previous posts, showing the celestial foundations of myths, scriptures, and sacred traditions from around the world.

Below is an image of the portion of the sky which I believe contains the constellations that form the foundations of this myth regarding the origin of the Lantern Festival. The heavenly view will first be presented without my explanatory markings, as it appears in the excellent open-source planetarium app from stellarium.org:

Note the smoky column of the Milky Way galaxy, rising up from a point just to the left of the large red "S" that indicates the center of the southern horizon (this screen view simulates an observer in the northern hemisphere, looking towards the south). You may be able to see the curving tail of the sinuous Scorpion constellation just above the horizon, pointing right into the Milky Way.

I believe the Milky Way represents the threatened "rain of fire" from heaven, but also the celestial counterpart to the Lantern Festival that is taking place down on earth. When the Jade Emperor and his heavenly captains see the glowing river of lights from the lanterns of the people, they stay their hand and do not release the storm of fire. The Milky Way represents the lanterns of the people, which the Emperor and his commanders see, causing them to avert the threatened vengeance.

Below is the same screen-shot, but this time I have drawn in and labeled the other constellations I believe play the roles of the Bird of Heaven, the Jade Emperor himself, and his kind and lovely daughter, who warns the people:

The Bird of Heaven who flies too close to earth and is pursued and killed by the people is probably the great Eagle, Aquila. The Eagle and the Swan face one another in the Milky Way galaxy itself, and they figure prominently in many myths around the globe. For more on Eagle and Swan, and how to find them, you can check out this index of stars and constellations that have been featured in previous posts, and look for Aquila and Cygnus. It also has an outstanding image of the Milky Way as it looks rising up from the horizon to an observer out in the desert, away from city lights.

The Jade Emperor is most likely the constellation Bootes, the Herdsman. The reason I believe he is played by Bootes is the fact that Bootes is seated, as if on a throne, and the Jade Emperor is usually presented (not surprisingly) the same way (see below). In some images of the Jade Emperor, one leg is even tucked-in at a sort of "semi-cross-legged" angle, which may be reflective of the short, bent leg of this constellation.

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Even more importantly, Bootes is a northern constellation, and one who is very close to the pivot of the heavens, the central point around which all of the celestial attendants must turn: the north celestial pole. His "pipe" reaches nearly to the handle of the Big Dipper, and the Dipper of course points to the current Pole Star, Polaris. This fact would make Bootes a strong contender for the Jade Emperor, who holds court at the very center of the heavenly dome.

Another good reason to believe that the Jade Emperor is played by the celestial giant Bootes is the fact that Bootes is very close to Virgo and appears as her father (or grandfather) in many, many Star Myths around the world (see for example this one).

We obviously have a "daughter" appearing in this story: the daughter of the Jade Emperor, who takes pity on the people of earth and warns them of her father's terrible plan. The daughter is almost certainly played by Virgo in this Star Myth about the origins of the Lantern Festival.

Connections like this in the foundational myth of the Lantern Festival indicate that its celestial significance was well understood by at least some segment of the culture down through the millennia that this annual celebration has been going on.

And so, the festival of lanterns enacted each year at the Full Moon of the first month after the lunar New Year serves an important purpose: it connects heaven and earth, and reminds us that, though we move about on this terrestrial surface (this "Jade Table") in these human bodies, we are also truly spiritual beings, from another realm not mingled with earth or water -- the realm of invisible spirit, the realm of the gods.

The lanterns and the firecrackers themselves serve to remind us and re-awaken us to that fact -- and they seem in fact to be symbols most excellently selected to do so. Below is another segment from the Ming Dynasty painting shown earlier -- in this portion, several people are setting off fireworks, and the Emperor himself can be seen enjoying the festivities from a porch above, under a yellow awning or silken tent.

image: detail from Ming Dynasty painting, late 15th century, Wikimedia commons (link). 

And so, let us conclude with a final quotation from the lecture by Alvin Boyd Kuhn mentioned above, in which the spiritual significance of the moon in its phases, and the message the ancients believed that this glorious and nearest of heavenly bodies conveys to us, progressing as it does each month not only from New Moon to Full Moon and back again, but also from the western horizon (where the New Moon is first seen, trailing the sun which has "lapped it" again at each New Moon and then proceeds to get further and further "ahead" of the moon in its course across the sky) to the eastern horizon. He says of the moon:
As just seen, the new moon is conceived in the west, the region of all beginning or entry upon incarnate life, the place of descent into the underworld. It has its birth and begins its career of growth in the west, moving night by night further toward the east. Man, the soul, enters his journey toward divinity in the west, and life by life moves further toward the east, the place of fulfillment and glorious resurrection. What more fitting, then, that the rising of the moon in its full glory, when it typifies the completed and perfected human-divine, the man become god, should take place in the east, the gate of the resurrection! The young new moon appears and mounts in the west; the full moon in the east! 13 - 14.
With this added insight from Alvin Boyd Kuhn, we can now see that the "Lantern Festival Night" poem by Xin Qiji incorporates both the motion of the incarnation or the "descent into the material realm" (with its reference to the wind that moves towards the west, and which sends stars to fall down to earth like rain, or causes flowers to bloom on the trees, representative of our incarnation in these fragile physical forms which are akin to flowers or to paper lanterns) and the motion of the movement back towards the east -- the motion of greater spiritual awareness and awakening -- in the evocation of the motion of the moon from New Moon to the Full Moon, a motion during which the moon's position at the same time each night will be seen to be further and further east in the sky.

The moon is currently voyaging back towards the point of New Moon, having passed through the night of Full Moon and the night of the Lantern Festival, but it is still the "first moon" of the lunar year, and we can get up early in the morning and see it in the sky before dawn (rising less and less distance ahead of the sun each day), and think about the spiritual truths that the moon conveys to us.

In fact, we can do so throughout the year, and as we do so give thanks for the moon's constant reminder that we and the universe are composed of a physical aspect but that within each of us there is a spiritual component which we should be bringing forth in every way that we can.
One night's east wind adorns a thousand trees with flowers
And blows down stars in showers
Fine steeds and carved cabs spread fragrance en route
Music vibrates from the flute
The moon sheds its full light
While fish and dragon lanterns dance all night
In gold-thread dress, with moth or willow ornaments
Giggling, she melts into the throng with trails of scents
But in the crowd once and again
I look for her in vain
When all at once I turn my head
I find her there where lantern light is dimly shed

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Happy Pi Day! 03 14 15

Your humble author, working on pi-cutting skills: West Point, 1987.

Since it is the fourteenth day of the third month (which can be abbreviated 3.14), this day is often playfully referred to as "pi day," in recognition of the fact that the transcendental number pi (which goes on forever and has no discernible pattern to its endlessly-unfolding decimal sequence) begins with 3.14 . . .

And, because this is the year designated AD 2015 (which means that this day in this year can thus be abbreviated 3.14.15), this particular "pi day" is the only one since 1915 that has reflected the "first four digits of pi" after the decimal place (the first 9 digits of pi after the decimal place are 3.141592653 . . .

Mathematically, of course, pi relates the diameter of a circle to its circumference: the circumference of a circle can be expressed as πd, where "d" is the diameter of the circle.

Because of pi's intimate relationship with the shape of the circle -- a shape with great symbolic significance, representative of the heavens above and hence of the world of spirit -- pi has long been treated with reverential honor and respect.

At the ancient monastic academy of West Point, for example, the act of cutting any pie or cake was once treated as a ritual of tremendous importance, as can be witnessed in the photograph above (which was not staged), in which a circular dessert pie is being inscribed with a knife-line across its diameter, while gentle coaching and advice is offered in order to ensure that the ceremony is done precisely in accordance with tradition.

This level of attention to detail is appropriate, because the act of placing a dividing line across the circular space of the pie is symbolically akin to coming into contact with the infinite.

Mathemagician Marty Leeds, who is very attuned to the symbolic significance of number, and especially of the transcendental number pi, explores the profound spiritual significance of pi in his book The Peacock Tales, reflecting:
I was spellbound by pi's infinite digits, its powerful trinity and its mysterious transcendence. [. . .]
[The] cosmic birth was the act of a great try-unity, first manifesting itself within itself and then releasing that potential by dividing itself; and pi is the ratio and geometric symbol given to us to help us remember and understand this story. God manifesting itself in the beginning of time as the sphere of creation is recognized in the circumference of pi, the division of itself recognized in pi's diameter, and the expansion of our universe recognized in pi's ever-unfolding, infinite digits.
In short, the mathematical constant of pi is a representation of the creation of our expanding universe.
15 - 17. [Italics and boldface type in the original].
Later in the same book, Marty dives deeper and deeper into the profound meaning of pi:
In the study of sacred geometry, the circle represented Heaven and the square represented Earth. This motif is seen within the Freemasonic Square and Compasses (the compass being Heaven and the square being Earth), within the ancient Chinese cosmographic concept known as Gai Tian (the square earth is a chariot, the round heaven its canopy) as well as utilized by the Buddhists in the building of the sacred, mound-like or semi-hemispherical structure known as the Buddhist Stupa. It is important to note for our study that the place where God resides, Heaven, is geometrically symbolized by the circle. If one takes a length of string and makes it a triangle, a square, a rectangle, or any other sort of a polygon, the amount of space that string creates will always be smaller than if one makes it a circle. The circle encapsulates the most amount of space with the least amount of effort. Bringing the circle out into three dimensions to make it a sphere will encapsulate the most volume. This geometric fact is one of high symbolic value. The circle is expressing something about the nature of its own being. It is speaking to you. It is representing, within its own essence and qualities, the limit or sphere or creation. [. . .]
The circle also leads us to the first number in existence, zero. If we were to attribute zero to a geometric form, the most obvious form we could equate it to would be the circle. The number (or non-number) zero expresses the concept of nothing. [. . .] The circle, by encapsulating the most space, yet simultaneously being a representation of the zero, or NO THING, condenses all time and all space into one geometric form. Put simply, the circle represents the concept of all or nothing. As far out into the abyss we wish to go, and as close to nothingness as we may conceive, the circle represents both. 125 - 127.
Pi connects the finite to the infinite, in that it relates a finite linear diameter (or radius, which is half the diameter and which is the distance between the points of a compass used to sweep out a circle, the compass thus being symbolic of the circle which it creates when it is used) to the shape that represents the infinite and the ineffable.

The architects of the Great Pyramid incorporated pi into the very structure of that massive monument, which has a perimeter around the base that is 2π times the height of the pyramid.

Similarly, the monument we know today as the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan in modern-day Mexico has a base perimeter which is 4π times the height of the pyramid.

These structures can thus be understood to symbolically unite heaven (the circle) with the earth (the square) and to act as symbolic link between the finite and the infinite, between the material realm and the realm of spirit.

In the second passage above from The Peacock Tales, Marty Leeds also mentions the Square and Compasses of Freemasonry, which can be seen to point to the same connection between heaven and earth, material and spiritual, finite and infinite. The right-angle square tool clearly evokes the square, while the compass device evokes the circle: Heaven and Earth.

Interestingly enough, there is an important part of the heavenly sphere which contains two constellations that can be seen as evoking the very same profound concept of connection between heaven and earth, the infinite and the finite. These two constellations are the Great Square of Pegasus and the constellation known as the Triangulum, or Triangle, which is located close by. 

The Great Square, of course, evokes the square which represents bounded, limited, physical space: the earth (which goes around the sun in an annual circuit that is bounded by the "four pillars" or the "four corners" denoted by the two solstices and the two equinoxes). 

The Triangle evokes the instrument of the compass which is used to sweep out a circle. Hence, the two constellations, providentially located in the sky so close together, evoke the connection between Heaven and Earth, spiritual and material, infinite and finite.

The Triangle is actually also located very near to the critically-important constellation of Aries the Ram, whose brightest stars are also three in number (and which in fact are not quite so bright as those of the Triangle, making the Triangle a very useful tool for locating Aries, as discussed in this previous post).

Below is a screen-shot of the sky showing the position of the Great Square (outlined in green) and the Triangulum (outlined in red), both of which are outlined along with Aries (also outlined in red, only the brightest three stars being connected in this illustration).

As you can see from the above diagram, which I created using the outstanding open-source planetarium app Stellarium (available at stellarium.org), on this particularly significant "pi day," the earth is located on the opposite side of the sun from the portion of infinite space containing the stars which make up the constellations of the Great Square and of the Triangulum. 

This means that in order to "look towards" the Square and the Triangulum on this 3/14/15 day, one must look towards the sun itself. You won't be able to see these constellations in the night sky on this day, because when we are on the "night side" of the earth (the side turned away from the sun) we will be facing an entirely different sector of the heavens.

This seems somehow appropriate and even significant, since the calendar day itself that we designate as 3/14/15 is a date on the solar calendar (and the year AD 2015 itself is a year which commemorates the year of the Lord, the Christ, who can be shown to have strong connections to our sun, the enabler of all life on earth and the single most-essential intermediary through which or through whom we relate to the heavens beyond).

Ultimately, one of the most important messages of this mysterious and transcendental number pi is what it tells us about ourselves: that we ourselves, like pi, at once touch both the finite and the infinite, occupy the interstices of Heaven and Earth, matter and spirit. 

Pi day can help remind us of this truth -- a truth which the exigencies of the physical world often work to obscure. 

It is a perfect day to pause and meditate further on these truths.

And, once we become aware of it, pi can continue to remind us of these concepts more than just once a year -- whenever we encounter a circle in the form of a sacred drum, for example, or consider the infinite vastness of the night sky that opens up within the circle of the horizon.

Happy Pi Day!

For those interested in previous posts which touch on the concept of pi, see also:

Also, in light of the photo above, it is interesting to note that the Chinese character for "knife" is: