Solstice Greetings!

Linoprint Phoenix

Linoprint Phoenix

Here is my Winter Solstice picture for this year, the Phoenix or Firebird. It is a linoprint again, like the previous two years, but with a watercolour background.

I realise that the Phoenix is not a conventional choice for the Winter Solstice, but when the idea came to me a couple of months ago, it seemed to fit the idea of the sun being reborn and the light returning. However, before I went ahead with planning my design I thought it might be a good idea to try and make contact with one in meditation and make sure it was happy to be featured, and see if it had any additional messages for me. The experience I had and answers I got were somewhat unexpected in light of what I thought I ‘knew’ about Phoenixes from popular culture. Here are the notes I made at the time:

Met with Dragon [who else for a mythical animal?] to ask if I could talk to a Phoenix. Wanted to check it was okay to send an image on Yule card, and if it had any messages for me. Very reluctant at first – said I wasn’t a fire person and should not be trying to work with it. Did agree to talk to me, although I found it very proud and touchy!

“It is a comet, or a shooting star, or a fireball like when a planet burns up.”
“Like a salamander?”
“No, they are mere striplings on Earth. Phoenix sphere is the cosmos, they are much greater. They cause huge destruction in their fires, which are absolutely necessary for rebirth.”

It was happy to be better known, however, and better understood, as its role is a vitally important one. Exactly right for Yule and rebirth. Also acts as a warning of change coming, and that is a good thing this year, even if only a few people heed the warning. Advised not to call upon the Phoenix, however, unless want a completely fresh start and are prepared to have everything go up in flames.

“Fire colours for picture please – not rainbow as a few people have done. Preferably hissing and spitting sparks as well.”

More recently I have tried to research the Phoenix mythology that exists from around the world. Here is a brief summary:

In Greece the Phoenix is said to come from Arabia, larger than an eagle with brilliant scarlet and gold feathers and a beautiful voice. It was said that only one phoenix existed at any one time, with a life span of 500 years or more. As the end of its life approached, the phoenix would build a nest of aromatic branches and spices such as cinnamon and myrrh, set it on fire, and be consumed in the flames. After three days, a new Phoenix arises from the pile of ashes, young and powerful – or alternatively like a worm at first. It then embalms the ashes of its predecessor in an egg of myrrh, and flies with it to the city of the Sun, Heliopolis, where it deposits the egg on the altar of the Sun God.

In Persia the Huma bird looks similar to a golden griffin and it spends its entire life flying invisibly high above the earth. In some versions it is said to have no legs, for it never lands. It embodies both male and female natures, each having one wing and one leg where it has legs. It is also said to consume itself in fire every few hundred years. It cannot be caught alive, and a person killing a Huma will die in forty days – but to see its shadow or even a glimpse of one is sure to bring happiness for a lifetime.

In China the phoenix or Feng Huang was thought to be a gentle creature, alighting so gently that it crushed nothing, and it ate only dewdrops. It was originally a pair of birds, male and female, but later was considered female, while the dragon was its male partner. It is said to be made of celestial bodies: sky, sun, moon, earth, wind, planets, and to have the beak of a cock, the face of a swallow, the neck of a snake, the breast of a goose, the back of a tortoise, hindquarters of a stag and the tail of a fish – although these animals changed over time – while its feathers were the five fundamental colours of black, white, red, green and yellow. It has been pictured attacking snakes with its talons and its wings spread, or with scrolls in its beak. It represented power sent from the heavens to the Empress, and symbolised loyalty and honesty; it would not stay where there was darkness or corruption.

In Japan phoenixes or Ho-Oo fly in pairs, the Ho being male and the Oo being female. They nest in paulownia trees but were thought to only appear at the birth of a virtuous ruler or to mark a new era – after which they would return to their celestial abode.

In ancient Egypt the Bennu was a sun bird, a living Osiris, like a heron with two long flame-coloured feathers or a sun disk on its crown. It was born from flames at the top of a Persea tree that stood on the top of an obelisk and renewed itself in the sun’s rays every day. Some say it helped the sun to rise and set, and the Nile to flood each year bringing fertility to the land, and its cry helped the world to form and bring order out of chaos.

In Russia and Eastern Europe the Zhar-ptitsa was a large firebird whose gold and silver feathers emit red, orange and yellow light the colour of flames, and do not cease glowing even if removed; one feather is enough to light a large room. Some say it flies at night, and eats golden apples, while valuable pearls may fall from its beak when it sings. It was able to heal the sick and cure the blind by its chanting.

The more I discovered these parallel myths, the more I felt that the information I received fitted in. Just like Noah and his boat surviving the floods appears in multiple sources around the world, with evidence now becoming more available to us to prove there were huge floods that drowned civilisations 12,000 years ago, or the way angels appear in almost every culture and religion, so I believe it is with the Phoenix. We catch glimpses, we have stories passed down to us, one day we may see the whole.

I will finish with a quote from the Egyptian ‘Book of the Dead’:

“I flew straight out of heaven, a mad bird full of secrets. I came into being as I came into being. I grew as I grew. I changed as I change. My mind is fire, my soul fire. The cobra wakes and spits fire in my eyes. I rise through ochre smoke into black air enclosed in a shower of stars. I am what I have made. I am the seed of every god, beautiful as evening, hard as light. I am the last four days of yesterday, four screams from the edges of earth – beauty, terror, truth, madness – the Phoenix on his pyre.
“In a willow I make my nest of flowers and snakes, sandalwood and myrrh. I am waiting for eternity. I’m waiting for four hundred years to pass before I dance on flame, turn this desert to ash, before I rise, waking from gold and purple dreams into the season of god. I will live forever in the fire spun from my own wings. I’ll suffer burns that burn to heal. I destroy and create myself like the sun that rises burning from the east and dies burning in the west. To know the fire, I become the fire. I am power. I am light. I am forever. On earth and in heaven I am. This is my body, my work. This is my deliverance.
“The heat of transformation is unbearable, yet change is necessary. It burns up the useless, the diseased. Time is a cool liquid; it flows away like a river. We shall see no end of it. Generation after generation, I create myself. It is never easy. Long nights I waited, lost in myself, considering the stars. I wage a battle against darkness, against my own ignorance, my resistance to change, my sentimental love for my own folly. Perfection is a difficult task. I lose and find my way over again. One task done gives rise to others. There is no end to the work left to do. That is harsh eternity. There is no end to becoming. I live forever striving for perfection. I praise the moment I die in fire for the veils of illusion burn with me. I see how hard we strive for Truth, and once attained how easily we forget it. I hold that fire as long as I can. My nose fills with the smell of seared flesh, the acrid smoke of death, so that years from now I might look on that scar and remember how it was to hold the light, how it was to die and come again radiant as light walking on sand.
“I change and change again, generation after generation. I find anguish then peace. I am satisfied with my birth and the faith to which it led me. I do not regret the discomforts and terrors of my mortality any more than I regret the company of angels. I have entered fire. I become invisible; yet I breathe in the flow of sun, in the eyes of children, in the light that animates the white cliffs at dawn. I am the God in the world in everything, even in darkness. If you have not seen me there, you have not looked. I am the fire that burns you, that burns in you. To live is to die a thousand deaths, but there is only one fire, one eternity.”

– The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth by Day

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An Alternative View of Michaelmas

This week I was unexpectedly witness to a Michaelmas celebration, complete with Archangel Michael symbolically killing a dragon. This is a theme that appears frequently in England’s history, with our ‘native’ (or adopted) Saint George killing a dragon and Beowulf killing dragons, not to mention Bilbo Baggins with Smaug. The only trouble is, I rather like dragons and don’t like all this killing of them. So I decided to investigate what meaning is intended behind the stories.

Most (if not all) versions of Michaelmas I could find refer to the Book of Revelation in the Bible, which states: “Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, who fought back with his angels; but the dragon was defeated, and he and his angels were not allowed to stay in heaven any longer. The huge dragon was thrown out – that ancient serpent, called the Devil or Satan, that deceived the whole world. He was thrown down to earth, and all his angels with him.” (Rev 12, verses 7-9, Good News Bible.)

My interpretation of this is that Michaelmas is therefore a celebration of Michael’s battle victory, except that in this case there appear to be angels, those beings universally regarded as ‘good’, on both sides of the battle. Also the dragon or serpent (some doubt over wings and legs here!) appears to be seen as the same as the Devil or Satan, whom I had previously thought Christians viewed as a cloven hoofed Satyr more akin to the God Pan. Still feeling confused, I looked further.

According to Wikipedia’s entry on Michaelmas, “In Christianity, the Archangel Michael is the greatest of all the Archangels and is honoured for defeating Satan in the war in heaven. He is one of the principal angelic warriors, seen as a protector against the dark of night, and the administrator of cosmic intelligence. Michaelmas has also delineated time and seasons for secular purposes as well, particularly in Britain and Ireland as one of the quarter days.”

Michaelmas, I realise, has formed part of our culture with Michaelmas daisies, Michaelmas term, Michaelmas hiring fairs, and the old Michaelmas date of 11th October was the last day for eating blackberries because the devil supposedly fell on them when he was thrown from heaven and cursed them. It is apparently a time for starting new things, taking up new tasks, taking new steps on our inner journey and raising ourselves above our nature. Michael apparently calls us to come alive while the year dies.

Lucifer, having lost the war and been thrown down to Earth, also appears in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, as a snake to tempt Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge. To develop an ego and become individuals, making our own choices. For that was Lucifer’s crime, he went against the divine will and went in search of knowledge for himself. Possibilities and uncertainties open up, and that can be scary for many. He started up a new waywardness and individuality that has gone through the ages rearing its head time and time again – that of a betrayer that leads us away from the light. The ‘snake’ of Lucifer tempting us to learn more, to use our minds instead of simply basking in divine union. Or worse, to go over to the ‘Dark Side’ and gain experiences our creator would never have planned or chosen for us.

Some sources suggest Lucifer’s desires went far beyond knowledge, to ultimate power. That he wanted to rule and to create in place of the Divine source who created him. What use is knowledge, unless it can be tested? To see if it works in practice, rather than just in theory? It was this attempt to usurp the Divine Creator’s position that led to the war. This, to me, is a more serious view and better explains why Lucifer’s temptations might be feared, and why he might be seen as an ‘opposite’ to ‘God’. And yet, to become co-creators is what we as humans are all being promised by scores of new-age writers, when we fully develop our own consciousness in love, wisdom, will and active intelligence. So is Lucifer still fallen, and a source of temptation and evil, a dragon to be slayed, or has some good come out of all this?

In ancient Egypt, Lucifer was known as Set, who ruled the underworld. Like Lucifer, he helps us to build an ego, a sense of self, an individual personality. This is a lowering of our consciousness, for we are no longer in harmony with Spirit, doing divine will, but serving ourselves. However, this is also an evolutionary step, for as we learn, we expand our consciousness again, and are on the path to becoming a co-creater, not merely serving the divine will but adding to it. Most importantly, we have learned to love in adversity.

There was a wonderful quote I read recently:

“The World, the universe, life as you know it, is all just a big experiment in love. Like a beehive. You humans are like worker drones. Your job is simply to make the hive get bigger. For this to happen, all you are required to do is love actively. And, if possible, help to build collective dreams of love. If you do that, you are fulfilling my purpose. That is all I ask. All you need for your happiness. All you are here to achieve. Whatever else you do is up to you. All I require of you is to love. It is that simple.”

As received by Rupert Isaacson in a Near Death Experience, quoted in ‘The Long Ride Home’.

I interpret this as the Divine seeing the potential and possibilities in us having developed free will, and encouraging it. Yes we are tempted, but it has become part of our spiritual journey. Ultimately, like Lucifer, we will convert the knowledge into wisdom and return Home, increasing the consciousness of the entire universe. Because Lucifer did return, of his own free will, and bring the knowledge he had gained with him. And like the prodigal son, returning of our own free will is the cause of much celebration. Those who have never left may not understand, but the wisdom which is shared also leads to compassion. We forgive them, they will forgive us.

So far none of the Michaelmas story has fitted with the Pagan wheel of the year, welcoming, even celebrating the dark time. It is all constructed in a way to look towards the light, and to be fearful of being tempted otherwise as we head towards the dark time of the year. But if I look to Lucifer, rather than to Michael, I unexpectedly find something different. An angel, one of the greatest, who now spends his time working with those spirits who find it hardest to give up material pleasures and raise their consciousness. An angel who fell, it is true, but an angel who has been redeemed. Returned to love and with love. We can do the same.

According to Tanis Helliwell in ‘Decoding Your Destiny: Keys to Humanity’s Spiritual Transformation’, as we enter the Aquarian Age Lucifer will take over from Michael, helping us to cleanse by fire that which no longer serves us. (The Hindus call this period Kaliyuga, after Kali the dark mother, goddess of Time and Dark, who helps to remove the illusion of the ego.) Both Michael and Lucifer are equally important, Michael guarding us from the outer world of temptation and Lucifer guarding us from the inner world of nothingness. They may each help us when called upon, helping us to clear our negativity, though they may act in different ways. If it helps us to follow Michael with his sword and head towards the light, that is fine, but if we are prepared to face the darkness and look at it head on, Lucifer, the light bringer, will help to strengthen us. Ultimately when we can balance these forces of light and dark, yin and yang, suns and black holes, within ourselves, and move between them at will, then we achieve wisdom. And that balance is something we can celebrate at the time of the Equinox.

As for Dragons, they are a race of huge knowledge and wisdom. They are very logical creatures, impossible to defeat in an argument, and speak great truths. Long lived, they are often called upon to judge other races. Like other reptiles, they are still learning in love and sometimes come to Earth for that purpose and so that their judgements may be balanced. They also help us in other ways, helping to control the kundalini energy of Earth and in a minor way being associated with the kundalini energy in our bodies. It is, however, their knowledge that has led them to be associated with Lucifer, and hence the devil. May they, like Lucifer, soon be properly understood and revered!