Saturday, October 29, 2016

Is Halloween Evil? – Well, yes and no


Is Halloween Evil? – Well, yes and no!

It’s Halloween time again! Americans have adopted Halloween as a holiday almost outstripping Christmas in popularity. But as with American Christmas, very few people really know and understand the background of the holiday and its true meaning. There are excellent articles on the internet that go into interesting detail on its origins and significance. I recommend these as a good starting place:

Halloween

All Saints Day and All Souls Day


Crossing the Veil: The Pre-Christian Origins of Halloween and Samhain

Three Day Festival

The first idea to consider is that “Halloween” is part of a three day/ night festival, not just a single day/ night holiday. Just as we have lost the concept that Christmas is not “over” on December 26, so it is that few people understand and celebrate All Hallows Day, also called All Saints Day on November 1. The following day, November 2 is All Souls Day. Halloween is short for The Eve of All Hallows, or All Hallows Eve. All Saints Day and All Souls Day are part of the church calendar. The term Halloween refers to the church calendar, but in a way, “hides” the fact that it is also the feast of Samain (pronounced sah-van or sow-in) in the Pagan calendar. Samain is one of the four cardinal points of the pagan calendar and from its traditions comes much of the outward symbols and traditions of All Hallows Eve, such as masks, Jack O’Lantern or other lantern lights, fortune telling and more. One will find correspondences between ancient traditions and Christian festivals throughout the year. Some ancient traditions have been co-opted by the developing Church in the Middle Ages and some vice versa. In some cases, the common people perceived the connection between their own traditions and the festivals of the church. In other cases, the church “fathers” developed festivals that drew on symbols and celebrations of the people they were trying to convert or influence. The fact is, that there are cosmic seasons and energies, points of “power” on the Earth and non-material or “supersensible” influences on both Nature and Humankind. Some of these influences are “good” and some are “evil”, that is beneficial or harmful either in a practical, material sense or in a more spiritual and subtle sense. Knowing about certain seasonal influences gives one a better chance of aligning with beneficial forces and protecting oneself against malevolent ones.

All Hallow’s Eve – October 31 (sundown to sunrise)



This is the feast of Samain. It is the night that is considered by witches or pagans to be the most powerful because of a “thinning of the veil” between the material and spiritual worlds. In living with this Imagination, one may consider that it is a time (between sundown and sunup) in which our Heavenly Protectors, our Guardian Angels, Saints and other Michaelic Warriors, are mandated to “step aside.” The work they do 24/7 on our behalf to protect us from “evil” or malevolent entities is suspended. For these few hours we are, so to speak, on our own. We must therefore become vigilant and take steps to protect ourselves and our loved ones from harm – inner and outer. What kind of harm? Consider the emotions we call negative – fear or worry about future events, depression, anger, hatred or animosity, resignation, self-doubt and others. If one is prepared to take seriously the idea that not all of our thoughts and feelings are only a product of our personal experience, but can also be influenced by unseen “supersensible” beings and entities for good or ill, then one may consider that negative thoughts and feeling may be impressed on us, especially those that arise without practical cause and those that linger when we don’t want them to and try to fight. Our Angels work to influence our thoughts and soul feelings toward the Good – greater love for ourselves and our fellow human beings and the other kingdoms of the Earth; a greater awareness of and gratitude toward the work of the spiritual world on our behalf; more self-confidence, self-love and self-awareness; more acceptance of the course of life and peace in our hearts towards its unfolding; more alignment with God (whatever name one prefers)  and the positive Spiritual Beings and Forces who are working to further Humanity’s spiritual evolution in a positive way. Every religion and spiritual tradition on Earth also recognizes the existence of Beings and Powers or Forces working for the negative in Humanity and Earth evolution. As Spiritual Beings ourselves, the Sons of Freedom, we are a fulcrum between the two. We can and do swing back and forth between the two energy streams. We make choices between the two every day, in our thoughts, our feelings and our actions. We know in ourselves (if we choose to be conscious about it) where we lean further in one direction or the other and how much we are willing to do to strengthen one or the other. The forces and Beings of the Good respect our freedom to choose. The negative ones, not so much. The Beings of the Good do as much as they can to protect, strengthen and help us according to how much we allow them to. The negative ones don’t ask our permission, they work on us as much as they have opportunity to do, especially in today’s culture though media and outside stimulation. On Samain, All Hallow’s Eve, they have especially strong influence and power. The very fact that we are bombarded by images of death and demons and encouraged to accept them into ourselves as being some kind of joke or fun that no one is supposed to take seriously is in itself proof that these forces are very actively at work.

From Wikiquotes:

He complained in no way of the evil reputation under which he lived, indeed, all over the world, and he assured me that he himself was of all living beings the most interested in the destruction of Superstition, and he avowed to me that he had been afraid, relatively as to his proper power, once only, and that was on the day when he had heard a preacher, more subtle than the rest of the human herd, cry in his pulpit: "My dear brethren, do not ever forget, when you hear the progress of lights praised, that the loveliest trick of the Devil is to persuade you that he does not exist!"



For anyone who simply does not or can not accept or believe in any kind of existence of a spiritual or “supersensible” (beyond the physical senses) world, the continuation of life after physical death or the reality of spiritual or supersensible entities, then this whole discussion is useless and Halloween is simply a day to dress up and eat candy or ignore altogether. For those who take spiritual things seriously, it is a time to contemplate the existence, purpose and goals of the Beings and Entities who influence the Earth plane against its own positive spiritual evolution.


All Saints Day – November 1

We have recently celebrated Michaelmas, the Feast of the Archangel Michael and All Angels. We spoke about the “Dragon” forces. In the younger grades we didn’t refer to “The Devil” but rather couched the negative (gently at first in the earlier years) in the symbol of the dragon as a force of potential harm to the Human Being. In Second Grade, we were able to allow the image of the Dragon to be a bit fiercer and by Sixth Grade, we could start to tell the Medieval tales of Archangel Michael and his confrontations with the Devil, such as the story of Mont St. Michel in France. Our concept of Angels and Saints are meant to grow and develop as the children progress in understanding and imagination. Ultimately, the child in high school and beyond begins ideally to sort out her or his own relation to the positive and negative impulses, ideas and desires we all possess in our own souls.

In Catholic tradition, children are baptized with names of Saints in hopes of conferring one or more Saints’ protection and guidance in their lives. Another way of determining a connection is through the Calendar of the Saints and looking for which Saint’s Day is closest to one’s own birthday or relates in some other way to one’s life. Even if not Catholic, many people relate to and identify inwardly with the life and deeds of one or more Saints. It is often believed that calling on a Saint will influence that Being in the spiritual world to come to one’s aid or protection. There are many beautiful prayers used to invoke the protection of Saint Patrick or the assistance of Saint Anthony or Saint Jude. Of course, much of this was lost or minimized after the Reformation with its denouncement of the “worship of Saints”, especially with the use of statues, pictures or relics of any kind. Still, even some Protestants feel a connection with Saints and often invoke their help surreptitiously.

November 1, with the rising of the Sun, the Angels and Saints come rushing back to us. They have been held off through the dark night and now they come back in strength to push back the dark and demonic forces that held sway in the darkness. If we have kept vigil, if we have maintained consciousness, we are able to welcome them back and then the real celebration may be made – the reuniting of the Good in our lives and in our world.
  
All Soul’s Day – November 2

At this time of year, most cultures celebrate some form of connection with the Dead – those who have crossed over the Threshold into the Spiritual World. These world wide celebrations take many forms and have slightly different meanings. But most cultures recognize a time of the year when the “veil thins” or the Threshold widens, permitting closer contact with the spiritual world and hopefully, a closer connection with one’s beloved ones on “the other side.” It may also be a time to contemplate one’s own mortality and either pre-mourn its eventuality or celebrate it, depending on one’s own beliefs in the matter. Where the culture is still connected to death as a part of life’s experiences, there tends to be more celebration and an easier recognition and acceptance of its role in life. In American and other “westernized” cultures, where fewer and fewer family members die at home and where the “processing” of dead bodies is done in hospitals and funeral homes without any family participation, death has become very removed from most people’s experience. Even when there is an open casket at a funeral, the loved one is usually made to look as if “sleeping” and great effort is made to avoid the appearance of death. We don’t generally surround the casket with images of skulls or skeletons or other traditional symbols of death. We are encouraged to think beyond the death of the body and to keep visualizing our loved on in “Heaven”, surrounded by Angels or with Jesus, all of which are right in themselves. However, there is little time for thought of the possibility that not all of the experience one has after leaving the body is pleasant. The ancient ideas of Purgatory and purgatory-like realms and experiences are vastly downplayed in our culture. The idea that there is a review period of three days in which the individuality has a fairly quick “replay” of his or her life and then a much longer time in what is called “Kamaloca” is largely unknown in the West. After the funeral, a family is encouraged to “move on” – to grieve their material loss, but not to try to “follow” their loved one’s experience. In more ancient cultures, it is still largely known that the dead remain connected and that either ceremonies, prayers or other spiritual practices can have a helping effect on their experiences in the spiritual world and on our own through maintaining a positive connection.

Rudolf Steiner gave many lectures on “Life Between Death and Rebirth” and on connecting with our beloved Dead. Many Initiates and Masters are in full agreement with his teachings on the subject. There is a new compilation of Steiner’s indications called “Staying Connected” which is a great starting point for those who wish to understand this subject better.


Celebrating the Festival

In terms of living with and working with children, especially young children, one may still ask, what is the best way to enjoy Halloween as a cultural holiday and still work with (and protect against) the cosmic energies of this time of the year?

Halloween

So much fun!! Dressing up and getting tons of candy, often prohibited or limited the rest of the year. Adults love it to. One may feel uninhibited and mischievous. The dressing up and mischief is actually borrowed primarily from the European traditions that mark the Fasching or Carnival time just before the start of Lent. They were meant to give people a temporary release from social oppression – allowing men and women to dress as the opposite sex; to hide behind masks while berating and making fun of political powers; to give way to appetites and desires normally kept under tight control. Of course, with the beginning of Lent, all of these wild impulses were expected to come back under tight and firm control! But our society is far more “relaxed” and the loosening and tightening process is much less defined and present.


Candy, or in the older days, sweet treats like donuts (soul cakes) and other goodies were far more rare. Beggars used to be allowed on certain days and with certain restrictions to go from door to door and ask for food in exchange for prayers for the occupants’ dead. This was called “souling.” With our cultural de-emphasis on death and the idea of purgatory, this kind of begging became irrelevant.

When sugar and sweets were rare and expensive, the kind of “trick or treating” that we are used to could not have existed.  According to Wikipedia, the first mention of “trick or treat” in the media was in the 30s. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trick-or-treating

After World War II, the media and the candy industry took advantage of the prosperity  and the new means of reaching the masses to turn Halloween into a candy-fest! Gradually, the older bobbing for apples, soul cakes and othe r traditional treats were replaced almost entirely.



Unfortunately, what was a holiday for children, most often unsupervised and unaccompanied children allowed to wander the neighborhood at night has been sharply curtailed in the past fifty years, due to various “scares” – child predators and tainted candy primarily. There are fewer neighborhoods where everyone who lives there knows each other and trusts each other with the care of their children. More schools and churches have worked to replace door to door trick or treating with Halloween parties where the children can go from person to person or room to room in a contained space. Many Waldorf schools have created beautiful festivals where the children and families are led indoors or outdoors to various scenes, mostly from fairy tales, where they hear a story or see a little play acted out and then are given treats. There are usually games to play for treats or prizes as well. These kinds of festivals have been a great help to families who don’t want to deprive their children of the fun of Halloween but don’t want them exposed to the excesses of the mainstream culture. In the Waldorf communities, media or “horror” costumes and decorations are prohibited with gentle fairy tale or nature costumes and imagery promoted.

Often due to the realities of weekend scheduling, the Halloween Festivals are held on a different night than the actual Halloween, October 31. This is all to the better. If the realities of Samhain still hold sway, despite modern beliefs, it would be better not to be outdoors at all from sundown to sunup!  Wearing masks was a tradition that originated with the belief that a ghost or demon couldn’t hurt you if they couldn’t recognize you – didn’t know who you were! Wearing maskes of the kind that are popular today, which are truly demonic, may actually draw the demonic to the wearer instead of protecting him or her!

Jack O’Lanterns were also created as a kind of totem protection, in hopes of scaring the “baddies” away!! This tradition has also evolved in many creative ways to our time.








Here are some ideas for ways that a small community or several families could arrange a celebration that would allow for lots of fun while providing protection as well as celebrating the return of the Good with the first light of dawn on November 1.


All Saints Day

 

The ideal would be two pre-arranged homes in walking distance from each other. At the “Halloween” house, everyone would arrive before sunset and bring sleeping bags and pillows! Once everyone has arrived, the doors and windows would be “sealed” with pentacles and other “magic signs” and prayers of protection (spells) against evil said. The children (and adults if they wish) may be in costume. All of the fun activities of Halloween can be had – fortune telling, ghost stories (age appropriate), games and “trick or treating” around the house. Pumpkin carving and other lantern making with the Jack O’Lanterns put by the doors and windows for protection (which they were first created for).

If the neighborhood does participate in trick or treating, perhaps one adult could be designated to wait for trick or treaters outside with the “goods” while wearing a protective mask and costume and maybe being surrounded by Jack O’Lanterns and protective signs and symbols! Better not to constantly open the door. You never know what might float in!

The children can be entertained later than usual and the adult encouraged to “keep vigil” to stay awake or take turns being awake! Very few people have actually tried to maintain a vigil for religious reasons since the middle ages or Renaissance!

Now for the new – just before dawn, several wakeful adults take down the “Halloween” signs and symbols and replace them with Christian ones (if the group is Christian) such as the cross and the dove of the Holy Spirit. The children are roused to greet the dawn and if the group is sufficiently dramatic, simple robes are provided and candles in protective holders.

The participants then walk to the second house in a procession with lit candles and songs of courage and gratitude. At the second house, a breakfast has been prepared. The tables are set with pictures of each person’s name or day saint (or just one they relate to) and a verse of encouragement. Some more songs may be sung and then home to a bit more sleep for those vigil keepers if possible!

A wonderful Imagination of this is to be found in the 1940s movie “Fantasia” (not recommended for children under nine years old.) At the end of the movie is Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” which perfectly and dramatically portrays the demonic forces holding sway through the night. But with the first chime of church bells in the pre-dawn, the demon of the mountain cowers. Despite lifting his fist in defiance, the bells continue and the dawn grows stronger. The spirits must return to their graves and the demon must return to his imprisonment in the mountain. The music transitions to Schubert’s “Ave Maria” and a procession of robed figures carrying lights moves through a primeval forest which becomes a kind of cathedral and ultimately arrives at the gates of paradise embodied in the rising sun. 






All Souls’ Day

This is a wonderful day to enjoy one’s cultural heritage in celebrating loved ones on the other side of the Threshold. Of course, many churches have a celebration and many families set a place at the table with a photo of their beloved one. There are many special foods prepared all around the world and special prayers of gratitude to one’s ancestors for their role in our becoming who we are and for their love.

It is a time to remember family stories and to start or continue a family journal for future generations to enjoy. It is a great time to take out family photo albums and to watch a video or look at  a picture book about a country or countries part of a family’s heritage and to listen to or create music from those cultures. It is a day to strengthen the children’s awareness of and gratitude for their family and heritage in many creative ways.


A word about visits to a cemetery or cemeteries. This has to be a family choice. Some caution may be advised about including young children or very sensitive children. It is a balancing situation between affirming life after death and working with the idea of death itself. There are no one size fits all answers. It depends on the parents’ truthful feelings and beliefs about death and afterlife. On one hand, exposure to adult grief may be overwhelming to a child, whereas there is also value in allowing a child to express his or her own grief. If one plans to celebrate this festival, it would be good to prepare in advance a story or just to think out for both parents how they desire to answer questions and to handle the subject of death and grief. Of course, celebrating one’s beloved dead will often lead to a child’s concern about the death of her or his parents or self. If there has been a recent death in the family, especially of a grandparent or parent, this may re-awaken the grief. The positive side if handled well is that it may be an excellent opportunity to work with the sorrow and fear that the child is already holding and may not have expressed yet. It may be a difficult but very valuable time of sharing for everyone and hopefully a time when those who we love and grieve for can come closer to our hearts and bring greater peace and assurance that they are still with us.
  




Christine Natale

October 29, 2016




Wednesday, June 22, 2011

St. John's Tide - A Question of Balance

St. John’s Tide – A Question of Balance

By Christine Natale

“Too Christian for the Pagans and too Pagan for the Christians!”

The first point I would like to make is that I truly believe that “school” and the “school community” by extension, should be year-round. The “summer off” is based on long outmoded needs of the agrarian society of the far past. With few children needing to help on the family farm and many homes in which both parents are working full time, it is not really a viable schedule. I would prefer to see the year divided into four quarters of eleven weeks “on” and two weeks “off” at Festival time. A two week break would be enough to allow teachers to both rest and to work on preparing their lessons for the upcoming quarter. It would allow the children to rest, too while avoiding the lassitude that often comes from the too-long summer break. For those who feel that the children need such a long summer “break from academics” may I say that if the activities of the “normal school year are that draining and stressful, perhaps that is where the problem actually lies. The thing is, school should not be only about academics! If it maintained a living, healthy balance, it should be enlivening and enriching all year round. If it is so draining that we need an eight week "break" something is wrong to begin with.
 Parents could easily schedule their work vacations for any of the four breaks. And the cycle of the year for both a school and its community could be more complete. A school community that is really interested and enjoys celebrating the cardinal festivals of the year would be more likely to include St. John’s Eve or Midsummer Eve to their round of celebrations.

All that being said, let’s look at St. John’s Tide and explore its potential for fun and benefit in the round of the year. Few Waldorf schools (that I am aware of) hold St. John’s Bonfire nights. This is most likely due to the reality that with the school disbanded for the summer, the school community has dispersed as well. If there are school communities that do celebrate St. John’s (and I hope that there are!) they may have a core of parents deeply interested in the more “religious” aspect of Anthroposophy and Waldorf Education.

Before we go further, I would like to clarify my use of the word “religion”, especially in connection with Waldorf Education. Neither Anthroposophy nor Waldorf Education are based in or connected with any formal religious group or dogma. I have written another article clarifying this matter to a greater extent than I will here. I often say that Waldorf Education is “too Christian for the Pagans and too Pagan for the Christians!” To discover what I mean by that, you can access the article here:

Religion in Waldorf Education
https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/10811968/Waldorf%20Articles/Religion%20in%20Waldorf%20Education.pdf


How Waldorf Education and its spiritual ideas fit in with your family’s belief systems and choices in child raising is completely up to you and how much time and effort you are willing to spend to explore the insights of Rudolf Steiner and those who have spent their lives studying and working with his body of work.

With these considerations in mind, let’s re-acquaint ourselves with the traditional Pagan and Christian aspects of St. John’s Tide.

Midsummer’s Night Dream

This really says it all! If it has been many years since you have seen a live production of Shakespeare’s loveliest play, or watched a film or read the play how about making this the summer to re-connect with it? I loved 1999 film with Kevin Kline and Michelle Pfeiffer, but I adore the 1935 film with Mickey Rooney as Puck and James Cagney as Bottom. I have a couple of copies coming my way courtesy of Ebay.

Of course, if you have the blessing of being able to go (and to take your children) to a live production (or even better, to be in one!) by all means, do so! The play captures all of the magic and romance of the most magical night of the year – Midsummer’s Eve.

Midsummer’s Eve is the evening of the Summer Solstice – the turning point of the year and the longest day and shortest night of the Northern Hemisphere. It is the mirror opposite of Christmas or the Winter Solstice. (You will find I mix the Pagan and Christian rather indiscriminately from here on!)

At the Winter Solstice – Christmas Tide, the Earth as an organism breathes in to the deepest extent. The gnomes and seed babies are deep underground. The animals are warm in their barns or around our feet. The stars come down to use, represented in our homes through the candles and lights on our Christmas trees. For those who believe in Fairies (and if you don’t – don’t bother reading any further!), the Fairies who are given birth by the interaction of human beings with the animal, plant and mineral kingdoms come close to us, perhaps even into our homes if we give them a welcoming space and a warm, loving and minimally electronic atmosphere. The time that people spend outdoors is shortened dramatically and there is usually an internal “inwardness” that focuses on family, relationships, love and personal meaning – or in some cases their absence.

At the Summer Solstice – St. John’s Tide, the Earth is breathing out to her fullest. Human beings spend as much time as possible outdoors working with the earth and animals when they can; enjoying the element of fire with campfires and barbeques; enjoying the element of water with swimming, boating and fishing and savoring the summer breezes of the forest, mountains and the sea. The gnomes rise, the seed babies awaken and bloom, the peas, asparagus, strawberries, new potatoes and lettuces are abundant. The promise of new life that was born in the Spring is coming to maturity both in the outer world of Nature and within our souls. We may spend time gazing at the bright summer stars and wondering how and why we are connected with them. In older days, before people became unfortunately self-conscious there was a lot of spontaneous singing and dancing to be had. One may have to look harder for it or work harder to create these experiences now, but they are still worthwhile.

The ancient customs of the Midsummer Festival center around building a great bonfire and celebrating around it. As it dies down sufficiently, young men and women “jump” over it to both “purify” themselves and at the same time “fertilize” themselves with its power. It is the warmth element that engenders the seed. Midsummer traditions are full of fertility beliefs (and practices) and divinations of future (and not so future) lovers. Babies conceived during this time would be born in the Spring, the time of new life. In many ancient cultures this was the preferred time for “mating” allowing for gestation over the winter and the new birth in the Spring.

St. John’s Eve

While it traditionally falls on June 23, with St. John’s Day being June 24, it is a little “off” from the astronomical Summer Solstice, just as Christmas is a few days away from the Winter Solstice. Nevertheless, they both relate and create a “tide” or season of the festival over a few days.

The Feast of St. John the Baptist is his supposed birthday. John was Jesus’ cousin and a close spiritual companion. John’s mother, Elizabeth is said in the Bible to be Mary’s cousin. I like to think of her as Mary’s aunt. I’m not sure if my hypothesis could ever be substantiated but I like to think that Elizabeth and Anna, Mary’s mother were sisters and that Elizabeth was very close to Mary as a little girl, especially due to the fact that Elizabeth had no children of her own. Mary went to see Elizabeth pretty much as soon as she learned of her own pregnancy. Elizabeth was six months pregnant with John. In the womb, John “leapt up” in recognition of Jesus and made his mother aware of the holy status of Mary and “the fruit of her womb, Jesus.”

Mary stays with Elizabeth until just before the birth of John. In my imagination, I think of Elizabeth helping to prepare Mary for her own delivery but wanting to avoid exposing Mary to the actual experience beforehand. I have lots of other Imaginations of the story, but that is a subject for another thesis.

In any case, John is born and in the Gnostic and Apochryphal traditions the two boys were partly raised together. John becomes a “forerunner” of the Christ who is about to incarnate into Jesus. He becomes a “voice in the wilderness” urging people to change and to prepare for this cosmic event. The Baptism of John was a process in which he was able to hold a person under the water just until the moment that is said to happen when a person almost drowns, until they see “their life pass before their eyes” in the panorama that Rudolf Steiner explains we all experience just after our death. Due to his spiritual development and clairvoyance, John is able to follow the soul to this point and to resuscitate the person in time. After seeing their own life from the spiritual point of view, the person is “reborn” and filled with a sense of wanting to change and improve themselves.

A Question of Balance

It is this moment of self-awareness that is the fulcrum of our lives. It is the recognition that we are not perfect and will never be, but that we can always strive to balance our excesses and weaknesses. The shy, reticent person can decide in personal freedom to do a bold thing, such as taking a role in a play. The bossy person can (at least temporarily) take a back seat and let someone else shine for a change. These characteristics are lovingly and humorously portrayed by the peasant workers who decide to put on a play in honor of the wedding of their king, Theseus in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

An athletic person can read a book or go to a symphony. The bookworm can decide to participate in a game of backyard baseball. We all have activities that we prefer and shine at and we all have areas in which we are less capable and less enthusiastic.

In Waldorf Education, teachers are asked to learn to read the “riddle of the child.” This means to get to know each child well enough over time to really begin to perceive what he or she is about. What has this child come into the world with? How does this child express himself? What are her areas of weakness that need a bit of strengthening? How do we turn the choleric tendency to boss and bully into creative and compassionate leadership? How do we bring the sanguine little social butterfly down to earth long enough to learn a bit of math? How do we help to keep the melancholic child from wallowing in self-pity and to turn this to empathy and a desire to help relieve the inner and outer pain of others? And how do we “spice up” the life of the sweet phlegmatic child who loves to daydream and inspire her to take up the work and discipline of accomplishing some of those daydreams?

We don’t need to be something other than what we are, but we need to learn how to put it to good use for ourselves, for others and for the world. In the gentlest sense, perhaps this is the meaning of the call to “Repent” of St. John. The call to access our higher self for the good of mankind.

There is also the cosmic picture contained in the words of St. John, “I must decrease so that He may increase.” Which carries the inner gesture of a scales.

Archangel Uriel

Rudolf Steiner cites Uriel as the Archangel of the Summer season and festival. He describes Uriel as holding scales. Perhaps these are the Scales of Judgment or maybe just the Scales of Balance. I have not been able at this time to find the exact reference from Steiner. I believe it is to be found in “The Four Seasons and the Archangels” lecture series.

Wikipedia has some good background information and relates Uriel (meaning the Light of God) to John the Baptist through the Apocrypha.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uriel

And there is another short descriptive web page here:

http://www.sarahsarchangels.com/uriel.html (sorry, this link is gone now - I will look for another one.)


The Archangel Michael is often depicted as carrying the Scales of Justice, also. Both Uriel and Michael are represented with swords of flame at various times. To my understanding, the Balance that the Archangel Michael is most concerned with is the balance of the soul at the “Final Judgment” whereas the Balance of Uriel is more of an earthly, daily testing of the soul with a view toward the daily possibility of change.

In connection with the theme of Balance, here is a lovely tale by Tolstoy of the Baker and the Loaf. Unfortunately, after hours of searching the internet (and not daring to face the boxes in my garage) I have been unsuccessful in finding it for you, so I will have to re-tell it as best I remember. If any kind reader recognizes it in its altered form and can send me a link or at least the correct title, I would appreciate it.

The Loaf, or How the Baker Got Into Heaven

By Leo Tolstoy as remembered after thirty years by Christine Natale

Once there was a village baker who was known to be a famous miser. He was an excellent baker who made a very good living but he was never known to part with a penny he didn’t absolutely have to. He gave fair weight but not a crumb extra. He made it very clear that he would rather feed his pigs with the stale bread and crusts than to give them away for free. Children and beggars gave up all hope of ever receiving a morsel from him out of the kindness of his heart. As a matter of fact, the less charitable of villagers sometimes swore that he simply didn’t have a heart at all and that was the explanation they accepted. All except one.

There was one itinerant beggar who traveled through this village on a regular basis. He was a true rascal and scamp who had chosen a long time ago to live with as little concern and responsibility as the grasshopper of summer. Although a rake and a rogue, the beggar was of basically jolly disposition and his good humor kept him in enough beer and sausages to keep body and soul together. Nevertheless, when he came to town his favorite game was to tease and torment the miserly baker. He would stand just outside the baker’s door and plead and whine and wheedle for a piece of bread. Small crowds would gather to listen to him heckle and to have a bit of a laugh at the baker’s expense. Usually, the session would end with the baker slamming the door and retiring into the back part of his bakery until the beggar tired and went off to the tavern to be treated to a beer by the amused villagers.

One day it happened that the beggar arrived on the main road through the village at the same time that the baker happened to be making a delivery. What an opportunity! And the beggar took it to full advantage. He followed the baker all over town, teasing and tormenting him to “have pity on a poor beggar in the name of Christ.” At last, the baker could maintain his composure no longer. Just before he was able to reach the sanctuary of his bakery, he whirled around and threw a small loaf, hitting the beggar in the head.

“Be off with you, thou devil spawn!” roared the baker as he ducked into his doorway. But the beggar roared back with laughter, joined by the villagers come to see the show.

“I knew I would have it off you, one way or the other!” yelled the beggar as he brushed off the dust from the loaf and carried it like a trophy back to the tavern.

Well, as fate would have it, the baker passed away not but a few months after this. He found himself guided to a high place and told to stand in front of a kind of heavenly tribunal as his deeds on Earth were weighed to see which direction he should ultimately take. The baker became rather uncomfortable as he saw some selfish and disobedient deeds of his childhood placed on the wrong end of a huge pair of scales. Luckily, the scales only dipped a small fraction. But they dipped a bit more at the weight of several more significant misdeeds of his youth. The baker really began to sweat, though as he saw again and again scenes of his selfishness that continued through his life, all the way up to the end. By this time, the negative side of the scale was practically to the bottom and so far there had not been one good deed to place on his account on the good side. The angels and archangels consulted there records in hopes of finding one that they may have overlooked, always wanting to give a person the benefit of the doubt, but nothing showed up. When it truly looked as if the verdict would be undoubted for the poor baker, a shining Child walked silently through the hallowed assembly. From a pocket in his pure but simple gown, he produced – the loaf of bread that the baker had thrown at the beggar! The Child stepped up to the scales and placed the loaf on the empty pan. To the amazement of the baker and the wonder of the heavenly hosts, the scales began to move. The side with the loaf began to slowly sink lower and lower until it dipped below the side piled high with the baker’s faults and failings. When it stopped, the baker was declared balanced to the good and allowed to remain in Heaven. The baker himself was so astonished that he couldn’t even speak. But the Child came to him and took the baker’s hand to lead him through the gates.

“You see,” said the Child, “A good deed done, no matter the intention, is greater than the weight of sin.”

The Archangel Uriel is also deeply connected with the Earth in its mineral state. He sends rays of light and warmth into the Mineral Kingdom which manifest most clearly in the form of shining crystals.

Here are a few more tidbits of information on Archangel Uriel from the following internet site. Deeper study is certainly recommended if one is truly interested in getting to know this lesser known but extremely important spiritual Being.

http://prophecyinthemaking.blogspot.com/2011/05/444555-i-finally-realized-who-was.html

“Colin Wilson describes encounters between Uriel and the 16th century scholar, Dr. John Dee. Dee's scrying assistant, Edward Kelley, saw a cherub in a crystal ball. Dee identified the cherub from his Kabbalistic knowledge as "Uriel, the angel

of light." Later, in 1582, Dee had a vision of a child angel floating outside the window, holding a crystal egg. Again he identified this with Uriel. Wilson claims that the crystal egg is preserved in the British Museum. [Colin Wilson. The Occult: A History. Random House, 1971, pp. 273-4]. Whether Uriel appears as a child, a powerful man, or a woman of regal bearing (as the artistic depictions show below), the archangel continues to command the imagination, reverence, and devotion of people around the world.”

”Uriel is often referred to as the Great Archangel of the Earth (the number assigned to the Earth is 4, and 4 is also the number of the elements and 4 the number of the cardinal directions--444). One contemporary account describes the archangel thus: "He (or she) is the keeper of the mysteries which are deep within the planet, underground and in the hidden depths of the living world." Additional information is provided along with the artwork reproduced below.”

”The feast day of the Archangel Uriel is celebrated July 28. Uriel's influence is believed to peak during the summer months. According to Corinne Heline: "The beautiful Uriel stands guardian over the activities of the summer. The ripening of grain and the floodtide of blossom are under his guidance. He also supervises the Nature Spirits, those fascinating little sprites who inhabit the elements of earth, air, fire and water, and who lend so much to the beautification of all nature. The highest initiatory teachings belonging to the New Age... are under the direction of Uriel." [Corinne Heline. The Blessed Virgin Mary. New Age Press, 1971, p. 110.]”

Invocation to the Archangel Uriel

Glory to God and his deeds,
for everything is good and wonderful.
Holy Archangel Uriel,
protect and look after rivers,
their waters we drink,
life springs up from them;
make grass sprout for cattle,
make man yield bread out of the land,
wine to enliven his heart,
oil and food to give him force.

[This beautiful invocation was translated from the original Spanish by Pedro Pablo Parrado of Bogota, Colombia.]

Bonfire Night

If you are fortunate enough to live in a community of people who are interested in understanding and re-enlivening the traditional festivals of the year, whether from a Pagan or Christian background (or both!), the first place to start is to get together and ask if anyone has personal experiences celebrating Midsummer’s Eve or St. John’s Eve. Each group can feel free to develop their own celebrations in whatever way suits the community members. Of course, having a safe, open area for a reasonable size bonfire is important. All safety precautions must be taken such as having both water and sand available for putting out any fire that wants to escape its prescribed circle. At least one or two people should be designated fire guardians – who will be watchful and responsible for every aspect of the fire throughout the night.

The participants, including children, should tie back long hair and not wear diaphanous clothing when celebrating in the fire area. Fairy garb can be donned for play and play-acting in neighboring field or woods, though! Even with fire guardians, parents should remain aware of their children and vigilant whenever they are near the fire circle. Ideally, there should be a circle of sizable stones directly around the fire and another circle of stones, logs, stumps or other seating a few feet further out for the gathering. The children need to be told ahead of time that they are not to go past this circle toward the fire. Additionally, in this year of record droughts, especially in the south US, please choose your location very carefully and be aware of permits, etc.. A beach or lakefront location may be good if it is allowed. The bonfire doesn’t have to be much bigger than a campfire. In Europe they are often huge, but it isn’t necessary. There are many large contained firepits available that may do very well. Whatever venue you choose, carefully go over all safety issues well before hand. Keep away from or clear out all brush and dead timber in the area. Soak the area with water if possible. Create rings of stones or logs and sand between to prevent the “jumping” of sparks. Have a fire extinguisher or two available, in addition to the water and sand. Check with the weather bureau regarding prevailing winds and please put safety first at every step! If a real fire is not possible due to drought or other conditions, perhaps the community can come up with a creative representation of fire, maybe a painted circular canvas screen with lighting in the middle.

Besides the fire (and of course, good weather!) the next main ingredients are food and music!! Community pot luck is always a favorite with emphasis on berries and fresh late spring produce. This is the time to bring out all of our favorite campfire songs! Hopefully, there are community members who can organize this and guide the singing. Old British and American folk songs are great as well as music from all around the world that the community members can bring and share.

Drama is also fantastic if at all possible. Of course, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” would be the number one choice whole or selections, performed by adults and teens. Since it is a long play, I would suggest “Jack in the Beanstalk” as a play or puppet play for the younger children earlier in the evening before the bonfire gets started.

Games are essential, as well. There are traditional “picnic” games, “new age” games and perhaps the group can create some new ones as well. Dividing the children into age groups such as 5 to 8, 9 to 13 and 14+ is always helpful to avoid squabbles as much as possible and to provide age appropriate challenges. For obvious reasons, only 14 + should be allowed to jump the bonfire (after it has died down).

Here are a few ideas that I have “dreamed up” for some St. John’s fun:

Fairy Dust

I love glitter – copious amounts of glitter – but glitter should never be thrown in the air. The tiny metallic bits can scratch eyes and cause other safety problems. Still, little fairies need fairy dust, don’t you think? Wouldn’t it be fun to get a lot of the “sanding” sugar used in baking, the large crystal kind, either pre-colored or color ahead of time. It is crystalline enough to “glitter” a bit in the firelight. What about those little pot-bellied parmesan cheese shakers with the large holes? They can be purchased very cheaply from restaurant supply companies locally or online. Fill them with pink, yellow and blue “fairy dust” ahead of time and give them to the little fairies in your group to sprinkle on people. Don’t tell them that it is sugar and watch them gradually figure it out. Yes, I know many people don’t prefer to give their children refined sugar, but much of it will probably end up on the ground.


Fairy Beaches

Those round, sometimes garish plastic kiddie pools are very inexpensive. Depending on the number of younger children expected, two, four or even more could be placed in proximity to the fire area. Not too close but close enough to also serve as good fire extinguishing material if necessary. For each two, fill one with water and one with sand. Sand or earth could be built up around the outside and covered with green leafy things to hide the plastic. The purpose of play is obvious but with a twist. It would be lovely to get lots of assorted polished rocks and crystals (also available fairly inexpensively online) and bury them in the sand ahead of time. Before opening up the area for play, tell the children that the gnomes may have left treasures in the sand for them to find. A caveat for “treasure hunts” – set a limit for how many each child may find and keep (one, two or three) and that when they have found their limit, they leave the fairy beach and bring them to some teens or adults who have little “treasure bags” for them to hold the jewels in. Without limits, some treasure hunts become a bit unfair with some children getting unlimited amounts and others getting none.

Fairy Bridges

Again, before the festivities, build three “Fairy Bridges” – sturdy and safely built balancing beams. The first one, one foot off the ground, the second one, two feet and the third, three feet. Get two each of three sizes of buckets. Make three balance bars with notches to hold the buckets on opposite ends. Fill one bucket with water and the other with a balanced weight of sand. Put a candle in the sand. Let each age group take turns walking the balance beam with the buckets. If water spills or the candle goes out, they have to start again. When each person reaches the other end successfully, they are given a prize. I think a small flashlight that can be worn like a necklace would be great. These are also very inexpensive through party supply stores and online. Later, they can be used to see song sheets for the sing-alongs, etc. A little bit of plastic now and then isn’t going to hurt anybody!
And So – To Bed!

Since Midsummer’s Eve is traditionally a night time festival it would be lots of fun to make it a sleep over, too. Spreading tarps and sleeping bags under the stars on a clear night would be ideal. Some families might prefer to bring their tents. Perhaps there could be “fairy bowers” where the little girl and boy fairies could pile up like puppies and kittens. Dream pillows and a visit from the Sandman send us all magical Midsummer Night’s Dreams!










PUCK

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Act V, Scene I

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Beautiful Life