If you really want to celebrate the day in an old school way, it will have to involve goats, dogs, and young men of good social standing emerging naked from a cave and whipping people with strips of goatskin.
Something is in the air.
We have had an untypically cold and rainy winter, but these past days we got the occasional hours of bright sunshine, and the pulse of the Earth and the air seemed to quicken a bit, as if nature were waking up from a slumber. Not that plant life largely dies out in winter – quite the contrary, it is our greenest time of the year. And yet the promise of the coming spring still brings this sense of waking up, of things gaining momentum, of life beginning to dance.
In colder climes, the herald of the spring is said to be the snowdrop. Down here in the Mediterranean, I find this messenger is the almond tree that bursts into the most exquisite blossom at this time of the year.
In the churches, although it has declined in popularity and importance, the feast of Candlemas is celebrated with the giving out of blessed candles – a remembrance that the light is returning. These candles were sometimes used to bless each room in the house. The feast itself, set on 40 days after Christmas, represents the day in which Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was ritually purified after having given birth, and could present her son in the Temple of Solomon.
Other interesting feasts congregate at this time of the year – the feast of St Bridget, which incorporated so much of the cult of Brighid the goddess; the wild rituals of the Lupercalia in Rome which morphed into St Valentine’s Day; the New Year of the Trees of the Jewish calendar known as Tu b’Av; the celebrations of many a Black Madonna including the one on Montevergine near Naples.
All points to this Quickening that can be palpably felt.
And a friend of mine reminded me of another aspect of this time of the year, which is that traditionally one would take up the path on Imbolc and commit to studying it for a year and a day. This can be adapted to taking up a path of learning for this period.
In the previous days, I had been intensively researching herbalism and plant medicine, and even thought of studying some chemistry and biology to help me with these studies. I asked a chemist friend what would be a good place to start and he gave me some good pointers. At one point, I mentioned the hexagon-based diagrams that often accompany descriptions of chemicals, and I was told that those were hardly basic chemistry, given that they had confused many a chemist in the past.
And then he mentioned that they were figured out by a chemist in a dream. This sounded somewhat too esoteric for a hardline materialist scientific tradition, and thought that my friend had been amicably pulling my leg. Not so.
Not only did Friedrich August Kekulé, a German organic chemist, claim to have understood the structure of benzene in a dream. In the dream, the structure of benzene presented itself as the Ouroboros, a serpent biting its tail which has been a symbol in alchemy for millennia.
For this year and a day, I will seek to understand and assimilate more of the wisdom of the plant world, both in its scientific and its spiritual and magical aspects – which as Kekulé’s dream confirmed for me, are not at all mutually exclusive.
I have started re-reading “the Complete Golden Dawn System of Magic” by Israel Regardie, and towards the beginning there is this quote which I am posting as a reminder to myself more than anything else, although it may be of help to others:
Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
(Nerdy bonus: The book itself does not give a source for this quote, but a quick Google search showed it to be a pearl of wisdom offered by Calvin Coolidge, who was President of the United States between 1923 and 1929.)
In the wake of the Orlando shootings, many of us have resorted to prayer, and perhaps to magic, in an attempt to bring healing to the victims, their families and communities, and to ourselves in general, particularly our LGBTQI sisters and brothers, as such events always leave a dent in our collective psyche.
At times like this, however, we are also forced to question whether prayer and magic are in any way effective, or whether they are just an easy way of putting our conscience to rest. Some have indeed advocated that prayer is not the answer, but part of the problem, whilst placing emphasis on important mundane steps that need to be taken. Others have seen the #prayfororlando hashtag as downright disrespectful to the victims.
Such steps as:
are certainly essential, and no prayer or magical act can be complete without its material expression.
While the critique is certainly insightful, it is my belief that starting from the subtlest of levels:
with each time we remember the names of the victims;
with each intention we make for the healing of these wounds;
with each blessing we ask for and give to the victims, their families, their communities and ourselves;
with each prayer said and magical ritual performed;
with each candle lit and flower offered …
the world does in a signficant way become a better place. The balance is tipped that little bit further in favour of the currents that promote love and solidarity.
And, at this time, it is perhaps valuable to revisit this video from the Paris shootings where a wonderful father teaches his son how flowers and candles can fight against guns – I have no idea whether this father calls this magic, but what he has taught his son (and us) is essentially one of the most valuable lessons in magic ever.
After much hesitation, I have decided to start this blog.
My hesitation stems mainly from two sources. The first is that our times are characterized by a deluge of available information and voices – and I am not sure I have anything particularly valuable to add to the cacophony out there. The second is that writing is an extremely intimate affair to me, and thus making my words publicly available is something which I approach with trepidation.
However, I have decided to let you, dear reader, be the judge of whether it is worthwhile to read my scribblings here. On the other hand, I have taken it upon myself to take the leap and put my writing out there where it can reach you. I guess one can look at this as a matter of risk distribution.
So without further ado, here are five things that this blog will be about:
1. Walking a dual or blended path – in my particular case, I have brought together my links to my birth religion of Catholicism with my inclinations towards Paganism. At various times in my life I have identified as Christian, Catholic, Pagan, Christopagan, Christian witch, Catholic Pagan, magical Catholic and several other identifiers.
Today, it is much less important what label I stick to my beliefs, and more essential that I walk my path. Walking a blended path may be less controversial nowadays than it was when I started out around 15 years ago, but it is still something that many people can find difficult to understand. I hope this blog can shed some more light on this sort of path.
2. Weaving webs of magic – magic comes from the same root as the verb “to make” – and in a broad sense, any time we act with intention, we are doing magic. So rather than something lofty or inaccessible, I see magic as something that is inherently practical and inextricably linked with how we can lead our lives in a more harmonious and responsible manner.
3. Exploring divination – few people distinguish between “fortune-telling” and divination, especially because the aresenal of tools used (such as cards, dice and pendulums) is often the same. However, while fortune-telling is essentially centred around the prediction of future events, divination is the attempt to understand the flow of events, to understand root causes, possible outcomes, and most importantly, what one can do to change or make the most of situations that may be likely to occur.
It is more of a dialogue with what the philosophers of the Renaissance called “the Soul of the World”, than an attempt to predict the future. Done correctly, it should help one develop spiritually by creating an awareness of one’s individual life within a greater context.
In the sidebar of this blog, you will find my Instagram account, where I am currently posting a card of the day – hopefully this can give you some helpful guidance.
4. Seeking and sharing knowledge – I guess I might as well admit (with pride, even) that I am a nerd, and that I am always keen on seeking and sharing knowledge. This blog will also be a platform where I will post information I find useful or important – whether acquired from books, directly from people, or from life experience.
5. Living the good life – eudaimonia, as the ancient Greeks were wont to say. Countless philosophers have tried to define what this “good life” is, but I see it as essentially being to live a life which is driven by a sense of purpose and meaning, and where not only are all our needs met, but it becomes natural for us to help each other reach our potential.
And so it begins – if you are drawn to the topics I have highlighted here, please do follow this blog, and drop a line should you have any feedback or suggestions.