Compass Newsletter Winter 2010 No.12
“I would never let the least fear or despair come before me, but if I cannot see the road, nor the goal for the fog, I would simply sit down and wait : I would not allow the fog to make me think no road was there, and that I was not to pass it. The fogs must lift.”
-William Q Judge
By James Long
Once again we find ourselves in that season of the year when nature compels our attention in the direction of good will towards others, that period when a wholesome spirit of giving finds its most natural expression. While Christmas literally denotes a celebration time for the Christian world, the real festival of a new birth carries a broader connotation, and it is this universal aspect that stimulates our reflections.
With each revolution of our globe around its solar parent, mankind has received the blessings of its warmth, its light, and with these an annual opportunity to bring more fully to birth the spiritual essence of that universal soul which is imbodied in each one of us. Could it be this impulse which year after year prompts us to open our consciousness to the needs of our fellows ? Could it be that the Christos-spirit is trying to find expression in our lives, and that the Father within, referred to by the Master Jesus, is urging us to follow his lead ?
Surely we may assume that millions of years before the advent of the Christs and Buddhas this inner nature was our greatest benefactor, and that the very travail of the soul of mankind through the valleys of ignorance attracted the coming to earth of these Great Ones. Did not their lives exemplify this principle of sacrifice, and their injunctions all point to the inner approach to bringing out the potential of our innate character?
On closer examination, it is not difficult to recognize that the festivals traditionally observed at this sacred season date back to pre-Christian times; for whatever the customs, most of the peoples of the world pay homage in one form or another to the dying of the old year and the triumphal birth of the new year. In most European countries, for example, the holy season activities commence about a month before Christmas on Advent, and close with Epiphany on January 6. I have had the good fortune to witness first hand the celebrations connected with the coming of Sint Nicolaas in Holland on December 5-6, and the birth of the Christ-kind on Weihnachten on December 24-25 in Germany.
In the traditional Dutch festival Sint Nicolaas is preceded by Zwarte Piet or “Black Peter” with his numerous henchmen. The Zwarte Piets are skillful pranksters, and children line the streets to follow every move and gesture as they prance through town on their black horses loaded with gifts. The children are told that if they have been good during the year, they will receive gifts; but if not, the Zwarte Piets will pinch and prod, tease and maybe whip if too much displeased. Then Sint Nicolaas comes riding majestically on his white horse; he quietly watches the antics of the youngsters, but does not participate. He is their friend, and one wave or smile from their beloved Sint and their joy is complete.
As one muses upon these observances, it becomes strongly evident that the Advent period may be a more crucial experience than even the Christmas “birth,” because without a successful advent, a Christmas or sacred birth could not occur. Thus all the stories and legends that cluster around a Savior — whether he be called Jesus or Gautama, Krishna or Zoroaster — suggest a far deeper interpretation than the formal celebrations depict. We need only go to nature to confirm this. If the seed in the ground during its “advent” is overpowered by the opposition to its growing, there will be no plant to break through the earth and blossom in sunlight. If there is no advent in the experience of a soul’s growth, how can there be a fuller birth?
Let us consider these thoughts in relation to the initiatory trials that were part of the sacred schools of ancient days, before they had become degenerate through ignorance and betrayal. The “advent” represented that period of initial testing when the soul of the aspirant underwent its severest trials. All the destructive forces were aligned to resist its efforts for a greater expression. The Zwarte Piets of nature, those dark agents of a higher law, teased and prodded to see that the human seed-soul did not burst forth unprepared. They personified in truth those elements that would hinder and obstruct in order that the aspirant could prove his integrity and accomplish his mission: the giving of birth to his greater self. In the background, unobserved, stood Sint Nicolaas, in essence the highest part of what is struggling for birth, but which, by the very law of compassion, cannot lift a finger to help. If the contest was won, then Sint Nicolaas rejoiced in the glory of the soul’s triumph — as indeed did likewise the Zwarte Piets!
It is recorded that in the very highest schools of olden times, the success or failure of the trial could not be known until the fourteenth day after the winter solstice. If the candidate prevailed, he returned from his initiation at the time of the Epiphany — no longer a neophyte but a transfigured initiate. The Christian Church even today commemorates the transfiguration: the initiant Jesus having become the Christos was so filled with the light of his Father within that those around him “saw” the radiance of his glory. It was then, at the Epiphany or “manifestation” of this divine power, that the Three Wise Men gave their gifts — so legend has it, and that is why in many Christian countries the 6th of January is still called the day of the Three Holy Kings.
A full-blown experience such as that of the Master Jesus occurs but rarely, perhaps only once in a score of centuries. How might you and I partake of its transcendent afterglow? Each one of us has his Father within, his own spark of Divine Intelligence. Every winter solstice then, as the sun once again turns northward, we can realize a minor transfiguration. The cycles of progress flow ever onwards, bringing forth fruit from seed, gods from men. But we, in our folly and egoism, no longer believe we are potential gods clothed in earthly form, or that the potency of this holy season can indeed reach to us and move our lives. We have forgotten the effect of one tiny spark of light in the surrounding darkness. But as one flame can ignite another, and still another and another, so must we know that the blaze of glory that accompanies a genuine transfiguration, however humble in degree, can have enormous influence in the world. As surely as the divine light of Father Sun shines through the successful initiant and touches all within the radius of his presence, so does the light of truth and understanding in our hearts reach to our fellow men and women.
True, we may not have any formally designated days of testing and trial, labeled Advent, Christmas, or Epiphany. But as we search out those ageless principles of right thinking and apply them in our lives, we shall recognize the high opportunity that is ours to contribute something of real merit to the world, something mighty in its effects. We shall recognize this only as we rightfully fulfill the responsibilities that come before us.
In the larger cycles of time, if we but had the eyes to see, perhaps we would recognize that humanity as a whole is approaching an advent in its experience which if victorious could lead to the birth of an entirely new era of progress. We need not doubt that the masterminds of the opposition to truth are working with all the Zwarte Piets at their command to stop the birth of what is trying to break through. They are bending every effort to tempt and deceive in order to permit the seed of right principles in human hearts to become so strong inwardly that it will burst through the shell of resistance and shatter forever the carcass of an old civilization.
Without light, there can be no darkness; without truth, there could be no falsehood. The more offensive the evil and distortion, the stronger will be the effort needed to bring truth to birth. That is the key thought behind the Advent and Christmas season. If we only talk about it and dream about it, it can die aborning. But if we try to live it, we shall become channels of enlightenment that will make of each Advent a glorious experience. Thus can we help bring about that greater birth that could make of this century a light for future millennia.
(From Sunrise magazine, December 2004/January 2005; copyright © 2004 Theosophical University Press)
If only we could bottle what we feel at Christmas and spread it throughout the year.
By Nancy Coker
This time of year millions around the globe decorate trees and homes in celebration of the birth of their savior, a savior whose death on a wooden cross will also be memorialized come spring. Baby Jesus will be tucked into his crib under Christmas trees sparkling with ornaments. How interesting that both his birth and death are remembered with such similar structures, a tree for his birth, a cross for his death — which he promised was not really death but eternal life.
While his birth into earth life is celebrated with glitter and gold, today his birth into spiritual life is mourned and symbolized by the cross or crucifix. Early Christian crosses were decorated with flowers and wreaths like our modern Christmas trees, to commemorate the joys of eternal life. And it was not a human form that was first depicted on the cross, but that of a sheep; possibly a representation of Aries the ram, as the Arian age was just passing over to the Piscean. Not till hundreds of years later was Jesus, the lamb of God, portrayed on a wooden cross.
There are innumerable meanings and interpretations of the symbol of the cross: some say it’s to remind us about a savior, some say it’s a story about the death and rebirth of the sun, while others say it describes the coming to birth of the cosmos and consciousness. One thing is certain, the symbol of the cross was everywhere in antiquity. Present in ancient cultures of Asia, Europe, North Africa, as well as the Americas, the crux ansata, or cross of life (the ankh), was carried in the hands of Egyptian pharaohs for centuries, and statues in the British Museum show Assyrian kings wearing jewelry with a cross on it. The Buddhist wheel of life is composed of two crosses superimposed and its eight points are still preserved in the cross of the Christian Knights Templar. The swastika (a kind of circling cross) has been discovered in early Asian and Native American cultures. There are easily more than 50 versions of the cross, as it was a key image inspiring reverence for almost all peoples.
In the beginning of H. P. Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine, she tells of the coming to birth of the cosmos as a cross story. First she depicts a circle of divine unity, a ground of infinite being and she calls it Be-ness. Periodically this becomes active, which she illustrates as a circle with a central point. The minuscule dot is the potential for manifesting the entire universe of duality; it is the nucleus, the umbilicus issuing from the source of life. The ensuing birth of the universe through the center point is described as happening in stages, as the horizontal diameter or Mother Nature dynamized by the vertical diameter, spirit, forms a cross within the circle of Be-ness. The appearance of these two may be seen as the metaphysical equivalent of the current “big bang” myth, and echoes the trajectory of an avatar, a word which means literally crossing over down. Spirit unites with matter at the center point, and the limbs of the cross symbolize their differentiation and separation, creating a symbol both of unity and diversity. In this way of thinking deity is not identified with spirit, but with something much larger than spirit, something so all-encompassing it can have no opposite, and may be what Pascal had in mind when he wrote that Divinity was like a circle with its center everywhere, its circumference nowhere. Thus, the cross within the circle symbolizes the story of the periodic birth of the universe, periodic because it eventually will be indrawn into the dot, then breathed back out to be born again.
On the human level, the crucifix may represent spirit falling into matter in the shape of humanity, as descent into form is a kind of death to spirit. Form restricts spirit (as well as focuses its action) as spirit enlivens form. Each of us is a breathing example of this mystery as our bodies form the shape of a cross, our hearts being the central dot. Like the point in the circle, the center of any cross is its heart, the place where deity lives. And just as the dot in the cross is a portal through which spirit and matter are born, our heart acts as a kind of doorway, a threshold into more subtle dimensions. In a sense, our inner divinity is crucified when we are born into the earth planes, as our material dimensions limit infinite expression — to be freed again when we cross over into the spiritual planes. In the Christmas story, we are told that the wise men brought myrrh to the baby Jesus. In those times myrrh was used to embalm the dead — an odd gift unless read symbolically, that the birth of the human baby was a death to the inner spirit of Jesus, a form of death to divinity. Some say this was the real crucifixion.
Besides cosmological and human interpretations, there is an astronomical story that tells of the great sidereal cross which fixes the four cardinal points of the equinoxes and solstices — points completely invisible except to the mind’s eye, yet commemorated by humanity for thousands of years. An equinox is the point of intersection between the plane of the ecliptic (the sun’s path in the sky) and the celestial equator (the earth’s equator projected in space), and occurs once in spring and once in the fall. The solstices occur each year when the sun is at its southernmost point (December 22 this year) and again when it is at its northernmost (approximately June 21).
The ancient Egyptians had the notion that the autumn sun needed to be propped up because of its declining light. They celebrated September 10 as the nativity of the supports of the sun. The shorter days proved the sun was getting weaker as it traveled down into the underworld. To them, the autumnal sun was the dying savior, and so they fashioned stakes to support it called stauros (in the shape of the tau). These were crosses not of death, but of sustenance, people were grateful for the light and warmth of the sun, and sought to uphold and buttress it. At the vernal equinox the stauros was changed to become a support for mankind, perhaps as part of the life-giving ankh.
Traditionally, the days prior to the winter solstice, as the sun seems to turn southward and downward, were said to be the time when all the powers of darkness, symbolized by Herod in the Jesus story and Kansa in the Krishna story, try to kill the lightbringer. At the winter solstice the sun seems to pause for about three days, before beginning its northward ascent. Anciently this was seen as a time for great rejoicing: a December birth story was celebrated in Rome hundreds of years before Jesus, because the S-U-N was reborn. Some say that each of us is like a sun and must travel a similar journey.
The cross is also a wonderful visual symbol of dualistic existence we have great difficulties with twoness, with opposites, perhaps because in our self-centeredness we usually experience them as conflicting rather than complementing. Part of Jesus’ job was to deal with the problems of twoness, and there are many paintings showing crucified Jesus as the mediator between two thieves (one repentant, one not), between the sun and moon, between heaven and earth. The Bible seems to concur that his role was to be a bridge, an intermediary between God and humanity.
The cross hides a mystery: its essence seems to point to the crossing from one realm to another, from mortality to immortality, from earth realms to spirit worlds, and back again. If we consider that during our lives we cross many thresholds as we mature, the pattern of crossings preserves a story of progressive awakenings and changes of consciousness.
Modernly the cross is associated with suffering and dying but, like the Christmas tree and the stauros, it is also about sustenance and being reborn and says something about how to live our lives each moment. It asks us to constantly help midwife the birth of the new, which of course means allowing the old to cross over and out — and the way we know it’s time is when we’re suffering. Suffering is telling us that our crucified spirit needs resurrecting, not just once, not by just one person, but by all of us all of the time.
The cross is a universal symbol, and the Winter Solstice is a timely moment to stop and reflect on it. As we prepare to decorate our Christmas trees we might remember those two trees in Eden, one of knowledge (of good and evil, of twoness) one of eternal life. The unity represented by the tree of life is still waiting for us to discover. The tree we decorate and the cross we bear still root us in duality, but they suggest to us that the way to eternal life is through sacrificing or crucifying twoness to oneness. Our Christmas tree can also remind us of the world tree whose center, like the axis of the earth, extends upwards to the pole star and, like the cross, can be a ladder or pillar pointing towards the heavens leading us home.
(Reprinted from Sunrise magazine, December 1995/January 1996. Copyright © 1996 by Theosophical University Press)
For many people of the world we are approaching a time of year which carries in it many things. Meaning, obligation, hope, reflection and for a few, introspection. Why such a time as this should stir so many depends on who is asking the question. Could it be that at some level of ourselves we feel that we are sharing something of great importance. A custom of the day is to both give and receive gifts. This is so expected at this time that one wonders if the real meaning of this act has become obscured, buried beneath the commercialization of the day. How many of us feel slighted if an expected gift fails to appear ? Or the response to our giving falls short of our expectation. Are giving and receiving two separate acts or are they no more than parts of the same thing ? The Universe pulsates with energy. Circulations flow from and within all levels and we are part of this process. Even so, there are those who find it difficult to understand that we are involved and all that is visible is the person’s idiosyncrasies. The reasons why this should be so are numerous and complex. Todays living makes many feel the need to retreat to a part of themselves where they feel safe but which prevents the natural flow of their true self. In The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnet, K.H., commenting on suspicion, reminds us that it is:
“…a heavy armour, and with it’s own weight impedes more than it protects.”
The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, p. 355
Let not our armour, which we all acquire in some way, be an impediment. Let us be a part of the circulations of the Universe. Action and reaction, cause and effect, giving and receiving. Can we have one, without the other ? These are immutable Laws, why resist them ? What we receive may not necessarily be of the same kind as that given, but we will receive. We need not look far afield for opportunities, as Life presents them daily. Our giving, done in whatever way but done correctly, adds to the spiritual reservoir of mankind. At some time, consciously or unconsciously, we will draw from that reservoir and we will be grateful it contains what we need. The more we put in, the more we may take out. To give and share, with right motive, without thought of receiving in return, is the highest service.
“If you have much, give of your wealth; If you have little, give of your heart”
– Arab proverb
Newletters received from Australia ‘Theosophy Down Under ‘, ‘Impuls’ from our Dutch friends and ‘Contact’ from South Africa.
From our friends Down Under a Newsletter containing such interesting articles as, ‘The Doctrine of Swabhava’ and ‘Leave the World a Better Place’.
From the Dutch Section ‘Impuls’ (an abridged translation) features articles such as ‘Natural Theosophy’ and ‘Daily Life as Initiator’.
From South Africa Contact Newsletter tells the story of The Sacred Winter Solstice.
Copies of these are available on request.
Contributing to Compass
If you have anything you feel you would like to contribute for publication in Compass Newsletter or have any comments you wish to share please let us know. We would be interested to hear about your ideas and thoughts.
Our websites, both U.K. www.theosophical.org.uk and U.S. www.theosociety.org carry much information. If you are able, please visit them. They will be updated periodically or when necessary. Almost all TUP Publications are available to read online.
“Everything you can imagine is real”
– Pablo Picasso
Pat & Sandy Powell
PO Box 48
A Merry Christmas to everybody!
A Happy New Year to all the world!