April, 2008

 

Mythic Prelude:

Spring Festival 101

Hello, and welcome to the Universal Festival Calendar for April, 2008. As you know, this is the month when the Sun moves from the zodiac year's initial thrust and drive of Aries, ruled by Mars the Warrior, to the sensuous, juicy dance of Taurus, ruled by Venus the Lover, whose sign is linked with erotic love, art and beauty, and also with money, as Taurus is emphatically a wealth sign, and Venus has always known that gold is the best possible match for basic black velvet, and that diamonds are a girl's best friend. As you also know, many of the people around you are scared sick about money as economies wobble and currencies careen, governments shudder and churches shake, and the institutions that used to bring comfort and order to the lives of most of our people seem ready to lurch and slide into collapse in a year that some influential opinion makers are using dire words like Armageddon! to describe.

So. Are we going to buy into all this dread in this month's prelude? Not unless we want to wind up wearing a scowl, or a splint. This statement is by no means merely facetious. The author is not the only astrologer who has found himself, since last year, reading for a number of people who are suffering physical injuries in "accidents" that are not connected with any kinds of accident-prone dynamics in the celestial machinery, but rather with the stress that some of us are bringing into our lives as we form elaborate plans to shield ourselves and our loved ones from catastrophes that seem to be getting so close that we can hear the thud of their steps and smell the flop sweat on them. Or we drive ourselves at double and even triple speed to finish faster what we have to do, and find new things that we have to do, as though right effort is no longer enough, and furious effort is needed instead to save the day, at least as much of it as one can see in the window behind the cast that holds her leg immobile as it hangs from wires above her bed.

While we honor the spirit of service that drives so many now to work much harder rather than simplify and work a little smarter, it is best that we see clearly the danger in this driven determination to be reactive in advance to challenges that have not yet arrived, and perhaps never will in the form we fear when we have forgotten the medicine of play. We know how this grim business goes. How the first thing the troubled company cuts from its budget is the entertainment line. How we devote less time to play now than we once did, and we know people who can't remember the last time they went out with the ones they love without any agenda or objective, taking with them nothing but a longing to laugh and celebrate. If it's true, as Captain Kirk once said, that "The more complex the mind, the greater the need for play," then it's obvious that in the very complex year of 2008, we do not really need to work more feverishly. This will only stoke our sense of pressure and doom. Instead, we just need to play, and that's why this month's UFC prelude is a practical guide for celebration called Spring Festival 101.
This is, after all, a Festival Calendar. One very useful aim that it may serve in the months and years to come is to deliver simple, practical and funny ways to create festival rites, for the benefit of those who are building community and want to honor Brother Sun and Sister Moon upon the living body of Mother Earth -- but whose only experience of sacred ritual has been in the context of organized religions that they are likely to have outgrown. How to create sacred festivals that are not devoted to the symbols and beliefs of any particular tradition, but which affirm and anchor the spiritual treasures that all legitimate faiths hold in common? By recognizing that bonding rituals such as conspiration and communion are universal. So is the purification ritual of immolation. And the relief of confession is universal too. It can be wonderfully lightening and liberating, if it is done in a generous spirit of joy rather than from guilt and fear of punishment. Designing your own festivals is easy, if you're willing to tap the universal mother lode of myth, and as long as you're ready to take off your shoes, open your pipes, and -- in the words of a chant Moshe Krafchow taught me -- Live like you are in the present, Love like you've never been hurt, Dance like nobody's watching.

What follows on this page is the design of the Spring Festival that I'll lead on Saturday, May 3 near Dahab in Sinai at the ceremonial space I've been seeking for almost four years in Egypt. This part of Wadi Genai -- a wadi is a dry riverbed, often flanked by canyons formed by the primeval action of water -- looks like it was shaped by Seshat herself in her role as sacred architect and teacher of numbers. It has at the top tier a magnificent natural theatre and a natural hall of the winds that directs breezes that refresh, and are superb for carrying sound, not dispersing it. These areas and others are connected by smooth, straight canyons that seem made for processions. As the area is near an oasis, and thus uncommonly green for a desert wadi, it is easy to imagine that some version of the Green Man, perhaps even Osiris himself, has played this space in high humor and joy.

He is, along with Hathor/Aphrodite/Venus, one of the ruling characters of the spring. We need not say more here about them, or Pan or Bel or Freya, or cover the Mid-Spring Beltaine festival of early May now. There is more about this crucial passage in the mythic year in the UFC listings for May 1. And there's a picture of the author as the Green Man at a Hawaii Beltaine festival in the Summer Solstice listings for June 20 - 21. For now, our purpose is to show how anyone can create Earth festivals that are moving, satisfying and fun. Here's how our Spring Festival in Sinai will go:
1. Purification
Before sacred energies are welcomed and acknowledged and other ceremonies begin, it is well to purify the festival space and the celebrants. This can be done in several ways Here are two, one of them great fun, and an excellent way to release tension through laughter.
The Burning Bowl is well known. Celebrants bring with them pieces of paper, cloth, wood or other easily burned material on which they’ve written,  or into which they’ve transferred by their own intention, one or more physical, psychic or spiritual burdens that they want to release. Materials to be burned can be preset in the circle and distributed, or prepared ahead of time and brought by the celebrants. Doing the latter not only finesses the cumbersome business of passing around pencils and paper, but also helps insure that celebrants will not get stuck in their heads at the top of what aims to be a heart celebration. A fire is started in a metal bowl or brazier – the main fire in the fire pit should not be used for this purpose – and then is either carried around the circle or approached by the people, who sing a fire chant as they hold the intention of releasing what they want to expel not only from themselves, but from everyone in the circle.
Purification can also be done by a simple Garbage Dump clown ritual that is fast, high in energy, and always gets the group laughing. The festival priest or priestess outlines what we’re going to do, so that the process doesn’t have to be interrupted by new instructions once it begins. We form a small circle around an open space – not in the main celebration area – and we agree that this space is now a soul garbage dump, and that we’re going to throw into it everything that is not love. The moves and sounds are simple. We place the hands in the center of the chest, name what we want to expel and then pull straight out, with a quick move and a sharp exhalation (Foo!), all fear or hate or grief, or whatever else we want to unload. Then we take what we’ve just pulled from the heart and throw it down into the dump, with a splashing sound (P'tssshh!).
The rhythm is easy. First one shouts what he or she wants to release. The group repeats it, then all pull it out and throw it down. The priest sets the tempo with the first few releases, then opens the game to any and all in the circle. It can start like this:
We release from our hearts all fear! Group repeats All fear! Foo! P’tssshh!
All anger. Foo! P’tssshh!
All judgment. Foo! P’tssshh!
All hate. Foo! P’tssshh!

And so on. The other popular candidates are obvious. Envy. Resentment. Jealousy. Separation. Unworthiness. Guilt. Greed. Sorrow. Arrogance. Humorlessness. This one works best when it’s fast and strong, even if a few plants have to be prepared in the group to help lead, and thereby encourage others to join in. The main thing is to maintain rhythm. You may be tempted, as I am, to say, “All vicious corporatist predators and polluters who steal our money, kill our people and poison our planet.” But this is not appropriate, as our aim is not to act in judgment, but to purge fear in all its forms from ourselves. Even worse, long sentences break the rhythm.

When the purge runs its course, then the whole group moves in closer to all the garbage, and we all lift everything it together, and send it back to Source on the sound of Paaahhh!, the Tibetan syllable of release. On a rhythm of three we say thank you . . . bless you . . . and Paaahhh! By the time we’re done the group is laughing, their juices are flowing, and they’re ready for anything.
2. Protection
This is the first thing, or one of the first, that happens when the circle is cast and we are ready to begin. As ceremonies often create great beauty and may therefore attract beings of mischief -- and not only amid the famously extreme interplay of light and dark here in Egypt -- it is useful and may be absolutely necessary to draw a circle of protection around the community. Rituals for doing this by surrounding the group with a sphere of light, and acknowledging the warriorship of Michael, the light mastery of Metatron and the protectiveness of Tara, Wadjet and others, are well known. The group may also choose to set intentions, standards and boundaries at the top of the ceremony, and declare that beings of love are welcome in what we are about to do, and that beings who come with other intentions are now be warned of what will happen if they attempt to bring into this space anything that is not love. The opening announcement might go like this:
Hail! And welcome. We are gathered this evening to celebrate the Universal Spring festival, in the moment when the Sun is poised between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice, and Pan, Aphrodite, the Green Man, Freya, Krishna, Hathor and other beings of love celebrate the joy of spring in the season of new green leaves, and the planting of new life. It is our intention to create an experience of such love and beauty that many beings, both those who are in physical bodies and incorporeal spirit beings, will be drawn to us this night. Some of them may be beings who are out to stir fear and trouble, and may mistake our beauty for mere glamour.
We give notice therefore, to all beings here present, and those who will be drawn to us tonight, that the energies who are welcome in this sacred space are those who resonate with our shared frequencies of love and kindness, forgiveness and compassion, mercy and joy. Those who hold these energies sacred are in harmony with us, and we honor and welcome you. Those who do not resonate with these frequencies are warned hereby that if you approach this circle while we are at work and play here, you run the risk of being transmuted instantly into a being of love, and you will have to kiss your tragedies goodbye. Beware! This place is holy. We declare it so as we are gathered on sacred ground as sacred brings doing sacred work and play in a sacred manner.
3. Acknowledgment and Welcome

This kind of ritual is sometimes called an invocation, which means a calling in. But we refer to it here as acknowledgement and welcome because we are not on calling on spiritual beings as though they are somehow separate from us, and they must be invited because they are not present, but may come if they feel we are worthy to have them among us. Rather, we acknowledge and welcome the exalted beings who are in fact already here with us, and do not have to be called, but recognized. As with many of the other rituals on this page, this one too works best in a rhythm with a simple refrain. The welcome can be voiced by one is echoed by the others, like this:

We welcome Shiva, lord of the drum. -- All: Hail, and welcome.

We welcome Pele, lady of the volcano. -- All: Hail, and welcome.
We welcome Prometheus the trickster. -- All: Hail, and welcome.
We welcome Isis, abundant mother. -- All: Hail, and welcome.
We welcome Jesus, master of love. -- All: Hail, and welcome.
We welcome Kwan Yin, vessel of compassion. -- All: Hail, and welcome.
This continues until all celebrants who wish to speak have welcomed the beings to whom they’re devoted.  The author has led and joined welcomes of this kind without incurring punishment on anyone. Jesus and Mary are always welcomed, and always seem happy to join their colleagues.
4. Procession

Processions are always useful for creating the transition into sacred space, and for transitions from one ritual area to another. In the Spring Festival we'll do at Wadi Genai, which -- like all such spaces that eons of water movement have turned into terraced natural corridors -- we'll do the opening rites in the natural theatre that surrounds the living spring, then move in a series of processions down to the conspiration and sound spaces below. As processions take the gathering from talkative social space into the discipline of silence in sacred space, they work best when they can use chant and rhythm to get people out of the routine chatter of monkey mind, and entrain them toward the main ceremony. Simple chants are best, especially when people who know them, and players of small drums and shakers, can be sprinkled all through the procession, so others can follow the rhythm and the chants.

The procession can be as simple or elaborate as the group wants to design, though a few common sense practices usually apply. Gatekeepers who will smudge the celebrants with sage smoke are usually in front, so they can get to the entrance portal first and be ready. Didjeridoo players are best in placed behind the gatekeepers, so they can form outside the portal a sound corridor that the others pass through as they enter the ritual space. And as in almost any religious procession or holiday parade, the “dignitaries” – the festival priests and priestesses, and those who embody mythic figures and have roles in the ritual play and teaching pieces -- come at the end.

A Blind Walk Corridor is perhaps the most deeply moving, powerful and yet challenging kind of procession, for those who will brave the risk of surrendering control. As the front of the line reaches the portal to the ritual space, the line stops and splits into a corridor of two parallel lines, with people facing each other in pairs. From the back of the procession, the people now walk one by one through the corridor, closing their eyes and letting themselves be guided through by the touch and sound of the others. When they arrive at the portal, or are even guided all the way into the space, they are gently touched with a feather or told in a whisper to open their eyes. They then take their places directly, or do so after they’ve helped to guide others. The aim here is to keep the people continuously engaged as corridor guides, blind walkers and musicians. As it’s hard to maintain silence in a blind walk, it’s best to have didjeridoos, flutes and drums playing softly as the blind walkers are moving.

One beautiful variation on this scheme is a Bell Procession like the one we'll do between the conspiration and bowl circles in the Spring Festival at Wadi Genai. A bell procession works best at or after the middle of the evening, when the group has become more accustomed to abstaining from small talk in the silence of sacred space. Each pair of people carries a bell or chime and one or more lighted incense sticks. Each pair begins to move when the pair in front of it has moved some ten meters ahead, instead of following closely on one another as they would in a chant and drum procession. The players ring their bells in no specific rhythm, but simply as their intuition moves them. Less is more. The silence punctuated only by bell sounds is elegant and mysterious, as we expect it will be in the natural Hall of the Winds at Wadi Genai. When do bell processions work to perfection? When birds and insects join in the music, and all are one.
5. Removing the Garment of Separation
As is evident by now, one way to keep a festival lively is to alternate the deep and moving parts with light and funny ones. So we follow the bell procession with a short, delightful ritual that’s especially good for breaking the ice in a group that is gathering for the first time. The leader asks the group to imagine that we’re all wearing our garments of separation, which feel like inflatable rubber suits that keep us from hugging or touching each other. The suits cover us completely, even to hoods that cover our heads and air-filled gloves on our hands. Each one of us looks like the Michelin Man or the Pillsbury Doughboy. We imagine that we poke our suits here and there and hear Byoom! Byoom!, the bouncing rubber sound. Now we begin to peel our suits, starting with the hood. Then we unzip the front from neck to crotch, and we peel away the right arm, then the left. Then we push our suits down our torso and hips, pulling out one leg and then the other, so at the end we’re holding a thin rubber suit full of air. Now we squeeze it and shape it into the round shape of a beach ball. We bat our suits around the space above us, and with a last few Byoom! Byoom!, we send them away. We have now all removed the garment of separation, and we're ready to go deeper in the next steps.
6. Conspiration

The celebrants stand close enough to each other in the circle that they can place their hands in the center of the back of the people on their right and their left, so that each one now has his or her hands on the back door of two other hearts. It’s easy for the group to come into the same breath rhythm, as everyone feels at once that their neighbors’ backs expand when they breathe in, and contract when they exhale. The group leader will find that the breath rhythm is easiest to sustain when he or she does not speak continuously, but matches the breath of the group by pausing to inhale with them, then speaking on the outbreath, like this:

Before we had in our language the word conspiracy (inhale),

Which means to breathe together for some unholy purpose (inhale),
In ancient times we joined one another in conspiration (inhale),

Which means to breathe together for some sacred purpose (inhale).

And so on. As the conspiration continues, the leader tells the celebrants that communities of spirit have been breathing together like this for thousands of years, as we become one mind and a single concentrated heart when we become one breath. We also affirm our oneness with the Universal Source, as the word spirit means breath, and inspiration signifies the divine breath that gives life and motion to all things. We then imagine that on each inbreath we are receiving the energy, the vitality and the love of the one on our left, bringing them into our left hand, up our left arm and into our heart. As we breathe out, we then send our energy, vitality and love through our right arm and right hand into the heart of the person on our right. As this continues our breath gets stronger and deeper. We imagine the breath of all moving through the circle until each one has given strength and love to all the others, and has been filled in turn by their breath and their love.
Conspirations can produce high states of focus and concentration, so they’re excellent preludes to the prayer and meditation that may come next. Or to the building of trust.
7. A Little Help from Our Friends

This is actually an exercise that theatre groups use to build the cohesion and trust of the ensemble, but it works well for bonding a spiritual community too if the celebrants have the discipline to avoid banter and maintain silence for some fifteen minutes or more. The group forms a circle. Then one by one, or in pairs if the group is large, the people close their eyes and walk slowly across the circle until they reach others who gently turn them around so that they can cross the circle again. The circle may back up as the blind walker approaches, increasing the uncertainty. There are two challenges in a blind walk: whether the walker is able to trust the others, without trying to feel the way with his or her hands; and whether the group can keep silent, as talk in the circle helps the walker get bearings easily, and gives away the game.

There are variations on this kind of trust circle, including some in which half the group slowly walks blind at the same time, while the others maintain a circle around them to keep them safe. This one is wonderful for sharpening intuition especially if it can be done in a very quiet place where the blind walkers can hear each other’s breath and footsteps.
8. Bowl Circle
This is the main music time, when chant, drumming and other sounds can ride confidently on the cohesion and fun that the rites and games have created by now. We will bring to Sinai from Cairo the entire set of seven chakra-tuned quartz crystal singing bowls -- shown here at the Temple of the Sun in Abu Ghroub, near Saqqara -- that Daniel Brower of Circle of Sound donated last year to Egypt as one of the seven "primary sites" for the Global Harmonization ceremonies that are done at each Solstice and Equinox by hundreds of sound circles worldwide.
9. Communion
The relevance of this one is obvious, as is the reason why communion is normally done near the end of the gathering, after the community has been purified, concentrated and unified by the rites that have been done up to this point. We will share what is now the planet's most precious gift: water, which we have poured into the crystal bowls for the bowl circle, and have charged by now with their frequencies of sound. More about water rituals in the UFC soon, when we travel to the water treasury of Petra, and meet the water goddess at the Summer Solstice.
10. Angel Walk

This is a wonderfully moving and empowering way to end a ceremony. It is yet another blind walk -- funny how much the building of community is a simple matter of putting ourselves in the hands of others -- and is used to praise and bless the celebrants as they leave. Everyone forms a corridor, and the people walk through one at a time, eyes closed, guided by the hands and words of those on either side. As each one comes through, the others lean close and whisper words of acknowledgement, praise, appreciation, blessing, love – whatever each one wishes to say that is strengthening and loving. As each one gets to the end, the last person in the corridor asks him or her to open their eyes, and the one who has just been blind walking joins the corridor again and guides the walkers who are coming behind until all have come through.

There are subtle challenges in an angel walk. Fortunately, as the people who form the corridor get to speak to each blind walker who comes by, they are less likely to lapse into chatter when the focus of all their talk should be each person coming through. The blind walker’s task is actually more challenging, as those who have trouble receiving will tend to thank or reply in other ways to those who are whispering to them. This keeps the blind walker stuck in his or her head, instead of letting the words of the others wash the heart. The trick for the blind walker is to say nothing, think about nothing. And be ready to switch at the end of the corridor from blind walker back into corridor guide. Those who emerge from the corridor deeply moved, even in tears, are apt to forget that coming a few steps behind them is another person who is as blissed out as they are, and it’s their responsibility to take care of her.
And that's it. That's how to do a festival with nothing more than the group's common sense, a little creativity, a willingness to listen in the silence of sacred space, and a desire to act in service and care for one another.
Happy May Day and a joyous Beltaine weekend to you, however you celebrate the rites of spring in tune with the harmonics of the soul and the Earth. Keep Holding That Frequency.
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The Chiron - Neptune Conjunction of 2009 - 2012:
Prelude: The American Election of November 4, 2008
Prelude Supplement: And the Winner Is . . .
Act 1: Conflicts: The Neptune Return of April 11, 2009
Act 2: Complications: The Triple Chiron-Neptune-Jupiter Conjunction of May-August, 2009
Act 3: Turning Point: The Exact Chiron-Neptune Conjunction of Feb. 16 - 17, 2010
Act 4: Crisis and Climax: The Crosses of Summer, 2010
Act 5: Denouement: The Near Chiron-Neptune Conjunction of Nov. 2 - 3, 2010

  © Copyright 2008 Dan Furst. All Rights Reserved.