August, 2007

 

Mythic Prelude:

Trial by Fire

Hello, welcome to the Dog Days, and don't drink too much ice-cold anything all at once. We're now, at the top of August, in a hot time even touchier and more ornery than this moment always is, largely because of a planet alignment we'll look at in a moment.
Southern Europe has been ablaze, and wildfires have burned away thousands of square kilometers, especially in Greece and Italy. Los Angeles is suffering what news teams are calling The Perfect Drought. People in Europe, and in the heat wave that has lingered in Cairo for more than a week, could be said to be dropping like flies . . . if flies were as vulnerable to heat as we are. All kinds of heat -- the baking air that does not move, the burn in the heart and the pops and fizzles of short circuits in the mind, the sulphurous smell of rage and hate, and all the ways that human beings flare at one another when we'd rather fight than find the slow, patient tempo of peace. We do have a genius-level gift for stoking the stove. Consider this cluster of events, all of which have transpired on July 31 and August 1. The Dow Jones dropped woozily, if not precipitously, like a kind of nerf stone, at less than heady news about the US housing market, then shot up again by 150 points, all on the same day. As well it might, now that Rupert Murdoch has bagged The Wall Street Journal for only Five Billion Dollars -- surely a steal at this low, low summer bargain price -- after a prolonged and no doubt agonizing ownership struggle with the Bancroft family, who've owned the in-house paper of American capitalism for more than a century. Vice President Cheney announced he will not close the Chamber of Horrors at Guantanamo Bay, even though the President whom Cheney allegedly reports to has said he wants to get this done. The US Defense Department has announced it will send another 20,000 US troops to Iraq in December, even as politicians of both parties struggle to distance themselves from a failed war and its harvest of fire.
Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni have passed away within hours. Brazil abruptly shifted its environmental policy as it got incontrovertible news of rapid climate change in the Amazon basin. Immigrants in the United States organized combat squads to fight raids by feds armed to their prognathous teeth, on the astounding, revolutionary premise that none of us, whether we're citizens or not, have to put up with thugs in black who storm our houses, bark in our faces and shove guns up our noses in the dead of night. And amid all the ongoing roar and rumble about whether the sacred Hill of Tara will be destroyed in order to build a new highway, The Irish Examiner has reported that within the last few days, a dozen large new wasp nests have been discovered in the Tara valley. Finally, after months of bitter peatslinging, a compelling mythic image has brought the story into chilling focus. Everybody in Ireland knows that "In Celtic lore, the wasp is associated with the anger of Mother Earth at man’s wrongdoing. Its unexpected appearance in a given location was believed to portend disaster or ill fortune for anyone messing around with fairy forts or fairy rings." So Bertie Ahern and the developers have of course now decided not to build the highway, right? Nope. We're still dealing here with human beings in August, when, as Napoleon knew, friction is at its very weirdest and least predictable.
He saw friction as the key principle of warfare, not only in battle but also in logistics and communications, espionage and the care and feeding of morale. Understanding friction between opposing forces before and during battle was the easy part, really. Any actor with a boxwood baton and a good hat could get lucky at that. But knowing how to minimize friction within your own forces and allies, while increasing it among your enemies -- that was the art of the business. Especially at times when the weather is against you, as it is in August, when human beings are least likely to be patient and civil, and are more likely to turn your house into a fire festival while you are in it.
So our theme this month -- everybody is writing about it, and we'll look at a few examples below -- is: how will we handle friction at home, within our own team, at a time of year when it's always naturally high, and in the year 2007, when two implacable planets are grinding white-hot on each other as August begins? And . . . when it seems that reliable alliances and assumptions are disintegrating under us, how are we going to keep the ark together and get all the animals to safety when so many of us are on the move, and we have no idea whether the relationships that give some comfort and order to our lives -- or at least some appearance of control -- may not be there a year from now?
"[O]ur Lightworker family" writes Lisa Renee at Energetic Synthesis, "has been pulling off and pairing into groups that are more mutually supportive and in resonance with their current implementation of the divine plan. . . . We have noticed that we are leaving and ending some relationships that no longer serve a mutual evolutionary purpose. How do we honor each other's mutual purposes and still acknowledge the value, interconnection and interdependence of all components of our reality and the One source living within all things?" How indeed. Lisa lists some ways of finding our "core strength" by reaffirming simple principles: "All is One," "Do onto others as you would Do onto yourself," "Always Speak Compassion" or "What would Jesus DO?" And these approaches may indeed help some of the people some of the time, which is the best we can hope for from anything we try now. More than anything else, though, it will be the simple mythic image, the simple story that can speak to many hearts, that will get us through the fire, at least for now, until we know how and when to choose the fire, as Rumi saw it.
Why was the fire so unusually hot yesterday at Lughnasadh, and why is it still, and will it be for yet another week? Because on Aug. 1 Mars and Saturn were conjunct in the fire sign of Leo. The meeting of Mars' aggression and Saturn's restraint tends to manifest in frustrating, exhausting tests of strength in which something has to give, even violently, so disasters like the collapse of a bridge in Minneapolis and a horrendous train crash in the Democratic Republic of Congo are more likely to occur when Mars and Saturn are in friction, refusing to accommodate each other's tempo, so there is no telling what will give way.
Can you imagine a whole week of crawling along at 10 miles below the speed limit behind the world's most cautious driver, on a one-lane road that has no place for you to pass or for the other guy to pull aside and let you by? Then you know what it's like when the hot, hasty Warrior gets stuck behind the cold, prudent Teacher who's content to move at the deliberate speed of his slower horse. Which of the men shown here would you rather have in possession of your car keys?
The knight on the right, who charges alone into a high wind over barren ground so fast that his horse looks nervously behind at the nut on his back rather than at whatever's in front of him? Or the charioteer on the left, who needs no reins because his touch is so light that he guides his car by intuition alone, or -- because the chariot itself is made of stone and the two sphinxes in front of it have never moved it an inch and were never meant to, as they're really the light and dark sides of the driver? Which would you rather ask to bring you your car? The guy who'll sideswipe every one of those purple pillars on level 6, then practically hit you as he screeches to a stop? Or the guy who never moves your car at all? Don Quixote would have found such a question entertaining, and could have crooned eruditely about it to Sancho Panza for a page or more. But then he was not trying to keep body and soul, team and ethics, sanity and laughter together in August of 2007.
So what does the UFC recommend? The usual prescription, really. Along with spiritual principles and good maps, one thing that will help us through the blaze of summer is the mythic frame full of stories and rhythms that used to show us how to play this most impatient time of the year. Back before we invented Western solar calendars to help us count our crops and manage and multiply our money, we lived by a lunar calendar that helped us manage and multiply our children because it was based on the central principle of all matriarchies: our most important asset is our women, because they are the bearers of new life. We can give up everything else, gold and weapons, horses and all the rest, and somehow we'll get it back and go on. But if our women do not bring new birth, we will not go on at all. And that is why we honor and empower the Womb-Man, the Mother, as the cycle of the Triple Goddess continues, and we mark its turning in the lunar calendar, the only code of law the sacred feminine ever needed, and still needs.
The rhythms of the Moon are encoded in the esbats, that is, the dark and full moons of the spirit play that once made sense to everyone, but can mystify those who look now at the names of Moon phases in the Celtic-Druidic and Wiccan calendars that are today's descendents of the time markers we used to reckon time before we even knew what time was, or began to imagine that time is money. Why were the esbats of spring and summer called by such names as Chaste Moon and Maiden Moon, Mother Moon and Dyad Moon, Claiming Moon and Dispute Moon?
What was being claimed and disputed? The women, of course. They were the treasure on which everything depended, and the whole majestic, orderly dance of life moved according to their choices and their sacred action of bringing new children to birth. Here is how the most perilous sequence of scenes moved toward its moment of friction and resolution in mid-summer:
Chaste Moon and Maiden Moon (April) and Mother Moon (May)
The lunations of April -- i.e., the new and full moons -- are optimistically called Chaste Moon and Maiden Moon because in the fiery surge of Aries the Ram, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to what can charitably be called love, though it is often something hotter and more urgent – so wise women must guard the virgins with especial care. Mothers rule, most of all those whose daughters will soon be married at the Dyad Moon in June.
Dyad Moon, Honey Moon and Rose Moon (June)
The Gemini season of late May through most of June has been known as the time of the Twins, or the Two, or the Dyad, since ancient times, because we have always known that this month is not just about Mars, the male ruler of Aries, or Venus, who rules the Taurus month that follows. It’s about the hieros gamos, the sacred union of the two, and this is why we have had June brides for thousands of years before we had Juno, or June. We still use the same symbols of the season today. The newlyweds’ first days of marriage are still called a Honey Moon, and it begins after their families and friends have strewn their path with the white flowers of spirit and the red ones of passion under the Rose Moon.
Blessing Moon and Claiming Moon (July)
As June moves past the Summer Solstice and into July, the Maiden makes the first crucial transition of her life. She now becomes a lover, growing into the Venus role that up to now has been more fantasy in the mind than fire in the flesh. And like Venus, who like every love goddess must bear children, the young woman who’s been a Virgin until now will likely be a Mother in the coming year, perhaps at the next Mother Moon in May. But the goddess who is most truly in power now, and will be so increasingly as the years pass and the marriage bears fruit, is not Venus, but Juno. In her many facets as Hera (Greek), Fricka (Norse), Uma and Parvati (Hindu), Isis-Hathor (Egyptian) and countless others, she has always represented the order, fidelity and reverence of home and family life at its most rooted and stable. And this is why the Blessing Moon that followed the Honey Moon is for consecrating the new home. The rites are timeless. The hearth fire is lit. The first food offerings are made, and they must include bread and salt, so that those who live under this roof will never know hunger, and their life together will never lose its savor.  The flowers and herbs that bring health, prosperity and babies are placed on lintels and rafters.
Under Claiming Moon, the young men claim the young women. After the newly-married couples are happily settled into their homes at Blessing Moon, a man has about two weeks, until Claiming Moon, to ask for the hand of the young woman he hopes to marry at the next Dyad Moon, after a proper courtship lasting almost a year. It’s understood that while the suitor must honor his intended’s father by asking his consent and answering his questions about oxen and tools, and his general willingness to work hard and earn those yams and pumpkins – it’s obvious who will really make the decision. The Mother, just as her mother accepted some 20 years ago the young man who seemed the best mate for her daughter. The more desirable the young woman, the greater the likelihood that she’ll attract more than one ardent young man, which brings us to:
Dispute Moon (Full Moon in August)

One of the essential complications of the play now arrives. We have rivals. And we have rules for handling rivalry when it comes. One is that the mother must make her choice by the next new moon, unless she wants to play a risky game by prolonging the uncertainty, or even worse, her daughter wants to tweak the gods and stoke the gossips by refusing all her suitors. The other rule is that the lucky lover does not gloat, and the rejected ones find their way to accept what is not to be. The timing of this spiritual ordeal could not be better, coming as it does in the dog days of Leo month, when male pride inhales deep and passions explode. But the losers must, and almost always do, surrender to reality as the women have defined it. There is much to be done in the months to come: the grape and grain harvests, the Hunter’s Moon, the caring for those who sicken and pass away in the cold of Mourning Moon and Dead Moon. Good teamwork is essential will be essential soon, so the village will not abide disputatious men now.

At Dispute Moon, tempers can flare, blades flash, warriors of the flesh rumble to duke it out with each other -- and warriors of spirit strive to work it out within themselves, for a healthy outcome of the story requires that disputes must be resolved for the good of the whole. This is why ancient calendars all had their August stories of conflict followed by a peaceful resolution. The Dispute Moon rites that follow are a brief gallery of fight scenes that reveal the core soul values of the cultures they represent:

Before the ancient Egyptians adopted a solar calendar, and fixed the most violent scene in the year’s great mythic drama right at August 15, this week of the last dog days and the respite from the Great Heat was the showdown battle in the legend cycle of Isis, Osiris and their son, the falcon-headed solar hero Horus. Every year the people acted the story of this divine family at sacred sites all along the Nile, and the hottest episode of all came now. The epic combat between Horus and his uncle Set – dark Lord of the desert Red Land, and murderer of his brother Osiris – was said to have lasted 80 years (!), by the end of which the Earth was so badly scorched by Horus’ solar fire that all the other neters, in council, mandated a truce. Thus August 14 was the Day of Reconciliation, beginning a solemn four-day rite affirming the neters’ decree that from now on Horus and Set will have to live in a peaceful balance of order and chaos, life and death, light and darkness, earth and sky.
This became one of the most influential duality paradigms of the ancient world, and has echoed constantly ever since. So has the mythic story, so often old about August, of the Sun coming too close to Earth, in the ancient Greek myth of Phaeton. This inept driver, the timeless mythic teenager who wants to tool around in Dad's car, handled the chariot of Helios the Sun so disastrously that he nearly set the whole world on fire, so that Zeus had to blast him out of the sky with a thunderbolt and drop him into the river Po, to get the Sun back on his sure, safe course.

The battles of Dispute Moon were not fought only by men. The Greco-Roman world held now the great annual festivals of Artemis/Diana in her most terrifying aspect as the dark destroyer Hecate. While this necessary goddess has been much misunderstood since the Middle Ages as a kind of Satanic figure invoked by those who practice the black arts – for example, the Weird Sisters in Shakespeare’s Macbeth – she is in fact the spiritual progeny of the Egyptian netert Sekhmet. This ferocious killer and avenger was female and lioness-headed because the Egyptians, being in Africa, knew how lions hunt: the male, with his big mane and roar, jumps up and scares the game, making it run toward the lioness, who waits quietly in hiding to make the very quick kill. Just as Sekhmet’s rites celebrated her successful self-defense against an attempted rape by Set, Hecate’s festival was a warning to men who have sexual violence in mind, if it can be called mind. The festival was a firm admonition that silver-footed Artemis does her best to teach and protect women against rape –but Hecate, with fatal intent, is out to flame the perpetrator.

In the Norse tradition, the 9-day solar ordeal of Odin was an inner struggle rather than a fight against an outer adversary. Determined to strive for as long as it would take to gain enlightenment, like Siddhartha meditating under the bo tree until he awakened into Buddhahood, the king of Valhalla hung on the Weltesche, the world ash tree Yggdrasil, until the moment when he fell screaming from the tree, having seen at last the secret of the runes. This image of the god hanging in suspension as he surrenders to the ordeal of wisdom is closely related to the figure of the Hanged Man in the Tarot, and to Native American Sun Dance rituals, in which young men hung from a giant wooden hoop, symbolizing the Sun, placed atop a tall pole. This excruciating rite, in which each warrior hung suspended from the wheel by cords fastened to sharp wooden pegs pushed through his chest muscles, was also said to bring mystical knowledge to those who could endure it. This feast is also resonates with many ancient myths of the solar hero and savior who is killed in the prime of his vitality, and dies hanging from, or sealed within, a tree.
Among Mahayana Buddhists, one of the year's great festivals of Tara, also called Kwan Yin in China and Kannon in Japan, is held now to honor her qualities of compassion, mercy and healing. During these days, which culminate at the full Moon of the 6th lunar month, devotees focus on their commitment to live in service and carry the principles of Tara into practice, no matter how hard the practice, and how great the obstacles.
Finally, the Jewish calendar observes its rite of the trial by patience at Dispute Moon too. Tishah B'Av, the Dark Time, one of the year's most somber days of ceremony and fasting, commemorates the suffering of the Jews from the destruction of Solomon's temple in Jerusalem, and other calamities of ancient Jewish history.
How the soul plays Dispute Moon in August depends in great measure on its maturity. The comments of the brilliant astrologer Guru Rattana on how young, intermediate and advanced souls work or do not work with the Leo energy are worth a look at length:
"How deep anyone goes in pursuing the archetypical quest of their astrological blue print depends of the age and goals of our soul. If Leo is a young soul, he/she may remain at the limited ego/personality phase of development. If Leo is an intermediate level soul he/she will be motivated to make a difference in the world. Intermediate level souls want to be noticed for what they do, but they do not necessarily wish to explore deeper levels of inner connection. They may (or may not) 'talk' spirituality. Their discovery of spiritual concepts usually remains mental and theoretical. They may speak about ideas, but not devote the time to the spiritual practice required to embody them.
"Both young and intermediate level Leos can live good, ethical lives and enjoy positions of influence. They quest to find their specific throne in the outer world. Whether their focus is the arts, business or spirituality, they desire 'to be in the limelight, to draw followers, to seek applause, (and) to shine.' The more advanced Leo souls are searching for joyful enlightenment as represented by the Sun. Through their life experiences, they are learning to how to experience illumination and light in both the mind and the heart. The Leo archetype teaches us that the purpose of Light is to switch on the heart and then to live life from the light-hearted consciousness of pure joy, freedom and compassion."
In more practical and accessible terms that everyone knows, the playing of Dispute Moon comes down to what we all used to know: the harvest is coming, whether in wheat, wisdom or both, and we will have to patch up our differences to bring it in. Astrologers encounter the same theme whenever we read for families, because each one wants something that he can get with the help of the others, but may never get if he persists in being against them. It's as The Wizard of Oz story says: the Tin Man gets a heart, the Scarecrow gets a brain, the Lion gets courage and Dorothy gets home if they work as a team. And if they have enough of a sense of play to take a swim in the ocean.
As in this water, at the reef near my home in Sharm El Sheikh. Like the two figures you can just make out in the center of the picture, I snorkel here every day between stretches of writing. It's been essential for me, as it will be for many of us in the years to come, to get to places that will serve our aims. My move has been extreme, from the cacophony and severe environmental and emotional pollution of Cairo to this light, peaceful, airy spot at the bottom of Sinai, on the Indian Ocean's northwest fingertip.
This is my office, on the roof of the Villa El Aziz, literally the Villa of Isis:
I pray and intend that She continues to prosper and protect me, however she appears and flows. After three years of being blessed by the Lady of the River, measurelessly abundant, I pray in the birth cycle to come for the guidance and inspiration, healing and deep cleansing of Isis, Star of the Sea. One thing that helped to direct my move with uncanny precision is a StarMap that I've cast with Io Cartography, based on the Astrocartography system of the late, brilliant Jim Lewis. My StarMap showed that my life on the Nile was "built on sand" for all practical purposes, though Cairo was marvelously useful for attracting ordeals that could have spiritual value. Whether the stress of Cairo has burned some soul slag out of me, or only baked it into place, is for others to say in times to come. Right now, breath, laughter and writing flow a lot more easily in South Sinai.
Wherever you go, wherever you are in this month of fire, there is always water to come, wine at the harvest and soon after, Singing Moon when voices join in celebration. Keep Holding That Frequency.

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