Synchronicity

I just wanted to share a splendid example of synchronicity which happened this morning. I was off to yoga class with a wonderful teacher Di Jones. Before I left home with water and other essentials in hand I paused to draw a card, these are just cards with simple words on them which I keep in a small dish; I asked the question what willthe day bring? The card I picked was courage, I looked and mentally said 'oh, that is interesting I wonder what will pan out.'

I arrived at the yoga studio and settled in; Di usually reads something that she feels is relevant to the day's practice but today she said she had drawn a card and was going to read its meaning or interpretation. The card she had drawn was courage, the picture was of a small but beautiful flower emerging from the rocks and the reading was about having the courage to accept our circumstances and to shine like the flower, a reflection of the sun bright and beautiful. Perhaps those were not the exact words but that is what I heard and understood.

In the practice, we sat and we were asked to move our head mindfully in the shape of figure eight (that of infinity); the tarot card number eight is that of strength, its early name was courage and it shows the symbol of infinity. When I arrived home from yoga practice, I accepted a challenge to present a short lecture, having the courage to use material and skills I had put aside.

Synchronicity happens when we are in tune with our body and mind, and the more we acknowledge this the more it happens.

 

Greetings to my family, friends, acquaintances and  my blog readers. May the New Year bring you much love, success and happiness in all that you do.

This is the season when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  Molnar (1999) has pinpointed the birth of Jesus to 17 April, 6B.C. The Star of Bethlehem was seen on this day, it was an eclipse of Jupiter in Aries, which was in the east. A Roman astrologer described the conditions of the day as befitting a birth of a divine and immortal person.

Whatever your beliefs enjoy this holiday season, be safe, be happy.

Inspirational Writing

Inspirational writing was developed by Spiritualists from the mid-1850s and many used planchettes to receive spirit communication. A planchette (English, a small plank) was a small wooden board on rollers, a pencil was inserted through the middle of the board and the instrument placed on a sheet of paper. The medium would place a hand on the edge of the planchette, gripping the pencil and wait passively for spirit to communicate, through words and pictures.  The planchette was used mainly because communication was much faster than rapping or table tilting; today the ouija board is still used.  The board is often mentioned in diaries of the early Spiritualist period but many Spiritualists now regard the board with some disdain and advise the dangers of using the present day ouija board. If care is not taken the writer may attract mischievous or disruptive spirits and although the observant writer may know intuitively that a lower spirit is ‘coming through’ and cease writing, the process may cause alarm. 

From the planchette mediums moved to passive writing, an exercise that could be done in privacy and whenever they felt the need to so, although it is now thought that a regular writing period proves best.

Automatic writing has been utilised by many mystics for example: thirteenth century mystic Gertrude was able to publish her work, some divinely inspired and written automatically. Automatic writing is not restricted to words, music is also understood to be composed as we find within the vast portfolio of work produced in a short period of time by Hildegard, who acknowledged that she was not educated in either music composition or singing. The volume of work is extraordinary, Hildegard wrote more than seventy hymns, sequences, antiphons, versicles and responsories. Inspiration of course is not limited to Christians or Spiritualists: many musicians involved in all areas of the music industry feel they have little input to some of their music: the rock guitarist and Rolling Stone Keith Richards tells of writing the groups biggest success Satisfaction in 1965, ‘I dreamt this riff … I just woke up, picked up the guitar, and … I can’t get no … satisfaction.’  Richards goes on to describe how the whole structure of some songs is written in five minutes, the writer becomes the medium and is able to pluck the songs out of the ether, perhaps the collective unconsciousness (as Jung would put it). [1] 

Whilst psychiatry and the scientific rationale were still in their infancy at the time of early Spiritualism a parallel tendency of offering psychodynamic explanations of behaviour that was termed unusual manifested itself early, and descriptive diagnoses have become more sophisticated along with our inability, still, to accept that which we cannot clearly see and touch in a corporeal sense. The line between the divine and mundane has always been a contentious issue: Spiritualists however operate from an understanding that those who venture into the unknown are often richly rewarded in a spiritual way, perhaps even being able to reach the pinnacle, mediumship and the ability to trance regarded in Spiritualist circles as nearing the divine.

 

[1]Victor Bockris Keith Richards: The Unauthorised Biography (London: Omnibus Press, 2006) 70.  Richards likens some song writing to turning on the radio and listening to the song, which he is then able to write down.

Halloween

Many cultures allow for the return of the spirits of the dead on special times of the year. A familiar example is Halloween celbrated on 31st October, which is based upon an old Celtic holiday when the gates that normally separate the worlds of the living and the dead were opened, and the souls of those who had died during the past year, could then move into the Otherworld.

Halloween had its beginnings in an ancient, pre-Christian Celtic festival of the dead. The Celtic peoples divided the year by four major holidays. According to their calendar, the year began on a day corresponding to November 1st on our present calendar. The date marked the beginning of winter in the northern hemisphere. The date marked both an ending and a beginning in an eternal cycle.

The festival observed at this time was called Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween). It was the biggest and most significant holiday of the Celtic year. The Celts believed that at the time of Samhain, more so than any other time of the year, the ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living, because at Samhain the souls of those who had died during the year travelled into the Otherworld. People gathered to sacrifice animals, fruits, and vegetables. They also lit bonfires in honour of the dead, to aid them on their journey, and to keep them away from the living. Many believe that 5th November is a celebration of the burning of Guy Fawkes, who was said to have plotted the destruction of Parliament House, England, and thereby committing treason, but even this ‘celebration’ is based upon a much older tradition.

Samhain became the Halloween we are familiar with when Christian missionaries attempted to change the religious practices of the Celtic people. As a result of their efforts to wipe out 'pagan' holidays, such as Samhain, the Christians succeeded in effecting major transformations in the calendar. In 601 A.D. Pope Gregory I, issued an edict to his missionaries concerning the beliefs and customs of the peoples he hoped to convert. Rather than try to obliterate native peoples' customs and beliefs, the pope instructed his missionaries to use them.

In terms of spreading Christianity, this was a brilliant concept and Church holy days were purposely set to coincide with pagan holy days. Christmas, for example, was assigned the arbitrary date of December 25th because it corresponded with the mid-winter celebration of many peoples. We continue to celebrate the Solstice usually around  21 December, which is the Sun’s ingress into the sign of Capricorn.

Samhain, with its emphasis on the supernatural, was decidedly pagan. While missionaries identified their holy days with those observed by the Celts, they branded the earlier religion's supernatural deities as evil, and associated them with the devil. As representatives of the rival religion, Druids were considered evil worshippers of devilish or demonic gods and spirits. The Celtic underworld inevitably became identified with the Christian Hell.

The effects of this policy were to diminish but not totally eradicate the beliefs in the traditional gods. Celtic belief in supernatural creatures persisted, while the church made deliberate attempts to define them as being not merely dangerous, but malicious. Followers of the old religion went into hiding and were regarded as witches and persecuted.

The Christian feast of All Saints was assigned to November 1st. The day honoured every Christian saint, especially those that did not otherwise have a special day devoted to them. This feast day was meant to substitute for Samhain, to draw the devotion of the Celtic peoples, and, finally, to replace it forever. That didn’t happen, but the traditional Celtic deities diminished in status, becoming fairies or leprechauns of more recent traditions. 

November 2nd was established as All Souls Day, a day when the living prayed for the souls of all the dead. All Saints Day, otherwise known as All Hallows (hallowed means sanctified or holy), continued the ancient Celtic traditions. The evening prior to the day was the time of the most intense activity, both human and supernatural. People continued to celebrate All Hallows Eve as a time of the wandering dead, but the supernatural beings were now thought to be evil. People continued to propitiate those spirits (and their masked impersonators) by setting out gifts of food and drink.

Subsequently, All Hallows Eve became Hallow Evening, which became Hallowe'en, an ancient Celtic, pre-Christian New Year's Day in contemporary style. Today Halloween is celebrated and children are often seen dressed in macabre outfits, which, mock, tease, and appease the dread forces of the night. In so doing, they are reaffirming death and its place as a part of life in an exhilarating celebration of a once holy and magic evening.  The early Church transformed this celebration into All Saints Day and All Souls Day on 1 and 2 November, respectively.

Trick or Treat? We would have to thank (?) those in the USA for that!

Hildegard of Bingen

On the recent visit to Spain and in particular Montserrat, I saw a beautiful image of a number of saints including Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). The passageway was too dark to produce a good photograph but the image is seen at the end of the passageway, a beautiful window looking out onto the mountains. Hildegard was one of the most well-known and revered mystics of the twelfth century, she was known as the ‘Sybil of the Rhine.’

Although her spiritual path within the Church was not always smooth she was able to convey her thoughts and visions within the context of an inspirational medium. Hildegard often overstepped the boundaries, she carried out a number of sacerdotal functions, for example preaching and addressing sermons within monasteries, those prerogatives usually reserved for males, yet she always distinguished her own voice from that of God’s voice, a somewhat safe position, which gave her a prophet’s impunity.

She had visions from the age of three and kept them to herself, knowing that not everyone saw as she did. In her fortieth year and although ensconced in a monastery, she made them known publicly through Volmar the monastery provost and her life-long secretary.  Hildegard was reluctant at first to speak openly of her visions, because of fear of people’s reaction.  She became ill and confessed to Volmar who then relayed the cause of her illness to Kuno, her abbot.  Kuno questioned Hildegard of her visions and advised her to speak out. Hildegard was fearful of writing of her experience but found if she did not, she became ill.  

Hildegard like other medieval mystics readily declared the source of her authority as God, because she ran the risk of accusations of heresy and the work of the Devil and therefore risked her reputation and her life, which may have ended at the stake.  Further, the ecclesiastics were likely to pay heed to a divinely inspired woman rather than a mere presumptuous female.

Hagiographers were careful not to overstate the leadership roles of medieval saints and visionaries, society curtailed transgressions. The Church looked to the teaching of St. Paul who was an authority in this area, forbidding women to speak in church and to be obedient to men (Corinthians 14:34-35), yet their divine guides urged them to demonstrate their abilities, some after many years of suppression as we find, for example, with Hildegard.  It was not just the challenge of the male hierarchical position and inversion of Church authority that was questioned in the medieval period; it was also the gift of prophecy and its attribution of the source of this spiritual energy to God or to the Devil; the Devil was feared during this period.

Hildegard composed a vast portfolio of work produced in a short period of time; she acknowledged that she was not educated in either music composition or singing but produced the work inspirationally. Hildegard wrote more than seventy hymns, sequences, antiphons, versicles and responsories. Her poetry and music eventually formed the Symphonia armoniae clestium revelationum (1150).  She also wrote of the healing power of plants and herbs and much more.

More about inspirational writing and Hildegard in following posts….

Fatima

On May 13, 1917, in Portugal, the Virgin Mary appeared to three young children: Lucia, her cousin Jacinta and her brother Francisco, who were shepherding sheep. She asked the children if they would pray and make sacrifices for sinners on the same day each month, they agreed and Mary appeared each month to them. She would talk to them, show them visions and asked them to pray. Other people began to assemble there too as they heard of the miraculous apparitions. The last public apparition was October 17, 1917 when approximately 70,000 people gathered.  It is said that it began to rain but suddenly the Sun appeared as a disc; it spun like a fireball and appeared to plunge to the earth, this spectacle could be seen in the sky at a distance too. The sky then cleared, people had been drenched by the rain noticed their clothes were dry and warm, and the rest of the day was beautiful.

Mary appeared to the children individually from time to time, she answered their questions and also foretold of their deaths. Francisco died in 1919 and Jacinta in 1920, both from disease, Lucia died in 2005, at the age of 97. She had become Sister Maria Lúcia of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. All three are now interred in what is now known as Fatima, a town built up due to the apparitions and visitors.

Fatima is a now huge pilgrim site; there are four main areas: the Chapel of the apparition, Tombs of the Little Shepherds, the Chapel of the Most Holy Sacraments and the most recent addition the Centennial Portico. 2017 is the centennial year but the past seven years has seen celebrations as a lead up, with many people attending the site; several church services are offered each day, and these are centred on particular invocations.  

The central meeting space is huge; many pilgrims walk on their knees to each station, men, women and children. Of the areas I visited I found the original site of the apparition to be the most peaceful, inspiring and holy place. Many people had gathered there and were sitting in silence, praying and meditating. Candles could be lit in remembrance of those who have passed over and for those needing healing, miracles and many other reasons.

Teresa of Avila

I have wanted for some time to visit Avila and my recent tour of Spain gave me the opportunity, albeit for a short time. Avila is still a walled city, approximately 1200 metres above sea level, and situated just northwest of Madrid. The Cathedral is built into the wall, it served as a place of worship and a fortress. There is much to see in Avila but I was led to St Teresa’s museum, which is located in the crypt of the monastery, named for her and built on the site of her birthplace, her family home. Part of the museum is dedicated to her life and death and other parts to her writings, some of which are on display.

Teresa, she was born in 1515; she was fifteen when her mother died and she was entrusted to the care of Augustinian nuns. In 1535 she joined the Carmelite Order, she was ill for much of the time including paralysation of her legs, it was due to this severe illness that she saw a vision of Christ that changed her life. She started to have many ecstatic experiences and became disillusioned with her physical life and sought a more severe existence. She wanted to reform the Carmelite Order, to create a more primitive way of life and gathered other women around her of like-mind. When she met Juan de Yepes Álvarez (1542-1591), now known as John of the Cross, she enlisted his help to reform the movement which became the Discalced Carmelite Order.

During her austere life as a Discalced Carmelite nun Teresa wrote many inspiring works, these have been translated in several languages and are now available. She wrote of how Christ revealed himself to her, although she puzzled as to how such a strong light could be placed in the interior faculty and a clear image put in the intellect, telling her readers that her intellect was dull and ignorant, yet she wrote evocatively of her experience.

The majority of women were illiterate during this early period, even if they could write they were assigned a male secretary to write for them and edit their work, thereby controlling what was made public. Teresa was aware of the great danger she and other people were in during the sixteenth century and ensured that she made known that her visions were given to her by God. She gained access to God through prayer, interior quiet and peace, sleep, union of all faculties, rapture and suspension. Her spiritual director was Rodrigo Alvarez, who was also a consultant to the Inquisition, that potentially menacing and often omniscient context of medieval spirituality.  

Mystical and visionary experiences are described as altered states of consciousness of an ecstatic, spiritual, and religious quality experienced when near or in the presence of God.  Women in the medieval and early modern period used variations of asceticism to achieve this sense of bliss or ascendancy and to relieve the burden of the flesh: laceration of the flesh and excessive sleep deprivation, fasting or starvation and celibacy. The belief that the body should be disciplined and tormented to obtain complete control over it by the mind was deeply engrained in the Christian psyche. That of course goes back at least to the fourth century and the Desert Fathers, ascetics and mystics or monastics as they are termed now, both men and the women who chose a reclusive and pious life.

The control of food by female ascetics including Teresa, relates to protests against the predominantly male-dominated ecclesiastical hierarchy; food being one of the very few areas of life that women could control.  It is said that Teresa of Avila ate sparingly and often used an olive twig to induce vomiting. Through the practice of asceticism Teresa accessed all her senses and was clearly clairvoyant, clairsentient and clairaudient; she was also a gifted healer and many would seek her help to heal: physically, mentally and emotionally and why many pilgrims still visit Avila.