Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Return of the Light

Midwinter Festival of Light 

The Wheel of the Year has turned once again and we find ourselves at the Midwinter Festival of Light, one which has been celebrated in many mythologies and under many names for eons.

At this time in the Northern Hemisphere, the light of the sun is reborn and the days begin to grow longer, waxing toward spring. Very frequently midwinter is celebrated as the birthday of the Sun God; always, it marks a time of renewal. It is a time of light in the midst of darkness, warmth of spirit and heart to counter the cold of the weather and a harsh world.

In actuality, the story of the birth of the Sun God, the Divine Child of Light, has its origins in the stars of the winter sky. The hours of darkness have gradually increased since the Autumnal Equinox as the longest and darkest night of year, the Midwinter Solstice, approaches. The actual moment of Solstice marks the time when the Sun moves from the sign of Sagittarius into that of Capricorn. At midnight on Midwinter Night, the constellation of Virgo, holding her sheaf of wheat, rises in the eastern sky. And so the Virgin gives birth to the Child of Light in the very depths of the darkness. His light, the newborn sun, will rise at dawn.

The newborn Light will bring growth and abundance—and therefore, life. So it’s not surprising to find that, in the Christian tradition, the Child is born from the House of Bread—Bethlehem’s literal meaning—who is the Virgin holding the sheaf of grain. He is laid in a manger—the small glowing starry cloud of Praesaepe, or Manger/Crib, which is in the constellation of Cancer, the astrological sign of the Mother, the nurturer. He is surrounded by ox and ass— respectively, the constellation of Taurus and the star group Aselli, the Asses, in the constellation of Cancer, with one ass positioned on each side of his Manger.

Three wise men—called kings or magi—come seeking him. The stars that form the belt of Orion, which rises in the southeast on Midwinter Night, were often called the Three Kings. The Kings/Magi, who were said to be astrologers, have come because they “followed his star” that rose in the East. Was it Sirius, brightest of the stars and associated by the Egyptians with Isis, whose light they followed? Or perhaps a special planetary conjunction that lit up the night sky in the months just before midwinter? 

Angels sing to herald this birth—bending low to the earth from their homes in the high heavens. Angel means “messenger,” and stars were looked upon as messengers of the divine. The angels’ song poured forth the message of the new birth—and its accompanying flow of spiritual energies—that ushered in a new era of light, love, growth, and abundance to come. The angels sang of this new birth to shepherds in their fields. The constellation of Bootes, near Virgo, is known as the shepherd or herdsman, while the constellation of Auriga is known as the shepherd’s crook.

And so the sky tells the story of the birth of the Holy Child of Light. At Midwinter, this Light is born again, and will shine forth—bringing light, warmth, joy, and abundance to all the world.

This time of the year is a time of sharing, love, and good cheer. May you all experience these holiday delights of the spirit, which far surpass any material gifts.

© Margie McArthur, 2005-2006; All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception

What follows is an excerpt from my book Lady of the Sea: The Goddess Who Births the New Age,
© Margie McArthur, 2002-2016, All rights reserved)

In the Catholic calendar, today, December 8th, is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary.

The Catholic Church has long held that Jesus had been conceived by divine intervention, without the aid of a physical father. Although born of a human woman, he was declared to be without the “soul-stain” brought about by the Original Sin of Adam and Eve, which was said to be, thereafter, passed on to their descendants—every human being ever born.

But how could this be unless the mother of Jesus was equally free of such sin?

The great minds of Christianity pondered this for centuries and came to the conclusion that Mary herself must also be free of sin. But how could a mere human be without the stain of the Original Sin?

Several theories were proposed: that her conception was as virginal as that of her son; that God granted her the special privilege of sinlessness at the moment of her conception; that her physical conception had occurred in the normal way, but that her spiritual conception—the infusing of soul into body—was the part that was sinless. As one might imagine, this opened the door to even more thought and theorizing as to the soul condition of her parents, and the part played by normal sexual desire, called concupiscence, which was often equated with sin.

So, at one point in its evolution, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception sought to extend the nature of Jesus’s conception—sex-free and desire-free—to that of his mother as well. This version did not make it into the final and formal doctrine, but it was quite seriously considered and debated for many years.

During the 1830 apparitions to Catherine Laboure, Our Lady requested that a medal be struck with a prayer on it saying. “Oh Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” This may have served to reignite interest in the subject, since the doctrine was finally and formally proclaimed by the Church in 1854, and thus was only four years old when, in 1858, the Lady of Lourdes said with great intensity and emotion to fourteen year old visionary Bernadette Soubirous, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

While the Church obviously took this to mean the concept on which they’d been considering for years—that Mary’s own conception was virginal and asexual—was correct, it is interesting to ponder what this doctrine, and Mary’s statement, mean on a deeper, more esoteric level.

To begin with, the idea of a person being born of a human woman yet fathered by a spiritual power was not a new one. Many other gods, avatars, and prominent spiritual teachers in the ancient world were considered to have been thus conceived. It is not at all surprising to find the Church considered Jesus’s conception to have occurred in this manner; indeed, it would have been surprising had they thought otherwise. But it was quite significant that they decided the same was true of his human mother. This, combined with the fourth century proclamation of Mary as Theotokos—Bearer (i.e. Mother) of God—quite neatly recognized her inherent divinity without actually committing the sin of blasphemy by calling her a Goddess.

The word immaculate means very clean, very pure, and without stain. Metaphysically this can be seen to mean the condition of pure spirit—before matter came into being. “Conception” is the first spark in the process of coming into being, into manifestation.

Therefore, the phrase I am the Immaculate Conception means one who came into material manifestation by purely spiritual means; no physical realm influences playing a part. This is quite profound, as what it really states is that such a being is inherently a being of pure spirit taking manifestation in human form and is thus both human and divine. This places Mary in the same category as her divine son and other divinely conceived—and therefore themselves divine—avatars of other religious traditions.

But this point of view is based on the traditionally Catholic understanding that there is a huge inherent difference and separation between things physical and things spiritual, between human and divine. If one doesn’t accept that position, if one holds that the physical realm is but Spirit in Manifestation, that we are all pre-existent spirits manifesting in human form, then things begin to look different.

Seen in this light, the Immaculate Conception may mean that Mary is the very essence of pure Spirit in the exact moment at which it sparks into material manifestation, or begins its movement into physical reality. This would mean she is the Void itself, as well as the Void as it births manifestation, bringing energy into being, light into darkness, and ultimately, energy/force into form. Thus, in her simple statement to Bernadette, the Lady proclaims herself the Primal Source and Creatress.