May 1, 2010

Out from the Depths: Walpurgis Night and Beltane Morning

The greatness and sacredness of Walpurgis and Beltane flood the world with power- and fills the soul of the wise man or woman who can receive it consciously with great joy. That flood of life, the fresh pulsing life-force and the closeness of the Great Otherness, transcends the human ability to capture with words or poetry. This is as it should be; such a powerful time, in common with any great power, must remain secluded within its own nature if it will wield the power necessary to be called “great”.

Familiarity breeds contempt; were the highest mysteries and powers so easy to capture with simple words or expressions, we'd hardly praise them so, or long for them. So, the real mystery of this season largely eludes us; but its influence is everywhere apparent, even for those who have fallen into the shadows of sense and can feel very little.

It is that influence- the mighty Fetch of the Sacred Time- that we yearn for and revel in when the sky and earth are right. The Fetch of the Sacred Time of Walpurgis Night and the following sacred morning and day of Beltane tells two stories, and could doubtless tell more, should we listen properly- all great powers are also story-tellers. Their first stories were the expressions of power that human souls refined into “myth”.

The two stories of any sacred time come to us simultaneously; one story describes and demonstrates the arising of a mighty Cycle of power, captured in the easy terms of serial moments that seem to tell a linear tale; the other story tells a tale of something timeless, something that doesn’t come or go because it never began and won’t end. Beltane, the feast of Bright Fire, is for us a human-recognized time of the triumph of Seelie Light and the passage of Nature’s governance from the powers of death to those of life.

To use the powerful language of metaphor, it is within this sublime time that the Year-Crown changes hands, transforming itself from a crown of antlers inset with hail-stones, into a crown of emeralds entwined with rose. It is the marriage feast of heaven and earth; it is the “Mass of the Rood”, for it celebrates an older summer shift than the solstice. I sometimes liken it to an “inner summer”, as opposed to the outward summer-shift of June.

We can watch the year turn from light to dark, watch the serial wheel of time- as it appears to us- shifting and creaking in its ancient turning. Beltane is a single point on that wheel. When we are immersed in the story of the turning, we experience things as they come, in a procession of worldly and otherworldly might.

When we are immersed in the other story, however, that secret “evergreen” theme that lays beneath the first, then we live in a perpetual Beltane- or a perpetual Winter-fast, or a perpetual Autumn. It can seem to be all of those things, or none of them. For truly, the powers that are expressed to us in serial time are not thin, temporary powers, but avatars of deathless things that don’t pass away. But they do wear a mask- a mask of temporary power, not unlike each living being who must one day die.

Perhaps it is our lack of wisdom that makes us enjoy the first story in such a persistent way; few of us can really live in the perpetual “Dusk World” of the deeper story for any length of time- though one part of us lives in it, forever. That part, our undying Fetch, immortal twin to these mortal beings, enjoys the strangeness of Allness and perpetuity. To bridge these two together, to go beyond division: that is the work of the wise, and the work of a lifetime. Who can say? Perhaps it is the work of far more than just that. But whenever this division is transcended, time truly stops. It is replaced by what was always there: the Secret Theme of creation.

For my part, I do not believe that it is any lack of wisdom on our part that forced one story to become necessary over another. I think that if such a wisdom is lacking, and if it plays a role in the dominant sorts of perceptions that must rule over humanity at this time, it was necessary that it be this way. It may be that accepting necessity is the first key to transcending this perceptual state; those who rage against it without accepting it are very likely only creating the “energy of resistance” which in turn reinforces the condition.

Two stories, but one theme- two halves of this being, but one mortal and the other immortal- this brings us to the depths of our being, of the mystery of all of us. It is to that mystery that I wish now to speak.

Behind the house where I live, deep in the forest, there is a garden, and that garden has a sacred Apple tree at its center. This tree is the cultic center of my spiritual life, and that of my family. It is where we meet the unseen; where what is known and what is unknown come together as one. In the ground of that garden are graves, the resting places of the earthy remains of animals we have loved and who were also members of our family. To be buried near the roots of an Apple tree, as sacred folklore has demonstrated, is to enter easily into the undying state.

But a ground full of graves is a sacred ground; a place where a passage has occurred between something that was immortal and something that learned to be mortal. Human or animal or plant, it really makes no difference, although the characters of these beings have an influence over the aura that grows in the place- as though the remains of the dead are seeds that can, over time, give rise to unseen copses of power and presence.

The dead have gone to the roots of everything, even us. At the full depth of your being is the resting place of all this world’s dead, and perhaps the dead of places yet unimagined. The “roots of a human being” is a mysterious place that, up till now, few of us have given much thought to. But when the eldritch, penetrating force of Walpurgis strikes like lightening through the twilight-crack of timeless time, a door to depth is laid open.

We don’t live in the depths. Our true life is in the depths, but we don’t tend to live there, in our unwisdom. You can examine your own body to see how this is the case, every day. You feel your heart beat, and you know that all over in your flesh, many metabolic and catabolic realities, transformations, and workings are taking place- thousands of them, all outside of your direct awareness. You don’t “make yourself breathe”- breath flows through you. You don’t force your heart to beat; it just beats. There is an involuntary quality about nearly all of your bodily operations of life.

And, when we become aware of that spontaneous, involuntary quality, we perceive it as something alien. It’s something “being done to us”- something happening “outside of our power”- for “we” are merely the observers of all this activity. We are its puppets. Now, your personal thoughts, memories, hopes, all the things you yearn for- you're pretty sure those are “yours”. And because you sense it that way, you say “this is what I am; this is who I am.”

When the doors to the depths are laid open, however, a new vision for life is available. Now, you may see, as I have seen standing before that sacred Apple tree, that the deepest parts of your being- your roots- are breathing you. They are beating your heart. Your beating heart isn't being inflicted upon you; it is you. It is part of you as a total and deep entity.

All of these “involuntary” processes that you don’t identify with are still “you”- the depths of your being is expressing itself in all these ways. What you experience as involuntary is very much voluntary in another manner- the deepest force of a person is doing all these things, willing them to happen, willing its bodily expression in every way imaginable. And it isn’t stopping with your body; its presence extends far from those other boundaries we set up between ourselves and “others” or the world "outside" of us.

Most people feel that heart beating away, without their permission, and imagine that one day, the wretched thing may suddenly stop, killing them. On that sad day, should it come, they won't want it to stop; it wouldn't be something they'd choose; but insofar as they see the heartbeat as a blind, involuntary process, that is all they can see. That heart-attack is "killing them"- something is being done "to them". But when you look deeper,
that is not the only way to experience or interpret what is occurring. Perhaps something wiser and deeper in us withdraws from this life when it knows the moment is right. Whatever the case, we are not aliens from what our depths are doing; that is us, in the most authentic sense of the word.

This is a great gift- to see these depths. Before I saw them, when I prayed, it was my mouth and mind and head praying. But now, it is the depths of me that I let my awareness fly back to, to bring forth from below a great prayer that “reaches” those unseen powers to whom I pray with great ease- it reaches them because it never left those depths that they call home.

The greatest depths of all are source to everything. Nature wasn’t created; it grew from the depths, naturally, spontaneously, and we, too, arose from that deep. That deep, Mother to us all, tears the simple brain to shreds when it tries to capture her with too many words or dried-straw ideas. But her power is ours and everything else’s- everyone’s and no-ones, for no one owns power. We are power. There is a subtle but important difference.

That power, and the power of the mighty King of Life who crashes with his Hunt through between twilight on this season, has filled the world with everything you know, and everything you think you are. When a person can reach the depths, they can see these beautiful and terrible beings, and all of the other Lords and Ladies of the Courts unseen that populate the interior of life. And that vision- the supreme vision of the Old Way- changes everything in a mortal’s mind, forever.

Beltane is a time when the Feeorin People “change their residences”, go a-hunting, or otherwise perceptually move- the Great Otherness boils with a sort of activity-cycle that it doesn’t always appear to have, at least, not in the first story. Since the two stories are inseparable, truly, it behooves us, on Walpurgis Night, to sweep out our hearths, set things neatly away, and leave fresh water on the stove or hearth, along with a bowl of milk and some bread or cakes, for guests we may receive in the unseen.

The Old Ways teach that if they don’t find those simple gifts, they may take their own style of vengeance for the sin of broken hospitality. In the Great Otherness, hospitality and generosity are two of the most esteemed virtues, and humans gain the favor of the unseen- or lose it- quite often if they honor or violate this ancient and universal expectation.

At my hearth, in the darkness of Walpurgis before the dawn, that washing-water and milk and bread was placed out. And before it, a great feast was made for the Queen and the King of powers unseen. There, by candle-light (each of those candles made, by Art, into doorways leading into the unseen) I presided over a simple wooden bowl of brown bread and green earthenware cup of milk, placed in a triangle of pale flour.

About that triangle danced the signs of the feast- the white hare, the bronze, human-headed knife of the ancient sacrifice, and the head of the goat, the Hobb-Master that leads the way down the trods into the unseen world.
In my mind and body, the Cross of Light and Shadow in equilibrium; on my head, the left hand sign; in my bones and sinews the potency of the Huntsman and the Plow-Man; in my heart, a salute for the Queen of Elfhame, on her white horse, draped in white linen, the Queen of Roses and the Queen of Bones.

Rosemary, Cinquefoil, and Verbena were given as offerings to the coals burning at hand; the smoke of those wort-weirds, sacred gifts, drifted about and changed the atmosphere of the room. That feast, filled with the potency of the unseen, is the finest meal you will ever place on your tongue, or destroy with teeth; it unites the feaster with the Luminous People, and the ruling courts of the Dusk-World. It makes the two into one.

Two stories become one; the story of me, the master of a house, making the ancient feast on behalf of his beloved family, and the story of a spirit- a mystery outside of time- whom Fate declared should will from his depths for a dream of blood and bone, for a life under the sky and trees of this world, for its own inscrutable reasons. I don’t have to know why, rationally, to appreciate the beauty and power of it, or to have peace. It is that peace I wish to you and all people. When we have passed back into the depths, to be again with the Dusk-people, may that peace follow us there, too.

Those gifts of my Walpurgis-supper were sent to the roots of the sacred Apple tree that night, and I watched Beltane’s sunrise with great tranquility. Today, under the shroud of clouds and the heady humidity, white cloth strips were tied to the branches of our sacred tree, each a prayer and a gift. It was no simple, shallow man that tied the strips of cloth; what did the tying began in the depths of me. Thus, they were tied with power.

Few things make my heart as joyful as seeing a sacred tree draped with cloth-strips of worship, of petition, of hope, and of happiness. To see it in the green, thick, bee-haunted garden, surrounded by trackless black and dark green woods, it makes the depths of me smile. The joyful heart is the true and deepest meaning of “faery favor”- of the love and favor of powers unseen. Making the proper offerings at the proper times is part of a timeless tradition of human piety, one that we of the Old Ways should never neglect. Our “good neighbors” are timeless; we must be as un-forgetting as they.

Tonight, the great bright fire will burn; may the deep and undying fire of which it is a reflection burn warmly in me, and in you, and in all those you love, protecting us all from whatever harmful powers may lurk in this season, and empowering us to good fortune until winter comes again.


Postscript: There are those who make quite an ado about the fact that, perceptually speaking, while it is Beltane on one side of the world, it is Samhain on another. “How”, they ask rather reasonably, “can you think that Beltane in the northern hemisphere is the triumph of the forces of life, in some grandiose way, when just a few thousand miles south, on one tiny planet in a vast universe, the exact opposite powers are holding sway?” To these fine people, it appears that the ancient Ancestors were, in their primitive way, unaware that on the other side of the planet, winter wasn’t ending, and in fact, was just beginning. The answer to this modern quandary is quite simple- the real triumph of life, like the triumph of death, is a timeless, perpetual matter.

When the perpetual triumph of life in the second story “breaks through” into our conscious lives, it does so when the cycles of the first story make the conditions proper for it to do so. That’s why we say that “time” is a mask for something timeless; the perpetual theme of life- mysterious and beyond words though it may be- is aligned, in serial time, to light and warmth. Whenever it is light and warm, and summer’s crown-date arrives for a people anywhere, the timeless essence of that can finally manifest through it, however briefly. For those people, in that place, life is triumphant; the depths are opened for a taste of the beyond. For people not in that place, surrounded by conditions that prevent the experience, it is not so- but then, life goes on. Their “time” comes.

While I celebrate Beltane now, my dear friends on the other side of the world are basking in Samhain- and vice versa come later in my year, and theirs. However, the timeless perspective doesn’t care about months- when I celebrate Beltane today, and, six months from now, when they celebrate it, it is always the same perpetual mystery that we are both experiencing, and, from the perspective of the Otherness, it is as though we are celebrating it at the same time, the same moment. The “crossing over” of two stories is always the answer to this mystery.

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