January is a good time to stand back and consider what we are doing, where we are trying to go and whether or not we are on a path that is right for us. I begin with a discussion about the implications of the Winter Solstice as a parable for progression and a brief exploration of how some people relate to that moment of renewal. Speaking for myself now, it seems odd that I am so introspective about a day of the year. Yet, there is this urge which needs exploring.
Instincts from Two Sources
We are citizens of reality and only visitors on this physical earth. While there is no obvious foundation in the metaphysics for our etheric personality to have a tradition associated with the earthly seasons, there is solid support for the idea of cycles, polarity and balance which we associate with progression (spiritual growth).
Nature, both physical and etheric, typically changes (evolves) in small increments, and seldom catastrophically. As a model, this change can be characterized as: growth (new understanding); integration leading to maturity; extended stability leading to stagnation; introspection/assimilation; and, renewed effort which initiates new growth. This is a cycle we experience in our progression (spiritual growth) and we do have respect for this cycle in our etheric “DNA.”
Of course, our humans have evolved in a world of seasons, and recognition of the cycle of birth, living, maturity and death is in our host’s DNA. Early societies learned to expect this cycle, work with it and even honor the certainty of the Wheel of Life. Modern religion and philosophy have evolved from these early attempts to understand and live with these life-forming influences.
For early civilizations, honoring Mother Nature was an obvious choice, even as ways were found to put her to work. In the early days, marking the cycles of the year so as to know when to plant was a natural part of honoring the forces that made that possible; however, today, we have clear-cut “This is religious belief” and “That is science.” This sanitation of our understanding of natural influences has helped humankind progress, but it has also left us with urges for which we have no real expression. The human in us needs gods to worship and we, the etheric personality in this entangled relationship, need mysteries to solve.
As probably the most important moment in earth’s year, the Winter Solstice marks the end and the beginning of earth’s cycle of renewal. Humans around the world instinctively recognize this cycle, and we who are etheric personality also recognize this from a spiritual perspective. The results are culturally unique ways of embracing this urge to revere nature.
I am okay with this logic, but there remains the question of how to put this urge to work.
Cultural References to Renewal
Here are a few ways in which this recognition of a cycle of renewal has been honored by societies. As you read them, look for the common factors
The Winter Solstice is celebrated in Wicca as the Yule. (“Iul” meaning “wheel.” (i u L) … think The Great Wheel of the Zodiac; The Wheel of Life.) From The White Goddess website: “Yule is deeply rooted in the cycle of the year, it is the seed time of year, the longest night and the shortest day, where the Goddess once again becomes the Great Mother and gives birth to the new Sun King. In a poetic sense it is on this the longest night of the winter, ‘the dark night of our souls’, that there springs the new spark of hope, the Sacred Fire, the Light of the World, the Coel Coeth).”1
The Māori people of New Zealand use the koru (Māori for “loop”) to symbolize new beginnings or new life. The spiral shape is based on a new, unfurling, silver fern frond. The spiral is one of the oldest and most universal of religious symbols. It represents continuing inward to the source and outward to the world of manifestation; growth and evolution, evolving journey in life.
This triple spiral is an ancient symbol of Celtic beliefs. The meaning of the symbol is not definitively known; however, many people suggest it is the ancient Celts symbol for the passage through birth, death and rebirth. Notice that the figure is drawn with a single, unbroken line, suggesting a continuous movement of time.
The symbol was found carved in the rock forming the front wall of the inner chamber of the ancient mound of Newgrange, Ireland. The mound was built during the Neolithic period around 3200 BC, possibly to mark the beginning of the New Year. The rising sun of the winter solstice shines through a narrow passage to illuminate the carvings, including the Triple Spiral.
The Medicine Wheel, and sometimes the hoop, is symbolic of the vital force of Nature and the personal power within each of us. “Medicine” is a term used to mean this force. The Medicine Wheel is divided into the center and four quadrants representing East, West, North and South. These quadrants are assigned a color and special meaning. Part of the wheel’s meaning is the understanding that nature is cyclic and we humans are affected by Nature’s influence.
Dark Night of Soul
Saint John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz; 1542-1591) wrote a poem titled The Dark Night of Soul, and according to Got Questions Ministry, “This eight-stanza poem outlines the soul’s journey from the distractions and entanglements of the world to the perfect peace and harmony of union with God. According to the poet, the “dark night of the soul” is synonymous with traveling the “narrow way” that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 7:13-14.2
This poem was written in 1578, and the concept has since been adopted by many systems of thought to describe the emotional crises seekers often encounter.
The dark night is typically described as beginning with a growing self-doubt which may lead to deep depression and sense of futility. When all seems to be lost, the seeker experiences an abrupt awakening with heightened consciousness. The seeker is, in effect, reborn with greater understanding. From this “awakened” perspective, the “dark night” is seen as a necessary tearing down of old structures of thought and belief so that new understanding can be gained.
While the Dark Night is said to be experienced by seekers, it is a cycle that everyone probably experiences to some degree. The awakening need not be into a higher consciousness, but may simply be a fresh outlook on life. There remains the clinical depression which is not accompanied by such awakenings, and one should be mindful not to forgo help with the expectation of greater understanding.
For some Christians, being born again is to undergo a spiritual rebirth or regeneration of the human spirit from the Holy Spirit. The idea is thought to have come from John 3.3 in which Jesus tells a Pharisee (member of ruling council) that: “Unless a man is born anew he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” He goes on to explain in John 3:5 that: “Unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” The reference to water is thought to mean baptism, which is a commitment to the teachings of Jesus.
While “born again” in the context of Christianity usually means a spiritual awakening, it is most often applied in the sense of baptism or conversion from a commonly passive form of worship into one of great commitment to the teachings of Jesus.
It is important to note that, as portrayed in the Bible, Jesus presented himself as a three-fold teacher in much the same sense as Hermes Trismegistus. Hermes Mercurius Trismegiatus is thought to be the source of one of the first divine dispensations of knowledge about our spiritual nature. Much of ancient wisdom is attributed to his teaching, either directly or from inspiration. The last part of his name refers to Hermes as the greatest philosopher and the greatest priest and the greatest king. That is, he represented the path of learning (philosophy), a person who has learned (priest) and the accomplishment made possible by learning (king).
Jesus is shown in John 14-6 to say to his disciples: “I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” That is, he is not a deity but an example as the three aspects of the teacher: follow me as what I teach is the way; follow me as the Spirit of Truth; and, follow me as I have lived. (39)
As it is in the Book of John in the bible, the concept of “born again” appears to explain that the seeker must discard traditional systems of thought and follow the three-fold teachings of Jesus. Those same teachings were taught by the followers of Hermes and are being taught today by some systems of thought. The Spiritualist’s Declaration of Principles3 is a useful reminder of this way, as is the Tarot as it is taught by B.O.T.A.4
An important concept taught by ancient wisdom schools is the idea that people become set in their ways and that it is necessary to break down those old structures of thought and behavior so that new ones can take their place. Of course, mindful living is all about that process as a way of life, but in some systems of thought, it is assumed that spiritual growth cannot occur unless mind surrenders to the new order. Like The Dark Night of Soul, this is seen as a catastrophic event which is illustrated in Key 16, The Tower, in the Major Arcana of the Tarot.
The Tarot of the Waite Deck illustrates the Great Work as progression from Key 0 as The Fool (lead) to spiritual maturity (Gold; the Fool again, oddly enough). Virtually every element in The Tower has special meaning. For instance, the tower itself represents ignorance. The crown represents will power. The man and woman, who are featured throughout the Major Arcana are actually two aspects of a person: the man represents self-consciousness and the woman represents sub-consciousness.
Any senior citizen can tell you that understanding is relative. What was right often turns out to be a cultural norm when considered many years later. I have considered natural law for nearly sixty years and I still am not sure that there is such a thing as an immutable law. Instead, it seems evident that we, as the experiencing aspect of Infinite Intelligence (Source and reality field), are learning, and therefore, so is Infinite Intelligence. That necessarily means the expression of Infinite Intelligence also evolves. Rupert Sheldrake talks about this in a local (physical organism) sense as “Nature’s habit.” It is changed as the organism come up with creative alternatives.5
Understanding does converge on something like a truth, however. A curve of this would look a lot like a half-life curve so that our first encounter with an experience might give us a good sense of what is true, but the next encounter will likely show that we did not completely understand, thus requiring us to modify our understanding. Of course, this all assumes we are paying attention and actually want to learn. As you can see, the next encounter will likely produce more understanding, and so on. The curve approaches complete understanding (truth) but never quite makes it.
Part of the reason for this imperfect understanding is that we share this venue for learning with other personalities. With those other personalities, we create this venue, and as our understanding increases, so the creative result is modified. …so goes the theory.
So what does this have to do with the Winter Solstice? First, it happens every year; it marks a cycle like the Fool in the Tarot. As a parable for progression (understanding), it illustrates that spiritual awakening is an iterative process. While the Dark Night of Soul and The Tower of the Tarot represent awakening, they are not seen as a one-time event for the seeker. Key 0 of the Tarot, The Fool, is seen as both the beginning and the end of the cycle which is expected to repeat countless times. This is echoed in the many initiations required in some modern societies as members progress from first initiate to master.
As we are beginning to understand about how our mind works, learning occurs in small increments. And as such, the Tower represents an “Ah ha moment.” That is the “secret wisdom” I see in the depiction of sudden enlightenment. It is in this gradualism with an occasionally catastrophic moment of progress that I believe we all sense in New Years, the Winter Solstice and spring renewal. The Māori people have it about right. Each year, the fern unfurrows its new fronds; the spiral represents renewal, and that is a cycle of life. The rest of the story is that progression is a life-long process.
- The White Goddess, thewhitegoddess.co.uk/the_wheel_of_the_year/yule_-_winter_solstice.asp
- “What is the Dark Night of Soul?” Got Questions Ministry, gotquestions.org/dark-night-soul.html
- Spiritualist Society of Reno: spiritualistsocietyofreno.org/about_spiritualism.htm#Principles
- Builders of the Adytum (B.O.T.A.), bota.org/botaineurope/en/tarot/
- Sheldrake, Rupert, Morphic Resonance and Morphic Fields: An Introduction, sheldrake.org/Articles&Papers/papers/morphic/morphic_intro.htm
Briers, Francis, “3 Cultural Learning Styles,” fudoshin.org.uk/blog/2010/8/16/3-cultural-learning-styles-linear-cyclical-and-holistic.html