On May 1, we celebrate Beltane, the festival of spring.
Mother Earth is donning her lushest gown of flowers and blossoms, and birds are singing from the trees. The heart rejoices as the spirit soars!
At Beltane, we celebrate the magical powers of creativity, fertility and abundance – the sheer miraculous beauty of life.
The God and the Goddess who preside over the undying force of life are in love, turning the land green and lush wherever they go. Every fragrant flower – a kiss and a blessing of their adoration.
Let’s share in their passion and celebrate the miracle of life! Beauty, love and merry-making are their rituals. Taste the zest of life!
If you have a garden, you witness and partake in this magic as you nurture your young seedlings. Pouring energy into your budding projects produces a similar experience of participating in this magic of creating. The magic of manifestation lies in the nurture and love that nurtures the seed ideas.
Take time to reflect on nature’s generosity and practice gratitude and mindfulness to attune to every nuance of this blessed time of the year.
On May 1, we celebrate Beltane, the festival of spring.
Easter is a festival of sacrifice and resurrection. We commemorate Christ’s sacrifice on the day he died on the cross as Jesus, the man, to be resurrected as Christ, the son of God and redeemer of mankind. That is the official story. But the cross, which signifies the crucifixion, is an ancient symbol that predates Christianity by thousands of years.
The cross symbolizes the cosmic order: the four directions and the axis of time and space. Esoterically, it also signifies the surrender of the ego, which is bound to the material world.
Pre-Christian Origins of Easter
In the ancient world, sacrifice was not a celebration of death, as it may seem, but of life, as a way of giving back, so life may continue. Death and rebirth were merely the two sides of the same door. The mystery was symbolized by the Ouroboros, the dragon-snake, which eats its own tail, and thus continuously regenerates itself.
For a sacrifice to be meaningful, it had to be of value, something special. Any old rat would not do! A sacrifice was a gift to the Gods!
Only the king himself was deemed worthy of being sacrificed. But in time, Kings changed the rules. They wanted to be special, but not THAT special. Instead, they offered up their firstborn. That proved unpopular, and animals now had to play the part.
At Oestara, when the Earth renews itself and puts on a fresh green robe, an innocent lamb must now bear the burden of honour. This tradition has survived: a lamb roast is still the traditional centrepiece of the Easter feast – a distant echo of an age-old sacrificial tradition.
Easter is a movable feast – a clear indication that this festival predates Christian times. It always falls on the first Sunday following the first Full Moon after the Spring Equinox (Worm Moon). The pre-Christian festival Oestara honoured the Goddess Eostre, a Mother Goddess known by many names: Ishtar, Astarte, or the Great Mother Kali.
Her sacred ‘Moon Hare’ (a symbol of fertility) has become the ‘Easter Bunny’. The eggs are a symbol of life. Traditionally, eggs would have been dyed red, the colour of blood and life. Giving red-dyed eggs is a blessing: A gift of life and abundance!
May your potential unfold and blossom! Happy Easter/Oestara, whichever you choose to celebrate!
The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, Barbara G. Walker, HaperCollins, 1983
At the dawn of the Spring Equinox – we reflect on the new cycle that is about to begin. Tentatively, the earth wakes from her winter’s sleep, buds swell, birds sing, flowers burst forth – despite the suffering and sorrow we witness daily.
Persephone is returning to the upper world. At the Spring Equinox, light and dark are hanging in the balance. But with every passing day, the sun gathers strength. Mother Earth, violated and scarred by war yet again, nevertheless dons her spring flower garment and slowly turns the land lush and green.
The joy and expectant anticipation we usually feel at this time are somewhat subdued. And yet, we are all so ready for spring!
We all want to return to some kind of normalcy. Are we hoping in vain?
But the garden is calling nonetheless. The soil is eager to receive the seeds, so they may be quickened and burst to life.
At home, it is time to clear out the winter dust. Spring-cleaning, painting, and decorating are on the agenda. Get ready for the light season and make the most of its fleeting joys!
It is also time for inner cleansing and to boost our vitality with the fresh vitamins and nutrients of early spring herbs. When the body is strong, the mind is also string – and right now, we need all the resilience we can muster.
Focus on the things that matter to you most and make your intentions clear. Life is precious.
The Spring Equinox stands for new beginnings. It is a time to celebrate the eternal life force and the mysteries of its eternal return.
Imbolc, the return of the light
Winter is still with us, although is now entering a moody phase. One day it is frosty, stormy, and inhospitable, and a couple of days later the sun pops out to tease us. But there is one sure sign that things are beginning to shift, ever so slightly – the days are beginning to get noticeably longer again.
Imbolc is the season of the light maiden Brighid, a virginal Goddess, who appears to us as the returning light. As the sun climbs just a tad higher in the sky, it adds a few minutes of light to each passing day.
Nevertheless, it is still the middle of winter. But, if you look carefully, the buds are beginning to swell. Some precocious little flowers defy all the odds. Some particularly perky ones are pushing their way through the snow, or old leaves: snowdrops, winter aconite or dwarf crested irises are among the earliest and bravest. Unmistakably, the life force deep within the earth is stirring. Last season’s seeds are preparing to germinate. The wheel of the year is turning, and the sap is rising once more.
Purification and Fasting
Imbolc, or ‘Candlemas’ in Christian terminology, is the festival of growing light, of cleansing, and purification. It prepares us for Lent, the time of abstinence and fasting intended to purify body and soul.
In the past, fasting was a way of cleansing the body of the residues of heavy winter foods. Spiritually, it is an act of mindfulness and a way to prepare the body and mind for the spring and a new cycle of growth.
Envisioning the future
Imbolc is a time for visualizing in your mind’s eye the possibilities that lie ahead. Some people use divination, others use affirmations. Take some time out to prepare yourself for the challenges and opportunities yet to come. Reflect on your strengths and weaknesses, on good and bad habits, and make a commitment to your soul’s journey.
What kind of nourishment does your soul need? What are your intentions and purpose? How do you want to give back to life? Are you walking your talk?
Imbolc is a good time to charge the seeds with intention and to foster your inner flame. Take care of that light through the dark of the night. Soon the sun will soon rise and grow strong again.
Winter Solstice is upon us – the longest night is here!
It has been a difficult year. I hope you and yours have found a way through. The Winter-Solstice marks the darkest point, the longest night of the year.
The trees have lost their leaves and all signs of life have retreated below ground. The countryside is bare. The sun barely rises above the horizon and shines only a feeble light. Birds have departed. The Earth has entered hibernation mode.
Yet, at these dark times, we find cause to rejoice! For deep within the Earth, a tiny light has been born! Fragile as a baby in its crib the new sun-savior god has returned.
We are at the threshold of a new cycle. As yet, we do not know if the baby will grow. Nevertheless, where there is life, there is hope.
In the old days, the 12 days of Christmas marked the time when the veil between the worlds is thinnest – corresponding to the 12 days of Mid-Summer. Spirits and ghosts are passing through, howling frightfully during the night. The period of celebration culminated on January 6th, when, according to the Christian tradition, the Three Kings finally found the stable where the sun-god had been born.
The Solstice is a time of reflection, of sharing the memories of the summer past and of gratitude. The year may have demanded heavy sacrifices from all of us, but it has also let us realise that the things we took for granted are what is truly matters. The crisis is not over, but there is hope on the horizon. During this quiet space we can reflect on what we want to manifest next year and how we can make things better, not just for ourselves, but for the community of which we are a part.
Winter Solstice is a festive time despite being the shortest day and longest night. It marks the turning point and harbors the promise of things to come. Especially so this year as it coincides with the Jupiter/Saturn conjunction, which will be visible for the first time in 800 years December 21, 2020.
This is a time to count one’s blessings and to celebrate hope. The wheel of time is turning. The light has returned. Let us cherish this little flame of hope so it may grow strong and return life to Earth once more.
Yew – Taxus baccata
Few western European trees are as enigmatic as the Yew. Dark, brooding and sometimes eery, each Yew tree very much has its own personality.
The Yew (Taxus baccata) is an evergreen, needle bearing conifer- but a strange one. Instead of wooden cones, it shelters its seed in a bright red, soft and slimy fruit cortex that takes the shape of a cup (Baccata = cup). The seeds, hidden within the ‘cup, along with all other parts of the tree except for the arils, are highly poisonous.
Yews are dioecious; female and male flowers appear on different trees, but only the female flower-bearing tree produces the fruits. They reach sexual maturity between 15-30 years of age, pretty young, considering their potential lifespan! It is difficult to measure the exact age of a Yew tree because most of them become hollow as they age, which means we can’t count tree rings. But in Britain and Europe, there are several, estimated to be between 2000 and 4000 years old!
As trees go, their height is not that impressive. Yews only grow to about 10-20 m tall, but they can develop an admirable circumference of more than 6 m. Unlike most conifers, they do not produce any resin.
Yews have a dark appearance, and they love shady spots. But they tolerate the sun if they were exposed to it from the start.
As an evergreen with a seemingly infinite lifespan and a somewhat dark, mysterious Gestalt, it is not surprising that Yews have been linked to the realm of the Dead. In Britain, the oldest Yews are found in cemeteries, often in association with a sacred spring. Britain’s oldest one is the Yew of Fortingall, in Perth, Scotland, believed to be some 3000 years old. However, its age is difficult to verify since it is hollow, and young shoots that grow from the centre, fuse with older ones, thus constantly rejuvenating itself.
In the runic alphabet, the Yew is associated with Eiwhaz Rune, which signifies the shortest day of the year, the eve of the winter solstice. It symbolizes the dying Sun but also its rebirth, since Yews possess this magic power of rejuvenation. Yews cast the dark, silent cape of eternity over the departed and take care of their souls in the afterworld until the time of their rebirth has come.
Thus, Yews are symbolic of life and death, seen as complementary forces rather than polar opposites, and joined at the threshold at the beginning and the end of our lives.
Folklore: Sleeping under a Yew tree was thought to induce prophetic dreams and offer a glimpse beyond the veil.
Properties and uses
A couple of thousand years ago, Yews were common throughout Europe and Britain. But they are slow-growing trees that were decimated for the sake of war. Yews were the primary source-wood for longbows – which, before the invention of gunpowder, were the most common weapon of war. Even today, Yew bows are used for making longbows for archery. In medieval times, Yews were planted in and around castle grounds to ensure a steady supply.
The wood, which is both strong and elastic, is superbly suited for this purpose. Archaeological evidence has shown that it has been used to make weapons since prehistoric times. Palaeolithic spears and arrowheads made of Yew have been found in a marl pit in southern England. The arrowheads had been dipped in an arrow poison made of Yew, Hellebore and Hemlock to make them extra lethal. Yews alkaloids first stimulate, then slow the heart rate, causing the victim to fall into a coma and die within an hour and a half. The oldest such spear, some 150 000 years old, was still stuck between the ribs of a mammoth carcass.
By the 16th century, Yews were almost extinct. But, they were saved by the invention of gunpowder which was invented right around that time, allowing Yew populations to recover.
In recent times, Yews were in the news for saving lives. A compound found in the Pacific Yew, Taxus brevifolia, was discovered to have cytostatic properties, capable of inhibiting cancerous growth. But both, the Pacific Yew and its habitat are threatened. A single tree only yields 3 kg of bark, containing only 1g of Taxol, the sought-after active compound. Taxol proved highly effective in chemotherapy for treating breast- and ovarian cancer, and thus was in high demand. Given the slow growth and endangered status of the trees, the situation was precarious. Scientists were struggling to find a way to synthesize Taxol from other sources. But eventually, the breakthrough came in the 1990s. Scientists had managed to create Taxol molecules from Taxus baccata, the European Yew, which is a far more common species.
Thus, the Yew has held true to its ancient promise as a harbinger of both death and life.