Bringers of Gifts

The Slavic ‘Ded Morez’ or ‘Saxta Baba’ – Grandfather Frost.

Ancient mythologies and old folkloric tales always include the archetype of an old man who brings gifts around the time of the Winter Solstice. This splendid white-bearded chap is Ded Morez or Saxta Baba – Grandfather Frost. He is a popular winter folk character in Russian and Slavic countries. Usually he wears blue, but sometimes he is dressed in red – just like Father Christmas. He brings gifts for good children – usually on New Year’s Eve, since this tradition is celebrated in Muslim or secular countries, where Christians are in the minority. Ded Morez has a long white beard, walks with a magic staff, like a magician, wears a fur hat and felt boots. He rides in a troika – a sleigh with three horses – and is often accompanied by his granddaughter, Snegurochka, the Snow Maiden:

Snegurochka, the Snow Maiden.

The well-known Christian story describes the arrival of three men, described in the gospels as ‘magi’ – not ‘kings’ – who bring gold, frankincense and myrrh as gifts for the Christ child.

The three Magi.

The magi were Zoroastrian magician-priests, who were also astrologers. It is likely the ‘star’ they were following was a conjunction between Saturn and Jupiter, which would have been bright in the skies around the year 7 CE.

Both the Ded Morez tradition and the gospel story of the magi are echoes through the ages, echoes of our ancient ancestors who practiced divination and magic. At the time Jesus was born, magic was an accepted reality across the Roman Empire. It was not until Christianity was established as a state religion that astrology and magic were marginalised, we could say ‘excommunicated’. Perhaps that was why the ‘magi’ became ‘kings’ (who have a very different status).

Saint Nicholas – a very papal character.

In later Christmas traditions we meet St. Nicholas. He also brings gifts, often oranges, for poor children who have left out their clogs on the night before his feast day December 6th.. He eventually morphs from a high-minded Christian saint into the jolly Santa Claus we know today. Old images of St Nicholas show him dressed in his bishop’s gown, with his staff and mitre. But Santa Claus and Ded Morez are definitely wearing pre-Christian garb. The trousers worn by Santa, tucked into boots, and the wide belt buckled round his tunic, as well as his fur-edged cap, are most likely derived from the garments worn by Scythian warriors. The Scythians were originally a nomadic people who lived in southern Siberia, but they developed the trade routes still known today as ‘the Silk Road’ and founded a rich powerful empire centred on the Crimea. Maybe the bringing of gifts was associated with their trade in spices, silks, precious metals and gems.

These traditions all tell us a similar story about how, at the winter solstice festival, there is some magic in the air! Jupiter is the god of jollity and he rules the December sign of Sagittarius. Think of the Spirit of Christmas Present we find in Charles Dickens’ story A Christmas Carol:

The ghost of Christmas Present.

So this is definitely the best time of year to bring gifts to friends and family, and to make donations for the poor.

 


The reason I write my books, newsletters and blogs, the reason I teach The Shefa Method, is to take you by the hand, so to speak, and lead you to knowledge of your own Divinity.

Grandfathers of Wisdom

The appearance of an old man is the archetype for this season, representing maturity and wisdom. In fact, two old men come face-to-face at this point in the year and they are represented in mythology by Jupiter and Saturn. The two representations above were created in the Victorian period for Cardiff Castle, here in Wales where I live. You can see Saturn is carrying a scythe – he is Old Father Time. His Greek name is Chronos.

Astrologically, Jupiter rules Sagittarius, and the last degree of Sagittarius is the Winter Solstice, when Jupiter hands over to Saturn, who rules the next sign, Capricorn. These characters represent cosmic ‘yes’ and cosmic ‘no’. Jupiter is all about expansion and Saturn brings contraction – both essential to the cycle of creation. Jupiter encourages you to spend on seasonal gifts, then Saturn brings the credit card bills!

Both these gods encourage wisdom: Jupiter is about joy, delight and gifts of the heart. William Blake, born under Sagittarius, said the path of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. Beethoven, also born under Sagittarius, wrote Ode to Joy  – included in his ninth symphony – when he was deaf. Nine is the number of Jupiter and December is the ninth month from the Spring Equinox. Nine is the last number before ten, the culmination of the series when using our base ten counting system.

During the coming year the planets named after these two wise archetypes, Jupiter and Saturn, will meet in a ‘conjunction’. There are many changes ahead for all of us. How that will affect your personal life depends on the significations in your birth chart. Whatever intensity or drama lies ahead for individuals, or for the collective social order in Western culture, the most important thing to remember is that you do have a Divine Soul and you can deal with life’s ups and downs when you maintain connection with your Soul through your meditation practice.

Your personal confidence and mental clarity depends on you being able to access the inner wisdom represented by these two wise old men. They teach us when to go forward, when to hold back; when to spend, when to save; when to explore further horizons, when to stay at home.  I am a great advocate for the use of astrology to identify the best timing when making big choices, but adding meditation to the wisdom of the stars brings your decision-making process to a new level. Captains in ancient times needed to understand the tide-tables, but they also need to consult their inner guiding star – their personal daimon – before finally choosing when to set out to sea.

 


The reason I write my books, newsletters and blogs, and the reason I teach The Shefa Method, is to take you by the hand, so to speak, and lead you to knowledge of your own Divinity.

Spirits of the Ancestors

Most pre-Christian cultures maintained ceremonies for honouring the ancestors. Traditionally, the quietest period of autumn, just as winter is settling in, offers us all a between-the-worlds opportunity to summon ancestral spirits and commune with the dead. The shaman lights fires and beats his drum to call the ancestors, hoping to gain wisdom and inspiration for the tribe.

At this time of year, the Mexicans celebrate the Day of the Dead. On the eve of November 1, the Celts lit bonfires for Samhain. The invisible worlds open their gateways to human visitors – but this is a time fraught with danger. The dark gods of the underworld may be tricksters. This is how Hallowe’en originated. The Christians converted ‘spirits’ and ‘ancestors’ to ‘saints’ – and the festival was renamed ‘All Saints’. But the underlying archetype remains the same: you can choose to enter the dark night in order to meet other-world helpers. Be willing to get spooked and hold on to your amulet, talisman, crucifix – whatever. Remember, the dead are not automatically or necessarily wiser because they have died, although they may bring a new perspective. They can help us realise that the flowing process of life will always come full circle to a point of dissolution and death.

When we explore the archetypes and discover their power as guardians to the gates in our inner worlds we can open our hearts to revelations, especially at this time of year. The god Pluto, also called Hades, is ruler of the underworld, and he demands a high price if you want to explore his treasure house. What is the price? It is dedication and commitment to the quest. You only get to find the Holy Grail, hidden secretly in a quiet chapel in the mystic forest, if you are obsessively driven to explore your own inner kingdom. You surrender daily concerns in exchange for a pearl of wisdom beyond price. You dive deep and meet the Divine where the darkness encloses your heart. As the mystic George Fox said, this is a journey across an ocean of darkness to discover the ocean of light.

The name Hades is Greek, meaning ‘not-see’. In the myth, Hades is not a dark god, hidden away. This is not why we cannot see him. He has created a mask to conceal his true brilliance, because humankind cannot, as the poet T.S. Eliot said, bear too much reality. Hades’ hidden light reminds us of the story of Moses, who asked to see God ‘face-to-face’. ‘Hide behind the rock and peep through a crevice as I pass by,’ God tells Moses: ‘You cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live.’ (Exodus 33:20)

In the turning cycle of the year we recognise our own mortality. We look Pluto/Hades in the face and realise this god is gatekeeper to a bright world. Pay the coin. Step into the boat. Enjoy the ride down the river. Your ancestors – all the ancestors of the human race – have taken this journey before you. They are a constant presence reminding you: death has no dominion over your Soul.

 


The reason I write my books, newsletters and blogs, and the reason I teach The Shefa Method, is to take you by the hand, so to speak, and lead you to knowledge of your own Divinity.

Wild West Wind

When I was a small girl my mother quoted from the Romantic poets – while she was washing up. Some of her favourite lines were from Percy Bysshe Shelley:

Oh Wild West Wind! thou breath of autumn’s being…

We lived on a high hill in the Oxfordshire countryside. Our family home was a bungalow, quite exposed to the elements and when it was windy we really noticed it! I walked half a mile to catch the school bus and the autumn wind would sometimes seem to blow me along the path. But I always enjoyed the wind whipping around my face and through my hair. I often had to keep hold of my school beret. The lines from Shelley’s poem had an effect on my Soul. Although Shelley was famously ‘sent down’ from Oxford University after writing a pamphlet in defence of atheism, in this poem he seems to be saying that the wind is ‘breathing’, it is animated and we get the impression he experiences the wind as Divine.

I always felt a mystical delight in being with the wind, as one of the essential elements in the natural world, and I’ve often felt my isolated childhood was perfect for a nature mystic. The rolling Cotswold landscape is spacious and inspiring. Like the poet Wordsworth, I ‘wandered lonely as a cloud’ and felt very close to the sky and the clouds as I walked to school.

Human breath, called prana in the yogic tradition, is essential to life. In Jewish mysticism the ‘holy spirit’ is Ruah ha’Kodeshruah means the breath or  wind and ha-Kodesh means the Holy. Soul and breath are almost identical in spiritual traditions in many cultures. In deep meditation you can often observe your breath naturally falling into a slower rhythm. The in and out breath begins to settle into very deep, very slow pattern, until you may even feel you have stopped breathing for a moment, almost as though your body is hibernating. The ‘wild west wind’ of daily thoughts, blowing your emotions hither and thither, settles into a gentle breeze, or becomes becalmed. Then the pure blue sky in your mind opens up a great inner vista for you to experience – this is where you meet your own Soul and realise you are a Divine being.

When you go out into autumnal weather and the wind chases you, threatening to turn your umbrella inside out, remember the wind is an aspect of the Divine – just like you. Greet the wind and give gratitude for all the seasons.

Bless the weather.


The reason I write my books, newsletters and blogs, and the reason I teach The Shefa Method, is to take you by the hand, so to speak, and lead you to knowledge of your own Divinity.