The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
March 2009 -- Vol. 12 Issue 1
The other day when walking along the brick path enjoying the sun's warmth and the freshness of the morning, I came within a few feet of a mockingbird. Alone on a lemon tree branch and quite undisturbed by my presence, he poured forth his vibrant song, as though addressing himself to the arrival of spring. The cadences pushed through me as his song penetrated the quitetness, filling my being with pure joy and a fleeting sense of closeness to my feathered friend and the whole of creation. "This is part of the magic of spring," I reflected. It is true one swallow does not make a summer, nor does bird-song make a spring, nor alone the pageantry of flowers and a new green, but nature's total expression at this season is like a breakthrough from a primordial world, a spiritual impact touching the human soul and eloquently proclaiming that there is no death.
To Thoreau, the glow of light in early spring, and the blade of new grass, each told its own story of everlasting life:
“the wild river valley and the woods were bathed in so pure and bright a light as would have waked the dead, if they had been slumbering in their graves, as some suppose. There needs no stronger proof of immortality. All things must live in such a light . . .
“The grass flames up on the hillsides like a spring fire, . . . as if the earth sent forth an inward heat to greet the returning sun; not yellow but green is the color of its flame; – the symbol of perpetual youth, the grass-blade, like a long green ribbon, streams from the sod into the summer, checked indeed by the frost, but anon pushing on again, lifting its spear of last year's hay with the fresh life below. . . . So our human life but dies down to its root, and still puts forth its green blade to eternity.”
Through the ages the poets and philosophers have sung the praises of the springtime, suggesting that it brings intimations of the divine. Certainly this season has been revered from ancient days as symbolic of the awakening human consciousness. In the Eleusinian mysteries of Greece, the return of Persephone, Goddess of Spring, from Pluto's dark underworld, was celebrated for its mystical relationship with human consciousness, representing immortality and the triumph or resurrection of our undying spirit.
For those who feel an inner longing to believe in a deathless, enduring element at the heart of life, and for those who have an unformulated commitment, perhaps the return of spring each year may at times kindle a spark of affirmation and hope. Surely nature's divine economy, her well-ordered, harmonious laws which keep the celestial orbs in rhythmic motion and govern the birth and death of universes and galaxies beyond, as well as atoms and men, must be prompted by a cosmic purpose. What a tragic waste, if the golden daffodil were to bloom but once and never again; how futile and tragic too, if man, with all his grand potential, had but one life, one opportunity to fulfill his noble destiny.
All creation begins within the seed and unfolds as it meets the proper conditions for growth, while each unfoldment contains within itself its duty of performance. The next stage of growth is contained therein in seed and proceeds in a continuous pattern. Likewise with man. In seed is contained perfection from the beginning, but his growth stages vary according to the conditions he meets and conquers. – Elizabeth I. Finck
Mark your calendars! The Eastside Interfaith Fair will be held on Saturday April 25, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Eastside Baha’i Center, 160007 NE 8th Street, Bellevue. There will be representatives from local faith and interfaith organizations, speakers, and moderated discussions exploring diversity and commonality centering on “The Circle of Diversity: Knowledge is Light.” Come and exchange ideas with people from many traditions and viewpoints!
This month "Solstices and Equinoxes” is our subject. We will be discussing such questions as: What are the equinoxes and solstices? Why are so many calendars, monuments, and holidays linked with these corners of the year? Why were they held sacred by the ancients? What are some of the symbols and stories associated with these times, and what do they mean for us today? How are we affected by the cyclic rhythms of nature and the different phases of the year? Come and share your ideas!
Open to the public, unsectarian, non-political, no charge
These subjects are currently being considered for the Monthly Discussion group. As always, those who have a particular topic they would like to have featured are encouraged to contact us.
April 16: How Are We Connected?
May: Science and Spirituality
June: Finding Balance in Life
July: Faith, Knowledge, Experience
August: Finding Balance in Life
September: The Seasons of Our Lives
October: Peace and Justice
November: The Universe Within
What are the summer and winter solstices and the spring and autumn equinoxes, and why have they been considered important, even sacred? Accurately knowing the time of year is crucial for agriculture and other activities, and these four days are among the easiest ones to determine. Using standing stones, tunnels, windows, and other alignment devices, even very ancient peoples could build astronomical calendars which display the beginning of one or more season.
What makes these days special? At the equinoxes in September and March, day and night are of equal length and the sun rises directly in the east and sets directly in the west. The solstices in June and December are when the sun’s path reaches its farthest northern or southern point, respectively, and when the longest or shortest day of the year occurs. These points each mark the beginning of a season: spring, where the days begin to grow longer than the nights; summer, when the days grow shorter again; autumn when the nights begin to grow longer than the days; and winter when the days move from shortest to again being equal in length with the nights. The tilt of earth’s axis causes these variations in daylight and climate: if the axis were upright, at right angles to the path of the earth’s orbit, there would be no change of season and the climate at any latitude would be constant all year. Moreover, because of the earth’s tilt, the seasons in the southern hemisphere are opposite those in the north: spring there occurs during the northern fall, and summer during the northern winter.
The farther from the equator, the more extreme are the seasons and their effects on vegetation and human life. In temperate-zone cultures especially, many festivals celebrate the seasonal cycle: sowing and cultivation as the days grow longer, expansion at the longest day, harvest and fallowness as the nights lengthen, and finally the coming victory of warmth and light over cold and darkness at the winter solstice as days start to lengthen once more. The year and human life have also been associated: youth with spring, maturity with summer, old age with autumn, and death with winter.
Some theosophical writers connect these four corners of year with cycles of inner growth and particular spiritual milestones. In this system, the aspirant is born spiritually at the winter solstice. Like the birth of the Christ-child, the inner god or spiritual self awakens in our consciousness. We have such inner births throughout our lives as we become increasingly self-aware and new aspects of our being manifest.
The spring equinox is symbolized in the Easter story, not as an historical event but as a template for spiritual testing and growth: the seeker undergoes a psychological death, descends into the underworld of his or her own being to confront challenging forces and characteristics there, and in time rises glorified by this encounter. We all face times when adversity throws us back on ourselves and we must confront difficult qualities and situations. But it is through such events that we have the opportunity to mature and grow stronger.
The summer solstice is associated with spiritual adulthood, when a choice between the paths of selflessness and selfishness is made. Do we pursue progress for our own advancement or in order to help all beings end their suffering and reach spiritual liberation? As adults the choice between a prevailing motive of self-centeredness or altruism confronts us constantly as we carry out our responsibilities. Day in and day out we create habits that eventually cause us to typically lean toward one approach or the other. This solstice is used to emphasize the centrality of the path of compassion.
The autumn equinox is associated with reaping the results of our choices. This harvest of our inner life leads to withdrawal and death, symbolized by shortening days, but also to possible rebirth on a higher level of awareness at the coming winter solstice of our experience. Theosophists have likened this to buddhas who go into nirvana, having learned all they can in this sphere. They leave the physical world, its suffering and challenges, to enter higher realms of being.
Peoples everywhere have drawn on nature for ways to express the processes and meaning of human life. Various times were held sacred because associated with our unity with natural cycles and the forces that inform the physical world. Many of us still observe such symbolic times, whether by taking part in religious or cultural traditions or in the way we individually approach the repetitive seasons of the year and the deeper rhythms of our lives. For harmonizing with even the outer aspects of nature can bring us into fuller accord with the inner reality behind the earth and ourselves.