The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
December 2007 -- Vol. 10 Issue 10
I sat beside the pool of thought and sent
My questing self to find the inmost heart
Of Self – like a probing ray it went.
And following, I saw that I was part
Of cosmic whole, and being a part I had
The whole in me; and this being so, I knew
All souls were interwoven, their good, their bad,
I share and am. The grains of dust, the dew,
Even the stars were touched by all my thought.
I found that universal brotherhood
Was scientific truth. My soul then sought
Its joyful duty – how increase the good,
Erase the evil in hears of men; the cure
Was carried back to me – one word – Love.
Then Love itself I saw as motion, pure,
Impartial, radiant energy, above
The lower forms; a bright cement that binds
The multitudinous whole, that floods around
Our daily work, that fills our hearts and minds
With compassion for the humblest found. – Ruth Langland Holberg
I have looked over the blue waters of the Pacific, and watched the sun rise above the mountains and listened to mockingbirds singing, and the beauty of the awakening world grew marvelous for me with suggestions of the hidden harmonies of life. Then I thought of humanity and wondered what would happen could the veil of external things fall from before our eyes and reveal the glory of the law; we should stand in silence motionless, thrilled through with the grace and plenitude of its compassion.
We lost touch ages ago with the Mighty Mother, nature, and now need to go to her again, for the most part in her forests or on her hilltops or by the seashore, to find our own souls in her quiet places and to learn that all matter responds to the spiritual touch. Out beyond hearing and seeing and thinking are infinite laws that control our lives. Divine laws hold us in their keeping: immediately behind the veil of visible things, and but a little way from the consciousness of our mortal selves are higher forces at work for our good.
They speak to the soul to make the way broad and beautiful; they speak to us at all times through the sunlit sky and the starlight. The shining silences of nature proclaim to us always the greatness of the world and the hidden grandeur of man, so that in the desert, in the deep caverns of the earth, under the heaviest weight of sorrow, "he that hath ears to hear" is never alone. Were he lost in the great waste places or in a rudderless boat on the open sea, or were he on the brink of created things and far from the human world, he would carry within him still the kingdom of heaven and might find in his heart all the revelations for which humanity is longing.
You who are despairing, who have little faith in yourselves or hope of tomorrow or belief that you can control your conditions, seek aid here of the Great Mother: look up into the blue sky or the stars, catch in the air the feeling of her universal life, and then examine yourselves and discover that many of your sorrows have come to you because you have not been willing to suffer. Any real attainment must come through discipline.
Fear is the basis of all discouragement. Only cultivate fearlessness in meeting the trials from without and the weaknesses within, and you cease to be alone. You attain discernment of a grand companionship ever present with you and become aware of the god "that is within you and yet without you," the Everywhere-existing whose voice you may hear, listening for it, in your own spirit, and no less in the murmur of the brooks and in the birds' chorusings. For the mystery in the heart of nature is also the mystery in the human heart, and the same wonderful powers are in both. – Katherine Tingley
To be uncertain is to be uncomfortable, but to be certain is to be ridiculous. – Chinese Proverb
Our next subject is "Mankind is Our Business." We will be discussing such questions as: How are we related to other people, and what are our responsibilities toward them? What things in our lives are most important, and how do the various parts of our lives fit together? How can we bring our ethical and spiritual beliefs more fully into our public lives? What is the basis for the brotherhood of humanity? Do some people, by their acts or beliefs, forfeit the right to be treated as fellow humans? How can we best be helpful to others? Is compassion optional or essential? 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.
January 24: Where Is Our Path?
February: Overcoming Ourselves
How Christ Got into Christmas
Christmas is without doubt one of the most ancient festal days on earth, not a mere twenty centuries old, but uncountable ages old, going back and back to the dawn-days of our earliest awareness of the natural world around us. All religions, of course, were in their origin nature religions, expressing man's response to the sky above him, the earth below him, the seasons around him, and how all of these affect his well-being. Away from the equator, one of the exciting events of the turning year was always when the sun seemed to stop in its journey and begin its return trip, bringing again the promise of light and warmth to the wintry earth and its peoples. With the winter solstice the sun appeared to be born anew. In every northern culture celebrations developed at this time of the year. Christmas as we know it came straight from the old Romans, who had a marvelous bash they called Saturnalia, culminating on December 25th, the day they believed was the shortest of the year, the birthday of the sun. They held a whole week of feasting, with merry-making, and drunkenness. Their Saturnalia was also a feast of abundance in which brotherhood was emphasized and gifts exchanged. The distinction between slave and freeman was set aside for a few days, and even inverted, though very briefly indeed.
The first Roman emperors who converted to Christianity tried to suppress this pagan religion and replace it with Christianity. But they found it easier to tear down the old temples and to smash the old images than to root out of people's minds – and out of human nature – the ideas embedded in the old traditions. Saturnalia was taken over by the early Christians throughout the Roman world, adapted to Christian purposes and imprinted with Christian symbolism. The time of the returning sun as the deliverer of the earth from winter became the time of Christ's birth as the savior of the world from sin.
By this process Christ got into Christmas. Pagans found it easy to think of him in the same way as they thought of the life-giving sun. It was no great struggle, either, for the early Church to make up its mind finally that December 25th was the birthday of Jesus. When Christianity began to spread in the Roman world, the appeal of December 25th became irresistible. It was still widely observed as the birthday of Mithra, the Persian sun god, at the climax of Saturnalia, and Mithra was Christ's chief rival for the devotion of the people. What is more natural than for the rising young religion to appropriate the birthday of the old god for the celebration of its own god's birth? So it came about that the ancient feast day was turned into "Christ's Mass," Christmas.
So it also happened that there came to be a dogma in the manger along with the baby Jesus. Almost everything about our Christmas has been added to it in much the same way, by gradual accretion, by the adoption process, as old beliefs were absorbed into new and the customs of one people were borrowed and remodeled to suit the needs of another. The Yule log burning in the hearth, the belief in peace and good will, the green tree bearing tinsel with gifts laid under it, the spirit of kindliness and ho-ho-ho, the mistletoe over the door with its earthly message of fertility – all of them, like the dogma in the manger, have been picked up at some point and carried along on the long, long journey through the ages of this immemorial feast of the sun. In every age people take joy in the aspects of Christmas that speak to their hearts, and leave the rest aside. Just so should we keep Christmas according to our own hearts and minds – in that order of priority.
No, Christmas is not merely Jesus' birthday, or even that of Christ or Mithra or Hercules or Krishna, or that of Osiris the sun god of Egypt, more ancient than all of them. It is everybody's birthday, if we think of people as represented by the kindliest and the most generous part of them responding to that selfsame quality in their fellow men. It is a time when everyone should give and get a birthday present, and for a moment look to the hopeful side of an often grim and inglorious life. With all of its hard-breathing and cynical commercialism, the giving still has a generous impulse behind it. People may not always need the gift as such, but they do always need the affection and kindness that the gift tries to express.