Recently I was asked a question that gave me pause. It was a simple question that opened up whole worlds of inquiry which have echoed through many hundreds of years. The question was, “Do birds have souls?” This is not such an unusual question. For a very long time in history, we have been told that only humans have souls. As God gave mankind dominion over the animals (Genesis 1:26), this seems to imply that, though animals have the ‘breath of life’ to animate them, they are not connected with the Divine in the same sense as mankind. They do not have souls nor do they go to heaven. We have come a long way in appreciating that animals have thoughts and feelings. Anyone who owns a pet (and this implication of ‘ownership’ becomes interesting language itself) can attest to the different, particular personalities that come through. Many of you reading this likely have already answered the question of animal’s souls in your own minds. For me it was an invitation to a more expansive question, “What exactly is a Soul and does it differ from Spirit?”
The Healing Wheel: The Psychology of the Wheel of the Year
Presenting the eight Festivals within an archetypal framework and connecting that framework to personal development and inner transformation.
It has not necessarily been the easiest of winters. We had fair warning. We were told it was going to be a doozy. In my part of the world, we were expecting record snowfalls which thankfully did not come to be. Instead we got record freezing temperatures. Day after day of minus 40 Celsius (which actually puts the US and Canada on par). In our household, we went through weeks of frozen pipes, washing dishes in the bathtub, and burst pipes during a brief temperature respite. I heard similar tales from many corners, not least from the incredibly busy plumbers who arrived to save the day, darting from one home in need to another.
We humans have a deep, innate fear of the dark. We tend to feel more comfortable in the bright light of day that transparently reveals that which is around us, allowing us to assess and respond to people, situations, and things. There is something about the dark which adds the element of the ominous or disturbing. A screen door banging open repeatedly in daylight is a bother, needing to be closed tight lest the bugs get into the house. A screen door banging open repeatedly in the dead of night can leave us with our hearts banging out the same rhythm in our throats, tentatively tiptoeing towards it and taking deep, relieved breaths once it is safely closed and locked.
“Pride cometh before the fall” is a message I recall hearing many times as a child. The warning that, though there was the expectation that I would always do my best, it was not appropriate to express the positive glow of success and accomplishment. If one did not self-monitor humility, one faced the very real possibility of being “brought back down to size”. Messages that urge us to be humble, to keep quiet, to deflect compliments away are fairly strong. Having internalized these messages, there can definitely be a waft of distaste when we encounter boasting. We feel the wave of Ego come towards us and instinctively step back.
When I moved to Kitchener many years ago and was looking for the house in which to put down my roots, there was one house which I knew was unquestionably mine. For one, the backdoor had a window etched with Celtic knotwork. Gorgeous! For another, it was a mere block from a permanently installed Maypole. Wondrous! Though the Maypole serves to present banners for the various local German clubs that rock into activity during Oktoberfest, it can’t help but bring to mind the tradition that marked the beginning of Summer in ages past. I loved the idea of living within daily sight of a Maypole and it never fails to fill my heart with joy, even these many years after I first saw it.
Often we find ourselves speaking about wanting to embrace magic in our lives, about wanting to reconnect to that sense of joy and wonder that we remember having in childhood, about reclaiming that excitement and exuberance that is so evident in the very young. Often we speak in terms that indicate all these experiences are kept in some faraway place: in memories of times so long ago. And in some ways this is true, but it is also a place that is very much within reach.
One of the things I love most about working with the Wheel of the Year is how precisely applicable it is to our own inner life. Certainly, the Festivals that lie around the Wheel are connected with the agricultural cycle. For our ancient forebears, to ignore such a cycle meant disaster on a very tangible level. Without supplies and stores to bring the Tribe through the winter months, starvation and death were a very real possibility. An enormous amount of focus and energy went into meeting the basic needs of food, shelter and safety. The eight Festivals, as we know them today, marked significant moments throughout the year addressing the movement from preparation to planting to harvest to rest. As is known by every Pagan, the ancient traditions of celebration have found their way into many contemporary ones. These traditions reflect the outer world – the things we do “out there” to connect us with the energy of the season. However, as said by renown comparative mythologist, Joseph Campbell “When your mind is trapped by the image out there so that you never make reference to yourself, you have misread the image”. We joyfully join in honouring the Festivals in our communities. This is significant and important for connecting us to others and feeling a part of a larger whole. The Festivals help us to be conscious of the world around us and to live in alignment with the land. But how can we draw upon these festivals to become more conscious of ourselves? How can we ‘pull the image within’?
Each Festival has its core archetypal energy. When one scans across the landscape of ancient Western culture, it is possible to see the correlations between gods and goddess, traditions and activities. All these give us clues as to what the synthesizing element is – what connects the varied names and traditions together into a cohesive pattern. Interestingly, when one identifies the archetype of each Festival, there is a direct correlation to traditional psychology which is reflected in family systems theory and childhood development. The Festivals offer us a doorway through which to explore inner alignment....