Wednesday, February 13, 2013

February Mysteries

February is here. What a strange month it is, almost like a secret month with magic hidden for those who take the opportunity to look. A month when winter throws the worst at us, and yet we know it is leaving. Hidden under the snow that sometimes melts we are treated to bright green spots of the land awakening. February starts with Groundhog Day on the second day of the month, where we are promised if the groundhog sees "his shadow" we must endure six more weeks of winter. And most of us immediately associate this day with the movie starring Bill Murray. The plot centers around a time loop that occurs on 2/2 "Groundhog Day". From wikipedia Groundhog day plot

Phil wakes up to find that he is reliving February 2. The day plays out exactly as it did before, with no one but Phil aware of the time loop. At first he is confused, but, when the phenomenon continues on subsequent days, he decides to take advantage of the situation with no fear of long-term consequences: he learns secrets from the town's residents, seduces women, steals money, drives recklessly, and gets thrown in jail. However, his attempts to get closer to Rita, to whom he has become attracted, repeatedly fail.

Eventually, Phil becomes despondent and tries more and more drastically to end the time loop; he gives ridiculous and offensive reports on the festival, abuses residents, eventually kidnaps Punxsutawney Phil and, after a police chase, drives off a high overlook into a quarry, evidently killing both himself and the groundhog. However, Phil wakes up and finds that nothing has changed; further attempts at suicide are just as fruitless, as he continues to find himself waking at six o'clock on the morning of February 2 with the clock radio on his nightstand playing "I Got You Babe" by Sonny & Cher.
When Phil explains the situation to Rita, she suggests that he should take advantage of it to improve himself. Inspired, Phil endeavours to try to learn more about Rita, building upon his knowledge of her and the town each day. He begins to use his by-now vast experience of the day to help as many people around town as possible. He uses the time to learn, among other things, how to play the piano, how to sculpt ice, and how to speak both Italian and French.

Eventually, Phil is able to befriend almost everyone he meets during the day, using his experiences to save lives, help townspeople, and to get closer to Rita. He crafts a report on the Groundhog Day celebration so eloquent that all the other stations turn their microphones to him. After the town's evening dance on February 2nd, Rita "buys" Phil at the event's auction. They retire together to Phil's room. He wakes the next morning and finds the time loop is broken; it is now February 3 and Rita is still with him. After going outside, Phil talks about living in Punxsutawney with Rita.

 Groundhog Day has been considered a tale of self-improvement which emphasizes the need to look inside oneself and realize that the only satisfaction in life comes from turning outward and concerning oneself with others rather than concentrating solely on one's own wants and desires. The phrase also has become a shorthand illustration for the concept of spiritual transcendence. As such, the film has become a favorite of Buddhists because they see its themes of selflessness and rebirth as a reflection of their own spiritual messages. It has also, in the Catholic tradition, been seen as a representation of Purgatory. It has even been dubbed by some religious leaders as the "most spiritual film of our time".


"As a mother would risk her life to protect her child, her only child, even so should one cultivate a limitless heart with regard to all beings. So with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings; radiating kindness over the entire world." The Buddha, Sutta Nipata I, 8

Buddhists associate the movie with the trials and lessons of becoming a bodhisattvas, humans who reach spiritual perfection and yet return to the earth as a savior of mankind."Angela Zito, a co-director of the Center for Religion and Media at New York University, screens the film for students in her Buddhism class. She said that "Groundhog Day" perfectly illustrates the Buddhist notion of samsara, the continuing cycle of rebirth that Buddhists regard as suffering that humans must try to escape (a belief, Dr. Zito noted, that was missed by executives at Guerlain, who, searching for an exotic name, introduced a perfume called Samsara in the 1980s, overlooking the negative connotations). "Groundhog Day," Dr. Zito said, is a cinematic version of the teachings in Mahayana Buddhism, known as "the greater vehicle." "In Mahayana," she said, "nobody ever imagines they are going to escape samsara until everybody else does. That is why you have bodhisattvas, who reach the brink of nirvana, and stop and come back and save the rest of us. Bill Murray is the bodhisattva. He is not going to abandon the world. On the contrary, he is released back into the world to save it."

I personally love this movie and find some new message that comes in richer in each viewing. And searching for information on this movie reveals lots of viewers who find eloquent messages of breakthroughs to the true self - 
Slowly, he goes through a transformation. Having suffered himself, he is able to empathize with other people's suffering. Having been isolated from society, he becomes a local hero in Punxsutawney.
Now, he sees the glass as half full, and the day as a form of freedom. As he expresses it in a corny TV speech about the weather that he gives for the camera, at the umpteenth ceremony he has covered of the coming out of the groundhog:

"When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the of warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn't imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter."

In other words, having accepted the conditions of life and learned the pleasures afforded by human companionship, he is no longer like all those people who fear life's travails, and try to use the weather forecast, by human or groundhog, to control events. He accepts "winter" as an opportunity.

And if we view our shadow, six more weeks of "winter" is offered for the opportunity to bask in the warmth of our heart. Amazing things are to be found in the most unlikely places. Deep inside of our own heart or earth, and the amazing journey to our center of the earth is a trip not to be missed.

Coming along with Groundhog day on February 2nd and sometimes on the 3rd is Candlemas Day. It is held exactly 40 days after Christmas and is the day that the baby Jesus was presented at the temple. 
The Feast of the Presentation depends on the date for Christmas: As per the passage from the Gospel of Luke (Luke 2:22-40) describing the event in the life of Jesus, the celebration of the Presentation of the Lord follows 40 days after. The blessing of candles on this day recalls Simeon's reference to the infant Jesus as the "light for revelation to the Gentiles" (Luke 2:32).

Modern Pagans believe that Candlemas is a Christianization of the Gaelic festival of Imbolc, which was celebrated in pre-Christian Europe (and especially the Celtic Nations) at about the same time of year. Imbolc is called "St. Brigid's Day" or "Brigid" in Ireland. Both Brigids are associated with sacred flames, holy wells and springs, healing and smithcraft. Brigid is a virgin, yet also the patron of midwives. However, a connection with Roman (rather than Celtic or Germanic) polytheism is more plausible, since the feast was celebrated before any serious attempt to expand Christianity into non-Roman countries.

In Irish homes, there were many rituals revolving around welcoming Brigid into the home. Some of Brigid's rituals and legends later became attached to the Christian Saint Brigid, who was the Abbess of Kildare and seen by Celtic Christians as the midwife of Christ and "Mary of the Gael". In Ireland and Scotland she is the "foster mother of Jesus." The exact date of the Imbolc festival may have varied from place to place based on local tradition and regional climate. Imbolc is celebrated by modern Pagans on the eve of 2 February, at the astronomical midpoint, or on the full moon closest to the first spring thaw.

 In the Gnostic religion Candlemas is a celebration of Kindling of the Light in Darkness, 
The image of the candle lit in the darkness can signify to us the kindling of a spark of the light in the darkness of our material existence. In this metaphor, what we really need to focus on is the kindling, the kindling into flame, not just an affirmation or comfort in the idea of our being sparks of the divine light. A spark merely abides in itself; it does not give give forth any useful light or warmth. A flame, on the other hand, shines out in light and warmth for others, yet the light that shines out also allows us to perceive and so receive consciousness of those things that were obscured by the darkness. The means of kindling this spark into a flame is again a great paradox, the paradox of individual effort and the receptivity to grace, the paradox of the oneness of the result and the means. The kindling of the spark into flame occurs through a connection, a contact, with something higher and transcendent to the simple system of just the spark and the fuel. In physical terms, the system requires a breath. When you make a fire from a spark thrown off by a flint and steel you need to supply breath to kindle it into flame. The paradox exists in that the ability of the individual to effectively reach up by seemingly our own efforts is in itself a grace, a permeability to the grace that is the response to that effort. The perception, the reception in consciouness of the greater realities obscured by the material and psychological obfuscations in our material existence are both the results of and the necessary means for the contact with that greater reality. How can we exercise a means that requires a result that we do not yet have? How can we kindle a light which first requires the perception of that which the light would illumine? We require help, the help of a mystery. We need a helper that is in touch with that mystery. We require a breath from the ineffable greatness to fan the spark into flame.

I like to believe that the month of February is full of mystery and grace to help us bring a light into our own darkness. To journey through our consciousness and realize the greater reality that is hidden from our day to day knowledge.

As we become more and more conscious of our spiritual heritage and origin, as we increase our consciousness of who we are and why we are here, we become beings of light. The way to dispelling the darkness of the world is not in attempting to enlighten others with our personal ideas, or taking up crusades in some particular cause, but in becoming beings of light ourselves. By letting the authentic light of our spirit (our divine breath) shine through our consciousness of who we really are and why we are here, we can light up the whole world. As we shine with a greater light, there occurs a change of perception, we begin to perceive almost on a feeling level beautiful patterns of light behind all of the manifestation of the material world. When we shine, we can perceive this Land of Light; when we do not shine we are in darkness.

Not always occurring in the month of February, is Ash Wednesday. 

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent in the Western Christian calendar. Occurring 46 days before Easter, it is a moveable fast that can fall as early as February 4 and as late as March 10. According to the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke; Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation by Satan. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of this 40-day liturgical period of prayer and fasting or abstinence. Of the 46 days until Easter, six are Sundays. As the Christian sabbath, Sundays are not included in the fasting period and are instead "feast" days during Lent .

Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of adherents as a reminder and celebration of human mortality, and as a sign of mourning and repentance to God. The ashes used are typically gathered from the burning of the palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday. Ash Wednesday.

 The season of Lent extends from Ash Wednesday up to the eve of Easter Sunday. The word "lent" comes from a German word meaning "spring." It is a time of purification and introspection in preparation for the renewal in spring. The first day of Lent occurs on Ash Wednesday, 40 days before Easter Sunday. The number forty has much significance in relation to the mythic story of Jesus and the preparation of Lent. According to scripture and tradition, Jesus was forty hours in the tomb before his resurrection and forty days fasting in the wilderness before undertaking his public mission.

 Introspective self-examination helps to bring the contents of the unconscious into consciousness, which results in a conjunction of the opposites. When we make the two one, when we unite the opposites, something new arises within the psyche on a higher level of manifestation. We meet a transcendent and transpersonal being within us. Gnostics have compared this experience to viewing a light-being of oneself in a mirror. “...when you make eyes in the place of an eye, a hand in the place of a hand, and a foot in the place of a foot, and an image in the place of an image, then shall you enter the Kingdom.” The Jewish Gnostics write about a stage in Kabbalistic meditation where one meets a figure of light resembling oneself, a light twin, that is necessary before one can ascend in the Divine Chariot (Mercavah) to the place of light.

So, why do we not suggest that we all leave this vale of woe in some mass suicide? Because there is something yet very precious about human consciousness—there is an insight, a resurrection, a Gnosis that can only be achieved in this embodied consciousness. This Gnosis not only liberates one from the attachments and snares of the world but also awakens a compassion for all sentient beings and a desire to remain and help others with the task of Self-knowledge. Liberation from the chains of attainment frees us from bondage to our demiurgic egos. The fasting and mortifications of the vision quest comprise one of the ways that have been used to burst these bonds of the Demiurge who says “I am the only god.” Under this tyranny a vision of Gnosis cannot come.

An extended fast is only one means of producing the altered state of consciousness that can knock the ego-personality out of its autonomous tyranny of self-importance. Until the autonomy and resistance of the ego is broken down, there is no place for the helpful powers to come forth and communicate. According to the teachings of Don Juan in the writings of Carlos Castaneda, we find our personal power when we loose our self-importance. The oppressive circumstances of our lives, the petty tyrants and jealous gods that we meet, help us to lose our self-importance and to find our personal power. When we lose our self-importance, all the things that push our buttons no longer affect us. The archons (the jealous gods) have no power over us. We find the personal power to transcend the petty archons and ascend to the realms of light.

In this day and age, we can come to this experience of death and rebirth through invocation and prayer. We can simply invoke the helpful powers of the unconscious into consciousness. Such a prayer opens a direct line to the driver of the cosmic dump truck where is accumulated all of our lifetimes of psychic and karmic refuse. Such a prayer sends out a call that we are ready for it to fall on us. This is what the helpful powers are for. This is why they are called forth; to help us take care of our garbage, to polish the glass of our spiritual vision, to purify our refuse in the furnace of our fiery being, composted and compressed into crystal, to fashion the diamond body; to make of it a bright and pellucid mirror, reflecting to us the radiance of our Divine Self.

And if this is not enough, then we celebrate a day of love, with Valentine's Day February 14th.

St. Valentine's Day began as a liturgical celebration of one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus. The most popular martyrology associated with Saint Valentine was that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire; during his imprisonment, he is said to have healed the daughter of his jailer Asterius. Legend states that before his execution he wrote "from your Valentine" as a farewell to her. Today, Saint Valentine's Day is an official feast day in the Anglican Communion, as well as in the Lutheran Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church also celebrates Saint Valentine's Day, albeit on July 6th and July 30th, the former date in honor of the Roman presbyter Saint Valentine, and the latter date in honor of Hieromartyr Valentine, the Bishop of Interamna (modern Terni). 
 The day was first associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. By the 15th century, it had evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as "valentines"). Valentine's Day symbols that are used today include the heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards

The Mystery of Divine Love -A Homily for the Day of the Holy Valentinus
by Rev. Steven Marshall

February 14th has been a holiday associated with love and lovers, since ancient Roman and Pre-Christian times. The Roman festival of Lupercalia, a spring festival celebrating sexual and romantic love, coincided with this date. Ancient Romans believed that the springtime mating of birds occurred on this date as well.

The naming of this holiday after a St. Valentine seems to be a case where the Catholic Church of Rome attempted to find a saint's feast day to substitute for a popular pre-existing holiday. In fact, there were three saints who could be associated with the theme of love, all three of them named Valentine.

It is thus only fitting that we, as Gnostics, should pick our own Valentinus as the saint for whom this feast day is dedicated. In studying the Valentinian tradition of Gnosticism, particularly in that of his disciples in Ptolemaeus' Letter to Flora and the Gospel of Philip, we find that this is more than a mere coincidence of the name, but that the Valentinian literature is filled with the imagery and metaphor of spiritual love and the Gnostic sacrament of the Bridal Chamber and marriage.
"Indeed marriage in the world is a mystery for those who have taken a wife. If there is a hidden quality to the marriage of the world, how much more is the undefiled marriage a true mystery! It is not fleshly but pure. It belongs not to desire but to will. It belongs not to the darkness or the night but to the day and the light." (The Gospel of Philip)

The archetype of romantic love is one of the most powerful of those energies. It unconsciously pervades our entire culture Ñinety percent of our popular movies, art, music, and literature revolve around this theme; yet most are blind, like the blind-folded figure of Cupid in the Tarot card of the Lovers, to the spiritual root of this archetype and continue to confuse the mythic image of romantic love with the worldly goals of marrying and raising a family. When this archetype is not allowed expression in ritual or some other symbolic, transcendental context, then it erupts in our human relationships. We go about seeking the perfect anima or animus in the perfect woman or perfect man; we hope to find the Holy Grail in worldly relationships. St. Valentinus, like the Gnostics before him realized that the perfect marriage was not to be found in the world but in the spirit.

One of the symbols of Valentine's Day that has always struck me as holding some symbolic and hidden mystery is that of the heart pierced by Cupid's arrow. It reminds me of the heart of Jesus pierced by the lance of Longinus and the heart of Mary pierced by a sword. Yet these religious images transcend history, and point to a mystery of redemption that transcends the physical death described by these images even as the the arrow pierced heart signifies the piercing by Love's shaft, instead of a physical slaying. This mystery of redemption to which St. Valentinus' description of the Bride Chamber points us is that expressed in the Gospel of Truth:
"This is why Jesus appeared: he opened the Book of Gnosis. He was nailed to a tree, he fastened the testamentary disposition from the Father to the Cross. O such magnanimity, such that he draws himself downward to death while eternal life encloses him. Having divested himself of these perishable rags he clothed himself with the imperishability which none has the power to take from him."

The month ends with Second Sunday in Lent - Yearning for God. The season of Lent bears an overall character of introspection and self-examination. When the attention of the psyche turns inward, one finds an initial sense of alienation and emptiness, a yearning for something only vaguely formulated that we intuitively know would bring true wholeness and fill the emptiness we feel. Such, for the Gnostic, is the yearning for God.

One of the cries of the Gnostic in the world is a nostalgic sighing for something greater, often only vaguely and intuitively recognized. The Demiurge does not want us to sigh, or to long for anything outside of the worldly oriented ego and its socio-political system. The demiurge wants us to be happy and satisfied with the things of this world: the generation of family, material accumulations, mental and emotional pursuits. And after all these things are achieved we are still not relieved or free of the constant treadmill of wants, desires and anxious attachments-we are still empty, unhappy and unfulfilled.

In the Declaration of Independence the pursuit of happiness is a maxim for freedom. We cannot approach wholeness until we are free. The Buddhists describe the means for getting free as a detachment from the world, a way of getting out of the chains of our addictive attachments to the things of this world. If immersed in and identified with all of the extroverted stuff out there, whether material, mental or emotional, we are not free, and our soul suffers violation by the material powers, the archons of the world. This act of freeing oneself from the world is sometimes called fasting from the world. Now, this does not mean that we must ignore all of our responsibilities in the world, but that we can be "in the world" yet not "of the world." Fasting from the world does not mean repression of our physical and emotional needs, for repression is not but a negative attachment to the object of one's attachments. Fasting from the world is related to the Greek root for "ascetic." It comes from the Greek word "askesis," which means "skill." So fasting from the world is the practice of a skill, learning the skill of overcoming and consciously utilising the powerful forces of desire in the psyche. Asceticism is a skill to be learned and practiced for a particular goal, not a way of life for the Gnostic. For an example, if we abstain from sex for a certain period of time, we can learn that there is more to love and our yearning for wholeness than sexual and emotional gratification. If we live a simple life of poverty for a certain period of time, then we may learn that there is more to our yearning for wholeness than the pursuit of material wants and desires. Fasting from the world is a step in a process, not a goal in itself. When we have gleaned the insights and increased consciousness that this practice of detachment can bring, then we can gain freedom and make our way to wholeness. We can find that for which we truly sigh.

The nostalgic yearning for God, the sigh of the Gnostic, is no more poignantly and timelessly expressed than in the Farewell of Galadriel from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings:.
"Ah. Like gold fall the leaves in the wind, long years numberless as the wings of trees! The long years have passed like swift draughts of sweet mead in lofty halls beyond the West, beneath the blue vaults of Varda wherein the stars tremble in the song of Her voice, holy and queenly. Who now shall refill the cup for me? For now the Kindler, the Queen of the Stars, from Mount Everwhite hath uplifted her hands like clouds, and all paths are drowned deep in shadow: and out of a grey country darkness lies on the foaming waves between us, and mist covers the jewels of Calacyria forever. Now lost, lost to those of the East is Valimar! Farewell! Maybe even thou shalt find Valimar. Maybe even thou shalt find it. Farewell!"

The purification of Lent is not about punishing self-denial, nor wallowing in guilt and shame, but revolves around self-reflection, introspection and invocation of the helpful and spiritual powers that can cleanse our channel of communication with the Divine. In this process we do not punish the body or the animal self but heal it. Our animal needs are not met by addictive behaviors; our bodies are not helped by self-punishment. According to esoteric wisdom, it is the animal soul, often suffering from internalized guilt and shame, which is our connection to the higher, divine Self. The ego, the lesser self, imposing its obsessive attachments upon the animal soul, does not have a direct connection to that higher Self.

The ego often uses the anxiety of the animal soul over the needs, traumas, or defiencies that were not resolved in childhood, to further its autonomy and power within the psyche. It creates a false self that is emotionally invested in compensatory mechanisms and substitutes for true spiritual fulfillment and happiness. This false self of guilt, shame and anxious attachment is the source of most of our dysfunctional desires, thoughts and behaviors. The false self becomes convinced that more sex, more unconscious highs, more food, more money, more of whatever addiction we choose will fill that pit of internally felt deficiency and lack of wholeness, and the elimination of our soul’s pain. Yet all we really get are paltry substitutes for our soul’s longing. If we can discover the needs, traumas and deficiencies behind our anxious attachments, if we can go through our soul’s pain, the deception is broken; the anxious attachments can be cleared. We can discover the spiritual aspiration that is our true longing for the Divine; we find the immortal spirit within us which is our authentic Self.

This rite of purification is not a purification focused on the worldly transgression of  cultural taboos but purification from darkness and ignorance. The Lenten purification is the purification that prepares us for Self-Knowledge (Gnosis). The purification with the ashes prepares us to confront the archons of our own evil impulses and frees us to ascend to the realms of light.  The Gospel of Philip recounts the importance of this self-knowledge to the task of the Gnostic.
"Is it not necessary for all those who possess everything to know themselves? Some,  indeed, if they do not know themselves, will not enjoy what they possess. But those who have come to know themselves will enjoy their possessions."
Not until we know the Self as one can we overcome our addictive attachments to worldly things and truly enjoy what we possess on earth. Those who put on this light of Self-knowledge will pass by the archons while in the world and make their mystical ascent into the light. According to the Gospel of Philip:
"Not only will the archons be unable to detain the perfect ones, but they will not be able  to see them, for if they see them, they will detain them. There is no other way for a person to acquire this quality except by putting on the perfect light and becoming perfect oneself. Everyone who has put this on will enter the Kingdom. This is the perfect light, and it is necessary that we by all means become perfect ones before we leave the world."
In the Lenten purification with the ashes we can take on this perfect light, not in another world after death, but here in this flesh. In this manner, we return our dust to dust, and find beneath it the fiery being and incorruptible light of our true Self—the Christ within.

May this February bring us to become beings of perfect love and perfect light.

Adding links to two wonderful discussions of the movie GroundHog Day

 Eckhart Tolle on the movie Groundhog Day

Harold Ramis on the Metaphor of Ground Hog Day

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