Bede records in his Reckoning of Time (A.D. 725) the use of candles at the Feast of Purification was common in his day. (Latin Text)
[O]n the feast of St Mary, the whole populace with the priests and ministers goes on procession through the churches and the city neighbourhoods, all singing devout hymns, and carrying in their hands burning candles given them by the bishop. As this good custom grew, it provided a model for the conduct of other feasts of the blessed Mother and perpetual Virgin as well, not in the five-year lustration of a worldly empire, but in the everlasting memory of the heavenly kingdom where, according to the parable of the wise virgins, all the elect shall go out to meet the Bridegroom, their King, with the lamps of their good deeds alight, and then shall enter into the heavenly city with Him. (Bede, The Reckoning of Time, Translation by Faith Wallis, Liverpool University Press, 1999 p. 49)
Ronald Hutton observed that the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2 gives ample reason for candles when the Christ child “was recognized there, according to the tale, by an old man called Simeon, who hailed him as the messiah of Israel and a Light to lighten the Gentiles.”
(The Stations of the Sun, 1999:139)
Is there, in bowers of endless spring, One known from all the seraph band By softer voice, by smile and wing More exquisitely bland! Here let him speed: to-day this hallowed air Is fragrant with a mother’s first and fondest prayer.
Only let Heaven her fire impart, No richer incense breathes on earth: “A spouse with all a daughter’s heart,” Fresh from the perilous birth, To the great Father lifts her pale glad eye, Like a reviving flower when storms are hushed on high.
Oh, what a treasure of sweet thought Is here! what hope and joy and love All in one tender bosom brought, For the all-gracious Dove To brood o’er silently, and form for Heaven Each passionate wish and dream to dear affection given.
Her fluttering heart, too keenly blest, Would sicken, but she leans on Thee, Sees Thee by faith on Mary’s breast, And breathes serene and free. Slight tremblings only of her veil declare Soft answers duly whispered to each soothing prayer.
We are too weak, when Thou dost bless, To bear the joy–help, Virgin-born! By Thine own mother’s first caress, That waked Thy natal morn! Help, by the unexpressive smile, that made A Heaven on earth around this couch where Thou wast laid.
A Polish legend relates that Mary, the Mother of God of the “Blessed Thunder Candle” (Matka Boska Gromniczna), watches over the people on cold February nights. With her thunder candle, she wards off the ravenous pack and protects the peasants from all harm.
The Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgi Mary
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
2 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean.
3 And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.
4 And she shall then continue in the blood of her purifying three and thirty days; she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying be fulfilled.
5 But if she bear a maid child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her separation: and she shall continue in the blood of her purifying threescore and six days.
6 And when the days of her purifying are fulfilled, for a son, or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtledove, for a sin offering, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, unto the priest:
7 Who shall offer it before the Lord, and make an atonement for her; and she shall be cleansed from the issue of her blood. This is the law for her that hath born a male or a female.
8 And if she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons; the one for the burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering: and the priest shall make an atonement for her, and she shall be clean.
Leviticus 12 KJV.
All this bring us to the idea that a woman is unclean after the birth of a child. This is something I will come back to, I hope.
Today’s card is taken from Tarot of Mystical Moments by Catrin Welz-Stein.
The Eight of Swords.
First of all, what can we see?
In this deck we have a large Angel, naked, they are sitting on the floor or what appears to be in an ornate vintage style birdcage. Their wings are open and spread through the bars of their cage, almost trapping them. Perhaps it’s the feeling that their wings or feathers may be caught up, be pulled or fall out if they try and move, so, scared to move they are sitting there very still.
The cage appears to be on top of a small hill, balanced upon three legs.
The lid of the cage is open, but the angel does not appear to have noticed or even realised it. Their face is downcast. We cannot see their eyes if they are closed, but I get the feeling that they are weeping.
Outside of the cage, in the foreground, are eight trees, Cypress trees. They are on the left and the right of the cage, but they do not surround it. The way to and from the cage is open. There are also paths to and from the cage; it is not a dead end. The paths meander like streams down from the cage and through the trees. This creates numerous ways to and from the cage.
So what does the card mean?
While it is somewhat obvious we look at the angel, I am today drawn to take a look at the surroundings and what they may mean.
The Eight Trees we see are Cypress trees. Tall and distinctive, with their pyramid shape, they can grow to 30 feet and are thought to be able to live for over a thousand years, with some thought to have lived to almost two thousand years.
It’s not surprising then that they are connected with several legends – especially in the Middle East and in Western cultures.
In Ovid’s “Metamorphosis,” a young man called Kyparissos accidentally kills his young and dearly loved deer, he is so upset by this and so grief-stricken he begs Apollo to transform him into a Cypress to preserve his sorrow.
Its distinctive and aromatic smell was used to hide and disguise the smell of death and the underworld. So it is/was also sacred to Hades.
Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 1. 730 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) : “Beneath the gloom of an ancient cypress, squalid and ghastly with darksome hue [sacrifices were made to Haides in a necromantic ritual].”
In various Apocryphal writings, such as the ‘Apocalypse of Moses’, the Cypress is thought to be the tree from which Adam asks his son, Seth to retrieve oil to heal him and/or which he can anoint himself so when he dies he can go to heaven.
In the Iranian Epic Shahnameh a branch of the Cypress tree that Zoroaster carries when he leaves Paradise and which he plants when the Kind converts to Zoroastrianism. The tree itself becomes a holy place one which bridges the heavens and the earth, and where the King resides. Zoarasarians believe it is the Tree of Paradise itself, ( see the Cypress of Kashmar).
In some stories, it suggested that the Cypress is the tree that Noah is told by YHWH to build the Ark, (Gopher). Genesis 6.1 -14
Later, in the Middle Ages, it was also believed that the wood from which the cross on which Jesus was crucified, was fashioned was a Cypress tree.
In Christianity and Islam, it is also believed that Cypress trees not only keep bad spirits away but also stop the spirits of the dead from rising and wandering around.
Interestingly, the doors of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome are made of cypress wood and were built some 1,200 years ago as yet they are still holding solid and there is no sign of rotting.
All this in one card, and not even the main protagonist, the angel. So we can see that these trees are trees of great grandeur and stature, but what can this all mean when we are reading the card. Like the Angel who sits despondently within her gilded cage, we are being told we are surrounded by guardians of the dead. Like these trees, we are a bridge between what has gone before and what is to come, a bridge between the underworld and the heavens, life and death, the dark and the light. All very much in keeping with this month. January, where we sit waiting for new life to begin and spring to rise from the depths of winter.
We need to stop focusing and being the Angel, waiting, perhaps somewhat despondently, for someone to come and rescue us. We need to smell the Cypress Trees and see we are not trapped by circumstance, by season, or by illusion.
Only fear keeps us locked in ‘our’ gilded cage.
The evergreen Cypress trees can show us the way. Here in this card, we are told to believe in the Cypress, in the Ancestors which came before us and those who will follow us,. To believe and trust in all those that surround us, guarding the paths for us, encouraging us to move on, up the Tree of Life, perhaps not too ‘Heaven’ yet but surely onto a better path.
I know that this is usually sung at Rosh Hashanah [Jewish New Year ]and Yom Kippur, [Day of Atonement ] but after the last few months/years, I felt I wanted something that touched my soul, to remember the horrors of the Holocaust and to give hope for all of us who face such an uncertain future; be they/you or even I, Jewish, None Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Pagan, of faith and those who hold no faith.
Just sit and listen, and if you can, with your eyes closed – It is a truly haunting prayer/song.
Hear our prayer We have sinned before Thee Have compassion upon us and upon our children Help us bring an end to pestilence, war, and famine Cause all hate and oppression to vanish from the earth Inscribe us for blessing in the Book Of Life Let the new year be a good year for us
Today’s card – taken from Tarot of Mystical Moments – by Catrin Welz-Stein
Like the more traditional card here we have our protagonist lying horizontally, but not on a tomb, she’s not a knight, or the effigies of a knight, she is, may I suggest, not dead, but a young woman/girl lying, well more cradle, by a crescent moon.
Unlike the knight in some of the more traditional cards, she’s not on solid ground, she is floating somewhere above it all, dreamlike. Behind her are the heavens, and the clouds behind are not as white and fluffy as one could expect. above her to the left is a cold dark night, stars can be seen, to the left at the bottom, it looks like there are also dark clouds gathering.
It looks like it’s snowing, and there she is, almost but not quite naked, sleeping unaware of what is happing. The card has many dream-like qualities.
Her hair tumbling down over the moon, and she is dressed in her underwear, or nightwear, her PJs. She looks like she’s asleep and quite comfortable.
Though I’m not quite sure if that’s the case. While it appears she is not going to fall, or overbalance and that she is trusting that she is held securely, if we look at her right leg that is straight out, rigid her toes pointing as if she is trying to keep still in order not to fall.
Her eyes are closed, though her face is pointing to the heavens. What of the swords? Well as we can see they are no longer the sharp metal pointy type, but 4 white feathers, 3 above her and one appears that she has held it and just let it go.
While the other three are falling from the heavens, the larger one of the four, which is under her, its tip is closer to her, is touching her, its tip is pointing towards her.
Similar to the image of the lily we see in many classical images of the Annunciation, it points to her womb, from where life, and according to Christian tradition, salvation itself comes from. It’s also interesting to see that her clothing like the Virgin’s as seen in many images of the Annunciation, is also blue. Indeed in some Annunciation images – in particular in film, Mary, when visited by the angel was asleep and is in her bedclothes.
The girl on our Four of Swords looks very similar to a pre Raphaelite woman, with long reddish and at the tips almost golden hair.
Hair to the Victorian, the Pre Raphaelites and the Fairy tales they took their inspiration from is a motif of not only of maidenhood, power, sexuality but also of Otherness.
Another example of long flowing locks can be seen in Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais, here we also have a young woman laid on her back her face looking up to the heavens. Though our young woman has her eyes firmly closed and is tight-lipped.
And The Girlhood of Mary by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
What of the Swords? As I have previously mentioned here in this card we have not cold steel but soft down. White feathers are said by some to represent angels, and so like Mary in the annunciation has this sleeping young woman been visited by an angel? Or is she just playing dead, is she scared, refusing to look and see, afraid of what she is being told and/or offered? She’s not wanting to hear what the angel has to say, ignoring him and hoping he and they will go away.
So then after all this what is the card telling us today.
It’s an Annunciation, it telling us to not be afraid, to open our eyes, to see, that despite the dark clouds that surround us, the fear of falling, of being balanced precariously on an illusion (the moon), you /we have been given (or told) something precious if we would just look, listen, see, something which could change our life.
So are you ready, today open your eyes, stop dreaming, stop living unsteadily on illusion and take that which has been offered to you?
if you would like a more in-depth reading please contact me either via my Facebook page or here and we can discuss a longer reading.
I wanted to share with you a small piece called ‘The Annunciation’, that I wrote last year and which has been published by a small non-profit online magazine called The Cauldron
This is the link if anyone would like to read it. There are some other amazing stories, poetry and non-fiction in there too. Why not check this issue out as well as past issues, and let me know what you think!
Starless and cold is the night, Wide yawns the sea, And over the sea, flat on his paunch, Sprawls that uncouth lubber, the northwind, And, quite at his ease, with hoarse, piping voice, Like a peevish curmudgeon who grows good-humoured, Chats to the water below; And he spins mad yarns without number, Slaughter-breathing tales of giants, World-old Norwegian sagas; And between-whiles, far-bellowing, laughs he, and howls he The magic songs of the Edda, And runic-spell rhymes, So darkly defiant, and potent in glamour, That the white sea-children Leap their highest and cheer him, Drunk with insolent glee.
Meanwhile, on the shore’s flat margin, Over the tide-washed, surf-wetted sand, Strides a stranger, the heart within him A wilder thing than wind or billows. Where his feet fall Sparks fly out, and crackle the sea-shells; And he wraps him close in his mist-grey mantle, And swiftly strides through the blustering night; Surely led by the little candle That pleasantly luring glimmers From the fisherman’s lonely cabin*
The North Sea – lV – A Night by the Strand, by Heinrich Heine [1797-1856]
This morning, half watching a cookery show, I heard Mary Berry talking about how there were only 11 disciples on the Simmel cake.
The reason being that of course they would not allow a traitor such as Judas to decorate such an auspicious cake. That got me thinking and I looked back on a post I had made on a previous blog.
I think I may make a Simmel cake this week but with 12 apostles because Judas spoke to me.
Never mind the marzipan…
When I went out to kill myself, I caught A pack of hoodlums beating up a man. Running to spare his suffering, I forgot My name, my number, how my day began, How soldiers milled around the garden stone And sang amusing songs; how all that day Their javelins measured crowds; how I alone Bargained the proper coins, and slipped away.
Banished from heaven, I found this victim beaten, Stripped, kneed, and left to cry. Dropping my rope Aside, I ran, ignored the uniforms: Then I remembered bread my flesh had eaten, The kiss that ate my flesh. Flayed without hope, I held the man for nothing in my arms.