CANDLEMAS: THE FEAST OF LIGHT RETURNING
As the days of February begin, the groundhog sticks its head out of Mother Earth to see what kind of a shadow, if any, it casts, thereby predicting the return of Spring. In our modern world, so lacking in meaningful rituals, Groundhog's Day is one of the last remnants of the great pagan festivals which honored the Great Mother of Fertility, Blessings and Vision. The Celtic people called it the Feast of Imbolc; the Romans honored the Goddess who engendered the 'fever' of love within the human heart, which we still celebrate as St. Valentine's Day. The Christian Church made it the Festival of the Purification of the Virgin Mary, a time to bless the candles which would flame with new light for the coming year.
The festival of Candlemas is a time to open our human consciousness to perceive the Divine Light and to envision the fertility of the coming year. As the days grow visibly longer, the Divine Light that was born on the Winter Solstice begins to manifest on the earth and in our lives.
If we look within the vast wellsprings of the soul, images arise like bubbles from a boiling cauldron, and we see played out within our own souls the ancient story of the grieving mother who searches in the darkness for her lost daughter, and of the daughter who dreams in the darkness of new life to come. As we watch the bubbles, and sink into the images, our vision turns inward and we begin to dream.
. . .The Old Woman walks slowly up the hill under the icy winter stars. She huddles into her cloak as the chill wind embraces her body. But despite the cold and darkness, her steps never falter. As I watch, I know that, no matter how bent and frail she seems, she is a match for the coldness, the wind, the hill and even the starry sky itself. I fleetingly wonder how I have gotten here, or if indeed, I am here at all, for I feel neither the chill nor the wind, and I do not know where I am. Then my attention is once more centered on the Old Woman, for she is drawing close to me now. I feel myself straining to see her face in the darkness, although her hood is pulled close around her face and I am not sure that she even knows I am there. I am not sure myself.
Oh! The coldness of the night finds its expression in her eyes as she turns to face me. Both the darkness and the distant light of the stars are in her eyes, and those eyes look straight through me to my soul. At once I feel the night in all its harshness, just as she must feel it. Before, there had been an absence of sensation; now, there is only sensation and my body has become the center of the agony of all of life caught in the annihilating coldness of Death. Hers is a face that encompasses Death, and yet is other than it. Stark and white is her face, chiseled smooth of all emotions, still as Death, hard as stone; and yet her eyes hold a burning fierceness in their darkness, as if all the life in her is concentrated in her eyes.
I am held in the darkness of her eyes for a moment as they speak to me. "Where is my daughter? Where is the Beloved One?" Oh! I want to cry out to her then, to offer some kind of comfort for the desolation I see in those eyes, but I have no voice for it. I do not know who or where this daughter might be, and I ache for that loss as my body aches from the cold. It seems to me that her despair becomes my failure, as if I might have helped her if only I had - What? I am overwhelmed with emotions that have coloured my entire life: despair, loss, loneliness, deep sorrows and the pain of separations in my life, the feeling of failure to do and be something more . . . The agony of my own darkness, of the night's cold, of her eyes and of her loss stretch out like a hand to clutch at my heart. I cannot breath!
Then she turns away, and I draw in a great breathe that becomes a sob. Although I have not answered her question, in the last moments before she turns away I see a look of ... satisfaction, love, hope? I find myself slowly walking behind her up the hill, feeling the full force of the wind and the cold on my body, compelled to follow after her to some unknown destination . . .
. . .Slowly my mind comes back into focus and I am surprised to find myself at the entrance to a cave. It is so dark that the only way I know I am in front of a cave is the sensation that the air in front of me is less chilling than the frigid air that pommels away at my back. Sticking my arms out in front of me to ward off rock walls, I slowly feel my way into the cave's mouth. I stop at the entrance, for who knows what might lurk within? But my body moves of its own accord as the seeming warmth of the cave compels me to walk forward until the howling wind becomes a muted whisper on the edge of my consciousness. I finally stop, not knowing what to do. Slowly, my eyes focus on a very dim reflection of light. I do not know if I indeed see light or if my eyes are so overwhelmed by the darkness that they have created an illusion of light in compensation. But light I see, and without any better plan, I decide to move toward the light. "Or the illusion of light!" I think wryly. I move slowly now, using intuition as much as sight to move forward. I have lost all sense of time by now, and the timelessness itself brings me to the source of the light. For there in front of me walks the Old Woman, holding high a torch to light her way, and now mine. She is still searching, and I realize that I must search with her.
We descend through the womb of the Earth Herself, the light of the torch setting off showers of sparkling colours as it is reflected by the treasures of the Earth. I am still lost in wonder at the beauty hidden away in this darkness when I suddenly see that the Old Woman stop a few feet in front of me, and I find myself standing by a spring which is bubbling up from even greater depths. The Old Woman moves behind me, holding aloft her torch, and I watch the light, soft and golden, playing on the bubbles, shining through the clear water to be lost in depths of emerald green. As I watch, entranced, images arise from the depths with the bubbles. I see a young woman, asleep on a stone couch, bathed in a sparkle of starlite.
The radiant light grows so brilliant that I am blinded, and when my sight clears, I am standing in front of a great Cauldron, one of nine women. Each of us are dressed in flowing robes of different colours, and looking down, I see that I am draped in the deep brilliant sky blue of the ancient bards. A Voice from behind me says, "Drink from the spring, the Cauldron of Life and of Inspiration, Beloved Daughter. I have searched for you and mourned for you all these many days and months and years. Now that I have found you once again, let us drink from the sacred spring together!"
I look up into the Old Woman's face, but now she wears my face - at least the face I must wear when I stand before the Great Judge at the end of time. Then I watch as she comes to stand behind each of the other women surrounding the Cauldron, taking on each different face as she offers them the Water of Life. We bend to drink of the waters, and it is sweet, sweeter than anything I have ever known, but oh! so cold - cold with the bitter-cold of outer space! I am lost between worlds, filled with the stories and songs of the Universe, and they sing themselves through me . . .
I am the Cosmic Egg
The LIFE of the Universe.
I am the suns of many galaxies
Twirling through black space.
I am a planet slowly gathering
The mists of life around me.
I am the clouds floating
Dancing on the winds.
I am the whirlwind
The bright harsh breath of God.
I am the slowly swelling waters
Dark depths of life.
I am the fire at the center
The warmth of life unfolding.
I am the moist, dark loam
Richness of life becoming.
I have been to the watery depths
I have seen the inner fires
I have traveled the paths of the winds
I have rooted myself in the earth.
I have known the salmon's struggle
I have burnt in the fierce heats
I have worn the hawk's gray feathers
I have given myself for the feast.
I have seen the gates of Heaven
Open to the Mighty Ones of old.
I have seen the powers move the world
And a wave destroy it all.
I have lived through the peace of the Mothers
And the wars of the Fathers.
I was a priestess of Isis
A Magi of Chaldea.
I walked with the Son on the way of the Cross.
I traveled with the Magdalene to a new shore.
I sat in the Courts of Love
I presided over the Courts of Law.
I was with Arthur at the last battle.
I was with the Maiden at the stake.
I have been the companion of the great Bard Taliessin
My home is the region of the Summer Stars. . .
. . . and then I am caught up in loving arms and brought back to myself.
I find myself alone. The Old Woman is gone, but now she is within me and I am reborn. I have found the Daughter, for I am also the Daughter, and I see myself with new eyes and new In-sight. Raising up the torch to light my way, I begin my return to the upper world. As I reach the cave's mouth, the first rays of the sun leap over the horizon and engulf my torchlight in their golden radiance. I leave the torch at the cave mouth with a blessing for other, unknown travelers. Then, walking out upon the mountainside, I watch my shadow take form from the Light and flow out upon the valley, just as I imagine the Adam, for the first time at the dawn of creation, beheld their own form in the world.
And I see that it is good.