ELAINE’S CAULDRON: BURNING DEAD LEAVES
My wife Elaine created this midsummer cauldron fire, now ten days ago. It was fuelled in part by dry dead leaves. She chose the evening of the day itself rather than the traditional eve. The point about midsummer (24 June) is that the sun is on the move again after its moment of stasis, clearly beginning its decline. It acts as the polar opposite of the Sol Invictus or Christmas festival in late December. The Church gives 24 June to John the Baptist, decapitated at the wish of his nemesis Salome.
In our neighbourhood, there is a paradox about July. It is the quintessential summer month, in which the light begins to diminish. At the moment, sunrise is at about 4.50 am., with sunset at 9.20 pm. By Lughnasadh, it will be rising at 5.25 am and setting before 8.50 pm. In August, the process will accelerate while the earth and sea remain warm by North Atlantic standards. Getting up an hour or so after sunrise I am tending to find a dull and cloudy sky. There can be a stillness in the air, disturbed perhaps by blackbird pair flying low amongst the trees. I have a sense of latency.
The inquiry phase beginning at the 2019 winter solstice has settled a number of issues. I am re-confirmed in a modern Druid practice that is held within a circle and seven directions (E, S, W, N, below, above, centre), and is mindful of the wheel of the year. I also settled my approach to ethics at the beginning of this inquiry year (1) drawing on the work of modern Pagan philosopher Brendan Myers with his re-visioning of ancient Greek ‘virtue’ ethics (2). I have deepened in my experience of an at-homeness in the flowing moment, and its therapeutic benefits, which I wrote about last year (3). Fully established in my life, these are no longer fundamental inquiry issues. The uncertainties I formerly had with them are like dead leaves, now safe to burn.
For all that I have gained from other paths – Tantra, Tao, Zen, other forms of Buddhism, and Christian Gnosticism – I know that I will not be practising or following them. I will continue to appreciate their literatures and cite them in this blog, but this will be from the perspective of the appreciative outsider. Here too the active inquiry is over. Uncertainties have shrunken into dead leaves, and are safe to burn.
I know that, in the turbulent, airy mental realm, I have contending gnostic and agnostic energies. They are co-arising twins, and neither is going away. I still have work to do to find a settled home for them both. I am also concerned about how, more elegantly, to fit an ‘emptiness’ understanding into an earth pathway. A feeling about myth, and the truth and beauty of myth, is tied up with this. In the coming phase, I will look again at R. J. Stewart’s Merlin work for help with these questions. This reprise is also part of my older person’s looking back, recalling what I have valued, and asking what role it can still play. It sets my direction for the second half of the year.
Looking into ‘Elaine’s cauldron’ I found a question. Why did you start your inquiry phase at Winter Solstice?
Is it because the light, needed to awaken what is dormant, make visible the not yet developed or manifest, is waxing? Is it because the light gaining heat can burn away what is no longer fitting? Or, is it the start of the long dark that is important? The sense of latency and the ability to stay with that during the beginning of your inquiry?
All of a sudden I am wondering if chosing ‘light’ or chosing ‘dark’ as point of reference at the start of a phase of inquiry is an important one.
I was following a Druid convention that the Winter Solstice starts our ritual year. Winter (1 November-1 February) is the season of dying and regeneration and the Winter Solstice marks the end of the phase in which dying predominates and the beginning of the one in which regeneration begins to show itself, even though the generally harder and colder part of the winter is in this second phase. And yet, part of this is that the light begins its waxing – leading us on to the three ‘waxing’ festivals of the year: Imbolc/Candlemass 1 February, Spring Equinox 21 March and Beltane/May Day 1 May. Not everyone wants to start a process at a lightening time: various peoples start their days in the evening, and some people working in ‘Celtic’ traditions like to start their year on 1 November (Samhain/Halloween).