Well, we’ve sure done our fair share of reflection in honor of the high holy week, and if you know our wizard, you know there will be more. Nevertheless, we’d best get to celebrating if we’re to have any balance whatsoever in our holiday experience. With that end in mind, I enthusiastically present some abridged highlights from last year’s solstice observance to get us in the true spirit of things.
You’ll find an examination on celebration itself, accompanied by helpful practical suggestions for the next couple of weeks. There’s an exploration of the Roman Saturnalia tradition and of the motif of “Golden Ages” more generally – a truly great thing to ponder in a season such as this. Finally, there’s a post-solstice glance at the continual passage of time, with endings always leading to beginnings, round and round again.
From “So Many Reasons to Celebrate,” 12/17/12:
I’ve complained before and will again about the lack of importance placed on celebration in our society, but despite the abundant flaws held within the month of December in the western world, I am at least grateful for some low-level tacit agreement that the year’s end (and winter’s beginning) are cause for at least some holiday observance. In fact, as most already know, this agreement has been universal and consistent over the last three millennia at the very least. One can make an easy argument that this is because the beginning/end of the year is a very real thing. It doesn’t matter how exactly we mark the dates of our calendar, nor even how many months we choose to count in a year. Regardless of the fluid measurements of mankind, the sun will reach its lowest point (in the northern hemisphere, anyway), and from there, will begin to rise again. The shortest day will come and go, and though many days of cold likely lay ahead of us, the light is going to grow. The light is reborn. The light has won. Everything begins again.
This is very real. This is not constructed by human delusion or mythology but is perhaps the paramount phenomenon for all life on the planet. This demands attention, if we are to pay attention to anything at all.
No matter where we live, we are not doomed to celebrate a plastic, capitalistic and overcommercialized brouhaha in honor of Santa/Jesus. There are literally dozens of historical versions available for us to choose from, and this wizard also heartily recommends developing your own rituals and traditions based upon what holds meaning for you and what you personally find worth celebrating and how you wish to do this.
Today is December 17. Two thousand years ago, the Romans had an absolutely awesome pre-solstice holiday bonanza called Saturnalia that started on this date. In deference towards some more egalitarian mythical age, normal roles would reverse during the celebration. Slaves would be served food by their masters. Everyone was allowed–even encouraged–to gamble, because it’s fun and awesome. Everyone would wear the same hats, signifying a classless society. Even tongues were universally unfettered, as unlimited freedom of speech was allowed. There were also many elements that will seem quite familiar to us–liberty to overeat and overdrink, large gatherings, and the giving of gifts. It really sounds like it was a lot of fun–the best time of the entire year.
Fortunately for me, with finite time and energy that does not permit a more comprehensive examination of this topic at this exact moment, Saturnalia goes on until next Sunday, the 23rd. I’ll return to the subject in much more depth on Wednesday morning, but I wanted you to be aware of its beginnings on the chance you may benefit. The equivalent of “Merry Christmas”, two thousand years ago, was “Io Saturnalia!”, which we can feel free to pronounce “Yo, Saturnalia!”
If you have the opportunity, begin to greet certain people with this throughout the day. They might think it’s a little strange, but I guarantee it’ll improve their day. And yours.
Some basic guidelines for the season ahead:
1. Remember Kindness. Whenever I am about to talk about kindness, I think, what a stupid thing to even have to talk about. I mean, we should all know already that we should be kind. Not only when we’re in a good mood, and not only to people we like. Not even only because someone might have it harder than we do. We should just always be kind, and always know this. Then I am helpfully reminded by myself that even I forget kindness on a regular basis, and even t he most habitually kind among us can benefit from this reminder. So since there’s something special about this season (or at least something unusual, if we want to be cynical about it), we should use that to remind ourselves to be kind. Who knows? Maybe habits will form.
2. Remember Generosity. This is another one that might seem silly, given the emphasis in our society on the buying and giving of gifts, but more often than not, the most impactful and practical way in which we can be truly giving is with generosity of spirit. Give of your self. Give of your energy. Sense when your generosity is most needed and give–and the world will be a better place.
3. Remember that some of the people are great. They might be your family. They might be your friends. They might be people you encounter on some kind of transactional professional level, or they might be people you hardly know. But you know they’re good, and possibly even great. You’re glad for them. Celebrate that. You know that phone call you owe? Make it. The people near you with whom you’d like to share a table, make it happen. You don’t have to be cheesy and sing about figgy pudding or anything like that, just recognize, at this time when light is at its darkest, that your world would be even darker if it weren’t for the great people in it.
From “Let’s Toast to Better Days,” 12/19/12, in which we further examine the Golden Age the Romans were reenacting through their Saturnalia traditions, and how and why we might reenact our own version of the mythic Golden Age today:
The old tales, of course, speak of the Roman god Saturn, known (among other things) as the father of Zeus and based on the earlier Greek Cronus. He found his place, a prominent one, within Roman religion and mythology. His associations with abundance, for example, led to the custom of housing the state treasury within the temples that ultimately bore his name. And, of course, the wild and awesome festival of Saturnalia, which, as we mentioned on Monday, was in full riotous swing each year at this exact time, was held in his honor.
But was it really about him?
Sure, there were universally attended sacrifices in his name, and other such things we can’t (perhaps for good reason) understand today. But in those times, statues of Saturn had the bottoms draped for the entire year in a type of wool blanket. Upon commencement of Saturnalia, and for the duration of the feast, which led up to the Solstice, the wool shrouds would be ceremonially removed. This signified liberation–but whose liberation? A god, typically, is hardly in need of being liberated. No, it was the liberation of the people that was being celebrated.
As we stated earlier, it was a festival of temporary egalitarianism, when everyone wore the same hat, both literally and figuratively. It was a time to gamble, because you’re not supposed to gamble and it’s tons of fun. It was a time for everyone to overeat and overdrink, because you’re not really supposed to do that, either, and it’s also awesome, and what better way to celebrate? It was a time to give each other modest little traditional gifts, because what better way to experience intimate unity than through collective giving? And how all the servants and slaves must have looked forward to this great feast each year, as the only days on the calendar when they would be seated at the master’s table and served by the master himself.
You see, the entire festival is not a ceremony worshiping a mighty god and singing his praises but a reenactment of a time and a way of life now lost. A reenactment of the Golden Age.
It should come as neither improbably nor inconceivable to any thinking person that other ages might possess a higher quality of light and life than this one. Even if this never occurred inside any documented history to which we can point, even if it never actually occurred in any external sense, it exists within us because it’s one of the universe’s most magical potentialities. At this time each year, we get to celebrate that.
Reenact the Golden Age this week and remember how possible it can be. Reenact it in your actions and in your attitudes–serve those by whom you are used to being served, light lots of candles to revel in dancing light even as we are closed in upon by the still-creeping darkness. Eat and drink–and when you think you are done, eat and drink some more!
There can hardly be found, in this world, a better thing to which to raise one’s glass than the better days that we know could be, even if they aren’t here with us now. Don’t wait for next week, don’t limit yourselves to the restrictions of the relatively small holiday offered to us by our present society. Celebrate the possible, and celebrate it now!
From “The Beginning of the World,” 12/22/12:
And no one called us to the land,
And no one knows the wheres or whys,
But something stirs and something tries,
And starts to climb towards the light…
December 21, 2012 ultimately turned into an extremely over-hyped phenomenon, so much so that I had to debate with myself a little bit as to whether I was ultimately going to address it. I mean, naturally I wanted to, but by now you’ve certainly seen countless articles about how the end of the world could come or why it isn’t going to come, and then of course the day itself happened and we’re all still here and very little proved remarkable about the day at all (save for an incredibly bizarre NRA press conference, but that’s another topic for another time).
Now it’s finally come and gone. Of course, in the meantime, all of my fun was ruined in 2009 when Roland Emmerich and John Cusack had to go and make a ridiculous summer blockbuster our of the whole thing. I mean, talk about a total buzzkill. Took the sting right out of my favorite eschatalogical bludgeon. What was worse was that, while I was pretty sure the brilliant (and romanticized, by me) Mayans probably weren’t wrong regarding matters of cosmic importance, I was damn sure that Roland Emmerich was definitely wrong. If he and John Cusack were saying it, it couldn’t be true.
While under less favorable circumstances, such a revelation could have been a crippling blow to an already eccentric psyche, I had already begun to move towards an entirely different understanding of the wild ancient ghost story which I had foisted on the masses.
The truth is, while the end of the B’ak’tun represents the end of a wicked long period of time, the Mayans themselves never actually said or believed it was going to be the end of the world. There are still Mayan descendants around, and they actually tell us this. If we’re not willing to believe them–as though all Mayan descendants must be liars or something–there are professional scholars who study the Maya for a living, and there is no discrepancy between the view of the surviving Mayans and those who study them. The Mayans likely would have partied and celebrated the end of such a long period of time, but the only thing significant about today, December 22, would have been that it was day 1–of the next B’ak’tun. Like minutes, seconds, years, and most (all) other measurements of what we call time, B’ak’tuns have a tendency to just keep going. One after another.
And that’s the primary meaning of today. The day after December 21. Just as 2013 will be the year after 2012. Numbers are funny things, aren’t they? Counting.
From another angle, however, counting is precisely the point. In our haste (and maybe disappointment) to label the entire day an old wives’ tale, we may unintentionally overlook the fact that it’s still a solstice. A winter solstice, something that is always significant and always worth marking. In the solar sense, we’ve just passed New Year’s Day! The day on which the darkness reaches its peak, we celebrate the victory of the light. From here on out, the light will grow. We’ve got the whole winter ahead of us, yet no matter the cold or snow, the length of the daylight hours will steadily increase. So, too, will our inner and external affairs. If we move along in accordance with the time, we’ll ride the cosmic tide and consciously ascend…
It is still quite possible that this year marks a major transition point. It may, on a grander scale, prove to have been the end of one world, and the beginning of another. And should no such proof ever emerge, what harm could there be of thinking of it in such a manner anyway? What harm can ever be caused by imagining a beginning and acting as though it were a new beginning. Fresh and untainted. New rules. New ways of thinking, new ways of acting. You can have those things now, whether yesterday was more super-important than all other days or not. Why not take the opportunity? The beginning of the world is something to celebrate, no matter who you are or what you believe.
From here on out, the light grows. May it shine down on you today, tomorrow, and all other days. Happy Soltice. Happy New Year. Happy Beginning of the World.