The Pokey Finger of God

meditations on religion and culture

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New Time

May 20th, 2008 · No Comments · ritual

My recent flirting with a regular weight-training regimen has begun to produce noticeable results, almost despite my inability to keep to a schedule. My body feels better and my yoga is better when I keep the discipline of .

It reminds me of the benefits I would get with regular meditation practice. Again, discipline with regular practice of any prayer or ritual always had palpable benefits. These benefits which sometimes of their own accord have been my motivation for returning to discipline of practice.

One fun summer, I had a job that included pushing wheelbarrows of mulch from an enormous pile to a work site about 200ft away. I quickly discovered that, due to the coincidental size of both shovel and barrow that exactly 22 shovels full would nicely fill the barrow. Soon, I was practicing columns from 777 with each round: Hebrew letters; Greek letters; tarot trumps; astrological referents. For six months afterward, my mind had a little more reach: my reality seemed bigger and clearer than before.

I’m now fully convinced that there is no reason why it should matter what a person believes in, but that it’s extremely important that a person exercises all of their mental power. This includes the power to conceptualize and work within a “spiritual world” beyond and within the objective world we normally spend our focus upon. Engaging in a regular and fulfilling practice of prayer and meditation is an important foundation for any engagement to that “spiritual world”.

I have tried, with varying degrees of success, to utilize a number of different external cycles to help me signal the time for prayer and meditation. By far, the most flexible and quickly mastered was to base my practice upon my existing schedule, like meditating in the morning before work. However, patterns of practice keyed to astrological cycles often had a deeper impact upon me. Praying at the cardinal points of the Sun, even if only done 3/4 of the time, is a very structuring mental exercise.

Keeping up with the aspects of the Moon on a regular basis always seemed like a fool’s errand to me, forever chasing her from sign to sign. On the other hand, the simple task of daily tracking the sign of the moon would probably benefit a great many people in their day-to-day life in helping them understand their own emotional cycles. The ability to anticipate emotional shifts based on lunar movements (especially against one’s own natal chart) can help people surf the highs and weather the lows.

The 8-fold seasonal calendar holds a special place in my heart, and its connection in my mind to rituals and celebrations shared with so many friends and families over the years. Whenever I’ve tied ritual practice to this calendar, I have found significant and powerful results, yet, these effects are muted on a day-to-day basis. It’s difficult to find reminders of seasonal change in Texas, so part of my effort in using this calendar is in staying focused on the calendar. In gentle, temperate places with Spring and Fall, such that a seasonal calendar is already be ingrained into the people, keying practice to seasonal cues is probably much easier.

One cycle that has captured my interest of late is that of the planet Venus. Ancient cultures far and wide kept careful tabs on the comings and goings of Venus, and I’m beginning to suspect that there may be good reason for that. There are many things that recommend Venus to the mystically inclined.

Simple observation on a regular basis produces a significant mystery, as it appears that that first, bright star in the evening that appears in the heavens on some days is also the morning star burning brightly in the Sun’s glow on other days. For some days, it appears to disappear entirely, but on a very regular schedule always returns.

Some early cultures apparently did not connect the morning and evening stars as being related, making their interactions even that much more peculiar. Frequently, the morning star would be the young heroic type, while the evening star would typically represent mature authority, like a king. These characters may appear and disappear, as in a pageant, but some aspect of interchange is present in the stories, such that the one character is always hidden when the other is present.

The ancient Babylonians had stories about Venus appearing and disappearing. They called the planet, and the goddess, Ishtar, and their story was that Ishtar was hiding that she would go to the underworld. This she did with some regularity — and when Ishtar opened the gates, bad things happened.

That being said, I notice that the evening star last went into “hiding” on May 2nd, a little over two weeks ago. Since that time, we’ve seen three significant outbreaks of tornadoes in the US, a deadly cyclone in Burma, devastating earthquakes in China, and escalating violence all over the Middle East. It’s difficult to stay focused on any one disaster long enough to wonder what to do. I’ve read several blogs and editorials echoing a similar theme of bewilderment.

I would be a fool to imagine that there is any more violence or meaningless death after May 2nd than before, or that the dance of Venus and the Sun in any way impacts how us monkeys pull the levers down here on Earth. What it does do is provide, through the myth of Ishtar, a basis upon which to reflect on life and death and the relative proximity they maintain.

Had someone chosen to mark the evening of May 2nd as the departure of Ishtar into the Underworld, they would have had ten weeks to honor the ancestors, their recently departed friends and relatives, and even those of strangers from recent disasters. Another brief opportunity for this sort of observation occurs every 3 or 4 months, interspersed between periods alternating focus between achievement and personal management. And I’m not saying that someone with this practice wouldn’t have been effected by the tragedy, but instead that anyone with a regular spiritual practice would have a time and a place at hand to work through their feelings.

The morning star returns on July 15th. Someone marking this morning might greet the triumphant Ishtar in her Warrior form, and may meditate on working toward personal goals from this more powerful perspective. They’d also have a couple of months to get things done. Clearly, some application here is called for.

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