One of the things I love most about working with the Wheel of the Year is how precisely applicable it is to our own inner life. Certainly, the Festivals that lie around the Wheel are connected with the agricultural cycle. For our ancient forebears, to ignore such a cycle meant disaster on a very tangible level. Without supplies and stores to bring the Tribe through the winter months, starvation and death were a very real possibility. An enormous amount of focus and energy went into meeting the basic needs of food, shelter and safety. The eight Festivals, as we know them today, marked significant moments throughout the year addressing the movement from preparation to planting to harvest to rest. As is known by every Pagan, the ancient traditions of celebration have found their way into many contemporary ones. These traditions reflect the outer world – the things we do “out there” to connect us with the energy of the season. However, as said by renown comparative mythologist, Joseph Campbell “When your mind is trapped by the image out there so that you never make reference to yourself, you have misread the image”. We joyfully join in honouring the Festivals in our communities. This is significant and important for connecting us to others and feeling a part of a larger whole. The Festivals help us to be conscious of the world around us and to live in alignment with the land. But how can we draw upon these festivals to become more conscious of ourselves? How can we ‘pull the image within’?
Each Festival has its core archetypal energy. When one scans across the landscape of ancient Western culture, it is possible to see the correlations between gods and goddess, traditions and activities. All these give us clues as to what the synthesizing element is – what connects the varied names and traditions together into a cohesive pattern. Interestingly, when one identifies the archetype of each Festival, there is a direct correlation to traditional psychology which is reflected in family systems theory and childhood development. The Festivals offer us a doorway through which to explore inner alignment.
At this time of year, the anticipation of Yule is high. For many of us, there is a soft (and cold) blanket of snow upon the ground. The darkness sets in what feels like mid-afternoon. The desire to cocoon is strong – gentle firelight, a warm mug, perhaps a catchy book. The dark surrounds us and we seek that which brings comfort. We are not that far removed from the ancestors who would gather around a hearthfire to be regaled with lengthy, heart-stopping epic tales.
The Winter Solstice is the moment of tipping towards the Light. The ‘birth of the sun’ signals hope. There may still be dark days ahead, but each day brings a bit more sunlight and holds the promise of warmth, growth and potential abundance. The Festival itself celebrates the Birth of the Son – the Divine Child who holds within Him the hope for humanity. He may be called Marduk, Lugh, Mithras, Baldur, Horus, or Apollo. He may be called by a thousand other names, but His energy remains the same. He is the bringer of Light, promising order over chaos. He may become champion or protector, but regardless of future guise, He unites the community in celebration and optimism. The Divine Child is the embodiment of Spirit on Earth, welcomed and well-loved by all.
Within each of us there is a Divine Child – the archetype of joy, wonder, curiosity, adventure and pure love. We come into this world as the Essence of the Divine, squishing the expansiveness of the All into a teeny little package. It is not an uncommon experience to look into a newborn’s eyes and see the wisdom of the ages reflected back. In the words of the poet, William Wordsworth, “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting” (Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, 1804). We come into this world as Spirit and begin the process of forgetting our Divine nature. In the stories that come to us from ancient myths, each Divine Child soon experiences its trials and challenges. They fight monsters or wage battles or are killed in spite and deceit. Their birth is celebrated and then the trials begin.
We too come into this world bathed in Light and soon begin to experience the challenges that disconnect us from that self-knowledge. What is created in its stead is the complete opposite: our Shadow. Rather than see ourselves as perfect and wondrous in our Beingness, we experience ourselves as flawed and unworthy of love and acceptance. We become shame-based, rather than Essence-based. Painful as this is, it is this Shadow experience of self that reveals the path towards our future reclaiming or ‘coming home’. It is by entering the dark that we come to know our Light once again. Not an easy path, but one we must all endure in this human form.
From a psychological perspective, this time of year offers us the opportunity to look at the environment surrounding our own birth and family-of-origin issues. The family into which we were born is our first ‘tribe’. It is the community into which we have chosen to experience our ‘forgetting’. As children, we have very little influence on the construct of our tribe. Our initial development is dependent on the health of that environment. According to John Bradshaw (in Bradshaw: on the Family, Health Communications, 1990), an astounding 96% of families are unhealthy. Of course, there is a wide spectrum of what this looks like. A family that is struggling with addiction and abuse is on a far different end of the spectrum than one that has muddied communication skills. But it is both humbling and revelatory to realize that we pretty much all come from families that could benefit from inquiry and insight. To a greater or lesser degree, we have each been born into an environment which hurt us, causing disconnection from an inner experience of ourselves as Divine. The environment of our birth gives us the trials through which we can begin to explore our lost Essence.
It can be helpful to have an understanding of what constitutes a healthy or unhealthy family system. Healthy systems accept each member of the family as a unique individual, with his or her own perceptions, feelings and beliefs. Healthy systems are open to communication, acknowledge feelings and are comfortable with change, including the life transitions of each member within the family. Healthy systems literally have an ‘operating system’ that says “We are all here, doing the best we can. We may not always agree or get along, but we are all valuable in our own individual ways.”
Unhealthy family systems operate from a very different inner message. The ‘operating system’ in an unhealthy system says “I am flawed and unworthy. My shame is so hard to bear that I must cover up those feelings and make sure the entire system does the same so no-one outside the system ever sees how terrible we are.” These unhealthy systems can take a couple of different forms.
The chaotic system seems to flip the ‘natural order’. The parents may be so trapped in compulsion or addiction that the children step into ‘adult’ roles for pure survival. The ‘rules’ of the household may change with the wind. What can result is a family that has to proceed through hyper-vigilence. Is today a spring breeze or a typhoon? One’s inner sense of safety depends completely on the answer to that question. Yesterday I could be a child, laughing and playing. Today, I have to take care of my siblings, making sure they are fed and cared for because the adults are missing in action, physically or emotionally.
The controlling family system also stems from that core sense of shame, but it presents very differently. There is an unbending rigidity in the controlling system that slots each family member into a particular role that does not allow for individual expression. Feelings are discounted. Communication and feedback is non-existent. It is literally ‘my way or else’. And the ‘or else’ can feel very threatening.
It is important to recognize that unhealthy family systems are created because of shame that often echoes back through generations. It is not personal, but it is still a painful environment in which to grow up. In the Festival of Yule, when we celebrate the birth of the Light, it is beautifully healing to gaze past the pain of our childhood to connect with the Divine Child within who chose this particular human form in order to bestow our own gift to the world.
To quote an oft-used hermetic axiom: As above, so below. As within, so without.
As the Wheel turns another notch, may you find within that special gift that is your unique contribution to the world in this time and celebrate your Divine Child.
Article first appeared on Pagan Square, December 1, 2013