Still Not Halloween

Well, no, and it’s still not Halloween in a few days.

It’s still Beltane, here in the Southern Hemisphere, but I’ve just about given up pointing that out to most people.

I’ve had to conclude that either South Africans of the middle-and-upward classes don’t know what season it is, or they’re unaware of the significance of the ages-old celebration of the start of Winter.

(Or they just don’t care and are just doing shit because the Americans do, and I must say I find this parenthetical reason the most compelling of the three).

So, OK, a quick run-down of what Samhain, also known as Halloween, has meant to humans for thousands of years:

It’s the start of the Winter season. The Celts only recognised 2 seasons, Summer and Winter. Summer started on the first week in May and we celebrate that as Beltane in the Northern Hemisphere. The start of Winter was the first week in November, midway between the Solstice and the Equinox.

It marks the beginning of the period of cold and dark, the time by which all harvests were to be safely gathered in and shelters made proof against the gathering loss of sunlight.

At this time, the ancestors and the little folk – those of other realms and dimensions – would take advantage of the liminality of the environment and draw nearer to humans. It thus became necessary for us to devise strategies to keep them from our doors, our stored crops and our livestock.

You can very easily see how the spooky motif and the tradition of Trick-Or-Treating became established out of these mass subconscious workings.

The problem comes when you try to apply these venerable rituals to the start of Summer. It won’t work, and you end up playing the absolute fool across all worlds, dimensions and realms.

Good luck with that, as ever, South Africa.

Pic: May Queen from the Beltane Fire Festival, 2012

A Component of God

On 8th November, 1959, just before dawn, I was born here:

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..well, not exactly there – that’s a golf course – but in the hospital in Durban, and I was the cause of the attending doctor missing his fishing trip. That  area is Mount Edgecombe in KwaZulu Natal. 

The area of sky representing Scorpio was rising in the East, with the Sun hot on its heels, and the Moon was waxing in Aquarius. That makes me a double (Sun and Ascendant) Scorpio, with an Aquarian Moon.

What else I was was not immediately apparent. Numerologically, I was born a seven, of one and two parents. My brother, born 18 months later, is a three, which is the correct sequence. I was the first born and the black sheep.

My brother was always much more a child of my parents than I; I even have an odd blood type, not carried by either my Mom or my Dad.

Born out of place and out of turn, perhaps – yet at the same time, born into precisely the correct spatio-temporal locus for the journey I undertook to complete this time around.

It has been far from easy. And yet, it has also been tremendously fulfilling.

My father gifted me with a love of science and the unusual. Also with a bloodline which runs through the aristocracy of Scotland.

My mother’s gifts were a talent for mathematics and a seed of spirituality, handed down from her more mysterious family origins.

And all – yes every pain and despondency and joy and transcendence – all of this heritage has worked its alchemy as planned.

I have caused horrendous trouble both to myself and those close to me. But it has not been without its moments of deep grace. And those are what linger, suffusing me with a certainty that this life has never been off track. It all roils together in just that perfect, necessary way to transfigure the latent human into a true human.

And an earthly soul into a component of God.

Swallows and Allies

 

“We’re back! Did you miss us?” you can almost hear the Swallows shouting as they wheel overhead in Sandton, Johannesburg.

Do they know something about Europe this Autumn that we don’t? Because it’s fearfully early for them to have returned this year.

Yet last night I learnt something about a plant ally which is proving very helpful to me personally, whatever the future holds for the Northern Hemisphere. That something is the power of Artemisia within our dreaming consciousness.

Well, I say “our” when in fact I mean “my”, for I have no idea if this effect is human-universal. But research suggests it might be.

I gathered, last week, a couple of handsful of fresh Atremisia from the garden (I used Afra although I believe the effects were first noted in the Vulgaris branch of the family) , dried it out on the kitchen window for a few days, then popped the whole dried mass into a clean, sterilised glass bottle which had lately held cheese spread.

Before sleeping, I removed the top of the bottle and placed it, open, on my bedside table.

Within two nights I was seeing results. The inner-city nightmares I have been having for the last 15 years suddenly and radically altered in tone. Within these dark and guilt-ridden dreams I have been used to feeling helpless, without resources, abandoned and afraid. Now, within exactly the same setting, I was confident, resourceful, able to sustain myself and my young son without worry. A huge difference in the dream which meant I started awake without the usual shakings, tremblings, regret and fear.

I believe that this plant ally, in its Vulgaris form, has been used for millenia to ease the vibrational edges of bad dreams. Now I have proof – enough for me – that the Afra variety shares the same qualities.

And So Are You

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I have never been through an Imbolc quite like this one, before.

Oh, each Spring is different, has its own unique flavour – but this one has more a personality than a flavour.

I was standing in the doorway after Sunday lunch. The clouds, the paler tint of the sky: they spoke to me of Summer. The barest touch of moisture in the air, and the fact that the Cape Ash has no sooner lost its leaves than the buds are visible – all this gives a slightly onrushing feel to the start of the season.

From coming down with a ‘flu which created black shadows in the periphery of my vision to my home branch of Standard Bank literally disappearing overnight without a word, to the 5-year-old geyser element giving up the ghost, necessitating baths with water boiled upon the stove…my body feels exactly like it feels before I burst into long-pent-up floods of tears.

But there’s more than a Bustle in the Hedgerow in Joburg today.

There’s a wind-rushing, rain-sprinkling, hero-calling sense of Immanence to the city.

Will it be a Robin – the wild god of the woods – or an Arthur – the half-deified peoples’ sovereign who was, and is, and yet will come? We create gods as easily as we breathe. And that’s not necessarily a Bad Thing. On days like this I’m half convinced that we need them to Be as much as they need us. That this whole wild ride is the mingled breath of gods and humans, making and shaping and creating and destroying each other. Together. For ever.

But the Moon is full tonight in Aquarius/Leo,and I foresee myself out in the ritual area, craning up at it through the bare Ash and leaning Cycad, hoping to see that glimmer through the green fans and clouds and lunar light that says I’m Alright, and So Are You.

Image: by Neelaka

A Shared Earthquake

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Being glued to a computer screen with my mind pacing ahead of my fingers as I code various formations of data from a database is what I do most of the day. And I really, really love it. I get annoyed when inconsequential chatter, or worse, abysmally vapid popular music breaks into my consciousness at such times. But today at lunch time I was not annoyed. I was scared.

A 5.5 magnitude earthquake hit large parts of the country at that time, and I was on my feet almost immediately, turning to see the ceiling boards on the second floor shaking as if someone was trying to break through them while the office floor rolled under my boots.

The safety marshal yapped at me to evacuate the building and I didn’t argue – although most of my colleagues in the next department (accounting, interestingly enough) were all standing up in their cubicles, looking at each other with expressions of bovine uncertainty.

In the end, only a handful of us obeyed protocol and gathered outside in the parking lot. That I was one of them, despite my hostility towards authoritarianism, speaks volumes about my fear at the time.

Oh yes, I was terrified for a few moments – the animal, earth connected component of myself was pretty damned scared of disappearing into a pile of smoking rubble. The birds had all flown away, I remember thinking, and only when a bedraggled, somewhat stoned looking pigeon re-settled on the reception awning did I realise that it was probably safe to go back inside.

All over the country people spoke of their cats diving under beds. Dogs.. not so much. My two brave Pitbulls probably felt that whatever was happening, it was all under the humans’ control, and as Warren didn’t panic, neither did they.

And to think I’d started the day with one of those bell-clear thoughts which make so much damned sense at the time, transforming your vision into a panorama of joy, but fading to mundane significance a couple of hours later. It was not an original thought, I’m sure, but it held all the gold-limned glory of an absolute answer – or at least part of one.

The thought was this:

“What if this is, in fact, a shared dream? What if the moment of death is also the moment of awakening?” 

Pre Spring

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Down South, here in Joburg, Imbolc is just 3 weeks away and I believe that I can almost see Spring heaving into view over the horizon.

The mornings are less viciously cold and a little moister, the Sun just that tiny bit higher in the midday sky. An actual ant was scouting out the territory of my desk at work the other day. And to step outside of the house in the early morning hours is to be hit in the nostrils with the effluvia of a drugs-manufacturing house.

Wait…what?

Bloubosrand does sometimes produce some odd smells in the pre-dawn or post-dusk hours. Burning rubber is one of the favourites of course – from the squatter camps in the vicinity – but home dry cleaning chemicals runs a close second (and seems to have largely stopped since the over-the-road neighbour lost his job at Northern Cleaners), and occaisionally a more human-organic smell is the Odour of the Day.

But this morning when I stuck my head into the study to collect the partner’s coffee cup, I was struck by a hauntingly familiar smell – the scent of nitrogenous fertilizer components which marked the territory of my Dad’s agricultural laboratory in Binfield.

Not an unpleasant smell, for me, but my partner reminded me that it is still Winter and large-scale garden fertilization is unlikely to be occuring at this time.

But, on the Friday before the schools reconvene, what is likely to be cooking is a first batch of drugs for resale.

Having just gone through a day with a potential unexploded bomb a few meters down the street yesterday, I was having thoughts of a more immediately violent kind.

This is not Spring.

It is very firmly Pre Spring.

Forward

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Well there goes another Mercury Retrograde. We only have to wait out the period of everything righting itself again after being retrograded-over for the past 3 weeks and we’re good to go forward again.

This retro period was interesting. A database needed moving from a non-local server at work, and this was planned before the retrograde period.

Planned, but not implemented.

Of course I’m not about to give advice based on Astrology to the IT Department at work. I’d rather just sit back and watch the fun.

I probably don’t have to say that almost everything which could go wrong with this planned database move did in fact go wrong. We’re looking at an actual implementation in a bit over ten days, now.

Gemini, computers, Mercury going backwards – well, it’s not rocket science.

And don’t talk to me about the City of Joburg and their better-late-than-never billing process. Grr….

For myself, having Gemini as my eighth-House, I found myself drawn to death statistics, especially at work, where I have access to the raw data and the skill set to make something out of them.

So I’ve been playing with rates of death relative to admission by month, age and cause – very interesting indeed.

Here in South Africa – and applying in this case only to a subset of nation-wide hospitals but nevertheless probably fairly representative – we see a definite, pronounced peak in the deaths in August. Every damned year. And a matching minimum in the death-per-admission rate  six months earlier, in February. Imbolc and Lammas, for Pagans in the Southern hemisphere. Or, the end of Winter and the end of Summer.

I went looking for more global statistics, and what I’ve found so far is that in the developed countries of the Northern Hemisphere, the situation is reversed.

Human behaviour, including health and death, is indeed amenable to mathematical algorithms, I’m both relieved and afraid to say. On a mass scale, that is – it’s not taking anything away from the individual, but when you look at humanity as a whole, it is possible to model our behaviour as if we were one organism. Or so I strongly believe.

Makes you wonder who exactly is working from these algorithms. Actuaries, for one, and that’s the field I have been working in since April last year. It feeds my near-terminal curiosity quite nicely.

Something I shouldn’t have been surprised about was the crude rate of mortality by country, which I bumped into when I was trawling the Web for statistics. In South Africa, we have the very highest rate in the entire world – it’s over 17 per 1,000 population, quite shocking.

I am aware that we have, and have had, a very bad problem with HIV/AIDS in this country – is this the entire reason for this grisly stat?

And how does it affect us as a people? Are we more glib concerning loss of human life simply because we see so much of it? Does this help explain our equally callous attitude to the poorest amongst us – the scrabbling for bling and material wealth which occupies so much of our tiny little head-spaces? Could be. For without having seen through the illusion of this stage upon which we act out our lives, it might appear to be the best option, to go for the accumulation of stuff and fuck the rest.

Sigh. Even though this seems like a depressing way to spend my time, I am not even a little bit down. Grouchy and snappy sometimes, but not depressed.

There’s so much more to be seen and understood, always waiting around the next corner. Every day gives me something to smile about, even while I’m yelling at our collective stupidity.