Make your own free website on Tripod.com
Home          Calendar of Events          Related Web Pages

Litha

SUMMER SOLSTICE CELEBRATIONS:

ANCIENT AND MODERN

The Summer Solstice is also known as: Alban Heflin, Alben Heruin, All-couples day, Feast of Epona, Feast of St. John the Baptist, Feill-Sheathain, Gathering Day, Johannistag, Litha, Midsummer, Sonnwend, Thing-Tide, Vestalia, etc.

Overview

People around the world have observed spiritual and religious seasonal days of celebration during the month of June. Most have been religious holy days which are linked in some way to the summer solstice. On this day, typically JUN-21, the daytime hours are at a maximum in the Northern hemisphere, and night time is at a minimum. It is officially the first day of summer. It is also referred to as Midsummer because it is roughly the middle of the growing season throughout much of Europe. 

"Solstice" is derived from two Latin words: "sol" meaning sun, and "sistere," to cause to stand still. This is because, as the summer solstice approaches, the noonday sun rises higher and higher in the sky on each successive day. On the day of the solstice, it rises an imperceptible amount, compared to the day before. In this sense, it "stands still." 

(In the southern hemisphere, the summer solstice is celebrated in December, also when the night time is at a minimum and the daytime is at a maximum. We will assume that the reader lives in the Northern hemisphere for the rest of this essay.)

How people view solstice celebrations:

People view other religions in various ways, and thus treat the celebrations of other faiths differently:

  • For some people, religious diversity is a positive factor. They enjoy the variety of June celebrations, because it is evidence of wide range of of beliefs within our common humanity. They respect both their own religious traditions and those of other faiths for their ability to inspire people to lead more ethical lives.

  • Others reject the importance of all celebrations other than the holy day(s) recognized by their own religion. Some even reject their religion's traditional holy days if they are convinced that they have Pagan origins. This is a common occurrence with Easter and Christmas.

  • Some view other religions as being inspired, controlled, or even led by Satan. Thus the solstice celebrations of other religions are rejected because they are viewed as Satanic in origin.

Why does the summer solstice happen?

The seasons of the year are caused by the 23.5ē tilt of the earth's axis. Because the earth is rotating like a top or gyroscope, the North Pole points in a fixed direction continuously -- towards a point in space near the North Star. But the earth is also revolving around the sun. During half of the year, the southern hemisphere is more exposed to the sun than is the northern hemisphere. During the rest of the year, the reverse is true. At noontime in the Northern Hemisphere the sun appears high in the sky during summertime, and low during winter. The time of the year when the sun reaches its maximum elevation occurs on the summer solstice -- the day with the greatest number of daylight hours. It typically occurs on, or within a day or two of, JUN-21 -- the first day of summer. The lowest elevation occurs about DEC-21 and is the winter solstice -- the first day of winter, when the night time hours reach their maximum.

Significance of the summer solstice:

In pre-historic times, summer was a joyous time of the year for those Aboriginal people who lived in the northern latitudes. The snow had disappeared; the ground had thawed out; warm temperatures had returned; flowers were blooming; leaves had returned to the deciduous trees. Some herbs could be harvested, for medicinal and other uses. Food was easier to find. The crops had already been planted and would be harvested in the months to come. Although many months of warm/hot weather remained before the fall, they noticed that the days were beginning to shorten, so that the return of the cold season was inevitable. 

The first (or only) full moon in June is called the Honey Moon. Tradition holds that this is the best time to harvest honey from the hives.  

This time of year, between the planting and harvesting of the crops, was the traditional month for weddings. This is because many ancient peoples believed that the "grand [sexual] union" of the Goddess and God occurred in early May at Beltaine. Since it was unlucky to compete with the deities, many couples delayed their weddings until June. June remains a favorite month for marriage today. In some traditions, "newly wed couples were fed dishes and beverages that featured honey for the first month of their married life to encourage love and fertility. The surviving vestige of this tradition lives on in the name given to the holiday immediately after the ceremony: The Honeymoon." 14

Midsummer celebrations in ancient and modern times:

Most societies in the northern hemisphere, ancient and modern, have celebrated a festival on or close to Midsummer:

  • Ancient Celts: Druids, the priestly/professional/diplomatic corps in Celtic countries, celebrated Alban Heruin ("Light of the Shore"). It was midway between the spring Equinox (Alban Eiler; "Light of the Earth") and the fall Equinox (Alban Elfed; "Light of the Water"). "This midsummer festival celebrates the apex of Light, sometimes symbolized in the crowning of the Oak King, God of the waxing year. At his crowning, the Oak King falls to his darker aspect, the Holly King, God of the waning year..." 13 The days following Alban Heruin form the waning part of the year because the days become shorter.

  • Ancient China: Their summer solstice ceremony celebrated the earth, the feminine, and the yin forces. It complemented the winter solstice which celebrated the heavens, masculinity and yang forces.

  • Ancient Gaul: The Midsummer celebration was called Feast of Epona, named after a mare goddess who personified fertility, sovereignty and agriculture. She was portrayed as a woman riding a mare.

  • Ancient Germanic, Slav and Celtic tribes in Europe: Ancient Pagans celebrated Midsummer with bonfires. "It was the night of fire festivals and of love magic, of love oracles and divination. It had to do with lovers and predictions, when pairs of lovers would jump through the luck-bringing flames..." It was believed that the crops would grow as high as the couples were able to jump. Through the fire's power, "...maidens would find out about their future husband, and spirits and demons were banished." Another function of bonfires was to generate sympathetic magic: giving a boost to the sun's energy so that it would remain potent throughout the rest of the growing season and guarantee a plentiful harvest. 6

  • Ancient Rome: The festival of Vestalia lasted from JUN-7 to JUN-15. It was held in honor of the Roman Goddess of the hearth, Vesta. Married women were able to enter the shrine of Vesta during the festival. At other times of the year, only the vestal virgins were permitted inside.

  • Ancient Sweden: A Midsummer tree was set up and decorated in each town. The villagers danced around it. Women and girls would customarily bathe in the local river. This was a magical ritual, intended to bring rain for the crops.

  • Christian countries: After the conversion of Europe to Christianity, the feast day of St. John the Baptist was set as JUN-24. It "is one of the oldest feasts, if not the oldest feast, introduced into both the Greek and Latin liturgies to honour a saint." 16 Curiously, the feast is held on the alleged date of his birth. Other Christian saints' days are observed on the anniversary of their death. The Catholic Encyclopedia explains that St. John was "filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother's womb...[thus his] birth...should be signalized as a day of triumph." 16 His feast day is offset a few days after the summer solstice, just as Christmas is fixed a few days after the winter solstice. 1 "Just as John was the forerunner to Jesus, midsummer forecasts the eventual arrival of" the winter solstice circa DEC-21. 

  • Essenes: This was a Jewish religious group active in Palestine during the 1st century CE. It was one of about 24 Jewish groups in the country -- the only one that used a solar calendar. Other Jewish groups at the time included the Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots, followers of John, and followers of Yeshua (Jesus). Archeologists have found that the largest room of the ruins at Qumran (location of the Dead Sea Scrolls) appears to be a sun temple. The room had been considered a dining room by earlier investigators, in spite of the presence of two altars at its eastern end. At the time of the summer solstice, the rays of the setting sun shine at 286 degrees along the building's longitudinal axis, and illuminate the eastern wall. The room is oriented at exactly the same angle as the Egyptian shrines dedicated to the sun. Two ancient authorities -- the historian Josephus and the philosopher Filon of Alexandria -- had written that the Essenes were sun worshipers. Until now, their opinion had been rejected by modern historians. 19

  • Native Americans:

    • The Natchez tribe in the southern U.S. "worshiped the sun and believed that their ruler was descended from him. Every summer they held a first fruits ceremony." Nobody was allowed to harvest the corn until after the feast. 2

    • Males in the Hopi tribe dressed up as Kachinas - the dancing spirits of rain and fertility who were messengers between humanity and the Gods. At Midsummer, the Kachinas were believed to leave the villages to spend the next six months in the mountains, where they were believed to visit the dead underground and hold ceremonies on their behalf. 2

    • Native Americans have created countless stone structures linked to equinoxes and solstices. Many are still standing. One was called Calendar One by its modern-day finder. It is in a natural amphitheatre of about 20 acres in size in Vermont. From a stone enclosure in the center of the bowl, one can see a number of vertical rocks and other markers around the edge of the bowl "At the summer solstice, the sun rose at the southern peak of the east ridge and set at a notch at the southern end of the west ridge." The winter solstice and the equinoxes were similarly marked. 5

    • The Bighorn Medicine Wheel west of Sheridan, WY is perhaps the most famous of the 40 or more similar "wheels" on the high plains area of the Rocky Mountains. Mostly are located in Canada. At Bighorn, the center of a small cairn, that is external to the main wheel, lines up with the center of the wheel and the sun rising at the summer equinox. Another similar sighting cairn provides a sighting for three dawn-rising stars: Aldebaran, Rigel and Sirius. A third cairn lines up with fourth star: Fomalhaut. The term "medicine wheel" was coined by Europeans; it was a term used to describe anything native that white people didn't understand. 17

  • Neopaganism: This is a group of religions which are attempted re-constructions of ancient Pagan religions. Of these, Wicca is the most common; it is loosely based partly on ancient Celtic beliefs and practices. Wiccans recognize eight seasonal days of celebration. Four are minor sabbats and occur at the two solstices and the two equinoxes. The other are major sabbats which happen approximately halfway between an equinox and solstice. The summer solstice sabbat is often called Midsummer or Litha. Wiccans may celebrate the sabbat on the evening before, at sunrise on the morning of the solstice, or at the exact time of the astronomical event.

    "Midsummer is the time when the sun reaches the peak of its power, the earth is green and holds the promise of a bountiful harvest. The Mother Goddess is viewed as heavily pregnant, and the God is at the apex of his manhood and is honored in his guise as the supreme sun." 12

    It is a time for divination and healing rituals. Divining rods and wands are traditionally cut at this time.

  • Prehistoric Europe: Many remains of ancient stone structures can be found throughout Europe. Some date back many millennia BCE. Many appear to have religious/astronomical purposes; others are burial tombs. These structures were built before writing was developed. One can only speculate on the significance of the summer solstice to the builders. Perhaps the most famous of these structures is Stonehenge, a megalith monument on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. It was built in three stages, between circa 3000 and 1500 BCE. "The circular bank and ditch, double circle of 'bluestones' (spotted dolerite), and circle of sarsen stones (some with white lintels), are concentric, and the main axis is aligned on the midsummer sunrise--an orientation that was probably for ritual rather than scientific purposes.4 Four "station stones" within the monument form a rectangle whose shorter side also points in the direction of the midsummer sunrise. 15

The dates and times of the summer solstice:

The exact date varies from year to year and may occur between the 20th and 23rd of June. 

Year

Summer solstice (UT)

1999

JUN-21 @ 19:49

2000

JUN-21 @ 01:47

2001

JUN-21 @ 07:37

2002

JUN-21 @ 13:24

2003

JUN-21 @ 19:10

2004

JUN-21 @ 00:56

The above dates and times were provided the astronomical calculations on The Dome of the Sky web site. 9 Times are in UT (Universal Time). This used to be called Greenwich Mean Time or GMT. In North America, you can find your local time by subtracting:

  • 2 hours 30 minutes for Newfoundland daylight savings time

  • 3 hours for ADT

  • 4 hours for EDT

  • 5 hours for CDT

  • 6 hours for MDT

  • 7 hours for PDT

  • 8 hours in AKDT (Alaska)

  • 9 hours in ADT (Aleutian Islands)

  • 10 hours in HST (Hawaii) 10

The ancients did not have access to modern mathematical algorithms to calculate the date and time of the solstice. To the unaided eye, the sun would seem to set/rise at the same location on the horizon for about five days before and after the actual solstice. Ancient people would record the days when the sun rise or set was noticeably different from the extreme position, and interpolate the probable day of the solstice. They then used a variety of techniques to display future solstices:

  • A carved or painted symbol, or some other marker, would be located at the end of a long passage that was exposed to sunrise or sunset on the solstice. It would be illuminated by the rising or setting of the sun on the day of the solstice. Alternately, a hole in the roof of a structure would allow the noonday sun to shine onto a marker set into the floor.

  • In temperate zones, the shadow of an upright pillar would be observed at noontime at the summer solstice. The shadow would be shortest on that day.

  • The point on the horizon where the sun set and rose would be observed from a fixed location. A remote marker would indicate where the sun rose or set on the solstice. 3 

Related essays:

References:

  1. "Summer solstice - Johannisnacht - Midsummer night," at: http://www.serve.com/shea/germusa/midsumm.htm 

  2. Robin DuMolin, "Summer Solstice," at: http://www.celestia.com/alpha/SRP/JJ95/Html/

  3. Robin DuMolin, "Summer Solstice," at: http://www.celestia.com/alpha/SRP/MJ96/

  4. Christiaan Stoudt, "Stonehenge: Gateway to the realms," at: http://www.christiaan.com/stonehenge/stonemain.html 

  5. Janet & Stewart Farrar, "Eight Sabbats for Witches," Phoenix Publishing, (1981), P. 143 to 144.

  6. "Summer Solstice," at: http://users.erols.com/tlatham/solst/summer.htm 

  7. J.W. Mavor & B.E. Dix, "Manitou: The sacred landscape of New England's Native Civilization." Inner Traditions (1989).

  8. Selena Fox, "Summer solstice celebrations for families and households," http://www.circlesanctuary.org/pholidays/ 

  9. "Find the equinoxes and solstices for a particular year," at: http://einstein.stcloudstate.edu/Dome/equiSol.html  

  10. "World Time Zone: Accurate local times," at: http://www.isbister.com/worldtime/

  11. "Litha," a list of links to web sites about Litha, is at: http://paganwiccan.about.com/religion/paganwiccan

  12. "Litha," a description of the festival from a Neopagan perspective, is at: http://home.att.net/~haleth/litha.html 

  13. "Litha: Summer Solstice," at: http://www.byzant.com/scriptorium/festivals/litha.html

  14. "Morgana, "Ritual feasts - handfasting," at: http://www.newavalon.com/issue10/kitchen.html 

  15. G.S. Hawkins, "Stonehenge decoded," Doubleday (1965), Pages 46 & 47.

  16. C.L. Souvay, "St. John the Baptist," The Catholic Encyclopedia, at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08486b.htm 

  17. Paula Giese, "Medicine wheel: Sun & Stars," at: http://indy4.fdl.cc.mn.us/~isk/stars/starkno5.html 

  18. The Center for Archaeoastronomy publishes a four page quarterly newsletter, appropriately published on the equinoxes and solstices. See: http://www.wam.umd.edu/~tlaloc/archastro/ae.html

  19. M Lnnqvist & K Lnnqvist, "Archeology of the Hidden Qumran: The new paradigm," (2002) a book advertised at: http://www.akateeminen.com/uutuudet/historia.htm  

Litha Introduction

Copyright Lady Bridget 1997

Summer Solstice, or Litha as it is also called, occurs on or about the 21st of June, when the Sun enters zero degrees Cancer. It marks Midsummer for many cultures, even though in most of the US, summer has barely started and the kids are just now getting out of school! It is the longest day of the year, and the shortest night; when the sun reaches his apex in the sky, and the days will now grow shorter as the light begins to wane.

Many legends explain this phenomena as the darkness triumphing over the light. The darker brother kills the lighter brother in these legends, and the brother who dies resides in the underworld until it is time for him to return and slay his brother again, to rule for the next 6 months. The stories of Lugh and Goronwy, and the Oak King and the Holly King are but two of these legends.

It is interesting to note here that the Christian religion has also tried to usurp this holiday by decreeing it the birth of John the Baptist, and declaring it his feast day. Now, other Saints in the Church are only remembered for the day they died (usually in martyrdom) so it is very curious that St. John the Baptist should be the only one recognized on his natal day. Also, the original birth of Christ was moved from late Spring when he was actually born, to December 25 to coincide with the birth of all the other "Sun" Gods. So even the Christian religion has rotated to the Pagan cycle of the Earth, with their births lining right up with our Solstices. The natural cycle, what we call the Wheel of the Year, is evidently highly compelling!

This was the traditional time of year to harvest your magickal and medicinal herbs. Cut them with a scythe or boline, by the light of the Moon, while chanting the appropriate chant for the purpose for which the plant will be used. Leave an offering for the rest of the plant, and try not to harvest more than 1/3rd of the plant so that the rest will remain healthy and vigorous. If you have to harvest the roots, then you will need to find a bunch of them growing together, and then only harvest 1/3 of them, so that the rest will thrive in the space you have just provided. Harvesting a branch should be done at the lowest junction where the branch joins the main plant, and be careful not to damage the remaining plant. Nature will provide all our needs, but not if we destroy Her gifts!

If you live in the southern part of the US, you can harvest many plants now also, unless you are in the deep south. This far south, like southern Florida, and southern California, not much that has magickal or medicinal value will still be alive by this time. Most of the harvesting must be done at Imbolc, or Ostara, because the intense heat and sunlight will have burned off many herbs by this time. One way to try to save them is to put them under screening, or indoors with diffused light. That will enable some of the hardier varieties to survive through the early summer at least.

Since the Sun at Litha is entering Cancer, a water sign, this holiday is one of the best ones for gathering your magickal water which will be used on your altar and in your spells for the coming year. We usually go to the beach at Litha, and gather salt-water. We bring offerings of flowers and nuts, and 3 pennies or 3 dimes for prosperity and throw these into the waves before we take our water. We honor Aphrodite and Yameya as the Goddesses of the Sea by taking some jewelry as an offering. It can be simply a broken silver chain, a ring you used to wear, one half of an earring set, things like that. We find that doing this means that when we visit the beach anytime at all, we don't have to worry about losing any of our "good" jewelry to a jealous Goddess!

If you don't live near the sea, another excellent source of magickal water, is rain water from a thunderstorm, and there are plenty that occur at this time of year. The more electrical energy the storm puts out, the more energized the water is, so the fiercer the better! Collect in a glass jar, or porcelain, avoid metal containers. Store on a shelf, and don't leave the jar on the ground, or the energy will ground. We only use our water for 6 months, after that we return the water to the source, and collect fresh. The energized water really only lasts about 6 months. If you add shells, rocks from the sea, or other non-perishable sea items such as coral, the energy of the water will stay higher during the 6 months. This water is not for drinking, but only for magickal use.

In June, the Full Moon is called the Honey Moon, because this is the time to collect the honey from the beehives. Mead is an excellent brew made from honey, and there is Lord Riekin's Mead making recipe on this web-page, or you can e-mail Lady Bridget for his instructions also. Mead is the traditional drink for Summer Solstice for that reason. Small mead, or Soda-Pop mead, can be made about 10 days prior to drinking, and is low in alcohol and on the sweet side. For these reasons, it is the preferred Mead to make just prior to this Sabbat. Incidentally, it was believed that since the Grand Union between the Goddess and God happened in May, at Beltain, that it was unlucky to have mortal weddings in May. In addition, many couples found that after the May Day frolic, they were "expecting" and so June became the most popular month for weddings, and still is today. Since the June Full Moon is called the "Honey Moon", can you guess now why that term is used for the time right after the marriage ceremony?!!

It is appropriate also, to have honey on the altar during the Cakes and Wine to dip your cakes in for this celebration. In our tradition, we always have honey on the altar to symbolize the sweetness of life. It also is a symbol of what combined energies to a single goal can accomplish!

There are many songs associated with Litha, or the Summer Solstice, and chants dealing with the ocean and the ebb and flow of the year are especially appropriate. Do some research, find books of poetry and see how much material is available with the Sun theme, and the Ocean theme. Our ancestors have been worshiping the Sun for long ages, and the wealth of material out there will astound you. Anything that pleases you and your group can be used in your rituals without copyright infringement as long as it is not published, and if you distribute words be sure to credit the proper sources.

Summer Solstice

By G. de Purucker

We now celebrate the third of the great spiritual and psychical events of the esoteric year, the initiation cycle centering in the Summer Solstice; we celebrate in teaching and by spiritual and intellectual suggestion the actual events of the initiations which take place at this time elsewhere on the surface of the globe.

It is a most suggestive thought, and one that we should carry with us always -- each one of us as his or her most prized ideal -- that anyone belonging to the outer ring of the mystic Body can, if he or she so will, some day pass from the outer ring to an inner ring, and from that inner ring to one still nearer the center; and so on, until finally, if the disciple prevail in the conquest of self and in the enlargement of consciousness, be shall one day reach the center, and thence by his own will and act be swept into the initiatory life-currents which will bear him on the mystic pilgrimage, on the esoteric round of experience, and return a willing and self-conscious renouncer of what he knows he can get, but which he refuses in order to remain and to help the world as one of the stones in the Guardian Wall surrounding humanity.

You will remember that the mystic year contains four seasonal points, and that these four seasons in their cycle are symbolic of the four chief events of progress of initiation: first, that of the Winter Solstice, which event is also called the Great Birth, when the aspirant brings to birth the god within him and for a time at least becomes temporarily at one therewith in consciousness and in feeling; a birth which indeed is the birth of the inner Buddha born of the spiritual solar splendor, or the birth of the mystic Christos.

Then, second, comes the period or event of esoteric adolescence at the Spring Equinox, when in the full flush of the victory gained at the Winter Solstice, and with the marvelous inner strength and power that come to one who has thus achieved, the aspirant enters upon the greatest temptation, except one, known to human beings, and prevails; and this event may be called the Great Temptation. With this initiation at the time of the Spring Equinox the Avataras are particularly concerned, forming as they do one of the lines of activity -- a god-line, in fact -- of the Hierarchy of Compassion and Splendor, although the Avataras are outside the circle of temptation except insofar as concerns the human portion of them.

Then, third, comes the event of the Summer Solstice, at which time the neophyte or aspirant must undergo, and successfully prevail over, the greatest temptation known to man just referred to; and if he so prevail, which means the renouncing of all chance of individual progress for the sake of becoming one of the Saviors of the world, he then takes his position as one of the stones in the Guardian Wall. Thereafter he dedicates his life to the service of the world, without thought of guerdon or of individual progress -- it may be for aeons -- sacrificing himself spiritually in the service of all that lives. For this reason the initiation at this season of the year has been called the Great Renunciation.

Then, finally, comes the fourth and last period of the cycling mystical year, the event of the Autumnal Equinox, which perhaps is the most sublime, but which actually is not as holy as the initiation which we are now commemorating; because in the initiation of the Autumnal Equinox the neophyte or aspirant passes beyond the portals of irrevocable death, and returns among men no more. One line of this activity, lofty and spiritual but yet not the line of the Hierarchy of Splendor and Compassion, is that followed by the Pratyeka Buddhas. Aeons will pass before these Pratyeka Buddhas reawaken to take up anew the evolutionary journey, the evolutionary pilgrimage.

The Autumnal Equinox is likewise straitly and closely related to the investigation, during the rites and trials of the neophyte, of the many and varied and intricate mysteries connected with death. For these and for other reasons it has been called the Great Passing.

Children of the Sun and Offspring of the Stars: Has it ever occurred to you to ask yourselves why it is that the stars glitter in the violet dome of night; why our sun shines with unceasing glory, pouring forth through aeons after aeons its own substance of light and life and energy; and why, on the other hand, such vast stretches and realms of nature are sunken in apparently cold and crystalline rigidity: asleep, dormant, seemingly unmoving, although indeed pervaded everywhere and throughout (so that not even an atom is deprived of it) by the all-permeant life and consciousness of the Boundless? Have you ever wondered why these two great contrasts exist in the manifested universe -- on the one side, light and movement, activity and power, offspring of divinity and of the spiritual energies; and on the other side, relative immobility, rigidity, crystalline somnolence, and the realms of cold and spiritual sleep?

If you have not asked yourselves these questions, you have not yet really awakened; your spiritual souls are not yet stirring consciously within you, and you are asleep, you are dormant. It is the beasts that ask themselves no such questions as these, as they live within the restricted bounds of their limited consciousness, for it is a consciousness of feeling and of reaction to feeling only, without the divine fire of self-conscious thought, and without that inquisitive intelligence, that thirst for light and knowledge, which characterize man as a son of the Sun and as an offspring of a stellar parent.

Spirit on one side and matter on the other, conscious life on one side and relative immobility and somnolence of consciousness on the other. As we look upon tenfold nature and consider her activities, we realize that we can figurate the situation as a vast army of the sons of light working upon dark and sleeping matter, the sons of light existing in their imbodiments between two poles, both of which to our present human consciousness seem to be impenetrable realms of being. What are these two poles? One is the pole of matter, but the other is the pole of spirit which, because of its incomprehensible brilliance and power, is so far beyond all our intellectual conception or loftiest ideation that it seems as impenetrable to understanding as does the nether pole just spoken of, also apparently dark and incomprehensible.

The reason why nature is thus divided in twain to the understanding of us humans is because we observe on one side the hosts of light, and on the other side the hosts of matter; and yet both fundamentally are one, the difference being that the hosts of light are entities more or less progressed towards the pole of spirit, and the hosts of darkness are ruled by the mamo-chohans; as, indeed, the light side is ruled by the Hierarchies of Splendor consisting of dhyani-chohans in ever increasing ranges of glory, ascending along the ladder of life beyond the reach of our utmost vision, strain we it upwards as we may. These two, nature's dark side and her light side, are the two eternal pathways, eternal because of being mighty nature herself. We may speak of the upper or light side as being that of the Hierarchies of Compassion, and the lower or dark side as being that of the Hierarchies of Matter; yet both sides are eternally evolving upwards in everlasting progress. After all, these are but two modes of life, for fundamentally the two are one.

As said a great sage and seer of the Far Orient, Lao-tse, when speaking of the Tao:

Its upper part is not bright, and its lower part is not dark. Unceasing in action, nevertheless it cannot ever be named, but from action returns again to the spiritual Void. We may call it the form of the formless, the image of the imageless, the fleeting and the indeterminable [and yet it is the ever-enduring]. Go you before it, you cannot see its face; go you behind it, you cannot see its back. . . .

Without a name by which it may rightfully be called, it is the origin of the spheres celestial and the spheres material. When it has a name men call it the Eternal Mother of all things. Only he who is constantly free from earthly passions can understand its divine essence; but he whose mind is clogged and blinded by passions can see no more than its outer form. Yet these two, the spiritual and the material, though we call them by different names, in their origin are identically one and identically the same. This sameness is a wondrous mystery, the mystery of mysteries. Understanding this mystery is the portal of all initiation. -- passages from the Tao-te-ching paraphrased from Lionel Giles's translation.

Children of the Sun, Offspring of the Stars: Are you like the blind unreasoning beast that has no divine curiosity for wisdom and knowledge and love? Or are you becoming like unto the sages and the seers of the ages, who see in all that surrounds them, in every minutest as well as in every greatest thing or event, a key to a cosmic riddle? Think, and pause a moment over the thought. When you consider the glittering orbs above us and our own glorious daystar whom we call Father Sun, has it never occurred to you that these very stars are manifestations of the Hierarchy of Compassion, bringing light and life and love and wisdom into the dark realms of nature's material spheres? Verily it is so!

Every sun that we discern in the midnight sky, every human creature, every dhyani-chohan whose presence we may instinctively feel, is not only an evolving and progressing entity -- especially in the cases of the stars and of the gods -- but is also an entity which, motivated by celestial love and wisdom divine, each one in accordance with its own karmic powers and to the extent that it may, has halted on its path or advances slowly on its path, in order to give help to the multitudes and hosts of less progressed entities trailing along behind.

Thus a star, our sun for instance, is not only an evolving god in its divine and spiritual and intellectual and psychical and astral aspects, but is also bending towards us from its celestial throne as it were, and thus appears in our own material realms helping us, giving us light, urging us upwards.

These are no merely vain words of an empty poesy, but are suggestive truth. Everywhere around us nature proclaims law, order, regularity, a succession of event ever following event as beings and things are swept along through the ages on the vast bosom of the river of lives; and all this is the work of the Hierarchy of Splendor and Compassion, of which we in our own humble way form on this earth the outmost circle or sphere. It is the same impulse which sways the gods and the Silent Watchers and the starry beings to help those less progressed, that sways the hearts of the Buddhas of Compassion, and of the Masters of Wisdom and Peace and of their chelas, to take the initiation of the Great Renunciation, thus copying in our human realm what takes place in sublime degree among the divinities. An Avatara is but an exceptional case of a peculiar kind, exemplifying the rule of which the Buddhas are the still nobler and outstanding examples of the general case.

Little do men know of the immense love, the divine impulses of compassion, which sway the souls of those who make the Great Renunciation, giving up all hope of personal evolutionary progress, it may be for aeons to come, in order to remain on earth to help their fellows and in the service of the world. Unrecognized, unthanked, ever silent, ever compassionate, ever filled with holy peace, they work steadily on, watching others go past them as the slowly moving river of lives sweeps along in unending flow. There they stand like pillars of light, these great and noble ones. Although they know that some day their reward shall come, a reward beyond all human understanding, nevertheless there they remain through the ages without thinking of their reward, and endure and endure and endure.

Men in the world have no cognizance whatsoever of the mighty hands and powerful wills which hold back certain cosmic forces and elements, lest these forces and elements ravage men because of the ignorant stupidity and blind willfulness of men in invoking, through their selfish emotions and thoughts, cosmic powers of which they actually have no real consciousness. Because these Great Ones are the protecting shields of mankind, therefore are they called the Guardian Wall.

Every man or woman who does a generous, unselfish, and compassionate act is, by the same token and insofar as the compassionate impulse and act extend, a member of the Hierarchy of Compassion and Splendor. Every man or woman who commits an act of selfishness or who follows blindly and solely an impulse of the matter side of himself or of herself is, by the same token and insofar as the impulse and act extend, acting under the influence of the somber and unholy powers of the material world whose chiefs are the dread mamo-chohans presiding at the pralayas. Every man or woman who does a selfish, evil, or ignoble act, in very truth is taking a stride backwards and is, let us say in passing, by just so much hindering the forward progress of his fellows; for we are all knitted inseparably together into one web of life, into one living organic union.

How beautiful are they upon whose foreheads shines the light eternal, the light of everlasting peace, the light of wisdom, and the illumination of deathless love! They are growing, and growing rapidly, stimulated by the radiant light which pours forth from within the deeps of their own spiritual being. How blessed is their peace, how unspeakably great their happiness, how calm, how majestic, do they appear! What wonderful strength also are they gaining by each such noble thought, by each such noble act! Men and women who incarnate this spirit of selfless devotion, in however small a degree, are preparing themselves for a future time when they in turn will stand at the door and knock, seeking, asking for, demanding, and demanding with the innate right of embryo gods, this initiation of the Great Renunciation; and then they will find their place as self-conscious workers in the Hierarchy of Compassion and Splendor.

As Lao-tse again says in this connection, when speaking of the Tao, which is at once the cosmic organism in its divine side and the timeless splendor within the aspirant's own breast: "The entire world of men will flock eagerly to him who holds within himself the mighty form and power of Tao. They will come and receive no hurt, but will find rest, peace, tranquillity, and wisdom."

In speaking again of the practical ethics of him who has already made the Great Renunciation and has passed through the holy rites, the great Chinese Master continues:

He that is empty shall be filled; he that is worn out shall be renewed; be who has little shall have all; he who thinks he has much shall go astray. Therefore the sage embraces in thought the cosmic unity, and thereby becomes a model for all under heaven. He is free from self-display, therefore he shines forth; free from self-assertion, therefore he is distinguished; free from self-glorification, therefore he is glorified; free from self-exaltation, therefore he rises above all. Inasmuch as he never strives with others, there is no one in the world who strives with him.

And further, the same sage and seer, in his paradoxes, taught as follows:

Therefore the sage, wishing to be above the people, must by his words put himself below the people. Desiring to be ever nobler than the multitude, he must put himself modestly behind them and at their service. In this way, though he has his natural place above them, the people do not feel his weight; though he has his natural place before them, they do not resent it. Therefore all mankind delight to exalt him, and weary of him not.

The sage expects no recognition for what he does; he achieves merit but does not take it to himself; . . . I have three precious things which I hold fast and prize above all. The first is gentleness; the second is frugality; the third is proper humility, which keeps me from putting myself before others. Be gentle, and then you can be bold. Be frugal, and then you can be most liberal. Avoid putting yourself before others, and you naturally become a leader among men.

But in the present day men cast off gentleness, and are all for being bold. They spurn frugality, and retain only extravagance; they discard proper humility, and aim only at being the first. Therefore they shall surely perish.

It must never for a moment be supposed that the Great Renunciation implies an abandonment of any single part of the manifested universe in order that the neophyte or aspirant may devote himself only to following the sole pathway of light. This in itself is a subtly spiritual selfishness which, let men say what they may, is the spirit governing the career of the Pratyeka Buddhas. It is necessary for the neophyte or chela who desires to pass through even the first gateway of the initiation leading to the Great Renunciation to understand that instead of abandoning the world he remains within it, in order, as he grows greater and stronger, wiser and loftier, to serve ever more largely in the cause of all things that are.

The slightest tinge of individual yearning for personal advancement will bar the doors fast against him, for the very core of this initiation is utter self-renunciation. The effort is indeed a titan's labor, for not only must the personal nature be washed clean, but must be utterly transmuted, as far as is compatible with existence in these realms, into becoming a channel or vehicle or mediator between all above the neophyte and all below him and less than he. He must, in consequence, be tested in every fiber of his being before he can even raise his heart to dare the greatest trials which will lead him first into the gloom of the regions of the Underworld -- for he must prevail or fail; and later, when his utterly pure heart and indomitable will have carried him safely out of these, he must be tested in loftier spheres, so that no yearning hunger for more light for himself and for communion with the divinities for his own grace can entice him away from his self-chosen path.

The path of the Pratyeka Buddha, after all, is a relatively easy one by comparison with the way of the one who has chosen the Great Renunciation; but oh, how inexpressibly beautiful and sublime is the guerdon that comes to the latter in the far distant future when, his work once done, fully accomplished, like the butterfly he frees himself from the chrysalis and, taking wing into the ambient ether where the gods abide, he becomes at one with them, self-consciously a collaborator with them in the cosmic work. But aeons will pass before this stage shall be reached, aeons upon aeons of remaining in our realms of imperfection and often of strife and pain. But to the one who has made the Great Renunciation there is a joy in the heart which passeth all understanding, the joy of helping and of raising and of leading others up the stairway of life. Power becomes his; faculties hitherto but partly recognized and perhaps unknown develop within him; he becomes cognizant of mysteries of which in the earlier stages of his growth he had but the faintest adumbration, if indeed any intuition of them at all; and the reason is that the farther he advances in his progress the more perfectly, the more completely, the more entirely, does he become a self-conscious mediator of the wisdom and love of the hierarchies above him, who now can work through him as a perfect instrument, willing, self-sacrificing, joyful, strong, and fully capable.

For him no more is there Dead Sea fruit which turns to ashes in the mouth; for him sorrow and pain as men know them have evanished away. He has come to make his own the world's great sorrow and pain; but, marvelous paradox, the unspeakable peace and bliss that are his because he is an utterly unselfish helper transmute the world's sorrow and pain into the greater light and peace of the splendor above and within him. He becomes at one with universal nature, and instinctively works with her in all her labors; and because of this, nature recognizes him as her master and makes obeisance unto him.

There are many grades of those who take the path of the Great Renunciation: there are, first, the loftiest ones, the very gods themselves who lean from their azure thrones, so to speak, and who communicate with those of the same hierarchy but who are less than they. There are innumerable grades still lower down; there are the Buddhas of Compassion; there are the Masters of Wisdom and Peace; there are the high chelas; there are the chelas of lower degree; and there are even ordinary men and women who feel within themselves the upsurging force of the mighty fire of compassionate love which, at times at least, fills their hearts with its flame. Celestial Buddhas, Dhyani-buddhas, Manushya-buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Masters, chelas, inferior chelas, and great and noble men and women -- there in brief is the line or ladder of being which forms the Order of Compassion.

As the chela advances into masterhood, as the Master becomes the Bodhisattva, and as the Bodhisattva develops into the Buddha, and so forth, there is a growing self-conscious realization that every individual of this Hierarchy of Compassion and Splendor is the vehicle or mediator of a divine entity which works through him as its human channel; and in the seventh initiation, although nothing more here can be said of that last and greatest of rites, the initiant comes face to face, it may be for a brief instant or even for months or possibly years, with this inspiring and overshadowing divine entity.

It must never be supposed that the Great Renunciation implies that, once taken, this debars one from further initiation. The Great Renunciation implies, rather, that the entity so devoting himself consecrates himself to a series of further and ever loftier initiations, but with the sole and single purpose of rendering himself ever more fit for transmitting the divine light to others less advanced than he, and for that purpose alone.

The Great Renunciation is also an initiation having many degrees, for the Silent Watcher of whatever grade is the first exemplar and outstanding type of one who sits on the threshold of knowledge absolute and of unspeakable peace, and yet enters not but remains before the last and greatest holy of holies in order that those less developed may have a link with the highest.

Every higher grade entered into during the long cycle of initiation before man becomes a Bodhisattva is an awakening within the neophyte of a new plane of consciousness and the consequent coming into lofty personal relation with the different powers and forces and even entities that belong to each plane as they are attained, the one after the other. Initiation is not something which is added unto the growing and expanding consciousness of the neophyte, as brick is added to brick in building a wall; but the steps of initiation represent, each one, a quickening of the evolutionary process. In other words, initiation in every instance and throughout time is the bringing out or forth into manifested activity of what already exists within the individual. This thought is so important that I must ask you to pause upon it and to ponder it well. You will at once realize that no initiation can possibly take place merely by request or by petition; that therefore it is utterly impossible for anyone successfully to pass through the rites who is not already prepared to do so. It would be impossible -- spiritually, intellectually, psychologically, and psychically -- to initiate a beast into even the lowest of the initiatory grades, for the simple reason that the respective inner parts of its constitution are not yet functioning together under the direction and control of a self-conscious entity, as is the case with man.

It is upon this great and basic fact of natural fitness that reposes the entire structure of the ethical teaching which the great Masters of the past have given to their disciples. Discipline must precede the Mysteries -- not by any Master's mandate, but simply because it is nature's irrefragable law. Man must prove himself to be worthy, and not only worthy but ready, and not only ready but fit, before his knocking at the portal of the sanctum sanctorum can be even heard; and remember that this "knock" is soundless and made without gesture, for it is a movement of the will, intense and determined, combined with an expanding of the consciousness.

How fit would a man be to enter into the dread regions of the Underworld and to face the often dangerous denizens of those realms if be cannot even control his emotional nature or successfully guide the operations of his own will, and if he does not understand the intricate functioning of his own consciousness? Again, how can a man pass safely through the regions of the superior realms of the universe, with what would be to him, in an unprepared state, all their manifold dangers and subtil appeals, if he himself is not already strong in will and expanded in consciousness and therefore fit to enter those realms? It would be as impossible as to ask a beast to take charge of a chemical laboratory or of an electrical works; or, on the other hand, to demand of a beast that it should compose an oratorio or write an outline of a cosmic philosophy that would mightily and persuasively sway the minds of men.

Yet hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of human beings today are not far from being ready and fit to undertake the first of the initiatory trials; but so sunken are they in the web and entanglements of material existence, that not only do they not know of these wonderful truths and of the powers lying latent and hid in their nature, but they would not care to attempt the tests even if they knew of the glorious possibilities that are their birthright. Their own ignorance and inertia prevent their advancing; and it is a part of our duty to awaken the minds of our fellow human beings and to open the doors of their hearts to nature's sublime verities.

I might say in passing that the greatest and simplest preparation for all the various grades of initiation is our daily life. Here one can prove what he is made of; here he can show the stuff that is in him; here he can strengthen his character, evoke his will, enlarge his understanding, expand his heart- life. The Masters judge, or rather test, a beginner, a neophyte taking his first steps, by the way in which he acts in daily life and reacts to the temptations and trials that daily life puts upon him. These remarks, I repeat, are no vain words of an empty theory, but are sheer truth; and you will understand this at once when you remember that life is the great school, and that all the initiations, without a single exception, are but higher grades, the reaching of higher classes, in the school of life -- life terrestrial and life cosmic.

Recollect the nature of the constitution of man which is composed of the following fundamentals or bases: first, a divinity derived from a star, the stellar parent for the individual, and each individual has his own. Next, a monadic essence of an intellectual type, called the manasaputra, deriving from the sun. Third, a psycho-emotional apparatus commonly called the human soul or monad, derivative from the moon-chain. And fourth, a psycho-vital-astral apparatus or body derivative from our own globe earth. And over all and within and running through all these is a superdivine, flameless fire of fundamental consciousness which we can generalize by calling it a son of the Boundless, whose habitat is the range of the frontierless spaces of space. This is man's own individual ladder of life; and he should earnestly and continuously strive with never an instant's intermission to raise his consciousness ever higher along this ladder, from and out of the body to place it in mastery of his psychomental lunar apparatus which he should conquer and control; and thence still higher to become at one with the manasaputric essence living within him; and in future ages to arise out of this into something still more vast and lofty, which is the divine monad with its range of consciousness extending over the universe which we call the Galaxy or Milky Way; and later on, in aeons to come, he shall go higher, and then again higher, and still higher forever.

Thus verily are we born of the moon, children of the sun, offspring of the stars, and inheritors of the cosmic spaces; for space itself is we and we are it, for we and the Boundless are in essence not twain but one.

In these brief remarks I have endeavored to give, by hint and by allusion, some definite and clear ideas of the character and range of the matters comprised under the esoteric term, the initiation of the Great Renunciation. It too has its compensations unspeakably beautiful, and its end is the heart of the universe. Yet why do I say its "end"? This is but a figure of speech, but a manner of phrasing; for the heart of the universe is indeed boundless Infinitude, and the frontierless deeps of the Divine. Progress, therefore, is endless; the light becomes ever stronger as one progresses along the path; and what the chela would consider the loftiest summits of the Mystic East which he must climb, he finds when he has arrived and has placed his feet upon those distant peaks, that there are immeasurable distances still to go, and of a grandeur and sublimity which even the gods have not attained.

  • (From The Four Sacred Seasons by G. de Purucker. Copyright Š 1979 by Theosophical University Press)