by: Yigal Deutscher on September 25th, 2012 | 3 Comments »
Rising from the east, like a seed stretching forth from the womb, we watch the sun, this fiery disk of burning light, riding through the expansive ocean above us. His travels are always the same, a perpetual journey westwards, in slow desirous longing, where finally, this sun meets the horizon, exploding into threads of ambers and magentas and scarlets, before sinking and being swallowed by the watery depths. His light fades and, in its place, a quilt of darkness spreads over the heavens, gently lit by a delicate web of shimmering pearls and glowing gemstones. The cloak of night is heavy, bringing sleep, dream, a quietness which is only disturbed once the world is fully saturated and dripping with the soft beauty of the moon above, and her luminous darkness. It is the chorus of the birds which will finally break this stillness, this timelessness, with their tapestry of song and harmony, arousing the sun from the depths, courting him back to life, to rise, to live again, to emerge from the womb, shine his rays, and begin his journey once more.
With passionate love, these forces of day & night pull one towards the other, a gravity of fierce attraction and swift repulsion, creating a momentum, a cycle, playing out in every moment, since before there were eyes to witness it or lips to speak of its tale. All over the earth, in the sky above us, it is this story which is the backdrop to our talking, teaching, learning, buying, selling, crafting, growing, eating, loving, laughing, crying. Our lives are lit by these two luminaries. All that we do is under the light of the sun, the sparks of his chariot riding across the sky, and the light of the moon, her belly waxing and waning with her cyclical breath. Their grand story is a cosmic basket, holding all our personal stories. It is their grand journey in which we live, in our own unique ways. Look above. It is the fabric of the heavens which are the pages for this tale. And catch your own reflection; see the sun and moon, day and night, summer and winter, within your own beating heart, within the ocean of your own glowing eyes.
We have just celebrated the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, the renewal of the Hebrew Calendar, a flower whose petals will always bloom in proximity to the Fall Equinox, the seam of the seasons, where day & night stand together in perfect balance, in perfect alignment, in union for just a moment, before carrying on in their loving tension of push and pull, ebb and flow, running and returning. As we face the arrival of a New Year, we turn towards the West, Ma’ar’av, the Blending Place, towards the arena of the setting sun, and the painted backdrop of his departure. This is the gateway leading to the depth of mystery which awaits. Once again, as we do every year, we are bidding the season of the Sun farewell, preparing to pass through a portal into primal darkness, into the court of the majestic Moon, where we will dwell for the next 6 months.
In this waning light of the year, there is much to harvest. Over the last many months, the Sun has fed the earth well with his arrows of bright light. The abundance of summer growth hangs heavy off the branches of the trees. Deep in the soils, the earth is full with swollen roots. Above, the plants are drying and folding in on themselves, leaving behind thousands of pods, dormant genetics, seeds of possibility to be spread by animals, by the winds. As we harvest, as we return from the fields with our arms overflowing with this generous bounty, there are thanksgivings to offer, celebrations to embrace. As the sun has fed the earth, and as the earth has fed us, we return these gifts with prayer, with song, with dance, with play, and with the delicacies of taste and aroma spilling from our kitchens, the harvests of the wild transformed by the alchemy of our own creative hunger.
And in this merriment, while our bellies are full and our lips still wet with feast, as our cellars are filling with the storage of the harvest, it is what unfolds above that is calling our attention, where the skies are brewing their clouds, where the Sun’s kisses are noticeably lighter than they have been, where the birds are taking flight for warmer currents. At first, the shift is so subtle we can hardly feel it. We might sense the brighter colors dripping from the landscape, the early approach of evening, the lower angle of the Sun, the cooler breeze blowing, and in our instincts, we know there is a transition unfolding.
In the land of Israel, the place of Hebrew cultural origins and indigenous memories, there are two distinct seasons: wet & dry, or seed time & harvest time. So it makes sense that another name for this Western portal of Winter which we are journeying through is Yama, which means ‘Towards the Sea.’ It is after months of barren summer skies that the whole earth does seem to be truly falling into the waters of the deep. The skies open up to release their rains, the storms blow in from the oceans, and the solid ground beneath our feet is transformed into wet mud. And to fully prepare for these coming rains, to celebrate this ripe dripping wetness and the possibilities their showers bring, we plant seeds. Our gardens have been cleared from summer growth, and the rich, moist soils lay open and exposed, ready to receive our offerings.
It is our own selves that we are planting, into the maternal womb of the year and the waters that she carries. Water itself is pre-creation, and is into her depths that we submerge. Life begins in water, the source of all Living, the common origin of all creation, the primordial sea from which we are all born. Darkness itself is born from water, her first child. Before the birth of light, before good or bad, before right or wrong, before defined space and boundaries, before there was ever a sense of distinction, there was darkness. This is the darkness of winter, of a night sky and a dark moon, the darkness of the womb before birth. This is the darkness of space, which holds our Earth and all planets, a nest, a vessel for all of creation. In this darkness there is a beauty we cannot see, a beauty we may fear because of her absolute mystery.
This season is where the Goddess resides. Her flowing gown is the oceans of life, the delicate web of stars, and the inky darkness of night. And it is her mysterious beauty we ritually welcome into our home each week. At the dusk of the week and the dawning of Shabbat, in our evening prayers, celebrating the arrival of this sacred time, we turn towards the West, towards the Blending Place, Towards the Sea, Ma’ar’av, towards the setting sun, and bow, welcoming in the Shechina, the divine feminine, the mother waters of life, the honored guest on the night of Shabbat. Every week we have a short taste of the gifts she brings, and now we have a whole season to swim with them, through them.
The storied dance of life and time always begins with darkness. It is darkness which precedes light. Just as the Jewish New Year begins with the movements towards winter, we count the hours of the day starting with sunset, not sunrise. The newness we are seeking is the womb, the rich, dark watery depths of our origins, where we plant the seeds of our own becoming, submerging into her soils, dissolving, surrendering, shedding protective layers, becoming raw and naked, so we may germinate fully, rooting into a foundation which will support everything ahead, under the showering light of the morning sun. How we live our life in the light of day is determined by how we dance with the mystery of darkness.
We are entering the time of dreaming, of storytelling, of playing with the landscapes of the imagination, the fabric of our own subconscious. As we harvest the bounty of the summer growth, we each have our own personal harvests to gather in, internally pulling on the threads of our own being, reflecting on memories from the season that has just finished. The gates are open for all memories, and it is usually the ones we try to push away which will arrive the loudest. It is in the darkness of night where we meet our own reflection, our own shadow.
Under the Sun’s sovereignty, there was an excited pace in our limbs, a line of sweat on our brows, a busyness to our movements. Our time was full. But sitting with the long nights of winter, gathered round the flickering light of the candles, the glowing heat of the fires, there is a new rhythm to sync with, this one much slower, much calmer, inviting honest intimacy and whatever that may reveal. Our masks of summer can now be removed. And if we’d rather not do it ourselves, they will be washed away with the coming rains and waters of winter.
In the story of Yonah, which we read while enacting our own ritual of death and rebirth, Yom Kippur, this first holy day after we have welcomed the New Year, we hear of a man caught in the storm of life. He is on a ship, thrashed about in the turbulent waters of the sea, the chaos of the crashing waves and violent winds. This is embodied darkness, chaos, primal energy, the world returning to pre-creation. And our Yonah is sleeping, below deck, taking cover in the protective shell of the boat, in the escape of slumber.
His shipmates rush to wake him and, so stunned at his sleeping, declare in amazement: How is it that you are sleeping! Wake up, man, rise up and call out to your Spirit! There is nothing left to do but pray. Yonah climbs to the deck and can no longer avoid his truth. The waters are hungry, he tells his shipmates. I have been running from my fate. This storm has come to snatch me. It will not calm until I have offered myself. Yonah instructs them to pick him up and throw him overboard, into the churning ocean below. With tears in their eyes, mixing with the falling rains, they lift him, release him. The seas calm, the stormwinds depart. And Yonah, in a sense, meets death. He descends, like a planted seed, into the underworld, sinking into the waters, into darkness, into the womb, surrendering into the depths of his own subconscious. It is in these waters where he meets the face of the deep, the embodiment of this dark place. It is in these waters, that he will meet his healing, will be transformed. And it is from these waters that he will be born again.
His story is our story. His story is the story of the seasons. It is the same story which we read together, as we ceremonially roll the Torah back to its beginning to mark this New Year, and revisit the creation story, starting again from chapter one, from the primal waters of life. It is the same story we will find in a few weeks time, when the world returns to womb, in the flood that swallows the world, the Mabul. It is the same story available to us, each New Year, in the Tashlich ritual, where we are invited to walk to the edge of flowing waters, pull on the threads of our own regrets, fears, judgments, negativity, bundle them together and recognize them, transform them, release them into the waters, to be carried by her currents and taken to Sea. It is the same story available to each of us, whenever we need it, as we ritually dunk in the living, cleansing waters of the Mikvah, as we strip ourselves naked, and walk freely and ready to descend into the rivers, oceans, streams, all the flowing bodies of water pulsing around us and within us.
We ourselves are mostly water. We carry the oceans inside us. We are embodied water. Water is our own reflection. As we celebrate Sukkot, our Harvest season, the first festival of the New Year, we begin to pray for the return of the rains. It is for our own watery awakening that we pray for, that we too may flow like water, surrender like water, dance like water.
These stories, prayers and rituals map the storyline of the seasons, from Fall to Spring, from dusk till dawn. This is the way we dance the story of the luminaries above us. This is how we keep our lives in flow with their rhythm. The more we tell these stories, the more we live them, the more we will remember, the more we will know, firsthand, the beauty of this season and what is hidden within her.
It is our choice how we engage this moment. If we will barricade Winter, resist her as long as possible. If we will dam her watery flow with our own fears, our inability to surrender to her mystery. If we will cover the wellspring of our own subconscious, as it attempts to burst forth and flow freely. Or, if we will walk into the night and drink from her dark stillness. If we will accept her gift of healing. It is our choice to remain in the storm around us, or to throw ourselves from the ship and dive as deep as we can. The invitation is open. How will you enter these waters?
Night of the year is coming. Do not fall asleep. Do not escape into shallow slumber. Rather, reach into your dreams, your memories, your subconscious. Dance with your own watery reflection. In the heavy dormancy of this season, in its slowness, in its timelessness, sink your roots down low, and drink from the waters of the deep. And through all this, carry the embers of your own being, as you carry the embers of the Sun with you. Tend them well. Let them warm you, guide you, prepare you for your own germination, your own renewal. In time, we will be ready to stoke these embers, planting them as dormant seeds of fire, courting their rebirth, their reawakening. We will feed them with song and prayer, with our own heartfelt beauty and vulnerability. The sparks will grow into flame, and the fires will rise from within the waters. And darkness will give birth to light, and the arc of the Sun will expand above us, beckoning yet another seasonal shift. But first, there is a winter to enjoy, there is a wide ocean of night to swim through, and there is your own shadowy reflection to dance with.
Yigal Deutscher is the founder of 7Seeds, an educational project grounded in Hebrew mythology and Permaculture Design. For more info, visit 7seedsproject.org.