Intimations of Mortality


Intimations of Mortality

William Wordsworth, by Benjamin Robert Haydon

William Wordsworth by Benjamin Robert Haydon

In 1804, Wordsworth published perhaps his best work, “Ode: Intimations of Immortality.” It is an elegiac poem, yearning for the visions of youth, but ultimately it is hopeful, as the narrator knows that what was lost may be had again.

It is not my favorite English Romantic Period lyric poem. For that, I would turn to any number of the works of William Blake, and to Shelly’s “Ozimandias,” Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” and Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan.” To complement these, I would then turn to later works, “Sailing to Byzantium” by William Butler Yeats, “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J., and “The Waste Land,” “Ash Wednesday,” and others by T.S. Eliot.

Yet having said all that, “Intimations of Immortality” is important, and moving. It has stayed in my mind for all these years, and recently re-emerged, in the altered for of the title of this essay, to express the part of my life I am going through at the moment.

It is a commonplace in psychology and philosophy that there are two movements in our lives that are Tremens et Fascinans—Terrifying and Fascinating. The idea, probably originating with Rudoph Otto’s Mysterium Tremendum and the Numinous, was first introduced to me by Fr. John S. Dunne, CSC, a Holy Cross Father and Theologian at Notre Dame who spent a sabattical year

Fr. John S. Dunne, CSC

Fr. John S. Dunne, CSC

teaching at Yale when I was there. I profited from his classes and books tremendously. I highly recommend all of Dunne’s writing.

The Numious

Let’s backtrack for some definitions. The Mysterium Tremendum is the Fearful/Awesome Mystery. We must remember that μυστήριον—mysterion in Greek is not Mystery in the sense of “We don’t/can’t know it,” but actually just the opposite. It is where we encounter the Truth, and must remain “silent on its mysteries” (The Hymn of Jesus).

Mysterion itself comes from μυέω—mueō–I initiate, which is from μύω—muō–I shut, remain silent. It is the Sacred Silence we must keep at the Mysteries:

Bishop Demetrios Kantzavelos of Mokissos and other clergy gathered around the Epitaphios in Divine Liturgy on Holy Saturday at Holy Anargyroi Greek Orthodox Church in Rochester, MN. Photo (c) 2013 Jonathunder.

Bishop Demetrios Kantzavelos of Mokissos and other clergy gathered around the Epitaphios in Divine Liturgy on Holy Saturday at Holy Anargyroi Greek Orthodox Church in Rochester, MN. Photo (c) 2013 Jonathunder.

Let all mortal flesh keep silent and in fear and trembling stand, pondering nothing earthly-minded. For the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords comes to be slain, to give himself as food to the faithful.

“Before him go the ranks of angels: all the principalities and powers, the many-eyed cherubim and the six-winged seraphim, covering their faces, singing the hymn: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!”

This is the Cherubikon of the Liturgy of St. James, also used on Great and Holy Saturday morning in the Vigil Service which is the achievement of the Holy Grail. It has become familiar in the West in an arrangement by Ralph Vaughan Williams arrangement of a translation by Gerard Moultrie set to the Hymn Tune Picardy:

The Original can be found here:

Greek Melody:

Ruthenian Melody:


So the Mysterium Tremendum is the experience of the Numinous—the wholly other, the Divine. The Latin Numen is cognate with the Greek νεύω—neuō—I nod, beckon. It means the Divine, Divine Power, Divine Will, and the nod of the head. The experience of the Numinous occurs when we know that we are in the presence of the Divine. It is often experienced as (Holy) Fear at first. This is central to the work of Carl Jung, C. S. Lewis, and Mircea Eliade.

Aldous Huxley  describes the Mysterium Tremendum in The Doors of Perception:

“The literature of religious experience abounds in references to the pains and terrors overwhelming those who have come, too suddenly, face to face with some manifestation of the mysterium tremendum. In theological language, this fear is due to the in-compatibility between man’s egotism and the divine purity, between man’s self-aggravated separateness and the infinity of God.”

Our Lady of Fatima Russian Byzantine Catholic Church, San Francisco.

Our Lady of Fatima Russian Byzantine Catholic Church, San Francisco.

I usually experience this when I first enter as Temple of Holy Place of a tradition I am not overly familiar with. I have to take time to harmonize with the Divine Energies in the ways they are manifested there.

A striking example of this was the experience of a Roman Catholic young man who came to Our Lady of Fatima Russian Byzantine Catholic Church for Vespers the first time with his fiancée (who was Byzantine Catholic). He later became the Parish Council president, and he confided in me one day that on that first day, it took everything he had not to run out the door. He experienced the Numinous in the chapel so strongly that he was actually afraid.

Tremens et Fascinans

Derived from the idea of the Numinous, twice in human life, we encounter the Terrifying and Fascinating. The first such movement is when we discover our generativity—both physical in the call of ἔρως—erōs—love, desire, and also in striving to be Homo Faber, The Human that Creates, made in the image of The Creator. All of us who have gone through adolescence can testify that this is both Terrifying and Fascinating. We learn, in Jungian fashion, to direct this incredible energy, during the ensuing decades. We encounter the Divine in our relationship to others, and to our world.

I have just turned 59 ½, a significant age in the United States, because I can now withdraw funds from my Retirement Fund without a 10% penalty. What was unexpected is that I have moved into the second Tremens et Fascinans period in my life.

Byzantine Christian Funeral at St. Michael the Archangel Melkite Catholic Church, Hammond IN

Byzantine Christian Funeral at St. Michael the Archangel Melkite Catholic Church, Hammond IN

I am mortal. I will not always be here.

Now of course, I have always known this in the intellectual sense, but now I am encountering the Divine in this much deeper gnosis of death. I’m not planning on shuffling off soon, but it will happen, sooner or later (the latter, I hope). I have much to live for, and I have much to accomplish. But it is not as far to the finish line as it was before.

I know, certainly, that I am also immortal. I have participated in the Divine Mysteries too many times to have any doubt about that. But this particular instantiation of me will not be on the planet forever. Actually, neither will anything else. My friends and I are getting older, some have already gone on ahead. I see this everytime I visit a Jesuit Community.

Yale, Rosicrucian Park, all the houses I have lived in, the Nations of the World, the Pyramids and Macchu Picchu. All will end. The Planet will end. The Universe will end, and, I presume, the Multiverse will end. “This is the End, my Beautiful Friend,” as The Doors sing:

It won’t matter if I used an iPhone or an Android, if I am a Mac or PC guy. Nothing of all this will last. What will last, however, is whether I used my smart phone and technology to make things better, to help people and our world. I am making the immortal being that I will be, in the here and now. Do I participate in Ma’at, Pietas, the harmony with the All-That-Is, and manifest that in my relationships with everyone and everything?

The Divine Union

Ultimately the union I seek is that we discussed in the last blog post. The Lover becomes the Beloved, as the 16th Century Mystic in the Rose Cross and Essene/Carmelite traditions, St. John of the Cross tells us:

St. John of the Cross by Zurbarán

St. John of the Cross by Zurbarán

En una noche oscura

En una noche oscura,
con ansias,
en amores inflamada,
¡oh dichosa ventura!,
salí sin ser notada,
estando ya mi casa sosegada;

a escuras y segura
por la secreta escala, disfrazada,
¡oh dichosa ventura!,
a escuras y encelada,
estando ya mi casa sosegada;

en la noche dichosa,
en secreto,
que naide me veía
ni yo miraba cisa,
sin otra luz y guía
sino la que en el corazón ardía.

Aquesta me guiaba
más cierto
que la luz del mediodía
 adonde me esperaba
quien yo bien me sabía
en parte donde naide parecía.

¡Oh noche que guiaste!
¡Oh noche amable más que la alborada!;
¡Oh noche que juntaste,
Amado con amada,
amada en el Amado transformada!

En mi pecho florido,
que entero para él solo se guardaba,
allí quedó dormido,
y yo le regalaba,
y el ventalle de cedros aire daba.

El aire del almena,
cuando yo sus cabellos esparcía,
con su mano serena
en mi cuello hería,
y todos mis sentidos suspendía.

Quedéme y olvidéme,
el rostro recliné sobre el Amado;
cesó todo y dejéme,
dejando mi cuidado
entre las azucenas olvidado.

On a dark night

On a dark night,
Kindled in love with yearnings
–oh, happy chance!–
I went forth without being observed,
My house being now at rest.

St. John of the Cross

St. John of the Cross

By the secret ladder, disguised
–oh, happy chance!–
In darkness and in concealment,
My house being now at rest.

In the happy night,
In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught,
Without light or guide,
save that which burned in my heart.

This light guided me
More surely than the light of noonday
To the place where he 
(well I knew who!)
was awaiting me
A place where none appeared.

Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined 
Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed into the Beloved!

Upon my flowery breast,
Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping,
and I caressed him,
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.

The breeze blew from the turret
As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand He wounded my neck
And caused all my senses to be suspended.

I remained, lost in oblivion;
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares 
forgotten among the lilies.

What a wonderful exclamation: ¡oh dichosa ventura! O Happy Chance!

Version by Loreena McKennitt:

The material world is not unimportant. We are here for a purpose, to learn and grow, in what the ancient Celts called The Field of Abred, the realm of struggle and conflict. That’s what we do here, striving to make things better. We just have to do so with one eye on the really real. Sri Aurobindo teaches much the same thing in his commentary on The Bhagavad Gita. The process of involution and evolution will move on, and we with it. We must work to make our reintegration and that of the whole cosmos as smooth as possible.

In that respect, although I certainly understand the feeling of The Doors’ “People are Strange” (used in the intro to one of my favorite films, The Lost Boys), at base, no one is a stranger to me. The key to the riddle is “People are strange when you’re a stranger.” It’s my choice to be estranged or not:

“No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee. – John Donne, Meditation XVII

Joan Baez’s Version:

Paul Simon’s Version:

The Cycle of Existence

I must say that this new stage of my life is tinged with a kind of gentle melancholy (after all, I am half-Irish), but it is also nice to know that I don’t have to do all this forever. Physical immortality would be a curse, as many legends suggest. That is the basis of the curse of the Vampire. By unnaturally interrupting the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, vampires cannot evolve, cannot progress. They have physical immortality, but the cosmos does not work like that.

Birth and Death and Rebirth are all parts of the cycle of Immortality:

ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐὰν μὴ ὁ κόκκος τοῦ σίτου πεσὼν εἰς τὴν γῆν ἀποθάνῃ, αὐτὸς μόνος μένει· ἐὰν δὲ ἀποθάνῃ, πολὺν καρπὸν φέρει.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)

Acorns from small to large of the Willow Oak, Quercus phellos (very small, at center); the Southern Red Oak, Quercus falcata; the White Oak, Quercus alba; and the Scarlet Oak, Quercus coccinea; from southern Greenville County, SC, USA.

Acorns. Photo by Tomer T and David Hill.

The Acorn Story

The Acorn Story illustrates this. It has been around a long time, and I encountered it most recently in The Wisdom Way of Knowing by Cynthia Bourgeault. It goes something like this.

In the forest, a community of Acorns lived in the underbrush at the foot of a majestic Oak. They were good acorns, and spent a great deal of time keeping their shells in beautiful shape, and working to be the best acorns one could be, and never to decay.

Some time back, an acorn who had some unusual ideas had headed out into the forest to try to figure things out, like, “What are we doing here?”

Some years later, he returned to Acornville, his shell scuffed and chipped, and looking generally disheveled. As he came into town, all of the other acorns gathered around to hear of his discoveries.

He told them, “We here in Acornville spend all of our time trying to be the best acorns possible, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Nevertheless, it is not who we truly are. We have to allow ourselves to die when it is our time.”

The citizens were horrified. “What do you mean?” they cried! “Then we wouldn’t be acorns any more!”

Sprouting Oak from Acorn. Photo (c) 2012 by Amphis.

Sprouting Oak from Acorn. Photo (c) 2012 by Amphis.

“That’s right,” the wanderer said. “That’s because that’s not what we really are.” He raised his hand and pointed to the huge sheltering oak at whose base the town lay. “That’s what we really are! When we live out our lives as good acorns, and then allow nature to take its course, we become Oaks!”

Things were never the same again.

Fear Not, My Heart

Most emblematic of these truths for me is the transcendent music of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony. In the fourth movement, he sets one of the poems, “Urlich,” (Primordial Light) from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn) to a melancholic melody, expressing the weltschmertz (world pain) that we feel:


O Röschen rot!
Der Mensch liegt in größter Not!
Der Mensch liegt in größter Pein!
Je lieber möcht’ ich im Himmel sein.
Da kam ich auf einen breiten Weg:
Da kam ein Engelein und wollt’ mich abweisen.
Ach nein! Ich ließ mich nicht abweisen!
Ich bin von Gott und will wieder zu Gott!
Der liebe Gott wird mir ein Lichtchen geben,
Wird leuchten mir bis in das ewig selig Leben!

—From Des Knaben Wunderhorn

 Primordial Light

O red rose!

Robert Fludd: The Rose gives Honey to the Bees.

Robert Fludd: The Rose gives Honey to the Bees.

Man lies in greatest need!
Man lies in greatest pain!
How I would rather be in heaven.
There came I upon a broad path
when came a little angel and wanted to turn me away.
Ah no! I would not let myself be turned away!
I am from God and shall return to God!
The loving God will grant me a little light,
Which will light me into that eternal blissful life!
—From Des Knaben Wunderhorn

Here is the movement, conducted by Leonard Bernstein:

The traditional end of the world scene is hardly better depicted than in the tempestuous and bombastic Dies Irae of the Verdi Requiem. I recall attending a concert of the Requiem in Tempe one year, in which my friend Giuli Doyle was singing. I had the strangest feeling. It was if the Heavenly Choir was doing their best to scare the living daylights out of everyone, but God was peeking around the curtain: “Are they buying it?” I suppose even God enjoys a little fun now and then.

The Last Judgment by Hans Memling. The Yorck Project.

The Last Judgment by Hans Memling.

Dies iræ! Dies illa
Solvet sæclum in favilla:
Teste David cum Sibylla!

Quantus tremor est futurus,
Quando iudex est venturus,
Cuncta stricte discussurus!

Day of wrath, that dread day,
The World dissolves in ashes,
As David and the Sibyl prophesied.

How great the tremor that is coming,
When the judge arrives,
Discerning everything most strictly.

Mahler gives the best response in the fifth movement of his 2nd Symphony. After a truly terrifying opening with last judgment music, and bands wandering the now devastated earth, the truth is finally revealed:

(Note: The first eight lines are from Die Auferstehung by Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock. Mahler omitted the final four lines of this poem and penned the remainder himself (beginning at “O glaube”):

Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n
Wirst du, Mein Staub,
Nach kurzer Ruh’!
Unsterblich Leben! Unsterblich Leben
wird der dich rief dir geben!
Wieder aufzublüh’n wirst du gesät!
Der Herr der Ernte geht
und sammelt Garben
uns ein, die starben!   (—Friedrich Klopstock)

Russian Icon: The Harrowing of Hell (Pascha--The Resurrection)

Russian Icon: The Harrowing of Hell (Pascha–The Resurrection). Photo (c) 2008 Shakko.

O glaube, mein Herz, o glaube:
Es geht dir nichts verloren!
Dein ist, ja dein, was du gesehnt!
Dein, was du geliebt,
Was du gestritten!
O glaube
Du wardst nicht umsonst geboren!
Hast nicht umsonst gelebt, gelitten!
Was entstanden ist
Das muß vergehen!
Was vergangen, auferstehen!
Hör’ auf zu beben!
Bereite dich zu leben!
O Schmerz! Du Alldurchdringer!
Dir bin ich entrungen!
O Tod! Du Allbezwinger!
Nun bist du bezwungen!
Mit Flügeln, die ich mir errungen,
In heißem Liebesstreben,
Werd’ich entschweben
Zum Licht, zu dem kein Aug’ gedrungen!
Sterben werd’ ich, um zu leben!
Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n
wirst du, mein Herz, in einem Nu!
Was du geschlagen
zu Gott wird es dich tragen!

—Gustav Mahler

Rise again, yes, rise again,
Will you My dust,
After a brief rest!
Immortal life! Immortal life
Will He who called you, give you.
To bloom again were you sown!
The Lord of the harvest goes
And gathers in, like sheaves,
Us together, who died.

(—Friedrich Klopstock)

O believe, my heart, O believe:

St. Gregory of Nyssa, teacher of Apocatastasis (Universal Restoration). St. Gregory of Nyssa Church, San Francisco. (c) 2013 All Saints Co./St. Gregory Church. Mark Dukes, Iconographer

St. Gregory of Nyssa, teacher of Apocatastasis (Universal Restoration). St. Gregory of Nyssa Church, San Francisco. (c) 2013 All Saints Co./St. Gregory Church. Mark Dukes, Iconographer.

Nothing to you is lost!
Yours is, yes yours, is what you desired
Yours, what you have loved
What you have fought for!
O believe,
You were not born for nothing!
Have not for nothing, lived, suffered!
What was created
Must perish,
What perished, rise again!
Cease from trembling!
Prepare yourself to live!
O Pain, You piercer of all things,
From you, I have been wrested!
O Death, You masterer of all things,
Now, are you conquered!
With wings which I have won for myself,
In love’s fierce striving,
I shall soar upwards
To the light which no eye has penetrated!
Die shall I in order to live.
Rise again, yes, rise again,
Will you, my heart, in an instant!
That for which you suffered,
To God will it lead you!

—Gustav Mahler

This is not only going to heaven. It is the reintegration of the Many with the One. This is Theosis.

What Lasts?

Νυνὶ δὲ μένει πίστις, ἐλπίς, ἀγάπη, τὰ τρία ταῦτα· μείζων δὲ τούτων ἡ ἀγάπη.

“But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Gustav Doré, Illustration for Dante's Paradiso.

Gustav Doré, Illustration for Dante’s Paradiso: The Celestial Rose.

It is love—Love, that moves the sun and the other stars—L’amor  che move il sole e l’altre stele, as Dante tells us in the Paradiso—that is forever. Love at every level, from the attraction of sub-atomic particles to one another to the Divine Love, that I must cling to.

When my Mother made her transition some years ago, I could not cry. I served the Liturgy for her, and remained dry-eyed. A short time later, my old teacher, friend, and mentor, Fr. Al Miller, S.J. also died (far too young) and I went to his funeral in the South Bay.

On the way home in the car that night, I put a cassette of a song we had used many times together on retreats with students in the player. As soon as it began, the floodgates opened and I had release for both my Mother and Al. I cried all the way back to San Francisco. You’ll recognize the song, and it perfectly reflects what I believe:

So I am here now, in this new phase of the Terrifying and Fascinating. But it’s not so bad. I’ve been preparing for this all my life. Let’s continue on the path together:


Music and lyric: Loreena McKennitt

The road now leads onward
As far as can be
Winding lanes
And hedgerows in threes
By purple mountains
And round every bend
All roads lead to you
There is no journey’s end.

Camino de San Miguel. Photo (c) 2005 Pepe Bescós.

Camino de San Miguel. Photo (c) 2005 Pepe Bescós.

Here is my heart and I give it to you
Take me with you across this land
These are my dreams, so simple and few
Dreams we hold in the palm of our hands

Deep in the winter
Amidst falling snow
High in the air
Where the bells they all toll
And now all around me
I feel you still here
Such is the journey
No mystery to fear.

Here is my heart and I give it to you
Take me with you across this land
These are my dreams, so simple and few
Dreams we hold in the palm of our hands

The road now leads onward
And I know not where
I feel in my heart
That you will be there
Whenever a storm comes
Whatever our fears
The journey goes on
As your love ever nears

Here is my heart and I give it to you
Take me with you across this land
These are my dreams, so simple and few
Dreams we hold in the palm of our hands

*       *      *

“All Will Be Well,  All Will Be Well,
All Manner of Things Will be Well”
— Juliana of Norwich

Juliana of Norich in the Church of SS Andrew and Mary, Norfolk. Photo (c) 2007 Evelyn Simak.

Juliana of Norich in the Church of SS Andrew and Mary, Norfolk. Photo (c) 2007 Evelyn Simak.

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant


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Welcome Autumn!

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The Beginning of Autumn

The Hapgood Pond Recreation Area of the Green Mountain National Forest displays its fall foliage splendor.

The Hapgood Pond Recreation Area of the Green Mountain National Forest displays its fall foliage splendor.

Contrary to the popular misconception in the United States, the Seasons do not begin with the Equinoxes and Solstices. Those are the mid-points, the high-points or quintessence of each Season. In the old European Tradition, for the latitudes that Europe and North America occupy in the Northern Hemisphere, the circle of the year looks like this:

  • Oct 31-Nov 2 Samhuinn                  The End of Autumn, the Beginning of Winter
  • Ca. Dec 21      Winter Solstice          The Depth of Winter
  • Feb 1-2           Imbolc                           The Beginning of Spring
  • Ca. Mar 21     Spring Equinox          The High-Point of Spring
  • May 1             Bealteinne                  The Beginning of Summer
  • Ca. June 21    Summer Solstice        The Height of Summer
  • July 31-Aug 1 Lughnasadh               The Beginning of Autumn
  • Ca. Sept 21     Autumn Equinox       The High-Point of Autumn

(Two notes: I am using the traditional Old Gaelic spellings for the Fire Festivals that come between the Solar Festivals, because that’s how I first learned them. There are many variants in the other Gaelic languages, and in other European languages. I am also setting Samhuinn [pronounced: Sow-wain, as in a female pig followed by a Hay Wain] as the beginning of the year because that is commonplace today. There is scant-to-no evidence that ancient Celts viewed Samhuinn as New Years.)

If one reflects on the feel of the Seasons, this schema makes much more sense than the really rather silly notion that Summer officially begins on June 21, etc.

I am in the process of completing a book on the ancient and modern correspondences of this circle of the year, and I wanted to give you a preview with some reflections on August 1, the Beginning of Autumn.

Ancient Lughnasadh

Three Headed Lugh on an  Altar at the St. Remi Museum in Reims.

Three Headed Lugh on an
Altar at the St. Remi Museum in Reims. Photo by QuartierLatin1968.

In many parts of the Celtic world, August 1 marked the first of three Harvest Festivals (followed by the Equinox and Samhuinn), and was named for the God Lugh (modern: Lú). It is also commonly known as the English Lammas and the Season as Lammastide. It has given its name in modern Gaelic tongues to the day/festival and the month. For example, August 1, and August are

Irish Gaelige:  Lúnasa

Scottish Gàidhlig: Lùnastal

Manx Gaelg: Luanistyn

Interestingly enough, in Wales, August 1 is called as Calan Awst, from the Latin Kalendae Augusti, The Calends of August. You will recall this from our previous discussions of the Roman Calendar, with its Calends, Nones, and Ides.

Lughnasadh itself means the Assembly of Lugh, and is the Festival associated with this date. There are modern festivals that descend from this, and also re-created Lugh Festivals. These usually include athletic contests, arts, first fruits of the harvest, etc. There seems to be a resonance here with the Greek Pythian Games, held at Delphi, which included contests in both athletics and the arts. The Pythian Games were probably held in August as well. Lugh and Apollo are not dissimilar figures, as we will see.

Lugh is said to have instituted the Festival in honor of the death of his Mother or Foster Mother, the Goddess Tailtiu, an agricultural Goddess who exhausted herself making the crops fertile. We’ll come back to this later.

Floor inlay in the Cathedral of Siena Russian: Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus, contemporary of Moses, on the left pages of the book

Floor inlay in the Cathedral of Siena Russian: Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus, contemporary of Moses, on the left pages of the book.

So who is Lugh? He is the Celtic God of the arts, magic, and skills. He is a trickster, and may also be a solar or lightning God, as the Proto-Indo-European root *leuk-, means “flashing light.” Since Victorian times, this has prompted scholars to link him with Apollo, because the Greek, Ἀπόλλων, that is, (λω), and the Latin Apollo both have this lu/lo root.

Historically, however, Lugh was associated with Mercury, which brings him into alignment with Hermes, and with the Egyptian (and Esoteric) Hermes Trismegistus / Thoth (Djehuti). Hermes is also a trickster, and Thoth is a God of Arts, Knowledge, Writing and Skills. Hermes, Lugh and Thoth are sometimes thought of as Culture Heroes, those who bestow the skills necessary for human culture.

The alignment of one Divinity with another—a specialty of Hellenistic Culture—is not an absolute science, as it is clear that Lugh has other attributes that resemble Zeus and Thor.

Lugh holds this assembly to honor his (Foster?) Mother, who sacrificed herself for humanity’s good, just as the corn, wheat, and other products of the harvest offer themselves for sacrifice for our good. Thus the Festival has a sense of Self-Sacrifice, of service to humanity, and also of Light, the Light that was born at the Winter Solstice.

The Correspondences of Autumn

As in so much spiritual and mystical work, the Season of Autumn corresponds to many other notions. In the directions, it is the West, centered on the Autumnal Equinox, in Life it is Mature Adulthood, the period of generativity. Here are some other correspondences:

  •  Kabbalah:
  • Sephirot:       Malkuth (Kingdom)
  • Oppositions:   Wealth and Poverty
  • Path:               Intelligence of Conciliation, Rewarding Intelligence of those who seek
  • Divine Name Letter:      Vav
  • World:                        Yetzirah: World of Formation
  • Tarot:                          The Wheel of Fortune, Kaph (a Curve)
  • Tarot Suit:                  Cups
  • Tarot Court:               Knight
  • Personality:                Emotion
  • Consciousness:          Rotation
  • Planet:                            Jupiter
  • Alchemy:                    Tin
  • Body:                          Solar Plexus ganglion, Manipura Chakra.
  • Week:                         Wednesday
  • Book of Humanity:    10th Page  (Martinism)
  • Martinist:                   Manifestation
  • Element:                     Water
  • Druid World:             Faerie
  • Christian:                   The Kingdom of Heaven; The Exaltation of the Cross
  • Esoteric:                     The Imaginal World

With all of these, one can meditate for a great while on how these all fit together, during the Season of Autumn.

Correspondences of Lughnasadh

Since Lughnasadh is the doorway to Autumn, half way between the High Point of Summer and the High Point of Autumn, its correspondences are about 45 degrees off from Full Autumn:

  • Direction:                   Southwest
  • Life:                             Middle Age: generative period
  • Kabbalah Path:        Imaginative Intelligence
  • Tarot:                          Death (Nun) (a Fish, to Sprout, Grow)
  • Consciousness:         Motion, change, liberation, transformation, imagination, visualization
  • Zodiac:                        Scorpio
  • Alchemy:                    Watery
  • Body:                          Reproductive organs, waste organs, nose
  • Christian:                   Transfiguration, Dormition, St. Ignatius Day, Maccabees, Procession of the Cross

As one can see, this is a variation on the major themes of Autumn, influenced by the thematics of Summer. It has to do with the implementation of change and transformation, and is dominated by the power of the mind (imaging, visualization for manifestation).

Lughnasadh Today

The Festival has come down to us in many ways.

Croagh Patrick Pilgrim Sunday the ascent of the Holy Mountain. Photo by Alan James, (c) 2007.

Croagh Patrick Pilgrim Sunday the ascent of the Holy Mountain. Photo by Alan James, (c) 2007.

First, there are direct survivals. In Ireland, it is still common to make pilgrimages up mountains on is Reek Sunday—the yearly pilgrimage to the top of Croagh Patrick in County Mayo in late July. Holy Wells were also visited in both Ireland and Scotland, and the pilgrim would walk around the well sunwise, and leave offerings. Although Christianized, the Pre-Christian origins are quite clear.

Blessings of the Fields at Lughnasadh is an established custom in the Roman Catholic Church of Ireland, connected to the ancient harvest festival. Wikipedia also reminds us of another popular observance:

Puck Fair in full flight in this photo with King Puck (An Puc Rí) installed on his "throne," 1900. National Library of Ireland on The Commons.

Puck Fair in full flight in this photo with King Puck (An Puc Rí) installed on his “throne,” 1900. National Library of Ireland on The Commons.

“The Puck Fair is held each year in early August in the town of Killorglin, County Kerry. It has been traced as far back as the 16th century but is believed to be a survival of a Lughnasadh festival. At the beginning of the three-day festival, a wild goat is brought into the town and crowned ‘king’, while a local girl is crowned ‘queen’. The festival includes traditional music and dancing, a parade, arts and crafts workshops, a horse and cattle fair, and a market”[1]

The custom of a Fair around August 1 has spread to many other locations in Ireland now. Modern Neo-Pagans, including Druids and Wiccans, have varying celebrations for Lughnasadh or Lammas.

Second, as is the case at every point on the wheel of the year, Christianity, both Eastern and Western, has Feasts which correspond to the themes and spirit of the holiday. Most importantly, both Eastern and Western Christianity have two major feasts in the first half of August. They are feasts of light, feasts of transformation and theosis, and a feast honoring the death and transition of the Mother of God.

In Byzantine (Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine/Greek Catholic) Christianity, August is the last month of the Church Year, and is the summation of the cycle of Salvation History.  What has been taught in the whole year is now summed up in these two Feasts. While Western Christianity shares these two Feasts, their emphasis is not as clearly understood today.

The Transfiguration of Christ: Part of an iconostasis in Constantinople style. Middle of the 12th century. Saint Catherine's Monastery, Sinai (Egypt) / K. Weitzmann: "Die Ikone"

The Transfiguration of Christ: Part of an iconostasis in Constantinople style. Middle of the 12th century. Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai (Egypt) / K. Weitzmann: “Die Ikone”

On August 6, the Transfiguration commemorates the vision of Peter, James, and John on Mount Tabor, when they beheld Jesus suffused with the Uncreated Light, and flanked by Moses and Elijah. Although this event is reported in the Gospels during Jesus’s life, it is strikingly outside of time and space, and is transcendent. The whole point of the Church year has been to teach that Divinity and Humanity are compatible, and that humanity, and through humanity the whole cosmos, is destined for the realization of theosis (divinization).

As Athanasius, Pope of Alexandria in the 4th century says “God became human so that humans could become God.” Even earlier, one of the Orphic sayings found on the golden tablets in the Lucania cemetery states—Θεὸς ἐγένου ἐξ ἀνθρώπου—Theos egenou ex anthrōpou— “Through being a Mortal, you have become God.”

“But sure,” you say. “Jesus is the Son of God. He’s special. I’m just a human. How does this affect me?”

Dormition of the Theotokos (Uspenie Bogoroditsy)--i.e., the repose of the Virgin Mary 1392, by Theophan the Greek.

Dormition of the Theotokos (Uspenie Bogoroditsy)–i.e., the repose of the Virgin Mary 1392, by Theophan the Greek.

The Byzantine Tradition responds nine days later with the Feast of August 15, The Dormition of the Theotokos, known in the West as the Assumption. It is the patronal feast of the Great and Mystical Cathedral in Chartres. Some Rosicrucian friends and I visited there on the rainy eve of the Feast in 2007.

If anyone was in doubt that Theosis—Divinization—is the destiny of all the manifested cosmos, the Commemoration of Mary’s death and then translation into Heaven (a symbol for Divinization) cures those doubts. It is not just the Divine-Human Jesus for whom this happens. This is the destiny of all. Westerners are used to thinking of Mary as somehow another exception, but in Eastern Christianity, she is called “the Great Example, not the Great Exception.”

In Eastern Christianity, the term “Original Sin” does not have anything to do with an “inherited guilt of Adam,” as it does in the West. Instead, it is simply the fact that things don’t seem to work right in the world. We are in need of healing, what Martinists would call Reintegration or Regeneration. Therefore, there was nothing for Mary to be preserved from, as in the Western doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. She is the leader of humanity.

Here’s what St. Gregory Palamas, a mystic Hesychast of the 14th century, said about her in his homily for this day:

St. Gregory Palamas. Upload by Lamprotes.

St. Gregory Palamas. Upload by Lamprotes.

“She is a blending of all perfections – divine, angelic and human. A sublime beauty adorning two worlds, lifted up from earth to heaven, and even transcending that. She is the boundary of created and uncreated nature. She has crossed the frontier which separates us from the age to come.” (Homily on the Dormition)

The parallels with Lughnasadh begin to emerge. The Funeral of the Divine Mother, Light, and Self-Sacrifice, all themes of the ancient Feast, are present here, as well as the teaching of the Mystery Schools: our destiny is Divinization.  This is the culmination of one cycle, and the opening of the Season of Autumn, with so many associations.

Besides these two Great Feasts, Byzantine Christians also celebrate the Holy Maccabee Martyrs on July 31, and the Forefeast of the Procession of the Cross (Aug 1). Both image the theme of Self-Sacrifice.

St. Ignatius Loyola, by Peter Paul Rubens (1600s).

St. Ignatius Loyola, by Peter Paul Rubens (1600s).

Western Christians, and especially Jesuits—including the new Pope Francis—commemorate St. Ignatius Loyola on July 31, the Founder of the Society of Jesus. This mystic’s life and work was entirely devoted to Self-Sacrifice for the purpose of bringing all things to union with their source and origin, the Divine.  The theme prayer of the day, and of Jesuit Spirituality, is the famous Suscipe written by St. Ignatius and included in the addendum to his Spiritual Exercises, the Contemplation to obtain the Divine Love:

Suscipe, Domine, universam meam libertatem.
Accipe memoriam, intellectum, atque voluntatem omnem.
Quidquid habeo vel possideo mihi largitus es;
id tibi totum restituo, ac tuae prorsus voluntati trado gubernandum.
Amorem tui solum cum gratia tua mihi dones,
et dives sum satis, nec aliud quidquam ultra posco.

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty.
Accept my memory, my understanding and my entire will.
All I have and call my own, You have given to me;
to You, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what You will.
Give me only Your love and your grace,
And I am rich enough, and I do not need anything other than that.

Other mystics would see in this the Unitive Way, the complete union of the person’s will with the Divine—Cosmic—Will. The Latin of the Suscipe is not elegant by any stretch of the imagination, but its meaning is transcendent.

 A modern version of this prayer was set to music by Dan Schutte. Another version is by John Foley, S.J. 

Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, the Unknown Philosopher

Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, the Unknown Philosopher

This is what the inspiration for Martinism, the Unknown Philosopher and mystic Louis Claude de Saint-Martin strove for, as he mentions in a letter to his friend, the Baron of Liebistorf:

“…the only initiation I advocate and search for with all the ardor of my soul is the one through which we can enter into the heart of God and make God’s heart enter our own, there to make an indissoluble marriage which makes us friend, brother, and spouse of our Divine Repairer.

“There is no other mystery than to arrive at this holy initiation than to go more and more down into the depths of our being, and not let go till we can bring forth the living vivifying root, because then all the fruit which we ought to bear, according to our kind, will be produced within and without us naturally, as we see occurs with our earthly trees, because they are attached to their particular root, and do not cease to draw up its sap.”[2]

We Enter Autumn

With these reflections, we of the North enter the Season of Autumn, while our brothers and sisters in the Southern Hemisphere are entering Spring, complementary realities at work on our Planet. I hope that some of these thoughts and musings, from ancient Lughnasadh to modern-day commemorations, may resonate with you during this season. I am not an expert on Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and other Traditions. If you know parallels to what I have written here in other Paths, please add them in the comments.

The Peace of Autumn!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

[2] Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, “The Way of the Heart,” letter of June 19, 1797 to Kirchberger, Baron of Liebistorf. Published in Pantacle 2 (2002): 24-25 (San Jose, English Grand Lodge for the Americas, 2002).