Monday, 20 May 2013

Pentecost and Gemini

Here’s another of the numerous astronomical/zodiacal references in the Judaeo-Christian scriptures.

Pentecost Sunday, or Whit Sunday, considered by Christians to be the birthday of the church, was yesterday, 19th May. Pentecost means ‘fiftieth’, the fiftieth day after Easter, and since Easter always occurs when the sun is in Aries, Pentecost  always occurs around this date, when the sun enters Gemini. (Which it does this year on Tuesday, 21st May.) This is the time of year when the heat of the sun is:

not yet so equally diffused as when he shines directly down from his highest point of elevation, the summer solstice. In consequence of which the air is heated and rarefied, but partially, as over the sands of Africa; and over all those parts of the earth which reflect heat. So that the surrounding denser air, rushing in, in consequence causes those rushing mighty winds, which render the month of May full often peculiarly unpropitious to human health'. (Rev. Robert Taylor: The Devil's Pulpit)

This time of year is hurricane season, and, tragically, the tornado which devastated Oklahoma occurred on May 20th 2013.

The story of the first Christian Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit or the Holy Wind (pneuma in Greek means both 'spirit' and 'wind') comes upon Jesus's followers like a violent wind from heaven, is told in Chapter 2 of the Acts of the Apostles, and is full of Geminian references, all of them ignored by conventional commentators, particularly by those who think the story has some kind of historical basis.
The principal reference is to the Greek myth of Castor and Pollux, the twin stars of Gemini. Castor and Pollux were oviparous, born from eggs laid by Leda, the swan, after she had been seduced by Zeus. Their helmets (without which they are rarely depicted) were considered to be the remains of their birth eggs. Apollonius of Rhodes (3rd century BCE) tells us that Jason's Argonauts were saved by Castor and Pollux and that ever after they became the patrons of seafarers. Sailors believed that they appeared in the ship’s rigging in the form of what we now call St. Elmo’s fire, an electrical phenomenon which produces  a bright blue or violet flame-like glow on the top of tall structures like ships' masts, and which is often accompanied by a distinct hissing or buzzing sound. The phenomenon was mentioned by Pliny (first century CE) in his Natural History: On a voyage stars alight on the yards and other parts of the ship. If there are two of them, they denote safety and portend a successful voyage. For this reason they are called Castor and Pollux, and people pray to them as gods for aid at sea. (Book 2: para 101)

St. Elmo's Fire: Tongues of flame on a ship's mast

Castor and Pollux are generally shown with flames of fire playing round their heads, as in this Roman coin from about 150 BCE.



In the light of all this, what are we to make of this passage in Acts 2?

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Tongues of flame on the heads of Jesus's followers
 as they sit in their 'upper egg' at Pentecost
Duccio di Buonisegna (1308-11)

Gemini, ruled by Mercury, is associated with duality, splitting (the tongues of flame were said to be διαμεριζόμεναι, - 'cloven', 'separated') with communication in general and language in particular, which helps explain the next part of the story, in which the apostles seem remarkably polyglot, preaching in such a way that people from all over the known world were able to understand them.

In chapter 1 of Acts we are told that the company is sitting in an ὑπερῷον -  'hupero-on'; this is translated as 'upper room', but the Greek literally means 'the egg up above'. So, just as Castor and Pollux are born from a egg, so is the church.

Where's the history?

(Incidentally, when we know that Castor and Pollux, the Gemini Twins, were the patrons of seafarers in the ancient world, we can understand why the writer of the Gospel of Mark introduces the Gemini section of his Gospel - 4:35-6:29 -  with the story of the Calming of the Windstorm on the Sea of Galilee.)


Saturday, 18 May 2013

Gemini (1): 'I Contain Multitudes'


 21st May – 20th June



Gemini, by Dan Hodgkin


Gemini, the Twins, is the first of the Air signs, and concerns duality, fragmentation, communication, brothers and sisters. Its strength is versatility, its weakness duplicity. The two principal stars in the constellation are Castor and Pollux, which were considered the protectors of sailors. Its decans are Lepus, (the Hare), Canis Major (the Big Dog), whose principal star is Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, and Canis Minor (the Little Dog). In early classical days Canis Major was simply called Canis, after Laelaps the hound of Actaeon. Notice the unusual construction of the story of Jairus’ Daughter and the Woman with the Blood Flow: it’s the only ‘double’ miracle in the gospel. In this section Sodom and Gomorrah - 'the twin towns' as they were called - are mentioned, and the apostles are sent out 'two by two'.

Reading: Mark 5:1-20
They came to the other side of the lake into the land of the Gerasenes, and no sooner was he out of the boat than a man with an unclean spirit approached him. This man was living among the tombs in the graveyard and he was so out of control that no one could subdue him or even chain him. In the past he’d been bound hand and foot, but he’d pulled the chains apart and smashed the shackles. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was crying out and bruising himself with stones.  When he saw Jesus in the distance he ran and fell on his knees, paying him homage and shouting at the top of his voice, ‘What’s your business with me, Jesus, son of God Most High? I beg you in God’s name don’t torment me!’ He said this because Jesus was ordering the unclean spirit to come out of him. Jesus asked, ‘What is your name?’ He replied, ‘My name is Legion; there’s a whole gang of us.’ He kept begging Jesus not to send them all out of that region.

        There was a great herd of pigs feeding on the hillside, and the demons shouted out, ‘Send us into the pigs! We want to go into them!’ Jesus gave them permission, and the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs, and the herd of about two thousand dashed headlong down the steep slope into the sea where they drowned. The herdsmen ran off and told the story so that people came from town and country to see what had happened. They came to Jesus and they looked at the man who’d been possessed by the legion of demons, and when they saw that he was now dressed and sane they were terrified. Those who had witnessed it related what had happened to the possessed man and to the pigs, and they began to implore Jesus to leave their neighbourhood. When he got into the boat, the man who’d been possessed begged that he might go along with him, but Jesus wouldn’t allow it, and said to him, ‘Go home to your family and tell them what the Lord has done for you and how he’s taken pity on you.’ But the man went away and began to announce in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him, and everyone was amazed.

Gemini (1): I Contain Multitudes 

The teacher asked the class: ‘If all the good people in the world were blue and all the bad people

were yellow, what colour would you be?’

‘I’d be green,’ said Mary.


(This sermon was delivered in late May 2007)


Last week the Irish tabloids went to town on the case of a Catholic priest who had been tricked into revealing details of his homosexuality to a journalist. Pictures of the priest in his underpants appeared in the press midweek, and the poor man has had to take temporary leave of absence, but it is doubtful that he will ever be able to return to the parish that he has served so well for so many years. ‘I’m so ashamed says gay priest’, runs the headline in the Irish Daily Mail, and inside there is the regulation stuff about homosexuals in the clergy, and the Catholic Church’s celibacy laws, plus conflicting views about whether a man who has broken his vows is fit to minister. All perfectly predictable, of course, but the debate was given an added dimension because this man (whom I refuse to name) had been an exemplary pastor, much loved by his people, who, in a high profile incident four years ago, had been a source of comfort and solace to a young family who lost a child in tragic circumstances.

            The Irish Daily Mail tried to be fair – in so far as devoting the front page and two inside pages to a case like this in which no laws have been broken can ever be considered fair – by printing an article by Roslyn Dee with the headline ‘This man needs sympathy not sanctimony’ to balance the ‘I’m sorry but his actions are sinful’ rant by Hermann Kelly. But the intention of this kind of journalism is always to leave us shaking our heads as we pose the question, ‘Can a man with unusual sexual tastes be a caring and effective counsellor and friend? Can a sinner be a good priest?’ ‘Is he this, or is he that?’ The answer is, he’s both, and a good deal besides. He’s a complicated, flawed human being, neither blue nor yellow, but green, just like you and me, just like the Sun journalist who ‘exposed’ him and who now can, presumably, sleep comfortably in his bed, secure in the knowledge that he has protected the community from yet another sex fiend, while at the same time banking a sizeable cheque from his editor.

How we long to sum someone up in a sentence or two, or even a word or two. But the fact is that we can’t really give a comprehensive definition of anybody. All of us, celebrity and nonentity alike, are a complex mixture of contradictory features. Mother Theresa, champion of the poor, supped with oppressive dictators; Gandhi, dedicated to celibacy, slept with young women ‘to test his resolve’; Dickens, whose works relentlessly attack cruelty and injustice, treated his first wife abominably; Hitler, the 20th century’s most reviled man, was a vegetarian and would weep at the music of Wagner; Martin Luther King, a contemporary saint and martyr, found it difficult to keep his trousers buttoned, as did the influential theologian Paul Tillich. When I spoke on this topic before – at the beginning of 2004 – the previous day’s paper, rather coincidentally, furnished two more examples: an article about Ronnie Biggs, the great train robber, written by his son, entitled, ‘My Beloved Father, the Train Robber’, and a review of a biography of Carl Jung, which appeared under the headline, ‘A Man in Two Minds’, told us that he was ‘never quite sure which of the two versions of himself he was most impressed by, the inspired, tormented eccentric, or the respectable, assured, bourgeois professional’. Jung, undoubtedly one of the most remarkable spiritual writers of modern times, was called by Freud ‘a snob and a mystic’ and Freud was right on both counts. Jung’s lifelong quest for God did not eliminate his equally lifelong obsession with glamorous cars.

Tolstoy, whose novels delineate human motivation with unparalleled sensitivity, was, we are told, quite indifferent to his wife and family, and Tolstoy himself expresses this paradoxical quality of the human being in his last novel, Resurrection:


One of the most widespread superstitions is that every person has his or her own special definite qualities: that he or she is kind, cruel, wise, stupid, energetic, apathetic, and so on. People are not like that. We may say of a man that he is more often kind than cruel, more often wise than stupid, more often energetic than apathetic, or the reverse, but it would not be true to say of one man that he is kind and wise, and another that he is bad and stupid.  And yet we always classify people in this way. And this is false........Every person bears within him or herself the germs of every human quality, but sometimes one quality manifests itself, sometimes another, and the person often becomes unlike him or herself, while still remaining the same person. (page 211)


To be human is to be complex and inconsistent, and one would expect that the spiritual writers of the past should be alert to such a conspicuous – and troublesome - feature of our nature. And so they are. Mark’s Gospel deals with it in the third section, what I have called the Gemini section, which would have been read and discussed at this time of the year, when the sun has entered the sign of Gemini. Gemini is the Twins, the first of those signs which modern astrologers call ‘Mutable’ – changeable – but which the ancient Greek writers called ‘two-bodied’. These signs – Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius and Pisces – come in between the four seasons of the year and so each of them bears the qualities of two states of weather. Gemini comes between spring and summer, and has characteristics of both. Its symbol is the twin poles, joined at top and bottom, expressing the duality of the season and, according to the old theory, the duality inherent in all of us, but especially in those who are born at this time of the year.

The two stars of the constellation Gemini are Castor and Pollux which, in mythology were said to be the protectors of sailors. Homer wrote a poem to the ‘great twin brethren’, who, he said, would swiftly come to the aid of sailors in distress, lulling the storm and enabling the mariners to ‘plough the quiet sea in safe delight’. Now we can understand why Mark introduces this third section of his Gospel with the story of the Calming of the Storm. But this is not the story I want to concentrate on today (I’ll be dealing with it next week). Today I’m more interested in the episode which follows it, the story of the man possessed by 2000 demons, since this deals with the idea of human inconsistency in a particularly vivid way.

     This man, often referred to as the Gerasene Demoniac, had been living among the tombs, and no one could bind him or restrain him. ‘What is your name?’ asks Jesus. The man’s reply is strange: ‘My name is Legion, for we are many,’ he says. Jesus casts out the demons, sending them into two thousand pigs which go hurtling down the steep bank and drown in the lake.

     This incident with the pigs always used to trouble me, especially in former times when I believed that the Gospels were history of a sort; the story would probably vex animal rights activists even now. But I no longer waste my energies asking mundane, practical questions of spiritual stories. The story has no historical basis, but it does have a psychological one: this man with the demons is you and I. Each of us has a number of warring elements within our psyche, and the pig, which, according to the Book of Leviticus (11:17) is unclean to Jews because it has a split hoof, completely divided, symbolises this fragmentation; the division of the pig’s foot mirrors the multiple divisions in the human mind.

With the benefits of modern psychiatric knowledge, we cannot fail to see in the man with the two thousand demons an example of that most Geminian of conditions, schizophrenia, or split‑personality. In fact, the term ‘multiple‑personality’ would be a better description. This is an actual mental disorder, but we do not need to restrict the use of the term to describe those in whom the symptoms manifest so dramatically. We are all ‘split‑personalities’, since, as Aldous Huxley tells us, the complex human personality is made up of ‘a quite astonishingly improbable combination of traits’. He goes on:


Thus a man can be at once the craftiest of politicians and the dupe of his own verbiage, can have a passion, for brandy and money, and an equal passion for the poetry of George Meredith and under-age girls and his mother, for horse-racing and detective stories and the good of his country – the whole accompanied by a sneaking fear of hell-fire, a hatred of Spinoza and an unblemished record for Sunday church-going. (The Perennial Philosophy, page 48)


Robert Maxwell:
 'at least 20 different people at once.'
The character and career of British publisher Robert Maxwell (born 10th June, 1923) provide a spectacular example of this. Following his death in November 1991, The Guardian newspaper printed an assessment of the man by British journalist Geoffrey Goodman. Goodman asked how it had been possible for Maxwell to fool so many people for so long. He continues:


My own theory from observations of the man at close quarters during the year and a half I worked for him at the Daily Mirror is that he was at all times at least 20 different people at once. It was usually impossible to know which one I was dealing with at any one moment ‑ and I later came to the conclusion that he wasn't sure either. The 20 different personalities were in constant struggle with each other..... (6th December, 1991)


The practitioners of Assagioli's system of personality integration, Psychosynthesis, often refer to the crowd‑like nature of the human psyche. And Geminian Salman Rushdie (born 19th June, 1947), writes: 


O, the dissociations of which the human mind is capable, marvelled Saladin gloomily. O, the conflicting selves jostling and joggling within these bags of skin. No wonder we are unable to remain focused on anything for long; no wonder we invent remote-control channel-hopping devices. If we turned these instruments on ourselves we’d discover more channels than a cable or satellite mogul ever dreamed of. (The Satanic Verses, page 519)


Peter Ouspensky, who was a disciple of the Russian mystic Gurdieff, likens the ordinary human being – you and me – to a house full of servants without a master or a steward to look after them.  ‘So, the servants do what they like; none of them does his own work. The house is in a state of complete chaos, because all the servants try to do someone else’s work which they are not competent to do. The cook works in the stables, the coachman in the kitchen, and so on. The only possibility for things to improve is if a certain number of servants decide to elect one of themselves as a deputy steward and in this way make him control the other servants. He can do only one thing: he puts each servant where he belongs and so they begin to do their right work.’ This, says Ouspensky, is the beginning of the creation of a ‘controlling I’; until that time we are a great many disconnected I’s, divided into certain groups, some of which don’t even know each other.

Walt Whitman (born May 29th) puts it more succinctly than all of them:


Do I contradict myself?

Very well then, I contradict myself.

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

 (Leaves of Grass)



Walt Whitman: 'I contain multitudes'
We can all say, ‘My name is Legion’ with the demon-possessed man, or ‘I am large, I contain multitudes’ with Walt Whitman. ‘When a man lacks discrimination, his will wanders in all directions, after innumerable aims,’ says the Hindu classic The Bhagavad Gita.  But the spiritual writers do not stop at mere observation; the object of all spiritual practice, whatever the tradition, is the transformation of Legion into Union, the reduction of the many to the one, the fashioning of singularity and simplicity from duality and complexity. This difficult movement towards simplicity, and not the pleasant cultivation of ‘nice feelings’ is what, in large part, any genuine spiritual practice attempts to effect. Aldous Huxley maintains that the saint is characterised by simplicity and singularity of purpose, qualities which are completely at odds with the lifestyle and appetites of sophisticated and mentally active people like us, who constantly seek novelty, diversity, and distraction.  The actions of the saints, says Huxley, ‘are as monotonously uniform as their thoughts; for in all circumstances they behave selflessly, patiently, and with indefatigable charity’. Their biographies, he goes on, are of no interest to us because ‘Legion prefers to read about Legion’; complexity and contradiction fascinate us; simplicity leaves us unmoved

Becoming ‘simple’, or becoming saintly, requires effort, and it may well be that, for most of us, it is an unappealing prospect. I seem to be quite content in my diversity, so I cannot recommend that you take inordinate steps to reduce your own.  I’m not ready to cast out my demons, so maybe I’m not ready for sainthood yet!  (It is important to point out, I think, that we need to control our diverse elements, not destroy them.)  But Ouspensky, who devised a complicated system specially designed to bring about a psychic unity, tells us that the first stage on the way to transformation is the realisation of one’s own fragmentation, and the acceptance of it as a reality, and this can only come with constant self-observation. I am certainly prepared to do this. Learn to become aware of your own inconsistency, your own automatic reactions to circumstances, because each time we make ourselves aware of these things, says Ouspensky, their hold upon us is weakened. We may not wish to go further than observation, but this is probably enough to make a significant difference to our self-understanding, and it will certainly help to check our tendency to make simplistic, partial, unkind, and hypocritical judgements about the behaviour of others.
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Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Taurus (2): Letting the Light Shine

Taurus (2): Letting the Light Shine

Story: The Dog in the Hall of Mirrors
There once was a dog who wondered into a room filled with mirrors. The dog looked around and seeing all of the other dogs, growled and showed his teeth. Upon seeing all of the other dogs do the same, he got frightened and cowered.
When he noticed the other dogs cowering, he once again growled and started barking. A similar reaction from the others made him cower and become very frightened once again. This continued over and over until the dog finally fell over, dead from emotional and physical exhaustion. One must stop and consider what would have happened if the dog had only once wagged its tail.

The world is merely a reflection of our attitude toward it.

Two weeks ago I was speaking about the Parable of the Sower, which can be found in the fourth chapter of Mark’s Gospel – the chapter which I believe reflects the zodiacal sign of Taurus, the first of the so-called Earth signs. The imagery of this chapter is almost entirely agricultural, and the lessons of the section concern growth in the spiritual life. Today I want to have a cursory look at some of the other parables which can be found in this section, but first I want to talk about parables in general: what are parables, and why are they such a popular means of instruction among the world’s great spiritual teachers?

          The word ‘parable’ comes from the Greek, and it means ‘thrown beside’. A parable is something – usually a story – which is placed beside something else for the sake of comparison. The parable is an attempt to explain in simple narrative terms something that would otherwise appear complicated or abstruse, and spiritual teachers have used them since the beginning of time for three main reasons. First, they have the natural appeal of all stories. No matter how old we are, or how sophisticated we consider ourselves to be, we are all captivated by the words, ‘Once upon a time....’ Stories cannot fail to get our attention. The second reason is that stories engage our imagination and our judgement in ways that theological discourse does not. With a story we are obliged to come to our own conclusions, and these conclusions may differ according to the individual, so there is an ‘open-ended’ quality to a story, and room for the imagination to roam around.

The third, but by no means the least important reason, is that stories are memorable; generally speaking, we only need to hear a story - or a joke - once before we are ready to tell it, and once it is fixed in the memory it can be accessed even years later without too much trouble. Contrast this with mathematical theorems, chemical formulae, historical dates, geographical features, theological propositions and the like, which stay in our memory just long enough for us to use them in the examination before disappearing without trace. Sarah Tinker, our minister in Kensington, tells how she recently met up with a group of old school friends and they discussed what they could remember about their years of secondary schooling. The only thing they had a clear memory of from a dozen years of schooling was the formation of an ox-bow lake. It’s a common experience, which our educators, with their growing concern to impart a ‘body’ of knowledge, would do well to take notice of. But, for all that these women have forgotten the facts, I’ll bet they can remember the stories their teachers told them, or read to them. I can certainly recall the ones that I was told. I can still remember, well over fifty years ago, listening while the teacher read us the Labours of Hercules, or The Adventures of Wurzel Gummidge, or Peter Pan, or Children of the New Forest. Facts disappear: stories stick.

The power of the story was not lost on Jesus. When asked – as reported in Luke’s Gospel – ‘Who is my neighbour?’ by a man who wanted to put him to the test, Jesus did not reply with a philosophical or sociological definition like, ‘In popular usage, your neighbour is the person who lives in close proximity, usually next door. But, taken in a wider sense, it refers to anyone who may be in need of your assistance.’ No. Jesus told a story. ‘A certain man was travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho....’ he began, and he went on to tell the story of the Good Samaritan, one of the most important and memorable stories in the whole of religious literature. And at the end of the story, Jesus’ questioner was asked to draw his own conclusions, thereby producing an impact on the listener that would be impossible with a lengthy and convoluted argument.

But the spiritual story was not the invention of Jesus. In the Jewish scriptures we read how Nathan the prophet brought King David to repent his shameful treatment of Uriah the Hittite by telling him a story. David was taking the air on the roof of his house one day when he spied the beautiful Bathsheba, whose husband Uriah was away at the wars. David seduced her, and, on learning that she had become pregnant, arranged for her husband to be killed. He then took her as his own wife. The prophet Nathan came to David and told him the story of a poor man who had just one lamb, which he treated like one of his own children. However, a rich man, with plenty of sheep, had an unexpected visitor, and so he took the poor man’s lamb and slaughtered it. ‘What do you think should happen to such a man?’ asks Nathan. ‘He is deserving of death,’ thundered an indignant David. ‘You are that man,’ says Nathan, fearlessly. ‘Stealing the wife of Uriah the Hittite was even more reprehensible than what this rich man did.’ Nathan’s parable alerted David to the monstrous nature of his sin.

The stories I tell the children here on Sundays are for the most part similar spiritual parables, and the fact that they are taken from all the world’s spiritual traditions – Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Christian etc. – underlines the ubiquity of the story as a vital aid in spiritual teaching. Today’s story, the Dog in the Hall of Mirrors, from the Zen Buddhist tradition, illustrates one of the oldest and most widespread spiritual teachings of all: the principle of karma, or the notion that the external world reflects the internal disposition. ‘What you give out will be what you get back.’ If you perceive the world as hostile it is because you yourself are harbouring hostility; remove your own hostility and you’ll find that the external world will cease to threaten you. This principle is also found in chapter four of Mark’s Gospel, although it does not appear in story form. ‘What you give out will be what you get back,’ says Jesus.

How strange then, in the light of all this, that Jesus says something very odd about parables in the Gospel of Mark. He doesn’t say that he tells parables because they are pithy, engaging, memorable, or powerful, as we might expect. He says that he tells them in order to keep the truth from people.


When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, ‘The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parable, so that ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding, otherwise they might turn and be forgiven. (Mark 4:10-11)


What is implied here is that there is a secret teaching which is only imparted to a certain few – those ‘inside the house’; to those ‘on the outside’ everything is given in parables.

          We can only guess the nature of that secret teaching, but I am sure that it had something to do with the approach to Mark’s Gospel which we are studying in these sessions: that there is a ‘hidden’ meaning behind all the Gospel stories, and that this meaning will only be imparted to those who are ready to receive it. The rest will have to be content with parables.

          But this ‘hidden meaning’ will not remain hidden for ever. In the verses which immediately follow the Parable of the Sower, Jesus says,


Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear. (Mark 4:21-23)


This is one of the passages which gave me a ‘eureka’ moment when I was researching my theory of Mark’s Gospel structure. It is the only ‘parable’ in this section which does not use agricultural imagery, and so I wondered what possible connection it could have with the sign Taurus. I considered the possibility that it was an interpolation – that is, a passage slipped in by a later editor. But when I began to investigate the astronomy and the mythology associated with Taurus I realised that it was precisely where it should be. In the ancient world Taurus was always associated with ‘light’ principally because in and around the constellation Taurus are some of the most spectacular sights in the night sky. Orion, which dominates the winter sky and is probably the one constellation which everyone can identify, is close by Taurus, and Taurus itself was called ‘The Bull of Light’ by the Babylonians. In the shoulder of the Bull are the Pleiades, which have inspired more poetry and song than any other stellar grouping, and, as I mentioned last time, were used by farmers in the ancient world to determine when they would plant and harvest their crops.




The Nebra Disk  (c.1660 BCE)
The Pleiades are at the top right


But what the ancient sky watchers found so intriguing about the Pleiades was the fact that there was no agreement about how many stars the naked eye could see. Some authors say that you can see six, some say you can see seven. Consequently, the mythology of the Pleiades concerned seven daughters, six of whom were married to gods, and so became immortal, but one of whom was married to a mortal; so, while six immortal stars shone brightly, the mortal one was only dimly visible, and only occasionally seen. Now we can understand why this little piece occurs where it does in Mark: ‘For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open.’

          We must be careful not to misinterpret this little saying of Jesus. It is not a threat of exposure and embarrassment: it is a promise of enlightenment. Jesus is not saying that God, like some celestial Big Brother, is spying on us and that every one of our secret vices will be made known to the world at some time in the future; he is saying that the deepest and most obscure truths about the nature of the world and the purpose of human life can and will become clear to us. How will that occur? Jesus says that we don’t know how, any more than we know how it is that the seed which the farmer scatters on the ground eventually becomes a plant. The farmer simply does what he has to do and trusts that the mysterious process of transformation will take place.

So it is with our own enlightenment. It does not require us to engage in some self-conscious and narcissistic activity called ‘spiritual development’. The promise is that it will come to us as we go about our daily life in a spirit of wakeful attentiveness. Listen to this passage:


When I was four, a sound slipped into my bedroom and woke me up. It was a persistent sound of scratching on my window screen. It was an awful sound, really. Loud and grating, and given the darkness and shadowy images moving across the curtains, I suppose I could have become afraid. But I wasn’t. I was struck only with curiosity, with a kind of wonder about this noise in the darkness. I remember lying in bed imagining increasingly magical explanations for it, unaware that I was about to engage a mystery that would in some way linger with me for the rest of my life. Armed with an array of vivid possibilities, I crept out of bed and made my way through the house to my parents’ bed. I shook my mother’s shoulder. ‘Mama, there is an angel scratching against my window’.

I waited to hear what she would say… …She did not say, ‘The scratching on your window is only the wind dragging an old branch across the screen. It’s nothing. Go back to bed’.

Instead, even groggy with sleep, she knew that the ability to let go and listen creatively to the world as a mythic and sacred place, that the power to listen to the humdrum and the familiar and hear the sacred possibility of music inside it is a tender, fragile thing, easily lost. So, rather than douse my first foray into holy imaginings, she put her blessing on it. She said, ‘An angel? Wonderful. Say hello for me’. (Sue Monk Kidd: Beliefnet 15th April 2007).


When the seed of the Spirit is nurtured and watered by constant care; when we trust in the power of the Spirit to transform our lives in its own way and in its own time, then we may begin to hear the divine voice within the apparently chaotic and cacophonous sounds of the world. We will begin to see and to perceive, to hear and to understand. We may not be able to articulate what we discover; we will certainly not be able to put it into a creed or a series of propositions; but when we suddenly realize that the scratching on the window is announcing the presence of an angel, that (in Tagore's words) the world has a deeper meaning than what is apparent, we will know that our consciousness has been transformed and the kingdom of God has arrived.

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