Mirth Lightens…

…let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

—The Charge of the Goddess

Here continues a series of blog entries undertaking to examine each of the eight qualities that our Great Mother advises us to cherish in our hearts.

What Is Mirth?

merriment_outside_rome

Harvest merriment outside the walls of Rome.

Mirth means joy or pleasure although modern dictionaries equate the word mirth with laughter & levity. The word itself is simply the noun form of the adjective merry, which means pleasant, agreeable, or sweet. Every winter in the USA people wish each other a “Merry Christmas” while across the Atlantic the British express the same sentiment as “Happy Christmas.”

A traditional time for merriment is after the annual harvest—grain, fruits, fish, nuts—has been successfully gathered and stored. Harvest Home festivities include the early October Erntedankfest in Germany including the famed Munich Oktoberfest, Thanksgiving in Canada on October‘s second Monday, and Michaelmas in Scotland at the end of September—a occasion which inherits customs from the Celtic games at Lughnasadh.

Mirth Without

“We all need joy, and we can all receive joy…by adding to the joy of others.”
—Eknath Easwaran, The End of Sorrow

“Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased…”
—Spider Robinson

CAbuckeye-flowerspikeMirth or merriment is sometimes where one finds it. The seasonal Easter marquee that fronts a local (Christian) church along a minor arterial street in my neck of the woods reiterates the annual proclamation I’ve heard & seen for 60 years…“He is risen!”—for years an in-your-face irritant of springtide, at least when combined with the annual plague of grass allergies.

EARLYARTFreyrMost recently, the image that brought mind is the priapic image of the flowering California buckeye in all its phallic glory—in its turn a reminder of the sacred sexuality of the Hornéd One. And I burst out laughing, with a whole new twist on that old irritation—one that will no longer irk as it has for decades.

Mirth Within

Clearly, having mirth within you is not the same thing as laughing all the time. Mirth is an attitude, taking joy in everyday things, being pleasant with yourself and with others. Certainly laughter may be a result of such an attitude, and supports the attitude itself. Mirth and merriment acts to counter-weight life‘s inevitable irritations and frustrations; much more significant is support of such attitude when facing crisis, tragedy, and loss.

“They that love mirth, let them heartily drink,
‘Tis the only receipt to make sorrow sink.”
—Ben Jonson, Entertainments

dog-bones

NOTHING is like a Burden Cloth!

Enjoying small things even in the midst of sorrow is an instance of keeping at least a spark mirth within. Although I grieved at the death of my mother, I took pleasure in the knowledge that she was able to live her life independently until the end; she sold her Burden Cloth totes at Eugene‘s Tuesday Market the very day before her death. As I gave instructions for her bodily disposal, I handed the funeral home one of her own Farm Size Burden Cloth™ totes to be used for her shroud…and she still wore the prior day‘s t-shirt, one she”d had silkscreened with the image at left & beneath it: “NOTHING is like a Burden Cloth!

Other aspects of her disposal also pleased me, as it would her—the funeral home had arrangements with a local MD who would remove her pacemaker (not suited for either burial or cremation), containing as it did heavy metals)…and although the MD could not do so within the USA, he workd with an organization that sterilized such used pacemakers and supplied their life-saving technology to patients in poor countries abroad. Carol ones wrote an article entitled “Where in the world is Away” on the topic of re-use and re-cycling. I could feel her approval as I signed the paperwork for that detail. Odd to feel pleasure amid the grief. Odd, but true, and supportive. Mirth—joy or pleasure or merriment or even levity—does indeed lighten the spirit.

Humility Equalizes…

…let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

—The Charge of the Goddess

Here continues a series of blog entries undertaking to examine each of the eight qualities that our Great Mother advises us to cherish in our hearts.

What Is Humility?

Having humility means to be humble. And humble means “modest, lowly in manner, respectful”—the word derives from the same root as the word humus, the organic matter of soil…or, what comes out of your compost heap when it is ready to dig into your vegetable garden. Grounded, rooted, earthed—those are the words I would also choose as having similar meaning, certainly in a magical sense.

While I expound on definitions, here are a few more root meanings that follow through the maze of interrelated definitions:

  • modest—self-controlled, moderate, temperate
  • manner—method, appearance, custom, bearing
  • respect—regard, esteem, favor

“Pride separates people; humility joins them.”
—Socrates, c. 5th century BCE

This quote of Socrates’ supports something I & my high priest taught our students for the past two decades—if you boil Wicca down to a one-word core concept, it is “connection”; (K.C.’s example for Christianity was “forgiveness” or for Buddhism was “mindfulness”). Humility joins people, and that junction, that connection, so key to the love and trust intrinsic to Wiccan magic & Wiccan ritual—that connection depends on the equalizing effect of humility as much as it depends on that love and trust.

Humility Without

I choose to employ modest as the most useful synonym for humility. Moderate in manner, showing respect for others, holding one‘s own accomplishments as equal in worth to those of others—those are traits of a humble person.

…remember what peace there may be in silence…
Speak your truth quietly and clearly

Keep interested in your own career, however humble…
—Max Ehrmann, Desiderata excerpts

Humility Within

“As if true pride
Were not also humble!”
—Robert Browning

Without resorting an exposition on the necessity of self-esteem, I will simply say that the healthy spirit values its own achievements, addresses and repairs its own failures, and rejects both undeserved praise together with undeserved opprobrium. Aristotle wordily discusses, in his Nicomachean Ethics, what I will summarize as a spectrum of internal evaluation, or self-esteem: with inappropriate humility at one end and vainglory at the far end; he places earned pride as a balanced midpoint. Browning‘s simple couplet encapsulates Aristotle’s essay, yet both emphasize the value of knowing one’s own worth.

 

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Honor Enriches…

…let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

—The Charge of the Goddess

Here continues a series of blog entries undertaking to examine each of the eight qualities that our Great Mother advises us to cherish in our hearts.

What Is Honor?

Definitions feel more emphatic when a word retains its nature for more than two millennia, especially in this bleeding-edge society where yesterday’s newest invention equals tomorrow’s midden-filling. Honor/honour is defined (and has been defined since BCE Rome) “dignity or reputation.” As is my habit, I dug a little deeper, chasing definitions of the definition, and find that dignity means “worth (or worthiness), proper, fitting.” My fellow BTW initiates may take particular note of those two words: proper and worthy—both used within our core ceremonies to identify someone newly become one of the Wicca.

One’s reputation is built upon others’ experience. Everything you do and say creates your reputation; nothing you do or say is likely to improve a poor reputation except possibly a sea change in one’s words & deeds over considerable time.

  • Keep your word
    Making promises is easy; keeping them often hard. Think first, before you give a promise, even to a child (especially to a child, children remember broken promises!)
  • Pay your debts
    Whether monies owed are a formal, paper-recorded commitment or merely a nod or handshake to a friend who covers one’s lunch tab the day before payday, cold hard cash is as memorable a broken promise as there is. As an indicator of anyone’s trustworthiness, the earthy reality of gelt/wampum/dough/scratch/valuta speaks volumes, silently.
  • Be on time
    “Pagan Standard Time” is a poor attempt at humor. It is not funny. Public circles or sabbats or events that start 60 to 90 minutes after the published starting time induce low regard for aught that names itself Pagan—religions, traditions, faiths: Witch, Lodge Magic, Druid, Asatru, Voudon, Heathen, Wiccan, Troth, Thelema, etc.

Doubtless other examples will occur to my readers, but I believe those are enough to sharpen my point. In societies around the globe and across thousands of years, honor/honour is a commodity valued in actual noble metals.

  • Norse and related societies paid weregild penalty in compensation for murder & manslaughter
  • Celtic peoples recorded in brehon law how “honor price” was to be calculated and paid
  • A man’s standing, known as dignitas, was a social asset in Republican Rome
  • Today as much as yesterday, Asian societies rely on the virtual lubrication of face

Honor Without

Today, the highest honor given to ordinary people in the USA is the Congressional Medal of Honor.  The very name of this highest civilian recognition—the Medal of Honor—imparts some small sense of the respect given to recipients, and the worth of those recipients to be so honored.

Honor Without

Today, the highest honor given to ordinary people in the USA is the Congressional Medal of Honor.  The very name of this highest civilian recognition—the Medal of Honor—imparts some small sense of the respect given to recipients, and the worth of those recipients to be so honored.

mary_edwards_walkerMOH

Mary Edwards Walker, MD, sole woman ever to receive the Medal of Honor She wore it throughout her lifetime.

As the previous sentence demonstrates, it is impossible to speak or write of the concept of honor/honour without using the very words we employ to define it. Alas, such circular definitions may limit comprehension of a new concept—but the notion of honor, of worth, of respect are enacted on playgrounds every day. Our culture may value individual honor/honour above the sociodynamic face of many other cultures, yet we adopted the concept into English almost as soon as, historically, we encountered it (early 19th century, per dictionaries). Children & adults alike grasp the relationship concept of saving face or losing face—in the classroom, in the courtroom, in the conference room, and in the bedroom.

Honor Within

Quotes say so much about this topic, and so vividly, that the many voices speak louder than mine:

…honour is a possession of soul…
—de la Barca, The Mayor of Salamea

And as the sun breaks through the darkest clouds,
So honour peereth in the meanest habit.
—Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew

For titles do not reflect honor on men, but rather men on their titles.
—Machiavelli, Dei Discorsi

The nation’s honor is dearer than the nation’s comfort; yes, than the nation’s life itself.
—Woodrow Wilson

Beyond that, I note that one’s self-esteem translates into French as amour propre—a phrase which translates idiomatically to self-esteem, but when dissassembled into amour/love and propre/clean, appropriate, or particular to oneself. My own take on this concept reminds me of moment in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden:

Tha doesna like this one and tha doesna like that one. How does tha like thysen, then?
(Translated from the Yorkshire dialect: “Thou dost not like this one and thou dost not like that one. How dost thou like thyself, then?”)

 

 

Compassion Shares

…let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

—The Charge of the Goddess

Here continues a series of blog entries undertaking to examine each of the eight qualities that our Great Mother advises us to cherish in our hearts.

What Is Compassion?

As has become my habit, I begin with the word itself. Its medieval meaning in old French is defined as sympathy or pity…from a Latin word having the same meaning, and that originates from from the Latin word roots, com “together” and pati “to suffer.” At its root, compassion is constructed from Latin roots meaning to suffer together.

When it comes to suffering, our first thought is of bodily suffering:  ill health, injury, and death.

NZ funeral procession

New Zealand spontaneous funeral procession

NOLAJazzFuneral

New Orleans jazz funeral procession—marching band & horse-drawn hearse

In our mundane lives, there are commercial sympathy cards to send after a death. Like compassion, the roots of the word sympathy mean a community of feeling, from the older Greek language rather than Latin. Wakes & funerals, memorials & “celebrations of life”—all of these human mourning rituals center around sharing the suffering, expressing the grief, supporting the most-stricken. Suffering togetherEmpathy is a term often used today to describe this sort of fellow-feeling.

Compassion Without

To paraphrase Albert Schweitzer (writing in Kulturphilosophie, 1923), “Until we extend the circle of our compassion to all living things, we will not ourselves find peace.”

“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.” ~ Thomas Merton 1968

Fellow-feeling is not limited to the compassion humans show other humans:

  • The very first Society for the Prevention of Cruety to Animals was founded in the UK in 1824. There are now dozens, perhaps hundreds, of SPCA organizations aroImage result for oil spill animal rescueund the globe.
  • International Bird Rescue was founded in 1971 to address the plight of oiled birds and animals fouled by oil spills at sea and along shore.
  • Notecards of sympathy for accident or illness are popularly known as get-well cards. And so commonplace are they that commercial publishers routinely stock co-worker cards, family-member cards, accident cards, illness cards, etc.
  • Guest housing at no cost is made available by hospitals for family supporting inpatients having major treatment therein. In February 2014, I stayed in such when I was my sister’s driver and “coach” for a total knee replacement hours away from my home and hers.

Hundreds, even thousands, of organizations non-profit or religious or community-based, exist to support every sort of ailment, accident, ecological mishap, and ever-diminishing wild lands and wildlife. The fact that so many exist is tribute to the generosity of human spirit.

https://i1.wp.com/www.cowichanvalleymuseum.bc.ca/archival-collection/gallery/Potlatches/1982.11.1.1.jpg

Potlatch mask dancers

It is community that makes grief in the face of death & tragedy bearable. “Crying together” as an author described it, sharing memories and faux pas, hearing tales from friends or family that bereaved others had never heard. Whether the community of death takes the form of an Irish wake, or Tlingit funeral potlatch, a New Orleans jazz funeral or the ballyhooed first responder’s death-on-duty funeral with its national attendance and miles-long procession of firefighter and LEO vehicles—it is the community, that fellow-feeling, that supports the spirits when one’s own are at their lowest ebb.

 

Compassion in the Occult

One of the first things witches use magic for is healing. They are often asked to aid non-witches, and within the many traditions of Wicca, word will spread rapidly when a serious illness or injury affects one of our own. I have personally done healing work, alone and with a full coven, for the benefit of witchy-kin with colon repair, thyroid cancer,  heart attack, and a diabetic struck ambulance-hard with influenza. In my turn, I received considerable magical support when I suffered a disabling stroke (“cardiovascular accident”) at the young age of fifty…and a week following my admittance to hospital (where I spent 5 days), I was able to attend the planned first of a series of Intro to Wicca classes long-planned. I have seen my share of intentional miracles. It is less than a year since I burned my candle on behalf of another well-known witch stroke-struck, and I’m happy to say that person was a scant two days in hospital and much faster rehab.

Image result for Robin Wood Tarot celtic cross spread

Because birth families usually control the handling of body disposition and public funeral rites, often in religious formats far removed from Wicca, Witches usually hold their own ”crossing rites” for their dear departed—circles in which a deceased coven member is mourned, remembered, waked, and sometimes offered the opportunity to share departing messages through divinatory tools or a mediumistic coven-mate. Quoted below is a short segment of the closing to such a crossing rite, penned at the outset of 2001, and used by me in both personal and public crossing rites since then.

Of body & bone, of earth & stone, of things once owned, be free!
Of blood & tears, of weary years, of ancient fears, be free!
Of passions tamed, rage unrestrained, of ancient pain, be free!
Of words unspoken, visions broken, of memory’s token, be free!

—©2001–2017, D. Snavely

Compassion Within

“…. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.  …”          Desiderata—M. Ehrmann, 1927

Mundane life is full of dark. “News” headlines are virtually written in blood. Turn on the radio during drive time and chaos from the next block to the next continent will swamp you. Our own human natures find gloom more seductive than the greatest joy, unless we choose to let it go. Memorable disasters, death anniversaries, worrisome woes, those downers make up far too much of everyday gossip. Seek out your own compassion, share it when and with whom it you feel it’s needed…and spread the rest of it like balm on your own spirit.

Be blessed!

 

 

 

Power Moves

…let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

—the Charge of the Goddess

Here continues a series of blog entries undertaking to examine each of the eight qualities that our Great Mother advises us to cherish in our hearts.

What Is Power?

First, given that the word power has acquired so many meanings over the centuries, I’ll state that there are actually two senses employed in this post, the dictionary defines:

power
1 —physical strength  or force…
2 —the capacity to direct or control

Gerald Gardner uses the first meaning—energy or force when he describes witch power.

“Witches…believe that the power resides within their bodies…; this power they believe exudes from their bodies….”
Witchcraft Today, G.B. Gardner

Gardner speaks separately of will-power when he discusses power, making it clear that the bodily energy-as-power is distinct from the mental control-as-power that witches must use to direct and control the power raised from their bodies. Small wonder Gardner employed the term will-power for the second meaning when speaking of how witches manage the first meaning.

Now, as to what is meant in the Charge? Given the pairings and contrasts within that text, I take power to mean the capacity to direct energy. After all, She has already listed strength in the initial paired qualities, “beauty and strength.” Thus, when She uses the word—in this context‚—power must mean the second meaning—control, what Gardner calls will-power.

Power Without

Power is thought, in today’s materialistic world, to be a synonym for energy. Once again resorting to the dictionary, I find an interesting distinction:

energy (n.) 1590s, “force of expression,” from Middle French énergie (16c.), from Late Latin energia, from Greek energeia “activity, action, operation,” from energos “active, working,” from en “at” (see en- (2)) + ergon “work, that which is wrought; business; action”.

Used by Aristotle with a sense of “actuality, reality, existence” (opposed to “potential”) but this was misunderstood in Late Latin and afterward as “force of expression,” as the power which calls up realistic mental pictures. Broader meaning of “power” in English is first recorded 1660s. Scientific use is from 1807.

Power-as-energy is what Gardner meant when he spoke of “witches raising energy from their bodies”—but power-as-control is how Gardner describes how a Witch High Priestess puts power-as-energy to use in working magic.

Power in the Occult

Anyone who has experimented with sensing auras—what some occultists refer to as the subtle body—will likely recall their surprise at the discovery that their hands, deprived of sight, find a sensation of presence some  inches away from skin-to-skin contact with another person. Such “aura-sensing” exercises are among some of the basic energy-sensing experiments that my coveners undergo. Tangible energies of living beings may be discovered by such simple means—human, dog, cat, tree, and even stone. Power-as-energy is what’s being sensed. Growing or moving power-as-energy is an intermediate exercise. All of which steps lead to the coven raising power from our bodies to empower our magical workings. Back to power-as-control—a common term among modern Pagans is “power-over”—and not all Pagans today know whence the term derives. It’s from Starhawk, whose The Spiral Dance was first published in 1979, the same year that Gardnerian Wiccan priestess (and NPR journalist) Margot Adler first published Drawing Down the Moon. In the very first chapter of Spiral Dance, Starhawk says, in small part:

“… There is the power we’re all familiar with — power over. But there is another kind of power — power from within. … that doesn’t depend on depriving someone else.”
The Spiral Dance, Starhawk

There it is, the Neopagan origin of the phrase “power over” or control. And there, power-from-within, is Starhawk’s term for Gardner’s power-as-energy that we sometimes simply give to the gods at a Sabbat.

Power Within

Looking once again to the dictionary for assistance, innate power—as a natural ability—produces many synonyms: ability, capability, capacity, faculty, gift, skill, talent…. Faculty strikes the truest note, to my mind. The Oxford Dictionary gives its first (earliest) meaning for faculty as “An inherent mental or physical power.”

So…coming back to the Goddess’ instructions, what does She mean when  she tells us to have power within us? She means, as I understand Her, three things—matching the threefold meanings of power.

  • Husband the energies of our bodies (power-as-energy), and put them to good use.
  • Choose wisely when employing power-as-control.
  • Employ our native faculties (power-as-capacity) to the best purposes of all.

Strength Abides…

…let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

—the Charge of the Goddess

What is Strength?

Charles Atlas, mid-20th cent. bodybuilder

Charles Atlas, mid-20th cent. bodybuilder

Victorian performer

Victorian performer

Strength is a quality—being strong—which may apply to individual humans or animals or objects, groups of humans or animals or objects, or even entire tribes or species or categories of objects.  Among humans, definitions of strength or strong cover a gamut of meanings, from the ability to wield ergs that move tonnes, to the inner qualities that enable humans to endure privation  and withstand hardship, to the stalwart temperaments displayed variously as stubbornness, loyalty, and tenacity. Families or tribes or entire peoples may be called strong, with any of the meanings of the term.

Strength Without

Western red cedar

Western red cedar
(Thuja plicata)

tall coast redwood

coast redwood
(Sequoia sempervirens)

Natural strength exists in the world around us, in the boles of trees, the solidity of stone, the force of floods, the vigor of wildlife, and the extremes of weather. From the Stone Age onwards, humankind has used the strength of stone in structures and tools and weapons. Flint or obsidian blades, cobble and thatch homes, slate pathways, slung stones—we value the strength of stone, just as we use its mountains and crags as landmarks for our travel.

The climax species of conifer that once comprised the backbone of the widespread coastal temperate forests of western North America (cedar and redwood) depict their own “pillars of strength.” Whether coniferous or broadleaf, mature climax forests feature such wondrous pillars, be they the pictured cedars and redwoods of western lands, or the oaks, beeches, maples, and birches of eastern ones. These sturdy columns support huge widespread foliate canopies which, astonishingly, act as solar engines to renew our air, circulate our water, distribute chemical nutrients, and shelter our wildlife.

river in flood

Scots river in flood

Greek mythology, in the Labors of Hercules, tells us how he used his strength to re-route two rivers in flood through the Augean Stables to clean them out in a single day. The “force of floods” required all his Herculean strength to manipulate, while accomplishing what even he could not perform in one day, moving a veritable mountain of manure.

Pillars of Hercules (Straits of Gibraltar)

Pillars of Hercules (Straits of Gibraltar)
View from Gibraltar lighthouse across the straits to Jebel Musa, N. Africa

Even today, the Atlantic passage to the Mediterranean Sea which we call the Straits of Gibraltar, are also known as the Pillars of Hercules, just as they were known to Phœnician traders and Greek sailors. Two mountains bracket the gap through which the Atlantic replenishes the waters of the Mediterranean, the rock of Gibraltar at the southern tip of Spain, and Jebel Musa, in Morocco at the northern tip of North Africa. Given that Hercules’ fame arose from his strength and tenacity, the Pillars of Hercules were and remain symbols of both.

Strength in the Occult

Uruz rune

Uruz rune

In the previous blog in this series, the Pillar of Strength is described as the pair to the Pillar of Beauty, with the Pillar of Wisdom between the two. Rather than repeat kabala material, let me turn to another significant strain of esoteric lore, the Norse runes. Runes, like scripts everywhere, were known only to a few at first. The art of writing was generally considered magical, or at least sacred, during its early days within any culture.

In the mythology of the Norse, Odin (often called All-Father), chief of the gods of the Norse pantheon, hung for nine days on Yggdrasil (the mythical World-Tree that connects the Norse three realms: underworld, earth, and overworld) to obtain the knowledge of the runes, or writing, and share them with his followers. These 24 runes of the futhark are both the alphabet of the Norsemen, and were—and are—used extensively for divination and in magical inscriptions. (Why futhark? because the first six runes are the letters: F, U, TH, A, R, and K. A close parallel to our word alphabet, which derives from the Greek names of the first two letters, alpha and beta.)

Aurochs bull from skeletal find

Aurochs bull reproduction from skeletal find

The Uruz rune is often known as the rune of strength: this second rune of the futhark, Uruz in the futhark of Old Norse represents the letter U, and means aurochs, the primitive giant, wild Eurasian cattle.

Aurochs, cattle, human sketch for scale

Sketch comparing bull aurochs & bull cattle
human of ~5’9″ for scale

Aurochs, especially bull aurochs, were fearsome animals, about 150% of the size of a modern beef bull, with shoulder heights of seven to upwards of nine feet. Although ancestor to modern domestic cattle (the last aurochs died in Poland in 1627 CE), aurochs were not tractable, being hunted rather than raised. 

Strength Within

Strength of mind is exercise, not rest. —Alexander Pope

Humans use strength of mind to determine our purposes.  We use our strength of will to hold constant to those purposes.   And we use our strength of body to act on those purposes. The common trait among them all—following Pope’s epigram—is the exercise of our minds to select among options consciously, to hold fast to those decisions and to select course(s) of action that make those choices come to pass. Just as the Goddess advises us to have strength within us, so do our gods advise us to choose our intent: “An it harm none, do as thou wilt.” Opt to do, or not to do, a familiar concept.

Do, or do not. —Yoda, Star Wars

Finally, there’s strength of character. Our gods also advise us to be responsible for what we do, “As thou dost give, so shall ye gain.” What goes around, comes around; equally familiar as Newton’s third law, “for every action there is an opposite reaction.” Strong characters reflect self-knowledge, own errors, redress wounds, enable trust…absolutely foundational needs for any magic worker.

Beauty Shines

…let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

—the Charge of the Goddess

Here begins a series of blog entries undertaking to examine each of the eight qualities that our Great Mother advises us to cherish in our hearts.

What Is Beauty?

painted portrait of Renaissance woman

Frau Van Eyck

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

This oft-repeated phrase was rebooted into popular vocabulary by its reference as most of the title of a surrealistic episode of the Twilight Zone (1960), “Eye of the Beholder,” almost a century after it was first framed in these words in a 1878 tale by an Irish romance novelist (Molly Bawn, Margaret Wolfe Hungerford). The sentiment goes back to Shakespeare and millennia further back into ancient Greece. To explicate the phrase, beauty is a subjective judgement made individually.

Iman

Iman

Our society thinks of beauty, first of all, as a trait of the female of our species. Today, supermodels, from 1960s’ Twiggy to 1990s’ Imam, are held up as “beauties.” Historically, women in power are regarded as role models for fashion—Queen Elizabeth I (“Good Queen Bess”), nicknamed Gloriana, overturned female styles from the dark hues and blocky silhouettes of Queen Mary Tudor, her predecessor, to the whites and pale tints, lace trims & ruffs, and floral decoration throughout her reign, bringing a brightness into fashion.

In today’s world, beauty is made cheap. From glamour and fashion magazines of the past century to today’s reality television shows, ordinary humans are “discovered” and made famous…at least for their allotted 15 minutes of fame. In these fora, human physical attractiveness is valued higher than almost any other human quality, mental or physical—exposing such “beauty” as very nearly valueless. Empty beauty becomes a goal in itself, or a tool to enable instant wealth or fame or both. And advertisers tout everything from the lowest-cost cosmetics to the highest-cost cosmetic surgeries in these same media.

The word “beauty” itself is introduced into English in the 13th century from Old French, by way of the Norman Conquest, deriving ultimately from Latin. It is defined in its earliest English meaning as

the quality (or aggregate of qualities) in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind of spirit.”
Merriam-Webster New Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition

Yes, it’s a long-winded definition, necessarily so. Abstract concepts are always difficult to define by comparison with anything concrete, where one can see or touch or point at it and say, “see? that’s XXXXXXX.”

Photo, Princess Kate in wedding gown

Princess Kate in wedding gown

photo, bust of Nefertit

Bust of Nefertiti

Many dictionaries resort to defining such words with a synonym for the word, making it easier on the compilers but much harder on the readers who may not know the meaning of the synonyms any more than they knew the word they looked up. An example of such definitions might lead to beauty: handsomeness: attractiveness: charm: charisma; glamor; beauty—a circular puzzle with no definition.

 

Royal beauties of past & present:
Princess Kate, wife of the UK royal heir, Prince William, and,
Nefertiti, the only female pharaoh of ancient Egypt

So, looking at the definition as simply as possible, beauty is the aspect(s) of anyone or anything which pleases the senses or the spirit. Beauty lifts human hearts or souls; it attracts our eyes, ears, noses, mouths, or hands by giving pleasure. The word beauty supplanted the pre-Conquest word wlite (Old English/ Anglo-Saxon)defined as beauty or splendor. 

drawing, heraldic sun in splendor

“sun in splendor”

Me, I find splendor a meaningful alternative to the much overused, not to say abused, modern usage of the word beauty. Beauty attracts the senses or the spirits, and a brilliance or shining or vividness is among the most common qualities that attract. And, lo, the very word splendor derives from the Latin to shine. In heraldry, in fact, a sun in splendor is depicted with eight or sixteen rays surrounding a central disk having facial features, thus:

Beauty Without


Splendor, shining, brilliance—all of these qualities are cherished in the world around us. Sunsets and sunrises, rainbows and moonshine, mountainous vistas reflected upon still and moving water, brilliant swathes of spring wildflowers—all of these are among what we call beautiful.

As interest in natural history arose in the 18th century, the term “picturesque” came into use, referring to natural vistas worthy of being painted. Young ladies of rank were universally educated in drawing and watercolors to record images and scenes for themselves and others, similar to the way the Kodak Brownie camera enabled early 20th century families to collect snapshots of people and places, just as smartphones and digital cameras enable today’s youth to populate such web sites as Shutterfly, Flickr, and Pinterest with places and people and events.

Windsor Castle from the River

“Windor Castle from the River”—Turner

Multnomah Falls, Bridal Veil, Oregon

Bridal Veil Falls, Multnomah Falls, Oregon

The 18th century UK landscape at left contrasts with the US photograph at right, at the same time as they are both picturesque. Both have qualities of light that attract the eye, that glow or shimmer or shine. It is not only landscapes that draw our eyes in this way.

Moonbow over island of Hawaii

Moonbow over island of Hawaii

Symmetry and brilliance provide instances of uplifted emotion and indrawn breath as we indulge our gaze thereon

Beauty in the Occult

https://i1.wp.com/www.digital-brilliance.com/themes/Portae%20Lucis.jpg

16th century depiction, Jewish Tree of Life

20th cent. postcard

“Pillar of Beauty”              Watkins Glen State Park, NY

The foundation taught in the kabbalah (Jewish medieval mystery tradition) or cabala (Christian renaissance mystery tradition) or qabala (Hermetic magical tradition) concerns the Tree of Life, depicted as ten spheres interconnected by 22 pathways, key among which are the three vertical pathways called (reading from left to right):

  • the Pillar of Beauty
  • the Pillar of Wisdom
  • the Pillar of Strength

Beauty, here is set in contrast to Strength, with the “middle pillar” being Wisdom.

Whichever spelling of kabbalah one chooses to use, most Western Mystery Traditions have, for more than twelve hundred years, employed concepts from the mystical Tree of Life and its components:

  • Freemasonry terms these upright pillars—Beauty, Wisdom, Strength—as “the pillars on which the lodge stands,” so intrinsic a foundation principle of Masonry that these pillars are referenced in esoteric Western traditions of every sort. In the 18th century North American British colonies, a great many of what today are called America’s “founding fathers” were Freemasons; one can only presume that such a Mason named the physical feature in New York state called the “Pillar of Beauty” (illustration, vintage postcard, right).
  • Tarot’s major arcana or greater trump cards comprise a total of twenty-two card (numbered zero through twenty-one), mirroring the 22 pathways among Tree of Life. Given that these trionfi cards, as they are known in the earliest surviving tarot decks (such as the Visconti-Sforza), it is not known with any certainty whether the greater trumps number 22 for that reason, or for some other. The kabalic references depicted in more modern tarot decks, such as the Rider-Waite or Universal Rider decks, derive from esoteric teachings that associate the greater trumps with the kabala over the prior century and more.

    The High Priestess Tarot Card - Rider Waite Tarot Deck

    major arcana II,
    High Priestess,
    Rider-Waite deck, 1900 CE

  • The Tarot’s High Priestess card (number II of the greater trumps) traditionally depicts the High Priestess seated between the Pillar of Beauty and the Pillar of Strength—implicitly displaying the High Priestess herself as the Pillar of Wisdom.
    (The B & J shown on the pillars in the card illustrated here refer to the Hebrew initials for each pillar, transcribed into Latinate letters.)
close-up of the eye & pyramid on US dollar

all-seeing eye on US $1 bill, obverse

Masonic symbols appear throughout our U.S. symbology; even today the “all-seeing eye” or the Eye of Providence (a common Masonic symbol) appears above an unfinished pyramid on the obverse of the one-dollar banknote printed by the U.S. Mint.

Beauty Within

“No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace
as I have seen in one autumnal face.” —John Donne

This classic quote speaks to the quality of beauty that transcends surfaces and the modern insistence on youthful appearance. Donne uses the word grace to evoke in his reader’s minds the qualities that embody the inner beauty of wisdom, courtesy, kindness, goodness, nobility, and so on.

True beauty is found in the spirit, and shines for all to see. When the Goddess tells us to have beauty within us, She evokes this greater beauty which benefits each of Her hidden children for themselves—and also for everyone else around them. The Wiccæ know (as do all wise magic-users) that knowledge begins within; Pythagoras’ mandate Know Thyself is the first instruction to any magician. Thus, we all are charged to seek out one’s own “beauty within” and to cherish its growth in each of us.