The Cardinal Feasts
The Cardinal Feasts
In the course of a year, as the sun moves round the circle of the Zodiac, it travels through the four points known as the equinoxes and the solstices. The equinoxes correspond to the two days of the year when the sun crosses the equator and day and night are of equal lenght. These two days are March 21 and September 21. The solstices, on the other hand, correspond to the two days on which the angle between the sun and the equator and is at its maximum. These are December 21, the winter solstice and the shortest day of the year, and June 21, the summer solstice and the longest day of the year.
To these four points in time, the solstices and the equinoxes, correspond four so-called Cardinal Feasts: Christmas, Easter, St John the Baptist and St Michael Archangel. These feast-days were instituted by the Initiates as a reminder to human beings that, on those days, the sun sets particularly powerful currents in motion in the universe and that, if they are aware of them, human beings can draw on these currents and use them to advance their evolution. The passage from one season to the next occurs at these four points, each of which is a nexus of extraordinary forces proper to each season. The seasonal forces are organized and regulated by very powerful spirits under the command of which are many lesser spirits whose task is to distribute these energies and forces to every part of the planet.
You must not think that everything happens automatically in nature; on the contrary, a whole host of spirits are actively involved. Som of them have been specially entrusted with the care of rocks, plants, animals and men, and all the seasonal changes that occur are the result of their activity.
Let's begin by talking about the spring equinox which falls on March 21 and which is under the influence of the Archangel RaphaŽl dwells in the sphere of Mercury and his name means "God the Healer" or " Divine Physician". The mission of this Archangel and of the Angels under his command is to work on the divine power and give it the virtue of healing. Each of the Archangels that govern the other seasons works with this same divine power and communicates to it other wavelengths and other virtues. The Ancients knew exactly when and how to communicate with RaphaŽl by the use of appropriate formulas and, in this way, his science of the healing properties of plants was revealed to them. The Greek god of medicine, Asclepios (the Roman Aesculapias), was in contact with the forces of Hermes (or, as the Romans called him, Mercury); it is not surprising, therefore, that, for thousands of years, the Caduceus of Hermes has been the symbol of medicine. Think of these things when spring comes, and remember to unite yourself to the Archangel RaphaŽl; askhim to reveal to you the secret powers of plants, seeds and flowers so that you may benefit from the virtues that emanate from them.
When nature comes back to life in the spring, it reminds man that he, too, must come back to life, not physically, perhaps - that is hardly possible - but spiritually. Just as trees and plants receive a new spiritual sap to rise within him and bring new life to his subtle bodies.
The great Christian feast of this season is Easter, the feast that commemorates Christ's Resurrection. In this feast, the life of nature and the life of the soul coincide. If you are familiar with the science of symbols, you know that the life of an Initiate corresponds to the life of nature: an Initiate's life is a succession of symbolic episodes which follow each other in a certain orde in view of a well-defined goal. The life of Jesus was patterned on the development of the earth and of the cosmos: it is a symbol that has universal significance. Like jesus, the universe was born; like him, it will be crucified and, like him, it will rise from the dead.
The traditional literature of all countries contains innumerable legends and accounts of mythological battles between the forces of light and darkness. On about June 21, with the summer solstice, we enter the period in which light triumphs over darkness and, a few days later, on June 24, we celebrate the feast of St John the Baptist. On that date ist is customary to light fires that burn all night. The summer solstice is ruled by the Archangel Uriel. The Church never mentions this Archangel, and you might well wonder why. The Archangels Gabriel, RaphaŽl and Michael, who preside over the three great feasts of the winter solstice and the spring and autumn equinoxes, are all familiar to Christians, but Uriel is almost unknown. Uriel is an Archangel of light; his name means "God is my light". The feast of St John coincides with the moment when the sun enters Cancer - the sign in which Venus is in exalteration - and this is no chance coincidence, for the feast of St John is the feast of fire, the feast of the summer heat which ripens fruit and all other things in nature. In summer, nature is on fire. But this fire is also the fire of physical, sensual love and it is well known that, in some countries, the night of St John was the occasion for all kinds of sexual excesses. This, no doubt, is why the Church has always preferred not to give prominence to the Archangel Uriel and the celebration of the summer solstice.
In the sephirotic Tree of Life, Uriel is the Archangel of the Sephirah Malkut, the earth. As such, he is in communication with the inner fire of the planet, and some of the Angels under earth. This is the work that Greeks attributed to their god Hephaestus (the Roman Vulcan). Hephaestus, or Vulcan, used fire as he worked with stone and metal, for fire is the only force capable of melting stone and metal and making them malleable.
You must not confuse the subterranean regions of mineral and metallic fire with the regions of Satanic fire. In spite of their proximity, the Satanic world is completely seperate from the world in which fire works on metals and minerals. The spirits that work in these subterranean forges of nature are divine; those that dwell in Hell are fallen souls.
If man is conscious and attentive during this period of the summer solstice, when light is at its most powerful and the forces of night and of darkness are retreating, he will receive the power to launch an attack on his own inner darkness - and he will have a good chance of being victorious. When the nights are growing longer and light is fading, when the vital currents in the world are beginning to contract and slacken under pressure from contrary forces that are gaining in vigour, it is not the time to undertake this type of work. Conditions, both within and without, no longer lend themselves to a direct attack on hostile forces. In a period in which light is triumphant, however, men and women who are truly desirous of doing some important work for the world, can do so in good conditions; if they have already settled their own, personal problems, they have the right and, even, the duty to go further.
Since Uriel is the Archangel of fire, he has ties, not only with physical, terrestrial fire, but also with the fire of that tremendous sexual energy constantly simmering in man. It is precisely for this reason that it is essential to learn to work with the Archangel Uriel: because it is essential to learn to work with fire in order to sublimate all these energies. What exactly is sublimation? It is the passage one state to another, and it is heat that effects this passage. When the temperature is below 0ļC, water freezes and becomes solid; if you heat it slightly to 1ļC, it melts and becomes liquid again. Heat it even more, to 100ļC, and it changes into steam. And if you want to seperate the oxygen from the hydrogen contained in steam, you will need even more heat. The only problem for engineers who use very high temperatures in transforming certain gases or liquids is that of finding containers and tubing made of suitable heat-resistant materials.
But all these modern techniques that science is learning to apply in dealing with matter have been known to Esoteric Science from earliest Antiquity. The Initiates, who have an intimate knowledge of human nature, have known for a long time that man's body is equipped with a network of circuits, ducts and ramifications that permit the circulation and transmutation of very potent elements. I am not talking about the circulatory system, although the capillaries are extremely fine blood vessels, nor about the even finer fibres of the nervous system. I am talking about another, even subtler network which enables man to transmute and sublimate matter and raise it to the etheric state. This process is constantly taking place in our bodies, thanks to the extremely complex and subtle networks with which man's lungs, heart and brain and, above all , man's spinal column, have been equipped by Cosmic Intelligence.
These transmutations take place in all human beings, but to a greater or lesser degree and, very often, without their knowledge. An unconscious work of spiritual alchemy is constantly going on in our souls and bodies; the important thing, now, is to become conscious of it, knowing that we are all equipped with the network of channels we need to sublimate raw matter and transport it to ever subtler regions. How can we best prepare ourselves for this work of sublimation? By living a life of purity and harmony and by consciously opening ourselves to the powerful currents of light from Heaven.
The Archangel Michael presides over the autumn equinox which occurs on September 22. On this day, the sun inaugurates a new cycle as it enters Libra. Fruit and nuts fall from the trees and decompose, leaving their empty husks on the ground; grains are sorted and consumed or stored in granaries before being sown to ensure a new cycle of growth. But this process of decomposition and sorting is not something that concerns only the world of plants; it also concerns human beings. Just as the fruit is seperated from the tree and the seed from the fruit, so is the soul separated from the body, spiritually if not physically. The body is the envelope, the wrapping, and the soul is the seed that is planted above, in the soil of Heaven. Man is a fruit, and when he is ripe, he must not fall to the ground like the fruits and seeds of the earth, but soar away to Heaven. Autumn is the season for that seperation of which Hermes Trismegistus speaks: "You shall separate the subtle from the gross, gently and with great skill." To separate the subtle from the gross is to separate the spiritual from the material and the whole of nature undergoes this process of seperation, in autumn, in preparation for the coming of new life. Just as the Archangel Michael comes to seperate the soul from the body, leaving the body to die, so the Initiate allows some matter within him to die in order to liberate life.
Separation is a law of life. You can see this with respect to food, for instance: we have to sort and separate the good from the bad, discard the peel and the blemishes, and so on. This is so easy to do on the material level but we must also know how to do it - and be capable of doing it - on the spiritual level. Unfortunetly, on that level, it is very difficult. Most people have no idea what to cut out or throw away: they swallow everything whole, like cats swallowing mice with the skin and entrails and everything! This, then, is what we have to learn from the Archangel Michael: discrimination, how to choose and what to choose, how to separate the pure from the impure, the useful from the useless, the harmful form the beneficial, the dead from the living. The absence of discernment in this respect is the cause of all misfortunes.
The Archangel Michael separates the soul from the body because the soul has to travel and visit faraway places, not remain for ever on earth. An Initiate, who sees how nature does things, says, "My soul is tied down; how can I set it free? How can I separate it from this heavy coating of matter? I must wait until it is ripe, then the Archangel Michael will come and release it from its sheath of matter." The feast of St Michael is fabulously rich in meaning for those who understand that it can bring them total liberation.
Death, the separation from the physical body, is an ascension to a higher plane. The soul is carried away by St Michael and weighed in his scales. His sword severs the ties which hold it to the earth, then the soul is weighed, judged and sent to the sphere that corresponds to its degree of evolution.
The Archangel Michael holds sway over the forces of balance and justice and, consequently, over the forces that enable us to distinguish between good and evil in order to free the good and transform the evil. But good and evil are so closely intertwined that they cannot be separated prematurely without causing some damage. The art of seperating opposites is the most difficult of all arts and, throughout the ages, Initiates have turned to nature for guidance. You cannot separate a nut from its husk without damaging it, but nature knows how to do it: she allows it to ripen until the husk opens of itself and frees the nut. similarly, a child is attached to its mother's womb, and to separate them prematurely would mean death to both mother and child. But if you wait, the fruit falls and the cord that ties the child to its mother can be cut. This separation is the symbol of maturity.
I am sure you all remember the parable of the wheat and the tares in the Gospel. When his servants asked the owner of the field whether they should uproot the tares that had sprung up amongst the wheat, he replied, " No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, "First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn". " The time of harvest comes when the fruit is ripe. We have to wait until then to separate good from evil and that separation will be the work of the Archangel Michael.
It is the Archangel Michael who has the principal role to play, also, in the purification of the earth. In the course of the centuries, a multitude of evil beings have inundated the earth with immensely destructive forces. These forces have accumulated in a vast reservoir and have taken the form of a monster known as the Dragon or Serpent. This is the Dragon which is said to seduce the nations and mislead the children of God and to be the cause of all the sufferings of mankind. It is a prodigiously powerful egregor. There have been men of great self-abnegation and courage who have thrown themselves into a struggle to the death against this monster but, to this day, none have vanquished it. When the time is ripe, however, St Michael will rise and defeat it. The Archangel Michael is the only one capable of defeating this egregor. He and his Heavenly Hosts will answer the prayer that multitudes have addressed to the Lord for centuries. His victory has been foretold in the Apocalypse and other books of Sacred Scripture. For this reason we should link ourselves to St Michael and ask him to protect us and to allow us to unite our efforts to his in order to strengthen his victory. Light will triumph over darkness: this has been foretold an it will be so. Why not have a share in that triumph? The children of God who take part in the combat led by this Sun Spirit, this mighty and most luminous power of God, the Archangel Michael, will receive the kiss of the Angel of fire. And this kiss, instead of burning them, will illuminate them.
Finally, on December 21, comes the winter solstice, presided over by the Archangel Gabriel and, a few days later, it is Christmas. Christmas is the celebration of a birth, that is to say, of a descent into matter, a condensation, a crystallization reflecting the characteristic of winter, the season in which nature freezes and becomes immobile.
The Archangel Gabriel commands the forces that have the property of condensing matter. If the influence of the moon had not been counterbalanced by other influences, it would have materialized and petrified everything that exists: plants and animals as well as men. The Archangel Gabriel, therefore, is responsible for all materalization. When an Initiate wants to materialize an idea, a plan, even if that materialization does not correspond to a particular birth, he uses the favourable conditions offered to him by the occurence of this feast. The winter solstice is a period for birth, a propitious period for something to be born on earth. The other feasts correspond to separation, resurrection and the kindling of fire; only the feast of Christmas is associated with material realization on earth.
The equinoxes and solstices, or, as I have called them, the four Cardinal Feasts, are the four most vital days in the year and they are governed by Mercury (spring equinox), Venus (summer solstice), the Sun (autumn equinox) and the Moon (winter solstice). These are days of celebration for nature; the Angels and Archangels, all the forces of nature, even the Divine Mother herself, all take part in the festivities. Only those who understand the importance of these high days and of the prodigious forces that flood the universe at these times, can truly take part in the celebrations.
We all know how most people celebrate these occations, particularly Christmas. Christmas has become simply an occasion for gluttony and licentiousness, for every kind of madness. And all these excesses leave people exhausted and drained. A feast day such as this, which should bring them regeneration and light, brings them only a further darkening of their consciousness.
The other day, I watched a debate on television about the notion of celebration. The panel included writers, film producers, sociologists and journalists, and they all agreed that holidays and feast days were good for people because they broke the monotony of the daily grind and provided a healthy occasion to relax and have fun. Every single one of those panelists talked only about pleasure, relaxation, recreation. Not one of them thought of saying that people could use these occasions of joy to advance their evolution and become more beautyful, noble and radiant. I was staggered. They all seemed to think that it was important to "have fun" and to "kill time". No one seemed to realize that high days and holidays could also contribute to improving and ennobling human beings.
You will have to forgive me. Perhaps I am different from everybody else; perhaps I am a monster; but, for me, all our activities, whether work or celebration, must converge towards one single goal, one spiritual ideal, that of becoming better and more useful. To be sure, you are free to do what everybody else does; you are free to feast and amuse yourself like everybody else, but then you will never be anything but the weak, stunted, unstable being you are today - a slave, a victim! All the recreation and amusements in the world will not change that. Why not? Because you lack an ideal. I know: I always come back to this! I ask someone, " What is your ideal?" " Oh, I don't really know..." " In that case" I tell him; "You're a doomed man!" Believe me; nobody understands the tremendous advantage of having a sublime ideal, an ideal of perfection. That is the only thing that gives meaning to life.
Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov
SŤvres, 29 September 1958