Spiritual Christmas and New Year

The wonder of the light-birth

During the autumn equinox light and darkness are precisely in balance with each other. Subsequently the influence of the darkness begins to increase more and more as the power of the light is fading. The darkness is the deepest around Christmas and we can only wait in confidence until the light is born again. That is how people of yore experienced the alternation and struggle between the light and the darkness in their own lives.

Before villages and towns were bathed in electric light, the increasing darkness was almost tangible to the inhabitants and they could not help but eagerly await the new light.
They heard stories about the miraculous birth that took place in this darkness in the distant past: God’s son was born in a hidden place in order to liberate humanity from the darkness.
The light that would soon become stronger again was a sign of this birth. It was not only an external light but could also be experienced as an inner light that pierced the darkness of
everyday life.
Christmas has always been interpreted in a spiritual way in the Christian mystical movements. It is not so much important whether the son of God ever came to be born on earth or not;
what matters is that his birth is going to take place within us.
Not until the increasing influence of the writings of Jacob Boehme was the inner meaning of Christmas discussed more and more outside the monastery walls: Christmas is not so much the commemoration of an historical event but rather a miracle that can happen to all of us:

it is the birth of this son within us.

The Christian Theosophical tradition of Jacob Boehme relates that we are living in darkness as long as there has not been an inner transformation or rebirth. What to our ordinary eyes is light, is deep darkness to the inner being.


This tradition emphasizes that we should make a radical distinction between the outer and the inner man. We are the outer being, as it is functioning in our daily lives. Our attention is
constantly drawn to our sensory experiences.

But above all we are governed by the incessant flow of our thoughts, feelings, fantasies and desires. Although we believe that we ourselves are the source of this continuous flow, we are unable to stop it.

Consequently we are determined by this stream, rather than the opposite.

Since this condition is comparable to the dream state, most traditions emphasize that we are not awake in our daily lives, but rather still asleep. The only difference between daytime sleep and the ‘normal’ night time sleep is that during the former we do respond to all kinds of sensory stimuli. And just as during sleep we believe to be awake, even in our so-called waking state we are still in a kind of sleep.

But what or who, then, is the inner man? It is the soul which can be born within us. Just as Jesus was born of Mary, so may the soul be born of us, external people. For that reason, Angelus Silesius, a pupil of the Christian Theosophical and Rosicrucian tradition , wrote:

What good does Gabriel’s “Ave, Mary” do Unless he give me that same greeting too?

We can – like Mary – learn to no longer identify ourselves with the incessant flow of thoughts, feelings and desires. But that implies that we, outer beings, need to wake up and be willing to
listen to the words that Gabriel and other messengers speak to us.
Living in our darkness, but awakened by these messengers, we learn to say in complete self-surrender: let it be to me according to Your word. Therefore, Angelus Silesius said:

Be silent, silent, dearest one,
Only be silent utterly.
Then far beyond thy farthest wish
God will show goodness unto thee

In order to receive this message, it should become silent within us so that we can become focused. It means that we no longer automatically respond to whatever we are being told, but that we are really going to listen, and – like Mary – keep the words in our hearts like a seed that will later be able to unfold.

This attentive attitude of life is a necessary condition for the inner man – the Son of God – to be born within us. Such an attitude to life means that we learn to listen and observe in a responsive manner.
Usually, however, we have already made up our minds before the other person has finished speaking and we do not really listen to what he or she is telling us. Only rarely do we let ourselves be surprised by what presents itself to us in the world. For we have seen it all so many times; by now we know what the world looks like.

A receptive mode of perception, however, suddenly allows the everyday things to present themselves to us in new and refreshing ways.That is the beginning of the return of the light!
When we are waiting, being quiet and receptive, then the light can penetrate into the darkness of our waking consciousness; then the moment of the inner Christmas has arrived.

The outer human being lives mainly from the head; hence the incessant stream of thoughts that constantly drags us along. On the other hand, the heart takes the central place, often symbolized by the rose. The heart will open, to the extent that we learn to live our lives with attention.
As Angelus Silesius said:
Thy heart receives God’s dew and all that with Him goes
When it expands toward Him as does an opening rose.

Dew is an alchemical symbol. When the dew descends from heaven on the outer man who has died, then the resurrection will take place: the soul – the son of God – will arise from the earthly shell of the outer man.

Indeed, this process means that the outer man must die. If we no longer speak and act from our own will and desire, but instead become attentive and receptive to the soul, then the outer man actually begins to die. Without this process of dying – without the darkness that precedes the birth of the light – the birth of the soul cannot take place:
If He should live in you, God first Himself must die.
How would you, without death, inherit His own life?

Without this birth, our life as an outer human being is infertile. The outer man is composed of dust and will return to dust. This ‘dust’ refers not only to the physical body but to our entire personality, to everything with which we usually identify ourselves.
We should learn to let go of all this, because:
Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem were born,
but not within thy self, thy soul will be forlorn.

That sounds serious, and it is. But the annual return of the light which we celebrate at Christmas reminds us ever again of the light that can be born within us. The annual – and daily – return of the outer light nourishes our hope and our confidence that the miracle of the birth can also take place in us.

In English, the time period following Christmas has a meaningful name: ‘holidays’, which literally means ‘holy days’, days that can be seen as a gift to focus on healing in the broadest sense of the word.
These days, when you can be ‘vacant’ from all your usual worries, allow you to be filled with healing powers. The word ‘vacant’ means ‘empty’, while the word ‘holy’ is related to ‘being whole’.

PLATO’S Cosmic X: Heavenly Gates at the Celestial Crossroads
  • Zodical light , crossroads to Heaven

Zodiacal light, band of light in the night sky, thought to be sunlight reflected from cometary dust concentrated in the plane of the zodiac, or ecliptic. The light is seen in the west after twilight and in the east before dawn, being easily visible in the tropics where the ecliptic is approximately vertical. Sunlight scattered by interplanetary dust causes this phenomenon. Zodiacal light is best seen during twilight after sunset in spring and before sunrise in autumn, when the zodiac is at a steep angle to the horizon. However, the glow is so faint that moonlight and/or light pollution often outshine it, rendering it invisible.See Plato’s Visible God: The Cosmic Soul Reflected in the Heavens

PLATO’S X & HEKATE’S CROSSROADS ASTRONOMICAL LINKS TO THE MYSTERIES
OF ELEUSIS

Plato describes gates to the afterlife in the Myth of Er at the end of Republic – infernal
gates like the cave of Hades at Eleusis, as well as celestial portals that would be located at
the intersections in the sky that he describes in Timaeus. The initiated Cicero’s translation
into Latin of a section of Timaeus – The initiated Cicero’s translation into Latin of a section of Timaeus – the part with Plato’s celestial X – suggests an astronomical aspect to the Mysteries.
Read more here

  • The Twelve Holy Nights

According to several traditions the cosmic ‘gates to the divine’ are wide open during the period from December 24 until January 6. This time period from Christmas until Epiphany is also referred to as the twelve holy nights. This idea is not based on historical events of more
than two thousand years ago; rather it concerns cosmic processes.
Where did the idea of the twelve nights originate?

Long before Christianity arrived in Europe, the Germanic and Celtic peoples celebrated a midwinter feast (or Jul-feast) sometimes lasting eleven days and twelve nights, following the winter solstice.

That time period is exactly the difference between twelve revolutions of the moon around the earth, in 29.5 days (354 in total), and the 365 days it takes the earth to complete one rotation around the sun: 365-354 = 11 days and 12 nights.


The number twelve expresses fullness and completeness. Think of the 12 signs of the Zodiac, the 12 hours of the day and the 12 hours of the night. Consider also the 12 tribes of Israel, the 12 disciples of Jesus and the 12 Knights of the Round Table. Twelve is the product of three and four: 3 x 4 = 12. The twelve holy nights can be seen as stages along the path of spiritual development, symbolically indicated in the twelve hours of the Nuctemeron of
Apollonius of Tyana, the twelve labours of Hercules and the thirteen songs of repentance in the Gospel of the Pistis Sophia.


In many traditions three is considered a divine number, while four is considered an earthly number. From this point of view the number 12 encompasses both the earthly and the divine.
Humanity also holds both the earthly and the divine within itself.
Human beings as we know them are indeed manifestations of the divine, but they themselves are not divine and never will be. Our physical bodies will eventually die. The physical body is dust and will return to dust.

The bridge between time and eternity

Several wisdom teachings speak about an immortal divine principle, lying dormant in every human being, that is just waiting to wake up and be active. Based on that awakened and active divine principle, the human being can become a bridge between time and eternity. What matters is not that we will enter eternity, but that the eternal being within us may be vivified. That is the core of all Gnostic teachings and also of esoteric Christianity: the human
being is twofold.

“The sleep of the body becomes the sobriety of the soul” are the profound words of Hermes Trismegistus. By directing ourselves inwardly, the quiet of the body can become the freedom of the soul. In the spatiotemporal nature there is no place of rest for the soul.

During sleep, however, it may travel to the place where the turmoil of the opposites cannot exist: the Temple of Silence.
In that sacred place, it is nourished with the essence of a higher human life and receives the rich teachings of universal wisdom.
Upon awakening, the soul will transfer the inner certainty obtained to the physical human being. In this way sleep can be a blessing for those who seek for the truth. Read more Here

Draumkvedet and the medival English Dream Vision

Draumkvedet” (“The Dream Poem”; ) is a Norwegian visionary poem, probably dated from the late medieval age.[ It is one of the best known medieval ballads in Norway. The first written versions are from Lårdal and Kviteseid in Telemark in the 1840s.

The protagonist, Olav Åsteson, falls asleep on Christmas Eve and sleeps until the twelfth day of Christmas. Then he wakes, and rides to church to recount his dreams to the congregation, about his journey through the afterlife. The events are in part similar to other medieval ballads like the Lyke Wake Dirge: a moor of thorns, a tall bridge, and a black fire. After these, the protagonist is also allowed to see Hell and some of Heaven. The poem concludes with specific advice of charity and compassion, to avoid the various trials of the afterlife.

The Medieval English dream vision evidence influences from a variety of earlier vision
literature, notably the apocalyptic vision and narrative dream. Philosophical visions by Plato,
Cicero and Boethius, and Christian revelations of John and Paul contain traits that found their
way into the dream poems by Langland, the Pearl poet and Chaucer. The Norwegian ballad
Draumkvedet exhibits features that mirror these English visions. Notable characteristics
pertaining to the character of the dreamer, the interplay between dreamer and dream, imagery of the vision, and structure, point to a common set of generic influences. Comparing Draumkvedet with its English counterparts demonstrates that they stem from the same tradition. Draumkvedet bares special resemblance to the Dream of the Rood, Piers Plowman and Pearl in its exploration of Christian doctrine and its appeal to the audience. Read more here…

Dream song of Olaf Asteson text and notes

  • Mystical Nativity for our Times:

The Mystical Nativity is a painting of circa 1500-1501 by the Italian Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli, in the National Gallery in London. Botticelli built up the image using oil paint on canvas. It is his only signed work, and has a very unusual iconography for a Nativity.

It has been suggested that this picture, the only surviving work signed by Botticelli, was painted for his own private devotions, or for someone close to him. It is certainly unconventional, and does not simply represent the traditional events of the birth of Jesus and the adoration of the shepherds and the Magi or Wise Men.

Rather it is a vision of these events inspired by the prophecies in the Revelation of Saint John. Botticelli has underlined the non-realism of the picture by including Latin and Greek texts, and by adopting the conventions of medieval art, such as discrepancies in scale, for symbolic ends. The Virgin Mary, adoring a gigantic infant Jesus, is so large that were she to stand she could not fit under the thatch roof of the stable. They are, of course, the holiest and the most important persons in the painting. Read more here

  • The Prayer of the Heart in Hesychasm and Sufism

Dear friend, your heart is a polished mirror. You must wipe it clean of the veil of dust that has gathered upon it, because it is destined to reflect the light of divine secrets.” 

-al-Ghazali

Read here The Prayer of the Heart in Hesychasm and Sufism

  • Symbol of  Divine Child, Peace and Mercy in Islam and Sufism.

We can find the same Symbol of  Divine Child, Peace and Mercy in Islam and Sufism:

Bism ‘Lláh al-Rahmán al-Rahim

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Bismillah

Now the letter ب  ba’ of the bismillah (meaning in)   implies connection, and it is itself connected (directly) to God (Llah); the word ‘Name” (Ism) does not separate them, since it is identical with the Named according to the Sufis as well as most of the Ash’aris.

Note: When the bismillah اسم الله‎, is written in Arabic, the letter ba’ ‘in’, is directly connected to the word ism, ‘Name’. ب س م ل    What the Shaykh al-Alawi is saying is that since the Name (Ism) is identical with the Named, i.e. God Himself Ism does not really separate the letter bá’ from the Divine Name Allah. الله

Thus the beginning is in God (bi’llah): from Him all begins and to Him all returns.

  • JURIDICAL : Four rulings can be deduced from the basmala:

Firstly,  all who write or recite the Qur’án must begin with the bismillah; this is inferred from that fact that the Almighty Himself begins the Book with it.

Secondly, we understand from this that God wishes us to praise Him for His Beauty more so that His Majesty ; this is inferred from how He begins with the two Holy Names ‘the Compassionate’ (al-Rahmán) and ‘the Merciful’ (al-Rahim), describing His Essence (Dhát) thereby.

Thirdly, we learn that there is a difference between the two Names, though they are derived from a single Quality (They are both derived from rahma);  for otherwise, to list both ‘the Compassionate’ and ‘the Merciful’ would be nothing but repetition.

Fourthly, we learn that the Name is identical with the Named; otherwise, it would not be proper to seek aid in it rather than its object, God (Allah).

  • ALLEGORICAL : The way the letter ba’ is fastened to the Divine Name(Ism al-Jalála, the ‘Name of Majesty’ ), though it is not part of it, inspires in us a consciousness of how everything in existence, with all its different realities and divergent paths, is fastened to God.

Do not imagine that it touches Him—for in His transcendence, our Lord is not touched by any contingent thing, and such could not occur without the contingent thing vanishing altogether because of its lack of permanence in the presence of Him who is Eternal—rather, we mean that it is connected to Him and given being through Him: it subsists through God; not through itself. Its being is borrowed from that of its Being-Giver (mujid), as it has been said:

That which has no being in and of itself Could not be at all, were it not that He is.

The way the ba’ of the bismillah is lengthened where otherwise it is not, is because it is connected to the Name, and the one who is connected to the Named—and is thus one of God’s Folk—is worthy of being raised above the other members of his kind. As for the lengthened bá”s standing in for the elided letter alif of the word ism, it symbolises the representationi of God by he who possesses the Muhammadan inheritance: 0 David, We have made you a vicegerent on earth [Q.38- 26]; Whoso obeys the Messenger has obeyed God [Q.4- 8 0] .

Note:  In the bismillah, the first downward stroke of the letter ba’ is often lengthened, particularly in North African orthography, so that it is as tall as a letter alif, because it serves the function of representing both the letter bei’ and the alif of the word ism, ‘Name.’ See Martin Lings, A Sufi Saint, p. 156.

We have translated the word niyába as both ‘standing in’ and ‘representation‘. The Shaykh is saying that the letter ba’ is lengthened to represent the alif in the same way that a prophet or saint is God’s intermediary and His representative .

As for the position of the bismillah at the head and summit of the Book, it symbolises how God is raised above His Throne; and since this `rising’ (istiwa ) does not mean, as ordinary people think, that He is `contained’ by the Throne, but rather that He is present in every element of existence, the bismillah is placed at the head of every Chapter of the Qur’án (Sura), whether short or long: And He is with you, wherever you are [Q.57-.4].   (In fact it is placed at the head of all Chapters but one, the exception being Surat al-Tawba – Chapter9)

Traditions affirm that everything in the Book is encapsulated in the words ‘In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful’ ; this symbolises how all things are contained in the Being of their Being-Giver; that is, that everything in them branches from what is in Him: Nor is there anything but with Us are the treasuries thereof [Q.15.21]. That the Divine Name (Allah] comes before the other Beautiful Names  symbolises the precedence of the Essence, and how the Names and   Qualities are contained in Its treasury.see Commentary on the Bismillah.

  • “Peace” shall be the word conveyed to them from their Merciful Lord.” Surah yasin 36-58

Surah Yasin: Heart of the Quran

It has been proposed that yā sīn is the “heart of the Quran”.The meaning of “the heart” has been the basis of much scholarly discussion. The eloquence of this surah is traditionally regarded as representative of the miraculous nature of the Qur’an. It presents the essential themes of the Qur’an, such as the sovereignty of God, the unlimited power of God as exemplified by His creations, Paradise, the ultimate punishment of nonbelievers, resurrection, the struggle of believers against polytheists and nonbelievers, and the reassurance that the believers are on the right path, among others. Yā Sīn presents the message of the Qur’an in an efficient and powerful manner, with its quick and rhythmic verses. This surah asserts that Muhammad was not a poet, rather he was the greatest and the Last Messenger of Allah (the “Seal of the Prophets”)

There are three main themes of yā sīn: the oneness of God (tawhid); Risala, that Muhammad is a messenger sent by God to guide His creations through divine revelation; and the reality of Akhirah, the Last Judgment.[12] 36:70 “This is a revelation, an illuminating Qur’an to warn anyone who is truly alive, so that God’s verdict may be passed against the disbelievers.” [13] The surah repeatedly warns of the consequences of not believing in the legitimacy or the revelation of Muhammad, and encourages believers to remain steadfast and resist the mockery, oppression, and ridicule they receive from polytheists and nonbelievers.[14] The arguments arise in three forms: a historical parable, a reflection on the order in the universe, and lastly a discussion of resurrection and human accountability.

The chapter begins with an affirmation of the legitimacy of Muhammad.[12] For example, verses 2-6, “By the wise Qur’an, you [Muhammad] are truly one of the messengers sent of a straight path, with a revelation from the Almighty, the Lord of Mercy, to warn a people whose forefathers were not warned, and so they are unaware.”[15] The first passage, verses 1-12, focuses primarily with promoting the Qur’an as guidance and establishing that it is God’s sovereign choice who will believe and who will not. It is stated that regardless of a warning, the nonbelievers cannot be swayed to believe. 36:10 “It is all the same to them whether you warn them or not: they will not believe.”[15]

Surah Yāʾ-Sīn then proceeds to tell the tale of the messengers that were sent to warn nonbelievers, but who were rejected.[12] Although the messengers proclaimed to be legitimate, they were accused of being ordinary men by the nonbelievers. 36:15-17 “They said, ‘Truly, we are messengers to you,’ but they answered, ‘You are only men like ourselves. The Lord of Mercy has sent nothing; you are just lying.”[16] However, a man from amongst these people beseeched them to believe in the messengers. “Then there came running, from the farthest part of the City, a man, saying, ‘O my people! Obey the messengers: Obey those who ask no reward of you (for themselves), and who have themselves received Guidance.’”[Quran 36:20] Upon his death, the man entered Paradise, and lamented the fate of the nonbelievers. 36:26 “He was told, ‘Enter the Garden,’ so he said, ‘If only my people knew how my Lord has forgiven me and set me among the highly honored.”[17] This surah is meant to warn the nonbelievers of the consequences of their denial. Verse 36:30 goes on to state: “Alas for human beings! Whenever a messenger comes to them they ridicule him.”[18] Ultimately, it is God’s will who will be blind and who will see.[12]

The following passage addresses the signs of God’s supremacy over nature.[12] This is presented by the sign of revived land, the sign of day and night, the sign of the arc and the flood, and the sign of the sudden blast that arrives on the day of judgement. 36:33-37 The sign of revived land follows:

There is a sign for them in this lifeless earth: We give it life and We produce grains from it for them to eat; We have put gardens of date palms and grapes in the earth, and We have made water gush out of it so that they could eat its fruit. It is not their own hands that made all this. How can they not give thanks? Glory be to Him who created all the pairs of things that the earth produces, as well as themselves and other things they do not know about.[17]

The disbelievers do not recognize God’s power in the natural world, although He is the one Creator.[12]

The surah further addresses what will happen to those who reject the right path presented by Muhammad and refuse to believe in God. On the last day, the day of reckoning, the nonbelievers will be held accountable for their actions and will be punished accordingly.[12] God warned the nonbelievers of Satan, and yet Satan led them astray. 36:60-63 “Children of Adam, did I not command you not to serve Satan, for he was your sworn enemy, but to serve Me? This is the straight path. He has led great numbers of you astray. Did you not use your reason? So this is the fire that you were warned against.”[19] Although God warned them against following Satan, the nonbelievers were deaf, and so now they will suffer the consequences of their ill judgements. 36:63 “So this is the Fire that you were warned against. Enter it today, because you went on ignoring [my commands].”[19]

The surah proceeds to address the clear nature of the revelation and assure that Muhammad is a legitimate prophet.[12] 36:69 states, “We have not taught the Prophet poetry, nor could he ever have been a poet.”[13] Yāʾ-Sīn concludes by reaffirming God’s sovereignty and absolute power. 36:82-83 “When He wills something to be, His way is to say, ‘Be’—and it is! So glory be to Him in whose Hand lies control over all things. It is to Him that you will all be brought back.” [13] It is to God, the one Creator who holds everything in His hands, that everything returns. The closing passage is absolute and powerful and carries an essential message of the Qur’an. Read more : Commentary of surah Yasin or  Heart of the Qur’an: A Commentary to Sura Yasin

“All that is on the earth will perish: But the face of thy Lord willabide forever – full of Majesty, Bounty, and Honor.” (Qur’an, lv. 26-27).

  • The birth of Jesus in man

Faouzi Skali in his book Jesus and the Sufi Traditon explains in the 10 chapter,The birth of Jesus in man:

The soul of the mystic, Rûmi teaches us, is similar to Mary: “If your soul is pure enough and full of love enough, it becomes like Mary: it begets the Messiah”.

And al-Halláj also evokes this idea: “Our consciences are one Virgin where only the Spirit of Truth can penetrate

In this context, Jesus then symbolizes the cutting edge of the Spirit present in the human soul: “Our body is like Mary: each of us has a Jesus in him, but as long as the pains of childbirth do not appear in us, our Jesus is not born” ( Rumi, The Book of the Inside, V).

This essential quest is comparable to suffering of Mary who led her under the palm tree (Koran XIX, 22-26): “ I said:” 0 my heart, seek the universal Mirror, go towards the Sea, because you will not reach your goal by the only river! ”

In this quest, Your servant finally arrived at the place of Your home as the pains of childbirth led Mary towards the palm tree “(RÛMi, Mathnawî, II, 93 sq.)

Just as the Breath of the Holy Spirit, breathed into Mary, made him conceive the Holy Spirit, as so when the Word of God (kalám al-haqq) enters someone’s heart and the divine Inspiration purifies and fills his heart (see Matthew V, 8 or Jesus in the Sermon of the Mountain exclaims: “Blessed are pure hearts, for they will see God! “) and his soul, his nature becomes such that then is produced in him a spiritual child (walad ma’nawî) having the breath of Jesus who raises the dead.

Human beings,” it says in Walad-Nama ( French translation, Master and disciple, of Sultan Valad and Kitab al-Ma’ârif  the Skills of Soul Rapture), must be born twice: once from their mother, another from their own body and their own existence. The body is like an egg: the essence of man must become in this egg a bird, thanks to the warmth of Love; then it will escape its body and fly into the eternal world of the soul, beyond space.

And Sultan Walad adds: “If the bird of faith (imán) is not born in Man during its existence, this earthly life is then comparable to a miscarriage.

The soul, in the prison of the body, is ankylosed like the embryo in the maternal womb, and it awaits its deliverance. This will happen when the “germ” has matured, thanks to a descent into oneself, to a painful awareness: “The pain will arise from this look thrown inside oneself, and this suffering makes pass to beyond the veil. As long as the mothers do not take birth pains, the child does not have the possibility of being born (. Rumi, Mathnawî, II, 2516 sq.) (…) My mother, that is to say my nature [my body], by his agony pains, gives birth to the Spirit … If the pains during the coming of the child are painful for the pregnant woman, on the other hand, for the embryo, it is the opening of his prison ”(Ibid., 3555 sq)

Union with God, explains Rûmi, manifests itself when the divine Qualities come to cover the attributes of His servant:

God’s call, whether veiled or not, grants what he gave to Maryam. 0 you who are corrupted by death inside your body, return from nonexistence to the Voice of the Friend! In truth, this Voice comes from God, although it comes from the servant of God! God said to the saint: “I am your tongue and your eyes, I am your senses, I am your contentment and your wrath. Go, for you are the one of whom God said: ‘By Me he hears and by Me he sees!’ You are the divine Consciousness, how should it be said that you have this divine Consciousness? Since you have become, by your wondering, ‘He who belongs to God’.

I am yours because ‘God will belong to him. Sometimes, I tell you: ‘It’s you!’, Sometimes, ‘It’s me!’ Whatever I say, I am the Sun illuminating all things. “(Mathnawî, I, 1934 sq).

Once the illusion of duality has been transcended, all that remains in the soul is the divine Presence: the soul then finds in the depths of its being the divine effigy.

It has become the place of theophany. This is what Rumi calls the spiritual resurrection: “The universal Soul came into contact with the partial soul and the latter received from her a pearl and put it in her womb. Thanks to this touch of her breast, the individual soul became pregnant, like Mary, with a Messiah ravishing the heart. Not the Messiah who travels on land and at sea, but the Messiah who is beyond the limitations of space! Also, when the soul has been fertilized by the Soul of the soul, then the world is fertilized by such a soul “( Ibid., II, 1184 sq.).

This birth of the spiritual Child occurs out of time, and therefore it occurs in each man who receives him with all his being through this “Be!” that Marie receives during the Annunciation: “From your body, like Maryam, give birth to an Issa without a father! You have to be born twice, once from your mother, another time from yourself. So beget yourself again! If the outpouring of the Holy Spirit dispenses again his help, others will in turn do what Christ himself did: the Father pronounces the Word in the universal Soul, and when the Son is born, each soul becomes Mary (Ibid., III, 3773.)

So Jesus can declare: “O son of Israel, I tell you the truth, no one enters the Kingdom of Heaven and earth unless he is born twice! By the Will of God, I am of those who were born twice: my first birth was according to nature, and the second according to the Spirit in the Sky of Knowledge!  » (Sha’ranî, Tabaqat, II, 26; Sohrawardî, ‘Awarif, I, 1)

The second birth corresponds to what we also gain in Sufism as the “opening (fath) of the eye of the heart“: “When Your Eye became an eye for my heart, my blind heart drowned in vision ; I saw that You were the universal Mirror for all eternity and I saw in Your Eyes my own image. I said, “Finally, I found myself in His Eyes, I found the Way of Light!” (Rumi, Mathnawî, II, 93 sq.)

This opening is the promise made by God to all those who conclude a pact with the spiritual master, pole of his time, like the apostles with Jesus or the Companions when they pledged allegiance to Muhammad:God was satisfied with believers when they swore an oath to you under the Tree, He knew perfectly the content of their hearts, He brought down on them deep peace (sakina), He rewarded them with a prompt opening ( fath) and by an abundant booty  which they seized ”(Coran XLVIII, 18-19).(The abundant loot indicates Divine Knowledge (mari’fa)

Read more: Jesus and the Sufi Traditon

  • Twelve Days of Christmas Predict the Future … Weather or more

Just about everyone has heard The Twelve Days of Christmas song: that one about partridges and pear trees. And maybe you’re familiar with Shakespeare’s play entitled, Twelfth Night. But during the Middle Ages the twelve days of Christmas were also important for predicting the weather in the coming year.

If you thought the Christmas season ended on December 25, you would be wrong: That’s just the beginning of the twelve days of Christmas.

In the sixth century, the days between Christmas and Epiphany (6 Jan) were set aside for sacred festivities. It was a reminder of the Biblical Nativity story and a celebration of the time between Jesus’ birth and the visit of the kings (or magi). So Christmas day, 25 Dec, is the first day of Christmas and the day before Epiphany, 5 January,  is the twelfth (and last) day of Christmas.

Medieval Predictions

Today we mostly associate partridges and pear trees with the twelve days of Christmas, but according to Medieval tradition, these twelve days would forecast the weather for the entire coming year: The first day of Christmas gives us an indication of the weather in January, the second day for February, the third day for March, and so on…

But in addition to predicting the weather, the 12 days of Christmas also foretold of economic fortunes, health, political unrest, crop success, etc. with the main indicators being wind, sunshine, and thunder.

25 December – First Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of January.
Wind: A windy Christmas means there will be good weather in the year ahead. But it could also indicate a financially difficult year for the wealthy.
Sun: Sunshine means everyone will enjoy a happy and prosperous year.

26 December – Second Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of February.
Wind: Wind means it will be a bad year for fruit.
Sun: Sunshine on the second day of Christmas is a good sign: money will come easily in the new year.

27 December – Third Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of March.
Wind: If it’s windy, the coming year will be good for cereal crops.
Sun: A sunny day means economic gain. However the poor will fight among themselves while the rulers make peace.

28 December – Fourth Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of April.
Wind: If it’s a windy day, it’ll be a bad year for cereal crops and finances.
Sun: Sunshine predicts wealth and plenty in the coming year.

29 December – Fifth Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of May.
Wind: Strong winds mean the coming year will bring many storms at sea.
Sun: Sunshine forecasts plenty of flowers and fruit.

30 December – Sixth Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of June.
Wind: A windy day predicts political unrest and scandal.
Sun: Sunshine means it will be a good year for dairy cattle

31 December – Seventh Day of Christmas – New Year’s Eve
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of July.
Winds: A windy day means there is a high risk of fire in the first half of the coming year.
Sun: Sunshine means it’ll be a good year for trees. 
Thunder: Thunder toward the end of the day, bad times are on the way.

If New Year’s Eve night’s wind blows south
It betokeneth warmth and growth;
If west, much milk and fish in the sea;
If north, much cold and storms there will be;
If east, the trees will bear much fruit;
If north east, flee it man and brute.

1 January – Eighth Day of Christmas – New Year’s Day
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of August.
Wind: A windy day means ill health for the elderly.
Sun: Sunshine means that mercury will be easy to get in the coming year. (This must have been important in medieval times.)
Thunder: Thunder during the early part of New Year’s Day means good times, and afternoon thunder means successful crops.

2 January – Ninth Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of September.
Wind: Strong wind means damaging storms.
Sun: Sunshine on this day predicts a very good year for our feathered friends. 
Thunder: is same as New Year’s Day.

3 January – Tenth Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of October.
Wind: Storms are in the forecast.
Sun: Sunshine foretells a prosperous year with a good supply of fish.
Thunder: Thunder is the same as on New Year’s Day.

4 January – Eleventh Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of November.
It seems that wind, sun and thunder all predict terrible events on this day. So let’s hope for a nice mild, cloudy day.

5 January – Twelfth Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of December.
Wind: A windy day means political troubles.
Sun: A sunny day means a year of hard work is ahead.
Thunder: Thunder warns of mighty storms.

And then there are some general predictions:

If it rains much during the twelve days of Christmas, the coming year will also be a wet one.

If there’s thunder during Christmas week, The winter will be anything but meek.

If it’s dark and foggy between Christmas and Epiphany, there will be a lot of sickness next year.

Thunderstorms on any day in late December could be a good omen for the coming year. But it depends on when the thunder booms: Early-afternoon thunder is the best, mid-afternoon is still good, but thunder later in the day just indicates storms.

Personal Good Luck

If the twelve days predict dire things for your part of the world, there’s a delicious and easy way to guarantee your own personal good luck: Eat mince pies. A medieval legend says that for every mince pie you eat during the twelve days of Christmas you will have one month of good luck in the new year.

  • the Yule Log

The Yule log, Yule clog, or Christmas block is a specially selected log burnt on a hearth as a winter tradition in regions of Europe, particularly the United Kingdom, and subsequently North America. The origin of the folk custom is unclear. Like other traditions associated with Yule (such as the Yule boar), the custom may ultimately derive from Germanic paganism.

American folklorist Linda Watts provides the following overview of the custom:

The familiar custom of burning the Yule log dates back to earlier solstice celebrations and the tradition of bonfires. The Christmas practice calls for burning a portion of the log each evening until Twelfth Night (January 6). The log is subsequently placed beneath the bed for luck, and particularly for protection from the household threats of lightning and, with some irony, fire. Many have beliefs based on the yule log as it burns, and by counting the sparks and such, they seek to discern their fortunes for the new year and beyond.[1]

Watts notes that the Yule log is one of various “emblem[s] of divine light” that feature in winter holiday customs (other examples include the Yule fire and Yule candle).[1] Read more here

These all feasts are part of the Yule, the wheel of the year

Historical and archaeological evidence suggests ancient pagan and polytheist peoples varied in their cultural observations; Anglo-Saxons celebrated the solstices and equinoxes, while Celts celebrated the seasonal divisions with various fire festivals.[4] In the tenth century Cormac Mac Cárthaigh wrote about “four great fires…lighted up on the four great festivals of the Druids…in February, May, August, and Novembe

– Blowing mid-winter horns to ward off evil spirits

Did you know that it is a long time tradition in parts of the rural east of the Netherlands to blow mid-winter horns between the first Sunday of Advent and Epiphany?

During sunset farmers take long horns made from hollow elder-tree branches and blow them while standing over water wells to amplify the sound. Some say the mid-winter horn is used to herald the coming of Christ while others believe it is blown to ward off evil spirits.

  • The yule goat

The Yule goat is a Scandinavian and Northern European Yule and Christmas symbol and tradition. Its origin may be Germanic pagan and has existed in many variants during Scandinavian history. Modern representations of the Yule goat are typically made of straw.

The Yule goat’s origins go back to ancient Pagan festivals. While its origins are unclear, a popular theory is that the celebration of the goat is connected to worship of the Norse god Thor, who rode the sky in a chariot drawn by two goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr, it goes back to common Indo-European beliefs. The last sheaf of grain bundled in the harvest was credited with magical properties as the spirit of the harvest and saved for the Yule celebrations, called among other things Yule go at (Julbocken).[2]

This connects to ancient proto-Slavic beliefs where the Koliada (Yule) festival honors the god of the fertile sun and the harvest. This god, Devac (also known as Dazbog or Dažbog), was represented by a white goat,[3] consequently the Koliada festivals always had a person dressed as a goat, often demanding offerings in the form of presents.[4] A man-sized goat figure is known from 11th-century remembrances of Childermas, where it was led by a man dressed as Saint Nicholas, symbolizing his control over the Devil.[2]

Other traditions are possibly related to the sheaf of corn called the Yule goat. In Sweden, people regarded the Yule goat as an invisible spirit that would appear some time before Christmas to make sure that the Yule preparations were done right.[2] Objects made out of straw or roughly-hewn wood could also be called the Yule goat, and in older Scandinavian society a popular Christmas prank was to place this Yule goat in a neighbour’s house without them noticing; the family successfully pranked had to get rid of it in the same way.

The World Turned Upside Down: Feasts of Fools, Lords of Misrule

Taylor’s almost 900-page long A Secular Age (2007) . I would highly recommend it to anybody who is seriously interested in the past five hundred years of Western history and culture – whatever their belief system and persuasion. If you can’t afford to buy it, try locating it in a library.

The central story and question of the book goes something like this: “how did man go from purposefully living in an enchanted cosmos” to “being merely included in an disenchanted universe”? This main strand branches into several sub-themes and the author makes use of a variety of disciplines as he puts forward his ideas – philosophy, theology, sociology, science and technology, art and aesthetics.

There’s a lot in A Secular Age that I find interesting, for example, the porous v/s buffered self distinction – more on that sometime later perhaps. For now, I want to concentrate on one particular topic in the book that I keep thinking of again and again and from which, I believe, we can learn something for our time – Taylor’s discussion of a set of medieval European feasts of “misrule” during which “the world was turned upside down”, that is, strict social hierarchies were subverted in some way or another, the ordinary order of things was inverted, and a temporary sense of equilibrium was achieved. These events were certainly Carnival-like in their theatrical display of mockery and mayhem but not necessarily celebrated immediately before Lent. Many were observed around December or January. Among these festivities were the Feast of Fools (rooted in the Roman Saturnalia), the Feast of the Ass, the customs of the Boy Bishop, the Lord of Misrule or the Abbot of Unreason and, to an extent, Charivari. The primary logic was this – parodying the religious and political authorities and/or catapulting into limelight for just a day those who lived in subordinate positions, flipping the high and low ranks.

Rene Guenon. The message of French Sufi

Guenon is the founder of a unique direction in metaphysics – integral traditionalism. The main concept of his teachings is Primordial (lat. Primordialis) Tradition. And pathos of teachings is a tradition against the modern world. Tradition is a single truth from which secondary truths – all world religions originate. But the fragmentation of the original tradition into secondary religious forms was regarded by Genon as a fall, a degradation that, after all, led humanity to a modern world of antitradition, profanation and lies.

From this position, progress is an illusion, and history develops from better state to worse. Guenon took this idea from Hinduism, according to which the whole human cycle steps through four epochs: golden, silver, bronze and iron ages. You and I live in the Iron Age or otherwise in Kali Yuga. In this dark era of total oblivion of tradition, “the profane considers itself entitled to evaluate the sacral, the lowest judges the highest, ignorance evaluates wisdom, delusion dominates the truth, human displaces the divine, the earth puts itself above heaven, etc.”

In short, in the modern world everything is put upside down, the highest principles are violated, spiritual criteria are lost. Because of this radical nonconformism Guenon’s contemporaries tried to ignore him, were afraid and silenced the works of this mystic. But his criticism of the modern world from the position of tradition is logically verified, mathematically accurate, ethically impeccable and relies on strict and pure truths of ancient teachings. And if we take into account the current global crisis of capitalism, which affects the foundations of the world view of the new time (and it is from the 16th century that European civilization broke up with spiritual tradition), now is the time to turn to the message of the great French Sufi, to his fundamental works, where you can also find an answer to the always relevant question “what to do?” In brief, to stand on the path of tradition revival. To tirelessly explore yourself here and now, to go from the outside world, where noise is terrorizing, to the royal silence of the inner universe, to listen to the whisper of intuition and the beat of your own heart, to understand that the core of tradition is not somewhere, in the outer mazes of the historical past, but in the caches of our genetic memory, in the spiritual nerves of each individual soul… read more here

  • The Feast of Fools

The Feast of Fools (Latin: festum fatuorum, festum stultorum) was a feast day celebrated by the clergy in Europe during the Middle Ages, initially in Southern France, but later more widely. During the Feast, participants would elect either a false Bishop, false Archbishop or false Pope.[1][2] Ecclesiastical ritual would also be parodied and higher and lower level clergy would change places.[2][1] The passage of time has considerably obscured modern understandings of the nature and meaning of this celebration, which originated in proper liturgical observance, and has more to do with other examples of medieval liturgical drama than with either the earlier pagan (Roman) feasts of Saturnalia and Kalends or the later bourgeois lay sotie.[3] Read more here

Look also Bruegel’s Festival of Fools: To See Yourself within It

  • Feast of the Ass

The Feast of the Ass (Latin: Festum Asinorum, asinaria festa; French: Fête de l’âne) was a medieval, Christian feast observed on 14 January, celebrating the Flight into Egypt. It was celebrated primarily in France, as a by-product of the Feast of Fools celebrating the donkey-related stories in the Bible, in particular the donkey bearing the Holy Family into Egypt after Jesus’s birth.[1]

This feast mLord of Misruleay represent a Christian adaptation of the pagan feast, Cervulus, integrating it with the donkey in the nativity story.[2] In connection with the biblical stories, the celebration was first observed in the 11th century, inspired by the pseudo-Augustinian Sermo contra Judaeos c. 6th century.

In the second half of the 15th century, the feast disappeared gradually, along with the Feast of Fools, which was stamped out around the same time. It was not considered as objectionable as the Feast of Fools. Read more Here

here the concert René Clemencic – La Fête de L’ Âne : Procession (IV)

  • Lord of Misrule

In England, the Lord of Misrule – known in Scotland as the Abbot of Unreason and in France as the Prince des Sots – was an officer appointed by lot during Christmastide to preside over the Feast of Fools. The Lord of Misrule was generally a peasant or sub-deacon appointed to be in charge of Christmas revelries, which often included drunkenness and wild partying. In the spirit of misrule, identified by the grinning masks in the corners, medieval floor tiles from the Derby Black Friary show a triumphant hunting hare mounted on a dog.

The Church in England held a similar festival involving a boy bishop.[1] This custom was abolished by Henry VIII in 1541, restored by the Catholic Mary I and again abolished by Protestant Elizabeth I, though here and there it lingered on for some time longer.[2] On the Continent it was suppressed by the Council of Basel in 1431, but was revived in some places from time to time, even as late as the eighteenth century. In the Tudor period, the Lord of Misrule (sometimes called the Abbot of Misrule or the King of Misrule)[1] is mentioned a number of times by contemporary documents referring to revels both at court and among the ordinary people.[3][4][5]

In the spirit of misrule, identified by the grinning masks in the corners, medieval floor tiles from the Derby Black Friary show a triumphant hunting hare mounted on a dog.

Boy bishop is the title of a tradition in the Middle Ages, whereby a boy was chosen, for example among cathedral choristers, to parody the adult Bishop, commonly on the feast of Holy Innocents on 28 December. This tradition links with others, such as the Feast of Fools and the Feast of Asses.

The commemoration of the massacre of the Holy Innocents, traditionally regarded as the first Christian martyrs, if unknowingly so,[20][b] first appears as a feast of the Western church in the Leonine Sacramentary, dating from about 485. The earliest commemorations were connected with the Feast of the Epiphany, 6 January: Prudentius mentions the Innocents in his hymn on the Epiphany. Leo in his homilies on the Epiphany speaks of the Innocents. Fulgentius of Ruspe (6th century) gives a homily De Epiphania, deque Innocentum nece et muneribus magorum (“On Epiphany, and on the murder of the Innocents and the gifts of the Magi”).[c]

Today, the date of Holy Innocents’ Day, also called the Feast of the Holy Innocents or Childermas or Children’s Mass, varies. It is 27 December for West Syrians (Syriac Orthodox Church, Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, and Maronite Church) and 10 January for East Syrians (Chaldeans and Syro-Malabar Catholic Church), while 28 December is the date in the Church of England (Festival),[21] the Lutheran Church and the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. In these latter Western Christian denominations, Childermas is the fourth day of Christmastide.[22] The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates the feast on 29 December.[23]

From the time of Charlemagne, Sicarius of Bethlehem was venerated at Brantôme, Dordogne as one of the purported victims of the Massacre.[24]

In the Roman Rite, the 1960 Code of Rubrics prescribed the use of the red vestments for martyrs in place of the violet vestments previously prescribed on the feast of the Holy Innocents. The feast continued to outrank the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas until the 1969 motu proprio Mysterii Paschalis replaced this Sunday with the feast of the Holy Family.

In the Middle Ages, especially north of the Alps, the day was a festival of inversion involving role reversal between children and adults such as teachers and priests, with boy bishops presiding over some church services.[25] Bonnie Blackburn and Leofranc Holford-Strevens suggest that this was a Christianized version of the Roman annual feast of the Saturnalia (when even slaves played “masters” for a day). In some regions, such as medieval England and France, it was said to be an unlucky day, when no new project should be started.[26]

There was a medieval custom of refraining where possible from work on the day of the week on which the feast of “Innocents Day” had fallen for the whole of the following year until the next Innocents Day. Philippe de Commynes, the minister of King Louis XI of France tells in his memoirs how the king observed this custom, and describes the trepidation he felt when he had to inform the king of an emergency on the day.[27]

In Spain, Hispanic America, and the Philippines,[28] December 28 is still a day for pranks, equivalent to April Fool’s Day in many countries. Pranks (bromas) are also known as inocentadas and their victims are called inocentes; alternatively, the pranksters are the “inocentes” and the victims should not be angry at them, since they could not have committed any sin. One of the more famous of these traditions is the annual “Els Enfarinats” festival of Ibi in Alacant, where the inocentadas dress up in full military dress and incite a flour fight.[29]

Massacre of the Innocents (Bruegel):

See also Bruegel Tales of Winter – The Art of Snow and Ice

Bruegel: an Interpreter of Ultimate Reality and Meaning

  • Tudor Lord of isrule: How Edward VI Resurrected a Raucous Christmas Tradition

Antiquary John Stowe wrote of the popular Medieval tradition of the Lord of Misrule, explaining that:

“In the feast of Christmas, there was in the King’s house, wheresoever he was lodged, a Lord of Misrule, or Master of merry disports, and the like had ye in the house of every noble man of honour, or good worship, were he spiritual or temporal.”

He went on to explain that the Mayor of London and his sheriff also had their Lords of Misrule and that these lords would begin their ‘rule’ and organise “the rarest pastimes to delight the beholders” on All Hallows Eve (Hallowe’en) and end their rule on the day after Candlemas Day, at the beginning of February. The revelry, Stowe explained, consisted of “fine and subtle disguisings, maskes and mummeries, with playing at cards for counters, nails and points in every house, more for pastimes than for gain.”

Oxford and Cambridge universities, and Lincoln’s Inn, would also appoint Lords of Misrule, as would the royal court, although their ‘rule’ tended to be limited to the 12 days of Christmas. Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch, continued the Medieval tradition, electing a Lord of Misrule for every Christmas of his reign. His son, Henry VIII, also embraced the tradition, going so far as to appoint a separate Lord of Misrule for the young Princess Mary’s household at Christmas, 1525. However, it was in the reign of Henry VIII’s son, the boy king Edward VI, that the tradition reached its zenith under the patronage of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, who was Lord President of the Privy Council from 1550 to 1553. The tradition had declined in the latter years of Henry VIII’s reign – an ambassador to Edward VI’s court remarked in January 1552 that a Lord of Misrule had not been appointed for “15 or 16 years” – but it was resurrected with great gusto at the royal court in the Christmas seasons of 1551-1552 and 1552-1553, the final Christmases of Edward’s reign.

Portrait miniature of Edward by an unknown artist, c. 1543–46

While the king’s uncle, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and former Lord Protector, languished in the Tower of London awaiting execution as a traitor to the crown, the Duke of Northumberland sought to distract and divert both king and court with a programme of entertainment and revelry for the 12 days of Christmas. In December 1551, Northumberland appointed George Ferrers, a lawyer, courtier, MP, former servant of Somerset and a poet of some renown, as Lord of Misrule. Sir Thomas Cawarden, Master of the Revels, was informed of the appointment and asked to do all he could to aid Ferrers. Cawarden, who may well have felt slighted by the appointment of Ferrers instead of himself, had to be spurred into action by letters of complaint from both Northumberland and Ferrers regarding his inaction and the quality of items he had provided. In Cawarden’s defence, he was expected to provide a long list of apparel and items at very short notice indeed.

Although the Revels Accounts in the Loseley Manuscript are incomplete, they do show that the revels of these two Christmas seasons took the tradition of Lord of Misrule to new heights. Never before had the Lord of Misrule entered the City of London in a huge and elaborate procession that mimicked the procession of a monarch. Ferrers demanded a large retinue which, in January 1553, included no fewer than six councillors, a ‘dizard’ (talkative fool), jugglers, tumblers, a divine, a philosopher, an astronomer, a poet, a physician, an apothecary, a master of requests, a civilian, friars, two gentleman ushers and “suche other” as he needed. The fools included the “Lord Misrule’s ape”, his “heir apparent” and children.
Both of Edward VI’s final Christmases were spent at Greenwich Palace, the 15th century abode situated on the bank of the River Thames. Ferrers made his entry to the royal court at the palace under a canopy, presumably like a royal canopy of estate, and in one piece of pageantry at court he appeared “out of the moon”.

On 2 January 1552, Ferrers presided over a drunken mask at court for which he was furnished with eight “visars” (perhaps vizards or masks), eight swords and daggers, headpieces decorated with serpents and clubs that were full of “pykes” (spikes). The Christmas festivities also included the “Tryumphe of Horsemen”, in which 18 answerers ran six courses each against the Earl of Warwick, Henry Sidney, Sir Henry Gates and Sir Henry Neville as challengers. “Rich hangings” from the “King’s timber houses” were cut up and used for 12 bards for the challengers’ great horses, and caparisons and trappings for their eight light horses. A mock Midsummer Night festival was held that night and the furnishing of “as many Counterfett harnesses & weapons as ye may spare and hobby horsses” suggests that the entertainment included a mock joust. According to the Revels Accounts, other entertainment over the Christmas period included a mask of “Greek worthyes”, a mask of apes, a mask of bagpipes, a mask of cats and “a mask of medyoxes, being half man, half deathe.”

Two masked revellers by Jacob de Gheyn, circa 1595. Courtesy of the Rijksmuseum

On the night of 3 January 1552, there was a mock midsummer that required six hobby horses to be supplied, and then on 4 January the Lord of Misrule made his entry into the City of London. WR Streitberger points out that this entry was not only a parody of traditional royal entries into the capital but also “partly a burlesque of the power vested in royalty to dispense justice”. Diarist and merchant Henry Machyn gives a detailed contemporary account of Ferrers’ entry, writing of how Ferrers landed at Tower Wharf with a great number of young knights and gentlemen on horseback, “every man having a baldric of yellow and green about their necks”. They went first to Tower Hill, accompanied by a procession consisting of a standard of yellow and green silk with St George, guns and squibs, trumpet players, bagpipe players, flautists and other musicians, morris dancers, and the Lord of Misrule’s councillors in “gownes of chanabulle lyned with blue taffata and capes of the same”. Then came the Lord of Misrule, apparelled in a fur-trimmed cloth of gold gown, 50 men of the guard dressed in red and white, and a cart carrying a pillory, gibbet and stocks. The procession then made its way to the Cross at Cheapside where a great scaffold had been erected. There, a proclamation was made of Ferrers’ “progeny”, his “great household” and his “dignity”, before a beheading took place. Thankfully, it was a symbolic beheading; the ‘head’ of a hogshead of wine was “smitten out” for everyone to drink. After that, the Lord of Misrule enjoyed a sumptuous feast with the Lord Mayor before visiting the Lord Treasurer at Austin Friars and then taking a barge back from Tower Wharf to Greenwich.

As well as the pillory, gibbet and stocks described by Machyn as being part of the Lord of Misrule’s entry into London, the Revels Accounts list joints for a pair of stocks with hasps and staples, locks for the pillory and stocks, keys, manacles with a hanging locks, a “hedding ax” and “hedding block”. As well as symbolising the power of the monarch – or the Lord of Misrule at Christmas – to dispense justice, these items and the scaffold at Cheapside my well have alluded to the forthcoming execution of the Duke of Somerset.

On Twelfth Night 1552, a tourney was held during the day, and that evening, following a play performed by the King’s Players, there was a contest or feat of arms between Youth and Riches, with them arguing over which of them was better. It is thought to have been devised by Sir Thomas Chaloner, the statesman and poet. Sir Anthony Browne, Lord Fitzwater, Ambrose Dudley, Sir William Cobham and two other men fought on Youth’s side against Lord Fitzwarren, Sir Robert Stafford and four others on the side of Riches. “All these fought two to two at barriers in the hall. Then came in two apparelled like Almains [Germans]. The Earl of Ormonde and Jacques Granado, and two came in like friars, but the Almains would not suffer them to pass till they had fought. The friars were Mr Drury and Thomas Cobham.” It is not clear whether this contest between Germans (Protestants) and Catholic friars was, in fact, devised to ridicule the Catholic Church. This mock combat was followed by a mask of men and a mask of women, and then a banquet of 120 dishes. “This was the end of Christmas”, is how the account ends.

Two masked musicians perform for a noblewoman, by Jacob de Gheyn, circa 1595. Courtesy of the Rijksmuseum

The allusion to the Duke of Somerset’s scheduled execution was not the only controversial element of the Lord of Misrule’s programme of entertainment that year. Jehan Scheyfve, the imperial ambassador, recorded what he obviously saw as an anti-papist display. According to Scheyfve, a procession of mock priests and bishops “paraded through the Court, and carried, under an infamous tabernacle, a representation of the holy sacrament in its monstrance, which they wetted and perfumed in most strange fashion, with great ridicule of the ecclesiastical estate”. He wasn’t the only one upset about this affront to the Catholic Church; he wrote that “Not a few Englishmen were highly scandalised by this behaviour; and the French and Venetian ambassadors, who were at Court at the time, showed clearly enough that the spectacle was repugnant to them”. One can only assume, however, that the king was happy with this procession and the programme of festivities, for, as historian Jennifer Loach points out, the Revels Accounts show that the king took an active involvement in directing the entertainment and that changes were often made as “declared and commaunded by his highenes or his pryvie counsell” in order “to serve the kinge and his counsells pleasure and determinacion”. The King’s Printer, Richard Grafton, in writing about how well Ferrers was received at court as the Lord of Misrule, commented that he was “very well liked… But best of al by the yong king himselfe, as appered by his princely liberalitie in rewarding that service.” Ferrers was rewarded for his service with a payment of £50 from Northumberland and in September 1552 was appointed as Lord of Misrule for the 1552-1553 Christmas season.

The Christmas season of 1552-1553 began on with Ferrers sending his “solemn ambassador” to court, accompanied by a herald, trumpeter, “an orator speaking in a straunge language” and an interpreter. The ambassador’s mission was to speak to the king and ask for an audience for the Lord of Misrule. This audience was granted and the next day, Ferrers travelled to court along the Thames in the king’s brigantine, which was decorated in blue and white, escorted by other vessels and boys dressed as Turks and playing drums. At Greenwich, he was met by Sir George Howard, the Lord of Misrule’s Master of the Horse, who had come with a horse for Ferrers and who was accompanied by four pages of honour carrying Ferrers’ headpiece, shield, sword and axe. Ferrers writes of how he had taken Hydra, the serpent with seven heads, as his coat of arms, a holly bush as his crest and ‘Semper ferians’ (always keeping the holiday) as his motto.

Entertainments over Christmas and New Year included a pageant in which Ferrers emerged from “vastum vacuum” (a vast airy space), which must have been some kind of pageant car; a feat of arms; a mock midsummer show and joust of hobby horses, presumably like the previous year; a day of hunting and hawking, and masks of “covetus men with longe noses”, “women of Diana hunting”, “babions faces of tinsel black and tawny”, “pollenders”, “matrons” as well as soldiers.

University of Leicester Special Collections. ‘Lord of Misrule’ from: William Sandys, Christmastide: its History, Festivities and Carols, (London, [1852], SCM 12913.Ferrers ordered five different suits of apparel via Cawarden for the festive season: one to wear on both his entry to court and his entry into London, two for the next “hallowed daies”, another for New Year and a final one for Twelfth Night. He also ordered a fool’s coat and hood for John Smith, who was playing the Lord of Misrule’s “heir apparent”, a hunting costume consisting of a coat of cloth of gold decorated with red and green checkerwork, a cloth of gold hat decorated with green leaves, and six sets of outfits complete with horns for his attendants. Other items included “Irish apparel” for both a man and woman, costumes for members of his retinue, maces for his sergeant-at-arms, and hobby horses, one of which he ordered to be made with three heads.

Henry Machyn records the Lord of Misrule’s entry into London on 4 January 1553, writing that he was met at Tower Wharf by the Sheriff’s Lord of Misrule, who took a sword and bore it before Ferrers, who was dressed in royal purple velvet furred with ermine, his “robe braided with spangulls of selver full”. Ferrers was accompanied by a large retinue dressed in a livery of blue and white. As well as musicians, fools and morris dancers, there were once again gaolers armed with a pillory, stocks, an axe, shackles and bolts, and prisoners, presumably actors, who were “fast by the leges and sum by the nekes”. They processed through Gracechurch Street and Cornhill, and once again made their way to a scaffold. After a proclamation had been made, Ferrers gave the Sheriff’s Lord of Misrule a gown of gold and silver before knighting him. The two Lords of Misrule toasted each other and as they proceeded onwards, Ferrers’ cofferer distributed silver and gold. The day ended with a feast at the Lord Mayor’s home, a visit to the Sheriff’s house and a banquet course at the Lord Treasurer’s house.
Twelfth Night was celebrated with “The Triumph of Cupid, Venus and Mars”, which, according to Cawarden’s correspondence, was a play devised by Sir George Howard, who was also Master of the Henchmen. Enid Welsford believes that this play was an imitation of the Italian ‘trionfi’, a triumphal procession, and it appears that Venus did indeed enter in a triumphal chariot accompanied by a mask of ladies followed by the marshal and his band. Venus rescued Cupid from the marshal with some kind of mock combat, and at some point, Mars also made his triumphal entry. Thus ended the Twelve Days of Christmas. Once again, the King was pleased his Lord of Misrule and George Ferrers was granted an estate at Flamstead in Hertfordshire.

Although Sydney Anglo makes the point that few records survive detailing the Lord of Misrule’s entertainments in other years, we know from the accounts of Edward VI’s reign that £500 was spent on the revels of Christmas 1551-1552 and £400 on that of 1552-1553, compared to £150 in 1547-1548 and £11 in 1548-1549. The entertainment of George Ferrers’ time as Lord of Misrule was pageantry at its most lavish. Historian Ronald Hutton concludes that the spectacle of Ferrers’ entries into London, for example, “was one of the most elaborate in Tudor history”. It is a shame that the incomplete records only give us a tantalising glimpse into the revelry.

  • January 14 is “Feast of the Ass” Day

On January 14, medieval Christians celebrated Feast of the Ass Day, although perhaps not the type of “ass” you may be thinking of!  It actually celebrated the various accounts in the Bible where a donkey (or ass) is mentioned, especially the one that supposedly carried Mary and the baby Jesus to Egypt.

Digging Deeper

Not surprisingly, like many or even most Christian holidays, the Feast of the Ass had its origins in Paganism, being derived from the religious feast called Cervulus.

Flight into Egypt by Gentile da Fabriano

During this bestial-based holy day, a ceremony often took place in which a girl with a baby (or a pregnant girl) was led through a village on a donkey, followed by churchgoers answering the priest with “hee-haws” during the related church service or Mass.  In some accounts, the priest himself would bray. 

Amazingly, this nifty holiday fell out of favor around 1500 along with its sister feast, the Feast of Fools.  Apparently some thought the titles and actions of these two celebrations were less than “Christian.” 

Perhaps they should bring this particular feast back and give people a valid excuse, at least one day a year, to make an “ass” / donkey of themselves and ourselves in church or everywhere else in life outside. 

  • Landscape as an Image of the Pilgrimage of Life :

Look at the donkey in The Rest on the Flight into Egypt of the “Holy Refugees” by Joachim Patinir…

..he is smiling in his heart…

It depends of the sturburness of our Ego, the Donkey.

In the Spiritual Land of Peace, the donkey, our ego is quiet, he submits totally to the “Holy Refugee” and eats the “Greenness” of the spiritual field of the Land watered by the Eternal Water of Life….

Corona or Covid- is like a rehab intervention that breaks the addictive hold of normality. To interrupt a habit is to make it visible; it is to turn it from a compulsion to a choice. The phenomenon follows the template of initiation: separation from normality, followed by a dilemma, breakdown, or ordeal, followed (if it is to be complete) by reintegration and celebration. Now the question arises: Initiation into what? What is the specific nature and purpose of this initiation? The popular name for the pandemic offers a clue: coronavirus. A corona is a crown. “Novel coronavirus pandemic” means “a new coronation for all.”
A Choice or a possible migration to the Spiritual Land of Peace
t

To become a Refugee, a Holy Refugee through an emigration to Sincerity or uprightnees of Love

see:

We are not the first generation to know that we are destroying the world.  But  we could be the last that can do anything about it, not with the vanity of  earthly knowledge and so called democratic solidarity and wisdom here on earth  as the commercial of WWF wants to convince us, but with asking humbly the help of Divine Wisdom so realising in us the image of the man who painfully transcends his material ego: The birth of his soul. It is a test. It’s time to decide! 

  • Treatise on Unification by Ibn al Arabi
    In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. Blessings
    upon our master, Mu¢ammad, and upon his family and companions. This is a noble treatise in which I have consigned a tremendous discourse.
    From my incompleteness to my completeness, and from my
    inclination to my equilibrium
    From my grandeur to my beauty, and from my splendour
    to my majesty
    From my scattering to my gathering, and from my exclusion
    to my reunion
    From my baseness to my preciousness, and from my stones to
    my pearls
    From my rising to my setting, and from my days to my
    nights
    From my luminosity to my darkness, and from my guidance
    to my straying
    From my perigee to my apogee, and from the base of my
    lance to its tip

From my waxing to my waning, and from the void of my
moon to its crescent
From my pursuit to my flight, and from my steed to my
gazelle
From my breeze to my boughs, and from my boughs to my
shade
From my shade to my bliss, and from my bliss to my wrath
From my wrath to my likeness, and from my likeness to my
impossibility
From my impossibility to my validity, and from my validity
to my deficiency.
I am no one in existence but myself, so –
Whom do I treat as foe and whom do I treat as friend?
Whom do I call to aid my heart, pierced by a penetrating
arrow,
When the archer is my eyelid,
striking my heart without an
arrow?
Why defend my station? It matters little to me; what do I
care?
For I am in love with none other than myself, and my very
separation is my union.
Do not blame me for my passion. I am inconsolable over the
one who has fled me.

In this book I never cease addressing myself about myself and returning in it to myself from myself.
From my heaven to my earth, from my exemplary practice to my religious duty,

From my pact to my perjury,

from my length to my breadth.


From my sense to my intellect and from my intellect to my sense,
– From whence derive two strange sciences, without doubt or
confusion.
From my soul to my spirit and from my spirit to my soul,
– By means of dissolution and coagulation, like the corpse in
the tomb.
From my intuition to my knowledge and from my knowledge
to my intuition,
– Continuous is the light of knowledge; ephemeral the light
of intuition.
From my sanctity to my impurity and from my impurity to
my sanctity,
– Sanctity is in my present and impurity is in yesterday.

From my human-nature to my jinn-nature, and from my
jinn-nature to my human-nature,
– For my jinn-nature seeks to disquiet me and my humannature seeks to set me at ease.
From the narrowness of my body to the vastness of my soul,
And from the vastness of my soul to the prison of my body,
– For my soul denies my intellect and my intellect my soul.
From my entity to my nonentity, and my nonentity to my
entity,
– Where I rejoice to find my composition and lament to find
my dispersion.
From my likeness to my opposite and from my opposite to
my likeness,
– Were it not for Båqil no light of excellence would shine in
Quss.
From my sun to my full moon and from my full moon to
my sun,
– So that I might bring to light what lies hidden in night’s core.
From Persian to Arab and from Arab to Persian,
– To explain the mysteries’ roots and express the realities’
enigmas.
From my root to my branch and from my branch to my root,

For the sake of a life that was buried in death, animate or
inanimate.
Pay no heed, my soul, to the words of that jealous spitemonger,
Or to the remarks of that ignorant presumer, O myrtle of
my soul!
How many ignoramuses have slandered us spiritual beings!
While my revelation descends from the Spirit of inspiration
and sanctity,
He is like a man possessed by a demon whose touch makes
him tremble.18
On the matter of spiritual realization mankind does not
cease to err,
For God’s secret is poised between the shout and the

whisper.
I have called this treatise “Cosmic unification in the presence of essential witnessing, through the assembling of the Human Tree and the Four Spiritual Birds.” I have dedicated it to Ab¬ al-Fawåris Íakhr ibn Sinån, master of the reins of generosity and eloquence. I seek help
from God. He is my support and my assistance, glory be to him!

From The Universal Tree and the Four Birds by Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi,

Mystical Nativity for our Times

  • Sandro Botticelli’s  The Mystical Nativity


The Mystical Nativity is a painting of circa 1500-1501 by the Italian Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli, in the National Gallery in London. Botticelli built up the image using oil paint on canvas. It is his only signed work, and has a very unusual iconography for a Nativity.

It has been suggested that this picture, the only surviving work signed by Botticelli, was painted for his own private devotions, or for someone close to him. It is certainly unconventional, and does not simply represent the traditional events of the birth of Jesus and the adoration of the shepherds and the Magi or Wise Men.

Rather it is a vision of these events inspired by the prophecies in the Revelation of Saint John. Botticelli has underlined the non-realism of the picture by including Latin and Greek texts, and by adopting the conventions of medieval art, such as discrepancies in scale, for symbolic ends. The Virgin Mary, adoring a gigantic infant Jesus, is so large that were she to stand she could not fit under the thatch roof of the stable. They are, of course, the holiest and the most important persons in the painting.

The angels carry olive branches, which two of them have presented to the men they embrace in the foreground. These men, as well as the presumed shepherds in their short hooded garments on the right and the long-gowned Magi on the left, are all crowned with olive, an emblem of peace. The scrolls wound about the branches in the foreground, combined with some of those held by the angels dancing in the sky, read: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men‘ (Luke 2:14).

As angels and men move ever closer, from right to left, to embrace, little devils scatter into holes in the ground. The scrolls held by the angels pointing to the crib once read: `Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world‘ the words of John the Baptist presenting Christ (John 1:29).

Above the stable roof the sky has opened to reveal the golden light of paradise. Golden crowns hang down from the dancing angels’ olive branches. Most of their scrolls celebrate Mary: ‘Mother of God’, ‘Bride of God’, ‘Sole Queen of the World’.

The puzzling Greek inscription at the top of the picture has been translated: ‘I Sandro made this picture at the conclusion of the year 1500 in the troubles of Italy in the half time after the time according to the 11th chapter of Saint John in the second woe of the Apocalypse during the loosing of the devil for three and a half years then he will be chained in the 12th chapter and we shall see […] as in this picture.

The missing words may have been ‘him burying himself’. The ‘half time after the time’ has been generally understood as a year and a half earlier, that is, in 1498, when the French invaded Italy, but it may mean a half millennium (500 years) after a millennium (1000 years): 1500, the date of the painting. Like the end of the millennium in the year 1000, the end of the half millennium in 1500 also seemed to many people to herald the Second Coming of Christ, prophesied in Revelation.

At a time when Florentine painters were recreating nature with their brush, Botticelli freely acknowledged the artificiality of art. In the pagan Venus and Mars he turned his back on naturalism in order to express ideal beauty. Read here La Primavera – Botticelli: The Eternal Spring and a message for our times

In the ‘Mystic Nativity’ he went further, beyond the old-fashioned to the archaic, to express spiritual truths – rather like the Victorians who were to rediscover him in the nineteenth century, and who associated the Gothic style with an ‘Age of Faith’.

The painting emerged from the city of Florence in a time when the fanatical preacher Savonarola held the city in its grip. There is no documentary evidence to prove whether or not Botticelli was one of Savonarola’s follower. But certain themes in his later works – like the Mystic Nativity – are certainly derived from the sermons of Savonarola, which means that the artist was definitely attracted by that personality so central to the cultural and political events of Florence during the last years of the fifteenth century.

The painting is on canvas – normally he would have used wood panel – perhaps for a painting with a dangerous message, canvas had the advantage that it could be rolled up and hidden. With his canvas prepared he would sketch a detailed design on paper, then he transferred this to canvas. He drew on many sources – the dancing angels echo his own three graces of Primavera, the scurrying devil was inspired by a German woodcut. X-rays show that very little of the original design changed – only an angel’s wing was adjusted and trees added over the roof of the stable. Botticelli was now ready to build up the image using oil paint – like canvas an experimental medium. To create the heavenly dome Botticelli called on the goldsmith’s craft he had learned as a boy. “The symbolism of the gold is to do with the unchanging, untarnished nature of heaven – gold doesn’t decay, it doesn’t darken like silver. Botticelli would have used an adhesive layer made of oil mixed with resin – not burnished , the gold just patted down on to the surface, following the surface irregularities of the canvas – a glitter, intricate, it would have helped the jewel like quality of the painting – it would have drawn the eye upwards from the Nativity into Heaven. Faith, hope and charity,[the angels clothed in] white, green and red – but the copper based green pigment has discoloured with time, to bronze. Originally it would have been vibrant.”

Botticelli died in 1510. The Mystic Nativity remained hidden for another three centuries. Rome at the end of the 18th century was very different to Renaissance Florence – except for the presence of French invaders. Many foreigners left, but not a young Englishman, William Young Ottley. He was an art lover, and wealthy with a slave plantation in the Caribbean. He bought up many paintings cheaply. At the Villa Aldobrandini he saw a small, unknown work, Botticelli’s Mystic Nativity. Botticelli was then in obscurity.

It arrived in London where Ottley’s house became in effect a private museum of Italian masterpieces. After Ottley’s death William Fuller-Maitland of Stansted picked up the painting at an auction for £80. When he loaned it to the Art Treasures Exhibition, Manchester 1857, it was now on open display. The Exhibition’s newspaper the Art Treasures Examiner printed a new engraving of it.

  •  The ideas of Savonarola in Sandro Botticelli’s ‘The Mystical Nativity’.

Experts mean that the ideas of Savonarola are illustrated in the painting of Sandro Botticelli ‘The Mystical Nativity’, circa 1500-1501; tempera on canvas, 108,5 x 75 cm, preserved in the National Gallery, London. The board of the National Gallery wrote:
‘Sandro Botticelli painted the ‘Mystic Nativity’, dated 1500, at the turn of the half-millennium. At first glance the painting seems to show a conventional Nativity scene. Shepherds and wise men have come to visit the new-born king, while angels in the heavens dance and sing hymns of praise. However, the text at the top of the picture, veiled in scholarly Greek, provides a key to further layers of meaning.
The Greek inscription has been translated: ‘I Sandro made this picture at the conclusion of the year 1500 in the troubles of Italy in the half time after the time according to the 11th chapter of Saint John in the second woe of the Apocalypse during the loosing of the devil for three and a half years then he will be chained in the 12th chapter and we shall see […] as in this picture.’ ‘
The missing words may have been ‘him burying himself’. The ‘half time after the time’ has been generally understood as a year and a half earlier, that is, in 1498, when the French invaded Italy, but it may mean a half millennium (500 years) after a millennium (1000 years): 1500, the date of the painting.

Savonarola had arrived in Florence in 1490 but had been repelled by the artistic glory and enormous wealth that so impressed the world. He preached that this was a corrupt and vice-ridden place. A great scourge was approaching – and then his words had assumed a terrifying reality. In 1494 a huge French army invaded Italy and 10000 troops entered Florence so that the Florentines feared the King of France meant to sack the city. Savonarola stepped into the political vacuum, he met with the French king and persuaded him to leave Florence peacefully. In their gratitude and relief the Florentines increasingly saw the friar as a prophet and his preaching attracted huge crowds to Florence Cathedral. Savonarola claimed that Florence could become the new Jerusalem if the citizens would repent and abandon their sinful luxuries – and that included much of their art. His beliefs were made real as groups of evangelical youths went on to the streets to encourage people to part with their luxuries, their lewd pictures, and books, their vanities, combs, mirrors. Botticelli may well have seen his own paintings fed to the flames. Yet the artist might not have objected because, like much of the city, he too had come under the sway of Savonarola. It seems that a sermon preached by Savonarola bears directly upon the Mystical Nativity.
In one sermon Savonarola preached he set forth a vision that had come to him in which he saw an extraordinary heavenly crown. At its base were twelve hearts with twelve ribbons wrapped around them and written on these in Latin were the unique mystical qualities or privileges of the Virgin Mary – she is ‘mother of her father’, ‘daughter of her son’, ‘bride of God’ etc. Though much of the writing on the ribbons held by the dancing angels is now invisible to the naked eye, infra-red reflectography has shown that the original words on the angels ribbons correspond exactly to Savonarola’s 12 privileges of the Virgin. In his sermon, preached on Assumption Day, Savonarola went on to explore the 11th and 12th chapters of the Book of Revelation – the precise chapters mentioned in the painting’s inscription. He connected the glory of Mary with the imminent coming of the power of Christ on earth.

Years Savonarola held Florence in his hand but his hard line charismatic rule made him powerful political enemies. He was challenged to prove his holiness by walking through fire and when he refused the tide of opinion turned against him. He was arrested, and under torture confessed to being a false prophet. On 23 May 1498 he was hanged with two of his leading lieutenants, their bodies burnt and their ashes scattered in the River Arno. Some see the figures of the three men at the bottom of the painting as representatives of the three executed holy men, raised up and restored to grace – but persecution not peace awaited Savonarola’s followers and it was in an atmosphere of oppression that Botticelli set out to create the Mystic Nativity.

The painting has some dark symbolic premonitions, including:

  • the baby Jesus rests on a sheet that evokes his death shroud;
  • the cave echoes his tomb;
  • the Kings on the left bear no gifts;
  • at the bottom of the painting, three angels embrace three men, seeming to raise them from the ground;
  • at the very bottom of the canvas, seven devils flee to the underworld; and
  • some of the devils impaled on their weapons.

On the reassuring side, the painting includes the following:

  • at the top of the picture twelve angels dressed in the colors of faith, hope and charity dance in a circle;
  • the angels are holding olive branches;
  • above the angels, heaven opens in a great golden dome;
  • the symbolism of the gold is the unchanging, untarnished nature of heaven; and
  • the angels at the bottom are holding scrolls which proclaim in Latin, “Peace on earth to men of goodwill.”

The painting uses the medieval convention of showing the Virgin Mary and infant Jesus larger than other figures. This emphasis was certainly done deliberately for effect, as earlier Botticelli nativity paintings used the correct graphical perspective. The Greek inscription at the top translates as:

“This picture, at the end of the year 1500, in the troubles of Italy, I Alessandro, in the half-time after the time, painted, according to the eleventh [chapter] of Saint John, in the second woe of the Apocalypse, during the release of the devil for three-and-a-half years; then he shall be bound in the twelfth [chapter], and we shall see [him buried] as in this picture”.

Savonarola’s Impact

This painting may be connected with the influence of Savonarola, whose influence also appears in some late pictures by Botticelli. The painting emerged when the fanatical preacher Savonarola held the city of Florence in his grip. He had arrived in Florence in 1490 but had been repelled by its artistic glory and wealth. He preached that this art was corrupt, and a great scourge was approaching. His words became a terrifying reality during the Italian War of 1494–1498. In 1494 a vast French army invaded Italy, and 10,000 troops entered Florence, and the citizens feared the sack of their city. Savonarola stepped into the political vacuum; he met with the French king and persuaded him to leave Florence peacefully. In their gratitude, and relief, the Florentines increasingly saw the friar as a prophet, and his preaching attracted huge crowds.

Savonarola claimed that Florence could become the new Jerusalem if the citizens would repent and abandon their sinful luxuries, including their art. His beliefs were made real as groups of evangelical youths went on to the streets to encourage people to part with their luxuries, their pictures, and books, their vanities, combs, mirrors. Botticelli may well have seen his paintings thrown into the flames. The artist might not have objected because, as much of the city, he too was fearful of Savonarola. Savonarola’s fearful sermons must have affected the Mystical Nativity.

For years Savonarola held Florence in his grip, but his hard-line rule made him powerful enemies. He was challenged to prove his holiness by walking through fire, and when he refused, the tide of opinion turned against him. He was arrested, and under torture, confessed to being a false prophet. In 1498 he was hanged with two of his lieutenants. Their bodies were then burnt.

Bonfire of the Vanities

The ‘bonfire of the vanities’ usually refers to the fire of 1497, when supporters of Savonarola collected and burned thousands of objects such as cosmetics, art, and books in Florence. The focus of this destruction was on objects that might tempt one to sin, including vanity items such as mirrors, cosmetics, elegant dresses, playing cards, and musical instruments. Other targets included books that were deemed to be immoral, manuscripts of secular songs, and artworks, including paintings and sculptures.

Great Tribulation

The Great Tribulation is a period mentioned by Jesus as a sign that would occur in the time of the end. In Revelation, “the Great Tribulation” is used to indicate the period spoken of by Jesus, however, in the context of those hard-pressed by siege and the calamities of war.  Christian eschatology is the study of ‘end things.’ The study includes the end of an individual life, the end of the age, the end of the world, and the nature of the Kingdom of God.

There are many passages in the Bible, which speak of a time of terrible tribulation, such as has never been known. Time of natural and human-made disasters on a grand scale. Jesus said that at the time of his coming, “There will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever will be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake, those days will be shortened.” [Mt 24:21-22]

  • Botticelli’s Mystic Nativity, Savonarola and the Millennium

….Already by 1400 the theme of the reconciliation of the heavenly virtues was
being used for reform propaganda. According to the chronicler Luca Dominici,
notices relating to the Book of Revelation (so he says) were posted on the doors of
the main churches of Bologna, reading:
Through the world a multitude of the peoples dressed in white and shining stoles, shouting, ‘Lord, grant us peace and mercy’. And at last, when Righteousness and Peace had
descended from heaven, they kissed each other. And Truth and Peace arose upon the earth, and the true shepherd of all will become known, and the righteous king will arise on earth …

The purpose of such notices was to encourage the Bianchi, then converging in
great numbers upon Rome for the Jubilee.16 We encounter three of the heavenly
virtues in a song by Girolamo Benivieni, one of Savonarola’s closest followers, in
which he describes a visit by Christ to Florence in order to see and judge the newly
reformed city. Mercy and Righteousness come before him and embrace each other
and are then joined by Peace. The song, published in 1500, was probably written
during Savonarola’s lifetime, to be sung by groups of his most ardent followers.’
In a sermon given in December 1494 Savonarola himself used the image of the
heavenly virtues to illustrate how great God’s love was for Florence:
I have told you several times in the past, Florence, that even though God has everywhere  prepared a great scourge, nevertheless on the other hand he loves you and is fond of you.
And so it can be said that in you has been realised that saying, ‘Mercy and truth are met
together’, that is, Mercy and Righteousness [sic] have come together in the city of Florence.
From the one side came the scourge, and Mercy came towards it from the other side, and,  ‘righteousness and peace have kissed each other’, and have embraced together, and God has  wished to show you justice and on the other hand be merciful to you, and save you…

This passage appears to bear not only on the Mystic Nativity but on the Mystic Crucifixion as well.

Each of the twelve angels in the circle at the top of the Mystic Nativity has at least one ribbon bearing an inscription in Latin or sometimes Italian . Each of the seven surviving
inscriptions conforms exactly to one of what Savonarola, in his Compendio di revelatione, first published in 1495, calls the  twelve ‘privileges’ of the Virgin.

  • The  twelve ‘privileges’ of the Virgin

The  ‘privileges’ are part of an allegorical  crown offered to Mary by the Florentine people, and occur on banderoles surmounting the twelve hearts in the lowest  of its three tiers .

In the which banderoles were written twelve privileges of the Virgin with words of prayer,
which are these:

Two in relation to the Everlasting Father: The first: Sposa di Dio Padre vera, because God the Father and she have  one and the same son. The second: Sposa  di Dio Padre admiranda, because just as the  Father gave birth from eternity to his Son in  heaven without a mother, so she gave birth  on earth to that same Son without a father.

Two others in relation to the Son: First: Madre di Dio. Second: Madre del suo padre, because Jesus Christ was the Son and is God the Creator of the Universe, who created her.

Two in relation to the Holy Ghost: First: she is Sacrario dello Spirito Sancto singulare, because by it she was singularly full of all of the graces. Second: Sacrario ineffabile, because the Holy Ghost made her fit to be the mother of the Creator of the Universe.

Two in relation to her virginity: First: she is Vergine delle vergine, because no other virgin can be compared to this one, who was never spotted by any venial or mortal sin. Second: she is Vergine fecunda, because she alone is virgin and mother.

Two in relation to the Church Triumphant and the whole universe: First: that she is Regina sola del mondo, because she is the true Spouse and Mother and Shrine of the King of the World, who is God Threefold and One. Second: Regina sopra tutte le creature honoranda, because … she is honoured much more highly than all the saints, and with an honour that is called ‘hyperdulia’.

Two last ones in relation to the present Church Militant: First: she is Dolcezza di cuore delli giusti, because through her they beg for many favours from God, and her love is ‘sweeter than honey and the honeycomb’, which love amazingly makes their souls and bodies chaste. Second: that she is Speranza delli  peccatori et delle persone miserabili, because through her prayers and merits they hope to beg for  mercy from God. These twelve privileges, then, were written on those twelve banderoles in this form: Sponsa Dei Patris vera, ora pro nobis; Sponsa Dei Patris admiranda, intercede pro nobis. And thus also followed all the others.

There is good reason to believe that there is a tropological dimension to the
painting. The known Savonarolan sources on which the Mystic Nativity draws are all
moral in intent, and the painting exhorts us to worship the Child truly and become
reconciled with our brothers. Unlike most Italian pictures of the time, it is clearly
structured into groups of significant numbers and combinations of white, green,
and red. Significant numbers were the almost irresistable cue for late-medieval theologians to list a set of moral precepts, and Savonarola was no exception to this
rule. White, green, and red usually symbolise Faith, Hope, and Charity respectively.


That perhaps is what they do in Botticelli’s painting also. But caution is necessary.
For Savonarola Faith may be green and Hope sky blue,’ whereas white, green, and
red may stand for any number of other things.
To conclude, I shall propose three possible interpretations of the painting, taking them in ascending order of probability, before ending with an observation  about its theme.

Firstly, the Mystic Nativity might be, along with the Mystic Crucifixion in the Fogg
Art Museum , a picture intended for the boys in the group of Bernardino
dei Fanciulli or another Savonarolan association like it. This is suggested by the
highly ‘naive’ syntax of both paintings, the great stress on angels, and the fact that
in both paintings the symbols of evil-five small and apparently self-destructed
demons in the case of the Mystic Nativity and two small and seemingly unferocious
animals in that of the Mystic Crucifixion-do not appear to be intended as frightening. As a further slight but perhaps relevant indication, in the only volume of the ‘collected works’ of Bernardino dei Fanciulli, there are just two illustrations, one  showing the Nativity and the other the Crucifixion. Against the possibility that these two pictures were intended for children is of course the presence of the Greek inscription to the Mystic Nativity. But as we have seen, that inscription might have  been added later;  if so, perhaps it was added with the purpose of ‘redefining’ the painting. In this connection we should note that Bernardino and his group were  forced into exile in 1500-and according to the inscription it was ‘at the end of the  year 1500, in the troubles of Italy’ that the Mystic Nativity was painted.
Secondly, the painting might be a cryptic representation of the Millennium-or rather those features of it in which Botticelli believed and which he thought to be in harmony with the predictions that Savonarola had made. During such a Millennium those Florentines who truly believed would reign with Christ their king. As we have seen, the Millennium begins with the binding of Satan. Accepted Catholic doctrine holds that it therefore begins, figuratively, with the birth of Christ. It is even possible that the word ‘time’ in the painting’s Greek inscription means ‘millennium’, as in Francesco da Meleto’s interpretation.176 The mortals being embraced by angels and led by them to the manger would be the martyrs and saints who live again through the First Resurrection -or whomever else it was that Botticelli might have thought these Apocalyptic persons stood for. Their crowns of olive would be the crowns of martyrdom or righteousness. It at first strikes one as unlikely that Botticelli would have shown the Millennium in an age in which it was rarely mentioned. But of those persons who believed in the Millennium at the time, how many actually ventured to  say so in print? If the Mystic Nativity does represent the Millennium in any real sense, firstly, the painting is in this respect unique as far as we know; secondly, it is  thoroughly heretical. We recall that-if for the wrong reasons-Vasari believed  Botticelli to have been a heretic.

The third possible interpretation is that the painting is a figuration of an ‘Apocalyptic’ birth of Christ, in which allusions to the reconciliation of the heavenly virtues with one another and with mankind, the ‘crown’ of Mary, and the Millennium (or the casting out of Satan) are elements of a complex and yet ‘simple’ allegory of the future in which Botticelli believed.

That future would, through the intercession of Mary, see the ‘birth’ of Christ in the hearts of the Florentines. Through the mercy of divine Grace, the Florentines would be filled with charity and love towards one another and be reconciled with the angels and their God.

There would thus come to pass that peace and goodness which the devil cannot abide and which would cause his downfall: ‘Now is come the power of Christ on earth; the
dragon has lost’.
Whatever it is that the Mystic Nativity shows, the chances are that it took great
courage for Botticelli to paint it.

  • Where heaven shall touch earth

The overriding theme of the Mystic Nativity, because of the large number of olive branches in it, appears to be peace. But we should do well to remember that in
Botticelli’s time the olive was usually a symbol of mercy.

In Savonarola’s ‘1493’ Christmas sermon it is Mercy, not Peace, who holds a branch of olive. Moreover, wreaths of olive conveying thoughts of mercy and repentance had recently come into use in one of Florence’s most important public rituals, the offering of little torches by pardoned offenders at the city’s Baptistry. These persons had formerly
been led to the Baptistry in chains, but from 1493 at the latest each is described as
being led, ‘in the usual way, his head uncovered, with a crown [or garland] of olive,
with a little torch in his hands… preceded by trumpets’.

Now, one of the conditions for receiving pardon at the time was that an offender make ‘peace’ with the offended party. Perhaps onlookers remembered this as the olive-wreathed offenders were marched past them. But surely what was uppermost in their thoughts was that these transgressors had come to repent what they had done and were now receiving mercy. Indeed, what Botticelli and many others who lived during his age probably hoped for more than anything else but also in our times , was Mercy.

Here More About  Christmas Mythology: Myth, Our Self, and the Divine Child