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Moss Agate: A Stone for May

Moss agate cabochon

Moss agate cabochon

The dark green dendritic tendrils of moss agate firmly link it in our minds with the growth of trees, forests, and the Earth itself. Unlike other agates, moss agate is not banded and forms abstract patterns. However, it is still part of the agate family—a variety of chalcedony composed of silica. It has long been used as a semi-precious gemstone due to its beauty and aesthetic appeal. Moss agate is primarily milky white with veins of iron or manganese minerals running through giving it tones of organic green suggesting moss or lichen.

Tumbled moss agate

Tumbled moss agate

The dendritic quality of the stone’s patterns reflects the branches of trees reaching into the sky toward the sun for light, as well as the roots growing deep into the soil for nourishment. Throughout many world mythologies, trees have long been considered sacred beings—the bridges between Sky and Earth. Moss agate holds this energy as well. It harmonizes Yin and Yang—Sky and Earth—bringing balance, stability, and growth. Likewise, in the human biofield it resonates with Tiphereth—the Heart Chakra—the mid-point along the energetic helix flowing up and down the spinal column. It balances the lower-frequency base chakras and the higher-frequency upper chakras—this place of balance is the source of compassion. When properly tapped into, moss agate will radiate for us the deep, strong pulse of Gaia—the Earth itself.

Yggdrasil — the Tree of Life

Yggdrasil — the Tree of Life

Moss agate is an appropriate stone to work with for the month of May because of its energetic signature suggesting growth and abundance. As the leaves begin to bud and unfurl we are reminded of the sacred cycle of Nature—the returning warmth of the Sun and the awakening fertility of the Earth. The month of May marked the great festival of Beltane among the pagan tribes of ancient Europe, as is still celebrated by Neopagans today. The word Beltane means “Fire of Bel”, a reference to the Sun. Bel, or Belenos, was a Gallic solar deity whose name means “Shining One”. Ancient people knew the return of the Sun after the long, dim winter would once again herald the warmer season of growth. They marked this auspicious time with the festival of Beltane and the tradition of the maypole. Still celebrated throughout Europe to this day, Beltane and the maypole dance represent vestiges of pre-Christian spirituality strongly immortalized in folk tradition. Symbolically speaking, the maypole represents the Tree of Life—what the Norse tribes called Yggdrasil—the bridge between Sky and Earth. Fertility symbolism aside, the maypole dance marks the time when the energy of the Sun once again radiates upon the Earth in order to encourage the growing season. By celebrating this time with ritual and dance, ancient peoples validated for themselves the turning of the seasons from winter to summer by revering the obvious forces of Nature—allegorically represented in various guises from region to region.

19th-century Maypole Dance

Edwardian Maypole Dance

The festival of Beltane is sacred to Nature spirits—the Devas and Fairies. These beings are the energetic intelligences of the Plant Kingdom. From beautiful, delicate flowers to tall, majestic trees, the Devas come out to play during this time of celebration and all of Nature is buzzing with life. The ancient peoples of Europe also knew these beings well as they developed artwork representing what we now call the Green Men. These leafy-faced creatures can be seen throughout the architecture of medieval Europe. Found primarily in churches, cathedrals, and graveyards, the Green Men of old were reformulated as local guardians of the Christian buildings set up on the sacred sites of the pagan peoples—Kildare, Glastonbury, Chartres, etc. Originally, local deities or guardian spirits inhabited sacred springs or groves—special locations where offerings and celebrations were made. These sites were appropriated by the Christian Church in the attempt to eradicate indigenous pagan practices. Despite evangelical efforts, the power of the pagan sites remained and continues to shine through the veneer of imposed Christianity.

Green Man carving

Green Man carving

The all-pervasive power of the Kingdom of Nature is perhaps best represented by the figure of Pan. Depicted with the hindquarters and horns of a goat, Pan embodies the lusty, verdant Rites of Spring. He is the unadulterated power of Nature. The name Pan comes from the Greek Paein, meaning “pasture” or “field.” In northern Europe, Pan was known as Cernunnos, whose Latinized name means “Horned One.” These ancient horned deities represent the transformative power of the shaman. In a time before widespread domestication, ancient peoples lived in close relationship with wild animals and valued them, yes physically for their meat and furs, but also spiritually as energetic totems on the Inner Planes. This is obvious from our earliest known artistic expressions on the cave walls of Lascaux and Chauvet. These cave paintings depict a host of wild creatures, some now long extinct, suggesting deep reverence and also mythic or dream-like potency. We also see mysterious half-human, half-animal figures who seem to bridge the confines of physical reality, existing in the magickal realm between definitions. During the Paleolithic, the split between humans and Nature was not felt the way it is now. Humans lived at the mercy of the weather and wild animals. Nature held phenomenal sway over the lives of our ancestors, which is why the four seasonal Fire Festivals of the Celtic tribes were of such great importance—they kept us in tune with the cyclical nature of the world in which we played only a small part. Unlike today’s notion that we have absolute power over every element—that we have the ability and right to engineer the world in which we inhabit—the shaman lives intrinsically tuned with both the subtle and awesome creative, and destructive, powers of the Cosmos. The shaman remembers that Pan is the encompassing All—the Pangenitor, the All-Begetter—and the Panphage, the All-Devourer. It is this rhythm the needs our respect. Too often we deny Nature’s power of destruction and attempt to harness it to our own discretion.

The green tendrils of the moss agate remind me of our lineage reaching back to pre-Christian times. My personal ancestry reaches back to medieval France, so the images on the French cave walls speak particularly strongly to me as the tribes of my ancestors painted them. No matter our personal ancestry, we can all trace our lineage back to a time before the Abrahamic monotheisms that have formulated the last 4000 years of our history. All of our ancient ancestors, the world over, were pagan shamans, living in a mysterious world governed by the forces of the seasons and the Sun—inspired by the tides of the ocean and the Moon—aided and guided by our animal and plant siblings. Their awareness was entirely local, and yet, what meaning they made of the stars we can never fully know. Despite the passage of thousands of years, and the advance of all-powerful institutions, when I sit quietly, alone in Nature, I feel the same inspired awe that must have moved the cave-painters to depict herds of elk, mammoth, and lions deep in the dark. It is these figurative roots through time that make moss agate such a special reminder at this time of year when lush, green life springs back to the Earth.

Lioness shaman — Chauvet Cave, 32 000 BCE

Lioness shaman — Chauvet Cave, 32 000 BCE

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Chrysoprase: A Stone for March

Polished chrysoprase

Polished chrysoprase

Chrysoprase is a rich leafy green stone of the chalcedony family. The name itself comes from the Greek roots chrysós and prasinon meaning “golden” and “green”, respectively. This name perfectly describes the incarnation of vital Source Energy—prana or qi—in all of Nature. Chrysoprase embodies the warm golden light of divinity manifested in the plants, trees, and flowers—the living green elements. As the Sun begins to warm the Earth at this time, the energies of fertility and growth are awakened and the photosynthetic cycle begins to gather momentum. This season is marked by the Vernal Equinox, a time of perfect balance. As the Sun aligns with the Equator, the long winter nights shorten, the light grows back, and day and night are of equal duration. This phenomena is matched by the Autumnal Equinox in September when the reverse is true—daylight shortens, darkness grows longer, and Nature sheds itself in preparation for the Northern Hemisphere’s winter season. These seasonal tides of change are powerful moments for magical contemplation as they reflect, on a dramatically visible scale, the ever-changing face of the natural world. The symbol of the equinoctial shift is the equal-armed cross—or solar wheel—the planetary glyph of Earth itself. This symbol is one of great strength and power. The four arms represent the four seasons, the four cardinal directions, the four classical elements. The intersection of the vertical and horizontal axes represents the union of Heaven and Earth—the divine crux—the Sacred Heart. The cross is bound and unified by the circle, the shape of infinite movement and growth. This magical glyph represents the equinoxes and solstices because it speaks of a state of balance and shift—between Light and Dark—Sky and Earth. It is also present in the Wheel of the Year of Neopagan tradition, as well as the Medicine Wheel of North American First Nations.

Medicine Wheel

Medicine Wheel

In ancient Greece the seasonal change from winter to spring was marked by the Eleusinian Mysteries in which Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld, was ceremoniously welcomed back to the land of the living following her six-month sojourn in the gloomy kingdom of her consort Hades. Originally lured by Hades into his underworld realm, she fell victim to a spell binding her to stay there half of every year. Persephone’s annual return to the earthy domain of her mother Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, marked the return of warmer weather and the renewed fertility of the fields and forests and was a time of joyous celebration and reverie. However, at the end of summer Persephone once again descends back into the land of Hades to rejoin her husband and jointly govern the dark season as the fields lay fallow. While the autumnal energy is one of solemnity, the wheeling seasons—a microcosmic reflection on Earth of the great spiralling gyres of the stars—carry the eternal promise of the returning light, the sprouting leaves and budding flowers with Persephone’s emergence from the cave.

Rough chrysoprase

Rough chrysoprase

It is in this moment of growing sunlight that the golden-green energy of chrysoprase begins to bubble from the Earth and from our bodies. It harnesses the energy of Manipura—the Solar Plexus Chakra—and channels it up the pillar of Sushumna—the cerebrospinal column—just like a seedling sprouting from the ground reaches for the Sun—the radiating energy of Tiphereth. The Green Ray energy of chrysoprase is held at Anahata—the Heart Chakra—and when it is charged with the rising energy of the season, as sap in a tree, it flourishes like the buds and blossoms of spring. The channel between Manipura and Anahata is the crux of our physical being, and as such is cleansed and strengthened by this returning flow of vital energy. It runs upward through the abdominal core along the spinal column and provides us the vitality and motivation to emerge from any energetic husks that might have formed during the cold season of stillness.

Blodeuwedd by Welsh artist Christopher Williams

Blodeuwedd by Welsh artist Christopher Williams, 1930

The burgeoning of spring heralds a moment of potential transformation on all levels—not just the obviously physical that we see all around us in Nature—but also the emotional, mental, and spiritual. The Vernal Equinox marks a time when the conscious gaze shifts from its inward focus to once again engage in external growth and transmutation. We shift our lives from the grey survival mode of winter to the fresh out-going ventures of spring. We dust off ideas and dreams that we’d been holding onto during the deep hibernation and once again allow the inspiration to flow forth. At the equinox we can harness the power of the shapeshifter—the shamanic force of slipping between worlds—between the defining guises that too often hold us captive in outmoded patterns. It is the shapeshifting Blodeuwedd from Welsh mythology who often comes to my mind during this transformative season. Fashioned by the magicians Gwydion and Math from the blossoms of meadowsweet and broom, Blodeuwedd—whose names means flower-face—embodies the gentle, lush power of nature at this time of budding and blossoming. A uniquely magical creature, she is ephemeral just as the fresh flora suddenly sprout themselves into being fed by the nimble rays of the Sun. Blodeuwedd’s corporeal form shifts from flower to human, and later to animal, as she is consequently transformed into an owl for conspiring to kill her husband.

One of the best ways to celebrate the arrival of spring is to get out into Nature however you can in your location—walk in the forest or park, visit a local botanical garden and appreciate the signs of spring. Here in the Pacific Northwest the cherry trees are in full bloom, carpeting the streets and sidewalks in pastel pink petals. The crocuses and daffodils have opened and the magnolia trees have just lent their large sweet-smelling flowers to the air. While walking contemplate this dramatic transformative display and how it can manifest in your life. Imagine your hands and fingers transforming into leafy tendrils— your feet and toes sprouting roots into the moist soil and moss—your face, the flowers drinking the fresh spring rain. Shapeshift your being in and out of what you’ve come to know. You can easily bring this fresh and vibrant energy into your living space by creating an altar to the muses of spring—Persephone and Blodeuwedd. Gather some fresh running water from a spring or brook in which to place some wild harvested flowers. Whisper to them your affirmations for change and sleep with a chrysoprase beneath your pillow. The shy Fairies will come out from their hiding places in the flower buds and douse your sleeping mind with spirited inspiration for the coming months.

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