All things have two facets: a Yin aspect and a Yang aspect.
Any Yin or Yang aspect can be further divided into Yin and Yang.
Yin and Yang mutually create each other.
Yin and Yang control each other.
Yin and Yang transform into each other.
Before the beginning of years
There came to the making of man
Time, with a gift of tears;
Grief, with a glass that ran;
Pleasure, with pain for leaven;
Summer, with flowers that fell;
Remembrance, fallen from heaven,
And madness risen from hell;
Strength without hands to smite;
Love that endures for a breath;
Night, the shadow of light,
And life, the shadow of death.
We call them cool
Those hearts that have no scars to show
The ones that never do let go
And risk it the tables being turned
We call them fools
Who have to dance within the flame
Who chance the sorrow and the shame
That always come with getting burned
Mrs. Basford has raised an interesting point about the real purpose of cords, harvest twine, string dolls, etc. They appear to have originated from the woven strands of Old Fate, the major deity of all true witches. They are, of course, the origin of such descriptive terms as "spellbinders."
Some groups seek fulfillment in mystic experience - this is correct if one does not forget the duty of 'involvement' - the prime duty of the wise. It is not enough to see The Lady, it is better to serve Her and Her will by being involved in humanity, and the process of Fate (The single name of all God's is 'Fate'). In fate, and the overcoming of fate is the true Graal, for from this inspiration comes, and death is defeated. There is no fate so terrible that it cannot be overcome - whether by a literal victory gained by action and in time, or the deeper victory of spirit in the lonely battle of the self, Fate is the trial, the Castle Perilous in which we all meet to win or to die - Therefore, the People are concerned with Fate --for humanity is greater than the Gods', although not as great as the Goddess. When Man triumphs, fate stops and the Gods are defeated - so you understand the meaning of magic now. Magic and religion are aids to overcome Fate, and Fate is a cradle that rocks the infant spirit.
I am a stag: of seven tines,
I am a flood: across a plain,
I am a wind: on a deep lake,
I am a tear: the Sun lets fall,
I am a hawk: above the cliff,
I am a thorn: beneath the nail,
I am a wonder: among flowers,
I am a wizard: who but I
Sets the cool head aflame with smoke?
I am a spear: that roars for blood,
I am a salmon: in a pool,
I am a lure: from paradise,
I am a hill: where poets walk,
I am a boar: ruthless and red,
I am a breaker: threatening doom,
I am a tide: that drags to death,
I am an infant: who but I
Peeps from the unhewn dolmen, arch?
I am the womb: of every holt,
I am the blaze: on every hill,
I am the queen: of every hive,
I am the shield: for every head,
I am the tomb: of every hope.
I am a Stag Who -- survived the Flood,
I am a Flood -- That destroyed the world,
I am a Wind -- Of God moving across the desolate world,
I am a Tear --The sorrow of Fate,
I am a Hawk -- The Child who survived the Flood,
I am a Thorn -- The beginning of Fate (Death),
I am a Wonder- For I alone transform.
The theme here shows a horned child who dies and comes back to life, giving him power over both life and death, allowing him to cross the borders of our world and the underworld and back. Dionysus is very chthonic, both in his death and resurrection and his ability to pass both ways to the underworld. This is a horned child, son of Zeus, allowed to sit on the throne and rule.
But how does this relate to oracles? Everyone knows of the Oracle of Delphi, with Apollo the oracle diety, but less talked about is the Oracle of Thrace, the seat of the oracle of Dionysus. Also, it was said Dionysus shared the Oracle of Delphi, that it was of Apollo in the summer and Dionysus int he winter. Greek deities are often described primarily as either Olympian or Chthonic. The dichotomy is the Olympians living in the high place, on a mountain, above the ground, and the Chthonic deities living beneath the ground, ie, in the grave or in the Underworld. In general, Chthonic deities tended to be concerned with fertility and crops, and were sacrificed to at night. Sacrifices were usually in pits or sunken chambers, sometimes on an altar, and the sacrifice was killed with throat down, then either buried or burnt whole. For Olympian gods, sky gods, sacrifices were done on raised altars with the throat up. Once killed, the sacrifice would be shared and eaten by the people. Olympian gods were more concerned about the affairs of men than the fertility of the land in general. Apollo, with his association with the sun, is very obviously a sky god, and his sacrifices reflected this. Apollo was a god of order, of reason, of control, of harmony. Dionysus was chthonic, having died young and tasted death. His sacrifices were of a chthonic nature. Dionysus was a god of disorder, of intuition, of ecstasy, of being out of control. All this would have been reflected in their oracles and prophecy as well. Their oracles would have been from two different viewpoints, from two different directions.
I've discussed very similar concepts in my article Living Amongst the Roots of the World that I hope to get published soon, when I discuss the differences between wands made from branches versus roots. A branch is outward facing, whereas a root is inward facing. So too with Apollo and Dionysus. Apollo is direct and to the point, outward and conscious. His prophecies and oracles, while still veiled and cryptic, would have sent out. Go and do so and so. It would have been daylight and the sun, actions and directions. Dionysus is indirect and symbolic, inward and subconscious. His prophecies and oracles would have called inward. Come and meditate on this, take this in and understand it. It would have been night, stars and moon, shadows and underground places, intuitions and riddles.
Likewise their healing. Healing and prophecy are always coupled, those doing one do the other. Apollo would have healed by promoting growth, increasing the body (or mind or soul)'s ability to fight off the illness or damage or defect. Blessing and loosing. Dionysus would approached from the other side. Destroy the decease or blockage, fighting the issue itself. Cursing and binding it.
For the purposes of the main subject of this discussion, Apollo is Life, Dionysus Death. Each rolls into the other. Apollo gives way to Dionysus in the Death of Winter, Dionysus withdraws and allows Apollo to bloom come Spring. These two brothers, these two sons of Zeus, are Divine Twins, always dancing, spinning around, lovers and adversaries, loving and fighting, advancing and withdrawing. Death stalks Life, and Life stalks Death.
As anyone who has read my blogs for a while knows, I have a strong affinity to ravens (and crows and magpies and all other corvus). There are many very interesting and fascinating things about them, but we're talking about death here, so, focusing on that. Corvus are mostly scavengers and carrion birds. The carrion bird part matters here, as it is part of the association with the dead.
You'll notice Odin, who takes half the dead that die in battle, has two ravens (Muninn and Huginn) and two wolves (Geri and Freki). This is directly connected to his status as a god of war, of battle, of death. On a battle field, both ravens (corvus in general) and wolves would have been found consuming the dead. Consider the meaning of Geri and Freki, both coming from roots related to greedy. They are ravenous wolves, always hungry, always greedy for more flesh, the flesh of the slain. The corvus family are the only other animal wolves will allow around corpses they are eating. They will chase off or kill anything else, but allow corvus to feed along side them. In return, it's been observed that corvus tend to stick close to wolves, and when they find carrion, they will call out and both other birds in their family group (often called a murder) and the wolves they live near will come to that call. There's a symbiotic relationship where the corvus inform the wolves of food and the wolves allow the corvus to feed with them. Both ravens and wolves usually form close family groups. Both ravens and wolves mate for life. And they seem to form partnerships, family group to family group, murder to pack. So, imagine the scene for the Northern people. The battle is met, and the calls of ravens are heard echoing across the battle field. It's said ravens and crows know where a battle will occur before the fighters do, lending power to the belief in Odin's oracular and martial nature. The caws continue, and slowly increase, joined by the howls of wolves, as the ravens and wolves gather, watching on, waiting for their chance to feed on the slain in battle. Is it any wonder that Odin is associated with such animals, Odin who watches the battle and takes those he chooses? Is it any wonder Valkyries, gathering the chosen slain, are closely linked to ravens?
In Irish myth, we find the Morrigan. She, or rather they, as sometimes the title is used singular, Morrigu, sometimes plural, Morrigna, sometimes for a single being, sometimes for three though which three varies, is Terror incarnate. She is Death and War and Strife and Wrath. She sometimes appears as a crow, an eel, a wolf, and a cow. One name, Badb, means crow, and the Morrigan often flies over battlefields in the form of a crow. Another name is Macha, plain or of the plain, in association of horses used in battle (note Odin's horse Sleipnir). Another name is Nemain, poison, or enemy or nemesis, or to seize or take, or wrath, or curse, or blame or crime, or greater twister or great bender. She is battle frenzy, taking the warrior and propelling them both to kill and to death (think of Odin as Gapþrosnir, the One in Gaping Frenzy, and as Gunnblindi, Battle Blinder). Another name is Anann, said to be the Morrigan's actual name, probably from the Proto-Celtic *Φanon- meaning goddess. She is the personification of Death, oracularly prodicting death in battle, but also a goddess of fertility and prosperty, bringing to mind Pater Dis in Greek myth, the Father of Wealth, who became synonymous with Pluto and hence Greek Hades as god of the underworld. Badb and Nemain are listed as the two wives of Neit, a god of war, though sometimes Fea is listed instead of Badb, and sometimes Nemain alone. His name means passion or fighting. He may be connected to Neto, also called Mars Neto, the Iberian equivalent to Roman Mars.
Death has always been a big part of human existence. As it has to be for mortal man. To quote Tolkein's famous poem from Lord of the Rings, "Nine for mortal man, doomed to die." The Christian Bible says in Hebrews 9:27-28, "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation." For mortal man, the reminder of our mortality and coming death are hard to avoid, as much as modern Western culture often tries.
The idea of immortality, of cheating Death, is a theme common both in myth and folklore and in popular culture. Take, for instance, the Highlander movies and series, with its immortals, who could only be killed by beheading (Bran and Mimir and John the Baptist come to mind), that any other death, they returned from. Yet even they, with the contest for the Quickening, killed each other to win, and the last immortal standing became mortal when he stood alone. Look at the Final Destination movies, with a vision saving people from impending death, but Death stalking them to take what is rightfully his. Take Death in Gaimon's Sandman comics, a cute, young, goth girl who comes for those who will die and comforts them but doesn't bargain, for when it's time, it's time. It also deals with a man that Dream makes a deal with Death to allow immortality. Every century, Dream met with the man to find out how he spent the previous century, and deals with both the joys and woes of immortality. In Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker Trilogy, there is a character that obtains immortality, and has no idea what to do with it. So he embarks to insult every being in the universe in alphabetic order. Tuck Everlasting also deals with immortality, where a family is immortal from drinking from a spring, and hated and feared by those around them because of it. The book and movie deal a lot with the pain of watching those you know and love grow old and die around you. Vampires fascinate us because of their immortality. Anne Rice's vampire books deal a lot with the boredom and loneliness of immortality, and the need for companionship to be able to deal with it. In the movie Death Becomes Her, the characters take a potion giving them immortality, and then have to deal with the repercussions of that. The Order deals with a Sin Eater who is essentially immortal, and is hated because he is Other, salvation apart from the Church, yet he is sought out for his power to eat sin and remove it and its effects. The newest Pirates of the Caribbean movie deals with the search for the Fountain of Youth and also touches on the Other in relation to the Church, and with what the Fountain of Youth means to different people. Earlier Pirates of the Caribbean movies dealt with Davie Jones and what it meant for the dead at sea to serve eternally as his crew, and with a curse that meant immortality and the desire to break that curse. The World of Darkness Vampire: the Masquerade and later Vampire: Requiem deal a lot with the idea of what happens as vampires age and move further and further from the humanity of their origin, of the hunger and isolation. Robert Reed's Marrow books describe immortality as the advance in technology necessary for a race to move from planet based to a space fairing race, and deals with the tremendous amount of time that passes to travel large distances of space, and what humans, and other races, become when Death no longer is a reality, and what murder and death can mean when natural death is a thing of the past. In James Clemens' Godslayer series, we see a world where a group of immortals came and conquered a world, and are the gods of the people, ruling over them. The books deal with what happens when an immortal god who can't die is killed and what that means to a society.
This search for immortality, the fascination with the same, and authors' and writers' pursuit of just what immortality would mean, is a reflection of both our fear of death and our fear of immortality. Both life and death hold our fascination but also our dread. So we seek to push off the questions of life and death, to dwell on the known past and avoid that part of the future where our future might end, and try to pretend life will never change. But life is change.
Cemeteries and graveyards are liminal places. We set them aside, so we can visit death, but then leave it and forget it. There is a terrible peace and silence in a graveyard, a sense of rest and stillness, yet a feeling different that other places, of a place where the Veil is thin, where the Dead are waiting just on the other side, waiting patiently and quietly, waiting for the Gate to open.
The Guardian of the Gate stands ready, waiting for us to understand. To understand Life and Death. To understand the Gates of Life and Death. To understand the Guardian of those Gates and who he, or she, truly is.