Thursday, 26 December 2013

What Trees Have to Do With Christmas

The other day I read something Neil Gaiman wrote about Christmas trees being a pagan relic. I was aware of why bunnies and eggs were associated with Easter, but I haven’t thought about the connection between trees and Christmas. I decided to look into it. Here I am offering some of what I could find as well as my own input based on symbolism.

Christmas more or less coincides with the winter solstice and the beginning of the New Year. The winter solstice is the darkest day in the year and signifies the beginning of a new cycle. It is also the beginning of winter, the time of withdrawal for reflection. This can be seen in nature when some animals hibernate and trees lose their leaves. The winter solstice can be seen as a time when a seed is planted. It will remain underground for some time, drawing on the nourishment of the earth while it is called upwards by the growing light.

Apparently Christmas trees have their origin in the tradition of bringing evergreen trees into the home to celebrate eternal life and ward off darkness. Interestingly, the message of Christ is also about conquering darkness through eternal life.

There are more symbolic parallels between Christ and trees. The molecular structure of chlorophyll represents a cross. Chlorophyll is an important component of photosynthesis, the process by which light is absorbed and stored as energy. Christ is the Son of God coming to earth; the light taking physical form to experience what it is to be human. On another level, the structure of a haemoglobin molecule looks like the structure of a chlorophyll molecule. Their colours green and red are the exact opposite in the colour spectrum, suggesting another interesting relationship between humans and trees. The blood of Christ is also a symbolic part of religious rituals. Both trees and Christ represent light captured in matter.

The Solar Cross. Thanks to the artist Melissa Saayman Krige for giving me permission to use the image. For more information go to www.africantreeessences.co.za
Trees transform carbon monoxide into oxygen, thereby giving life to humans. Christ as a healer was the giver of life, transforming illness into health. These processes signify alchemy, the process by which lead (darkness) is transformed into gold (light).

Let’s consider what else trees tell us about transformation in the way they interact with the sun and the cycles in nature. Those trees that are not evergreen lose their leaves in winter. Their essence is withdrawn while they wait for a new cycle to form new leaves. The tree continues to grow through all the cycles of transformation. This reminds of the serpent that sheds its skin when it is outgrown, again linking to alchemy. The cycle of death and rebirth continues, reminding us that our essence is spirit. The outer shell is transitory.

I stumbled across this logo of the Church of Scotland and thought that it beautifully captures the essence of spirit and matter. It shows that all things burn with the sacred flame, regardless of their physical form. We are all brothers and sisters. The Christ consciousness is about recognising that and treating each other with love. As a child I remember mistaking the Afrikaans word for Christmas (kersfees - festival of candles) for "kers-wees" (being a candle). That is more or less the message of Christmas in a nutshell.

Image from Wikipedia

I would like to conclude with an experience I had a few weeks ago when I went to the local shop to buy milk. The store owner started talking to me about living in Scotland and his origins in India. He asked me about my religious orientation. I started with, “I was raised Christian, but...” He interrupted me there, saying that he was Muslim but there is only one God. All religions are the same because there is only one God. How nice to have a chat with a brother from a different background.

Acknowledgements:

Thanks to Melissa Saayman Krige at Platbos Forest for teaching me about the connection between the chlorophyll and haemoglobin molecular structure and giving me the opportunity to learn from the trees. For more information go to www.platbos.co.za and www.africantreeessences.co.za. With special thanks to the Cherry Wood tree for teaching me directly about the connection with Christ consciousness.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Re-formulating the Notion of Survival

Survival is not about the duty to stay alive. We make ourselves smaller than we are because we think we have an obligation to stay alive in a system that was invented to imprison us. Because our parents worked by the sweat of their brow to provide for us, we think we have the duty to do the same. That is what grown up responsibility is all about – forgetting the playfulness of being a child in favour of being burdened down by financial responsibilities. If you survive in the system then you get a medal for being one of the strong. You might even be rewarded with the label of success. We slave our lives away in order to make it to “the” top. But the top as we know it was invented fairly recently. It is dull, unimaginative and does not do justice to the miracle of creation.

Similarly, we justify our society in terms of the “survival of the fittest” discourse. We think it’s natural and a basic requirement for evolution. Yet I wonder to what extent the observer effect is in play here. Looking at nature, do we choose to see that all species struggle to survive, that survival is the right of the strong? Do we miss the cooperation in nature because we see only that which reflects our own mindset? Do we fail to see the cycles in all things, the wonder according to which all things cooperate as a whole? I cannot speak on behalf of the animals. But I imagine that when they fight for survival they are motivated by life itself, the instinct to cling onto the thread of one’s existence for the sake of love. How much of the behaviour of other life forms can be attributed to a struggle for survival rather than the species just being itself?

We only need to look around at the beauty on earth and in the sky to understand that we are capable of more than the dullness of reality as we have created it. Perhaps it is insane to suppress our need for soul, imagination and miracles. Can we look up at the sky and trust the Life Force that brought the universe into existence? No human hand can replicate such wonder if we deny our connection to all that exists. Seeing the beauty in creation, I’m wondering if we can look at ourselves with different eyes. The miracle of the stars is in us and we need to honour it. Our duty is not to continue the legacy of the system that keeps us smaller than what we are. Our existential responsibility is to be true to the Life Force that brought us here. May we live in such a way that we reflect the magnificence that is apparent in everything else that came here of its own accord.

Once we understand that survival is an instinct based on love, we can do away with the idea of success as a denial of our true selves. If we formulate success as that which indicates that we are better than others, we are simply suppressing a part of ourselves. True success is about allowing the Universe to express itself through us.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

The Symbolism of Being Naked

When I was a child, I thought it really strange to imagine that Adam and Eve were naked and not aware of it. That was only when I was old enough to remember with shame the time when I used to run around naked shamelessly. Nowadays being naked represents sexuality. Especially when women show their bodies it is usually in a context where they are objectified and lose all their dignity. The more skin that is shown, the more sexualised the body becomes. I am not proposing that everyone just takes off their clothes and start walking around naked, and yet I fail to understand how we came here.

Getting dressed is such an ingrained daily ritual that we take it for granted. It is a way of reinforcing the message to ourselves that we are different from the rest of nature. Not only are our bodies shamed, but perhaps there is no more powerful way to suppress all our natural impulses and sever our relationship to Mother Earth that gave birth to us. We are all dust and to dust we shall return, yet we choose to believe that we are the things we have created to glorify our minds. Perhaps it is not surprising that most of us seemingly have really bad relationships with our bodies.

As a child I wondered why grown-ups don’t run around. Now I know that when you are forced to sit still for long enough, it starts feeling natural. At some point in the process of growing up it becomes inappropriate to walk barefoot. Thinking back, it is more or less the same age when one loses the connection with the world of fantasy and instead develops an interest in cultural values of identity. When we don’t feel the earth underneath our soles any more, it is easier to turn our attention to “the world” and be fed ideas of what we should strive for in life.

Perhaps the dream symbolism of being naked holds the key to the truth about ourselves. I am sure all of us have dreamed countless times of being naked in public and only discovering it when it is too late. It could be interpreted as the fear of being exposed, but I think it’s more than that. I’ll turn to Hans Christian Anderson’s tale of the naked emperor for some insight.

According to this story, the charlatans who made the emperor’s clothes said that only those who were unfit or incompetent would be unable to see it. In this case, being naked represents truth and everyone is afraid to point it out for fear of being labelled stupid. The naked body is the way we came into the world and it is the truth of who we are. Yet we assume cultural identities symbolised by clothes. It becomes so normal that to deviate from it is considered insane and shameful. The subconscious mind knows the truth about who we are. It reminds us in our dreams because we are afraid to live it. If we recognise that the emperor is naked it will also mean that we are naked. When we stop giving authority and power to others, it means we have to claim responsibility for ourselves. That will mean we can no longer play along with games we know to be untrue.

I’m still wondering at Adam and Eve’s fall from grace. Relating it to the Roman myth of the Golden Age, I would say the knowledge of good and evil was abused for the purpose of self-enrichment or power. Our connection to nature was severed when we started defining ourselves in terms of our material wealth. The body became a canvas used to communicate to others where one fit into the social hierarchy. Actually we all know that the emperor is really naked but nobody wants to be the first to say so.


The way out of being entrapped by our social identities is by baring our souls. Being naked is symbolic of being vulnerable. It is the heart consciousness that knows that we are all connected, whether we remember it or not. When one is truly oneself, it is easier to become free of judgement and accept others for who they are. The spirit of love recognises that we are more than our possessions or cultural identities. All of us come into the world naked and when death comes, material accumulations mean nothing. In our short time on earth, we have to choose very carefully what we consider important enough to apply our efforts to.