Episode 76: Ari Berk Part 1 – Mythic Origins of the Christmas Mystery and Other Age-Old Celebrations of the Winter Solstice and New Dawn
“For human evolution to continue, the conversation must deepen.” – Margaret Mead
In this intriguing 2-part dialogue with my friend Professor Ari Berk, acclaimed mythologist and storyteller, we share back and forth a wealth of information illuminating the deep sources of the mystery of life and death enacted each year in the cosmos at the time of the Winter Solstice. Their hold on the spirit and imagination of peoples of all ages everywhere “leaning into, wanting to participate in, the cosmic mysteries” has generated throughout the ages numerous stories, songs, ceremonies and celebrations to honor and evoke our shared divinity and the joy of creation.
In view of the New Era of potential global political change many feel has dawned in the early winter of 2008, this Part 1 dialogue is particularly interesting in its reference to the historical changes in the family and social mores in the Western world and America over the centuries -- and the restrictive or transformative role played by the different ways in which the secular and religious holiday of Christmas has been celebrated over time.
“Dialogue is the Language of Evolutionary Transformation”™.
Contact me if you like at www.livingdialogues.com. Visit my blog at Duncan.personallifemedia.com. ”. (For more, including information on the Engaged Elder Wisdom Dialogue Series on my website www.livingdialogues.com, click on Episode Detail to the left above and go to Transcript section.)
Among others, programs you will find of interest on these themes are my Dialogues on this site with Michael Meade, Angeles Arrien, Coleman Barks, Sobonfu Some, Vine DeLoria Jr., and Michael Dowd.
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In furtherance of creating and maintaining the planetary dialogues now required in the 21st century, I featured a special series of dialogues with myself and other elders in the weeks leading up to and including the 2008 Olympics hosted by China and the U.S. 2008 elections. Those dialogues can be listened to separately on this site or as gathered as a series on my website www.livingdialogues.com under the collective title “Engaged Elder Wisdom Dialogues”. They address various specific political aspects of our planetary crisis, with its dangers and opportunities for a visionary and evolutionary shift. (We remember that the Chinese character for “crisis” is often described as meaning both “danger” when visioned from a fear perspective, and “opportunity” when visioned from a wisdom perspective.)
In all my Living Dialogues from their inception I talk in various ways about the call to generate dialogues across generational, ethnic, gender, and national boundaries -- building bridges of understanding and wisdom in the cooperative spirit and reaching out -- required by our 21st century realities, and the essential roles that we all are called to play in our evolution for it to take place.
This is the time for renewed dialogue, for visionary and inspiring discourse producing practical and innovative ways of living and sharing together, to engage our own elder wisdom and youthful inspiration, and in so doing to experience and exemplify that “Dialogue is the Language of Evolutionary Transformation”™.
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Announcer: You’re about to listen to Part I of Duncan Campbell’s dialogue with Ari Berk on the mythical origins of Christmas and the ceremonies surrounding the winter solstice in many different cultures. As people throughout the ages, every winter, they’ve celebrated the death of darkness and the rebirth of the sun and life itself.
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(Music fades out)
Duncan Campbell: Welcome to the program. I am your host, Duncan Campbell. And, I have as my guest, a friend of mine, Professor Ari Berk, from Michigan. Mythologist, master storyteller, and we’re going to be talking about the origins and deep mythic meanings of Christmas and the Christmas rituals. And, so, Ari, it’s a real treat and delight to have you here on the program.
Ari Berk: Oh, when you called, when you asked me to speak about this, topic, of solstice, just some Christmas mystery, I was really delighted. For me, this has always been, and I think for so many people, regardless of their religious, belief, it is really a deep part of the year. Everything gets a little quiet. We get contemplative, and yet the history of the holiday is, is not so quiet, is it?
Duncan Campbell: Actually, it’s very merry and very full of revelry and it’s also a time of great peace and inner tranquility. And, so, this is in a sense the both endparadox I think we both want to investigate it in this program because, in all cultures, all over the world, the deep origin of this particular set of celebrations, which have happened since time immemorial, is the experience of the days becoming shorter, the sun apparently losing its strength, the life-giving sun, and the warmth of the sun, the protection of the sun, the waning of life itself. Then, the great fear that comes over one, that life could be expiring altogether. And so, there are all these rituals that have developed in every culture, all over the world, around the solstice.
Whether it’s in the Northern Hemisphere every December, or in the Southern Hemisphere in June, it doesn’t matter. It’s always about this decent into darkness and this loss of energy. It’s like the life cycle itself, where in the morning, as they say, the Great Sphinx riddle was, “What is the name of that creature that walks on four legs in the morning and two legs in the daytime and the afternoon and three legs in the evening?” And, the answer to the riddle, is of course, was, man himself, who crawls as a baby, then is upright, then in his elderly years, or her elderly years, begins to walk with a cane.
And, so there’s the sense of losing the energy of life itself and then the celebration of the hope that life can be actually reborn. However that’s symbolized, and originally it was the rebirth of the sun – S-U-N. And, then in the Christian tradition, it became the rebirth or the birth of the son – S-O-N, son of God.
And, so we have, really that I think, as the essential earth matrix. And, then there’s the -- we may say – sacred marriage tradition, also in many of the myths that we’ll go into, where the divine child is born at this time.
One of the great myths of course being Isis and Osiris, also thought to be a kind of virgin birth, in a metaphorical sense, where they gave birth to their son Horus – H-O-R-U-S, in the Egyptian tradition. And, Horus, is the etymological source of our word, “horizon”. So, it’s a time of new horizons. A time of hope and that is a result, a time for great, joyous celebration as in the Saturnalia tradition of, in Rome, which also included a celebration for the children, called the “Juvenalia.”
And, this was a time of plenty, when the law in Rome outlawed war. You could not go to war during this 12-day celebration in December. And, also, you turned the world upside down for 1 day, to be our Christmas Day. The slave became the master of the household, and all people were equal. There was a time of celebration. There was a time of, you might say, turning over, for a fresh beginning, of the established order. Of course, it was re-established not long thereafter, but we will see, as Ari and I go through this dialogue, how these kinds of traditions, which are very briefly summarized here, can be seen all the way into the present day in terms of our office parties, in terms of our so-called commercialization of Christmas, because, presents were widely given during the Saturnalia, and so on.
Ari Berk: Right.
Duncan Campbell: So, that’s just a brief schedule of some of the matrix rituals. Ari, I’m now going to invite you in now to talk a little about, let’s pause a little at that stage about the solstice, the winter solstice, you might want to talk about New Grange.
Ari Berk: Yeah.
Duncan Campbell: Any number of other things.
Ari Berk: Yeah, well, maybe we’ll, just, we’ll pull it back to some of these earliest archaeological evidences that we have of, you know, human ritual activity at winter. And, some of the oldest Neolithic structures that we have speak to this very deep human fascination with the, the death and rebirth of the sun. What’s sort of, sort of, so frustrating and tantalizing about looking at this archaeological evidence is that all we really have out of the stones themselves, to tell us what went on. But, we have, of course, no writing. We look at the sites like New Grange in Ireland, which is a very long Neolithic chamber tomb, with solar alignments. This goes back about 5,000 B.C. We have, no written records from this time. So, all we have are the clues of the structures, of the monuments themselves. But, what we have at New Grange, is, as I said, a large chamber tomb, that is aligned to the rising of the sun at midwinter on December 21st. So, this tomb was constructed in such a way that it would be used, it appears, all year long, for the internment of the dead.
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