Easter in Nature By C. H. A. Bjerregaard 1909
[Theosophist Bjerregaard was a longtime student of mysticism, oriental thought, Transcendentalism and New Thought.]
EASTER comes rather early this year and has, therefore, not that spring abundance it would have if it came a few weeks later. Personally, I am not disappointed. For me, it is spring. But some of you may not share my enthusiasm; let me, therefore, assure you that spring is here. If you do not know that spring really is here, I advise you to go out into the Open and you will know it quickly, because you shall hear sweet voices from the meadows and a booming of something mystical in the ear and which comes from the hills. It is mother Nature's call. It is her proclamation of the gospel of gospels, that there is no death. If that is too poetic, go up north of New York and you shall find that they are "sugarin" up in the hills in New Hampshire and Vermont. That is spring realism! And the honk! honk! is heard in the air. The wild geese are on their way back from the south to their homes in the north. Any of these signs will tell you that spring is here. To be sure, Nature is still pale and bleak, and, spring comes slowly, yet it is spring. The buds are swelling, though they shiver in the bitter northeaster. Light has conquered darkness, though it is still colorless. With these facts before me, I shall not hesitate to show you the awakening of the "Sleeping Beauty," which is Nature's interpretation of Easter.
My subject is "Easter in Nature." This phrase "Easter in Nature" sounds offensive, perhaps blasphemous to church people, and, to the common understanding the phrase might appear absurd, because the common mind associates Easter with something christian and not with nature. Nevertheless, the phrase "Easter in Nature" is quite correct and neither blasphemous nor absurd. The thing is this, the word "Easter" ought never to have been used by the christian church in Germany or England as it has been, because it is a pagan word and a name for pagan, a Saxon goddess. The christian church in Germany and England ought to have constructed some word on the basis (To Paska) as used in Acts 12.4, or on the basis of the word Passover, both of which express the sense of the great Jewish feast to which the christian was meant to be a counterpart and an expansion. That was done elsewhere. Instead of Easter, we ought to say the paschal feast, or the resurrection memorial. We, in America, got the word Easter from England and England got it from Germany, where, among the Saxons at the time of the introduction of christianity, they worshipped a goddess, Eastera, Eostra, and worshipped her annually with a great feast at the same time of the year as the christian Easter is celebrated. It is well known that the early missionaries adopted the church's feasts, fasts and doctrines, to the feasts, fasts and doctrines of the people among whom they sought converts.
It was not very difficult to get the Eastera feast turned into something like Easter in a christian sense, nor was there any real fraud in the matter. The goddess Eostra's, or Eastera's, name connects, as it is supposed, with austra, an old Germanic word for East, Easterly. The goddess, accordingly, was a symbol of the East or of sunrise, and such a conception lies also in the christian idea of Easter. The word austra is equal to the Sanscrit usas, the Greek NWS (AUSWS) and the Roman aurora, all of which mean daybreak, the red of the early morning, day-spring—all Easter ideas. All these words also carried an occult sense, now lost. To the ancient peoples, the East meant also the opener and opening of the year, of the day, in general the genetrix in all the senses that connect with that word. All the missionaries had to do was to fill in the pagan, Saxon, feast in the honor of Eastera with their own special conceptions of resurrection relating to Christ, and, such imaginative people as the Germanic races easily accepted the additions. It was only necessary to point out to them that light from the East in the spring resurrects all dead or apparently dead organic forms, and the blending of the two systems, the pagan and the Christian, was accomplished. Germanic Christianity is full of such additions and idealizations on many other points besides Easter.
Now, this goddess Eastera or Eostra, being the symbol of the East, has remained to this day, in Germany called Ostern, and, in England called Easter, the natural symbol of light and of the resurrection or rejuvenescence which takes place in spring. She represents two conceptions. The first is: she is a goddess of light, and, next: she is a goddess of revivification or rejuvenescence, the two main characteristics of springtime, and, also of the church-feast Easter. With all this in mind, I have a right to speak of "Easter in Nature."
Easter being a goddess of light, makes the Easter feast a feast of light. I shall show that first, and, next show the Easter feast as a feast of life or rejuvenescence, because Eastera is such a goddess, too. Common observation shows the increase of light with the increase of day in spring time or at the time of Easter. It is simply an astronomical phenomenon due to the return of the sun to the northern hemisphere, a return that begins at Christmas time and which reaches its climax the 21st of June, at summer solstice. In northern latitudes this question of light is of the uttermost importance for the welfare of man, for agriculture, and all the crafts connected with agriculture. Naturally and rightly would people in olden time as well as in our own day, make this a religious affair, because it is a cosmic affair, something of divine nature. The immediate effect of a religious consideration of this truly wonderful and important event would naturally call forth much rejoicing and congratulations among friends, that light, warmth and prosperity was returning, and darkness, cold and death disappearing. All this is most natural and we find all people, affected by this change in nature, rejoicing at this season, and, also that they all have religious ceremonies and thanksgivings at this time. And why should they not be religious? Many of them in olden time believed the sun to be god, hence when their god came nearer and nearer to them, which he did daily in spring, they would naturally pay respect to and revere him! To enumerate the ancient customs, and the number of them is large, and, they still remain in many parts of the world, would take hours. I must therefore forego the subject. But let me not be understood to undervalue these customs! I assure you that any of you who can realize what David sang: "The Lord is my light and my salvation," shall be filled with great joy and deep understanding at Easter time, and I do not mean this poetically, only.
Here, it is not the place to enter upon the science of light, however interesting it might be. There are, however, a few elements of that science which are of vital interest. I will therefore bring them forth. In the gospel of Matthew it is reported that Jesus said to his disciples: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works." What can be the meaning of this admonition? Are any of you lights that shine? Who are lights that shine? Is anybody a light, or is there no sense in this direction given by Jesus? Some one will tell me, that the word light here stands figuratively and means intelligence, and that the interpretation of the Lord's words is very simple and easy; that they simply mean that we ought to speak with intelligence about the divine mysteries, and, that we should act rationally and with understanding. Others will tell me, that the light spoken of is the divine light within, given to believers, and so forth; I will accept these explanations as part explanation of the Lord's admonition, but I am by far not satisfied that they cover the intention of the sentence. The word in Greek is TO FWS, that is, light physical; Matth. 5.14 (UMEIS ESTE TO FWS) 'Matth. 5.16 (OUTWS LAMYATW TO FWS UMWN). At any rate, I answer with another question, a question perfectly legitimate; it is this: what do you mean by intelligence and by the divine light?
I think some of the difficulties with the Lord's mystic saying can be explained when I give you certain facts, such as the following. Numerous animals give out light from their bodies. You have seen the phosphorescence of lakes. That luminosity comes from minute organisms. Glow worms shed a mild greenish light. Fireflies in the Orient give a wonderful splendor to the night landscape. There are plants in the Himalayas that illuminate mountain sides. Common marigold in dry seasons throws out a golden light from petal to petal. The evening primrose, the scarlet poppy and the sunflower all flash light, and many mosses and mushrooms do the same. In fact, nature's cathedral is lit by many and varied lights, more than I can or need enumerate at present.
Now, what is the meaning of all this? It is this: that light is the manifestation of life. The life of these organisms is light. And by their light they are known. This kind of light is not wave motion, but animal life shown as light. And this light shines brightly at Easter. If we search the annals of men and women who have lived the mystic life, who have concentrated their vital forces and lived in sublime intensity, we find these annals full of records telling about light flashing forth from these people; of light surrounding them; of transfigurations. Here, then, are living lights in many forms, and now comes the interesting point. When we inquire of biology if any season of the year is richer than another in such phenomena, then we are told that spring is their time for excellence. What more need I say? "The invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, or the invisible things are seen by means of the visible." The character of our life is seen by the light we throw off. And spring, especially, is the time when the flame of life glows with the strongest light. The Lord said these words to the disciples at the time he delivered the Sermon on the Mount, and, as I shall now tell you, the ancient tradition is, that the sermon was delivered in the spring, in the month of May. Undoubtedly, I say, he took his illustration from the surrounding nature, as was his custom. And he referred to a light, which is life, something other and different from the sun's light spoken of before; and it was that light Jesus told his disciples to let shine. Have I not right, then, to speak of Easter as the presence with us of a living light? And can I not now turn upon this present generation and ask: "Is your life a light?" "Where is your power?" "Can your life be seen in the light you give forth?" "Has your Easter this year such luminosity about it?" "Or does the stone still cover the sepulchre waiting for the angel to remove it?"
I have now shown Easter as a nature period of light: sunlight and as life-light. These two aspects of light are interesting in themselves. The first aspect, light in the heavens, was a wonder to the ancients, and, their gods and goddesses representing light ranked the highest. But we of to-day, to our shame, look upon light as a commonplace affair and have ceased to wonder, with possibly short periods of exception, such as at Easter. The second aspect of light, that which comes out of life and out of the body of organic creatures, has also been a wonder in all ages, but is now no more than a curiosity.
There is a third aspect of light which I want to mention, because it has a relation to "Light on the Path" and because it connects Easter with the rosicrucian ideas and symbols. I will admit that nobody knows the essential nature of light, and, we cannot tell what it is. But if we translate the term light by another term, then we can gain an insight into its nature and its operative force in life. If we translate the word light and say it is fire, we gain such an insight and an additional or third aspect of light valuable especially at Easter time. Let me therefore say that there is fire in the air at Easter time. A sacred flame flits from hill to dale, from branch to branch, from man to man. It is so swift that many never see it, though they feel the burn. In honor of this flame, it was once customary to light lamps in the spring and to put on clean clothes (not new clothes, as some think). If you wish to see this flame, you must open all windows in your house and body and go out into the open to see the coming and going, the advancing and the receding waves of life as they sweep up through the valleys. When you come home again you shall find the flame. It has come in through the open windows and is now burning with full force within you.
As said before, Eastera was not only a goddess of light, but also a goddess of rejuvenescence; hence the Easter feast is not only a feast of light, but also a feast in celebration of nature's resurrection or revivification in spring. Eastera was and is that power which trembles through the earth and through the blood courses of everyone of us. Called forth by the touch of the spring sun, this power flashes now at this time through our nerves and arteries and veins, and by and by we shall see it leap as lightning from cloud to cloud. We saw it recently in the winter auroras, but were not thrilled by it because it was cold; but now at this time it is warm and it moulds us and builds us into forms suitable for its own purposes, and these purposes go to the filling up of the earth with more and new creatures both in the hill of the ants and the palaces of men; and where poverty stalks among the miserable, and, where music fills the air, that glad lovers breathe; everywhere, it surges in flood-tides. Waves of life rise higher than ever at this time. The legend has told us that an angel moved the stone from the grave and that the Lord came out. The tale must be true, because nature tells us the same story in the first warm spring rain that falls. For it calls forth the Lord of the grave by removing the white grave bands of snow and by turning the black earth into green carpets and the gray stalks to yellow flowers and it spreads glory over it all. Every spring, when the mists disperse before the strong hand of mother Nature's house-cleaning, then the child Jesus is born again. The angel in the air, in the woods, in the dell; that is He again. His star is first seen by the shepherds and their flocks, and they start the Hallelujah, that is called Easter.
But it is not only the flowers and the coming blossoms that call to their roots to hasten. Everywhere, where protoplasm or "the physical basis of life," as Huxley called it, stirs, as far as science at present knows the fact, there we find an extra movement going on in spring. Fish life is spermatic; the crustaceans are brimful of activity and insect transformations from egg to final form is fast beginning its vast complex variety. Many birds are already filling their nests with eggs. In short, the universal rhythm of nature's periodic activity is heard every where and seen everywhere in new growths and brilliant colors and reproductive centers. Waves of life hasten to cover up all traces of destruction left from last autumn and winter. A song of life is heard from the world's cradle wherever it stands, in high places or low, hidden or open. Streams of living waters are flowing from every hill, for spring is the period of rain. The spirit in forms of clouds are overshadowing the earth and sons and daughters are born.
I know poets sing of joy in nature at the time of Easter, and I perceive the joy myself. But I know also of no season more melancholy than Eastertime in Nature. And the reason is Love. A great love is melancholic and full of sorrows because all things are fleeting. Overabundance and pressure of life makes us melancholic. Spring at Eastertime is not all rapture. Mater Genetrix weaves life for awhile, but soon she feels the burden. The looms of nature weave not only beauty and form, but also pain and sorrow. Spring winds are often stormy and rude; they break many a young sprout which cannot dance fast enough to the music, and, they crush our boats on rocks as easily as we break an Easter egg. But all this has become symbolism for us. We learn from it that the new birth is painful, dangerous and sometimes disastrous. And all this adversity strengthens the New Life.
Many mystic orders at this time practice the severest asceticism, fearing the flame that burns within them and which is nature's resurrection life; the soul's yearnings and longings. And strange as it must seem to the common mind, nature at this very season of abundance also reminds us that she is the self-consuming life, the power, that for a short moment strains herself, and expands in bright colors, only to give way quickly. At no season does nature teach mystic and painful lesson any clearer than at spring. Nature speaks exactly in the same language as, for instance, Tauler, and says: "The soul must sink into the divine darkness, into the secret place of the divine abyss. There is no safety save in the abyss." Do you not know it is so? Do you not cast the seed into the soil at this season? All this means pain. But no crop without it!
Spring and Easter do not preach a new gospel, but they preach the gospel anew. They point to the oldest old, and, that is always the youngest young, and both are way stations in our life. The opposite way station is autumn and winter, of course. At this opposite station nature also preaches that she is the self-consuming life. In autumn she takes down the glorious draperies she has hung up all through the summer, that the children of men could see how she cuts her garments. In winter she lays herself down all naked and invites us to study the meaning of her forms. And that, too, is a mystic lesson; and is also expressed in the language of mystics. Suso, for instance, tells us that he who seeks to know the abyss must "be as one dead; he must see neither distinction nor difference," but only the abyss, or, in other words, space without dimension, absolute nakedness. Spring and Easter preach the same "Eternal Gospel," as Joachim of Floris, the mystic (tl202); namely, that the spirit works inwardly and that neither sacraments nor external actions are needed. The spirit works not only in man, but also in nature. What Joachim meant by the spirit's work in nature I will illustrate by examples from ornithology in our own country. Watch, for instance, the robins and the orioles. They see light for the first time here with us in the temperate zones, and are born usually in June. In September, when they perceive the cold nights, they fly south; yet they have never seen the south and know nothing about it. Yet, they fly there; why? The same longings that drove them out the nest for the first time and caused them to try to fly, now causes them to migrate. Mother nature, who is both life and death and resurrection from death, calls them and they obey! What is it that takes place? It is nature's everlasting play! The bird's migration is but the same that takes place when the rocks smoulder under the grip of snow and ice, and, thus make soil for the plants. Plants again make soil, perhaps for another of their own species, perhaps for one of a higher order, perhaps they make a habitation for a human being or food for it. Everywhere the "Eternal Gospel!" Again, the same Easter play we see when the egg bursts, that the nightingale may sing, and, when a worm turns itself into a butterfly; when passion becomes poetry; when the play of the senses transmutes into philosophy and vice regenerates into virtue. What is it all, but miracle! The "Eternal Gospel!" At Eastertime, nature demonstrates the principle she acts upon: she uses death as a means for the production of more life.
No matter how we may look upon Christmas and Easter, whether they have any religious signification for us or not, this is a fact, that the buds of Christmas spring at Eastertime, when darkness gives way to light, when the short days are forgotten and a renewed and overflowing energy rejoices in its own strength. At Eastertime, winter transforms itself to spring and spring is New Life. And for those of us who are seriously minded that transformation sounds like a call in conscience to put on a new life spiritually. To be sure, nature is silent as far as voice goes, and in our sense of preaching she has no voice; but nobody, not even old people, can deny, that she presses on, even forces attention and is full of encouraging spirit. I cannot but think that those who ignore the poesy in the air and the song of the flowers are bad people, and, that their lack of veneration will lead them astray sooner or later. How can they understand and follow the spiritual if they ignore the natural? I, for one, can only lament that people ordinarily have become so emancipated from nature's order that nobody live their lives in the beauty of the seasons. If we followed nature, we ought to rest or cease from productive work in winter, and in that time recuperate interior strength by turning from outward nature — which clearly advises us to do so — to inward nature, and build up the spiritual man. In spring our new year should begin, and find its fruits in summer and autumn. This is nature's method. If people lived that way it would be better for them and human society. Sin, sorrow and sickness would cease.
Now, I have said a great deal about Easter and nature's rejuvenescence, and it may have been entertainment for you, and yet you may fail to celebrate Easter as nature would have you do it, namely, by renewed work and a reawakened conscience, which should send you to correct your perspectives. Nature at this season also wants us to learn that she is no false similitude, nor is she crumbling and unstable, but the same now as when light first dawned upon organic creation, and, now as ever, she is self-unfolding and self-manifesting and in that asking us to fall in with her plans. When nature has completed one round of life, she leaps to another and she invites us to leap with her through life's endless transmutations. When she has finished one melody, she starts another, with the same ease as she changes the tides of the ocean, and, she expects us to arise and dance to her rhythm. Sometimes she returns to her old tunes and subjects of song almost forgotten. For instance, ages and ages ago she amused herself and made spring sunshine call forth immense forests, and, in the fall she buried them in the depths of the earth where they have slumbered for ages. Of late she has resurrected these coal forests, and now they play a melody that man could not have guessed, had he lived in antedeluvian times. The black heart of the coal is but a treasury of spring sunbeams reopened, resurrected! Nature never forgets herself in the grave! That which runs away into the 'ocean from our sewers, gathers into new soil on the bottom of the ocean, and on that soil mother nature will do, as she has done before, resurrect a life, we have thrown away—ages hence! No need to doubt it! Visit any husbandman and you shall learn how she resurrects the crops you eat from refuse and offal of all kinds. The farmer laughs at the city man who has not discovered the miracle. He knows nature. Nature can show us what to do with our dead selves! Though she multiplies everywhere, she is not confusion nor repetition. Her movement is after a spiral. She passes yearly the same spot, but never in the same footsteps. She wants us to learn that the wind speaks the same language as the songster in the woods and as the grass on the hillside; that the melting snow in the dell hears the melody of the violets and that of the hawthorne, and, all the rest of the flowers. But her orchestra is not the same, nor is the tune. The rejuvenescence she shows us at Easter is the same for all her organic creatures, and man is no better than the mephitic scunk-cabbage in the nearest meadow. And nature is quite anxious in spring that we should study her "holy of holies." She hides nothing, but she varies her steps in the dance.
Nature, at Eastertime, is more of an open book than at any other season. At Easter she is more simple in her method; her colors are paler; her perfumes not so rich; her nights not intoxicating and her sun is not enervating. We can, therefore, better study her at Easter than at any other time. Moreover, later on we cannot find her beginnings; and, of all life's miracles nature while young is the greatest and most charming because her lines are the simplest.
Nature-worshippers celebrate Easter every day, not once a year. And so did the earliest Christians. Origen and Chrysostom witness to that as a fact, and, the old church historian, Socrates, tells us that the Easter feast once a year is a custom derived from elsewhere, and, not warranted by the New Testament. For nature-worshippers there is Easter every morning. The sun passes every morning across their horizon, and they sing their songs of praise and call it the light of morning. Morning dew is their cup, and their table is set on every hill or mountain top. The Holy Grail is not lost and Titurel's temple is not secreted. Get up early, when the sun calls to prayer and the dews lave your footsteps. Find your way to the hilltop and your cry will be, "O, grave, where is thy victory?" You shall feel yourself a master, full of inexhaustible vigor! And why? Because it will be an Easter morning to you, a morning of resurrection, a cup of immortality. A morning that
"Holds infinity in the palm of the hand
And eternity in an hour."
Nature-worshipping women in ancient Greece "went out at sunrise, and singing to Apollo, the sun, prayed that their hearts might be satisfied and the homes secured; by the fountain they asked of the water that the highest aspirations of their souls might be fulfilled; of the earth they asked an abundance for those whom they loved" (Richard Jefferies: The Dewy Morn). Who does that now? I believe nature is waiting for us to come back from the circus of vanities. We have stayed too long! The clock of nature is now striking the morning hours! Every spring morning is an evangel. To how many of us is Easter day a "glad tiding"?
I have already characterized spring in various ways and identified spring with Easter, but I have thus far said nothing about the actual time, day or hour, for the beginning of spring, or Easter in nature. And the reason for the omission is this: that we really never know when spring is here and winter is ended. We know it astronomically, as already pointed out, but practically we do not know it, and the reason is this, that nature never draws such sharp and distinct lines as the human mind does; nor does she care for feasts, fasts or new-moons; or for wealth or rank or power or science. The naturalist will tell you, if you have not observed it yourself, that as soon as the leaves fall in the autumn, the new leaf is already there; in fact, in many cases it is the new life that pushes the old leaf off. The naturalist will also tell you how life is booming beneath the bark of many an old tree stump, where the insect's cocoon is growing most lively and getting ready to come out. He will also show new life in any handful of mud he takes from the ice-covered pond. Even while snow is on the ground and the soil is hard frozen, the snowdrop and crocus come out and greet the sun. In fact, the dance of life never ceases in the woods, and the brooks keep up the fiddling all winter. Christmas time is as much a resurrection time as Easter time. Hence the various signs already mentioned are not exactly the signs of spring; they are effects rather than causes.
For the keen observer and nature lover there are, however, signs to be seen and enjoyed, which the uninitiated, as usual, never discover. I know of two signs, peculiarly characteristic of real spring and its true beginning. One is a delightful mellow quality of the light, in sharp contrast to the bare atmosphere and cold tone of winter light. This mellow quality comes from sun rays that seem to carry something substantial, a full and a rich life, something which is absent from the bare and thin winter atmosphere. When you discover this phenomenon, you know the spirit of the New Life has been present with you. Another definite sign is the warm rain that some day suddenly falls in abundance and which makes the juices of the earth flow, and that sometimes so rapidly that you see the leaves blow when you stand before the bush. That warm rain is spermatic, and you yourself feel the spring in your limbs. The air immediately after such a rain spells multiplication and addition, and the nights are full of love whispers. Such nights belong especially to Eastera, the spring goddess, and, to use biblical language, her disciples full of the spirit speak in many tongues and all proclaim that the Master is risen.
So powerful and universal was the belief in Easter as a symbol and sign upon nature's rejuvenescence, that the church fathers in council at Jerusalem, 200 A. D., declared that the world was created in the spring and on the 8th of April, the date of Easter that year. The Eastern flower feasts in the spring impressed themselves upon early Christianity so strongly that it became a common belief that Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount in the month of May, the month of lilies in Palestine; not the white lilies; they do not grow in Palestine, but the red and yellow lilies. And it must be admitted that the symbolism is beautiful. Imagine Jesus, that master-mystic and great initiate, sitting among flowers, which are most profuse in Palestine, and preaching the religion of hope among these visible and most emphatic evidences that nature can furnish for hope-—the flowers! What other evidence did he need for the truth there is in hope and resurrection? Only a few months before, in the autumn, his hearers had seen nature take down her floral curtains; and now they saw her hang them up again, not the same she took down, but some very much alike, and yet so different, so fresh, so full of life, so rich in color! He, the master, explained the mystery, and they perceived a revelation! That is, those whose eyes were opened saw a revelation. The multitude did not. Their constitution and a severe training for a thousand years had killed all love for nature and art. They feared the "graven images," and saw no beauty in glorious sunsets. Palestine is rich in sublime ravines, but the people saw in them only "the valley of the shadow of death." Their life was ethical, not aesthetic.
The people who live near the poles or in arctic lands, as well as the people who live under the equator or in the tropics, have very few or almost no symbolical feasts like those celebrated among the people who live in the temperate zones, especially those of the northern temperate zones. Those of the southern temperate zones have not originated any of the feasts so well known among us. I mean such feasts as Christmas, New Years, Easter, Midsummernights festivals and the feasts and Thanksgivings in autumn, celebrated when the crops are harvested and the wine is pressed. The reason for this is that all these feasts connect most intimately with the course of the sun across the heavens in the temperate zones, and, because they all originally are sun feasts and rejoicings because nature has kept her promises about abundance. In the tropics, the plant world is not only radically different from that in ours, the northern temperature zones, but it lives in a different way. There it is organized after a plan of permanency or gradual renewal, but with us it is organized so that it swings between polar differences, of states that look like death and states that overflow with life; hence the plant world naturally becomes the floral orchestra that plays the reveille to the army of men. I say army of men not to those who stay home, but to those who fight for the New Life. Under the tropics we do not talk about rejuvenescence of nature. It is only in the temperate zones we can do that. Consequently, we cannot speak about Christmas or Easter in nature under the equator or north and south of it. Where Christmas and Easter are celebrated in those regions, they can be no more than weak imitations, an importation, a counterfeit of Christmas and Easter in the regions where they arose and where they are indigenous.
In conclusion, let me tell you a story and point to a lesson. The story is told in James Thompson's poem (you know him, the author of "City of Dreadful Night"). The poem is headed, "The Naked Goddess." This is the tale.
A rumor ran through the town:
"That a woman grand and tall,
Swift of foot, and there withal
Naked as a lily gleaming,
Had been seen by eyes not dreaming,
Darting down from forest glades."
Of course all the city buzzed and stirred; senators, priests, astrologers and sophists concluded:
"....We Might go out ourselves to see."
And so they did, and they came upon her in the lovely spring morning:
"Naked as the sun of noon,
Naked as the midnight moon,"
and all around her they found the reawakened nature, for she was spring herself, but they did not know or see
"The divine, flushed, throbbing form."
The priests preached against her sin of nakedness and advised her
"How to gain the heavenly prize;
How grow sweet for Paradise;
By Penance, prayer, self-sacrifice,"
and the philosophical sages recommend her sciences and arts
Man makes Nature's poor life rich.
As you see, her nakedness overwhelmed the impure and was too sublime for the narrow-minded scholar. Conventionality demanded that she should conform to stupid customs. Fear and warped judgment shrunk back, timid before so much freshness and her artless appearance. But
"Calm and proud she stood the while,
With certain wondering smile."
Then she called for children to explain what the graybeards had talked about. The children came and said to her, They want you
"To put on your dress and come
With us to the City home;
Live with us and be our friend."
Meekly she tried on the vestal sister's gown, and even the sage's robe, but scornfully she threw them off and away and stood there again supremely beautiful in pure nakedness. And
"At a gesture, ere they wist
Perched a falcon on her wrist,"
and on that falcon's wing she vanished into the skies. Then
"Was that glorious Goddess seen
Nevermore; and from that day
Evil hap and dull decay
Fell on country side and town."
Curses, plagues and distress laid everything in ruin. The children, however, who had been friendly to the goddess sailed away to other lands and were happy. And this took place
"Thrice three thousand years before
Solon questioned Egypt's lore."
This story is another aspect of the subject. Nature, Eastera, comes to us in pure form, never with clothes on. Neither does nature need them. Clothes are meant to hide disproportion and ugliness. We do not hide beauty.
The lesson of the story is obvious. Do not clip the visiting angel's wings. Do not force a life-thought into logical terms. Do not "look out the window"; take care not to be "absent"; do not excuse yourself by having an engagement when a heavenly visitor calls. "Watch and pray," for you know not the appointed hour. All this is apropos at Easter and in spring time. When you have heard "the voice," do not ask for clothes to fit it. No such clothes exist. No intellectual formulation will fit. Give your fife, let it be consecrated to it! That is the demand! Give your moments and days; your hands and feet, your heart and your lips, your life-blood and love!! Give all!! The visitor, Eastera, comes in glorious simplicity, and no moral system knows any clearer term than "simplicity" for the lessons she wants to teach.
The mistake of the priests and the learned was this, that they wanted to clothe this goddess. Unhappily, that is the mistake only too commonly made, especially by minds who have passed through scholastic institutions; they are not satisfied with pure feelings, simple intuitions or immediacy; they demand clothes or rationalistic scholastic terms as substitutes, sometimes, nowadays they demand scientific formulas. They hold, that unless this intangible something, spring, that appears as a vision; this peculiar influx of power, that suddenly possesses us; they demand that this something must be reduced to common denominations, or else, it is to them of no value. Their conduct is as rational as a demand upon a flower that it shall explain whence the color of its blossom arises or how much its aroma weighs. How can anyone bottle up a sunset or give a mathematical formula for a tear shed ten years ago?
Nay, my friends, Immediacy is indeed without means! Beware of all kinds of clothes for your immediate life!! It is-as pure as the dew of Hybla-—drink it pure! Beware also of hypocrisy! Impure minds are usually the first to preach purity, when self-interest calls for it. The spirit of spring knows neither purity nor impurity!
Do not go out into nature in the spring with a critical eye-—have the seeing eye! Do not put your measure up to Eastera-—she is not to be measured! Do not "interview" the goddess! In due time she will show you her-holy of holies! Above all, do not forget to revere, to worship the goddess! Now, is the accepted time!
And now a word from the mystic. To the mystic there is neither Easter nor no-Easter; neither a light-goddess nor a life-goddess; neither nature nor nature symbols. All these are illusions-—happy illusions, however. Illusions which he freely and safely indulges under the present time and space conditions, because he lives in the Inner Life, in the causal world, where neither symbols nor talks about symbols have any reality. All the symbols mentioned are so many faces of the Deity, and each and all smile to the mystic with encouragement of still better things to come. All the symbols mentioned represent realities which are valuable for use; hence the mystic may celebrate Easter both in nature and in spirit, and, in any and all religious forms among his fellowmen.