March 13th, 2014
With nervous pleasure,
The tulips are receiving
A spring rain at dusk
Cultures around the world celebrate spring as a time of renewal, healing, and rebirth, moving from the darkness of winter to the much-anticipated light of spring. Whatever form of celebration this takes, it is a time of new beginnings and hope. A time to celebrate life.
Original peoples were in rhythmic harmony with natural cycles, and created seasonal festivals, to honor their connection and dependency on the natural world. It seems only obvious then, that people who later came to believe in dying and returning gods–– synchronized their celebrations of birth, fertility and life, with those of the original people, often at the beginning of Spring, the Vernal Equinox.
The word Equinox comes from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night), equal night, meaning a moment in time when the earth’s axis is tilted neither towards nor away from the sun, but is aligned directly with the poles, and day and night are about equal in length. It is a global time of perfect balance.
Original people the world over understood that a state of balance was necessary for well-being and harmony, and knew that imbalance in nature or with the self was the source of illness or disease. To the Yoruba people of West Africa, “…disease is seen as a disruption of our connection to the earth.”
Spring is regarded as a time for healing, and cleansing, a much-anticipated occasion heralded by the appearance of tiny green buds, the first flowers poking through the still cold ground, and of course the winter-absent sounds of birds.
Birdsong and flowers are two mythically powerful avatars of spring in most cultures worldwide, and therefore it is not surprising that both are honored ritually in connection with celebrations of spirit, and of dying and returning gods.
About three weeks ago, I was happily surprised when I realized that once again, I was hearing the sounds of birds. I had been tuned to a different, internal biorhythm––Winter, and had not even realized the sound was missing, and it made me walk around smiling all day.
At just about the same time, I read a poignant and bittersweet article titled” How to build a Perfect Refugee Camp” in the Sunday Feb.13, 2014 New York Times Magazine. It is a about the lives of Syrian refugees in Kilis, a refugee camp in Turkey near the Syrian border
One of many moving details that ran throughout the story was the presence and implied importance of Canaries in cages. They were photographed everywhere in their cages, inside and outside of most of the container dwellings, and the author often noted their presence, but without a real explanation.
I found that to be fascinating and have been trying to find information that could explain the origins of the tradition, of keeping Canaries, if in fact it was one…or is it rather a result of the heartbreaking situation they find themselves in. I began to think that perhaps the birds are there for another reason. A healing reason.
The sound of a songbird is at the same time elevating and calming, reassuring. We feel more at ease somehow, which means our lives are just flowing better, and we like that.
If some of us are lucky enough to hear the songs of birds interrupt and rise above the noise of a city or the noise of traffic, consciously or unconsciously, we feel better.
Julian Treasure explained that in his recent Ted Talk: The 4 ways Sound Affects Us,”… Most people find the sound of birdsong reassuring. There’s a reason for that. Over hundreds of thousands of years, we’ve learned that when the birds are singing,” things are safe.” It’s when they stop–– that you need to be worried.” Maybe it is a tradition based on the healing wisdom of the natural world, and as refugees themselves, perhaps these Canaries sing to bring about harmonious balance––a beautiful coping mechanism that calms everyone down, giving them a reassuring space to heal from the trauma of war.
Atahualpa Yupanqui, the famous Argentine folk musician, was quoted as saying,” Music is a torch with which to see where beauty lies, “ and the music of singing birds is certainly that. Perhaps that is why the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians in California, among many native tribes in California, chose to call their very important singing rituals, Birdsongs. These songs are very important to their cultures, and are meant to be shared in social gatherings. The songs tell stories, which unfold in a series of songs about migration, and life lessons. Both men and women participate, singing and dancing to the accompaniment of rattles.
The Yaqui Indians of the Sonoran Desert revere flowers, and view them as manifestations of souls. “Haisa sewa?” is a Yaqui greeting among men, which means,” How is the flower?”
In the springtime, the Yaqui perform their sacred duty of ensuring the existence of the world, by dancing the Deer Dance in Lenten and Easter rituals. After the Conquest, the Yaqui fused their original beliefs, synchronizing them to the Catholic Holidays, ensuring the survival of their ways. The deer dancers represent the spirit of the sacred deer who lives in the Flower World, one of the five worlds of Yaqui belief. Their rituals are conducted to perfect these worlds, and eliminate the harm done to them.
During these spring rituals, the sacred deer returns to this world, and the songs of the deer singer, are the voices of the deer, bringing mystical messages from their world. The return of the Deer spirit is syncretic with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, returning on Easter with divine messages from heaven.
For the ancient Nauhua people, Xochiquetzalli, the goddess of flowers and love, was the mother of their sacred dying and returning god Quetzalcoatl, or Kukulkan, the plumed serpent. As a dual-natured god, Kukulkan’s feathers represent his heavenly abode, and his serpent body allows him to travel on the earth. The Quetzal bird’s iridescent green plumes were used in royal costume and ceremonial garb for kings and priests.
The great pyramid El Castillo, or Kukulcán’s Pyramid, built in the center of Chichen Itza in Mexico, displays an astronomically symbolic reenactment, of the return of Kukulcán, as he descends to earth on the Vernal Equinox. An unusual shadow creeps down the northern stairway, appearing as a serpent, which finally unites with its stone head, which sits in the light at the pyramid’s base.
Tonantzin, Xochiquetzalli, and the Virgin of Guadalupe are all aspects of the great mother goddess of fertility, of life, and creation.
The ancient goddess Xochiquetzalli, (Flowery Plumage), gave rise to the pre-Hispanic belief in a “flower-woman”, who represented Mother Earth and fertility. She is celebrated on the Friday before Palm Sunday, in the Flor más Bella del Ejido (Most Beautiful Flower of the Ejido or Field) pageant, honoring the beauty of Mexican indigenous women, held in Xoxhimilco, Mexico. In the Náhuatl dialect, Xoxhimilco means,” place of the flowery orchard.”
In about 1570, Friar Diego Durán, who grew up in Texcoco, described the celebrations of Xochiquetzalli, ”… The dance they most enjoyed was the one in which they crowned and adorned themselves with flowers. A house of flowers was erected on the main pyramid . . .. They also erected artificial trees covered with fragrant flowers where they seated the goddess Xochiquetzalli… On this day they were as happy as could be, the same happiness and delight they feel today on smelling any kind of flower, whether it have an agreeable or a displeasing scent, as long as it is a flower. They become the happiest people in the world smelling them…”
As Christians honor the Virgin of Guadalupe with roses, and the Virgin of Candelaria with marigolds, the Nahua people honored Xochiquetzalli, singing Xochicuicame, flower songs. Xochitlahtoane (flower speakers), performed publicly. The songs were about flowers or related to rituals honoring Xochiquetzal, and were a channel to invoke a deity in an individual and personal way.
The most famous flower songs were those of Hungry Coyote, a ruler, and poet in ancient Mexico. One of his songs, The Flower Tree Song was sung during this Spring celebration in honor of Xochiquetzalli. Here is an excerpt:
“…Delight, for Life Giver adorns us. All the flower bracelets, your flowers, are dancing. Our songs are strewn in this jewel house, this golden house. The Flower Tree grows and shakes, already it scatters. The quetzal breathes honey, the golden quéchol breathes honey. Ohuaya ohuaya.
You have transformed into a Flower Tree, you have emerged, you bend and scatter. You have appeared before God’s face as multi-colored flowers. Ohuaya ohuaya.
Live here on earth, blossom! As you move and shake, flowers fall. My flowers are eternal, my songs are forever: I raise them: I, a singer. I scatter them, I spill them, the flowers become gold: they are carried inside the golden place. Ohuaya ohuyaya.
Flowers of raven, flowers you scatter, you let them fall in the house of flowers. Ohuaya ohuyaya.
Jeannie Winston Nogai
Owner / Winston Nogai Design
www.jeanniewinston.com / E: email@example.com