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Birth and Before
Beginning the Journey
Life begins long before conception. Our first decision is when to enter the fray of human existence. The historical period into which we are born will determine the emotional, political, and spiritual environment in which we live our lives. It's an important decision. Once we have chosen our parents and connected with a developing egg, we cannot change our minds. We have chosen the generation with which we will travel through life.
At the moment when we take our first breaths, Mother Nature equips us with everything we need to make our existence meaningful. In small kernels of DNA she has planted the instructions not only for the first few months of life, but for the unfolding of an entire lifetime. This small baby in the crib, holds the potential for a life of nearly a century. Nature has given us the destiny of carrying on the life of our species and of making our personal contribution to the unfolding history of our times.
Humans need a mission beyond simple survival. This mission is the mystery of our existence. A good mission fills us with pride, but sometimes only in hindsight can we see where an individual, or a generation, went wrong. Even then, memory and the historical record can preserve those negative examples, such as the atrocities of the past century, as a warning.
We all want to know what to expect from our lives. From Arnold Gesell's and Frances L. Ilg's The Child from Five to Ten to Gail Sheehy's Passages, books that chronicle the developments of each year and decade have helped us to understand what's going on now and what will happen next. Now it's time to look at our spiritual growth.
Mother Nature does not shove us out into the world without a map. She delegates guardians to watch our steps. She buries memories of her cycles deep in our souls. She has established checkpoints in our lives at which she can nudge us in the right direction. Our lives are a school, and each year teaches a new lesson.
Life is a mystery, but so is a layered cake or a cauldron of stew or the spiral structures of our DNA. But life is sacred, you may say–well, so, in our opinion, is a birthday cake or a stew. All things that creatively combine old elements to organize something useful and new are miracles.
Each cake and each stew is different, and so is each person, but there is a blueprint for life that applies to us all. A pattern begins to emerge. We do not exist independently of other entities in the universe. If this new century has taught us anything so far, it is that everything exists in relationship to everything else. Everything changes, voluntarily, or in response to the pressure of destiny.
In Classical Art, the Three Graces are often shown holding hands, dancing. Their dance is part of the circling of the heavens. Society changes, but the circle of life continues. Are these psychosocial alterations simply a function of social evolution, or could the movement of Pluto from Cancer to Leo have played a role? The circling of Saturn defines our major changes, but each year brings a new pattern, each age has its own significance.
Stepping into the Circle
Have You Ever Thrown Up Your Hands in despair and shouted at the heavens, "What do you want with me? What am I doing here? Is there a plan?"
We've all felt that way at one time or another. The old joke that this life is only a test–if it were real, we would be given better directions– brings a rueful smile. There are times when everyone feels adrift or out of control. The cycles that govern cultures and nations are larger than those that affect a human lifetime, but they are just as powerful.
In order to understand where a book is going, we look at the table of contents. In the same way, the factors–genetic, environmental, and astrological–that are in place at the moment of birth provide the rough outline for our life stories. But as any author will tell you, an outline can tell you where a book is going, but only in the writing does one discover "how" it gets there. It is the meaning of a life that makes the difference.
Still, when you are trying to understand where you are going and how you got this far, starting with the factors that shaped you is a good plan.
The moment that officially begins our lives is the instant when we take that first breath. The array of influences–health and heredity, family environment, and the positions of the planets at that exact moment–set the pattern for our lives.
Do our parents determine our destiny? Heredity certainly plays a role in what we become, but do genetics determine destiny?
Lucile's father was a Ph.D. in mathematics, but he had to tutor her all the way through high school math. Her mother had great artistic ability, and Lucile does too, but she didn't become an artist. Instead, she uses an ability to analyze events that is like her father's in her work as a scholar. Are her abilities inherited, or a reaction to her upbringing?
Carol's mother died of diabetes, and now she has it too. In this case, heredity has certainly played a role. But Carol is getting her condition under control through diet and exercise. If she's careful, she can live a long and active life.
As science unlocks the secrets of the human genome we will know more and more about the blueprint that creates our bodies. Coloring, height and weight and body type, health, and even intelligence may be inherited, giving us the resources with which we begin our lives, but the outcome depends on our choices, which are made by the spirit within.
As we grow older we can remember how it felt to be a child, although we now experience life very differently. It becomes clear that we are more than our bodies.
The environment into which we are born can be as important as our genes, starting with the world of the womb. The old controversy about the relative importance of nature and nurture takes on a new significance when we look at the influence of the spiritual as well as the physical environment, and consider the relationship among class, culture, and choice.
Certainly, someone who is sufficiently motivated can transcend an unprivileged early environment. Diana's father was born in Brooklyn to a working-class family with an alcoholic father. He had to go home from school across the roofs of the tenements to avoid the gangs, but his natural brilliance got him a good education. Even though the money he had earned working part-time jobs went to save his father's failing business, he arrived at Cal Tech with a scholarship and $5 and went on to earn a Ph.D.
But for every such success story there are many more who never succeed in breaking free. In the case of Diana's father, success was due not only to a high IQ, but to the care of his mother, who played chess with him and encouraged him to read. Where one factor is lacking, others may make up for it, but when a child is born with no advantages at all, success is difficult indeed. The prisons and streets are full of those who missed their chances or never had a chance at all. In such cases, those born with more blessings may find it good karma to offer what help is in their power.
Whatever fate gives us, life consists of a series of choices, and in the long run, success or failure depends on what we do with what we have. The more we know, the better our choices are likely to be.
Sometimes, meditation can give us information available no other way. Sande sent us this report on her experience during a trance journey to visit the Fates at one of Z's workshops:
I was adopted at birth by a childless couple in their midforties. He was Portuguese and she is Italian. My birth mother listed Scottish, English, and Irish as my maternal heritage. Because the adoption was private and through friends, I was able to ascertain that my biological father was Italian. I have seen pictures of my biological mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother (all deceased) and my biological siblings. My adoptive father's family was originally from the Azores, and family legend has it that my paternal great-grandmother was the village witch, as well as being a devout Catholic. My father said she scared him when he first met her.
The first question I asked the Fates was if my past held anything important for me today. The answer was that my maternal great-grandmother was an important link for me, and then came the information that she and my adoptive father's grandmother the witch from Portugal were biologically related. I have always felt a strong bond with my adoptive father's family and look very much like some of my aunts, so this was not at all hard for me to accept.
The second question related to my current life work and my "purpose." The answer ... showed me as a light-generating being, a teacher of some sort, walking with women and children on open ground with a meadow and forest in view.
The third question was directed toward my "becoming" and I saw myself encased in heavy, metal armor. I was twirling toward a meadow and as I twirled, the armor dropped off, one piece at a time, until I was light and "free" and incredibly joyous.
I was able to discover more about the who and why of me during the course of that meditation than in all the work I've done so far.
The crucial moment, from the astrological point of view, is the minute the baby takes its first breath. At that point responsibility for survival passes from the mother to the child. We open ourselves to the energies of the world around us and begin the process that must continue until we make our transition back to the Otherworld. Whatever else happens in our lives, we have to keep breathing. The breath, therefore, is our passport into this life, the existence we share with other living things. Breath is sacred.
When the child takes her first breath, she draws in not only oxygen but also the energy of the universe. The position of the planets at the moment of birth will determine the psychic forces that accompany her through life. This is why it is so important to take note of the time. Even ten minutes' difference in the birth time of twins can affect the way they relate to the world.
Astrology can be an important key to interpreting the script for our lives, but we have to understand how to use it. It can be frustrating when the professional astrologer will say only that the stars offer suggestions and opportunities, not certainties. It takes insight and intuition to put all the pieces together and understand how they interact to offer us those choices. The stars do not "cause" us to have certain characteristics. Rather, their patterns are created by the same forces that work upon our lives. The fluttering of the leaves does not blow off your hat–it is the invisible wind that does both, and if you see the grass flattening before you, you can guess that in another moment the gust will hit you as well.
We exist in a universal vibrational soup. Most of it is invisible–we see only those things that reflect light. But there's a lot out there–we don't really know what reality truly contains, but we are slowly awakening to the importance of understanding everything, even those aspects that seem to make no sense at all. Do we really want to live in a world of complex chaos? There must be some organizing principle that will allow us to make sense of our times. We are surrounded by questions. What makes an Aquarian so accepting? What makes a Scorpio so stubborn? Why are some periods ripe for revolution while others, with equal injustices, stay calm? Are there really winds of war?
Destiny talks to us through the spirit of the times every day. We do not always listen, but it affects us whether we are consciously hearing it or not.
Beginning the First Destiny
The moment of birth is the official beginning of the First Destiny. Birth is the door between life and death. Until you emerge from your mother's womb you are not part of the world. To make the transition, you have to have a mother who invites you in. The newborn is a wrinkly helpless thing that can barely suck, plucked from a watery world where she has replayed within nine short months the entire evolutionary development of humankind.
To look upon a newborn is a thrilling experience. New babies have a strong spiritual aura, and if the Fates are kind, they will be placed in the arms of kind and loving mothers. The newborn child is a symbol of hope and the miracle of renewal. They are pure, without judgment or experience, beautiful, and vibrant. They remind us of our own beginnings.
Diana, who has assisted at a number of births, recalls the wonder of seeing the child emerge:
Except when I am actually watching it happen I find it hard to believe that every human being now in the world got here this way. The mound of the mother's belly knots and releases, changing shape as the baby is pushed out. A woman is like the Goddess when she gives birth, repeating the moment of creation. Then the child is out, and you cut the cord that was its physical connection to the mother. Now you've got a brand-new, separate being, still trying to figure out what happened. But each baby has its own way of reacting. When I first looked at my twin grandchildren, one of them sleeping peacefully while the other pushed and squirmed against the walls of the bassinet, it was already clear which of them would find it easiest to get along in the world.
In the infant body is the potential to grow into a mature human being. Everything you will need is tightly packed into your DNA files, ready to kick in when the right time comes. You start with the basic script for your life, but it's an outline only. How it plays out depends on you.
Prospective parents have little choice in the genetic heritage they pass on, nor can they choose the moment of birth, but there are ways to make the birth a rewarding spiritual experience that will give parents and baby a good start to their life together.
If the birth is at home, set up an altar to the motherly power of the Divine in the room where the birth will take place. Images of the Madonna and Child, of Gaia, of Kuan Yin, or mother goddesses from other cultures will inspire the right thoughts. Make the setting beautiful and keep lights at a restful level.
If the birth is taking place in a hospital or alternate birth center, a simple altar (minus the fire) can be put up, and music can be played. One or more of those assisting can intone "Ma" along with the mother's grunts or moans. Chanting helps to focus everyone on the contraction and can help transform a moan of pain into a positive sound. During early stages, a gentle humming is relaxing. If the mother is used to chanting, she may Maaah as well, especially during the pushing stage. The sound will peak in intensity with the contraction, and it helps the mother to focus and direct her energy toward pushing out the child. Singing chants with appropriate words works well in some settings, especially if they are familiar to the mother.
If mother and doctor / midwife agree, the child's first bath may be in herb-scented water. Afterward, bless the child in a way appropriate to the family's religious tradition. A Christian would place the child under the protection of Jesus, or the Virgin Mary, and the angels. A Buddhist might call on Kuan Yin, and a pagan would call on the Great Mother and the four elements. The atmosphere immediately after the birth should be kept calm and peaceful, and the child should be kept in a dim, quiet place for the first few days, in contact with the mother's body as much as possible.
The Greek goddess Artemis, who drove the chariot of the moon, was also a goddess who assisted in birth and watched over the health and physical development of the growing child. At the time of the first full moon after the birth, if weather and health permit, take the infant outside and present her to the moon. You can make a prayer, such as:
Lady Moon with silver light, Radiant ruler of the night, Bless the child you've given me, As you bless the earth and sea.
NAMING THE CHILD
Some say that each soul has many incarnations, and this birth is but a repetition of what has happened before. But even if this life is the only one, the human being, once born, does not remain the same. The infant becomes a child, the child the maiden, the maiden the woman, and the woman, the wisewoman.
Each stage is marked by physical and spiritual transformations. After birth, death is the greatest rite of passage of all. With each transformation the body changes. The experiences of the past seem to have happened to someone else. But the future is unknown. Everywhere, humans strive to ease these transitions by rites of passage. Most cultures have had some formal ritual to welcome a child as a member of the family and community. The following ritual welcomes a baby into a community of many beliefs and practices.
Excerpted from CELESTIAL WISDOM FOR EVERY YEAR OF YOUR LIFE by Z BUDAPEST, DIANA L. PAXSON. Copyright © 2003 Z Budapest and Diana L. Paxson. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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Birth and Before: Beginning the Journey
Ages 1 to 10: First Flowering
Ages 11 to 20: It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times
Ages 21 to 30: Brave New World
Ages 31 to 40: Carousel
Ages 41 to 50: Crisis and Crown
Ages 51 to 60: The Age of Sovereignty
Ages 61 to 70: Older or Elder?
Ages 71 to 80: The Secret Country
Ages 81 to 90 and Beyond: The Age