Tai Chi Y3D36: Dipping into the Archive

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From the Archive: back on day 36/year 1, I was experimenting with learning to do the tai chi form on the left-hand side of my body.  That is, the tai chi form that I know begins by shifting weight to the left, opening to the right, and then attacking forward… I was trying to see if I could figure out how to shift weight to the right, open to the left and then attack.  It was an interesting effort, but I never got very far.  It was always do one or two moves, then forget where in the form you are because there’s no pattern recognition.  That was challenging.  I kinda gave this up. It was a lot of work, for not a lot of return in terms of physical exercise.  I’m still not getting a lot of exercise from doing tai chi, although I’m definitely stronger and more limber.  On Day 36/year 2,  the issue was one of speed, and the difference between intentionality and unintentionally. Apparently I ran out of time that morning, and rushed through my tai chi form because I had things to do and places to be.  No idea what I had to do or where I had to be, but I attributed it to something important.

I’m not sure it was.

I mean, I still wrestle with these issues. Both of them — frankly, I need the challenge of trying to figure out the left-side tai chi problem.  And I need to learn how to slow down to the point where the form takes the amount of time it needs to take.  I’ve learned it too fast, and now I have to unlearn it and relearn it at the correct speeds — slow, slower and tortoise. In fact, I think this is the overarching concern of my tai chi work; when I do a search for the word “slow” in the title, I come up with a lot of different possibilities for connection to earlier articles.

Today was really no different. I did the forms in a different order from how I usually do them: first I did Five Golden Coins, and then the tai chi form, and then Eight Pieces of Silk. I sometimes get a better workout if I do them out of order; lately I’ve been feeling stuck in a rut when it comes to doing the work, so it was good to change things up.  But changing things up is not the key problem. Going at the right speed — much slower than I do now — is the right challenge, and the rest of it is just rearranging the furniture.

Tai Chi Y3D35: relaxation

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I did my first qi gong form this morning, and found that I was having a hard time moving. It wasn’t that I was stiff and sore from anything yesterday. It wasn’t anything I could put my finger on, exactly. I just felt off. Something wasn’t right.

So, I lay down on the floor, and I did the Relaxation Exercise. I learned this, now many years ago, from John Michael Greer’s book, Learning Ritual Magic. Lie down on the floor, and tense up the muscles that control your toes. Relax them. Tense your feet, and relax them. Tense your ankles and relax them. Tense your calves, and relax them. In this way proceed up the body tensing up and then relaxing each muscle or muscle group in turn. Finally, at the end, try to tense all the muscles in the body at once, and relax them together.

It took one or two minutes to do this once, and it felt so good that I did the exercise through all the way from beginning to end, again. By the time I was done, some kinks in my back that had barely registered on my radar as possible problems, were gone as if they had never been. My spine was lying a lot flatter on the floor. Whatever challenge had bothered me in the first tai chi sequence was gone.

I wound up doing the other two tai chi exercises, eight pieces of silk and the tai chi form, with much greater ease after that. Sometimes it’s important to listen to the body.

Learning Geomancy

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A while back, in February, I taught my first workshop on Geomancy.  I learned a bunch of things from teaching an hour and a half workshop on a system of divination, possibly considerably more than my audience got from it.  More recently, Gordon blew up about how frustrating he finds it that content keeps vanishing, and how hard it is to recover that information. That post prompted me to make some tattwa cards for download. and again with Gordon, he keeps expressing frustration that the method of carrying on the conversation keeps getting moved to new servers like Tumblr.  I’ve been guilty of that myself; I’m getting an article ready for publication there on a group tumblr called ceremonialmagic101.tumblr.com, on geomancy.  It’s hard to find new voices that bring important threads to the conversation in this soup of the Internet, like for example Quakerpagan.blogspot.com, too.  Things keep migrating into Facebook, and then out of Facebook, and then getting lost.  It bothers me a lot.  Gordon says, own your platform. It’s part of the reason I pay for this WordPress site, not that it’s won me much of a commenting audience — and I think part of the reason for that is the way that it serves as a record of daily life, and as a record of artistic projects like the mandala of geomancy, or the kavad.

Anyway, I realized I wanted to post this article on Geomancy, not on Tumblr, but here. And so I’ve liberated the draft from Tumblr, and I am posting it here.

Geomancy: How to Begin

Geomancy, in the western magical tradition, used to have the same positive reputation as astrology, and was more widely practiced.  It is easier to learn than Tarot (I think), and benefits from being an Earth-based magic that probably came to Western Europe from Western Africa by way of the Muslim conquerors of Spain.  It’s a fairly sophisticated system, but it does take some effort to learn.

Below the cut, a fairly complete ceremonialmagic101 introduction to the art of Geomancy, a divination system for beginning magicians.

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Tai Chi Y3D34: Breathing Practice

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Today, I tried very hard to breathe in tune and in synch with the structure of the movements of my qi gong forms and my tai chi form.  Breathe OUT on the expansion, and breathe IN on the contraction — that is, when the body is expanding to a broader or wider stance, breathe out; and breathe in while the body is working toward a narrower or tighter stance.  My own tai chi teacher had us vary this practice from time to time, so that we understood how breathing IN during the expansion helped the body be stronger; but how breathing OUT during the expansion helped create fluidity of movement and gracefulness.  So there’s a double-purpose in trying it both ways, although he allowed that the breath inward during expansion was probably more correct… although ultimately one must take several breaths during any given movement, on both the expansion and contraction, in order to be moving at the correct speed.

The three forms took about half-an-hour to perform.

Tai Chi Y3D33: Relocating the Groove

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The last half-dozen days, I’ve been out of my groove of tai chi. This morning, I awoke early in an effort to find it again.  The goals? Slow down, move deliberately, find the energy, recognize the flow.

Ok.  Did that.

First, the slow-down part.  This was not terribly difficult, although it required patience. I started the first of the qi gong forms too fast. Then I stopped, and began Five Golden Coins at a slower pace.  Then, when that didn’t quite work to slow me down, I started breathing more carefully, and let each movement take about three breath cycles.  Ah! Here’s the right speed! Eight Pieces of Silk wound up being much more closely attuned with the correct speed, the correct flow, and the correct deliberateness of movement.  Then I started the tai chi form, and I started rushing.  Ooops.  Slow down: breathe more deliberately, move more carefully, move one limb or extremity at a time, change one part of the posture at a time.   Slow down….

The three forms together took 28 minutes.  OK, this is not perfect. The tai chi form by itself is supposed to take about 20 minutes, and the two qi gong forms should take 6-10 minutes apiece.  So I’m still faster than I should be.  But I’m doing a lot better than the last few days’ 12-minute shows of sound and fury signifying nothing. At that point, it’s really not anything other than dancing, and it’s not doing anything to improve my immune system or my physical strength.

So, an improvement today, and a way out of my recent skid-off the standard practice. But not best practice. Not yet.

Tai Chi Y3D32: Late Start

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I woke up early this morning, but due to extenuating circumstances, I stayed in bed until quite late this morning, and didn’t do tai chi until about 12:20 pm.  You’ll note that I’m writing this entry at just about 2:00pm — which is to say, it was not an ideal practice, nor did I get to structure the time afterwards in order to record impressions of the day’s work.

Yeah, I didn’t get much out of it — too late in the day — and then I let time fritter away afterwards so I don’t know what I should record.

Actually, I do.   It’s becoming apparent that doing tai chi too late in the day, after I’m dressed and showered and more or less ready to begin the serious work of the day, results in poor performance during the tai chi practice.  I was basically dressed and ready to walk out the door when I began today’s tai chi practice, and I did it in a more-than-perfunctory way.  It’s the wrong way to approach the work.  Instead, the habit already established needs to be the standard: do it upon waking in loose and comfortable clothes, and without delay.  Delay results in a less-than-perfect experience, and does not return good results.

 

Easter is not pagan

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I’m going to offer a slightly different version of the “Easter is not pagan; Easter is a Christian holiday” meme.   It goes like this:

In AD 324, the emperor Constantine summoned the Christian bishops to a council at the summer palace in Nicaea.  Nicacea was a nice summer holiday town on the Propontis or Sea of Mamara — good beaches, excellent food, great celebrity-watching, and so on. No film festival, but hey, you can’t go to the Byzantine Riviera in the early 4th century and expect everything to be hunky-dory.

According to the history compiled by Eusebius of Caesarea, who was there, and allegedly a close confidant of the Emperor and numerous of the bishops, the bishops discussed the question of a creed — a formal statement of what all Christians had to believe.  And, with the Emperor’s prodding (and eventually, threats), the bishops agreed on the Nicene Creed.  By about AD 450, the two surviving letters of St. Patrick, that guy in Ireland that we get so excited about in mid-March, use language from the Creed.

The Emperor wasn’t done yet.  He made the gathered bishops settle a number of other matters, and required them to pass a series of canons or ecclesiastical laws to govern the behavior of Church officials.  Among these canons is one that formally establishes the astronomical calculation for determining the date of Easter each year. This formula thus pre-dates the separation of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches by about 600 years; and it was a sticking point in the eventual union of the Celtic and Roman Catholic churches (finally settled at the Synod of Whitby in 664 AD).

The formula is this: “The date of Easter shall be the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox.”  Eusebius of Caesarea, and other authors from the time of the Council of Nicaea, tell us that the Church fathers picked this formula to guarantee that Easter would be celebrated on a Sunday in accordance with the Emperor’s wish, and on a date that paid notice to the events surrounding the Crucifixion in the Gospels — namely that Jesus was crucified on a Friday just as the feast of the Passover was starting, that he was taken down before Sundown in respect to the Jewish custom to not leave criminals hanging on the Sabbath or on Passover (since both began at sundown that Friday), and that Mary first encountered the risen Jesus in the garden on Sunday morning.  Eusebius further tells us that the Christian leadership at the time continue to have doubts about the wisdom of Jews and Christians worshipping together, and so the formula for dating Easter is made slightly different from the formula for finding the date of Passover (by using the Graeco-Roman secular calendar’s “day of the Sun” following a specific lunar event, rather than just holding Easter on the date of the full moon following the spring equinox [the same time as Passover].)

So.  We can date the occasion on which Christians adopted a formal date of Easter (AD 325); we can note this formal adoption of the formulary for determining the date in both Imperial secular, and Christian sources; we can see that saint Patrick, writing in around AD 450, has accepted the system for calculating the date of Easter; we can see that not all Britons have agreed to that formulary by the fact that it’s finally agreed upon at the Synod of Whitby in AD 664.

And, we can see in the historical record that this calendrical formula is adopted in the face of, and under enormous pressure from, the actual sitting living Roman Emperor, while the Council is meeting in front of his throne in his living room. If the Nicaean fathers did steal the date of Easter from any extant pagan system of religion, they did so with the express advice, consent and even informal arm-twisting and perhaps even not-even-lightly-veiled-threat-of-imminent-death of the secular authorities.

But, there’s no evidence that they did steal the formula from any extant pagan system.  Instead, there’s a fairly obvious rationale for the formula which they did settle on — a date close to, but not exactly the same as, the Jewish Passover, in order that the festival of Easter can closely align to but not be exactly the same as, the time period corresponding to the last days of Jesus’s life and ministry on earth before the Crucifixion.  Using the best records they had, and the most historical reasoning they could, they picked out as scientific a date-fixing scheme as they could muster.

In return for rules, and a formal creed that could be universally applied, the Nicaean fathers got the full support of the Imperial court, access to land and property and titles, the closure of all temples of the Olympian and Chthonic gods in AD 381, and judicial and executive powers over their dioceses and the Christians living in them.

The city of Rome was sacked by barbarian armies in AD 410, and the last Roman emperor abdicated in AD 450. The system for calculating the date of Easter survived in both eastern and western Christianity until the Gregorian calendar reforms of the 1500s; a period of confusion followed in the West until finally even mostly-Protestant nations like Britain and the American colonies accepted the revisions, while Orthodox churches continue to use a range of calendrical systems based on the old Julian calendar for finding the date of Easter (and some have accepted the Gregorian reforms).

TL;DR?  Yeah, Easter isn’t pagan.

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