Sol Invictus and the Christmas Celebration

If the Gospels reliably communicate any historical information, in all likelihood Jesus was born in spring, not winter. Details such as shepherds keeping watch all night in the fields with their flocks tell us there was no December birth. The temperature would be too cold to spend the night outdoors.

It turns out that the Christian celebration of Christmas is a synthesis of winter festivals from the ancient world: the Solstice, the Roman Saturnalia, the Dies Natalis of Sol Invictus, and the Jewish festival of light recounted in the Books of the Maccabees. One of the reasons that the Christian religion survived at all was precisely its ability to communicate its message while adapting itself to external circumstances. Christmas is the perfect illustration of this principle.

December 25 was, in ancient times, honored as the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti — the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun. It’s worth noting that Jesus is referred to in solar terms: the Sun of Justice, the Sun that Never Sets, etc. To honor Sol Invictus, there was a special feast in his honor on this day.

Something Jesus would have heartily approved was the reversal of roles that masters and servants observed today. Servants and slaves would partake of great feasts at the expense of their masters and owners. In some cases, though probably not too frequently as the Roman world was very rigidly divided between the free and the enslaved, the Master of the House would serve the meal himself.

Apparently, Sol Invictus was honored most when the mighty and powerful humbled themselves to take care of the poor, the hungry, the enslaved, the sick, and the marginalized. A nice thought for those who recall the birth of Jesus — who himself preached a very similar Gospel.

~BT Waldbillig
December 25, 2016

Dream of Sol Invictus

With Christmas nearly at hand, I offer a hymn to the original feast-holder of that day: Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun.

Here, I imagine a battle between Mars Ultor, the Avenging War God, and Silvanus, the Boy-God of the Forest.

– – – – –


The innocent maiden and the wolf pup sat upon a hilltop
Rejoicing at their salvation from the pit

While the Forest Boy who commands Mighty Warriors
Danced and sang for the girl and the pup

“From the darkest place emerges the brightest light
The moment of despair engenders invincible hope

Neither fire nor ice
Neither water nor want

Neither stones from the sky
Nor the wiles of man on Earth

Will ever drive out
The roots of the Great Tree

In the place of the empty heart
The light of Sol Invictus will shine

You who feared not the darkness of the pit
Nor disdained the wickedness of men and wolves

Led them from the place of darkness
To the long-awaited kingdom of Light

Ha! Foolish men!
You thought the maiden innocent and helpless

Ha! Furious bull and raging stag!
You beheld the pup easy prey

The pup has pulled you from the pit
By the knot of hair on your head

The girl dragged you behind herself
By your horns and by your nostrils

Let us taunt them
Without mercy, without rest

Take from the shepherd his staff
Kill the fiercesome guard dog

Exterminate their fathers
Make of their sons beggars

Humiliate their women
Make of their daughters whores

What can the Forest Boy do
Before the Mighty God of War?

He laughs, he dances
He sings, he weeps

While the dead dog you offered as sacrifice
Rises from the ashes

Extinguishing the fire of war
Without even a fight”

And when the boy finished his dancing and singing
When the rivers of tears dried up

The light of Sol Invictus appeared
And the world became new again

Behold, People of War and Avenging Gods
Sol Invictus has made of you all

Peoples of the Great Heart

~BT Waldbillig
December 23, 2016

Hymn of Silvanus

As Christmas approaches, I offer a piece in honor of the original feast-holder of that day: Sol Invictus.

Here, Silvanus, the Boy-God of the Forest, sings to all who wait for the Unconquered Sun.

– – – – –


The God of War commands with extended arm
The Boy of the Forest uses the other for play

But Sol Invictus bestows blessing
With both arms outstretched

His palms looking down to us
His fingers the sun’s rays

The light of Sol Invictus
Is bound by no map or chart

Like two-faced Janus
His gaze extends to us

Whether backward in history
Or forward in time

Fear not for we are Brothers
Fear not for we are Friends

We will save each other
Faithful like a cur

The Great Tree!

The Little Man!

The Living Dog!

The poor, the wicked, the unforgiven
The mighty, the holy, the innocent

All drink from one cup
All eat from one table

In this house dwell all
Masters and servants alike

The wicked and just alike
Senex, progenitor, filius

In this family the father
Strikes not his son

We, mighty and arrogant males
Believed we were paterfamilias

While our females tended
To every needful thing

They cared for the plants
Tended the orchards and vineyards

The sheep, the cattle, and even the pigs
They attended mindfully

They vouched safe the embers of the hearth
Fed all, taking for themselves the scraps

And so I tell you:

Watch and keep vigil
Guarding the secret in your heart

Know that what you do
In the open and before the world

As well as all that you do
In the darkness of the hidden place

Fulfilling your duty with[out] hesitation
Giving of yourself completely

Will one day
Save the world

~BT Waldbillig
December 23, 2016

Who Is the Bodhisattva?

I recently came across a text that quite vividly describes the sort of spiritual ideal toward which many aspire. With Christmas approaching, we could also envision this ideal as the motivation for the Incarnation.

– – – – –

Description of a Bodhisattva
(from the Ratnagotravibhaga)

He has gone beyond all that is worldly, yet he has not moved out of the world;

In the world he pursues his course for the world’s weal, unstained by worldly taints.

As a lotus flower, though it grows in water, is not polluted by the water,

So he, though born in the world, is not polluted by worldly dharmas.

Like a fire his mind constantly blazes up into good works for others;

At the same time he always remains merged in the calm of trances and formless attainments.

Through the power of his previous penetration (into reality), and because he has left all discrimination behind,

He again exerts no effort when he brings living things to maturity.

He knows exactly who is to be educated, how, and by what means,

Whether by his teaching, his physical appearance, his practices, or his bearing.

Without turning towards anything, always unobstructed in his wisdom,

He goes along, in the world of living beings, boundless as space, acting for the weal of beings.

[taken from Puja Readings and Other Texts as Used In the Triratna Buddhist Community]

~BT Waldbillig
December 19, 2016

Commentary on The Practice of the Presence of God (part 2)

Written in the second half of the 17th century by a French Carmelite lay brother, The Practice of the Presence of God is divided into three sections: Section One, comprising accounts of four personal conversations; Section Two, comprising 16 letters to various individuals; and Section Three, comprising six “maxims”, or brief reflections.

To begin, I plan on commenting upon each of the conversations individually. I may group together several letters or several maxims when I reach those sections. We’ll see what works best.

You can find a link to a translation of the complete original text here.

– – – – –

Commentary on
The Practice of the Presence of God
(Br. Lawrence of the Resurrection, d. 1691)
Second Conversation, 1666

Lex suprema amor: Love is the inspiration, path, and goal of our spiritual endeavor.

As most of us cannot fully and perfectly love all beings, we do well to love those who are closest to us: ourselves and our family.

This practice (love of self and family) is more important and useful than imitation of those the world regards as virtuous, holy, wise, etc.

Let others worry about reward and punishment, heaven and hell, and the like, for our endeavor is too important, difficult, necessary, and universal for such considerations.

Let us commit ourselves completely and with[out] hesitation to whatever part we might have in our common endeavor, even if it entails the loss of whatever it is that we most cherish or hope for.

The One who set us upon our path is the Silent One: as few of us can penetrate the silence, we must content ourselves with words.

As the Psalmist tell us: Those the world regards as little are not lesser beings than those than those the world regards as great.

We do well to remember that few of us will see the good fruit of our shared mission.

That which we have received [from those who came before], we must hand on [to those who are yet to come].

Bonum est diffusivum sui: A single tree possesses power sufficient to sanctify an entire grove.

~BT Waldbillig
December 18, 2016

The Vow of the Little Man

May I be:

Light in the darkness
Life in the place of death
Hope to those who despair
Courage to the fearful
Freedom to the enslaved
Strength to the weak
Mutual affection to all sentient beings
Enduring compassion of the Tree

(Based on the Vow of Shantideva)

~BT Waldbillig
December 18, 2016

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

In the course of seminary studies I had occasion to read ancient Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature. Naturally, the Book of Revelation from the Christian Bible falls into this category. One thing that has always given me pause is the relative inability of our forefathers to envision an end of this world cycle and the beginning of a new one that does not entail destruction, vengeance, and suffering. Like anything we read in sacred writings, this vision reveals far more about the people who wrote the scriptures than it does about the One who inspired the scriptures.

After many years of intense struggle and doubt around faith, I still find the story of Jesus beautiful, moving, and life-changing. But I ask myself: If Jesus were willing to dwell among us, to teach us a path of love and compassion, to suffer on our behalf, what business would he have with this pornographic blood-lust sort of apocalypse? We seem to think that God has no choice but to punish and destroy;  this is a problematic way of thinking with troublesome implications. However, I’m no great theologian or biblical scholar, so I’ll leave the answer to those who are better educated and more competent in such matters.

For my part, I say this: We do well to regard with caution and suspicion those who appear to us holy, righteous, and just. These are precisely the people who long for the world to burn, who ardently desire the destruction and damnation of their brothers and sisters. All in the name of God.

Were I to encounter the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, I would send them to the stables and then offer them a stiff drink. Death, vengeance, and destruction can wait. There’s too much life yet to enjoy and share in this world and in the worlds to come.

~BT Waldbillig
December 17, 2016