January, 2007


  Mythic Prelude:

Requesting a Star
Ho Ho Ho, and welcome to 2007. Is the laughter of Santa Claus less relevant to us here in January, now that Christmas 2006 is come and gone? Not at all, as we'll see below.
If you've read any recent January UFC preludes, you know that the first one of the year usually tries to lay out, both astrologically and mythically, the trips and trends that we can expect in the year to come. There will be some of this again in the piece that follows, but not much. Why keep doing this, really? The general ideas of 2007 are in the preludes from August through December of 2006 -- and besides, we're awash now in so much information, from so many good sources, that those who want to scope out the year have a whole cafeteria of choices, from the delightful to the dire. We already know that 2007 and 2008 will be a time of unprecedented changes in the political, financial, cultural, religious and personal sectors of our lives, and that what we'll get depends mainly on what we love, fear and intend. Those who want things to stay as they are, and see no need to make any changes in themselves, are likely to find the years just ahead bumpy. Those who want to effect "outer" changes by first making changes within will see these years filled with more windows of opportunity than the Winchester Mansion in San Jose. If we agree that we are responsible for creating the new planet and paradigm that we want, and for contributing what we can to a thrilling moment of awakening more luminous than anything human beings have ever dreamed or done, 2007 is right on time.
If you really want to determine how 2007 will specifically affect you, then it's time to talk to your astrologer, or get ready to choose one. How? The standards are simple. No honest astrologer will tell you "what's going to happen." Rather, he or she will sketch out the timing and intensity of the route that your soul chose before you got here, so you can navigate it with awareness and courage. Nor will a truthful astrologer ever tell you that your chart is fixed, or "fated." She'll emphasize instead that every chart is not static, but dynamic. None of the advantages in the tool kit or wallet that your soul packed for you will have any value unless you find and use them. And all the "difficulties" and obstacles that you planted in your path can be overcome with the right effort. One useful indicator is the number of readings that the astrologer candidate says you'll need. You may indeed find it useful to have more than one over the next six years, especially if you're an Aquarian entrepreneur who may form new teams and launch new projects every year. Otherwise -- on the premise that the best way to do any job is to eliminate the need for it -- if the astrologer proposes that the best way to serve you is to do one and only one really insightful reading, you may have hit your mark.
The main celestial dynamics of the two months ahead are in the Astral Notes for Winter 2006 - 2007. The other very important influence that's in effect right now, and will recur most strongly in July and October, is the transit of Pluto over the Galactic Center. Much has been written about it lately, and we'll see a lot more as the year unfolds. The planet of sweeping changes, of mass consciousness and propaganda, and of action on the extreme, passionate edge of experience is in exact alignment with the Galactic Center right now, as of this writing on Dec. 29, 2006. He will go back and forth across the center point of our galaxy twice more in 2007. When he does, as he's naturally linked with the 8th house of death and transformation, of what is due to be swept away and what will sprout into new birth, he heralds dramatic outcomes in institutions that are no longer vital or tenable, and unexpected new arrivals that remind us in the boldest Plutonian black and white that it's now more important than it ever was to form clear and heart-charged intentions, then let them go and do their work.
One of those who are doing today's best writing on this Pluto transit is Philip Sedgwick. His "Galactic Astrology" website dances masterfully in the zone where astrology and astronomy meet, and is full of useful, current data on the physical as well as the spiritual activities of our solar system, and the galaxy as a whole. In his view, Pluto's transit across the Galactic Center in late 2006 and 2007 is much more important to our awakening into spiritual consciousness than the "End of Time" events that are the focus of so much eager anticipation, or obsessive dread, as we approach 2011 - 2012.
Besides Philip's work, another way to gauge the deep gravitas of Pluto at the Galactic Center is to note when this has happened before, at intervals of the 248 years that Pluto takes to complete his orbit: 1759 -60, at the Annus Mirabilis that marked the rise of the British empire to supremacy; 1513 - 14, just after Columbus' last voyage and before Luther's demand for a debate; 1267 - 1268, when rising Turkish power would soon set in motion the events that would eject European crusaders from Palestine, and the Yuan dynasty got ambitious beyond China. And so on back to 8 cycles ago, when Pluto crossed the galactic center a few years after the passing of both Jesus and Tiberius. When Pluto is on the galactic center, grand historic tides may not be at their peak, but they're about to flow.

What makes this current Pluto transit extremely unusual, and perhaps more momentous than any other? It's in the numbers at right. They show that Pluto is the culminating player in an evolving drama in which all six of the slower-moving "outer" planets -- that is, the planets beyond the orbit of Mars -- will have crossed over the Galactic Center within a very narrow time frame of only 25 years. Has this ever happened before? One would have to be a crack archaeo-astronomer, or have a lot more time on his hands than you or I do right now, to tell for sure. Maybe we'll know before the year is out just how very big and very rare this bird is.

"Outer" Planet Transits across Galactic Center
Orbital Period
164.5 years
84 years
29.5 years
50 years
2006 - 07
248 years
1983, 1995, 2007
12 years
We can dilate at length, and some astrologers will before long, about the timing of this table, notably about how the transits of both Saturn and Uranus across the galactic center in 1987 - 88 announced the cataclysms soon to come: the fall of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall, the Japanese bubble economy, the stock market rumble of 1987, and, amid all the wreckage, the birth of the worldwide web. For our purposes now and in the months just ahead, it may be best just to keep it simple, and weigh the perception of Charles Schermerhorn Schuyler, the hero of Gore Vidal's 1876, who wrote, "When one hears too much of a subject one ceases to comprehend it at all." The most succinct and sprightly view of the year just ahead may be the evening report of George Carlin's hippy dippy weather man: "Tonight's forecast? Dark, with widespread outbreaks of light toward morning." So what to do in the quiet hours before sunup? Clarify and refine intentions. Sing, of course. And accept the roles that are the most fun to play. Which brings us, naturally, to Santa Claus.
For the four weeks leading up to Christmas, I had the honor and the pleasure to be the actor who created the role of Santa Claus as a public figure in Cairo -- that is, not just an overworked teacher or jolly parent appearing at a school in a red construction paper hat, but Santa Claus for everybody. I'd thought at first that the great department stores here, most likely in the upscale suburb of Heliopolis, must have had their in-store Santa Clauses for years now, as they did when little Danny first met Santa at Macy's in New York. But No. The first people to have Santa in their store, where children can come to meet him, were the consortium of visionary women who run Diwan, Cairo's most popular international bookstore. I spent Tuesday evenings seated in the store window, waving at and laughing heartily to thousands of people. I got to ask the adults who came into the store, some of them old enough to play Santa or Mrs. Claus -- how come we don't know her first name? -- if they've been good boys and girls. "Not at all, thank God," a few of them said -- but I reassured them that even if they're not sure they've been good, it's always a positive sign when they walk into a bookstore. Just picking up a book, Santa knows, cancels out a lot of mistakes, and actually reading two can wipe out what might be called a mortal sin if Santa Claus actually used such iron words, especially with the children who came to see me on Fridays and Saturday afternoons.
Who is Santa Claus, really? Bizarre opinions abound. I was not surprised to learn when I lived in Kyoto that some Japanese believe Santa Claus is the father of Jesus. As this is still the holiday season, let's address the question in the style of a game show. Is Santa behind Door Number One, Door Number Two, or Door Number Three? Which of these white-bearded characters is the real deal?
That's right, Katie -- it's the one on the right, Father Christmas from a Twelfth Night festival played in 2004 by The Lion's Part theatre company at Bankside in London. How do we know he's the one? From the holly on his head. Long before anyone ever heard of Christmas, the Holly King was and is one of the two green gods who rule the year. He grows tall at the Summer Solstice, matures into King Harvest in the autumn, becomes the Holly King in December, then ages into black Saturn at the Winter Solstice, when he dies and is reborn as the Oak King who flourishes as the Green Man in spring. For many centuries Europeans saw him as Dickens drew him, in the Spirit of Christmas Past: picture a burlier Sean Connery at 59, dressed in a robe of red and green trimmed with fur, and crowned with holly. For the hero of A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge, "any idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips should be boiled in his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!" Dickens' readers, still close enough to the old myths to resonate with them, would have spotted in this line the ancient story of the holly symbol, about how Loki, intending only the usual mischief rather than murder, threw a holly spear that pierced the heart of the beautiful young Baldur, whose blood fell on the white holly berries and turned them red. That is how the primeval Norse people understood the holly fruit's mysterious change from virginal white to blood red -- but there are countless versions of the same color symbol, fusing as it does the soul's pure longing and the heart's passion. It is no wonder that the Holly King, Father Christmas, Pere Noel, the Dutch Sinter Klaes and all the others are as beloved as they are, for they are all the last selfless blaze of pure love that pours from the heart as it walks toward the end in the snow and the night. This is why children once had no fear of Father Christmas, though today's American Santa Claus often terrifies them.
Many adults have heavy Santaphobia now too. Last year some west Europeans launched a loud movement to ban and boycott Santa Claus on the grounds that he's only another cartoon figure in a rising torrent of American media and pop culture that threatens to drown local icons and traditions everywhere, ultimately dissolving thousands of cultures all over our planet into a single synthetic brew of refined sugar and rough needs. The Europeans have a point. Many of us have known for years that Santa Claus as Americans and American-influenced peoples see him now was designed almost a century ago by the Coca Cola company, who wanted to tweak the old Father Christmas symbol into something that would match the red and white colors and the plump, comforting curves of their product's brand image. So they stripped the holly from Santa's hat at about the same time that they removed the coca extract that gave their drink its name, thereby disrespecting two plant teachers at the same time, and committing a primal sin -- the word does fit here -- that unleashed the scourges of frayed nerves and diabetes that have plagued the Earth's people ever since.
Is this botanical twist on the original sin idea merely facetious or hyperbolic? Hardly. Graham Hancock's brilliant new book Supernatural: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind traces, among the many shamanic arts and stories of Amazonia and Eurasia, the ways in which very old indigenous symbols and practices have survived, if only superficially, in modern Christian-based saints and culture heroes. He cites Jonathan Ott's belief that "Santa Claus" comes from "ancient shamanistic cults amongst the reindeer-herding tribes of Siberia, in which the hallucinogenic red and white fly agaric mushroom was consumed to induce visions -- particularly around the time of midwinter: ' . . . At the midwinter festivals, the shaman would enter the yurt through the smokehole, perform his ceremonies, ascend the birch pole and leave. Santa Claus is robed in red and white, the colors of the fly agaric. He enters and leaves by the chimney, and he has reindeer. Santa Claus also flies, an accomplishment that he shares with the shaman'" (p. 607). Siberian shamans have told of meeting in the spirit realm a figure as familiar to them as to us: a spry, glowing man with a ruddy face and white beard, dressed in a red and white suit, and a conical red hat topped with a white fur ball.

So Yai! as they say in the Japanese classical kyogen comedy at the moment of unwelcome truth. It could turn out, once the word about these shamanic visions begins to spread, that certain culturally combative Santaphobes will wish they had left well enough alone. Coca Cola, the USA and its global dumbdown imperative may prove the least of Europe's worries when ethnobotanists prove that not only does the American Santa Claus look the part more authentically than anyone else's, but that he hails from, of all places, the wilds of Yakutsk. And his sleigh may be pulled not by reindeer fueled on hay and good cheer, but on mushrooms potent enough to turn the whole world into a toy store.
So did I ingest some mushrooms to get into character for Santa in Cairo? No. In this environment, cow dung gets scooped up and dried for fuel before anything can grow on it -- and the euphoria of waving to all those people and meeting the kids was a high in itself. Before the first evening when I sat in Diwan's window, waving and laughing heartily to the people walking and driving by on busy 26th of July St., and others on the elevated viaduct above the street, I wondered which Egyptians would like Santa Claus and which would not. I wondered if devout Muslims would have issues of DWI -- Denial While Islamic -- when they saw Santa greeting and grinning at them. No worries here. I was surprised to see that most of Santa's friendliest contacts were women wearing hejab scarves, and that of the men who have that dark spot just above their third eye from touching their foreheads to the prayer mat ten thousand times, only one was unresponsive and didn't burst out laughing. The Cairo people who loved Santa most were the street sweepers, one of whom must have gone over the same patch of sidewalk by my window for half an hour, and the garbage truck men. One truck, with men seated on top of the trash waving, showing me thumbs up and blowing kisses, stayed at the curb near me until the police -- they liked Santa too, though more guardedly -- told them to move along.
Very few people actually disliked Santa Claus. One twentyish Middle Eastern-looking man gave me the finger, covertly, holding it tight to his sternum, perhaps because he didn't want to be seen by the Santaphile police, or maybe because in this country, one never knows, Santa is the police, though he sure doesn't look like an undercover kind of guy. Another young man stood on the sidewalk, his arms folded in classic barrier mode, glowering at Santa for what must have been ten minutes. The people who were least responsive to Santa were attractive Western women, most of all those who were walking alone. This makes sense, as a woman who's not from here learns after only minutes on a crowded street that hasty, horny overtures may soon ensue for a woman who gives eye contact, much less a smile, to any man she doesn't know, even when he's Santa Claus.
When I wasn't in the window, I was in my big easy chair in the children's book room, waiting for the kids to come and tell me what they wanted me to bring them, and get a photo of them in Santa's lap, or at least standing next to him. For those who may play Santa Claus as soon as 2007, one of the three basic occupational hazards under the rubric of Santa 101 appears in tense scenes like this one, as out of focus in the will and the heart as they were in the camera. It's just an age thing, really. Smaller kids are very shy. When I first met six-year-old Katya, from Moscow, she strode up to me like a veteran of the LA music industry, while her two little sisters hid behind their mother's legs, peering out at me with eyes as big as Russian red cabbages.
How to handle this uneasy situation? By greeting the parents like old friends, so their kids will feel comfortable with Santa too, and by suggesting indirectly to Yuri and Lyuba what all persuasive people know: if we try to push others to do what we're not doing ourselves, they'll balk; but when we pull them by doing it first, they can and often will work up the nerve to follow suit.
The second hazard is the kids who think Santa Claus is a fake, and won't hesitate to tell him so. I know about this, as I was one of these wised-up kids myself, though I wasn't nearly as assertive as six-year-old Sonia, the golden-haired future attorney -- assuming we still have such people in the Age of Aquarius -- who won't find blond jokes the least bit funny when she hits her teens. She marched into my doorway, planted her legs like an opera singer, thrust out her finger like an epee, and cried, "You're a fake!"
"Really?" I asked. "I'm not a fake. But you may be a fake."
"I'll tell you why. What's your name, sweetie?"
"Sonia. And I'm not Sweetie."
"Well, I know Sonia. I've delivered presents to her house. And the real Sonia is good-hearted and kind. She'd never be mean enough to call anyone a fake when she hasn't even met him yet. What did you do to the real Sonia? Where are you hiding her?"
"I'm the real Sonia."
"You do look like her. What made you think I'm a fake?"
"Because you're not wearing boots. And your beard is too short. And your belt buckle is black. It's supposed to be gold."
"You want to know why I don't have boots? Because there's no snow here. And I always cut my beard short when I'm in a warm place like this, though of course it grows back magically as soon as I go back to the North Pole. And I don't wear any gold, Sonia. I give the gold away. That's my job. Does that make sense?
"I guess so."
"You're right to be careful, though. There are an awful lot of fake Santa Clauses out there, and you have to be sure you've got the right one."
"So how do I know you're the right one?"
"Because I'm not just Santa Claus in my clothes. It's all here, in the heart. I love all the children, and I know they're all good, even if sometimes they forget how good they really are. It's love that makes you real."
We hit it off fine after that. Sonia knew exactly what she wanted, unlike many of the kids who are the third hazard, at least here in Cairo, and, I imagine, other places in the Middle East. Omar, shown here, is not typical. At nine, he has no fear of Santa. And it helps that his father is a hip photographer and wordsmith from Uruguay. But the curious thing about most of the Egyptian kids, at least to me, was that they haven't the faintest idea what they want for Christmas. It will be time later, in another piece, for some better-educated guesses about the implications of being a child in a culture like this one, where people live in submission to whatever the will of God will bring, and have no wish, much less a well-crafted intention, of what they'd like to do and be for themselves. It's tempting to wonder whether this part of the world has so little because people here have never learned to ask for anything. It's equally easy to think that people in the country I came from may have so much because they're not shy about asking for it, even if all they want is more and more things that they don't really need.
The trippy, inspiring exception to the usual reticence was Yusuf, four, who had no doubt about what he wanted. "Can you bring me a star?" he asked.
"A star? Wow!" I said. "That's an unusual order, Yusuf. Are you sure? You know that stars are very, very big, right? I'd have to ask my elves to build me a special giant sleigh to hold a star and all the other things I want to bring you and the other kids. And you'd have to have a very big room to keep a star in. Do you have a room like that?"
"No. We have a big flat, but my toy box is only this big."
"Hmmm. So what if we start you off with a little training star, and then when you get a bigger toy box, you can get a real star?"
"I'll see what I can do. But if I bring you a star, even a little one, you have to promise me one thing."
"What's that?"
"You have to show it to your friends. We don't get to keep stars to ourselves. People are supposed to see them. Stars are always in the same place, no matter where we go, so they give us hope, and when we look at them we feel like we can do anything. So you'll show your star to the other kids, right?"
"Right. Thanks, Santa."
I didn't tell him to Keep Holding That Frequency, of course. Some words are too challenging even to a child who's brilliant enough not just to wish upon a star, but to want one of his own.
You can draw your own linkages and conclusions here about whether Santa Claus is a spiritual hero and a master of manifestation, or a big red chub whom merchants use to bait the hook of Christmas trade, or something in between. I'm prejudiced in his favor, and am beginning to believe that as more of us learn to manifest what we want, it certainly can't hurt to train some better Santa Clauses who can help children -- especially crystal children who are all heart and no having -- to start refining their intentions, if not for what they want for themselves, then for what they'd like to help bring for the benefit of all the people and their planet. At first there would be only a few of these Meta-Santas among all the millions of well-meaning enactors and outright impostors. But the children who are meant to be the first to meet the new Santas will find them -- and when they do, there's no telling what the children and the stars will show us.
So Ho Ho Ho. Be well and at peace. Happy New Year.
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