Tuesday, 16 October 2007

The Ritual Cauldron

Buddhist temple, Saigon

Last weekend I participated, along with fourteen other women, in a ceremony to celebrate the passage of a dear friend into mid-life. In a four-hour ritual of our own design, we made a container in which our friend could undergo an initiation into the next phase of her life, leaving behind old wounds, and embracing a life more faithful to her true nature.

I had a similar ceremony on my 50th birthday; my closest friends gathered, invoked the spirits of fire, water, earth and air; they washed and anointed me, accompanied me through a life review, mirrored back what they saw in me. They witnessed the burning of fears that had far exceeded their ‘best before’ date, wrote wishes for my future, and wove them into a six-foot dreamcatcher.

Ceremonies like these tend and feed the fire of transformation in our lives.

Hexagram 50 describes something like this. It is formed of Li (Fire) over Sun (which in this case represents Wood). This is a fire under a ritual cauldron. Fire has two purposes: to burn and to cook; here it is clearly to cook, implying an alchemical transformation into a new state.

The name of the hexagram is Ding. A ding was a specific kind of bronze cauldron used in connection with the founding of a new dynasty. It was a ritual vessel for offerings to the spirits: a means of connection with the ancestors, and specifically the ancestral line of the Emperor. The emperor would have nine dings cast at the founding of a dynasty, to maintain a supportive and beneficial connection with the ancestors, and celebrate the initiation of the new dynasty with their blessing.

By extension, ding means to found a new dynasty, but with the implication that it is properly aligned with one's spiritual lineage. Huang calls this hexagram ‘Establishing the New’.

Ding is the only manmade artifact in the I Ching. It’s about personal, human power: your true path, and how you express it. On a personal level, it is a crucible in which

"the alchemy serves higher purpose and powers, the leadenness of our being turns into gold, into a life to which we give value…To sacrifice does not mean to lose things: it means to make them sacred. Thus the past is made sacred here, redeemed for a higher value”. (Brad Hatcher)
The Great Image says “The jun zi rectifies his position to manifest higher purpose”.

It's good to do that every once in a while: to reconsecrate your life. And it's a great privilege to participate in such a ritual for someone dear to you.


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