Today is Ash Wednesday, millions of Christians; especially Catholics are participating in a day of fasting and penitence. It is the day after Fat Tuesday, the last hurrah of debauchery since the epiphany. Today is the beginning of the Lent period, forty days of penance before Easter Sunday, and the resurrection of Christ in the Christian faith. Ash Wednesday is observed by both Christian and non- Christians by receiving the mark of the cross on their forehead in holy ash by a Catholic Priest.
When we look at the spiritual act of this behavior, we see some very powerful spiritual energy work at play. Ashes are a memorandum to practitioners that God made them of dust, and that to dust they shall return. It is also a reminder to repent and to believe in the faith of God, as well as a symbol of the grief suffered because of sinning, thereby creating separation from God.
The ashes are an important sign to true believers of their penance. Even ex-communicated, or non-Christians are embraced to receive ashes on this day. The ashes used in the atonement of the faithful on this day, are made from blessed palm leaves from last year’s Palm Sunday Mass.
Let’s look a minute at the magical properties of ash. Ash is a symbol of the element of Fire. People use fire ash for many things, making black salts, setting circles, sigil marking, protection, as well as other spell work in terms of magical endeavors. Ash contains the energy of the substance it previously was, transformed by fire into this new form; it is imbibed with these elemental energies. Ash has been used since ancient times to represent many things, to decorate the body, and to revere the spirit. Personally, I save my ceremonial or ritual ash, and use it for many purposes. I find it enhances my workings and I like the feel of the energy.
Let’s also look at the spiritual and energetic properties of the palm tree. In sub-Saharan Africa, and many Middle Eastern countries, it is considered the tree of life, used in sacred objects. Palm nuts are used by oracles and seers, palm leaves are given as offerings, and palm oil is used in healing mixtures for whatever ails you. There are strong beliefs in these parts of the world in disease arising from,”an intrusion of negative spiritual forces,” and that palm, “counters malevolent forces.” (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4222890/)
The essence of palm represents both genders, the male in the singular, erect growing nature of the tree, and the female in the production of its nourishing fruit, combined in one unifying plant. This represents the duality in the divine universe. It also represents the sun, or traditionally, “the son,” that is present in the mythology of so many cultures, including Judeo-Christian, Egyptian, Sumerian, Greek, and Roman, to mention just a few off the top of my head.
The palm tree is an abundant gift. It provides food, wax, fibers, sap, fruit; all parts of the plant are usable. It has tremendous healing properties on both the physical as well as the spiritual realms. Palm represents the spiritual symbols of unification, resurrection, singleness of purpose, protection, and truth, to name a few. In dream language, it is a symbol of rising above disillusionment, and as a flower essence, it is “uplifted spiritual awareness.”
So now, consider the process of making the next year’s ash for this special day. The whole of the world’s Christian faith is putting their energies, thoughts, prayers and blessings into the palms of Palm Sunday. They are prayed over by priests. They are blessed by priests; the palms are imbued with such energetic force and intent that their power cannot be denied, especially if you know anything at all of energy work. This is a most sacred act, and a unified force of religious devotion that helps to bind the practitioners of that faith.
Now, knowing all of this, think of ash as a fire element, and the cross as a protective sigil. Once it is placed on the forehead, in the location of the third eye, or spiritual awakening center; it now becomes a powerful seal if you will. It seems to hold greater meaning when these pieces are understood and the combination’s intent probably meant to set fire to spiritual awakening, especially during this time of Lent and spiritual contemplation.
Let’s talk a moment about the location of the ash cross sigil, the third eye. In Hindu culture, it is called the Ajna, which translates as, “command.” It is considered a connection between a guru, or teacher, and the disciples or students; it is intended to give permission to the energetic bond of mind communication.
The Ajna is the place where it is believed that spiritual energy from outside the body enters into the aura and physical body. The location is more commonly known as, or recognized as the, “Third-Eye Chakra,” a spinning energy center which is part of a larger subtle energy system of the body. It is for this reason that we see Hindus marking, or rather protecting, their third eyes with a red pigment, a symbol of protection, made generally from holy ash, naman, vermillion, or other substances. Can we not liken this Hindu sacred habit to receiving a cross on Ash Wednesday? I think so.
For me, now that I look at this spiritual practice with a different, “eye” so to speak, I think that it is a good time to also take advantage of the swirling energies of this day. I often utilize Ash Wednesday to make my own protective ash to store and use for the upcoming year. I can envision not only using palm leaves, but also other herbs or incenses that additionally have strong cleansing or protective qualities. I probably will not go to church to receive my, “non-Christian” ashes upon my forehead or give penitence, as this is not my belief, but I will pull in the energies of the sun and the element of fire in my ritual, perhaps anointing my own third eye in dedication to the Goddess and God allowing for further spiritual awakening; deeping my connection with them as student.
2016 copyright by Katie Pifer, available at http://www.witchpetals.wordpress.com