The First Nowell

By Virginia George

As I write, the sun has just gone down and the chill of evening is intruding into my cozy room. Here in this southern latitude even in early winter the day has been beautiful -- clear and warm with a light breeze. My cat has been chasing a lizard all round my garden; the lizard has already defensively shed his tail and is playing dead, moving only when he thinks no one is watching. But my little cat has lost interest and doesn't care about the complexities of the kingdom he belongs to, to say nothing of those above or below him.

From theosophy we learn that animals will die out toward the end of our stay on this planet; they are beginning to do so even now. Wild things have such a special beauty, and I find myself musing about what it must have been like in times when there were many more animals on earth than human beings.

Let us imagine that time: it is winter, the time (as now) of the winter solstice. The air is damp and as evening approaches the snow begins to fall. Slowly it builds on the bare branches of slender brown tree-trunks that bend above a small stream winding through these woods. Deer look out with their soft, dark eyes, gravely assessing the deepening snow, aware that slender legs and delicate hooves must find a foothold.

In the pond nearby a beaver works against falling flakes and darkness, mending his house for the storm he knows is coming. As he moves, light ripples spread outward in water quickly growing slushy from the thickening snow. Puffy chickadees sit upon the sheltered branches of a fir, dozing with heads tucked under wings. As night descends the creatures of the day seek refuge from the cold, burrowing into their warm beds. Even snowy owls, wolves hoar-touched, frost-whiskered scampering mice stay inside this night. There is no light of man's cabin, no print of intruding human - only animal tracks and wind blustering in the trees whose branches bend now beneath the weight of the steadily falling snow. Down the sky rush the winds, cold, wild and free, death and darkness ever near. All is still; then in space of breath and wink of eye the wind becomes blizzard. The image is complete.

My cat lies curled on his cushion near the fire on this winter evening, twitching occasionally as he dreams of the hunt, and I have almost dropped off myself. There are magical things and mysteries about this time of winter solstice when the sun is at its most southern point. The animals and the kingdoms below them as well as man can feel the sacred rhythms and vibrations beating like wings through the still air, stirring the inward seeker in us all. Mighty tides race down our world, sweeping away the impure and the dross, cleansing and purifying.

Now in this sacred time perhaps we should take counsel with the animals and raise a noel of love and compassion, of caring and helping, giving and sharing among all things. The animals, we humans, the gods, are inseparably linked, and universe after universe is filled with the same divine fire that courses through us all -- changeless and forever enduring.

And then they heard the angels tell
'Who were the first to cry Nowell?
Animals all, as it befell." -- Kenneth Grahame 

(From Sunrise magazine, December 1985/January 1986; copyright © 1985 Theosophical University Press)

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