Today is my birthday, and for me birthdays are like New Year celebrations; a time to reflect and to see what I would like to carry with me into the New Year. So, I wondered where the custom of birthday celebrations with gift giving actually originate from. It appears that long ago it was feared that evil spirits were particularly attracted to people on their birthdays. To protect them from harm, friends and family would to come be with the birthday person and bring good thoughts and wishes Long ago though, most people also did not know on which day they were born and it was mostly kings who celebrated their birthdays. Marcus Aurelius was the first emperor to require birth registration. In ancient Rome a child’s naming day was celebrated, and was called dies lustricus (day of purification). Both boys and girls were presented with the bulla, a locket believed to have magical powers to ward off evil spirits which they did not take it off until they reached adulthood.
Later, some Christians took to celebrating a “naming day,” on the feast day of person’s patron saint after whom the person was named. A patron saint was often chosen because of his or her feast day was on, or near the day a child was born, so a naming day customs became closely linked to the date of birth.
The naming and gift giving associated with birthdays evoked a train of thoughts in my mind.
What you are is God’s gift to you, and what you make of yourself is your gift to God.
On the day we are born we are born with the gifts of who we are. We are given names by our parents or care givers often inspired by what we represent to them, or what our being in becoming evokes in them. Our names can thus also be seen as a symbolic representation of what gifts we have received and what possible gifts we can carry to world. It is in this that perhaps we can most clearly see the “the word made flesh.”
“And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light; and there was light”
In the Kabbalah each of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet (Aleph-Bet) represents an energy-intelligence which is the foundation of creation. Thus it is said that to know the energy-intelligences represented by the twenty-two letters is to know the spiritual forces and spiritual principles upon which creation is founded, and thus to gain gnosis of the mysteries of creation. Each of these energy-intelligences is behind all things in creation. Every creature and everything in creation is a unique individual manifestation of these energy-intelligences. One can equate this to the elements of the periodic table; a small set of core elements from which the entire universe is created by combination and permutation.
If we look at the word Adam which represent all of humanity – the Human One; Adam is Aleph-Dam, spirit in the blood and Aleph-Bet means spirit in the house or the house of the spirit. When we are born we become the house of the spirit. The spirit in the blood – our genetic heritage and our individual personalities and abilities forms our house – that through which we interact with in the world. That is the primary gift we given on our day of birth. We are then given names which symbolizes our house of being in becoming.
am the silence that is incomprehensible
and the idea whose remembrance is frequent.
I am the voice whose sound is manifold
and the word whose appearance is multiple.
I am the utterance of my name. . .
I am the hearing that is attainable to everything;
I am the speech that cannot be grasped.
I am the name of the sound
and the sound of the name.
I am the sign of the letter
and the designation of the division. . .
– The Thunder: Perfect Mind – Nag Hammadi Library, gen.ed. James M. Robinson, 1990
In Genesis Adam, the Human One, is called the “name giver,” for he names all creatures and all that appears in creation, both in the material dimension and the metaphysical dimension. To name implies to know and understand, and to know the name of something implies one has the power of that thing. Adam is, thus, the intelligence that perceives the essence and nature of things, the truth of things. Also according to Genesis, Eve is the Mother of All-Life, yet in Hebrew the name Eve (Havvah or Chavah) can refer to speech, as in the verse, “Night to night yeChaveh [will express] Da’at (knowledge)” (Psalms 19:3). Therefore, Eve, who was created by the Living Word of God, represents the power of speech, and the Supernal Eve is pure speech in which the Living Word (Logos – the pattern that connects) and Wisdom (Sophia) of God is expressed.
Many scholars believe the magic word "Abracadabra" derives from the Aramaic Avrah KaDabra, meaning "I create as I speak." According to Kabbalah each one of us are created as the Ratzon (Will/Desire) of God by speaking us into creation- naming us just like the ten utterances of creation in the Genesis. As we are created in the image of God; we too create as we speak. Our Will/Desire gives rise to thought, which arises as “voice” in the mind; then, speaking our thoughts we manifest them, and actions follow our speech. Our actions, or our movement in the world can be seen directly as speech as every move that we make is a word, for every action has a name. Do we bless or curse the world with our speech? Are our speech a gift to the world?
The moving finger writes; and having writ
Moves on; nor all thy piety nor wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all thy tears wash a word of it.
Omar Kayyams’s Rubiyat
We are the authors of every sentence that we write and move that we make, Everything has a name, so everything is a word and so the world all around us is a book written of which we are contained within. When we read poetry, many of the words are clear and obvious, yet the meaning is often hidden in that which is most obvious. Letters and words do not exist by themselves; everything is in relationship with another. One can only understand the meaning of the words, when one reads the sentence as a whole. If every reaction is linked to its action and all words make sentences, then all that we see before us must be poetry or a story being narrated to us. In our unfolding understanding of who we are, we are still reading the book within which we are a word. Yet, we are also co-authors of this unfolding story.
In our culture and society speech is often devoid or purpose and meaning, could this not be a reflection of the general feeling of life as a meaningless existence? In light of the above I see birthdays from a different perspective. Perhaps the gifts that we receive on our naming days, or birthdays are actually a symbolic question directed to us. What are you doing with the gift you received and what is the gift that you bring to the world? Our birthdays should indeed be called dies lustricus – day of purification – where we sit down and purify our speech so that we may become gifts to the world.
To be human
is to become visible
what is hidden
as a gift to others…
— David Whyte
See also: What’s in a Name, Nexus of …