A Psychic Perspective on Birthdays (in honor of my own)

In honor of my birthday this year, I decided to do some research into some of our more popular birthday traditions to find their mythic and esoteric meanings. What I found was both suprising and inspiring, and I’m excited to share some of what I’ve learned.

To start, I want to share a story that I learned from reading Michael Meade’s book, The Genius Myth — a fantastic book for anyone interested in mythology and its relevance to our lives today. The story is a traditional Jewish story of how we are born. This story of our beginning takes place at the tree of knowledge, a place between heaven and earth, the betwixt and between place which stands at the very center and heart of creation. It is here, at the roots of the tree of knowledge, where the spirit of us is first born.

It is also here, just after being first born into knowledge, that a being named Lailah takes an interest in us and reaches into the tree, pulling us out and seperating us from the collective to begin the descent to our lives on earth and into our bodies. Lailah is the guardian of souls, kind of like a midwife, and she oversees our conception. At the moment when we move into the womb of our mother, she lights a candle at our head, which burns as long as we are gestating. By the light of this flame, it is said that we can see a preview of life outside of the womb, and under Leila’s tutelage, we learn about the distinct role we are to play in our lives and in the world around us. The candle and flame represents self-knowing. 

Now, when the time comes to be born, the candle burns out and we are engulfed in darkness for the first time as we begin our descent out the birth canal. At the moment we are born, Leilah strikes a finger to the infants lip, as if to say “shhhhh!”. This touching of our lips causes us to forget all that we learned in utero- including why we are here and what role we are to play in the world around us. The rest of our lives are spent, if spent wisely, remembering that which we learned in the womb and in essence, knew all along. Our life journey is to unsilence our spirit; to find and use our true voice.

Aside from a beautiful mythology, this story informs much about our common birthday rituals, and in uncovering the true meaning behind things that you do everyday you can start on that path of unsilencing.

Everything in our lives has both exoteric (outer) and esoteric (inner) meaning. In this case, the exoteric (outer) ritual of lighting birthday candles on a cake is simply to represent the number of years you’ve been plugging away at life. But the esoteric (inner) meaning of this is much more interesting — you see, the Greeks invented this ritual, and in it they were reminding themselves of the candle that Leilah lit at their heads while in the womb. If you remember, Leilah lit this flame of knowledge as a way of showing and teaching us in-utero all that we are and all that we are meant to do in this life. In a way, lighting the candles on your cake is meant to remind you not only of what you used to know about yourself, but how many years it has been since you lost that knowledge and have been working to remember.

Gifts were traditionally given on birthdays for two reasons, first of all, as gratitude for all that you give to your community — which is why gifts are given by family and friends, those that you regularly give the gift of your own presence and energy. That’s the exoteric reason for this. But the esoteric is far more interesting — gifts are given to remind you that you have inner gifts that you have forgotten all about. In fact, in ancient Greece birthday gifts were meant to represent things you give that you don’t know you give. It was a way for those who love you to teach you about what you give that you don’t have awareness of. How magical is that?

I find for myself that as I get older my birthday celebrations are less about the exoteric symbolism and more about the esoteric. Instead of getting all my friends for dinner or celebration, I am drawn to spending time alone or with very intimate friends and family — less being reminded by others what I have to bring and offer the world, and more introspectfully deciding where I am going next in life, what energy I am choosing to bring forth during the next year. In this way, middle age serves as fulcrum point. You might even say at a certain age you are getting closer and closer to remembering all those things Leilah taught you about who you are and what you are to do, and your focus becomes more intense on that inward path rather than receiving outer expression and validation.

Each one of us is a mystery trying to reveal ourselves, each one of us has a purpose and gifts to bring to the world. While it’s nice to celebrate birthdays as a passage or marker of chronological time, I find the notion of using each passing year as a marker on the path to inner knowing and revealing of the whole self to be more evocative and inspiring. In this way, birthdays don’t just represent chronological time, but mythic time, a counting backwards towards wisdom and truth.

Mythology is active and present in all of our lives — in everything we do — if we choose to look at things both as exoteric and esoteric at the same time. Understanding the way myth, stories, and energy pictures function to enrich our day to day lives with meaning is key to self-knowledge.