Notes to Poem:
The Gods Need Our Light to Grant Our Wishes

Peter Y. Chou

Preface: When writing Notes to the poem "Easter Bunny Hunt", I came across the names of many gods and goddesses with is and ish in them. This revelation led me to compile a list of Words with IS & ISH, many suggestive of light and illumination. Paris lived up to its name— the city of light, as well as Christ, Bringer of Light and Fisher King of the Piscean Age. There is light in bliss, gnosis, vision, wisdom, and in the midst of a kiss. When you wish upon a star, your dream comes true because there is light in wish. Tell me why you need to blow out the light of those candles on your birthday cake for your wish to come true? After posing this question, it took me five weeks to figure out a satisfactory answer and writing the poem "The Gods Need Our Light to Grant Our Wishes". The Notes below are some insights discovered during my explorations on this fascinating custom of blowing our birthday candles to make our wish come true.

Commentary to "The Gods Need Our Light to Grant Our Wishes"

After learning that is and ish originally meant light
"According to the authors [Anna Bonus Kingsford & Edward Maitland] of The Perfect Way, the words Is and Ish originally meant Light, and the name Isis, once Ish-Ish, was Egyptian for Light-Light."
(Harold Bayley, Lost Language of Symbolism, 1912, p. 278).

I was surprised to discover
Besides 8 gods and goddesses with is and ish in their names, there are 12 words is and ish in this poem— surprised, discover, list, bliss, existence, glisten, vision, wisdom, astonished, wish(es), flourish, nourished.

so many gods had light in their name— Isis and Osiris,
Ishtar, Ishvara, Vishnu, Krishna, Adonis and Christ

Isis: Ancient Egyptian goddess of motherhood, magic, and fertility.
Osiris: Ancient Egyptian god of the Afterlife, underworld or dead.
Ishtar: Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of fertility, love, war, and sex.
Ishvara: Hindu Lord of the World, God, Supreme Being, Cosmic Spirit.
Vishnu: Hindu preserver God, All-Pervading essence of all beings.
Krishna: Hindu Supreme Being, cow-herding, flute-playing god.
Adonis: Greek ever-youthful vegetation god, and lover of Aphrodite.
Christ: Jesus The Anointed One, Bringer of Light, Son of God.


compiled a list— bliss, existence, glisten, vision, wisdom
A survey of Words with IS & ISH was compiled in three weeks. In addition to numerous gods and goddesses with is and ish in their names, many words were suggestive of light and illumination
(Definitions from Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, Ninth Edition, 1983)—
bliss: complete happiness; paradise, heaven
existence: reality as presented in experience; totality of existent things
glisten: to give off a sparkling or lustrous reflection of; as if of a polished surface
vision: supernatural appearance that conveys a revelation; act or power of seeing
wisdom: ability to discern inner qualities and relationships; insight; good sense; judgment
discover: make known or visible; obtain sight or knowledge of for the first time; expose; find

astonished that our wish comes true
because the word itself is filled with light

"When You Wish upon a Star" is a popular song written by Ned Washington and Leigh Harline and introduced in the 1940 Walt Disney movie Pinocchio, where it is sung by Cliff Edwards in the character of Jiminy Cricket, over the opening credits and again in the final scene of the film. The song won the 1940 Academy Award for Best Original Song. The lyrics "When you wish upon a star / Your dreams come true" (song) suggests that you need to be on a star for your dreams to come true. But upon discovering that the word wish is filled with 75% light (ISH), one need to focus more on light than star to have your dreams come true.

Then why do we need to blow out candles
on our birthday cake when we make a wish?

This answer is not provided on the Internet. Birthday cake has been an integral part of the birthday celebrations in Western cultures since the middle of the 19th century. The Western tradition of adding lit candles to the top of a birthday cake originates in 18th century Germany. History of Birthday Candles: It is said that the custom of placing candles on a birthday was started by early Greeks who used to place candles on the cake that they offered to Artemis— the Goddess of Moon. Lit candles made their round shape cake glow like the moon. Germans, who perfected themselves in the art of candle-making placed candles on the cake but for religious reasons. They used to place a big candle in the centre of the cake to represent "light of life". The candle is marked with lines and numbers, usually 12, which would be burned every year. Scholars also say that the custom of placing candles originated because people believed that Gods lived in the skies. They thought that lit candle helped to send signals and prayers to the god so that they could be answered more effectively. The other belief that people held was when a person makes a wish while blowing out the votive candle a signal or message was received by the god and the prayers would be answered. Birthday Candle Traditions and Beliefs: Even today people hold a lot of superstitious beliefs about birthday candles. Person celebrating his or her birthday makes a silent wish while blowing out the candles on the cake. It is said if the person is able to blow out all candles in one breath it signifies that the wish would be answered and that the person would enjoy good luck in coming year. Another superstitious belief is that if a person reveals the birthday wish it does not come true.

Ask Tokusan whose candle was blown out!
Tokusan was a great scholar of the Diamond Sutra. He heard of the Zen school and travelled south to challenge it, carrying his notes and translations of the Diamond Sutra on his back. Reaching an inn, he asked the old lady inn-keeper for some tea and cakes. The old woman asked, "Your worship, what's all that writing you are carrying?" Tokusan replied "That's the manuscript of my notes and commentary on the Diamond Sutra." The old woman observed, "In that sutra it says, does it not, that the past mind is gone, the present mind is ungraspable, and the future mind is unattainable. Which mind do you intend to use for the tea and cakes?"
    Tokusan could not answer her question. He asked her if there were a Zen Master nearby, and she directed him to Ryutan, a great Master. That night Tokusan visited Ryutan and asked him many questions well into the night. Finally Ryutan said, "The night is getting old, why don't you retire?" So Tokusan bowed and opened the screen to go out. But it was pitch black outside. So Ryutan offered Tokusan a lighted candle to find his way. Just as Tokusan received the candle, Ryutan blew it out. At that moment the mind of Tokusan was opened. "What have you attained?" asked Ryutan. "From now on," said Tokusan, "I will not doubt the teacher's words." And the next day he burned his notes and commentaries.
• This koan compares intellectual academic knowledge with internal enlightened wisdom. Knowledge is external, public, acquired. It is about something. Wisdom is personal, unique, creative; no one can give it, and no one can take it away. Tokusan was a great scholar of the Diamond Sutra (a Buddhist text). He depended heavily on it. When he received the lighted candle from Ryutan, he expected to depend on it to light his way. But after Ryutan blew it out, he had nothing to depend on. One must have an internal light that can never be blown out. —Gyomay M. Kubose, "Blow Out the Candle", Zen Koans, Henry Regnery, Chicago, 1973, p. 92 (from Case 28 of Mumonkan: Ryutan Blows Out the Candle, circa 850 AD)

Do gods need our light to grant our wishes?
Consider it an even exchange—

"And God said, let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: God divided the light from the darkness." (Genesis I.3-4). If God created light in the first place, why do gods need our light? Since God is perfect, infinite, and omnipotent, He or She needs nothing from humans who are imperfect and finite. But there is a school of thought that God's work is not done but still in the making. To that end we are his co-workers and participating in this endless creations. Blowing out the birthday candles, we send those tiny lights to the gods, and in exchange they grant our wishes. It's an even exchange. [NASA Image: Inside the Eagle Nebula a bright region is actually a window into the center of a larger dark shell of dust. Through this window, a brightly-lit workshop appears where a whole open cluster of stars is being formed. In this cavity tall pillars and round globules of dark dust and cold molecular gas remain where stars are still forming. Already visible are several young bright blue stars whose light and winds are burning away and pushing back the remaining filaments and walls of gas and dust. The Eagle emission nebula (M16), lies about 6500 light years away, spans about 20 light-years, and is visible with binoculars toward the constellation of Serpens.] Note: Images made by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995 showed "Pillars of Creation"— a large region of star formation. These appear as giant lit candles for the young stars in the process of birth— a galactical birthday cake!

just as poetry is the bread of angels
Dante uses "bread of angels" (pan de li angeli) in Paradiso 2.11 as he invokes Apollo, god of poetry for his heavenly journey. Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), Paradiso, II.7-12 (Translated by Allen Mandelbaum)
L'acqua ch'io prendo già mai non si corse;
Minerva spira, e conducemi Appollo,
e nove Muse mi dimostran l'Orse.

Voialtri pochi che drizzaste il collo
per tempo al pan de li angeli, del quale
vivesi qui ma non sen vien satollo,

The waves I take were never sailed before;
Minerva breathes, Apollo pilots me,
and the nine Muses show to me the Bears.

You other few who turned your minds in time
unto the bread of angels, which provides
men here with life— but hungering for more—

The "bread of angels" is cited in Psalms 78.25 "Man did eat angels' food" and Wisdom 16.20 "You gave them the food of angels". In his Notes to Paradiso II.11, John Ciardi writes: "The bread of angels is the knowledge of God. It is by that, Dante says, that we are able to live, but no mortal man can grasp enough of it to become satisfied, the Divine Mystery being veiled from man." Dante writes: "Blessed are the few who sit at the table where the bread of the angels is eaten." (Convivio I.1.7). On his ascent to the stars, Dante says none has made such a journey. So he invokes Apollo, god of poetry as pilot and guide. He asks Minerva, goddess of wisdom to fill the sails of his ship, and the nine Muses to help him navigate to "the Bears" (Ursa Major & Ursa Minor, where the Pole Star resides).

our wishes are wine for gods to drink—
Wine of Angels by Phil Rickman is a supernatural English mystery book published in December 2000. The action takes place in Ledwardine, the center of apple cider making, hence the book's title. However the phrase "our wishes are wine" is not found in Google. The phrase "for gods to drink" appears in the ancient Hindu texts (circa 1500 BC) Rig Veda, Hymn XXXV.5"Ye with your cunning made your Parents youthful; the cup, for Gods to drink" refers to the well-pressed Soma (a ritual drink that is perhaps Ephedra). When Dante cites "poetry as the bread of angels" (Paradiso 2.11), it occurred to me that minerals are food for plants, plants are food for animals, and animals are food for humans. Taking this a quantum step further, human thoughts and our imagination are food for angels. So here is my new idea— "our wishes are wine for gods to drink".

for they can only flourish in the dark recess of our mind, an inner venture
While wishes may be verbalized, most are made in silence. This is an inner activity taking place in the dark recess of our mind— in some nerve currents of our brain or in the center of our heart. A Popular Science article (January 1971) claimed "They've Found a Wish Switch in Your Brain". Written by David Lampe, the article's subtitle: "Startling research proves that you can turn on— and off— electrical apparatus mentally. Just make a wish". Christ tells us "But when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father which is in secret; and your Father which sees in secret shall reward you openly." (Matthew 6.6).

much like seeds must germinate beneath the ground—
Germination is the process in which a plant emerges from a seed or spore and begins growth. Germination of Bambara Bean (Voandzela): Seed germination requires soil and moisture as well as these two processes— Imbibition: The first step in the process of seed germination is imbibition or absorption of water. The seed takes in water through the micropyle which results in swelling of the seed. This is due to the cellular constituents being dehydrated. The swelling causes the seed coat to rupture and enables the radicle to come out in the form of a primary root. Respiration: When the seed imbibes water, it causes the metabolic activities to resume. In the beginning the respiration is anaerobic and later it becomes aerobic.

so the gods need our light carried by the wind to guide
our wishes nourished in the darkness to fruition

The invisible supports the visible as the unseen nourishes the seen. We see a beautiful tree or flower, but it is the invisible roots beneath the ground that supports them. We see humans and animals in motion, but it is the invisible oxygen and air we breathe that gives us life. We stand on a solid earth, but it is the invisible gravitational force that binds it to the sun as planets revolve around the solar sphere which carries us around the spiral Milky Way galaxy. Our wishes are nourished in the dark recess of our mind before they bear fruit in life. Likewise an acorn cannot germinate above the ground and needs the darkness of underground soil and moisture to grow into a giant oak tree. It's interesting our breath that blows out the candle is the invisible wind that carries the candlelight to the gods who in return grant our birthday wishes.

so they may ascend upward to the clear light of day
The acorn that dreamed in the dark underground has sprouted into a mighty oak. How is this miracle possible? Just as a microscopic sperm unites with an egg to produce cells that grow into a fetus incubating in the dark womb of the mother, before a baby is born, so does this entire universe is born from a single point (singularity) of the black hole. When we see a mighty oak with its rich foliage spreading outward and upward, it seems to be thanking Mother Earth, Father Sun, and Sister Sky in humble gratitude for the long adventurous acorn journey in its joyous ascent to heaven.

break out in blossom
The last words of this poem honors James Wright's poem "A Blessing" (1960)—

Just off the Highway to Rochester, Minnesota
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

Poet James Wright (1927-1980)

            — Peter Y. Chou
                Mountain View, 6-24-2010

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