Tag Archives: Holidays

First Harvest

This is not, I think, what the ancestors intended.

Just sitting in my backyard, drinking a glass of lemonade, on the first reasonably cool morning I’ve seen in a while, and simply watching the world go by, is not exactly what I think of when the celtic festival of Lughnasadh comes to mind.

I’ve always thought of it as more of a “working holiday”, with everyone busting ass to bring in the first grains of the season, performing all the mechanical alchemy that turns raw grain into flour, and then the truly ‘High Magic’ that renders freshly baked bread unto a formerly barren world.  Meanwhile, those not otherwise engaged in the sacred rites of food preparation begin to gather in the newly clear fields, to compete with each other in contests of strength, endurance and athletic finesse.

To be fair though, my particular ancestors never had to deal with Texas heat.

And they knew what they were contributing to their community, they could see, touch, feel and even taste the things they produced.  A celebration of the first harvest was a culmination of their own efforts and the benevolence of the land upon which they worked their lives.

For many of us, in this age, the day to day yield of our efforts is a little more difficult to see.

First Harvest?

We can sit on a cool morning under the shade of the oaks, looking through the blooming echinacea, out over the cats playing in the grass and the birds taking turns at the feeder, past the workshop which is nearing completion and out to the stands of honeysuckle which are consuming the white trellis I built for them.  The bushes in the back need trimming (again) and the mosquitoes are buzzing, but there’s always something needs doing and there are always those moments, however brief, when we can choose to let those chores and distractions go for a while, and just savor the moment for what it is.

A celebration of everything that brought you this far.

I wish a joyous Lughnasadh to you all.

1 Comment

Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Holidays, Modern Life, Spiritual Journey, Traditions

On this, our desexualized fertility festival

Religious holidays can be difficult things to explain to those who fall outside of one’s faith tradition.

Just pretend for a moment that you know nothing about Christianity and imagine someone trying to describe Easter to you…,

…think about it…

…a god briefly sacrifices himself to redeem humanity for the sins of two people who hadn’t been given a moral compass to know they were sinning in the first place…

…and Christians the world over commemorate these events by dressing up in their finery, spending an hour in church, watching their children gather colored eggs, and then filling up on a big ham dinner (just like the apostles would have done).

And yes, I’m glossing over all of the finer points, and it’s all in the presentation, but still…,

…it’s a lot to take in.

Now imagine the difficulty of describing a holy day for which there is no one accepted or even remotely authoritative description.

Welcome to Beltane!

So let us begin from an traditionalist perspective.

A well reasoned polytheist, using a reconstructionist approach, based solely on what we know of the folk practices of the pre-christian Irish, would tell us that Beltane, marked by the first blooming of hawthorn trees, was a time of purification and blessing.  It was a day when maidens collected the first dew of the season.  It witnessed the release of livestock into the summer grazing lands, but was certainly best known for the lighting of great fires, the light and heat of which was believed to provide magical blessings and protection to man and beast alike in the coming season.

Who?  What?  Why?!

That whole Easter thing doesn’t sound so crazy now, does it?

Again, I’m glossing over some of the finer points, but not by much, because the stone cold truth of it is, we really don’t know much about why any of those things were done.  And frankly, I’ve begun to wonder if we haven’t been a little too willing to take things that just happen to have occurred on or near Beltane, as being part and parcel of the holy day itself.

Was it really so much about the movements of cattle into the seasonal grazing areas?  Or is that just something that happened around the same time, and over the centuries we’ve colluded the two things.

It’d be a bit like assuming that watching American Football was part of the celebration of the Christian Sabbath in North America.  A scholar, in some post-apocalyptic future might conclude that feasts of pizza and libations of cheap beer were likewise, part of the weekly observance, based purely upon the evidence at hand.

Now there are a couple things going on here.

Firstly, there is the importance of honoring our ancestors and finding our own way to the traditions and beliefs that they held sacred.  We do this through careful examination of the evidence at hand, with an eye toward preserving and reviving that which they left for us through the ages.  In this way we do service to them and to the gods which called us to this path.

That’s part of it.

The other thing that is going on is a negative reaction toward anything which smells even vaguely of NeoPaganism.

Where the festival of Beltane is concerned, the general opinion seems to be that the old Victorian occultists who started the revival in Beltane observances, were really just looking for an excuse to shuck their knickers, alone or in groups, and that adding a ritual component to the lusty month of May was all the provocation they needed.  As their spiritual descendants, the NeoPagans may have picked up a reputation for treating Beltane as an orgy at fireside: all drum circles and gypsy dancing, while ignoring history and tradition.

And maybe that’s fair.  It might be a good idea to pop over to the Wiccasphere and see if there’s anything unseemly going on.  You know…, for science.

10 Ways to Celebrate Beltane

(oooh, this ought to be good)

Light a bonfire (a little on-the-nose, but okay)

Pick flowers (ooookay)

Wear a Flower Crown (at least those flowers from #2 aren’t going to waste)

Do some Divination (actually, that’s entirely historical, something’s wrong)

Dance (also appropriate to the holiday)

Leave out offerings to the Fae (am I reading from the wrong lists)

Decorate a tree or bush with ribbons (…)

Take a Ritual Bath (NOW things are finally getting saucy)

Volunteer at an animal shelter (what just happened?)

Roast Marshmallows

Marshmallows!  My hand to the gods, I saw this listed on two of the dozen or so lists I rooted through in the course of my “research”.  Sure, there were indeed a few references to fertility magic and love spells, but a good naked frolic in the wild seems to be largely off the menu.

That, or I’m just not being invited to the good parties anymore.

Either way, we’ve got a majority of folks advertising Beltane like it was your local craft fair, while a small but vocal minority would like to point out that Maypoles are an imported tradition from English and German speaking folks, and if you could all please just be careful with your frolicking, as you are likely to frighten the cows.

The truth if it, as usual, probably lies somewhere in the middle.

FeelTheFire

There are plenty of things to suggest that Beltane IS, among other things, a fertility festival.

Those maidens I mentioned earlier, collecting the first dew of the season?  They bathed in it.  A ritual intended to increase and preserve their natural beauty.

The light and heat from those Beltane fires, was believed to not only protect the herds from harm, but to bless them – to increase their bounty – make them more fertile.  I wonder what we are supposed to think that same light and heat would do to the men and women who danced around those fires?

I wonder how anyone could believe, after standing near a great fire, feeling the energy of it moving through them, that joining in dance around those flames and sharing in that energy, passing it each to the other, could be anything other than a sexual act.

Standing at to opposite end of the year from Samhain, during which we honor the dead, Beltane comes to us at that moment when the generative power of life is at its strongest.  The veil between this world lifts but twice a year, once to allow the spirits of the dead to transcend this mortal plane, and once again at May Eve, to allow them back in where they might find new life and new lives to inhabit.

Fire Festival – Fertility Festival – Craft Fair

Celebrate it however you like, but don’t deny the energies at the root of it.

Sex is in the air folks, otherwise my eyes wouldn’t be itching from all this pollen.

2 Comments

Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Culture, Holidays, Religion, Traditions, Uncategorized

Death Becomes You

The signs of the changing season are many and plentiful: there is a new crispness in the air, the days grow shorter, the leaves begin to fall, pumpkin spice flavoring has been injected into every consumable, and the yearly barrage of educational outreach posts from the Pagan community are making the rounds.

I used to do a fair bit of that myself.  The confluence of Pop-Culture Halloween and Pagan Samhain makes for a pretty tempting public relations opportunity.  Watch as we slide a little truth in there between your fun-sized Snickers and your yearly viewing of The Great Pumpkin.

I gave it up though, because mostly people don’t want to be bothered with it.

And of those who do show some interest, trying to explain Celtic Ancestor Night traditions to someone who’s cultural understanding of death is rooted in Western Christianity is a serious undertaking.

There’s just no easy way in.

Except that is for Dia de Muertos.

The growing popularity in the States, of the Mexican ‘Day of the Dead’ has, on several recent occasions, given me something a little more tangible to point to.

But still, the conversations tend to go something like this…,

Me: “It’s like ‘The Day of the Dead’ but without the Sugar Skulls.”

Them: “Huh?!”

So, it seemed like the best thing to do was to just give up again, when suddenly this…,

The Book of Life

The Book of Life.

It came out in 2014, and I’ve just now watched it.

How did I miss this movie?!

It is without doubt, the best representation of a modern cultural rite of honoring the dead, that I have seen on film.  The movie is cute and funny, even while treating the subject with a particular reverence, and most importantly, it is rich and beautiful to look at.

In a time when the rotting flesh and gnashing teeth of the zombie has become a year round staple of popular culture, it is nothing short of miraculous to see the dead depicted as beings of both whimsy and grace, who care for their living descendants as fervently as we should care for them.

Do not be fooled by the corruption of the grave.

That is not death.

Death is not something that happens to us, it is something we become, and in so doing, we carry away all that is beautiful within us into that next realm.  How could what we find there be anything other than glorious to behold?

Watch the movie.  Smile and laugh at the story, even as you catch a momentary glimpse of a truth beyond our mortal reach.  Do that, and maybe you’ll understand the things we do.

We dress the graves to honor them.

We kindle the fires to light their way home.

We share with them offerings of food and drink.

We remember them to each other in the stories that we tell.

And we pray that we will be remembered when we have passed beyond the vail.

Do not fear the grave.  Death becomes you.

2 Comments

Filed under Culture, Death, Holidays, Religion, Traditions

Where Nothing is Sacred

I have placed these two pictures together for a reason.

pipeline in sacred ground

Some people might look at these images with a sense of pride, taking from them a message that sacrifice and hard work are what make a nation great.

Others might find this particular juxtaposition somewhat uncomfortable.  There is, after all, a serene perfection in the image of Arlington National Cemetery that we in the West have come to expect in our monuments.  The mirrored layout of the two photos, however, might suggest that someone could tear into that hallowed ground, that the one image could somehow become the other.  And this corruption, this desecration of the sacred, should I hope, put us ill at ease.

And yet, we are even now gouging into the Earth, plowing a petroleum pipeline through sacred land in North Dakota, stripping away the dignity of the honored dead and despoiling the environment, all in the interest of the mighty dollar.  We are beating, gassing, and arresting the people who stand bravely in the path of this desecration.  We threaten them with guns and loose attack dogs on them.

And I wondered, just for a moment, how WE would react if the shoe were on the other foot.  What if it was something WE considered sacred that was being ruined in the interest of corporate greed.

And then I wondered if we, as a people, hold anything sacred at all.

And I am being very liberal with my use of the word “we” here because I don’t think any of us are clean from these particular sins.  If ‘you’ or ‘I’ am offended by these latest outrages against the heritage of our native peoples, we have benefited, willingly or no, from countless others.  It’s something we were born to, I’m afraid.

We are raised in it.

Or do we not still teach our children the old lie, that Christopher Columbus sailed out from Spain in the spirit of adventure and exploration?

Maybe we’ll tell them later that he actually sailed off looking for cash and prestige, and that when he failed in his quest to discover a new and more direct trade route with Asia, he settled instead on exploiting the unfortunate natives he encountered for their gold, and then selling them into sexual servitude and slavery.

The church didn’t like it.

They eventually jailed him for it.

But he still gets the bloody parade, doesn’t he.

We honor him, butcher that he was, and with good reason.  The impressions made by his boots on the shores of the ‘New World’ have never really faded, and for over five hundred years we have followed in his swaggering stride, sweeping across two continents in our hunger for the resources therein.

And the people who were already there?

We did what he did.  We slaughtered them, starved them, displaced them.

And when the folks back home became uncomfortable with the carnage, we displayed our great civility and generosity by writing and signing treaty after treaty, only to break them before the ink had time to dry.

What DO we hold sacred when no bond restrains us, neither word nor contract.

So what is the difference, really, between a rough circle of stones in a weed choked field in North Dakota, and that field of crisp white markers on a perfectly manicured lawn in Virginia?  Is it just that when WE hold something sacred, we throw money at it until it is suitably majestic.  Is that what makes it a holy place?  Or is it the bones of our fallen that lay in the dirt, that give the place its power over us?

Are we really so blind that we cannot, as a people, see the spirit in the land?

Or is it really just the money that we worship after all?

I’ve been following another story.

There is a proposed development project at the Grand Canyon in Arizona, a 420-acre resort complex, complete with hotels, restaurants, and upscale shopping on the canyon rim, and a tramway designed to carry tourists by the millions down to the canyon floor.  There at the sacred confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers, if the plans go through, the rugged beauty of the canyon floor will “improved” by the addition of a restaurant, a river walk, and a several thousand seat amphitheater.

Welcome to America, where nothing is sacred, except for the dollar.

Columbus wins.

4 Comments

Filed under Culture, Holidays, Modern Life, Nature, Philosophy, Religion

It would be so easy…,

The sun sets and the fire is kindled.
It would be so easy to feel alone.

I think of my friends and family,
Of confidants and strangers countless,
And I know that for so many of them,
This is just another sunset, another night,
And my energies, to them, seem wasted,
Meaningless.

It would be so easy to feel alone,
If not for the fire.

All over the world these fires burn,
Each connected to the others,
One shared light against the darkness,
The warmth I feel against my skin,
Is the growing heat between young lovers,
The sparks which leap and crackle,
Bring wonder to the face of a child.

Separated by miles,
Yet close enough to touch,
All of them.

On this night and thousands more,
Both past and yet to be,
I feel them,
Generations of us,
Basking in the same flickering light.

I think of my friends and family,
Of confidants and strangers countless,
And I know that on this night,
It would be so easy,
For them,
To feel alone.

HornedGod(Detail)

Leave a comment

Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Holidays, Poetry, Religion, Traditions

Simon’s Son

In the four years that I have been writing here, I have mentioned the Christian Holiday of Easter exactly once, and that time only in passing.

Typically, when Pagans post about Easter, what you get is either a rambling discourse on the pagan influences (eggs, rabbits, not quite forgotten goddesses of the Dawn) still visible in the modern celebration of that holiday, or you get a “correcting misinformation” post which seeks to set right all the shoddy research, presented as fact, that find their way into those aforementioned ‘rambling discourses’.

I have no interest in joining that particular tug-o-war.

It’s just not a holiday that I can get excited about one way or the other.  I find all those plush pastel rabbits to be irksome in the extreme and I can’t fathom why anyone would want to lay claim to them.  Those shopping mall Easter Bunnies, hoisting screaming children onto their laps are the things of nightmares.  And in the grocery store yesterday, I literally saw boxes of milk-chocolate crosses sitting on the shelves.  Who buys that for their child?

No, and thank you!

And as for the Easter story itself…, Over the years I’ve sat through more retellings of it than I can count, and mostly I just feel really bad for Jesus, if not for the obvious reasons.

Here’s a guy who dispenses so much wisdom and just generally good advice, and the entire time you know that generation upon generation of his supposed followers are going to focus on the mythology surrounding his dying and rising, while completely ignoring the vast majority of what he actually said while he was alive.

I’ve never been particularly moved by his sacrifice.  More, disappointed I guess.

No, there is really only one character in the Easter story that I find truly interesting: the Bible calls him Simon’s son, Judas Iscariot.

The Judas Kiss

Did I say character, and not person?

Let us see…, the Gospel of John first calls him a thief, and then explains that the devil entered him and caused him to betray Jesus to the temple priests in exchange for thirty pieces of silver.  One author has him giving the silver back after the deed is done, but in another book he uses it to buy a potters field.  Does he hang himself in remorse for his betrayal?  Or does he fall headfirst over a cliff, landing so hard that his guts burst open, soaking the ground in blood?

Oh yeah, I meant character.

It’s no secret that I’m not sold on an any of the folks in the Bible being more than loosely based on actual persons.  And it honestly doesn’t matter to me if they were real or not.

The story is the story, and the story is incredibly powerful.

It has shaped the world we live in, for better or worse, for the last two-thousand years.

And for me, as someone who was raised in that faith tradition, but has long stood outside it, looking in, I find the character of Judas to be far more compelling than the sacrificial hero that is the focus of the tale.

And the reason for this is that Judas, more than any other character in the Christian Holy Book, truly challenges the notion of free will in the face of an omnipotent god.

Did Judas go to Hell for betraying Jesus?

It is a question I’ve been asking since I was a child.  I actually remember my family debating the issue on more than one occasion, and never to a satisfactory conclusion.

Christians believe that the events leading up to and immediately following the crucifixion were foretold in various prophecies from the Old Testament.  Now, I’ve read some of those verses, and…, if the prophets are made to stand on their heads and jump through several moving hoops…, well sure, I guess you could say that it all kind of fits together.

Admitting, for the sake of argument, that this is true, then all of the events leading up to the Cross are necessary functions of God’s omniscience.  Judas MUST betray Jesus.  If he doesn’t the prophecies are worthless and the blood of the lamb does not wash away the sins of the world.

There is no need to slander his character by suggesting that he was stealing from the apostles money bag.  There is no need to suggest that he was a dupe for the devil.

He was doing his job, as preordained by the knower and shaper of all things.

Or was he?

What if he truly did have a choice.

That means that he could have chosen not make a deal with the temple priests.  he could have refrained from delivering that tell-tale kiss, and Jesus might have made it through his Passover visit to Jerusalem unscathed.  God’s grand plan for the redemption of mankind might have taken an entirely different turn, or it might have been thwarted entirely.

“Ah,” my critics will say, “but Judas DID make his choice, as God knew he would when presented with that situation.”

To which I say, “that’s manipulative bullshit unworthy of anyone calling themselves the ‘Most High’.”  Seriously, that’s right up there with ‘hardening Pharaoh’s heart’ so that he’ll stick it out while his people suffer through yet another plague.

Punishing someone for something you made them do is the height of injustice.

So if the Christian God is a being both omnipotent and morally just, Judas was equally as important to the great plan as Jesus himself, and no punishment should be given.

If the Christian God is not omnipotent, Judas had a choice and may indeed be suffering eternal torment, but the whole grand plan for the salvation of mankind is reduced to a series of unfortunate events, and that’s not going to go over very well with the faithful.

So which is it?

Are the characters in the Easter story simply unwitting cogs in someone else’s melodrama?

Are we all?

Or does each of us have the godlike power to shape the course his or her own destiny, while the gods themselves sit and watch and hope for the best.

I wonder sometimes, if that kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane revealed more and deeper truths than the authors, whoever they were, might have hoped.

3 Comments

Filed under Holidays, Philosophy, Religion

How many more weeks of Winter?

My first sculpture, in clay, was of the groundhog.

I was in the second grade.

And it was awful.

Why had my teacher picked the end of January to bring a couple bags of clay into the classroom and tell us build sculptures in commemoration of the February 2nd holiday?

I do not know.

Perhaps there was some message there, about working with earth and water and fire, and about the living cycles of a world we were only beginning to explore.

Or maybe, it was just a random collision of events and the groundhog theme seemed, to her, like a good idea.

So we wedged and shaped the lumps of clay with our little hands, and then she took them off to be fired.  When they came back they were hard and crumbly, and we painted them…, garishly.

I vaguely remember that some of my fellows had, roughly, approximated the look of a large rodent, sitting up on its hindquarters.

I had not.

There was a greenish lump (the ground) upon the crest of which stood a rough brown cylinder (tree trunk), and next to that another brown blob resembling a brazil nut with ears (the critter).

It was bad, really, REALLY bad.

I was so embarrassed by it, that years later, when a friend of mine in college was twisting my arm to take the Intro to Ceramics class with him, I was filled with an irrational fear that my secret shame would finally be exposed.

“I paint, I draw,” I told him, “I’m a 2d artist.  I’m just no good at 3d work.”

“Come on,” he countered, “you’re gonna love it.  Have you even tried?”

And in my minds eye…, green and brown lumps of earth…, and people laughing, LAUGHING!

“Yeah, I’ve tried.”

But in the end, I relented and took the class.

And my friend was right, I loved it.

That first class was followed by a second, and suddenly the focus of my studies had shifted from painting in oils to sculpting in clay.

There was something deeply powerful in the manipulation of those basic elements, earth, water, fire.  There was a ritual quality to the process that touched the spirit, and there was the careful science of manipulating chemical reactions to occupy the analytical portions of my mind.

I had never…, have never…, felt so entirely within my element.

And then the long winter began.

When I left school, I left the ceramics program behind.

I lived in a cramped apartment without the financial means to acquire the tools and materials I’d have needed to pursue my interests.

So I focused on my painting, and I told myself that a brief hiatus from clay would do me good.

And the years passed, and I painted less and less.

I got a job as a graphic artist for a magazine.

I learned new skills.  I won awards.

And the paints came out less frequently.

By the time I changed jobs again (this time repairing computers) my easels had been stowed in the attic and my paints were congealing in their tubes.

And so I came here, and I began to write.  And always, ALWAYS there was the intention that the writing would be a portal into something bigger, something that would utilize all the other skills I have acquired along the way, something that would make me feel like I used to feel before this long winter took hold.

But after a while, the writing seemed to be using up all the creative energy that I had to spare, and keeping to my self imposed deadline was chewing through what little free time I had.  I felt like I needed to take a break and get my head on straight, and finally get a start on whatever that next big thing was going to be.

And so I stopped writing.  I withdrew further into the day to day grind and I waited for the creative well to replenish itself.

But that was never going to happen.

The well didn’t run dry because my creativity went away, instead it has been filled up with silt and debris, the grit and grime of a thousand little things that we like to call ‘living’ but which have nothing to do with being alive.  It is plugged with worries about money and home and transportation, and with all the things that come from being a cog in someone else’s machine.

The waters are still there, but they will never rise above all that junk.

To find them again, I’ll need to grab a shovel and climb down into the well.

I need to get my hands dirty.

I need to start digging.

I know this.

I WANT it.

But wanting and doing are two different things.

Part of the problem is not knowing exactly how to get started.

But far bigger than that is the fear of failure.

And so hear I am, I have become the groundhog, curled in his burrow, desperately wanting the winter to end, but afraid to peek out for fear of seeing his own shadow.

And tomorrow I’ll get up and eat my breakfast and head off to work like a good little citizen.

And I’ll wonder – How many more weeks of winter?

2 Comments

Filed under About this Blog, Art, Holidays, Modern Life, Spiritual Journey