Tag Archives: Traditions

Shut up, Linus!

Several years ago now I thought it would be a neat idea to write a post which used the Peanuts characters, specifically excerpts from the animated Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special, to illustrate what seemed a very simple point…,

That Thanksgiving is a holiday that does not belong to any particular group.

At the time I wrote it, I think I’d seen a few too many evangelical types trying to claim the holiday as their own, and felt the need to push back a bit.

Looking back on it now, I feel like it’s one of my more cringe worthy efforts.

It is too long, too clumsy, and…, well, it’s too popular.

Seriously!

That damn throw-away thanksgiving post from six years ago is consistently the most frequently read thing on this blog. Mostly, I am in no doubt, due to the work of search engine algorithms coughing it up to folks looking for links to the Holiday Special itself.

But I suppose I should be…, thankful.

After all, if only a fraction of the folks who stumble across it stick around to read anything else I’ve written, and maybe inspired to think about things in a way that they hadn’t previously…, then it’s worth every misplaced click.

My message this Thanksgiving is a bit more concise: “Shut up, Linus.”

Sure, the preachy kid is always there to yammer on, but the only one at that entire party who knows what’s really going on is that girl Marcy.

Oh, we’d all do well to thank our gods for the bounty of the harvest, but these days I think we’d do better to concentrate on thanking each other. Not just on the one day but every day.

And not just our family and friends either.

Thank our teachers, both the professionals, and those who teach us by example. Thank the warriors back from trenches past and present, and thank the desperate retail employees, fighting their own yearly war of attrition. Thank the neighbors, the strangers, the doctors, sanitation workers and bureaucrats that you encounter throughout your day. Even thank that preachy kid, once he finally pipes down and lets everyone get back to their meal.

Because we all touch each other’s lives, and the actions of a stranger we pass on the street can have every bit as much power over our personal prosperity as that of any deity.

A simple expression of genuine gratitude can make a difference that pays us back a thousand fold.

Give thanks where thanks is due.

And have a Happy Holiday.

And thank YOU for stopping by!

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Filed under About this Blog, Holidays, Modern Life, Traditions

Hollow Eyes and Hallow’s Eve

It is a curious tradition, the carving of Jack-o-lanterns.

There are plenty of articles out there sharing the actual history of the practice, some folks claiming it is a strictly Christian tradition, while others claim a more ancient past, but what it all boils down to is that somewhere along the way, someone decided that carving faces in vegetables (and later fruit, right? A squash is a fruit) would repel evil spirits.

Doesn’t seem to be working.

Bombings, shootings…, plenty of evil spirits out and about these days.

Then again, most folks seem to be buying plastic jack-o-lanterns from Target and Walmart, so maybe that’s why the effectiveness has worn off. ‘Cause the the power can’t be in the fruit, or the candle, or even the scary face. If there’s any power at all behind those hollow eyes, anything there watching and guarding, it has to have been placed there by us.

It is up to us to work the magic that wards our homes and our land from those who would cause us harm.

Plastic pumpkins are probably just another symptom of us falling down on the job.

I really don’t care who came up with the tradition, I truly enjoy the the few hours I set aside every October to carve a few jack-o-lanterns.

And I love the looks on the faces of the trick-or-treaters, even the littlest ones, who can tell the difference between something real and original, and something bought in a store.

The parents notice too. Often they will say something about not being all that good at it, or struggling to find the time. But I always encourage them to make the effort. Skill comes from practice and power from persistence.

And the gods well know, we could use more jack-o-lanterns in the world these days.

A blessed Samhain to you all. And a Happy Halloween!

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Filed under Art, Culture, Holidays, Religion, Traditions

A Year…,

12 Months.

365 Days.

I don’t know how many hours and minutes.

And I don’t want to know.

We don’t get them back.

…,

I’ve been gone from these pages for a while.

Not dead.

Not sleeping.

But elsewhere.

Did you miss me?

…,

This was a year of projects, of choices made, muscles flexed, and time spent.

I built myself a workshop.

I witnessed a total eclipse of the Sun.

My wife and I got married, again, and in public view this time.

And I worked…, a lot, even as I have felt my satisfaction in those labors waning.

…,

But new years bring new choices.

The numbers are arbitrary, of course.

Two-Thousand and Seventeen, becomes Eighteen.

Separated by nothing so much as our desire to begin again.

To grasp another chance to do our bit, and change the world to our liking.

…,

I have a plan for myself.

It’s a ten-year plan.

I guess that makes this Day One.

And I am terrified by the sheer weight of everything that needs doing.

But the good news, for me, is that I’m not alone.

WonderlandWeddingCouple

I mean, if you could get have a traditional Celtic hand fasting ceremony, while dressed as The Mad Hatter and The Queen of Hearts, and if you could likewise persuade your friends and family to come, dressed as Wonderland characters…, why wouldn’t you?

 

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Filed under Holidays, Spiritual Journey, Traditions

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.

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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.

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

Raised to Believe

I’ve spent a lot of time, in this last week, reading back over my old posts, searching for something that I’ve been told is there.  I scan through the words, and I remember the feelings behind them.  I pause, occasionally, to wince at the occasional typo that snuck its way in, but I do not linger to make corrections, because that’s not what I’m looking for.

I’m looking for ‘hate’.

I was told recently, by someone close to me, that the point of last week’s post had been lost, buried in my hate for the dominant religions, and in particular, for Christianity.

The accusation shook me, because this blog has been, for me, a labor of love.

There is no room for hate here, and looking back over my past writing, I cannot find any.

Oh, sometimes I am angry, but anger does not equal hate.  Hate is unreasoning, born for its own sake, and feeding upon itself.  Anger, particularly that which is born from injustice or cruelty, can rise up to shake the pillars of society.  Anger gave us a free nation devoted to the prospect of liberty for all.  And when we found that the promise of that nation had faltered, anger gave us women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement.

I was raised to believe that one should be angry when presented with injustice, cruelty or bigotry.

I was also raised to believe that we should examine all those things which are claimed to be truth, with a critical eye.  I’ve turned that criticism upon the dominate faiths, upon Atheism, and upon those within the Pagan and Polytheist movement, whenever I have felt the need.  I will continue to do so.

Faith and belief need testing — otherwise they are mere trinkets we carry along with us from childhood.

I was raised to believe many things.

Some of those I have kept.

Others I have abandoned along the way because they had no value to me.

I have been told that disparaging the things that people were raised to believe is hurtful and insulting.  And maybe that’s true, but I’m far more concerned with the things we choose to believe than the things handed down to us from our parents.

Our parents are flawed creatures, just as their parents were, just as we will be in turn.

We are not some isolated tribe, holding on to a knowledge that will vanish forever, if we do not pass it on to the dwindling generations to follow.  Those days have passed, perhaps never to return, and we find ourselves in an open land where the beliefs and assumptions of the previous generations can be tested, and when found lacking, set aside in favor of new traditions.

For some, that is a sorrowful reality.  For others, it represents an opportunity to grow beyond the seemingly arbitrary limitations society would set upon them.  We can correct mistakes that were made long ago, and abandon injustices that have been built into our society over hundreds of years.

This is a time of great hope, and it is that hope that shapes my work here.

I was raised to question assumptions, to feel anger when presented with injustice.

I was also raised Catholic, but I never really fit there, I never saw the same church as everyone else.

This is the church, this is christianity, as I see it…,

Creevelea Sanctuary

A thing both beautiful and deeply flawed.

The edifice was once mighty and graceful, if a bit austere, but is now crumbling into the ivy, and all the more lovely in its decay and humility.

The specific chapel, pictured here is part of Creevelea Abbey, in County Leitrim, Ireland.  It was built by my ancestors and their graves are set into the floor, very near to that sweeping, vaulted window.  I have visited many churches in Ireland, and when I walked in that space, nearly a decade ago, I felt the deepest reverence for the history in those walls, and in my connection to it.

That connection, to the faith and traditions of my ancestors is part of what makes me who I am.  But that church is only part of the story.  The ceiling is gone, the stones are weathered with age, and the forest is calling.  The path which I walk in reverence, urges me in other directions, along some trails so old they were nearly forgotten when the first stones of Creevelea were set in place, and others so new that no one can know where they will lead.

I may question, or criticize, or thunder in anger.  But I cannot hate, lest I despise myself.

That is not what I was raised to believe.

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A Question of Resolution

What does a promise mean?

When we make a pledge to undertake some action, whether that pledge is made to ourselves or to another, do we not feel bound by the words we speak?  Or has our increasingly casual relationship with language diminished the hold which our own words have over us?  Words are, as they have always been, little puzzles of meaning, intent and context, which we seem ever more inclined to ignore as we make our merry way through life.

Traditionally, we have invested certain words with greater power or importance.  Some few take on special meaning under certain circumstances or at a particular time of the year.

Resolutions

Resolution: as we tick away the final hours of December, this word seems to take on a special prominence.  The expectation, as we all know, is that we will ‘resolve’ to make some change in our habits in the coming year.  The dawning of a new year would seem a natural time in the turning of the great wheel to introduce some change into our lives and when we make these year-end promises, we are taking part in a tradition that stretches back into the very beginnings of human history.  What we today think of as the New Year’s Resolution, was already ages old when the Norse clansmen swore great oaths to their gods and ancestors in the deepening hours of Yule.  The tradition may have begun, as written accounts would suggest, in ancient Babylon, but I rather suspect it predates the written word.

This yearly ritual links us to the traditions and beliefs of our most distant ancestors, and yet, when I hear people speak of their New Year’s Resolutions, they often seem to be such trivial things, hardly worth attaching to such a nobel sounding word.  In the coming year, we will strive to eat better or exercise more.  Maybe we will try to be more consistent about recycling or make an effort to call our distant relations more often.

More often than not, there is the clear expectation that we will break our resolutions at some point in the coming year.  We assume that we will fail in our promise, anticipating the moment when we can abandon these self imposed constraints for yet another year and return to business as normal.

Is it possible that people simply don’t understand the word?  Resolution is a big word after all, and in a culture that trivializes language, its many meanings may have become lost or confused.

While in the context of the New Year, we may resolve to move forward with some course of action, the best way to do that may be to take a good look at the year now past.  Let us, for a moment then, consider not the promises to be made but rather the culmination of the year’s events.

Consider the last three hundred and sixty five days to have been a puzzle or a test.  How did you resolve it?

A resolution is more than a vow to be made and broken, it is the answer to a question asked.  In this case, that question is 2012.  What was the result of this year?  How did it affect you, your family and friends, or even the world as a whole?

How can we hope to know what change we should introduce into our lives if we are not considering the year now past?

Is there a single quantifiable answer to that question?  I think, not.

The outcome of the past year is an aggregate of a million smaller questions and answers which bring us to yet another of the interrelated meanings for the word Resolution.

As you read this blog you are looking at a screen on which millions of tiny dots of varying color and brightness come together to resolve the words and pictures you see.  When we speak of Resolution from this frame of reference we are discussing the number of dots (or pixels to be more precise) which come together to form the images you see.  The higher the resolution, the sharper the image and the more clearly you can see and understand what it is you are looking at.

In the same way, looking back at the last year is not simply a matter of examining a singular conclusion to the events of that year because that result is derived from the amalgam of every decision we made during that span.  The more aware of ourselves we are, the more awake to the choices we have made and the consequences following therefrom, the higher the resolution of our perception and the better equipped we are to make necessary changes going forward.

Dictum meum pactum

My word is my bond.

Once upon a time, the words we spoke were held as a reflection of the person speaking them.  To knowingly break a promise would reveal you as faithless and untrustworthy.

To whom do we make New Year’s Resolutions in this day and age?  We do not typically make them to one another.  So to whom then?  Our gods?  Our selves?

And if we cannot keep a promise we made to our own selves how can we ever feel we are deserving of the trust of another?  Or is that not something we concern ourselves with any longer?

If you choose to make a New Year’s Resolution this year, make it with awareness of the full meaning and importance of the word.  Look not just forward but back and with an eye to the little decisions that brought us to where we are.

Embracing that kind of self-awareness may be resolution enough.

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