Coming Up Dry for the Festival of Water

In my Wheel of the Year, the February Sabbath is Riverain, the Festival of Water.

This is because ordinarily, it rains torrentially in late January and into February in my region. The hills grow emerald with new grasses and the creeks swell and thunder. It is a beautiful time, the time of burgeoning life.

But then there are years like this.

It was 73 degrees F. here (nearly 23 Celsius) today. In mid-January. There is but a shower or two in the forecast for the next two weeks.

On the day after SLOGG, no less!

It’s about two weeks until the February Sabbath—roughly the midpoint between Yule and High Springand what shall I celebrate? What can it mean, when the skies are dry and the world is hotter than ever and all the usual metaphors and symbols for this lovely liquid time are hardly relevant?

There is, of course, the other metaphorical overlay I apply to the calender’s cycle: the arc of a human life.

As Yule is birth and new beginnings, Riverain has been for me the Sabbath of young childhood: infancy and toddling. The very early stages of growth, of the first hints of new plans and potential.

This year, of course, it will mark the beginning of a new government in the United States: one actually administered by adults of good will and care for the public interest.

So there is that to celebrate, at least.

Presuming it happens. With chaos and fear so present in the realm of governance right now, I can’t help but feel nervous about the whole thing.

I just wish it would rain.

The Unthinkable

Because it has never happened before, we think it cannot be.

And this is ironic, because we believe that in our aspirations and efforts, we can make what has never been.

We know that with heart and work, we can make a better, kinder world.

Unfortunately, those with awful values and hatred in their hearts also aspire and try. And with enough effort–and enough indulgence and blindness on the part of those who surround them–they, too, can make manifest.

As happened on Wednesday in the murderous, seditious attack on the United States Capitol.

There is much to say about this and it has been said elsewhere. I don’t need to go into details.

But in the darkness of this time, in the confusion and fear and anger this event has provoked among decent and goodhearted people throughout the world, there is a lesson to be taken, and it is not only that we must redouble efforts to stamp out hatred in our societies.

It is also that the need for what we are about, Atheopagans, has never been so great. Not in our lifetimes, in any case.

Never has the need been so strong for strong and vigilant efforts for equality, for democracy, for kindness.

For love.

Because hatred has been steadily stoked in recent years, by the fascist would-be dictator Trump and by the sorry, deluded and dangerous people who are his cult. Tremendous effort has been invested in building up this hatred, paranoia and fanaticism.

We must be the opposite. We must be the force for love in the world: not in a naive, Christian turn-the-other-cheek way, but through tangible action, strategic advance and devoted fealty to our true and kind hearts.

This is a frightening time. There has been an attempt at a revolution of hate, and there will probably be another before the inauguration of the new President.

So stay safe, stay strong, and hold the vision, friends. We’re in this for the long term and with diligence and commitment, the way of love will prevail.


Ask around in Pagan circles, and you’ll get disagreement about when the year actually begins.

Some say at Hallows (Samhain): the new year is birthed at the very moment of the death of the old.

Some say Yule, with the rebirth of the “baby Sun”.

And some—not many, but some—go with the calendar year, January 1.

I fall in the second camp. To me, the period between Death at Hallows and Birth at Yule is the time of decomposition and recomposition, of decay, uptake into existing life, and spinoff through pregnancy or seed production into new individuals. I wrote about this recently.

We have come to the time of year when endings have happened and Beginnings are before us. After a grueling year like 2020, they are more than welcome.

I don’t believe in “New Year’s resolutions”. The idea of a new initiative as something that disappears like a soap bubble if it is strayed from at all doesn’t make sense to me.

Real change is a keep-at-it affair. You’ll fail, and succeed, and fail again. But the trick is to keep working at it despite the failures.

So instead of a “resolution”, which is so frail that it is destroyed if it is varied from, I set a theme for the new year. Last year’s was THRIVE, which I managed to do, more or less, despite all the misery the year flung at us. And this year, it is GROW.

Grow is a powerful word for me because it implies both that there are places to grow—places where I can improve myself and my interactions with others—and that I am able to make these changes. That even at my age, evolution can and does take place.

Now, I will set some specific goals under that general theme, and work on them. But the theme is the Polar Star, the guiding principle that keeps me at work on becoming better, healthier, wiser, kinder. And I will revisit it each Sabbath to see how things are progressing.

The dawn of the new year is a time for reflection on what has taken place, what has been learned, what work there is yet to do. A good time for a nice hard look at our lives.

So I commend to you this idea of the “year theme”.

What’s a word or short phrase that moves you, makes you feel motivated and aspirational?