John Halstead over at Patheos has an idea that I think is so great I am adopting it for myself and want to it capture here so other Atheopagans can consider it: “Lent for Pagans”, or what I am calling the Spring Fast.
February and March were historically the leanest time for Europeans: the stores were growing thin, the good stuff had been eaten already, nothing had yet grown which could be gathered, and the party of Yule was long past. No surprise that customs of giving things up for religious reasons developed—culture, after all, is often driven by practical economics.
The Catholic Church got something right with its conception of Lent. It’s all very well to make New Year resolutions about “giving something up forever”, and we all know how well that usually goes. But 40 days? That’s doable. It can contribute to your health, change your lifestyle, give you a perspective about what it’s like to go without and, as John says, open space in your life for something new.
A Pagan version of the Spring Fast would extend from Imbolc/Riverain through Ostara/High Spring. That’s a little longer: 47 or 48 days. But again: doable.
It doesn’t have to be something we consume (John’s charming wife Ruth is giving up swearing!) It can be anything we may lean on a little too much, or consume in excess, or take for granted. We’ll enjoy it that much more when the fast is over, and may find ourselves not going back to quite as much indulgence as we had previously.
I’m giving it a try this year, with a fast from alcohol, and I’m actually excited at the prospect of the process. As it happens, I’m co-hosting a birthday party for a friend on March 21, so that will break my fast.
In our DIY religion, it sometimes helps to look at what has worked for others before. The cycle of Carnival and Lent is one which has taken on profound meaning for cultures all over the world, and while we aren’t interested in penitence and deprivation and all that, nonetheless there is something to be said for taking a small step back from the abundance most of us take for granted: with reflecting on want and experiencing how it feels, and with exploring what may come to fill an open space we make in our lives.
Give it a try!
EDIT 2017: I have removed the link to John’s post due to his departure from Patheos under unfriendly circumstances.