Harvest of Ashes: A Shadow Sabbath

It’s supposed to be a time of bounty: the gardens overflowing, the grapes coming in to be crushed, the hard blue sky of autumn whispering, “hurry, time’s a-wasting.” A time for feasting with friends and reveling in sunsets; a time for sporadic hints of the wild weather to come.

But what are we to make of Harvest—of the autumnal equinox—when the crops have failed or burned? How do we celebrate plenty when we are bereft?

How, in short, do we observe the Wheel of the Year when life isn’t cooperative with its narratives? When tragedy comes at High Spring, or birth at Hallows, or joblessness at Yule, how do we continue our traditions and practices when they don’t seem to fit?

This is the riddle I am presented this year.

These seasons of harvesting have not been kind to my wife and me this year. Harvest rolls around and I am poorer, and grieving.

How do I make sense of this, and mark the passage of this important milestone of the year?

I fall back on Atheopagan Principle #3: Gratitude. I am alive, employed, housed, loved. For whatever loss there has been, still I have much to celebrate. If necessary, I must force myself to consider the glass as half full, and the wine within delicious. It is wine, after all: not poison, not acid. It is the fruit of the world, sweet and intoxicating if only I will let it be so.

But at a deeper level, this experience has helped me to see that every Sabbath has its shadow. At Midsummer, the light begins to die. At Yule, the coldest and bitterest of days are yet ahead. Even Hallows, in its solemnity, marks the beginning of our season of greatest merry-making.

Each, for its predominant yin, contains the yang.

Here at Harvest we must remember also what we planted but did not grow. What had long been reliable but now fails us. What seemed important and was lost.

If Hallows is Death in the cycle of the year, surely autumn becomes the Season of Reflection–the metaphorical equivalent of the elder years, looking back on life lived and lessons learned.

So I think that if there is any way to celebrate the Harvest of Ashes, it is in contemplation, and fasting…the very opposite of the feasting and celebration so apt to the season. This Wednesday is the true solstice, and I will forego food, pursue stillness, and seek peaceful congruity with what has befallen me.

Mine will be a shadow Harvest this year. What I have reaped is a deeper understanding of the Wheel of the Year, and a reaffirmation of my Atheopagan practice.

Not so meager a Harvest, after all.

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