Let’s Talk Harvest!

Harvest—the autumnal equinox, which takes place this year on Friday, September 22—marks a time for celebration and culmination, for reflection on the shortening days and on the balance between light and warmth and cold and darkness. It is an opportunity for us to consider how our plans have worked out, and to bask in the satisfaction of those which have led to positive results. And it is a moment for gathering of families and communities to celebrate the abundance we enjoy, focusing on the positives in our lives.

Harvest is a reckoning, too. Some things we plant just don’t come up, or if they do, they are stunted and useless. Hallows will be the time to turn those failed experiments into the ground, but Harvest is a time for acknowledging them, and taking note for next year’s planting.

The classic Harvest celebration is a communal feast: perhaps a potluck using local produce, or a meal you offer to your family, friends and/or community in your home. Harvest is “Pagan Thanksgiving”: a time to enjoy and reflect on the wonder, the extraordinary magic by which food just arises from the Earth, delicious and sustaining, and on our great good fortune to enjoy it. Even if you celebrate by yourself, eat well that day, and pause to savor the flavors and nutrition, understanding how blessed you are simply to have good and adequate food in your life.

My usual food blessing is this: This food, arisen from the body of the generous Earth by the power of the mighty Sun, comes to us by many hands. May all be honored and blessed. The unison response is, We are grateful to eat today. 

But it’s a special occasion, so you may also want to include some words of gratitude for family and community as well.

It’s a time for generosity. Take some food into work, and share it. Volunteer at a local food pantry or homeless shelter. Be the giver of food, which is the giver of life.

Here’s a delicious and easy recipe for caprese salad that carries all the freshness and aliveness I associate with the season: a perfect dish for that Harvest meal.

Caprese Salad

Start with the best heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil leaves available. Arrange these in layers on a plate. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with the best available olive oil and balsamic vinegar (not too much vinegar, just a light drizzle), and serve.

Share your favorite recipes in the comments!


When the World Feels Icky

It’s particularly bad where I am right now.

We are experiencing a heat wave that will drive temps up over 110° F today, and even higher tomorrow. In addition, smoke from the wildfires in the northern part of the state has been blown down here, casting a pall over everything and bringing a sharp, unpleasant taste to the air. The sunlight itself is a nauseous yellow, pounding down heat in a creepily still, hotbox environment of smoke.

We even had a little earthquake yesterday morning.

All in all, it feels like disaster is everywhere.

Of course, that’s kind of how it’s been ever since November 8, 2016, when the worst and most unsuited person ever to rise to the American Presidency seized office through a combination of voter ignorance, vote suppression and foreign interference. The daily news is ugly. We have Nazis in our streets, and white “supremacy” is now actually under debate. Decades of progress are under siege. And while the corrupt and incompetent appointees of the demogogue-in-chief deny global warming, catastrophic weather continues to hammer humanity across the globe.

Yep. The world feels icky right now. Step outside, or turn on the news: yuck.

What do we do, in times like these? When it’s bad, and it just looks like it’s going to get worse, at least for awhile? As Atheopagans, how do we negotiate a landscape that appears so hostile?

First, I would say, we have to take care of ourselves. Need a news diet? Ratchet down that political-junkie flow of information. Take a break from Facebook if it depresses you, as it often does me (is there anything else in the world but Twitler and street Nazis? You wouldn’t think so from looking at my feed!) Eat well. Take a walk (when it doesn’t threaten heat stroke or an asthma attack). Get out into nature, especially near some running or tidal water. Go to a museum. Read a book. Watch a guilty-pleasure movie. Cry when you have to, but find opportunities to laugh.

Secondly, express. Don’t just bottle up the horror and exasperation and fear and sorrow that are so easily found these days. Talk with friends, or write in a journal, or write a song, or a poem, or paint a canvas. Get your creativity going. Creation is a powerfully self-supporting activity which can make a real difference when traversing hostile waters.

Next, get some perspective. The Fascist rise of the 1930s was followed by steadily growing progressivism that brought much-needed change to the world. This phase, too, shall pass. And while global warming does, indeed, threaten much of humanity and the biosphere, Life is tenacious as hell. Mother Earth isn’t done yet, by a long shot. And there will be plenty of time for new biodiversity to rise after humans are long gone, whether that is in 500 years or a million. Because all things pass, and that includes us.

But we are living here, now, and that means the fourth step:  pick your battles, and get active. When everything is on fire, it’s hard to narrow your focus enough to be effective, but narrow it we must. If your issue is LGBTQ rights, do that. Speak out on it. Educate others. Help to build the cultural shift that is inevitably coming as the Boomers and their predecessors die off. If it’s climate change, find out how you can reduce/offset your carbon footprint. Enlist your friends to join you. Advocate for alternative energy and voice your support for those states and municipalities that are defying the Twitler administration to persist in their pursuit of carbon reduction goals.

Finally, don’t forget to do your religion. Our Atheopagan practices and rituals and Sabbaths can sustain and replenish us, help us connect more deeply with friends. Talking and thinking about it isn’t enough. Explore the symbols of those Tarot cards. Dust off that Focus and get started again with an actively maintained practice. Harvest is coming up: plan a feast with friends and neighbors, and don’t forget to start with a food blessing and expressions of gratitude. Enjoy the taste of the Harvest, of the sips of wine. Remember that you are alive, and this is a great gift.

Planet Earth keeps turning, folks. We have to get through this, and together, we will. Know that I deeply value each and every one of you who reads this blog, comments on the Facebook group and considers the thoughts and ideas we bandy about here.

YOU MATTER. You matter to me and you matter to the world. So be very good to yourself, and find your niche for helping history along to a better place.

Stay strong. You are loved.







A Reading List for Atheopagans

Lately, it seems a lot of people in the Pagan community are publishing suggested book lists. To my eyes, these lists range widely in quality, but the idea is a good one. So here are some books I recommend:

The Spell of the Sensuous, by David Abram. Of all the books on this list, if you’re only going to read one, make it this one. Abram’s work is a revelation and a joy. I won’t say more; just read it.

A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking. An overview of the state of cosmological physics at the time of writing. Dense, but completely worth it.

The Elegant Universe, by Brian Greene. The (thus-far) untestable principles of superstring theory may be the solution to the thornily irreconcilable Einsteinian physics of objects and the quantum mechanics of the very small. If you’re interested in answers to the question of Life, the Universe and everything*, this is for you.

The Greatest Show on Earth, by Richard Dawkins. As readers here know, I am not a fan of Dawkins. But in this, he sticks to his actual area of knowledge–evolutionary biology–and his book magnificently tells the story of evolution and the rise of biological diversity.

Complexity: the Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos, by Mitchell Waldrop. Why do complex forms arise out of simple ones? This may be the most fundamental scientific question there is. Read about the early seekers of discovery in this deep area of scientific inquiry.

The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence, by Carl Sagan. Like its author, by turns ebullient and deeply knowledgeable, this is an inspiring and fascinating read.

Chaos, by James Gleick. Why can’t we precisely predict the weather? Why do the features of our world appear as they do? Why do we see the same general patterns repeated over and over, at large scales and small, throughout the Universe? Read this, and find out.

The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson. A fascinating true story of the power of an idea to override reason, and of the scientific method’s ability to break through the spell.

Always Coming Home, by Ursula K. LeGuin (fiction). A magnificent vision of a future society where kind and sustainable values are sustained by ritual practices. Set in the Napa Valley, one mountain ridge to the east of where I live, so it’s a special favorite.

Earth Prayers: 365 Prayers, Poems and Invocations from Around the World, edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon. A lovely collection, and a great source for discovering new poets who revere the Earth.

Local Nature Guides. Can you identify the predominant trees in your region? Wildflowers? Medicinal plants? Geological formations? Birds? Animals? Butterflies? To be connected with the natural world, we must know it. It isn’t necessary to have an exhaustive knowledge, but the more familiarity we have with the ecological context within which we live, the more deeply and richly we can celebrate our love for the Earth.

Ethnographies and Anthropological Books. The rich and extraordinarily diverse details and processes of rituals throughout the world can serve as inspiration for our own ritual workings. I’ve particularly enjoyed books on the shamanic practices of Arctic peoples, on the death rites of the Masai, and on the sacred sings of the Dineh people, as well as about the folkways that are survivals of pre-Christianization of Europe. Broader works that seek to draw patterns between many cultures (Joseph Campbell, e.g.) don’t appeal to me as much because they are far more speculative, but some of them are lavishly illustrated with interesting art.

Got some favorites to recommend? Please leave them in the comments!


*Spoiler: the answer is 42.