An Atheopagan Life–High Spring and the Renewal of the World

Here at the end of February, it is finally obvious that the Sun is coming back. The sunset has pushed back a full hour, and there is still light in the sky at 6:30.

The drought hasn’t left us here in California this year, despite some encouraging storms early on. The mild winter has meant that already daffodils and narcissus bloom, and fruit trees burst into color. Willows budded out along the creeks in January. Such beauty is tainted by what it portends—a planet warming, and fast—but it’s lovely to be able to sit outside again comfortably, to breathe the sexy perfume of the young spring flowers.

We have come around again to the time of renewal.

My wheel of the year terms the Vernal Equinox “High Spring”, as it is the climax of the resurgent green Earth of my region; after Beltane, the lush grasses of the hills will begin to fade to the tawny gold they wear all summer and fall. It is a time of hopefulness and new energy, of youthful enterprise and industry.

It is a time for believing that this time, we have a chance to do it better.

The Spring Sabbath has always been a challenge for me. It is a time for celebrating the innocence of childhood…but mine, regrettably, didn’t have much of that. It asks me to trust, to hope, to embrace with enthusiasm, to laugh from the belly. With the world as it is, those things can be hard to do.

Yet here: hyacinth is blooming with heady scent. Here: each camellia is perfect; plum trees are clouds of pink. Warmer, longer days say winter is past. And last weekend I found myself scurrying around the halls of Pantheacon with a giggling 13-month old, having a great time.

Put it down, Mark. Put it down for awhile, and be light. Be happy.

High Spring is a time to remember that no matter what the circumstances, there is always opportunity for joy, for the appreciation of beauty. That there is always something to inspire with childlike wonder. That there is always a new chance to try again. And if anything, that efforts carried forward with joy are far more likely to succeed than those conducted with a wintry weariness.

So speaks High Spring to me. It says, have a light heart, and try again.

We have Atheopagan traditions for this Sabbath. We invite friends and their children over to dye eggs (we use Ukrainian psanky dyes, which are incredibly concentrated and vivid), and then hold a short ritual in which we plant wildflower seeds in tiny pots, making wishes for the coming growth cycle. Also, there is Easter candy to go with the eggs, in baskets filled with real grass; the ritual leader skips around the circle, casting Jelly Bellies and dark chocolate kisses into participants’ baskets.

And then we play children’s board games, like Mousetrap and Candyland. I like to serve sparkling wine, too—there’s something springy about it to me. Not to the children, of course.

High Spring tells us to be of good cheer, for there is hope. Life is returning, and wondrous things yet wait beneath the ground unseen.

Spring Laughs

It begins with a giggle:

The tiniest white tendril reaching from the secret soil

Like a child’s laugh, the purr of a cat and then

Raising, greening leaves peal across the meadows,

Carpet even what was once severe, sere,

Frowning brown in summer’s dry thatch,

A deep belly rumble of soaring chlorophyll

Spreading wanton leaves, dangling perfumed sex

Climbing to nod and wave come and get me,

These meadows,

Brazen to the skip of children gathering posies

Bees lumbering slow in the crisp morning air

You, and I, perhaps, gone down to the stream

To lay down in that place, screened by waving rye

And the laughter of the stream gurgling out like a baby’s delight

Playing with our playthings as we do, exploring

The whole world green and gripped with the howl of it:

Spring come at last.

Originally published at Humanistic Paganism

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The Spring Fast

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.