Summer’s End, New Beginnings

The “cross-quarter” Sabbath between Midsummer (the solstice) and Harvest (the autumnal equinox) is a bit of a stepchild Sabbath for many Pagans. This is High Vacation Season, and many are off on adventures or otherwise occupied with the social season of summer. Not only that, but it marks the beginning of the autumn season, and in most places, that just doesn’t square with what is actually happening.

Here, I detect the signs of Summer’s End at this time, but they are subtle. Blackberries have ripened, ready for cobbler and pie and all the wonderful things. The climate is firmly in the fog/heat cycle of coastal California: hot days which persist until the low-pressure zone formed by heat inland draws the cool, moist air in from the ocean, at which point we have foggy mornings which burn off to perfect, temperate afternoons. Acorns and grapes are ripening, but not quite ready, yet; they will be when Harvest rolls around. But the seedtops are full in the hay meadows, and they are being mowed and bailed now.

And there is something in the angle of the light, in the hard blue of the skies that says to me the days are shortening, the darkness is coming. It is no longer June.

Sometimes, I like to celebrate this harvest traditionally, by making bread, or perhaps creating a “Corn Man” of woven grain stalks or corn husks which can preside over the Summer’s End ritual and be saved for burning in the Hallows fire.

This year, I prefer a very special kind of First Harvest.

Since 2010, I have been sowing and tending seeds in the form of the Atheopagan community. Developing my thinking about religion and Paganism, writing my essay, launching the blog and Facebook group, presenting at Pantheacon have all been steps towards building a viable, well-resourced community of nontheist celebrants of the glorious Cosmos and generous Earth.

So this year, my Summer’s End will be something’s beginning: the first in-person gathering specifically for nontheist Pagans. Moon Meet.

It’ll be small. Beginnings usually are. I’m not worried about that; I think it’s much more important that it be heartfelt and joyful and creative and fun. Those are my targets for the event and I’m confident we will attain them.

Summer’s End in northern California is, like every Sabbath, also a beginning: a beginning of a season of hot days, the grape harvest, abundant vegetables, inevitable wildfires, and growing darkness. And for me, this year—hopefully, for our broader community and movement—a beginning of a new chapter in our evolution.

I can’t wait!

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Pantheacon 2017 and a Growing Community

You know all those friends you have on Facebook who are really dear to you, but you never see?

Imagine if there were a place you could go, once a year, where hundreds of them showed up at once.

A place full of interesting conversations, and great parties, and meaningful rituals, where hugs abound and laughter is in the air. Real love. Real talk. Real people.

That’s Pantheacon, the largest gathering of Pagans in North America. Every year, 1,800-2,500 Wiccans, Wicans, Witches, Heathens, Devotional Polytheists, Animists, Pantheists, and Atheopagans attend.

This year’s was particularly sweet. The conference itself ran smoothly, with little drama. I work as volunteer staff, and everyone seemed in a good mood.

John Halstead and I had two events accepted as presentations this year: a discussion group on non-theist Paganism, and a ritual, the Living Earth Devotional. Additionally, I threw a non-theist Pagan mixer after the discussion group. All went splendidly!

The discussion group, “Dancing Without Divinity”, was attended by about 50 participants (fortunately, in a much larger room than we had last year). We had an excellent conversation, sharing experiences of being non-theists (Atheopagans, agnostic Pagans, and those for whom the question of whether or not there are gods is unimportant) in the broader Pagan community, and discussing the relative merits of ecstatic experience versus contemplative experience as the goals of rituals.

The mixer afterwards, generously hosted by the Spark Collective‘s hospitality suite, gave some of the discussion participants a chance for more informal conversations, and went on for more than an hour. I met some new friends and reconnected with others I hadn’t seen since last year’s discussion panel.

On Saturday night, John and Ruth Halstead and Venee Lotusfire and I co-led the Living Earth Devotional, a ritual of dedication to service to the Earth. It culminated in a Knighting ceremony wherein those who chose to take the oath were sworn as Knights of the Earth. It was genuinely moving, and feedback was affirming and heartwarming. My co-leaders did a fantastic job; it was a real pleasure working with them.

At several points during Pantheacon, I found myself having The Conversation with excited and grateful (and in one case, genuinely spiritually confused and questioning) attendees who were thrilled to have confirmed that they were not alone, that it is perfectly normal and okay to be an Atheopagan. That we exist.

We’re still at that point, as a movement that is a subculture of a subculture. But that’s okay: things have already changed a lot. Whereas in 2015 we had no events on the schedule at PCon and there was a lively debate in the Pagan blogosphere over whether we were really Pagans or not, now we are represented as just another flavor of our diverse community, and most appear to have accepted that we’re in the big tent like everyone else.

Religious naturalism is on the rise. Various traditions of it from naturalistic Buddhism to Atheopaganism are becoming more popular and more visible all over the world, just as we are becoming more recognized and respected in venues like Pantheacon.

And why not? The natural world is awesome.

Like the time I had at Pantheacon this year. And the people I spent it with.

The Wheel Turns

The days are a bit longer now.

The area where I live has been beset by storm after  blessed storm, so-called “atmospheric rivers” pouring onshore to deluge the parched land of California. We smile beneath our rain hoods and grumble cheerfully about knotted traffic. And despite the dark, pendulous clouds, it is palpable: the days grow longer. It isn’t December any more.

Meanwhile, of course, the greater Darkness we knew was coming after November 8 is now manifesting itself. The petulant toddler we have elected is swinging a wrecking ball in every direction, cheerfully making a mess of all that is decent. This will continue.

The wheels are turning: astronomical forces beyond our control swinging the Northern Hemisphere slowly back into warmth and light, into fecundity and bursting birth and life and death again; the human cycle of history, currently grinding underfoot what is decent and kind and life-affirming.

How do we countenance such paradox? How bear such juxtaposition?

On the one hand, we must, of course, resist. As millions who marched this past weekend have, we must stand up and say that the ugliness of Trumpism is not ours, nor our vision for our world. We must inventory our strengths, take up our available weapons, and fight. This is not a time for mediation and understanding and conciliation, for what confronts us is nihilism and brutality: it has no human heart. It is the time for those of us who can to be heroes: to take up our swords and ride.

On the other, it is a time to survive. The winter is growing old, and if nothing else, the simple fact of lengthening days means that we are succeeding in meeting the challenge of Winter’s yearly Death.

It is a particularly cold and hostile one, and it will last at least four years. We must gather our loved ones close, draw about us the resources we cannot do without. We must hide if we are targeted and do not have what it takes to stand tall. We must make common cause so we cannot be easily disappeared. We must be heroes if we can, but more importantly, we must survive, for it is we who will tell the story of how we defeated fascism when it came to America. It is we who will be The Resistance.

It is we who will see the Spring come again. As Pagans, we must believe, despite what is before our eyes, that the bloom of life and love and kindness will come again, however dark the winter may get.

Some of us will not make it. Some will be martyrs. Some will be victims. As it has always been with winter, some simply will not hold out until Spring. Those of us who do not have privilege will be more at risk than those of us who do, and it is therefore even more our obligation to fight for our comrades who do not enjoy it.

But we are Atheopagans. We are clear-eyed in looking at the world. We do not kid ourselves. This is going to be hard, and there will be suffering.

But we will survive. Our values will survive.

Spring is coming. The cross-quarter Sabbath of the beginning of February, which I celebrate as Riverain, the Festival of Water, but many others call Imbolc or Brighid, is nearly upon us.

It is time to nurture the flame. To ready our tools. To plan our strategies. To envision what will grow in the coming season.

To take oaths of service to what we love.

Each of us will do so in their own way. And ours is not to judge how another chooses to proceed.

But each of us can swear to fight as we can. Each of us can commit to something that contributes to the return of Spring.

If you are coming to Pantheacon, I invite you to join us for the Earth Devotional ritual on Saturday night. It will provide you an opportunity to swear an oath to the Earth—to solemnly, formally join The Resistance with love, determination and Will.

If not, perhaps this can be a part of your Sabbath rites this Imbolc.

Because we need you.

Planet Earth itself, and so many of her vulnerable humans, needs you now.

Photo credit: Susan Seasons