Balance at the Fulcrum of the Year

Let’s just say, circumstances don’t make these great times for perception of balance.

It would be lovely to believe that darkness and light in the world are muddling along roughly in equal proportions at the moment. But that would feel like a big step forward, now. While I sincerely hope the circumstances of your individual life are fantastic, that isn’t what I’m hearing from friends and colleagues. I’m hearing fear, and anger, and a sense of powerlessness to do anything about them. And I’m feeling much the same.

And that makes the Sabbath of Harvest all the more important. Because even when things are really tough, there are countless blessings we enjoy, and we need to pay attention to them. We need to turn around and look, recognizing that those things we may take for granted are not owed to us, that they are precious gifts worth acknowledging, celebrating.

A Harvest feast is a great time for toasting achievements and blessings. For speaking out loud that—all else notwithstanding—we are grateful for what the world pours out for us.

And at this time of year, it’s good to keep this in mind. Yes, we are going into the darker part of the year. Winter is coming, and darkness reigns now in many ways. But en route, there will be the glorious Autumn. There will be the camaraderie and warmth and joy of Yule.

To hold these together in the mind; to not tip over into exaggeration of either how terrible nor how great things are. This is the practice at this time.

As the Five of Cups tells us in the Tarot:  Yes, cups of precious nectar have spilled. Their contents are forever lost.

But remember to turn around and look at what remains.

A happy—yes, truly happy—Harvest to each of you. May this autumnal equinox mark the beginning of more gratitude: more joy.

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Fire Makes All the Difference

A guest post by Kaigi-Ron.

Fire makes all the difference.  I know this from two personal experiences – both of which didn’t have a fire the first night, but did on the second…and that one change transformed everyone and everything.

The first event occurred years ago, in another state.  We were going to share songs and stories around the campfire, as hominids have done for millennia…but that year, we were denied a permit for a fire in our campsite.  

Ever the innovators, we wove together a basket of branches, decorated it with strips of red cloth, and finished it off with a helpful sign that said “Fire”.  We all did our Pagan best to pretend it was a fire, really we did.  Some people tried to get into it, “warming” their hands in it.  But we all knew it wasn’t a real fire.  The bardic circle closed early, and we left to crawl into bed, feeling vaguely unfulfilled.

But the next night, we got an invitation from the American Indian tribe across the river – did we want to join them?   Oh My Goodness YES we said!  And it turned out They had a Fire Pit and They had a Permit and OMG we were going to actually have a FIRE!!

It was glorious: Shared food and drink, stories, drums, whistles, songs, masked dancers – everything we like…and it went on for hours.  This was what we came here for!

The scene roughly repeated itself at a more recent event.  The first night, we didn’t have all the equipment we needed to safely have a fire, so we didn’t.  While a small contingent of us ambled down to the fire pit late at night to have an Experience, it wasn’t quite the full experience.

It felt awkward and vaguely apologetic, like it was mostly just an acknowledgment that an experience was supposed to happen here.  As if we were acting out the words “Insert Genuine Pagan Feeling Here”.  Knowing that it wasn’t ever going to feel completely right…not that night, anyway.

But the next night, the rest of our fire equipment arrived!  We prepared eagerly for its coming, gathering tinder and clearing the debris around the fire pit.  We lit it with flint and steel, carefully placing the tiny glowing ember into the bird’s nest, then blowing on it to coax it into full life – Whoompsh!  It burst into a fireball and we placed it under the kindling…and in minutes, we had a roaring, vibrant FIRE!!

Again, it was glorious:  We shared our rituals, songs, stories, and dances all night long.  Just as our forebears have done since the day we first figured out how to control this beast.  A real, burning Fire of heat and light and smoke and ash – and real social connection.

Accept no substitutes!

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!