The Moment of Brightening

There comes a time in the winter when, finally, you realize: the days aren’t so short any longer.

That point may coincide with the first sprouts of Spring peeking up from the ground, or the first buds on the trees. Or not: maybe it’s just snowing and freezing and wintering like hell, and Spring seems the farthest thing from possible.

Still, the light is growing. It’s not December any longer.

That brightening (thanks to Kendra Hicks of the Facebook Atheopaganism group for this term for the season) is the entire point of the seasonal Sabbath that is upon us now.

It goes by many names, and that is apt, because how we experience it varies so much by climate. Wiccans call it Imbolc or Brighid, after the Irish goddess and Christian saint; many Atheopagans develop their own names for it–mine is Riverain, the Festival of Water, because February typically marks the heaviest rainfall of the year where I live. True to form, we expect rain for most of the next week.

To me, this Sabbath marks the beginning of Spring–however tenuous, however wild the weather. For the light is definitely returning now, and where I am, daffodils and milk maids have made their appearances.

In Atheopaganism, we encourage people to adapt the “Wheel of the Year” of holidays to specific meanings that are consistent with the rhythms and cycles of the climate where the practitioner lives. So it is fine that my Riverain isn’t the same as someone else’s Brightening, or Imbolc, or Brighid. What is important is that they are gateways into deeper relationship with the Earth. 

When Atheopagans from different climates meet, they may well ask one another, “How do you celebrate your Sabbaths?” And that will open into a conversation about land and water and sky and creatures, and those will tell the stories of the places we come from.

So enjoy the season of brightening. Celebrate it as it seems most apt to you, be it by casting seeds upon the snow, or taking a hike in the rain, or crafting a Rain Baby to go through the cycle of the growing year with you.

In my Riverain ritual this year, we poured rainwater to splash and dance in a silver chalice, and recalled the age-old association of this time with the hearth and with repair and sharpening of agricultural tools by striking a small sledge hammer on an anvil. With every rich clannngggg of the hammer, I felt echoes going back through time, to days when we were better connected to the cycles of the Earth because we were so much more vulnerable to them in our daily lives.

And then we sang, because singing together is always a good and bonding and energy-building thing. It feels good. It helps to make a ritual powerful. We passed clear rainwater to sip and followed it with rich red wine.

We were together, contemplating the abundant, giving Earth, and giving thanks.

May you also enjoy meaningful and pleasurable observances of the season with those you love!

 

 

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The Ritual Cycle of the Rain Baby: An Example

So, last year I wrote about a new tradition for Riverain, the Water Sabbath, which is how I celebrate the holiday that falls between the Winter Solstice (Yule) and the Spring Equinox (High Spring). Riverain comes at the height of the wet season in California’s Mediterranean climate, when the hills are green and the creeks and rivers are running high.

Riverain is an example of my firm belief that the Sabbaths (holidays) we celebrate around the Wheel of the Year should be rooted in the actual climate, culture, growth cycles, and land where we live, rather than reflecting some other culture or place in the world. The traditional Pagan holiday at the time of Riverain, Imbolc, is a Celtic-named time the traditions of which include “casting seeds upon the snow”; this has no relevance to me in California (if it does for you, of course, that’s great–go ahead and celebrate it!)

So this new tradition—the weaving of a Rain Baby, a corn-husk doll that represents the cycle of water through the year—started last year but I am fleshing out how it plays out through the year now.

The Rain Baby is born (crafted) at Riverain, and kept on the household Focus.

The Baby is a child/toddler at High Spring (the vernal equinox), and presides over the childlike games and festivities of that Sabbath.

The Rain Baby becomes an adolescent at May Day, and is not involved in the celebration of that adult Sabbath. The Rain Baby may be kept on the May Day Focus, but should be shrouded in fabric so they cannot watch the adult, sexual aspects of May Day.

The Rain Baby emerges from this “cocoon” of social shielding as an adult on Midsummer, ready to do their work as the Bringer of the Harvest. The Rain Baby presides over the Focuses of Midsummer and Harvest. Also at Harvest, we gather the corn shucks which will be used to make the Rain Baby of the next cycle.

At Hallows, after the harvests are all done, the Rain Baby is burned in the Hallows fire, to go back up into the sky and fall as rain for the next cycle.

The Rain Baby is a cycle of observances that adds another layer to the Wheel of the Year, lending meaning and tradition to my annual celebrations. I encourage each of you to think about how you can layer practices and meaningful traditions into your own annual cycle of celebrations. Have fun with it!

Reflections on a Rainy Day

Thankfully, it appears California has dodged drought conditions this winter. Heavy streams of moisture-laden tropical air have been pouring over us, delivering the life-giving blessing of water.

It is indeed the season I celebrate as Riverain, historically the wettest time of year around here, and in the squishy sodden turf and puddles and lovely pouring wetness I see blessing and joy. How crisp and clean the air is! How cozy to duck indoors as it steadily falls!

Elsewhere, of course, it is still dry, even in parts of California. Or buried under snow, which is its own deep and mysterious magic. But I was born and spent my first years in a place where water from the sky was so rare as to be miraculous, and I have never wavered from my delight in it.

Some might think it odd, that pouring rain should cheer me up in the face of increasingly dark national and international news, of the prospect that the sixth Great Extinction is upon us…of our own doing and due to our own damnable cleverness.

Still, something must. We must awaken each day, take a breath and go forward, and there is nothing like the great inspiration of Nature and its magnificent phenomena to stir the heart, to bring the sense that ahhh…this is Life.

I’ve seen many rainbows recently. Crepuscular rays like the announcement of a god, angling down through stormy clouds; the Moon, steadily growing now, ringed with rainbow haloes in a Wuthering Heights sky.

Is it “enough”? I don’t know. But it brings little moments of happiness, and it is little moments of happiness that feed us enough to carry on despite the harshness of some of our circumstances.

I have struggles and challenges, and I live with fear. But these little moments say to me, Life is worth it. They say that despite struggles, despite trepidations, despite obstacles and disappointments and unfulfilled desires, this is a world worth being in, worth fighting for.

The rain pours a libation on me, and I am clean.