Coming Up Dry for the Festival of Water

In my Wheel of the Year, the February Sabbath is Riverain, the Festival of Water.

This is because ordinarily, it rains torrentially in late January and into February in my region. The hills grow emerald with new grasses and the creeks swell and thunder. It is a beautiful time, the time of burgeoning life.

But then there are years like this.

It was 73 degrees F. here (nearly 23 Celsius) today. In mid-January. There is but a shower or two in the forecast for the next two weeks.

On the day after SLOGG, no less!

It’s about two weeks until the February Sabbath—roughly the midpoint between Yule and High Springand what shall I celebrate? What can it mean, when the skies are dry and the world is hotter than ever and all the usual metaphors and symbols for this lovely liquid time are hardly relevant?

There is, of course, the other metaphorical overlay I apply to the calender’s cycle: the arc of a human life.

As Yule is birth and new beginnings, Riverain has been for me the Sabbath of young childhood: infancy and toddling. The very early stages of growth, of the first hints of new plans and potential.

This year, of course, it will mark the beginning of a new government in the United States: one actually administered by adults of good will and care for the public interest.

So there is that to celebrate, at least.

Presuming it happens. With chaos and fear so present in the realm of governance right now, I can’t help but feel nervous about the whole thing.

I just wish it would rain.

The February Sabbath

The February Sabbath always seems a bit elusive to me. I don’t believe in the goddess Brighid, who is often celebrated at this time, and I don’t live somewhere where first, small indications of spring are appearing.

No, I’m in coastal Northern California, and here in this Mediterranean climate it is wet and the mountains are a beautiful emerald green at the height of its intensity. That green will transform to gold in May as the grasses go to seed, so this is a lovely and fragile moment.

So while snowdrops are indeed blooming here, soon too will be crocus and daffodils and milk maids. And they aren’t coming up through snow.

And so I title this station in the Wheel of the Year Riverain, the Festival of Water. A time for celebration of that substance so essential for life, in its many aspects as sustainer, cleanser, bringer forth of the original Life on Earth.

Still, most notable and important at this time of year is the brightening: the days are noticeably longer, and though there is a lot of cold and weather yet ahead of us, the true depth of winter has passed. Light is returning.

Historically, this has been a time for belt-tightening and preparation for the new agricultural cycle: repairing and sharpening tools, “spring cleaning”, and fasts as the food supply dwindles. It is still a good time for planning for the coming year, cleaning house, and experiencing some want.

Tomorrow, my circle, Dark Sun, will convene to celebrate the season. I am so grateful for this practice, for feeling more connected with the seasons and the Earth through these ritual observances.

However you celebrate the February Sabbath, I wish you a joyous one, with happy prospects for the coming year!

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!