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.

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

The Sabbath of Water

In my Wheel of the Year, the cross-quarter which lands around the beginning of February is Riverain: the Feast of Water.

That’s because where I live, in Northern California with its Mediterranean climate, that time of year is the heaviest with rainfall. The mountains grow emerald green with winter grass, the creeks gush, filled to their banks, and the wetland areas fill into lakes.

However, we’ve been in a drought for the past five years. Last year, we had a few good storms before the New Year, and then the sky shut off like a tap. Riverain rolled around and the hills were still a sickly yellow, the reservoirs were empty, the creek beds dry. Every year I would pour a libation of saved stormwater and call to the sky for rain, but in those years, it didn’t come.

At last, this year, with the powerful El Niño current driving tropical moisture across the Pacific, we seem to be seeing a normal—at least—year of rainfall. And so this year’s festival is a particularly happy one.

For many years, it was my tradition on the weekend closest to Feb. 2 to go for a nice, wet hike in the rain. I love the cozy feeling of huddling in my rain gear, breath pluming before me, squishing up the muddy trail as the lovely patter of water sounds on my hood. But in recent years there hasn’t been an opportunity; I’m hopeful that next weekend, it will be wet so I can reinvigorate the tradition.

Other traditions for Riverain can include a ritual bath, or even just sitting indoors and gazing out at the rain, perhaps with a warming drink in hand. Though the darkest days have now noticeably passed, these are still the coldest days of our Northern hemisphere’s year, and there is much to be said for celebrating the tiny fire of life kept safe from the magnificent, howling elements.

Depending on where you are, of course, this Sabbath may make no sense to you at all. As always, I encourage you to create your own, based in the cycles of the natural world where you are located.

Because of the long drought, I have been thinking quite a bit about what to do when the world is not being cooperative with the usual observances and expectations of a Sabbath. A couple of years ago, for example, the high temperature on Yule in my area was in the 70s Fahrenheit. It was shorts-and-tee-shirt weather, not huddling-indoors weather. And though I made my Yule observances, they felt awfully strange. Sitting outside in silence and darkness when the temperatures were still in the fifties just didn’t communicate the same sense of encountering-the-harsh-elements-of-winter that my silent Yule vigil usually does.

The tension there, I feel, is between maintaining traditions—something of great value in instilling rituals with power and continuity—and facing up to what is actually happening in the world in that particular year. I don’t have easy answers for how to bridge that gap, but I suspect it lies in changing the traditions just a little, to better suit the times.

For example, last year I could still have gone for a hike, but rather than having the hike be about the experience of being engulfed in water, it could have been in search of water. A hike to the ocean (I leave near the coast), for example, or to a lake, or even a hike through the mountains to a spring that I knew still to be producing. After all, the reality of that year was the desire for water; a quest for water made more sense than waiting around for a storm that never came. I could have made an offering at the spring, the lake, the ocean, with wishes for a return of the rains.

I’m also considering adding a new tradition this year: The Rain Baby. Rooted in some of the old Brighid holiday traditions, this involves soaking reeds in rain water and then weaving them into a small humanoid figure and allowing to dry. The Rain Baby signifies the newborn-babe point in the life cycle represented by the Wheel of the Year, and is literally steeped in the life-giving water that is (usually) so abundant at this time of year. The Rain Baby may be tucked up in a little bed on the Focus (altar), and will come out to play a bigger role at Summer’s End (beginning of August), when it is adorned with grain beards to become John Barleycorn, who is presides over the feast at Harvestide (autumnal equinox) and then is burned in the Hallows fire. And so the cycle goes again.

Adding new traditions like this lends richness, fun and meaning to an Atheopagan practice which is still—and probably always will be—evolving.

May your deep-winter holiday, however you name and celebrate it, be rich, joyous and meaningful. Stay warm!