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!

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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