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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Introducing SLOGG: The Winter Demi-Sabbath

January is a hard damned month for me.

There, I said it.

After the colorful lights and parties and presents and many festivities of Yule comes a dark, cold time when we all go back to work. No fun for us now: just trudging through the snow or freezing rain, in the dark, to and from our obligations. It’s the longest, most miserable month of the year.

Here where I live, in the wine country north of San Francisco, January is a time when the hills are green from whatever rain we’ve had thus far (not much yet, this year), and rain is typically common. We’ve had flooding in January in big rain years. This year, we have to worry about mudslides after the wildfires of 2017, too.

When it’s not raining, temperatures drop to freezing at night. Gardens and outdoor pipes must be protected; roads are slick and dangerous, and Californians don’t, by and large, know how to drive on them.

Elsewhere, of course, it’s one hell of a lot colder than that.

Up in the morning…in darkness, working the day, and then off home again…in darkness.

It’s demoralizing, to say the least. Unlike the run-up to Yule, which is similarly dark, the temperatures are lower and there’s not a bright, happy, sugar-and-alcohol fueled festivity waiting at the end. Just…well, February, and more dark and cold. And wet.

It is because of this that I have decided to declare (for myself, anyway) a “demi-sabbath” in January, which I am naming SLOGG. I’m celebrating Slogg on the third Saturday in January (or July, in the Southern Hemisphere), but if February is worse for you than January, by all means, have Slogg in February. It’s a moveable feast!

Slogg is the Feast of Forgetting: a time to put away all despair and gather with friends to play games, enjoy company, and drink glogg, or Swedish spiced wine*. It is also a good time for declaring New Year intentions, which are better than resolutions because an intention can’t be “broken”, merely fallen short of. And then attempted again.

Slogg is also a time for the Wearing of Festive Hats, the sillier the better.

I will be holding Slogg this year for the first time, and I encourage you to try it out. We need to keep our spirits up in times like these! If you have other ideas for Slogg, please list them in the comments.

 

*I figure that if anyone knows how to get through January, it’s probably the Swedes (I couldn’t find an Inuit recipe). If people are going to drink irresponsibly, be sure to have somewhere they can sleep over. If you’d prefer an alcohol-free event, hot apple cider with cinnamon and clove and nutmeg is warming and festive.

After the Fire

It isn’t really over, of course.

Two dozen have lost their lives. Thousands are without homes, their possessions rendered to gray ashes. The most vulnerable among them–renters, the uninsured–will almost certainly flee our expensive region, despite admirable community efforts to raise funds to support them. The acrid smell of burned lives lingers in the air, and driving past the devastation is still like a bad dream. On and on it goes: the gray, burned wreckage, the burned-out cars.

That said, people are getting on with it, as they must. The ground floor of our local daily newspaper has been let out as a disaster center with representatives of dozens of government agencies available to help, and insurance companies have set up tents in the parking lot where people can file and follow up on their claims. It’s a remarkable effort and those who organized it should be proud.

As things go, I was impacted only marginally. Other than a frightening last-minute evacuation with our cat and what we could carry, and a week away from home, we suffered little. Our loss was some out-of-pocket expenses and a refrigerator full of food, and our insurance covered even those.

In our back yard, two palm-sized embers of burning roof shingles landed, and burned themselves out. If I hadn’t whacked the weeds, if they had landed a little closer to the house, things would be very different.

But they weren’t. So I have no excuse, really.

Yet since the fires, I have been in a sort of daze. My sleep is still heavily disturbed and I don’t leave the house much. Work on the Atheopaganism book I began to outline has stalled for the moment; I can’t seem to focus on it.

I think I am still in some kind of shock.

I turn to my spirituality at such times: to the perspective and wisdom I find in the natural world and the values, principles and practices of Atheopaganism. But even that has seemed removed, far away. I couldn’t bring myself to light candles on my Focus for a period of more than a week, just not wanting to deal with or traffic in fire. So it sat cold and dark in the evenings when usually it has a merry glow; I added extra water as the fires still burned, but without light it seemed lifeless (I prefer not to use electric lights on my Focus, personally).

Similarly, any inspiration for writing for this site was stymied by the dark fog blurring my mind. I racked my brain and simply couldn’t find anything worth saying. And one day passed into another, and national news began to creep in around the edges of the all-encompassing and never-ending updates about the fires and their aftermath. None of which helped, of course.

A disaster is a community event. Every victim is an individual, of course, with a unique story, but it is something we also all go through together. Thousands here are mourning loved ones and pets and baby pictures and prized possessions and home; collectively, we are swept up in something larger than ourselves and our individual experiences.

Hallows will be particularly poignant for me this year. I attended a Reclaiming Samhain ritual last weekend, and of course there was much talk about the fires, but somehow, not enough, for me. Something was missing, some cathartic piece about the grief that was never really reached. I hope my circle gathering will provide that.

In any case, I’ve made myself sit down and write in an effort to break this spell. To renormalize being at the keyboard and in author’s mode. If this piece has relatively little to do with Atheopaganism, I’m sorry, but this is how I get back to creating content for the site again. Our religion is nothing if not personal; this is where I am.

May those who have been injured by these fires heal and be made whole. May all remembered losses be honored. May this community reknit stronger and happier than before. May the sacred land re-green with winter rains, and bring the heartbreaking beauty back.