Balance at the Fulcrum of the Year

Let’s just say, circumstances don’t make these great times for perception of balance.

It would be lovely to believe that darkness and light in the world are muddling along roughly in equal proportions at the moment. But that would feel like a big step forward, now. While I sincerely hope the circumstances of your individual life are fantastic, that isn’t what I’m hearing from friends and colleagues. I’m hearing fear, and anger, and a sense of powerlessness to do anything about them. And I’m feeling much the same.

And that makes the Sabbath of Harvest all the more important. Because even when things are really tough, there are countless blessings we enjoy, and we need to pay attention to them. We need to turn around and look, recognizing that those things we may take for granted are not owed to us, that they are precious gifts worth acknowledging, celebrating.

A Harvest feast is a great time for toasting achievements and blessings. For speaking out loud that—all else notwithstanding—we are grateful for what the world pours out for us.

And at this time of year, it’s good to keep this in mind. Yes, we are going into the darker part of the year. Winter is coming, and darkness reigns now in many ways. But en route, there will be the glorious Autumn. There will be the camaraderie and warmth and joy of Yule.

To hold these together in the mind; to not tip over into exaggeration of either how terrible nor how great things are. This is the practice at this time.

As the Five of Cups tells us in the Tarot:  Yes, cups of precious nectar have spilled. Their contents are forever lost.

But remember to turn around and look at what remains.

A happy—yes, truly happy—Harvest to each of you. May this autumnal equinox mark the beginning of more gratitude: more joy.

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Let’s Talk Harvest!

Harvest—the autumnal equinox, which takes place this year on Friday, September 22—marks a time for celebration and culmination, for reflection on the shortening days and on the balance between light and warmth and cold and darkness. It is an opportunity for us to consider how our plans have worked out, and to bask in the satisfaction of those which have led to positive results. And it is a moment for gathering of families and communities to celebrate the abundance we enjoy, focusing on the positives in our lives.

Harvest is a reckoning, too. Some things we plant just don’t come up, or if they do, they are stunted and useless. Hallows will be the time to turn those failed experiments into the ground, but Harvest is a time for acknowledging them, and taking note for next year’s planting.

The classic Harvest celebration is a communal feast: perhaps a potluck using local produce, or a meal you offer to your family, friends and/or community in your home. Harvest is “Pagan Thanksgiving”: a time to enjoy and reflect on the wonder, the extraordinary magic by which food just arises from the Earth, delicious and sustaining, and on our great good fortune to enjoy it. Even if you celebrate by yourself, eat well that day, and pause to savor the flavors and nutrition, understanding how blessed you are simply to have good and adequate food in your life.

My usual food blessing is this: This food, arisen from the body of the generous Earth by the power of the mighty Sun, comes to us by many hands. May all be honored and blessed. The unison response is, We are grateful to eat today. 

But it’s a special occasion, so you may also want to include some words of gratitude for family and community as well.

It’s a time for generosity. Take some food into work, and share it. Volunteer at a local food pantry or homeless shelter. Be the giver of food, which is the giver of life.

Here’s a delicious and easy recipe for caprese salad that carries all the freshness and aliveness I associate with the season: a perfect dish for that Harvest meal.

Caprese Salad

Start with the best heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil leaves available. Arrange these in layers on a plate. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with the best available olive oil and balsamic vinegar (not too much vinegar, just a light drizzle), and serve.

Share your favorite recipes in the comments!

Summer’s End, New Beginnings

The “cross-quarter” Sabbath between Midsummer (the solstice) and Harvest (the autumnal equinox) is a bit of a stepchild Sabbath for many Pagans. This is High Vacation Season, and many are off on adventures or otherwise occupied with the social season of summer. Not only that, but it marks the beginning of the autumn season, and in most places, that just doesn’t square with what is actually happening.

Here, I detect the signs of Summer’s End at this time, but they are subtle. Blackberries have ripened, ready for cobbler and pie and all the wonderful things. The climate is firmly in the fog/heat cycle of coastal California: hot days which persist until the low-pressure zone formed by heat inland draws the cool, moist air in from the ocean, at which point we have foggy mornings which burn off to perfect, temperate afternoons. Acorns and grapes are ripening, but not quite ready, yet; they will be when Harvest rolls around. But the seedtops are full in the hay meadows, and they are being mowed and bailed now.

And there is something in the angle of the light, in the hard blue of the skies that says to me the days are shortening, the darkness is coming. It is no longer June.

Sometimes, I like to celebrate this harvest traditionally, by making bread, or perhaps creating a “Corn Man” of woven grain stalks or corn husks which can preside over the Summer’s End ritual and be saved for burning in the Hallows fire.

This year, I prefer a very special kind of First Harvest.

Since 2010, I have been sowing and tending seeds in the form of the Atheopagan community. Developing my thinking about religion and Paganism, writing my essay, launching the blog and Facebook group, presenting at Pantheacon have all been steps towards building a viable, well-resourced community of nontheist celebrants of the glorious Cosmos and generous Earth.

So this year, my Summer’s End will be something’s beginning: the first in-person gathering specifically for nontheist Pagans. Moon Meet.

It’ll be small. Beginnings usually are. I’m not worried about that; I think it’s much more important that it be heartfelt and joyful and creative and fun. Those are my targets for the event and I’m confident we will attain them.

Summer’s End in northern California is, like every Sabbath, also a beginning: a beginning of a season of hot days, the grape harvest, abundant vegetables, inevitable wildfires, and growing darkness. And for me, this year—hopefully, for our broader community and movement—a beginning of a new chapter in our evolution.

I can’t wait!