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.

Beginnings

Ask around in Pagan circles, and you’ll get disagreement about when the year actually begins.

Some say at Hallows (Samhain): the new year is birthed at the very moment of the death of the old.

Some say Yule, with the rebirth of the “baby Sun”.

And some—not many, but some—go with the calendar year, January 1.

I fall in the second camp. To me, the period between Death at Hallows and Birth at Yule is the time of decomposition and recomposition, of decay, uptake into existing life, and spinoff through pregnancy or seed production into new individuals. I wrote about this recently.

We have come to the time of year when endings have happened and Beginnings are before us. After a grueling year like 2020, they are more than welcome.

I don’t believe in “New Year’s resolutions”. The idea of a new initiative as something that disappears like a soap bubble if it is strayed from at all doesn’t make sense to me.

Real change is a keep-at-it affair. You’ll fail, and succeed, and fail again. But the trick is to keep working at it despite the failures.

So instead of a “resolution”, which is so frail that it is destroyed if it is varied from, I set a theme for the new year. Last year’s was THRIVE, which I managed to do, more or less, despite all the misery the year flung at us. And this year, it is GROW.

Grow is a powerful word for me because it implies both that there are places to grow—places where I can improve myself and my interactions with others—and that I am able to make these changes. That even at my age, evolution can and does take place.

Now, I will set some specific goals under that general theme, and work on them. But the theme is the Polar Star, the guiding principle that keeps me at work on becoming better, healthier, wiser, kinder. And I will revisit it each Sabbath to see how things are progressing.

The dawn of the new year is a time for reflection on what has taken place, what has been learned, what work there is yet to do. A good time for a nice hard look at our lives.

So I commend to you this idea of the “year theme”.

What’s a word or short phrase that moves you, makes you feel motivated and aspirational?

Yule: the Big Picture

Yule is of course a joyous time for celebrating love and family and the return of the Sacred Sun. But it also marks the end of the cycle of the year and the beginning of a new, and it is this I’d like to address today.

I often talk about the “arc” of the year instead of the Wheel of the Year, because in my conceptualization of how a human life maps metaphorically onto the year’s cycle, there is an important segment–the period between Hallows and Yule–which we never experience at all, because they are the time of Decomposition and Recomposition. They are what happens after we die, and before we are born.

Pagans often talk about the “rebirth” of life*, but let’s face it: in reality, life is never reborn. New generations of life spring from the remnants of the old (and dormant creatures like deciduous trees and bears and so forth wake up in the Spring, but they were never dead to begin with), and that’s not the same thing. A new generation is new life, not life reborn.

So I think a lot about the sacred Mystery of this time of the year, when I mark the amazing process by which the formerly alive are disassembled into component molecules, and then taken up for reassembly into new life in the bodies of life already established. The bacteria and fungi and insects and echinoderms and so forth that facilitate this magical change are often ignored or slighted, but without them we could not possibly be here: their service has enabled our existence.

So I think of this time as the time of decay and pregnancy; of the dismantling of the old and, from its remains, composition of the new. Arguably the greatest and most magnificent of Life’s many astounding and magical tricks: literal transformation of the dead into life.

So yes, deck those halls and light that tree and burn that log and bake those goodies, and hold your loved ones in your heart even if you can’t hold them to you this year, but spare a thought to the sheer wonder that is the making of new life.

When the baby Sun is born on the solstice it reminds us: the new is coming. But it always comes composed of the old, laden with history and memory, burning all the more brightly for the merry journeys it has taken through cycles and cycles of living on this so-blessed, so-remarkable little planet Earth.


* Though I have always suspected that this word figures in Pagan songs so much simply because it rhymes with “Earth”.

Image: “Yule King” by Michael Kerbow