Seize the (Unusual) Day!

Recently, I posted about customizing your own Atheopagan Wheel of the Year creating a cycle of observances of the equinoxes, solstices and points between as an 8-holiday cycle of rituals and traditions.

However, I believe there are more holidays (“holy days”) than just these. Those on the Wheel are the ones we can predict will come every year, but there are also unusual and amazing phenomena that come along once in a very great while which we should also take time out to celebrate.

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Here where I live in Northern California, for example, thunder and lightning are almost unheard of. They require a combination of precipitation and heat that we just don’t see here very often*: typically, heat is during the dry season, and precipitation during the cold season.

So when we get a forecast with a strong likelihood of lightning, if at all possible I free up some time and drive for high ground where I can watch it come down. Likewise with snowfall (very rare): up early to see it come down (it is almost always at night or in the early hours of the morning).

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These kinds of phenomena are rare and wonderful. We should definitely declare a “holy day” when we can, and take the time to celebrate them.

In some desert areas, there are spectacular wildflower blooms after particularly wet winters. In the mountains, temporary waterfalls are created by spring snowmelt. Lunar and (especially) solar eclipses; meteor showers; comets, auroras, bird migrations, autumn foliage…there are marvels that come around us, and not too infrequently. We must not be “too busy” with quotidian affairs to experience them.

Oh, and Fridays the 13th. Just because.

We are people who celebrate the Earth and Cosmos: let’s go see those things!

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*Although with climate change, this is changing. In recent years, we have had one or two instances of lightning storms every summer. Nothing like what is seen in the Southwestern or eastern US, but remarkable for here.

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Creating Your Own Wheel of the Year

In Atheopaganism,  similar to many other Pagan paths, we celebrate eight Sabbaths, or holy days: the solar equinoxes and solstices, and the points between them. But I encourage folks to adapt this calendar to fit the circumstances of the places where we live, choosing our own names and meanings for these holidays as necessary.

Why your own? Because we all live in different climates, and the traditional Pagan/Wiccan Wheel doesn’t really reflect any except that of England and places with similar seasonal cycles. Ours is an Earth religion, and connectedness to our local seasonal cycles is essential: our celebrations should reflect the land on which we live, not somewhere else.

I live in coastal Northern California, where we have a “Mediterranean” climate cycle: rain in the winter and completely dry in the summer. Snow is rare and even when we get it, it is usually just a dusting on the mountaintops after a particularly cold winter night.

So I have created my own cycle of holidays, still using the equinoxes, solstices, and points-between dates, but changing up the meanings and rituals somewhat to reflect this land and its seasons. I have renamed many of the Sabbaths from their common Celtic names, because I don’t personally relate to that culture or history.

I can imagine a wide range of Wheels of the Year for different climates: for example, in the Southwestern U.S., where the tail ends of hurricanes bring spectacular thunderstorms in August, I could see the Aug. 1 holiday being a rain Sabbath, or a Festival of Lightning. And in the tropics, of course, the Sabbaths may be totally different and mark the cycles of monsoon seasons.

Recently, Jon Cleland Host published a synopsis of his holidays and their associations over at Humanistic Paganism. It’s a good idea, so below, using an adaptation of Jon’s “cheat sheet” format, is my Wheel of the Year (note: I don’t use Jon’s concept of the midpoint Sabbaths as “Thermistices” and “Equitherms” because the climate where I live doesn’t really work that way).

Note that Sabbath names are live links to all articles on the site about that Sabbath; there are also a few other links to craft projects or ritual articles in the table.

DATE NAME ASSOCIATIONS RITUALS
Winter Solstice (~ Dec. 21) Yule The Festival of Light; birth of the New Sun; beginning of the year; family and community. Yule Tree; Yule Log; lights, presents; stockings; watching Hogfather; singing carols
Midpoint

(~ Feb. 1)

Riverain The Festival of Water and beginning of Spring (first wildflowers appear) Sowing seeds; planning for the coming year; Rain Baby (corn dolly); rain hike; spring cleaning, Spring Fast
Spring Equinox (~ March 21) High Spring The Festival of Childhood, innocence, playfulness, lightness. Dyeing eggs; childhood games; focus on children in ritual; bright, childlike colors
Midpoint

(~ May 1)

May Day The Festival of Adulthood, sexuality, beginning of Summer Maypole; sexy/flirty games; May wine; rites of passage into adulthood
Summer Solstice (~ June 21) Midsummer The Festival of Enjoyment, relaxation, leisure, the long warm evenings, flitting about in the woods like fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream Have a party—preferably in the woods! Relax and enjoy life. Perhaps a trip to the beach. Rebuild Sun broom.
Midpoint

(~Aug. 1)

Summer’s End The Festival of Work and Craft; grain harvest, brewing, John Barleycorn, breadmaking, end of the fog cycle and beginning of Autumn and the hottest part of the year Bake bread; pick wild blackberries; brew beer or Yule mead; handcrafts
Autumnal Equinox (~ September 21) Harvest The Harvest, the grape crush, wine, feasting, completion of efforts Harvest feast with lots of wine!
Midpoint (~Nov. 6) Hallows The Festival of Death, mortality and morbidity, remembrance of Honored Dead, ancestry, beginning of Winter Hallows ritual; divination; burn the Rain Baby in the Hallows fire; light the Hallows fire with yew branch gathered from cemetery the year before; carve pumpkins

I invite you to do the same! Here is a link to a blank version of this template, so you can create your own.

I envision a time when Atheopagans who meet one another from different parts of the world might exchange information about the Sabbaths they observe, just as other Pagans share their tradition or path with one another. Each land is different, and we who live there are informed by the seasons we experience: let’s get connected to our local Earth cycles and celebrate!

How’s that Maypole Thing Work?

Merry May! I thought I’d write a post about Maypoles because many people want to do Maypole rituals for May Day but don’t know the details. So here goes…

First, you’re going to need a pole at least 12′ long and 5″ in diameter. These dimensions are important: you need to embed at least 18″ of the pole in the ground in order for it to be stable during the Maypole dance, and a pole of any narrower diameter will take FOREVER for the ribbons to be wrapped on the pole. Think about it: if every turn around the pole is only taking up a few inches of ribbon, you’ll be going around that pole for a long, long time before you’ve used up the long ribbons you’re dancing with.

Next, you need a location. Level, preferably grass or comfortably springy soil, and available for digging a hole. The area you need depends on the number of dancers you hope to accommodate, but it should be at least 30′ across to accommodate dancers, musicians and those watching but not dancing.

There are multiple ways to do the next part, but I make a flower crown for the Maypole out of baling wire. This crown goes over the top of the pole and held firmly in place there, and is decorated with flowers (florists’ wire is helpful for affixing the flowers to the wire structure). This is often a group activity before the Maypole dance. The ribbons—one for each dancer, about 15′-20′ long—are tied onto the flower crown at the hub (next to the pole). See the photograph above, which is of our 2015 Maypole.

Affix the flower crown to the pole and then dig an 18″-2′ deep hole to receive the pole. Carefully tilt up the pole and put the opposite end from the flower crown in the ground, packing dirt all around it until it is firmly seated.

Now you should have your Maypole! With ribbons dangling down from the flower crown, and ready to be danced and wrapped up.

The Maypole dance is a very simple one: dancers are designated into two groups, each group established by alternating every other dancer standing in the circle around the pole (“A, B, A, B” etc.). The “A”s go clockwise around the pole; the “B”s go counterclockwise, so dancers start out in pairs facing one another, holding their ribbons. As they begin to go around the pole, when dancers pass each other, they raise and lower the hand holding the ribbon rhythmically to guide the ribbon over and then under the dancers they encounter, creating an “over…under…over…under” pattern that weaves the ribbons on the pole. As you dance, make eye contact with the dancers coming towards you, and smile!

Here is a YouTube video that illustrates the dance. Skip to 6:40.

There is quite a bit of traditional British music that is associated with dancing the Maypole. Live musicians are best, but barring that, I quite like the music of the New England ensemble Bare Necessities, from their album Take a Dance.

It is inevitable that while dancing the Maypole, there will be mistakes, and that is a part of the charm. This is a fun and joyous ritual activity, not an exercise in precision.

When the ribbons are mostly woven on the pole and there are only short ends left, blow a whistle to signal that everyone should now go clockwise and simply race around the pole with their ribbons, no longer going over and under. This will wind the ends of the ribbons about the pole and complete the Maypole dance.

All of the elements of the Maypole ritual can be augmented with additional ritual components. I have attended Maypole rituals where the men carried in the pole and anointed it with oil, for example, and women constructed the flower crown and dug the hole. Some may consider this exclusionary of genderfluid and nonbinary folks, however, so be sure you’re thinking through your choices in light of the group you will be working with.

In any event, experiment and make the Maypole ritual your own! While this is a tradition that goes back at least to the Middle Ages in Germanic and Scandinavian countries, it is a living tradition and you should feel free to put your own stamp on it.

A merry, merry May to all of you!