The February Sabbath

The February Sabbath always seems a bit elusive to me. I don’t believe in the goddess Brighid, who is often celebrated at this time, and I don’t live somewhere where first, small indications of spring are appearing.

No, I’m in coastal Northern California, and here in this Mediterranean climate it is wet and the mountains are a beautiful emerald green at the height of its intensity. That green will transform to gold in May as the grasses go to seed, so this is a lovely and fragile moment.

So while snowdrops are indeed blooming here, soon too will be crocus and daffodils and milk maids. And they aren’t coming up through snow.

And so I title this station in the Wheel of the Year Riverain, the Festival of Water. A time for celebration of that substance so essential for life, in its many aspects as sustainer, cleanser, bringer forth of the original Life on Earth.

Still, most notable and important at this time of year is the brightening: the days are noticeably longer, and though there is a lot of cold and weather yet ahead of us, the true depth of winter has passed. Light is returning.

Historically, this has been a time for belt-tightening and preparation for the new agricultural cycle: repairing and sharpening tools, “spring cleaning”, and fasts as the food supply dwindles. It is still a good time for planning for the coming year, cleaning house, and experiencing some want.

Tomorrow, my circle, Dark Sun, will convene to celebrate the season. I am so grateful for this practice, for feeling more connected with the seasons and the Earth through these ritual observances.

However you celebrate the February Sabbath, I wish you a joyous one, with happy prospects for the coming year!

Old Ways, New Days

It is midnight on the 29th of December. I have just returned from the Sebastopol Wassail, which is conducted annually by the Apple Tree Morris dancing team in my local area.

Wassailing is an old English tradition. Poor people going from house to house begging became conflated with people going from tree to tree in the apple orchards, making offerings in the deep winter in the hopes of bountiful harvests in the coming year. There are many songs, many dances, many traditions.

And we hope you prove kind with your cakes and strong ale
Or we’ll come no more nigh you until the next year

Tonight, I sang the songs, in rich and aching harmony. I visited with friends and strangers, and drank the strong stuff of the wassailing bowl. And in the dark of night–at 7, and 8, and 9:00–I felt time melt, and the history of people connected with soil and trees and cycles and fruit welling up, still alive despite our smart phones and automobiles.

How well they may bloom, how well they may bear
So we may have apples and cider next year

It’s a thing some Pagan folk wonder about, with Atheopaganism: but if you reject the idea of Ancient Ways, where then is the magic?

It’s not that we’re not in love with traditions, because we are. We love our Maypoles and balefires and wassailing bowl, our flaming cauldrons and corn dollies and Yule logs and glowing solstice trees.

We love the old songs, the hints of things we did, we humans, back far before even there were words to write down. Even into the painted caves, the Neanderthal flowered graves, the days we can only dimly surmise about.

Hatfuls, capfuls, three bushel bagsful
And a little heap under the stairs: hip hip hoorah!

No, it’s not that we aren’t in love with traditions, because we are. We’re just not addicted to them. We understand that they all started sometime, and we can create new ones with just as much power and validity. We understand that we’re all cherry-picking traditions from old times…even the Reconstructionists, who somehow never quite get around to burning oxen as sacrifices, as well they should not.

Atheopaganism is about understanding the world through a modern lens, while carrying forward the rituals, the practices, the traditions that help us to feel connectedness and meaning. We cast our eyes up to the cold winter stars and know that humans have done so for tens of thousands of years, hoping for spring and survival. We stay up to see the May morning sunrise, awash in joy that that time has come at last.

Mari Lwyd, Lwyd Mari
A sacred thing through the night they carry.
Betrayed are the living, betrayed the dead
All are confused by a horse’s head.

All of it. All of the things that fill a life with joy and sense of place in the world and among people. The old–a hobby horse made of a horse’s skull, ushering in a battle of wordplay before a welcome in to hospitality and kindness–and the new: modern, inclusive, sensible values; critical thinking; a science-based cosmology.

Just because we don’t believe in gods and supernatural and magical phenomena doesn’t mean we can’t have the experiences such ancient traditions carry with them. We are not cold and bloodless technocrats, as Dawkins and his ilk would have us be: we are heart-pumping animals with minds, filled with passions as evolution made us.

We are alive.

In the glow of this year’s Yule tree, bright Sun gazing down from the top, I wish you:

Waes hael!

LORE DAY: A New Sabbath for the Hallows Season

So, six months from now—in the Northern Hemisphere, mind—there is a two-day traditional holiday comprised of Walpurisnacht on April 30, followed by May Day.

The former is a sort of mini-Hallows: ghosts and scary Visitations. Then May Day itself is joy and lusty celebration.

Why isn’t this end of the year like that? Why don’t we have a happy joyous day followed by a solemn spooky day?

I propose we remedy this situation!

Halloween is what it is: it is jolly death-fun with skulls and bones and blood and dress-up. Candy for kids, parties for adults. A denatured, but still potent Festival of Death.

Hallows comes at the actual midpoint between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice, which falls on or near Nov. 7 each year. It is a solemn acknowledgement of death, ancestry, and the passage of what is lost.

I propose a third, celebratory day: LORE DAY, to fall between them.

Lore Day, Nov. 1, is a day for telling the tales of the Departed: the stories they handed down of their exploits and funny moments, their gains and losses. And it is a time for practicing and teaching disciplines that are dying out: brewing mead or dandelion wine, or tatting, or smithy or quilting or weaving or spinning or knapping flints or fletching arrows or driving a stick-shift or I don’t know…developing MySpace pages.

We need not to forget these skills. And we need to remember those who practiced them.

So I commend to you a new Sabbath day: Lore Day. Part of the week-long High Holidays of Hallows.

Tell the tales of grandparents and great-grandparents. And show a young person how to do something that people don’t do much any more. It is how lore has been passed for thousands of years. Surely, we can make a day for it, once a year.