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!

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Summer’s End

As I celebrate the Wheel of the Year, the midpoint between the summer solstice (Midsummer) and the autumnal equinox (Harvest) is Summer’s End. I call it that because this is the moment when Autumn first becomes detectable in my region: in the angle of the light, in the hard blue of the sky, in the sputtering of the fog cycle to bring searing hot days, and in the first turning of early leaves.

Summer’s End’s metaphorical meanings relate to work and craft, to technology and toolmaking and effort. It is the time when the harvests of hay and blackberries and early summer vegetables are at their height, so there is a lot of work to be done. Gardens are producing and gophers are marauding and the relaxed waiting of Midsummer is gone as the fruits of labor begin to come to ripeness.

This holiday has been a “lost Sabbath” in the Pagan Wheel for many. With summer travels leading folks away from their homes and a kind of mystifying lack of definition of what the holiday means in a modern context, it’s easy just to slide by it. For some, it simply doesn’t have meaning at allfor others, it may be a long stretch to find them when the traditional meanings are rooted in agriculture, but most of us now live in cities.

Still, I find myself getting that seven-week itch to do a Sabbath celebration around this time of year, and accordingly, to contemplating the meanings I have ascribed to this one. I very deliberately created Summer’s End as a Sabbath not only of “early harvest”, but of technology and work: the traditional Pagan Wheel of the Year doesn’t really have a holiday that embraces these, yet they dominate our modern lives.

Summer’s End is a good time to consecrate and place a little trinket on your desk at work to remind you of your religious life, or even (if you can get away with it) to do an “office blessing” in the name of productive and satisfying work. You could ritually clean your mobile phone by smudging with sage smoke or incense, invoking clear and respectful communications. Likewise something you take with you to work every day, like a briefcase or laptop computer. Blessing the tools of our work can help to imbue them with a sense of being a part of the Sacred, of the contiguous fabric of wonder that is All That Is, even in the prosaic, quotidian work world.

As for ritual celebrations at home, I like to bake bread at this time of year. Here is a lovely recipe from Pauline Campanelli, the late author of Ancient Ways and Wheel of the Yeartwo very charming books which, though certainly not atheistic, contain many projects and traditions that are fun to incorporate into your religious practice:

Summer’s End Rye Bread

In a large mixing bowl, combine two cups of milk warm to the touch with two packages of dry baking yeast, one teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup honey and 1/4 cup dark brown sugar. Cover bowl and set aside in a warm place until it has doubled (about 1/2 hour). Add 3 tb softened butter and 2 cups unbleached white flour, and stir until bubbly.

Mix in 1 cup rye flour and 2 cups stone-ground wheat flour. With floured hands, turn dough onto floured board and gradually knead in more white flour until the dough is smooth and elastic and no longer sticks to your fingers.

Place dough in a greased bowl, turning it so the dough is greased, then cover with a clean cloth and keep in a warm place to rise until doubled (about an hour). Then punch it down and divide in half. Shape into two round, slightly flattened balls, place on greased cookie sheets. Cover and return to a warm place until they double again.

When the final rising is almost complete, use a ritual knife (or just any knife) to cut any symbol that is meaningful to you into the top of the loaves, saying a wish for the coming harvest. Beat a whole egg and 1 tb of water together and brush over the tops of the loaves. Bake at 300º for about an hour or until they are done (sound hollow when tapped).

“Bless” the bread with words of gratitude, and eat while still warm. Delicious!