For over a year I’ve been writing a series of short essays on a cycle of holidays, starting with the winter solstice. Now here we are again. I’d like to offer another short essay that attempts to tie these all together: Wheel Without End. With any luck, I’ll collect these all in a little ebook some day. Happy solstice!
October greetings. I hope you will take a few moments to read the latest installment of my column, “The New Spooky.”
It’s about that time. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about: the equinox. No, not that equinox — the other one.
I thought I had little or nothing to say about the subject. As is so often the case, once I got to writing, I discovered how wrong I was. The result is a column so monstrously large, it had to be split in two.
And as if that wasn’t enough, I’ve also put together a mix of autumnal equinox music.
When is Lammas anyhow? Though usually observed on August 1, I recently learned that August 6 is known as “Old Lammas.” I think that might be because the midway point between solstice and equinox tends to fall on this day, though technically this year it’s on August 7 at 9:05 AM, Central Time. Further complicating matters is the old tradition of beginning a holiday observance at sundown the night before, which means you could get started as early as July 31.
As for me, I got started even earlier than that, working on this essay: “How Lammas Changed My Life.” Please give it a read.
The confusion of dates should really present no problem. It allows a full week to celebrate. Keep trying until you get it right!
A fresh mix for that most obscure of holidays. You should listen to this sometime in the next week or so, preferably whilst fashioning corn dollies, baking bread or imbibing your favorite malted barley beverage.
Just in time for the summer solstice, my article “Flowers to Flame” has been published on Humanistic Paganism. I think this may the best thing I’ve written. If you’ve got a moment, please give it a read; if you’re rushed, just take a look at the pretty pictures, and you’ll get the basic point.
As I researched the Haymarket Affair and the history of May Day in America, it was interesting to learn that Bohemian anarchists played a prominent role in the campaign for an eight-hour day and other labor struggles of the late 19th century. That caught my eye because I recently learned that one of my Bohemian immigrant ancestors had to sign a loyalty oath vouching that he was not an anarchist. (This puts me in mind of a conversation I had with my father some 17 years ago… but I digress.)
Tomorrow is May Day, so I wanted to wish everyone a very happy holiday.
Also, for the occasion, I have an essay on the topic, examining the connection between politics and spirituality through my own highly idiosyncratic lens, which you can read here:
Ten years ago today I started writing here at b.rox. I didn’t give much thought to the content of that first post, in terms of setting the tone for the future. I just wrote about what was on my mind at the moment.
I’m fascinated by cycles, including the cycle of seasons.
In retrospect, however, I must say that seems uncannily prescient, foreshadowing a theme which has become so much more prominent in my thoughts, my writing, my practice, my life. Also, the emergence of spring buds as subject is a fine metaphor for beginning a new project.
I don’t really write much here anymore. A chart of the life-cycle of this blog would show a peak around 2006-2007, with some vigor continuing until the autumnal equinox of 2012, followed by a year of intentional silence. (Though I didn’t note it explicitly, that first post was very much about the vernal equinox.) These days mark a sort of senescence, I suppose, as I mostly post links to writings published elsewhere.
One of my primary impulses to write here was the same impulse that motivates my private journal writing: to mark the days as they pass and keep track of the interesting stuff that happens in my life. That. combined with the urge to share. But that act of sharing publicly has ultimately come to feel more like a limiting factor. These days I’m back to writing in my private journals more intensively than ever.
My friend David Bryan has suggested that the writings on this site might make an interesting book, which would include the flooding of the city in 2005 and the process of recovery, from a very personal angle, with the birth of my daughter as a natural ending point for the story. I appreciate this idea, thought I think a better arc might focus on our house, from our purchase in 2002, through the flooding and reconstruction, ending with the sale in 2009. I even have a title in mind: The Wizard of North Salcedo. I often felt like a wizard as I fixed kids bikes on the sidewalk in front of our house.
It’s funny to note that The Wild Hunt began one day later. What a different trajectory that site has taken.
And as a final note, I’m not sure I ever mentioned it, but the tree pictured in that first post did not survive the flood. We cut it down in November of 2005.
Even the stump is gone now, but we’re still here, and so is this site, even if it’s looking more like a stump itself these days. Thanks for reading, y’all.
Today we are celebrating a Spring in the Subtropics and a Spring in the Self.
There is no new beginning, only constant renewal. Therefore, let us be always beginning again.
It was recently revealed that Richard Dawkins, arguably the world’s most prominent atheist, loves to sing carols at Christmas time. But the songs he loves the most are not the modern secular ones. Dawkins writes: “I recoil from such secular carols as ‘White Christmas,’ ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,’ and the loathsome ‘Jingle Bells,’ but I’m happy to sing real carols.” He prefers the older songs, which tend to have explicitly Christian religious themes.
This makes perfect sense to me. As a child, those old songs were one of my few direct connections to an older time and an older culture. Many of the carols I grew up singing were authored in the 1800s. The lyrics of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” go back to at least 1739. The tune to “Adeste Fideles” may well go back to the 13th century.
It’s not only the music. I was enchanted by the old customs. Bringing a tree inside the house seemed unaccountably weird and magical and very much out of character for my sedate middle-class parents in our standard-issue suburban home. I didn’t understand it — but I liked it.
Something about all this archaic stuff resonated deeply with me as a child. It filled an inner yearning which I could not identify, but which I now recognize as a need to connect to a larger whole: to previous generations of humanity, and to Mother Earth.
That yearning need remains with me as an adult. You can read more about how I’ve come to understand the meaning of this holiday season in an essay, “Solstice Connections,” which is the first installment of a regular column called A Pedagogy of Gaia which I’m writing for Humanistic Paganism.
I offer these intimate and highly personal thoughts with love and respect to people of all faiths and no faith, and hope that they will be received in the same spirit.
Wishing you a Blessed Solstice, a Joyful Yule, and a Happy New Year.
Long Time No Read
It’s been a year since I wrote anything here. Did you miss me?
Did you even notice I had stopped? I thought I’d made myself clear when I wrote about stepping into the dark, but apparently I was too subtle. I’ve spoken to a few readers who didn’t understand its implications.
I’m curious to know how many people will even see this, since the site has been fallow for a year. If you’re reading this, please leave a comment and let me know. You may be brief; a simple anonymous “Yo!” will suffice. But say something, won’t you? You don’t even have to read the rest of this article, which is too long anyhow.
I have still been writing lo these many months. I just haven’t been writing here. But I have been writing a lot. Some of it is ephemera: status updates, tweets, comments on blogs and the like; no matter how thoughtful, no matter how substantive, these still feel insubstantial, like chaff that is lost in the breeze.
I had some essays published in a series of e-book anthologies called Voices from the Grain, but that seems to be defunct now, or dormant. You can read my articles for Yule, Ostara, and Beltane. See also my article for Candlemas which was published in a different venue because the ebook didn’t “make.”
But mainly I have been attempting to focus on fiction writing. It’s very different, and hard work to boot, but I’m hopeful that eventually I will have something of substance, a story worth reading by my own standards at least. Maybe, someday, I’ll have something to share.
In the meantime, this is surely an auspicious time for an update in the classic confessional style which I’ve always employed here. It’s the autumnal equinox again. It’s a good time for reflection and introspection. Also, the equinox marks the point at which I stopped writing here a year ago.
Since then I’ve continued to celebrate the eight holidays that make the Wheel of the Year, finding them a rich field of inquiry. They open up so many questions. They offer a continuous series of opportunities to reflect on cherished values and the deep mysteries attendant to our place in the cosmos.
There are many ways to interpret the Wheel. For example, the solstices divide the year into halves. From the winter solstice to the summer solstice the days get longer; from the summer solstice to the winter solstice the days get shorter. So in terms of light, the year has a waxing half and a waning half. The holidays in the waxing half celebrate desire, while the harvest festivals in the waning half are a time for gratitude. That’s one way to look at it.
The Wheel recapitulates the life cycle. I’m somewhere past the summer solstice of my life, moving into the cross-quarter: my Lammas, my Lughnasa. Perhaps I’m there now, perhaps I’m still approaching. Perhaps that’s why that holiday has resonated so deeply in my soul and been so precious to me. Of course we may experience gratitude and desire every day, throughout the year and throughout our lives, but I feel an undeniable sense of passage, of tipping forward. Gratitude comes easier to me now. The flames of desire and ambition still burn, but it takes a little more effort to keep them stoked. I remember being young. This feels different.
And now it’s time once again for the equinox, the second of the three harvest celebrations. I associate this holiday with gratitude, balance, and the mysteries of darkness. Without darkness there is no wonder. For this, I am grateful. I have not yet reached the autumnal equinox of my life. At least, I don’t think so. I’m looking forward to it with hope and trepidation. I’m sure not in any rush.
Bring the Crisis
I’ve come to understand my recent spiritual crisis as a transition between life-stages. We hear a lot about the midlife crisis, spoken in ominous tones, as if it’s a singular discrete event unique to the middle years, as if it’s something dreadful. But that’s not quite accurate on either count. What is life but a series of crises? And what is a crisis but a change, an opportunity? Without crisis there is only stasis. If we wish to grow, to develop as human beings, to reach our potential, then we should embrace the crisis.
That’s what I’ve done. That’s what I’m doing. My personal crisis has been documented in my writings here over the last several years. I’m happy to report that the crisis is ongoing. I feel that I have undergone, and am still undergoing, a spiritual revolution. It has been a process of transforming the self which seemed to begin almost spontaneously. At some point I recognized it, grabbed it with both hands, and started shaping it myself, to keep it going, and to guide it.
It has been, for the most part, a wonderful and joyous thing, shot through with strains of bittersweet and melancholy. But then my whole life has been that way. It’s just part of my character, part of my way of experiencing the world. But these recent years have been particularly joyous.
Some may wonder what I’m even talking about. It might help to pull this out of the abstract and give some concrete examples of changes that have manifested in my life. These are things that have taken root over the last four years or so:
- I meditate daily. Or almost daily. Certainly on workdays. It’s hard for me to articulate how this affects my life. I’m not sure if meditation is the catalyst for other changes, or the result. Most likely I suppose it’s an iterative process. Meditation is part of my practice that deepens and strengthens and integrates other aspects of my life. You hear people talk about meditation as peaceful and relaxing, and so it can be, but I also think it’s much more than that.
- I stopped drinking. I noticed I was drinking more and more but enjoying it less and less. Maybe years of steady moderate-to-heavy drinking changed my body chemistry. Maybe I’ve come to cherish certain aspects of cognition which drinking does not promote. Maybe it’s a combination of the two or something else entirely. I can only say I felt the need to quit, so I did, as of Mardi Gras this year. I’m not a strict teetotaler, but almost. I’ve gone from drinking every evening to drinking only on special occasions, at intervals of a month or two. And usually after those special occasions I wonder, “Why do I bother?” Alcohol is rapidly losing its appeal.
- I’ve made changes to my diet. A couple years ago I made a conscious effort to start eating less, to cultivate a sense of hunger. I started to place a big emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, not just for me but for my family. More recently, after watching Forks Over Knives, Xy and I decided to stop buying bird and mammal meat. Our three motivating factors might be labelled health, earth, and ethics: that is, a healthier diet, a lighter impact on the planet, and the aspiration to inflict less cruelty on other living beings. (We agreed we might make an exception for animals raised in a more humane fashion, but we haven’t actually acted on that.) We still eat a lot of fish, though, and I find myself eating other meat occasionally when it’s already bought and paid for by someone else.
- I have gotten into a regular exercise program. I started jogging. Then I added yoga. Then calisthenics. I would rotate through these three daily, then rest for a day and start over. I did that for about a year. Combined with the lack of alcohol and dietary changes, I lost about 25 lbs. over the past two years. Now I’m actively trying to build muscle mass through eating a high-calorie, balanced diet and lifting weights four days a week.
I can hear the objection: You’re just on a self-improvement kick. It’s nothing more profound than that. Further, one might note that these changes are all very self-centered. And it’s true that many of my recent efforts have had an intensely inward focus. Yet despite appearances I do actually have a social conscience. It’s not all about me. In fact, my relations with others, my family in particular, have been a prime motivator.
Since I stopped writing here, during my daughter’s first year at her new school, I found myself visiting her classroom repeatedly to celebrate the Wheel with them. Without planning it, I developed a miniature curriculum around these seasonal holidays, one part science, one part cultural awareness, and one part spiritual development. I read them books about the solstices and equinoxes, gave demonstrations with oranges and lamps, baked treats for them, told them stories and did rituals. I had a blast and I think the kids enjoyed it too.
My interests in these matters have also driven changes in my professional life. I’m no longer strictly a technical/creative specialist. In my role as a faculty developer, I now make an effort to recognize the whole person. My repertoire has expanded to include subjects like time management and work-life balance. I regularly facilitate discussions on sensitive topics. I’ve conducted workshops on mindfulness and other types of meditation. I wrote a grant that sent three faculty members to a week-long seminar contemplative pedagogy, and we have formed a learning community here on campus. Last week, we met in the Meditation Room in the newly constructed Katharine Drexel Chapel. A decade ago I would never have imagined this.
So what’s it all about? You could say I got religion, I suppose. Sometimes that’s what I call it. But our society has such strange ideas about religion. My approach, devoid of supernatural notions, might be seen as secular. Sometimes that label seems safer. I can only report that my experience of life over these last years has been suffused with a sense of wonder, awe, humility and love.
If I had to sum it up, I’d say at the root is the simple idea that I am part of a larger whole. And so are you, Dear Reader. We are all children of the Earth.
Does the Earth constitute a coherent whole, a self-sustaining system, an organism of sorts? I’m still sorting through the science and philosophy on that question. But whatever the exact nature of Gaia — mythical, archetypal, empirical, fantastical — my heart is filled with reverence for Her. I recognize that all my efforts and motivations spring from Her. She is the source of my very essence. I try each day to participate in Her more fully. For this, I am grateful.
A year ago I set myself a project, an experiment, a journey, a spiritual quest. I wanted to discover, uncover, delineate and define my religion. I wanted to deepen, strengthen, and integrate everything in my life. I wanted to live with greater intention.
And I wanted it all to happen on a one-year schedule. It sounds pretty silly when I put it like that. But sometimes we need silly conceits to prop up our most serious ambitions.
So anyhow, the year has gone round again. Here we are back at the equinox. The planet keeps revolving around the sun. Our journey is not finished. Not yet.
With my family, I celebrated all the seasonal holidays or sabbats known as the Wheel of the Year.
- The Autumnal Equinox
- The Day of the Dead & Hallowe’en & Samhain, etc.
- The Winter Solstice
- The Vernal Equinox
- May Day
- The Summer Solstice
- And here we are again
I’ve just read back through what I posted here since the last autumnal equinox. I aimed to post with less frequency but greater depth. And I did that, at least for a while. For the first six months, anyhow. I probably would have done better to break some of those massive posts down into sections and post them in serial fashion. But whatever.
It might seem I lost focus over the summer months. I did indeed get distracted by our travels, and the ROX party, and Persephone’s new school, and Isaac. I wrote about those things, but didn’t explicitly integrate them into the narrative of my quest. It would have required a little more effort to make those connections, and I didn’t make that effort. I got lazy.
But there’s more to it. A key piece of the puzzle, for me, was the question of theology. I published an essay on how my thoughts were evolving, but that was extremely tentative and exploratory. I continued to think and work on that over the summer, but I didn’t write about it. The time did not seem ripe, and my thoughts were far from clear.
Finally, a couple weeks ago, things crystallized somewhat. It was not a soul-shattering epiphany. It was more like a few ideas quietly clicking into place. Yet the ramifications are profound, at least on a personal level. I’m now prepared to make a basic statement of belief and identity.
While I’d like to articulate those thoughts, I’m not sure this site is the best venue. I’ve poured my heart out here for the last eight and half years. I think it’s time for a break. I suspect that if I stop writing here, I will be able to funnel that energy into writing something else, somewhere else, and I have some vague ideas about that. I think I’d like to write fiction for a while.
Every year is divided into a light half and a dark half. From now until the vernal equinox, the nights will be longer than the days. Right now we are losing one minute and 47 seconds of light each day. Over the last twelve months, I found I enjoyed the light half of the year more, but that the dark half was more productive. That dark half begins again now, with the autumnal equinox. Glenys Livingstone writes about the autumnal equinox as a time for “stepping into the creative power of the abyss.” So it felt last year. So again this year. New beginnings require old endings. I feel the need to step into the dark awhile, and harvest dreams.
We had a wonderful Lammas. It has emerged as probably my favorite holiday, which is kind of funny considering I never heard of it until two years ago.
It’s taken a few weeks but I finally got some photos up. And as an unexpected bonus, we even have a short movie, which contains the very first video ever shot by Persephone.
It’s just a series of raw clips but it captures the spirit of our holiday. On Lammas Eve, we had a small bonfire to which we committed the Brigid’s Crosses we made at Candlemas. Normally I wouldn’t approve of burning crosses in the front lawn, but I don’t think the neighbors were too alarmed.
I took the day itself off work. We baked bread figures, as shown in the video. It was last Lammas that I started baking bread, which has become a weekly habit and devotional ritual for over a year now. (I’ve told my boss she can’t say I’m “on a kick” anymore.) The bread figures themselves were far from beautiful, and they were hard and tough, kind of like a bagel. But they tasted pretty good, chock full of jumbo raisins and dates.
We also made dollies.
Like with the Brigid’s Crosses, we used the tropical ferns growing in our back yard for the raw material. It’s always more interesting to use locally grown stuff. The dollies are now hanging around the kitchen. In half a year’s time they will be dry and ready for burning next Candlemas. So the wheel turns.
Speaking of fire, we also learned a valuable lesson: Do not put fire pit on lawn, even for a little fire that doesn’t burn very long. We now have a nice dead patch right in the middle.
We went way up to the mountains of northern Alabama, to Monte Sano State Park.
No elaborate rituals. No goat sacrifice. Just hanging out in the woods. Well, we did make those solstice stones earlier. But mostly we just hung out in the woods.
I don’t think we’ve ever done that, as a family. It was good.
We stayed at a cabin built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. I’m fascinated by stuff built by the CCC and WPA, and I wonder why we don’t implement programs like that now, during this time of economic crisis. Anyhow, the cabin was small and charming. The stone floors are delightfully cool in the summertime.
We did our cooking over an open fire. Hot dogs and s’mores. Yum.
Early in the morning of the longest day, Persephone and I made a short hike to a nearby playground.
After horsing around for a while, I tried doing a chin-up. Maybe I should have limbered up first or something, because I pulled a muscle in my shoulder and neck. Ouch! I was practically immobilized for half the day.
Actually I was able to move around and even go an a slightly longer hike later in the day. We hiked out to a firetower only to find it was locked up. But at least we got to see some wild creatures along the way.
For me, anyhow, this was the best way to celebrate one of the most sacred days of the year.
So this is how our summer vacation began. After a couple nights Monte Sano, we made our way up to Indiana.
Workers of the world, take a break and celebrate International Workers’ Day or as I prefer to call it: May Day. It’s a day to remember the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago. It’s good to recall that the eight-hour work day was not always a given, but something for which workers had to fight and even give their lives.
Absurdly, the US government has installed something you never heard of called Loyalty Day on the first of May, “a special day for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States and for the recognition of the heritage of American freedom.” It’s a laughable attempt to undermine the celebration of May Day.
Of course, there’s an even older history to May Day that goes way beyond 1886. Europeans brought this tradition with them to the New World as early as 1627. It’s a cross-quarter day, halfway between the equinox and the solstice. Technically the halfway point falls on Friday evening, so maybe we should extend our celebrations all week long. There are a cluster of old traditional holidays around this time that have interesting stories. Many are seasonal observations with an emphasis on fertility and the coming of summer, and some are a little spooky, which I like. May Day — Beltane — Walpurgisnacht — Vappa — Roodmas — Whitsuntide — whatever you want to call it — I’d celebrate them all if I knew how. I’d like to combine the pagan and labor traditions, the “green root” and the “red root” into a single holiday. A protest, a party, a ritual — all in one.
Now we enter that half of the year where the days are longer than the nights.
The equinox came this morning at fourteen minutes past midnight. I have to make an effort not to fixate on that single moment. I was asleep anyhow. Better to extend the celebration. The equilux was last Thursday here in New Orleans. Why not start there?
I got a second equilux this year, as I flew up to Philadelphia. The equilux, that day when sunrise and sunset are most nearly twelve hours apart, varies by latitude. It comes a day later there.
I went to Bryn Mawr College for the fifth Mindfulness in Education conference, which culminated in a full day of (mostly) silent meditation. I’ve never done anything quite like that before.
In retrospect, it was a great way to celebrate the equinox. Mindfulness surely cultivates balance. But I missed my family.
Then I came back home, and kept Persephone home from school Monday, so we could celebrate the equinox together. In addition to baking our weekly bread, we dyed eggs to decorate an “egg tree,” prepared a vernal-themed feast for dinner, and ran to the doctor for the girl’s four-year checkup and vaccinations. The meal was delicious: spring greens with sprouts, quiche, and charoset for desert. I also made black and white cookies, but didn’t get them done until later that night. By the time I finally hit the sack I was quite exhausted. I bit off a little more than I could chew. Not very balanced.
In the spirit of purification, I haven’t had anything to drink since Mardi Gras. (Well, actually since the weekend after Mardi Gras, but really, who’s counting? We had a visit from Ed the Meat Poet and I popped a cork.) I’ve been tapering off the coffee too, down to just a few swallows this morning. I hope to start on some dandelion-chicory root tea later this week. The idea of a seasonal detox session is appealing to me. In the same spirit I’ve even looked into fasting, but I’m not sure I’m ready for that quite yet. I am eating less, but that’s a topic for another post.
And if the spirit of the season can be maintained why not continue until Hellacious Saturday? Or Easter? Or Passover? Or forever?
Six months ago, at the autumnal equinox, I dedicated myself to a full year of discovering or uncovering my religion. This is the halfway mark, the inversion of that time across the mirror of the year. The dark half of the year is behind us for now, the light half ahead. The past six months have been fruitful, but my spirits have often flagged. I haven’t written about that much. The idea was to post less often and to write more thoughtfully, but to remain continually engaged in that process. Instead I’ve lapsed into periods of complete disengagement. Perhaps I need that reflective exercise to maintain a proper perspective.
It’s always a good time to begin again. Looking forward, I feel a buoyancy.
You are four years old today. So: Happy Birthday! But also: Happy Mardi Gras! The last time Mardi Gras fell on the 21st of February was in 1950, which was not only before you were born but well before I was born. These dates will line up again in eleven years, for your 15th birthday in 2023. It happens again in 2034 and 2045, eleven year intervals. Beyond that I’m not sure; I haven’t found any calendars that calculate beyond 2050. I don’t know what’s up with the eleven year intervals either. Weird stuff.
So, how does one celebrate a birthday on Mardi Gras? We tried to tie in with the number four for obvious reasons. We thought about the four seasons and the four directions but ultimately settled on the four ancient elements. You know the elements pretty well. After all, they’re in the lyrics to one of your favorite songs:
Earth, water, fire and air
We may look bad but we don’t care
We ride the wind, we feel the fire
To love the earth is our one desire
(The astute culture critic will have no trouble identifying the origin of these sublime verses as that eco-goth trio par excellence, namely The Hex Girls, as seen in Scooby Doo and the Witch’s Ghost. Only a pedant would quibble that we’ve changed the word slightly. The actual lyric references “earth, wind, fire and air,” which of course conjures images of a certain funk-soul act from the 70s. But wind and air are pretty much the same thing, and everyone knows water was one of the four ancient elements. What’s up with this blatant anti-waterism?)
So for this Mardi Gras you masqued as Air, you mother was Fire, I was Water and your virtual uncle James was Earth. Of course reality was a little more complicated; we were joined by an additional Water, played by Catherine, not to mention your grandmother (my mother) who didn’t dress as anything particular but was a most welcome addition to the festivities.
As for this last month of your life, you’ve accomplished many firsts. You composed your first poem, drew your first representational drawing, and sent your first e-mail.
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So much more to relate, but I’m exhausted from a full day of traipsing round the city in costume. Perhaps I’ll come back and edit this later. For now good night and lots of love.