“A secular spirituality from the seasons?”

Wheel of the Year

EVENT: Sunday, July 9, 2017, 4-6pm at The Venue, 114 S Grant, Bloomington, Indiana

This summer, join me for a community discussion on the question, “Can we derive a secular spirituality from the seasons?” Held at The Venue in Bloomington, Indiana, the event will be moderated by longtime local journalist Mike Leonard. Light refreshments will be served.

The discussion will revolve around the same ideas which inspired my book, Spinning in Place, outlining a worldly approach to spirituality for the scientifically-minded.

As a longtime atheist, I’m skeptical of many expressions of religiosity. But over the years I’ve learned to see much of value in religion as well. To be fully human, we must be open to the full range of human experience. I wrote this book to show one way that humanists, atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and skeptics might celebrate what it means to be alive here on this planet. Further, by placing a focus on the natural world, we can learn to be better citizens of the Earth.

I’m known in the Bloomington area for my role in the controversial television series, Rox, which debuted on cable there 25 years ago this summer and became the first TV show on the internet shortly thereafter. Rox was honored by a mayoral proclamation from Mark Kruzan in 2013. Now, I’m honored by the opportunity to return to Bloomington and speak about eco-spiritual practices.

I hope you can join me!

PS: Listed on Facebook.

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The Wheel as a Whole

Wheel of the Year

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!

Step into the Dark

Equinox Sculpture

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.

For me, it’s been a year of baking bread and meditating and writing.

With my family, I celebrated all the seasonal holidays or sabbats known as the Wheel of the Year.

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.

Happy (Belated) Lammas

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.

Lammas Embers

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.

Tropical 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.

Aftermath

Step into the Light

Equinox Truck

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.

One Full Revolution

Lammas is rapidly approaching. It was last year at Lammas that I began making an effort to observe each holiday in the Wheel of the Year with my family. Now that we’ve seen one full revolution of the wheel, I’m taking stock and reflecting on what it means.

It’s my understanding that the Wheel of the Year is a mashup of sorts, combining Germanic and Celtic traditions. The result is eight holidays more or less equally spaced throughout the year. These consist of the solstices and equinoxes plus the four cross-quarter days, which fall approximately halfway between the solstices and equinoxes. As far as I know, putting these two sets of observances together is a modern invention, originating in Wicca. Practitioners of Wicca generally call the festivals sabbats.

The Wheel of the Year is so beautiful and compelling that it’s been embraced and adapted outside of Wicca, which is what I’m doing. It lends itself to endless variation and interpretation. Even though I’m not Wiccan, I admire many aspects of the religion, the wheel most especially. I like how the cycle of holidays connects to the changing seasons and the cycles of nature. This should come as no surprise; after all, the very first sentence I wrote here when I started this online journal was, “I’m fascinated by cycles, including the cycle of seasons.” That was over seven years ago, long before I ever heard of the Wheel of the Year. I also like how these holidays connect to the past, as they are all rooted in antiquity. Each one resonates with its own meaning and traditions, the accretions of centuries. I’ve been trying to understand how to celebrate each one in a way that is relevant and meaningful to me personally and to my family as well.

So that brings us back around to Lammas. It’s a cross-quarter day, partway between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox. Another name for the day is Loaf Mass.

there is some evidence of the Christian Anglo Saxon harvest festival of Loaf Mass, which is likely to have been built on a pre-existing pagan ritual of the same time, as the festival is one of the harvest…. July was commonly the hardest month of the year for a pre-industrial farming economy, and many of the poor, who could not afford to buy bread and had run through their own stocks, died during July. So the bringing in of the harvest was the first time in months that most people would have a good meal and drink.

So it’s a day for bread. My daughter loves bread.

Bread Mask

It’s our good fortune as a family not to worry about running out of bread in July. The supermarkets around here are fully stocked, year-round. In fact, in our society obesity is a bigger problem than starvation. We also consume vast amounts of fossil fuels to ship food around the world. I certainly don’t romanticize the past, but I don’t believe our current divorce from seasonal cycles is entirely healthy.

A discussion of such matters on the naturalistic paganism group got me curious about what is really being harvested at this time in this area. I did a net search for “Louisiana harvest season.” Isn’t that a sad comment on how disconnected I am from the cycles of nature and agriculture? I have to search the net to figure out what’s in season around here! Anyhow, I found a “Louisiana Harvest Calendar” from the Louisiana Department of Agriculture & Forestry.

And so I learned that fruits and vegetables currently in season here include acorn squash, butternut squash, cushaw, pumpkins, yellow squash and zucchini, apples, figs, muscadines, peaches, pears and plums, banana peppers and hot peppers, butter beans and southern peas, cantaloupes, melons and watermelons, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, okra and sweet potatoes. (Interestingly enough, my spellchecker doesn’t recognize cushaw or muscadines.) Of course, it seems something is always in season here in the subtropics. But this gives me some ideas for a seasonally appropriate Lammas feast.

I am planning to take a day off work for Lammas, bake a loaf of bread in the shape of a person, and make some corn dollies with my daughter. We’ll save them for burning at Candlemas.

Demeter is associated with the harvest, and I associate Demeter with Xy, and she’s a teacher, and this is the time of year teachers are gearing up to go back to school. My daughter will also be beginning her first year of school. So I’d like this to also be a time to honor them (the women in my life) and mark the end of summer and the beginning of the school year. Maybe we’ll make two loaves for mother and daughter.

Lammas is probably the least well-known of the eight holidays. As such, it seems like a fine starting point for learning about all this — a happy accident, but it will always have a special place in my heart. So, for me, it’s not just a celebration of the agricultural harvest but also a time to think about how we stepped into the spiral and where we’ve come since and where we’re headed. Right now I feel pretty happy that Xy has played along so far, as the interest in these holidays is primarily mine. Rituals and traditions gain power over time, as associations and resonances build. Simply doing the same thing at the same time of year can be richly rewarding. I’m looking forward to deepening our experience as we continue to move around the wheel again.

Solstice

Tuesday was the Summer Solstice. I got up super early (4AM by my body clock, which was still in the Central Time Zone) and headed down to the beach.

It was still pretty dark, but even at that early hour the eastern sky held a faint glow which grew stronger slowly, slowly, as I watched and waited. There was also plenty of light from a gorgeous half-moon directly overhead.

After a while the horizon was positively rosy. There seemed to be a few clouds there. I figured they might obscure the solar disk, and this gentle rosy glow would be the full extent of the drama.

Pre Dawn Panorama

I was wrong about that. Soon I spotted a planet. I’m not set up for celestial photography, but you can see the planet in this shot if you look really close.

Planet

So I thought that was it. Not that I was disappointed. It was quite beautiful. I prepared to head back to our room, when a woman passed by walking her dog. There weren’t many people out on the beach at that time, and I suppose there’s a certain presumption of familiarity, if not fraternity, with other early risers. Anyway, she said to me, in a tone that suggested we were old friends, “Just fifteen more minutes.”

“Hm? Until what?”

“‘Til sunrise!”

Blow me down. I thought I’d been watching the sunrise. I knew the precise time of dawn, as I’d checked on the net, but I didn’t have a timepiece on me.

So I stuck around a little longer, and a good thing too. When the sun finally did pop up over the horizon, it was glorious. Majestic. Awe-inspiring.

Red Dawn

Definitely worth getting up for.

Every year I learn a little bit more about astronomy and other aspects of these celestial events. Most of us know (if we’re aware of it at all) that the summer solstice is the longest day of the year. I always assumed that meant the earliest dawn and the latest sunset of the year as well. Makes sense, right? Stands to reason. But in fact the earliest dawn came about a week before the solstice, and the latest sunset about a week after. Weird, huh? I also learned that idea I have had in my head of the earth tilting back and forth on its axis is not correct. The axis is indeed tilted with respect to the plane of earth’s orbit around the sun, but it stays tilted in the same direction all year round. It’s just that as it revolves around the sun, that tilt means that one hemisphere and then the other gets more direct solar rays. It’s easy to find illustrations of this concept all over the web.

I really wanted to do something special to celebrate the solstice. I got a book on the topic, The Summer Solstice by Ellen Jackson. This book provides a kid-friendly explication of the summer solstice from diverse world traditions and the scientific perspective as well. Includes a story from Hawaii and hands-on activities. If there’s another book like this I haven’t found it yet. (Actually this is one in a series of four books by Ellen Jackson on the solstices and equinoxes, but I don’t know of any other book or series for kids that addresses the topic from a global perspective.) I read this to Persephone a couple times, and my father-in-law did too. She understands the basic concept, I think, and certainly understood this was a special day. She was especially excited to make a wreath in the Bohemian style, which I thought would be especially appropriate given her heritage, but on the day before our departure from New Orleans I realized I should have been drying out weeds, reeds and grasses a week or two ahead of time. I felt bad about having screwed that up. Having a bonfire wasn’t really an option for us. Another cool ritual I came across somewhere was the idea of launching candles on paper boats, but I don’t think that would work too well on the Atlantic Ocean. Maybe next year, if we’re in New Orleans, we could do that on the bayou.

So our celebrations in Vero were less ambitious. Persephone and I spent the latter part of the morning building a big sand sculpture. It wasn’t particularly artistic — just a big circular trench surrounded by towers. It was a solar symbol, at least in my mind. I didn’t take my camera down to the beach while we played in the sand, so I don’t have a photo of that captures the full glory of it, but I did pass by later and take a picture after the water had washed most of it away.

Washing Away

I actually started work on this project before the sun came up.

Sun Circle

Later in the day we made the obligatory visit to McKee Botanical Garden. This place was established by the same eccentric Hoosier who created the Driftwood, the infamous Waldo Sexton. More about him later. Soon we were standing again in the Hall of Giants, marveling at the world’s largest mahogany table and other wonders.

Hall of Giants

Spanish Kitchen

Bamboo

Unfortunately it was blazing hot. In fact our whole trip seems to have been in the middle of a heat wave. When we visited this garden four years ago, the high was 86ºF. This day the high was 93ºF but we were melting like it was over a hundred. I’m sure with the heat index it was.

Fortunately things were much more pleasant by the time we got ready for our evening meal. We decided to dine al fresco on one of the tables by the ocean.

Picnic by the Sea

We used one of the gas grills to cook our food. This was also a nice place to meet some of our fellow guests. I discovered a lot of people were from inland Florida. Many of them had been coming to the Driftwood for years.

Grill

We’d stopped at a BBQ restaurant on the way home and picked up a couple pints of sauce.

Here’s a picture of grandma and granddaughter waiting for their dinner. I love their expressions in this photo. I also love this funky triangular table.

S&P

The chicken and roasted asparagus were delicious.

Afterward we went for a walk on the beach. A great end to the longest day of the year.

May Day

See what you missed?

Cucumber Mint Gimlet

Not to mention the maypole.

This was our second May Day party. I enjoyed last year’s so much that I wrote, “I’m already imagining what it might be like to do it again next year.” So, boom, now it’s a tradition.

In fact our celebration last year represented our first observance of a cross-quarter day, and so we might be said to have completed the Wheel of the Year, except the of course the Wheel never ends, and also I don’t recall what we did for Midsummer last year. I can’t call it a complete revolution until Lammas.

Happy Candlemas

Candlemas

I like to keep the old holidays. Well, some of them, anyway. I find old traditions fascinating, but I live in 2011, so whatever I chose to celebrate is through a modern filter.

Anyway, here’s what I know about Candlemas.

Some say the Christian observance of Candlemas originated with the notion that Mary was unclean for 40 days after giving birth to Jesus. She couldn’t take her baby boy to the temple until that 40 days was up. (If she’d had a girl it would have taken 60 days, which seems kind of sexist to me.) Thus it’s a feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.

But as with many old Christian holidays, there’s more to the story. After all, no one really thinks Jesus was born on the 25th of December. It just so happens that February 2nd is a cross-quarter day, midway between the solstice and the equinox. Thus it was regarded as the beginning of spring, and still is in Ireland.

As the beginning of spring, it was an auspicious time to predict the weather going forward. Here’s an old English poem.

If Candlemas Day is clear and bright,
winter will have another bite.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
winter is gone and will not come again

Similarly, in Germany they had the tradition of the badger looking for his shadow. The badger was supplanted by the groundhog here in America.

The old Gaelic name for Candlemas is Imbolc, also know as St. Brigid’s Day or just Brigid. Apparently there’s a Christian Saint or an old Celtic goddess with the same name, and much confusion between the two.

It’s a fire festival, a day for making and burning candles. We’ll be burning that grass horsie Persephone made back on Lammas. She’s excited about it. We’ve had a candle-making kit for years, but I don’t think I’m quite ready to take that on.

Once upon a time, Candlemas was regarded as the absolute end of the Christmas season. I know, I know, it’s hard to believe, but in old times we didn’t have a “shopping season.” In my Grandpa Rudy’s childhood, decorations went up on Christmas Eve, after the kids went to bed; he didn’t even see the Christmas tree until Christmas morning. Epiphany (Twelfth Night) celebrated the arrival of the Three Wise Men, so they’d be added to nativity scenes at that time.

In Mexico, it’s still traditional to celebrate Three King’s Day (aka Twelfth Night, aka Epiphany) with a cake that has a baby baked inside. (Sound familiar?) Whoever got the slice with the baby would have to throw a party on — you guessed it — Candlemas.

Candlemas was the day decorations had to be put away, or bad things could happen. (Yes, yes, I know, some say Twelfth Night is the time. I say, push back against this insidious creeping of the calendar.) Here’s a Candlemas poem by Robert Herrick from the mid-17th century:

Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and mistletoe;
Down with the holly, ivy, all
Wherewith ye deck’s the Christmas hall;
That so the superstitious find
Not one least branch there left behind:
For look! How many leaves there be
Neglected there, Maids, trust to me,
So many goblins you shall see.

See? Goblins! So beware, and Happy Candlemas and Hail Brigid!

The beautiful stained glass is from Downside Abbey. Photo by Br Lawrence Lew, O.P., licensed under Creative Commons

Happy Solstice

Ready

We exchanged presents to celebrate the Solstice. But when, exactly, does one celebrate? Is the Solstice a day or discrete moment? It’s both, I guess. This year the Solstice took place at 5:38 PM, Central Time. But that’s a matter of celestial mechanics. In terms of real human experience, it’s not a moment but a day, the shortest day, and the longest night of the year. So it seemed to make sense to me that we’d begin our celebrations this evening. We each opened a present. Tomorrow morning, we’ll open the rest and start preparing for our northward journey.

I wish I could say we lit a candle or something of that nature, but we didn’t. I was feeling a little out of sorts. I’d walked too much during the day, pushing Persephone to daycare in the stroller, and apparently that was too much exertion after my surgery Friday. We ended up joining Sue and Steve and friends for their weekly pizza throwdown at Theo’s. I brought a globe and gave a little talk to the kiddies about the North Pole (think Santa) and basically explained the Solstice concept, and we had a little toast.

But exchanging presents is a fine way to celebrate. I’d like to brag about the original artwork which I commissioned for the occasion, but that will have to wait until I can take a photo that does it justice.

Dead Time

Over the last few weeks I’ve been fiddling with constructing my family tree on ancestry.com. (Thanks to my old high school friend Georgie for getting me hooked.) I managed to trace one line back as far as Torvild Ljøstad, my great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great grandfather (that’s 17 greats) who was born in 1370 in the Norwegian county of Aust-Agder, possibly at the site of present-day Vegårshei.

I take that with a grain of salt. The further back you go, obviously, the more chances for error. I haven’t double-checked every link in that lineage. Still it’s interesting to think about.

At the same time I was playing with that, I seemed to find myself making more trips to the local graveyards, which led me to contemplate the untimely demise of a young woman named Virginia. I even started actively searching for certain graves. And generally I have just been enjoying the cemeteries.

T

We also discovered the shrine to Santa Muerte — Saint Death.

Sheer coincidence? Perhaps. But this is, after all, the time of year associated with such matters. The Day of the Dead, All Souls Day, All Saints Day, Hallowe’en, Samhain — many names, many cultures, many traditions, but sharing a common theme of remembrance and reverence for ancestors, those who have come before, those who are no longer with us.

Fittingly, Persephone had the idea that she wanted to be a ghost princess. That led to a costume idea for the whole family.

Ghost Royalty

We attended a Samhain ritual. It was focused on remembering ancestors, and it was quite beautiful — or at least I think it was. I was distracted by a certain toddler who was getting antsy. The “Samhain for Kids” celebration was fun, even though our girl was the only child there, but by the time the full grownup ritual was underway, well, it was just too much, too long, for a two-year old, and we were not familiar enough with the surroundings or the proceedings to really cope effectively as parents. I hope our daughter’s behavior was not too distracting to the other celebrants. It became more of a “learning experience” than a spiritual one for me. I wish I could have been more fully present, but in this case I guess you could say my descendant trumped my antecedents.

Nevertheless I got a good snippet of video from before the ritual began.

Here’s the moment I want to hold in my memory of that night: dancing barefoot on the grass with my wife and daughter dressed in ghostly white robes while a dead geisha played the drums by a bonfire. That was magical.

We cut out early and got back home in time to receive several troupes of trick or treaters. I was surprised by the number of kids making the rounds (under adult supervision) despite the big Saints game underway at the time. But the all the kids were home by the time the second half began, and that was a much more exciting half as it developed.

And so yesterday morning, on the Day of the Dead, Persephone and I visited the shrine of Sante Muerte.

Satsumas

When I posted about the shrine to the Mid-City discussion group, a neighbor reacted as follows:

I’m don’t really want to judge any religious beliefs but just so people know, the SANTA MUERTE (Holy Death) is considered almost devil worship by most of Mexico. It is used by most criminals in the narco trafficking, kidnapping, & underground Mexican world to legitimize their activities. It is why the country of Mexico has not recognized it as a legitimate faith. Like all religions or political idealogies, extremists can twist anything to legitimize their activities. Just thought people would want a little perspective. For Americans who don’t know better, in Mexico, it would be similiar to glorifying Islamic terrorists & their warped string of Islam…. I travel to Mexico a lot & enjoy studying the history & culture of the country. But I admit, the statues & shrines are pretty weird & cool.

I’m not sure what to think of that reaction. I do know that I misquoted the sign when I wrote about it the first time. It actually says, “Welcome! To the Shrine of La Sante Muerte and the Dead.” I had forgotten that last part, “and the Dead,” but it’s crucial. Clearly, whoever erected the shrine is thinking about the same thing as the Wiccans who devised the Samhain ritual we attended and the Catholics we saw at the cemetery whitewashing the family tomb.

We left three satsumas.

I wonder what Torvild Ljøstad would have made of it.

Concrete Equinox

Our equinox celebration was a little chaotic, because the guys who are re-doing our driveway showed up somewhat unexpectedly to pour concrete.

Nevertheless, we persevered. We had a few friends and neighbors over. I invented a simple cocktail of champagne, Sence rose nectar and wild hibiscus flowers in syrup. The flavor was probably more appropriate for the vernal equinox, but hey — these were the items I had on hand from Tales of the Cocktail. So I just pretended we were in the southern hemisphere.

(I almost forgot to mention that this was the end of my alcohol-fast, which began after Lammas, roughly. I called it a “sobriety binge.” This was not my first such venture nor my last, I’m sure; it seems like a good idea to give my liver a break from time to time; in this case I was motivated by a concern that my tolerance was getting too high. But a doctor I visited recently seemed to interpret this bout of abstinence as a danger sign. Me, I always thought the danger was when a person can’t stop drinking.)

I’ve taken note of the equinox for years, and often yearned to celebrate it, but I think this may be the first time I’ve actually done so. It felt good. I even made a little demonstration for the kids. Gauge held the flashlight while I tilted the globe back and forth. But through the general chaos I’m not sure anyone actually absorbed the concept.

Meanwhile the guys outside were pouring concrete until well after dark. I raised a toast to them, but they didn’t notice me over the roar of the cement mixer.

I also discovered my own sister has no idea what an equinox or solstice is. I will have to give her an astronomy lesson next time I visit.

Another circle of friend gathered at the Fly and improvised a ritual with “marching drums for music and some cut wild flowers to toss into the river,” which sounded cool.

In addition to the equinox, it was also the first night of Sukkot (חג שמח!) and the Harvest Moon. A festive time by several measures.

So how did you celebrate?

I will write more about the whole driveway odyssey once the project is finished.

Happy Lammas

Grass Horsie

Happy belated Lammas or Lughnasadh or whatever else you may call it. (I guess it’s over now. I get confused with these traditional-style holidays that last from sundown to sundown, essentially extending into two days of our modern calendar.) This is a time, in the Northern Hemisphere anyhow, to celebrate the beginning of the harvest. It also marks the beginning of the end of summer. That seems a long way off in the middle of this heat wave, but the “back to school” ads are appearing in the paper, and we painted Xy’s new school room not long ago, so I guess that’s what time it is.

I took Persephone to her first Lammas celebration this past weekend. This was organized by New Orleans Lamplight Circle and was specially planned for kids. It was my first such thing as well, and I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.

What we found was all very sweet and beautiful and meaningful. We did some chants and songs with hand motions, honoring nature and the elements. There was some face painting and story-telling. We shared a simple but satisfying feast with an emphasis on bread. We also made corn dollies. Actually we made horsies, and (corn husks not being readily available) we made them out of grass. The one I made was a little on the shabby side, but I was holding a toddler on my lap the whole time.

Next year I hope to make some bread.

Participating in this celebration fulfilled a longstanding goal. I want my daughter to have a broad and well-rounded religious education. Mainstream Christian doctrine is easily encountered, but rituals such as this are a little more obscure. I want her to see that religion comes in many forms and varieties, and that it needn’t take place only in a church or a mosque or a synagogue.

But it’s more than that. I’ve been interested in religion myself for as long as I can remember, and in the last few years I’ve studied a bit about the diverse practices loosely grouped under the umbrella term of contemporary paganism. I find it endlessly fascinating, not to mention aesthetically compelling, and after so much reading it was gratifying to encounter the actual thing.

I’m looking forward to the autumnal equinox already.