Great Wheel

celtic-design-great-wheel
The Great Wheel has reshaped my understanding of the natural world.   My interest in it began with research into my Celtic past as I began writing fiction over 20 years grt-wheelago.  Since then, I have moved through Christianity and liberal religion to what most would consider a pagan perspective.  I’m not sure what I call it and that matters to me.  A more theoretical approach has begun to get bones in the Reimagining Faith category in the blog.  At some point I plan to publish a book about what I’m learning.

The Great Wheel recognizes and celebrates the cyclical nature of time as opposed to its linear, eschatological manifestation in many Western religious traditions.

 

In Spite of the Evidence on the Ground, the Sky Says It’s Spring

Posted on March 20, 2013 by Charles

Spring                                                                 Bloodroot Moon

I’m beginning to wonder whether I misnamed this moon.  Not sure the bloodroot’s gonna bloom before it wanes.  16 degrees out now, headed down to 2 tonight.  Average daily high now 40 degrees.  But, in terms of astronomical events today is the day we shift past the  the celestial mid-point and the celestial equator. (see illustration)

That makes spring the formal designation.  Meteorological spring began on March 1st, but I follow the stars as does the Great Wheel.  The Vernal Equinox has a long tradition as not only the start of spring, but of the new year.  It lost its spot as the New Year in 18th century England, 1752 to be exact, when Lady Day, March 25th (a fixed date to celebrate the coming of spring and the new year and the feast of the annunciation), lost its New Year’s Day status to January 1st as the Gregorian calendar reforms began.

Today neither meteorological spring nor astronomical spring puts us in that season.  The weather is not co-operating with the calendar in either instance.  There’s a lesson here.  Rules, no matter how precise, or how ancient, no matter how usually reliable or hoaried with veneration, can never overcome, as the military says, the facts on the ground.

The lesson of the Great Wheel will, however, grind its way toward truth.  At some point the winds will shift.  The cold air will retreat back to the North Pole.  The snow will melt and the grass will green, flowers bloom and children ride their bikes in the streets.

Even though today doesn’t shout out verdant or shorts and t-shirts the vitality of Mother Earth is only delayed, not denied.  When we use the seasons as a metaphor for human life, we can imagine that we have passed the spring time of our lives.  This is not so.  Our bodies, yes, they continue on, hammered by entropy, drawn back toward the earth by the gravity of our years, but our soul, or whatever that mysterious piece of us is that hovers in and around that body, renews itself over and over.

Take down a new book.  Pick up a hammer, or a carving tool, or lines of computer code.  Perhaps a paint brush or a blank page.  Visit the grandkids or an old friend or make a new friend.  The sparks of love and creativity in our lives can rejuvenate us over and over again, turning a winter, even one that seems determined to stay too long, into a springtime.  Those seeds you planted when you were twenty, but forgot to water?  Remember them.  This is their season.  Wake them up.

Pain

Posted on February 1, 2013 by Charles

Imbolc                                                                           Cold Moon

In the early Celtic faith this day was a holy day and a market day, a cross quarter holiday that celebrated the freshening of the ewes.  When the ewes became pregnant–lamb in the belly, in the belly=imbolc, they would once again have milk, adding some variety to a food supply that had been stable since Samhain or so, the last harvest.

Brigid, the Celtic triple-goddess of hearth, smithy and inspiration, all fire related–is the goddess honored on this holiday.  She was, like so much of the old religions, hoovered up into Catholicism as St. Bridget, reportedly born of a good Christian woman and a Druid, thus straddling the transition from the old faith to the new.

She had a center at Kildare in Ireland, where the Catholics built cell dara, or cell/church ofthe oak.  A great oak was there.  This Cathedral of St. Bridget went up in 480 ad.  That is very early, the Roman Empire was not quite dead.  Even so, the followers of the Goddess had been there much longer, with 19 priestesses who kept lit an eternal flame.  Catholic nuns dedicated to St. Bridget kept up this practice until the Reformation era.

“On February 1, 1807 Daniel Delany, Bishop of Kildare, began the restoration of the Sisterhood of St. Brigid. Their mission was to restore the ancient order and bring back the legacy and spirit of this amazing figure. In 1993, Brighid’s perpetual flame was finally re-kindled in Kildare’s Market Square by Mary Teresa Cullen, who at that time was the leader of the Brigidine Sisters. The sacred flame was kept by the Brigidine Sisters in their home and on February 1, 2006, the flame was brought back to the center of the Market Square where it has been permanently housed in a large glass enclosed vessel.”  see website sourced above.

(Brigid’s fire temple)

There was, too, a holy well dedicated to Brigid, also in this same location.  There are holywells all over the Celtic lands, many dedicated to gods or goddesses, others revered as places for certain kinds of prayers, both blessings and curses.  These wells have since ancient times been considered portals to Faery or to the Otherworld, thus offerings left by the wells honor those of Faery as well as those who have died.  Dressing the well makes an offering at a holy well, i.e. surrounding it with flowers, plants, homemade things.  The Celts also use strips of cloth tied onto tree or shrub branches as offerings in a fashion very similar to certain native american traditions.

Given Brigit’s triple orientation–hearth, smithy and creative inspiration–today is a day to celebrate domestic life where the fire of the kitchen activates the home, and the fire of the smithy where the tools and weapons of a life lived close to the land are shaped, and, finally, the inspiration which comes to each of us from the holy wells deep within our own being.

This is a time to stop, take a look at the home fires.  How are they?  It is also a time to think about the tools for gardening.  Are they sharp and oiled, ready for the spring.  Then, too, especially for those of us who rely on the mystery of creative inspiration, are you being careful to tend your inner well?  Keeping it dressed and well-maintained?

Posted in Great Wh

Winter Solstice, 2012

Posted on December 21, 2012 by Charles

Winter Solstice                                                           Moon of the Winter Solstice

It’s here.  It’s here.  It’s finally here.  The longest night.  The sun has begun to set and thedarkness will be with us for 15 hours and 14 minutes.  Had we been a resident of the British Isles or somewhere in Scandinavia, it would have been even longer. (and is, today.)  It’s no surprise then, that in the old religions of these countries that the Winter Solstice took on an ominous portent.

(source)

Think about it.  The last crop had come in at least two months ago, probably longer.  There was no prospect of a growing season even starting until the next April or early May.  And the nights had begun to grow longer and longer.  As the cold grew more intense and the daylight diminished, it could seem possible that never again would the ground be warm, the plants green.  You and your children might starve.

Yes, so far the sun had always returned but what would happen if the gods who controlled its coming and going no longer desired its return?  The gods lived in their own ways and to their own designs.  It could easily happen that we humans were not included.

So for some the Winter Solstice became a season of dread, followed by an increasing sense of relief as the sun escaped whatever was holding it back and began to ascend once again for a longer time each day.  Thank the gods.

You know the stories about holidays of light, those holidays that both reassure and, through principles of sympathetic magic, lure the sun back from its melancholy.

There is, however, another way to come to this long night.  This way takes the long night as good as the longest days of the Summer Solstice.  It celebrates the darkness, that fecund place where babies grow, bulbs germinate and creativity unfolds.

It sees this night as different from all other nights in that we set it aside as a holynight, a night that stands in for all other nights, for all those moments of darkness when richness and life and new beginnings collect, gather strength.

Yes, of course, we need the light.  The growing season.  The warmth.  And that time has it holyday, the Summer Solstice.  A celebration of light and fire and the profusion of plant life.

It may be harder to celebrate the dark.  It frightens us sometimes, reminds us of the coming darkness in which the sun will never again rise.  And of those for whom such time has already come.  There is no shame in this fear; it is universal.

But note this.  It especially cannot be assuaged by the message of Sol Invictus, the all conquering sun.  The darkness is coming, for each and every one of us.  Far more powerful then to embrace the darkness, not as over against life and the human spirit, but as friend, as necessary companion.

This is the darkness I celebrate tonight, the longest darkness of year.

 

Samhain 2012

Posted on October 31, 2012 by Charles

Samhain                                                                 Fallowturn Moon

Summer’s End.  That’s the Celtic name for this holiday, Samhain.  It is the last of the threeharvest festivals:  Lughnasa, Mabon or the Fall Equinox, and Samhain.  After today, nearly all the crops are in and the long fallow season begins, a time of careful attention to stores, of storytelling around the fire at night.

(Leonid Tishkov)

Here at Artemis Hives and Gardens we will shut up the bees in their winter wraps in the coming week since there is nothing outside for the bees to eat.  They will have to survive until the first blooms of 2013 on stored honey, certainly that over the winter, though I may feed them again in the early spring.

Too, there are still leeks and carrots in the ground. I’ve still not got round to harvesting and cooking them.  This week for sure.  Once they’re out I’ll apply composted manure where I haven’t so far, then leaves or rotted hay, food for next year’s crops.  I also have a bag of composted manure for the lilies and iris I planted, then leaves on them.  I can lift over 30 pounds now.

The Celts considered tonight a moment when the veil between the worlds thinned.  Thedead, the folk of faery, gods and goddesses can cross more easily into this world.  Adventurous mortals might try crossing the other way if they dare.  I learned today that some thought this was a time when inspiration might come from the otherworld, so it is considered a time to keep the heart and mind as open as possible.

(chalice centre)

Samhain is a time to look at your life and ask what needs finishing, wrapping up.  This is a good season for endings.  It is traditionally, in the Celtic faith and Christian adaptation of Celtic ideas, a time to remember the dead.  Tomorrow will be All Souls and begin the two day celebration of Día de los Muertos.  It corresponds to Samhain in its remembrance ofthe dead, welcoming them home for a visit, though it tends to have a more upbeat note with celebrations and meals served in cemeteries, ofrendas that memorialize a loved ones favorite foods, music, flowers, art. Ofrendas can become very creative and are an ephemeral art form all on their own.

Perhaps this is a year to create an ofrenda for your ancestors.

(wikipedia)

So look at that project that keeps hanging around, never quite finished.  Listen with open mind and heart for inspiration.  Perhaps you, too, have garden tasks yet to finish.  You might also consider those of your family who have died and recall them in some concrete way.

 

Mabon and the Fall Equinox

Posted on September 22, 2012 by Charles

Fall                                                                                           Harvest Moon (I changed this name when I discovered the Harvest Moon was the closest full moon to the Fall Equinox)

Autumn
by T. E. Hulme

A touch of cold in the Autumn night
I walked abroad,
And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge
Like a red-faced farmer.
I did not stop to speak, but nodded;
And round about were the wistful stars
With white faces like town children.

 

My thoughts

This Equinox I’m offering some resources from around the web that speak to this, the second harvest holiday.  This is the liturgical fall, as I said yesterday, as opposed to the meteorological fall which occurs September 1st.

The crone aspect of this holiday strikes me especially this year.  Why?  Because it honors the triple goddess [maid-mother-crone] in her final form of three. The final form, that is, until the new year begins. She begins the year as the maid, shifts with the beginning of the growing season into the mother and then, with the coming of fall enters the crone.

I don’t go further with the triple goddess idea (from Robert Graves) than its emphasis on the seasons recapitulating  the main phases of human life.  In this way the fall turn of the goddess into the crone, the wise woman/healer, marks the seasonal reminder of the Third Phase.

My own version of the three is:  Student, Family (householder in the Hindu tradition),Third Phase (retirement in the Hindu tradition, but in a different sense than our own, about which there is no cultural consensus.  Hence, for me, the third phase).  The crone encourages an inflection in the third phase that I like i.e., a sense of fulfillment, of gathered wisdom, of grace gained from an expected and welcomed transition.

This is also the season of age passing onto death.  Death marks the end of the third phase and since it does, preparation for dying is an essential aspect of the third phase.  An essential, perhaps the only essential, realization here is that death is and that it comes for us all.  Though essential, this is a truth difficult to grasp in its deeply personal sense and once grasped, to accept.  It requires wisdom, patience and gentle resignation, all characteristic of the crone as I have come to understand her.

She could just as well be he.  A wise old man, the one on the block that others come to.

This is the season of harvest.  Enjoy the fruits of your labors.

Mabon

Aging Goddess

The triple Goddess – worshipped by the Ancient Britons, is now in her aspect of the aging Goddess and passes from Mother to Crone, until she is reborn as a youthful virgin as the wheel of nature turns.
At the Autumn equinox the goddess offers wisdom, healing and rest.

Apples
To honour the dead, it was also traditional at Mabon to place apples on burial cairns, as symbolism of rebirth and thanks. This also symbolizes the wish for the living to one day be reunited with their loved ones.
Mabon is also known as the Feast of Avalon, deriving from the meaning of Avalon being, ‘the land of the apples’.

Mabon Traditions

The Wicker man
There was a Celtic ritual of dressing the last sheaf of corn to be harvested in fine clothes, orweaving it into a wicker-like man or woman. It was believed the sun or the corn spirit was trapped in the corn and needed to be set free. This effigy was usually burned in celebration of the harvest and the ashes would be spread on the fields.

‘The reaping is over and the harvest is in,
Summer is finished, another cycle begins’

In some areas of the country the last sheaf was kept inside until the following spring, when it would be ploughed back into the land. In Scotland, the last sheaf of harvest is called ‘the Maiden’, and must be cut by the youngest female in attendance.

To close:  a prayer, written by Kathleen Jenks of the wonderful website Myth*ing Links:

Kathleen was a professor at Pacifica and is now a private consultant.

 

As autumn returns to earth’s northern hemisphere,
and day and night are briefly,
but perfectly,
balanced at the equinox,
may we remember anew how fragile life is —-
human life, surely,
but also the lives of all other creatures,
trees and plants,
waters and winds.May we make wise choices in how and what we harvest,
may earth’s weather turn kinder,
may there be enough food for all creatures,
may the diminishing light in our daytime skies
be met by an increasing compassion and tolerance
in our hearts. 
 

 

 

Warmly,
 

 

Kathleen
 

 

Lughnasa    2012                                             Hiroshima Moon

Lughnasa (Lugnasa, Lugnasadh) falls between the Summer Solstice and the Fall Equinox.   The cross-quarter holidays, in the Celtic calendar, came before the solar holidays.  Originally, the year divided only in half:  May 1st, Beltane-Summer to October 31st Samhain-Summer’s End.  After the solar holidays became part of the calender, two more cross-quarter holidays, Imbolc and Lugnasa, got established.

This is a time of joy, the harvest has well begun.  Our neighbor brought us a colander filled with vegetables from his garden, a first fruits gathering.  We gave him some honey.  Our garden is a bit behind his because he has a wonderful open spot for his and we have woods around all of ours, limiting sunlight.  Still, we harvested onions this week and garlic a month  ago.  Kate has also put up several pounds of beet greens, chard and kale with more to come.

The workload, too, changes, as the garden begins to die back after its summer of growth.

Lughnasa is the first of three harvest holidays, coming later are the Mabon, the fall equinox and Samhain, summers end, which marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the fallow season.

You could almost call this a fifth season, Harvest, with three holidays.  Imagine how important this time of year was to agrarian societies where it determined the quality of the long fallow season.  No wonder there are so many traditions, fairs, queens of this and that associated with it.

It might be a good time for you to check your life.  What’s had a long growing season and isready for harvest?  Today I began work on the revision of Missing, its first draft finished in May and now ready for revision.  I will also begin, at some point in the next week or so, Missing’s sequel, Loki’s Children.  These represent the fruits, the harvest of much work and thought over the last couple of years.

(Hay gathering in fields devoted to the God Lug)

Sewing projects?  Home renovations?  Jon and Jen have the plumber coming tomorrow to connect their two new bathrooms, their sinks and their stove.  Overnight they’ll go from a one bathroom to a three bathroom home and a home with a remodeled kitchen and dining area, a new deck, new landscaping in the back and new bedrooms for all.  But it took all the last year to get to this point.  Harvest.

In fact, the whole summer olympics, coming as the calendar turns over to Lugnasa, are a harvest festival.  Thinks of the hours, the weeks, the months, even the years most of these competitors have trained, just for this moment.  A growing season perhaps begun in their youth, or, for some like the gymnasts, realized in their youth.

The state fair celebrates the agrarian culture that feeds us and its celebration comes duringthe Lugnasa season.  Cattle, chickens, pigs, rabbits, honey, cakes, political campaigns, art all come to the fair.  These fairs are the outgrowth of village markets that sprang up around the cross-quarter and solar holidays.  Usually a week or so long, they gathered in the larger community, shared music and food, brokered deals, signed labor contracts or fulfilled them with payment, sanctioned marriages, sometimes handfast marriages for a year and a day.

It’s a festive time of year.  Celebrate, celebrate, dance to the music.

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Summer Solstice 2012

Summer                                                                  Lily Moon

The summer solstice.  On Tuesday the sun rose at 5:26 am and set at 9:03 pm.  That same length of day lasts through tomorrow.  On Saturday we move to 5:27 am rise, 9:03 set.  Sunday, too.  The change in daylight begins to decrease in very tiny increments, but is now on a course that will culminate in the Winter Solstice when the sun will rise at 7:48 am and set at 4:34 pm.  So, today, for example we have 12 hours and 37 minutes of day light; by December 21st that will have receded to 8 hours and 46 minutes.

The solstices are the extremes of our solar year while the equinoxes, coming in between them mark the days of relative equality between daylight and dark.  Another way to look at the equinox is as the moment halfway between one solstice and the other.

Roughly, too, they mark the point when the amount of light shifts toward its next extreme.  That is, September 22nd, the autumnal equinox, has sunrise at 7:00 am and sunset at 7:09, almost 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark.  After that the night begins to gain ascendance with more and more of each 24 hours dark rather than light.

The midsummer festivals in Northern Europe, like the ones around Beltane, often involve fire.  The painting at the top is a Finnish summer solstice festival from 1910.

Look at what burns within you now, what illuminates your life.  What part of your life could be more visible?  Needs more light?

If you try to match your life to the seasons at all, this is a time to consider picnics, gardens, being on the water, painting outside, perhaps drawing.  It’s a time to be with others out of doors.

This is also a moment to consider the value of excess in your life.  What might benefit from an all out, all stops out push from you?  What things about which you have been moderate or even frugal might blossom if given an outlandish amount of attention.  This is a time when the balance has swung up on the side of maximum light.  What deserves maximum effort from you?

It is, too, a time to celebrate the gifts of peak experience.  Look for those things in your current life that are reaching their pinnacle.  Don’t let them languish through inattention.  Beat their drum.  Sound their cymbal.

Most of all, embrace the light in your life.  This is its day.  Its week.

 

 

Beltane 2012

Beltane                                                          Beltane Moon

May Day.  Brings up cold war images for me.  If you’re of a certain age, you remember black and white television with Kruschev or Brezhnev in the reviewing stands as long flat bed trucks pulled even longer missiles, whole large squares of soldiers trooped after them, some tanks, armored personnel carriers, probably some air displays, too, but I don’t recall those personally.

This was the worker’s holiday to celebrate the successful revolution, the now sad story of a mad man who killed millions and used a centralized state to justify it all, and those who came after him, company men with broad shoulders, craggy faces, phenomenal eyebrows and bad tailors.

If, however, you’re of a certain ethnic heritage, or inclined to join us on certain holidays like May Day, I can conjure a different picture.  Fair maids dancing with ribbons, winding them around and around the tall May pole.  In other spots women and men jumping over bonfires to quicken their fertility.  Herds of cattle driven between two bonfires to cure them of disease.

On a mythic plane the goddess as maiden takes the young greenman for her lover, offering their fertile energy to the fields, to the animals  and to the people.  Villagers take to the fields at night for bouts of lovemaking.

A fair, running perhaps a week, finds persons contracting for field labor, trying out handfast marriages, and surplus goods being traded. This was a joyous time, the long winter lay in the past and the fields had seeds in them.  The air was warm, there was milk and meat.  A good time.

A mood much different than the other great Celtic holiday, Samain, or Summer’s End, which marks the end of the growing season, the final harvests before the fallow and the cold time began.  In that holiday the dead got gifts of food and spirits in hopes that they would at least not do harm.  Those of the fey might cross the barrier between the worlds and snatch a child or even a grown man or woman, taking them back to the sidhe.

These two, Beltane and Samain, were, in the oldest Celtic faith, the two holidays.  The beginning of summer, or the growing season, and summer’s end.

In Beltane we have all the hope of fields newly planted, cattle quickened, perhaps wives or lovers pregnant, warmth ahead.  This is the holiday of hope, of futurity, of anticipated abundance.

No missile laden trucks, no marching soldiers.  No, this was a festival for rural people celebrating the rhythm of their world, a highpoint in the year.

 

 

Spring Equinox:  2012

Spring                                                     Woodpecker Moon

Spring.  Whoa!  A season that came and went on the day of its inauguration.  A high of 79 here yesterday.  79!

Yes, that’s right, it’s the Spring Equinox again, we’ve reached that point halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Summer Solstice, the time when light begins to dominate in the division between night and day.

Bruce Watson and his son, local weather geeks, publish an annual meteorological calender with lots of nifty data.  Just pulled it out for grins and looked up the Summer Solstice, that’s right, exactly three months from now–IN JUNE–and checked out the average 30 year high for June 20th.  Yep.  79.5.  Now wow.

However the season came and went this year, I’ll always remember spring as a spunky little season that used to hang around and tease with gentle breezes one minute and foot-high drifts the next.  We don’t need to get all weepy, but those were good springs weren’t they?  Hockey and blizzards, they just sort of go together.

Not this year.  Nope, it’s a couple a rounds and a Bud at the 19th Hole.  Outside.

Ostara in the pagan calendar, this holiday nods toward the fertility spring carries in its changeable weather. Nowhere more evident than just outside my study window where the grass greened up overnight, buds popped out on the dogwood and those spring ephemerals  have already lost their slot in the seasonal unfolding.

It’s through Ostara that Easter got conflated with the easter egg and the easter bunny, both pagan symbols of fertility.  Just as holiday lights, Christmas trees, yule logs and all that egg nog have nothing to do with the celebration of the incarnation, neither do marshmallow rabbits and egg hunts have anything to with the celebration of the resurrection.  But, hey, who said religion had to be rational.  Non mois.

If you’re so inclined, take some time and ponder what’s greening in your life.  What’s coming to the surface that needs attention and kindness to flourish over the next few months?  It’s also apt to consider the possibility of resurrection.  What in your life has been dead, but might return, full force this year?

Taking the cue from the Christian mythology around this time, you could also examine the suffering and the pain in your life.  How might it transform into something miraculous?   Or, considering Peter, how loyal are you to the ones you love?  How willing are you to stand  up, to be there, when things get hard?

As I heard early on when I moved to Minnesota, spring is a great season here if you happen to be around that weekend.  I was around, how about you?

 

Imbolc                                        Garden Planning Moon

On the Great Wheel we have moved past winter now and have arrived in a season dedicated to Brigid, the triple goddess of smith, hearth and poetry.  Her fiery inspiration fills the kitchen, the world of artisanry and of the poet.

Her fertile presence in the world is also reflected in the name of this cross-quarter season, Imbolc, or in-the-belly.  In Ireland of old this was the season when the ewes became pregnant, that is, had a lamb in-the-belly.  This meant the ewes freshened and could be milked.

(see more of Wendy’s work at paintingdreams)

After a season of bleakness and no growth fresh milk and the cheese made from it would have added a lot to the diet, protein and calcium in particular, and done it with no need to diminish stores or kill an animal.  This was a seasonal miracle.

In our time we can walk or ride to the grocery store and pick up a half gallon of milk in any season.  Imagine what it would have been like to have had only stored vegetables, probably a lot of porridge made from whatever was still left in the root cellar or pantry, and then, suddenly, to have fresh milk.  And cheese.

A glorious thing, I’m sure.

Today we might look in our pantry and check what’s almost gone.  That is, what in your life has gone out of supply.  Energy?  Love?  Imagination?  Motivation?  Friends?  Family.  Consider those the result of a fallow time, a winter of emotional or relational resources.  We all have them at different times and in different seasons of our life.

Look, then, for the new milk.  What’s quickening in your life?  Perhaps a new project.  A new friend.  Maybe a child.  Could be a feeling of confidence, of new direction.

What do you need, after the fresh milk has invigorated you to bring your little one into the world?  More time to devote to it.  More affection to bestow.  More time with yourself for ideas to emerge?  More time with family and friends to allow your relational life to blossom?

Whatever it is, Brigid is the goddess who represents the creative force necessary to freshen your life.  You might look at her and what she means.  Google Brigid.  There are lots of articles.  Don’t get into the ontological question.  Look at how a presence like Brigid might move into your life and give you new perspectives, new images, new paths.

Open yourself to the things you need to have a fruitful and productive new year.  The season awaits.

2011  

Winter                                           Moon of the Winter Solstice  2011

Darkness has fallen.  The solstice has begun.  The longest nights of the year occur over the next few days.

The summer solstice, now a half year away in either direction on our orbit around Sol, has faded, faded, faded until the longest day of the year has become the longest night; in the other direction, toward which we move, the summer solstice is a half year away.

Starting now, we will begin, second by second, minute by minute, then hour by hour to turn ourselves toward the light until, at the moment of light’s triumph on June 20th at 6:09 pm, we will begin again a sure glide into winter.

On the Great Wheel it is neither the longest night nor the longest day by itself that matters, rather it is the certainty of their coming, light followed by increasing darkness, darkness followed by increasing light.  This reality, as metaphor, reminds us that no light is so fulsome that it is without darkness and no darkness so total as to be without light.

Too, we can see our lives as a turn of the wheel. In late winter we quicken, growing small within the mother.   We emerge during Beltane, the sun’s heat and the day’s length increases and we mature, grown into adults, as the turn moves toward Mabon and Samain, summer’s end.  Our lives develop fruit and we harvest; as Summer’s End moves toward the Winter Solstice, our hair turns gray and our bodies decline.  In Winter we move toward the darkness, back to the enveloping womb that is our mother, the earth.

Tonight we celebrate the winter season of our lives, the time when our life finishes its run.  This bears no sorrow, nor any fear, since we know that on the morrow, as it has since time begun, the light will again gain strength.  Living or not, it will shine on us, too.

Winter                                  Moon of the Winter Solstice  2011

Something new seems to be happening.  Not sure if I’m reading the rustling in the ether of our culture right, but it feels like the Great Wheel may have begun to reemerge.  Not in a Wiccan or alt-pagan way, though that’s certainly there, but in a from the ground up way (so to speak).

A friend called me tonight to wish me a salubrious solstice.  Kate wants to do a fire tonight. First Universalist has a solstice celebration as do many UU congregations.  There has been, for a while now, solstice celebrations on the continent.  I’m most familiar with ones in Scotland and Sweden.

These celebrations, rituals whatever we might call them are not confined to the Winter Solstice though the spreading knowledge of Christmas’s relationship to the Saturnalia, itself a winter solstice holiday, has given the Winter Solstice a cultural leg up, as has a more general appreciation for the other festivals of light around this time:  Deepavali, Hanukkah, Christmas trees and home decorating–neither one of which has any obvious link with the Christian holiday.

I don’t know quite how to go about measuring the cultural penetration of solstice and equinox awareness, or the depth of its relation to individual’s religious yearnings, but my own sensibilities suggest the penetration has gone far past the surface and has, for some folks, like myself, reached the point of religious sentiment.

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, in a somewhat ham-fisted way, changed its holiday traditions focus from a sort of Victorian dress up for Christmas to what is now called a Winter Lights celebration.

I’d be interested to know what you think, what you see from your standpoint.

Fall Equinox

Fall                                                     Waning Harvest Moon

Meteorological fall begins on September 1st, but the ritual calendar of many earth focused traditions places the beginning of fall at the moment when the sun’s equator and the earth’s align, the earth, just for a moment, losing its tilt relative to the sun.  This means we are half way through a cycle that began in June on the Summer Solstice and will end in December on the Winter Solstice.

Here’s an explanation from Wikipedia:  “In the half year centered on the June solstice, the Sun rises and sets towards the north, which means longer days with shorter nights for the Northern Hemisphere and shorter days with longer nights for the Southern Hemisphere. In the half year centered on the December solstice, the Sun rises and sets towards the south and the durations of day and night are reversed. Also on the day of an equinox, the Sun rises everywhere on Earth (except the Poles) at 06:00 in the morning and sets at 18:00 in the evening (local time).”

What are the marks of autumn for you?  Is it the return to school, the burst of energy, enthusiasm that comes from strapping on the cultural expectations of our youth?  Or, are the leaves changing, the senescence in the plant world a key moment for you?  Perhaps the chill winds and cool nights, the clear night skies.  For some it could be the nearing of deer hunting, or the start up of the NFL and the college football seasons.  Some find the gradual slide into darkness a time of increasing depression, the beginnings of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Whatever marks this change for you it comes along with the seasonal ones; changes marked by decreasing solar energy per square foot and the attendant cooling.

This is the second of the three harvest festivals in the Celtic calendar, the first happening on August 1st, Lughnasa, and the final harvest festival marking Summer’s End, Samhain, on October 30th.  This was an other occasion for a market fair, settling of debts and entering into contracts.

Seasonal Pilgrimage

Fall                                           Waning Harvest Moon

Each turn of the Celtic seasonal calendar I find ideas, personal reflections, astronomical or traditional lore to pass along.

This time I’ll pass along one from Waverly Fitzgerald who maintains a website, living in season.

She suggests a seasonal pilgrimage, a visit each turn of the year to a place that, for you, embodies the energies and essence of the new season.  This recommendation struck me because I have a place myself, next to the Carlos Avery Wildlife Refuge, the Bootlake Scientific and Natural Area.

To get to my sacred area I walk back through a field, it formerly held a house, now gone, traverse a crescent of young oak and birch to emerge in a circular meadow filled with furze.  Across the furze and to the northwest is a path back into the woods, not long, that takes me to a parcel of land between a pond on the south and the marshy edge of Bootlake on the north.

On this land between the waters stands an old growth white pine, a white pine with a crooked top, probably the main trunk broke off in a storm or lightning strike and a secondary branch took over, but at an angle from the main.  My guess is that this deformity allowed the old giant to survive the woodsman’s axe.

In a ring around this older tree are its offspring, a small grove of younger white pines who now stand sentinel around their older parent, a conversation now lasting at least a hundred years of more.

A portion of Tully’s ashes came with me one day.  I scattered them around the base of the tree, then sat down with my back to its trunk, snugged in between two great roots while I gave thanks for this Irish Wolfhound who had taken a special place in my heart.

At other times, often on New Year’s Day, I have visited this sacred grove, the air often below zero, snow crunching, black crows watching me from high atop leafless oak.

This small place, away from the city and the suburbs, a place intact, has been a refuge for me for over twenty years.  I visit it still, though less in the last few years.  It’s time to return.

 

Following the Old Religion:  Fall (Mabon)

September 22, 2010 on 9:49 am | In Commentary on Religion, Faith and Spirituality, Great Wheel, Great Work, permaculture | 1 Comment

Lughnasa                                            Full Back To School Moon

Summer has three endings:  Labor Day which marks the end of summer vacation for many school children; and, for many adults like myself, kicks us into serious mode as all those years of conditioning continue to affect our attitude;  Mabon, or the Fall Equinox, which comes tomorrow, that point when day and night balance each other, neither claiming dominance, though the trend matters and at this equinox, the balance tips toward night as the darkness increases, pulling us toward the longest night, the Winter Solstice on December 22nd and Samhain, or Summer’s End according to the old Celtic calendar which divided the year in half, Beltane-Samhain or the growing season, and Samhain-Beltane or the fallow season.  Samhain comes on October 31st and, like all Celtic holidays lasts a week.

The growing season has this triple farewell reflected too in the holidays of Lughnasa, the festival of first fruits, Mabon, the peak of the harvest and harvest home, and spiral-in-woodsSamhain, the end of the harvest season and the end of the growing season.  No matter how you notice or celebrate it these real changes in the agricultural year still happen, they still have critical importance for our human community, and they still deserve our attention.  Why?  Because our ages old relationship with agriculture is what separates us from the hunter-gatherers.  Agriculture allows us to live in villages, towns and cities by producing surplus food on farms in much the same way that the honeybee produces surplus honey while still making enough for the colony to survive on throughout the winter.

Without those who farm, there would be no surplus food.  With no surplus food we would have to revert to subsistence agriculture, growing what we needed every year or hunting and gathering.  This would prove daunting since most of us have forgotten or never been taught how to grow food, how to hunt, how to identify edible plants.

This is the great hidden reality for many, if not most, urban dwellers, who make up, since 2008, over half of the world’s population, a projected 5 billion people by 2030.  Without  a healthy eco-system, one that can support intense tillage, that is, sustainable tillage, the world’s urban dwellers will be bereft of something they cannot do without:  food.  Add to that the pressure on the world’s fresh water supply and two fundamental sustainers:  food and water are at peril.

Granted following the holidays of the Great Wheel will not work magic–sorry to all my Wiccan friends–but it would remind us all, 8 times a year, of the source of our sustenance.  That would help.  Naming our days after these holidays (I do it in the upper left of each post) keeps that reminder fresh.  Our sustainers, mother earth and father sun, do not require us, do not need anything from us, yet they will support us if we live within their limits.  These holidays began when our ancestors realized the need to remind themselves of the delicate, fragile harmony required for human life to flourish.

Over the course of the years and centuries and millennia since, hubris has lead us further and further away from the old religion; we have replaced it with  idols, fetishes, really.  We will, at some point, pay the price for our blasphemy as we upset that harmony, creating an environment that will no longer sustain human life.  Only if we step back from our profligacy can we ensure our survival.

Knowing the rhythms of the natural world, of the agriculture that feeds us, of the systems that keep water fresh and available, is our only chance to avoid apocalypse.  Will we do it?  I don’t know.

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Lughnasa       2010                                                Waning Grandchildren Moon

Turning round the star wheel we have come again to the first day of the month named after Augustus Caesar, First Citizen of Rome.  In Celtic lands this month was:  Welsh–Awst, Scots Gaelic–an Lunasdal and in Irish:  Lughnasadh.

Though the coming of Autumn is not visible, the wind tells us it has come.   Fujiwara no Toshiyuki

The Japanese word risshu means the first day of Autumn.  By solar equinox reckoning we are a good 8 weeks away from that day, yet Toshiyuki’s poem suggests another lammastideway to look for the fall of the year.  Are there signals in the air, in the plant world, among the animals?  Yes, there are. Lughnasa, a cross-quarter holiday in the Celtic calendar, marks the half-way point of the changes from the summer solstice to the fall equinox.

The bees have put away honey all July and August is the month when their honey production wanes.  Many flowers and vegetables have already grown, flowered and fruited:  iris, daffodil, tulip, lily, dicentra, coral bells, hosta and phlox.  The long grasses have seeded as have many of the tall weeds, including the hemp that grows here in abundance.  There are stalks, brown stalks, in the garden, the signs of a more general senescence that will over take all the flowers and vegetables as August continues and becomes September.  Animal babies have begun to mature, witness the opossum pictured here a few weeks ago.

The main signal of seasonal change though, for me, is the change in the angle of the sun light.  By August 20th, the sun’s angle of declination at its highest point in the sky, noon, will be 12 degrees less than the 69 degrees it achieved on June 20th, the summer solstice and the sun’s highest angle at our 45th degree of latitude.  This changed angle, subtle at first, becomes obvious as August moves on and creates the tone of seasonal change in advance of temperature and other meteorological signals. We now journey toward the sun’s lowest angle of declination here, 22 degrees, reached at the Winter Solstice on December 21st.

In many webpages you will find confident reference to Lugh as the Celtic sun-god and to Lughnasa as his festival.  Maybe.  Celtic lore has a number of obstacles to clear understanding.  The most difficult obstacles lie in the sources of information that we have for ancient Celtic life.  Whatever written information, if any, the Celts left behind have been lost in the wake of the Roman invasions that began in 55 BC with the arrival of Julius Caesar.  As a result we always look at the Celts through the eyes of their conquerors.  Tacitus, for example, records the story of the Druids and their last stand across the Menai Straits in northwestern Wales.  It is Caesar’s accounts of the Gallic Wars (Celtic Wars) that gives us much of the scanty information we have about Celtic religious life.

The next main source of information about the Celts comes from the Roman Catholic Church that overtook and weeded out both the ancient faery faith and the peculiar and attractive version of Christianity that evolved on its own before the Roman Church came.  This Celtic Christianity emphasized a close relationship with the natural world and retained practices resonant with the Celtic faery faith.

Nowadays a different, but no less problematic type of interpretation occurs when the neo-pagan community takes up these holidays and puts into them the mythological narratives that appeal most to their sensibility.   They can do this, of course, and, in fact, they do, but it does not mean that the interpretation they place on the sacred days have much, if any, congruence with the practices and beliefs of the ancient Celts.

Thus, the Celts and their ancient life exist behind by shrouds of interpretation motivated by ancient political exigency, motivated by medieval religious arrogance and now motivated by contemporary irrational adoration.

Lugh, in other words, is a name put on a Celtic deity by the Romans, who tended to associate the gods of conquered tribes with gods of their own.  Lugh came to be equated with Hermes, Mercury to the Romans.  We have very little direct information about the Celtic pantheon, though there is some.

What we do know for certain is that on and around August 1, for centuries, Celtic and English peoples celebrated the first fruits of the harvest on a day called Lughnasa.  Brian Friel’s wonderful play, Dancing at Lughnasa, gives an excellent account of the holiday as it was still practiced in the early part of the 20th century.  As the Burns poem below* attests, part of its celebration included going out into the fields of barley or wheat or rye or whatever, to practice human fertility rites.

Like the rest of the Celtic holidays, Lughnasa involved a week of fairs and markets, a time of celebrations, gatherings of people from various rural areas.

These holidays were and are significant in the daily lives of rural folks in the Celtic Countries and England.  The Lammas Meadows are an example.  Lugg Meadows in james-stacking-hay-lugg-meadowHerefordshire, England are the largest and best preserved of 20 Lammas Meadows in England today, some of which still follow the medieval land tenure system that created them in the first place.

In this system the lord of the manor, who owned the fields, would rent the prime bottom land to those who could afford the rent.  Bottom land was the most valuable land in the middle ages because it often had a sandy or rocky bottom with layers of fertile silt on top, creating a well-drained and rich field for growing hay.  Hay was critical for it fed the many animals used in farming and in the other work of the manor through the winter.

The fee-holders would mark their holdings with ‘dole stones’, the holding being irregular strips of the bottom land on which they purchased the right to harvest hay.  From Candlemas (the Catholic holiday laid over the Celtic celebration of Brigid, the triple Goddess, Imbolc) to Lammas (the Catholic holiday laid over the Celtic Lughnasa) the fee-holders and the Lord kept the Lammas Meadows ‘shut for hay.’  Over this time only the Lord and the fee-holders could enter the land.  On Lammas Day, however, the fields would open to the commoner–the person who used the common land–who could browse his animals in them until Candlemas, February 1st of the next year.

The farmer making hay from the Lammas Meadows (see pic) has an interesting graphic about his concept of sustainability.  It involves a triple bottom line:  social, environmental and economic.   Here it is:triple-bottom-line1

from a fascinating website:  Wilson’s Almanac

*It was on a Lammas night,
When corn rigs are bonnie,
Beneath the moon’s unclouded light,
I held away to Annie:
The time flew by, wi tentless heed,
Till ‘tween the late and early;
Wi’ sma’ persuasion she agreed
To see me thro’ the barley.

The sky was blue, the wind was still,
The moon was shining clearly;
I set her down, wi’ right good will,
Amang the rigs o’barley
I ken’t her heart was a’ my ain;
I lov’d her most sincerely;
I kissed her owre and owre again,
Among the rig o’ barley.

I locked her in my fond embrace;
Her heart was beating rarely:
My blessings on that happy place,
Amang the rigs o’barley.
But by the moon and stars so bright,
That shone that hour so clearly!
She ay shall bless that happy night,
Amang the rigs o’barley.

I hae been blythe wi’ comrades dear;
I hae been merry drinking;
I hae been joyfu’ gath’rin gear;
I hae been happy thinking:
But a’ the pleasures e’er I saw,
Tho three times doubl’d fairley
That happy night was worth then a’.
Among the rig’s o’ barley.

CHORUS

Corn rigs, an’ barley rigs,
An’ corn rigs are bonnie:
I’ll ne’er forget that happy night,
Among the rigs wi’ Annie.

Robert Burns

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Summer Solstice                                      Waxing Strawberry Moon

summermandala

The longest day of the year.  Light triumphant, streaming, steaming.  The darkness held at bay.

Summer Solstice

This is an astronomical phenomenon transformed and translated into a spiritual one.  We humans have over millennia taken solstice and equinox alike as moments out of time, a sacred caesura when we could review our life, our path as the Great Wheel turns and turns and turns once again.

The Celts first divided their year into two:  Beltane, the beginning of summer, and Samhain, literally summer’s end.  As their faith tradition developed, they added in both solstices and equinoxes.  Since Beltane and Samhain occurred between the spring equinox and the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice respectively, they became known as cross-quarter holidays.  Imbolc and Lughnasa filled in the other two cross-quarter spots.

It is the eight holidays, the four astronomical ones and the four cross-quarter, that make up the Great Wheel.  In the most straight forward sense the Great Wheel emphasizes cyclical time as opposed to linear or chronological time.  This seems odd to those of us raised in the chronological tradition influenced by Jewish and Christian thought in which there is an end time.  With an end to time the obvious influence on our perception of time is that we progress through the days until they become years, which become millennia until the Day of the Lord or that great risin’ up mornin’ when the dead live and time comes to a stop.

That this is an interpretation rather than a fact rarely crosses the mind of people raised on birthdays, anniversaries, celebrations of one year as it comes followed by the next.  Our historical disciplines from history itself to the history of ideas, art history, even geology and the theory of evolution all reinforce the essentially religious notion of time as a river flowing in one direction, emptying eventually into an unknown sea which will contain and end the river.

Immanuel Kant, in attempting to reconcile the dueling metaphysics of two apparently contradictory philosophical schools (rationalists and empiricists), hit on the notion of time and space as a priori’s, in a sense mental hardwiring that allows us to perceive, but is not inherent in the nature of reality.  That is, we bring space and time to the table when we begin ordering our chaotic sense impressions.  My interest in the Great Wheel and in the traditional faith of my genetic ancestors came in part from a long standing fascination with the question of time.  We are never in yesterday or tomorrow, we are always in now.  What is time?  What is its nature and its correct interpretation relative to the question of chronological versus cyclical time?

I have not settled these questions, not even in my own mind, and they continue to be live topics in philosophy.  Learning to pay attention to the Great Wheel, to the now, and to the specific place where I live has pushed me toward the cyclical view, as has gardening and now the keeping of bees.  It is, today, the Summer Solstice.  Again.  As it was the last time the earth visited this location in space (ah, yes, space.  another conversation which we’ll bracket for now) and as it will be the next time.  This is a literally cyclical view of time based on the earth’s orbit around the sun, one which returns us, over and over to much the same spot.

Next summer when the solstice arrives the asiatic lilies will be ready to bloom, Americans will be getting ready to celebrate the fourth of July and kids will be out of 6a00d8341c3d4753ef00e54f3035098833-640wischool.  The mosquitoes will have hatched, the loons returned and basketball will finally be over.  These kind of phenological observations depend on the repetitive, cyclical character of natural events.  There is a real sense in which this time does not move forward at all, rather it exists in a state of eternal return, one solstice will find itself happening again a year later.  Is there any progress, from the perspective of the solstice, from one to the next?  Not in my opinion.

I don’t deny the intellectual value of arranging knowledge in what appears to be a rational sequence. It aids learning and explanation, but it may well be a mistake to think that sequence exists outside our mental need for it.  It may just be that time is, in some sense, an illusion, a useful one to be sure, but an illusion none the less.

Even if it is, we still will have the Summer Solstice and its celebration of light.  We will still have the Winter Solstice and its celebration of the dark.  We can see each year not as one damned thing after another, but as a movement from the light into the dark and back out again.  We can see the year as a period of fallowness and cold (here in the temperate latitudes) followed by a period of fertility and abundance.  This is the Great Wheel and it currently makes the most sense to me.  That’s the light I have today anyhow.  Let’s talk next year at this time.

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Beltane   2010                            Waning Flower Moon

beltane2

The old Celtic calendar divided the year into two seasons, Summer and Winter.    Summer began on Beltane, May 1st, and ended at Samhain, Summer’s End, at October 31st.  Summer is the growing season, the time when a subsistence farming economy like that of the Celts in Britain and Ireland raised food stuffs that had to last throughout the long, fallow season of  Winter.

As my inner journey has  changed over the years since Alexandria, Indiana and my received Methodist Christianity the wisdom of these early earth based faith traditions means more and more to me.   The technology of food raising and preservation has changed dramatically, it is true, but the human need for food has not.  We still need enough calories to sustain us throughout our day and most of those calories still start out in the form of plant material.

Taoism emphasizes conforming our lives to the movement of heaven.  At its most obvious level this means making the rhythms of our lives congruent with what the Celts called the Great Wheel of the Seasons.  If you care for flowers, have a vegetable garden or raise bees, then the biological imperative of their seasonal needs tends to pull you into the season.  If you enjoy the gradual and beautiful transition in Minnesota from the growing season to the depths of Winter, the cool days and leaves may call you outside, perhaps to hunting and fishing, perhaps to hiking and birdwatching, perhaps just for the changing colors.  As fall changes to winter, you may, like the bears, begin to  hibernate, turn away from the cold and begin to do inside work.

Taoism also encourages us to conform our lives to the possibilities of the moment.  That is, when standing in a river, pushing it back upstream is foolish, but it is possible to dig channels for it and divert it’s energy.

The Great Wheel is often seen as a metaphor for the human journey:  baby (spring), youth (summer), adulthood (fall), elderhood (winter).  The tao of human life is to act as the moment in life you are in suggests.  A twist on this might be to consider what the adult stage finds calling to it when the season of summer is upon us.  There are many levels.

Beltane offers us a chance to reflect on those things in our lives that have begun to take on real form, that seem poised for a season of growth.  In my case bee-keeping and the translation project come to mind.  I’ve done preliminary work with both of them and it may just be this summer that they grow into regular parts of my ongoing journey.    I hope so.

Whatever it is for you, whatever things in your life  need a long hot summer for maturation, give it to them.  This is the movement of heaven.

Kate’s colleague Dick, whom I have mentioned occasionally here, has come close to the end of his painful last days.  The cancer has proved more than his body and the medical wisdom we have now could defeat.  What comes to maturation for him in these first days of summer is the whole of his life and the transition of death.  None of us know what lies on the other side of the grave, or even if there is another side, but all lives end.  Vale, Dick.

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springequinoxsolarSpring   2010                              Waxing Awakening Moon

Today is the spring equinox.  We’ve made it through another winter.

The bees have already begin to buzz and plant life has pushed light green shoots through the soil.   The days have begun to warm and yesterday I felt the warmth of the sun on my neck.  What a treat!

Spring, more than anything else, presses us into realm of fertility and abundance, the efflorescence of mother earth that feeds us all.  Birds come back from their winter homes.  Gardener’s start plants for their gardens.  Some folks lift their house, an expression I heard first in Minnesota.  It means spring cleaning.  Or spring cleaning means lifting the house.  Whatever.

This is a good day to consider the things that are tender shoots in your life.  Maybe’s its that new package of bees on the way from California, that novel you finally set down to write, that language you finally got started on.  Maybe it’s a redesign of your living space, your occupational space, your own, internal space.  Remember that tender shoots require care, yes, but also remember that those tender shoots have power behind them, power rooted in the part of you that made them surface.  Some of those shoots, most of them, the best thing you can do, let them flourish at their pace.  Don’t force them.

Watch for baby birds, puppies, infants, kittens, new plants.  They are the concrete hope out of which we make not only this world, but the future one, too.  They are reason you exist, to care for them, to provide a nourishing environment for their growth.  Those tenders shoots in your life are the same.  They are the concrete hope out of which you will make these moments in your life and the future ones.  So, be kind to them.  Let’em grow.

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Imbolc  (2010)                                       Waning Cold Moon

imbolcThough daytime begins to gradually increase right after the Winter Solstice, it is not until Imbolc that we begin to see actual signs of life’s return.  An early indication of life’s strong statement against the inertia of the cold comes as ewe’s become pregnant, have life within their bellies–imbolc.  Not many of us (Gentlemen Jim Johnson excepted, of course) have pregnant sheep in our lives, so this early pointer to the green means little to us.

The weather in Celtic lands had rain and chilly, but not cold, weather in these months, so the grass and plant life would begin to emerge.  Here in Minnesota this week often has some of the coldest temperatures of the year and snow is far from unusual.

The only U.S. ritual I know of directly related to Imbolc is Punxsutwaney Phil. Click this link for a direct immersion in this small Pennsylvania town which still celebrates an animal, the woodchuck, who comes up from a hole in the ground and checks the weather to give an indication of winter’s length.  His prediction stretches out six weeks which takes us close to the time of the spring equinox on or about March 20th.  In other words he predicts the weather during the season of Imbolc.

It’s been a while since I’ve written about my favorite Celtic goddess, Brigit.  This is her holiday and the candles in the picture here allude to the sacred fire, kept burning day and night, for at least 1,000 years and probably much longer, in her honor in the Irish county Kildare.  Brigit is a triple goddess, common in Celtic lore; she is the goddess of the smithy, the hearth and the poet.

The link between these aspects of her is fire and creativity.  The smith, in the time of the ancient Celts was a wonder worker, developing strong tools, weapons and jewelry for the people.  The hearth is the center of domestic life and the Irish put it out once a year and relit it from a large bonfire built on the sacred hill at Tara.  Finally, the poet, a crucial element in Celtic political and creative life, drew his or her inspiration from the holy fire of Brigit’s presence.

Imbolc, called Candlemas by Catholics, is a good time to examine the creative projects in your life:  at work, at home, in any location where you reach in to  your Self and offer something back to the world.  You may want Brigit to participate with you in that search, or you may want St. Brigit, the Catholic saint named after her.

Live into this holiday and this creative season as a person on fire.

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The Longest Night of the Year
December 21, 2009 on 11:39 am | In Asia, Commentary on Religion, Faith and Spirituality, Great Wheel, Holidays | No Comments yet, your thoughts are welcome »

Winter Solstice                         Waxing Moon of Long Nights

In an hour the earth’s tilt away from the sun creates the lowest angle of the year for sunlight reaching the surface here at wintersolsticetreesthe 45th latitude.  This means the available rays get spread out over a much larger surface area reducing their power to heat up the earth and the atmosphere.  We have arrived at mid-winter, the shortest day and the longest night.wintersolsticetrees

One tradition of honoring the Winter Solstice emphasizes its fulcrum nature in the balance between sunlight and darkness.  In this tradition we have moved deeper and deeper into darkness ever since the Summer Solstice.  The darkness has a baleful connotation in that it does not support plant and animal growth, hides predators and causes humans to lose hope in the ongoingness of their tribe or clan.

A famous Roman holiday, the Saturnalia, was a week long festival for Sol Invictus, the unconquerable sun, who breaks through the increasing darkness at long last on the Winter Solstice.  Following the longest night, the light per day begins a gradual increase to a joyous longest day, the Summer Solstice.  The sun and its power of fertility defeats the darkness, acts as hope bringer, assuring us even in the depths of a cold, bleak winter that spring and the growing season will come.

There is another approach to this Solstice celebration, we might call it the Taoist, which emphasizes the darkness,  too.

In this pattern the first approach to celebrating the Winter Solstice emphasizes the yang, the active and creative yin-yang-300x225aspect of the sun’s increase and, in fact, takes its original meaning from the side of a hill facing the yin-yang-300x225sun.

The second approach does not deny or diminish the yang experience of Sol Invictus, instead it folds into our celebration an appreciation for the yin aspects of the Winter Solstice.  The darkness of the long night reminds us of the power of passivity and receptiveness.  The hard thrust requires yielding to be effective.  As the sun’s bright eminence floods the day with its presence, so the moon bathes darkness in its soft light.

The Taoist symbol illustrates this second way of looking at the Solstices.  You could think of the Summer Solstice as the Yang and the Winter Solstice as the Yin, the one holiday emphasizing the creative and active aspect of the Great Wheel, the other taking us deeper into the darkness, the receptive.  The small dots in each curved portion remind us of the dynamism involved in the Solstice, that is, just as we honor the darkness and the Yin tonight, we acknowledge the increase in Yang that occurs on the next day.

Here is a table about yin and yang.  It has pertinence for one view of the Winter Solstice.

[Yin]          [Yang]

nature

feminine   masculine
passive      active
receives    creates
soft             hard
dark            bright

symbols

moon           sun
tiger              dragon
north            south

colors

black             red

numbers
even              odd

Original meaning

(Yin) north side of a hill (i.e. away from the sun)

(Yang) south side of a hill (i.e. facing the sun)

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Samhain     (2009)                                Dark Moon

Summer’s end.  We close now the season of vegetative growth and enter the time of dark and cold.  samhain_1

The original Celtic calendar had only two holidays:  Beltane, May 1st, which marked the beginning of summer and the growing season and Samhain (Sow-in) which marked its end.  In terms of ancient precedent then Samhain was one of two  sacred times in the life of the early Celtic peoples inhabiting Wales, Scotland, the Isle of Mann and Ireland.

It is not surprising, in a country rich in Celtic immigrants:  Welsh miners, Irish laborers, Scot farmers and merchants, even a few Manx smugglers according to some things I’ve read, that both of these important dates have echoes even into our time.  May Day with May poles and May baskets, May queens, less celebrated now than when I was young, represents unmediated memories of Beltane.

Halloween, too, contains unmediated memories of the last harvest festival in the Celtic year and the official beginning of the New Year.  The little ghosts and goblins, faery folk and trolls who come to the door tonight in search of treats are folk representations of the visitors from the Sidhe, the Otherworld where live those of faery.  The Celts believed that on this night and for the upcoming week the veil between this world, the world of the living, and the Otherworld, the place where spirits and gods and goddesses co-habited with others:  faeries, selkins, banshees and an aristocracy amongst these same that included the Faery Queens.

Much like the day of the dead in Latin America, as it was before the intervention of Catholic theology, also expected guadalupedeadduring Samhain were ancestors.  As with dias de los muertos, the Celtic family would make food and provide music loved by the deceased.  Also like the day of the dead, this was done in part to appease them and ensure their favorable intercession with the powerful forces of the Otherworld.

Though both the May pole and the Halloween trick-or-treater have lost their direct connection to the ancient Celtic mythos the holidays themselves have not lost their critical link with seasonal change.  The opening of the growing season is just as important to us now in a world filled with hungry people as it was when the Celts danced over bonfires and made love in the fields to encourage fertility.

This time, the time when we put away our gardening tools, rake the leaves, put up the storm windows and switch on our furnaces is as marked a transition now as it was when my ancestors visited the holy wells and dressed them with flowers and produce.  In the newspaper this morning a local business in Stillwater, Minnesota told of an increase in customers for their lights which treat Seasonal Affective Disorder.  We have not left our animal bodies behind, they carry within them cycles borne of long adjustment to seasonal change.

Samhain and its season starts a New Year for me.  I made this adjustment long ago, though I also celebrate New Years on January 1st, too.  I’m a multiple new year guy, like many religionists whose sacred calendar follows other rhythms.  The Jewish community celebrated New Years in September, for example.

To start a New Year as the sun goes into decline and to celebrate its first quarter on the Winter Solstice gives priority to the inner life, not unlike the denning instinct of animals.  We know this culturally through the multiple holidays that begin to dot the calendars.  All Saint’s Day.  Thanksgiving.  Advent.  The Posada.  Hanuka. Christmas.  New Years.  Kwanza.  Often Ramadan falls in this time period. Deepavali.  The number of parties increases.  Lights go up.  Music changes and home decorations come out of storage.

If you can, pull back a bit from the festivities, let the change sink in as the days shorten and the nights invite you into the darkness.  There is much to be learned in the dark.  It is after all the place from which we all came and toward which we all go.  The dark is a time for healing and restoration.  This is true in our daily cycle and in our annual one as well.

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Fall    (Mabon 2009)                           Waxing Blood Moonmabon041-1

Equinox.  Today is the fall equinox.  In spring we celebrate the shift towards yet more light and warmth as the trend toward lengthened days sees daylight overtaking the night.   Now the shift has a different, more somber direction.  At the Summer Solstice the hours of daylight began to shrink in relation to the hours of darkness.  At this equinox the night begins to predominate, an acceleration that will reach its peak at the Winter Solstice.

Contemporary Wiccans (some at least) call this equinox Mabon and see it as the final harvest festival.  My own understanding and practice sees Mabon as the second of three harvest festivals:  Lughnasa (ended yesterday), Mabon and Samhain (Summer’s End).  Here on the 45th latitude the gardening year does begin to wind down now.

On farms, however, the corn harvest lasts well into October and even in our garden we have carrots, parsnip, garlic and potatoes still in the ground.   In the ancient British Isles the end of summer meant deciding how much livestock you could feed through the winter.   If there was too little food for your herd, a certain number of animals would be slaughtered and their meat prepared to sustain the family over the winter.

In either case though the fall equinox is the moment when the Great Wheel takes a decisive turn toward darkness.  That shift, along with the senescence in the garden and in the trees and fields, makes this an appropriate time for taking stock.  Kate and I are in the midst of preserving through canning, drying and storing the fruits of our summer’s work.  Grain and corn gets driven to the cathedrals of the plains in open trucks filled to the brim with yellow or golden seeds.  The elevators fill up as does our newly built store room.

On a personal level this turn of the Great Wheel offers us a similar opportunity, that is, a time to take stock of the summer, the last year, even the course of our life.   Experience the joy of taking in to yourself the fruits you have harvested as a result of your own hard work.  Yes, money may be a part of that, but it is not the most important.  How have you increased in wisdom?  Have you and a significant other grown in your relationship?  Has a relationship that needed to come to an end done so and allowed you to move into a new phase of life?

This is a wonderful festival for gratitude.  In fact, if you do nothing else to acknowledge this transition, take a moment to make a list of people and things for which you are grateful.  You could take this one step further and make others in your life aware of your gratitude.

Finally, on a life level, the Great Wheel’s turn at Mabon symbolizes the autumn of our lives.  If this is where you are on your ancient trail, Mabon prompts you to consider the gifts and lessons we have embraced along the way.  The Great Wheel turns toward the final harvest, that day when we will be gathered up into the abundance from which we came and to which we return.  Present to us now that the years ahead are fewer than the ones behind this knowledge can enrich these autumnal days.  Life becomes more precious, an experience to be savored, lingered over, greeted with joy hour by hour, day by day.

In the end the Wild Hunt comes for all of us, the just and the unjust.  The Great Wheel teaches us that even after it comes, life will go on and that, in some fashion, we will all be part of it.  Come to think of it, this may be my best answer to the question about the after life.

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First Fruits
August 1, 2009

Lughnasa                              Waxing Green Corn Moon

Lughnasa is the first fruits festival of the Celtic calendar, a celebration of the harvest just beginning.  Some of you may know the Catholic holiday of Lammas which has its roots in this Celtic one.

We’ve already had new potatoes, greens, lots of sugar snap peas, garlic, onions, beets, carrots, green beans and lugnasadbm8cucumbers.  A couple of green peppers have survived our new puppies and we’ve harvested blueberries, currants and one cherry from our new orchard.  At our house the harvest is well underway.

Lughnasa is the cross-quarter holiday between the Summer Solstice and the Autumnal Equinox.  Like the solstices and equinoxes it was added late to the Celtic calendar as was Imbolc, celebrated on February 1st.  The original Celtic lugnasadbm8calendar separated the year into two seasons:  Beltane, or summer and the growing season and Samhain, Summer’s End.

There are two more harvest holidays to come:  Autumn (Madron or the Bountiful Mother) equinox, September 22nd, and Samhain, Summer’s End, beginning on October 31st in the evening.

This the time of year to celebrate and gather in the literal harvest.  It is also a good time to consider those aspects of your life and work that have begun to bear fruit.  Are your children doing well?  That special project.  How’s it going?  Your garden.  Has it been a good growing season for you?  What about your connectedness to the earth?  Has your own spiritual growth matured in some recognizable ways?

Step back and look at yourself and your life from the perspective of the farmer viewing her fields.  What’s ripe?  What needs another week, another few weeks?

So often in our rush to the next deadline or the next event or the next marker on our way to that goal, we forget to stop and consider where we are, right now.  What has happened that you feel good about?  What taste of the first harvest should you allow yourself?  If we do not stop once in a while, take in our growth and the fruits of our work, we risk becoming a slave, yes, a literal slave, bound to the wheel of expectation and driven toward a future which never seems to arrive.

This Lughnasa why not sit down with yourself and reflect?  Maybe the family could sit down one evening and consider life together. What’s going well right now?  What have you done together or separately that deserves an extra cup of cocoa or a new book?  We do not need to make a big deal out of this since we have two more harvest festivals to come, but the discipline of examining your life, separating out the wheat from the chaff, is something we all need to do.  Again, we do not need to a make a big deal out of this, since next year, right at this time, Lughnasa will come again, with the opportunity to revisit your life.
AncienTrails (2 August 2009)

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Summer                      Waning Dyan Moon

(Midsummer with the Karlbergs, at their cottage on the eastern coast of southern Sweden.)

midsommerswedenThe Summer Solstice has come.  Though articles I’ve read, including a few by meteorologists, call this the beginning of summer,  it has been celebrated most often as Midsommer.  I take it this way, a point between Beltane, the Celtic beginning of Summer and Lughnasa, the first holiday of the harvest cycle.  At Lughnasa the temperatures begin to moderate, at least in the past, and the  attention turns from the concerns of the growing season, in full heat right now, to the concerns of yield and storage.

Splitting the solar year in two, Summer and Winter, as the Celts in essence did with their original Beltane and Samhain division, makes sense to me.  Here at 45 degrees latitude, halfway between the equator and the North Pole, and in Minnesota located also near the mid-point of Turtle Island, the great North American continental land mass, we have a hot season and a cold season with transitions, Spring and Fall, neither defined so much by a definite temperature but by their back and forth nature, at one point more like winter, at another more like summer until we pass into the heart of the hot season or the heart of the cold season.

At this point the Goddess is in her earth mother phase, having passed from maiden to fertile mother.  In the fall she will transform once again into the crone, or wise woman.  The Greenman is in the second month of his marriage to her and together they work the magic that makes plants and animals grow and increase.

If you want to look at your life now, pay special attention to your passions, the heat in your life.  Have you added fuel to them?  Have you a passion you have let go cold or allowed to become an ember only in your heart?  If so, Midsommer offers you a chance to blow on those coals and make them burst into flame.

You can think of the sun at its highest point in the sky as calling to your deepest, most profound passion, the one that might rise to the very apex of your own life.  Now is a chance to nurture it, to create the fire that can transform your life.

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Beltane 2009                     Waxing Flower Moon

Beltane marks the beginning of the growing season so fertility is the essence of the celebration.  In a pre-refrigeration, pre-food preservative (except salt and drying) culture fertility during the growing season carried with it survival, for animals and humans.  Thus, anything to encourage the land and to safeguard the animals that could be done, would be done.

This holiday, Beltane, used to separate the Celtic year into halves, the other half coming six months later at Samhain, or Summer’s End.  Later the Celts adopted the solstice and equinox celebrations of other peoples and added Imbolc and Lugnasa to make an 8 holiday year.

Beltane, Lugnasa, Samhain and Imbolc are cross-quarter holidays.  They occur between the quarter year events of Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox–Imbolc,  between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice–Beltane, between Summer Solstice and Fall Equinox–Lugnasa and between Fall Equinox and Winter Solstice–Samhain.  The cross quarter days were the occasion for markets, festivals/fairs and certain seasonally observed matters like short term weddings, labor contracts and preparation for winter.

The fire jumping and making love in the fields at night preserved and magnified fertility.  The May pole which you may have gaily stomped around as a child in elementary school symbolizes the male aspect of fertility while the young maidens with May baskets symbolize the feminine.

mayqueenstainedglassThe choosing of a May queen carries over the honoring of the goddess in her maiden form, when she can become pregnant and bear children.    This tradition has almost died out in this country and I don’t know whether the selection of a mate for the May queen ever crossed the pond.  At certain points in Celtic history the May Queen’s mate was king for a year and a day.  Over the course of the year and a day the king received all the honors and trappings of royalty.  After the year finished, however, the king died at the hands of his people.  His blood fertilized the soil.

Today we have much less feel, if any, for this holiday.  It has faint impressions on our culture with May Day celebrations, sometimes with construction paper baskets for paper flowers.

As we have distanced ourselves from the land and the processes that bring us food, we have also distanced ourselves from the celebrations that mark seasonal change.  We can let Beltane pass by with no bonfires, no cattle purified, no holiday related love making in the fields.

It may not seem like much, this cultural dementia, at worst a mild symptom.  It might, though,  reveal a more severe underlying affliction.  As we forget the world of fields and cattle, the oceans and their wild fish, cattle ranches and dairy farms, the subtle body may die of starvation or dehydration. The subtle body links us into the natural world from which we come and to which we return.  If it dies, we become techno-dependent, alienated from the literal ground of our being.

This does not worry some who contend that it is the nature of humanity to cast off from the near shore for voyages far away.  This journeying, pilgrim spirit of the human animal does define us.  We have wandered from our ancient homeland in Africa, spread out upon the continents of the world.  We have even left the atmosphere and now live for short periods of time among the stars.  In the future we may travel further, beyond the planets and beyond the influence of Sol, our true god.

However.  Until the science fiction biologists splice our DNA into that of other life forms or create us anew, until then we will have the most intimate of threads, a helix doubled, that binds us tight to the development of all life here on this planet  Earth.  Until that day we will always bear the  fleshly imprint of earth’s vast teaming life explosion, an imprint we carry even at the level of individual cells.

To my mind, then, it is folly to forget.  This culture dementia is not a mild symptom, but a denial of our very essence, a turning away from the context which made us and for which we share ultimate and co-creative responsibility.

It does not seem to me that 8 holidays a year are too many to celebrate that connection.

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Ekphrasis. Spring. Equinox.
March 19, 2009 on 8:45 pm | In General |

Spring Equinox             Waning Moon of Winds

brueghel-icarus

Landscape With The Fall of Icarus
by William Carlos Williams

According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling
near

the edge of the sea
concerned
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings’ wax

unsignificantly
off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning

http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15828

We’ll follow the Celtic habit and declare the equinox tonight, the eve before the day beginning all holidays for the Celts.

I attended a workshop on ekphrasis today.  Not sure what that means?  Neither was I.  Originally (that is, for the Greeks), it meant a long description of a work of art.  Today the meaning has stretched to include prose and poetry written about art.

We wrote our own poems.   Here is one I wrote about this woodblock print by Zeshin Shibata.  He created this print when he was 83.

shibatacrows

Color faded from the earth, the sky fires orange

And comes a winged night, a murdered day.

Three crows press the pallid light,

The gentle scream of an artist dying old.
— Edit

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Imbolc: The Great Wheel Turns

February 1, 2009 on 10:35 am | In Faith and Spirituality, Great Wheel, Holidays, Myth and Story |

Imbolc  Waxing Wild Moon

Imbolc.  The celebration of lamb’s in the belly, imbolc and the festival honoring Brighid*. (see information below from the Encyclopedia Mythica.This is my favorite web source for quick, accurate information about Gods and Goddesses.)

When I came back to my Celtic roots during my transition out of the Presbyterian Ministry (the state church of a Celtic country), Brighid became central to the spirituality I began to develop.  As a fire goddess, her Imbolc celebration brigidinfire350.jpgsymbolizes the quickening of the earth as the reign of the Caillieach, the crone, recedes under the sun’s (fire) unrelenting return.

As a fire goddess, the blacksmiths worshiped her, as did the housewife with her hearth-fire and the poet, the filid and the bard, roles critical to ancient Celtic society.   Brighid inspired the poets.  Thus, she supported craftspersons, domestic life and the spark of genius that kept kings and the ruling class in check and still gives Ireland fame in letters to this day.  She became associated with fertility, hence the ewe and the lamb in the belly.

In one interpretation of the Great Wheel, the earth goes through three phases:  the first, or the virgin/maiden takes prominence with the beginning of the agricultural year, Imbolc.  The second, the Mother, takes the God as her husband at Beltane (May 1) and reigns over the growing season.  As the harvest comes in the Cailleach, the old woman or crone, takes charge.  The year proceeds in this way through virignity, motherhood and old age; a procession repeated over and over, as this archetypal linking of the year and the maturation of humanity repeats over and over in human society.

On this February 1st, as the business cycle continues its skid, the Great Wheel can teach us that the cyclical nature of human events will right this plunge and prosperity, too, will return.  You might see the business cycle as going through its crone phase, except the crone was a wise woman and as near I can tell this phase of the business cycle represents foolish men.

Time has many puzzling aspects, not the least is its appearance of linearity while we experience, too, and more profoundly, its cycles.  I see the cyclical nature of time as more true to my experience and more hopeful.  The Great Wheel, the natural cycle, does not require a cataclysm at the end to right injustice and imbalance, as do faith traditions invested in chronological time.  Each year each season brings its own opportunities for renewal, for celebration and each season is only that, a season.  In regular succession the next season will come.

I used to close my e-mails with this quote I discovered carved into the Arbor Day Lodge wooden border in its reception atrium:

There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrain of nature–the assurance that dawn comes after night, spring after winter.    Rachel Carson

This is the great and wonderful gift the Great Wheel can bring to your life, if you let it.

*Breo Saighead, or the “Fiery Arrow or Power,” is a Celtic three-fold goddess, the daughter of The Dagda, and the wife of Bres. Known by many names, Brighid’s three aspects are (1) Fire of Inspiration as patroness of poetry, (2) Fire of the Hearth, as patroness of healing and fertility, and (3) Fire of the Forge, as patroness of smithcraft and martial arts. She is brigid01300.jpgmother to the craftsmen. Sons of Tuireann: Creidhne, Luchtaine and Giobhniu.

Excalibur, King Arthur’s sword, was forged by the Lady of the Lake, a figure sometimes associated with Brighid because of her fire and forgery aspect. Like the Arthurian Avalon, or “Isle of Apples,” Brigid possessed an apple orchard in the Otherworld to which bees traveled to obtain it’s magickal nectar.

Brigid, which means “one who exaults herself,” is Goddess of the Sacred Flame of Kildare (derived from “Cill Dara,” which means “church of the oak”) and often is considered to be the White Maiden aspect of the Triple Goddess. She was Christianized as the “foster-mother” of Jesus Christ, and called St. Brigit, the daughter of the Druid Dougal the Brown. She sometimes also is associated with the Romano-Celtic goddess Aquae-Sulis in Bathe.

Brighid’s festival is Imbolc, celebrated on or around February 1 when she ushers Spring to the land after The Cailleach’s** Winter reign. This mid-Winter feast commences as the ewes begin to lactate and is the start of the new agricultural cycle. During this time Brigid personifies a bride, virgin or maiden aspect and is the protectoress of women in childbirth. Imbolc also is known as Oimelc, Brigid, Candlemas, or even in America as Groundhog Day.

As the foundation for the American Groundhog Day, Brigid’s snake comes out of its mound in which it hibernates and its behavior is said to determine the length of the remaining Winter.

Gailleach, or White Lady, drank from the ancient Well of Youth at dawn. In that instant, she was transformed into her Maiden aspect, the young goddess called Brigid. Wells were considered to be sacred because they arose from oimbelc (literally “in the belly”), or womb of Mother Earth.

Because of her Fire of Inspiration and her connection to the apple and oak trees, Brighid often is considered the patroness of the Druids.

**Cailleach is referred to as the “Mother of All” in parts of Scotland. Also known as Scotia, she is depicted as an old hag with cailleach300.jpgthe teeth of a wild bear and boar’s tusks. She is believed to be a great sorceress.

One superstition regarding Calliach is that the farmer who is last to harvest his grain would be the person to “look after” Caileach for the rest of the year, until the next harvest. The first farmer who finishes harvesting would make a corn-dolly from the grain he has harvested. He would, then, pass it on to the next farmer who finishes. It would keep going until the corn-dolly ends up with the last farmer. That last farmer would be obligated to watch the “old woman”.

She is also known to have created the earth. “With her hammer she alternately splinters mountains, prevents the growth of grass, or raises storms. Numerous wild animals follow her…”
– Encyclopedia of the Occult, 1920

Edit

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Winter Solstice 2008
wintersolstice.jpgDecember 21, 2008 on 8:58 pm | In Faith and Spirituality, Great Wheel |

5  bar steep rise 30.29  1mph NW  windchill 1  Winter Solstice

Last Quarter Moon of Long Nights

Winter Solstice  2008

Tonight.  We have come to the night, the longest and deepest of the year.  Tomorrow the daylight will increase by 4 seconds, but tonight it has been dark already for an hour.

Those who follow a neo-pagan way call this night Yule after the northern European, Germanic and Scandinavian, festivals marking the coming of light.  The yule log burned and the always green tree took on candles to celebrate the lengthening of days that began the next day.

In the neo-pagan tradition the focus is on the gradual victory of the sun.  Some say the Oak King comes alive again this night.  Sol Invictus, in fact, the all-conquering sun, was the focus of the Roman holiday at this time, the one superseded by the Christian decision to commemorate the birth of their god, Jesus, who would, like the Yule tree, stand green and alive in the face of death all around.

Some researchers claim, and if it’s not true, it ought to be, that the Norwegians forbade wheeled travel on the Winter Solstice so as not show impatience with the Great Wheel of the Sun.

Some of us though, while cosmos and earth focused in our faith, do not focus so much on the victory of light, a less significant symbol now with central heating and astronomy.  (Though critical nonetheless to the eventual return of warmth and growth)

My own journey toward a nature centric faith began in a peculiar way that has significance for how I view the Solstice.  At some point while I was still in the Christian ministry I began to sense a real problem with metaphors that encouraged me to look up, above, away, out of this plane for spirituality, for the abode of God.  It was true that the old three-story universe of the ancients–heaven, earth, hell–had been cast aside in the Reformation era thanks to the beginnings of scientific astronomy, but the metaphors guide how we feel our faith internally.  Why throw our hands up for prayer, or steeple them?  Why rely on patriarchal views which privilege one gender over another, lifting one higher up?  Why pray out of ourselves, rather than in?  Why pray to a God outside rather than that of God in our Selves?

I began a search for metaphors that lead in and down rather than out and up.  Many others made the same search and remained with the Christian faith; I found the Holy Well of the Celts.  Holy Wells are natural springs where the ancient Celts worshiped various gods and goddesses.  What I found gripping was the metaphorical well, the sinking into the earth to find connection with the sacred.  This led me also to shamanic traditions where lower road journeys travel the inner caverns of the heart.

As I began to move my meditation and contemplative practices toward the inner ancient trails, I began to feel the bond between me and the Christian faith loosen.  When I became disenchanted with the universal claim of Christianity, especially in relation to my son Joseph, who would have lived and died a Hindu, beyond the reach of salvation if not for adoption, that bond broke for good.

The journey since then has taken me to the Great Wheel and also to a new appreciation for darkness as a healing element.  Sleep knits up the raveled sleeve of care.  The fetus grows its critical first 9 months in a world of darkness.  Many plants, though we associate them with the sun, require months of time in the dark of the soil, even cold, in order to gather themselves for their much briefer exposure to the world of light and air.

The Mexica have a belief that life is a dream between a sleep and a sleep, that the true reality is not on this side of the vale of death and birth, but in the realms that lay beyond both of them.

These internal movements, steps along a different spiritual path, led me to greater and greater appreciation of the night.

Now, each year, I look forward to the longest night of the year because it meshes well with my own turn to the inward trail, an ancient trail, one prefigured in the Delphic oracle’s Know Thyself.  Also prefigured by the namaste of the Hindu and the creative/destructive dance of Shiva. The cleanest and most resonant metaphor for me now is the Tao, with the inner and the outer, the black and the white, up and down interpenetrating, in dynamic tension.

Even with the Tao, in our culture so focused on light and white and up and patriarchy, I feel a need to focus on the dark to achieve the dynamic tension otherwise sundered by our up and out assumptions.

So the Winter Solstice is the moment where astronomy and faith converge for me, the outer becoming the inner, an ancient trail I have only begun to follow.

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Wildness and Solemnity

October 24, 2008 on 5:08 pm | In Faith and Spirituality, Great Wheel, Holidays, Myth and Story | No Comments

49  bar falls 29.81  0mph windchill 49  Autumn

Waning Crescent of the Blood Moon

dogwithcelticsamhain.jpg

The Wheel

Darkness to light, cold to warmth;

changing and ever turning.

Seeds in the spring, sun midyear;

To winter’s night fires burning.

Birth and growth, learn and change;

Seasoned and finally rest.

We live on this earth for such a brief moment;

For we’re only a spiritual guest.

~Jacob Moss

The twilight already falling, sundown in only 45 minutes or so, this is the last evening here in Minnesota for a week +.  Several hard freezes have drained color from many leaves.  The hosta and dogwood look as if the water that made them firm leaked away, taking the vitality of their color with it.  Other plants have turned brown, like the liguria and the ferns.  The green lawn has spectacles of golden birch leaves and foot-print sized burr oak and red oak leaves.

Over all the mood is of a solemn celebration, the passing away of the old year thrown a party in russet and gold, a wild party, too, if the random patterns of leaf and stock tell us anything.  Wildness and solemnity are strange companions in the human world where we tend more toward Mardi Gras or the funereal, but not both at the same time, though second-lining at New Orleans jazz festival comes to mind.

In nature however these two, wild abandon and solemn presence are brothers, often seen in each others company.  The anvil shaped cumulus cloud that rises, majestic, some 5 or even ten miles in the air precedes the deluge, sometimes accompanied by howling winds and pounding hail.  Joseph Conrad wrote about the shadow line, the line between a squall’s edge and the open, calm waters beyond.  The death bed has solemn humans, often unaware of the violent, wrenching battle going on at the cellular level.

The Celts knew well the change upon us now.  This is year’s end from the Celtic perspective, a time when harvest’s finish brought with it the sober realization of long months ahead with no other food that than that laid by or gained by the hunter’s craft.  It was a time when the ancestors drew close, as did the creatures of the Faery World, that strong barrier between Faery and the world of the living weakened.

The Samhain festival, summer’s end and year’s end, was a solemn and a wild affair, natural in that sense.  Contracts made at Beltane ended.  A fair filled with the harvest and market wares went on into the night, lit by bonfires, a brave attempt to greet the terrifying visitors with jollity.  As with the Día de los Muertos the favorite meal of certain ancestors sat at the table, preferred beverages, too.

At Samhain, on October 31st, we are halfway between the Summer and the Winter Solstice.  This leafy green party with death as its backdrop reminds us.

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74  bar steady  30.10  0mph  SW  dew-point 62  sunrise 7:00  set 7:09  Autumn

Last Quarter Harvest Moon  rise none  set 3:41

mabon_autumn.jpg

Night equal to day.  Almost anyhow.  The middle harvest holiday halfway between Lughnasa and Samhain (Summer’s End).  Mabon, Harvest Home, Autumn Equinox all mark the point at which the night begins to outstrip the day.  As we move toward the long night of December 22nd, the Winter Solstice, three months away, we pause now, halfway there from the Summer Solstice, the triumph of light.

We pause to gather in fruits and vegetables from our gardens and the year’s fruits from our lives.  Kate and I still have tomatoes, beets, corn, squash and beans.  They will come in over the next month.  Much of the  year’s harvest already sits on wooden shelves, canned by Kate.  This year we will celebrate a special sort of harvest with the creation of a fruit and nut orchard.

This first project in the permaculture transition for our land is a concrete harvest of ideas and conversations Kate and I have had.  It is also a harvest of the skills and talents of the folks at Ecological Gardens, Lindsay and Paula.  The money Kate earns to pay for this work represents a harvest of its own.  There is, too, the legacy aspect to an orchard.  Future owners of this property, our children or grandchildren we hope, will gather in from what we have sown this fall.

What have you had planted for a long time that is now bearing fruit?  Docent education?  A Ph.D.?  Years of teaching ESL?  A commitment to a free and rootless life style?  Business stewarded over a lifetime of skilled work?  Children at various stages in their life?  Pension, investments, and other savings?  This is a time to say thanks and to collect into your life the fruits of this work.

As we head into the coming darkness, the land will cool and the weather will bring snow.  Depending on your personality, you may find this an exciting time that promises inner growth, attention to spiritual practice.  An extrovert might welcome the many parties and festive occasions we have invented to help us fend off the long nights.  The next three months offer a number of opportunities for all of us to consider our lives, to deepen our relationships and attune ourselves to the changing seasons.

As resources for you if  you find the Great Wheel of interest, I’m adding a set of links where you can search for more insight.  It will be in place tomorrow.

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Lughnasa    August 1st, 2008   New Moon

Lughnasa Autumn Garden

The festival of Lughnasa (pronounced Loo-na-sa) in early August marks the beginning of the harvest and the transition Lughnasa Garden Stone Circlesfrom summer to autumn.

Lughnasa is a cross quarter holiday, coming between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox.  It is a first fruits harvest festival, celebrating the beginning of the end of the growing season.  3 of the 12 Celtic holidays have the harvest at their center and Lughnasa is the first.  The others, Mabon at the Autumnal Equinox and Samhain on October 31st, mark the succession of the harvest through its final days.  Samhain, the last harvest festival, ends the old year and begins the new one, so the first time in the Celtic year begins on November 1st.

This year Lughnasa falls on a new moon, the dark time associated with the Corn Moon.  In moon lore the new moon, the dark moon affords a time for travel inward along the ancient inner trails of meditation, contemplation and ritual. New projects, new fronts on old projects can linger in our thoughts since the dark energy will not quash them, rather it provides a womb in which incubation can occur.  On the one hand then this is a time that focuses on the night and on the night without illumination, on the other it is the first day of the harvest and summer’s fading presence.

This would be a wonderful opportunity to consider new projects, but especially new ways of approaching old projects, perhaps ones already underway or set aside but which might now benefit from the inner harvest, the wisdom and creativity you have gathered since they began.   In my life I have two old novels under way, Superior Wolf and Jennie’s Dead, and a third, unnamed just begun today.  As I meditate tonight I will consider ways I can bring new information, new experience to the two novels already in proto-form.  I will also offer up the new novel, a water story.  It needs a blessing since it is young, wobbly and its new life uncertain.

This is also a good time to set on the table fruits harvested from the garden, either the literal garden, or the garden of your recent life.  We have Cherokee Purple tomatoes, Dragon’s Tongue beans, red and yellow onions, three varieties of garlic, squash blossoms, golden beets and Nante carrots.   They will make a colorful table centerpiece.  A candle for Brigid the three in one, goddess of the hearth as well as the goddess of invention and creation will burn nearby.  Kate and I will talk of plans for the fall and winter, consider the strengths we have now that we did not have three months ago, see  how we can deploy them for our mutual benefit, for the benefit of our extended family and the natural world.   I could put on the table, too, manuscript pages from the three novels I have underway; Kate could put on Ruthie’s new dress and Gabe’s outfits.

This Lughnasa is a good time to take some time and be aware of the strength you have, the wonders you have created and are creating.  Get support.  Love.  Energy.  This is the true magic available to each of us, now and tomorrow on into the unknown future.

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6/20/08      Summer Solstice 2008:  The Great Wheel Turns

allison2summersolstice400.jpg Photo by Allison Thiel, in a kayak somewhere north of the Arctic Circle and on Mid-Summer  used by permission

Texarkana, Arkansas

The summer solstice finishes a long celestial movement begun back on December 21st, the winter solstice.  The winter solstice sun moves to its furthest point south of the celestial equator. At Minnesota’s latitude the night is almost 15 hours long.  When the sun rises after the winter solstice, light has begun to triumph over dark.  It is a slow process, eked out at minutes a day, a process that becomes complete today, with 15 hours of daylight.

Down here in Texarkana, the temperature is 88 and the dew-point 75.  This is mid-summer, as the Celts call this festival.  It is also the beginning of the slow slide back to the winter solstice, the longest night.  So, as the winter solstice marks the moment when light begins to expand its grip on the day, so today marks the moment when darkness begins its increase.

This rhythm received keen attention in many paleo-lithic cultures and they attached sacred meanings to it.  The graphic below shows Stonehenge as the summer solstice sun rise passes through two standing stones.  Directed thereby it falls on the altar stone.  What does this mean?  No one knows; this is pre-history.  It does underline the deep significance this particular solar holiday held for paleo-lithic Britons.

stonehenge-summer-solstice.jpg

When a Roman General had a triumphal parade, a slave rode behind him in his chariot, whispering in his ear, “You, too, will die.”  Birth is life’s summer solstice, the start of life’s triumph over non-being; yet, in a reality mythologized in the story of Adam and Eve, it is also the moment we begin to die.

This can suggest, then, that death, like the winter solstice, is not the end, but contains within it the seed of life’s re-creation.  This may have been a source of the pagan belief in an afterlife.

Even in the darkest moments like the death of a loved one, the failure of a project, the end of a relationship, the diagnosis of terminal illness, there is a path forward.  How do we find that way?  By looking for it.

Despair bred of the long night makes for the soul’s trial.  Clothed in that night’s dark robe we often forget to look for the path forward.  The solstice rhythm reminds us to look for the way.

6/12/08  Here is a teaser for the June 20th, the day of Midsummer or the Summer Solstice.  (note:  there are other dates for the Solstice and we’ll discuss those, too.)

stonehenge-summer-solstice.jpg stonehenge-summer-solstice.jpg stonehenge-summer-solstice.jpg

This graphic shows Stonehenge at the Summer Solstice.  The summer solstice sunrise comes through the two standing stones, the one to the right is the Slaughter Stone and shines directly on the Altar Stone.  These names represent no particular knowledge base about Stonehenge since it dates from approximately 5,000 years ago.

summer-solstice1.jpg You can buy copies of this Summer Solstice print from Glenn Kindred.  Just click on the picture.

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I like to add a bit of astronomical information along the way since the equinox and solstice holidays, the quarters of the year, relate to specific astronomical events.  Here is a visual explaining them all.

One Response to Great Wheel

  1. Pingback: Mabon Blessing | Path to Witchstead

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