Today is the last day of Sukkot. A notice went out for volunteers to come in and take down the Sukkah. Rabbi Jamie slept in the sukkah a couple of nights ago, putting his sleeping bag on the picnic table inside it. He’s an outdoor guy, loves camping, mountain biking, and skiing.
The last day of Sukkot is Simchat Torah. You’ve probably seen pictures of this holiday where the Torah scroll is unwound and folks hold it up in the sanctuary, then dance. It’s a fun, celebratory holiday, putting a punctuation mark on the holiday month of Tishrei and rewinding the scroll to Bereshit.
The parsha for this sabbath is Bereshit. The beginning. The Hebrew name for the book Christians call Genesis. This first parsha is the beginning of Genesis and also begins the reading of the five books of the Torah through another Jewish year.
The month ends on October 29. Rosh Hodesh, the new moon, starts every Jewish lunar month and is a minor holiday of its own. This will be the month of Heshvan.
This year Samain will be under a new moon. As Tishrei begins the Jewish new year on Rosh Hashanah, so Samain begins the Celtic new year. In the Celtic new year the emphasis is on the fallow season upcoming as Samain literally means summer’s end, the end of the growing season. It’s the last harvest festival.
November 1st is the festival of all Souls in the Christian liturgical calendar and the next day, November 2nd, is dia de muertos, the day of the dead.
Diwali, celebrated on October 27th this year, is a Hindu celebration of the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, hope over despair, and knowledge over ignorance. It’s a new moon holiday, too. Hindu new moons come in the middle of the calendar month.
Before my time at CBE, I started Holiseason on September 29th, Michaelmas. Now I start it with Rosh Hashanah. It runs until Epiphany, January 6th. Enjoy this holiseason when so many cultures have feasts, days of prayer and offerings, good times. We need these days which exist outside of ordinary time and remind us of the sacred nature of the reality we inhabit every day.
I had a dream awhile back. Don’t remember much, but I do remember being around the table at CBE. Rabbi Jamie was there, I don’t recall who else. At some point, I said, “I’m a convert.” And, I suppose it’s true enough in some ways.
Definitely a convert to CBE. Both Kate and I are members. She, who is a convert, with her Jewish identity and me, a pagan “suckled in a creed outworn.” to quote Wordsworth in “The World Is Too Much With Us.”*
This community is diverse in its way: Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist flavors of Judaism show up in conversation and have persons who either identify with them or used to. There are transgender folk and there must be some gay folks. One or two people of color, rare for the Evergreen/Conifer area. Politically conservative, liberal, and radical. I’ve not met a libertarian, but I imagine there are some of those, too. A lot of former East Coasters, but a number of native Coloradans. Some come from Evergreen, Conifer, but many live in Denver or its burbs. A few from Israel, others who’ve lived in other countries for some period of time.
Nearly all though are at least well enough off to own a car, a home. I don’t know the average educational attainment, but it’s high. Might even tip over into the post-graduate level. Almost all are white. Almost all are Jewish. I’m the only outlier who is a member, as far as I know.
CBE reflects an old immigrant motif in America where folk of similar religion and, often, of country of origin, gather in a religious community. Polish Catholics. Shinto Japanese. Muslims from many countries. Irish Catholics. Puritans. Buddhists from many Asian lands. Up here in the Front Range there aren’t many options if you’re Jewish. You come to CBE or go into Denver which has a large Jewish community. (There is one other small Jewish congregation up here.)
But the dream notion of conversion goes deeper than just the community for me. I’m a convert to the reconstructionist way of approaching religious questions. That is, if it’s working, keep it. If it’s not, change it.
In my pagan turn, which came many years ago when I started researching Celtic lore, I have found most of what passes for pagan these days just plain silly. Much of it comes from rehashing, in not very careful ways, 19th century Victorian fantasies, or grabbing parts of other auld faiths, like Nordic mythology. See Asatru, for example. Some of it tries to revive the Olympic deities in various ways. There’s even a clever Satanist twist which has claimed Lucifer’s rebellion as a model for standing against the established order.
At CBE I’ve found a series of parallels with my own (possibly silly to you) approach to paganism. Jews use a lunar calendar, for example, and much of their liturgical year has its grounding in agricultural practices. In fact tomorrow at CBE a Sukkot ritual will celebrate the harvest, out doors, in a structure that by tradition is open to the sky. There is a ritual for each new moon, not often observed, but it’s there.
There is also in Judaism a distinctive body positive attitude that encourages good eating, good sex, good self care. Asceticism is not Jewish. One of the aspects of Judaism, related to this, is a candor about death, a way of including mourners in the community through sitting shiva, care of the body immediately following death, and including mourners in every worship service.
With the horrible turmoil after my mother’s death I find this approach soothing. Wish we’d had it then. This is, btw, the 55th anniversary of her death this month, her yahrzeit.
In the kabbalah, which I have studied a bit, there’s a universalism that comes from believing that every bit of the universe has a shard of divinity, of ohr the divine light. I can move from this understanding to an animist position very easily.
Here again I’m a convert to CBE. I don’t have to give up or alter any of my beliefs to be a full member. In fact I lead adult education, taught middle-schoolers, and participate as an “out” pagan in all parts of CBE’s life.
Jewish tradition and Jewish civilization has much that is humane, justice oriented, thoughtful. It is, like many faiths, a repository of human wisdom, of poetry, of answers to the big questions. I’m learning a lot at CBE and am glad for the particularity of its Jewish life. So, yes, I’m a convert. A small c convert.
* The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; Little we see in Nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon, The winds that will be howling at all hours, And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers, For this, for everything, we are out of tune; It moves us not. – Great God! I’d rather be A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn; So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn; Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea; Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn. 1802
This is a day of fasting, prayer, and repentance for Jews in all places. Yom Kippur. The holiest day of the year, one when the soul is bare before the Self and all creation. Asking and seeking forgiveness. Putting in the past wherever you fell short. Cleansing for the year ahead. The Day of Atonement.
Kate and I will probably go to services this morning though we missed Kol Nidre last night. She wasn’t feeling good.
It’s been a tough week or so. Again. Her feeding tube has been giving her fits. Leaking. Since it’s now her primary source of nutrition, any hassle with it is significant. And, her shortness of breath seems to be worsening.
We see a cardiac-thoracic surgeon tomorrow morning to plan both her lung biopsy (which she dreads, understandably) and how to assess the new nodule that was found during her last c.t. Not a pleasant prospect, either one.
I’m dog paddling these days, trying to keep my head dry. I work out, cook, shop, do the laundry, dabble with gouache. This doesn’t sound like much, I know, but in the times between these activities I have no motivation. Frustrates me a bit since I have other things I want to get to: fire mitigation, revising Superior Wolf, starting a new novel, getting back to sumi-e, going to classes at Beth Evergreen. Some day soon.
Årsgång, The Year Walk. According to Swedish folklore, the year walk was a method of divination in which practitioners would, on either Christmas Eve or New Years Eve (I’ll bet on the Winter Solstice, too.), sit in a dark room with nothing to eat or drink until it was night. Then they would set off into the woods with no technology, no flashlights.
As they wandered, they would have supernatural encounters (lots of supernatural entities in the Northwoods.) In one case they would place themselves far enough away so they could not hear the cock’s crow, not eat or drink, and not look into any fire the day before the walk.
After they set off, they would walk until they came to a road. When morning came, they could see funeral processions, including their own if they were to die that year. The village field beyond the road would show if the crops were to be good or not. They might see, too, if a fire was going to break out in the coming year. We could use this info up here on Shadow Mountain.
If we didn’t live in the mountains, I’d be tempted to try this. However. Cliffs and ravines. Oh, my. The Year Walk fits well with my winter solstice night vigil, even though I rarely make it through the whole night. Never thought of divination, but it would be interesting to try. Must have been pretty scary.
In the dark woods with no light. Even with no cliffs and ravines nighttime woods have many obstacles. Fallen trees. Undergrowth. Ponds. Marshes. Perhaps the occasional nocturnal animal. Add to those the supernatural and it would take a hardy or desperate soul to take a year walk. Wanna go?
There’s a cheap, six dollars, video game based loosely on this idea. I bought it. I’ll let you know about the game.
Here we are, paused between the New Year and the Day of Atonement. The book of life is open, waiting for your next year to be inscribed. This is a new liminal space for me. A holiday(s) in which repentance and forgiveness are the focus, both at the beginning of the new year. It’s location in the early fall (a lunar calendar) makes it a part of the Michaelmas springtime of the year and part of the harvest festivals that end with Samain on the 31st.
Sukkot follows the Days of Awe, coming three days later. Rabbi Jamie says that Sukkot used to be the primary festival at this time of year with the Days of Awe sort of a preparation for it. Sukkot is the big harvest festival in the Jewish liturgical year. It’s fun, ending with Simchat Torah. “Sukkot through Simchat Torah is nine days long. The first two days (Sukkot) and the last two days (Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah) are full-fledged festival days, and the middle five days are Chol Hamoed.” chabad.org
The Jewish month of Tishrei is a holiday filled time for Jews. And, they vibrate between profundity and joy. This feels congruent with the turning of the Great Wheel which has three harvest festivals over the same time period. The middle one, Mabon, on the fall equinox, is a celebratory time followed by Samain, the end of summer when the veil between the worlds thins and the dead can walk among us. (where all the goblins and ghosts and ghouls come from at Halloween)
At least in the temperate latitudes temperatures begin to cool, leaves change on deciduous trees. Farmers and gardeners harvest fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, then prepare gardens and fields for the fallow season. The days grow shorter, frosts and freezes mark, then kill many plants. The bare trees give forests a stark look. A friend was of the opinion that the thinning of the veil came from being suddenly able to see through forests.
Kate and I need all of the spiritual juice available right now and these two holiday traditions, Jewish and pagan, fill that need.
Kate’s had a tough weekend. Short of breath, feeling tired. We didn’t make it to Rosh Hashanah services last night. A year and two days after her bleed. She’s made great progress on weight, nausea, even her Sjogren’s is less problematic. Her stamina, up till this weekend, had increased and she was doing more.
Her daily life involves a lot of tubing and schlepping. At night she carries her Inogen, portable CO2, as well as her pump and feeding supplies. Heavy for her. She does remarkably well with all of it, but this alone takes a toll, too. Hoping for a better day for her today.
Need a lung disease diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment plan. So slow.
Yesterday was Tom and Roxann’s 16th anniversary. At their wedding they featured the mandorla. “In icons of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the mandorla is used to depict sacred moments that transcend time and space…” Wiki Marriages, good ones at any rate, live into their own mandorla. Happy anniversary! It was also the 7th anniversary of Regina Schmidt’s death. Bill continues to honor her and their love. A mandorla still, I think.
Tomorrow, October 1st, I get my second Lupron shot. 9 am at Urology Associates Swedish offices. In the butt. Thank you, Sherry.
Then, let the fun begin! Hot flashes have become more frequent, a bit more intense. Still only annoying, but, they are annoying. They creep up the body, making it flushed and warm. Last night I had my sweatshirt off and the window open, the cool night breeze a relief.
Extreme fire danger here. Red flag warning yesterday and today. We have a higher fire risk rating than the area around Paradise, California. One of the highest in the country. Good times. I’ve been too nervous about the fire danger to get my chain saw going. Maybe this week.
My friend Dave, personal trainer, had bad news about his brain cancer. The tumor is back after surgery only a few months ago. He’s at the extreme end of survival time for glioblastoma. As he said, it’s a horrible place to be. 53 years old.
You might think I would be stressed and anxious, but I’m not. Living today. Will wait for tomorrow.
Today is erev Rosh Hashanah, the evening of the Jewish New Year. Jewish days start at sunset. L’shana tova which you may hear, or say, comes from this longer phrase: l’shana tova tikateyvu, “May you be written [in the Book of Life] for a good year.”
Today is also Michaelmas, the feast day of the Archangel Michael as well as the name for the first term in many Irish and British schools: the Michaelmas term and for the beginning of court sessions, too. It is also the springtime of the soul as Rudolf Steiner wrote. I’ve said elsewhere why I find this apt. The beginning of darkness triumphing over light. Remember the equilux on September 26th?
However, none of this is what’s upper most in my mind this morning. Youthful follies. Mom died in 1964, October. I graduated from Alexandria High School that spring, 1965, and in the fall I matriculated to Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana.
Wabash was, and remains, a bittersweet time for me. Going off to college was a dream, finally pushing away from my then bucolic small town toward, well, I don’t know. The future. Yes, certainly that, but also pushing away from the grief and confusion. I hoped.
Nope. Sleeping in the cold dorm at Phi Kappa Psi (we freshmen had to pledge a fraternity since the only dorm rooms available were taken by upper classmen and freshmen couldn’t live off campus.), I had dreams of my father dying. Of my mother coming back. Of deep black holes waiting to consume me.
Even so during the day Contemporary Civilization, C.C., Introduction to Philosophy, English, Introduction to Symbolic Logic, German made my mind spin. I wanted a liberal arts education. I knew that from the beginning. And I was getting one. German knocked me down. I dropped it and felt ashamed at giving up. As for the rest, I hung on every word, studied hard, and did well.
All my inner turmoil disappeared when I took my books to the study carrels at Lilly Library. I could disappear into Plato, the Middle Ages, the law of the excluded middle. This is a pattern that exists for me today. Not the folly.
The folly began in my study room at Phi Kappa Psi. Both of my roommates smoked. And drank. One used Romilar, a codeine based cough medicine. Not for coughs. I didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, didn’t do drugs. But not for long.
I made the choice. Drinking Singapore Slings until I got sick. Vowed to never drink sweet liquor again. But, didn’t vow not to drink again. It would take until 1976 to put away both smoking and drinking. I knew all along that neither were good for me.
Ball State kicked me off campus for public drunkenness. The recession of 1966 had made Wabash financially unreachable for me. I smoked, drank, discovered marijuana and LSD, peyote, mescaline. The study carrel was still my refuge. My grades didn’t suffer.
These habits carried themselves off campus and into my years as a Presbyterian minister, and two marriages. Not my best choices, clouded by that youthful folly, imagining I could handle it all.
No, I don’t regret any of it. I made my choices and lived with them the best I could for 15 years or so. Besides, what good does regret do? I can’t change the past.
Now, though, I’m living with COPD. Prostate cancer is down to gender, genetics, and bad luck. COPD I created all on my own. Glad it took so long to show up. I’ll do what I need to do to maintain my health, but I know that this one is on me, the youthful me. Who committed more follies than I’ve recounted here.
And so. One year. A year ago today I took Kate into the Swedish Emergency Room. It was early in the morning. In my post that day I said she’d be in the hospital at least one night. Four weeks later she came home after two weeks in the hospital and two in a rehab facility.
It has been an awful year. Two more hospitalizations for her. Imaging studies. Procedures like the placement of her stent in a mesenteric artery. Lots of doctor’s appointments. Pulmonology complications. And a bad pulmonology group. The pic line, then the feeding tube placement. Her lung disease issues are still not treated, not even diagnosed. Soon, perhaps.
She has, gradually, improved. Her weight is now consistently over 100 pounds. Her stamina has improved. She’s happier and more joyful, wonderful to see. Next month’s MVP, mussar evening group, she’s leading the discussion on joy.
I had my issues, too. The flu, then pneumonia led to a miserable February and March for me. Also led to my odd kerfuffle with my psa. The one taken during my annual physical in February. I actually told my urologist that it was fine. A mistake. Nope. It wasn’t.
You know the rest of that one. Radiation. Lupron. Treatment still underway. Then, the exciting news this week that I have COPD. Looked at lots of material over the last few days. Scaring myself. Again. Then, oh, not so bad if I keep exercising, eat well, take my prednisone, do regular checkups. Not great, but not bad either.
Tomorrow is Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the days of yirah. Awe and fear. Seems about right for Kate and me. This new year will be about living joyfully, with alert curiosity, and compassion. No matter what physical or emotional challenges confront us.
I’m changing seasons on the equinox, which is today. Learned a new word reading some material for this post: equilux. An equilux happens after each equinox and occurs this fall on September 26th. If you look at a table of sunrise/sunset, on September 26th, at roughly our latitude, the sun rises at 6:59 am and sets at 6:59 pm. After the equilux, for 172 days, until the next equilux on March 17th, the sun will shine for less than 12 hours.
Yeah! Though born in Oklahoma near the Red River, almost to Texas, I’ve always been a child of the cold and snow, influenced by too many Jack London novels. And, Renfrew of the Royal Canadian Mounted. Moved to Appleton, Wisconsin in September of 1969 and lived up north until the Winter Solstice of 2014. In our particular location on Black Mountain Drive, just east of 14er Mt. Evans, we get lots of snow, some cold, but easier winters. Better for septuagenarian bones.
Six days from now is the 29th of September, the Feast Day of St. Michael the Archangel. It is, as regular readers of ancientrails already know, the springtime of the soul. At least according to Rudolf Steiner.
Rosh Hashanah, September 30th this year, the Jewish new year (one of four), begins the month of Tishrei in Judaism’s lunar calendar. Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, follows ten days later on October 9th. 5 days later on October 14 and 15 is Sukkot, a harvest festival. A week after the second day of Sukkot is Simchat Torah, joy of the Torah.
On October 31st, 6 weeks from last Friday, the next Celtic holiday is Samain, or Summer’s End. The Celtic New Year comes at the beginning of the fallow season.
I am the hallow-tide of all souls passing, I am the bright releaser of all pain, I am the quickener of the fallen seed-case, I am the glance of snow, the strike of rain. I am the hollow of the winter twilight, I am the hearth-fire and the welcome bread, I am the curtained awning of the pillow, I am unending wisdom’s golden thread. ~ Song of Samhain, Celtic Devotional: Daily Prayers and Blessings, by Caitlín Matthews
The transition from the growing season when farmers and gardeners harvest its fruits to the fallow season when plants in mid and northern latitudes rest has ultimate significance for non-tropical humanity. Not so long ago a failed growing season would lead to a limited harvest. Unless adequate stores from years past were kept, starvation over the winter was a real possibility.
Oh, you might say, well, that doesn’t apply to us in the modern age. Think not? Perhaps one really bad harvest could be accommodated by trade and stored foods. Maybe even two bad harvests. But if the world saw several bad harvests in a row, say because of a dramatically changed climate, starvation over the winter could become a real possibility even in the developed world.
Mabon, Sukkot, Samain. With Lughnasa on August 1st, the first harvest festival, the months August through October have evoked human expressions of gratitude, of thanksgiving for soil, seed, and sacrifice. Certain animals and plants become offerings to feed others, including the now unwieldy population of humans.
The heart of the harvest season, right now, is a deeply spiritual moment. The complex web of life bares itself to our witness. Any Midwesterner is familiar with trucks of yellow corn, soy beans, golden wheat, rye, rolling down highways to grain elevators. Hay gets mowed perhaps a third time and baled either in rectangular bales or huge round ones.
This is also a traditional time for the slaughtering of animals. Now slaughterhouses and intensive livestock farming have allowed slaughter throughout the year.
I’m grateful that farmers and ranchers are able to feed us still. I’m grateful that the soil, that top six inches especially, feeds and stabilizes the foodstuff that we grow. I’m grateful that photosynthesis allows us to harvest the sun’s energy by transforming it into vegetables, fruits, grasses, grains, nuts. I’m grateful for each and every animal that dies for our table. I’m grateful for the grocers who buy and display the food for us to purchase.
It is a time of thanksgiving followed by an increasing darkness. That darkness is fecund, for me at least. Steiner’s idea of Michaelmas as the springtime of the soul, the placement of so many Jewish holidays, in particular sukkot, during this harvest time, and the major Celtic holidays of Lughnasa, Mabon, and Samain offer us many chances to open our hearts to the wonder of this world and its blessings.
Slightly outside of these three months is the Day of the Dead celebrated throughout Latin America and the Feast of All Souls.
As the harvest wanes and summer ends (Samain), we have time to take stock of our lives, of our hopes and dreams. We can lean into the darkness after the equilux, celebrate its fullness on the Winter Solstice. It is in the fallow season that we learn the why of death. In this coming season we can make our peace with mortality.
Kate’s second birthday. Yesterday Jon, Ruth, and Gabe came up after school. Ruth brought a special piece of lemon cake for Kate. Ruth made a birthday card at school with 75 in raised numbers and a sweet note on the back. Gabe sent photographs of minions wishing Grandma a happy birthday. Jon made her a card, too.
I drove over to Golden, to Ali Babba’s, and picked up a gyros meal for 5. We dined like sheiks in a tent.
Earlier in the day I worked out. Something odd in the workouts. I’ve been able to advance weight on most of the exercises: inclined bench press, lawnmowers, triceps. I’m holding my plank a bit longer, doing more crunches, increased my goblin squat. But bicep curls. I’m still at 12 pounds and can’t seem to get past it. Unusual. My cardio is harder right now, too. Might be the Lupron.
Rigel has developed a rabbit habit. She goes out, goes straight to the shed and starts digging under it. And barking under it, too. Come on out, rabbits! Come on out. I’m hungry.
I’ve never believed in this tactic, but she’s used it for years. She’s also chewed up boards on our back deck, dug under it, plucked a board off one of the pallets. A board nailed to the pallet’s supports. The definition of dogged.
All this began again after she dug up a vole a couple of years ago. It reignited her inner predator and she’s been trying for critters ever since. She’d calmed down about this stuff after our move. At nine and a half years she’s older, but still very strong, graceful, powerful.