Archives For Festival

“Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems.”Rainer Maria Rilke

Today is the vernal (spring) equinox*. It is the astronomical beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Wiccans, Heathens, and various modern Pagans celebrate this day as OstaraLady DayShubun-sai, or simply the spring equinox (autumnal equinox for our Australian friends). Other Spring festivals include Holi, the Hindu festival that took place on March 17th this year, while in ancient Rome, March was packed with agriculture-related and seasonal observances. Several current secular Easter traditions including the Easter Bunny, and dying/decorating eggs are considered remnants of pre-Christian spring celebrations. It is a time for the celebration of the renewal of life.

A manifestation of Spring.

A manifestation of Spring. Photo by Jason Pitzl-Waters.

Here are some quotes from the media, and from community members, on our seasonal celebrations.

“Since the earliest times, the egg has been humanity’s obvious and essential symbol for the significant atmosphere of the vernal season: birth, fertility, growth, eternity. The purely primal power, which comes from the handling of eggs at the equinox, has been a principle influence on many popular spring ritual practices throughout time and across culture. Eggs dyed red as the womb were given as gifts at the spring festivals in ancient Egypt, Persia, Greece and Rome. Greeks still toast each other at the family Easter dinner by tapping hard-boiled red eggs, one person to the next around the table. The egg that survives the clinking go-round uncracked brings luck for the year to the person who holds it.”Donna Hennes, The Huffington Post

“At this time, as blossoms emerge from slumber, as leaves shoot out, birds play, and the earth awakes from a long winter, go out and let the cool breeze blow around you. Dig your toes into the dirt.  Let the sun peeking behind clouds kiss your face with its light. Draw in the moist air with slow, deep breaths.  Hold each breath for a moment and release them with gratitude. Once more, we seek renewal; for the year, the earth, the garden, and for ourselves. May we all take steps toward renewing our bonds with the natural world, its spirit and wonders. May we all grow a little further toward a healthier way of living within nature.”Raven J. Demers, SageWoman Magazine

“The Spring Equinox arrives this year on Thursday, March 20th—not a moment too soon for those of us who have struggled our way through a tougher than usual winter. And while spring on the calendar isn’t always reflected outside our windows, the energy of the season makes this the perfect time to reboot your body, mind, and spirit. The energy of the natural world varies with the seasons, and different times of the year can give our endeavors a boost if we work with that energy instead of against it. We’re just coming out of winter, which tends to be a slow and quiet time, where the land rests and the light is dim. This can make trying to get things done pretty difficult if your to do list doesn’t say: eat, nap, eat, read, go to bed. The spring, however, is an entirely different story. The energy in this season is all about coming up and out of hiding, new beginnings, and growth. It is the perfect time to start new endeavors, or to give yourself something of a personal reboot, if you will.”Deborah Blake, Witches & Pagans Magazine

“Ostara is the dawn of Spring, the entry way to Summer. At the Spring Equinox the Earth stands fresh and renewed. Let us all be like the Earth, let us cast away the darkness of Winter and embrace the wonder of green growing things. May we find delight in that which blooms around us and let us never forget our responsibility to this place we call home. This world is magickal place, may the power of our Lady and the beauty of Nature remind us of that everyday we draw breath.”Jason Mankey, Patheos.com

“It’s hard to notice the extra three minutes of light each day, but every sunset since the dead of winter, I rejoice for the extra time we get to see the sun. Like a half birthday for the seasons, the vernal equinox marks the day that the Earth’s axis is perpendicular to the sun’s light and receives almost equal parts day and night. Also celebrated as the first day of spring, March 20 is a day of celestial balance. [...] Many cultures use the alignment of light on the equinoxes to ritualize a new phase of the year. Located in the center of Chichen Itza, Mexico, El Castillo, a very classic looking Mayan pyramid, displays a large shadowy serpent that can be seen slithering down the steps only on the weeks surrounding the equinoxes. Other celebrations, from the festival of Isis to the Iranian New Year, Nowruz, celebrate this equality of light and dark as they recognize balance among the seasons and new beginnings.”David Broomfield, VailDaily / Eagle Valley Enterprise

“New Orleans Culture also has it’s own St. Joseph’s day customs that have been going on since the influx of Sicilian immigrants in the 1800′s. There are parades, altars, and even lucky fava beans. Altars created are beautiful and complex, featuring flowers, candles, medals, and food, specifically bread. Julie Walker writes in theTimes Picayune about the tradition of stealing a lemon from the altar to get a husband. There is another tradition associated with St. Joseph’s day in the Crescent City, and that is the Mardi Gras Indians. They traditionally “mask,” or come out in costume for the last appearance of the season on Super Sunday, the Sunday closest to St. Joseph’s Day. So enjoy your day, donate what you can, that is said to be key. This is a feast of beggars, it is said to have gained popularity when a great famine was ended by a bounty of fava beans from an unknown source. Happy St. Joseph’s Day!”Lilith Dorsey, Patheos.com

“On the right bank of the river Angi just two kilometers (1.2 miles) from Lake Baikal, the Ekhe Yordo mound rises above. It seems that it couldn’t be a natural formation, although geologists have not found any indication that the plates that make up the mound were brought here by people. After a 100-year break, the Yordyn Games Spring Festival of Indigenous Peoples of Baikal was finally reintroduced. Since then, the festival has been held here every four years. A main event at the games is a circular dance around the Ekhe-Yordo (Big Hill) that is a kind of marathon taking several days to complete. It takes 700 people to completely encircle the hill, and the festival has 2,000 to 3,000 visitors. The games take place over several days, and the sacred dance around the great hill continues day and night. During the festival, dancers wear out several pairs of shoes. During the festival only shamans are allowed to climb to the top of the hill.”Dmitry Sevastianov, RBTH

“I feel like an actor ready to step onto the stage.  What is that wonderful speech from Henry V? ‘I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the start. The game’s afoot! Follow your spirit…’ That is how the Equinox feels to me–as though I am leaning forward, into this rich and work-filled time. I am eager to leave the winter behind me and to get out into the world of soil and manure and food so fresh it is beyond compare. There is sweat in this season, and joy, and companions in the fields. For a few moments, I live in Hardy country–a land of magic and terror, of hares and ancient tended earth.”Byron Ballard, My Village Witch

May you all enjoy a fruitful and blessed spring!

* Technically speaking, the 2014 March Equinox happens at March 20th 16:57 UT. Check your time zone for exact calculations.

Today is the festival of Lupercalia, the ancient Roman observance of fertility and the coming spring. Not to be confused with a certain commercialized martyr’s celebration held yesterday, Lupercalia is a holiday sacred to the god Faunus, and the mythical she-wolf who reared Romulus and Remus the semi-mythical founders of Rome. It was considered an important holiday of religious observance and purification.

“Lupercalia ” by Domenico Beccafumi

“Lupercalia ” by Domenico Beccafumi

There are many lurid accounts of what goes on during Lupercalia, some make it seem like an excuse for copulation and frivolity. One of the best descriptions I have found on the web comes from W. J. Kowalski’s excellent Roman Calendar page.

“The rites of this day included the sacrifice of a goat or a dog at the cave-grotto known as the Lupercal. With the sacrificial blood wiped across their foreheads, the youth partaking in this ceremony would then run the circumference of the Palatine hill, perhaps about 5K, tracing the traditional route of the city boundary traced by Romulus the day he founded Rome. In the process, girls who approached the runners would be brushed or splattered with the februa, thongs of sacrificial goatskin, presumably bloody, symbolically blessing them with fertility. Red is the color of the day as it is with Valentine’s Day, the day invented to replace the Lupercalia. Fertility and sexuality were likewise replaced with the puritanical pipedream of sexless Love.”

Most (non-Pagan) people wouldn’t even know about Lupercalia if it were not for the constant stream of Valentine’s Day articles in the press. The favorite trend amongst news-writers and editorial columnists seems to be talking about the ancient pagan influences of a particular holiday. While this has increased awareness of Lupercalia, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, a modern expert on the festival and its celebration, is quick to point out the two holidays actually have little in common.

“The fertility here involved is not necessarily sexual fertility in women, though it was often thought to be such when the origins of the festival were eventually forgotten.  It was fertility represented by the goat skin itself, a fertility of an agricultural and livestock sort.  The young men running the race were symbolically committing themselves to the protection of their communities, thus their race around its boundaries which indicated their area of influence and the “home territory” they were protecting.  The young men who were Luperci underwent a part of the ritual earlier in which the blood from the sacrificed goat and dog were mixed together, dabbed on their foreheads with a knife, and then wiped off subsequently with wool dipped in milk, signifying their transition from a lawless, wild state into a settled and civilized mode of life.  The founders of Rome, the twin brothers Romulus and Remus, were raised by the Lupa (“she-wolf”) in the cave where this ritual took place, and in their lives after this, they were lawless hunter/raider warriors until their eventual foundation of the city.  This ritual commemorates this entire situation.  The success by speed and martial prowess that used to come to Romulus and Remus when they were hunter-warriors in taking anyone and everyone’s livestock–including goats!–while in that phase of their existence becomes the success of those same skills and abilities being put toward the protection of their community in their settled state.  The fertility of the community’s resources, through this protection, is what is being celebrated, not necessarily (nor exclusively) the fertility of humans in reproduction.”

The distinctions between Valentine’s Day and Lupercalia are also touched on by scholar Leonhard Schmitz.

“Modern attempts to relate the Lupercalia to Valentine’s Day because of the mere (approximate) date are at best very suspect. That the two occasionally get equated seems rather to be an indication of late 20c mentality, according to which a lovers’ festival must necessarily derive from the titillations of ancient fertility and flagellation by goats. More to the point, there is not the slightest shred of historical evidence for the connection.”

As for modern celebrations, Ekklesia Antinoou will be holding a public Lupercalia celebration today at PantheaCon in San Jose. A very blessed and fertile Lupercalia to you all!

Happy Imbolc

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 1, 2014 — 1 Comment

Tonight and tomorrow is when many modern Pagans celebrate the fire festival of Imbolc sacred to the goddess Brigid, patroness of poets, healers, and smiths. Today is also the feast day of Saint Brigid of Ireland patron saint of poets, dairymaids, blacksmiths, healers, cattle, fugitives, Irish nuns, midwives, and new-born babies.

Brigid: Saint and Goddess.

Brigid: Saint and Goddess.

In Kildare, Ireland’s town square, a perpetual flame is kept lit and housed in a statue that pays homage to the Pagan and Christian conceptions of Brigid. Festivities for La Feile Bride in Kildare started on January 31st and will continue through February 9th.

Here are a collection of quotes on this holiday.

“Highlights of this years festival include workshops in cross weaving for adults and children in the County Library, workshops in circle dance, poetry, painting and organic gardening, talks on the different aspects of Brigid by authors Dolores Whelan, Karen Ward and Kate Fitzpatrick. There will also be a day of healing and a special Eucharist at Faughart on St.Brigid’s Day, open to all, a pilgrimage walk from Dundalk to Faughart Shrine, a walk exploring the sacred sites of Faughart, and a ritual celebration of Brigid and Imbolc.”The Argus/Independent

“The fire of Brigantia was both the fire of fertility with the earth and the fire of the sun, which gradually gained in strength as the days lengthened. The lighting of bonfires or candles was an expression of magical encouragement to the sun, as well as a sign of rejoicing at the more abundant light. Traditionally, Imbolc marked the point after which it would no longer be necessary to carry a candle when going out to do early morning work.”Alexei Kondratiev, The Apple Branch: A Path to Celtic Ritual

“When I lived in the Midwest Imbolc was often a bitterly cold holiday, and snow was the norm. Instead of despairing over that ice and frost it’s better to think about what those elements mean in the long-term. All of that cold and snow set the table for the beauties of Spring, Summer, and Fall (and sometimes there really is nothing more beautiful than a snowy night). Snow fertilizes the fields and fills our rivers and streams when it melts. For so many places it’s a vital part of the eco-system. Instead of lamenting the reality of the situation, celebrate it! Celebrate the snow, celebrate the cold! Curl up with a hot chocolate and be thankful your heater works.”Jason Mankey, Patheos

“Brigid is a time to honor how the potentialities hidden in the year to come, potentialities that can with skill and wisdom be transformed into what is visible.  If we are uncertain as to what they are (and how can we not be?) we can invoke Her in whatever aspect seems most appropriate, and ask Her to help them manifest in a good way, and as gently as possible.  But if the blows from Her hammer within the forge are mighty ones and Her fires overwhelmingly hot, know it may take such blows and such heat when the material to be shaped into its inner promise is strong and perhaps also recalcitrant.”Gus diZerega

“You might know her from the roses in her hair, the eye sockets in her skull, or the icy Voodoo hand there to hold if you need it. Maybe you don’t even know her name. It’s Brigitte, Maman Brigitte. She is the ancient primal feminine power.In Haitian Vodou she is honored as the first woman buried in every cemetery. Alongside her husband Baron Samedi, she guides and protects all who seek her blessing. Here devotees find wisdom, connection and healing justice. She is very often associated the Catholic St. Brigit and the Celtic goddess Brighid. Consequently her feast is celebrated on February 2, also known as Candlemas or Imbolc. St. Brighid is the patron saint of poets, healers, fugitives, midwives, blacksmiths, Irish nuns, and infants.”Lilith Dorsey, Patheos

Many blessings to you this holiday! See you at the lake of beer!

A Blessed Solstice

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 21, 2013 — 4 Comments

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.” ― Edith Sitwell

Today (depending on where you live) is the Winter Solstice (unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere, then it’s the Summer Solstice), traditionally thought to be the longest night and shortest day of the year (though not actually).

Winter sky, from the top of Spencer Butte in Eugene, Oregon.

Winter sky, from the top of Spencer Butte in Eugene, Oregon.

This time of year is held sacred by many modern Pagan and Heathen traditions, and has a rich history in ancient pagan religion.

The solstice time was marked as special by pre-historic peoples in both Ireland and England. While there is scant evidence of specific celebrations, it is generally thought that the pagan Celts did mark the solstice time.

Germanic pagans and modern Heathens celebrate Yule at this time. During this holiday the god Freyr was honored. Several traditions we associate with Christmas (eating a ham, hanging holly, mistletoe) come from Yule.

The ancient pagan Romans celebrated Saturnalia which typically ran from December 17th through the 23rd. The festival honored the god Saturn and featured lavish parties and role-reversals. From Saturnalia we can see the traditions of exchanging gifts and decorating evergreen trees indoors that would be adopted as Christmas traditions. Following Saturnalia were the birth celebrations in honor of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun) and Mithras both held on December 25th.

Many modern Pagans, including Wiccans, Witches, several Druidic traditions, and their many off-shoots hold this time as one of the eight Sabbats/holy days. Usually called Winter Solstice or Yule. It is a time when many of these traditions celebrate the re-birth of the god by the mother goddess.

Here are some quotes on our winter observances.

“The nights grow long but the the Winter sun – sharp angles – is still bright upon our faces. Do not forget this. We all walk into the labyrinth of darkness. We all return, born anew, in light. This happens moment to moment. Sometimes year by year. The Divine Twins stalk us, live within our skin, caress our minds, open our hearts. We are the dance of night and day, of frost and sunlight. We are the priestess, mediating every cusp and each turn. Do not forget this. The nights grow long and the Cosmos holds you in her arms. We are all the pregnancy of Night. We are all the possibility of Day. Do not forget this.”T. Thorn Coyle

“Darkness comes early as Solstice draws near. Lights are lit in windows, on trees, inside houses and along streets. We seek their comfort and warmth during these short days and long nights. The last month of the calendar is here and we eagerly anticipate the rebirth of a new annual cycle. We make merry during this time and yet, there is also an opportunity to acknowledge and honor the darkness: the darkness outside and the darkness within. Love, bliss and joy. Fear, anger and rage. All of these are part of being human. Positive and negative make a whole. Without our darkness, we are incomplete. ”I must also have a dark side if I am to be whole,” Carl Jung wrote.”Lisa Levart, The Huffington Post

“We should all pause in appreciation of the sun’s warmth and spark of life each Solstice. Our ancient ancestors recognized this and lit bonfires to light a path and show the sun the way back north. Our next growing season and food stock depended on the return of our sun, just as our neighbors in the Southern Hemisphere depend on it bending their way. Their Winter Solstice is our Summer Solstice and vice-versa. This ancient dance of yin and yang between the Northern and Southern Hemisphere has been going on since time began. It’s a dance we can’t afford to have stopped. Old stonehenges in England and Salem, New Hampshire, among others sprinkled throughout the globe, track the celestial dance. On these sites ceremonies were held and rituals were preformed to ensure our sun stayed on track.”Joan Rusek, Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Through the ages, the fabled festival in honor of Saturnus had acquired various customs and traditions, many of which were adopted by the early Christians and persist to the current day. Our customary use in December of red and green, representing perennial foliage and berries, dates back to the Roman Saturnalia. During the festival, the Romans decorated their homes with evergreen wreaths, called serta, bearing red berries. The exchange of gifts, the singing of songs, and the dedication of specific foods at meals, all characterized the holidays. According to Macrobius, the celebration of the Saturnalia was extended with the Sigallaria, so named for the small earthenware figurines which were sold in Roman shops and given as gifts to children. The Temple of Saturnus, thought by many to be the oldest Roman temple recorded by the pontiffs, had been dedicated on the Saturnalia. After sacrifice in the Temple of Saturnus, the celebrants would enjoy a public banquet, then go out to the streets shouting the holiday greeting “IO Saturnalia!” for all to hear. The Saturnalia was an occasion for celebration, visits to friends, and the presentation of gifts, particularly cerei, wax candles, and sigillaria, clay dolls.”Mary Brown, Mainline Media News

“Icelandic children get to enjoy the favors on not one but 13 Father Christmases. Called the Yule Lads, these merry but mischievous fellows take turns visiting kids on the 13 nights leading up to Christmas. On each of those nights, children place one of their shoes on the windowsill. For good boys and girls, the Yule Lad will leave candy. If not, the Yule Lads are not subtle in expressing their disapproval: they fill the shoe with rotting potatoes. Don’t think well-behaved Icelandic kids have a sweet deal all around, however. They may enjoy 13 Santa Claus-like visits, but they also have to contend with a creature called Grýla who comes down from the mountains on Christmas and boils naughty children alive, and a giant, blood-thirsty black kitty called the Christmas Cat that prowls around the country on Christmas Eve and eats anyone who’s not wearing at least one new piece of clothing.”Rachel Nuwer, Smithsonian Magazine.

“Winter Solstice is a perfect excuse to wind down for the year. It is happily emphasized since I am on Winter Break for school– hibernating more and going out less. For the last seven years and counting, I have held some sort of Winter Solstice gathering for friends and sometimes family. I have hosted sit-down traditional dinners and the more informal drinks and appetizers only fiesta. We have mulled spiced-wine together, played an old parlor game entitled, “The Minister’s Cat,” and lit candles. One of my favorite theme ideas was putting a spotlight on the sun: I served spicy Indian food for snacks and the soundtrack featured all songs mentioning the sun. There are a seemingly endless supply of these to choose from.”Colleen DuVall, Witches & Pagans Magazine

“Though officially one of the “lesser sabbats,” Yule rituals have always had a special hold on me. There’s something special about the rebirth of the Lord of the Sun, and to see pagan imagery nearly every where you go this time of year makes it even more so. Of course I enjoy my ritual take on Yule, and I’ve been recycling bits and pieces of that ritual for over ten years now. I don’t write solitary ritual well, but many others do. I enjoyedthis solitary Yule Ritual over on Pagan by Design. I used to shy away from the Oak King/Holly King mythos at Yule, but lately I’ve been finding myself more drawn to it. Enacting an epic battle during ritual presents a whole series of challenges but when it works it’s pretty awesome. Yule was originally (and still is) a Norse holiday, and ADF has a whole page of Norse Yule Rituals worth perusing.”Jason Mankey, Patheos Pagan Channel

No matter what your religion or tradition, may this year’s winter celebrations and observances bring you peace and joy!

A Blessed Samhain

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 31, 2013 — 4 Comments

Tonight and tomorrow is when most modern Pagans celebrate Samhain. Samhain is the start of winter and of the new year in the old Celtic calendar. This is a time when the ancestors are honored, divinations for the new year are performed, and festivals are held in honor of the gods. It is a time of final harvest before the long winter ahead. It is perhaps the best-known and most widely celebrated of the modern Pagan holidays.

An ancestor altar.

An ancestor altar.

“[Samhain] marks the beginning of an entire new cycle. With the return of Darkness, the Year itself returns to the Otherworld womb from which it will grow to blossom again. All true growth takes place in darkness: the source of vitality is in the unconscious, before consciousness discovers the limiting forms of rationality.” – Alexei Kondratiev, The Apple Branch

This time of year also sees the celebration of Velu Laiks (“the time of spirits”) by Baltic PagansWinter Nights by Asatru in mid-October, Foundation Night in Ekklesía AntínoouFete Gede by Vodou practitioners, Día de los Muertos for followers of Santeria and several indigenous religions in Mexico and Latin America, Diwali for Hindus (November 3rd this year), and astrological “true” Samhain on November 7th for some Witches and Druids. In addition, Pagans in the Southern Hemisphere are currently celebrating Beltane.

It is a time when some communities acknowledge the Mighty Dead.

“The Mighty Dead are said to be those practitioners of our religion who are on the Other Side now, but who still take great interest in the activities of Witches on this side of the Veil. They have pledged to watch, to help and to teach. It is those Mighty Dead who stand behind us, or with us, in circle so frequently.”

Zan's memorial with Gary Suto (left, with flaming mandala) and parents Kay and Bruce Skidmore (to right of Gary).

Zan Fraser’s memorial.

Many who have been dear to our communities have crossed the veil this past year, joining the ranks of the Mighty Dead, including Layne Redmond, Nevill DruryMestre Didi, Zan Fraser, Allan Lowe, Peggy Hall, Lee Thompson Young, Barbara MertzRituparno Ghosh, Laura Janesdaughter, Victor Elon Anderson, Kyril Oakwind, Dennis Presser, Deena Celeste Buttta, George Lee, and Patricia Monaghan.

“I love that story about Susan Anthony that Zsuzsanna Budapest tells in her book. Some journalist asked Susan Anthony, because she didn’t believe in orthodox religion, I suppose, “Where do you think you’re to go when you die?” She said, “I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to stay around and help the women’s movement.” So even if I don’t live long enough to see these things, I’ll be around to make a nuisance of myself.” –Doreen Valiente, the Mother of Modern Witchcraft.

Below you’ll find an assortment of quotes from the media, and fellow Pagans, during this holiday season.

Joseph Mugnaini’s cover illustration for The Halloween Tree, by Ray Bradbury (1972)

Joseph Mugnaini’s cover illustration for The Halloween Tree, by Ray Bradbury (1972)

  • “It’s appropriate to do a saining of the home with juniper — a New Year tradition in the highlands of Scotland — and to set up altars or shrines for the ancestors. On the night of Oíche Shamhna, many of us hold a feast with our friends and family where we invite the honored dead to come and feast with us. A place of honor is laid at the table or on the altar, where the first food of the feast and cups full of drink are placed for the dead. This portion of the food is never eaten by the living, but is instead offered outside when the feast is done. Candles are often lit for the dead, and their names are spoken. Tales about their lives are shared and toasts might be made in their names. Divination is another common feature of this festival, and readings are often done to get a feel for the luck of the coming year.”The CR FAQ
  • “We’ve been doing the Ancestor Vigil here for about 20 years and every year it is a little different but the intention is always the same. It is not a Samhain ritual, it is not a celebration of Hallowe’en, it does not glom onto the trendy love of Dia de los Muertes. It is a ritual commemoration of the Recent Dead, the Beloved Long Dead and the Mighty Dead. We set up a central altar, a candle-lighting station and a place to get more info on Mother Grove Goddess Temple and to leave your food donations for the food pantry. People are invited to place mementos on the altar and there is a place in the ritual where we speak the names of the dead that are closest to us.”Byron Ballard
  • “We see the Hallowmas Woman in the stark November landscape, with its muted tones of olive, ochre, sienna brown. We find her in a cold statue in a graveyard, garlanded with dead roses, thorns, and blood-red rosehips. We see her in fogbound mornings when there is no distinction between sea, stones, and sky, and the Otherworld is just a step away. She lives within the brief days and long nights that draw us toward withdrawal and cocooning. The Hallowmas woman rests. She withdraws into herself. It is not a time of connection. She prefers her own company, turning down invitations to gather with others. The midwinter holidays will be here soon enough.”Joanna Powell Colbert
  • “In Afro-Caribbean Religions like Voodoo, Vodou, and Lukumi or Santeria the true spirits of Halloween are the ancestors. Festivities run from October 30th to November 2nd. There are delectable dumb supper feasts, elaborate ancestors altars and offerings galore. It’s a time for reconnecting, remembering and honoring all those who have gone before. It is their blood that runs through our veins, they are the primary reason we are here.”Lilith Dorsey
  • “When I think of Samhain I think of the thinning of the veil between the worlds. In my grand model of the Universe – the constantly revised mental map I use to orient myself and make sense of my experiences – the veil is less a thing and more a condition.  It’s possible to travel from this world to the Otherworld at any time.  Drumming, dancing, and ritual can facilitate a meditative journey, as can skilled guides.  But at certain times and places these journeys are easier than at others. Traditionally, in-between times and places are most auspicious:  twilight, seashores, doorways – neither day nor night, neither land nor sea, neither within nor without.  Samhain, which literally means “Summer’s end,” is neither Summer nor Winter.  This is an ideal time to journey to the Otherworld to visit with our ancestors, to gather knowledge and wisdom, and to perform divinations.”John Beckett

May you all have a blessed Samhain, blessings to you, and your beloved dead on this season. Let this new cycle be one of great blessings for all of you.

Happy Autumnal Equinox

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 21, 2013 — 2 Comments

September 22nd, 20:44 GMT/UTC, will mark the Autumnal Equinox which signals the beginning of Fall in the northern hemisphere (our friends in the southern hemisphere are celebrating the Spring Equinox). On this day there will be an equal amount of light and darkness, and after this day the nights grow longer and we head towards Winter. In many modern Pagan traditions this is the second of three harvest festivals (the first being Lughnasadh, the third being Samhain).

Setting sun at Spencer Butte, Eugene, Oregon.

Setting sun at Spencer Butte, Eugene, Oregon.

“The 2013 September equinox comes on September 22, at 3:44 p.m. CDT (20:44 UTC). In the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is rising later now, and nightfall comes sooner. This is our autumn equinox, when the days are getting shorter in the Northern Hemisphere. At this equinox, day and night are approximately equal in length. For us in the Northern Hemisphere, people are enjoying the cooler days of autumn even as preparations for winter are underway. South of the equator, spring begins.”Deborah Byrd, EarthSky

The holiday is also known as “Harvest Home” or “Mabon” by Wiccans and Witches, “Mid-Harvest”, “Foghar”, and “Alban Elfed” by some Druidic and Celtic-oriented Pagan groups, and “Winter Finding” by modern-day Asatru. Most modern Pagans simply call it the Autumn Equinox. Here are some media quotes and excerpts from modern Pagans on the holiday.

“I thought about how my brother died on the Equinox, on that day when light and dark exist equally. How they only really exist because of each other. Without death, the little and big moments of our lives, our loves, wouldn’t mean as much. And slowly, like drips of honey, this became my after. This life where we ache and love and die. This life where if we dive deep, we might come out the other side, dripping with light.”Lynn Shattuck, The Huffington Post

“As Ostara is balance tipping into growth, Mabon is balance tipping into decline.  Those of us in the temperate zones are fortunate that our climate is roughly in keeping with the symbolism of the Wheel.  Even here on the mild California coast hints of fall color are becoming visible even as the harvest is in full swing.  Some of the best peaches I have tasted in a long time are finally emerging at the end of our unusually cool summer.  But among the wild plants seed heads are formed or forming, preparing for the changes to come. But I do not really see much in the way of actual decline yet. The Sabbats of balance, Mabon and Ostara, do not usually get as much attention as the great cross quarter ones, or the equinoxes, but at the deepest level I think they teach one of the most profound Pagan insights: that the good life is lived in balance.”Gus diZerega, The Meaning of Mabon

“In the rhythm of the year, Harvest Home marks a time of rest after hard work. The crops are gathered in, and winter is still a month and a half away! Although the nights are getting cooler, the days are still warm, and there is something magical in the sunlight, for it seems silvery and indirect. As we pursue our gentle hobbies of making corn dollies (those tiny vegetation spirits) and wheat weaving, our attention is suddenly arrested by the sound of baying from the skies (the “Hounds of Annwn” passing?), as lines of geese cut silhouettes across a harvest moon. And we move closer to the hearth, the longer evening hours giving us time to catch up on our reading, munching on popcorn balls and caramel apples and sipping home-brewed mead or ale. What a wonderful time Harvest Home is! And how lucky we are to live in a part of the country where the season’s changes are so dramatic and majestic!”Mike Nichols, The Witches’ Sabbats

“Although the specific date of the Autumn Equinox was not marked by any ritual in Celtic tradition, there is evidence that, at some point roughly halfway between Lughnasadh and Samhain, communities would involved themselves with a ceremony that reflected the processes then at work in the Year. This was usually a conclusion to ritual themes invoked at Lughnasadh, and focused on the end of the main harvest activities (i.e., the grain harvest), although it did not imply the end of the entire Harvest season, which continued until Samhain.”Alexei Kondratiev, The Apple Branch: A Path to Celtic Ritual

“With the feast of Mabon, the fall Equinox, we acknowledge the balance of light and dark, life and death, growth and rot. We honor all those things that enable our world to grow and restore itself. On this holy tide, we hail the hunter and the hunted, the predator and the prey, the plough and the scythe, the blessings of growth and of decay. We honor our resources, and the frugality and careful planning of every ancestor whose careful household management got their families safely through the cold constraints of winter. Mabon is a time of remembrance and of culling away, of honoring what we have, what we need, but also what we can provide to others. It is a time to look clearly at where we are weak in spirit, where we are strong, and where we stand somewhere in between, a time to take stock of our portion of gratitude and blessings for the coming season.”Galina Krasskova, Witches & Pagans

“Autumn Equinox (also known as Mabon or Harvest Home) is celebrated when day and night are of equal duration before the descent into increasing darkness and is the final festival of the season of harvest. In nature, the activity of the summer months slows down to the hibernation for the winter. For many Pagans, now is time to reflect on the past season. It is also a time to recognise that the balance of the year has changed, the wheel has turned and summer is now over.”Merlin, The Stonehenge News Blog

“When you give thanks for the bounty of the Earth, you are maintaining your connection to Spirit in a most elemental way. Without good water, good earth, good air, and healthy bees, there would be no crops to celebrate. Indeed, without these things there would be no people to create such a celebration. By honoring Mother Earth seasonally, we recognize not only our spirituality but also our place in the greater scheme of things.”Kate Braun, The Rag Blog

May you all enjoy the fruits of your harvest this season.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

1892 Lithograph depicting a somewhat exaggerated presentation of the Salem Witch Trials.

1892 Lithograph depicting a somewhat exaggerated presentation of the Salem Witch Trials.

Image of Ann Tuitt and Cornelius Jarvis. Part of a larger photograph of people serving prison sentences for obeah in the Antigua prison, 1905. TNA CO 152/287. Courtesy of The National Archives, UK

Image of Ann Tuitt and Cornelius Jarvis. Part of a larger photograph of people serving prison sentences for obeah in the Antigua prison, 1905. TNA CO 152/287. Courtesy of The National Archives, UK

  • The BBC reports on the abolishment of punishments for the practice of Obeah in Jamaica, and whether this development will lead to a resurgence of the practice. Quote: “Until recently, the practice of Obeah was punishable by flogging or imprisonment, among other penalties. The government recently abolished such colonial-era punishments, prompting calls for a decriminalisation of Obeah to follow. But Jamaica is a highly religious country. Christianity dominates nearly every aspect of life; and it is practiced everywhere from small, wooden meeting halls through to mega-churches with congregations that number in the thousands.” More on Obeah’s history, here.
  • Is Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker, a favorite to win a Senate seat for the Democratic Party, a stealth Religious Right candidate? Quote: “Cory Booker is very, very tight with the religious right wing — but he’s also very careful about what he says, since he hopes to run for president one day and cultivates strong LGBT support. The problem is, he hangs with the Dominionists [...] So here’s the question: Does Cory Booker simply cultivate useful relationships with a lot of un-American, unsavory, pro-corporatist, right-wing religious extremists — or is he one of them? I can’t read his mind, but I’ve had enough of giving so-called Democrats the benefit of the doubt on this stuff.” Is this all mere speculation? Talk2Action has some more background. All I know is that the New Apostolic Reformation is bad news, and some deeper questions should be asked of Booker if he’s truly allied with them.
  • Welsh, one of the surviving Celtic languages, is in trouble. Quote: “Only half of 16 to 24-year-olds consider themselves fluent, compared with two-thirds of over 60s, and only a third of the younger generation use Welsh with their friends In the language’s stronghold of Carmarthenshire there were five electoral areas where more than 70% of the people spoke Welsh in 2001, now there are none. The statistics have led to calls to protect the language, and 84 per cent of people indicated that they would welcome the chance to use it more.” The article notes that living next to a “language superpower” makes preservation difficult. Let’s hope things don’t get as bleak as it once did for Cornish
  • Practicing Witchcraft isn’t actually legal grounds to have your children taken away, no matter how much some would wish it to be so. Quote: “‘Nobody was able to articulate specific crimes associated with the ideology,’ wrote one officer. ‘Nobody on scene was able to articulate specific reasons (to remove the daughter) besides the religious views of the (boyfriend). All parties were advised that religion was constitutionally protected.’” 
  • The Pew Forum asked various religious leaders about the morality of life extension, and while they didn’t talk to any Pagans, they do interview Unitarian-Universalist, Hindu, and Buddhist leaders. Quote: “According to Michael Hogue, associate professor of theology at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, a Statement of Conscience on life extension ‘would probably come down [against it].’ Opposition would likely stem from ‘ecological concerns as well as concerns about economic justice,’ he says, referring to the environmental impact of faster population growth and the possibility that only the wealthy would be able to afford life-extension therapies.” Hindus, on the other hand, maybe be OK with life extension. Quote: “According to Arvind Sharma, a professor of comparative religion at McGill University in Montreal who has written about Hinduism and life extension. ‘The normal blessing in Hinduism is ‘Live long.’ So why not live longer?’ he says.” 

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Today is Lughnasadh (also known as Lammas) the first of three harvest festivals celebrated in many modern Pagan traditions. Lughnasadh originated as one of the four main Celtic fire festivals and was dedicated to the Celtic god Lugh/Lugus the many-skilled (or, in the case of Ireland, Lugh’s foster-mother Tailtiu). It is a time of thanksgiving, first-harvests, and the end of summer.

Communal harvest altar at Faerieworlds 2013.

Communal harvest altar at Faerieworlds 2013.

Here are some quotes for the holiday.

“Lammas, or Lughnassadh can easily be a forgotten Wiccan/Pagan holiday. It is not as showy as Samhain, or as lusty and festive as Beltane. But it remains one of the major sabbats, and should be recognized as such. The harvest is a time to gather: thoughts and blessings. It is about taking stock. We are getting ready for the next big seasonal shift. It is actually quite a powerful time, if you stop to ponder it. What better way to celebrate than to host an intimate gathering, simply to bake and break bread together; to just be?”Colleen DuVall, “Harvest Some Fun For Lammas,” PaganSquare

“This time of the year is an invitation to harvest what you have planted in your work and your life, both spiritually and mundanely. It is the time to stand fearlessly and with great care scrupulously cut away what no longer serves and will not sustain you through the time of turning within and the continued waning of the year. The tricky thing about sacrifice is that for most people the idea of sacrifice usually pertains to something that they willingly give up. There is the implied choice in the matter and although sacrifice can be disruptive and emotionally charged deep down there was still the ability to choose what the sacrifice would be. The sacrifice I am referring to implies neither choice nor selection. But definitely requires faith that all will be resolved in a productive manner if you are willing to surrender to what must be. Sacrifice in its refined form is the release of something that you ultimately want to cling to, whether negative or positive in its form despite the negative impact that you THINK it will leave.”  - Robin Fennelly, “Lammas: The Sacrificial Harvest,” The Witches’ Voice

“As we prepare to celebrate the first of our three harvest festivals, let’s not forget that so many of the foods we eat in celebration would not exist without pollinators. The most important of these are bees. And the bees are dying. [...]  It’s true that honeybees are not native to this continent, but were brought here by Europeans. Other native pollinators took care of the needs of the fruiting trees and other plants that are native here. However, bees are essential to the kinds of food production—even local, organic and sustainable methods—that we need to sustain ourselves. Whether you take action by signing a petition, contributing money, or taking individual action in planting bee-friendly yards, action is important. Without bees, it would be a sad Lughnassadh indeed. So include the bees in your prayers of thanks. And if you like, add one to the many bee goddesses to bless the bees.”Kathy Nance, “Bless the Bees — It Wouldn’t Be Lughnasadh Without Them,” Patheos.com

“Because my path is Earth-centered, I believe it is less important to hold to the “traditional” meaning of the sabbats than it is to attune to the energy of the place where you actually live, where (hopefully) your own food is grown. The seasons of Ireland are a far cry from the seasons of the Ozark Mountains. Here, gardens and farms are in the fullness of activity and production (Goddess willing). We have been harvesting many crops for weeks now – including the native Three Sisters: corn, beans and summer squash. August, while indeed a time to harvest, is also a time for planting the fall short-season crops. Therefore, my “locavore” version of Lughnasadh recognizes that this is also a time for renewal: strengthened by the warm soil and full bounty, we can plant new seeds in our lives and communities.”D. R. Bartlette, “Lughnasadh In The South,” PaganSquare

“Today, Lammas reminds us it’s time to “reap” (recognize, give thanks for) what we have sown (done) in the past year and to prepare for the coming autumn/winter. August in the northern hemisphere is when the heat is most intense. We look forward to the cooling days of fall when the apples are crisp and the last of the corn, chilies and tomatoes are harvested. In early religions the grain harvest represented the cycle of life and death. Stories were told of Persephone taken to the underworld and grief-stricken Demeter, her mother, grief-stricken, making the leaves fall (portraying winter). But before the autumn season, there was festivity, celebration, gathering fruits and grains and baking the first loaves of bread. Let us too give pause, recognizing our abundance, beautifying with grape vines, leaves, sheaves of wheat and oats, making corn dollies, sharing late summer fruits, celebrating skills, talents and craftsmanship and baking bread together from the first harvest.”Risa D’Angeles, “Lammas – First Harvest,” Good Times Weekly

“The August festival of Lammas or Lughnasadh was celebrated in Ireland, but not necessarily in many places across the British Isles. So our “wheel” is a relatively recent construction, made out of various components drawn from folklore and the imaginations of more recent practitioners [...] This cycle is reconstructionist at best and artificial at worst; but the same might be said with regard to any religious festival sequence and ritual practice. All start somewhere, and the virtue of the current cycle is its reminder of an agricultural and seasonal cycle from which it is easy to become divorced. Why, in a 21st-century society, should we need that reminder? Well, many feel that they require a link with the natural world, even – or especially – in the middle of the city, and whether that’s primarily spiritual, or primarily aesthetic, it is surely hardly harmful.”Liz Williams, “Paganism: The Wheel of The Year,” The Guardian

May you have a fruitful holiday!

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Pagan Radio Network

Pagan Radio Network

After 13 years of operation The Pagan Radio Network, one of the most prominent outlets for Pagan and Pagan-friendly music, shut down suddenly on July 21st. Owner Lew Wirt gave the following explanation for the sudden closure: “Not enough time, money, or energy to keep it up. I won’t bore you with a long-winded explanation, except to say that I attend college and raise a special-needs child. This leaves very little time or money to devote to my hobby of Internet broadcasting (as enjoyable as it was). Thank you for tuning in for nearly 13 years.” While there are other worthy streaming Pagan-oriented stations, few rivaled PRN’s size and scope, showcasing an amazing breadth of music. Currently, the domain names and IP are being auctioned off, and Wirt is recommending alternatives (plus new stations are popping up). As someone who had a show hosted on PRN, I’m saddened to see this essential resource go, and I wish Lew all the best in his future endeavors. Whether this is an isolated and personal development, or something that augurs a larger discussion on money and support within our communities is, I think, something that is still up in the air.

Dan Halloran

Dan Halloran

PaganSquare, the blogging portal hosted by Witches & Pagans Magazine, has added a new writer: Dan Halloran (who is going by Dan O’Halloran). Halloran, currently serving on the New York City Council, has been indicted in a massive political bribery scandal, and is facing trial sometime in 2014. While the matter of his guilt or innocence awaits due process, Halloran seems to be publicly re-embracing his Heathen beliefs (and the wider Pagan/Heathen community) by writing about Germanic polytheism. Quote: “Now it’s my turn to kick back in life after politics and discuss the things that matter to me from an academic and philosophical perspective. It may stir up some controversy… but that’s half the battle of ordeal, the crucible process of Wyrd. I’m looking forward to the journey….” I questioned editor Anne Newkirk Niven about bringing Halloran on board and she said that she was aware of his history, and was not looking to make any political statement by having him write for PaganSquare. That Halloran “just seemed to fill a gap in our PaganStudies section.” It should be interesting to see how Halloran’s new engagement with the Pagan community is received. You can read all of The Wild Hunt’s coverage of Dan Halloran, here.

Omnia performing at Faerieworlds.

Omnia performing at Faerieworlds.

This past weekend was the Faerieworlds Festival in Eugene, Oregon. As I said in my post this past Friday, it is a very Pagan and mythic event, and also boasted the first American performance for the Pagan-folk Netherlands band Omnia. On their official Facebook page, the band said they are “so very happy that the AMAZING audience here has such a strong reaction to our pure PaganFolk musick, seeing as it’s our first time here in the USA.” Meanwhile, featured workshop presenter T. Thorn Coyle said that she “had a grand time. Blessings of magic, mirth, and music to you.” Standout performances this year (aside from Omnia) included the mythic Pagan neo-folk of The Wicker Men, ethereal singer-songwriter Mariee Sioux, the transcendent world fusion of Stellamara, and a brief Kan’nal reunion featuring guitarist Tierro and singer Kurt Baumann. Also of note was the fact that American Pagan band Woodland officially released their new album “Secrets Told” and closed out the event on Sunday night. There’s a lot more to tell, and many more Pagans of note who participated (S.J. Tucker, for example, who, as always, was universally beloved), but suffice to say that this is an event that more Pagans should discover. Here’s the opening spiral dance for a small taste. Tons of photos at the official Faerieworlds page. [In the interest of full disclosure, I work for Faerieworlds, but I thought the festival was awesome even before I did.]

In Other Pagan Community News:

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Today is the start of the Faerieworlds Festival in Eugene, Oregon. Faerieworlds is a weekend-long event that mixes fantasy, art, music, mythic themes, and wild creativity to create something that is truly unique within the world of festival culture. Existing in a liminal space between the “transformational” West Coast festivals, Renaissance (and re-enactment) fairs, and traditional multi-stage music events, Faerieworlds is something that is hard to describe until you experience it for youself. As co-founder Kelly Miller-Lopez said in 2009, Faerieworlds opens “doorways to help people connect with beauty and magic.”

“For the first time ever…OMNIA will be bringing the one and only, pure and uncut PaganFolk to the US! Old world Paganism meets the New world tribes! The Clans that were sundered by time, politics and emigration will be re-united for this one amazing, fantastical, artistic and magical Festival in Oregon! I get all goosebumpy thinking about it!  Finally we get to play to an audience that speaks our language!  FaerieWorlds here we come! Nature has provided us with a lot of energy, and we long to share it with you! See ya there!”SteveSic Evans-van der Harten of the band Omnia

I would argue, as someone who has experienced Faerieworlds as both an attendee and an employee, that an integral element that makes Faerieworlds so special is that, in many ways, Faerieworlds is very Pagan. While the festival has no religious or theological mandate, and is welcoming to everyone, there is, and always has been, a strong Pagan thread running through the event. For those who simply want to frolic with Wotan the Faerie-Smasher, dress up in glitter and wings, sample from an array of artists, or simply dance to a diverse lineup of bands, the festival provides all that, and more. However, if you go in looking for it, you’ll notice the ritual and Spiral Dance during opening festivities, that headliners like Omnia, S.J. Tucker, Sharon Knight, and Woodland sing songs from within a Pagan frame of reference, and that Pagan luminaries like T. Thorn Coyle are there conducting workshops. These Pagan elements do not dominate, but merely inform the festival, creating a creative ambiguity that resonates far beyond modern Paganism’s borders. As Faerieworlds co-founder Robert Gould put it in 2012, when talking about why Faerieworlds booked singer-songwriter Donovan, all great art inhabits this ambiguous, liminal, space.

2013 Faerieworlds Map

2013 Faerieworlds Map

“The most common and unifying quality of great art is ambiguity: it’s ability to be experienced and interpreted by people of any gender, age, culture or time.”

This melding of elements, this willingness to stand in a liminal space, has allowed Faerieworlds to strike chord far wider than any explicitly Pagan event, drawing an estimated 6-8000 people per day last year, and with an even bigger year planned for 2013. As I said in 2011, Faerieworlds taps into our primal communal need for festival, for gathering, to honor nature and the numinous

“Events like Faerieworlds tap into a deep cultural hunger for romanticism, for a re-enchantment of the world that has long been denied by both secular and religious institutions in the West. I don’t think the recent fantasy boom is happening in a vacuum, nor do I think it is any coincidence that a growing number of people are opting out of traditional forms of religion altogether while still holding onto religious beliefs. While Faerieworlds, or Burning Man for that matter, aren’t explicitly “Pagan” they tap into a primal need for festival, for gathering to honor the numinous, the changing seasons, each other, and our own creativity. I think that these events, especially as we weather hard times, will continue to grow in importance. There is a vital roots-up form of small-p “paganism” emerging here that is very compatible with our more formal adoption of Pagan religion.”

Faerieworlds is something magical and unique, something that I think many Pagans need to see, and perhaps emulate. Grown from a small local gathering of friends and family, Faerieworlds has become, in its 12th year, something of an institution in Oregon, rivaling the venerable (and popular) Oregon Country Fair. They did it by realizing that the need to tap into myth, into story, into festival, resonates far beyond the borders of our personal communities, whatever they may be.

I hope to see you at Faerieworlds, and let’s all live our legends!