Since I missed last week I thought I’d reprint an editorial I wrote. It’s currently published at The Pagan Newswire Collective
Most Pagans are aware that the eight sabbats of Wicca are an artificial construction. They combine festivals of hunter/gatherer peoples with festivals of agriculture and animal husbandry. When you add to that an international following and crazy modern scheduling you have a practice of worship that is truly Neo-Pagan.
Our quarter celebrations, the solstices and equinoxes, come to us from people’s who understood astronomy. These are real and measurable events in time and space. The tools and precision of measuring when these sabbats occur have changed over time. The events that they celebrate are fixed.
The cross quarters, however, are seasonal celebrations. They mark events of weather and harvest that happen when they happen in the local area. We know from the names we call them by: Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasad, and Samhein that these are sabbats from more northern climates. These are celebrations of a people who were dependent on an unpredictable weather.
They may have marked migration cycles. They may have marked the end of a harvest season. They may have marked blooming plants. They may have marked fertility of farm animals. But these kind of events occur at different times in different places in different years.
Our calendars come to us from the Romans and the Roman Catholic Church. When these local festivals were assigned patron saints and attributed to saints days on the calendar they became more fixed in time. Of course the church calendar has changed once or twice over the last several thousand years and saints come and go.
We come around again to Candlemas, or Brigid’s Mass. This festival on our calendar at the beginning of February was not always marked by a specific date. Even in our modern age there are those who count the days between each of the quarter events and would mark the cross quarters at exactly the halfway point. They argue that this celebration should occur on February 1, or 2 or 3 or even January 31 depending on when the Solstice fell.
In our modern world we think of the coldest days as having been the hardest for our fore bearers. The return of the light and the warming of the climate is celebrated for a reprieve from hardship. The reality is that in colder climates this can be the hardest season. Nothing is growing yet and won’t be for at least a month. The animals are all thin from their own winter struggles and those that aren’t are pregnant. The stores are limited with no hope of renewal for the rest of the winter and there is no telling how long that will be.
Back in the days before electric lighting cows and chickens did not produce year round. In those earlier times there has been no milk or eggs since before the solstice. It turns out that egg and milk production is primarily based on how much light is available. Modern farming uses electricity to keep cows and hens producing year round. In those earlier times it was the lengthening of daylight that made all the difference.
So this cross-quarter may have originated as a simple family feast. The holiday fare of a cake, or a quiche when finally there is a cup of milk and an egg to be had. This is a sabbat of promise. Times may be lean. The weather may be cold. Food may be inconsistent and hard to come by. But there is a beginning of hope that as the days continue to lengthen there will be more.
As we celebrate our sabbat, as we honor Brigid or make up our new candles let’s consider our bounty. Let’s take a moment to think about those who struggle to find enough to get them through. Surely we can find a way to share with those who’s hens have yet to lay an egg and who’s cows are too old to produce another year of milk.
Four nights will quickly dream away the time;
And then the moon, like to a silver bow
New-bent in heaven, shall behold the night
Of our solemnities.
Wm Shakespeare “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
The summer solstice will soon be upon us and it is also the week of the new moon. It seems fitting somehow to return to Shakespeare.
I’ve always found it odd that the solstice’s are “mid-summer and mid-winter” but that they also the official start of the season. It’s a confusion of science, climate, farming and mythology. Those of you who are out haying this week surely understand the feeling of the solstice being midsummer. Those of you with school aged children are just starting the season out and already counting the days until it’s back to school.
When I was a child midsummer was marked, not so much by the solstice specifically, but by the opening date of the municipal pool. (Usually the same week that summer “officially” began.) I had swimming lessons in the morning and then time for a quick lunch before the pool opened to the public. We literally spent all day in the water.
I was a theater kid. I did plays in school and went to any puppet show or children’s theater production I could get to. Those were the days when our local children’s theater company did a summer production in a tent. It was like going to the circus without the smell and with a real story line. I loved it and was incredibly disappointed when they moved the program indoors and then lost the funding.
Midsummer Night was the first “grown-up” theater production I ever saw. It was my first time at the Guthrie. I went with my Jr. High School. Technically this was a field trip for the 8th and 9th graders over 15. I was not only in 7th grade but young for my class at only 12. Luckily I had a friend in one of the upper grades who was too sick to attend. (I think he broke a leg and got an infection) so I got permission to take his ticket and tag along. I was truly enchanted.
All of those memories serve as color and background to my understanding of midsummer as a Wiccan Sabbat. A high holiday on the calendar that I find gets marked in very odd ways. I have done midsummer rituals based on Shakespeare, inviting the fairies to come romp and do mischief. I have done midsummers that were more about the time in the pool than the ritual. It’s an odd holiday because it’s too hot to be serious and too important not to take seriously.
The summer solstice is the longest day of the year. From this point onward our days get shorter and our time in the backyard without the arrival of dusk and mosquitos more limited. Often the mythology around the Sabbat involves the honoring of the sun at the height of its power. The celebration of sun worshipers around the world. It’s a very inclusive, a rumpus with roaring and sometimes gnashing teeth. A celebration of “Wild Things.”
June is commonly the wedding month. So in mythologies where the God and Goddess are a more traditional couple sometimes the midsummer celebration becomes a celebration of their union. These rites range from very formal affairs to (rumor has it) occasional orgies. The people who love to decorate the space, make bowers of flowers and deck themselves out with garlands and ribbons get a lot out of this kind of celebration.
The full moon in June is the honey-moon (pun or maybe entomology intended.) The brewers celebrate this Sabbat in fine form. The mead making parties are quite popular and so are the parties where everyone opens a bottle from the year before and compares results.
I think my ideal summer solstice celebration might just be sitting in a pool with a glass of mead making a toast to the sun.