In Frazer’s The Golden Bough there is some exploration of the notion of the sacred king. There are a number of components to this idea. One is in the Divine right of kings to rule, and subsequently that they are the representatives of the Divine on Earth. Then there is the belief that the kings are connected to the land. As the king succeeds the land thrives, as the king fails or falls ill the land is depleted. In a system that holds these principles to be true, the logical outcome is to demand the sacrifice of the king to relieve a drought or natural disaster. Frazer took that philosophy and connected it to the agricultural cycle of reaping and sowing – death and rebirth.
I came back from spending a long weekend on the land to see my Facebook full of images of our Secretary of the Interior assessing National Parkland for its value to sell to industry for development. Moving from visiting a Prairie reclamation project at the height of success to a clearly out of control consume and profit narrative was disheartening to say the least.
On the way home I noticed the corn was starting to come in from the fields. The corn harvest is the mark for me of the Lammas celebration, John Barley Corn is dead, long live John Barley Corn. This is the representation in Wicca of the sacred king mythology. The grain God is sacrificed to feed the people.
It’s been difficult to sort out the sacred from the political. Police are shooting people, healthcare continues to be threatened in spite of an overwhelming majority who clearly want to have coverage, and our sacred lands are being sold out from under us – again and still.
I see spiritual representatives from around the world being dismissed by Big Oil at Standing Rock. I see a spiritual leader in my hometown, trying to help a neighbor in distress, being shot by police. I see places that I’ve stood in awe of nature being looked upon as a feast for mining, logging and manufacturing industries.
Included in the sacrificial king mythology is the Arthurian story of the Fisher King. This is part of the grail quest. The sacred chalice, that has magical qualities including the ability to heal, is apparently in the possession of the Fisher King. The king has a grievous wound and is failing, as is his land. Somehow he doesn’t have the wisdom, moral integrity, or desire/belief to use the grail. Percival, who was raised by a single mother in the forest away from the society of men, sees the solution but fails (out of politeness?) to ask the question that will heal everything.
We need to ask the questions. We need to keep asking until we get answers that go beyond pats on the head and being told we can’t possibly understand. Why can’t we get along? Why does the notion of “equal rights” always seem to have an “except” clause? When and how much is enough? Who has the vision for our future? Does that vision include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? For everyone?
Previous blogs about the holiday season:
I have always struggled with the notion of community. Maybe it comes from not often having a sense of belonging. Even in my birth family there have been times when I felt very much unwanted. This is not my imagination, I’ve been explicitly told as much. Sometimes it’s been useful and appropriate, like when my sister and I, as young adults, effectively kicked each other out of our parents house. Other times it’s been rather hurtful.
There are organizations that I’ve belonged to that function to some degree like communities. Some that I’ve paid dues to and others that I have earned the right through study and initiation. Alumni organizations are kind of like that, as are Wiccan traditions and other magical orders. Even with membership I have certainly been at events where I was rather unwanted. I really do try to avoid making people uncomfortable.
Unfortunately when dealing with communities (or any group of people) there is politics. Sometimes showing up is necessary to maintain any kind of respect within the community. After all they have a harder time talking trash about you when you are present to refute the accusations.
Apparently on a political level I am often perceived as a threat. Maybe it’s because I’m a smart and verbal woman. Maybe it’s because I call it like I see it if someone asks for my opinion. Maybe it’s because if someone sets up a game I’m likely to play, although I am usually much less invested in the results. My general philosophy of community is that people are going to say stuff and as long as I continue to be present and consistent eventually whatever trash talk is in the gossip stream will fade.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve got less interest and patience for this kind of high school “mean girls” nonsense. I am looking for a different way to be in community and to interact with community. Sometimes this means standing up and saying “you’re not funny.” Sometimes this means participating in support of organizations that I don’t really belong to. Sometimes this means taking a step back and re-evaluating the culture of community and how I would like to fit in.
So this weekend Orion and I went out in support of a community organization that we don’t belong to. Walker Church is that kind of community organization. Their influence reaches far beyond their membership. As an organization they have always been active in social justice issues in the larger community. They have supported the arts and small voices that also work on a local community level. They promote local and sustainable food for all people. They have been open and inclusive to people of all faiths.
When Walker Church burned in a lightning strike ignited fire it was a blow to the congregation. The loss of the church building was also a great loss to the larger community. As they hold fundraising events to support the construction of a new building Orion and I felt a joyful obligation to show up in support.
We danced to country two step music from the Cactus Blossoms. Then we sang along with Gospel Machine. We had to leave during the bluegrass of the Roe Family Singers. The night started before we got there and continued for hours after we left but it felt good to contribute to a community whose mission I believe in. We were welcomed and we had fun, even if I don’t really belong.
So here I’ve been in sunny San Jose. The weather has been delightful all weekend. Today there is a slight chill in the air. It’s 45 this morning. The natives are reaching for their winter coats. I’ve put on a sweater and am happy to be outside. It’s all relative. I understand back home the high is predicted at 32 with snow and winds gusting to 40 mph. How could I complain?
I’ve been attending Pantheacon. This is a large convention (2300 ish) of Pagans (definition still to be determined) from mostly the Bay area, but actually from all over the country. I’ve visited with people from New Hampshire, DC, New Orleans, Portland and Wisconsin. Even those coming from California come all the way up and down the coast. It’s quite the event.
The thing about Pantheacon is that it really is a convention. Sure there are vendors and hospitality suites but it is really go – go – go to attend the workshops and other events. There are at least 10 choices in any given session and inevitably more than one of them is appealing. There isn’t a lot of time to just hang out and talk and get to know folks. Even the post session schmooze is limited as the crew doesn’t have much time to clean up and set up between events.
This makes things a little hard for my midwestern sensibilities. Anyone who’s heard of the “Minnesota goodbye” understands that it takes us awhile to move from one thing to the next. When you add my physical challenges to the mix I’m probably skipping as many sessions as I’m attending. Oh Well. I’ve been doing this long enough to understand that I have to take care of myself first.
I have managed to do quite a bit. I’m talking about my book Manifest Divinity. I even got to finally meet my publisher face to face!
I’ve been talking to the Pagan News Collective about journalism and contributing to their work. I’ve talked with a lot of other authors both those working with publishers and those who are self published.
There is a great deal of diversity at this convention. I think they work hard to achieve it. There was a panel on privilege. There was a session called Women of Color Caucus. Some of the women who contributed to the anthology Shades of Faith conspired to put on a ritual that included elements from each of their diverse practices.
It was beautiful and affirming, and you can see these are amazing and powerful women!
I’m always eager to learn new things and meet new people. This has been a great trip to recharge and inspire me. I promised my publisher I’d get him a proposal for my next book SOON. I have a list of several books I want to get from the authors I’ve meet. (I just didn’t want to try and pack them home on the plane!) My next reviews on LisaSpiral Reads will probably include a few of those author’s works.
In the meantime I’ll enjoy the sunshine and try to figure out how I can get on the plane in sandals and off in a winter coat. Especially since I didn’t pack one!
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.
Anyone living within the covendom and wishing to form a new coven, to avoid strife, shall tell the elders of their intention and on the instant void their dwelling and remove to the new covendom.
Members of the old coven may join the new one when it is formed, but if they do, they must utterly avoid the old coven. The elders of the old and new coven should meet in peace and brotherly love to decide the new boundaries. Those of the craft who dwell outside both covendoms may join either, indifferent, but not both. Though all may, if the elders agree, meet for the great festivals if it truly be in peace and brotherly love. But splitting the coven often means strife, so for this reason these laws were made of old.
I have been thinking a lot lately about how we part company, and why. My Wiccan tradition has two new covens forming in the local area. My daughter is moving out into her first real apartment on her own, with no intention of ever moving back. I have been through two divorces with two very different outcomes.
A student of mine made the observation that it seems, in the Pagan community as a whole, 3rd degree is given when you get to be too much trouble. When it’s easier on everyone to get you to leave than to let you to stay and disrupt the group. Is 3rd degree essentially a pat on the back, a rank of sovereignty, clergy with the traditional rituals and a boot out the door? I had to agree that this is often the most compelling reason for 3rd degree to be given.
However, in my tradition neither of the two new covens are starting this way. It is simply time for both High Priestesses to move on. They both needed to be independent in order to continue to grow spiritually. There was sadness, but no animosity in their parting.
The same is true for my daughter. She can not become the fully functioning adult she is meant to be if her home base is with Mommy. I am proud of her and excited and a little sad. Thankfully she’s not running away as fast as she can or shaking up with the first guy who would have her. Five years ago she might have done just that. Now it really is time for her to go.
I did that, more or less, with my first husband. I was living at home and keeping the kind of hours only a college student is capable of surviving. My parent’s lived an hour away from school 20 min walk from a bus line that ran once an hour until 1am. He lived within a block of campus. I actually moved back home over the summer before moving out to a “real” apartment choosing intentionally to live with him rather than just crashing at his place.
That divorce was mostly because of attrition. We grew up and found we dealt with grown up stress in very different ways. I became management and he became labor. Not a great dynamic for a marriage. We were never a passionate couple and that may have made the parting easier. We also continued to share custody and responsibility for the children. Our dynamic makes more sense outside of the marriage relationship. We are not the friends we were in college, but we have never been enemies.
My second husband was another story. The last six months we were together he was astonished why I would still want to be divorced when things between us were getting so much better. I had just resigned myself to saying yes to anything just to get him to sign the paperwork. I didn’t throw his clothes out on the lawn and kick him out, but as soon as the divorce was final I got rid of most everything he’d left behind.
My first husband had reason to stay in touch. I had to change the locks so he’d stop ‘dropping in‘ on me and the kids. I had to get my friends to move some of the valuables we’d agreed were to be his to his house or he wouldn’t have taken them. I had to say “It’s been a year, the ‘stuff’ that’s mine and the ‘stuff’ that’s yours is no longer negotiable.” When the kids need something he’ll buy it. When there is a childcare issue or a transportation need he’ll step in. Rarely do I get push back on any request and my decisions are my own.
My second husband was a pest. He would call “just to check up” and then bitch about how miserable he was. He would write scathing messages on facebook about how I shouldn’t say nasty things about him to my friends. He signed a paper that said anything left after he moved out was mine. Six months later for the courts he signed a paper saying all our property had been distributed and he had his and I had mine. Six months later I got threats about all his stuff that I had no right to be keeping because it was his and not mine. He wanted to keep tabs on my 17 year old daughter and 21year old son. He accused me of not letting them speak to him, as though I could have prevented it had they wanted to call.
Separating for autonomy sometimes requires being left alone to make your own decisions and your own mistakes. I hope that my daughter continues to call me regularly but I can’t make her because I need to know if she’s coming home for dinner. The same is true with the two new covens.
One of the new covens holds to the old law, to have no contact with the old group. The interpretation they are using says that this restriction lasts for a year and a day. They also distinguish between friendship and religious practice. There will still be phone calls to touch base on a personal level. The old coven leaders will not be guests at the new coven’s rituals. At least not for a while, until the new group has time to establish it’s own traditions and group dynamics.
The second new coven does not seem to hold to the law in this regard. There is concern about how the old group will perceive the validity of the decisions in the new coven. The old coven leaders are welcomed and encouraged to participate in rituals for the new coven’s members. Autonomy seems to be limited by personal authority, which from my perspective is being undermined by the old authority. There is no question about who is running the group day to day. There is only a question about where the power for decision making truthfully lies. Who holds sovereignty?
It’s clear that parting company is difficult. It is even more difficult to achieve with both grace and autonomy. When we desire to take sovereignty of our own lives and our own spiritual paths are we truly the best judge of when we are ready? If it is not necessary to ‘cut the ties’ in anger, why is that so common? Is it a necessary stage of development to separate ourselves from our parents (biological or spiritual) in order to truly recognize our own sovereignty?