September is Pagan Pride Month!
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Lugnasadh, or Lammas, marks the end of the grain harvest, the time for celebration as all the crops are in. Yesterday, I walked in the Cotswolds, and I saw a great many ripe but un-harvested fields. In other years, I’ve seen it all come in well before Lugnasadh, and I’ve also seen the harvest fall much later. In wet summers, the crops can fail, and there is nothing of the grain to celebrate.
For me, this highlights an issue of Pagan disconnection from the Wheel of the Year. We celebrate the grain harvest at Lammas (the name means ‘loaf mass’) but most of us will not have been involved with the harvest, or even have an inkling as to when it happened in our locality. Not all areas are grain growing either. Does it even make sense to celebrate this festival if you live in an upland area that grows sheep, not corn?...
I was just in a rather dispiriting discussion of sexual predation in the Pagan community, sparked by an interesting piece in the Wild Hunt. The article was good. which is more than I can say for some of the discussion that followed.
The piece was about the decline of nudity at Pagan events and the reasons for it. But much of the discussion shifted to the related but different issue of why many women felt uneasy or defensive when sky clad at such events. Despite all the energy and more than a little venom that accompanied that discussion, one important issue remained unaddressed....
Recently, I saw a photo of an old, Pagan friend on Facebook. He was wearing a great kilt and a body full of blue paint, likely woad. His arms were crossed, and he was laughing at something off-camera. Behind him, a woman in jeans and a sweater walked down a garden path with a sword in her hand. There were tents and green trees in the background. I remembered his laughter as it had been when I knew him and missed the days when I could sit with kilted friends on American hillsides and talk of a Scotland that never was.
Two years ago, I was visiting Toronto for the World Fantasy Convention and met with another friend in Dundas square; a Pagan Celt and hospital chaplain who wears a torc I don't believe he ever takes off. Like me, he's a graduate of the Celtic Studies program at the University of Toronto, and he introduced me to two other graduates who went with us for chips and a pitcher of beer. We talked about the intersections of our educations and our spiritualities alongside a liberal smattering of pre-Christian references in early texts. It was an evening with people for whom no explanation was necessary, and I remember it fondly.
There is a Welsh word, 'hiraeth', which has no direct English translation but refers to a deep longing for homeland that might not exist or have ever existed. Dion Fortune surely touched on this idea when she referred to Glastonbury as the 'Avalon of the Heart'. Some feel this longing more deeply than others, and I think many who do find their way to Paganism, where there is a sympathetic welcome for refugees of places none of us can ever visit in our bodies. I'm certainly one of them, having felt this longing since I was in my early twenties, having built my life upon it, having earned a Bachelor of Celtic Studies, traveled to Ireland, immigrated to Canada and settled in a Gàidhealtachd of the Scottish Gaelic language because of it.
I still haven't found that homeland, by the way. It wasn't at the University of Toronto, though I did find many of the old stories there. It wasn't in Ireland, though the bones of that place played me like the instrument I am. And least of all, it isn't here in Cape Breton, where there is Gàidhlig culture aplenty steeped in the Catholic and Presbyterian religious ideologies of insular Celts who have less interest in enthusiastic newcomers than they claim1. Do I still support their efforts to preserve their unique heritage? Of course. Do I feel at home here?
I felt at home in the world of my friend's photograph. I felt at home in the pub where I sat with fellow Pagan Celts and sacralized the histories we love. I have felt at home wherever there were people like me, answering the call of similar places in their souls. Together, we've created a culture of the imagination, where we could recognize in each other what we had not found in the world, what may never have existed in the world until we created it. There are those who would belittle that culture because of its origins in us, but I think it's useful to remember that all cultures are products of the imagination. Some are just older or perhaps have a better established lineage than others.
And this culture nourishes us, doesn't it? When we come together, we create a home for each other where we can explore what it means to be human in the contexts of our Pagan spiritualities. For awhile, no explanations are necessary, and there is power in that. So I'm a great fan of circles, covens, groves, festivals and conventions; where we share the meals, rituals and realities we have created. Yes, there is conflict in those places sometimes, but the good we can do for each other and for the world far outweighs the potential for negativity. For my part, I'll be attending the Aegis Pagan Gathering and Spiritual Retreat later this summer, and I'm really looking forward to it. I hope you'll take the time to connect in person with your community as well. Pitch a tent, build a fire, cook a feast and invite your fellow Pagans to help create a culture that empowers you all.
Next time, I'll write a bit about what we might do with all that power.
1. 06/01/2014 19:19 ADT: I've been thinking about this sentence all afternoon, and I really feel I need to qualify it. Every word is true, but I realize it's possible to misconstrue what I've written as a condemnation of the Gàidhlig community here. That isn't my intention at all. I do have many Gàidhlig friends and acquaintances in Nova Scotia, and I value them greatly. However, integration into an insular, minority community is a complex process, and my own journey has certainly reflected that complexity. It's worth noting that many of us here who 'come from away' have similar stories to tell.
The spring equinox is only a few weeks away. It is part of the modern festival wheel, not because there’s any real evidence for it being celebrated historically, but because it balances things up nicely. It being the time when days and nights are the same length, we tend to talk a lot about balance around these two festivals. However, every lunar month offers two rounds of balance between light and dark in the shape of the moon, so there are other times we might feel directed to consider balance, too.
Are equinoxes really a time of balance? I do not feel that point of day and night in equilibrium especially. What I do notice a lot at this time of year, is the racing change in day length. Around the equinoxes, we have the greatest pace on the balance between night and day changing. Every day right now is a little longer than the one before it, and I’m intensely conscious not of balance, but of a sudden feeling of hurtling towards summer....
The 31st of October is traditionally Samhain, and also All Hallows Eve. It has a long tradition as a festival, as do Beltain, Imbolc and Lugnasadh, all popular with modern Pagans. However, Pagans in the Southern hemisphere have long since decided that it makes no sense to celebrate Samhain at the start of what, for them, is the spring. Southen calendars swap the festivals around, putting seasonal relevance before an ancestral connection with dates....