When we met in nineteen thirty-eight, it was November When I said that I would be his mate, it was December I reasoned he would be the greatest husband that a girl had ever found That’s what I reasoned That’s what I reasoned Then April rolled around…
April has rolled around once again, and with it comes a tradition that has been part of the background of American life that stretches even farther back than 1938- it began almost the very day in 1845 when the Knickerbocker Club of New York City took on the New York Nine in the first organized game of “base ball” ever played. Since that day, as Meg laments in Damn Yankees, baseball has been a part of American life for “six months out of every year.”
We’ve not long passed the equinox, that twice yearly point in the wheel where normal Paganism stops to talk about balance, and usually alongside this, peace. World Peace Day falls close to the autumn equinox and Earth day, and Earth Hour are around the spring one. Peace and balance are, without a doubt, good things to work for.
Some days my life has little of either. On the whole, I have a quiet, easy, privileged sort of life, free from many of the things that torment many of the world’s inhabitants. Even so, I find celebrating balance really difficult. Not least because I do not see much of the balance of nature as a comfortable harmony – all too often, balance is created by things in tension, pulling in opposite directions. Conflicting needs counterbalancing each other can create harmony very easily when you look at the whole effect. The experience of any part of the whole, is not of the harmony, but of the conflict.
I’ve planted seeds in ritual, at Imbolc before now. Of course if you wanted bulbs, those had to be in ground weeks, if not months ago. There are many things too delicate to put in the soil at this time of year – leafy salad plants and other exotica from warmer climes won’t tolerate the tail end of winter on the UK. There are still heavy frosts, and many plants can’t bear them. Some things won’t be planted until much later in the spring.
In life, as in agriculture when you plant may well depend a lot on what you are planting and when you hope to harvest it. Many projects take years to come to fruition. As an author I find I’m usually seeing the fruits of things I wrote months ago... this February, it’ll be seeds from years back that finally send up shoots. The third volume of Hopeless Maine (that’s the book cover adorning this post) comes out as a webcomic at www.hopelessmaine.com while a book I wrote years ago – Fast food at the centre of the world, finally comes to life as an audio series at www.nerdbong.com. Often we plant things with no idea of whether they will grow, much less when.
Modern Pagan traditions have the Oak and Holly kings fighting at the summer and winter solstices. It’s a good excuse to evoke some mumming drama and get some chaps to hit each other with bits of wood, and as such is not without merit. But what of the oak and the holly?
Winter is certainly holly’s season. The deciduous trees shed their leaves a month or two ago, so the dark glossy hues of the holly stand out. Red holly berries can be one of the few bright things in a winter environment, still vivid even on gloomy days, and vibrant against backdrops of snow. Holly is certainly King at this time of year, but in practice he’s probably been King since Samhain.
This is me and my chap at last year’s mistletoe rite. It was cold, hence my failed attempts at rolling into a ball like a hedgehog. Midwinter is usually a tough time for outdoor ritual, but the attraction of Druids to mistletoe means outdoors is where you need to be. I’ve been to rituals working with pre-cut mistletoe, and it isn’t at the same. It’s a much more immediate experience when you’re in the process of removing a living, parasitic plant from the tree branch it has grown on. We go to an apple orchard, where there is a great deal of mistletoe, singing, and good cheer.
Rituals often raise interesting issues about what we do for real, and what we gently fake. The Great rite is a frequent case in point. We turn suspicions of historic sacrifice into corn dollies, offer wine and mead to the earth and not blood. Often a Druid ritual can seem less like an encounter with raw and wild nature, more like something safe and on the edges of familiarity. But then, England doesn’t have much wilderness, most of our more dangerous wildlife is gone – no bears and wolves round here, and I’ve not seen a boar.
All Hallows Eve falls on the 31st of October – the night before All Hallows Day, also known as All Saints Day. It’s part of the Catholic calendar. All Hallows Eve is also, in this tradition, known as All Souls Night – a time for remembering the less saintly-dead. It’s this tradition that Mexican day of the dead festivities, and pumpkin lanterns would seem to belong to.
We know that Samhain was the end of the Celtic summer. However, as with all ancient festivals, the issue of dates is a tad compromised by the problems of calendars. In 1582, the Gregorian calendar came in, adjusting the previous Julian calendar and fine tuning when leap years happen. The reason for this is that the date of Easter is calculated (because the only reference to it is the Jewish lunar calendar) in relation to the spring equinox, so calendar drift was causing the Church some headaches.
I live in an area where the winters are long. And cold. And snowy. Sometimes it seems like spring will never come again. So 5 years ago I started making corn dollies out of corn husks and cotton embroidery floss, cotton twine or jute twine. But these were not just ANY sort of corn dollies, these are SPRING corn dollies.