Posts Tagged ‘holy days’

*opens the windows, dusts off the place, looks around*

Happy equinox, autumn, harvest, Alban Elued, Mabon, Sukkoth, and what have you.

Looks like I’ll be moving back in here for a while.

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See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
(I John 3:1-3)

I went to Mass yesterday for the first time in months, for a number of reasons. First, so that we could take my mother-in-law to brunch afterward; it was her birthday. Second, so I could be present for the baptism of a friend’s child. And third, so I could hear the choir sing Tomas Luis da Victoria’s “O Quam Gloriosum” Mass and motet, and William Harris’s setting of “Holy Is The True Light”, which I quoted yesterday.

During the sermon I pulled out my journal and pen. I have heard many sermons over the years; few preachers can say anything which I haven’t already heard, and to them, I will listen, but in the meantime, it never hurts to think about the readings for oneself. As always, my attention was caught by the lines from John’s first letter that were read as the Epistle of the day.

We are God’s children now; we don’t know yet what we will be, but we will become like Christ when he reveals himself. How? why? We will become as he is because we will see him as he is.

This is mysticism, this is contemplation, this is theosis. Who are the saints? They are those who have realized that they are to become as gods, not on their own merit, not by grasping like Adam and Eve, but by letting the light of Christ their God shine through them. “Turn to him and be radiant, and let not your faces be ashamed,” as Psalm 34 says, as the Prayerbook Office for the day assigns to Evening Prayer.

Not grasping, not clinging, but emptying oneself to be filled by the Christ nature. Not grasping, not clinging, uncovering the obscurations to discover the radiant Buddha nature.

Holy is the true light.

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Holy is the True Light, and passing wonderful,
lending radiance to them that endured in the heat of the conflict,
from Christ they inherit a home of unfading splendour,
wherein they rejoice with gladness evermore.
from the Salisbury Diurnal by GH Palmer

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Today like every other day
We wake up empty and scared.
Don’t open the door of your study
And begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do
There are hundreds of way to kneel
And kiss the earth.

I looked for this poem of Rumi’s this morning because it perfectly captured how I felt upon waking and what I needed to hear to go forth and get on with my day.  The equinox is here again, the day of balance between light and dark.  We know that if light and dark are in combat, this time dark will win; the dragon will overwhelm St. Michael, at least for six months.

Let me try another metaphor.  If the Lord of Light and the Lord of Darkness, St. Michael and the Dragon, are not enemies but lovers, perhaps I can say that the Dragon will be the dominant partner for a while.  Perhaps the Bright Lord with the spear will go into the darkness underground, as some Pagans say that Persephone leaves her mother on this day and goes home to the land of Hades, her husband.  The darkness dominates now, but not forever.  At the spring equinox, the same will be true of the light.

In the Neopagan Wheel of the Year, this festival, which Druids call Alban Elued, is the last before the New Year.  But in the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah often falls close to this equinox, and I still tend to think of September as a new beginning for personal reasons.  The academic year begins anew; the choir season in churches begins anew.  Because these things closely affect my husband, they affect me, too.

I find myself beginning again.  Beginning to be a druid again. Beginning to be a magician again. Beginning to be a writer again, flooded with new inspiration for my fiction.  Beginning to bring druidry, writing, magic into the context of Buddhist practice and the altruistic motivation, bodhicitta, the goal of enlightenment for the sake of benefiting all beings.

I had strange dreams last night–in one, I was being attacked by a snarling, talking house cat–and have had uneasy sleep all the past week.  I woke frightened in the dark this morning.  But the music of Fats Waller was playing on the alarm clock, and my husband went looking on YouTube for videos of the great pianist to share online.  It’s hard to remain empty and frightened with Fats mugging shamelessly for the camera while his fingers work effortless miracles on the keys.  I walked to work and now I’m writing this entry.  There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

I wish a blessed autumn-tide to all my readers.

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For some people, a shadow hangs over this day: the tangled and bitter history of the relations between European colonists and Indian natives in the Americas.  It began so well, with the natives helping the clueless settlers, but the Puritans were precisely those Europeans who had severed themselves from the old Catholic peasant agriculturalist ways and thus perhaps the least ready to understand the knowledge of the new land that the natives could have offered them.  It all went downhill too quickly.

Today another shadow hangs over our American festival of feasting and rejoicing, the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India.  The wounded and the dead should not be forgotten.  Each year at this time I remember two friends who died at this season: the kindly, eccentric black man, an organist who loved our choir, who was robbed and murdered on his way home from the Thanksgiving Eve service and dinner at my husband’s church, and the depressed, neurotic early music buff who suddenly collapsed after an evening of contra dancing, which she loved.

Yet the dedication of a day to gratitude, to thanking one’s gods or the universe or whatever for the good things of life, is not a bad idea, however it began and under whatever circumstances it is celebrated.  The two roots of the religious impulse, perhaps, are “Help!” and “Thank you!”, and the “Thank you” tends to get slighted.

So of course I’m going to make public my thanksgivings of this day.

I am grateful to and for my husband, grateful for our marriage, grateful for every meal he has cooked and every ridiculous thing he has ever done to cheer me up.

I am grateful for my family, with whom I will be eating this evening.

I am grateful for my birds, past and present.  Since 1992 our home has not been without avian companionship, and it would be immeasurably poorer otherwise.

I am grateful for the Ancient Order of Druids in America and to its Grand ArchDruid, John Michael Greer, and all the members of its public discussion list.

I am grateful to have discovered Tibetan Buddhism and been given refuge.

I am grateful for and to the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition for forming my notions of religion and spirituality and teaching me how to punctuate relative clauses correctly.

I am grateful to Starhawk and Merlin Stone for publishing books on the cusp of my adolescence that showed there were alternatives to Christianity.

I am grateful for my home, my job, my reasonably good health, the plants on my windowsill, the bamboo on my desk at work, and the joys of online shopping.

I am grateful to my late grandmother, Edna, the true nurturing force in my childhood, and to my late father, Robert, for being a pretty good dad who read to me a lot.

I am grateful for the birds, trees, bushes, and flowers of my neighborhood, for the view of moon and stars over the roofs of nearby buildings.

I am grateful for strong black tea, chocolate, Indian food, Thai food, Chinese food, spaghetti with meatballs, and my husband’s beef stew.

I am grateful for Netflix and PBS, the source of my viewing pleasure nowadays.

I am grateful for Livejournal and WordPress and my experience of daily blogging this month.

I am grateful for friends.

I wish everyone who reads this a peaceful holiday and a life full of things to be thankful for.

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As I walked home yesterday, in the hour just after sunset, I came up the hill to the old townhouse where our apartment is and saw, in the house next door to ours, lights.  White lights.  On wreaths in the second floor windows, and on a tree, a Christmas tree, I suppose, in the living room, visible through the wide front window.

What was I saying about “the holidays”?  I think it was Noel Coward who remarked, “Christmas is at our throats again.”

A few weeks ago, one of the houses just around the corner for us was twinkling with strings of orange lights for Halloween.  Halloween lights are a new decoration that seems to be gaining ground.  Somehow the Eve of All Hallows, Oidhche Samhna, the eve of Samhain, just isn’t as numinous or even spooky with strings of orange lights hung up instead of flickering jack o’ lanterns on the stoop.

There is no hiatus any longer between Halloween and Christmas, in popular culture.  Thanksgiving, an American civil holiday embraced by various religious traditions, gets big sales in the supermarkets but only half a shelf of merchandise amongst the decorations.  We go from fake skeletons and orange lights to fake evergreens and white or multi-colored lights–and they’d better be fake greens if they’re to last from before Thanksgiving until almost New Year’s Day.

But there is a hiatus between Samhain and Yule, or Samhain and Alban Arthan, to give it its Druid name.  There’s a hiatus between the end of Pentecost, in the Church’s year, and the coming of Christmas: the four weeks of Advent, when candles in the evergreen wreath are lit one by one and the liturgical readings speak of death, judgment, heaven, and hell.  And there’s a hiatus of six weeks between November 1 and December 22, give or take a few days: the season of Samhain, when leaves fall, rains mush the leaves, birds fly south or seek feeders, and the nights get longer.

The Church year is actually very similar to the Wheel of the Year; Church tradition as it developed in Europe was not divorced from the cycles of the land and the stars.  It left room for darkness, doubt, ambiguity, for fear and trembling, waiting and hiding.  So does the Wheel of the Year.  Many Neopagans say that Samhain is the pagan New Year and this is so because it was the Celtic New Year.  Whatever the practice of the ancient Celts, I think that in a very real sense, the old year ends at Samhain, but the new year does not begin until the Solstice.  For six weeks in November and December, we wait between the darkness and the light.

I think it’s important to wait.  I think it’s vital for us to be still, to be patient, to live into the questions, as Rilke wrote to his young poet friend, in the dark time of the year.  Our peasant ancestors harvested the crops, slaughtered the cattle they couldn’t afford to feed all winter, cured the meat, and hunkered down for a mostly indoor life through the winter, entertained by handicrafts, storytelling, and feasts.  Our jobs, our cell phones, our electricity and central heat both enable and demand us to be active at a time when humans were more or less dormant for thousands of years–and then on top of that, “the holidays” demand that we be cheerful, jolly, generous, busy with shopping and entertaining.  It’s no wonder that our winter festivals have become a time of stress and suicides, feared and dreaded by some people while others welcome it.  The merchandising, the advertising, the endlessly repeated tunes, the demands that my introspective, introvert self be cheerful and sociable–well, it’s enough to drive an introverted Capricorn crazy.  There is no time to rest.

We wait between the darkness and the light.  Don’t hang up your decorations yet.  Don’t pretty up this grim grey season.  Don’t skip right from remembering the ancestors to buying expensive toys for your children.  Take advantage of the darkness and rest.  Allow yourself to dream.  Shut the door and hibernate for a while, and when you open it to feasting and singing at the Solstice, the festivity will be all the sweeter.

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The holidays are upon us.  So the television commercials tell us, and the radio announcers, the advertising on Amazon.com, and pretty much every oracle of popular culture.  This urban druid wants to know: “Which holidays?”

Yes, I know that this politically correct phrase, “the holidays”, really means the secular Thanksgiving and Christmas, a time of overeating and overspending, of feeding relatives you don’t like and buying things for people to assure them of your overwhelming good will.  Some of this jocularity spills over into religious celebrations of Christmastide, and even into Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Muslim celebrations.

I don’t mind the religious celebrations.  As a Christian, I have always loved Advent and Christmas above Lent and Eastertide.  The Advent themes of waiting and preparation, of judgment and unexpected revelation, seem to me to suit well with the mood of nature in November and December, with sharpening cold, decreasing light, rising winds, and then the pause and the renewal of the solstice.  I salute Jews, Muslims, and anybody else who wants to celebrate at this time of year.

It’s just that phrase, “the holidays”, that sticks in my craw.  The root meaning of “holiday” is “holy day”, going back to the Middle Ages in Europe, when the Church’s holy days were respites from labour for the hard-working peasantry.  I’m a Neopagan Druid.  I have eight holy days in my year, each one of equal importance.  My celebration of the Winter Solstice, Alban Arthan, happens to coincide by both Christian and secular celebrations of Christmas.  I’ll be celebrating the religious Christmas with my family, with a modest exchange of gifts, Midnight Mass, and a festive meal at the in-laws’.  But I’m sick already of the secular Christmas, of fake trees and strings of lights that appeared on store shelves by sunset on Halloween, of the urging to spend money that no one actually has, of snowmen and reindeer when local temperatures crept toward seventy over the last five days.

The eight Neopagan holy days are a twentieth-century invention; no religion or culture celebrated all of them in days of yore.  But all of them were celebrated by someone, somewhere, in some context, and all of them correspond to astrological, astronomical, and climatic changes.  That’s good enough for me.  I feel the energies in things leaning toward Alban Arthan, as the sun moves further and further south, but once the solstice has passed, I’ll be waiting for the shift to the rising flow of Imbolc, to the stirring in the land that corresponds to a flowing in the sky, the new moon in Aquarius which marks the new year for several cultures of Asia.  And when the crocuses have bloomed and the new grass has sprouted, I’ll start looking for the daffodils and thinking of the equinox, the balance of day and night, Lady Day and Easter in the Church.  Eight holy days, eight holidays, not just one, or two.

And now I must go look up some vegetable recipes for Thanksgiving….

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