As we sweep up leaves from Hurricane Sandy, and follow the news from New Jersey, New York, Haiti and the islands of the Caribbean, we come to the holiday of the scary and the sweet. Samhain, Halloween, All Saints Day, Dia de los Muertos are days of reflecting on mortality and celebrating life.
Starhawk, a very earthy priestess of engaged paganism, wrote these words in another stormy time– 2003, the first Halloween after the start of the Iraq War.
Much of our magic and our community work is about creating spaces of refuge from a harsh and often hostile world, safe places where people can heal and regenerate, renew our energies and learn new skills. In that work, we try to release guilt, rage, and frustration, and generally turn them into positive emotions.
Safety and refuge and healing are important aspects of spiritual community. But they are not the whole of spirituality. Feeling good is not the measure by which we should judge our spiritual work. Ritual is more than self-soothing activity.
Spirituality is also about challenge and disturbance, about pushing our edges and giving us the support we need to take great risks. The Goddess is not just a light, happy maiden or a nurturing mother. She is death as well as birth, dark as well as light, rage as well as compassion — and if we shy away from her fiercer embrace we undercut both her own power and our own growth.
There are times when it is inappropriate to feel wholly good. Now is one of them. As the saying goes, “If you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention.”
She reminds me of my minister, James Ford, who bids us go in peace, with a hint of unrest.
A gentle, wistful melancholy, that is. Lughnasadh marks a cross-quarter day on the Celtic calendar. The beginning of harvest and the month when the light begins to turn more golden and the sun moves lower in the sky.
T.Thorne Coyle has a harvest meditation on her blog. I’ll be a little sad to see the first leaves turn.
May Day has many meanings across the centuries. Perhaps the primary one in the Northern Hemisphere is that you can put the ice scraper in the trunk and hope the gods don’t smote you. This year we have the unusual good fortune to have the first of May on a Sunday with mild weather and sunshine. If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is.
A tree died for this MayPole, but not in vain. (May 1,2011)
May 1, 2012– What a difference a year makes! Occupy Providence made it through a bitter winter and has not gone away or lost faith. Here are some May Day thoughts in a time of growth and change…
May Day, when the weather cooperates, celebrates a time of year when Spring reaches even the most frozen, internet-addicted soul. Known as Beltane in the Celtic Wheel of the Year, it is a worker’s holiday in much of the world. May Day stands across the Wheel from another disreputable holiday the Celts bequeathed us–Halloween. It’s a time to test boundaries. May Day will be Occupied this year. Who knows what labor will be up to by Labor Day?
In this week’s New York Times the Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood named Nathaniel Hawthorne as a writer worth re-visiting. I checked him out and darned if his writing isn’t subversive, Pagan and kind of gay (if a rainbow scarf counts). Here is what happens when the Puritans meet the May Pole dancers…
Here might be seen the Savage Man, well known in heraldry, hairy as a baboon, and girdled with green leaves. By his side, a noble figure, but still a counterfeit, appeared an Indian hunter, with feathery crest and wampum belt. Many of this strange company wore foolscaps, and had little bells appended to their garments, tinkling with a silvery sound, responsive to the inaudible music of their gleesome spirits. Some youths and maidens were of soberer garb, yet well maintained their places in the irregular throng by the expression of wild revelry upon their features. Such were the colonists of Merry Mount, as they stood in the broad smile of sunset round their venerated Maypole.
Had a wanderer, bewildered in the melancholy forest, heard their mirth, and stolen a half-affrighted glance, he might have fancied them the crew of Comus, some already transformed to brutes, some midway between man and beast, and the others rioting in the flow of tipsy jollity that foreran the change. But a band of Puritans, who watched the scene, invisible themselves, compared the masques to those devils and ruined souls with whom their superstition peopled the black wilderness.
Within the ring of monsters appeared the two airiest forms that had ever trodden on any more solid footing than a purple and golden cloud. One was a youth in glistening apparel, with a scarf of the rainbow pattern crosswise on his breast. His right hand held a gilded staff, the ensign of high dignity among the revelers, and his left grasped the slender fingers of a fair maiden, not less gayly decorated than himself. Bright roses glowed in contrast with the dark and glossy curls of each, and were scattered round their feet, or had sprung up spontaneously there. Behind this lightsome couple, so close to the Maypole that its boughs shaded his jovial face, stood the figure of an English priest, canonically dressed, yet decked with flowers, in heathen fashion, and wearing a chaplet of the native vine leaves. By the riot of his rolling eye, and the pagan decorations of his holy garb, he seemed the wildest monster there, and the very Comus of the crew.
“Votaries of the Maypole,” cried the flower-decked priest, “merrily, all day long, have the woods echoed to your mirth. But be this your merriest hour, my hearts! Lo, here stand the Lord and Lady of the May, whom I, a clerk of Oxford, and high priest of Merry Mount, am presently to join in holy matrimony. Up with your nimble spirits, ye morris-dancers, green men, and glee maidens, bears and wolves, and horned gentlemen! Come; a chorus now, rich with the old mirth of Merry England, and the wilder glee of this fresh forest; and then a dance, to show the youthful pair what life is made of, and how airily they should go through it! All ye that love the Maypole, lend your voices to the nuptial song of the Lord and Lady of the May!”
And as history is stranger than fiction, here’s one link to that renegade ‘English priest’, Thomas Morton, founder of New Caanan. If the Puritans had followed Morton’s lead and made peace with the Native people, what new path might our country have taken?