It’s that magical time of year, when Christianity does seem to resemble a solar cult, much to the satisfaction of all the internet scholars who say that Jesus is really just the same as Osiris, Adonis, Dumuzid, Mithras, Sol Invictus, Baldur, etc.
But at the same time, if I had a dollar for everytime someone — usually a Protestant Christian minister — has made the Son/Sun pun at this time of year, I would be drinking my morning coffee in my Teton County mountain mansion with my pet wolves gamboling on the lawn.
I stepped outdoors on Monday, March 20, and the trees and underbrush were buzzing. Like extra-loud bacon frying or radio static. It was all the little birds , revving up, not so so much singing just signally, that yes, the vernal equinox was here. I have never felt it so strongly on the day.
For reasons of weather, however, M.and I waited one more day for our Ostara pilgrimage to the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado to see the migrating sandhill cranes. (They will move on farther north, from southern Idaho into western Canada.)
There is the official Crane Festival, but it comes too early in March to fit into my growing calendar of food and wildlife-related events that match up against an eight-station Wheel of the Year.
Great event with plenty of activities, but two weeks off the equinox.
We had some mountains to cross. I checked the Facebook page for the Secret Cut-off Road I love that every county has at least one road with its own Facebook page, mainly to keep users from cluttering up other groups with repetitious “How’s the pass?” questions. The word was, “Currently snowing but melting in, so maybe muddy.” We went for it.
I dropped into four-wheel-drive when the predicted “muddy” started; then it switched to soft, packed snow (Keep momentum!) and then then, Oh no!, there was a box truck sideways across the narrow road.
But I swung around past its bumper (no one there), cleared it, and charged up the last incline before the crest, a north-facing section that always holds snow longest, then up and over into potholed road dropping down through pasture land and coming out on US 160.
Taking the quickie auto tour loop out from the visitor center, we saw a flock of cranes on the ground and more overhead. From his travel crate in the back for Jeep, Marco, my Chesapeake Bay retriever, whined a few times. He could smell swamp, he could hear waterfowl — why wasn’t he being let out? Special rules today, Pup, sorry! Be patient!
Another short drive, another muddy road to a different corner of the refuge. And there they were, a huge flock, hundreds of cranes, feeding across a grassy field.
This was worth pulling out the spotting scope and tripod — crane-watchers keep their distance to avoid disturbing them. I had not felt like wrangling both the scope and the my best camera with long lenses, so I snapped some with the little Nikon point-and-shoot. That is the photo above: just a fraction of the cranes (and Canada and snow geese) in that spot.
And then back to Alamosa for supper, with toasts in rioja and a bone saved for Marco, and that feeling of having turned the wheel, of having broken out of routine into the chaotic spring weather, of having watched the world in its turnings.
I am all for seasonal rituals, but there is also a place for celebrating the Turning of the Wheel with your larger community, your polis, taking a local event and giving it a Pagan spin.
The solstices are easy: there is always something going on. Samhain — too many choices! But what about Imbolc/Candlemas/whatever you chose to call it?
Migrations. Having grown up on a diet of “Pioneer Days” and other such history-themed local celebrations, I turn in relief to those focused on the natural world. The Sandhill Crane Festival in Monte Vista, Colorado, just down the road from my birth place, would fit the bill, but it does not happen until early March — maybe that is sort of a pre-spring equinox event.
The red triangle is the Lamar area. Blue areas are wintering zones, yellow areas are migration zones, and orange areas are breeding grounds — way up north in the Canadian Arctic.
Flock sizes are big.
Families, bird watchers, and a variety of outdoor enthusiasts come to Lamar each February to see the arctic waterfowl as they arrive via the Western Central Flyway that includes Colorado, New Mexico, and the Texas Panhandle. Prowers County’s scattered ponds, lakes, and reservoirs are waterfowl magnets, and the Snow Goose is no exception. In recent decades, their population has been exploding as they currently have a breeding population approaching 6 million, a sizable chunk of which migrate right through southeastern Colorado.
This year I finally drove down to Lamar with a friend and her middle school-aged son, who is volunteering at the Raptor Center. Yeah, we actually got the kid to look away from his phone and contemplate the flocks.
When it works right, just before sundown, you can sit (or lie prone) under the big praire sky and see layers of various ducks, Canada geese, and snow geese moving in different directions — it’s like looking into a giant clock with turning gears and clicking levers
Wheel of the Year? You can see it turning in the sky.
I was researching something about Wicca in Germany, and up popped this Witch Dance video. Apparently the belly-dancers got involved, put some shimmy in the besom brigades’ sweeping, and now it’s an international thing. From Germany, here is the Tribal Gypsy Dance troupe:
And this year in Frenchtown, New Jersey, a plaintive call from the bourgeois bohemians in the YouTube comments:
Hello Tricia. We checked this account but didnt see an email posted by way we could get in touch with you. That said, my husband and I live in Milford NJ. We are throwing a Christmas party and are wondering if you could teach our guests a dance. If so, please let us know your fee. You’re great at teaching groups of people and feel you would make a wonderful addition to the occasion. Please think about it.
I am all for putting your Paganism in the street (or on the beach or Salem Common) where it belongs. But Pagan studies friends, this is waiting for some theoretical lenses!
After two years’ hiatus, the Yule Log was hunted again last Sunday in Beulah, Colorado, a small town in the foothills of the Wet Mountains. This hunt is a twentieth-century revival, passed (along with log splinters) from Lake Placid, New York to Palmer Lake, Colorado to Beulah, where the tradition was renewed in 1952. (Photos from 1954 and 1977 here.)
In the introductory program, inevitably, some local clergyman has to make the usual solsticial wordplay between Son and Sun.
That was subtly countered by my friend Diana, local resident and director of a raptor rehabiitation center, who steps up with a red-tailed hawk on her wrist and delivers an invcation that de-centers humankind in favor of wild animals. (As she did in previous years.)
After final instructions from the head huntsman (one of a dozen who serve as guides, referees, and whippers-in for the hunt) the hunters (mostly teens) scramble uphill into the wooded slopes of Pueblo Mountain Park.
Those of following the hunt stroll behind them, and all too soon, there is a shouting and and a trumpet blast from up the ridge.
But what is this sound? “Click click jingle jingle!”
It’s the Yule goats, harnessed to the log, instead of having it pulled down off the mountain only by the huntsmen and whoever else volunteers.
Pulled by goats. Hmm. How long before a Thor-figure joins the huntsmen?
Actually, this piece comes from the well-known British HPS, author, and academic Vivianne Crowley, and it is worth reading.
On 20 March, druids, witches, and lovers of nature will gather to celebrate the spring equinox, one of the eight festivals of the Wheel of the Year. For millennia, the spring equinox was celebrated across cultures as a time of fertility, creativity, and renewal. But spring celebrations are not just for people who want to greet the dawn at Stonehenge. Here are a few ideas to try out this year at home.
She has a new memoir/how-to out titled Wild Once, which is going on my To-Read list. A tip of the pointy hat to the publicist at Penguin.
Then I chanced across another set of older pix on Facebook at the Beulah Historical Society’s page. Here is one from 1954 and one from 1977. Those “huntsmen” from 1977 look like they are ready to get back to their moonshine stills, but I think a couple of them worked at the steel mill down in Pueblo, a city that is a sort of mash-up of Pittsburgh and Albuqueque, although much smaller than either of those. One’s surname is either Slovenian or Czech; I had a co-worker who might have been his relative.
“The boys found the play much easier to learn and perform than others they were given . . . and the Wild Horse seemed to know, without rehearsal, exactly what he was supposed to do.”E. C. Cawte,Ritual AnimalDisguise (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1978), 224.
The kids in Beulah know it too.
This year, of course, everything fun has been cancelled, but up in Beulah, they are planning for 2021. Covid-19 should not last as long as Oliver Cromwell.