The Eagles of Candlemas

pueblo eagle daysPaganism is not the religion of the polis, but the polis (loosely defined) can support your Paganism.

For the last two days, my Facebook feed has been filling up with people posting electronic clip art to the theme of “Happy Bridget / Imbolc / Candlemas.”

Me, I spent three hours today enjoying quality time with my snowblower, clearing out a foot of Happy Candlemas that fell in the past two days.  (That’s my long wooded driveway, plus the one up to the guest cabin, plus an elderly neighbor’s driveway, in time for him to drive off to lunch at the senior center — he does have a 4WD pickup.)

I normally think of Candlemas as an “inner” holiday, compared to Yule. It marks what is usually my most productive writing time of the year. But I also like the idea of tying the quarter and cross-quarter days to events that somehow connect to the natural world, like the Chile & Frijoles Festival at the autumn equinox or the Yule log hunt.

I brought up this topic a year ago, but I did not make a suggestion for Imbolc, which occurs at 9:30 a.m. GMT on the 4th of February this year (check your dates here.)

Yet it was looking me in the face — and I had attended before: Eagle Days, this coming weekend! Except that bird plays havoc with the traditional esoteric astrological arrangement: Beltane, 15° Taurus (St. Luke-bull); Lammas, 15° Leo (St. Mark-lion); Samhain, 15° Scorpio (St. John-eagle); Candlemas, 15° Aquarius (St. Matthew-man).

Well, you can’t have everything. I have a blog post planned about the silliness of trying to jam Paganish stuff into neat categorial schemes.

The old Jeep CJ-5 celebrates Candlemas.

The old Jeep CJ-5 celebrates Candlemas.

Here on the Eastern Slope of the Rocky Mountains, we say a verse that contains ancient wisdom:

Winter in the spring,
Summer in the fall,
Fall in the winter,
And no spring at all.

So by that bit of local knowledge, this is the beginning of snow season. I don’t know how you work a fire festival into that, except that it is nice to have the increasing sunshine to melt April blizzards. Maybe the fire is in the head.

Have the wintering bald eagles arrived at Pueblo Reservoir? I really should pack up the spotting scope and go see. Happy Candlemas, eagles.

Looking at Your Polis as a Pagan

A Wiccan email list that I am on recently went through a discussion of teaching “theology” to children. It is one of the perennial questions among contemporary Pagans: teach the kids or let them make up their own minds as adults. Surprisingly, some discussants reported that said adult children-of-Pagans regretted their parents’ hands-off approach.

Perhaps because I am allergic to the word “theology,” I want to look at a different approach. (I cannot speak as a parent, because although that was not the plan, I ended up childless. So it goes.)

Talk of theology reminds me of some of the writings of the 17th-century Puritans, like the ones who founded Massachusetts Bay Colony, who worried that their children would never have the life-changing born-again experience that their parents did in that religiously tumultuous century. And even today among evangelical Protestants, you find teens worried that they have not been authentically “born again,” and so what is wrong with them?

Paganism should spread through experience and art, not theology. The theology comes later, if it comes.

Suppose it were the autumnal equinox — not a powerfully magical time in my experience, but worth noting. Here in my part of southern Colorado, I have a choice between a winery’s harvest festival in Cañon City and Pueblo’s Chile & Frijoles festival, now twenty years old.

Yes, both are commercial creations: the Chile & Frijoles [chile peppers and beans] festival is sponsored by Loaf ‘n Jug, i.e. the Kroger grocery chain, and it was created as part of a economic development-driven rebranding of the old multi-ethnic steel mill city on the Arkansas River. And the winery wants to sell wine.

Paganism is the religion of the tribe or of the polis, and selling stuff is part of what the polis is about. (In reflection, Pueblo counts as a polis, but Cañon City is probably too small — perhaps it is part of the city-state of Pueblo. They are in the same SMA.)

Even though Wicca was designed as a small-scale mystery religion for adults only, one can also bring its outlook to the life of the city. And as Raven Kaldera and Tannin Schwartzstein write in Urban Primitive, “City spirits are, not surprisingly, quite social creatures, and they love to be acknowledged, so it’s worth your while to learn to speak to them.” You do that, they continue, at the city’s “heart” or strongest location — and, coincidentally, that might well be the place where urban festivities are held!

Get creative. What’s the Pagan take on Mike the Headless Chicken Days, held in May in the little agricultural town of Fruita, Colo.? Or Nederland, Colo.’s Frozen Dead Guy Days, coming up in the March? That one should be easy.

Imagine the kid whose mental construct of Pagan identity includes not just structured ritual but the vendors’ food stalls on Pueblo’s Riverwalk and whatever mix of norteño and classic rock is coming from the bandstand, flavored by the scent of roasting chile peppers by the truckload? Living headless chickens? Well, you have to leave some space for the uncanny.

So it’s not officially Pagan? You can still live it as Pagan.

Blogging Break Over, Book Stuff Ahead

I have taken a brief and unwanted break from blogging, but I hope that it is over. First the MacBook Pro that I use for writing and blogging developed a weird, possibly demonic (or daemonic) directory corruption that flummoxed even the specialists up at Voelker Research. About the same time, my desk/computer chair broke, which felt like a sign. A sign that I should just go hiking and read more novels, possibly. And ponder some vivid and meaningful dreams.

That was wonderful, but I have to give a couple of talks next week, and I needed to prepare. So there I was out on the veranda with a legal pad and a stack of books and print-outs, preparing. If I have learned anything in teaching it is that I am not as good at “winging it” as I like to think I am—unless it is a course that I have already taught ten times over.

So while I am doing that, here is an interview with Doug Ezzy about his new book, Sex, Death, and Witchcraft: A Contemporary Pagan Festival.

The book is both a rich ethnographic account of controversial Pagan festival and a provocative reflection on the role of emotions, symbols, and ritual in theories of religion.  The festival involves “a recreation of the Witches’ sabbat . . .  It’s R-rated, it contains adult themes, nudity and sex references”, according to Harrison — one of the festival participants I interviewed.  The theory develops what Graham Harvey and I are calling “relational theory” in the study of religion.

It is on my reading list.

And speaking of reading, expect more book reviews here over the next few weeks.

Beltania Festival Moves Closer to the Capitol

Maypole procession 2011 (Photo by Robin Vinehall).

Maypole procession 2011 (Photo by Robin Vinehall).

It was nice while it lasted, having a Pagan festival near enough that, if my schedule was too crowded, I could at least buy a day pass and hear the best concerts.

Not any more. Beltania is pulling out of District 12* (where the coal miners once toiled) and moving closer to the Capitol — into District 1, you might say.

From Florence Mountain Park, it now goes to La Foret Conference and Retreat Center in El Paso County (not burned in the 2013 Black Forest Fire), where, according to a news release. there will be “enhanced amenities” and it will be “closer to Denver!”

Built as a rural estate, La Foret is now owned by the United Church of Christ.

(Colorado is a very centralized state. There is the Denver-plex, and there is The Rest, which exists to keep Denver amused, with green lawns. Not like, for instance, Oregon, where the population is equally concentrated in the Willamette Valley, but at least the seat of government is not in the largest city.)

Originally, the organizers tried having Beltania at Beltane, because that is the ancient Celtic thing to do. But this is Colorado, where I have seen two feet of snow on the ground on May 1st — or it could be uncomfortably hot. Or both in the same day. I do usually shut off the furnace on May 1, but the wood stove is still used. Spring in Colorado is a “putrid” season, as Dad the forest ranger used to say.

Then the date started sliding later and later, so that in 2015 it will start on May 14th. At least there is some bioregional wisdom in that decision.. At worst it might be rainy.A September festival would be more predictable weather-wise, but it would not have ancient Celtic precedent?

Meanwhile, I have coal to dig.

* Movie reference.

Britain and the “Festival Gap”

A contributor to the BBC magazine takes the summer solstice as an opportunity to comment on the UK’s paucity of good festivals — particularly at midsummer:

If in this year of 2013, an interplanetary anthropologist came to England for fieldwork, what would they discover? On a variable Sunday each spring, we give our children more chocolate than is good for them, eat roast lamb and visit garden centres.

On the last day of October, we dress the kids up in old sheets, black bin liners and plastic fangs, and send them down the street to extort sweets from our neighbours. A few days later, we gather around a bonfire, set off rockets and celebrate the execution of a Catholic conspirator. The following month, we get together with our birth families to exchange gifts, to eat too much and to argue.

And that’s about it.

Not that he wants to be a Druid or anything: “Druids parading at Stonehenge seem to me as contrived as Morris dancers.” But there is a lack.

For American culture, I suggest, the Fourth of July takes the place of midsummer, falling less than two weeks later, and being a time for family and community gathering, feasting, and loud noises.

The Wheel of the Year Slips its Cog…

. . . to borrow a phrase from another blogger.

This summer has been a tough one, trying to keep the garden alive, always watching for forest fires — fighting a couple of small ones with the local volunteer fire department.

The hummingbirds have been working the feeder hard for weeks — broad-tails and black-chinned, and for the last three weeks, the rufous hummers on their slow way south. I had to rinse and fill it twice a day.

Suddenly, on August 1st, there were noticeably fewer buzzing skirmishers around it. Oh, we still have hummingbirds, but some have left.

After a sort of poor mushroom hunt last week, M. and I went up on our favorite mountain today and had a real wild harvest.

After an early supper, we worked on the veranda until the light was gone, filling the dehydrator and covering two large screens with sliced mushrooms. Dried until they are crispy, they will go into jars for storage. The process actually concentrates the flavor.

The dark closed in faster, and the cool of the evening came more quickly too. The air outside smells of mushrooms from the dehydrator sitting on the outdoor dining table.

It is now late summer.

It’s Time for my Winter Coat . . .

. . . at the Beltania festival, where the temperature is about 45° F with rain now and again.

I spent the morning at one of the volunteer fire department’s monthly training day, helping more people become familiar with the whole process of drafting water from a  creek (hydrants? we don’t need no stinking hydrants) and pumping it into our two 2,500-gallon summer storage tanks (in case the creek goes dry).

Then off to the festival, not too far away, successfully negotiating the Pagan equivalent of the TSA. Merchants Row seemed sort of forlorn — no one was buying all the colorful gauzy garments, for some odd reason. Even those who sometimes swelter under the Colorado sun while dressed for the Scottish Highlands  were wearing extra coats today.

But once the dogs are fed we will go back for the concerts — if the rain holds off.

Pagan festivals are becoming more “tribal” in one sense: you can have people doing some kind of ritual thingie while right next to it, folks are feeding their faces, drinking wine from the bottle, braiding feathers into the air, slouching around like bored teenagers if in fact they are teenagers, and just starting into the warming fires. It’s not like you have to be all churchy and attentive.

POST-CONCERT UPDATE: M. and I had to miss some of the Saturday night music, but we did hear at times the Orpheus: the Pagan Chamber Choir of Colorado, a little of S.J Tucker, Forest of Azure, and Sharon Knight and Pandemonaeon. All good. And Pandemonaeon cleared the skies before midnight—can’t beat that.

 

It’s Mabon, so … canta y no llores

The Marquez Brothers of Pueblo, Colo., playing at the Harvest Festival at the Holy Cross Abbey in Cañon City.

My approach to the eight-festival Pagan calendar works like this: the cross-quarter days are for ritual—be that outdoor bonfires or black candles at midnight.

The quarter days—solstices and equinoxes—are for public and communal celebrations: with the whole public, not just with other Pagans.

The fall equinox offers choice of harvest festivals: the Chile & Frijoles (pinto beans) festival in Pueblo (bigger) or the Holy Cross Abbey Winery Harvest Festival in Cañon City—smaller but still crowded.

M. and I chose the latter this year, buying elderberry jam and garlicky goat cheese and drinking Abbey wines under the blazing sun.  Two guys in charro outfits up from Pueblo played a rancherarockbillysoft rock mix, which is exactly what you expect from a Pueblo band.

Vineyard at Holy Cross Abbey, Cañon City, Colorado

Now the Myth-Making Begins

That stuff on the winery home page about “simple Benedictine Fathers had a dream”—sounds good, right? Don’t the grape vines just look right next to the Gothic Revival abbey?

But the Holy Cross Benedictines were not “simple.”  They were school teachers for the most part, running a well-respected secondary school for boys (boarding and day students) from the 1920s until it closed in 1985. Like so much Catholic education, it was a victim of demographics: not enough new monks and priests coming up, not enough church financial support to afford to pay lay (non-monastic) teachers, so no way to keep the doors open and the lights on.

After that, the dwindling number of elderly monks rented out their buildings to the community college and other users.

The winery, meanwhile, did not open until 2002. It employs no monks in its day-to-day operations. The monks could not have made wine for sale in the 1920s anyway because of Prohibition. Their mission was educational.

But the idea of “monks making wine” is so appealing that in a generation people will be strolling the grounds of the abbey talking about how the Benedictines came to Cañon City “a hundred years ago” to plant vineyards and bottle  some good cabernet franc. I would bet money on it.

It is not unlike saying that the local morris dancers or village harvest festival represent an unbroken survival from ancient Paganism instead of—in either case—something (re)invented by an antiquarian-minded vicar.

Of course, that Chile & Frijoles Festival—great street festival that it is—is a relatively new creation too. This was its seventeenth year.

It represents a conscious attempt by Pueblo’s elite to re-cast the city’s image as a tourist-friendly sort of Santa Fe North, instead of the grimy steel mill town that it was for decades, dominated by union Democrats with Italian and Slavic surnames.

But Pueblo does have a good climate for growing peppers.

(As to the post’s title, the musicians played “Cielito Lindo,” of course.)

Solstice Is Coming, But Summer is Here Now

An exchange on The Wild Hunt as to when the “summer festival season” properly began led a commenter to post this link in response to the statement that summer begins on June 21.

I hear idiot television newspeople (but I repeat myself) saying that all the time at this point in the year.

From The Straight Dope:

There is a widespread misconception in this country–which extends, I might note, to the makers of most calendars, dictionaries, and encyclopedias–that summer “officially” starts on the day of the summer solstice, June 21 or 22, which is the longest day of the year. Americans also believe (1) that there is some valid scientific reason for doing it that way, and (2) that everybody in the Northern Hemisphere does it that way, and always has.

None of these things is true. So far as I have been able to discover, no scientific or governmental body has ever formally declared that summer starts on the solstice. . . . .

“It isn’t really clear how the astronomical definition [i.e., summer starts on the solstice] got started,” says Kevin Trenberth, a climate researcher at the University of Illinois in Urbana. “Although the sun-earth geometry is clearly the origin of the seasons on earth, it has nothing directly to do with temperature or weather.”

He notes that meteorologists define summer simply as June, July, and August. “For practical purposes, the meteorological definition is the best one, being very closely to the [weather] statistics,” he says.

In fact, it appears that June 1 was accepted as the beginning of summer in the United States until relatively recently.

Go the link to read the part about when summer used to be calculated in Ireland—not May 1, as some might think.

The moment of  the summer solstice is 1716 hours UTC, June 21st. Track your solar festivals here.

After the Beltane Festival

Kinesthetic religion: my left arm was a little sore on Sunday from helping to carry the Maypole in procession—a pine trunk the size of a smallish telephone pole, ridden by a zaftig May Queen. And yes, we heard every ribald variation on “riding the pole” shouted from the onlookers. It was Beltane, after all.

The arm remembers the procession and the raising of the Maypole. What was said is not remembered. “Imagistic” religion trumps “doctrinal” religion—my take on Harvey Whitehouse’s work.

As for the workshop that I was fretting about on Friday, it produced a small but interested group. Contrary to the suggestion of one of my commenters, I did not resort to a joke book but gave them the “Calling It Nature Religion” chapter from Her Hidden Children and the “Where You At” quiz from “Nature Religion for Real.”

Every Pagan festival includes workshops, but I think that the larger the festival, the smaller the percentage of attendees that go to them. Is that workshop-learning model still working?

What draws the crowd are large-scale rituals and entertainment. Beltania, in fact, is billed as a “MusicFest and Beltane Festival” in that order. This year’s acts included Kenny Klein, Tuatha, Wendy Rule, Lunar Fire/INTI, Pandora, Mythica, and Skean Dubh.

And it was Lunar Fire, the biggest and showiest act, playing after dark in a haze of wood smoke and blowing dust, that really pulled the crowd. (Lots of free-range kids there—that’s good to see.)

Half the fun of festival-going is people-watching. You have those who remove as much clothing as possible to display their Pagan body art—and after a day at 6,700 feet elevation, their sunburns. You have the mild moments of cognitive wardrobe dissonance: black guys in kilts, a tattooed cholo-styling guy in a Renn Faire-ish velvet robe.

Then there was the guy who came to my workshop sporting a spiffy Panama hat. I saw him later during the Luna Fire set. Among all the dreadlocks and glow sticks and Pagan T-shirts and flowing robes—not to mention the billowing smoke—he appeared in the same Panama, plus white shirt, dark tie, and seersucker sport coat. He looked like the stereotypical Englishman in the jungle—definitely a contender for Best Costume.