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.

Equinoctal Musings

According to the cosmic clock, I must have experienced the fall equinox about the time that I checked into the Trade Winds Motel in Valentine, Nebraska, last Wednesday evening.

The next day I would be driving through miles of the Sandhills, the climax prairie ecosystem, homeward bound from the annual North Dakota sharptail grouse hunt.

From a ritual perspective, I am never quite sure what to do about the equinox. Years ago, a member of our coven suggested that the quarter days (equinoxes, solstices) were “outer” while the cross-quarter days were “inner.”

In other words, you do magic at Samhain and party at Yule. (Of course, Samhain, which falls this year the evening of November 6 in North America, has its “outer” companion, Hallowe’en.)

So, “outer.” It could be a harvest celebration. We are cleaning out the garden ahead of the first frost. Wednesday is the last pickup at our community-supported agriculture farm. We had a brief but intense mushroom harvest in August—now the greenhouse is full of drying tomatoes.

A friend posted on Facebook that the equinox made him ready to go elk hunting. I get it. But it is on Samhain that I have more than once stood shivering and watching at the edge of an aspen grove as the sun sinks away.

Home thirty-six hours after the equinox, I took the dogs for their morning walk. A Townsend’s solitaire was calling in the woods, its winter call, just one note whistled slowly again and again.

When I heard that winter call, I felt as though the gears of the cosmos had just gone “clunk.” Something had changed. And maybe that is the equinox’s outer manifestation.

Gallimaufry for a Cool September Day

• Check out Patheos’ story package on The Future of Paganism. Solitaries? Personal paganism? What’s next?

• Musings on that “Nazi” label and whether the climate of the Pacific Northwest encourages “black metal” bands, at Bioregional Animism.

• He comes to the festival as a lapsed Lutheran. He leaves as a Pagan—an interview from the Pagan Newswire Collective’s Minnesota bureau. (I’m waiting for the Prairie Home Companion parody of their piece.)

• Did a witch’s spell burn down the pub?

Dressing like the Ancestors

After last week’s festival, M. launched into a mini-rant about Pagans’ fondness for some form of re-created archaic dress. For instance, the priest at the solstice sunrise ritual was attired in sort of Dark Ages style: loose trousers gathered at the ankle, loose-fitting shirt, cloak, and sword and spear. How is that more Pagan than jeans and sneakers?

It’s not just us though. Recently I drove past a Protestant church in the small town where we get our mail, and they had set up tents and two-dimensional plywood camels, and people were lounging around in their own form of ancient Judaean costume. I assume it was some sort of Vacation Bible School event.

M., however, objects to the glorification of the Middle Ages, which she sees as repressive in almost all regards. It’s true that since the 1970s, when I first encountered the Craft, there has been an unfortunate bleed-through from the Society for Creative Anachronism, which glorifies the Middle Ages and Renaissance as somehow more vital and creative than Now. Of course, the SCA still enjoys plumbing and electricity; and everyone gets to be an aristocrat, or aspires to be. Even that is fine with me–the bad part is when SCA status influences status in the Pagan community. One is a baroness in the SCA; therefore, one’s fellow Pagans should treat one with more regard. I have seen this phenomenon more than once.

Homo religiosus, the religious person, seems to hold the past in higher regard than the present. The older the text or teaching, the more authoritative it is. Past practice, even if impractible today, has a normative effect–it tells us what we might do. For example, where would the contemporary Heathen practice of seiðr be without that one passage from the Elder Edda about the volva with her catskin gloves? How could I be working on my flying ointment paper without the 14th-century story of Lady Alice Kytler, who beat the rap but let her maid be executed–thus demonstrating the true aristocratic temperment, as opposed to the SCA variety.