Just remember that perhaps it is not worth postponing, indefinitely at finite cost to the rest of the world, one’s own last battle. For sus scrofa, homo sapiens, or any living creature, anywhere, there is but one ending. Let the sun blaze on into the night, drink deep, and gird yourself with honor. It is a good day, at least, not to know what’s going to happen. And no matter how many sandbags we make of our environment, to pile around our laughable foxholes in the scheme of things, it’s out there, waiting for us, somewhere: the fight we can’t win.
Nobody’s getting out of here alive.
The Heathen on the Heath:
A Druid Missal-Any, Lughnasadh 1988
(published Fall Equinox 1988)
First fruits. They don’t seem to come as easy as they used to. The ground, the gophers, the winds, and my own intrusive human garbage, all fight harder each year. Or is it just the time?
Lugh has lost his battle, and the ravens cross the sky in croaking crowds. The year has lost its innocence, There is a tear in our celebration. When the wedding is a memory, and the birth of the babe, and now the farm is fat with full barns and lowing cattle, the cycle must inevitably turn to its end. Do you look back on great deeds, instead of ahead to them? Has love progressed from dreams, to passion, to sticky fulfillment, and does it now draw near the anticipation of grief? Is the horse growing old in the sun? Does silver frost the muzzles of cat and hound?
This is not England. Here, the grass tells the story, browning in the violence of the Sun’s passion for his ladylove. Summer has to end. Shall we burn-out and die in one long pig-out on the wealth of the warm and growing time? Already, it has been too much for the grasses. The blowing dust begs for rest, and the Lover whispers, “Weep not. Well could I have loved thee to death.;”
She will weep anyway. It must be hard to live forever, when love cannot.
The modern myth clings to the old days, even though history itself must follow suit. The mornings of August sear imagination with a sunburst of Hiroshima, and the dust forms mushroom clouds in the mind. Is this the August of our race? I’d sooner live, an attitude our religion does not forbid or decry. Nor does it guarantee I’ll have my way…And the Last Rose of Summer is my protest song. No bunkers for me, nor did I flee the cities to outlive the victims of the mighty. Bury my heart at Ground Zero.
Centralized religion softens the analogy with faith and resignation. One woman swore the Rapture would come this fall, and when someone suggested she was dating it from the wrong event, and had still more than forty years to go, she was horribly disappointed; she had mundane bills coming due, no longer payable while watching the fires from the sheltering arms of Jesus. If the world is doomed to end, I still claim my right to go pissing and squealing. If I shall be reborn, and reborn yet again, each body still retains its animal heritage, to flee or fight death until it has honestly lost. Neither Celtic nor Teutonic peoples, whose traces figure most strongly in my own woodpile, were ever much for throwing a fight.
Seeds go in now for the winter garden, an option our Celtic forbears didn’t have. Fertilizer goes in too. I compete and fuss over my soil’s health, chanting the twin litanies of light waning too much, and water waxing too slowly. A high level of ritual impurity, that, when November’s green tomatoes ought to be left in the fields for the Wee Folk.
Well, I’ll leave ‘em a dish of my pickalilli, instead. My clumsiness alone could support a faerie convention. Or perhaps they plant their own garden, late squash in the compost heap and spilt tomato seeds among the potatoes and lettuces. And having finally decided not to die, my garden will cause me to curse the name of zucchini, as it has in years past. Even the fairies don’t want that; next year their discards will spring anew, in places where I never would have planted them.
I’ll feed the little bastards generously, on zucchini burgers and zucchini bread and zucchini soufflé and quiche. Who needs ritual purity when you have runaway squashes?
The Lady mourns her passing Lord, but lady animals run him off, Papa Tomcat is not welcome, and my duchesses have appropriated the shed: Maternity Ward, Drakes Keep Out! Alas, alas John Barleycorn, He was a rascal anyway. So pass the keg again. Weeping and foolery are kin, tears for the rain and guffaws for thunder. This is important business! As you go about your day,’ earning and arguing and building the things of humanity, make sure you’re laughing and crying enough to bring on the autumn storms and keep the Wheel rolling. There’s precious few of us who know our duty, so raise the Waters while you’ve still got ‘em, and toast us in devout rowdiness.
(Sniff!) I love you guys!
The Heathen On the Heath:
First Fruits and Hunting
A Druid Missal-Any, Fall Equinox 1986
First fruits, late as usual--arguments with the neighbors--yellow grass, grey dust, and scorching heat. Balanced now are we? In the hardware store where I earn some of my living, a motley assortment of law-abiding types are buying their hunting licenses, with tags permitting them to ritually assassinate one or two adult male deer this season. Certain local subsistence hunters regard both the season and its regulations as ridiculous. But I count the hopeful license buyers during one workday, and then count the deer on my way home. The number of deer becomes less impressive, beside the number of hunters.
And the subsistence hunters--does concern for the continued stability of the deer population arise automatically from need? I doubt it. And the numbers of the needy are also increasing…
But the hunt goes on. From my own experience, in pursuit of one wild pig (which died to provide food for two families with hungry children, one of them mine) it seems strange to call it a sport. The hunt is a relationship, ending with the death of the other party. The pig wanted to live, and my cohort and I wanted to eat it. These goals were mutually exclusive; no amount of mystical hocus-pocus could ever convince me that the pig was a willing participant.
There was one moment, crouched on the hillside, with the immensely vital, prehistoric-looking beast looking directly at me, when I felt that the hunt was at an end; I had met the wild. My challenge had been offered and met. The pig was ready to attack or flee, but did neither. Here was life; its ending was anti-climactic.
But sorrow was also the feeling of a split second. Our children were fed. And something within me was changed.
The Hunter roams the greenwood, dealing death at will. Yet He guards His beasts, wears their semblance, instills in them His lust and power. And the Maiden-as-Huntress, in any pantheon, is the friend of Her creatures, mourning their destruction at the hands of conquering humanity.
So it is with nature. Animals do not hate their prey. Cats pounce with glee, eyes wide and ears forward. The dog pursues the rabbit with his tail high; he is playing. They are part of the world, and filled with the sense of being alive.
Is this the longing in the eyes of those who approach my counter, saying “License and two tags, please,” and paying the $41 that the government demands for their participation in the rite? The people whose actual means of making a living is many times removed from Earth’s vitality will finally face the wild and have something personal to say to it. Balanced now are we?
With that same longing, I came to the Druids, and with that same longing, I came eventually to my untamed hill, to be one grubby, sweaty part of a world with more than people in it. Cars race over a concrete bridge; uncaring, the river flows beneath. Balanced now are we?
As day conquered night, and light conquers day, and our guaranteed annual year continues on its appointed course, I tell you; there is no need for faith.
Balanced now are we?
We may not be able to feel it, but it’s there.
The Heathen on the Heath:
A Druid Missal-Any, Fall Equinox 1987
Autumn is a promise, wind singing of the blessed rains to come. Autumn is my true love calling, soft as death. The door blows open; cats run in and out. The scent and horror of wildfire blows away, and we foolhardy ones replace it with the smoke of woodstoves against cold that we secretly cherish.
In these days I glare daggers at those who whine for more nice days. Have we cursed our land with the curse of drought, for the sake of our prim plastic notion of a nice day? Do we think of unblemished tomatoes, or mold-free buds, or whatever turns us over-proliferating hominids on, and not of the Mother? She knows her grief will soon be upon her; do we forbid her to weep and be comforted? I may throw a shoe at the Today Show one of these mornings—a strange offering to the gods!
I pick tomatoes now, between writing assignments. My boss is unlike me, but also a farmer. He tells me how he does it, but is also open-eared for what little I may know that he does not. That eternally confused expression belongs to both of us. We share a secret, called “Damned If I Know.” We run to beat the deadline of rain, and altogether it’s sort of festive.
Autumn howls laughter, weeps loving, just around the corner, and we beg for the turning of seasons, while cursing the passage of time. Neopagans differ from paleopagans, for we face threats that our forbears did not, and are lulled by our overcomplicated distancing devices. No neophyte bard or Druid could have been held in thrall by a vehicle unstartable, or a heating or cooling whoozits beyond normal comprehension. A wise one might instruct on in the mysteries, but no expert was needed to keep one functioning. Take time from the broken washing machine, Oh my People, and ponder the water we wash with. No one has yet died and left us in charge, and that water could somehow manage not to come. We differ as we must, but also in ways that we should not. And in some ways, all our pagan forebears knew the same thing.
In the time of balance, I think of hairpulls, and of the doubts as old as religion that we may either decry or embrace. Myself, I have learned to be fond of them; otherwise I suffer a lot.
Rationalism is a cold place. It also makes the sensations of one’s isolated consciousness a little uncomfortable. Why should I be peering out these two wet windows, instead of someone else? And whatever I may think of it, does it matter very much?
I’m not really the believing kind. Yet I walk in a world of many gods and goddesses, all part of the divine universe, and all workers of great magicks. I speak, “Lord,” “Lady,” and solemnly declare that a living world hears me.
I also walk among others of my nonfaith who call upon methods of divination, by cards and stars and crystals. And I have various odd means of justifying my refusal to reject such things outright: archetypal imagery, channels of intuition. Phooey. I cast cards on a table and read the pictures in them as a way of grasping at straws in confusion. I count the images in star patterns and permutate and combine them in the sky of this or that moment in time, because the star-pictures are a handle on the mystery of personality, not because they name aught that I can truly know.
And I collect the lessons of each, ancient and well-laden with the thoughts and dreams of my forebears. Help me, Old Ones! What did you know that I don’t?
When does this--or the channeling of my energy through arbitrary places in my body, or the repetition of mantra or Wiccan doggerel--pass over the line between seeking and superstition?
When I walk among the people, I remember a card sent by Mad Sweeney: “Nature is not dirty, but it provides the raw materials from which we manufacture dirt.” And I tell myself that people are not foolish or shallow, but they have the materials in them from which foolery and crassness are made. So I am still responsible for the times when I get used or jerked around, but for individual errors in present judgment, rather than for outreach to strangers at all.
People need not be mine to be benevolent, nor need they have been of my time to be wise. Can we translate the speech of poets? And can our materialistically-trained minds then put to use what we hear? Or is it lost to us forever, our efforts warped to fallacy by the indoctrination of an utterly alien culture?
And can we give our Mother any protection but our own extinction? By loving Her, have we become the enemies of our own kind? Many of the so-called scientific community think so. Yet in rejecting all that they know, we continue in ignorance to wound that which we love.
We need more than balance: Synthesis. Turn in your compost, and think of that.
Non-Liturgical Festival Activities
All too often, festivals have over-emphasized the liturgy at the expense of the celebration. The following articles are mostly drawn from A Druid Missal-Any and should give you some ideas on how to draw the more activity-oriented members of your Grove into attending your rites, by appealing to their lower instincts to have a good time.
Uncommon Activities for Samhain
A Druid Missal-Any, Samhain 2001
Visit and tidy-up the graves of family, friends and respected people.
Séances are popular at this time of year, but book in advance!
Hold a “dumb feast” with no talking and plates for ancestors.
Contemplate your own funeral arrangements, especially if you want to fight “The Industry” and have a natural funeral free of chemical and air-tight sealed caskets.
Include the dead in your thoughts during the daily grind.
Begin a custom of thanking the things we kill and eat.
Visit an abattoir or kill your own dinner (fish is the least unpleasant,) which will open your eyes and heart to some cold facts.
Work on your will, living-will, powers-of-attorney, and insurances.
“Sacrifice” some fun, for retirement planning.
Discuss deeper issues of after-life with your children and spouse.
Research genealogy and visit elderly relatives (research for Eulogies.)
Get a health-check-up and other medical appointments. Quit smoking.
Rake leaves, plan a composting heap (done properly, they don’t stink)
Plant acorns, salt meat and jerky, pickle things.
Go hunting or fishing [or “camera-stalking” of prominent politicians…]
Volunteer to escort children for Halloween (you get candy, too!)
Adopt an overseas child or assist a charity.
At Carleton, we’d pour molten-lead or wax into cold water and divine things.
Protest the most recent prejudiced horror-flick of the season.
Lobby against the funeral industry.
Make a list of 100 things you’ve done, and 100 more you want to do.
Contemplate capital punishment, war, crime, sanitation and vegetarianism.
Bless your pets with smoke (yes, jumping through a fiery hoop is okay…)
Clean your home, extinguish your oven/furnace’s pilot-light and relight it.
Replace the batteries in your smoke detector, buy a fire extinguisher, etc.
Write long-winded, disconnected rambles and lists about Samhain and Sacrifice.
Various Winter Customs to Try Out
By Eric, ex-Akita Grove, now in NYC.
A Druid Missal-Any, Yule 2001
I enjoyed the Samhain activities, and spent four hours searching for good customs to complement the next issue. It’s a simple list of what I plan to do, because I’m not much of a writer.
Nov 23 Divining the best presents after a hearty Thanksgiving meal by asking relatives and the Gods.
Dec 1st Cleaning out the house thoroughly--Any remaining dust is “Not mine, please ignore it.”
Dec 2nd Light “advent candles” or Yule Candles marking down the Solstice Sun’s arrival.
Dec 15th Decorating the House--Holly, Mistletoe, tree setup, bunting, Yule-logs, front lawn décor. Mail out blessings (Christmas cards) to friends and curses to enemies.
Dec 19th Donate 10% of December Paycheck to charities closest to my house. And carry small presents to distribute to beggars and muggers in NYC.
Dec 20th Wassailing and Caroling. Nothing more than Trick or Treating for the winter, fun to do with the Christians.
Dec 21st Vigiling in the Grove--Spend the longest night of the year in the grove with a fire, several blankets and some friends to encourage the sun to make a come back.
Dec 21st Mari Lwyd in Wales (Lair Bhan in Ireland)--The Welsh visited houses with a draped horse skull, interrogated their neighbours with strange questions, and got free booze if the homeowner couldn’t come up with decent answers. I think Barney’s head on a stick would be fine and appreciated.
Dec 22nd Namahage--In Akita, drunken barefoot men in demon masks, straw clothing, flaming torches (my that’s dangerous sounding) would burst into pre-decided homes “surprising” a family at dinner and terrorizing the bejezus out of small kids. The father would ransom their children’s lives with more booze, and the demons would bless the house to protect it from fires and further burglar intrusions. Very similar to German house visits by Father Christmas (Weihnachtsmann or Julknap) and his point man, the “Black Moor” (Knecht Ruprecht.) Don’t you pity my neighbours?
Dec 23rd Celebrate the Emperor of Japan’s Birthday (he is the descendent of the Sun Goddess after all)
Dec 24th. Presents and Party
Dec 25th Hanging out sheaves of corn or bird seed AFTER Christmas for the all-winter birds.
Dec 26th, Divination- by dropping a handful of pine-needles into a bowl and rohrscharching
Dec 26th Boxing. Put away boxes and decorations. As for the Tree: Put the tree in a safe spot in the yard (needles still on) away from the house. Allow to thoroughly dry and use it to light Beltane fire. WHOOSH! What a sight!
Dec 27th Return presents and Buy discounted goods at stores for next year!. A gift of the Gods!
Dec 30th New Year Resolutions--Adding thanks for last year’s completed ones and a tweak from everyone in the room for not finishing the last ones.
Dec 31st Fireworks, all-night parties are fine to continue.
Jan 1st, Sleep to Noon. Pray to Braciaca for forgiveness and mercy.
Jan 6th, “Epiphany.” Credit card bills arrive. Holidays are officially over.
Yule Time Caroling
By Sine Ceolbhinn
A Druid Missal-Any, Yule 2001
Strangely enough, Christmas is one of the few times of the year that we feel like singing with our neighbours outside of a karaoke bar. Easter songs? A few. Groundhog Day songs? Not likely. We all want to sing, but trip over the uncomfortable lyrics, right? I decided to but together a little list of songs that a pagan could use in company with their monotheistic friends.
A few hours of scanning the internet has given me a collection of popular songs that didn’t dwell on babies in food troughs, righteous crowns, deceased people with bird wings, and ecstatic shepherds hearing voices in the dark (won't even go there.) I prefer my own improbable stories (grin.) Just change “Christmas” to “Yule time” and most are okay. Santa Claus is rather unavoidable, but he's nearly pagan, and so I let him slide. Many of the songs on the list below have on-line free music-files and lyrics at:
Now, I was going to make a list of filkable songs, but surprise, somebody’s gone ahead and re-done most of the Christmas songs in a Neo-Pagan flavor. Isn't it great that people do all the work for us? You could spent weeks studying the solstice. Enjoy!!
Japan has a very old story recorded in the Kojiki Scrolls (700 AD) about the Sun-Goddess, Amaterasu which we will incorporate into the Grove’s drama. Rituals can get dull after a while, so we’re going to improvise. We got the idea from Merri’s Beltane service Mummery Drama at Carleton that Mike told us in 1999. But first the basic story:
Part One, The Story:
AMATERASU (Japanese: “Great Divinity Illuminating Heaven,”) the celestial sun Goddess from whom the Japanese imperial family claims descent, is the most important Shinto deity. She was born from the left eye of her father, Izanagi, as he was performing shugyo. Izanagi bestowed upon her a necklace of jewels and placed her in charge of Takamagahara (“High Celestial Plain,”) the abode of all the kami. One of her brothers, the storm God Susanoo, was to be sent away to rule the sea plain. Together the sky and ocean would encircle and protect Japan. Before going, Susanoo went to take leave of his sister. As an act of good faith, they produced many children together, she by chewing and spitting out pieces of the sword he gave her, and he by doing the same with her jewels.
However, Susanoo soon began to behave very rudely-such as breaking down the divisions in the rice fields, defiled his sister’s dwelling place, and finally threw a flayed horse into her weaving hall. Indignant, Amaterasu withdrew in protest into a cave, sealed the door with a rock, and darkness fell upon the world. Many demons appeared to plague the people with snow and lightning. Not only people, but the Gods were at a loss. Amaterasu’s brother, the Moon, did his best to take over her job, but couldn’t keep the plants from wilting nor could he stop the cold winds from chilling the livestock.
Because no one was able to open the door of the cave, many Takamaga-hara Gods were at a loss as to what to do and conferred on how to lure the sun Goddess out. The wise God Omoikane decided at the meeting that Amenouzume would perform an amusing dance to attract Amaterasu attention. They collected cocks, whose crowing precedes the dawn, and hung a mirror and jewels on a sacred sakaki tree in front of the cave.
The Goddess Amenouzume began a very suggestive dance on an upturned tub, partially disrobing herself, and bumping about comically, which so delighted the assembled Gods that they roared with laughter. Amaterasu became curious how the Gods could make merry while the world was plunged into darkness.