Posted in Holidays, tagged blogging, holidays, paganism on August 1, 2014 |
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For my fifth year of blogging, I’m starting a new tradition; every sabbat I’ll feature a piece of seasonal art by one of my readers. This one is by Man Crack; if you like to commission something from her you can email me and I’ll forward it to her. The next such occasion is the autumnal equinox, September 23rd; this year; if you’d like the job, send me a sample of your work within the next three weeks. If you prefer a future sabbat (Halloweeen, Yule, etc) you needn’t wait; just let me know your preference.
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A something in a summer’s noon –
A depth — an Azure — a perfume –
Transcending ecstasy. – Emily Dickinson
You may have noticed that this essay posted fifty minutes late today; that was fully intentional, because I couldn’t resist the opportunity to have the moment of posting coincide with the moment the apparent path of the sun reached its northernmost point at 10:51 UTC (5:51 AM where I live). I say “where I live” rather than “where I am” because as you already know I’m not at home right now, and the moment of solstice occurred well before sunrise here in Denver. Those of you who have followed this blog for a long time know that I’m not really upset about missing the summer’s heat at home; though it’s not as sweltering there as it is in New Orleans it’s bad enough (though as my body ages I find it easier to endure the heat and harder to endure the cold). And though I won’t be home to pick many blackberries myself, I hope to get at least a few while I’m home for Independence Day. Then it’s off again to the eastern half of the country, and by the time I’m home again summer will be dying and my beloved autumn will be on the way. I hope to be able to enjoy it the better for having had (I hope and pray) a successful book tour, and if you’d like to help that to happen please donate to my fundraising campaign on GoFundMe. I wish each and every one of you equal success in whatever summer projects you undertake.
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Hail, bounteous May, that dost inspire
Mirth, and youth, and warm desire! – John Milton, “Song on a May Morning”
As I’ve often stated, all of the great holidays are just old pagan ones with new names and new Christian or secular coats of paint; scratch that thin veneer and the heathen origin of the observance becomes obvious to all but the most willfully blind. But while festivals like Christmas, Halloween and even Valentine’s Day have thrived, others have limped along in some maimed form, while still others have simply fallen by the wayside. But Beltane is probably the only one which was actively suppressed: many of its features were transferred to Easter and others were banned after the Protestant Reformation, and the day itself was preempted by a dreary and ultra-serious labor rights observance which should actually have been held three days later. The reason for these concerted attempts to destroy the holiday is very simple: it’s the only one which is entirely about sex. Oh, lots of spring festivals have their sexual components, but “lusty” May Day was entirely devoted to it. And as Western culture became less and less comfortable with sex over the last two millennia, and more and more determined to suppress it, poor May Day just had to go. Other than neopagan rituals and a few European remnants like May Queen festivals and May Eve bonfires, the holiday has almost entirely vanished; even the pathetic efforts of leftover Marxists get more attention. And that’s just sad; perhaps sex workers and our supporters need to reclaim it, strip it of the false fig leaves with which some have tried to cover its nature, and once again herald it as a day to celebrate Nature’s gift of sex.
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Again rejoicing Nature sees
Her robe assume its vernal hues
Her leafy locks wave in the breeze,
All freshly steep’d in the morning dews. – Robert Burns
As I pointed out last year, most of the holidays Christianity took over from paganism and redecorated with a Christian rationale are still pagan to the core; this is especially true of Easter, which is virtually indistinguishable from the other spring festivals which preceded it all the way back to Sumer and before. Christians still celebrate with the ancient symbols of flower, hare and egg, Jesus’ coming forth from the tomb is just the old story of Tammuz or Attis or Adonis or Osiris with refurbished names and details, and (in English, at least) even the festival’s name is that of the goddess from whom Christ inherited the day. Before cute bunnies and the like become the dominant iconography in the early part of the 20th century, the goddess still appeared on Easter cards and other illustrations in the guise of an angel, a young mortal girl or even the Blessed Mother; no matter how much the Church patriarchy tried to suppress her, she just kept popping up out of the spiritus mundi like spring flowers from winter soil. And though the sheer joy of spring is severely muted due to the disconnection of modern urbanites from nature, her symbolism still persists; as this holiday reminds us, many things which have been buried are nonetheless not truly dead, and merely await the proper time to emerge into the sunlight once more.
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Come, gentle Spring! Ethereal Mildness! Come. – James Thomson
At 16:57 UTC today (just before noon where I live) the apparent path of the sun will cross the celestial equator on its way north, for the fourth time since I’ve started this blog, the forty-eighth since the beginning of my current incarnation, the two thousand and fourteenth since the beginning of the Common Era and the (roughly) fifty-nine hundredth since the arrival of spring became an important enough event to calculate, mark and celebrate. Obviously the event had occurred every year, unmarked on human calendars, since the Earth was born, and had come and gone uncounted times between the point at which we first turned our eyes to the stars and the point at which we began to count the days; however, until we invented agriculture and began to fear the winters, we never bothered to wonder about the specific moment of transition between one season and the next. For roughly the first four thousand years after we began to plant and harvest, the winters were so mild that the exact day simply wasn’t an issue; once it got warm enough we planted, and that was that. But after the climate change we still dimly recall in our myths of losing a primordial Golden Age or Eden, it became necessary to plan ahead to make use of the shortened growing season; furthermore, those ancient farmers needed to ensure they did not plant too soon and lose the young crop to a late frost. The dawn of the growing season was likened to the dawn of a day, so it isn’t too surprising that the Indo-European dawn-goddess also became the goddess of spring in many cultures; Eostre was what the Anglo-Saxons called her, and we still use her name for a slightly-later spring festival which has since been taken over by another god. But as we have seen many times in this blog, the old symbols never quite go away even if we create new meanings for them; the hare and the egg belonged to Eostre, and still persist in the celebration of that slightly-later holiday even if few who employ them understand why.
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All because it’s carnival time
Well, it’s carnival time
Well it’s carnival time
Everybody’s having fun. – Al Johnson, “Carnival Time”
As I’ve written before, “even though today isn’t a holiday for most of you, it will always be one for me,” and though I don’t live in the city any longer I always try to avoid going anyplace on Fat Tuesday (in French, Mardi Gras) because it’s just too weird seeing everything open and everyone acting as though it isn’t a holiday. See, even though the occasion’s rationale is strictly Catholic (it’s the last day one can eat, drink and be merry before the solemn season of Lent begins tomorrow, Ash Wednesday), the actual celebration is purely pagan and comes down in a direct line from the Babylonian Zagmuk by way of Saturnalia and medieval Twelfth Night celebrations. The mock king who was sacrificed in the true king’s place became for centuries the Lord of Misrule, then eventually a mock king again…wearing raiment made to last one day and a cardboard crown, seated on a papier-mâché throne and dispensing plastic largesse to people who are not his subjects. That’s why it’s so funny to hear idiots babbling about the ribaldry and excess of carnival and attempting to shame women for baring their tits; the misbehavior is exactly the point, and the deities who preside over the festival are not those associated with Christianity, but rather the ancient pagan gods who, in New Orleans alone out of this whole grim, Puritanical country, have never fully relinquished their rule.
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Oh, if it be to choose and call thee mine, love, thou art every day my Valentine! – Thomas Hood
Regular readers know that I’m fond of holidays; I believe that rituals are important, and holidays help to give the year structure (especially in these modern times when so many are isolated from the natural ebb and flow of the seasons). But as careful readers may have already surmised, I do not really care for Valentine’s Day. Even as a child, it struck me as a rather odd kind of celebration; even the symbolism associated with it always seemed weird to me, and that’s no less true now than it was then. Though I do like getting cards expressing sincere affection, the sort of sentiment touted by valentines is the polar opposite of sincerity. And while I appreciate good puns, those which infest Valentines are never good. And then there are the presents; it seems to me that most people believe the first rule of Valentine gift-giving is to get the recipient something she would never buy for herself, and the more expensive the better. Chocolates are not figure-friendly, and if a man got me roses at the dramatically-inflated price florists demand for this one day when he wasn’t in the habit of getting them for me at times when they were priced more reasonably, I always felt as though he was doing it not because he wanted to, but because he thought he had to. As I wrote last year,
An obligatory “gift” of a certain expected value which must be presented at a certain time in order to retain a woman’s sexual favors is not a love offering, but rather a whore’s fee. And while I obviously have absolutely nothing against that, I prefer for it to be an honest and consensual arrangement mutually agreed upon by two adults, rather than a coercive charade designed to mask the transactional nature of a sexual relationship.
Some of you may name me a cynic, and you would be correct. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that it was harlotry which so made me; I was already thinking about this in high school. I have nothing against sincere romantic expression, but surely (as today’s epigram implies) that isn’t something limited to a specific day.
There’s one other thing which makes Valentine’s Day different from all other holidays in my mind: while all the others are inclusive, this one is exclusive. Holidays are times for friends, families and others to gather and celebrate together, but Valentine’s Day festivities (except, perhaps, for polyamorists) are exactly the opposite. Lovers tend to seek every available excuse to be alone together anyway; it hardly seems necessary to set aside a special day for that, especially one on which the show is celebrated above the substance.
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