The Breaking of the Wheel of the Year

It’s been years and years since I last did any sort of formal rituals for the Wheel of the Year; I was never Wiccan, but the eight celebrations have been adopted by a wide range of pagans. For years I tried to use them as well, and it never really stuck. While I definitely appreciate the role of seasonal celebrations for individuals and communities, in my own practice I could never quite get over the feeling that doing a special ritual every six weeks was a bit contrived. It’s convenient for a group because it’s a set bunch of times for everyone to plan to get together for a shared ritual experience, and for some solitary pagans, too, it’s an opportunity to break out of the everyday routine and re-connect with the sacred in a deeper way.

Maybe if I was part of a working or ritual group I’d be more inclined to have these special touchstones throughout the year, and there is a part of me that feels a bit wistful about them. But on my own, I have the freedom to acknowledge special moments with nature whenever they arise, and have those as my sacred times. There’s no scheduling necessary, no potluck to cook for. Instead, it’s moments like “picking the first ripe tomatoes of the summer”, and “hey, the maple tree finally started growing leaves again” (and even “thank the gods the noisy-ass starlings finally raised their last brood in my apartment’s ceiling”.) This is not necessarily a superior way of connecting compared to the Wheel, but it’s one that’s fit me better over time.

I think part of the problem with the Wheel is that until the past few years I had little context for it. It was just something a lot of pagans did as part of the pagan package, written by Cunningham and others and used as an excuse for everything from Pagan Pride to pagan coffee klatches. But “old harvest rituals” don’t mean the same to a farmer, as to a city dweller whose food comes from the store and who doesn’t even have a window box of flowers. That was me for a number of years, first due to lack of transportation and money, and then a period of depression and inactivity in general. When I moved to Portland, almost immediately the Land embraced me, and my reconnection with it, and myself, and everything else, became so easy, and a lot of what I’d done as “what’s expected” made more sense.

This included renewed interest and activity in gardening, and for the first time I got a taste of what those old harvest rites were for. It’s one thing to watch a tree grow and shed leaves each year outside the window. It’s another thing entirely to plant a seed, watch it grow, coax it through drought and flood and disease, pick its fruits and seeds, and then bury it in the compost heap at the end of the season. Only then did the excitement over spring, the flourishing of summer, the harvesting of autumn, and the sleep of winter, begin to fall into place just a bit more.

And so it was that I spent my autumn equinox with my hands in the dirt. My community garden plot was in sore need of some work, and so I spent a great deal of the weekend weeding, putting down mulch, fertilizing the soil, and planting the fall crops of kale, spinach, radishes and more. In those hours I felt more connected to the Land than I ever had when standing in a circle with my athame and special ritual dress. The scent of the earth and rain spoke more than my chanted words, and every seed I dropped into the furrows carried more hope for the coming Winter than the candles lit in my ritual room.

Seeds in autumn, indeed! I’m not the first person to point out that using religious directives created in the U.K. in other areas can be pretty limiting. Yet I’m fortunate enough to live in a planting zone where the winter is mild enough that even the autumn is a sowing time, and deep winter and early spring the harvest. Here in Portland, the planting and harvesting cycles blend and flow together, not so much a strict progression as an ever-shifting dance where the participants step in and bow out at different times throughout the year.

Some people claim they feel the presence of death and the ancestors more around Samhain. Not so for me. I sense it all the time. Every day, every moment, something is passing away, and something else is benefiting from that death. Trees fall in the woods, and fungi and lichens flourish on the dying bark. Bears may hibernate in the winter, but bacteria continue to be fruitful and multiply in its gut and on its skin. I myself was born on Samhain Day, November 1, proof that spring does not have the monopoly on new babies. And it’s like that for the other spokes on the Wheel; everything we celebrate at one point of the year can easily resonate throughout the rest, if you know where to look.

The Wheel is broken. It doesn’t roll right here. Sure, it stumbles along the path, but it doesn’t fit the ruts worn down by other, more local vehicles. It ill-fits the conveyance of this place, which is far more than the planting and harvesting of wheat and corn, and the birthing of cattle and sheep. This land–and perhaps all lands–are places of constant, daily births and deaths and rebirths, of sowings and harvests. Here the sun never goes away entirely; though we tilt away from it a bit more, it still rises every morning and greets us, even behind a shroud of clouds.

The stories we tell–the Oak King and the Holly King, the god who is born of the goddess and who dies again only to be reborn–they oversimplify the many-layered cycles of the Land. Nature is not only that which we can easily see or which most benefits us. It is the midwinter birth and the spring harvest, the many hermaphroditic beings that far outnumber the sexually dimorphic ones by individual count if not species, the odd warm day in January or the snow in June.

Of course, if you still prefer the Wheel of the Year, the Oak and Holly King’s drama, and the idea that the Divine looks like us humans (and not our gut flora who are much more plentiful on this earth than we), there’s nothing wrong with that. My dissatisfaction with these things does not extend beyond myself. Still, just as others have pointed out that the Wheel doesn’t match the Southern hemisphere, and West is not always where the water is in every place, so I think it’s good to examine the reasons to celebrate throughout the year where you are, if you like. Think about being more specific–celebrate the time when the kale is harvested and the time when the hummingbirds build nests, mark the passing of an old tree that fell on the third of May and the birth of a kitten on Valentine’s Day.

These things are more important to me than standing in someone’s living room wearing robes, burning candles, and reciting words written for an ideal based on a land I’ve never been to. Let me eat not cakes and ale from the store, but lettuce and carrots from my garden; let me serve the meal I prepared on the table I painted with the flora and fauna of my Land. Let everything I do be a breath I share with this place that has given me a home. In a world where my computer is made with parts from China, where my winter apples come from Brazil, and my ancestors largely hail from Europe, let me ground myself more deeply in the place I am now, to appreciate it and its gifts and its limitations. Surrounded by global interdependence and diversity, let me also grow local roots. Let me learn the mysteries and teachings of what’s north, east, south and west of here, what is embedded in the earth and what breathes in the sky I see every day. Let it be these things and places and secrets that I celebrate, those which have the most meaning for me in this here and now.

Advertisements

Happy 6th Birthday, Therioshamanism! And a Question For My Readers

Hey, you! I’ve got a question for you! (And by “you”, I mean anyone reading this blog, whether regularly or sporadically or just by chance.)

So I’ve been writing in this space for six years now. (Yay, happy birthday Therioshamanism!) Over time the focus has shifted and evolved; it went from being a fairly uptight “I’m going to make my own neoshamanism–here’s how I do it!” blog, to a more laid-back place in which I’ve done everything from profiles of different totems to records of outdoor excursions and even ruminations about environmental and sustainability issues and activities, among others. (I wrote a little more about this transition here.) I still consider all these to be integral to my spiritual path, which ceased being its own independent entity years ago and is now part of the whole woven tapestry that is my life, each and every day. So this blog has become a place for me to share these things, whether overtly spiritual or not, with you folks.

I know what I get out of the blog, then–a place to organize thoughts and share them with others. But I’m curious as to what you get out of it. Why are you here? What do you like to read when you’re visiting this blog? What do you want to see more of? What could you not care less about? I’m not so much trying to let other people decide what I should do with my little space here on the internet; rather, I’m curious as to how it may be benefiting others. I get emails and messages now and then from people who were inspired by something I wrote and grew because of it, and that always makes me feel like I’m doing my job as a writer well. So consider this a friendly invitation to fill me in on what brought you here, what keeps you bringing back, and sure, what would you like to see in the future? Let me know what’s helpful to you!

Animist Blog Carnival, Part 2! Bioregion Revisited

I have so many posts sent my way for this month’s Animist Blog Carnival that I unwittingly left a couple out!

Bryan Russellson over at Black Mountain Waincraft shares this beautiful introduction to the southern Appalachian abode he calls home:

Like the comfrey and mugwort that fills the small garden bed just outside my window, we are transplants. Yet we have done much to integrate ourselves with this place. We are literally made of the land and that which fills it…of deer and bear and rabbit, raspberry and ramp, wood nettle and morel. Our shit fertilizes the garden beds nestled throughout the forest and the water flowing across the edge of our property sustains all. In time, I too shall fertilize this place as circumstance or age draws the breath from my body.

A wonderful written picture (with lovely photos as well!) of this amazing place.

Brian Taylor, at Animist Jottings, presents an alternative view of invasive species as part of a bioregion:

So, we have an un-necessarily polarised debate, not least because the ecological-forestry discourse of woodland management (adopted uncritically by local green groups?) appears to be privileging ‘evidence based science’ at the expense of the (often well informed) feelings of local people. Personally I’d like to see them take a leaf out of the Woodland Trust’s book, and register notable trees; trees that are culturally important, or ‘of personal significance‘. In the context of advancing Ash Die Back, Richard Mabey makes a case for valuing Sycamore (‘the weed of the woods’) as a replacement for Ash trees. Now, more than ever, conservationists should be ‘welcoming outsiders’ rather than ruling non-native species out of court.

A good reason to pause and think.

And let’s revisit an older post of mine from over at No Unsacred Place, about the spirit of a place and the beings that embody it:

Arguably the more charismatic animals, plants, and places are often seen as the most irreplaceable, when in fact all are important and often it’s the tiny ones on whose backs and stems the rest of the ecosystem rests. But if we look instead at the greater concept of the numenon as Leopold uses it, rather than just the individual species chosen for it, it’s a great deal like the Genius Loci, the spirit of a place. And all of the above are representatives of what gives a place its unique qualities, the je ne sais quoi, even if we can’t put a label to those qualities themselves. These are not quantifiable in the way that bird counts and the momentum of a waterfall are. They’re exceptionally subjective; it’s arguable that those of us who value a place for what it is create its spirit, while we cannot make a land developer or oil baron see beyond the cash value of the physical natural resources. It’s an aesthetic judgement, but no less crucial for that.

My sincerest apologies to both Bryan and Brian for not getting you in on the first round; here’s to readers getting a fresh look at these!

Animist Blog Carnival: Bioregion

ETA: There were so many posts that I ended up missing a few; you can see the rest of these offerings here.

This month I’m hosting the Animist Blog Carnival (a couple of days late, I’m afraid–life got REALLY busy in the past few weeks!) The theme I chose was “Bioregion”. Why? Well, in part because it’s a concept I’m very interested in for a variety of reasons, practical and spiritual. The bioregion I live in here in Oregon was the first place to really get me out of my animal-centric perspective and show me that the other parts of the bioregion aren’t just a backdrop for critters. And I wanted to see what other people had to say about their bioregions, near and far. So, let’s get started!

First, to introduce you to your bioregion, Rua Lupa has a great post at No Unsacred Place with a series of questions and explorations about the area you live in:

[Earth] is suffused with life, and that life is diverse as a result of the different environments this planet holds. Yet, even with all this diversity none of these life forms would exist without the intricate interconnections of a vast network of life-sustaining processes. This larger system is, itself, composed of many smaller networks of life – each local system is a vital part of the whole.

What do you know of your local environment?

Don’t worry–she’s added some tips for your epxlorations as well, so if you don’t know your local growing season or how geology shaped the local land, you have some good starting points.

Heather Awen at Eaarth Animist offers her answers to a similar bioregional quiz:

When and what are the major yearly bioregional events and how can you celebrate them?

One major one is maple sugaring. Both Paganaidd and I have spoken with the maples about this and received the same answer, which was one I would not have expected. As the keystone tree, the sugar maples are pillars of society. They are modest divas. They like the attention. Be it the sugaring or the tourist leaf-peepers stunned by their beautiful colors in the fall, they dig it. Also they have deep relationships with all the other species in the forest. I get the vibe that they are like my grandparents’ generation, the Great Generation of WW2, with the same 1950s values of being respectable and respected on committees.

Showing again that it is not just theory but also practice that is important, Kiva Rose at Bear Medicine Herbals reminds us we need to connect with the plants (and other beings) themselves, not just our conceptions of them:

Come closer, all of you. Put your faces against this ancient Ponderosa Pine, breathe in her amazing vanilla fragrance, feel the puzzle piece texture of her bark and notice the deep green of her needles. Now look around at the smaller plants growing in her shade, at the Oregon Grape Root trailing down the hillside beneath her and the mushrooms crowded around her base. See these beautiful little lavender flowers? They grow only where the Ponderosas grow and nowhere else. Oh, do you hear that chattering? That’s a tassel eared squirrel, it’s dependent on the Ponderosas as well, harvesting pine nuts and the underground truffles that grow among the tree’s roots. And in turn, the Ponderosa needs the squirrel, as it helps to propagate the trees, spreading their seeds through the forest. The Ponderosa forest is a small ecosystem within the larger ecosystem of the Gila, within the Intermountain Southwest within the American West. One inside the other, like concentric rings, with some species completely endemic to just the Ponderosa Forest, like the tassel eared squirrel, and some expanding out to the whole American West, such as the Western Mugwort.

Jay over at Naturebum introduces us to the Gatekeeper, an incredible old Sawtooth Banksia tree that is the guardian of its domain:

The Gatekeeper is not an imposing presence. The Gatekeeper is not a beautiful tree; well, yes it is, it is perfectly imperfect. Each scar, each sheared off limb, blackened piece of trunk, borer riddled root is testament to past challenges, lessons learnt, survival, life wisdom. The Gatekeeper is a revered Elder of the Reserve.
Who can but guess at how many persons The Gatekeeper has been there for, helped, (and for those so able to perceive, inspired) but it would be thousands and thousands, as they commence their journey along the track.
In one section of the trunk, the rough, ancient looking bark has been smoothed over by human touch.

What an incredible starting point to one’s journey through what must be a truly magical place! Be sure to check the links to other relevant articles at the bottom of that post, too.

Sterling writes a piece on people and place for A Sense of Place:

But the personality of a place shifts over time, in part because of migrations of people who shift the balance toward one aspect or another. Often this shift is just a matter of reinforcing something that is already there, taking an aspect that is already established and making it iconic of the region.

A good reminder of some of the human elements of a bioregion.

Continuing in that human-nature theme, Mary Good at Terralectualism presents and in-depth look at an ancestral home:

Our first week at camp, we took a sunset canoe ride out to the island and back. I saw our camp sitting tiny on the shore and teared up, realizing that this is my father’s legacy. He has worked hard to keep this home in the family, so that myself and my siblings are able to experience the same magic that he did as a kid. On the way back, as we reached the middle of the lake, suddenly it seemed that we were going neither forward nor back, but had always been in this place, paddling, sights set on shore. I was myself, and I was all ancestors, those who have already passed and those who will in the future. As the lights of life faded out behind, suddenly arising in the mist was this little house in the woods, and all would be, will be silent, except the water lapping at the prow, except the far off cry of a loon.

No wonder the place is full of ghosts, since I too, hope that it will be these shores that welcome me home for all time.

An incredible introduction to a place we may never ourselves visit, but which we may know just a tiny bit better now that we’ve read this.

Red Griffith-Hayes takes a pilgrimage, and in doing so connects to a venerable bioregion:

For both of us, the Cotswolds are a sacred place. The escarpment that stretches from the Midlands to the south of England has been a backbone to much of our lives. For me, it links the Cotswold stone of my childhood, the bedrock upon which I now live, a significant part of my life for the last decade, and the ancestral land of my mothers line deep into Gloucestershire and Somerset. We knew that to make a pilgrimage along the escarpment following that line down to its natural end in Bath where the steaming red water pours from the rocks into the roman baths at the shrine of Sulis Minerva, who became our constant companion en route, would be powerful.

It is not just quantity, but quality, of connection that speaks in these words.

For a little different animistic perspective, John D. at Green Shinto presents a little about Mount Fuji’s spiritual importance:

Fuji’s religious role stems from the country’s animist tradition of mountain worship, prompted not only by its dominating presence but by its volcanic activity. Since 781 there have been 17 recorded eruptions (the last being in 1707), and to appease the mountain deity Sengen shrines were built around the base.

Animism does arise from the land and our interactions with it; we are not mere passive observers, but active participants together.

Breaking a bit from the line of prose, Kiva Rose at Anima weaves a poem of incredible beauty and imagery:

everything worth having
is within walking distance –
dirt under my toes,
leaves and bark
brushing my face,
and my love’s fingers
reaching out in sleep to
curl against my calf

A lovely piece to meditate on even if you’ve never been to that river before.

Ice may not be everyone’s first choice of dance partners, but over at Pray to the Moon, Moma Fauna shows just a bit of what Water can teach in this form:

Water is a sculptor.
As Ice, it can hold its shape long enough for us to notice & appreciate, if we look.
When Water-as-Ice plays with Air, together they fashion breathtaking & sometimes familiar figures.
When Water-as-Ice plays with Light — the gleam of our Sun or Moon — they style a lively, stationary dance.
There is a Life to this Water, unlike that of any other creature.
I want to know it.

Perhaps not the easiest partner to dance with, but worthwhile just the same.

Heather Awen, at Eaarth Animist, turns foraging into a bioregional practice:

Which brings me back to foraging. Animism is a not a lifeway for those who deny death. All that lives will die and all that lives will kill. On the macro level of modern animism’s monism, all is one so it’s just transformations of that All. On the micro level where we are all persons it’s often very scary and shameful. That’s why I say we have to get it right with food first.

The bioregion is an interconnected network of lives and deaths, and food truly is the most immediate reminder we have of that every single day.

Finally, Pit River elder Dr. Darryl Babe Wilson shares a very old story of the creation of the San Francisco Bay in this wonderful video:

Even when we’ve surrounded a place with cityscape, the bioregion still breathes.