Posts Tagged ‘tradition’

Puritan Pilgrims Day

2010/11/25

Today marks the arrival in North America of a group of intolerant religious fanatics, who fled Europe because they believed that the society there was becoming too permissive.   These fanatics would have starved and frozen to death had it not been for the kindness and generosity of the local heathens.

This holiday is the result of the efforts of a single woman, who organized a campaign to convince President Lincoln to declare a ‘day of thanks’ for the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock.  This holiday has nothing to do with celebrating the bountiful harvests the land has yielded, coming long after all harvests are in.  Today, it is used as the kickoff for the Christmas Shopping Season, as well as being clothed in sentiment for home and family.

Holidays, or sabbats as they were called by many in Europe in ancient times, used to mark the turning of the Wheel of the Year.  They were tied to the astronomical calender, falling on the solstices and equinoxes, and the days halfway between.  These sabbats represented the periods of the year associated with renewal, growth, and harvesting, as well as worship of the ancestors.  Their meanings were timeless, beyond everyday life, immutable.

Thanksgiving falls during a time which was thought by many to be a dormant time, a period when conservation of resources was critical.  Winter is just beginning, and one’s stocks of food and fuel had to last for months.  Our genetic heritage is telling us to keep our activities to a minimum, to stay home, to endure the darkness.  We are goaded into action by advertising sponsored by those who want us to spend our money, even if we have none to spare.

Thanksgiving is a totally artificial holiday, having no connection with Nature and the world around us.  Its meaning is being lost in a blitz of advertising and promotions.  More and more, it is merely a celebration of consumption, of spending which keeps the rich getting richer.  Ignore the countdown which starts now, find another way to celebrate the harvest, save your money for more important things.

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Why isn’t Christmas on the solstice?

2009/12/20

Some people are aware that Christmas is the de-secularized version of the Yule celebration of ancient times, which is a celebration of the Winter Solstice.  But the Winter Solstice happens anywhere between the 20th and the 23rd of December, and Christmas is on the 25th.  Why isn’t Christmas celebrated on the solstice?

In ancient times, when the Yule was THE celebration of the whole year in terms of scope and duration, people did not take things for granted, because that was tempting the gods to do their worst.  So, every year, the shadow cast by a stone was measured, during the days close to the solstice.  Every day, the shadow would be longer, until one day, there was no difference.  Was this the solstice?  Or was it just a taunt from one of the gods?  The next day, the shadow might be the same again.  Finally, the shadow would change, growing a tiny bit shorter.  Only then did the celebration begin, only then did people feel relief.

December 25 is the first day of every year that on can be sure to see the shadow cast by the Sun at noon get shorter.  December 25 was the first day that people could be sure that the Sun was going to return to the Northern sky, bringing warmth and life back to the world.  Even though Winter was just beginning, it was a time of merriment and feasting, because Summer would come again.  The Yule Tide celebration began with a vigil, held overnight from sunset to sunrise, to attend the Sun in its rebirth, after its journey through the land of the Dead.  Revitalized, renewed, it began the new year.

The celebration of the Yule was long because travel was difficult, and there was little else to do.  People would allow their hearth to go cold, take their animals, and travel to another dwelling, where they would spend days sharing in the abundance brought by the slaughter of an animal.  After a time, they might travel to another dwelling, and again feast.  Then, they would turn for home, to relight their own hearth, and prepare for the slaughter of one of their own animals.  Thus, the celebration of the Yule often extended into February, as the days grew steadily longer, even though Winter’s grip seemed unbreakable.

The Christian church encountered the Yule when it moved out of the Mediterranean area into the lands to the north.  Both the Byzantine and the Rome branches absorbed the pagan Yule Tide holiday into their calendar, testimony to the widespread observance of this ancient tradition.  Because it was an affront to the leaders of the Christian religion that people would celebrate the Yule and not celebrate Easter,  it was decided to bring the Yule into the Christian religion, by calling it the birthday of Jesus Christ.  Just as was the Sun reborn every year, the pagans could celebrate the birth of the Christian savior at the same time.

This is why Christmas isn’t on the Solstice, even though it is descended from a celebration of the Solstice.

How we got here.

2009/11/20

Amazingly, we tend to ignore the bulk of human history when considering what is ‘natural.’  How humans lived for tens of thousands of years has imprinted itself in our genes, yet we ignore that programming, instead trying to live by what our culture says is ‘right.’  There are reasons for why we act the way that we do, feel the way that we feel, and they are not the result of the rise of patriarchal religions, or the Industrial Revolutions.  The conflicts that we experience are all too often the result of our genetic programming being at odds with our expectations.

Because humans did not have writing until very recently, little is known for sure about what life was like 20,000 years ago.  Anthropology is making great strides in uncovering the past, but its findings are still colored by modern cultural bias.  Case in point:  Hunter-gatherer societies.  When the European world discovered that there were societies in undeveloped parts of the world which survived by gathering and hunting, the male dominated society of the modern world automatically assumed that the males in those societies were the primary food providers, thus the label ‘hunter-gatherer.’  By studying the garbage of prehistoric peoples, we have discovered that they should have been called ‘gatherer-hunter societies.’  Hunting was not the primary means of getting food, but instead gathering was.

This has tremendous implications on our perceptions of ancient lifestyles.  Women were the ones who primarily did the gathering, from what we have been able to discern.  If women were the primary food providers, they would have been very important in the everyday life of a group.  It was not until the advent of agriculture that men became the primary food providers, which also was the time when male-dominated religions appeared, and the status of women diminished to that of domestic animals.

If a group of people depended on the able-bodied individuals to perform the necessary tasks of survival, that means that people of child-bearing years could not have been the primary caregivers of their children.  Spending time with your children was not a survival trait, because that would have kept you from carrying water, collecting fuel, gathering food, preparing it, and all the other things needed to keep the group going.  Perhaps this explains the affinity of very young children for the very elderly, because we are genetically wired to respond to those who would have been our primary caregivers for thousands and thousands of years.

Certainly, there are many other ways of explaining why parents and their children have so many difficulties, while those same children seem to respond to their grandparents and great-grandparents so much better.  We can attribute the desire of very young children to please the elderly to many things, but isn’t it easier to look at how humans lived for most of our existence?  Of course, this throws the concept of the ‘nuclear family’ as being the natural family unit out the window, which is not going to sit well today.  But the nuclear family is already endangered, as more and more people are raising children by themselves, or with their parents.

Looking at our behaviors in the context of what were survival traits for most of human evolution is, to me, the most logical way of determining what is ‘natural’ and ‘right’, not by using our cultures definitions.  The idea of ‘three square meals a day’ is no more natural than beating oneself with a stick every day.  It arose during the first industrial revolution, when people were only given one meal break during the work period.  Our bodies have evolved to eat small amounts of food all day long, not to process huge amounts all at once.  That is a biological fact, which cannot be changed no matter how much we want to believe otherwise.  I think that there are many more of them, which we have not discovered yet.

Candy, costumes, ghosts, and goblins

2009/10/09

The stores are bulging with candy to hand out on the upcoming pagan celebration at the end of the month.  This is probably the weirdest, most convoluted, mixed-up celebration in America, a day when we send our children out to do the exact opposite of what we normally tell them, a day when we want to be haunted, a day that everyone seems inclined to recognize.  What is this ‘all hallowed saints day eve’ celebration, any way?

Halloween, or All Hallowed Saints Day Eve, is the residue of one of the most spiritual of the ancient celebrations, or sabbats, on the witchcraft calendar.  As with other pagan holidays, what we know today is the Christian church’s attempt to bring the ancient celebration into the religious framework of the  church.  Christmas is another one, and some calendars still mark Candlemas on February 2nd.  These are celebrations which pre-date Christianity by thousands of years, and which are deeply ingrained in the psyche of people of Western European descent.

On the Wheel of the Year, early November is a time when Death is recognized and celebrated.  This sounds strange to us today, because Death has been ignored, hidden, and denied for most of modern history, but to ancient peoples, Death was as immediate, everyday, and essential as Life.  Without Death, Life cannot continue, for Life feeds on Death, and Death makes room for new Life.  Death was viewed as a doorway into another realm, not as an ending.  Death was not associated with any kind of judgment, nor with reward or punishment.  When people died, they became part of a spiritual realm, still able to influence the realm of the living, but removed from it.

Because the dead were considered to be still aware of the living, and able to influence events in the realm of the living, the living recognized the dead, venerated them, worshiped them.  The dead were remembered by the living, through rituals, story telling, the passing on of family heirlooms and treasures.  Because Death is all around us during the late Autumn, that was the time to remember and to cherish the dead.  It was commonly believed that the veil, or curtain, between the realm of the dead and the realm of the living was partially pulled back during that time, as the Life Force ebbed from the land.

Even today, the Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico, a deeply ritualistic, formalized remembering of the ancestors.  In spite of the Christian church insisting that there was NO spirit realm, that the dead were unaware of the passage of time between their death and the Day of Judgment, many peoples in Western and Northern Europe clung to their ancient customs, afraid of offending their forebears by ignoring them.  This was the most spiritual time of the year, when many people experienced communion with dead persons, or at least, felt the presence of loved ones who had passed on.

In order for the Christian church to bring a celebration into the church, it had to designate a reason for it, a justification for the celebration.  With the Yule Tide, it was the fiction that Christ had been born on the day of the celebration of the return of the Sun, just after the Winter Solstice.  With the celebration in witchcraft of those who had passed on, an aspect of Life that we call Death, a catchall was created.  The holy day of November first is the celebration of the lives of any person who was considered a saint, even if they had never been sanctified by the church.  This all-inclusive category allowed family members to venerate loved ones, under the pretense that the loved one was ‘as a saint.’

That is the reason for the holy day, or holiday.  That is why ghosts are a part of the celebration.  But the spin that the Christian church put on the whole affair had nothing to do with the original celebration, or sabbat, and does not reflect its intent.  It was probably one of the most peaceful, loving, contemplative sabbats, of the eight on the Wheel.  People were already conserving their resources, knowing that there were many months to go before food would be easily found, and the weather often was cold and bleak.  Harvest celebrations, themselves a recognition of the importance of Death in life, had been held just a few weeks before, so people were not anxious to see each other, as they would be by the time of the Yule.  There was no evil associated with this time, no fear of the unknown.  We have created those things in modern times, perhaps out of our frustration at not being able to observe what was probably one of the oldest annual celebrations on the Wheel of the Year.

bringing young and old together

2009/06/14

As the realization of how broke we all are sets in, perhaps we can contemplate some changes to save money.  We need new ways of doing things, ways which do not depend on the flagrant spending of money that we don’t have.  We need to look to the past, to see how thing were done before people could use energy so freely and easily.  We need to remember ways of living together which made us stronger, more unified, comfortable.  We need to be open to new ideas, willing to embrace change in the hope that we can learn from the results.  One such new idea is to hold day care classes at assisted living centers and nursing homes.

Currently, we are paying one group of people to take care of our kids, and another group of people to take care of our parents.  There was a time, not all that long ago, when our parents would have raised our children, while we were busy supporting both our children and our parents.  There were no such things as nursing homes, or day care, because those functions were performed within the family.  This is how culture was passed on, not through school.

A great many of the people who have been sentenced to a nursing home are still physically capable of looking after children, they just have some problem which their family did not want to deal with.  Having these people be involved in taking care of children, any children, would be beneficial for both the children and the elders.  And the children don’t have to be related to the elders, because children will accept almost any elder, and elders will accept almost any child.

Elders who actively participate in the care of the children could be compensated in some way, perhaps reducing the cost of their care that their family must cover, or receiving credit towards purchases.  Elders who merely interact with the children would not be considered employees of the day care, and would only receive the attention of young children.

Too many children today don’t know their grandparents, and there are children who have no idea what an elderly person looks like.  Far too many day cares merely take the children for a certain time, without much interaction between the workers and the children.  The children do not get an opportunity to discover what their heritage is, what it is that makes them who they are.

We can save money by having our elders do what they have traditionally done for most of human history, taking care of the children.  Doing so would also provide the benefits of young people learning about their culture, as well as seeing the world through the eyes of someone who has watched the world for a long time.

I’m so confused!

2008/11/23

Here in the United States, we use a celebration of Death to kick of the celebration of Life.  What am I talking about?  Thanksgiving and the Christmas Shopping Season.  Although Thanksgiving is dedicated to the Pilgrams landing at Plymouth Rock, it is really a harvest celebration, just a little late in the year.  (I for one never believed that people ate outside at Thanksgiving ever! Especially in Massachuesetts.)  The roast beast, the trimmings, the goodies, the pies, the whole production is a celebration of the bounty of the land, and the sacrifice made so that Life can go on.  Everything on the table will be dead, and that is what the celebration is all about.  We give thanks to that which has died so that we can continue.

Unless you live in some place without electricity, you will probably notice that the sky glows at night a lot more than usual in the days after Thanksgiving.  Some people already are burning their Christmas, or Yule, lights, and the day after Thanksgiving in the ‘official’ kick off of the Christmas Shopping Season.  The Yule Tide was a celebration of Life, of re-birth, of renewal.  It started a few days after the Winter Solstice, and ran for days or weeks into January.  (What else is January good for, except partying?)

Because merchants want us to buy our gifts, instead of making them ourselves, as was done in the old days, they sponser concerts, public events, lighting displays, and anything eles that they can think of to get people out shopping.  Gradually, the Christmas season has swung around from the weeks after the Winter Solstice to the weeks before the Winter Solstice.  Inadvertantly, we have moved a festival of Life into a time when the LifeForce is ebbing from the land, leaving nothing for when the days begin to get longer.

To make things even more unsettling, late autumn has always been a time when people tried to conserve their resources as much as possible, by staying close to home, eating very little, and sleeping a lot.  For thousands and thousands of years, what food we had would have to last until Spring, at the earliest.  So, getting out and being extra active in late autumn just feels wrong somehow.

We must remember our instinctual heritage, what cultures practiced before written history, when analyzing our motivations and emotional responses to modern societie’s demands.  There are ample reasons for feeling confused and out of sorts in the weeks ahead, and some we don’t even acknowledge.

Have a wonderful Harvest Festival!