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Posts Tagged ‘Gardening’

My kids spent all weekend playing with a bunch of 2x8s and 4x4s that I bought to build raised garden beds; they built castles, slides, ramps, racetracks, forts, &c, and it was glorious. They got dirty, they got banged up but nothing serious, and they had a great time. And the lumber was basically inestructible anyway.

But at one point, my daughter dragged two of the boards out, made a cross out of them, laid down, and announced that she was Jesus. Then, she decided that she was not actually Jesus, but Jesus’s older sister, who does not die. Only Jesus dies.

Hazel Christ

You seriously just can’t make this stuff up.

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The other day, my little boy brought me a clay pot that he had planted a seed in awhile ago and he was concerned that nothing had ever grown in it (it had, but unfortunately we have a mischievous cat that likes to pick at and eat young growing things). I realized that we had a bunch of pots and seeds that we had never used, so he and I decided to just go ahead and plant everything.

So we took down a handful of red clay pots, got out our half-full bag of potting mix, and our packets of seeds, and just kind of started planting. We’re moving soon, so it is not certain that these seeds are going to amount to anything–even if we manage to take them with us, they won’t necessarily survive the trip. But it was an intense reminder of how much I long to be connected to the cycles of life and death and nature and growing things.

I’m not much of a gardener, but for at least a couple of years I have had the unshakable instinct that I need to be. Something inside of me desperately craves a connection to the living world, even if I’m a big-city-lawyer. If I do not get it, I am certain that I will go insane.

It;s not practical for me (for us) to just run away to the backwoods and become self-sufficient subsistence farmers, even though I fantasize about it all the time. I have a mountain of debt from law school that’s only going to get paid off by slaving away in the Biglaw Law Mines. And I’m not unhappy about it, to be honest with you–I am fortunate in that I have found an area of the law to practice that I genuinely enjoy. But I am intensely aware that I am going to need to be connected to nature and to growing things, even as a busy urban professional.

I have big dreams for our new place in Chicago–I’ve been poring over my book (a christmas gift last year from my beautiful and sexy wife) The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-sufficient Living in the Heart of the City and getting all kinds of ideas for projects, depending on how much space and how much access we have to the outside we wind up having when we get to Chicago. But I can’t wait that long: even if planting now is a fool’s errand, it was something I had to do (and it was an awesomely fun way to spend the morning with my three-year-old as well). So we have pots of spinach, rosemary, and sage sitting on our windowsill, where the little monster-cat hopefully can’t get at more than one of them.

We’ll see how it turns out, but in any case, this is definitely a taste of things to come.

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Eating together is an act of communal worship. It is–or should be–a celebration of one of the fundamental human experiences, of something intimately connected with life and death. We kill to eat, we eat to live. Hunting, farming, and agriculture are intimarely bound with life, sex, and death. They cannot meaningfully be separated. We eat at funerals, we feast to celebrate major life events. We eat, or refrain from eating, all the time in religious contexts.

Sources of food are sacred. The growing, raising, harvesting, preparation, and ultimate consumption of food are sacramental acts. We are sick because we have forgotten this and we have disassociated ourselves too much from a basic aspect of human existence. We are less human because of it. This is why we are unhealthy; this is why we are crazy.

Eating is holy. Food is holy. hunting, gathering, and growing are holy. To do these things we have to go out and interact with the earth, getting caught up intimately in the web of life, sex, death, and eating that interweaves the living earth in a way that is impossible when we just go to the supermarket to pick up our groceries.

We are fat because of our blasphemy. I am overweight because I have failed to appreciate the holiness of eating. I have become less human because I have learned to be casual about something that is sacred because it is so closely bound up with what it means to be human.

Eat mindfully, and you will have no problem making time for spirituality, because the most spiritual things are also the most mundane, the very things we do all the time for survival. They are sacred precisely because they are done for survival. If we can stop being casual about sacred things–and stop being mindless about eating–then our lives can be saturated with spirituality. We can live closer tot he quick, closer to what it means to really be living.

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Back in April when I first started to come out as a Pagan, I mentioned that one of my goals was to figure out some good ways to celebrate the Wheel of the Year.  Although my emphasis is typically on the Hellenic gods, and my personal practice draws more from reconstructionism than anywhere else, I do not necessarily self-identify as a hard reconstructionist.  I’m suspicious about extensive New Age influence in Neopaganism, and I am cranky about eclecticism generally, at the same time I feel drawn to multiple strands of pagan worship and theology.  To make a long story short, I feel drawn to celebrate the eightfold Wheel of the Year (solstices, equinoxes, and cross-quarter days) despite the fact that as a whole it is a recent phenomenon.  As John Michael Greer is fond of pointing out, the validity of a spiritual practice comes from whether or not it works, not whether or not it is ancient.

One of my earliest specific pagan epiphanies was with the Wheel of the Year.  As a teen, I was immensely interested in mythology and pagan religion (ancient and neo-), but was often nervous about telling other people about it, so I did a lot of reading and research in secret.  One day I was sixteen or seventeen or so, I was looking at a calendar with the eight pagan holidays on it, and I was calmly and peacefully but intensely struck by the rightness of it.  It was particularly significant to me because that kind of spiritual reaction was the kind of thing I had always been raised to believe would be the Holy Ghost’s witness of the truth of Mormonism.  And there I was having it over a pagan calendar.  I called up my best friend John (maybe he’s reading this?), and told him about it.  It was really the beginning of my secret adolescent religious rebellion.

Anyway, since I have felt comfortable ebracing my Pagan identity, I have let three of the eight major holidays pass by without doing anything about them, because I don’t know what to do.  I don’t really have a group of fellow-believers to practice my religion with, so most of my spiritual expression winds up being in a personal or family context.  Luckily, my beautiful and sexy Christian wife is more than willing to be supportive and take part, but since it is my thing, I really have to take the lead.

I like holidays and festivities a lot, and that’s what I am looking for here.  Not rituals, but traditions, the things that make the day and the season feel festive and special: decorations, meals, traditions, things to think about.  The eightfold year is a cycle, so it lends itself well to that kind of thing, but it can be hard to find resources about it.  Most of what is available on the internet is either too generally stated to be useful, or it is presented in ritual form, which is definitely not what I am loking for.  While ultimately I do plan on engaging in seasonal religious ritual as part of my Wheel of the Year celebration, I really want to also lay a festive foundation for said ritual.  Maybe I’m going about it backwards, but this is the way it makes sense to me, and it is the best way to share with friends and family.  Over time, I expect my religious and ritual explorations would influence and affect the festive traditions.  But I want something to start with.

The other consideration I have is the similarities between some of the holidays on the pagan calendar and Christian and civic holidays.  Christmas is similar to Yule, Samhain matches Halloween, the Spring Equinox parallels Easter, etc.  For most pagans, this is not a problem: they give rpesents on Yule instead of christmas, and they decorate eggs and such on the Equinox instead of Easter (shoot, the Easter Bunny actually makes a lot more sense as a part of a pagan holiday than a Christian one).  But my family is interfaith, which means we’re celebrating both sets.  So I don’t want two Easters.  I want to figure out how to celebrate Easter and the Spring Equinox, etc., in a way that makes them both not only enjoyable but also sufficiently distinct.

I finally sat down about a week ago to start hammering all of this out.  I showed it to my wife, and she thought it all seemed interesting and fun, but she also pointed out that the problem for her was that it was not always clear what all of these traditions actually mean.  It’s a fair question, and one that I can’t easily answer.  This list is really something I have cobbled together from a lot of different sources, whatever sounded good to me, and from things I intuited on my own.  Unfortunately, my own personal theology is still in development, so it is not easy to weave my own meanings into these traditions.  That gets us back to the long view: as my spirituality develops, I imagine I (we) will tinker with these holidays and alter or replace traditions that do not make sense in my own pagan context, and emphasizing those that do.

So without further ado, here is my Official Wheel of the Year Resource.  Feel free to add your comments, suggestions, insights, questions, whatever.

Beltaine
Date:
May 1.
Description: A time to light bonfires and revel, to celebrate fertility and sexuality.
Traditions: Most importantly… hot sex. Possibly sex outside if practical. Hot sex and huge bonfires, lit on a hilltop (toss juniper sprigs in the fire, and leap through it for good luck)..
Holiday Food: Rabbit, Strawberries (strawberry pie or strawberry shortcake), Mead
Decorations: Flame, wildflowers, rowan crosses, may boughs hung over doors and windows.

Midsummer
Date:
June 21
Description: A second bonfire—bonfires on the water (the ashes bring good luck), and active holiday where the sun is at maximum power and energy is strongest.
Traditions: The veil between the otherworld (or the un/subconscious) and the waking world is thin, it is a good time for resolutions, and for putting plans into effect. Keep vigil through the shortest night, waiting for the rising sun. It is also a good time to gether fresh herbs.
Holiday Food: Lamb, fresh produce, lemon merangue pie.
Decorations: Wheels, sun symbols, St. John’s Wort.

Lughnasa
Date:
August 1.
Description: The first harvest festival, Lughnasa is a time for being outside, for celebrating the physical world with games and physical activity. It’s a time for dancing and bonfires, for blessing the fields. And it’s a good time for marriages.
Traditions: Bread is baked in the shape of a man and eaten to represent the Dying God (Cernunnos, Dionysus, Odin, Osiris, Jesus, Arthur, the Green Man).
Holiday Food: Bread, beer, watermelon, barbecue.
Decorations: The Green Man, a flaming wheel.

Autumn Equinox
Date: September 21
Description: The second harvest festival—the harvest of fruit—a time of thanksgiving and recollection, the in-gathering of experience.
Traditions: Make and burn a straw or wicker man, to represent the burning of the Harvest Lord.
Holiday Food: Corncakes, Nuts, Berries, Fruit Pies (not apple), Wine.
Decorations: Pinecones, acorns, gourds, gold, red, orange, and brown.

Samhain
Date:
November 1
Description: A night when the borders between the living and the dead are the thinnest, the last harvest. Time is abolished and the spirits of the dead walk free. A time for remembering those who have gone before. The time of year when livestock were slaughtered.
Traditions: Leave an extra place at the dinner table for dead ancestors. A perfect time for divination. The day after Samhain is a day forcleaning and getting rid of old things.
Holiday Food: Pork Roast, Apples, Apple Pie, Cider, Hazelnuts, Pumpkin Bread
Decorations: Leave a candle burning in a western window to guide the spirits of the dead.

Yule
Date: December 21
Description: The shortest day of the year, this is a time to celebrate the rebirth of the sun. It is a time of rebirth and stillness, a time to celebrate intuition. There is a lot of symbolism between intuition, the Pole Star, the Great Bear, and King Arthur.
Traditions: A Yule log is burned for ten days (Yuletide lasts from December 20 to December 31), and then the ashes are strewn on the plantings in the spring. The wood from the log is yept to light the yule log the next year. Give libations to the fruit trees.
Holiday Food: Baked goods in sun shapes, and mulled wine.
Decorations: Sun wheels, decorated trees, candles, wreaths of mistletoe, holly, and ivy.

Imbolc
Date: February 1
Description: The holiday of the lambing, or childbirth (it is no accident that Imbolc is exactly nine months after Beltaine…). It is a time for initiations, and purification. It is a good time for meditation.
Traditions: Write and read poetry. Share it, have a poetry competition.  Leave a white cloth out a window for the goddess to bless, and when the first light of the sun touches it, it gains healing properties throughout the year. Candlemaking.
Holiday Food: Milk, honey, dairy foods (a massive cheese smorgasbord).
Decorations: Hundreds of candles, and pools of water.

Spring Equinox
Date:
March 21
Description: A time to celebrate planting and prepare for the gifts of the summer, and to recognize the power and presence of spring. A time of emergence, fertility, and balance. A time that is sacred to Persephone, to celebrate her return from the Underworld and her reunion with her mother Demeter.
Traditions: Decorate eggs.
Holiday Food: Twisted bread, honey cakes, eggs, carrots.
Decorations: Flowers (honeysuckle, iris, peony, violet, lily, daffodil), in baskets or garlands.

FOLLOW-UP: I have put up a new post about trying to piece together the ritual and religious aspects of the Wheel of the Year, specifically from a Hellenic polytheist perspective.

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Our large apartment complex provides a limited number of garden plots during the summer to residents. We reserved one two summers ago, and the results were kind of sad. Most of our vegetables got pilfered–someone actually uprooted all of our broccoli–and a slug got to our radishes and ate them from the inside. Generally, we failed to maintain it enough, so it always had mad weeds.

Our total harvest when all was said and done was two inedibly hot radishes that survived the slug assault, and one nice red-yellow tomato that my one-year-old son threw on the concrete and smashed. I picked it up and ate it anyways, because I wasn’t going to have my whole harvest wasted. It was delicious. But it was also really sad.

Last summer we lived in New York City while I did an internship at a law firm, but this summer we will be staying in Maryland while I study for and take the bar exam. We won’t be moving to Chicago (where I have been hired by a law firm) until December–the bad economy is forcing a lot of law firms to defer start dates for first year associates–so we’ll be around. And I am thinking about gardening again.

As great as it would be to grow some vegetables and give it another try, I think that won’t really be prudent. I have no desire to work even harder only to have my harvest stolen. I have given some thoughts to growing an herb garden, though. I really like cooking with fresh herbs (it doesn’t help that all of ours are a bajillion years old and probably have long lost all of their savor), but buying fresh herbs is expensive, wasteful, and a pain in the ass. So a kitchen garden has a lot of appeal. Maybe since my bar class is in the afternoon, we can make a morning routine of taking the kids out to tend the patch.

There’s no real reason we couldn’t grow herbs inside. We get plenty of sun through our window. But historically that has not turned out really well. We forget to water them, and they die. and they come with aphids and stuff, and look all icky, and they are no fun to use.

I realize that my dream of being a farmer is probably a long way off if I can’t manage to keep herbs alive in my living room. Small steps for Kullervo.

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