A polytheist and the Wheel of the Year

imbolcflowersImbolc has seized my attention. It always does. It’s particularly easy for me to feel the shift from the energy of the winter solstice to the energy of this cross-quarter point. It comes to me as renewed creativity, ideas for stories and poems, energy to carry them out. It manifests as lessened depression, greater physical energy, a desire to open the windows even if it’s cold, to get out of the house while the sun is shining.

I say “Imbolc”, but I don’t follow a Celtic path. (I should have known Celtic options weren’t for me when I failed to make any kind of connection with Brigid.) It’s just that most people know the February cross-quarter day by that name. I could also call it the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as older Christian calendars did, or the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, as it’s generally known now. Both of those titles derive from the story in the Gospel of Luke that Mary and Joseph fulfilled the Law of Moses by presenting the infant Jesus in the Temple and sacrificing two pigeons or doves to restore his mother to ritual purity for religious and social functions.

Colloquially, it was known as Candlemas from the Middle Ages onward. Churches blessed the candles that would be used in the liturgy and in people’s homes during the coming year, associating their light with the hymn from the story of the Presentation: “To be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel”. If your parish is sufficiently high church, it’s one of those lovely occasions when everyone present gets a lighted candle and the whole church is illuminated with their glow.

When I finally figured out that I was a polytheist committed to a particular set of gods, I tried to ignore the neopagan Wheel of the Year. There were plenty of Greek, Egyptian, and Roman holy days associated with Antinous, along with days specific to his life and cultus. But however much I tried to ignore it, the Wheel is just… there. As I’ve said before, while the Wheel of the Year is a syncretic, 20th-century invention, it corresponds to real events in astronomy, astrology, weather patterns, and local seasons, and to a plethora of historical festivals. While no culture anywhere ever celebrated the Wheel, a lot of different cultures celebrated a lot of different feasts that happened to coincide with those eight dates.

In Antinoan cultus, we observe the Stella Antinoi on January 29th. The god’s defeat of the restrictive archons of the underworld culminates in his ascent to the heavens as Navigator of the celestial Boat of Millions of Years. We commemorate the appearance of a new star in the constellation of the Eagle shortly after his death, a confirmation of his divinity. Antinoan devotees frequently observe Lupercalia, the Roman festival of purification and fertility in the middle of February.

fireandiceFor me this season is about fire and ice: Bright sun shining on patches of ice on the sidewalk. Shoots of grass and crocus flower pushing up from the dirt on bitterly cold days. Biting winds and the mourning doves begin to call again, the house sparrows beginning to do their absurd little mating dances. Something changes in the sky, and something in the earth shifts to meet it; the serpent in the earth rises up to meet the bird descending from on high.


A commentary on the season

“Io Saturnalia,” a reflection on the festival from astrological, historical, and magical angles.

True confessions, autumn edition

As an Episcopalian, I sometimes felt guilty that I was High Church and secretly attracted to a lot of things about Roman Catholicism. Papal authority, however, wasn’t one of those things, so I stayed in the Episcopal Church.

As a druid, I always felt guilty that I wasn’t attracted to Brigid. I had no devotion to this goddess that everyone in druidry seemed to love. Imbolc was All About Brigid for most people, and that just didn’t work for me. I have since learned that you cannot force devotion; it either comes or it doesn’t, and sometimes all attempts to cultivate it will fail.

As a pagan generally, I always feel guilty around this time of year because, well, because I’m not crazy about Halloween.


I love autumn. I love cooler weather, leaves falling, wearing my tweed cape, hot chai latte, pumpkins and other gourdage. And I don’t hate Halloween. I don’t have any objections to it on a religious basis. I adore The Nightmare Before Christmas. I have watched It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown religiously for as long as I can remember. (I think I like it even better than A Charlie Brown Christmas.)

I just seem to be missing a certain appreciation for The Spooky, for that whole complex of skeletons, bats, black cats, tombstones, cobwebs, dressing up. Once or twice a year, I can watch a horror movie and be really, genuinely frightened. The Blair Witch Project did a number on me because it was filmed in my neck of the woods (haha); for about two weeks after I saw it, I was scared of the city trees in their little wells of dirt, because they were the same trees I saw in the movie. Quarantine was utterly terrifying. If you have a chance, rent The Tingler from Netflix. Vincent Price will make you laugh and scream simultaneously. I may bring myself to see Crimson Peak in the cinema in a few weeks, because Tom Hiddleston.

Maybe there’s a gap in my psyche where the spooky ought to be, between cute or funny and outright frightening. Bats are cute. No, really, go look at pictures on Tumblr, they are. They’re fuzzy wee mammals who mostly eat fruit or bugs and sometimes nectar. Cemeteries are quiet boring places where you go with your grandmother to lay flowers. I’ve been in a number of places that were said to be haunted, but I’ve never encountered a ghost. As for costuming, I usually say on Halloween that I’m dressed as a normal person. Very few people seem to get the joke.

(One of these days, I’m going to dress up as a cockatiel, to amuse my bird.)

So, there it is. I’m a bad pagan, I guess, because I don’t care for Halloween. But that’s okay. You all enjoy yourselves. I’m waiting for Yule.

Some signs that Lughnasad is, indeed, the beginning of fall

  • Leaves are beginning to turn brown and fall.
  • Birds’ feathers are falling, too: Many birds moult in fall, after the summer breeding season.
  • I am craving hot tea again. I recommend Upton Tea for those who like a loose-leaf brew.
  • Something in the air feels different.
  • My acupuncturist says it’s fall.
  • If students in the U.S. are going Back to School, it must be fall.

Lughnasad.. and the livin’ is easy

I celebrated Lughnasad last night with more attention than I’ve paid to a holy day in months. The neglect of holy days wasn’t for theological reasons, but personal ones. I made an effort last night to clear off and wipe clean my table, prepare some food, and make offerings with prayers. I mainly wanted to honor the Gaulish deities Lugus and Rosmerta, but also to make some offerings to all the powers I honor because they’d gotten scant worship from me for a while. I bought some oatmeal stout to stand for the grain harvest, which I split with the deities, and cooked a meal that was seasonally appropriate if not exactly haute cuisine: Oscar Meyer franks with cheese, canned beans, and two ears of fresh corn. At least the corn had to be cooked, and it *is* the chief grain of the Americas.

Every so often I hear that someone has been bashing the Neopagan Wheel of the Year, and I feel my Moon in Libra devil’s advocate impulses rise up to defend it. I think the Wheel works as a basic festival calendar for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with what’s happening in English farming communities or what myths you attach to the festivals.

First of all, the eight holy days correspond to astronomical/astrological events. Half of them are occupied by the solstices and equinoxes, of course, and the other half can be located at the halfway points between those solar events, which is located at fifteen degrees of the fixed signs in classic Western astrology.

Second, they correspond to climatic changes. Imbolc may not look like the beginning of spring in your area, but something happens then. Here in the Mid-Atlantic region, we sometimes have flowers at Imbolc, snowdrop and crocus, but even if we’re knee-deep in snow, the change in light signals the local birds to think about pairing off for the breeding season. (In other words, Chaucer was right: Birds do choose their mates on Valentine’s Day.)

Third, each one is at the center of a cluster of festivals from all across Europe and around the world. In the Ekklesia Antinoou, we observe the spring equinox as the apotheosis of Diva Sabina, the wife of Hadrian. At the summer solstice, we celebrate the syncretism of Antinous with Apollon. The Mysteries at Eleusis, in which both Hadrian and Antinous were initiated, falls near the autumnal equinox, and the Saturnalia at the winter solstice.

Every six weeks or so, the Wheel of the Year gives us a chance to tune in to the world around us and to take a break to celebrate and reflect. Whether or not you have a particular mythic cycle to commemorate, you might find something in your life, your world, that’s worth your attention at those eight times. And you’re not obliged to limit yourself to those occasions, either. As a worshipper of Antinous and (mostly) of the gods of Rome, I have a large number of other festivals I can observe throughout the year, some based on history, some dedicated to particular deities, some celebrations of agricultural life in ancient Italy. I don’t give equal attention to everything, but it makes a nice change from watching tv.

Why would anyone complain about a reason to celebrate?

A poem for the season: The Spear Moon

Green is every bough
that is not brown with the
heat: The Sun is
a long-armed man
throwing a spear that roars
for blood, my blood, my sweat.
Heat prickles. Skin sticks.
In the spear moon, the air
is full of burning; the
forests are burning,
the flesh is burning,
the soil is burning,
burning up the black
blood of the earth,
burning up the
spirit in a rage
at injustice, fire
misplaced, it’s all
gone to hell–
the spear that wounds
may heal
if it does not
in the spear moon
in the burning.

A Prayer to Pancrates on Independence Day

O Pancrates, All-Power,
offspring of All-Soul, All-Body, All-Love,
on this fourth of July, our day of Independence,
I call on you to protect us.
Protect us from all forms of tyranny,
in our government as much as from other governments,
in our own hearts and minds as much as outside us.
Protect us from the delusion
that political independence means isolation
from the sorrows and the joys
of the world beyond our borders.
Protect us from the folly of misusing our power,
political or personal, financial or spiritual.
With your family, Pancrates, bless us
with the knowledge that our strength
lies in our diversity, for we are one
out of many, many who agree to be
dependent on one another.
Pancrates, mighty deity, this is my prayer
for my nation on this day.