Holy Days, Commitment, and the Center of the Universe


Celebrating the Wheel of the Year, the cycle of eight seasonal holidays spread about every six weeks over the course of a modern calendar year, has become contentious in certain pockets of the Pagan community.  Many are bothered by its fabrication, its lack of true authenticity (whatever that means). Some are troubled by the specifics — the progression of these holidays matches up best with the rhythms expressed in Celtic mythology, except on the solstices and equinoxes, when it matches up best with Germanic mythology, and it matches up with some other Indo-European mythologies not at all.  But I think a very real problem for many modern Pagans, straddling the two worlds of modern Pagan belief and Western culture, is commitment.

We’ve heard stories about this before.  Committing to celebrating all eight of these holidays on their proper dates often means exposing yourself to friends and family, asking employers to make accommodations they unthinkingly extend to Judeo-Christian co-workers, and dodging the secular-ish permutations of these holidays in our wider culture.  Then are the constant battles over authenticity — which parts of these secular celebrations are really pagan-customs-in-disguise?  which parts are leftover from medieval Christian saints’ days?  which parts are modern inventions?  does any of that matter, really, when we find the customs spiritually nourishing and enjoyable?

Many Pagans and Witches think this calendar gives them a terrific excuse to throw a big party every six weeks (I support you!), while others insist on solemn celebrations and lengthy rituals (I’m a recovering Catholic, I can’t help myself).  Each denomination, group, kin, grove, coven, family, and individual may have a different interpretation of what each holiday really means, on which story from myth and legend is most appropriate, of which observations and customs are most important.  Some groups try the end run around these disagreements by celebrating each holiday in a new way, drawing on different mythologies or cultural customs to build a ritual that they hope will appeal to everyone — often at the expense of building a rich tradition for themselves and their wider network of co-celebrants.

One of the requirements for the Dedicant’s Path in ADF is to celebrate each of these seasonal holidays over the course of one twelve-month period, and report back on your experience.  This strict guideline is softened by allowances for public celebration or solitary ritual, by following the ADF Core Order of Ritual or choosing to celebrate in a more familiar format.  For me, the most difficult part of meeting this requirement is commitment.  I travel, I work (often in jobs that can’t or won’t make allowances), my living situation is sometimes in flux, I am prey to the whims of the Army’s schedule — all of these things get in the way of keeping this commitment to my gods and myself.

But as I work at keeping this commitment, as I practice commitment to my Work and this seasonal cycle, I realize that I am centering myself in time and space.  I am at the center of the ongoing cyclical spiral of the Wheel, where time ebbs and flows according to the great song of the world, the stories we have told since the beginning of memory, where space is defined not by our walls and doorways but by the beating pulse of the earth.  Between these celebrations, I slip and slide out of sync with the cycle, concentrating in my daily practice on centering within myself and within my home, until the next ritual, the next holy day brings me back into alignment with the universe.

As I have gone through the holidays this year (I’ll be finished with the official ADF observation on Imbolc), I have carefully researched each one (in a way only a librarian-in-training can), made copious notes, crafted and shaped a ritual, and solemnly performed it, alone.  The world turns about me, time spirals out from the center where I stand, a lone druid, speaking and singing into the silent night.  I work in what ADF refers to as dual hearths, a mixture of paradigms, balancing between Gaelic and Germanic mythologies, so I am able to celebrate each festival in the culture that has historically observed it.  But the story that is woven by this cycle transcends those differences in my practice, unites the two hearths, pushes my Work into alignment with my heart.

Each time I research a festival, each time I write out a carefully-crafted ritual and fold it into my notebook, I have placed a building block in the foundation of my own tradition, one I hope to share with my friends and family, when we’re all ready to come together in that sacred place.  I continue the cyclical flow of sacred time when I leaf through the book, looking for the ritual I use to celebrate a certain festival, a certain time, the new buds rising in spring or the leaves falling down in autumn.  I have committed to this work, to the tradition I have begun, now in its infancy, and I will carry that commitment forward through the years, though time flows ever outward in its spiral and I may be far away from this place where I currently stand.

What is most authentic?  Which is most right?  It simply doesn’t matter.  Answer the question for yourself, for your family, and dance out with the flow of time and space.  Stand in the center, at the appointed time, not only of your personal sacred space but of the universe, moving in sync, singing and praying.  Forget what the neighbors are doing, what other groves or kins or covens do, the words they use to praise their gods.  Build your own tradition, write your own words, sing and pray in your time.  Leave out the spokes that don’t resonate with you, add in a few that mark special tides, choose to forego the ritual and celebrate each festival with a simple feast and a walk in the park.

Whatever it is, commit to it, without fear.  Make a simple promise, and do your best to keep it.  All of it is sacred, space and time, the center of the universe coming again into alignment.  Enter ritual time, ritual space, and harmonize with the song of the world.  All of it is joined, in the center of the Wheel.

Mallory Jordan was shaped when she was small by the clay of the creekbed behind her house, by the sloping hills and reaching trees of the forest that housed it, and by the violence of growing up quicker than a sapling. A practicing pagan who isn’t sure where she fits into the nomenclature, she writes, and poets, and philosophizes, and relishes the time she spends making beautiful things appear with her hands. When she gets the chance to peel away from noise and flashing lights and the spider’s web, she dashes off into the woods with the immediate aim of getting lost, finding a creek, and watching the stars. You can find her blogging somewhat intermittently at Courageous Devotion, and tweeting occasionally at @emjayecks.

Photo Credit: (CC) Simona (source)

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