Month: July 2011

The Feast of Age

This past weekend, White Cat celebrated the Feast of Age, one of the two floating festivals peculiar to the Henge of Keltria. We generally schedule the Feast of Age, which celebrates the immortality of the Gods and the longevity of humankind, in July — an apt month for parties. The Feast of Remembrance, which is more melancholy, is set — at least by us — in November, when mourning seems to waft in with the fallen leaves and falling snow.

We do both feasts as proper rituals, in that we honor the three Kindreds and the Gods of the occasion, as well as make offerings. For the Feast of Age, the deities du jour are Manannan, whose undying pigs provide the food, and Goibhniu the Smith, who is also a brewer on the side. The main ritual is the feast itself — and we can’t stop eating, drinking, making conversation and partying until the omens tell us to.

This may seem an odd “sacrifice” to make, until you consider the meaning of the term is “to make sacred.” It’s the one time of the year I actually cook meat — that’s usually outsourced to my husband — and it is a sacrifice in the old sense, since it goes against my deepest inclinations. I prepare the feast with thought, love and care, and we partake of it in the same way. Our shared conversations are also meant for our spiritual guests to enjoy, along with the beer, food and music. Mindfulness makes feasting sacred.

The act of feasting can be seen as inherently sacred because it is set aside, sometimes for the God(s) but more often for the community. You honor your fellow beings, whether physical or not, through the medium of time, attention and care, all elements of putting together a decent party. It’s fun, yes (and who says religion can’t be fun?), but a little tiring, too — especially for folks like me more accustomed to solitary activities and more mystical expressions of faith, such as journey work.

As usual, the first set of omens told us to suck it up and keep partying. Eventually, the Kindreds thanked us for the show and let us take our leave. Or they took theirs, whichever came first.

May you always have joy and health.

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Poised

I’m poised to head to the Henge of Keltria’s annual meeting, this time in Minnesota. Naturally, it’s an exciting time — and also an anxious one.

Truth be told, the only Henge members I’ve met in person are those who have practiced with White Cat and have chosen to join.  I’ve never quizzed anyone on this matter, either. While I naturally think that the Henge is comprised of a great bunch of folks and has a lot to offer, I also understand that even a modest membership fee can be a true hardship in these lean times.

It’s an interesting commentary that one meets more fellow co-religionists over the web than in the flesh. To a certain extent, that’s a consequence of being involved in a Pagan path other than Wicca. Druids — particularly those who would like to practice with others — just aren’t as common as Wiccans. You can add those who follow other non-eclectic paths in the same category: Kemetics, Hellenists, Roman religionists, Asatruar, etc.

Not that there is anything wrong with Wiccans, mind you. A non-Pagan probably couldn’t tell the difference between one path and another, truth be told; divisions are most important to the groups in question. The average Hindu probably couldn’t tell you the difference between Catholics, Baptists and Methodists, although he or she could recite divisions in his or her own faith system.

And so, the Internet can be a saving grace for smaller faiths, or practitioners in areas with few group worship options. Ideally, though, it shouldn’t substitute for living and breathing community. Words on a screen cannot show us the depth of another’s humanity, the quirks of character that make each of us who we are. They can comfort with distance, but not the intensity of a warm pair of arms. They can discourse, but not with the nuance and passion coloring the voice through the medium of one’s vocal chords.

And so. Off to HoK!

Don’t think, just do

Bathophobia, that’s the word: fear of falling from a high place. Or climacophobia, fear of falling down stairs. I’ve been chained by my phobia since the age of 5, when I ended up doing somersaults down the stairs after trying to pluck a stray sock from a step below my perch.

End result: I blanch when forced to go down stairs sans railings, grabbing walls or — failing that — strangers’ shirts. I gibber at the prospect of using a log or stones to cross a stream. Or I used to.

I respect fear. It has a purpose: to keep you from harm. It’s healthy to fear standing on the edge of one’s roof, or to swim on a beach sans other humans, or to encounter large, wild creatures. Fear isn’t some New Age pseudo-monster overcome by the sword of positive thinking; it keeps you on your toes, and therefore alive.

But it can fence you in. While I respect fear, I also respect courage and challenge. And so, afraid as I am of falling, I spent the bulk of my trip to the Adirondacks climbing mountains, including two high peaks. Unlike other hikers with heavy boots, sundry gear and knapsacks, we wore only shorts and Teva sandals.

I breathed silent blessings to the mountain spirits as I clambered, but mostly, I let silence be my mantra. Falling in the mud isn’t the end of the world, my mind whispered as I clambered across the logs and stepping stones — and, yes, later fell into the mud. Don’t think, just do. Let your body follow its inborn wisdom, I hummed to myself as I scambled up boulders.

The most difficult part came when I clambering up a bare rock face to the summit of Cascade, after a good 10 minutes of believing that I couldn’t. Don’t think, just do. And I did. For my reward, I was treated on the various summits with a panoply of mountaintops and forest, with lakes and towns nestling in the Mountain Mother’s folds. I dipped by hand in a summit pool on the rock and traced the awen on my forehead, asking the Mountain Mother — Cailleach in my tradition — for her blessing.

I respect fear, and the mind that seeks to keep its corporeal partner safe. But there’s a beauty in overcoming it and letting the body practice its own wild wisdom. It’s not a special victory — thousands of people scale those mountains every day, young and old. The lesson is an everyday one, but no less valuable for it.