Earth-centered Celebration

Earth-centered celebration comes in a whole variety of flavors. Traditionally, earth-centered celebration is about the land and the seasons, but it is also about birth, death and sexual energy.

The main events form the wheel of the year, beginning and ending with Samhain, when the Earth begins to go dark and when the goddess goes underground; it turns full circle through the waxing light of Spring to the Summer Solstice, then through the waning light until Yul, when the spark of fire is rekindled, when the sun begins to return.

At High Valley we used to do all eight events a year. We call it The Wheel of the Year. Now we do just four of the main earth-centered celebrations: the cross-quarter events. Sometimes others sponsor a solar celebration like a Solstice, or an Equinox at High Valley, as well.

We tend to view celebration as a cycle, which is typified by seeing Samhain as both the ending and the beginning. It is celebrates the end of the year, the death of the god into the harvest, but also its dark beginning. After Samhain the goddess awaits the birth of the god of the coming year. Samhain coincides, too, with the Persephone story, in which the daughter-goddess goes down to the Underworld until her re-emergence in the Spring.

We used to celebrate Yul, or the Winter Solstice, the longest night, the shortest day, but it became too crazed, especially since it is a hectic time for too many people with the celebration of Christmas, the return of family members and the insistence on piling up gifts. When we did hold Yul, we celebrated the darkness, and the hope of returning light. It is also supposed to mark the birth of the god of the coming year.

The first High Valley earth-centered celebration of the New Year is in the first cross-quarter after Yul; we call it Brigid. Some also call it Imbolc and in the Christian calendar it is known as Candlemas. The celebration honors the returning, waxing light. In many northern countries it has been "Christianized" as Candlemas, which supposedly commemorates the 40 days after Jesus's birth, when he was presented at the Temple, and when Mary was purified. Candlemas is just another example of the Church taking over a festival in order to control its unruly, backsliding worshippers.

After all, Jesus was probably not born on December 25th, the main celebration of his nearest competitor, the god Mithra. Most of Jesus's birth story was written to retrofit him with the lineage of King David, but taxes were apparently not collected by the Romans on that date and year, so the whole trip to Bethlehem is probably apocryphal. However, it does insert him into the rising and dying god story.

At High Valley we decorate Brigid and sometimes we have promenaded her into our inner chamber, where she stands for the rest of the year. She is then surrounded by candles, symbolic of the strengthening light and warmth. Traditionally, Brigid was the beginning of Spring in Celtic lands, when the ewes began to lactate, preparing to lamb, but at High Valley, February 2nd, the traditional date, is still deep in winter--often deep in snow, as well. But the light certainly does seem stronger.

Ostara is earth-centered celebration of the Spring Equinox: March 20th-22, when day and night are equal. It is roughly akin to Easter, which may have borrowed some elements from it, like Easter eggs (hens began laying around Ostara, before chicken farms kept the lights on all year round). We haven't celebrated Ostara at High Valley for some time, but when we did, we celebrated the balance of light and dark, wore white and black, and, balanced eggs on their ends.

Our next big earth-centered celebration is Beltane. Brigid, Beltane, Lughnasad and Samhain are all cross-quarter days, that is, they are halfway between a Solstice and an Equinox: Beltane is halfway between the Spring Equinox, or Ostara, and the summer Solstice, or Litha. It is the Spring festival, the earth-centered celebration of the god's new strength and his coupling with the goddess, and it is the most obviously sexual festival of all; it is when the goddess first mates with this year's god, a rite of fertility. For more on Beltane click here. The next earth-centered celebration is Litha, the longest day, the shortest night. We haven't celebrated Litha recently at High Valley, not because it's not important, but because many people are already away on vacation by June 21'st or 22nd. It is when the god and goddess are at their greatest powers, when the goddess is pregnant and when summer is finally here. But it also marks the beginning of the waning light, since, after all, the year is a cycle; it can't continue to wax forever. On the summer solstice the sun begins to wane. The next day is shorter, the night longer, and so on.

I remember being told about the earth-centered celebration by the Incas of their winter Solstice (our summer Solstice). The guide at Macchu Picchu showed us the Intihuana stone, a single block out of which a pillar had been carved from a huge solid base. Priests bound the sun, symbolized by a large solid gold disk, to the upright pillar on that day, to prevent it from escaping, from the days getting even shorter, from the world going cold. It's pretty cold high in the Andes.

Our next earth-centered celebration is Lughnasad, variously described as the festival of first fruits, and of the god Lugh. It takes place around the first of August, and it honors the first grain, the beginning of the harvest that will carry us through the dark part of the year. The harvest is also symbolic of the coming sacrifice made by the King, Lugh, to ensure that the community lives through the coming dark times. His own sacrifice does not come, however, until Samhain. In fact, traditionally, at Lughnasad, King Lugh hosted the funeral games of his mother. It is a time of abundance, but with the lengthening shadows, the shorter days, it was the time to store the surplus for the difficult times those shadows foretold.

At High Valley, we decorate the altar with fruits and vegetables from our gardens, and with bread we've baked that day, bread baked in symbolic shapes, made by all of us. The climax often takes place at the heart of the Labyrinth, where we each take a token piece of bread to eat, to dedicate and to share with the bonfire later on. Lughnasad is when we also often end up in the lake, late at night, having left our clothes onshore.

Mabon is the Autumnal Equinox, when light again balances dark, but on the other end from Ostara; the next day is shorter still. Mabon has been celebrated as the second harvest festival, as the conquest of Lugh, the Sun King, by Tanist, the Dark Lord, who will rule the Earth through the winter, but mythologies differ; for me, Lugh isn't sacrificed until Samhain. In any case, Mabon is a time to take stock, to harvest, to celebrate the abundance past, and to prepare for the dark time to come.

To put this in historical context: we should remember that until the exploitation of the Americas, famines were common occurrences even in Europe, and in fact there were famines in Northern Europe as late as the late 19th century.

At High Valley, Mabon was celebrated by friends of the Dreaming Goddess recently, but has not been held as a High Valley event for several years.

Finally there is the earth-centered celebration of Samhain, the ending and beginning. In Celtic lore, no harvest was permitted after Samhain; any crops still in the fields were to be left for the "Fomorians," (variously the little people or the people of the underworld, not humans), so Samhain is the final harvest festival, and also the coming of the dark times, the time when you depend upon your own resources--we've brought in the harvest and stored it, after all. In fact, with rising fuel prices, we'll make more of an attempt to can, to dry and to freeze the surpluses we've harvested in the summer months.

At Samhain, we scry into the darkness, or into bowls of water, to discern what awaits us in the coming year, what threats, what promises. We mourn the passing of the god, and await his rebirth. For more on Samhain, click here.

There are other earth-centered celebrations besides the wheel of the year , which is largely solar based. Instead of Sunday services, some hold moon Sabbats, usually at the full moon. This is the time for "drawing down the Moon," usually by using an Athame to catch the moon's light, which is drawn into a cauldron--symbolic, of course, of sexual union.

Given travel distances, work schedules based on seven day weeks, Saturdays and Sundays off, it proved difficult for us to practice Sabbats on full moon nights, but Moon energy can't be trifled with; a few days before or after the full moon is just not the same. It would be easier if everyone lived close by and worked on the land, but our whole society is divorced from both land and the heavens. We have sometimes held dark moon sabbats, instead, when we scry into the well, or a cauldron, but these have been small group events, not events for High Valley as a whole.

People in our community have held hand-fastings, but usually at peoples' houses. In any case, while weddings have been held at High Valley, we have no indoor spaces large enough for the typical wedding; the celebrants have to rent a large tent. the same is true for the blessings of children; these are usually the occasions for family celebrations, not the High Valley community as a whole.

For more on any of these, follow the links above.