Szentiván-éj in the Nicolet Forest

Monday marked the longest day of the year in Chicago, and this year it is especially gorgeous with the full moon occurring alongside it. Last time we had such an astronomical occurrence was 70 years ago, literally a once in a lifetime event.

And I spent it recuperating and baking.

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Wild strawberries for the Strawberry Moon

You see, elaborate rituals are not my forte, and the past weekend was my actual celebration outdoors with observing the dance of the Sun and Moon in the sky, even if those days were not precisely the solstice. I had a wonderful last-minute opportunity to join friends from grad school at the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest of Northern Wisconsin for a bird survey, a 30-year-old event that occurred every June. This year it happened to occur right by the solstice instead of early June, and I adapted my planned celebration to take advantage of the trip (I’m an ecologist by trade but birding is more of a hobby).

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The question is, are we the dorks or are the birds?

Saturday I woke at 3am to the serene quiet of a forest under a bright, nearly full moon (the sliver that was left to go was indiscernible). We were a group of roughly 30 people staying in small, lodge-like headquarters in a nature center and not a single sound of human civilization could be heard beyond ourselves. We quietly and quickly got ready and ate breakfast, embarking on a 45 minute trip to our designated sites scattered around the Eagle River-Florence forest sections. We had roughly 100 sq miles to ourselves for both days.

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Around 4:30 am we reached our first site, my favorite one, and immediately a wave of peace washed over me. I had not been well lately, poor sleeping patterns and all, and the night before was no exception. But all of a sudden I felt the healthiest I had been in a while, and nothing was bothering me. My head was clear and my body was pain-free. The bog was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen, and pictures could not do it justice. The other sites were the same way, each one filling me with awe at their beauty and unique energies that you just can’t get at a local park or a backyard.

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The bog on “Grandma’s Lake”

We started the bird call survey (otherwise known as point counts) before the sun rose, so we were able to watch her rise and spread her warmth to the land as we worked. The bird calls increased in strength and frequency during those early hours, as if to also celebrate her return. The sky was clear and the temperatures were perfect for my cold-loving self.

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I basked in her warmth as the morning went on, but soon the birds died down and I too felt exhaustion come over me as she rose high in the sky for her noon debut. The survey was complete for the day and I went inside the lodge for a much-needed nap. I woke again at 5:30pm and joined the others for dinner and a bit of socializing. I caught up with friends I hadn’t seen for a couple of years and met new folks with a similar love for nature and nerd jokes. It was nice to be among a group that I could relax and participate in conversations with.

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Iris versicolor (Northern Blue Flag)

At about 8:30pm we gathered in a conference room to exchange our experiences for the day and discuss the results of almost 30 years of survey work, available for free by the US Forest Service. During the presentation of the data I was reminded of why I do this work, and why it is necessary. We are dependent upon the land for our lives, not just our livelihoods, and for the past several hundred years we have done nothing but exploit and poison it. The landwihts have been ignored and downright disrespected, their homes destroyed and taken over by us. My work as an ecologist and as a heathen is to help restore right relationships between humans, the land, and the wihts, to recover what I can of what was lost.

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During the meeting it was shown that bird populations had improved for most birds over those 30 years, likely due to more sensitive logging practices implemented a few years beforehand that left more habitat alone to provide maturing trees for the species that required them. It suggests that a balance between the industry and the forest was able to occur, a balance which is sorely needed in most other places. I too was in need of balance, and what better time to start restoring it than during the solstice?

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After the meeting I went down to the river dock to watch the sun set and contemplate the weekend’s many gifts. A fire burned nearby, a light breeze wafting the spicy scent of burning wood by me. Dragonflies hummed over the water and the calls of the birds we surveyed earlier were dying down again as they settled in for the night. Soon I could see a full moon rise over the tree tops, illuminating the forest below it with her dim light. I knew I wasn’t going to fall asleep in time before Sunday’s 3am start so I just stayed awake and experienced the night. A raccoon joined me, scouring the center field for insects and worms to munch on.

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Where the conference magic happens

The fieldwork on Sunday was just as fantastic to experience as Saturday despite my lack of sleep, and went by much quicker too as the sites were closer to each other. Csodaszarvas carried the sun beautifully through the sky and I gave brief praise to Her and Napkirály. Then it was time to end the survey for the year and drive back home.

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Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus)

Due to the large amount of physical strain and sleep debt I had to spend the actual solstice recovering from the weekend and avoiding most work. I’m not able to quickly bounce back from a trip like that anymore, and part of restoring balance to oneself is allowing time for rest. I am grateful that I am able to rest without losing pay or other negative consequences. All I had to do was clean the kitchen to bake apple muffins, the closest I’m going to get to making a bonfire and throwing apples into it.

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yes, they were delicious

I am enjoying my newfound adherence to the holidays, and I’m finally starting to understand how important they can be in structuring one’s life and bringing us closer to the land. Next year I can watch the sun rise over Lake Michigan, which I had originally planned to do today, and then watch it set to complete the day. Maybe make an actual fire from the bones of my enemies and throw some apples into it. Now the real question is, Macintosh or Red Delicious?

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Orlando

Cloth has historically been an important vessel of magic and symbolism in both Pagan and Christian times, and that still holds true today. My scarves are a source of power and an act of rebellion against mainstream society, and I will be using them to honor the queer victims of the Orlando Pulse massacre.

The Mantled Fox

When I first heard about the Orlando massacre I didn’t have an emotional response. The numbers weren’t revealed yet, and the only information I knew was that it was a shooting at a nightclub. Another one. It’ll get a few moments on the 10 o’ clock news and people will simply not care like they always do.

Then I discovered that it was at a gay nightclub and the shooter was a homophobe. People on facebook and twitter commented on how incomprehensible the violence was. Incomprehensible? When it happens all the time in this culture of violence? How privileged and isolated you must be to think this is incomprehensible. Exasperation and cynicism began to bubble up in me.

Not even 24 hours passed when articles everywhere began discussing how the shooter was an ISIS supporter, acting on behalf of the terrorist organization. Suddenly it turned into a terrorist attack on…

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Update on “The Mantled Fox”

If you don’t remember a while back last year I created a headcovering blog to join the few pagan headcovering blogs out there, but I haven’t actually put it to good use due to suddenly getting cold feet about having my face be exposed to the public internet. I detail this in an update post on the blog but long story short I’m getting over that fear and will finally be using the blog for its intended purpose. I also updated the look of the site, let me know how you like it!

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Crowning the Queen of May

Bring flowers of the fairest,
Bring flowers of the rarest,
From garden and woodland
And hillside and vale;

Every mid-to-late May at my Catholic school we would host a mass run by the students called the May Crowning, where Mary, Queen of Heaven was crowned with flowers donated by parishioners and carried up to the altar by us. Given that my birthday was also in May (my favorite month) and Mary was already an important figure in my life it was one of the only masses that I actually cared about and paid attention to (the other was Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve). I was eager to be one of the students specially selected to carry the flower offerings to her statue and hold the candles to her honor. Some years I was lucky enough to do just that, other years I would look on in mild envy as I tried to praise her in song instead. Normally, due to my hearing impairment affecting my speech, I was discouraged from speaking at mass or singing, but during that mass I didn’t care if anyone heard me. I worked hard to memorize the songs for the mass and damn it I’m was gonna sing. I can still recite “Bring Flowers of the Rarest” by heart.

The Marian cult remains a constant, albeit a background, holdover from my Catholic childhood, a reminder of the few good things from the Church that I experienced. God was this abstract, formless being that was referred to, and used, as a hyper-masculine entity, but Mary was real. She had a form, she was once human like us, had to be strong in the face of her son’s torture and death, and then she became the eternal Queen of all of freaking HEAVEN. You don’t hear about Jesus being the King of Heaven nearly as much; King of Jews maybe, but not King of Heaven. In addition, she’s been named in various incarnations as the Queen of several countries, the supreme spiritual being of the entire nation for all its inhabitants, with no Kingly counterpart. Yet, for all her power she was still accessible and could relate to humans, constantly appearing to us and giving us tools to connect to her. She was real, God wasn’t.

Our full hearts are swelling,
Our Glad voices telling
The praise of the loveliest
Rose of the vale.

At least, that’s how it felt for me. Many people use her as an example of being a meek, quietly devoted mother and wife, something all women should aspire to be, and I don’t blame people for being uncomfortable with Mary as a result. The Church is inherently anti-feminist, so naturally their depiction of Mary follows suit. But for all the attempts by the Church to keep her in a generic box and control her image she just couldn’t be contained. Her cult developed in hundreds of different manifestations, absorbing remnants of pagan cults and deities, and she become the most popular saint in the world. The Church tries to regulate them all but like anything else they’re never fully successful. The May Crowning event is one such manifestation, born out of (presumably) Italian folk customs some 2-3 centuries ago that had since been recognized and spread to some Catholic regions, including some parishes in North America. It used to refer to the Crowning of Mary feast day, which occurred on May 31, but in 1954 that was changed to August 22 and the May Crowning tradition became a separate semi-official event. Nowadays the May Crowning can occur anytime during May, and the entire month is dedicated to her as well.

Queen Mary, in her incarnation as Nagy Boldogasszony-Queen of Hungary, retains a place in my ancestor shrine. She is a homage to my immediate ancestors, who have been Austrian and Hungarian Catholics for at least 6 generations (most likely much longer than that), as well as my distant ones with her possible pagan origins as a “birth and fertility goddess“. In that same pagan context she’s also the one I honor during planting, harvests, and family-specific events. Since old Magyar traditions beyond 1000 years ago are scanty and speculative at best, and Christianity already existed as one of many regional influences on Magyar culture(s), it is difficult to tell where the Catholic beliefs begin and the pagan ones end. Recorded folk traditions are likely a combination of both and that’s the assumption I rest most of my customs on. My worldview is pagan, but my traditions are a syncretic blend of the folk Catholicism I was raised in (which is inherently syncretic already) and the pagan customs of my heritage. Keeping Queen Mary as a presence in my life just seems to fit.

O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May,
O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.

Art by Réka Somogyi

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Sources

Coronation of the Virgin: Wikipedia

Coronation of Mary: Jean Frisk

May devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary: Wikipedia

The goddess of birth and fertility: Fred Hamori

“Flowers of the Rarest”: Wikipedia

 

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May Day

 
Winter expulsion ended last night in my part of the world with Walpurgisnacht. The ancestors and other winter wihts have been sent away or gone back to sleep, with the wihts of summer getting their busy schedules to full speed. With May Day summer’s growing season officially begins in my region. Leaves begin to form in the trees and shrubs, most of the migrating birds are back and already starting families. The risk of frost is practically gone and it is safe to plant outdoors now. 

This year May Day has taken on greater significance for me than usual. For roughly the past 2 and a half years I only did lip service at best for the holidays and wihts, only going as far as posting a happy ____ on Facebook and maybe here. I was completely devoid of spirituality and the past year I was at my lowest with having to move back in my parents house. Everything in my life was kept in boxes in the garage the entire time, including my sacred items, and I only had the basement couch at night to myself. Not surprisingly that year was also my worst with regards to depression and suicidal thoughts. I wasn’t really living anything in my life, just going through the motions and obsessed with trying to stay financially afloat after grad school. My student loans weren’t as bad as some and I was lucky enough to have a rent-free roof over my head, but it gets draining to have no peaceful space in a full house of hotheaded Catholic conservatives. I had few human connections, couldn’t do any of my hobbies except watch movies, and couldn’t be myself in that stifling environment. If it weren’t for my boyfriend and a few relatives I doubt I’d still be here. Now that I’m free in good jobs and have my own space in a lovely town I’m essentially starting from scratch again, figuring out who I want to be, what direction my spirituality and career should head towards, and trying to form connections with others. 

This summer I am starting a vegetable garden and investing more effort into my jobs to figure out my career options. My art and spinning supplies are unpacked and dusted off, ready to be used again. I’m traveling a bit more and trying new things. And most importantly, I’m able to feel happy and hopeful again. Hopeful that this growing season will result in a rich crop for me on many levels. 

Happy May Day to you all. 

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Today is also the day to Light The Beacons, to show heathens who stand in solidarity against racism and bigotry. While fire is more associated with the solstices in my religion, I will still #LightTheBeacons in support. 

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Light the Beacons – May 1st

Hello everyone, after another stretch of not posting anything I’m starting to ease back into blogging, starting with a brief notice about this heathen event occurring worldwide.

Heathens United Against Racism has organized an event on facebook called “Light the Beacons” set to occur on May 1st, 2016 (May Day).

On this coming May Day we call on all Heathens around the world who stand for inclusive, tolerant, and diverse practice to light a beacon in solidarity with all other Heathens who stand for these values in our spirituality. Whether you are lighting a candle in your home with your loved ones or are hosting a bonfire party open to the public we ask you help us shine a light on all the good work, good practice, and good people in Heathenry across Midgard.

Using the hashtags #LightTheBeacons and #Havamal127 on social media you can link your photo and/or stories of activism to connect with the group and event.

If you choose to participate please take a picture of your beacon, whether it is a candle or a roaring bonfire, send it to HUAR with the number of people who participated and where, in terms of the nearest major city or region, it took place. If you want to organize a public bonfire event please send us the information and we will help promote it. Together we will ignite a fire in our hearts and homes that will push back the shadows of fear & ignorance, shine light on our honor, and rally the hopes of Heathens everywhere.

 

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Because apparently this tripe is being regurgitated again into the blogosphere…

You can be a polytheist, a pantheist, a monotheist, and an atheist, and still be pagan too. Because paganism isn’t just what contemporaries attempt to define it as, it’s all possible things when you take historical paganism into account.

Anyone who wants to argue and gatekeep can take their useless piss somewhere else. You’re never going to settle this mental masturbation until you can provide objective proof of the gods existing as you think they do. Trust me I know what it’s like to see people take a label that you think means one thing and others do something completely opposite to it (to the point where you’re just disgusted by them), but the fact of the matter is that you can’t control it, and there’s always a chance that you’re the one going about it wrong.

 

 

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