Tag Archives: Csodaszarvas

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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Day 10: Patrons

I don’t have any patrons. It’s not a concept I believe in. However, there are gods that have great personal significance for me: Csodaszarvas, Fra Berta, Volos, and Parom. If I did believe in patronage, they would be the ones I’d petition.

In the past I’ve also referred to Grandmother Spider as being a significant deity for me, but lately I’ve been questioning the idea. Spiders themselves are still highly important to me, but I really don’t know if the spider experiences actually have any link to Her. Rather, like the foxes, I’m starting to feel that the spiders are significant beings in their own right, rather than being representative of a deity.

(And I know that I keep referring to “the foxes” without any context. They’ll be day 14 of this list, as they’re a unique aspect of my beliefs and experiences that need their own space to be satisfactorily described).

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Day 7: Holidays

Slowly but surely we’re chugging along with the 30 days of Paganism meme, and this is one of my favorite topics to talk about!!

I love personal calendars, especially when you start seeing how they evolve according to one’s environment and home culture. Mine is no exception, as it’s a blend of Pagan and Catholic traditions from the ancestral lands carried into the US. Due to my currently solitary nature, continuous research, and the fact that changes in life are prone to happening, my calendar is tentative rather than being hard and fast (despite having specific dates listed), and is not entirely religious in nature.

Winter

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  • Feast of the Dead (October 31-November 2)
    • A mixture of US Halloween festivities and the more solemn ancestor worship of European All Soul’s Day, where ghosts and spirits are awoken and the ancestors return. The growing season has officially ended.
    • Honors: Ancestors
  • Harvest Celebrations (Late November)
    • These are usually several family-oriented days (including US Thanksgiving) that center around gratitude for the last of the harvest. Usually by this point all the native plant species have gone dormant for the winter, and the migratory birds have past. Deer hunting season traditionally occurs this time as well.
    • Honors: Nagy Boldogasszony
  • Krampus Night/St. Nick’s Day (December 5-6)
    • A fun little Christmas holiday where the kids leave out their clean shoes in anticipation of some goodies from St. Nick. A holdover from family traditions.
  • Green Sunday (1st week of December)
  • Copper Sunday (2nd week of December)
  • Silver Sunday (3rd week of December)
  • Gold Sunday (4th week of December)
    • These Sundays are a holdover from Advent, as mini-celebrations in anticipation of Karascunt and the Rough Nights. Due to the names I also use the days to reference a corresponding Magyar deity (Copper – Hadúr, Silver – Szélkirály, Gold – Napkirály)
  • Karascunt (December 21/22)
    • Winter Solstice festival full of fire, drink, and merryment to celebrate Csodaszarvas carrying the Sun over the river to begin the year anew and overcome the darkness. First day of the Rough Nights. Spinning stops by this night.
    • Honors: Csodaszarvas
  • Bertchten Day (January 5-6)
    • This day ends the Rough Nights and the new year begins. The sun finally overcame the darkness and the light continues to grow in strength. Spinning chores resume. Also known as Twelfth Night (evening of Jan. 5)
    • Honors: Fra Berta/Lutzl (though she is also associated with all 12 of the Rough Nights)
  • Day of the Bear (February 2)
    • Midwinter celebration in anticipation of the season’s end. The Bear awakes and bring with it the first hints of life and hope in a time where patience and food stores are wearing thin. “Spring cleaning” and purification processes occurs at this time. Winter expulsion begins.
    • Honors: Szélkirály
  • Zöldágjárás (usually mid-late March)
    • First hints of life appears in the trees and shrubs, and the initial bits of greenery is brought inside to continue the purification process. Boughs of greenery are formed into arches and wreathes for women and children to dance under, and boys splash water on girls (purity and fertility rite, most likely). Birds are migrating back at this time.
  • Fruit-grafting day (March 25)
    • Fruiting tree branches that are starting to bud are grafted and hopefully successful. Several traditions regarding death and fertility surround this day as it is also the Catholic holiday of Mary’s conception of Jesus.
    • Honors: Nagy Boldogasszony
  • Walpurgis Night (April 30)
    • Winter expulsion ends, compelling the ghosts and ancestors back to sleep. Most migratory birds have returned and begun their breeding season.

Summer

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  • May Day (May 1)
    • Summer begins. The fields and markets are readied for the growing season.
  • May Crowning (May, usually mid-to-late May)
    • Fields are cleared and sown, and seedlings transplanted, as the risk of frost is gone by this time. First harvest occurs around this time (depending on what plants are growing). Leaves have returned to the trees. Flowers are offered to the Queen of May by young girls.
    • Honors: Nagy Boldogasszony
  • Szentiván-éj (June 24)
    • A summer solstice celebration of fire, successful crop growth, and remembering the ancestors. Peak growth and first major harvests are occurring around this time. Apples are served to the fire and to the graves.
    • Honors: Csodaszarvas
  • Goldenrod Days (late September-early October)
    • A completely made-up period surrounding the autumn equinox to mark Summer drawing to a close. The Goldenrod flowers are in their full, yellow bloom, as if they absorbed part of the sun and took away some of its vigor. Apples are harvested at this time, and the birds are undergoing their fall migration.
    • Honors: Volos/Zomok

*Deities and their associations here will be discussed further in later posts of this meme. Some associations are traditional, some are not. Those with / between two names refer to the same being.

**The inconsistency of the names is due to some English counterparts being too vague to be a useful label, so the source culture’s holiday words are used instead to refer to their specific traditions that I observe (i.e. “Karascunt” in place of “Winter Solstice”). Exception being Zöldágjárás since there is no English counterpart in existence.

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The Longest Night

Oh wondrous headed doe, with horns of a thousand branches and knobs
Thousand branches and knobs and of a thousand bright candles
Amongst its horns it carries the light of the blessed sun
On it’s forehead there is a star, on it’s chest the moon
And it starts along the banks of the shining heavenly Danube
That it may be the messenger of heaven and bringer of news
About our creator and caring god

-Hungarian Christmas ballad

Today is the day Csodaszarvas carries the sun over the river to begin the year anew. Happy Solstice everyone!

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Honoring the Doe in the Hunt

Hunor and Magor hunting the White Stag, one of the more familiar Hungarian stories that has been told in a variety of ways over time. Art (c) Gyula László

So I’ve been thinking about hunting, particularly deer hunting, after experiencing the excitement around opener this previous November. I grew up near Chicago, so while hunting does occur there, it’s smaller and gets obscured by lots of other events in the same area. Where I’m at now in Wisconsin is more rural, so lots of things are different for me (and yet, a lot isn’t so different).

Opener refers to the opening of the deer hunting season that has become probably the biggest event next to football games. People go to bed early and wake up at an ungodly hour to bundle up and drive to hunting grounds all over the state, but especially the north. Once they get there they usually sit on their asses in the freezing cold hoping to get aim at a beautiful buck (but a doe is not safe from hunters either). Thanksgiving is especially enjoyed, as the hunters can come home to a glorious feast and pass out, even if they didn’t get anything that day.

Now let me clarify that this only refers to a season using firearms. Full deer hunting encompasses multiple seasons throughout fall and winter, with the differences being weapons (firearm vs archery), deer classification (antler presence and form, age, sex), and in my region’s case, managing Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). On top of that, different states can have different regulations, and even individual counties can pass further regulations depending on the human population sizes (obviously not gonna be hunting in a large city like Chicago, but surrounding areas are fine, and more urbanized areas prefer archery to firearms).

Pretty complicated, right? Don’t worry, there’s more! Deer hunting (in Wisconsin at least) is a major political issue at the state-level. If a candidate for office even thinks about making the slightest restriction to accessing deer then they’ve already lost. It’s that big of a deal to people, causing a constant avalanche of hate directed towards people who try to manage deer herds, primarily the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Which is hilarious because the white-tail deer are not supposed to be here; there are more deer in Wisconsin than ever. While it’s wonderful that the deer bounced back from an endangered status last century, the sad fact is that they are constantly starving now. This drives them to strip bare native trees and saplings, ultimately destroying the understory of the threatened northern forests. These forests are where we get our maple syrup and logging from, but short of getting rid of most of the deer (along with buckthorns, earthworms, and all the other invasive species, both native and exotic), they’re pretty much dead forests in many places. They just don’t know they’re dead yet.

You may be wondering by now why I am explaining all of this to you. As you might remember from other posts, I honor a manifestation of a deer deity called Csodaszarvas (“Miraculous deer”, the term “szarvas” refers to both sexes, though I refer only to the female use due to the primary art/literature depictions). This carries through a fondness that I have for real-life deer of my region, the White-tailed deer, and the constant balancing act of life vs. death. Cultures all over the world have numerous, seemingly contradictory rules for treatment of deity-associated animals. You don’t hunt the animal, you do hunt it but only in a certain way, you can eat the flesh if it died on its own, or you don’t touch it under any circumstances.

What is my rule? I’m not sure. I have some basic ideas (no killing of albino or leucistic individuals, respect all animals in life and death by not torturing them, no trophies), but not a complete structure. There is no traditional rule available to me because I’m essentially reconstructing a new tradition out of remnants of my heritage, so I have to decide on my own. My meals are mostly vegetarian for monetary purposes (eggs are cheaper and quicker to eat) but I have eaten venison and concluded that it’s delicious. Given how deer (and other cervids) have been important sources of food for people throughout time, particularly in the winter, I’ve suspected that the recognition of deer and deer-like deities across cultures are because of their great importance as game. Food is central to any culture, so by proxy the deer are central as well.

In addition, there are now environmental concerns for many deer-heavy locations like the ones described earlier. Usually there are multiple predators, but now only humans remain. On one hand I find the idea of being in such a position of power, like a steward or a ruler, both offensive and full of hubris on part of us humans. We should no more be a steward than a beaver or a butterfly. But on the other hand, there’s really no choice if we want to maintain what we have left. We just can’t seem to agree on how to best do it (coupled with the fact that some people simply don’t WANT to do it). Stepping in as a predator for certain species seems to be the only choice left, otherwise they continue to starve to death en masse, taking many other species down with them.

It is also not universally clear on how the rules came about. There are some stories that depict the god themselves saying “don’t eat this!”, but the rest of them it’s a custom without a source. I suspect that hints (perhaps not so subtle ones) were given along the way when people ate a particular animal, resulting in bad luck for those who ate them. Given how often deer is eaten as a central part of a diet (particularly for winter diets when food is more scarce), and that I’ve experienced no bad luck or negative feelings since eating venison myself, I feel that eating deer flesh is not taboo for Csodaszarvas. The taboo, if one exists, would likely be for the treatment of the animal. Figuring out the particulars (aside from my basic respect for death in all animals) is something that will have to happen in the future, when I take up hunting for myself. I trust Csodaszarvas to guide me through her wishes when that happens.

Funny how this post was started at the very first of November, but didn’t finish until now, on Candlemas eve. Perhaps there’s some deeper meaning to it, but I’m sure the reality is that I just get lazier in winter.

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