Tag Archives: summer

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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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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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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Killing Winter to Bring Back Summer

Alright, back on to Spring traditions!
Remember that post I made about Pre-Lent Costumes? I mentioned how the costumes, in some areas at least, were meant to scare off the spirits of Winter. There’s also quite a bit of fertility symbolism that went along with all the festivities. There is a sort of continuation of those themes in a ritual that is rather common across Europe: The Expulsion of Death and Winter.

Basically, an effigy of some sort, usually made out of straw, fir, or some other available material, is taken through or out of a village in a procession, and then destroyed. Afterward, a figure (human, tree, or otherwise) clad in some sort of greenery is welcomed in the village and celebrations ensue. This sometimes occurs on or around Mid-Lent, usually the 4th Sunday in Lent (Which is actually the week of this post’s date for 2011). This does not seem to be an uncommon practice, as many folklorists and anthropologists have noted parallels across Europe; even going as far as India with the drowning of a Kali effigy in March.

Winteraustreiben in Germany with Winter as the large blue puppet, and Summer following behind as the golden puppet (c) Katrin von Meer

However, I’m going to focus mainly on some of the German and Slavic names and customs here. In German, the festival is called Todaustragen, or Todaustreiben (from the words for “death” and “to carry out” or “to drive out”), with a few areas using the name Winteraustreiben and Sommereinholen (“Summer” and “catch up”). Similar rituals done in other countries have their own names, but I’ll mainly use the term “winter expulsion” for easy conversation.

In some German-speaking parts, winter expulsion involves creating a straw monster or being which is then driven out by being beaten and/or burned. With regard to the burning of the effigy, Mircea Elidae saw a “fertilizing power of Death-a power attached to all the symbols of vegetation and to the ashes of the wood burnt during all the various festivals of the regeneration of nature and the beginning of the New Year” (Flaherty 1992). He was referring to a practice seen in Austria during his time, where the effigy had a funeral pyre and people gathered around to grab bits of it. Also found in Austria are the Perchten, or followers of Perchta, who carry bells apparently as another tool to drive out Winter and Death. There are several interpretations of the effigy and none are totally agreed upon: Vegetation being, Death, Winter, or even the Bubonic Plague (which would still be Death, but Christian in origin instead of the commonly assumed heathen origins). The gender of the effigy seems to be male in German parts of Central Europe, which makes sense since Death is also considered to be male (der Tod).

In contrast, Slavic cultures such as those in Poland, Slovakia, and Czech Republic have a female effigy burned or drowned. She goes by the name Marzanna, Morena, and variations thereof. She is considered to be a remnant of a goddess of Death from pre-Christian times as well as a witch, so the female form makes sense if this is true. Other than that though, the steps for her expulsion is similar to German cultures. She’s taken out in a procession and then destroyed.

The Procession of Marzanna in Poland just before drowning

I can’t help but think of the witch scene in Monty Python: The Holy Grail whenever seeing Marzanna processions 🙂

In Hungary there does not seem to be as much fanfare for winter expulsion as in other places. The busos mentioned in the Costumes post linked earlier is suggested to be Hungary’s version of winter expulsion. There is a practice that links to the second half of the expulsion though, which is the welcoming of Summer to replace Winter. It is called Zöldágjárás, where they bring in green boughs through the village. To me it almost looks like Palm Sunday, so I wonder if this is really a remnant from pagan times or if it’s a variation on a Christian holiday.

School children going under the green boughs

Another, older image of Zöldágjárás

Judging from the images though, it seems that Hungary is already warm enough this time of year to start celebrating the arrival of Spring and Summer. Perhaps winter expulsion is simply not necessary at the same time and is better suited to the time of the busojaras earlier in the year.

Back to German-speaking cultures, once Winter/Death is driven out, a man dressed in vegetation and green colors walks into the village with much celebration. This is the personification of Summer, of new growth and good times to come. There is also records of a play that occurs to depict the fight between Winter and Summer (with Summer ultimately winning), called der Kampf swischen Sommer und Winter, which usually occurs during the winter expulsion.

There is a mention of March being the time of the new year in both Roman and Slavic lands until recently, which coincides with winter expulsion. In that context, it seems that driving away Winter is also driving away the old year, which makes sense. Summer in general seems to have a sense of “new-ness” with the arrival of fresh vegetation.

Looking out my window, I feel an urge to have a bit of winter expulsion myself. Only now are some of the trees starting to wake up and show their flowers, with small shoots in the grass here and there. Much of the world is still gray and wet; some chunks of old snow still scattered about even. We don’t really have a spring here in Chicago, it’s more like a month where the weather can’t seem to make up its mind. The idea of a war between Summer and Winter fits perfectly here, as we can get snowfall one day, and temperatures warm enough for shorts the next. Even gardening books say we have a risk of frost until early to mid-May.

Course, once Summer actually gets here in all its humid, blazing glory, people will start wishing for Winter again. It’s how it goes every year.

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References

Flaherty, Robert Pearson. “Todaustragen”: The Ritual Expulsion of Death at Mid-Lent: History and Scholarship. Folklore, Vol. 103(1), pgs. 40-55

(In German) Brief Explanation of Pertchen’s Role in Winter Expulsion: http://www.tomig.at/245/was-hat-es-eigentlich-auf-sich-mit-den-perchten/

Esbenshade, Richard S. Cultures of the World: Hungary. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=4QYidGdtpBkC&pg=PA118&lpg=PA118&dq=winter+expulsion+in+hungary&source=bl&ots=tmIwzSwPoI&sig=VyDUoziQiJByohp6hle747uGVJY&hl=en&ei=1MOYTbCGBcmY0QGQiNH7Cw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CCoQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=winter%20expulsion%20in%20hungary&f=false

Sinking of Marzanna: Pagan Traditions of Spring                                                 http://culture.polishsite.us/articles/art297fr.htm

Photos of Winteraustreiben, (c) Katrin von Meer                                   http://www.flickr.com/photos/35525979@N06/5509422479/in/photostream/

Kerenyi, G. I. (1962). The Melody Core of Ushering In Summer in Transdanubia (Hungary). Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, first page used-> http://www.jstor.org/pss/901641

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