Yes, that’s right. That’s what I’m going with. Along with probably “under performing” and “unlikely to catch up this week”, particularly whilst I’m 2 ‘u’s, 1 ‘v’ and 2 ‘w’s behind on the Pagan Blog Project 2014. What have I been doing!?
Most recently, many, including myself, and in excellent company, celebrated Beltaine. Though, not specifically Beltaine, as it were, preferring to call my increasingly syncretic celebration Rosemas. I’ve been blogging now for over 3 years, and looking back at my previous posts regarding this time of year, there’s certainly a evolution in my thinking. At first, ‘A Merry Rosemas‘ was about what, incorporating the native flora. Last year the celebration was about why, what powers are evident, and how we participate with them if the best outcome is to be achieved for our home. For myself, this time of year is about water, and was this year as well, as much of it as we can get before the fires really peak. Most of this year has been about when. The truth is one can chose an arbitrary date on the calendar and find nature there, uniquely manifest. But as my previous posts have demonstrated, specific dates that have grown in foreign soil, when planted here, don’t really appear much like they originally did. The deeper my practice is anchored in the ground, the more I realised I really ought to be looking at the first source.
In the past few months I have been, and the final chapter in this pagan seasonal festival in the New World experiment of mine begins to manifest. The Bureau of Meteorology‘s Indigenous Weather Knowledge calendars have been an invaluable resource for me. Such wisdom is not specifically available for Tasmania, but I have began to observe the seasons here in comparison to three other nations, all situated in comparable temperate climates; The Nyoongar of temperate southern Western Australia, the Brambuk of western Victoria, and my home country, the D’harawal of the Sydney basin in NSW. Though between them, and Hobart, rainfall levels and general temperatures differ a few degrees, each country defines 6 seasons, and their periods of wet, dry, bush fire, and tempestuous winds all correspond.
Obviously, they are slightly different. All places, however small, have their little differences. But there are things that temperate places share, in the same way there are things tropical climates do. Comparing the temperate zones of a single continent as opposed to inter-hemisphericly, is turning out to be vastly more fruitful. Comparing the emergence of same and like species is so much easier, and far more obvious in places that all share the same lack of water and threat of bushfire, or indeed, actual species of flora and fauna.
Unlike the four seasons and set dates of Europe, Indigenous Australians still hold to a system that rests on what is happening in nature. They don’t suffer from things happening later than they should according to the calendar. When things happen is the calendar. And as it turns out, Hobart is scarcely a three week behind Sydney when it comes to when things happen. That is, when plants flower, seed, animals birth, emerge from torpor, nest, and conceive. It’s so on the money, honestly, I wish I had started there.
Fancy, 40,000 years, and they were right.
Every once in a while though, it takes a white man to invent something 40,000 years old. With a bit of added class like “Sprinter” and “Sprummer”. Listen to Tim Entwisle, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne explain why his system is better than the one detailed by the Brambuk people of Gariwerd Victoria. Obviously.
Ok, so he’s not entirely wrong. But, notwithstanding climate change, it does feel a little like the reinvention of the wheel. What he and so many others suffer from is a bad case of the nationhoods. Desperately trying to define a whole continent. But no borders or strange sense of national identity is going to make Darwin behave like Melbourne. Ever. Never ever. Which is why I’m not drawing inspiration from climates that are not temperate.
Whilst the Nyoongar and Brambuk peoples describe a cycle with a distinct dry, D’harawal and Hobart share a cycle with no such distinction, the first with a hot summer, and the later with a mild one. And lucky for me, D’harawal country is a cycle I’m very well acquainted with, so comparing it to Hobart seasons is turning out pretty easy going work. Added to that is Hobart’s abundance of all things European and its general ability to make things happen on time. Rose and hawthorn bloom, deciduous trees lose their leaves far more obviously than they did to me in Sydney, there are more of them in this cooler clime.
In this way, Rosemas sits at an opportune time. Obvious and easy work. November is a turning into a warming, wet period, Parra’dowee in Sydney, and the middle of Kambarang in Nyoongar country. It’s all about flowers and water. Candlemas (Imbolc) will be another easy celebration, the wattles at the onset of August marking Djilba in Nyoongar country, the season of conception, “pre-spring” as described in Brambuk, the Murnong root harvest, and Wiritjiribin in D’harawal, when the lyrebirds build their mounds. Complete with some lovely symbolic links to European traditions.
Others will not be so straight forward. In the first place, the seasons are not a perfect division into eight, but an interestingly asymetrical division into six. Hallowmas falls in the middle of the cooling season. And in this way remains a traditional observance rather than a seasonal one (because Honour the Ancestors). Harder still is Lammas, traditionally the harvest. Indeed, Burran, late summer, and Bunuru (second summer) all come complete with fire, food taboos and all mention hot-under-the-collar kangaroos. By this stage harvesting is pretty done with, or will soon whither in the long march towards the cooler months.
Of course, they don’t have to fit each other, and won’t. And that’s not really the point. Ritually, I am interested in keeping the traditional festivals, to a point, but far more invested in drawing on the currents manifest in nature. For Rosemas, again, we had no fire, but instead entered into a space of water, of eels, red-bellied black snakes getting frisky near rivers and creeks, meditating on the Dreamtime stories of the Serpent winding its way through the land and forming the water courses, honouring and promoting this vital power.
And that’s a pretty unusual Beltaine festival, as Beltaine festivals go. We worked at the opposite end of the elemental spectrum and with more slithery imagery. As I contemplate Lammas I expect my peculiar rituals and observances to continue, falling as it does at the height of the bushfire season it may be something more of a festival of last fruits, connecting with the earth and powers of rejuvenation one might better expect at Imbolc.
And when? When is still an interesting question. Is there a better “festival of first fruits” or “loaf-fest” to be found in the year? I doubt it. Do the four sacred fire festivals, the iconic and well documented festivals of Britain that grow perfectly in the seasons there hold any special seasonal significance at all in a place with six clearly defined seasons? And if not, what do we keep of the old, and what do we connect with in the new? Are we missing more important manifestations in our environments because we will not loosen our grip on the European traditional dates and customs?
I don’t know. But beginning with Rosemas, I’m going to try and answer these questions for myself. In the coming year I’m letting go of the dates, and letting the seasons run their course. It’s probably going to look really weird. I might even call it a marriage of ideas, old, new, borrowed and blue? But so long as I work from the ground up, I should have some very sound foundations.
P.S. ‘U’ is for ‘u’. Obviously. This post participates with The Pagan Blog Project 2014.