Australia, earth-based, Earth-based religions, Environment, Festivals, Harvest, Harvest Festivals, Lammas, Lughnasadh, nature-based, Negative Language, Pagans Down Under, Seasons, Spirits of Land, Tame, Wild, Witchcraft
Land, in the amorphous, all encompassing way we, I, pagan people, tend to use it is a strange thing. In pagan writing, it continues to sneak along, like a undercurrent, there underneath “earth-based practices/religions/beliefs”, and equally allusive and counter-to, it would seem, as that hidden and dangerous undertow is to one riding the breaking surf. On any given day I can read such a statement in any number of articles, blog posts, Facebook statuses, any number of times. Several times already today. But for all the times I read such things, even written by those who share in temperate South Eastern Australia, rarely do I see anything even remotely temperate South Eastern Australia lurking beneath the phrase. Though Land is there, the Land I know runs like a rip through the pretty white surf that everyone else seems to be paddling in. No, the current of the Land I know, a dangerous eddy, well outside the flags, separated out, cordoned off, signed as unswimable current, “dangerous”. In fact very often, to continue my water analogy, the Land lurking beneath theses statements is a more alike to a swimming pool, and the native sea with its breaking waves and rips, eddies and undertow, a no man’s land, an undiscovered country.
It is not an undiscovered country. It has been peopled for thousands of years, and those lessons and wisdoms are very much available to all of us, Indigenous or not. But such wisdom is not necessary anyway, not to those who live and practice “earth-based” religions, or magico-religious traditions on it. Indeed, any witch should have all they need to enter into communion with the land they live on. But it seems there is a very big difference between inheriting a surf board, and knowing how to surf.
There are also a great many for whom, in applying a sort on unbiased, often pantheistic worldview, are not engaged animistically on a local level, and whose experience is most certainly going to be a vastly more amorphous thing. My point is the insidious use of language.
“Earth-based” really needs to be qualified, before it relegates further, my earth to that which is less than other parts of it.
The Earth is a many splendid thing, whole, complex, diverse, unique in every aspect. And there is no part of it I would not consider less than another. Our language in Australia undermines this idea, everyday, in and outside of the pagan community. Our language, our symbols, images and stories, everyday, fall regularly under the banner of “Earth” and yet continue to represent but the smallest slither of it as virtuous, and in the magical community as actually mythical and magical.
Never is this more evident than in our use of the words “proper season(s)”.
From Merriam-Webster Dictionary online (and only parts relevant to this usage):
prop·er adjective \ˈprä-pər\
– correct according to social or moral rules
– behaving in a way that is correct according to social or moral rules
– exactly correct
2 belonging characteristically to a species or individual : peculiar
3 chiefly dialect : good-looking, handsome
4 very good : excellent
5 chiefly British : utter, absolute
6 strictly limited to a specified thing, place, or idea <the city proper>
7 a strictly accurate : correct
b archaic : virtuous, respectable
c strictly decorous : genteel
8 marked by suitability, rightness, or appropriateness : fit
And there it was again today, in a random conversation about Australian towns, this one or that has “proper seasons”. And today was hardly the first time. Nor is it ever meant so heinously. Indeed, it is usually a completely off the cuff comment, meant to be understood perfectly amongst Australians, who are still part of the British Commonwealth after all…
One does not need to be Einstein to work out what this oft uttered phrase means for the rest of the country outside these occasional occurrences of “properness”: Incorrect, not belonging to the species of things called “seasons”, unfit, and etc. What’s even sadder is that, for the most part this statement really doesn’t speak at all to seasons as they are experienced in any part of Australia, “proper” or not. Not rainfall, snowfall, the onset of “winter”, average temperatures. Most often this is applied to the more mild regions, comparative to the rest of Australia, densely populated by deciduous, European trees! Colonial and historical townships. It is a statement of aesthetic, one only very loosely attached to the seasons as they are manifest in foreign flora. And they are beautiful, rows of poplars, birch tree groves, pine trees, and hawthorn hedges, all lovely. But they do not have within them a greater rightness, virtue, or correctness than anything else.
Consider, I am a white person. And it is quite right that I should be white, my parents are, their parents were and so on. It is right for me to be white, as it is for any person to be. But I do not say “white is right”, nor do I describe white people as “proper people”. Obviously, because those statements suggest that non-white people are wrong, or not proper people. And I don’t believe that to be true. And we’ve (only mostly, unfortunately) stopped doing that sort of thing. Because we have come to understand how this way of speaking suggests negative things as well as positive ones.
“But” you may say, “that’s people, not trees, and rocks and such…” Indeed, that is true, people and land are different, if equally diverse and unique in every aspect. But I would suggest that answer requires a reconsideration and further qualification of the term “earth-based”. And perhaps a little meditation on the connection between land and man might be in order. That’s just my thought, though, and not everybody’s.
This post is inspired not just be recent conversations and reading, but by the Pagans Down Under blog project. The topic for this fortnight’s post being ‘Lughnasadh’. In my first post for Pagans Down Under on The Poverty Pagan I did say I might have some trouble with. Or I might cause some. Perhaps.
Lughnasadh, according to Wikipedia
is a Gaelic festival marking the beginning of the harvest season. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Originally it was held on 1 August, or about halfway between the summer solstice and autumn equinox. However, over time the celebrations shifted to the Sundays nearest this date. Lughnasadh is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals; along with Samhain, Imbolc and Beltane. It corresponds to other European harvest festivals such as the Welsh Gwyl Awst and the English Lammas.
Which means here in Australia February 1st is generally the date. The first wheat harvest in Australia, as it happens, has already happened. In fact it almost coincided with the Traditional Northern Hemisphere date! That’s right, two weeks early in 2014, and begun in mid-September. Of course that was in Western Australia, so some harvests were later, by a month or so. The corn harvest on the other hand happens almost continually in Northern regions, being ready for the harvest every, about, 100 days, in soil temperatures of minimum 12°C. Thank goodness for Queensland. In fact, even here in Tasmania, the first harvest for, well, just about everything, is now a memory of months past. But, then, the continent is particularly unproper in terms of seasonal observance…
Not that this matters. At all. Many people of many kinds of religions celebrate festivals that have absolutely no correspondence to anything we might call seasonal or first harvests. Like the Christian Christmas and Easter, but, again, entirely NOT earth-based. Nor do they pretend to be. And for those honouring their Ancestral Gods, like Lugh, blessings to you. More to the point, it is not a wrong thing to celebrate ancestral customs along side thanks giving for the continuous bounty their clever (to a point) agricultural ways have gifted us with. Ever. And many more people who grow their own food crops in gardens and small holds, particularly (or mostly) in places like Tasmania, are celebrating the primary growing and reaping times now.
What it does do it bring into sharp contrast what “earth-based” might actually mean to those who use it. There are lots of kinds of earth; the earth of other places, the earth of our ancestors, tamed earth, the earth that is green-housed, and tilled between windbreaks and inside the hedge…
And then there is the earth out there, still so much in the dark. In the southern part of the continent we enter into the long dry and begin feverishly to check the Fire Service warnings. There you might see it, catch a sense of it. For those in more Northern parts the seasonal rains are come, in glorious fashion, complete with their own alerts and warnings. And South Australia has been hit with both fire and flood in quick succession.
Needless to say, no matter how many harvests, no matter how many harvest festivals, regardless of how many deciduous trees we plant, out there it seems the Land has an unwavering sense of its own properness.
For myself, that is the bedrock of my practice. There rests the end of it. In the wild places that we continue not to understand and instead destroy, that shifts, that will continue to balance out our man-made imbalances regardless of the inconvenience it might produce for we humans. The earth that refuses continually, from the moment white man first attempted it, to aid our agricultural practices. To bend to our will. That throws up not compliance, but ferocity.
As the period approaches in which many an earth-based practitioner will celebrate the harvest, I find myself meditating on that which is truly eternal, that which harvests of its own accord, and that which is harvested, increasingly, in flood and fire, storm and tsunami, drought and famine. Which leads me to ask myself, from where do I draw power as a witch, from what powers would I seek favour, what currents do I wish to ride, upon what land would I build my spiritual house? The potted rose or the Wild Bush, the candlelight or the Bushfire, the wade pool or the Ocean, the tilled plot or the Wild Mountain?
Of course, that is my preference, and it does not make any other wrong, incorrect, or not proper. And it is, in many ways, an idea, I am still bound to respect it as much as any, safe in my house, needful of food, and I go regularly to the herb garden and cut roses. And there is wisdom still, I think, in the old customs, and they speak not of our superiority, but of an awareness of something far greater. Not that we are fragile humans in a vast land, but that we are infinitesimal in contrast to the vastness of Herself. No less subject to Her whims than we ever were in climates far more accommodating than the ones we find ourselves now. For myself, defining what it is to be an earth-based witch and pagan is important, and as such, I am inclined not to regard Her as anything but entirely proper.
I am reminded of Proverbs 15:4:
The soothing tongue is a tree of life,
but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.
If we refuse to speak well of the land we call home, if we fail to honour the Ancient Powers that sustain us, what spirit do we diminish if not our own? I am inclined to think the answer to this question is already manifest in our society, and in our country. But I wonder about the wild, the darker, and the more chaotic forces in terms of other people’s practices, particularly approaching a festival situated very often almost entirely “inside the hedge”. Where and how does the wild, untamed, un-European, and un-proper fit inside your earth-based and ancestral practices? Of course, I always love to hear what other people are doing, not only in terms of Lughnasadh, but at other ancestral, agricultural based festivals at well.