Friday, November 19, 2010

Wear it As Long as Thou Canst

Full Death Moon

Full Death Moon 2008: Full Moon in Taurus

Full Death Moon 2009: Moving from the Season of the Dead

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Winter is here:

A large pale moon above a frosty field in the morning sun.

Big wet snowflakes drifting through the light of a street lamp.

The complex, geometric beauty of frost edged leaves in my garden.

The thud of frozen leaves hitting the shed roof as they fall off the fig tree.

The shock of cold when you open the door, the ache in your feet by the end of Meeting.

Seriously, winter is HERE.

Usually, in Portland Oregon winter is more about dark and wet than it is about actual cold. Sure, what cold we have is that bone chilling damp cold, but the thermometer rarely shows truly frigid temperatures. This week, though, we are experiencing a rare arctic blast with hard frost and ice, a little snow and a high of only 30 degrees. Winter is not joking around.

Winter is a time when we become very aware of our needs. We are in extra need of warmth, shelter, food, light and friendship. Resources run thin and the elements take their extra toll. As we become aware of our own needs we are often nudged to be aware of the needs of others. The plight of needy people in our own communities seem to loom large over us as well during this time of the year. My morning commute often takes me past people begging for money on street corners and I sometimes drive past the crowd of men and women outside Portland Rescue Mission on my way home from work. When I say my evening prayers, or give thanks to god for the warm and dry places in my life I am often reminded of these people who lack what I am so grateful to have.

These unmet needs of others can feel so overwhelming if we let them. This last weekend the pastor at my Quaker meeting gave a typically irreverent and witty message, this time about our responsibilities to our community. He used the terms diffused responsibility and shared responsibility to illustrate the difference between those burdens we all pick up together and those we leave to others to pick up. He said most of us are like zebras who flee when the lion comes out of the tall grass hoping it will be someone else's responsibility to become dinner.

We Quakers, though, like many other people who feel the presence of god in their lives, try to listen to what responsibilities god is calling us to address. There is a famous Quaker story about the time William Penn asked George Fox for his advice about something that was bothering him. George Fox founded the Quaker movement after receiving his vision on Pendle Hill and forming his convictions regarding the light of god in all people. William Penn was a young aristocrat who had converted to Fox's upstart religion and was concerned about his sword. All noble men wore swords in those days but Quakers were pacifists and believed in not carrying weapons so as not to provoke violence. Penn asked Fox what to do about his sword, most likely hoping for some rule or guide to follow. Fox did not provide him such an easy answer and instead said "I advise thee to wear it as long as thou canst."

Living in the wider world of ours with all of its issues and problems also requires us to choose to take responsibility or choose to leave responsibility for someone else to deal with. Like Penn we are allowed to wear the sword of our own lives and our own needs, leaving responsibilities to the poor and needy for others for as long as we can. Eventually, though, we need to set down our sword, pick up those burdens we are able to, and do what we are can with them.

  • My Meeting held a food drive during the months of October and November and we raised over 2000 pounds of food for Neighborhood House, a non-profit community group in our neighborhood. As part of our community celebration during that time members of our congregation created a labyrinth out of boxes and cans of food.
  • I also recently joined an organization called the Harry Potter Alliance, a group using imagery and language from the books by J.K. Rowling, plus a healthy dose of competition, to organize people to fight real world problems. The current campaign is a petition to get Time Warner to use all fair trade chocolate in their Harry Potter merchandising. They call it the Starvation Wages Horcrux and hope to raise awareness of fair trade issues in chocolate production and get a large corporation to make the responsible choice with its products (p.s. Click on that link, sign the petition and Hufflepuff as your house. We have a chance to win the house cup!).
  • This week my sister felt compelled recently to solicit donations from our friends for New Avenues for Youth, a homeless youth shelter in Portland. They are asking for donations of warm clothing to help kids who are living on the street stay warm and safe this winter. We have two giant garbage bags full of sweaters, socks and tshirts to be dropped off.

None of these actions alone are going to solve the problems world hunger, economic justice or crushing poverty by themselves. They might, however, make life a little better for one person somewhere in the world. We can't take on all the world's problems alone but we can, however, cultivate our habits of gratitude and giving, fill our hearts with stories of people who have given more than seems reasonable to others, and encourage others to give what they are called to give. Together, perhaps, we can change the world for the better.

What responsibilities have you been feeling called to shoulder as winter closes in? How do you connect with god as she is found in other people? What organizations do you support as they work to help poor, sick or oppressed people? How is winter showing itself in your neighborhood?

Friday, November 12, 2010


I have not written about Martinmas before, though it is associated with the cross quarter day I call Halloween. Here are previous posts about Halloween:

Halloween 2008: When the Veil Between the Worlds is Thin

Halloween 2009: What Do You Really Want to Be?

Halloween 2010: Doggy Heaven

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It is the day of Martilmasse,

Cuppes of ale should freelie passe;
What though Wynter has begunne
To push downe the Summer sunne,
To our fire we can betake,
And enjoye the crackling brake,
Never heedinge Wynter's face
On the day of Martilmasse.

Martinmas is another one of those fantastic holidays that most Americans either have never heard of, or only heard of through Waldorf schools. In both European countries like the Netherlands and Germany as well as in Waldorf schools around the world Martinmas is celebrated by retelling the story of St. Martin of Tours and by holding evening lantern walks. Last year I felt the deep calling of the Michaelmas celebration and this year I am feeling the same way about Martinmas. The more I read and think about it, the more beautiful and meaningful it is.

The young man who was to become St. Martin was born in about 317 A.D. in what is today Hungary and grew up the son of a Roman cavalry man in the area around Lombardy in Northwestern Italy. He became a Christian as a young man after Constantine made it the state religion but before it became popular in the military society Martin was a part of. Though he became a founder of monasteries and famous for exorcising demons the story most associated with St. Martin is the episode of the beggar and the cloak.

painting by Gustave Moreau, circa 1882

The story is told in many ways by many authors but the main elements are always the same. On a cold winter night St. Martin rode into the walled city of Ameins in northern France, and passed by a beggar huddling in the cold. Martin, having nothing else to give the man, took off his own scarlet cloak, cut it in two with his sword and gave half to the beggar. That night Martin was awoken by a vision of Christ proclaiming, "Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptized; he has clad me".

Rudolf Steiner, in a lecture on Easter, mentions that the Festivals of Christmas, Easter, St. Johns Day and Michaelmas fall a number of days after the point of the solar calendar they are aligned with. He says this is because the spiritual nature of the season comes to it's peak a few days after the earthly peak. For instance, solstices usually fall on the 21st or 22nd of December and June but Christmas is Dec 25th and St. Johns Day is the 24th of June. Martinmas, the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, falls on November 11th just a few days after the solar Festival of Halloween at the very end of October. Martinmas is associated with this ancient festival date and has been celebrated in similar ways throughout European history.

The holidays of All Saints and All Souls Day are the christian calendar equivalent of the part of Samhain or Halloween dealing with our Beloved Dead in the other world while St. Martin's Day is associated with another part of the season - preparing for winter. We prepare for winter by kindling and protecting our inner flame, sharing that flame with others and also protecting others with gifts of food and clothing.

In Britain there are many folk traditions relating to Martinmas, mostly relating to the harvest of animals and preparing for winter. During medieval times Martinmas was when herds were thinned before the winter, rents were paid and hiring fairs would be held for servants and workers who wished to change their employers. In some parts of Europe a goose was the proper meat for a Martinmas feast but in England beef was the centerpiece of the feast. Wilson's Almanac book of days for November 11 has many more interesting stories about ancient traditions in Europe and Britain relating to Martinmas, including many poems and sayings. Besides the old English ballad excerpted above my favorite is this piece of weather augury:

Ice before Martinmas,
Enough to bear a duck.
The rest of winter,
Is sure to be but muck!

The Martinmas lantern walk celebrated by Waldorf schools as well as families in the Netherlands, Germany and other parts of Europe is the visible ritual signifying our kind ling and protecting of our inner light. This light was sparked at
Michaelmas time and has grown, hand in hand with our courage, into the light of love and faith Martin showed sharing his cloak with the beggar. We protect our little flame in a beautiful lantern and parade it around, singing songs with our brothers, sisters and neighbors. As the outer light of the sun wanes during these days of late autumn and early winter we take pains to protect our inner light so it can grow.

photo by Rounien & Rjabinnik
How are you nurturing your inner light in these darkening days? How are you sharing your light and helping to kindle and protect the lights of others during this season? What about the story of St. Martin of Tours speaks to you? Is there any part of it, or of other ancient traditions that do not speak to you? Have you ever made a lantern to show off your light? Will the ducks of Martinmas be wading in the muck by Christmas where you are?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Night and Day

New Death Moon

New Death Moon 2008: Time as a Circle

New Death Moon 2009: The Soldier and Death

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Night and Day, a Parable from Nature

In old times, long long ago, when Night and Day were young and foolish, and had not discovered how necessary they were to each other's happiness and well-being, they chased each other round the world in a state of angry disdain. Old northern tales say that they each rode across the sky in a chariot pulled by a beautiful horse, Night’s with a frosty mane, while that of Day had a shiny one. Moreover, foam fell from Frosty-mane's bit as he went along, which dropped on the earth as dew, and Shiny-mane's mane was so radiant that it scattered light through the air at every step. 

And thus they drove on, bringing darkness and light over the earth in turn—each pursuing and pursued; each thinking that he alone was doing good, and that therefore the other, so totally unlike himself in all respects, must be doing harm, and ought to be got rid of altogether if possible. Of the two, one grumbled and the other scolded the more, and it is easy to guess which did which.

Night was gloomy by nature, especially when clouds hid the moon and stars. She was really broken-hearted at the exhaustion produced all over the world by the labours and pleasures which were carried on under the light of day. She would receive the earth back as if it was a sick child and she a nurse, who had a right to be angry with what had been done to it.

Day, on the contrary, was amazingly cheerful, particularly when the sun shone and never troubled his head about what was to happen when his fun was over. On the contrary, he thought his fun ought to last for ever because it was pleasant and was quite vexed when it was put to a stop.

"Cruel Night," he exclaimed, "what a life you lead me! What trouble I have to take to keep your mischief in check. Look at the mists and shadows I must drive on one side before I can make the world bright with my beautiful light! And no sooner have I done so than I feel your cold breath trying to come up to me behind! But you shall never overtake me if I can help it!."

"I doing mischief which you have to keep in check!" groaned Night, quite confused by the accusation. "I, whose whole time is spent in trying to repair the mischief other people do: your mischief, in fact, you wasteful consumer of life and power! Every twelve hours I get back from you a half worn-out world, and this I am expected to restore and make as good as new again, but how is it possible? Some wear and tear I can renew and refresh, but some, alas! I cannot; and thus creeps in destruction and death."

"Hear her," cried Day, in contempt, "taunting me with the damage I do, and the death and destruction I cause! I the life-giver, at whose touch the whole world awakes which else might lie asleep for ever. She, the grim likeness of the death she talks about, and bringing death's twin sister in her bosom."

"You are Day the destroyer. I Night, the restorer," persisted Night, evading the argument.

"I am Day the life-giver, you Night the desolator," replied Day, bitterly.

"I am Night the restorer, you Day the destroyer," repeated Night.

"You are to me what death is to life," shouted Day.

"Then death is a restorer as I am," exclaimed Night.

And so they went on, like all other ignorant and obstinate arguers; each full of his own one idea, and taking no heed of what the other might say. How could the truth be got at by such means? Of course it could not so they persisted in their rudeness. And there were certain seasons particularly when they became more impertinent to each other than ever.

For instance, whenever it was summer, Day's horse, Shiny-mane, got so strong and frisky that Night had much ado to keep her place at all, so closely was she pressed in the chase. Indeed, sometimes there was so little of her to be seen that people might have doubted whether she had passed by at all, had it not been for the dew Frosty-mane scattered, and which those saw who got up early enough in the morning.

Oh, the boasting of Day at these times! And really he believed what he said. He really thought it would be the greatest possible blessing if he were to go on for ever, and there were to be no Night. Perhaps he had the excuse of having heard a whisper of some old tradition to that effect: but the principal cause of the mistake was, that he thought too much about himself, and too little about his neighbour.

Soon, though, she had her revenge; for when it was summer on one side the globe it was winter on the other; and then it was her turn to boast, as it was in winter that Frosty-mane came out in all his glory. During that season Night kept up a sort of murmuring triumph, "Good, good, very good: this is something like rest at last; now worn-out Nature is recruiting herself to some purpose. Now weary muscles may gather strength instead of giving it out. Now all the secret forces of Nature are at work, and exhaustion is being repaired on every side. Now trees and plants may keep their gases for themselves, and waste and consumption cease, for the wear and tear of life have stopped. Ah, if it could but cease for ever! Then the world would be renewed, indeed, and giant races of man and beast and plant arise!"

And so things went on till a check came, and it came in a very odd way. It is not always very easy to tell the exact causes of change even in one's own mind, much less in other people's, so I do not pretend to trace the whole process out in this case.

But Night and Day did grow wiser as time went on, for there is no squabbling or boasting going on between them now. One may conclude that after the first flush of feeling cooled down, they were better able to look round them and judge dispassionately of each other. And, lo and behold! they discovered at last that there were two portions of the globe, the poles, where each had their own way for six whole months at a time, and that yet the brilliant consequences which they had insisted would occur never took place.

On the contrary, those were the dreariest and most desolate portions of the whole globe,—barren wastes of ice and rock, where both animal and vegetable life were at the lowest possible ebb. In vain did Shiny-mane drive round and round that frozen horizon with a light that was never interrupted: where was the promised Paradise which was to follow?—the foliage, the flowers, the fruits, the precious crops which should have adorned this unchecked reign of Day, where were they? Day, the life-giver, looked down upon a kingdom without life!

And it was the same with Night, when her turn came round. In vain did Frosty-mane distil his dews. They were useful—at least Night thought so—everywhere else; but here, what did they avail? Here was the unbroken rest which was to recruit and refresh all Nature: now her secret powers might work as they pleased: but where were the giant races of man and beast and plant that were to arise in consequence? Night, the restorer, ruled, but over a kingdom where there was nothing to restore!

They had made a terrible mistake, that was clear; and if they did not at first see that there must be other and more important powers at work, besides theirs, or the good old earth would not be what it is in most places, they must be excused. People cannot grow quite wise all at once, and they had made a very good beginning by learning to distrust themselves; that being always the first step towards doing justice to a neighbour.

"I called you Day the destroyer, bright and beautiful friend," murmured Night, in her softest tones; "you who bring light over my shadows, and make my good deeds known to all men. Day, the life-giver, forgive me, and return at the seasons appointed. Touch the earth with your glory from time to time, lest all things perish from its face, and it and I are forgotten together."

"But I mistook your friendly shadow for that of death," answered Day, with his sweetest smile, though tears trembled in his eyes as he thought of the injustice, causing the brightest of rainbows to span the landscape below: "and that was a thousand times worse! You, in whose silence and rest the very fountains of life are renewed. Ah, while earth remains what it is, an everlasting day—a day without night—would be destruction! Dear friend, forgive me, and ever and ever return."

"There is nothing to forgive," whispered Night, as she came round once more. "And death also may restore as I do," added she tenderly; for the harvest moon was shining upon long fields of golden corn, some waving still, some gathered into sheaves; and she felt particularly hopeful about everything.

"Anyhow we are friends—loving, helpful friends," sang Day.

"Friends—comforting and abiding friends," echoed Night, in return, as the weary world sank on her bosom; eyes closing, limbs relaxing, and flowers folding, as if the angel of rest had come down from heaven.

And friends they were and remain, though long ages have passed away since the time the old northern tales tell of; and though now the wise men will not allow that Night and Day drive round the world in cars with horses to them. Perhaps it is really true that the earth is a dark ball, hanging in the openness of space moving slowly round the shining sun, but spinning like a top all the time itself, so that first one side and then the other faces the brightness. But no matter which way the changes come. Night and Day are the work of the Lord; and, like all the other "works of the Lord" have a voice, and say many things worth listening to, especially now that they are no longer young and foolish. Listen only, and you will hear. And which speaks you can surely guess, for they praise each other now and not themselves. One sings—

"Dear Night, whom once I dreaded as the dark end of life and enjoyment. Dear Night, whom now I know as the forerunner of life renewed. Welcome, blessed restorer; take our worn-out child to your bosom. All her day-labourers grow weary, for a portion of life goes from them, in the toil of limb and of muscle. Restore what thou canst and mayst, let the rest remain in hope; for the mercy thou bringest now, foreshadows a greater in store. Oh, type of the mighty change which must one day pass upon all; of the deep mysterious rest in which all things shall be renewed; of the needful, hopeful death which quickens unto life! Dear Night, my sister and friend, the twilight shades approach, and I see in thankful peace your darker shadows beyond."

And the other answers in turn.

"Dark and secret my mission; men call me Night the gloomy; but I hold in my bosom the germs of a glory full of hope; hiddenly working within, till thou, the life-giver, returnest, to break through the mists and shadows, and touch my nurslings with light. So, at the first creation, at the touch of the first young dawn, lo! gleams of life universal were lit all over the world, and Nature, amazed, awoke in songs of thanksgiving and joy.”

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I love this story. I love the imagry, I love the language and I love the moral. Night and Day, like ourselves so often, think that if everything were one way, our way, life would be perfect. That isn't so, and The Goddess knows it. In her infinite wisdom she has made Day AND Night, Winter AND Spring. In what ways do you question the wisdom of the divine, or of nature, or of the universe? Have you ever had a nasty reminder that Her wisdom is more wise than yours? Or have you ever had a pleasant reminder? What are you doing to prepare for the "deep mysterious rest in which all things shall be renewed; of the needful, hopeful death which quickens unto life!" that Winter brings just as Night does?

The story Night and Day is written by Mrs. Alfred Gatty and is found in her book, Parables from Nature, which can be read at Gateway to the Classics. I have edited the story for length and in doing so slightly changed it in a way Mrs. Gatty may or may not approve of. Please do read the original here.

The photo of Mt. Hood and the moon is by the amazingly talented photographer Lucas Mandar. Check out his photos on Flickr here. Thanks!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Year Two Complete!

Can you believe it? I've been blogging at The Wheel and the Disk for two who years! I am so proud of myself for seeing this project through so far. I am also really excited to continue on this next year and excited to learn more about those of you who are here with me on this journey.

I feel like I have learned so much and the blog has been a really valuable creative outlet for me. In this second year of blogging I have been successful in posting for every month and every festival, sometimes more than the "required" new moon, full moon and festival posts. I love all the stories and poems I have included this year, and am especially proud of my own creative writing. Lovely Luz, my February First story from last winter, is one I am especially proud of. I learned all 8 festival names years ago when I was first learning about neo-pagan practice and am happy to report that I can now name all 13 months in this Soli-Lunar calendar as well. 

The third time through anything is the time when you really feel you have mastery of something. I am excited to draw on my writings from the last two years and do some more synthesis of my thoughts about each month and festival this year, while leaving room for whatever comes up or whatever perks my interest. My Ramadan post, though not strictly within the structure of this calendar, is one of my favorite posts from last year. Starting with the New Death Moon post later this week I will be adding links to each post to the corresponding posts from previous years. This should be an easy way to let all of us look back on my past thoughts on the moon or festival and start to see reoccurring themes.

I would also, this year, learn more about who is out there reading this blog. Last month as I went through the process of writing a personal mission statement I wrote the statement "I will develop and nurture relationships with people I can be open with about my relationship with god and who are actively cultivating their own relationship." Just the fact that you are reading my blog you are someone I want to connect with and nourish a relationship with. I am not writing this blog to you or specifically for you, but I am also not just writing it for myself. If I was doing that I would make it private and not risk baring my personal thoughts to the world.

If you are a follower of my blog, or even a casual reader of my blog, I would love to hear from you! Comment on this post and let me know what you love about my blog and what you want to see more of. Leave me a link to your blog and I will be sure to read it and comment. Share what nourishes your connection with the natural cycles and divine influences. Share your favorite recipe or a beloved poem.

So here we go, year three. The wheel turns, and moon waxes and wanes, the sun's energy ebbs and flows. And I keep writing.