What can a naturalist celebrate in August?
This post is part of Naturalistic Traditions, a column exploring naturalism in Pagan ways. This column will cover seasonal celebrations, historical and contemporary movements, and ritual practices.
A month of blazing heat for those in the Northern Hemisphere, August follows the Summer Solstice. It is therefore a time of declining length of days, even though the temperature is at its peak.
As for lunar cycles, the month kicks off with a full moon on the 2nd, and a new moon on the 17th.
Also, don’t miss the Perseid Meteor showers, described below.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the cross-quarter is celebrated as Lughnasadh (Lughnasa, Lúnasa, Lùnastal, Luanistyn, Lammas). Astronomically, the event falls on the 6th, though some observe the traditional date of August 1st. The precise date and time for the cross-quarter can be found at archaeoastronomy.com.
Mike Nichols recognizes Lughnasadh as a day of games, craft festivals, early harvest, and first fruits. The custom of setting apart the first fruits of a harvest, by leaving part of the field standing or dedicating part to a deity, was widespread in the ancient world. In the modern context, it is possible to honor this custom in various naturalistic ways, for example by giving a portion of your yearly earnings to a favorite charity.
Jon Cleland Host describes how his family observes Lughnasadh:
We celebrate Lammas by some kind of early harvesting, such as visiting a pick-your-own blueberry farm, wild raspberry picking, or such. To see the abundance of the earth, we’ll sometime spend time wandering (or even trying to run) in a mature cornfield. It’s one thing to say “Oh, yeah, the earth is producing a lot of growth”, but quite another indeed to be surrounded by it, blinding your sight and slowing your movement – that really shows the power of this Sabbat. We usually bake bread, perhaps in a woven Celtic knot, enjoying some of it during our ritual. The ritual is held during the afternoon’s heat, not at night. (Naturalistic Paganism yahoo group)
Glenys Livingstone of Pagaian, in keeping with decline of the length of day, takes this time to contemplate dissolution and the deep self:
This is the season of the waxing dark. The seed of darkness that was born at the Summer Solstice now grows … the dark part of the days grows visibly longer. Earth’s tilt is taking us back away from the Sun. This is the time when we celebrate dissolution, expansion into Deep Self, the time when each unique self lets go, to the Darkness. It is the time for celebrating ending, when the grain, the fruit, is harvested. We meet to remember the Dark Sentience, the All-Nourishing Abyss, She from whom we arise, in whom we are immersed and to whom we return. This is the time of the Crone, the Wise Dark One, who accepts and receives our harvest, who grinds the grain, who dismantles what has gone before.
She also invites ritual participants to contemplate their hopes for the harvest.
For a particularly unique perspective of Lughnasadh this year, you might keep your eye on blogger Drew Jacob: since the day is special to his patron Lugh, and Drew has just begun his Great Adventure traveling from Minnesota to Brazil by his own body’s power, an interesting post no doubt awaits.
Those in the Southern Hemisphere celebrate Imbolc at this time.
Civic and scientific traditions
Paul Harrison’s Elements of Pantheism calls attention to two special days this month:
August 9th, is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. This year’s theme is “Indigenous Media, Empowering Indigenous Voices”:
The theme aims to highlight the importance of indigenous media in challenging stereotypes, forging indigenous peoples’ identities, communicating with the outside world, and influencing the social and political agenda. (United Nations)
Given the inspiration many Pagans have drawn from various indigenous peoples, including the rediscovery of our own ancestral traditions, this day may be an opportunity for reverence, reflection, and activism. It may also be appropriate to engage with issues of cultural appropriation in our communities.
Get away from the glow of city lights and toward the constellation from which the meteors will appear to radiate.
For example, drive north to view the Leonids. Driving south may lead you to darker skies, but the glow will dominate the northern horizon, where Leo rises. Perseid meteors will appear to “rain” into the atmosphere from the constellation Perseus, which rises in the northeast around 11 p.m. in mid-August.
After you’ve escaped the city glow, find a dark, secluded spot where oncoming car headlights will not periodically ruin your sensitive night vision. Look for state or city parks or other safe, dark sites.
Once you have settled at your observing spot, lie back or position yourself so the horizon appears at the edge of your peripheral vision, with the stars and sky filling your field of view. Meteors will instantly grab your attention as they streak by.
About the author
B. T. Newberg has been practicing meditation and ritual from a naturalistic perspective since 2000. After experimenting with Agnosticism, Buddhism, Contemporary Paganism, and Spiritual Humanism, he currently combines the latter two into a dynamic path embracing both science and myth. He is the editor of a community blog for naturalistic spirituality called Humanistic Paganism, which just published an anthology called Year One with over a dozen contributing authors. After growing up in Minnesota, and living in England, Malaysia, and Japan, B. T. Newberg currently resides in South Korea with his wife and cat.
Harrison, P. (2004). The Elements of Pantheism. Coral Springs, FL: Llumina Press.
Livingstone, G. (2008). PaGaian Cosmology. New York: iUniverse.
Nichols, M. (2009). Candlemas: The light returns. The Witches’ Sabbats. www.thewitchessabbats.com.