Today I noticed that leaves on the trees were beginning to turn brown and fall, while the wind had grown noticeably colder. It was an acute reminder that summer is nearly over.
It’s easy to feel sad as we say goodbye to summer. In Britain, summer is very pleasant and many people’s favourite season – the days are long and sunny, the temperature is lovely and warm (but not usually too warm or humid) and all the flowers and animals are out. As autumn days draw in, I sometimes feel a little gloomy as it means that those easy summer days are fading and the long cold nights of autumn and winter are coming.
But if I look to Paganism, it makes me feel better. This is because the change in seasons is celebrated rather than mourned in Paganism – and that means all the seasons, not just the warm sunny times! What’s more, each Sabbat is associated with its own symbols, colours, rituals, deities, plants, animals and mythology, and each one is celebrated for its own uniqueness. Thanks to observing the Sabbats, Pagans can look forward to the change in seasons and revelling in the festivities that each one presents, rather than dreading inevitable cold and dark that comes as summer ends. And with eight Sabbats, as well as other festivals that Pagans may follow according to their particular path, there’s plenty to look forward to all year round.This idea of celebrating change rather than fearing it can be found in the wider beliefs of Paganism as well. As a somewhat cautious and nervous person, I generally can’t help but fear change. I fear growing older and my body changing as a result. I fear the relationships with the people around me changing as our lives diverge down different paths. I fear society and the way we work changing to the extent that some of the skills and knowledge I have so carefully cultivated my whole life will be rendered obsolete. And above all else, I fear the biggest change of all – of having to say goodbye to my treasured loved ones, as will inevitably happen to us all.
So I try to keep a Pagan mindset in the face of change. Paganism teaches that, like the cycle of the seasons, change is natural, and something to be explored and embraced. All religions have ways of marking particular changing points in people’s lives, and Paganism is no exception, with Baby Naming ceremonies, Handfastings, and Memorials all being a part of most traditions. One tradition that I find particularly appealing in some Wiccan traditions is the “Croning” – celebrating the transition of a woman from Mother to Crone when she reaches the menopause. In British culture, the menopause is still a rather taboo subject, surrounded by secrecy and melancholy. That some Wiccans celebrate this transition in such a positive way – it celebrates the wisdom, dignity and respect that comes with becoming an Elder – is really quite progressive, and something that I think all British, regardless of religion, could learn from.
So whenever I start to feel anxious about change, I try to remember that it is all part of the rich drama of the cycle of life, and that Pagan ritual and belief can help to bring support and comfort.