“The sabbats were made for Pagans, not Pagans for the sabbats.”-Doreen Valiente, 1959*
Over the weekend I noticed someone “boycotting” Lughnasadh. Once I got over the ridiculous title I felt a bit of sympathy. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the Wheel of the Year does not demand slavish devotion to the agricultural cycle of the British Isles. There are Pagans who try too hard to link their world up to what people did 2000 years ago in a distant land, and I get why that bothers some folks.
However one cannot simply boycott a sabbat. Sabbats occur whether you celebrate them or not. Boycotting Lammas is like boycotting Tuesday, it just can’t be done. Whether or not one celebrates the sabbats or not they still happen. Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, the world outside your front door is changing right in front of you, and in dramatic ways. What makes the Wheel of the Year so powerful is that it’s constantly in motion.
If the sabbats don’t connect with you, you are doing them wrong, it’s as simple as that. If your rites don’t resonate, change those rites. The only right way to do a ritual is doing it in a way that speaks to you. Some people feel that connection by enacting the agrarian practices of the Irish-Celts, and more power to them. If that’s what brings them meaning they should go for it. If one feels the need to connect directly to goings on in their back yard via ritual they should do that. I’m confused by the notion that there are right or wrong ways for one to celebrate a sabbat.
If you are feeling the disconnect, and boy is Lammas-time a common one for that disconnect, here are some ideas to get over the hump. Remember as Doreen really didn’t say “The sabbats were made for Pagans, not Pagans for the sabbats.”
You can do what you want on the sabbats. There is nothing in my Pagan (or even Witch) handbook stating that the sabbats must be celebrated in specific ways. They are open for individual interpretation and group ritual experimentation. When I don’t feel a particular practice or custom calling me, I set it down and move on to something else (or make one up myself).
The rituals I enact in California are very different from the ones I used to do in Michigan. It’s laughable to talk about “the coming cold” at the Fall Equinox when one lives in a place called Sunnyvale. Reinterpretation has applied to more than just the Fall sabbats too, Imbolc has become about welcoming (and attracting) the rain that’s supposed to fall in February.
Sabbats are solar holidays, the other stuff is just a bonus. The dates of the equinoxes and solstices vary a little bit each year because they are true solar holidays. The cross-quarter sabbats are holidays “sort of” in between those celestial events. At Imbolc every year I notice the days getting just a little bit longer, and at Lammas each year I notice them get a little bit shorter. They are mile markers along the Wheel.
Many of the rituals I do throughout the year reflect those changes too. Yule is often about the longest night and the hope that comes with the dawn. Midsummer is a celebration of the longest day and I’ve done my fair share of “balance” rituals on the equinoxes. But length of day has been a part of some cross-quarter celebrations too. Samhain has been a celebration of the night and the ever increasing darkness and many people celebrate the “return of the light” each year at Imbolc. It’s not just about planting and reaping the harvest.
Of course traditional rites do link us to our ancestors. Ancestor worship has never really been a part of my practice but I do enjoy rituals that harken back to those who have come before me. I feel a kinship with magical folk, and when I can adapt (or even just use) a ritual from 1200 years ago it brings me closer to them.
These aren’t empty gestures either, I can feel ancient echoes in the circle, and it all helps me to understand where we’ve come from. A traditional Lammas rite from Scotland doesn’t completely sync up with Northern California, and that’s OK. I can adapt the rite a little bit or perhaps just use it as a learning tool.
I’ll admit to taking a certain amount of pleasure in celebrating ritual the way Gerald Gardner did it. Many of us love our traditions and if it was good enough for Doreen it’s certainly good enough for me. For some of us it’s how we connect to things, it’s not always about the calendar or how much sun I’m getting.
The natural world does change every six weeks. Every six weeks the world outside my back door changes tremendously. At Midsummer there were no pumpkins in my garden, just flowers, and now there are four recognizable future pies waiting for me. The crickets were silent back in June, now I hear them with increasing urgency. Due to California’s drought the grass in my front yard is more glass-like than ever (you don’t want to step on it with bare feet). It’s not drastically warmer today than it was in late June, but there are noticeable changes afoot.
If you have sun, you have a harvest in August. Agricultural cycles change from place to place, there’s no question about that. We aren’t all harvesting grain in early August, but to say there’s no harvest right now is a complete agricultural disconnect. My farmer’s market is full of produce and from my backyard I’ve harvested lemons, corn, tomatoes, and chili peppers. I’m not to the point of breaking bread, but my table is benefitting from a harvest.
When I lived in Michigan the best part of late July/early August was the blueberry crop. That was the time of year it was possible to buy a giant box of blueberries for eight bucks. The grain was still growing in the field, but there was fruit ready to be picked and eaten. If you live in the United States and can’t find a harvest to celebrate in August you simply aren’t looking.
The sabbats were originally designed as celebrations. When the first Modern Witches began honoring the Wheel of the Year they saw the sabbats as simply celebrations. They were for feasting, playing games, and celebrating the bonds of community. Only later, with the advent of public ritual, did that begin to change. As rituals became more and more public people began adding workings and ceremonial moments.
A sabbat celebration doesn’t have to be anything more than a picnic lunch or a leisurely dinner. I think as humans we like to do overdo our holidays and attach more and more stuff to them, but it’s not really necessary. There’s nothing wrong with simply toasting to one’s continued good health or fortune every six weeks.
Boycott a sabbat? That just doesn’t happen. I can skip a ritual or tune out a rite but I can’t jump off the Wheel of the Year.
*Doreen Valiente didn’t really say this.