One of the great things about writing Pagan stuff is that it’s a continuous journey of discovery. Articles, books, and lectures often lead me down roads I’d never think to travel. This summer I got to spend some time in the world of Feraferia while reading Jo Carson’s great book on the tradition, Celebrate Wildness, and doing a bit of research for our interview on the subject.
During the course of my reading/research I was struck by the idea of Repose, a kind of ninth sabbat nestled between Samhain and Yule. American Pagans are already familiar with a holiday that time of year; Repose and Thanksgiving share a time of year, it not something approaching an exact date. I’ll admit to Thanksgiving being my favorite holiday of the year (both mundane and magical), but a sabbat at the end of November appeals to me for a lot of other reasons too.
The Wheel of the Year breaks up nicely into eight sabbats, but it’s never nearly as “neat” as we like to think it is. Spring holidays are often celebrated in Winter conditions, and harvest celebrations sometimes feel as if they are occurring in the Summer instead of the Fall. Autumn is my favorite season but I rarely get to celebrate it, especially since moving to California . . . .
No matter where I’ve lived late-November has always occupied a world onto its self. The trees are now bare, the first frost has come and gone, and my garden is now more memory than reality. Yule has always been far too “wintry” for me to enjoy those changes and I feel like seasonal concerns often get lost at Samhain because of the strong emphasis on death and the veil between the worlds. Samhain and Yule are also incredibly busy times of year, so busy that I sometimes feel like they don’t give me a chance to breathe. I’ve put Repose on my holiday calendar because I need that breath of chilly air, and I need it unencumbured by the baggage of Halloween or Christmas.
I’m not sure if my personal interpretation of Repose matches up to the original Feraferian one conceived of by Fred Adams and Svetlana Butyrin (the co-founders of the Tradition), but I’m not sure that it matters. Holidays and sabbats have always been a matter of personal interpretation, and while we can let others try and explain them to us, it’s how we feel personally that truly define them. There are certainly shared ideas and traditions from holiday to holiday that are embraced by many millions of folks, but I’m guessing how people truly feel about those holidays is not as uniform as some would have us believe.
Jo Carson on Repose:
Repose is the time of the year when the plants have dropped their leaves, and things are decomposing, returning to the soil. It is a time of rest. It allows us to prepare for regeneration. It is when the Goddess, and the God who has merged with her, rejoin the earth, so spirit and consciousness go back into Earthn
But there is more to Repose than that. It is also the celebration of intergalactic spaces, the intertwinings and pathways, the black and white holes from one universe to another. When the earth is in the death time of the year we have the opportunity to explore other realms, as we will eventually do when we die ourselves. And at Repose we have a chance to look into the mirror and see the infinite progression of our reincarnated selves, together at the present moment. When the physical body is dormant our consciousness is freed to expand, to include all possibilities. Total consciousness. This is most poignant at the time of Repose, but it lasts through to Yule. (From our interview this past Summer.)
Repose, between Samhain and Yule, blesses the return of much life to the raw elements, rest and infinity; the Sun God is completely en- folded within the Goddess now. He gathers strength for his next birth. Unlike some pre-Christian traditions (Frazer, 1922 and Graves, 1955) the Feraferian story of the Sacred Year does not include a violent death for the Year King. In this way it is less dramatic, yet it is a more accurate reflection of the cycles of nature. (From Celebrating Wildness)
Like both Jo Carson and Fred Adams I’ve never really liked the idea of a sacrificial god at Lammas-Samhain, but I’ll play along when my friends go with that trope. To me, the Horned One always occupies a place firmly between the worlds, he’s both here and in the realm beyond, eternally. I don’t correct others when they suggest something contrary to my feelings, because ultimately I don’t think there’s a right or wrong. Reading about “intergalactic spaces” makes me feel as if my version of Repose is destined to be different from previous ones.
Of course I want my version of Repose to somehow link up with the American Thanksgiving. When I find myself wrapped up warmly and contently each November I can’t help but pause and say “thanks.” I’ve been in situations where I’ve been unsure of my next meal or whether I was going to have water and electricity. Being able to sit next to my wife in a warm little house with a football game on and food in the oven every November is something I still feel genuinely thankful for, and it’s something worth celebrating.
I also need the darkness and quiet that only comes in late November. As I write these words the shadows in my backyard are already long and the Sun has already started to set (it’s 3:30 PM). This past weekend I rustled through fallen leaves for the first time this turn of the Wheel, turned on the heater, and closed the final window. I can honor these things at other times of year but they also seem to come into sharper focus in late November, and always have. I don’t need another sabbat to acknowledge these things, but I feel called to honor one.
However you choose to acknowledge the changes of late Autumn I hope that the celebration is magical.