Types of Seasonal Celebration.
Also called Calendrical Rites, these ceremonies celebrate the changes in our surroundings that happen each year as the seasons change. These ceremonies often make reference to the changes in daily routine that occur with the season change, and can be seen as a way of orienting communities within the natural cycle.
The traditional calendrical rites we know today stem from celebrations of agricultural events: animal and field fertility, sowing, harvest, storage of food, etc., and are carefully timed by the solar calendar.
Pre-agricultural traditions practise seasonal rites too. However, such societies have no written calendar, so the rites are timed using a “lunar” calendar. For instance, the first full moon after the cherry blossom, or the first dark moon after the geese shed their feathers. Such rites usually celebrate a natural abundance that can be hunted or gathered, such as bison or wild fruit. The Sun Dance of the American Plains Indians is one example.
Some lunar rites remain in modern societies, especially in Islam. In Northern Europe, the festival of Easter remains lunar (first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox). The timing of this festival originates from the Jewish festival of Passover, the origins of which are prehistoric, and possibly pre-agricultural.
There has been recent renewed interest in seasonal rites within urbanised secular cultures. Citizens of large cities often feel cut off from the natural cycles, and seek reconnection to nature through "alternative" modern calendrical rites.
In Western Europe and the Americas, various organised "neo-Pagan" groups provide a system of calendrical rites, aimed at reconnecting people not only to nature but also to their pre-Christian cultural heritage. These include the Druids and various branches of a movement broadly known as Wicca. While many of these celebrations include genuine elements of pre-Christian historical rites, they have been modernised to exclude practices that we now see as barbaric, such as animal sacrifice and self-injury.
How I work with Seasonal Celebrations.
Over the last 20 years I have organised several dozen seasonal rites in and around Oxford, with the aim of helping people rebuild a spiritual connection with nature, wildness and each other. These rites have been self-consciously eclectic and creative, not based, or claiming to be based, on any one tradition.
I try to create these ceremonies to be as inclusive as possible: to celebrate our common humanity, and our dependence on the forces of nature (symbolised by the traditional four elements), and on each other. We all breathe the same air, walk on the same earth, drink the same water, and keep warm round the same fire.
In designing these ceremonies I’m careful to structure them to empower participants to express their own spirituality, and make their own connections and conclusions, rather than impose any particular tradition or way of seeing things. In particular I don’t worship or pray to specific gods or goddesses, and any overt symbolism is clearly based on the natural event being celebrated.
I’m very clear that I’m not trying to recreate something from the past. My focus is to express that mystery of love and compassion as revealed by major “post-pagan” religions such as Christianity, Buddhism and Islam, and to extend that to the fabric of nature, earth, world and universe on which we depend, both materially and spiritually.
Participants come from all walks of life and all traditions including Christians, Muslims, Atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Pagans and more; children, parents and grandparents. Everyone feels included and welcome, as long as they can respect other peoples’ spirituality.
Participants describe how they feel part of something bigger than themselves, how they have experienced something truly solemn and spiritual without pretension, and without feeling trammelled by the dogma of any tradition.
In the ten years from 2000 to 2010 I documented many of these celebrations, and presented them as an exhibition entitled “Rites”, which was displayed at Wolfson College, University of Oxford, and at the Tavistock Centre for Psychoanalysis in London. The exhibition is documented online here.
Click Here to contact me for assistance or collaboration with a seasonal celebration or celebration of nature, or for inclusion in my invitation list.
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