Cultural Gravity

Cultural Gravity

Katie LaFond

In The EarthSpirit Community, we are “…dedicated to the preservation and development of Earth-centered spirituality, culture and community…” and I have done my best for myself, my family, and the community to embrace and nurture those things. Today I’d like to talk about pagan culture, and the pull of the cultures that surround my family. 

In Western Massachusetts, the wider culture is one I am mostly comfortable in. We enjoy cow pie bingo, many agricultural fairs, a festival in which children roll pumpkins down a hill every year, and other fun, satisfying traditions. Traditions and customs knit people together, and provide the sense of belonging that we need to be happy people. People know what the expectations are about what they will do, and what they can expect in return, because of culture. 

I’m doing my best to raise children who know who they are, and celebrate the customs and traditions of our pagan culture. This is made difficult when the majority of the kids they see day to day aren’t part of those customs and traditions. It can be confusing for them when my kids watch their friends celebrate customs and traditions that my family does not. It is so much easier to be excited about Yule when your friends are also excited about Yule (and not telling you that “you mean Christmas”).

Some of the adults my children see are not part of the pagan community. Many of them are loving and accepting, but don’t understand that when they expect my kids to be excited about their Christian holidays, they reinforce a cultural gravity I’m actively trying to help my kids avoid. A couple of years ago, a grown-up who knows we’re pagan asked my then-four year old if he was looking forward to Easter. He looked confused, put his hand on his hip and said, “I do Equinox, NOT Easter.” I wish my children didn’t have to navigate these difficult cultural waters, and I wish people who know we’re pagan would not put them in that position. It is an opportunity to teach tolerance, of course, but now we’re expecting children to do the emotional work, and not the adults around them.

My husband and I have tried hard to make the pagan culture in our home vibrant and rich, with the gravity to cradle our children in its rhythms. It is much easier to handle the pull of other traditions when you feel secure in your own culture. Words matter. Day-to-day routines, choices, diet, and activities matter. Holidays, rituals, and traditions matter. I have filled my home with pagan books, music, and art, and that matters. The friends they talk with matter.

Adults, too, feel the familiar gravity of the holidays and customs of their families of origin, their workplace, and their circles of friends. But I often wonder if I would be as dedicated to nurturing a rich pagan culture in my home if I didn’t have children. 

I’m not advocating for stripping celebration out of shared spaces; there is nothing wrong with sharing and celebrating lots of holidays and traditions. But it is much easier to handle the pull of other traditions when you feel secure in your own culture, and you don’t feel pressured to pretend you’re part of a culture that you’re not part of. It is important for everyone to notice and respect both the areas of overlap and the areas of difference between the traditions and customs of majority and minority cultures. 

Because the thing is, with gravity, all things are pulling on all other things. People pull on the Earth even as the Earth is pulling us toward it. Cultures have gravity. My hope is that instead of tearing us apart, these different cultural gravities will draw us into a dance. Best wishes from my home to yours for a swirling, twirling season. 

Heathen Holidays: Eostre

Heathen Holidays: Eostre

by Trey Wentworth

This is the third blog post in a series on the topic of Heathen Holidays.

In February we began to really see and feel the lengthening of days as we moved away from Yule. Now, the seasons are indisputably changing – in warmer places, flowers are coming up, and even in the cold mountains of Vermont where the snow lingers, it’s finally melting faster than it falls and the air has the smell of spring. In Heathenry, we feel the subsiding of the Wild Hunt that rules the winter, and nights become less dangerous, making space for the beings of the land to flourish once more.

Today, our calendar marks four seasons, but the Venerable Bede tells us that “originally, [the English] divided the year as a whole into two seasons, summer and winter, assigning the six months in which the days are longer than the nights to summer, and the other six to winter.” These months were tracked according to the moon in a lunisolar calendar, information confirmed by Icelandic and other Germanic sources to be a pan-Heathen method of reckoning time. With the coming of the April moon, we transition at last into the summer season, and the “light half of the year.”

As ever, different branches of the Germanic people celebrated this time in different ways. In Scandinavia, they performed a Sigrblot – a victory offering – while in Old English custom, this tide was called Eostre and perhaps centered around a deity by the same name. While academics and pagans debate the historicity of Eostre and her worship, it is indisputable that today, many modern Heathens have found potency in venerating her as one of our gods.

Who is Eostre?

It is not incidental that the Old English name Eostre looks so similar to our word Easter. Most European languages derive their name for this Christian observance from the Hebrew word Pesach – but English, Dutch, and German all retain this same Germanic root, giving rise to Easter, ooster, and Ostern. Clearly this celebration was of particular importance in West Germanic Heathenry! Linguists have proposed that the Old High German equivalent word would have been *Ostara, a familiar word today as it was used in the modern Pagan Wheel of the Year to denote their spring celebration (though they also moved it a month earlier to align with the equinox).

The word Eostre is related to the word east, and derives from a Proto Indo-European root meaning “dawn.” Rob Schreiwer has collected a Pennsylvania Dutch story Oschdre (Where Color Comes From; Origin of the Distelfink), where the figure Oschdra, equivalent to Old English Eostre, is responsible for manifesting the colors of the dawn sky as she walks between her sisters Day and Night.

While few snippets of lore around Eostre remain, she is clearly far more than a simple seasonal figure appearing only at springtime. Instead, she brings the dawn of each day, and the spring is hers because it is the dawning of the year itself. Folklore also suggests a connection with running and welling waters and their magical healing properties.

One folk symbol that has become beloved on Chase Hill at this holiday is that of the Osterfuchs – the Easter fox – who seems to be an older being appearing at this season, eventually displaced by the later and better known Easter bunny.

Celebrating Spring

With the ending of winter, there are many rituals needed to close out the dark half of the year and look toward our summer work. Now that the Wild Hunt’s ride is over, it is safe to call on the spirits of the land once more. After the April full moon, we again put out any statues or garden plaques (such as a Green Man, Wood Wife, or other symbol of the animating forces of nature) knowing that they are safe from being harried by the Hunt. If you saved a symbolic token of your harvest such as a Harvest Queen, she should be buried in the ground at this time to return that fertility to the earth for the coming season. And, of course, we give offerings to the land as well – mead, bread, and eggs to feed the earth with our gifts and our gratitude, in the hopes of a bountiful summer.

German folklore tells us that Easter dawn is an especially potent time for healing rituals. Drawing on these old customs, specially appointed Eostre Attendants wake early before our ritual on Chase Hill, dress all in white, and draw water from the well in silence as day breaks. This water is poured over the hands of everyone at our ritual to help wash away whatever wounds we carry from the long dark of winter. If you have a local spring, well, or stream, you can easily draw your own healing water, so long as you set an early alarm! Wear white to honor Eostre, and don’t speak aloud until you have your water. Make sure to check the potability of your water source before deciding to consume it – but even non-potable water can be used for ritual washing.

Eostre is a time of hope and beauty, with flowers, light, and longer days. But spring was still a harsh time for pre-modern people. This is the so called “hungry gap” between the ending of winter and the first harvests of summer. Local New England lore tells us that the serviceberry tree is so named because when it blooms the ground has thawed enough to bury the bodies of those who died over the winter. Eostre’s arrival in springtime is not one of unfettered joy, but instead a time when we need to catch each other in our ragged post-winter daze and find softness, healing, and a place for the griefs we have endured in the last six months. Only by finding community and gentleness in spring can we recover enough to stand up for the work that summer will demand of us.