Monday, December 30, 2013

The Calendars of my Life

I had a question on the LiveJournal cross post of the past blog entry, from my friend Carol: Where/how did January 1st come about, then? This question was in response to my response to a previous comment in which she wrote "I struggle with wanting to think that the Yule is the turn of the calendar and not January 1st, but of course being raised in the US AND not having known paganism until my late 20s, I automatically think of January 1st and then scold myself! hahaaa"

So, here it goes... my thought on beginnings, years, and a bit of history of the calendar (thank you Google!)

The world, throughout time has had many calendars and even now there is not a just a single one in play. Most folks likely have heard of the complex Mayan calendar, thanks to the historical version of it having come to an end in 2012.

The well known Chinese calendar (technically the Han calendar), is a lunisolar calendar, which indicates both the moon phases and the solar terms. In the Chinese calendar, a year usually begins on the second dark moon after the winter solstice but occasionally on the third dark moon after the winter solstice. The legal calendar in China now, however, is the common Gregorian calendar, though the complex Tibetan calendar and even the Islamic calendars are also referred to in China for dating some events.

The Viking calendar recognizes only two seasons: summer and winter and is comprised of 12 lunar months. Summer begins in the middle of our current month April and ends in October.
 During the Middle Ages, various calendars were use in Europe. The Anno Domini (based on the traditionally reckoned year of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth) was devised in 525 CE but not widely used until 800.

The ancient Romans used different calendars. The original one was thought to have begun with the founding of Rome, and was based on the moon with months of both 29 and 30 days in length. This was followed by one of 30 or 31 days, begun around 753 BCE (Before Common Era) put in place by King Romulus. In this calendar, there were three different ways of numbering the days in the months: the Calends signified the start of the new month with the new moon; the Nones were the days of the half moon and the Ides (made famous by the assignation of Julius Ceasar) which occurred on the 15th of some months and the 13th of others. Don't ask me why.

It was followed by the Julian calendar, introduced by Julius Caesar,  and was a reform of the Roman calendar. It took effect in 45 BCE and is easily recognizable, with a year of 365 days divided into 12 months, and a "leap day" added every 4 years. This leads to the calendar gaining about 3 days every century over the observed day of equinox. Julius Caesar thought it would be appropriate for January, Janus' (God of of doors and gates, with two faces — one looking forward and one looking back) namesake month, to be the doorway to a new year, and when he created the Julian calendar, he made January 1 the first day of the year (this also put the calendar year in line with the consular year, as new consuls also took office that day).

The Gregorian calendar, which we used today, is internationally the most widely accepted and used civil calendar. It has been the unofficial global standard for decades, recognized by international institutions such as the United Nations and the Universal Postal Union. It was began by Pope Gregory VIII in 1582 and adjusted the rule for leap years. It came about because the celebration of Easter was tied to the spring equinox and  the Roman Catholic Church considered this steady drift in the date of Easter undesirable.
All this research aside, my life at least has always been comprised of many calendars... some official and some strictly personal and internal.

I grew up in a family ruled by the "school year." Even more than most kids, I was almost in shock the first year of my working life, outside of school, when everything failed to stop the first part of June and again for a week at the end of December! My dad was a teacher, and as such worked September to June and had to find additional, alternative work during the off season.

I have worked in industries where the fiscal year did not coincide with the calendar year many times.

With my interest in the garden and animals of the farm, my "garden year" begins, in earnest now, around the first of February when the seeds of the leeks and onions, early crops that benefit from a long head start, go into seed trays under lights.

Speaking strictly personally, spring equinox has felt like the beginning of the year to me for much longer than I have followed a Pagan path, though most formal Pagan groups consider Samhain (Halloween) to be the witch's new year. As the day was seen as beginning after sunset, so the year was seen as beginning with the arrival of the darkness by the ancient Celts. Celtic New Year’s Eve, when the new year begins with the onset of the dark phase of the year,corresponds to Samhain.

Never having followed a Celtic path, and only recently (a little over 5 years ago) having come to work with Odin and Frigga, and never having been Jewish, I have not yet really fallen into the "evening and the morning..." thinking. For me, it seems, the new days starts with the sun is at it nadir (midnight) rather than at sunset.

If I were to strictly apply that thinking to the year, I suppose I would be celebrating Yule as the beginning of my year -- and yes, that did resonate with me for quite a while, beginning with my walk on the pagan path, before it had even been named and identified, well over 20 years ago.

From where I stand now, it looks more like the spiral of life just goes on and on... round and round, and there are many points at which we can look back down the road and see "oh, yes, this point has come 'round again." and we can reflect and pick up on that energy to move forward and refine our walk.

"The Turning of the Calendar" is one of those points, the cultural new year, where many folks focus their energies (for better or worse) at that point in time and where there is energy gathering, one can use it to further their work... especially when it is as free floating and unfocused as the energies of celebrating mundanes (for lack of a better word) usually is. So, I use that energy at this time, in ways that suit and help me.
Leek and onion seedlings, well started.

 Come the next cross quarter -- Imbolc or the Charming of the Plow (which it is WAY too early to do here in Maine, for sure!) I'll be harnessing that energy as I make seed blocks and transfer leek and onion seeds, one to a 3/4" square, to begin their growth under lights.

Kale and lettuce seedlings under the lights in March, 2013
And then come Equinox, (Lady Day,  Summer Finding) there will be more seeds going into blocks and under lights, as I chomp at the bit to break the soil. However, here in Maine, there will be several weeks yet until this can happen, at the earliest. Planting Peas on the St Patrick's day is a thing of jokes here (a farming friend once blogged about it, complete with a picture of the pea seeds laying in a furrow in the snow. The blog entry is here, but the picture is no more.) but I use the energies to speed growth on my grow racks.

By Beltane/May Day the garden turning and planting is well under way for me, and it is time to look for and pick a few of the earliest flowing species (likely wild) to grace my altar and celebrate the renewal of the growing growing year, as I look forward to harvest.

And of course, come Summer Solstice ("Midsummer") there are salads galore and likely peas to be picked, tomatoes and corn and all the goodies have been put out for the main season harvest and my garden energies and enthusiasm is at its peak. It is... between now and Mabon/Winter Finding... a very busy time. Another point of turning, not so much a beginning of course, as now a waypoint on the path.

Come the next cross quarter ( Lugnasad  Freyfaxi) we reach the first of the harvest festivals, a waypoint that begins to verge on the points of ending. For the early crops have been harvested and pulled from the fields and the fall crops are started or soon to be seeded for the final push before winter.

Come the fall equinox, one could see this as the beginning of the cycle once again. Also known as Mabon  and Winter Finding, it is a "dusk" of the year... the point at which dark and light balance then tip towards the lengthening dark nights.

... Which brings us to Samhain/Winter Nights and then on to Yule again.

Where ever on the cycle you feel a pull to mark an ending or renewal, there are likely energies there to help you.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

New Moon! Part 2 of Between Now and the Turning of the Calendar

The new calendar begins with a NEW MOON! Does that evoke the same excitement in any one else out there as it does with me?  I hope so!

New/dark moons sometimes appear to not be acknowledged or worked with as much as the full moon, but for me, the cycle is the thing and the monthly renewal that the moon's energy brings as it first waxes and then wanes to new is a most useful thing. So here we are, on the verge of a new calendar (which I say instead of "new year" because for me the sun cycle renews at a different place round the sun) and we can open the page of this book with a fresh new cycle. Isn't that a wonderful thing? This past calendar has proven a challenge for many folks and this is a bang up opportunity to stop, really take stock, and step deliberately and mindfully into the new book, opening chapter, with a fresh renewal energy backing you up.

In our culture, the end of the calendar and the beginning of the new one is fraught with a minefield for many. The news media dredges up the "excitement" and tragedy of the past year with the biggest steam shovels they have, which feeds growing melancholy in many of us who have not had the best time during this -- or previous -- winter holiday seasons. The growing melancholy is further fed by over indulgence in sweets and drink, culminating on the last night of the calendar with parties featuring much drink and which sends us into the first line of the first chapter of the new book in a drunken stupor, sleep, and/or the night-after wrath called a hangover. I hope this is not the way you plan to start the first day of the rest of your life!

A toast to the passing calendar, whether you are wishing it well or kicking its butt out the back door, is appropriate. A toast to the opening of a new page, as well... but much better rituals (with a lower case "r") in my mind, involve setting the stage for 2014 to be a positive story, rather than opening the chapter with headaches and barf.

As the moon winds down this cycle, don't dwell on the failures and trauma of this past story, but take positive steps -- however small -- to set the stage for the opening of the new one.

An example from my own life follows.

It would be easy for me to start a pity-party, were I inclined. Hours at my part time town job suck and just got cut more. Hex income is at a standstill, because I had to close orders to catch up my backlog. Projects for winter prep that did not get done, for various "good" reasons, have allowed much of the food that I put in the back room for storage to freeze and therefore to begin going bad. I "know" that the first few months of the year are going to be a serious financial challenge... for several reasons, including some stated above. Include in that "because they always are" and the fact that a lucrative design project that often carried me through this time in the past has apparently been given to a different designer.

All that being as it is, my mind is currently on several different tracks.

First off, project for today will be to bring into the warmer part of the house all of the potatoes, apples, squash and beets that have been languishing in the back room for sorting and processing. As the squishy potatoes thaw, they will be loaded into bucket and hauled to the compost (no small task over the snow/ice/snow terrain we have been dealt thus far this winter), along with the rotten apples... some of which the fowl will doubtless enjoy as well. The squash will be sorted, and the good ones stored, with any remaining good potatoes, under the cabinet in the far side of the kitchen where I used to store such things, when I had a smaller harvest that would fit. The frozen squash cook up just fine in the oven (proven yesterday) so in they will go, to be baked, scooped and frozen in 1 cup lumps, later to be bagged and stored for quick heat-and-eat. I am hoping that I can cook, peel and freeze the beets as well. Giving thanks for what was NOT ruined by my lack of attention, and planning more appropriate storage for next year is the focus of this project.

Then, once the produce is dealt with, I will be able to attack the mold on the subfloor with bleach and begin putting down the plywood underlayment for the new flooring. The first two sheets of plywood are already waiting in the garage (planned ahead from last month, when money was not an issue) and I will trust the Powers That Be to provide the necessary stuff for the next step of the process... adhesive and commercial vinyl tile like this stuff which comes in various colors, some of which are a bit more expensive, but i will buy a variety and lay them random. Just the first 8' will be all that I do initially. This will allow me to move the single bed to the end of the room and get it set up on blocks or whatever I decide, as under the bed is where I will be building the insulated storage for root veggies that did not get done this year. I have been collecting styrafoam sheets from work (they arrive insulating chips for the impulse racks at the front of the store) and will continue to do so as long as I work there.

Also this week, we will clear out the trash (trash run today) and recycles (recycle run on Tuesday) to open up space, help put the place in to better order and improve the energy flow.  

I used to do a complete deep clean of my space on the eve of the new calendar, but no longer have the energy for such a task... so instead I do SOMETHING in that vein... and look forward to the coming year when I will not have to be off the farm during the run up to the winter holidays... when I can take the week that it will take to do the proper complete cleaning once again.

So, come Tuesday night, I'll reset the altar in winter mode (yeah, late at that this year, too!) and light a candle for the dark moon. My story shall begin with seed sorting and order planning on Wednesday, not at all too early considering that I will be looking for something on the homestead that I can use, instead of the plastic planters that have given up the ghost after many years, to start lettuce indoors any day now... and it won't be long until February, when the seed blocker will once again crank out little cubes, each to receive an onion or leek seed destined for the garden.

What story will YOU be setting out to write during this turn about the sun?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Between Now and the Turning of the Calendar

It is common to reflect on the past year and look forward to the next around about this time. Since embarking on the Year of Transition a few months ago, I have already written a bit in this vein.

At this point in time, it seems, that my progress towards my goal is taking a side step. Not the "two steps forward, one step back" that some write of, but there has been a bit of a course correction. When Artie, the truck began having problems a while back and went into the shop, I certainly did not expect the news that the mechanic delivered. It seems that the used engine that another mechanic swapped in for me was (a) not done especially correctly and (b) has developed serious issues. Long story short, the truck needs another engine.

Options are scarce and expensive from the mechanic's pool of sources; we have found other options and I have elected this time (hopefully for the last time) to buy a re manufactured engine out of Oregon. Yes, you read that correctly... I am having a truck engine shipped all the way across the country and am returning one the same way. Honestly it IS less expensive than other options, comes with an excellent warrant, the company has good reviews and thanks to my previous aggressive effort to pay off debts, I CAN afford it! It will set the pay off debts back a bit, adding debt back on previously paid off plastic, but the lions share of the cost will come from previous hex sign sales -- money in the bank.

With luck, this will be the engine that will last the aging truck until I no longer need him; his daily commuter status will end this coming year and he, too, can retire to the farm and make occasional trips to town for feed and lumber and to carry large hexen to UPS... a few times a month at most.
Meanwhile we have to come up with a pallet in good repair and several contractor plastic bags in which to contain the old engine, which will be strapped to the pallet, to be picked up by a shipping company, arranged by the rebuilder, for transport. Because we are sending the old engine first, they are covering the cost of shipping both ways as part of our deal. Apparently, they have a hard time getting folks to actually return an engine, rather than just "eating" the core charge.

So, for now, Artie is tucked in the back of a mechanic's bay. Soon we will have the old engine on its way and before spring, Artie shall return home.

Meanwhile, back at the farm, we have been enjoying a surprisingly abrupt onset of appears to be building into a serious Maine winter. While there is only about a foot of snow on the ground (sufficient to make my Yule day trek around the boundaries, to reset wards and charms, an exercise in breaking trail with snow shoes) we have since acquired a solid coating of ice on top of the snow which makes for very difficult walking. Tending the fowl is a challenge and my cohort took several nasty falls just prior to the Christmas holiday while helping me to acquire and butcher a turkey for a friend at work. He is currently nursing many sore muscles and a likely broken tailbone, from a fall on the porch steps.

He still managed to get out to Fergie, our tractor, to cajole her into starting so he could finally clear a bit of the accumulation from the driveway and, most importantly, the entrance at the road which was filled with road ice almost enough to block entrance and exit by the Subaru. With more snow falling today, and a final shift at work in town tomorrow, I am thankful for his efforts. Otherwise, I was planning to take the mattock and attack the end of the drive, as a (plastic) snow shovel would not have been up to the job. This is some, serious ice! But beautiful though!

On a different note, when I butchered our turkey for Yule, we decided that I needed to remove the feathers indoors, to avoid attracting predators to the rest of the fowl. As I struggled to extract the flight and tail feathers and pluck the remainder of the bird -- with both dry down and wet feathers from his flapping on the snowy ground sticking to my hands -- I wondered just why it was that "one must dry pluck a turkey" like a duck, instead of dipping them in hot water, like most folks do chickens. As frustrated as I was by the feathery mess, I decided to give the dunking a try and heated up a water bath canning kettle 3/4 full of water. K helped lift the bird high enough to dunk half of it into the water and... voila! feathers came almost literally flying off! Even the hard wing feathers only resisted a little! When that part of the bird was done, we held its wings and dunked the tail end equally successfully. The water did not damage the skin and the bird looked beautiful both before and after cooking. So I guess the folks who decreed that dipping turkeys was not to be done didn't have a big enough pot! From now on, that is how I shall do them.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

In Praise of Winter and Long Nights

It is Solstice day today and my mind is full of thoughts... of thinking forwards and thinking backs...

Unfortunately, I am not in a position to give the day its full due. Matter of fact, I have been pretty lax for the past however long of giving any of the moons (full and dark) and the quarters and cross quarters their due. One commitment I am making for "the rest of my life" (post-retirement) is to bring that part of life more into alignment with my desires.

However, for now, for today, I make do. In the past I have focused on Frigga and her Ladies, one a day, for the 12 days of Yule. In the past, I have had the time to at least make a good stab at getting the house in order and clean so that during those days I can honor the time by NOT working at those mundane chores. That was then, and this is now and NOW I am trying like a madwoman to catch up on the backlog of hex orders (a good thing, overall.. but the trend of multiple orders of signs... up to and including orders of 6 or more!) was something that I was not prepared for and has kicked my butt almost into next year. I don't even have the time to think on how I am going to deal with this change, if it continues into the future, let alone DO whatever needs to be done to make that happen. That will be for after the signs have all shipped and before I reopen orders for 2014.

Today, in addition to painting like crazy (I am thankful for the YouTube video I saw yesterday, with
Steve McNallen of the Asatru Folk Assembly (AFA) . While I am not on that particular path, I do appreciate his take on the 12 days, focusing on the Noble Virtues. He started with Industriousness! And boy, I will be appreciating that virtue today, for sure.) I will walk the boundary of our land and deploy the birch charms that I make each year to help mark the borders and renew the warding. Normally I have been using mistletoe, also, but my mistletoe contact never invoiced me nor sent my order. Anyone have a good contact for about a half a pound of the stuff, to be delivered the first week of December, to Maine?? I need it to be REAL and loose... nothing decorated up in bunches or those dreaded "kissing balls."

Our turkey was butchered a couple of days ago, and unlike Thanksgiving day, I DID remember to resupply with celery. Stuffing just ain't right without it, in my world. So I shall stuff and roast the bird, remembering that I will need to remove the legs and put them back in the oven for a bit. Heritage birds cook differently; I have found that using a hot fire for a shorter period works well, but the legs do not get done in the time required for the remainder of the fowl, so either into the microwave or back into the oven they go. We'll have winter squash, and carrot salad (orange, in honor of the returning sun) and cranberries from our native bogs as well as potatoes and greens  ... all veggies from the garden. It is wonderful to be able to celebrate in the dark of the year with bounty from our land, brought to the table by the blessings of Sunna, the Gods, the Elements and our own Industriousness!

There was a poem forming in my head as I arose this morning, but in the cold bedroom, it escaped before I could capture it. However the thoughts remain: One must not "wish away" ones life, whether it be by longing for the warm, long days of summer on the shortest day of the year or -- as I would be more prone to do -- wishing for the quiet, the cold and the celebration of the completion of the year's work at this time of the cycle. Whether one relishes the long days of summer or the long winters' nights, both are necessary in the cycle. Somewhere I read, long ago, that "there must needs be balance in all things." But in our busy, modern, often urban lives there can be little room for the natural balance of light and dark, of busy and still, of noise and quiet. Nevertheless, it IS necessary. Find the time to be still, to be quiet. Close the drapes, turn off the lights. Unplug the appliances (or just flip the breakers). Your food will not spoil in an hour or two without power. Turn off the mobile devices too. These days those little glowing dots of light, the constantly updating clocks ticking off time... spent or frittered... are everywhere. But it is worth the effort to make/take the time and effort to find... to rediscover... quiet. Oh, if you are where most of you likely are, there will still be sounds about.... the howls will be that of sirens not 4 footed predators in the night and the background whoosh will come from the rush of traffic, not the wind in the trees.... but you can make it still where YOU are and reconnect with the spirit of the night, the quiet dark, where you sit safe in your cave as we have for centuries.

Do it. You may be surprised by the result.