Rubens take on Ops

Rubens: Abundance

Last night we did our Lughnassadh, only we did it as a Roman festival to Ops Mater. For years we’ve celebrated Lughnasa as the death and rebirth of the Corn King– John Barleycorn must die and all that. But since we’ve learned that this is totally wrong, I’ve felt even more disconnected from my Celtic heritage than ever.  I am hoping that my last remaining Celtic holiday, Samhain, isn’t going to be more of the same as in– everything I know is wrong, I’ve been celebrating wrongly all these years with messed up ideas based on bad research by spotty authors who led us all astray en masse. Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasa– they’re all dead to me in the face of superior research. So what to do but look for Roman equivalents? If I can’t be a proper neo-Celtic pagan, and it seems pretty conclusive that I can’t, I can at least embrace my Western European Classic heritage.

So, Ops. We did our very best to construct an ADF style ritual, following the Core Order of Ritual, to this Sabine goddess of abundance, fertility and wealth. A Chthonic deity, she was at one time the leading goddess of the Sabines. There were two festivals for her in August, one on August 10th and another on the 25th, as well as a third in December. The Consus in OpiConsivia is a god who protects grain storehouses, especially underground ones.

The ritual itself was cobbled together from extant Roman ADF rituals on the website and prayers to Ops found there and elsewhere. We got the nine of pentacles/disks as our omen, an excellent omen for this ritual and one that greatly cheered up everyone present. I wish we would have had more music, but skipping the whole John Barleycorn/lord of the harvest theme made modern pagan music very difficult to find. Even the folksongs that we know, such as “Band o’ Shearers”, aren’t really the right flavor. Maybe by next year I’ll have found something different.

Some of my adjustment to ADF has been very rugged. The worst of it has been realizing my lack in things Celtic. But we move on, learn and grow. Ah, what the heck. Have a Band o’ Shearers on me! 😉



“Fruit Basket”, oil on wood

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This is the time of year in my part of the world where we see the fruits of fertility. Almost everyone I know associates Beltane with fertility, and that is perhaps as it should be with Beltane being the “planting” time of year for many folks in the northern hemisphere.  Midsummer has passed and everything is growing and growing– or if you’re down south here, being harvested and enjoyed.

Fertility isn’t really about things that are growing, although that is its results– fruits, babies, projects completed. Fertility is a state of receptivity. From bearing or being capable of bearing offspring.  It’s easy to get confused about this as a pagan virtue. Does it mean we should try to have lots of children? Does it mean we should try to produce many awesome projects? I think it’s more about the quality of being receptive, of being open to the possibility of producing, be it children or art or some other work that the Gods set us upon.

If we’re not receptive, we aren’t listening or paying attention and we can miss our opportunities.  Fertility is not, however, a passive state. You can’t be fertile ground for new things to grow in without working on being healthy. This is doubly important with spiritual and mental projects. If we’re not doing the work we need to do to prepare ourselves for the job ahead of us then we won’t be fertile ground. Our work will wither and die, if it sprouts at all. So part of being fertile is taking care of ourselves. Like preparing a garden with compost and weeding, we need tending if we’re going to bring forth our best work.

Fertility can be ranked by quality, not quantity as well. One small fertile field will give a better harvest than several acres of sub-standard land. One nutritious dinner is better than three low quality meals. In being fertile, we are being called to be rich sources for whatever we are producing.  I think fertility is important as a virtue because it’s the soil from which other things grow. We can be rich, loamy earth or we can be pallid deserts, and much of that is up to us. We do the work to improve and ensure our own fertility and through that, enrich each other’s lives with our gifts.

Happy Summer Solstice

The sun behind the Heel Stone at Stonehenge, s...

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Like its winter counterpart, Summer Solstice is a holiday that has been celebrated around the world since pre-Christian times. In the Christian era it became St. John’s day, but many of the traditions remain. Bonfires to ward off malignant spirits because the veil is thin, purification rituals, gathering of medicinal plants at their prime, all-night parties that start as vigils and end as revels.

Neopagans sometimes call this holiday Litha, after the Anglo-Saxon month that coincided with this time of year.  And because of Shakespeare, we all think of fairies on Midsummer, and delirious dreams and delights and tricks. It is perhaps another interpretation of the veil between worlds being thin, not only the veil between the spirit world and ours but also the fairy realm and ours as well.

I’ve been interested in the discussion going around various places about just what “midsummer” means. I’ve always read in scholarly sources that this is an Middle English usage of  “mid”, meaning “with” instead of the more usual “in the middle of”. Midwife has similar roots. This does not stop people from coming up with the most convoluted theories involving Celts, Astronomy, planting schedules and the like. I think in this particular case Occam’s razor is the way to go.

Even so, it is the middle of the long days and short nights time of year even if it isn’t the middle of summer. I live far enough south that this isn’t quite the same effect as it is in more northern latitudes, and so the inevitable mourning about the coming loss of sun is less sharp for me.  The shortening days are less a dramatic fading away and more of a subtle muting. I do very much miss the midsummer moon of my childhood in the north, though. The moonlight would be almost blindingly brilliant and make everything look so strange and high contrast. I could imagine fairies dancing in that sparkling moonlight world very easily.

For us, this is the beginning of the end of the nice weather, the entry into the time long, hot days that will burn out the garden and violent storms that punish the earth more than cool it. We’re entering a fallow time here, and that makes it almost upside down compared to my friends a little further north. Already we’ve eaten beans and the last of the cucumbers and radishes for now. We’ll have to wait for cooler weather to plant again.

It’s a good time to eat ripe summer fruit, stay up late to look at the stars, and let lazy dreams carry away the afternoon doldrums.  We’ll clear away the old vines and plan what we’ll do next.

The Toad

A close up of a common toad

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This morning a toad came to play in a puddle of water in my nature place. There are many toads in my neighborhood. In the mating season, when it rains, the sound of their love-songs can be deafening.  After heavy rains, you can catch tadpoles in almost any significant puddle of water.  This season we’re having a terrific drought, so water from sprinklers and hoses, which normally be of little interest to toads, is suddenly a precious resource.  The toad who came to visit was not very large, only about the size of a small lemon. I’m not good at sexing toads, so I can’t say whether it was a Mr. or Ms. Toad, but a young one, clever enough to avoid predators to grow up yet still tender in the world. It was a lovely toad and a lovely surprise after the dead possum of the other day. Life goes on, round and round.

The Possum

A cat in a garden / Katze im Grünen

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There was a dead juvenile possum in my Nature Place a couple of days ago.  She was old enough to be away from her mom, but just barely.  A cat or something had caught her, broken her spine but declined to eat her. Since my Nature Place is in my yard, this means that we had to deal with the remains.

I’ve thought a lot about what this means in the greater context of  “nature place”. As part of our Dedicant Path, we’re supposed to observe the goings on of the natural cycle of life. Young possums falling afoul of predators is entirely natural. Predators declining to eat their meal is not. But most of the predators in our neighborhood have other, more easy to eat food available on demand. Prey becomes a toy to play with instead of a necessary item for survival.  Even our pets become trophy hunters in the world that we humans create.

There are lizards and toads and snakes in my nature place as well. One of the lizards we’ve named Stumpy because he’s currently growing back his tail after a close encounter with a trophy hunting cat.  The central feature of my nature place is a small palm tree, really more of a bush. Stumpy is King of the Palm.  The broad leaves hold him and his subjects up easily, but collapse under the weight of cats. And yet the palm might have offered concealment for a cat hunting a young possum. And so it goes. Shelter and safety for one, concealment for another, hidden doom for a third. My nature place is busy-busy, even though it’s small.

RIP little possum. If your brothers and sisters visit, I hope they fare better.


On my Roman blog today, I’m discussing constantia, the Roman virtue most similar to perseverance.  Constantia(or perseverance), along with gravitas and pietas, were considered to be the three most important virtues by many Roman philosophers. Perseverance is “Steady persistence in adhering to a course of action, a belief, or a purpose; steadfastness.” Its second definition has to do with the Calvinist doctrine of the elect– that perseverance is only granted by God’s will to his chosen.

This is a great illustration of the difference in thought between Christians and Pagans regarding virtue. Though many Christians strive to live a virtuous life, they consider the ability to be virtuous to be beyond human reach. Whatever virtue you have is given to you as a present. Pre-Christian pagan thought tended to view the virtues as ways of behaving that were within reach of any person. Striving to live a virtuous life does indeed require perseverance! The Romans even thought that if you had a virtue as a natural part of your character, it ceased to be a virtue because it wasn’t something you were working at. Virtue in Roman pagan life was an active thing, full of striving.

Perseverance is one of the most valuable virtues, because cultivating it gives us strength to cultivate the others. Perseverance helps us keep doing what we need to do, even in the face of adversity or failure. I think in modern usage it implies some of the strength of character and sense of self that the Romans called gravitas. It’s definitely in my personal top three virtues!

Patron Deities

Brigid, Patron of Poets, Smiths and CowsLast night at the online ADF Dedicant Path Through the Wheel of the Year, led by Reverend Jesse,  we talked about personal religion and patron deities. The patron deity notion has been an issue for me of late. Last August when I joined ADF, I thought I belonged to Brigid. I had been praying and studying and wearing a Brigid necklace for over a year. I felt like I was in a comfortable and happy relationship there– a connection to my heritage and the Gaelic/Celtic culture that I love.  I felt simultaneously comforted and challenged to live outside my usual boundaries.

Then, on the ADF discussion lists, a lot of people began discussing Brigid, and the Goddess they described didn’t really resonate with the Brigid I thought I knew. One of the most vocal people, who claims immense relationship and authority, worships a Brigid so far removed from my understanding that my only way to rationalize it was to consider that perhaps there are many Brigids. That idea got shot down pretty firmly by people who know much more about it all than I do, and know more than I will ever know or could ever know. I realized that my relationship was shallow and weak and basically meaningless. I am not a daughter of Brigid after all. I probably never will be.

This was immensely sad for me, and for a while I stopped doing any serious work on my DP and stuck to my Lararium prayers and not much else.  I thought seriously about leaving ADF– everyone else seems to not only have a patron deity or three but also a much more direct and personal relationship with their patrons. I don’t know if my personality really allows for that. I’m slow and cautious and careful for the most part with relationships. It’s rare for me to have those blinding, transcendent experiences that seem to be the heart of ADF members’ relationship with their Gods. I’m smaller and quieter than that. Repressed, some call it, but that’s not a fair diagnosis. Not all of us are large and extroverted in our emotions. That doesn’t always mean “repressed”.

Reverend Jesse’s class last night made me feel immensely better about these issues. She pointed out that not everybody has a Patron Deity, not always immediately, sometimes not ever, and sometimes those relationships don’t last forever.  So perhaps there is hope for me yet.

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