Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Our Secular Pagan Path

according to weather folklore, the width of this woolly bear's bronze middle predicts a mild winter. we shall see woolly bear, we shall see. #weatherreport #wildlifehabitat #maine

This morning, my husband tells me he saw two woolly bears on the rock path and that I should go look, and so I did. Folklore tells me their large bronze bands signifies a mild winter. I heard geese flying from the marsh the other day, and I wonder what if anything, other creatures might say to the caterpillars about weather predictions.

these are buck-eyes, correct? it's not a common tree in Maine. #urbannature #unschooling

This afternoon, between writing classes, I walked with my son in the city park and we crunched the first brittle leaves underfoot and we ducked missile acorns as the wind knocked them from their oak parents. We came upon a solitary and uncommon buckeye tree, its fruit scattered on the ground, and we marveled at the shine and smoothness of each nut and that it could be born of such a spiny package. Around us, squirrels worked frantically to put stores by for the winter ahead.

laden oak tree#urbannature #unschooling

On our drive into class, my daughter reminds me of our many connections to others throughout our state, and within moments, I see a political sign with a person's name I know, having worked with him years ago. Another homeschooling mother takes a moment to introduce herself and tell me she's been reading my writing for sometime. A quick stop at the store, and I run into an old friend and chat about the upcoming Common Ground Country Fair. This post, I'm writing because every week I have people asking me about my path. We are all connected by so many threads, some fine and nearly invisible; strong nonetheless.

As I write, the mountain ash (or rowan tree, as it is also known) is brushing against my window, its leaves just beginning to blush with gold. Its branches scritch-scratch on the glass, caught in the gale roaring up the coast. Autumn is nearly upon us and with it comes red skies in the morning and cold fronts leaving behind first frosts in our low lands.

This is my family's path. Here, it is described as Secular Paganism. Pagan meaning that we look to Nature to provide balance, meaning and rhythm to our days. In turn, we commit to protecting, preserving, and living in harmony with Nature. As a family, we surround our home with an organic garden, trees and the creatures that find refuge with our small green space. We nurture our bodies, our minds and our community with the good things growing in our garden.

The tenet of our path is mindfulness. Our beliefs hold that we are not separate from nature, but part of it. We cultivate awareness, a deliberate act of noticing. We notice the changes in the seasons, and even the seasons within the seasons. (June and August are both summer months, but oh, how different.) We notice the changes in the quality of light, the way the sun streams in or ceases to, as the earth's angle to the sun changes. In winter, we notice the waning light over new fallen snow and in January, we notice the cerulean skies meeting a silver landscape. We notice the first green shoots poking up through seemingly barren soil at winter's end and the sweet pastel shades of spring's petals, drenched and contrasted against the emerald leaves and grass. As summer settles fruit on branches and vines, we notice the insects and the birds visiting our garden, the herbs that scent our walks, the sensual heat. As summer gives way to harvest, we notice a second bloom, the dropping fruit, the crickets singing and the butterflies dancing. When autumn arrives, we feel our blood stirring, responding to wood fires and the musky scent of leaves, of the need to nest, to prepare for the coming cold, as all creatures must do.

anticipating the autumn equinox #autumn #equinox #thewheel #mabon #unschooling #secularpagan

With each season, with each noticing, there is a change in activity, in desire to create and cultivate. In the cool seasons, home calls us and we bake, cook, mend, craft, read. We slow down and listen to our inner selves, and we nurture and mend there, too. In warmer months, we find ourselves craving green and soil and surf. Our days are spent cultivating, harvesting, seeking and exploring.

and the sun poured in like butterscotch and stuck to all my senses #morning #JoniMitchelllyrics #synesthesia #sunrise

There are some seasons and transitions that can be difficult for us. The waning light in autumn can in some, stir feelings of despair or panic. In late winter, the time inside, the cold and seemingly unchanging days can create a longing for spring, a feeling of claustrophobia, a feeling that we'll burst. For others, spring brings relief and joy, perhaps, or irritation at the constant mud, the fickle weather, the impatience for green. When summer arrives, the freedom, the lack of routine, perhaps, the sometimes oppressive warmth, the sogginess, can translate into a constant state of ennui for others. Everyone I know, my family included, has struggled with these feelings and responses to the cycle of days, at some point.

Once my family began truly being mindful, we practiced noticing, these transitions became easier, even anticipated. We began to see these transition seasons as transformative. These moments, these in-between the seasons, can feel so uncomfortable because it is time for us to look within, and notice what's going on there, too. Are we feeling lonely, stifled, directionless or sad? Or are we noticing other energies, the pull of creativity, gratitude, generosity, longing and ambition? Are we experiencing our own quickening?

toadstool, harbinger of the coming autumn equinox #maine

By practicing mindfulness and active noticing, we connect ourselves to the earth, our surrounding environment, and to each other. We can even connect with ourselves, answer the unanswered desires, nurture and protect, renew and restore all those things stirring inside each of us. This is our path, this is what Secular Paganism is to us. Nature guides our days and we respond with care and awareness. The seasons and transitions mark time and provide rhythm to our days as well as provide internal cues. We strive to not set ourselves apart from nature, but to recognize and embrace our place on the strands of her web. We are connected to all of nature. What matters is how well you notice.

More from On Bradstreet
The Urge for Going: Common Ground Country Fair 2010
Samhain: The Transformative Sabbat
Twelve Days of Yule and why Santa Claus is an important, spiritual figure to my family.
Yule: Second Day (Yuletide Carols)
Yule: Seventh Day (Solstice)
Blessed Easter, Happy Spring!
A Week Of Ennui: Say That Ten Times Fast

Recommended Reading

The Rhythm of Family, by Amanda Blake Soule, Stephen Soule
Celebrating the Great Mother: A Handbook of Earth-Honoring Activities for Parents and Children, by Cait Johnson, Maura D. Shaw
Llewellyn Worldwide, books on Sabbats and Seasons, various authors
Spiral Goddess Grove by Abby Willowroot - very informative, inspirational website, presented in vintage internet style. Lots of good reading, fun pages for kids, also.
Secular Paganism
The Gaia Principle
Susan Branch books and blog. I've followed Susan's work for years and I find her passion for all things seasonal and domestic inspiring and comforting.
Seasonal Home, by Kristin Perers, James Merrell
From A House to a Home, Jemima Mills
Sharon Lovejoy I adore her gardening books and illustrations and her passion for creative gardening with children.
The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener printed quarterly as a newspaper and available on-line.
Taproot Magazine
Gaia's Garden, Second Edition: A Guide To Home-Scale Permaculture, Toby Hemenway
The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It, by John Seymour


  1. You could have had no way of knowing but the timliness of this lovely post of yours is just so perfect! I have been wanting to ask you about your path for awhile now though I figured I'd do so next time we were able to get together.

    So much of this sounds like how we are living already. How my parents, especially my mother, (unknowingly) raised my brother, sister and I and how Dave and I are raising the girls. I had no idea that it had an actual name. I figured it was just another part of living this "back to basics" lifestyle that we are so thankful to live.

    Thank you for sharing the story of your path with us and thanks for giving me even more to contemplate. There is a much longer story here that I will save for another time, lest I make this comment longer than it already is! :)

  2. I am also incredibly grateful for the timeliness of this post as I'm beinnging to get into the holiday season. I could write pages of personal junk about it, but it's a boring story for everyone but me. I'll just say that I've been struggling with my world view for a very long time and now that I have a 2 year old, I have felt pressured to make at least some things more concrete and this has helped me so much!

    I'm more into traditional foods, nutrition, and food freedoms than you (it would seem anyway), but otherwise I'm right there with everything else, even the fat acceptance stuff which I've been involved with since 2005. So incredibly glad I found your blog and really look forward to reading through the rest of the archives. I wish you were my fairy godmother!

  3. hi amy- was at the fair this weekend and looked for you but knew it would be an off-chance to actually spot you. maybe next year. x liane



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