Today is the first day of the two-day festival of Paganalia (also known as Sementivae), which I wrote about last year here and here. And, just because I can, I’d like to give the excerpts from Ovid’s Fasti once again detailing these days:
Book I: January 24
After Lyra vanishes into obscurity, the fire that gleams
At the heart of the Lion will be sunk in the sea at dawn.
I have searched the calendar three or four times,
But nowhere found the Day of Sowing:
Seeing this the Muse said: ‘That day is set by the priests,
Why are you looking for moveable days in the calendar?’
Though the day of the feast’s uncertain, its time is known,
When the seed has been sown and the land’s productive.’
You bullocks, crowned with garlands, stand at the full trough,
Your labour will return with the warmth of spring.
Let the farmer hang the toil-worn plough on its post:
The wintry earth dreaded its every wound.
Steward, let the soil rest when the sowing is done,
And let the men who worked the soil rest too.
Let the village keep festival: farmers, purify the village,
And offer the yearly cakes on the village hearths.
Propitiate Earth and Ceres, the mothers of the crops,
With their own corn, and a pregnant sow’s entrails.
Ceres and Earth fulfil a common function:
One supplies the chance to bear, the other the soil.
‘Partners in toil, you who improved on ancient days
Replacing acorns with more useful foods,
Satisfy the eager farmers with full harvest,
So they reap a worthy prize from their efforts.
Grant the tender seeds perpetual fruitfulness,
Don’t let new shoots be scorched by cold snows.
When we sow, let the sky be clear with calm breezes,
Sprinkle the buried seed with heavenly rain.
Forbid the birds, that prey on cultivated land,
To ruin the cornfields in destructive crowds.
You too, spare the sown seed, you ants,
So you’ll win a greater prize from the harvest.
Meanwhile let no scaly mildew blight its growth,
And let no bad weather blanch its colour,
May it neither shrivel, nor be over-ripe
And ruined by its own rich exuberance.
May the fields be free of darnel that harms the eyesight,
And no barren wild oats grow on cultivated soil.
May the land yield rich interest, crops of wheat
And barley, and spelt roasted twice in the flames.’
I offer this for you, farmers, do so yourselves,
And may the two goddesses grant our prayers.
War long gripped mankind: the sword was more useful
Than the plough: the ox yielded to the warhorse:
Hoes were idle, mattocks made into javelins,
And heavy rakes were forged into helmets.
Thanks to the gods, and your house, under your feet
War has long been bound in chains.
Let the ox be yoked, seed lie beneath ploughed soil:
Peace fosters Ceres, and Ceres is child of Peace.
Read “Tellus Mater” in the above for “Earth,” and you’ll see why Tellus Mater and Ceres are the goddesses associated with this festival. Tellus Mater, Ops, and Ceres are the most important goddesses of the earth and of agriculture for the Romans, and Ops already had her festival during Saturnalia in December; so, it’s the other goddesses’ turn now!
However, being that I’m such
a Nazi fundamentalist an optimist and an idealist, and enjoy wondering “what could be,” there’s something else I wish these two days in late January could be, and something that they really need to be this year perhaps more than ever.
The following, I expect, will not be popular among many readers, and also a huge number of non-readers (as there’s far more of them than there are of the former). So what? I’m going to say this anyway.
There is nothing that promotes solidarity more under one name and one public political banner than to celebrate an occasion of being under that banner by name. As Pagans, therefore, Paganalia would be a good occasion on which to do that.
We’ve seen the recent difficulties with people trying to define “pagan” to mean one thing or another (and I’ve been involved in that controversy as well). We’ve also seen several attempts to create solidarity amongst pagans, mostly in the form of three blog posts at The Wild Hunt recently (the latter of which is by Teo Bishop).
Words are fine; intentions are grand. But, as pagans (and polytheists), we are people of practice, of action; we do not fully function by just stating our beliefs, we function best by doing things. Solidarity is not “told,” it’s shown.
So, let’s put our ritual practice where our mouths are. Celebrate Paganalia if you are a pagan and find the term to be useful, descriptive of yourself, and of any value.
Celebrate it with whatever ritual you see fit; celebrate it with whatever goddesses and/or gods (including “none at present”) you feel would be most appropriate to your own practices, traditions, interests, aesthetics, devotional commitments, and preferences. Start it on the 24th and continue celebrating until the 25th; start it on the 26th and keep it going until the 27th…crikey, just do it all-in-one on one day sometime between the 24th and the 27th. Take five minutes to observe it, or set aside the whole day. It’s less important how you do it: just do it!
No, I know that many people will not want to celebrate Paganalia. They’ll make every excuse in the book: “We have Imbolc coming up, that’s just too many holidays too close together”; “But I’m not Roman”; and of course the ever popular refrain of those who have called me a Nazi fundamentalist–“Don’t tell me what to do!”
To all of those excuses, I say, “Fine–but then don’t call yourself a Pagan.”
Christians celebrate many things in the life and death of the person they refer to as “Christ” as part of their religious identification and practice. Muslims/followers of Islam likewise “submit” on a daily basis to their understanding of their god via their particular practice. Buddhists wouldn’t have their religion unless a certain figure who is referred to as “the Buddha” did his work and showed the way for their practice.
If we’re really going to coalesce as a group of religious communities around a word that basically means “rural area,” even though the majority of us aren’t rural or involved in agriculture, then perhaps we can at least coalesce around a two-day festival that derives its name from the word which gives our religious umbrella term its origin.
This is “a modest proposal,” but not one that is an extended exercise in irony like the literary work by that name. I’m dead serious when I say this. People who talk really good and big talk on solidarity, but then don’t actually demonstrate it by their actions, are essentially hypocrites. I’d hate to think that most pagans are hypocrites. We will never agree on most matters of practice, theology, or self-definition–that’s fine, I don’t really care about that. But, we have no other shared holy days. Because this festival of Paganalia is not in most modern pagans’ holy-day vocabulary at present, it doesn’t already mean something else for them (like almost every other holiday that is “commonly” celebrated or shared in and across a variety of traditions already would be): it can be added in and defined as would be the most appropriate in their context. It wouldn’t break the bank nor the back of anyone trying to celebrate it. It doesn’t have to be a day that becomes a burden, or that requires anything more than saying “Yes, this is important to me because paganism is important to me,” and then–and here’s the part that far too many people miss–doing something about that feeling.
I think you’ll be glad you did–but, try it for yourself and see what you think and feel and experience yourself.
Ave Tellus Mater! Ave Ceres! Ave Pax!