Horror Deprivation

Is there such a thing as horror deprivation?  Life has been so busy that I haven’t been able to carve out the time to watch any horror movies for several weeks now.  That steady diet has given me blog topics and a strange kind of personal comfort in this all-too-scary world.  More than that, it is often a coping mechanism.  I sometimes think more people might read this blog if I “rebranded” it as horror-themed, but perhaps there’s a different way to go about it.  Some writers, with enough shares and likes, have their daily observations become part of the national wisdom.  The rest of us, it seems, are simply background noise.  I’ve also been told blogs are passè and that may be the case.  I have trouble keeping up.  I don’t even have time to watch horror!

As with most things in life, I keep a list of movies I need to see.  Like claws such a list continues to grow unless it’s trimmed once in a while.  A movie is a couple-hour commitment and when even weekends are programmed to the last minute it’s difficult to squeeze them in.  I always welcome the more pleasant weather of spring, but so does the yard.  I’ve always thought, like good haunted house owners, that I would let the yard go.  Here in town there are ordinances, though.  It doesn’t look tidy—right now dandelions exceed the tolerated grass length a mere day after mowing.  Like triffids they pop up and won’t go away.  I could be in, watching a movie.  My credibility’s on the line here!

The pandemic, from which horror movies will arise, led many people to having too much time.  Netflix soared.  For whatever reason, it had the opposite effect on me—is this a special effect?—I had even less time than before.  I had to cancel my Netflix account because I had no time to use it.  Horror is a coping technique.  Real horrors spill from the headlines daily.  Sometimes the antidote is in the poison itself.  The way to be less scared is to watch more horror.  We’re still in the pandemic and Putin decides to start a war.  Republicans confess that Trump tried to take over by force and then backtrack.  Global warming continues apace.  There comes a point when the only therapy is to watch something worse unfold, as long as it’s fiction.  It’s Saturday.  It’s raining.  What can one possibly do?


Free Research

I’ve lost track of how many times it’s happened, but it has been relatively few.  Someone I don’t know will approach me and ask me to post about something on my blog.  Sometimes they’ll even send me a book to highlight.  Perhaps not the most effective way to build a library, I’ll admit.  And some of the books haven’t been great.  I admire them nonetheless.  It takes great effort to write a book.  And not a small amount of faith, too.  Many books—perhaps most—never get published.  A great many are self-published.  (Those who work in publishing can be a stuck-up lot sometimes.)  Even those professionally published can use a push from time to time.  On this blog I’ve actively resisted the urge to make it about one thing.  Why?  Is life just one thing?

In a recent conversation I laid out for someone new what had been my research agenda as a young professor.  It had a direction still reflected in some of the categories you’ll find on the right column of this blog.  After writing on Asherah, I was going to give similar treatment to the other ancient goddesses attested at Ugarit.  This was perhaps ambitious for an academic waif at Nashotah House, but it was well underway.  My book on Shapshu was making good progress when the market (that dragon to every St. George) led friends to suggest turning biblical, which led to Weathering the Psalms.  A new research agenda—explore the weather terminology (the meteorotheology) of other biblical books—arose.  There were storms, after all, becalmed over lakes.  Horror entered in the jobless period and beyond.

And social justice.  I’m not a thrice-failed minister for nothing!  In fact, a recent freebie was a book on social justice.  I have a colleague as interested in monsters as me.  This particular scholar had decided to focus on the cause of the poor.  Even economists are starting to say the unequal distribution of wealth is hurting us.  While the rich fly to space on personally owned rockets, the rest of us have trouble filling up at the service station, even if we have jobs.  So it is that this blog is eclectic.  A friend told me early on that it would be more popular if I just stuck to one topic.  That’s probably true, but my mind can’t settle down like that.  And when people send me things to talk about, I’m happy to do so, if it fits somewhere in my mind.


Easter Weather

The weather doesn’t always cooperate for holidays.  Easter is, at heart, a celebration of spring—life after death.  Around here this holiday has been accompanied by fits and starts in warmer weather and instead of warmer it’s actually colder again.  Just a week ago there was snow in the air.  Life’s that way; you don’t always know what to expect.  I guess I’m still in hibernation mode.  No matter the season, there never seems to be enough time to sleep.  As a youth I always attended sunrise services on Easter.  These days I regularly rise before the sun, so as long as I’m capable it’s like every day is Easter.  But with work.  Even on what many recognize as Easter—which overlaps with Passover this year—the Orthodox feel we have it too early, what with the Julian calendar still being in effect.  It’s all a matter of how we look at time.

As much as I hate mowing, I admire the exuberance of grass.  It’s ready to welcome the longer days by stretching toward the sun.  Drinking in the plenteous rain.  The dandelions have already begun to spread, opening their yellow eyes to all and sundry passing insects.  Easter is a time to reflect on life returning after winter.  And I can’t help but think of those in the southern hemisphere for which Easter falls in the autumn.  The theology fails to match the seasons as life springs up just as winter is about to set in.  The Christian viewpoint is a northern one, keyed to our seasons.  The weather doesn’t always observe the prevailing theology.

Around here Good Friday was a fine, sunny day.  Like most of the fine, sunny days it was a work day.  Now it’s a chillier Easter, the Saturday between being a mix with some rain.  When I was young—eagerly awaking for sunrise services, which I often had a hand in designing—I marveled at how the weather often seemed to cooperate.  Now as I think back, I remember coming out of Good Friday services into the incongruous sunshine and finding many an Easter still bearing an unseasonal chill.  Weather is, of course, a local and global phenomenon.  One person’s chilly Easter is too hot for someone further away.  And for yet others the onset of autumn.  Globalism has taught us to look further, to think in terms of how others might be experiencing this world.  Easter seems an appropriate time to do just that.


Sexist Instructions

The thing about cars is there’s so much that can go wrong.  And when it does it’s costly to fix it.  Yet, even when working from home, we need them.  We have two, both quite old in car years.  One is approaching twenty.  We bought it new—the first time we’d ever been able to achieve such a feat.  This was one of the new Beetles and it has had never-ending electronic issues.  Warning lights come on that seem to be a malfunction of the warning lights—if you ever wanted an existential situation that’s one right there.  How do you know if there’s something wrong with your engine or is it just something wrong with the warning light?  A worrisome one came on just as winter was settling in and we didn’t need to drive it much before inspection time and we let it sit a little too long.

The battery, naturally, died.  We have an old, seldom used battery jump-starter, which, in the cold of the garage, also died.  We’ve been trying to find time on the weekend when both my wife and I are free (rare) so that I can drive it a ways to try to recharge the battery, but with someone home who can rescue me if I get stuck.  So it was we came to buy a new jump-starter.  These new ones are the size of a cell phone on steroids—much smaller than the old kind.  Ours came from China, I’m guessing, and the instructions are sexist.  They imply that women can use this because it’s easy.  Part of the description reads “It can be used more than 30 times, giving you peace of mind, no matter where you are, if the battery runs out, you can start it without looking for women who are not smart at night in an empty parking lot, such as a college campus or forget you.”  I don’t know about you, but this sounds like the writer had a past he’s trying to deal with.

I was indeed once left stranded because of a dead car battery.  It’s a story I’m saving for my autobiography, if I ever write one, but let me assure you all the people responsible for that abandonment were men.  Men with a car that wouldn’t start while I sat in the middle of nowhere in the dark.  (This was before cell phones.)  I didn’t want to buy a sexist device.  Both men and women have batteries die and I’m always a little scared to jump-start a car.  At least now we can get the Beetle rolling again and drive toward a future where women are rightfully seen as equal to men.  And I hope that instruction writer has found some help, perhaps with therapy.


April Says

I can honestly say that it wasn’t on my bucket list to mow the lawn while it was snowing.  Friday would’ve been better—sunny and sixty—but I have a 925 and I had a meeting after work I couldn’t get out of.  Saturday it rained all day, which, I know, grass loves.  Sunday was the only opportunity left in the weekend, and with stocking cap and gloves on, I went to mow.  Snow started to fall.  It must be April.  I’ve always believed that “April fools” has an origin in the weather.  I can’t prove it, but it seems just when you think it’s safe to go without a coat, suddenly winter.  Back when we lived in Wisconsin we took a family fun trip to Wisconsin Dells for my wife’s birthday in April.  It snowed.  We rode the famous ducks and then played mini-golf amid squalls.  April fools.

The weather influences many aspects of life.  Why it’s considered a neutral topic I don’t know.  It’s kind of like talking about God.  The only thing we all agree on is that we can’t control it.  Well, we can certainly influence it.  Global warming sets strange weather patterns into motion.  It was in the seventies less than a month ago.  (Which is why grass was unruly just as April began its double-digits.)  Then there’s all the rain.  See what I mean about God?  Divinity and weather were in mind as I worked on Weathering the Psalms.  I still wrestle with how these things relate to each other in the human psyche.  We do tend to think the weather is somehow a judgment or blessing.

My family knows I complain about it religiously.  And mowing isn’t my favorite activity in any weather.  It was late November and I was still mowing.  April (which fools) seems to be a little too soon to be starting that all over again.  Committing at least one day of every weekend until nearly next Christmas to cutting grass.  It’s a long-term commitment.  I suspect those who benefit (monetarily, for we all lose, existentially) from global warming probably don’t mow their own lawns.  They probably have their private jets that don’t need to be jump started because that worrying idiot-light on the dash is on again and they’re afraid to use it.  It’s life in a different key.  Still, we all share the weather.  When it affects crops, or swamps New York City, we’ll all be bound to notice.  Enough grumbling.  It’s time to get the weed-whacker fired up while the icicles start to form.  April fools.


1 April

Image credit: Trocche100, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The funny thing is nobody knows how it got started.  In living memory, and indeed back a century or two—even more—people have considered April 1 a day for jokes and fooling.  Perhaps it was a kind of relief after winter was finally beginning to show its tail, or perhaps it was some distortion of Hilaria, the Roman festival of the goddess Cybele.  Some have speculated that it had to do with switching from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar when many were confused as to what the actual date was.  No matter what its origins are, April Fools has stuck.  It has such resonance that even legislation passed on this date is sometimes questioned as to whether it is serious.  Some locations have grand pranks planned and budgeted.

Nobody, as noted, knows how this got started.  One of my personal favorites posits a biblical origin.  Things tend to go back to the Bible in western culture, don’t they?  This idea takes it all the way back to the tenth generation of the human race: Noah’s flood.  Back in the eighteenth century it was suggested that Noah sent out his first dove before the waters abated on April 1 (this, of course, is based on knowing the exact days of creation—something that was of considerable interest in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries).  Since the dove was sent on a “fool’s errand”—there was no dry land visible—well, April fools!

With rare exceptions this isn’t a day off work.  It’s not a holiday with any religious implications, despite speculations about Noah and his dove.  It’s really a day highlighting uncertainty.  Practical jokes can, of course, be harmful.  There can be those, such as yours truly, who might be slow to catch on.  Indeed, almost always the victim of a “practical joke” doesn’t find him or herself in an appreciative mood.  I’ve always personally thought the reference was to the weather.  Snow isn’t unusual into mid-April in parts of the northern tier.  In fact received wisdom suggests not planting annuals until May arrives.  April’s weather, in other words, fools.  Around here we’ve whiplashed through March with days in the seventies and others the coldest of the winter (or so it seemed).  Now we’re into the first full month of spring.  The early flowers are out (some of which succumbed to the cold of this week’s weather) making fools of us all.  My hope is that none of us take this day’s unknown-origin holiday too seriously.


Going Green

It’s easy to get eager at this point in the year.  A month and a half after Groundhog Day, we’re at St. Patrick’s, and just a few days from the equinox itself.  Around these parts we’ve had some warm weather after last weekend’s bomb cyclone and most of the snow is now gone.  We’re ready for progress.  We’re tired of winter and huddling indoors.  The crocuses are defiantly open although the warning saying in Wisconsin went “three snows on the crocuses.”  St. Patrick’s green is the fecund green of spring.  Although nobody gets them off from work, the seasonal holidays are signs of hope.  It doesn’t matter which season into which we’re transitioning, there’s beauty ahead.  It’s the kind of change many people enjoy.

Look closely at a flower.  (If the crocuses aren’t up yet in your area they will be soon.)  Open and inviting, it offers insects what they need in return for a bit of cross-pollination.  Yesterday I saw my first wasp looking for a place to build a nest on our house, reminding me to be careful opening doors now because no transition is completely smooth.  Spring is hope in season form.  As much as we may appreciate winter with its pristine chill, spring reminds us that food is soon to be available from the bosom of the earth itself.  The songbirds, now back in force, have been eagerly anticipating it.  They are the heralds of transition, the little winged messengers of assurance.

Photo credit: Andreas F. Borchert, Wikicommons

It’s time to step outside and breathe deeply.  The muddy smells of a thawing earth blend with the first fruity hints of buds beginning cautiously to open.  The transition’s not straightforward.  There will be setbacks and chills yet to come.  Nevertheless, the die is cast—St. Pat waves his clover as if to say “This is what lies ahead, as brown becomes green.” Our world tilts as it spins and brings us the delight of seasonal changes.  Saints and birds and flowers must agree on this, even should they differ on the details of what is needful.  It’s a day for celebration, even though it’s a Thursday, a work day with perhaps a respite—after hours of course—to have some fun.  Green is about to reappear.  We wear it today to encourage the timid plants, yes, we need hope.  We look around the world and know that hope is what we really all crave.  


Relinquishing Control

Controlling the weather is a dream as old as humanity itself.  Once when I was fervently praying for a rain-free day as a child, my mother pointed out that other people could be praying for rain.  I realized then that weather was a personalized preference and that, on some level, prayers cancel each other out.  Well, it’s Groundhog Day and we’re all wondering whether those who love winter and want more or those who are ready for spring will prevail.  For this we’ll rely on a woodchuck.  The observation of animals for signs of spring seems to have been a germanic practice, and it could also involve badgers (which I’ve never, ever seen in the wild) or bears as well as groundhogs.  The idea is that the majority are looking forward to spring when they can plant and grow food, hopefully enough to last through the next winter.  And so the cycle goes.

We hear a lot about January as a month of transitions.  It is, but so are they all.  February, both the dead of winter and start of spring, provides variety as we continue the cycle.  I’ve already seen my first robin of the year and I’ve been hearing sporadic bird song.  The mating season, after all, comes around the middle of the month.  According to some renditions of the Celtic calendar, Imbolc, which was yesterday, is the start of spring.  Celebrated with fires to encourage the light and warmth, we know that cold and snow and wind chill still lie ahead.  We are reminded, however, that this wheel is still turning.  Slowly, slowly, but ever turning.

I’m writing this post before Punxsutawney Phil even awakes.  The sky is dark and it’s cold outside.  Like Phil Connors I’m thinking about how we want things to stay the same, but when they do they quickly haunt us.  Time forever moves and all seasons are mere transitions to the next.  In this endless cycle we have to come to appreciate where we are at the moment.  There’s a stark beauty to winter.  A snowy landscape can become a transport of rapture.  We have to heat our houses, however, and pay the bills to do so.  We keep our house cool enough that some days I just don’t have the heart to venture outside at all.  Still, I wouldn’t change it.  These cycles are old friends now.  I’ll glance to the west and wonder what Phil might see, but I’ll be praying that we will never control the weather.


Footprints in the Snow

Although my back’s grateful, many of the snowstorms rolling across the country have left just a small bit of snow here so far.  Small bits of snow create their own hazards, however.  A snow covered trail quickly becomes hazardous for jogging, so I walk.  This past week we had a little snow and temperatures low enough to dissuade many of those who normally walk or run the trail.  Those of us with desk jobs really have to make an effort to move.  When I was out I was surprised by a couple of things.  There were no other lunch-time walkers and it was above freezing.  The almost untrodden snow gave under my feet and in the patches where the sun made it through, was actually wet.  I took my usual constitutional and headed back to work.

These short, cold winter days are too treacherous for walking in the dark.  Black ice isn’t a myth unless you can slip and fall on a myth.  The next day it was bitterly cold.  Still, skipping exercise a day is a slippery slope.  I headed back to the trail.  At first my footsteps from the previous day had led to a regular set of tracks where the snow had melted down and the pea gravel had dried out.  Walking was safe here.  As I reached the further, more wooded end of the trail it was quite different.  Sheltered by the trees, my foot prints from the previous day had slightly melted and then refroze, leaving a track of ice that could easily twist an ankle.  I began to think of the concept of following.

We find those whose wisdom compels us.  We hear them in the classroom, the pulpit, or the street corner.  Or we read them in a book.  We might even see them on television or the internet.  They seem to have something we lack, so we follow them.  Their tracks often start out secure enough.  Dry patches in an otherwise slippery covering of snow.  We follow on, thinking we’ve found our way.  Somewhat further down the path, however, the tracks become icy, showing us that even the great leaders have their own hidden secrets.  The places where they too slip and fall.  The wisdom we seek is collective.  No one person has all the answers.  If that were so it should be obvious to us all.  Instead we need to strike out on that nearly unbroken snow to discover for ourselves.


Global Swarming

It’s a veritable horror trope.  The swarm, that is.  We fear being overwhelmed by vast numbers of apparently innocuous insects or arachnids, although they are much smaller than us.  It’s their logistical superiority, and perhaps their utter disregard of personal space.  Summer at Nashotah House was the time of the earwigs.  They came out in such numbers that no room in the house was safe from them.  There was a horror element to pulling your toothbrush out of the holder only to find one hanging onto the place you were about to put your fingers.  Or opening the refrigerator to find that one had crawled into the butter.  Any time you picked something up you might find an earwig under it.  They would crawl up the walls and across the ceiling.  Other places on campus would be overrun with ladybugs or black flies.  It was in the woods, after all.

Most places we’ve lived since then have had their native bug that gets in, often in numbers.  Our current nemesis is the box elder bug.  Although harmless, it is a true bug in every sense of the word.  I’m Buddhist in my desire not to kill and there are too many to catch and take them back outside.  Fortunately they’re pretty localized—they like my study, probably because its southern exposure means it gets sunshine even into December.  We’ve had some cold days but November has been experiencing global warming and the box elder bugs, clueless, wander all over the place.  Most of them are near the end of their life and die after poking around for a few days.  Others are quite frisky.  Some remind me of horror movies from the fifties.

I have one of those desk set Stonehenge models.  I don’t have the space to set it up fully, and the die for the model was obviously done with poorly sculpted clay, so it takes some imagination to think the trilithons resemble those of the actual site.  When I noticed a box elder bug crawling over one, however, it took me back to Tarantula and other such films where the menace wasn’t just a little old bug, but a huge one.  Our monsters these days have shrunk, however, and fear comes in small packages.  Box elder bugs are harmless but annoying.  Of course, they’re still out this year because we’ve warmed the place up for them and even in November they, well, swarm.


Sky Dwellers

If the atmosphere’s an ocean, we’re all bottom-dwellers.  Ancient peoples populated the sky above with incorporeal beings, starting with a god, or gods, at the top.  Beneath that great being were other, for lack of a better term, spiritual beings.  Angels, etc.  Eventually, the lower you got in the sky, the heavier bodies became until those of us bound to our planet by gravity (for which they had no concept) were pretty much stuck on earth.  Although this may not seem like it, it was an early form of scientific thinking.  Birds fly.  The first thing you notice upon lifting a bird, is how light it is.  (Bird lifting may be rare to those of us in modern times, keeping the wonder intact when we actually encounter it.  I was once handed an owl-hawk or some such raptor, at a street vendor stand at Stratford-upon-Avon.  As the handler slipped the glove on and asked me to hold my hand out, I prepared for like a five-pound bag of flour.  Instead I could barely tell that the bird, larger than a bag of flour, was even there.  “Light, isn’t he?” the vendor asked.)

Back to science.  If birds, which are light, can fly in the air—some at great heights—it must be that sky-dwelling beings are lighter.  Lighter than birds.  In the Middle Ages, in Europe, this proto-scientific thinking was applied to theology.   Monastics and scholastics tried to determine what exactly spiritual bodies were made of.  Keep in mind that their world consisted of a basically flat earth with a very large dome over it.  That dome had layers—the sun and moon lived in one, the stars lived in one, and then spiritual beings all the way up to God (since monotheism reigned by then).  Stories of angels and demons mating with humans circulated.  How was that possible if they were pure spirit?

It stands to reason that clouds also inhabit the skies.  It doesn’t take much of a scientist to associate heavy clouds with rain.  Logic suggests clouds are made of water.  Perhaps then spiritual bodies were some kind of vapor.  Lighter than air they inhabited realms far above the clouds.  They descend by gaining weight, perhaps like clouds.  These otherwise ethereal beings would be unknown to us, they dwell so high.  They have to come down to deal with us.  There may be realms even lower, but if the atmosphere’s an ocean, early science suggests, we are indeed bottom dwellers.


Steel Industry

It was a building on Broadway, just south of Times Square.  I don’t know the name of the building or remember what business it may have housed, but I did notice on my quick walks through Manhattan on my way to the bus that it was being renovated.  The facing had been removed and an exposed I-beam bore the words Bethlehem Steel.  From coast to coast, and even to ships at sea, Bethlehem Steel was a major supplier.  Today the factory is still.  There’s a poignancy about such giants falling.  The world as we know it was largely constructed from the products of the still impressive, rusting reminder of days of glory.  No doubt the air is healthier to breathe and the noise level much more suited to humanity, but standing here next to this behemoth it’s easy to fall into a reverie.

I grew up near heavy industry.  Nobody in my family was directly involved, but my hometown had a steel mill just across the river and my next hometown housed an oil refinery.  Both are closed now and the area has been in an economic depression that has lasted for decades.  Industry on this kind of scale requires workers willing to sacrifice much in order just to survive in an industrial world.  Over 500 workers died over the years at the Bethlehem Steel plant.  Factory life involved dangerous jobs with machinery containing material at over 3,000 degrees, and single pieces of equipment that could easily crush a person beyond recognition.  Workers were in some sense expendable as the collective, the nation, grew.  The factory never shut down, running all through the night, seven days a week.  The profits were enormous.  So were the costs.

Global warming was well underway as the greenhouse gases belched into the sky.  Bethlehem Steel wasn’t the only polluter, of course.  Heavy industry, industrial farming, individual cars—we seem to be determined to poison the air we breathe in order to make money.  If the pandemic has taught us anything it’s that we’re all connected.  Rising prices and supply chain breakdowns have underscored that we all depend on each other worldwide.  Climate change has already assured that disruptions will continue and likely worsen.  There’s a kind of autumnal beauty in desolation.  These great steel stacks stand rusting and silent beneath a leaden but too warm sky.  Actions have consequences, and those that affect many create ripples that become waves.  We have created monsters but we can’t control them.


Like a Hurricane

Around here we welcomed September in with the remains of Hurricane Ida.  For the second summer in a row, far inland, we’ve sustained hurricane damage.  For storms like this it’s not so much a question of if there will be damage, but rather “how much?”  It was complicated by the paper wasps.  It’s like a 1970s natural disaster movie.  It starts at the end of August.

I was going out to put the recycling bin away (more on this later).  When I opened the garage door I was stung three times by a paper wasp (or maybe two)—twice on the face and once on a finger.  The previous day when I’d taken the bin out there hadn’t been a nest, but 24 hours later, angry waspids were protecting their territory.  I couldn’t even get the door closed.  We don’t have any bug-killing spray on hand since we believe in live and let live.  But I do need to get into the garage.  Due to my weekly schedule I couldn’t get to the hardware store before Friday.  Fine, let the Hymenoptera have the garage.

The next day—actually later that day—Ida began to arrive.  We’ve had extensive roof repairs since moving in here.  We’ve had two-thirds of it replaced entirely.  Then the rain started.  The plumber came before it got bad to replace a cast-iron radiator that we had moved so I could repair the drywall behind it.  While doing that I repaired the ceiling where water from ex-Hurricane Isaias leaked through.  The roofer had patched this part after Isaias, so we thought we were good.  By mid-afternoon there was water dripping from the ceiling again and the repairs I had made crumbled into the bucket set there to catch the water.  So it goes.  Outside the street was closed due to flooding.  I couldn’t get into the garage to check for damage because, you know, wasps guarded the only door (still open).

It used to be that weather was a neutral topic to discuss.  Of course, it’s become politicized now.  Having a climate-change denier in the White House for four years made the topic dangerous to raise.  This area used to never get hit too badly by hurricanes.  Global warming, however, has changed everything.  I got up the morning after wondering where to start.  It was still dark and a cricket had come inside to get out of the weather.  It chirped as I came down stairs.  Everything will be all right.

Our unofficial rain gauge

Starting September

The deep green of late summer has been starting to brown at the edges.  The process is a slow one, but it’s urged along by the Halloween decorations beginning to appear in the stores and the spooky offerings showing up in various media.  Our second pandemic summer is winding down.  Autumn has always been my favorite season.  I like summer’s relaxed attitude.  Even winter’s chill is something I anticipate.  But autumn is so visceral that it’s spiritual.  Autumn catches in my throat.  I sniff the air expectantly.  I know the ghosts and ghouls are on their way.  I won’t feel so strange for watching horror movies when the season demands it.  Already light is scarce before work in the morning.  In order to accommodate my daily constitutional I’ve had to shift to the streets of our town where there’s a bit of artificial light at 5:30 a.m.

September has crept up on us under the guise of several heat waves and hurricanes crossing the country.  The season of scares is about upon us.  I have to admit to feeling a thrill when seeing orange and black in stores and on front lawns.  Halloween lights have begun to appear on some front porches and the candy has begun to spill out in grocery stores for those who want to shop early.  Outside, even with the heat waves and hurricanes, early morning declares that fall is on its way.  As early as August, like a squirrel I begin to horde away my autumnal reading and viewing.  Books and movies to see me through to what seems like the home base of spring when shivers cease and light begins to grow again.  Every year I tell myself I’ll be ready this time.  Every year it stuns me in its wonder.

The transitional seasons, unfortunately, are most under threat from global warming.  The periods between the extremes of heat and cold get foreshortened, making them even more precious.  I have to believe Halloween is capitalism’s attempt to sell autumn.  It’s a season of feeling, of pure emotion.  I almost fear its coming since I know it can’t last for nearly long enough.  There’s a beauty to the decline, and my migratory instincts for the classroom kick in.  If only it could be so forever.  Summer’s heat underscores autumn’s relief.  There’s treasure hidden here, even if it’s only temporary.  September is finally here.  And with it comes hope.

Things to come

Belated Lughnasadh

We’re accustomed to think of summer as a “non-holiday” season beyond the bookends of Memorial and Labor Days, and the midsummer Independence Day.  Still, ancient people felt the turning of the year at the start of August with the festival of Lughnasadh.  I often forget it myself, although I’ve been feeling a tinge of autumn in the air this past week.  You can smell it at the very tip of your nose if you’re sensitive enough.  The cool of the pre-dawn air presages changes to come.  The wheel turns constantly.  Lughnasadh was actually Sunday (August 1).  Along with Samhain (Halloween), Imbolc, and Beltane (May Day), it divides the year into quarters (now called cross-quarter days since they fall roughly midway between the solstices and equinoxes).  It reminds us that summer is getting on; Lughnasadh was the festival of early harvest.

Lughnasadh was originally said to have been initiated by Lugh, one of the most prominent of Celtic deities.  Several European cities, such as Lyon, have names that likely derive from Lugh.  A warrior god renowned for his ability with crafts, he was also a savior god.  Although I’m no expert in Celtic mythology, it’s difficult to live in a Gaelic country for three years and not absorb some of the fascination for it.  Unlike Greek mythology, there aren’t large numbers of ancient literary pieces that tell the full story.  There are tales enough to know that Lugh was a major god of pre-Christian Europe and that as Christianity spread he was challenged by another savior god.

Although now rather obscure in much of the world, the Christian holiday of Lammas, or “Loaf Mass” was settled on August 1, likely to draw attention from Lughnasadh.  It too was a celebration of first fruits, for as reluctant as we are to let the light and warmth of summer go, plants are beginning to feel the onset of fall.  Lammas is a festival of communion—thus the loaf—and continues to be celebrated with local customs.  It includes the blessing of bakeries or of bringing bread to church to be blessed.  Lost in the modern rendition of summer, Lughnasadh or Lammas is barely recognized by most of us.  I’d never heard of it until I began researching holidays for a book I wrote that was never published.  Festivals that celebrate the changing seasons have an appeal to those of us isolated indoors behind screens all the time.  Perhaps it’s time to bring some summer holidays back. Lugh says yes.

Perhaps Lugh, via Wikimedia Commons