Thinking about the Imbolc–Lughnasadh axis of my year’s Wheel, I realize that I’m struck with more than a little melancholy during each of these seasons. I have always had trouble getting into the celebratory groove, because for me, these holidays are more famine than feast. For me, they mark extremes of lack: Imbolc of food, and Lughnasadh of water.
Most often, Lughnasadh is celebrated as the first harvest, a time of plenty. But it’s origins lie in the death of a goddess. Growing up just south of New York City, Lughnasadh was the time of drought. Thus far, this is also proving to be true in New England. The brook that lies to the west of my home, deep in conversation land, has dwindled to a muddy trickle. The latest batch of tadpoles struggle in ever smaller pools of water. Even the lichen in the forest browns and curls up from lack of rain.
Humans are not immune to this—if anything we’ve exacerbated the problem with our golf courses and aerial sprinklers. The neighboring town is already on a level IV drought alert, having started out at level I in late April. Too many people use too much water and the aquifers and reservoirs just can’t keep up. It’s frustrating, and something that my own community tries to mitigate though rain barrels, water-saving faucets, and soaker hoses. But we, too, despite our best efforts are far from living lightly on the land.
There seems to be a perpetual pagan Pollyanna attitude around the holidays, the feeling that we should be celebrating, dammit. I’m thinking that a better attitude is one of observance. Not every holiday is joyous. Some are somber. And that’s ok. We can’t and shouldn’t be expected to be happy all the time, especially in matters of spirituality. As pagans, realizing that pluralism should extend not just to interfaith efforts, but to our own beliefs will give us a richness of meaning to holy days that often feel one-dimensional at best, forced at worst.