Virtual Solstices — June 2017   Leave a comment

midnightsunfairbanks

midnight sun — Fairbanks, Alaska

Ah, Summer Solstice, almost upon us. Time of greatest light, and — with the kind of paradox implicated in so many human experiences — the start of a slow turn toward longer nights and shorter days.

So many solstices in our lives. Make a list for yourself. How many times has a peak — longed for, striven for, suffered and sacrificed for — also signaled its own diminishment? How often does crest drag trough along with it? And how many times has this seemed like a sad, bad or terrible thing?

If I search even briefly on Youtube, log in to my handful of friendly Pagan Facebook groups, read a blog, or play some of the latest computer games with their massive, nimble and interactive CGI engines and palettes, I can savor a virtual festival or gathering or historical re-creation: case in point, here’s a Stonehenge app.

I love the definition of “virtual” at dictionary.com: “being such in power, force, or effect, though not actually or expressly such”. It’s only the third definition that’s explicitly cybernetic: “temporarily simulated or extended by computer software”.

“A reality in power, force or effect that is temporarily simulated” by humans is a fair definition of ritual, including the last major dinner you had with family. Unplug, and your reality gets only more virtual — closer to “real” reality.

Isn’t every reality “virtual”?! (“My reality’s more virtual than yours!” “New and improved reality: 37% more virtual than the leading competition!”)

So what are my responses to the questions I posed back in that second paragraph? I’m putting myself on the spot here, because I asked you to do the same. If you haven’t, do you know what you’re missing?

How many times has a peak also signaled its diminishment?

Well, every time I can think of. From what I’ve seen, that’s how we define a peak, how we recognize it at all. I wake on the morning of either solstice, summer or winter, and know that though I can’t see it yet, the shift’s begun. Pay careful attention and you can feel it, something about the light, something you can almost hold in your hands, or feel along your spine, a kind of undertone to each day, a melody just below the threshold of hearing. (Ritual works, among other things, to amplify the melody just a little, so we can hear, honor, learn from, cooperate with it. Music of the spheres, voice of a god, thrum of blood in our veins, all, none, the same.)

But with the drag and inertia of this dense, physical world, there’s often a delay in change manifesting. The greatest heat’s yet to come after the longest day. July and August will bring it in swaths. The sharpest cold arrives a couple months following the shortest day, late January and February breathing down our necks, here in Vermont.

How often does crest drag trough along with it?

Pretty much always. Optimist or pessimist, conspiracy theorist or activist, conservative or liberal, I pick my favorite “partialist” partisan, or out myself as one. I choose which part of the cycle I want to focus on and ignore the rest of it. Trough, crest, average of the two, nudging the shape of the curve to resemble the wing of a bird or a turtle’s shell — I take my pick of virtual realities, and make it my reason for living. I establish “a reality in power, force or effect that is temporarily simulated”! (Or fail to do so, doubtless because of the machinations of some evil Other.)

Ritual says Look. Listen. Look again, wider. And again.

And how many times has this seemed like a sad, bad or terrible thing?

Solstice says Here are light and warmth and life. Like that old but choice piece of wisdom also says, To everything there is a season. And a Pagan adds And a ritual to go along with it.

Marcus Aurelius observed, “…the nature of the Universe loves nothing so much as to change the things which are, and to make new things like them”.

[But it’s this one I love! I cry. This one I’ve lost, the one I will lose, one like no other. The sun of my life will go down, and nothing to be done about it.]

So I make it one of my spiritual practices to try out the wisdom of that crazy old Bard, Ezra Pound, in his 81st Canto: “What thou lovest well remains,/the rest is dross/What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee/What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage”.

Oh Ezra, you say it with such conviction! But I’m (mostly) no fool. How — in what ways — is this true, for me anyway? (You must answer for you.) Are some ways truer than others? How can even one of them shape a sorrow, deepen a joy? Are there exceptions? And what do they teach? The Bardic gift may often be the gift of song first, but I need not drop good sense. Let melody carry me to a fuller measure of wisdom.

(Dross, how much of my life have I poured out in loving and losing you? A ritual to leave dross behind, recycle it, hand it over for composting.)

That’s one of my Solstice meditations, as virtual — full of virtue and power — as I can make it.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Depending on your geography, you may witness six seasons, or two, or nearly none at all, if you’re living in the equatorial tropics.

wny-lake-effect-snow-totals-21nov14

winter 2014 “lake effect” snowstorm

Growing up west of the Finger Lakes in New York, I knew Summer Solstice meant school was out for the summer — hail, Alice Cooper! (With all the snow days likely in lake-effect country, with the heavy wet snows typical around Erie and Ontario, easternmost of the Great Lakes, some years it was mid-June before we’d made up all the missed classes. The year I graduated high school was one of the latest because of the Blizzard of ’77.)

balingIt meant the first cutting of hay went to silage, or — if the weather was unusually dry for green, wet western New York, we cut, raked, and baled it, and ferried wagon after wagon of it to the dark, looming haymow. Under the gray asphalt shingles that covered the immense gambrel roof, you’d sweat just standing still in the dim half-light, waiting for the elevator to drop seemingly endless bales as you scurried to stack and balance on the slowly rising tiers.

Solstice meant calves born in our summer pastures, either one of two 25-acre spreads of grazing, hills and thickets and streams, with a newborn easily hidden by its mother in grass already waist-high by late June. Solstice marked whether we’d likely prevail once again with our corn-crop and the annual proverbial goal:  “knee-high by the Fourth of July”.

Solstice meant wrapping up a freshman biology project at year’s end: I recorded how on average I consumed 5000 calories a day once summer farm work began, and as a rangy and growing 15-year-old I still lost weight.

Solstice meant lilacs, rhubarb, strawberries, new-mown grass, the sustained spike in the cream content of our cows’ milk, once they could graze the pastures — a luscious languor that matched the blissful coolness of summer evenings moderated by the massive heat-sinks of nearby lakes the size of small oceans.

letchworth

Letchworth State Park, middle & upper falls

Solstice always arrived a scant few days before my parents’ anniversary, always the occasion for a family picnic in nearby Letchworth State Park, 14,000 acres of Genesee river-gorge and hiking trails and secluded picnic spots.

Solstice set the rhythm of my late boyhood.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Cathasach: The rhythm of eternity in a world of change can only manifest as cyclic change.

Mathghamhain: You say that. But what does it signify? Even granting such a thing as eternity —

Cathasach: Eternity’s not a thing. Language misleads us. We think there are individual things we can choose to believe in or not, rather than how stuff is. The stuff we use to believe or disbelieve in something is part of what we believe or doubt. Can’t get outside it and be “objective” about it. Among all the other things eternity does is time.

Mathghamhain: Ah, you quibble now.

Cathasach: Not at all. I challenge. What is a cycle but a pattern of regular change, a wheel that rolls, that spirals rather than digging a rut?

Mathghamhain: It’s not stationary, but it returns, yes. On that we can agree.

stonehenge-solstice-sunset

Stonehenge Solstice Sunset

/|\ /|\ /|\

Images: midnight sun, Fairbanks, Alaskalake effect snow; baling hay; Letchworth State Park; 2005 Solstice at Stonehenge.

Alice Cooper, Ezra Pound, the Solstice, western NY, and Druidry: not where I’d intended to go at first!

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