Days of Tradition

Apr 10

March 21st or so is the equinox. Day and night are of equal length and this is the official start of spring. There is an ancient tradition that when God created the world, it was spring. The old calendars marked the beginning of the year on April First, not January. The journey of the fool, which is the journey of us all starts at this time, when the tides of the season change and life returns back into the earth-or perhaps, it rises again from within. The birds attend their nests-they sleep in trees when they have no young, the nests are solely for them. The insects swarm crazily, buzzing for pollen and wielding daggers. Crooked, twisting, dogwoods bloom. Cherry trees and redbud announce themselves with a royal parade of blossoms. I’ve always enjoyed the subtler beauty of the red maple buds, a deep russet color that makes an understated expression of spring.  At night, we hear frogsong chirping from the creeks and ponds. Often, for me, it’s a surprise to hear them, it seems so cold for the amphibians to already have climbed from sleep in the mud. We can hear birds throughout the year-the songs of frogs and toads most especially marks the day.

When I was a young man, the days of Equinox and Solstice seemed especially magical. The shadows and warm glades of midsummer twilight ensured that there were other worlds than this one, places where human beings rarely treaded. I felt glad knowing that the Longest Night was over and that, despite the cold and saturnine skies, light was slowly returning to the world, and a pivot would soon be upon the year and again it would be spring. Later, I joined secret societies that met on days once revered whose meaning now was largely lost. The names of the days were evocative: The Eve of Saint John, Dies C (Corpus Christi), Pentecost. The Eve of Saint John is around the time of the summer solstice-the feast of John the Baptist, standing in balance on the other side of Christmas and the feast of Jesus. The idea intrigued me-there was deeper meaning at work here. Pentecost refers to the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles-but it is also when King Arthur and his knights would meet, and when the Holy Grail descended to the Earth. According to these hidden traditions, certain days held special significance: the fires lit for Saint Brigid in the depths of winter, the Perseid meteors were the Tears of Saint Lawrence, icons of Mary rising from the beneath the waves. There is a Feast of All Souls, of All Saints, of All Angels.  Walpurgis Nacht or May Eve reserved by the darker powers of the world to enact their nefarious ends.

I’ve worked to keep traditions, inside and outside of the one I was raised in and currently practice. Candles and rites and special foods and special clothes. Without fully grasping just why I was doing what I was doing, I kep to the task at hand. Over the years, a framework evoked itself, a sacred time in keeping with the seasons, the year as holy making the world and all life holy and in tune with the procession of the earth, the turning of one season into the next, the stars in the sky, the chariot path of the sun, the phases of the moon, the tides of the ocean. All life is sacred-and some of the most connected moments I’ve had with this mandate is watching a calf suckle on a cow, a chimney swift feed bugs to its young, hearing the chorus of frogs at night. Keeping tradition-whatever the tradition is-keeps a part of ourselves, marking our procession through the year and hence through the years, as our lives encompass decades we have them inside of the days we’ve kept: the wine drunk, the fires burning in hearths, songs sung and those who come into the world and those who leave for other places.

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