Some months ago, a friend and I had tossed back and forth the notions in Paganism of practice being tied to the land, that the meanings or focus of holidays could changed where seasonally it makes sense to change them. For instance, the longest night of the year, Midwinter, isn’t so long here, and it doesn’t snow– we grow oranges, so our danger is frost; why not ritualize this? Or in another instance, Imbolc sees in the strawberry harvest here instead of a time of cold and quiet, instead of lambing season. She had wondered if other Pagans switched meanings dependent upon the land and climate too, but when she expressed this idea to a group of Florida Pagans, lectures ensued: “Florida does so have seasons! You just haven’t been paying attention! Listen to the earth!” Well, someone wasn’t listening to that conversation.
The entire idea of a religious practice rooted in the earth demands that the local seasonal changes be honored– but many Pagan authors such as Starhawk and the late Scott Cunningham mention a connection primarily with the sun’s cycle. And while the path from solstice to equinox to solstice marks a journey of the sun, the planet turns and the seasons change and the land itself is transformed.
Rituals are hidebound things. People don’t like to change them because their power lies in their repetition. If Lughnasadh is a harvest festival in Europe where modern Paganism takes its cues, people seem hellbent on celebrating it as a harvest festival, even if the land around them is doing something entirely different. Here in Florida, there are no grains to harvest. It’s too hot. This is the killing heat. We get thunderstorms almost every day. For those who do not garden, it could be perhaps a storm festival, a stillness-in-the-heat-festival. But I get out in my yard and dig soil. I put seeds in the ground. I go water specific plants (not the lawn!) during drought, and I control pests through predators (eat wasp larvae, white grubs! Or better yet, they’ll eat you…). August is a time in south Florida for planting hot weather vegetables: corn, eggplant, squash, okra, beans. So Lughnasadh is a planting festival, here. Florida’s seasons dictate this. I am not going to decorate with wreaths of wheat above my altar when I can decorate it with empty seed packets and know that what I do is fitting for place.
But then, it is like that elsewhere in the world. It’s Imbolc time in the southern hemisphere. In New England, the blackberries and raspberries are ripe and ready; time for a Lughnasadh pie. Each place has its own cycle. Each people have their own pattern, whether they make seasonal rounds from place to place (ancient tribes traveling with the seasons, modern snowbirds fleeing winter), or they stay where they are and watch the world around them change. Pagan practice is what must adapt.
More universally, ritual only serves us if it links us to our abstractions: we do these things to honor, to remind, to celebrate. As Pagans, if we are celebrating something which doesn’t happen where we are, tell me, what does that ritual serve? It links us instead to a faraway place and time. This could be well, if we weren’t lying to ourselves about what we are doing. Pagans have at least some notion that what we are doing is part of an earth-based spirituality. So be part of the earth. Here, Lughnasadh is a planting festival, y’all. Come Samhain, we’ll serve fried okra at the feast, have ourselves some grits with those pumpkins. But it’s time now to get our fingers dirty, to handle seeds.