The possibility for ceremony is one of the things which appeals to me about both religious humanism and spiritual naturalism. Ceremony draws upon established traditions to celebrate significant events. Many religions focus their ceremonies on important events from their traditional narratives such as the birth of Christ for Christmas (in Christian Tradition) or the creation of Adam and Eve for Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year). In Neopaganism, the “Wheel of the Year” is inspired by many European seasonal narratives and made popular by Gerald Gardner, Alex Sanders, and Robert Cochrane. The original emphasis of the Wheel of the Year was on fertility rites and a gender-binary theism. However, the past two decades have seen varied adaptations of the Wheel in theme, content, and ritual.
What defines ceremony is the intent behind it. Not only is ceremony held for religious events, but also to mark the passage of time within one’s life. Thus we have secular ceremonies such as birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, funerals, naturalization (becoming a citizen of a country), and military ceremonies. New ceremonies with new rituals and narratives can be created for different purposes with an intent unique to religious humanism and spiritual naturalism. Likewise, established ceremonies can be adapted to new intents. Religious humanism is a perspective on religion as a social construct designed around human experience and needs, and thus its ceremony focuses upon the human condition. Spiritual naturalism holds that the existence of the material world is sacred on its own merit and that nothing exists beyond it. Religious humanist worship tends to be drawn toward community, and spiritual naturalism celebrates the wonder of the natural living-world. The two overlap easily and complement each other. Both share an appreciation for scientific knowledge and include a variety of theological perspectives from deism and process thought to atheism and agnosticism. The concept behind the “Wheel of the Year” has been a source for solstice and equinox celebrations within Unitarian Universalism, a religion with a strong disposition towards humanism and naturalism. Many times, the typical Wiccan calling and releasing of the directions are incorporated into UU celebration of these solar events. However, they are distinct UU ceremonies with UU values and principles behind the intent. I have helped organize a handful of solstice and equinox events for my own UU congregation. These experiences have taught me that the seasonal narrative running through our lives continues to be important and changes to meet the times we live in.
Sacred Seasonal Narrative
Holy days are the observation of sacred events. The word holy derives from proto-Germanic meaning sacred1 — having qualities dedicated for religious or spiritual veneration.2 3 Since the solstices and equinoxes are observable astronomical events, they have become common ceremonial gatherings for religious humanists and spiritual naturalists. Due to this, environmental science provides the backbone for a modern narrative that can be weaved into ceremony. Below is a rough outline of solar holy days based upon the work of Rua Lupa of Ehoah. Due to the circular nature of solar seasons, flexibility is granted to when the year begins and ends and is best determined by local cultural and environmental variables.
Ehoah name: Nox4 northern hemisphere: Dec 21-22 southern hemisphere: Jun 20-21 The longest night of the year The northern hemisphere’s pole leans away from the sun. During this time, the sun is southernmost in the sky. Many narrative focus on the return of the sun, due to harshness of winter. Because of climate change, our attitude towards winter might change. With continued record high temperatures throughout the year, winters are becoming milder in some places, allowing for a break from the scorching sun of summer. In these places, the anticipation of the sun’s return is not conducive to the new seasonal patterns, and the winter solstice could be a celebration of darkness, focused on the germination of seeds planted in autumn, giving one time to reflect on the depths of one’s life.
Eoah name: Equilux4 northern hemisphere: Mar 20-22 southern hemisphere: Sep 20-22 Day and night are equal The earth’s axis is aligned at a right angle to the sun. This is when an equilibrium between night and day is achieved. In this spirit, equity within our environment and community can be the focus. With the seasons and weather becoming more extreme, springtime becomes more of a transitional time between winter and summer weather. Now would be the time to prepare for the coming of summer, and to keep in mind those who you share your life-place with (human and other-than). Take stock of what you have, what you need, and the needs of others. This is not only a time of personal preparation, but community participation, a time to reach out and connect with the world through our relationships. We can visit family and friends, and participate in activities of planting, raising animals, and tending to the needs of those around us.
Eoah name: Lux4 northern hemisphere: Jun 20-22 southern hemisphere: Dec 20-23 The longest day of the year The northern hemisphere’s pole leans towards the sun. During this time, the northern hemisphere is tilted toward the sun. Around the world, summers are becoming warmer and a real danger to humans, animals, and plants. As this trend continue, it will result in longer growing. This could now be the time to prepare for the sun’s departure. Burning rituals are important in symbolizing the heat of the sun, but also a means to remove the unnecessary and unneeded. With access to clean water being a primary concern, ceremony can take the form of activism related to water pollution and conservation.
Eoah name: Equinox4 northern hemisphere: Sep 20-22 southern hemisphere: Mar 20-22 Day and night are equal The earth’s axis is aligned at a right angle to the sun. Night and day are once again equal in duration. This is another time in the year to take stock of where you are and who you are with. Make time to welcome newcomers into community through celebration. As the weather will likely shift from summer and winter patterns, making long term plans dependent on weather can be difficult. This is opportunity for mindfulness and mindful living, taking advantage of unexpected opportunities, strengthening relationship bonds, and gathering resources for yourself and the community. Feasts are appropriate ceremonies to take advantage of what this time of year offers.
Make it Meaningful
Religious humanists and spiritual naturalists are experts at finding meaning in the ordinary. Marking sacred days, such as the solstices and equinoxes, reminds us of the sacred mystery of life that we interact with everyday. Some people are moved by complex and elaborate ritual packed with tradition and symbolism. Others are content with the meaning found in the simple and understated. The way religious and spiritual naturalists implement ceremony is up to the individuals involved. However, doing things for the sake of tradition alone is rarely a trait of the humanist or naturalist. Done correctly, humanist and naturalist ceremony can serve a wide spectrum of personal convictions in alignment with the environmental and social realties of our times. The solstices and equinoxes are not the only events that can be held sacred to religious humanists and spiritual naturalists. There is nothing holding anyone to these events in particular. The possibility for ceremonial observance is endless. What are other events that can be marked by ceremony?
- Online Etymology Dictionary definition of holy ↩
- Online Etymology Dictionary definition of sacred ↩
- American Heritage Dictionary definition of sacred ↩
- Eoah entries for Nox, Equilux, Lux, Equinox ↩
Glen Gordon was introduced to Paganism by friends while living overseas in Europe during the late 90′s. He underwent both Wiccan and Neodruidic training during his formative years, but had not self-identified as a Pagan when his path diverged into land-centered spiritual naturalism ten years ago. His focus has been on cultivating beneficial relationships with the natural living world surrounding him wherever he lives. During this time, he discovered Unitarian Universalism and has been active in his local congregations for many years. Since 2007, he has worked on varied projects regarding BioRegional Animism, including this five minute video, the words of which came from a short UU sermon he gave. He has spoken on the topic of ecology and the land on a few occasions for his local congregation and facilitated a now-disbanded group of UU Pagans and spiritual naturalists. In the past, he maintained the blog, Postpagan, and is excited to share some of that material at HumanisticPaganism. Currently, you can find Glen writing occasionally for No Unsacred Places and helping achieve Green sanctuary status for his beloved UU community, where he helps create and lead ecological aware earth- and land-focused ceremonies for the solstices and equinoxes.
Next Sunday, we hear from Jon Cleland Host, Starstuff, Contemplating: “Treasures Hidden in Plain Sight”.