June 26, 2014

Summer Is Icumen In

June isn’t really summer in Seattle. We famously get the “June Gloom” — it’s mostly cool and grey and sometimes drizzly, with one or two days a week of bright sun and warmer temperatures. Conversely, most of September is summer. It cools down from August’s temperatures, but slowly and gradually, and leaves don’t start to turn until the last week of it, or even into October. Oddly, even people who have been in Seattle for many years (including me, sometimes) seem to forget this most years. Natives complain about how it’s June, where’s summer, it’s supposed to be all sunny and hot already.

The thing is, “supposed to” when it comes to local climates doesn’t work like that. Summer — any season — in any given area starts when the weather turns to whatever defines that season. In Florida, what passes for winter (temperatures in the 50s and 60s and chilly rain) often doesn’t start until January, and only lasts into February sometime, these days. When I was growing up, December was winter, too, but now many years it’s 75F or 80F (fall temperatures, there) at Christmas. Spring is basically March and maybe April, and summer runs well into October.

Seasons aren’t defined by a calendar, by months or weeks or days, but by the skies and the earth and the plants. They vary from year to year, and over decades and centuries. With the current climate change, all our seasons are in flux. Sure, hotter, longer summers, but also more intense storms, harder winters, everything. “Global warming” only means that the average temperature over the entire earth and over years at a time is trending slowly upwards. (For a good, simple illustration of what the couple of degrees of shift in this really means, check out this XKCD.) What it means season by season and year by year, though, is that there’s more energy in the system, making everything more violent and less predictable. It is not only the case that our seasons will not match the classic ideas of when and what seasons should be (ideas that only ever applied to the Northeast in the US), more and more they aren’t even going to match what they used to. We will need to adjust our notions of what seasons are like, instead of simply assuming that they will conform to our expectations.

I, as I’ve said before, think that it’s important for both neopagan and reconstructionist religions to localize themselves, to find the local spirits and entities, to find and recognize the patterns of the seasons. In every polytheistic and animistic religion, historical and modern, that I’ve ever heard of, worship changes from place to place, honors the genius loci, worships the local aspects of the gods, holds seasonal holidays a little differently, in ways that acknowledge the patterns of weather and climate in that place. Even in our increasingly urbanized and homogenized cultures, different regions and cities and even neighborhoods have their own traditions for the seasons — festivals for corn or garlic or peppers, frog legs or apples or pears; Spring Queens and Harvest Kings and whatever else, timed by whenever the local weather usually permits a good party. We just don’t think of these things as part of religious practices anymore, though they would have been once.

If we don’t connect our practices to the places we live, we’re cutting ourselves off from so much richness and depth for our traditions.

None of this was what I set out to say when I started typing. I meant to talk about how the rising temperatures and short nights are affecting me (especially with my AC out), about how it’s only beginning and will get worse and worse, how I’ll be on a descending path for the next two months. And all of that is true. I’m sleeping badly and little, feeling short-tempered and sticky while awake. A pressure in my head is slowly building, nearly every day, already, and here the summer is only beginning, although it’s been ruling my old home for months already.

Summer, as I’ve said before, is the dead time, the mad time, the empty time, the parched time. For me. Wherever I go. But the land, whatever land I may live in, and the spirits of the land, need it. As much as I may hate it for what it does to me psychologically and physically, it is important. It is even important for me, I suppose, though I hesitate to say it. It is a vastly important time in my worship of Hekate. August belongs to her, under the Dog Star, and I will spend much of it in altered states of consciousness. (Not by chemical means, either. The heat does it to me, and the rituals, and probably the fact that I’ll spend most of it with low blood sugar and dehydration, simply because I hate to eat and drink.) Dionysian ritual can help to center me enough to deal with some things, to hold back the depression and the intrusive thoughts, but the disconnection is necessary, is its own chthonic journey for me. And it brings its own renewal, at the end, when the rains return to wash away the dust and ashes.

Perhaps this year, I’ll write about my journey on Hekate’s roads.