Zen Pagan Celebrations
Zen is a method that requires no faith. Just as you do not need to believe in weight training to enjoy its benefits, if you merely turn up and participate, you do not need to believe in Zen to enjoy its spiritual benefits, if you put its techniques into practice. Zen is weight training for the spirit.
In Zen Pagan spirituality, the Pagan tradition brings us an awareness of and connection to the natural world and our place within it. Paganism celebrates life in its observable presence, particularly paying attention, as a Northern European tradition, to the turn of the seasons. Pagans celebrate the cardinal dates of the year and in doing so they celebrate the cycles of life in all of their forms. The Pagan tradition brings us an awareness of cycles within cycles. Each cycle is representative of all cycles.
These cycles are,
The Day – the rotation of the Earth. The rising and setting of the sun are the heartbeat of the planet.
The Lunar Month – the orbit of the Moon around the Earth.
The Year, and the changing seasons – the orbit of the Earth around the Sun.
The Cycle of Birth And Death – of plants, animals and people.
The Wheel of the Year marks the key dates in the cycle of the seasons. Four of these dates are determined by astronomy, and are the more scholarly festivals. The other four are determined by the climate’s lagging response to astronomy and are the more populist festivals.
The astronomical dates are:
The Midwinter Solstice – Alban Arthan – the shortest day. The return of the sun. New Year.
The Spring Equinox – Alban Eiler – where day and night are in balance
The Midsummer Solstice – Alban Hefin – the longest day
The Autumn Equinox – Alban Elfed
The populist dates are:
Imbolc – Groundhog Day. The coldest day, February 2nd, approximately six weeks after the shortest day.
Beltane – Mayday. The rising of life. The Springing, approximately six weeks since the days became longer than the nights.
Lughnasadh (Loo-nasah) – The beginning of the harvest. August 1st. The hottest day, approximately six weeks after the longest day.
Samhain (Sah-wain) – Halloween. The death of the year. Autumn, approximately six weeks since the nights became longer than the days.
As with Zen Pagan morality, there are no rules about how to celebrate the natural cycles, but here are some recommendations that are well founded in either tradition.
You might light a fire, using the immediacy of the transient forms of the flames to connect you to the now, while taking note of that moment as a key point in life’s larger cycles.
On the more significant dates, Zen Pagans might also feast. In general, these are dates when they pause their normal affairs, in order to actively appreciate their lives, the life around them and the universe in which they find themselves.
During the day, prior to the firelighting, you might engage in some activity that draws your attention to the time of year like visiting the countryside, planting, harvesting, building snowmen, etc. Another way of celebration might be to find a wild place and spend some time being mindful of its particular features.
The immediate result of these celebrations for a Zen Pagan is a feeling of connectedness to life, both of their own lives and the life around them. Beginning with celebrating the cycle of the seasons in this way, they quickly see how other cycles can be celebrated in similar ways, and the same connectedness can apply throughout their lives. They might celebrate the beginning of a new cycle of employment, of a relationship, a family addition, or vehicle ownership, perhaps. Many of their life's cycles may be worthy of celebration. Zen Pagans may also celebrate the ending of such a cycle, always conscious of engaging with the larger flow of life, of performing their own particular steps in the grand dance.
If it sounds right, do it. If it didn't feel right, don't do it again.
As the turning point from the sun’s descent and the growing darkness, Midwinter is the principal Zen Pagan festival, where they take stock of the year that has passed and look forward in hope to the year that is to come. On Midwinter, Zen Pagans might give their loved ones a gift. As a new year celebration, they might also write down things about the past year that they would prefer to leave behind then allow the flames of the festival fire to symbolically take them.
Being traditionally regarded as the death of the year, Halloween is a time of celebration of the cycle of life, paying particular attention to the necessary little bit of life that happens just at the end. Zen Pagans love life, with no illusions. This means that they must also love death. On Samhain, symbolically, Zen Pagans send death a Greetings Card, so to speak.
The date of Christmas was established by the Romans. Prior to the conversion of the emperor Constantine to Christianity, he was a follower of the Sol Invictus religion. This religion worshipped the sun and celebrated its victory over darkness as it began to rise once more in the sky. The first detectable evidence of that victory was approximately four days after Midwinter, on December 25th. They called this date Natalis Sol Invictus, the rebirth of the invincible sun. For us, this day nominally represents a celebration that summer is on its way again. In practice, it’s a day when a fat, bearded fairy sneaks into the house while we’re asleep and gives the kids presents. We celebrate Christmas in its full, secular glory, giving the children the opportunity to participate fully in their cultural heritage. We’re not troubled by the Christian religious connotations of the name of the day. We view that in the same light as the Norse religious connotations of the names of the weekdays. It’s all part of the fabric of our national culture.
Easter is named after the Celtic god Eostre, (who gave her name to Oestrogen), and is filled with Pagan fertility symbolism, such as hares and eggs. It is a time when the first signs of life emerge, following the winter. In all truth, it is also, in a large part, about chocolate. Still, the cacao plant is a living organism, right?