Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Barbara Nolan, author of the new Year of Pagan Prayer.
Our modern month of October was an in-between time in the ancient Pagan world, a period of both endings and beginnings. To the insular Pagan Celts, it was the end of the year, before Samhain ushered in both the last of the harvest and the beginning of a new cycle of time. For Pagans in the Mediterranean world, it was a time when the goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone were honored at the Thesmophoria (thez-mo-FOR-ee-uh), a Greek women’s festival that seems to have celebrated both the harvest and the sowing of future crops, which could take place more or less together in Greece. For modern Pagans, it can be a good time to remember that, whatever else may be going on in our lives, whatever transitions or joys or worries we may be experiencing, the universal background of the cycles of Nature are always present. Sure, October may not be as showy a month as blooming June, or as majestic as icy January, but the pulse of the world still beats. Stop for a moment, then, and listen.
Of course, this is easier said than done. We all tend to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of our post-industrial, online lives, so here’s a way to keep the material world—and Demeter, its ancient representative—in your thoughts:
- If you have a wreath of leaves or hay, a loaf of fresh bread or vegetables from the garden, or a cornucopia or statue of Demeter, put them on your altar or on a table or sideboard—anywhere will do, as Nature is all around us. And if you don’t have any of the above, don’t worry. A dedicated heart is an altar unto itself.
- If you have a candle (especially a gold candle, or any other color you might associate with the harvest) light it, keeping the goddess in your mind as you do so.
- Read or recite a prayer or poem in honor of Demeter, like the following excerpt from “Demeter” by early twentieth-century American poet Hilda Doolittle, or H.D. These lines are a perfect reflection of the season, because, while the poem applauds both the quest for knowledge (exemplified by the goddess Pallas Athena) and self-knowledge (which was urged by the oracle at Delphi), Demeter here reminds us to “keep me foremost,” since Nature is both “greatest and least”—often overlooked but ever-present, and, in the end, more physically enduring than any human endeavor, no matter how important or worthy.
Sleep on the stones of Delphi
dare the ledges of Pallas
but keep me foremost,
keep me before you, after you, with you
never forget when you start
for the Delphic precipice,
never forget when you seek Pallas
and meet in thought
yourself drawn out of yourself
like the holy serpent,
in thought or mysterious trance,
I am greatest and least.
- Sit for a few moments in silence, here at the fall of the year, giving thanks for what has been harvested, and seeking blessings for what has yet to grow.
Our thanks to Barbara for her guest post! For more from Barbara Nolan, read her article, “Prayers and Invocations from the History of Pagan Literature.”