2/18/10

A season of preparation

There are several people I know who are not Catholic and they are practicing the annual observation of Lent with abstaining from something for the period of time between Ash Wednesday and Easter. If you read some of the history surrounding Lent it becomes clear that the practice of fasting for 40 days is a point of much contention or if fasting was practiced at all by early Christians. With all of this historical uncertainty surrounding the practice, it leaves the question of why this season of fasting has persisted even into modern Catholicism.

Some of it could be light-heartedly ascribed to the same mentality that gives us the lightbulb joke that one of my Catholic friends told me:

Q: How many Catholics does it take to change a light-bulb?
A: Change! Catholics never change!

This, however, fails to recognize the value of this practice. Before I discuss this, however, I should point out two things about this practice. First, the word Lent comes from the Teutonic peoples who lived in central and eastern Europe. Originally, it simply meant early spring time. In early spring time, we find a practical reason for the fasting of Lent when we look back at the people it comes from. At this point, the weather is still cold and foreboding. The food stores gathered the year before are heavily depleted and the game which had been more plentiful earlier are now more scarce due to a combination of attrition related to the cold weather and relating to hunting. Here, fasting serves to conserve valuable food resources until the warmer weather of spring arrives to make food resources more plentiful.

Secondly, the role of fasting within any religion is fairly apparent. It serves a dual purpose. The first is to purify the body and the second is to induce a state of trance. It is a component in various religious rites all around the world from times in deep antiquity to today's melange of contemporary belief systems. In the structuralized setting of Lent, it serves not only to purify the body but also to guide the one engaged in the practice to a deeper understanding of their beliefs, often in a quasi-mystic sense. This, however, is frequently an unspoken thing in modern Catholicism due to various political factors that I am not going to discuss here.

Voluntarily surrendering something for the sake of focusing upon another is nothing new. In many ways, it can be a routine part of our day (like the diet to lose x number of pounds by summer). When a specific goal is held in mind, letting go of various things becomes easier. The practice of Lent serves to focus the Catholic upon their faith and what it means to be a member of the body of Christ. It is the same as the purpose of Ramadan in Islam, to help the practitioner of their faith to refocus upon their beliefs and what their role in the religion is.

Lent and Ramadan are both seasons of preparation. (Advent is supposed to be one as well but modern society has reduced it down to the annual shopping orgy that it's all but forgotten in a spiritual context.) Within the belief system of modern Witchcraft, there is no season of preparation. There is no season of preparation because we live suffused into the world with out a specific thing to prepare ourselves for, such as the return of a savior. This, however, does not mean that we should neglect our need to refocus ourselves and meditate upon our beliefs.

Farmers and gardeners use the early spring to prepare for planting. We witches would do well to follow that example. There are things that we all shall work towards over the coming seasons of growth. Let us take the time to plan for them and meditate upon how we wish to see ourselves spiritually develop and blossom over the coming year and what we wish to harvest as our accomplishments come Mabon. It will soon be time to begin planting, the Equinox always comes quickly.