All the animals around me seem to be taking long naps, even my cats. We’ve been living through a heat wave of end of August temperatures for the last three weeks. The birds and squirrels are keeping mostly to the trees. My cats, even the one with a fetish for clean bedding and his own sheet to nest in, are spending most of their time sleeping on hard, cool surfaces.
My insomnia has almost succumbed to this summer sleep. I could go to sleep right now, and I will soon. Earlier, I said that I am dreading the coming week, and not for any personal reason. Reason has left the building here in the U.S. In the grinding heat, people either get angry and hostile, or they close their curtains, turn on their fans, and rest. I’m seeing a resurgence of hostility. All I want to do is keep my plants alive, read, and enjoy the freedom I never had until I was almost forty: the freedom to be a pagan.
This is an important month to pagans. We just passed the summer solstice. It’s a time when I want to be outside as much as possible but have to wait until eight in the evening, the beginning of sunset, to start watering my plants. I’m going to have to do a second planting of several things, most importantly my beloved moonflowers, because the heat has stifled their growth. I’ve been reading lately about the goddess Nemetona, the Goddess of the Sacred Grove, of trees, of sacred spaces. I read that the “blue hours” of dusk and dawn belong to Her. I call the sunset hour the green hour. The sun goes slowly down, and the green of the trees and grass becomes intense. Plants limp from the heat get water from my watering can. I cut dead flowers and decide what must be replanted because the intense heat killed the seedlings. I pick over the basil and mint. The thyme is a lost cause. I weed the planters of corn growing from birdseed. I build up mounds of potting soil around my grandmother’s failing irises. Their bulbs are half-visible in the dry, eroded flowerbeds. I mark branches in the wildly overgrown hedges for pruning at the wrong time of year because I’m tired of ducking under them, and I know that the hedges will be there after I’m in the cemetery next to my grandmother.
8:30 is the magic time between sunset and nightfall. Fireflies appear, dozens of them, in my elderly neighbors’ yard across the street. Their yard has several large trees, neat hedges, and long shadows. The fireflies dart in their mating dance for the second half of the green hour of dusk. I watch and think about names like Nemetona and Cordelia. These goddesses of grove and tree and flower are not called upon much today.
At full dark, I go inside. In my house, you may walk by a goddess on the shelf beneath the china figurines and not recognize Her as anything special. You may not notice the seated gray female figure by my desk. You might see prayer beads on my desk and assume, by the crucifix over my mother’s bedroom doorway, that we are Catholic. We are not. I am attempting to write my own prayers to Rhiannon.
My bedroom is a sacred space full of plants that grow in water and darkness, fairies, and a large altar dedicated to earth and to Nemetona. Nature, by nature, isn’t friendly. I’ve attempted to bring it inside, the green hour, for the days when I can’t get outside. There is a wicker basket of prayer beads on the altar. I write down the prayers as they come to me.
Prayer and ritual keep the hostility at bay. I’ve been learning how to co-exist with Rhiannon and The Morrigan for almost three years. Nemetona has always been with me, I know now, as has Cordelia, although I’ve only recently learned their names. When I was a child, I played beneath trees with leaves and wildflowers. I spent recess reading in a grove containing a shrine to Mary at Catholic school. I first felt the presence of a goddess there. I think now that it was Nemetona. I see Her in my mind as entirely green, hair, skin, and gown, and always disappearing behind a tree. Cordelia is the source of my yearly quest to coax something to bloom in our damaged environment. Rhiannon is my strong and cunning Faerie Queen. The Morrigan watches my front door and frequently sends crows and once even three ravens to remind me that battle never ends. Recently Ceridwen came to sit by my desk and dare me to discover her. She and her cauldron sit between me and the television, quiet, asking nothing of me except to tend my writing and hone my knowledge.
I don’t like Daylight Savings Time. The blue hour of sunrise has passed, another week has officially begun. Right now, I think it’s best to follow the example of the birds and squirrels and sleep through the heat of the day.