Mark Green's Atheopaganism Blog

Living an Earth-Honoring Path Rooted in Science

The Moment of Brightening

There comes a time in the winter when, finally, you realize: the days aren’t so short any longer.

That point may coincide with the first sprouts of Spring peeking up from the ground, or the first buds on the trees. Or not: maybe it’s just snowing and freezing and wintering like hell, and Spring seems the farthest thing from possible.

Still, the light is growing. It’s not December any longer.

That brightening (thanks to Kendra Hicks of the Facebook Atheopaganism group for this term for the season) is the entire point of the seasonal Sabbath that is upon us now.

It goes by many names, and that is apt, because how we experience it varies so much by climate. Wiccans call it Imbolc or Brighid, after the Irish goddess and Christian saint; many Atheopagans develop their own names for it–mine is Riverain, the Festival of Water, because February typically marks the heaviest rainfall of the year where I live. True to form, we expect rain for most of the next week.

To me, this Sabbath marks the beginning of Spring–however tenuous, however wild the weather. For the light is definitely returning now, and where I am, daffodils and milk maids have made their appearances.

In Atheopaganism, we encourage people to adapt the “Wheel of the Year” of holidays to specific meanings that are consistent with the rhythms and cycles of the climate where the practitioner lives. So it is fine that my Riverain isn’t the same as someone else’s Brightening, or Imbolc, or Brighid. What is important is that they are gateways into deeper relationship with the Earth. 

When Atheopagans from different climates meet, they may well ask one another, “How do you celebrate your Sabbaths?” And that will open into a conversation about land and water and sky and creatures, and those will tell the stories of the places we come from.

So enjoy the season of brightening. Celebrate it as it seems most apt to you, be it by casting seeds upon the snow, or taking a hike in the rain, or crafting a Rain Baby to go through the cycle of the growing year with you.

In my Riverain ritual this year, we poured rainwater to splash and dance in a silver chalice, and recalled the age-old association of this time with the hearth and with repair and sharpening of agricultural tools by striking a small sledge hammer on an anvil. With every rich clannngggg of the hammer, I felt echoes going back through time, to days when we were better connected to the cycles of the Earth because we were so much more vulnerable to them in our daily lives.

And then we sang, because singing together is always a good and bonding and energy-building thing. It feels good. It helps to make a ritual powerful. We passed clear rainwater to sip and followed it with rich red wine.

We were together, contemplating the abundant, giving Earth, and giving thanks.

May you also enjoy meaningful and pleasurable observances of the season with those you love!




  1. The wonderfully blisteringly cold weather we have been getting this year means that we should be able to go snowshoeing across the lake and through the forest without worrying about dropping through the ice. I am really looking forward to celebrating mid-winter that way this year.

    This time of year, I am reminded of the deep indifference of the universe to the survival of Life. I like to think about how the universe can be both indifferent toward us and wonderfully caring of us at the same time.

    Supernova’s explode in the sky and there is no guarantee that the next one won’t be close enough to erase us from existence in a sudden instant of fire. Temperature fluctuations here on Earth occur whether we are ready or not.

    Yet, on the other hand, we breath every few seconds and always the oxygen is there in the right proportions. I fill a cup of water and it re-hydrates me without killing me. Everything we living creatures need, the planet supplies in abundance.

    I like to think about both of those aspects of the universe but at mid-winter, I like to think particularly about the indifferent aspect because when you take your mitt of for a minute to tie a boot lace and you wonder whether you will get the lace done up before you lose a finger, then the indifferent aspect is easy to appreciate. It is easy to imagine the Cryogenian when the whole Earth may have been covered in ice and to recognized with gratitude the ancestors who survived it.

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