The Sabbath of Technology
Sabbaths have layers: layers of history, of symbolism, of metaphor. Each of the eight Sabbaths of the Atheopagan Wheel of the Year carries a rich complex of meanings and practices, new or old, and layers of history and memory.
As a community, our Atheopagan ethic is that every individual practitioner can and should develop for themselves what each Sabbath means and how it is celebrated. But there are some associations with the turning of the seasons that are commonly celebrated by us and by many other modern Pagans. Examples include:
- The solar cycle: the wheeling of the Sun through the cycles of the solstices and equinoxes defines the changing of the seasons and the endless cycles of dark and light.
- The agricultural cycle: The traditional cycles of fallow, planting, growth, harvest and fallow again are the roots of many, many cultural celebrations all over the world. Taken as metaphors, these stations of the year describe many of the aspirations and enterprises of people throughout their lives.
- The human life cycle: As I practice the Wheel, its stations equate to the phases of a human life: birth, infancy, childhood, young adulthood, full adulthood, middle age, elderhood, and death. Each such station is an opportunity to celebrate the members of my community who are in that age group.
- Thematic associations: Certain holidays lend themselves to certain themes. I celebrate poetry and music, for example, at the early February holiday between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, which I call Riverain, as it is the wettest time of the year and the sound of rain reminds me of music. At the winter solstice, many of us associate evergreen conifers and shrubs with the persistence of life through the bleak cold of winter. And so forth.
At this time of year, at the midpoint between the summer solstice and autumnal equinox, I celebrate the Sabbath of Dimming, when the shortening of the days has become noticeable and summer is growing long in the tooth. We will have hot days for awhile yet, but this is the “middle age” of the year, and the gathering darkness is evident. A time for celebrating not only the first harvest–the grain harvest, with its crusty loaves and foaming mugs of beer–but the middle aged among us, replete with skill and experience, and the fruits of their career efforts: technology, science, innovation, institutions.
One of the reasons I have included technology in my Dimming rites is to include modernity in my Wheel celebrations. Much of the classic Neopagan Wheel is rooted in an imaginary Ye Olden Tyme that ignores the many achievements humans have made since the Middle Ages. All that inventiveness and intelligence and curiosity and discovery and effort should be celebrated, even if some of it has turned into destructiveness.
Science and technology themselves aren’t “bad” or wrong. The problem with them is that they have been framed as morally neutral–even, sometimes, as inherently good (“progress”)–and they aren’t.
Weapons research isn’t morally defensible. Finding new ways to hurt and/or oppress people likewise. But a paradigm that argues moral neutrality for science and engineering in essence punts moral responsibility in favor of pursuit of the almighty dollar. This moral blankness is the banality of evil, of wrongdoing. It serves power, capital and those who aspire to oppress and exploit, and it harms everyone else and, most significantly, the Earth itself.
So I celebrate innovation and creativity, while holding the understanding that the monsters we build are often those which may destroy us. It is an ironic fact and must be incorporated into this contemplation of technology that the anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki falls squarely on the midpoint between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox.
These, then, are the layers of Dimming for me. Where you live, with a different climate or different personal associations, your August Sabbath may be very different, and that’s great. But if you are reading this, you, too, benefit from technology, and may want to find a place in your annual cycle of celebrations for recognizing its value.