Those Who Pray, Those Who Fight, Those Who Work: Musings About Labor Day

Yesterday was Labor Day in the US, in a lot of ways the Twin of Memorial Day.  Labor Day is the first Monday of September and Memorial Day the last Monday of May.  If you consider March, April, and May as Spring, June, July, and August as Summer, and September, October, and November as Autumn, Labor Day and Memorial Day mirror each other, exactly thirteen weeks apart, a quarter of a year.

But it’s not the date that makes them Twins, that ties them together, but their nature.  There’s two parts to this, the original intention, and the organic evolution.

Though it has evolved, Memorial Day is and always has been, throughout its history, a day of remembering those who died serving in the United States armed forces.  It is ultimately a day of mourning for the fallen, characterized by visiting graves and laying flowers and other offerings on the graves.  It has evolved in that people don’t only visit military dead, but family as well in a lot of cases.  It has become almost the US’s Dia de los Muertos.

Unlike Memorial Day, Labor Day is a celebration, not mourning.  It was a day created to honour the contributions of workers to the economy and society.  However, seldom is that element mentioned at this point.  It is seen as a reward for laborers, giving them a day off, laborers used to mean all those who have jobs, though I don’t think management and others that aren’t laborers in the traditional sense.  It is normally celebrated with picnics and barbecues, the last weekend of the summer season.  It is celebrated with family.

You have several levels, as I said, that make these two holidays Twins.  The first is obvious.  Memorial Day is a day for the military, Labor Day is a day for civilians.  This has been a strong dichotomy throughout history, with the addition of a third group, which I will get to in a moment.  Rome had a strong division between the civilians and the soldiers.  Civilians where pretty much set in their place unless they became soldiers.  You were either a citizen by birth, or you became one serving as a soldier.  There were other groups as well, but these were the largest two.  Medieval thought described the three estates, Oratores, “those who pray”, Bellatores, “those who fight”, and Laboratores, “those who work”.  A simplified summary of India’s caste system has four main castes, with the outcasts as a fifth.  These are: Brahman, “priests”, Kshatriyas, “warriors”, Vaishyas, “traders”, Shudras, “workmen”, and Panchama, “the fifth”.  Traders are of not, because as the Borges developed in Europe into a Middle Class, it was traders that they were.  But priests and traders are smaller portions of society, by their nature.  Fighters and laborers are the largest portions in all societies that have try classes or castes.  And they are very much opposites in their nature, but both essential for society.

On a deeper level, the two holidays represent life and death.  Memorial Day is a day of mourning the dead.  Labor Day is a celebration of life.  Memorial Day is visiting the dead.  Labor Day is spending time with family, the place our life came from.  Life and Death.  What is curious, these days, opposite on the calender and opposite in nature, are opposite of the older holidays, holy days.  Spring is normally a time of rebirth and life, Candlemas and May Day, the length of days growing.  Autumn is normally a time of death, harvest, Samhain.  But these two are opposite that.  Why?

If you think about Labor Day from an agricultural point of view, you realize Labor Day is during harvest time, and in many parts of the US, the end of harvest.  It’s appropriate that laborer’s would be celebrated after harvest, after the hard work they have done.  So Labor Day is easy to see as a traditional harvest festival, especially with the focus on the family gathering around food.  And the food from harvest, though often seen as dying, is the life that gets people through the winter.

But what about Memorial Day?  It’s important to note that the current Memorial Day comes from the Northern date after the Civil War.  The Southern equivalant occurred on May 1, May Day.  The secret here comes from a detail of the ceremony of visiting the graves.  The practice of laying flowers on the graves.  This practice is very ancient and didn’t start with the holiday.  The holiday determined a specific day for an older custom.  Now May is well known as the month flowers bloom (though it’s not as set as customs imply).  May Day is most commonly celebrated with gathering and giving of flowers.  Flowers on graves probably came from creating a place for the dead that was like where they would go in death, in the belief it would make that place better.  Just like the Egyptians filling tomes with what the dead would need.  So, if the intended custom was the placement of flowers (and the original name was Decoration Day because of this custom), it only makes sense that it would need to be at a time when flowers bloom.  Suddenly, Memorial Day becomes a flower ceremony, the placing of flowers on graves becomes a ceremony of planting, just as the body placed in the ground is the seed, the death that will bring life.

So the two Twins do in fact fit their seasons.  Memorial Day, a day of death, is a day of planting.  Labor Day, a day of life, is a day of harvest.

To get back to Labor Day specifically, lets look at labour itself.  In Kabbalah, this is Olam HaAssaiah, the World of Action.  It’s the world where things happen.  It isn’t the World of Planning or the World of thinking.  It’s the World of Action.  Priests in most cultures deal with spiritual things.  They are the ones who pray, not the ones who act.  Traders typically take the things made by laborers and transport them then trade them with others.  They distribute the result of others actions, don’t act themselves in the way we’re discussing.  But both laborers and warriors act and change the world, laborers typically by creating and building, warriors by killing and destroying.  Ultimately, labour is action, and action is the stuff of this world and the only way to change the higher worlds.  This is why down to earth, salt of the earth, people are the ones who labour, the farmers and ranchers that produce our food, the construction workers that produce our shelter and roads, the steel workers building skeletons of our cities and the cars we drive, the miners and droppers and rig workers who give us energy for our electronics and our heat, that provide the iron and copper, the lumberjacks that provide the wood for our houses, the teamsters who get our things from one place to another.

Part of the reason the craft has always been made up of outsiders is because we span the classes and castes above.  We work.  You can’t be a witch if you don’t do the work.  We trade.  On multiple levels.  On a mundane level, most magical services were bartered and traded for.  A charm in exchange for food, a curse in exchange for repairing my fence, an amulet for a bushel of wood.  On a spiritual level, much of magic is trade with the spirits, giving them something in exchange for a service or information from them.  Witches tend to be excellent traders.  We fight.  As Victor Anderson said, the craft is martial and a warrior tradition.  It’s not coincidence that many folk tales are about witches flying to fight spirits in the night.  As Cochrane said, “What I have, I hold!”  What can you hold if you don’t fight for it?  And we pray.  All spells are truly prayers, but more specifically, we are Priests and Priestesses.  We form the Bridge between the people and the gods, between the Kingdom and the King, between the mundane and the Divine, between this world and the otherworld, between heaven and earth, between this world and the underworld, between life and death.  We are the Bridge because we stand between worlds.  We are liminal, neither here nor there, but both, so can connect the worlds for others.  We are Priests, Warriors, Traders, Workers.  We are all things.  Liminal.  So we become the Fifth, the untouchables.  Because we can’t be contained in category because we claim them all.  So we become outsiders, Other, Monster, untouchable.


FFF,
~Muninn’s Kiss