If there ever were anything like a pagan Muslim, that might have been a fair description of me and my faith. Rooted in belief, my Islam is an eccentric and many would argue, an unorthodox practice. It matters little. Faith is a matter more personal than sex or the affair you are currently having with the book you’re reading.
Most pagan practices around the world have some version of a March-time festival to mark the Spring Equinox. Before the Georgian calendar came along and pretty much made common sense obsolete, people followed lunar calendars which, we all know, are far more precise and brings us closer to the very essence of our human selves – nature, the earth, the moon and its tides, the birth of spring and the close of winter.
For me, the only festival I have ever felt an affinity to is Nowrooz (now= new; rooz=day). Or, Navroze, or Norooz. Regardless of its spelling or pronunciation, Nourooz marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the year in the Persian calendar. It is celebrated on the day of the astronomical Northward equinox, which usually occurs on March 21 (or the previous/following day depending on where it is observed). When the sun crosses the celestial equator and equalizes night and day is calculated exactly every year.
Iranians are cute as hell, let me tell you. And when they decide to do things, they go all out. They’re also big on symbolism. One of the rituals observed is that of the Haft-Seen or the seven ‘S’s – a traditional table setting of Nowruz. The haft-seen table includes seven items all starting with the letter seen (س) in the Persian alphabet. A regular haft-seen table would include the following:
- Sabzeh – wheat, barley, mung bean or lentil sprouts growing in a dish – symbolizing rebirth
- Samanu -sweet pudding made from wheat germ – symbolizing affluence
- Senjed – the sweet, dry fruit of the Lotus tree – symbolizing love. It has been said that when lotus tree is in full bloom, its fragrance and its fruit make people fall in love and become oblivious to all else.
- Sir – garlic – symbolizing medicine
- Sib – apples – symbolizing beauty and health
- Somāq – sumac fruit – symbolizing (the colour of) sunrise (with the appearance of the sun Good conquers Evil).
- Serkeh – vinegar – symbolizing old-age and patienceTo reconfirm all hopes and wishes expressed by the traditional items, other elements and symbols can also be placed on the sofreh):
- a few coins – representing prosperity and wealth
- a basket of eggs – representing fertility
- a Seville orange floating in a bowl of water – representing the earth floating in space
- a goldfish in a bowl – representing life and the end of astral year
- a flask of rose water known for its magical cleansing power
- a mirror – representing the images and reflections of Creation
- a lamp/ candle (symbol of light and good)
- sprays of cypress or pine (to ward off evil)
- the Shahnameh (The Persian Book of Kings) by Abolqasem Ferdowsi
Here’s my haft-seen sofreh. It’s not perfect, I know, but it is the age of innovation so I did what I could.
I think my momma would be proud:
Nourooz Mobarak to you all. I pray the coming days bring you greater peace and patience. I hope you see yourself for who you really are and love what you find. I wish you the wisdom and insight to see that infinite joys lie in the smallest, most obscure things, places, and people.
And above all, I ask that this year teaches us how to give, and forgive one another more easily.