Essays of the High Days and Their Meanings

II: Essays of the High Days


Lughnasadh

The history of Lughnasadh speaks of two different stories.  Both of them are centered on the Celtic God, Lugh.  He is the son of Cian of the Tuatha de Danann and He was given to Tailtiu, queen of the Fir Bolgs in fosterage, a practice that was common in earlier times.  Stories abound that speak of Lugh’s bravery, of His being the Champion. These stories speak of His talents and His bravery, and His return to the Tuatha de Dannan.  He is a High King and is also known as the Long Armed for His skill with a sling or spear.

Of the reasons to celebrate on this High Day, one version speaks of Lugh beginning this holiday with a funeral feast to his foster mother, Tailtiu, the Firbolg’s last queen, who died after exhaustion after clearing a forest in Ireland to create the plains and ready it for agriculture.  At her death bed she asked the men gathered to her side to hold funeral games in her honor, promising that as long as they did this that Ireland would not be without song.  Isn’t that typical, women working themselves to death to help provide?  Okay, I’m being saucy here but one can’t always be serious and reverent and this is not a holiday that requires quiet reflection; Lughnasad is a celebration of life, a time for fun!  Bear with me; I’m working up to that.

Another aspect of Lughnasad, is of the wedding celebration of Lugh and concentrates on the Wedding games and activities. Lugh reportedly had several wives, including Bui and Nas who were daughters of Ruadri, the king of Britain.  Lughnasad’s wedding feast and games are centered on his wedding to Rosemerta, a fertility goddess associated with carrying a basket of fruit, possibly the harvest Cornucopia.  Whether Lughasad is celebrated as a funeral feast or a wedding feast, it is a celebration where hand-fasts and games are played and bounty is enjoyed.  Tribes would come together at this time of the first harvest. There would be games, horse-trading, I can imagine great fairs as people came together.

I celebrate Lughnasadh in a family tradition the same in a smaller scale.  My personal “tribe” of daughters, I have four of them, usually with their significant others and friends, come together, we celebrate, sacrifice a “roasted beast” to our barbeque (slaughtered humanely by our local grocery butcher and conveniently packaged) and we munch on the first of the harvested vegetables and fruits that are now in season, and oh the games.  Our family is really big on games, particularly one called “Dungeon Quest” with loud cheers of “leap aside!” and “mighty blow!”  It is a great time of camaraderie and fellowship.  I usually hold my Rite in the morning with the warm sun before the family festivities begin.

In a way this holiday, it’s like hovering the crest of a wave, if anyone has ever surfed, you hover there a moment in a space of peace just before it crests and crashes speeding you forward. Lughnasad is that moment in reality, so small yet significant.  Lughnasad is that peaceful lull I can feel magically out of time.  All the hard work getting through the planting of spring, tending into summer, (building that wave) now here at Lughnasad, the Earth takes a moment to hover and relax and celebrate the first of what is reaped, because any day now the rest of what needs to be brought in is going to keep everyone busy as harvest season pushes forward like a wave, until the last harvest is in at Celtic year’s end. It is a break in summer, a time out, the summer party to enjoy the family, to enjoy life, to be thankful for the blessings that have been granted to us for our hard work, and to ready ourselves for the task ahead of bringing in the rest of the harvest in preparation of the next year.

What does Lughnasadh mean to me?  It has always been a Thanksgiving celebration in the past, of being thankful of the family I have reaped, pride in my four daughters, in what we have built together.  But now there is a more personal meaning to me.  It is now, just at Lughnassadh that I return to my Goddess after straying for almost a decade.  Here I am, at the harvest years of my life, as I enter my Crone years, here I have turned 50 and start this late and yet still productive era of my life,  I return to my pagan path, I turn to Druidry,  and with this first High Day as a new druid, I join the ADF.

Bibliography and Resources:

Charles Squire, Celtic Myth and Legend, originally published as The Mythology of the British Islands in 1905.

Margo Adler, Drawing down the Moon

Autumn Equinox

Autumn Equinox, it is when the day and night are equal, and the marking of the fact that summer is over and the days will grow shorter as chill sets into our mornings and brings the falling of leaves.  This is my favorite time of year.  My usual chaotic summer comes to a close and I can relax with a “Barn Burner”[1] and watch the Canadian Geese make their way overhead across the Pacific Northwest as they head for warmer climes.

This is the second of our harvest celebrations.  Some traditions count three harvest festivals total, Lughnasadh/Lammas, Autumn Equinox, and Samhain (Old Irish samain, “summer’s end”), while others only count the first two as harvest festivals and designate Samhain as Celtic New Year with leanings on memorial rites for the Ancestors and honoring the dead. Still other traditions consider these three holidays as something in between. While Lughnasadh is the first of the thanksgiving harvests and marks the beginning of the harvest season; Autumn Equinox is a celebration of bringing our harvesting to a close and getting ready for winter.   My personal tradition in my home honored Lughnasadh as the beginning of the harvest, Autumn as the close of it, and we had to have our property ready for winter before Samhain or there would be a visit by the Pookah.

In some traditions Autumn Equinox is called “Mabon” after the Welsh god Mabon ap Modron of “The Mabinogian” tales (apparently conceived by Aidan Kelly around 1970?)  In other traditions it is called Winter Finding, and Meán Fómhair or Alban Elfed.  Among the Norse it is called “Gleichentag” or “even day.

Some honor the Green Man with offerings of spices, cider or mead and fruit.   Some of the traditions consist of decorating with Indian corn, dried leaves and gourds, making corn dollies.  The story goes that the corn dolly would be made from the last sheaf of the harvest, made of a dried corn cob and fashioned with wheat or other grain crop and then the dolly would be decorated with a ribbon or such. When the field was completely harvested over for the season, the corn spirit would be considered homeless and so would be brought into the home where it would be kept and honored until it was ploughed into the first furrow of the new season.  This is another cycle tradition, the more familiar with my family being that of saving a piece of the Yule log to use to kindle the next year’s Yule fire.  Many traditions seem to exist that start in one part of the year’s wheel and continue to another such as this and honoring the doll/spirit of the harvest until it is laid to rest in the field where the new crops would be seeded.

Being a harvest festival, the Gods/Goddesses to be honored would naturally be those of bountiful harvests such as Demeter, the Earth Mother, Gaia, Erce and Habondia.

My family never celebrated this holiday really rather than a casual observance, it being considered a lesser of the Sabbats in my neo-pagan household.  Our rituals this time of year ran more along the line of getting everything finished up after summer in order to get the household ready to buckle down to the coming winter with a new school year, gathering supplies not of stalks and sheaves into root cellars but of pencils and paper reams gathered into notebooks and backpacks.  It was when I would get the last of the fir cones and branches stacked in the woodpile on the property and have the yard ready for winter, praising the Great Mother that I wouldn’t have to mow the lawn again until Spring.

Still, it marks the turning of the Wheel of our year again, into my favorite time of year, of chilly nights, the sun still blessing my afternoons, and the smell of my favorite autumn drink, Barn -Burners.

Bibliography:

Mabon – Autumn Equinox: http://www.magicspells.in/mabon_autumn_equinox.htm

Mabon – Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mabon

Wheel of the Year – Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheel_of_the_Year

Drawing Down the Moon, Margot Adler

Samhain

Samhain, Celtic New Year, Summer’s End, or in my family’s Scottish ancestry, Samhainn.  In Old Irish, Samhain (Samfuin) is literally “summer’s end”, from sam “summer” and fuin “end.”  It is a harvest festival and a festival of the dead, the latter of which contributes to the modern Halloween, and it became associated with the Catholic “All Souls’ Day.”  Personally I also liken it to a Memorial Day.  I look back in memory of the year, of my ancestors, of those things and those people that have passed as I step to the future and the New Year.  It is a time of retrospect, of harvesting what one has reaped throughout the last year, learning from the mistakes, growing and preparing for future personal growth to come in the next year approaching.

The Gaulish calendar divided the year into two seasons, Winter and Summer, the dark half and the light half.  At this New Year event, the beginning of the dark half, Winter begins.  As a harvest festival, it marks the final harvest of the three festivals, Lughnasad, Autumn Equinox, and finally Samhain, and so is called by some “Third Harvest.”  Traditionally it was one of the great bonfire celebrations, where folks would take stock of their supplies for the winter and decide which of their livestock would be slaughtered as they prepared for winter food stores.  Incidentally, “bonfire” comes from “bone-fire” and this is attributed to the tradition that after feasting the bones were thrown into the fire as offerings for healthy and plentiful livestock in the coming year.  It was a tradition in many Irish communities to put out all the fires in the hearths and then each household would light a kindling from the Samhain bonfire and take it to their homes to re-light their hearths in a symbol of unity of the community in the coming winter, all lighting there hearths from the community’s common Samhain bonfire.

My family’s more modern tradition was it was when we had our yards readied for winter.  The trees and roses would be pruned, all debris gathered and burned, and our properties ready for the Pookah to inspect and cause trouble if our work was not done. It would appear as a black stamping horse to my family members.

Traditionally however, the Pookah (Pooka, Pwca, Puca, Pwwka) is a shape shifter. It can appear in a variety of forms and is said to most commonly show itself as a horse, rabbit, goat, goblin or dog with glowing golden eyes.  (My family’s Pookah has red ones and its hooves will occasionally spark when it stamps.  I use “it” as no one has ever gotten close enough to it to see it’s gender)  Some accounts say the Pooka’s eyes are orange and they have a fondness of riddles and can be quite sociable and like to play pranks.  It’s these pranks that my family tradition has tried to thwart by having the yard pristine for its arrival.  An important tradition to some folks in regard to the Pookah and this agricultural High Day is that when the last of the crops are brought in, anything remaining in the fields is considered “puka” and therefore inedible.  Some traditions say that something should be purposely left for the Pooka to placate it and keep the pranks to a minimum.  In our family, however, our Pookah spirit takes more the job of the relative that has you racing to your room to make sure it’s clean for inspection and if you fail, you get “whapped.”  No matter how you chose to honor, ignore or placate the Pookah, it is a time to get in all the crops that you intend to store to get the family through to the dark time of the new year, to bring in hay to feed livestock not being slaughtered, and it was a time for herdsman to bring that livestock from the fields for shelter as the chill starts setting in for the long cold season ahead.  Peat and firewood would be stacked and ready for winter fires.  Families worked together baking, salting and preserving meats.

Regardless of whether your heritage sees Samhain as a harvest festival or the Celtic New Year, it is a High Day steeped in the belief across many cultures that it is a time when the veil between the living and the dead thins. For some this means getting nearer to loved ones that have passed onto the other-worlds. For those with fear in their hearts, it is a time to jump at every bump in the night for fear of ghosties and goblins. For those with strong divination abilities, it is an optimal time to reach through the veil for forecasts of the New Year. It is a night to stand on the edge, between summer and winter, lightness and dark, past and present, and to look upon both the living and the dead. Samhain is one of our greatest High Days, a night of looking upon the apex of all things.

Bibliography:

Alder, Margot “Drawing Down the Moon” revised and expanded edition, 1986

Mara Freeman, Kindling the Celtic Spirit 2001

Yule/Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice is the beginning of the solar New Year with the sun’s return after the year’s longest night and thus this celebration is centered on Light and the return or rebirth of the Sun.  It was Emperor Aurelian in the third century that set Winter Solstice as the birthday of the “Invincible Sun” and shortly after in the year 273 CE the Christian church borrowed it to represent the birthday of Jesus.  By 336 the Roman solar feast was Christianized.

Prior to this, an ancient Roman holiday was introduced in 217 BCE by the Romans, The Feast of Saturnalia, honoring the god Saturn.  This feast would commence on December 17th and would last for a week, ending on the 23rd, though there were attempts by Emperor Augustus and Emperor Caligula to shorten the celebration.

From the Old Norse, Midwinter was celebrated for three nights with the custom of sacrifices, drinking ale, and toasts made, the first of which was to be drunk to Odin for victory and power to the king.  The second toast was traditionally made to Njoror and Freyr for good harvests and peace, and then the third toast was made to the King, himself.  Toasts were also made in the memory of deceased kin.

Throughout history, the foundation of this December holiday, Christian or not, is steeped in Pagan traditions from long, long ago. The modern English word Yule comes to us from 1450 CE and is based on the old English words geol and geola from 899 CE. The word “yule” may be linked to the Old Norse world Jol and the Anglo-Saxon “geohol” and “gehol” and is believed to have originally meant something akin to “magic” or “feast of entreaty” and is the root of the English word “jolly.”  Even the custom of jolly old Santa Claus is a worldwide, multicultural pagan god-form.  He can be thought of as Saturn, or the Greek god Cronos also known as Father Time.  He is the Celtic Holly King of the dying year, he is Father Frost of Russia and the Norse Thor who rides a chariot (sleigh) drawn by goats (reindeer).  Within the form of Santa one can find Odin/Wotan who also rides the sky (on an 8 legged horse) or the Norse land spirit Tomte who was known for giving gifts to children.  My family simply calls him the Yule-King.

The pre-Christian roots of the Christmas tree, or in our house, the Yule Tree, start with pagan cultures that would cut boughs of the evergreen trees and bring them into their houses.  As the days grew shorter and deciduous trees and bushes dropped their leaves and hibernated and while crops died, the evergreens would remain green and seemingly immortal and impervious to time, having a seemingly magical power to withstand winter and thus symbolized eternal life.  Diane Relf in “Christmas Tree Traditions” writes that ancient Romans decorated their trees with bits of metal and replicas of Bacchus and with twelve candles on the tree to honor their sun god while other sources cite that in Northern Europe the ancient Germanic people tied fruit and attached candles to the branches of evergreen trees to honor Woden.

It is cited in The Book of Days by Robert Chambers that this holiday originally derived from Saturnalia and afterwards intermingled with the traditions of ancient druids, to which is also attributed the hanging of mistletoe and the burning of the Yule Log.  There is some argument, however, that the Celtic druids did not give much attention to the Winter Solstice though the Anglo-Saxons and Germanic cultures took to it with gusto.  Large fires were built and Yule Logs were lit indoors to “rekindle” the dying sun and help it to return.  I cannot find reference to where my family got the tradition, but we had always saved a sliver of the blessed Yule Log to be used as kindling to start the following year’s Yule Log, each year being lit by a sliver of the old, a continuation of our family’s cycle of the years.

The use of Mistletoe to the Yule tradition stems from the plant’s lifecycle coming to bear fruit at the time of Winter Solstice.  It is a plant that was considered a remedy for many things, though its use can actually be dangerous as the fruits of many varieties of mistletoes contain poisonous viscotoxins.  Holly is another plant associated with the holiday, holly of the “holy” tree and believed by some as the most sacred of the tree of the druids after the Oak.

The Cycle of the year plays a role in quite a few of our pagan-druid/neo-pagan-druid High Days and on this one in particular is often symbolized with a wreath, a circle with no beginning and no end, thus illustrating the Wheel of the Year.  Everything is time comes back to its point of origin, where a new circle of time begins anew.

Sources:

Wikipedia : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_tree, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yule, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturnalia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mistletoe

Bonewits Essential Guide to Druidism, Isaac Bonewits, 2006

Imbolc

Imbolc is one of the four Celtic festivals that do not fall on solar events (neither equinox nor solstice).  It commonly falls on February 1st or 2nd on the modern Gregorian calendar, which puts Imbolc between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox.  In my own family, the non-solar holidays are lunar ones, connecting the power between the Sun and Moon, the Sun unlocking the energy of the season and then the Moon brings that energy into its fullness.  Thus, in my own tradition, I celebrate Imbolc on the full moon of Aquarius which in 2010 is January 30th).

The word itself, Imbolc (pronounced im’olk…though personal note, my own family’s Irish side always has pronounced it im bolk with the b there but very softly pronounced the way our d’s are often very soft at the end of a word) comes from the Old Irish I mbolg, meaning “in the belly” and this refers to the pregnancy of the ewes.  The timing of Imbolc in this context comes when the ewes start to lactate in preparation for the lambs about to be born.  Another word for this holiday is Oimelc which means “ewe’s milk.”

The origins of this High day connect Imbolc with the Goddess Brigid.  Brigid is at the very heart of this High Day.  Because the importance of Brigid was so strong in the Irish culture, She was impossible to eradicate during the conversion of the people to Christianity and so she was adopted and canonized as Saint Brigid (at least that is one theory, another is below).  She is the Secondary Patron of Ireland (second only to Saint Patrick) and the Christians call the day of Her celebration “Candlemas.”  Saint Brigid’s Candlemas celebrates Her as “Brigid the Lightbringer” with themes of dedication to the Virgin Mary with candlelight processions.

Brigid is known by many names both as in spellings of Her proper name (Brighid, Brigit, Bride, Bridget, Brighde, Brig) as well as in titles such as the aforementioned “Lightbringer” as well as “The Exalted One” of the Europeon tribes.  The Cormac’s Glossary (10th century) calls her “the daughter of Daghda, who is the “Great God” of the Tuatha de Danaan” and he calls her a “woman of wisdom” whom poets adored.  She is said to be an inspiration for divination and prophecy as well as with fertility and thus her tie with the coming of new lambs as the holiday’s name states, as well as other livestock.  As Saint Brigid (here is yet another theory) she is said to be the daughter of a druid who had a vision that his daughter was to be named after the great Goddess Brigid.  She later became the abbess of Kildare and was said to have increased the milk and butter production of the abbey’s cows; and when she died, her skull (or so they claim) was kept at Kildare until stolen during a Norman raid.

Unbeknownst to many, they are performing a rite of Imbolc on Groundhog Day, as Imbolc is traditionally a day of divining the coming weather, watching hares, badgers, groundhogs and serpents to see if they are coming from their holds underground and if winter weather will be soon over.  One source cites that the Irish-American’s used the groundhog as it was somehow adopted as a replacement for the hare popping from the hole, with the fertile hare being associated with Brigit along with her ewes and sacred cows.

A Scottish Gaelic Proverb cited in Wikipedia and found in “Hymms and Incantations, Ortha Nan Gaidheal, Volume 1 by Alexander Carmichael (1900):

Thig an nathair as an toll
Là donn Brìde,
Ged robh trì troighean dhen t-sneachd
Air leac an làir.

“The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bride,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground.”

Besides Brigid, Gaelic traditions call Imbolc also the day of the hag, or Cailleach, in which She gathers firewood for the rest of the winter.  If She makes the day bright and sunny it is so She can gather plenty of firewood because she expects the winter to be still some weeks longer yet (such as when the Groundhog sees his shadow) and if the weather is foul and cloudy, it means that Caileach is asleep and has no need of the sunny day to gather wood and thus She expects winter to be almost over (when the Groundhog does not see his shadow.) It is said that if She is seen, She appears as a giant bird gathering wood with the carrying of sticks in Her beak.

Brigid is known for a great many attributes, from women’s hearth concerns of healing and fertility through creative venues such as poetry and creating beautiful works of smith-works, dying and weaving textiles.  Like the majority of our High Days, Brigit’s day includes the lighting of fires, and in this case, the lighting of candles and fires is a representation of warmth and the increasing warmth coming with the Sun’s expanding days.

There are a wide variety of traditions, some of which are centered around looking for evidence of Brigid walking the Earth as she descends to us on Imbolc.  Fires are smothered and the ashes smoothed to look for marks of her passing.  Strips of cloth are left outside for Her to bless which are believed to be imbued with Her healing powers for our use afterwards.  Another tradition, a quite popular one that is often incorporated in Neo-Pagan rituals involves the creating of a corn dolly to represent Brigid which is decorated with ribbons and finery.

Imbolc approaches soon and among the traditions, I will be celebrating with a tradition that my own family honors…the making of a Brigid Cake (also known as a Bride’s Cake…sounds familiar as the Wedding cake to me).  Unbeknownst to my daughters, this is when I started the family practice of “Brownies for Breakfast day” since the women of our family are quite unanimous in our love of brownies as the best type of cake in the whole world, and what better type of cake to have but the best one in the whole world in honor of Brigid?

References & Resources:

Imbolc, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imbolc

Imbolc The Feast of the Bride, from The Celtic Year at: http://www.chalicecentre.net/imbolc.htm

Spring Equinox

Spring Equinox or Vernal equinox is the High Day that celebrates the balance of Light and Dark.  It is the day that the sun astrologically enters Aries as it crosses the equator.  It is associated with two Christian holy days, the Feast of Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin and the holiday of Easter.   It is also known as Ostara, and as Eostra (after which the name Easter comes from as well as the word estrogen for the female hormone) after the Teutonic Lunar Goddess who held the fertile hare as sacred and her followers saw a hare in the face of the moon (rather than the face of the man on the moon.)

Night and day are balanced, equal.  In the Welsh Mabinogion, this is the anniversary of when Llew pierces Goronwy with his sunlight spear in revenge. The God of Light displaces the God of Darkness, his rival.  In some cultures or belief systems it is a celebration of the reunion of the Great Goddess with her lover/consort or son.  Others believe it is a time to celebrate that the youthful God that was born at Yule is gaining his strength and that the Goddess is returning to her Maiden aspect for those that believe in the Goddess of triple aspects.

Being a spring festival, this High Day naturally has a theme of fertility and conception.  The egg, too, is held sacred in some traditions and I’ve read one source stating it is because of this fertility theme, that the egg sacredly symbolizes the “cosmic egg of creation” and while another source points to a tradition of painting the eggs prepared for this High Day to the color of scarlet (the color of life blood) as the Orphic Egg and symbol of the universe encased in the egg.  So we have here the hare or bunny (one of the most fertile and proliferate of the Goddess’ animals) and coloring eggs.  Sound familiar?  The hare is a very fertile animal that is sacred to the Goddess Eostre.  Eostre has, by some authors, been associated with the Norse Goddess, Freyja. The Christian Easter celebrates the victory of a god of light (Jesus) over darkness (death).  Followers of Eostre celebrated Eostara on the full moon following Vernal Equinox.  The Christians did not celebrate full moons (due to stigma of being associated with Pagan sabbats?) so they place their Easter on the first Sunday after the full moon after Vernal Equinox.  There is the exception of when the full moon falls on the Sunday where Easter should have fallen, and in this case, the Catholic Church postpones to the following Sunday (again, believed to disassociate them with Pagan sabbats.)

References:

Wikipedia: Ostara at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ostara_%28Wicca%29#Ostara

Wikipedia: Equinox at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equinox

Wikipedia: Eostre at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C4%92ostre

Spring Equinox: Facts and Misinformation at http://www.tylwythteg.com/Spring.html

Beltane

Beltane, Beltain or Beltaine is a spring festival/high day that when using the Gregorian Calendar falls on May 1st, or May Day.  It is a cross-quarter day falling between Spring Equinox and Summer solstice.  Astrologically the date would fall somewhere between May 5th and May 7th when the Pleiades’s star cluster rises just before sunrise, depending on the year.  My own family practice is that we celebrate this day on the full moon falling on the closest to this midpoint, which this year (2010) April 28th.  This is traditionally a Celtic holiday, celebrating spring or “first day of summer” for traditions that acknowledged only two seasons, that of Summer and Winter.

Several ideas as to the translation of “Beltaine” point to “bel-fire”, “bale-fire”, “bright fire” and they refer to Bel, Belanos, Belenos, Beli, Bile, Belinus, all of which are most often referred to as a “father god” and protector as well as the husband of the “mother goddess.”

Some traditions of this High Day include May Baskets and the Scottish Knobby Cake (aka the Beltane Cake) made of oats or barley. As with most of the 8 pagan high days, traditions for this holiday include great bonfires.  There are stories of traditions of folks dancing around the bonfire, various fertility rites, joining hands with one they wish to hand-fast or enter into a “trial marriage” with and making the walk around the bonfire.  There is also a tradition that is spoken of where marriages are suspended during Beltaine and resumed afterward. A difference in this bonfire festival is that it is quite often spoke of having not one but two bonfires and there are stories of driving the cattle and sheep herds either through the cooled off ashes the following day or driving them between the bonfires to ensure the fertility of their livestock to come.  In many cases it customs are cited of people passing between the two bonfires to become purified by the smoke of them.

Like several of the other bonfire high days, people were said to put out their hearth fires and rekindle them with a start from the community’s bonfire.  Another tradition is the Maypole.  The pole is the phallic symbol of God fertilizing the Mother earth.  This may be related to the tradition of the “Bile Pole” or Irish Tree of Life where a connection is made between the “three worlds of Bith”, those being of Skyworld, Middleworld, and Otherworld, or Heaven, Middle Earth, and Underworld. Beltane is also known as the day of hand-fasting of the God and Goddess and their union fertilizes and re-awakens the earth.  As such, it is a day to enter into trial marriages between couples before deciding upon the more legal and binding union. These trial hand-fasts would last a year and a day. Another fertility tradition involves having the fields freshly plowed and lovers or partners perhaps choosing each other at the Bel-fire go to the fields to make love there, waking up the earth and fertilizing it to ensure good crops.

For those looking for correspondences associated with this High Day, I have found lists of shellfish and other aphrodisiacs as well as edibles as the aforementioned Knobby or Beltane cake, Wine punches, and dairy foods. The colors associated with this High Day are red (blood and fluid of life), green (fertility), and white (purification) and yellow (sun).  Stones listed are emerald and rose quartz, flowers of rose, hawthorn (listed in multiple places) juniper (purification), lilac, and Lily of the Valley which is a flower that only blooms in April-May.

Sources:

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beltane

Witchvox article by Christina Aubin: http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usma&c=holidays&id=2765

Asiya’s Shadows: http://www.asiya.org/sabbats/beltane.html

Midsummer/Summer Solstice

This High day falls between Beltane and Lughnasadh, during the Summer Solstice around June 21 (in the Northern hemisphere) on the longest day and shortest night of the year, directly opposite Winter Solstice.  It marks the time of year when daylight will just start giving way to darkness.  For neo pagans it is another bonfire High Day and a particularly important holiday in Northern Europe, though it is celebrated literally worldwide, including in Brazil as Festa Junina and by the Mohammedan people of North Africa, where they burn specific plants such as giant fennel, thyme and chamomile to create a thick aromatic smoke that people expose themselves to and drive the smoke towards their crops and orchards, as well as bringing the smoke on burning brands to their homes to fumigate with the aromatic smoke for prosperity, luck , health and fertility.

For Catholics, Midsummer was “Christianized” as the Feast St. John the Baptist as Jesus referred to John as a “burning and shining light.” I’d expect the reason this particular bonfire holiday was chosen over the others because of it being the day of the Sun’s longest burning day.

For European countries it brings a tradition of leaping over the bonfires, sometimes couples hand in hand doing so together.  An eve of merrymaking and feasting abounds.  Other names associated with this day/eve are “Litha” as used by some neo-pagans due to the Northumbrian monk, Bede’s De temporum ratione (or “The Reckoning of Time) written in 725.  It is also called Alban Hefin by neo-druids and is purported to have been a term invented by a Welsh romantic author (and copious literary forgerer) in the late 18th century, Iolo Morganwg.  Traditions abound like all the other holidays, but this one seems to be one that though traditions are observed, no one really has a concrete reason as to why other than  in relation to marking of the turning of the year to shorter days and confirming the progression of the yearly harvest season. For whatever reasons there had been for ancients to honor this day, be they obscured and lost over time, physical evidence remains in the fact of how the equinoxes and solstices are marked with the rise of the sun at Stonehenge, and how the sun rises between two stones of the Grange stone circle in County Limmerick, Ireland, and the sun shines down directly in the center of this circle of those ancient stones, so ancient that upon excavation, Neolithic pottery had been discovered among it.  People as far back as 2000BCE were marking the Summer Solstice there, as were those ancients responsible for Stonehenge, which archeologists now say was built in three phases of construction by people living between 3000bce and 1600 BCE.  Stonehenge is famous for how it marks the solstices and equinoxes at sunrise by the placement of those ancient stones.

While little concrete evidence is recorded of what the Summer Solstice was specifically honored for, common sense points to the fact that mankind has kept track of the sun and the seasons for century upon century as a vital part of life in planning their crops, animal husbandry and managing their food stores.  Following the progress of the sun throughout the year was vital to survival.

Now, though it marks the decline of the sun and the waning of the year, it is also a time for the first fruits of summer, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, fruits indeed.  A romantic comedy play written by Shakespeare, “Midsummer’s Night’s Dream” is one of his most beloved and is rumored to have been written in celebration of a friend’s wedding.  It involves two couples whose cross-purposes are complicated even more by fairy folk.  Is there a coincidence that June is traditionally the favored month of weddings?

Ancient and modern-magical herbalists collect herbs on this night for their exceptional potency (including an herb named after the aforementioned Saint, St. John’s Wort) such as Royal Fern, nettle and fennel.  People believed that the plants that are ready to harvest at Midsummer were especially potent for healing powers, especially a plant called Calendula (also known as the Pot Marigold). Indeed, pharmaceutical studies show the plant to have anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties.

Pagan traditions point to the Holly King, god of the waning year and the battle between the Holly King and the Oak King.  At Winter Solstice the Oak King kills the Holly King and rules until Midsummer where the Holly King returns to defeat him.  Some Wiccan’s see the Holly King and the Oak King as dual aspects of the Horned God and this is an important aspect to those neo-pagans, particularly of the Wiccan tradition.

For myself, being one who honors the Tuatha de Danann and looking for the scant information to be had on how to celebrate this High Day in current times with a wish to honor ancient reasons, (many thanks to Sean Harbaugh and his research on this) I turn to the battle of Mag Tuireadh between the Formorians and my hearth’s Tuatha and of Nuada’s victory in the battle over the Fomorian leader, King Eochaid though Nuada lost his hand with it,  mythology records the day this battle took place as being Midsummer.  It is an important battle in my pantheon as it is a telling of the Gods of Light winning over the Fomorians who were tormenting the common folk of the land of ancient Ireland.

In conclusion, I must say that of the resources I looked over to right this, I must highly recommend a reading of “What Would Druids Do at the Summer Solstice by Earrach of Pitsburgh on the ADF site. Despite the lack of “hard evidence” that this High Day was ever celebrated by ancient Celts (I follow a Celtic Hearth) I must agree with the writer that “A lack of evidence does not constitute evidence to the contrary.”   Following the course of the Sun and marking its Equinoxes and Solstices was extremely important to a race that has survived by making a science of what to plant when in order to feed their community.   While a great wave has been made in current times by neo-pagans to worship around Lunar based activities and events with its association with mystery and magic, the Sun is no less vital to healing and our very existence, to fertility and life.  The celebration of our Sun should be no less momentous.

Resources:

Witchvox:  http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usma&c=holidays&id=3525

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midsummer

The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer (1854–1941), Chapter 62: The Fire-Festivals of Europe

What Would the Druids Do at Summer Solstice by Earrach: http://www.adf.org/rituals/celtic/midsummer/wwtdd-summer-solstice.html

Gaels and the Solstices by Sean Harbaugh: http://www.adf.org/members/wiki/Main/SeanHarbaugh/GaelsSolstices.pdf

Grange Stone Circle, Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grange_stone_circle

Grange Stone Circle at Lough Gur: http://www.sacredsitetour.com/sacred-sites-of-ireland/grange-stone-circle.html


[1] Recipe for Barn-Burner: Fill a mug with apple cider.  Add a jigger of whisky or rum.  Snap a cinnamon stick in half and throw in the half.  Microwave until hot. Alternately you can warm a pot of hot apple cider with cinnamon sticks and keep heated and ready to add the whisky/rum in as you server to guests.  Warms the toes and gives the home a nice cozy Autumn scent.

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~ by Spider Lily on August 29, 2010.

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