A History Of Neo-Paganism and Druidry: 3 – Describe several examples of authentic folk customs absorbed into Neopaganism, and describe how they have been adapted.

6 08 2017

Describe several examples of authentic folk customs absorbed into Neopaganism, and describe how they have been adapted. (minimum 300 words)

There are a variety of authentic folk customs that have been absorbed into Neo-Paganism, however it is arguable whether they go right back to Paleo-Pagan times. These can mostly be seen at the festival times.

The midwinter festival of Yule has incorporated a range of authentic folk customs into Neopaganism. The Roman festival of Saturnalia that occurred at this time include elements such as gift-giving, feasting and decorating the home with evergreens. Decorating with evergreens or mistletoe may also date back to Druid and Viking periods. It is also possible that the folk tradition of the Yule Log may date back to Paleo-pagan times and has been incorporated in modern heathenry.

Imbolc too has many folk customs that modern Neopagans include in their rituals. These include the use of candles or candle-making because the date was turned into Candlemas by the Church. Many Neopagans make a bed and doll of Brighid, a Brighids cross and leave cloth outside the window sill for Brighid to bless. These are folk customs that can be traced back at least several hundred years. Modern heathens may bake cakes and put them into the earth at this time, following the words of Bede in his writings on the Anglo-Saxon month of Solmonath.

Beltane is another festival with revived folk customs. There are early references to the use of fire at the festival, such as “lucky fire i.e two fires Druids used to make with great incantations, and they used to bring the cattle against the diseases of the year to those fires” and “they used to drive cattle between them.” Another reference says, “a fire was kindled in his [Bel] name at the beginning of summer always, and cattle were driven between two fires.” Today many neo-pagans hold bonfires on this day and bonfires have been recorded on Beltane right up to the 19th century, and even today in Edinburgh. Similarly, the customs of “Bringing in the May” and the use of a Maypole can both be traced back to folk customs over 700 years old.

Lughnasadh or Lammas, is the festival beginning the harvest in Neopaganism. There are references to “Lammas” as a celebration of first fruits in the Anglo-Saxon chronicles and Lughnasadh has a long history in Ireland, originally being a celebration of the goddess Tailitu. The blessing of bread in churches is a folk custom that has been adopted into Neopaganism as modern Neopagans bake bread and offer some of it to the gods on this date. It was a date when large assemblies were often held, and some modern heathen groups hold an annual meeting on this date too.

Samhain contains many older folk customs that have survived thanks to the popularity of Halloween. The carving of pumpkins originated as the folk custom of carving turnips, and many Neopagans continue the practice today. Divination practices such as casting nuts into a bonfire or throwing apple skins over one’s shoulder are folk customs that have been absorbed into Neopaganism today.

Finally, there are other authentic folk customs which have been adopted into Neopaganism such as the use of hand-fasting in marriage ceremonies. This custom can be found in Scotland and the word appears in Old English too.


Ellis, Peter B. The Druids. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub Co, 1998. Print.

Adler, Margot. Drawing down the moon witches, Druids, goddess-worshippers, and other pagans in America today. New York, N.Y: Penguin/Arkana, 2006. Print.

Hutton, Ronald. The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. Print.

Bonewits, Isaac. “Defining Paganism: Paleo-, Meso-, and Neo-.” Web.

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Meith, Vickie, and Howard Meith. “The Origins of the Celtic Traditionalist Order of Druids.” Web.

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