Dedicant Path Week 11 – Second High Day Explanation – Litha

20 06 2013
Sunrise over Stonehenge on the summer solstice...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Summer Solstice, Midsummers Eve, Litha, Alban Heruin – there are many names for this day and it has been celebrated by almost every culture on earth. Although not one of the four great fire festivals, the day was probably celebrated by the Druids and its quite possible that places like Stonehenge were used by them at this time. On the Isle of Man, there is a tradition of “paying rent” to the patron of the island, and Celtic god of the sea, Manannan Mac Lyr on this day, by offering him bundles of reeds, meadow grasses and yellow flowers, along with prayers for aid and protection in fishing. The other deity related to this time is the goddess Aine, the Irish goddess of summer, love, fertility and sovereignty. She is sometimes seen as the wife or daughter of Manannan Mac Lir, and is the queen of fairies because this is traditionally the night when they come out and join in celebrations. Aine is honoured on Midsummers eve with a feast, procession and bonfires. Midsummers eve (later renamed St John’s Eve) was also considered a special time for collecting herbs and they were seen as the most potent and magical at this time. June was also the traditional time of sheep shearing.

Historian Ronald Hutton says that at this time “Midsummer bonfires, with much the same rituals, are recorded all over England, Wales, Ireland, Lowland Scotland and the Northern Isles.” The first record of lighting protective fires on midsummer’s eve is from the 12th century, however in the 4th century pagans celebrated by rolling flaming wheels downhill to a river, a practice that can be traced right up to the 19th century in Dartmoor, Devon. It was a time for divination and the Anglo Saxon Lacunga says its the best time to collect certain plants for healing. In 13th and 14th centuries there are records of people carrying fire around their fields on midsummers eve, people staying up all night around bonfires in the street and youths gathering at wells for songs and games. Hutton says “the dossier seems to be complete enough to speak confidently of a pre-Christian seasonal rituasl of major importance.

The day is important because it is the middle of summer in the Northern Hemisphere and the sun is at its most powerful. It is called the Solstice after the latin “sol” meaning sun and “sistere” meaning to stand still. It is the longest day of the year with 15 hours of sunshine. At this time crops have been planted and are growing strongly, meanwhile the earth is alive with blooming flowers, green trees and insects busy collecting pollen and making honey. It’s a time to rest, to have fun and to celebrate before the hard work of the harvest begins. From the solstice onwards, the days begin to shorten again as we move back towards the winter.

The ADF manual explains that the Welsh saw this as another spirit night when the landspirits are very active, while for the Norse this was a time for celebrating community and the sun goddess, Sunna. Neopagans also celebrate this as a time of magic and honouring the sun. For Wiccans, this is when “the powers of nature reach this highest point. The Earth is awash in the fertility of the Goddess and God.”

The day is often celebrated by having a beach bbq and bonfire with friends, watching the sunrise and eating summery foods like salads. It is usually spent outside and is a good time to go camping and hiking or to have a water fight. It is a time to dance, drink, party, to be thankful for the sun and to enjoy its light and warmth.

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

ADF. Our Own Druidry: An Introduction to Ár nDraíocht Féin and the Druid Path. Tucson: ADF Publishing, 2009.

Cunnigham, Scott. Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, Minnestota: Llewellyn Publications, 2003





Dedicant Path Week 8 – High Day Recap – Beltane

1 05 2013
Beltane Panoram

Beltane (Photo credit: pyramis)

I did my Beltane rite at 5pm on Wednesday 1st May as an ending to the celebrations. I used the structure and wording from the Solitary Druid Fellowship’s ritual but with a few modifications e.g. incorporating a prayer to the Earth Mother I had previously written. I really liked the wording of the ritual, with its emphasis on affirming our relationship with the cosmos as the purpose of ritual. I wasn’t sure which deities to honour from the Irish pantheon for this rite, so I chose not to honour any specific deities but rather honoured them all generically. The gatekeeper was Manannan Mac Lir because I am finding myself developing quite a connection with him and am thinking he may end up being my Patron deity. I live on the coast and the ocean and fishing very much dominate our lives here so I feel it is right that he is honoured. I did the ritual alone in my house as I am to nervous to do things outside in public and I don’t have a garden. I enjoyed giving the offerings, however I mucked up with the offering to the fire as I poured the oil on the flame and it went out. For offerings I used oil for the fire and the gods, apple for the gatekeeper, seeds for the nature spirits, silver coin for the well, oats for the earth mother, incense for the tree and cider for the ancestors.  I will need to bring the offerings closer to me next time as they were on a desk which wasn’t close enough and trying to get them disrupted the flow somewhat. Also, doing it in the daytime had an effect on the atmosphere of the ritual as the candle didn’t really shine much (and I forgot to light two other candles). The ritual went well however I didn’t really feel any connection which disappointed me. I also got a strange omen reading. I decided to take three tarot cards (using Wildwood Tarot) – one for each kindred, asking “What blessings do the kindred offer me?” I received an upside down “The Seer” from the Shining Ones, the “Three of Arrows” meaning Jealousy from the Nature Spirits and “Ten of Stones” meaning Home from the Ancestors. Reading up what they meant, I’m not really sure what to make of the message as it doesn’t seem very positive. Putting together the messages, I think it might be telling me that there’s some negative emotions towards certain people that I need to deal with. However I’m not sure and am very confused.

The rest of my celebrations have included a big party with friends last night, making a maypole for my altar, decorating with flowers and hawthorn branches (Cornish tradition), going for a walk to nature to experience the beginning of summer, spending some romantic time with my partner and making summery foods like potato salad (vegan), flapjacks and homemade lemonade.





Dedicant Path Week 7 – First High Holy Day Explanation – Beltane

28 04 2013
The bonfire lit to welcome Beltane morning. Ed...

Beltane Bonfire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Beltane, meaning “bright fire” is one of the four great fire festivals of the ancient Celtic cultures. In ancient Irish culture it was the time when both the Tuatha De Danaan and the Milesians came to Ireland and was originally celebrated when the Hawthorns began to blossom. Half way between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice, it marks the start of the light half of the year and heralds the beginning of summer. According to historian Ronald Hutton, “the ritual of Beltane was found in all Celtic areas of the British Isles, but also in pastoral regions of Germanic and Scandinavian Europe.” The historical evidence for the celebration of this festival is much better than for others. The earliest references to it are from 900AD which state “lucky fire i.e two fires Druids used to make with great incantations, and they used to bring the cattle against the diseaseas 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.” Like the other three Celtic festivals, Beltane is mentioned in the Irish tale of Tochmarc Emire and the ritual of lighting bonfires at this time survived right up until the 19th century. Like Samhain, it was seen as a liminal time “when fairies and witches were especially active, and magical devices [were] required to guard against them.” To the welsh, it was one of the “spirit nights.”Hutton says that “rituals were conducted to protect…against the powers of evil, natural and supernatural, not merely in the season to come but because those malign powers were supposed to be active at this turning point of the year.”

Other celebrations in English areas at this time include “bringing in the May” and dancing around a Maypole. Bringing in the May dates back to at least the 13th century and refers to gathering flowers and foliage to bring home and celebrate the beginning of summer. Hutton says that there is no evidence for when the Maypole came to Britain but it was first recorded in a welsh poem in the mid 14th century and is also recorded in Scandinavia so probably originated from the continent. The May Pole was not a phallic or world tree symbol but was most likely simply a “focal point for celebrations” or something to hang garlands on.

Beltane marks the beginning of the pastoral season, the time when farmers traditionally moved their herds to summer pastures (driving them between two fires for blessing and protection first) and people could go outside because of the milder weather. The crops were in the ground by now and it was traditionally the beginning of calving season. There was lots of milkingto do and making dairy products like butter. It was the busiest time to visit water sources to collect water for healing and good luck. It was also a time for the renewal of rents.

Learning from historical practices, Gaelic reconstructionists celebrate this time by extinguishing a flame (ideally a bonfire) and relighting it. They eat a feast, usually including bannocks, decorate their houses with greenery and yellow flowers and collect dew or water in the morning (considered potent for healing and maintaining a youthful appearance). They also make offerings to the gods, carry out protection rites to sain their house and land while warding the boundaries, and make charms of rowan. Some groups also see this as a time to renew their bond with the land goddess (the nearest river) by giving her offerings at her river bank.

For norse reconstructionists and groups like Asatru, this festival is called Walpurgisnacht. It is a night when witches gather and magic happens. It is a time to honour Freya, the goddess of magic and love. Like the Gaelic reconstructionists, it is seen as a time of supernatural danger, and is celebrated with feasting, bonfires and protective rites.

ADF calls this day the Feast of Flowers, a time to celebrate fertility and reproduction, magic and love. It is also called the feast of the Sidhe or landspirits.

Beltane is a time for fertility, fun and flowers. By this time most of the tree buds have burst and they’re becoming green again, insects and bees are flying around and countless species of flowers are in bloom, including the beautiful bluebells. It is much warmer now and the land is fertile again. Summer has arrived. For me, its a great time to get outside and enjoy nature coming alive again. One can build a maypole to dance around, or decorate our homes with lots of flowers. It is a good time to eat seasonable foods and make lemonade. And it is a very good time to focus on the romantic side of life.

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

ADF. Our Own Druidry: An Introduction to Ár nDraíocht Féin and the Druid Path. Tucson: ADF Publishing, 2009.

http://www.gaolnaofa.com/festivals/

http://www.tairis.co.uk/

http://gaelicfolkway.webs.com/feiseannaomh.htm