Celebrating Beltane/ May Day 2017

Happy Beltane/ May Day everyone. 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 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.” 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 milking to 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. If there is no bonfire or hearth fire, it is a good time to buy a new hearth candle for your altar and ritually extinguish the old one while lighting the new one. They eat a feast, usually including bannocks and oatmeal porridge or soup with soft cheese and shoots of new herbs and salad greens such as wood sorrel. They also decorate their houses with greenery and yellow flowers like buttercups 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. In Welsh myth this is the time when Taliesin was found in a river after being reborn from the goddess Ceridwen, and some pagans may choose to read his story on May eve.

For Anglo Saxon and Norse Reconstructionists like Asatru and Fyrn Sidu, this festival is called Blostmfreols or Walpurgisnacht. It is a night when witches gather and magic happens. For many, it is a time to honour Freya, the goddess of magic and love. It is also a time to honour the Landwights. Like the Gaelic Reconstructionists, it is seen as a time of supernatural danger, and is celebrated with feasting, bonfires and protective rites. Some modern northern polytheists see the 9 days between Earth Day and May day as the nine nights when Woden hung on the world tree to sacrifice himself in order to learn the mysteries of the runes. It is therefore a good time to focus on runic divinations and making runic charms. Along with this, some celebrate April 23rd as Sigurds Day (the norse equivalent of St George who slew a dragon) and some may choose to celebrate the ancient Norse celebration Sigrblot (victory sacrifice) on May 1st which marked the beginning of summer and asked Odin for victory in war and good luck on journeys.

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, to have a bonfire and picnic. 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. This is the perfect time to get out and collect some wild foods to make a wild food salad as part of your Beltane feast. Nettles, Goosegrass, Wild Garlic, Dandelions, Jack by the Hedge, young Hawthorn Leaves and others are available now. This time is also a very good time to focus on the romantic side of life. Alternative ideas include dressing a well with flowers and ribbons, or a tree rather than the maypole and walking between two fires or candles for purification.

British Paganism Isn’t Dying

So recently there have been a few articles out about British Paganism. As a British Pagan I feel the need to comment on the issues raised.

To get started here are three very thoughtful blog posts looking at the issues that I’ve seen so far –

I have to disagree with the author of the first article. Key here is his evidence for the claim – which consists primarily of anecdotes. The one piece of good evidence – the census, actually disputes the claim and shows Paganism (including esoteric traditions) almost doubled in 10 years to 2011. I’ve noticed a big surge in particular streams of Paganism over the past few years – Asatru/ Heathenry is growing quickly and the Asatru UK facebook group now has over 1500 people and are even running a festival this year. In Devon, the county where I currently live, there are 500 people in the local Pagan facebook group from a range of traditions. And I come across more and more Pagans all the time. The author of the third article above, Ryan, points out that he has witnessed a whole range of people from different age groups, including young people, at Druid Camps. So there doesn’t seem to be a need to ring these alarm bells. I feel that maybe the author of the first article wanted Paganism to be dying, to fit into his anti-capitalist narrative. I don’t mean this as an attack as I am just as guilty of only seeing things through the lens I want to, too. And in this case, the last thing I want to see is a narrative developing that British Paganism is in trouble when the evidence doesn’t support that.

 

 

 

Celebrating Eostre/ Ostara/ Vernal Equinox 2017

Happy Ostara everyone. Also known as the Vernal Equinox, Eostre or Alban Eiler (Light of the Earth), this day marks a time of balance, when day and night are of equal length. Until now the nights have been longer than the days, but from here on the days are longer and warmer as we head towards summer. The vernal equinox is a day to celebrate the revival of life after a long cold winter. It is a time when birds are returning from their migrations, animals are giving birth to their young and all around us the world is turning green once again. It is a time when nature has officially woken up – the buds on trees are bursting, seeds are beginning to sprout up out of the ground, spring flowers such as daffodils are blossoming and there is a palpable sense of renewed life all around us. It is the feast of awakening.

Historian Ronald Hutton says that there isn’t “any reliable evidence for a pre-Christian festival in the British Isles during the time which became March and April.” However, it is important to note that Bede said that the name Easter came from the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre and the month was named after her. Eastre signifies both the festival and the season of spring. Hutton says that one could argue that “Eostre was a Germanic dawn-deity who was venerated, appropriately at this season of opening and new beginnings. It is equally valid, however, to suggest that the Anglo-Saxon ‘Estor-Monath’ simply meant ‘the month of opening’ or ‘the month of beginnings.’” He goes on to say that the practice of decorating eggs at this time does go back to at least the 1200’s but the chocolate version of the egg is a twentieth century invention. Eggs are a very apt symbol for this season as they represent new life. For agricultural societies, this is also the time when the extra light led to a big increase in egg production and was a welcome source of food.

It is the spring feast, the time to bless the seeds and prepare the land for new growth. In Norse and Anglo-Saxon hearth cultures, Eostre or Idunna are honoured. Neopagans celebrate this day as a time of beginnings and action, doing magical spells for the future and tending their ritual gardens.

It is traditional to celebrate this festival by giving chocolate eggs and sweets, painting eggs, planting new seeds and going for picnics and walks in nature. We can also decorate our altars with signs of spring – seeds, daffodils, eggs and symbols of baby animals like chicks, calves and rabbits. Each year I try to do an Ostara Ritual, decorate eggs and go for a walk in nature to search for signs of spring. I also try to plant seeds and going out to hunt for wild foods. And, of course, I eat chocolate eggs. Normally I would also eat a meal of eggs, as well as wild foods coming into season too such as wild greens, spinach and spring onions.

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

Albertsson, Alaric. Travels through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagan.USA: Llewellyn Publications, 2009.

Update and Course Announcement

Hello everyone,

I haven’t blogged for almost two months so I wanted to write an update on what I’ve been up to/ why I haven’t blogged much. I also want to make an exciting announcement about a course I am developing.

So over the past few months I’ve been pretty feeling lost. I came back from my travels with big hopes for what I was going to do over the coming few years. But I have found it extremely difficult to find a decent job (I’m in my third job in less than three months and want to quit this one too). I have applied for many jobs and been to interviews but without success. Having fulfilled some of my major goals in life already, and approaching my 30th birthday in July, I have been doing a lot of introspection and feeling quite directionless about where I should go in life now. In fact I think I was beginning to go into depression. To add to that, the job I am in now has such long hours and long commutes that I have not had much time to focus on spirituality and this blog.

At the end of February I decided enough was enough and I decided to apply to go back to South Korea and be a teacher again. I successfully passed an interview and will hopefully be moving to Seoul in May. Strangely, as soon as I made the decision, I felt so much better. I felt like I finally had purpose and a goal again. I’m going to look into pursuing teaching as a long term career so going back to Korea for a few years to teach will help me work out if that definitely is what I want to spend my life doing. At the same time, I still plan to continue doing Druid courses and hopefully I will be able to get the books I need to complete the ADF courses in Korea. I’m quite busy preparing for Korea so I won’t have a lot of time to focus on this blog. Please forgive me for the lack of updates in the coming couple of months.

Talking of courses, I have been doing the OBOD course, and to be honest I’m feeling a bit let down by it. So far I have found some of the material’s historical reliability questionable, and much of the course has been focused on visualisation meditations which I find I cannot do very well. I am hoping that I will get more out of it over time but so far I don’t feel i’m connecting with it that well. I prefer the ADF and BDO courses instead.

Finally, I have an exciting announcement to make. I am creating a course which I am hoping will be complete by Lughnasadh/ Lammas 2017. The course is called “Creating a Local Paganism” and it will consist of a year’s worth of material and practices to help you create a local paganism step by step for where you live, instead of having to rely on practicing a Paganism created in a land far from you. It will take ancient practices and update them for the modern world, as well as adopting new ideas that I have come across during my time as a Pagan. My hope is that by the end of it, participants who complete the practices will have their own personalised, unique form of animistic paganism based on their own local areas and landscape. Historically, Paganism was never a uniform religion, with everyone sharing the same practices, festivals and gods. It has always been unique  to each place and environment because every place is unique and different. Paganism is about developing a relationship with the land and spirits who inhabit your land, not someone else’s. This course will help people to build that for themselves. It will cover various topics such as ancestry, bioregionalism, creating local festivals, living green, key aspects you need to learn about in your local landscape and much much more. There are a lot of Paganism 101 materials out there, so I’m hoping this will be Paganism 201, taking people’s practice deeper and really allowing them to connect with the land around them. I think it will be particularly beneficial for solitary pagans. It will be an online course and there will be a cost, but I am hoping to keep it as cheap as possible so that many people will be able to take part. It will be a very practical and experiential based course, with information kept to a minimum, so that participants can spend their time doing the activities and building a local paganism for them. I have planned a lot of the course so far and I have begun writing it. but if anyone has any ideas or practices they would like help with or to see in the course, I am open to including those too so please let me know in the comments below.

Finally, Eostre/ Ostara is coming up tomorrow so I will try and put up my usual post for that.

Celebrating Imbolc 2017

Happy Imbolc everyone. Known as Imbolc or Candlemas, the 1st of February is one of the four great festivals of the Celtic year. It marked the end of winter and the beginning of spring. At this time the first signs of spring are appearing in nature – buds are beginning to appear on trees, animals are waking up from hibernation and early spring flowers like snowdrops and daffodils are beginning to bloom. The day is also known as Oimelc which is Gaelic for “ewe’s milk.” The ewe’s are lactating and the lambs are beginning to be born. Milking can begin again, which in ancient times, when food was hard to come by in winter, offered people a lifeline. The sun is getting stronger and the days are noticeably longer. It is time to celebrate the awakening and rebirth of the earth, as well as new beginnings in our own lives.

In the tale of Tochmarc Emire, in which Emer is wooed by the hero Cu Chulainn, Emer talks of “Imbolc, when the ewes are milked at spring’s beginning.” Historian Ronald Hutton says that “The festival must be pre-Christian in origin, but there is absolutely no direct testimony as to its early nature, or concerning any rites which might have been employed then. He does point out that is has something to do with milking as ewes began to lactate and that “it is reasonably certain that behind this alleged holy woman [St Bride]…stands a pagan goddess of the same name.” He further says that there is uncertainty whether she is one goddess or a triple one, but in legend she is “associated with learning, poetry, prophesying, healing and metal-working, and was in general the most pleasant Irish female deity.” A fire was kept burning at her Kildare shrine during medieval times, but Hutton points out that in legend, the goddess “was not especially associated with fire.” By the 1700’s it was believed that she visited households on the eve of her feast to bless people if they were virtuous and many customs of this time are recorded. For example, feasts to mark the last night of winter, bread and butter left outside on a windowsill as an offering, Crosses made of rushes hung up over the door as a sign of welcome or put in stables so the animals would be blessed, and a bed of twigs made so she could rest. There was also a custom of putting up cloth or ribbon the windowsill overnight for her to bless.

However there are other festivals associated with this time that have helped shape how we celebrate it today as modern pagans. Hutton’s book on the Stations of the Sun looks at Candlemas, a Christian feast of purification with a ceremony of kindling candles. He says this was a “celebration of returning light” and that later medieval services use images of “rebirth of light in the dark time of the year” and the “promise of better times not far away.” Meanwhile Bede said that the pagan Anglo-Saxons called February “Sol Monath” ie cake-month as it was a time to offer special cake to the gods.

Historian Peter Berresford Ellis points out that according to Rennes Dinnsenchus, St Brigit was a “ban drui” and was said to have been nourished on the magical milk of Otherworldly cows. She later became a Christian and created a religious settlement at Dumcree. He says that in a biography of her in 650AD, her “cult was mixed with the Irish goddess of fertility, Brigit, after whom she had obviously been named” and that her feast day was “grafted onto the festival of Imbolc….sacred to the goddess Brigit on January 31st and February 1st. He explains that this feast was connected with ewes coming into milk and so “was a pastoral or fertility festival.” The goddess Brigit was a daughter of The Dagda and was a “divinity of healing, poetry and arts and crafts” as well as divination.

There are many customs recorded throughout history in Gaelic countries which honour her and may date back to the time of the ancient Celts. In Scotland, a cold day on Imbolc meant warmer weather was soon to come. Offerings of milk were made to the earth and porridge to the sea to ensure a good yield of fish and seaweed in the coming year. A St Brigit doll was made of corn and dressed elaborately e.g. with snowdrops and primroses. A bed was made for her and she was invited into the house, while a white birch want was placed alongside the bed to represent the wand she used to make vegetation start growing again. Ashes in the hearth were smoothed and left overnight. In the morning, these were checked for evidence she had visited and if not incense was burned to her. In Ireland, celebrations were similar. Imbolc represented not only the beginning of spring but also the fishing season as the storms of the sea were supposed to have been over by then. While some farmers would turn over a sod of earth in a symbolic act to hurry up warmth, the feast was known as a “holiday from turning” and so any type of turning such as weaving, ploughing and spinning was forbidden out of respect for Brigit who it was said had taught women how to spin wool. The house was cleaned thoroughly beforehand and sained or warded, while water was brought from a sacred well to sprinkle around the house. A feast on the evening included sowans, apple cake, dumplings, colcannon and most importantly, butter. Later mashed potato with butter and onions was added. A place was laid at the table for St Brigit and a portion of food left out for her. Items such as ribbons or cloth were left on trees and bushes outside for her to bless and the fire was kept burning with the door open so she could come in and warm herself. St Brigit’s crosses were made of rushes or straw and hung up for protection. It was also a time of charity and hospitality.

Meanwhile Bede said that the pagan Anglo-Saxons called February “Sol Monath” ie cake-month or mud-month, as it was a time to offer special cakes or loaves to the gods. This is the time when Heathens will celebrate the Charming of the Plough or Disting. Taking inspiration from the Anglo Saxon Aecerbot Charm, many will bake special cakes and then plough the soil for the first time that year, putting the cakes into the soil as offerings to the earth mother for fertility of the land in the coming season. The plough itself is also blessed for the coming season. Some Heathens also honour Weyland the Smith God and the dwarves. The dwarves in particular are seen as dwelling under the earth (which seems apt at this time), but also as the crafters of many important objects for the gods with the metal they find there. As with the Celtic Pagans who honour Brighid, a goddess of crafts and the forge at this time, and see it as a time to bless the tools of their trades, so Anglo Saxon heathens will honour the first breaking of the Earth with a metal plough by honouring Weyland and the dwarves. Consequently, this is a great time of the year for prayers and offerings about our jobs and careers, as well as blessing our altar and work tools. For Norse Pagans, this is also Disting – when the female ancestors known as the disir are honoured and a Thing is held to decide important matters.

This time can be seen as a feast of the hearth, a time to celebrate the rekindling of the world’s hearth fire and the return of light, a time to purify the home, a time to prepare for spring planting by blessing tools and fields, and a time to give offerings to the Earth Mother. Alaric Albertsson in Travels through Middle Earth suggests that this is a good time to honour Earde, the Anglo-Saxon earth goddess. Meanwhile, Neo-pagans celebrate by doing a spring clean, eating spicy or dairy foods, honouring Brigit and placing candles in all the windows of the home to represent the growing strength of the sun. I like to go for a walk on this day to search for the first signs of spring – especially snowdrops. Imbolc is also a time to create poetry and songs or to make candles for the coming year. It is traditionally the time to begin buying seed potatoes and chitting them ready for planting.

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

Ellis, Peter Berresford. A Brief History of the Druids. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2002.

Albertsson, Alaric. Travels through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagan. USA: Llewellyn Publications, 2009.

Tairis – http://www.tairis.co.uk

Gaol Naofa – http://www.gaolnaofa.com/festivals/

Gaelic Folkway – http://gaelicfolkway.webs.com/feiseannaomh.htm

A New Year

OK, its nine days into the new year but I didn’t really have much to write about on 1st so I’m doing a blog post today.

Since returning from traveling in October, I have felt quite lost inside and unsure where I want to go with my life. I have already achieved the two big dreams I had when I was younger so now I’m not sure what to do, where I want to live, or what I want to get out of life or do for a job (could also be that I’m coming up on my 30th birthday and that’s making me more reflective). I started a new job last week but dislike it already and will look for something else. I think once I get sorted with a job I don’t hate, I will feel more settled and be able to focus on developing some new goals for my life.

awenOne thing I have got clear in my mind though, is the desire to spend the next few years developing my Paganism much more deeply than it has been. I have joined OBOD and the first part of their Bardic course came today – it looks pretty good and hopefully I’ll learn a lot and develop spiritually. I have also restarted doing the NOD Bardic Grade which I had previously started when I first became interested in Druidry. And I plan to begin studying the Generalist Study Path of ADF. So a lot of courses running side by side but hopefully I’ll have time to do them all and learn a lot from them.

I am also trying to add meditation and prayers to my evening routine in order to develop closer relationships with the Kindreds.

After a year of my Paganism having to take a back seat due to travel and the lack of a set address, I want this year to be the year I dive back into things deeply and really grow spiritually. And maybe when I’ve got that foundation set in my life…the rest of it will start falling into place.

Celebrating the New Moon – for Heathens and Druids

In ancient times, the New Moon was celebrated as the beginning of the month. Nowadays we have adopted the Roman calendar of set days, but in many cultures from ancient Greece to Anglo Saxon England, the new moon would most likely have been used to mark the new month. The ancient Greeks had a particularly interesting set of festivities to mark this time and I think there is a lot we can learn from them in creating new traditions for our modern Anglo-Saxon Paganism.

The ancient Greeks had a three-day festival around the new moon that involved preparations and then offerings to different household deities on particular days. They would celebrate the new moon itself two days after what we now call the new moon, because that is when the first crescent of the moon would be seen again. This timing of the celebration of the new moon is similar across a range of ancient cultures and therefore I think it makes sense to celebrate the new moon (and therefore the new month) on this date – the day when the first crescent of the moon appears in the sky.

But how should we celebrate? Well I think it would be a good idea to take a few ideas from the ancient Greeks. First – on the day before the new moon, as the old month is passing, it is a great times to do preparations, purifications and to put one’s affairs in order. It is a time to clean our altar, our fridge or even our whole house. It is a time to settle outstanding debts and bills. It is a time to evaluate the last month and make plans for the new one. And it is a good opportunity to give something to the less fortunate.

On the following day, the new moon, we should do a special ritual to honour those gods and spirits important to our household – Frige as goddess of the family and household, the Housewight/ Cofgoda, and our Ancestors. It would also make sense to honour Mona, god of the moon on this day too. It is a time to ask for their blessings upon our homes and families for the coming month, and to seek a divination regarding the coming month. It is also good to celebrate with a special meal – perhaps of moon shaped foods, or seaweed (as it’s a time when the seaweed will be plentiful.)

So as we prepare our calendars for the coming year, here are the dates of the New Moon (first crescent) for you to add in and celebrate. (thanks to ealdrice.org for the information)

Æftera Géol beginneth December 31st
Solmónaþ beginneth January 30th
Hréþmónaþ beginneth February 28th
Éastermónaþ beginneth March 30th
Þrimilci beginneth April 28th
Ærre Líða beginneth May 27th
Æftera Líða beginneth June 26th
Þrilíða beginneth July 25th
Weodmónaþ beginneth August 23rd
Háligmónaþ beginneth September 21st
Winterfylleð beginneth October 21st
Blótmónaþ beginneth November 20th
Ærre Géol beginneth December 20th