Yesterday was the first crescent moon of Solmonath, the beginning of the month of “mud”. According to Bede, it was the time the Anglo Saxons would put cakes into their fields in honour of their gods. I spent the morning doing work on my allotment and put an oat cake into the ground in honour of the gods and earth mother. As the new and full moons are usually a time when the tides are high and seaweed is abundant, I like to eat a seaweed soup on the crescent (new) moon too.
Now for a big announcement. Starting in March I shall no longer be using this site and will instead move to a new site. This blog has served me well for over 5 years (in fact this is my 500th post), but I need something that I can do more with, make the modifications I want to it, and that will have a domain name that is more reflective of where my spiritual path is now. While I did try moving to a new site before, I had problems with the host, so this time I am being more skeptical and using a more trustworthy host (and one that is more environmentally friendly too), so that there won’t be any problems. The new site is not set up yet, but will be in the next few weeks and I’ll link to it when I can. I will also be setting up new Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages as part of it.
I am also very excited to announce a new project that will run on the new blog site. I have called it – The #Heathenry50 challenge. The challenge is to write 50 blogs, one a week for the next year (50 weeks) beginning in March. I’m encouraging fellow heathens to take part too if you want to. Each week there will be a topic to blog about that explores the basics of heathenry, our individual approach to it, and how it affects our lives. How you interpret and approach each topic is up to you. I am hopeful that if many people take part, we can share knowledge and practices to help each other, as well as provide new seekers will a range of different approaches to heathenry. Not only that, but this is a good opportunity to do some study of these different topics and discover new things we never knew before. While it’s not a requirement, I’m encouraging everyone who takes part to write blog posts of a minimum 1000 words – then by the end of the year, you will have written 50,000 words which is the equivalent of a book – a book on your own personal practice and spiritual path – how cool would that be???
Before I mention these topics, I want to acknowledge a debt of gratitude to those who came up with the “30 days of Druidry” challenge, which has been a major inspiration in the creation of this challenge.
I would also encourage you to share your blogs on social media, and please use the hashtag #Heathenry50 so others can find the posts easily. If you are taking part, let me know and I’ll link to you from my new site so others can find your posts too. I have created a graphic (see bottom of the page) for you to include on your site as a badge to show you are taking part in the challenge.
Now, without further ado, here are the 50 topics which we will be writing our blog posts about in this challenge.
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. The four stages of the day long ceremony in the Acerbot charm is 1) Hallow, bless and anoint the plough, 2) plough the land for the first time, 3) pray to the earth and 4) offer special cakes by putting them into the freshly ploughed earth. 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 Earthe/ Nerthus, the Anglo-Saxon earth goddess.. Meanwhile, Neo-pagans celebrate by doing a spring clean, eating spicy or dairy foods or making bannocks (oat cakes) and colcannon (kale and leek), 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, as well as to bake cakes to put in the soil as offerings to the gods. And it is the time to bless the tools of your trade, and honour those who help us with them – Brighid, or Weyland and Nerthus.
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.
“[I]t turns out that extending rights to other-than-human beings is much harder for most people to imagine than giving rights to a corporation. The reason is that we’ve all been indoctrinated in a particular theory of rights: classical liberalism.”
from John Halstead
“The world is full of persons (people if you prefer), but few of them are human.” — Graham Harvey, “An Animist Manifesto”
When I first encountered contemporary animism, it boggled my mind. Animism posits a world full of persons: human persons, yes, but also hedgehog persons, salmon persons, rock persons, mushroom persons…and yes, tree persons. Those whose circle of friends includes many animists, pagans, and polytheists may easily forget just how radical the idea of “tree persons” is.
Hedgehog persons? Salmon persons? Mushroom persons? Even rock persons? When I first heard this, it caused me to wonder what exactly a “person” is. To the animist, a person is…
Imbolc is on Thursday. For me, the main deity I honour at this time is Nerthus, the Earth Mother as she begins to awaken and we get the land ready for the growing season. Here is a prayer to her that I have written and will use in my ritual on Wednesday eve …
On Wednesday evening it is the great feast of Imbolc, the Feast of the Hearth. I am again using a ritual from ADF, which can be found on my ritual page here. I will be using the following in the “explanation” part of the ADF ritual.
When it reaches the “Explanation” section, I do the following…
Say: “As I stand here on this celebration of Imbolc, the sacred wheel of the year continues to turn. As my ancestors did in times before, so now I honour the old ways. It is the time of awakening after a long, cold, dark winter. The sun has grown stronger and the days have grown longer. Today spring begins and the first stirrings of life can be seen as the world awakens. Trees are beginning to bud, snowdrops are blossoming and animals are stirring from hibernation. The time of Oimelc has arrived – the ewe’s are pregnant, and milk is beginning to flow once more. It is the feast of the hearth, a time to celebrate and honour the home. Winter is over and I rejoice in the hope of the coming warmth.”
So I know that Druidry/ Heathenry is not about the clothes you wear, but I finally found a nice Druid robe for a reasonable price on Amazon and decided to buy it. It definitely makes me feel more like a Druid wearing it. Hopefully it will help put me in the right mood when I come to do rituals. Here’s a picture of me in my new robe….
One of the implications of acknowledging the importance of the hearth cult, and our responsibility as Pagans to tend our “hearths” is that we should be engaging in some kind of daily spiritual practice. While this may not necessarily be aimed towards the gods, in my opinion, the ancestors should be honoured on a daily basis if at all possible. Because of that, and my interest in monasticism, this year I have been endeavoring to include a daily practice of prayer in my life. Below is the script I use as I believe set liturgy is helpful for helping me be more disciplined with the practice. I post this in the hope it will help others who may want to take up such a practice.
1 – Write down dreams in Journal
2 – Prayer to Sunne Wes Thu Hal Sunne, Glory of Elves, heaven’s gem, Giver of light, life and warmth, Shine down brightly upon me. You race through the heavens, Day after day, year after year, Guiding the seasons on their course. Oh radiant golden goddess, Fair sister of Mona, And glorious mother of the stars, I honour you this day, And pray your blessings be always upon me!
3 – Prayer to Gods (from Sigdrifa’s Prayer) Hail to the Gods! Hail to the Goddesses! Hail to the all-giving earth! Bless me with wisdom, with an honourable tongue, And healing hands, for the rest of my days. Wes Thu Hal!
1 – Kindle the Hearth Flame
(Breathe deeply a few times) As the ancients lit the hearth fire, So I kindle this sacred flame now, In honour of Frige, the hearthmodor. May she ever watch over this household. And may I pray with a good fire.
2 – Prayer to Ancestors Wes Thu Hal Ancestors, Grandmothers and Grandfathers of ages past, Beloved dead of blood, spirit and place, Draw near my hearth I pray. I remember and honour you this evening, And give thanks for your wisdom, Guidance, protection and blessings upon my life. You whom I have loved and lost, You whose blood runs in my veins, You who sacrificed so much that I might be here, I thanks you. You who inspired and influenced my life, You whose feet trod this sacred land before me, You who gave your lives that I might eat and live, I thank you. Thank you for giving me the gift of existence, Thank you for the example of your lives, Thank you for the love shown, By those of you who shared your lives with mine. I pray that you watch over my family, my friends and I, And grant us health, wealth and wisdom in the days to come. Let me live a life that brings honour to you. And may my memory of you live ever on. Mighty ones, I light this incense for you now, May you accept my offering this night. Wes Thu Hal!
(Light Incense offering)
3 – Household Protection Prayer (inspired by Carmina Gadelica) Great gods, give your blessings to this house. Spirits, give your blessings to this house. Crest and frame, stone and beam, Man and woman, young and old, Plenty of food, plenty of drink, Much of riches, much of mirth, Strength of body, length of life, be ever here. Wes Thu Hal! So mote it be!
4 – Rune Casting (based on method in Germania)
(Lay out white cloth and take runes out from bag. Hold runes in hands up to forehead) Great Norns, Wyrdae, please let me see into the Web of Wyrd, to see the threads. Wyrd, Werdande, Skuld!
(Cast down runes on white cloth but keep eyes closed) Woden, what do the Gods want me to know or focus on tomorrow?
(With eyes closed, choose rune and interpret it).
(Finish by bowing before altar and blowing out candle)
I haven’t been blogging much over the past six months because I have been very busy with life and studies. I want to use this post therefore to look back over the past year, and to look forward to this one.
Last year was a very up and down time for me. Between January and May, I had 4 different jobs, lived in two different cities, almost moved across the world again and went through a period of depression. I had felt aimless and lost after I returned from my travels abroad. But in May things turned around when I got a new job, moved in with my brother and started focusing on my new career path – training to be an accountant. Since then, things have got much better – I got out of my depression, found renewed goals in life, lost a lot of weight and have become a vegan again.
At the beginning of 2017, I began the OBOD Bardic grade course. I stopped in May for a while and then began again from the beginning in August. In August I also decided to go through the Bardic grade of the British Druid Order again too. Doing them alongside each other made for some interesting contrasts. While I was initially skeptical about the OBOD course, when I came to do the review at the end of the year, I realised that it had actually had quite a profound effect on me. They do request that we don’t share a lot about what’s in the course so I can’t go into too much detail, but I can explain some of the effects and experiences I had. I feel I connected with the elements – earth, air, fire, water in significant ways, in fact, I was even inspired to join the navy reserves while I was learning about the water element (and having pulled a confirmatory rune of “Ing” which talks about going across the sea in a boat). I did a visualisation exercise where I met a small bird which I have interpreted as a kind of representation of my soul or possibly a spirit animal. The two courses together inspired me to take up Poetry, so I bought a book by Stephen Fry called “The Ode Less Traveled” (a book I highly recommend for anyone interested in learning poetry) and I learned how to write poetry…something I was unable to do before. In fact, doing the Cell of Song activity at the end of the BDO course, I managed to write a 60 line poem, inspired by the Awen I believe. And there was much more. Things that stood out to me from the BDO course in particular was the mention of the historical evidence for things like Saining (smudging) with Mugwort and the use of Sweat Lodges in Britain. The BDO is explicitly more “shamanic” and “animistic” in focus and I can see that element growing within my spirituality going forward.
I recently submitted the courses, and this week I was told that I passed both OBOD and BDO Bardic courses, and am now moving on to this years challenge – the Ovate grade courses. I am looking forward to going deeper into myself, connecting closer with nature and the spirits of nature, and developing new skills in areas like divination and herbalism. The creative side of things doesn’t really interest me much but I had to undertake the Bardic courses to access my real interest – the Ovate stuff. (That said, I got so much out of the bardic grade and it helped open up the creative side of me). Today the BDO Ovate course first module became available and I am beginning to work through it. The journey begins, I’m jumping in with both feet, excited at what is to come and how my spirituality will develop this year.
Happy Yule everyone. Also known as Midwinter or the Winter Solstice, Yule has its roots in many cultures, including Roman Saturnalia, Christian Christmas and most importantly Scandinavian and Anglo Saxon Yule. It is the longest night and the day when the Sun is “reborn.” Since the summer, the days have been getting shorter and colder, but after Yule they begin to lengthen again as we approach spring. It is a time of light and hope in the depths of cold winter.
The first mention of a midwinter celebration is in the writings of a 4th century Christian who said that at this time pagans celebrated the birthday of the sun by kindling lights, giving presents, feasting and the closure of schools and shops. However this festival of Saturnalia only began in 274ad. By the 8th century there were 12 days of celebration at Christmas. There is little evidence of celebration in Ireland before the 12th century. However, Bede, writing in 730ad said that most important festival of the Anglo Saxons in England had been “Modranicht” or “Mothers Night” on 24th December. This was the night which opened the new year and “they kept watch during it with religious rites.” The word Yule came through Danish rule over England, however there is no mention of it in early Scandinavian literature. Icelandic writer Snorri Sturluson says that there was a three day celebration at this time, including a sacrifice for a good crop. Historian Ronald Hutton says “the consensus between Bede and Snorri, that the winter solstice was a major feast of the ancient Scandinavian and Norse people’s, and opened their year, is still an impressive one.” There are many records from the 4th to 11th centuries of church leaders denouncing revelries, sorcery, divination, dressing in animal skins and feasting to excess at this time of the year. Across European society, it seems to have been a time for role reversal and the relaxation of norms. Hutton says that Welsh literature also shows good evidence for a midwinter “new year’s feast.” He further states that “it was the general custom in pagan Europe to decorate spaces with greenery and flowers at festivals, attested wherever records have survived.” These were often evergreens such as holly and ivy. Despite this, many of the traditional festivities we associate with Christmas now e.g. stockings, Christmas cards, paper decorations and crackers either were invented in the 19th century or came over from Germany at that time. Other traditional Christmas festivities such as the Christmas Tree (in the Rhineland), Yule Log and Wassailing the orchards can be traced back to Tudor times but no further.
While the Celtic people’s didn’t celebrate at midwinter as far as we know, the pre-celtic people’s who built monuments such as stonehenge and newgrange to align with the Winter Solstice, probably did have some kind of festival at this time. Celtic Pagans do sometimes get involved with Wren Day on Dec 26th, guising, lighting candles for this the longest night, honouring the winter hag Cailleach, and the usual Christmas festivities.
Norse and Anglo Saxon heathens celebrate Mothers Night (Modrinacht) as a time to honour the “Mothers”. In modern reconstructions, these “Mothers” are interpreted as goddesses and one’s female ancestors, however I think it is more likely the “Modra/ Matres” were the triple goddesses depicted on altars and votive offerings across northern and central Europe. They were linked with fate, prosperity, fertility and therefore probably similar to the Norse concept of the Norns.” Many modern heathens celebrate twelve days of Yule, a time of feasting with the burning of a yule log, meditating on the nine noble virtues, lighting candles, doing divinations and making oaths on New Years Eve.
If we look at the historical records in the Saga of Hakon the Good in Heimskringla, section 15 talks of a new Christian king who changed the date of Yule to be the same as the Christian festival of Christmas. It then says “Before him, the beginning of Yule, or the blot night, was the night of Midwinter, and Yule was kept for three nights after.” In section 16, it talks about the fact that they held a Blot (sacrifice) and a Sumble (ritual toasting) on the night. In the Hervarar Saga, it says that on Yule eve, a boar is brought in and oaths were sworn on it. The boar was sacrificed to Freyr/ Ing. In chapter 4 of the Lay of Helgi the son of Hjorvarth in the Poetic Edda, it talks of vows being taken on a boar on yule eve, and a “Kings toast” and a stay of “three nights.” When we then look at Bede, we see that the Anglo Saxons also celebrated an extra night – the 24th November, called Mother’s night, when they stayed up all night and did rituals. Their new year would therefore fall at this time. (They “… began the year on the 8th calends of January [25 December], when we celebrate the birth of the Lord. That very night, which we hold so sacred, they used to call by the heathen word Modranecht, that is, “mother’s night”, because (we suspect) of the ceremonies they enacted all that night”.) The evidence from these texts suggest Yule should begin on the evening of 21st December with a ritual of sacrifice and toasting to the gods, as well as oaths (new years resolutions) being sworn. Then there are three days of festivities, followed by another ritual to the “Mothers” or fates (and probably Frige) to pray for a good fate and prosperity in the coming year, as well as staying up on the night of the 24th December. The saga’s also suggest that there was a minimum amount of alcohol that should be drunk, and that horse meat was eaten (horse sacrifice was important to many Indo-European cultures). Interestingly, this is also the time of the Celtic horse festival of Eponalia, and perhaps is a good time to honour the Anglo-Saxon horse deities/ heroes Hengist and Horsa.
Yule signifies the height of the Wild Hunt, when a ghostly procession led by the god Woden/ Odin, and sometimes Frau Holla, marches across the night sky. It may have been a time when the dead were permitted to leave their mounds and return to the land of the living. In southwest England where I am from, this myth has evolved into a belief that it is hell hounds (known as Yeth or Wisht hounds) chasing sinners or the unbaptised. Similarly, myths surrounding Woden/ Odin and Thunor/ Thor may have contributed to our modern Santa Claus. Yule can be a time for honouring many of the gods – Woden who leads the wild hunt, Frige as the goddess of the home and hearth, Thunor for stopping the ice giants, Frey/ Ing for prosperity, Sunne and Baldur for the Suns rebirth and the winter deities Ullr and Skadhi.
Modern Neopagans like Wiccans celebrate this day with the myth of the mother goddess who gives birth to the sun god, while Druids tell of a battle between the Oak King and the Holly King, in which the Oak King overcomes the Holly King on this day and rules until Midsummer.
An interesting point made by Philip Shallcrass of the British Druid Order, is that the Sun’s “rebirth” is not actually 21st December/ the Solstice, rather, at the Solstice the Sun appears to stop in the sky for three days before actually being “reborn” or appearing to begin moving again on morning of the 25th December. Perhaps our Pagan celebrations of the rebirth of the Sun need to move to back to the 25th?
In the deepest depths of winter, it is traditional to celebrate Yule with gift giving, spending time with loved ones, decorating with evergreens and lights, having a yule tree and yule log, drinking and feasting. Wassailing is another tradition and in medieval times, villagers in southwest England would go to orchards and wassail the apple trees to scare away evil spirits and ensure a good harvest in the Autumn. To celebrate the cycles of nature and connect with the world around us, we can go out and watch the Solstice sunrise, ringing it in with the sound of bells. We can also go for a walk in nature, toasting the trees, and putting out food for the birds and animals struggling to find something to eat in the cold winter. Boxing day (26th December) was traditionally a time when the rich would give their servants the day off and provide food/ drink for them. I think dedicating this day to helping others would also be a great practice for Pagans.
My Yule feast usually includes a nut roast, sage & onion stuffing, mapled brussel sprouts with apple and walnuts, sweet & sour red cabbage, spiced swede mash, cranberry sauce and garlic & herb roast potatoes. I often make a yule log using holly, decorate a Yule tree, spend time with family and give presents. This year I will cook a yule feast on the evening of 21st and do my ritual, in particular I will honour Sunne, my housewight, Frige and the Mothers. I will also make my resolutions for the next year. I will eat a traditional yule breakfast of porridge, go for a walk in nature to leave an offering for the nature spirits and also wassail the apple trees.
Hutton, Ronald. The 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.