Celebrating Litha/ Summer Solstice 2017

Happy Summer Solstice everyone. It is the Summer Solstice or Midsummers Day in the Northern Hemisphere. The word Solstice comes from the Latin “Sol” meaning sun and “Sistere” meaning to stand still. It is the longest day of the year with 15 hours of sunshine. The sun is at its most powerful today. Celebrated by almost all cultures historically, it is an important time of the year for Pagans and Pantheists as one of the major festivals. Also known as Litha after the Anglo Saxon name for the summer months or Alban Heruin (light of the shore) in revival Druidry traditions, it is a great time to celebrate by having a BBQ and bonfire on the beach.

Crops have all been planted and are growing strongly, the earth is alive with blooming flowers, green trees and insects busy collecting pollen and making honey. It is a time to rest, to have fun and to celebrate before the hard work of the harvest begins. From now on the days begin to shorten again as we move back towards the winter. In the agricultural community, this is the traditional month for sheep shearing.

Although its not one of the four Celtic 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 (no they didn’t build it). 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. Another 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.

Midsummer is very important in Northern Pagan traditions such as Heathenry and is a time to honour Sunne, goddess of the sun, the landspirits and sometimes Balder is also honoured. Grimm talks in Teutonic Mythology of setting up a “Sun-wheel.” 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.”

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 fact, St John’s eve was seen as the time when herbs were most potent and magical. 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 ritual of major importance.” Meanwhile, in Audoenus’s 7th century text Vita Eligii, there is the statement “Let no Christian believe in bonfires or sit at incantations, which are diabolical works; let no Christian perform the solstice rites, or dancing or leaping to flute-player or diabolical chants, on the feast of St John.” Other traditions from Northern European countries include having a maypole, going to a “midsummer-tree” to pray that the fields might be given growing strength or making large Midsummer’s wreaths and giving them to others as a sign of affection. Bonfires were made in the streets and marketplaces and homes were decorated with sprigs of birch, fennel and flowers.

It is traditional to celebrate this festival by having BBQ’s and Bonfires with friends, watching the sunrise and eating summer foods e.g. salads. Strawberries have come into season now so eat I like to eat them on the solstice. It is a good time to be outside, to collect herbs, to go hiking or camping, to have a water fight and to make mead. It is a time to be thankful for the sun and to enjoy its light and warmth.

This year I will not be doing as much for Midsummer’s eve. I will try to spend time out in nature, do a ritual and decorate my altar with solar symbols like some oak leaves and some sunflower seeds.

Please note that I have also created a new ritual page with the ritual outline I usually use on high days such as Litha.

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

Kveldulf Gundarsson. Our Troth: Volume 2 – Living the Troth. USA: Booksurge Publishing, 2007.

10 Great Ways to Celebrate Litha/ Summer Solstice

Here’s a list of some good ways to celebrate the Summer Solstice this week –

  1. Strawberries are in season, so have some strawberries and cream
  2. Have a BBQ, bonfire or picnic.
  3. Do a ritual to honour the Sun or other deities of Summer.
  4. The Bees are busy making this year’s honey, so it’s a great time to make your Mead for the year.
  5. Elder flowers are in season so it’s also a good time to make Elderflower cordial.
  6. Go camping, maybe at Stonehenge if you can, and get up to watch the Sunrise.
  7. Do a beach clean
  8. Make an offering of rushes to Manannan, god of the sea.
  9. Collect herbs such as St John’s Wort for herbalism
  10. Decorate your altar with symbols of the season such as Oak Leaves and Sunflower Seeds.

Have a good one.

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.