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Celebrating the Old Ways in New Times

May 1st, 2015

Celebrating the Old Ways in New Times

Midsummer 2015

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have done something completely out of character as Midsummer approaches.

I have come to the conclusion it is not important to be right.

Not always.

Like many of you, I have opinions. Strong ones. Opinions I always said you were all entitled to.

Before you tell me opinions are like toes, we all have them, and mine don’t make me special, let me assure you that I have always worked very hard to ensure my opinions are the best possible ones! You see, I am an educated person. I back up my opinions with facts and research, and I can prove my point to almost everybody. And if I am proven wrong, I just say I have learned something, and change my opinion. So I am always right!

That is very important, right?

But with my fortieth birthday looming just ahead, I have changed my mind about that.

After years of facilitating discussions in person and online, I have seen relationships crumble because people just HAVE to be right. Including me.

One of the big contention points is, not surprisingly, religion.

For Pagans, being part of a minority religion, if we are out of the broom closet, we are bound to get some grief from family or co-workers at one time or another. If you are like I have always been, you are not going to stand for that. You might also get upset just by the fact they express a religious opinion or belief that goes against yours, even if it is not directed to you.

Some family from mom’s side was always very vocal about being anti-gay. Mom was very vocal about being anti-anything-besides-Catholic. My father’s side of the family is conservative Southern Christian and I always say some of them believe separation of church and state is wrong and that the USA needs to be an Xtian theocracy.

I don’t handle listening to such sentiments very well. I can’t just not say anything in response to what I consider wrong. I can’t not try to get people to agree with me that god is too big to fit into one religion. I can’t not try to get people to agree with me that their way of life is not necessarily the right way for everybody. I can’t not call people on what I feel is total BS.

I just can’t. Can I?

Sure I can. We all can.

Nearing forty, I realize I am becoming more set in my ways. So is everybody else. I have had the chance to really think about what I believe. So has everybody else. I know what works for me and what makes sense to me. So does everybody else.

Some of my family is SO conservative, and while I am not 100% Liberal, compared to some of them, I am a total anarchist.

Many heated debates happened amongst us. In private, family members who agreed with me told me so. When I asked why they did not speak up, they all said the same thing…that it was not worth it to argue. I did not see it that way. All I could see was that I thought somebody was wrong, and I had to make sure they knew what I felt was right.

It got to the point some of us decided we were no longer speaking. Sometimes I initiated it, sometimes they did. You could absolutely tell whose child I was because I acted just like them. I did not care. I felt I was justified and that I had family who were intolerant, and that I did not need that in my life.

Then, eight months ago, my life changed. Completely. The changes meant I couldn’t work, and I spent a lot of time at home. Alone.

I also got a lot of visits.

Some were from people who did not share my political or religious views, but people who I love and have known a long time, nonetheless.

I also made a new friend, who came to see me every week, and some weeks, it was the only visit I got. She did not share my religion or my political beliefs.

I learned that none of it mattered.

I reconnected with some family as well. It took me three days to work up the courage to tell one family member I thought it was important to have a relationship, differing beliefs aside. She agreed.

I cried for the rest of the night after that because I was so happy.

Sometimes it takes being alone for a short time to realize how important it really is to have people in your life. Agreeing to disagree for the sake of getting along is not as difficult as I always told myself it was. Truthfully, when people wrote me off because they disapproved of my beliefs, it made me even less sympathetic to their beliefs. I wrote some people off too. I know that their reaction was the same as mine had been in the same situation.

We spent a lot of time creating hard feelings when we could have been discussing other things and enjoying life together instead. I realize it is not possible to have a relationship with EVERYBODY. But it IS possible to have more relationships if one is open to relationships with people who are different than them.

It is a good shift of mindset to have nearing Midsummer.

Midsummer is the longest day and shortest night of the year. Historically, it was celebrated with bonfires. We find the theme of chasing off disease, malevolent spirits, and misfortune with bonfires at many pre-Christian celebrations our Sabbats are based on.

Now, in parts of Europe, the Pagan Misdummer celebrations have changed focus, but some traditions are close to the same.

Instead of lighting fires and leaping over them in honor of the old gods, the festivities are oft done in honor of St. John the Baptist instead.

Midsummer, as celebrated in the Celtic lands, the Slavic Nations, and the Germanic ones are the places many of us who are Neo-Pagans and Heathens draw our traditions from.

In The Gardnerian Book of Shadows, which can be found free on sacred-texts.com, is a ritual for Midsummer. Flowers are arranged around a cauldron filled with water, referred to as the waters of life. The ritual focus is on an invocation of the sun, on its longest day to bless both earth, and people.

In ancient Ireland, the bonfires were built, and it was customary to see who could leap highest over the flames. It was believed the height of the highest jump was how high the crops would get. The animals were lead around the fires, oft clockwise, to bless them.

Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, England, is technically a group of things including wooded posts, buried antlers and animal bones and teeth, cremations, ditches, and small holes, as well as the large stones it is famous for , and initial materials has been dated to as early as 8,000 BC. The site was used over a long period of time, and even today, the site hosts rituals and educational tours. So technically, including today’s use, that gives a window of 10,000 years from evidence of first use of the site to today’s use of the site. Pretty cool!

The Midsummer sun rises in alignment with a large sandstone rock that is called the Heelstone. An avenue a couple of miles away was built that aligns with the Midsummer sunset. Evidence of large fires between the two suggests they were perhaps connected.

If this is true, they had at least an all day celebration and ritual and possibly a procession from where the sun rose to where it set.

In Denmark, healing wells were visited in pre Christian times, and bonfires, which are still part of today’s traditions were built. In mediaval times, it was the time for harvesting medicinal herbs.

In Sweden, Maypoles are used as opposed to for Beltaine. This is due to climate. Flowers cannot be found in abundance naturally as early as Beltaine. The Divine Feminine and Masculine are united in the dance, that significance being forgotten due to Christianization, but superstitions are not lost. Single people put flowers under their pillows in hopes of dreaming about future mates. Winter leaves are also burned in fires, perhaps to drive away winter…or in more mundane terms, “danger of last frost”!

After Midsummer, of course, days will shorten again, and nights lengthen. So this is a celebration of the sun at it’s greatest strength, and magically, an attempt to focus that power into strength for an abundant harvest to come. The strength is focuses on the crops, livestock, and the people.

For your own celebrations, may I suggest a prayer and simple personal working to add in there somewhere?

I know I am not the only opinionated Pagan whose family members or loved ones disagree with.

Would you consider changing your role in those conversations? Would you consider being the one to first say. “Let’s agree to disagree!” and then change the subject. Would you consider being the one to reach out to a loved one who will not change, one who would allow the relationship to be compromised, and simply tell them they are more important to you than how you disagree on beliefs?

I realize not everybody will be receptive to you when you do this, but here is a prayer and working for the purpose if you would like to do so.

First, you have to be ready to do this. Really ready. Because I guarantee, your loved one will not change their views. I guarantee that you won’t either.

There will be millions of opportunities to get into an argument with them forever and ever.

They might even TRY to get you to.

But, it takes two to fight. So, you can be the one to decide that arguing or fighting stops.

Even if you aren’t specifically a witch, your will for peace is a powerful spell indeed!

Here goes.

Set up your altar or ritual space as usual for a working.

Get an image of your loved one or loved ones who you want to have more peaceful communications with.

Get a candle which will provide the only light for your working. Use more than one candle if it helps you to see better.

Get a mirror to look into.

Get a few pieces of paper and a writing implement.

Get a small cauldron or other fireproof container because you will be burning some paper.

Get a gift or offering for your loved one. This can be discarded after ritual or actually given to them sometime in the near future.

Get a small gift or offering for yourself, also. Make sure it is something you like and that you will enjoy.

If you are like me, and you cry easily, get tissues.

And last of all, get a hot or cold drink of choice.

I say get something to drink, because of something my mom always did. When I was a kid and I had cried, she would get me a tall, cold glass of tea or something else yummy. She said crying dehydrates you. I do not know if this is true, but the drink always made me feel better!

I am assuming you have already had discussions with your loved one and have been unable to settle differences of opinion. If I am wrong, please put this article aside, and go talk to your loved one asap. Magic is useless if you have not first done the mundane work communicating your feelings and trying to patch things up.

If you are ready to do the working, light the candle to start.

Cast circle and invoke your gods and or guides or not, however you prefer.

Then, write a letter to your loved one. In it, communicate your feelings. Communicate also that you feel your relationship is more important than arguing over who is right, and that you have decided to stop arguing. Say whatever you want to in the letter. It can be as long or as short as you like. While you are writing, put the energy from all these feelings you have, as well as your hopes for better communications into this paper.

Once you have finished this, set that next to the image of said loved one, and put the gift, which is an offering for your loved one there with it.

Next, get another piece of paper, and write a letter to yourself. In it, validate your own feelings of hurt, or upset over things your loved one has said or done. Also acknowledge your own role in continuing whatever issues you have had with one another. Pledge in this letter to work on better communications. Be prepared that you may be the one called to reach out to the loved one, especially if you are estranged from one another. Be prepared you may have to be the one to agree to disagree and put your own opinions aside in order to keep the peace. Put the energy from these feelings into your letter as you write it.

Place this letter next to the mirror and place your gift to yourself there.

On another piece of paper, write how badly communications have gone in the past, and the hurt feelings you both have experienced because of it. You can list the various arguments, or scenarios of misunderstandings if you want. Write as much as you need to, focus putting the energy and hurt feelings into this paper, all of it.

Go back to the letter to your loved one. Read it aloud directly to the image of your loved one. Then read your letter to yourself, while looking in the mirror. Next, place the image of your loved one beside the mirror, and read aloud the third letter to the representation of them, and the mirror to yourself. When you have finished, fold the third letter in half with the side of the paper that has the writing on it inside. Slide this into a blank piece of paper to conceal the writing if needs be. As you fold this paper over or conceal the writing into another piece of paper, will that those hurt feelings and strained communications are becoming a thing of the past and replacing them will be good communications and better times.

Put the letters in a stack any way you wish. Then still yourself for a moment and when you are ready to let go of the hurt, resentment, grudges, reluctance to make up, or whatever upset you might feel, burn those papers. Know in your heart that you are letting go and destroying those bad feelings and all that will be left is the love and desire for a good relationship from now on.

Once the papers are burned, bury the ashes, laying to rest the bad times, or release them to the wind, completely letting them go .

Extinguish your candle or candles, close circle and banish as usual, and either discard the offering to your loved one, or give it to them sometime in the future. Keep the offering you gave to yourself and enjoy it.

Congratulations. You decided to be a peacemaker. You decided your relationships are more important than being right or arguing over opinions or beliefs. You decided we all have different beliefs and we can love each other and have good times and happy lives together despite those differences. You have good priorities and your loved ones are truly blessed to have you.

I think Midsummer is a good time to do this for two reasons. One, in Summertime, we have a lot of gatherings. The weather is nice and often, we see more of each other then. You might “run into” them, and before you do, a working to ensure better relations is an excellent idea. Which leads us to number two. Rather than dreading seeing somebody, use the powerful energy at this turn of the wheel, which is strong for creating life. The Sun is at its strongest and generations of people have used the power of this time for blessings, strength, and growth.

Over the past eight months, I learned that materially, you can lose everything, but if you have loved ones, they will get you through your worst times. There will come a day when you are doing well, and they are not, and it will be your turn to help them.

When all else is lost, as long as we have one another, there is reason for hope, and where there is hope, there really is life.

May you and your loved ones have a long, happy life together.

Blessed Midsummer, and Blessed Be.

 

Belenus – Celtic God of Beltane

In Celtic mythology the Sun God Belenus worshipped in Britannia, Gaul, Italy, Northern Spain and Austria. Belenus has had shrines erected in his behalf from Aquileia (on the Adriatic) to England (Kirkby Lonsdale). Associated with healing and heat, the meaning of his name is Henbane God or the Shinning one.

It has been said the Belenus may be in fact the same deity as the God Belatu- Cadros from the Roman Empire period and thusly identified with Apollo. His companion is Belisama. Belenus’s name has appeared on inscriptions, concentrated primarily in Cisalpine Gaul and Aquileia, however, these inscriptions have also been found in Noricum and Gallia Narbonensis as well as other distant lands.

Beltane/May Day

Over the years Beltane has been known by many names, in contemporary Irish it is known as Lá Bealtaine, in Scots Gaelic it is known as Bealtiunn, the Welsh know it as the Calends of May (Galan-Mai) and on the Isle of Man (Manx) as Laa Boaldyn, Laán Tourey (Day of Summer) or Shenn da Boaddyn. Beltane is the start of the Summer Half of the Celtic year but what ever the name it is a festival of absolute joy.

A Large number of mythological Celtic events are associated with this day, balancing out it is opposite Samhain. The first people and co-creators of Ireland first landed on the island on Beltane. 300 years to the day later the inhabitants returned to their Other Worldly plane. It was on Beltane that the Tuatha De Danann invaded Ireland. On May Eve Pwyll and Rhiannon’s (the rulers of the Welsh Otherworld) son Pryderi was lost and later found by Teirnyon Twryf Vliant on another May’s Eve after which he was later returned to Pwyll and Rhiannon. The majority of these events concern the forces of darkness being defeated by light

Modern Day Beltane Festivals

One of the major sabbats today is the primeval Celtic fire festival. The Celtic fire festival is the time to observe the unification of the Sun God and the young Goddess, the time when winters darkness copiously retreats and life once more returns to the earth. Like Samhain, during Beltane the shroud between this world and other worldly realms is at its thinnest, in times of yore this was viewed as a time of impending mischief or danger from seditious spirits. Thusly, during Beltane it was a time to mollify these spirits and to begin preparing for the soil in hopes of a good harvest later in the year.

The May Pole

the May Pole represents the impregnation of the Earth Goddess by the Sun God, in the traditional May Pole dance, weaving the ribbons, joins two elements to form the third which represents life at its creation. The fire of Beltane lit in a pit or cauldron represents passions fire. Traditionally, one will jump over the fire for luck or fertility in the upcoming growing season. It is said that a woman will be exceedingly blessed if she becomes pregnant on Beltane. Men wear circlets of green while the women don blossom of circlets.

Excerpt from A Tree Song

Oh, do not tell the Priest our plight, or he would call it a sin;

But we have been out in the woods all night, A-conjuring Summer in!

~ Rudyard Kipling

Bibliography and Works Cited

Kipling, R. (A. D. 1200). A Tree Song. Retrieved March 21, 2009, from http://www.poetryloverspage.com/poets/kipling/kipling_ind.html

Beltane and May Celebrations

Merry Meet

Beltane is April 30th – May 1st in the Western Hemisphere. This is one of the 8 Sabbats of the year. This is said to be the beginning of Spring. The Goddess throws off her maiden robes and takes on the robes of the Mother, with her Consort and mate, the Green Man standing by her side. It is also said to be the celebration of Persephone returning from the Underworld to her mother in our world, allowing the re-awakening of the land. It is the historically celebrated half-year mark, the counterpoint of Samhain, which is the end of the year, November 1st.

May is named for Maia, the grandmother, the Goddess of death and fertility. Maia scorns marriage, so it is a good idea to put weddings off until June. It is one of the 3 days of the year when the fairies are said to be able to be seen.

Traditionally, this was a major fertility festival. Great bonfires were lit to assist the sun in returning to heat the fields and increase the harvest. To signify their availability, unattached people, young and old, who were seeking a partner wore green during the festival. They would spend Beltane night in the greenwood (forest) with their chosen one. After the evening’s celebrations, the celebrants would return home bearing armloads of May boughs covered in budding flowers, as well as any other blooming flowers they came across. These were all shared with families in the community. As they shared their May bounty, the homes they visited shared the best in food and drink they had. A child born of this festival was considered especially blessed, and to share in the good fortune, the entire community would care for the mother and child. The May Pole was also raised during this celebration and people danced and made merry around it. There is a tradition that if the May Pole dancers wove a perfect pattern with the ribbons hung from the May Pole then the coming harvest would be an excellent one. But, if the ribbons became entangled during the dancing then the upcoming harvest was not expected to be as bountiful as it could be. The May Pole dancers trained and practiced to try to ensure their weaving of the ribbons did not tangle.

The Hawthorn was known as the May and bringing May blossoms into the home was considered very unlucky. This could have been due to the increasing Christian influence. Bringing Mayflowers into the home could reveal the Pagan beliefs of the family and put the entire household at risk for persecution. Another theory as to the unluckiness of bringing May flowers into the home is said to refer to the Beltane night celebrations, and the flowers in the home could reference the unattached not finding a partner that eve.

If you are lucky enough to have a May bush; beneath it is a wonderful place to lie back and contemplate the coming growing season. You can gather the beautiful flowers and weave them into a circlet to wear, or to give to your ladylove. If you have a Goddess statue you may want to make a circlet for her as well.

Another traditional activity for this eve is lighting the Beltane fire. Young lovers would jump through the smoke and low flames to bring luck to their union. Farmers led their herds and flocks through the smoke from the fires for increased productivity in the coming season. Pregnant women are said to have stepped over the coals to help with an easy and successful birth. Small children, and even infants, were carried across the coals and through the smoke for luck and health throughout the year.

If you don’t have access to a May Day celebration, you can light a small fire and add green boughs to it to encourage the smoke. Jumping through the flames and smoke (with any long skirts kept out of the flames) can be done to celebrate the new season and to bring luck to your endeavors. If a bonfire is not possible, due to apartment living, living with non-Pagans, etc, you can also do the ‘jumping through the flame’ ritual using candles or even tea light candles. Please be careful and hold any long skirts or other pieces of clothing that might catch fire out of the way, and make sure to have the candles placed on non-flammable material, in case you knock them over.

Flowers can also be gathered for May baskets. Filling your home with the newest blooms will help brighten your day as well as bring the joy of the coming together of the Goddess and her Consort, the Green Man, into your world. May baskets make wonderful gifts for shut-ins and elderly friends and neighbors.

A wonderful, and very simple spell for this day is an increase spell. Take 5 new, shiny, and cleansed pennies. Place them under your front steps, heads up. Then say the following, or something you come up with on your own:

Penny Penny, Shining Bright
Bring to my door what I need that is right
Guide my steps to help me find
Help for my home and peace of mind
As I will so mote it be.

While this spell does not specify money or property, it asks for what you ‘need’ to be brought to you, and for your steps to be guided as well. If you don’t have traditional ‘front steps’ you can place the pennies under your front doormat or even plant them, face up, in a flower bed near your front door. This little spell has helped me when I thought there was nothing I could do to meet my home or my families needs. I hope it helps you as well.

Here is a poem by Sir Thomas Malory, written for the May celebrations of the time.

The month of May was come,

when every lusty heart beginneth to blossom,
and to bring forth fruit; for like as herbs and trees bring
forth fruit and flourish in May, in likewise every lusty heart that

is in any manner a lover, springeth and flourisheth in lusty deeds.
For it giveth unto all lovers courage, that lusty month of May.
Sir Thomas Malory, 1485

Blessed Be and brightest blessings.

***

author bio:

Blessed Be
Lady Ana
[email protected]

Lady Ana can be found deep in the bible belt, peeking out of her broom closet occasionally when her cats deign to give her the all clear.

Also known as: May Day, Bealtaine, Beltane, Bhealtainn, Bealtinne, Festival of Tana (Strega), Giamonios, Rudemass, and Walburga (Teutonic), Cetsamhain (opposite Samhain),Fairy Day ,Sacred Thorn Day, Rood Day, Roodmas (the Christian term for Rood Day, Old Beltane, Beltain, Baltane, Walpurgis Night, Floriala (Roman feast of flowers from April 29 to May 1), Walpurgisnacht (Germanic-feast of St. Walpurga), Thrimilce (Anglo-saxon), Bloumaand (Old Dutch)

Date: May 1

Animals: Swallow, dove, swan, Cats, lynx, leopard

Deities: Flower Goddesses, Divine Couples, Deities of the Hunt, Aphrodite,

artemis, Bast, Diana, Faunus, Flora, Maia, Pan, the Horned God, Venus, and all Gods and Goddesses who preside over fertility.Tools: broom, May Pole, cauldronStones/Gems: emerald, malachite, amber, orange carnelian, sapphire, rose quartzColors: green, soft pink, blue, yellow, red, brown

Herbs and Flowers: almond tree/shrub, ash, broom, cinquefoil, clover, Dittany of Crete, elder, foxglove, frankincense, honeysuckle, rowan, sorrel, hawthorn, ivy, lily of the valley, marigold, meadowsweet, mint, mugwort, thyme, woodruff may be burned; angelica, bluebells, daisy, hawthorn, ivy, lilac, primrose, and rose may be decorations, st. john’s wort, yarrow, basically all flowers.

Incense: frankincense, lilac, rose.

Symbols and Decorations: maypole, strings of beads or flowers, ribbons, spring flowers, fires, fertility, growing things, ploughs, cauldrons of flowers, butterchurn, baskets, eggs

Food: dairy, bread, cereals, oatmeal cakes, cherries, strawberries, wine, green salads.

Activities and Rituals: fertilize, nurture and boost existing goals, games, activities of pleasure, leaping bonfires, making garlands, May Pole dance, planting seeds, walking one’s property, feasting

Wiccan mythology: sexual union and/or marriage of the Goddess and God

It’s association with fire also makes Beltaine a holiday of purification.

Wiccan weddings are frequently held on or around Beltaine

Also known as: May Day, Bealtaine, Beltane, Bhealtainn, Bealtinne, Festival of Tana (Strega), Giamonios, Rudemass, and Walburga (Teutonic), Cetsamhain (opposite Samhain),Fairy Day ,Sacred Thorn Day, Rood Day, Roodmas (the Christian term for Rood Day, Old Beltane, Beltain, Baltane, Walpurgis Night, Floriala (Roman feast of flowers from April 29 to May 1), Walpurgisnacht (Germanic-feast of St. Walpurga), Thrimilce (Anglo-saxon), Bloumaand (Old Dutch)

Date: May 1

Animals: Swallow, dove, swan, Cats, lynx, leopard

Deities: Flower Goddesses, Divine Couples, Deities of the Hunt, Aphrodite,

artemis, Bast, Diana, Faunus, Flora, Maia, Pan, the Horned God, Venus, and all Gods and Goddesses who preside over fertility.Tools: broom, May Pole, cauldronStones/Gems: emerald, malachite, amber, orange carnelian, sapphire, rose quartzColors: green, soft pink, blue, yellow, red, brown

Herbs and Flowers: almond tree/shrub, ash, broom, cinquefoil, clover, Dittany of Crete, elder, foxglove, frankincense, honeysuckle, rowan, sorrel, hawthorn, ivy, lily of the valley, marigold, meadowsweet, mint, mugwort, thyme, woodruff may be burned; angelica, bluebells, daisy, hawthorn, ivy, lilac, primrose, and rose may be decorations, st. john’s wort, yarrow, basically all flowers.

Incense: frankincense, lilac, rose.

Symbols and Decorations: maypole, strings of beads or flowers, ribbons, spring flowers, fires, fertility, growing things, ploughs, cauldrons of flowers, butterchurn, baskets, eggs

Food: dairy, bread, cereals, oatmeal cakes, cherries, strawberries, wine, green salads.

Activities and Rituals: fertilize, nurture and boost existing goals, games, activities of pleasure, leaping bonfires, making garlands, May Pole dance, planting seeds, walking one’s property, feasting

Wiccan mythology: sexual union and/or marriage of the Goddess and God

It’s association with fire also makes Beltaine a holiday of purification.

Wiccan weddings are frequently held on or around Beltaine

Part One: The Wheel of the Year

Whereas non-pagans are guided by sacred books, pagans are guided by nature. Nature guides us through the course of the seasons. We take our moods, our goals and the way we pursue them, from the seasonal round, which is called ‘The Wheel of the Year’.

Witches of our Celtic tradition follow three interlocking paradigms throughout the year. The course of the Sun throughout the year is plotted by the Wheel of the Year. The course of the lunar month is plotted by the phases of the Moon and their meaning. And the sequence of lunar months through the solar year is plotted by the Ogham Tree Calendar and the Rune of Amergin, as reconstructed by the poet Robert Graves in his seminal work The White Goddess.

The paradigms offered below are tools. Witchcraft is a craft, and witches make use of ideas as tools. More specifically, skills are tools, and lore is building material, like wood or stone or metal. What is important is what you build with them, and that is your personal Craft. Select your tools and materials among the many available, and feel free to make a re-selection. Eventually you will have a house to live in that feels just right.

When we follow the Wheel of the Year, we invite nature spirits to contact us and become involved in our personal lives.

The Wheel of the Year is depicted as a circle divided, like the compass, into eight equal segments by radii which contact the circumference at the points of the four cardinal directions plus the directions in between. The eight witches’ sabbats are plotted on these points. They are as follows:

1. Yule – the Winter Solstice, which generally falls between 20 and 23 December. The old Oak King is released from his prison in the sacred oak log or hod, as his sacred bird robin redbreast; he fights and kills the Holly King in his sacred bird-form, the gold crest wren, and hangs the latter from the holly bush. The Oak King is then reborn as the Child of Promise. He rules Middle-Earth until Imbolc, when the Maiden returns to rule with him.

2. Imbolc – The Maiden returns. The original pagan date was 1 February. The christian church moved it to 2 February. Many covens celebrate it on the 2nd because they are unaware of this. The Maiden may meet with the young Oak King and they may mate at this time. If they do, we shall have an early Spring. The Corn Maiden, constructed from wheat the previous Lammas, is plowed into the ground to instill last year’s fertility in the crops to come.

3. Ostara – the Spring Equinox, which generally falls between 20 and 23 March. The Maiden and the Oak King are mated and Spring begins in earnest. Witches send out their wishes for the year on a great solar tide.

4. Beltane – May 1st. The preceding evening is called Walpurgis Night. The Maiden becomes the Mother. The handfasting of the Mother and the Oak King is symbolized by the Maypole. Celts regarded this date as the beginning of Summer.

5. Litha – the Summer Solstice, which generally falls between 20 and 23 June. The union of the Mother and the Oak King reaches the acme of power. Then the Holly King appears. He is like the Oak King’s dark twin, his shadow, as the Jungians would say. He fights the Oak King for the favor of the Lady and wins. He kills the Oak King and imprisons his spirit in the sacred oak, which is cognate with the World Pillar. The Oak King’s spirit will remain imprisoned in the sacred oak until it is released on the following Yule.

6. Lammas or Lughnasadh – August 1st. Lammas, meaning ‘loaf mass,’ is the later christian name, but many witches like to focus on baking sacred bread on this eve (July 31st), so the name Lammas is often used. The Mother becomes the Crone. The bread is traditionally baked in the shape of a man, representing John Barleycorn, the corn or harvest god, an aspect of the Holly King who is sacrificed for the fertility of the harvest. The bread also stands for the matured craft of the second-degree witch. Coveners eat the bread at midnight. This is the first of three harvests, the grain harvest. A Corn Maiden is made of wheat, traditionally the last ear harvested, which contains the fertility of the fields. It is kept until the following Imbolc. Lughnasadh is the Celtic festival in honor of Lugh, who instituted celebratory games in memory of his mother Tailtiu, who died after plowing Ireland to make it fertile. Some witches celebrate Lughnasadh rather than Lammas, some celebrate both.

7. Mabon or Modron – the Autumn Equinox, falls between September 20 and 23. Initiate witches travel in spirit to the threshold of the Summerlands and there invite their ancestors and dead friends to visit them in Middle-Earth during the month of October. Mabon ap Modron is part of a tale in the Mabinogion, a compendium of Welsh mythology. It is apparently incomplete, as we know very little about the hero-god. He was abducted from his mother Modron when three days old and imprisoned at Gloucester. Arthur and his war band free Mabon. That is practically all we know, but there is a clue in the fact that only the salmon of knowledge knew where to find him. In the Craft tradition I follow, the knowledge possessed by the salmon, which is very ancient, is available to the initiate on the inner journey down the World Pillar. Mabon therefore stands for the Root-soul, the original identity of the witch, liberated by Inner Craft and brought back to Middle-Earth. At Mabon initiates descend to the Summerland and there invite their dead ancestors and friends to visit them at the dumb suppers of October. This is the second harvest, the fruit and vine harvest, and the knowledge brought back to Middle-Earth by initiates reflects its bounty in an inner harvest.

8. Samhain – October 31st, is the culmination of the series of ‘dumb suppers’ held with visiting ancestors. Now the gates of the Summerlands open wide, and Herne the Hunter (the Underworld aspect of the Holly King) leads forth the Wild Hunt, comprising human and non-human spirits. The Wild Hunt will range the skies from Samhain to the following Imbolc. Souls of those who have died during the year but failed to find the path to the Summerlands are gathered up at Samhain and shown the way. The Crone goes to the Summerlands to rest for the Winter. The ageing Holly King, soon to become the Lord of Misrule for the December festivities, takes over. This is the third and final harvest, in which whatever is still ripe in the ground is picked to save it from the curse of the Pookah. It is also called the blood harvest, for at this time the herds are culled and the weaker animals slaughtered for meat which will be salted down and laid up for the winter.

In general, Sabbats are celebrated on the evening before their date. Exceptions are at the solstices and at Beltane and Samhain. The solstices fall on the days of shortest and longest sunlight and should be celebrated on those actual days. Beltane is celebrated both on the preceding evening as Walpurgis Night, and on the following day when the dance around the Maypole and other festivities take place. Samhain, Hallowe’en, is celebrated on the evening of its date, October 31st. Its name means ‘Summer’s end’. The following day is a christian implantation and is ignored by witches.

The Lady and Lord together illustrate dynamic balance. The Lord, the god Cernunnos, is both the Oak and Holly King. They represent opposite tendencies of his dual nature. The Oak King is of Middle-Earth and rejoices in the outer world and its pleasures. The Holly King is an Underworld deity who promotes inner spiritual work and journeys down the World Pillar to the Summerlands. Left to themselves, they would tear the world apart but the Lady holds them together in harmony. She has three visible aspects: the Maiden, Mother and Crone. (Graves in his witchcraft utopian novel of the future, Watch the Northwind Rise, names these the Maiden, Nymph and Crone.) Unlike Cernunnos, she can manifest any of these at any time: “She is old or young as she wishes.” But left to her alone, the harmony she creates would be static. It would be like always eating so many vegetables, or taking so many sips of wine at meals. The extremes of the Oak and Holly Kings add passion and adventure to the cosmic harmony through their excesses, which the Lady keeps within prudent limits. This serves as an example to witches, who seek dynamic balance in their lives. As Lin Yutang once said, pursue moderation moderately.

The word ‘Sabbat’ means ‘restful recreation.’ The word ‘Esbat’ is from Middle French esbattier, and means ‘to frolic.’ Thus the main celebrations of witchcraft are joyous affairs, the farthest thing from the grim oh-so-solemn assemblies of some churches. Esbats are generally held at the Full Moon. When an Esbat and a Sabbat fall on the same date, the Sabbat is given precedence.

The Wheel and the Elements:

Witches seek a dynamic balance in their lives with humanity, plants, animals, and spirits, both of Middle-Earth and the worlds on The Other Side. In so doing, they focus on the four ancient elements of Air, Fire, Water and Earth. These correspond roughly to the three states of matter (solid, liquid and gas), plus detectable energy (Fire). Etheric matter or energy is a fifth element or ‘quintessence,’ that witches cultivate through achieving a good working balance with the other four, and can be understood as referring to energies not yet detectable by current scientific methods.

Each element has a power contained within it which increases through the practice of witchcraft. Air contains the power to know, Fire the power to will, Water the power to dare, and Earth the power to keep silence. Ether contains the power to go, that is, to conduct spirit journeys either from waking or dream, up and down the World Pillar. Travelling to the Summerlands while in the body is an etheric goal of initiates.

While the four powers are cultivated throughout the year, the four quarters of the Wheel of the Year are each associated specially with one of the elements. The North, from Samhain to Imbolc, is associated with Earth and the power to keep silence, that is, to keep still both mentally and physically, within and without. It is a time favorable to meditation and quiet home handicrafts. The East, from Imbolc to Beltane, is associated with Air and the power to know, that is, the power of understanding. The South, from Beltane to Lammas or Lughnasadh, is associated with Fire and the power to will. And the West, from Lammas or Lughnasadh to Samhain, is associated with water and the power to dare. This means the power to dare to go beyond one’s limits, to reach out for new life, whether through a change of consciousness or of life circumstances.

The major Sabbats occur on the cusps between one elemental quarter and the next, because the transitions from one element to another are of primary importance. Thus, the minor physical Sabbats occupy the cardinal points of the Wheel, while the major spiritual Sabbats are on the points in between.

Imbolc, occurring on the cusp between the power of silence and the power to know, is a time of silent intuition, when images and feelings from the dream-soul (who corresponds in some ways to the Holly King) begin to stir, like lambs in the bellies of ewes at this time of year.

Beltane, occurring on the cusp between the power of knowledge and the power of will, stands for the union not only of heaven and earth, but of theory and practice. Witches are nothing if not practical. The price of knowledge gained in the East is putting it into practice in one’s life in the South, cultivating the will.

Lammas, occurring on the cusp between the power of will and the power of daring, is the time when the witch applies will power to the uncanny realms of spell-casting and change of consciousness, as well as to adventures that lead to revolutionary life-changes.

Samhain, occurring on the cusp between daring and silence, is when acquired skills are allowed to sink down into the unconscious mind, there to incubate and give rise to new life. A musician will put away sheet music and improvise quietly on his or her instrument. The cast spell will be ‘earthed’ and put out of mind. Problems will be set aside for the unconscious to solve. Spontaneity will replace methods and rules, and one will be ready to join the celebrations of Yule and Saturnalia.

The power to go is cultivated through lucid dreaming, knowing one is asleep and dreaming while it is happening, and also from a peculiar state of heightened awareness while awake called lucid waking. A few people have the knack to cultivate this power up front, but most of us need to approach it gradually, through the balanced development of the other four powers, by following witches’ paradigms and conducting sacred rituals.

 

Bibliography

AUDEN, W.H., ed., The Portable Greek Reader, New York, Viking Press, 1948.

CAMPANELLI, Pauline and Dan, Ancient Ways; Reclaiming Pagan Traditions, St. Paul, MN, Llewellyn Publications, 1992.

ELLIS, Peter Beresford, Celtic Myths and Legends, New York, Carroll and Graf, 1999.

FRAZER, Sir James, The Golden Bough, A Study in Magic and Religion, Abridged. Hertfordshire, Wordsworth Reference, 1994.

GRAVES, Robert, The White Goddess; A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 27th printing, 1993.

_____________, Watch the Northwind Rise, New York, Avon Books, 1949.

LELAND, Charles G., Aradia; the Gospel of the Witches, Custer, WA, Phoenix, 1990, orig. publ. 1890.

RYALL, Rhiannon, Celtic Lore and Druidic Ritual, Berkshire, Capall Bann, 1994.

______________, West Country Wicca, Custer, Washington, Phoenix Publishing, 1989.

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