A Celtic Midsummer with the Druids
Entering the second month of the summer season, it is slowly becoming apparent that nature is now in full swing. The sun is rising early to greet the world; the birds are singing their daily Acapella and the earth is blooming in the sun’s warm rays, providing a luscious and fertile landscape that is always a wonder to behold at this time of year. For the Celts, too, this was a time of great celebration. The health, prosperity and fertility that were called upon in previous rites and sabbats would have started to exhibit its arrival by now. The pastoral culture would give thanks and count themselves lucky if blessed with ideal and crop-nourishing weather. Here, we can see the Celts’ persistent adoration of the sun. With the summer solstice occurring later in the month, what the Celts considered Midsummer, one may see June as being a large part of their year, even if no major festival was included in this period of the Celtic calendar. It is thought that aspects of a solar deity were often honoured between the 20th and the 23rd, similar to Yule and the winter solstice. Some modern rites are even performed on the 24th to mark the Roman summer solstice. The Celtic people held both a very functional and mythological association with Midsummer. There remains little to no information on the exact relationship between the Celtic people and the summer solstice; perhaps the Irish monks omitted such history, or perhaps it was just a meagre event to be ignored. Nevertheless, mythology and archaeology may prove to show that the Celts did indeed see Midsummer in a spiritual, celebratory and practical light.
In the Irish Mythological Cycle, The First Battle of Magh Tuireadh (also written as Mag Tuired) began on Midsummer day in Mayo, Connacht. This brutal conflict between the descendants of Nemed (the Firbolg) and the Tuatha Dé Danann (the Children of Danu) occurred over a period of four days. The Firbolg fought to defend the island of Ireland from the Tuatha Dé. The Firbolg’s champion, Sreng held negotiations with the Tuatha Dé’s Bres. Bres proposed to share the land equally between the two factions. However, the Firbolg were having none of it and declared that they would battle it out. So, after a few days of preparation, the two enemies clashed. It was this very battle where Nuada lost his arm to Sreng, later going on to become Nuada Airgetlám (Nuada of The Silver Hand) when Dian Cécht replaced his arm with a silver prosthetic. The Tuatha Dé got the upper hand in the end, but were merciful and offered Sreng a provence of Ireland. The Firbolg chose to rule over Connacht and a peace was agreed upon. The First Battle of Magh Tuireadh was quite a significant event in the Cath Maighe Tuireadh Saga. In essence, it tells the tale of the Tuatha Dé’s rise to the throne of Ireland. Seeing as the Tuatha Dé Danann were an extremely important race in Irish Mythology, one may see why the Celtic people honoured Midsummer’s Day and the summer solstice.
Modern archaeology is a wonderful thing. What Graeco-Roman authors or ancient manuscripts cannot tell us, archaeology try. One of the greatest megalithic monuments may be found in Wiltshire of South West England: Stonehenge. This prehistoric structure is not thought to have been constructed by the Celts themselves, as it is dated back to the second millennium BC. Many theories of its builders involve the extra-terrestrial or even an unidentified culture. However, it is sure that the Celts did use it as a sacred site, whether created by their own hands or found and made use of by the druids. The druids were well informed astrologically, and their curiosity of what existed beyond the twinkling stars of the night was well paired with the Celts’ interest in cycles, being an agricultural race. It is thought that Stonehenge may actually be a type of calendar, whilst archaeological finds suggest that it was also used as a burial site (Curran, 2000). There are so many possibilities surrounding this megalith that it is very hard to determine its exact role in the lives of the Celts. However, we can see how it may have coincided with the people’s shared spiritual and practical approach to the sun, both involving one chiefly group of nobles: The Druids.
What we know about the druids primarily comes from the Greek and Roman authors’ writings, most importantly, Caeser’s. In his accounts, he splits up the Gaulish elite into knights and druids. According to him, the druids were the go-to people for spiritual questions, acted as judges and expressed an extreme interest in all things natural. Divination was a large part of their practice and sacrificial rites were seen as, not only the norm, but a crucial element of their religious practices. For the most part, sacrifice is not considered to have been a huge part of appeasing the gods, but more so as a divination act by examining the innards of the sacrificed. They are frequently included in the mythology of Ireland, including all classes of bards, seers and druids. The druidic practice is thought to have been a twenty year-long education. They were extremely powerful during the free Celtic period. However, under Christian rule, many of their roles would have been adopted by the filidh (J. Green, 1992). Overall, the druid’s interest in nature and astrology may justify the suggestion that the Celts would have celebrated the summer solstice in some form.
Getting back to the solstice: many people today consider it a festival. The Midsummer of the Celts may be seen as Litha to neo-pagans. Some who follow the modern druidic tradition may even celebrate the solstice, even if it is unsure that the druids of the past did the same. Either way, both cultures share the same thing: an adoration of the sun – for all that it provides – warmth, energy, light, and life. I truly believe that the entire month of June is a time to celebrate life at its peak. Our spirits are raised and our hopes are lifted. Smack bang in the middle of summer, June is one full month of abundance, energy and life. I like to focus on the crystal ‘citrine’ at this time. This blazing stone resides permanently in the far left corner (or the abundance corner) of my house. I surround my life in sunlight and embrace the freedom and vitality that comes with it. As always, I cook with in-season ingredients, but focus on golden, amber and yellow colours. Herbs that represent growth and other such symbols make a frequent appearance in my summer salads and light evening meals to enjoy in the sun. I always try to incorporate seasonal aspects in my life and I allow myself to change and adapt, just like the ever-changing circle that powers our world. Summer is an amazingly energising time of year that is a perfect time to celebrate the life that has sprouted all around us.