Wednesday Whatever – Summer Solstice: Ura, the Night of the Heather

May 19, 2010 at 9:02 am (Ancestors, Associations, Fae, Faery, Fairies, Fairy, Flowers, Folklore, Heather, Herbs, History, Lore, Magic, pagan, Wednesday, Wisdom, Witch)

Summer Solstice: Ura, the Night of the Heather
by Sarah the SwampWitch,
Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002

The moon is perhaps humankind’s oldest form of marking time. According to some scholars, the Celts used a Lunar Calendar that consisted of 13 months, each 28 days in length. Each month of the Celtic Lunar calendar bears the name of a tree, which also stands for one of the consonants in the Celtic ‘tree alphabet’. There are basically two different versions of this Lunar calendar: the Beth-Luis-Nion (which begins on the Winter Solstice) and the Beth-Luis-Fearn (which begins on Samhain). I work with the Beth-Luis-Nion simply because it seems to work the best for my style of Witchcraft.

Beth-Luis-Nion version of The Celtic Tree calendar

  • B – Beth, the Birch Month (December 24th – January 20th)
  • L – Luis, the Rowan Month (January 21st – February 17th)
  • N – Nion, the Ash month (February 18th – March 17th)
  • F – Fearn, the Alder Month (March 18th – April 14th)
  • S – Saille, the Willow Month (April 15th – May 12th)
  • H – Huath, the Hawthorn Month (May 13th – June 9th)
  • D – Duir, the Oak Month (Jun 10th – July 7th)
  • T – Tinne, the Holly Month (July 8th – August 4th)
  • C – Coll, the Hazel Month (August 5th – September 1st)
  • M – Muin, the Vine Month (September 2nd – September 29th)
  • G – Gort, the Ivy Month (September 30th – October 27th
  • Ng – Ngetal, the Reed Month (October 28th – November 24th)
  • R – Ruis, the Elder Month (November 25th – December 23rd)

The five vowels I, A, O, U, and E have corresponding tree names to the nights of the solstices and equinoxes:

  • I – Idho, the Night of the Yew, Winter Solstice Eve
  • A – Ailm, the Night of the Silver Fir, Winter Solstice
  • – Herb too sacred to have a Celtic name, the Night of Mistletoe, Day after Winter Solstice
  • O – Onn, the Night of the Gorse Bush, Spring Equinox
  • U – Ura, the Night of the Heather, Summer Solstice
  • E – Eadha, the Night of the White Poplar, Alban Elfed or Autumnal Equinox

Here Is Lore On The Tree Of The Summer Solstice – Heather:

  • Latin name: Calluna vulgaris
  • Celtic name: Ura (pronounced: Oor’ uh)
  • Folk or Common Names: Common Heather, Ling, Scottish Heather
  • Parts used: herb, flowering shoots.
  • Herbal usage: Heather’s flowering shoots are used to treat insomnia, stomach aches, coughs and skin problems. The plant, used fresh or dried, strengthens the heart and raises blood pressure. It is slightly diuretic and a Heather Tea is often prescribed in cases of urinary infections. Heather is sometimes used in conjunction with corn silk and cowberries.
  • Magickal History & Associations: Heather is associated with the sun, and with the planet of Venus. Its color is resin colored and its element is water. Heather’s bird is the lark, and its animal association is the honey bee. In ancient times the Danes brewed a powerful beer made from honey and Heather. And for centuries the heather flowers have also been a special beverage to the bee, who in return creates delightful Heather honey! Its stones are amethyst, peridot, and amertine – and it is a feminine herb.

The herb is sacred to many Goddesses: Isis, Venus-Erycina, Uroica, Garbh Ogh, Cybele, Osiris, Venus, Guinevere, and Butes among them. White Heather was considered unlucky by Scottish loyalists because of its connection with the banishment of Bonny Prince Charles. Haether is the home to a type of Fey called Heather Pixies. Like other Pixies, the Heather Pixies have clear or golden auras and delicate, translucent wings. But these faeries are attracted specifically to the moors and to the Heather which covers them. They are not averse to human contact, but they don’t seek them out. They have a pranksterish nature.

Magickal Usage: Heather is sacred to the Summer Solstice. Heather is used for magick involving maturity, consummation, general luck, love, ritual power, conjuring ghosts, healing, protection, rain-making and water magick.

Charms made with Heather can be worn or carried as protection against danger, rape and other violent crimes. This flower represents good fortune and Heather can also be carried as a lucky charm. It was believed that wearing the blossom associated with your month of birth would bring exceptionally good luck – therefore people born in the month of Heather (August) should carry White Heather, for even better luck throughout the year.

Legend has it that a gift of white Heather brings luck to both the giver and the receiver, whereas red Heather is said to have been colored by heathens killed in battle by Christians, so is less lucky. Heather is associated with secrets from the Otherworld.

A sprig of white Heather placed in a special place of silence and meditation has the power to conjure ghosts, ‘haints’ or spirits. After picking a piece of white Heather at midnight, place it in a glass of river water in the darkest corner of your home. Sit and think of a departed loved one and it is said that the loved one’s shadow will visit you. Heather is said to ignite faery passions and open portals between their world and our own. Heather represents solitude because it thrives in wide open spaces, and Faeries who enjoy living in such undisturbed places are said to feast on the tender stalks of Heather.

The Fey of this flower are drawn to humans who are shy. Heather is useful for Solitary healing work (going within). Heather, if used along with Mistletoe, creates powerful healing medicine in both spiritual and physical aspects.

Heather can be used at Midsummer to promote love – carry red Heather for passion or white Heather for cooling the passion of unwanted suitors. If you give someone a gift of Heather it means: ‘Admiration’. A charm bag filled with Heather can be carried for decreasing egotism or self-involvement. As a water herb, Heather is very useful in weather magick. When burned outdoors with Fern, the herbal smoke of Heather attracts rain. Bouquets of Heather and Fern can also be dipped in water to call rain.

***Document Copyright © 99, 00, 01,02 by Sarah Nunn (Sarah the SwampWitch). This document can be re-published and shared only as long as no information is lost or changed, credit is given to the author, and it is provided or used without cost to others. Other uses of this document must be approved in writing by Sarah Nunn.

Disclaimer: No one involved in this blog or its contents may be held responsible for any adverse reactions arising from following any of the instructions/recipes on this list. It is the reader’s personal responsibility to exercise all precautions and use his or her own discretion if following any instructions or advice from this blog.

Fair Use Notice: This page may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. This website distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107.


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Wednesday Whatever – Midsummer Hail and Farewell

May 5, 2010 at 9:39 am (Ancestors, Associations, Faery, Fairies, Fairy, Folklore, History, Litha, Lore, Magic, Midsummer, pagan, Wednesday, Wisdom, Witch)

Midsummer Hail and Farewell
by Ahneke Greystone, Midsummer 2000;
excerpt from:
Cauldrons and Broomsticks
A newsletter for and by the Pagan/Wiccan Internet Community,

That I am mortal I know and do confess
My span of day:
but when I gaze upon
The thousandfold circling gyre of the stars,
No longer do I walk on earth but rise
The peer of God himself to take my fill
At the ambrosial banquet of the undying.

– Claudius Ptolemaeus,
Greek-Egyptian, 2nd Century

Such a wonder, this season of paradox! A vibrant moment of existence, warm caresses from the Sun, long days to share with family and friends. It is a time for first harvest and second sowing. For some there is more to do than a day’s time allows; for others it is a time of sweet pause and respite. We are poised between increase and decline. Balanced on the Mystery.

Gathered around the fires of Midsummer Eve, we reflect on the turn of the Wheel and the symbolism of fire as a sign of our consciousness. The awakening we experience, as did the God, when times of frivolity and independence turn to times of responsibility and community. It is a time of maturity and reflection. On Midsummer Day our focus will be on celebration; a time for living in the moment and making merry. A Dance of Life, with our minds and bodies attuned to the awesome possibility and promise of existence. Tonight we are comforted knowing that as fire burns it cleanses and purifies, clearing the land and our psyche for the time of repose ahead. Providing the fertile source from which the cycle turns again in Winter.

This holiday transcends all time and culture. The heritage of the celebration is sometimes unacknowledged, and sometimes celebrated much as it has been for hundreds of years. Modern pagans recognize several names; it was called Litha or Vestalia in ancient Rome, Gathering Day in Wales, Feill-Sheathain in Scotland, Alban Heflin in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, Thing-Tideln in Scandinavia, All Couple’s Day in Greece, and it is the Celtic Feast of Epona. It was and often still is celebrated throughout Russia, Europe, the East, Africa and the Americas, and other places throughout the world honoring the season of ripeness and the advent of the harvesting.

In ancient times Midsummer was as well a time for celebration and reflection. Rites were ecstatic, celebrating fecundity and harvest, placating the gods for gentle rather than destructive weather. We knew that Divine whim could destroy the crops we needed to harvest in order for human and animal to survive the upcoming Winter. This was the most powerful fire festival of our solar holidays.

Summer was a time of war, a time of invasion and defense. Our ancient family connected the death of their compatriots with the peak and passing of Summer. The symbolism of the burgeoning land, cut into harvest, and the strong men who died in war was a powerful and integral part of the holiday. Even in ancient times, the paradox prevailed. Life and death.

The wedding month of June traces to our pagan roots. Courting traditionally began at the Winter Solstice, when days were not as filled with tasks, and there was time to focus on familial matters. Towards Spring, pregnancies became obvious. Marrying in May was considered unlucky, as that was the time of the Sacred Marriage. Thus, marriage became common after Beltane. Mead was traditionally drunk for the month following the bonding to guarantee fertility and the health of children conceived. The Full Moon in June is known as the Mead Moon, and we honor this today in our reference to a wedding holiday as a honeymoon.

Midsummer, especially the Eve, is a time when the Fairie become visible to our human eyes. The boundaries between the worlds are thin. Even those of us who rarely experience fey moments can be caught up in the mischief and mayhem brought to us this evening. We will be reminded that our world is a quixotic one. If we have become too staid, that will be remedied this evening! The fairies delight in revealing our human foibles and turning our world on end.

Midsummer in some traditions was the time the Ivy King was seen as battling and overcoming the Oak King. He ruled for the next six months, until the Winter Solstice when the fated battle began again, with the Oak King then victor. In other traditions, the Sun King was seen as born on the Winter Solstice, reaching his peak at Midsummer, to decline and pass either into the Underworld as reigning King there or into repose until his rebirth in Winter. The myth of Demeter and Persephone gave inspiration to a yearly cycle of the Feminine Divine, who at Midsummer is seen as the Daughter who has just begun her journey to the Underworld and the Mother who has not yet realized that her beloved daughter has gone. She will shortly understand this, and she will send the Earth into decline and mourning.

The Goddess at Midsummer is the Lover-Mother. She is pregnant and aware of the life within. This is a bittersweet time. The mature God is her husband and the father of her child. He is more her partner at this time than at any other. Emotionally and intellectually they are equals. She is enjoying this time of mundane connection. It is as though her tasks are done and she finds the time to relax and enjoy life. She who always leads and inspires can briefly lay her head upon the shoulder of her consort and let someone else take charge.

Shadowing her joy is the knowledge of what will come. Her lover will pass over and she will evolve once again separate from him. The child within is her connection to this Earthly time and the wonders of physical existence. It is also her connection to Eternity. What agony she will suffer, though, to see all that she loves pass. Even as her wiser self knows the purpose.

Goddesses for Midsummer include Earth Mothers and Goddesses of beauty and mature sexuality, fire Goddesses and Goddesses of the animals and the hunt. They include: Aine, Ameaterasu, Anahita, Aphrodite, Artemis, Asherah, Brighid, Cardea, Coaltique, Corn Mother, Danu, Erzulie, Esmeralda, Freya, Flora, Gaia, Hera, Hestia, Iamanja, Inanna, Ishtar, Li, Litha, Mawu, Oraea, Oshun, Oya, Pele, Rhea, Rhiannon, Spider Woman, The Corn Mothers, Tiamat, Tonantzin, Vesta, Yellow Land Earth Queen, Yemaya.

The God has matured from the free and independent young man to the wise elder, the King who has learned of commitment and responsibility to his Queen, his family and his community. He is the counselor and the person others turn to for leadership and guidance. The Lord of the Greenwood is now the Sun King. He wears his crown with dignity and with some sorrow. For he remembers how at Beltane he envisioned the blood upon the corn. He knows his time is about to end. He reflects on a life of joy and abandon, of peace and contentment, of accomplishment and triumph. It is the time when he looks back on his life, rather than forward. The time remaining is short. With age and maturity comes the wisdom in him that accepts his life, is aware of the contributions he has made and acknowledges his fate. He looks to the end with peace now, fearless and aware of his role in the theater of life.

The Gods of Midsummer are the Gods of the hunt, Gods of the Sun, Father Gods and the Gods of the Arts. They include: Apollo, Arthur, Balder, Balin, Cernunnos, Faunus, Gwynn ap Nudd, Hades, Heimdul, Helios, Herne, Hugh, Lugh, Pan, Perkunis, Phol, Ra, Taliesin, Woden.

Midsummer Correspondences

  • Colors – Verdant and growing shades, colors of light and fire – gold, green, hazel, orange, peridot, pink, red, yellow.
  • Trees: The most powerful being the oak, ivy and mistletoe, but also including evergreen and fruit-bearing trees – fir, holly, mistletoe, pine, hawthorne, maple, oak, peach, palm, rowan.
  • Crystals/Stones: Amber, carnelian, cat’s eye, citrine, clear quartz crystal, copper, emerald, garnet, peridot, ruby, sulfur, yellow topaz.
  • Flowers: Red flowers, carnations (red), honeysuckle, iris, lily, marigolds, nasturtiums, rose, sunflowers, trefoil, wisteria, witches’ broom.
  • Creatures: Cardinal, dove, lizard, magpie, parrot.
  • Herbs: Basil, chive, chervil, dragon’s blood, fennel, lavender, mint, parsley, Rosemary, rue, sage, St. John’s wort, tarragon, thyme, vervain, violet.
  • Incense: Carnation, cedar, cinnamon, copal, fir, frangipani, frankincense, myrrh, pine, rose, rosemary, sandalwood, tangerine, thyme, vervain, violet, wisteria.
  • Oils: Carnation, citronella, geranium, lime, musk, orange, tangerine, ylang-ylang.
  • Foods: Hot and spicy foods, corn, dark breads, tomato and red vegetable juices.

And now it is Midsummer! May you cherish the special moments of your life, honoring them as Divine gifts. May the love you have for family and community be paramount today, and may you see in the eyes of your mates, children, family and friends that spark of eternity that is a part of each of us. Celebrate!

Blessings of the Sun King and the Queen of Summer to you!

The night has a thousand eyes,
And the day but one;
Yet the light of the bright world dies
With the dying sun.

– William Bourdillon

Disclaimer: No one involved in this blog or its contents may be held responsible for any adverse reactions arising from following any of the instructions/recipes on this list. It is the reader’s personal responsibility to exercise all precautions and use his or her own discretion if following any instructions or advice from this blog.

Fair Use Notice: This page may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. This website distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107.

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Wednesday Whatever – Mystical May

April 28, 2010 at 9:09 am (Ancestors, Associations, Beltane, Fertility, Folklore, Greenman, History, Lore, Magic, Mysteries, pagan, Wednesday, Wisdom, Witch)

Mystical May
From the Mystical World Wide Web

‘But I must gather knots of flowers,
And buds and garlands gay,
For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother,
I’m to be Queen o’ the May.’

(Alfred Lord Tennyson)


The name for the month of May has been believed to derive from Maia, who was revered as the Roman Goddess of Springtime, of Growth and Increase, and the mother of Mercury, the winged messenger of the Gods. Yet this is disputed…before these deities featured in mythology, the name Maius or Magius, taken from the root Mag, meaning the Growing month or Shooting month was used. May has also been known as:

  • ‘Thrimilce’ (Cows go to milking three times a day) – Anglo-Saxons
  • ‘Bloumaand’ (Blossoming month) – Old Dutch

As part of the seasonal calendar May is the time of the Hare Moon according to Pagan belief and the period described as the Moon of the Shedding Ponies by Black Elk (Black Elk Speaks, Neihardt). This is the first month of Beltaine (May – July) within the Celtic calendar, the onset of summer. It was the traditional practice of shepherds to follow and stay with the flock when out to pasture, this being known as transhumance.

This is one example of how daily life was closely tied to that of the animal and the earth, an awareness of the balance and harmony needed between man and nature, something today we are desperately trying to save. In ancient times such practice would daily remind the people of the Creation myths, the power of evil, the potential of its destruction, hence their folklore is full of such references. In pagan beliefs man believed himself to be the guardian of nature, perhaps this is one reason why today we also see the close bond between the so called green movement and the knowledge, rituals and beliefs of pre-Christian practice, further connections being made with what is known as the new age movement.

This period has also been associated in the Christian church with St John, the Evangelist (27 December), or John in the Celtic church (6 May) who describes this month as having the longest days, indicating that light has triumphed over darkness, positive over negative, life over death. The symbol of the eagle is given to St John, emphasizing the need for a keen eye and sharp awareness, an eye that does not stray from the task. This could be seen as a metaphor to remind the people of the need to focus on refining the spirit and not being tempted to folly, for not letting the sun affect the work on the land, for pleasure to be kept at bay (hence another indication that love and courting is a distraction at this time despite its natural associations with fertility).

This is the time associated with the ritual of baptism too, when the joy of the spirit is given, being seen in all things. It was a time of many rituals establishing man’s relationship and commitment from the earth to a higher level of being. Here the folklore of birds comes in to focus, as it is the power of the invisible spirit, or the wind, which brings hope anew. In Christian beliefs this is reflected in the story of the raven and the dove with Noah, whilst in pagan practice it is a time of peace, when thanks and hope was asked for of Bel the Sun God.

Surprisingly perhaps May was believed generally to be an unlucky month which may be linked to the possibility of failure. This belief is thought to be of ancient origin as it was known to be the best time to plant and sow for the next year. It was a time when all spare hands were expected to work the land with no time for personal celebrations and/or courting. It was a time when the food supplies for the rest of the seasonal year were sown and therefore the health of the community depended upon it. An old country (UK) rhyme

Marry in May and rue the day!

Perhaps then quite naturally, it was also believed by many rural communities that a baby born in May would always be sickly. It was traditionally believed that any cats born in this month would not be good rat or mice catchers.

As part of the astrological calendar, May has many associations. This is the month of the house of Taurus (April 21 – May 21) and the house of Gemini (22 May – June 21). Taurus is the second sign of the zodiac, symbolized by the Sacred Bull or Heavenly bull and has close associations with all cattle. In ancient Persian astrology Taurus translated as the Bull of light, and in ancient Egypt Taurus represented fertility and development or growth and was linked closely with the success of the land to produce. The sacred bull was also seen by the ancient Egyptians as the vessel in which the God Osiris was celestial. Taurus reflects the second phase of the journey of the sun, and of the child relating to the early teen years.

Venus is the ruling planet of Taurus and the Roman Goddess of Love. To the ancients the planet Venus was seen as highly important being second to the Sun and the Moon. The ancient Greeks believed that Phaeton nearly destroyed the earth, known as the Blazing Star, the earth became consumed by fire and Phaeton was transformed into Venus. The ancient Assyrians knew the planet as the fearful dragon…who is clothed in fire. The Aztecs, called it The star that smoked, the Quetzalcoatl called it The feathered Serpent, and the Midrash knew it as The brilliant light… blazing from one end of the cosmos to the other. Venus, is often used to symbolize the inner qualities of romance, loyalty, practicality, caution and charm whilst also having a love of the land, art, of the finest luxuries that can be obtained with a powerful desire for beautiful possessions, (so there is a danger of excess in all things).

Aphrodite, the ancient Greek Goddess of Love was seen to influence those around her by the use of her magic girdle. One fitting and you were smitten. Taurus has a way of encouraging this response. Venus also brings the need for affection and a search for love, as those born during this time are also generous in love, sharing their enjoyment and their warmth. Taurus is a fixed, negative earth sign and the first earth sign associated with the statements ‘I am steadfast and provide stability’, ‘Mine’ and ‘I value possessions and enjoy indulgence’. It rules the throat and the neck. Taurus is associated with the Daisy, Dandelion, Foxglove, Lily of the Valley, Narcissus, Poppy and Rose. Taurus is further associated with the Apple, Blackthorn, Fig, Hawthorn, Pear, Vine and Willow.

Colors associated with Taurus are pale blue, all shades of green, pink and yellow. The main stone associated with Taurus is the Emerald, whilst the main stone associated with the month of April is the Diamond. Lucky number is seven, lucky day Thursday. Metal associated is copper.

‘The time of fertility and growth is upon us.’
‘I could tell you of my adventures –
beginning with this morning.’

Gemini is the third sign of the zodiac symbolized by the ‘Celestial Twins’. The word Gemini is Latin meaning ‘twin’. It has often been suggested that this symbolism indicates the need for the Gemini to find a partner, someone close or to feel needed, an important part of something. In ancient Greek mythology the twins of Castor (mortal) and Pollux (immortal) were associated with the sign, being the sons of Zeus and Leda. Zeus gave immortality to both upon the killing of Castor.

Gemini reflects the third phase of the journey of the sun, and of the child developing from the teen years through adolescence to young adulthood. Here we see the curious mind developing further, also to becoming aware of the close connections between thought and action. Gemini possesses the duality and contrast in nature, that of the light and dark or night and day, summer and winter, and the growth and decay in all things.

Mercury is the ruling planet of Gemini. In Roman mythology Mercury was the Messenger of the Gods, son of Jupiter and Maia and the equivalent of the God Hermes of ancient Greek mythology. Mercury is often used to symbolize the inner qualities of vitality, intelligence, quick thinking, restlessness, co-ordination and flexibility. One drawback of this being that settling upon and fully completing a task was very difficult, due to the need to explore and develop new projects before boredom set in. Despite the possible unreliability alluded to Gemini, they have a lot of energy and can bounce back, which means they can adapt well to changing situations and hence they love to be part of a group – although their membership is not always maintained.

It was once believed that as Gemini represents the twin, that those born in Gemini would also be ambidextrous. Gemini is a mutable, neutral sir sign and the first air sign associated with the statements ‘I encircle the earth’, ‘On the wings of the wind’ and ‘With the swiftness of sound’. It rules the nervous system, the hands, shoulders, arms and lungs. Gemini is associated with Heather, Lavender, Lily of the Valley, Privet, Tansy, Violets, Yarrow and also Ferns. Gemini is further associated with all nut trees, and also the Cedar, Chestnut, Hawthorn, Hazel, Linden and the Oak.

Colors associated with Gemini are light green, slate gray, yellow and any color combinations of spotted mixtures. The main stone associated with Gemini is the Agate, whilst the main stone associated with the month of May is the Emerald. Lucky number is five, lucky day Wednesday. Metal associated is quicksilver or mercury.

Holidays On May 1

May Day

This day is believed to have been a replacement of the Beltaine or Beltane when Celts celebrated the beginning of Spring often by the building and burning of huge bonfires to honor the Sun. In later times young people would collect any greenery and flowers from the woods and forests to decorate their homes (See also Mystical WWW Trees & Plants). This was to indicate the power of nature to fertilize and rejuvenate the land and so affect the prosperity and health of a community. The festivals that still continue can be seen to be examples of the fertility of the earth, with many prevalent in the UK. May Pole dancing, based around the White Hawthorn was later replaced by the garlanded Maypole (a pole decorated with bright ribbons and flowers which was to show the transition of fertility from Winter to Spring), and Morris Dancing.


Beltane or Bright Fire pagan celebrations, half-way between Midsummer and the vernal equinox. The first day of summer. Focus of the celebrations was courtship and love, and also of mating/fertility, being a time to start new relationships. The bee and the cow are symbolic of the goddess at this time, being able to create an endless supply of milk and honey. Oats, too, are connected with the goddess at this time.

The Green Man is also associated with Beltane as are the Goddesses Aphrodite and Maia. Brigid (1 February) and Columcille (7 June) were joint protectors of cattle and it was usual practice to ask for protection during the periods of Samhain, Imbolc to Beltane:

‘Everything within my dwelling or in my possession,
All kine and crops, all flocks and corn,
From Hallow Eve to Beltane Eve.’

It was traditionally believed in many parts of rural England (UK) that a beautiful complexion could be achieved by collecting dew on this day and gently smoothing it over the face.

‘The fair maid who at first of May,
Goes to the fields at break of day,
And washes in dew from the hawthorn tree,
Will ever after handsome be.’

Slovakia Day

Dedicated to Kupula, a Goddess of Fertility, and Poludnitsa, honored as Goddess of the Fields. Similar in traditions to that of Beltane.


Celtic feast day of Brioc, Patron Saint of purse makers. Born near to Cardigan, Wales, died 530. Lived fifth-sixth century, traveled to Cornwall, England and later Brittany where he was revered as on of the seven saints. The pagan prince Conan is said to have requested that Brioc baptize him after having witnessed Brioc sit calmly amongst a pack of wolves when reciting psalms. The wolves moved away strangely calmed by their meeting. Known for his charitable works and generous nature. Reputed to have accompanied Mawgan (24 September) to Cornwall from Wales.

Disclaimer: No one involved in this blog or its contents may be held responsible for any adverse reactions arising from following any of the instructions/recipes on this list. It is the reader’s personal responsibility to exercise all precautions and use his or her own discretion if following any instructions or advice from this blog.

Fair Use Notice: This page may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. This website distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107.

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Friday Form A Circle – Wiccaning Ritual

April 23, 2010 at 9:52 am (Acceptance, Ancestors, Blessing, Children, Dedication, Friday, Kids, Life, Magic, pagan, Spell, Wisdom, Witch, Witchlets)

Wiccaning Ritual
Phoenix McFarland’s
"The Complete Book of Magickal Names"

This is written as a ceremony for a new child, but as we find our way through the world, and discover that we are, indeed pagan in our beliefs, we are as children, learning to walk & talk and think in new ways. Though I, personally have not, many take a new name to themselves. I can see no reason why this same ritual couldn’t be used in that instance as well 🙂

I’m just sayin’…


(Written as instructions for priest/ess)

For this celebration of birth, set up the altar, call the quarters, cast the circle, and invite the deities.

"We have come together to celebrate the birth of this soul. We all began so. We all were once so small. We grow and learn as we walk on the path of the Goddess. This person has begun again and will learn again. There WILL be growth, for that is life. Change is the only constant. From infant to parent to elder. From elder to death to rebirth. Such is the path of the circle of life. In our excitement in the beginning of life, we do not forget the turning of the wheel. We honor the maiden, mother, and crone. We are here to celebrate a new beginning, to welcome a new person into our midst, and to name that person."

Ask the parents to bring the baby forward to the altar.

"Who is this person?"

Parents answer with the child’s name.

"Welcome, (new name)!"

Take the censer and trace a pentacle before the child saying:

"(New name), by Fire and Air I honor you."

Draw a pentacle on the baby’s third eye in salt water, saying:

"(New name), by Water and Earth I honor you."

Hold the child and turn to the East saying:

"Hail, East! Know (new name), a child walking once more upon the path. Help (new name). Protect [new name]. Bless [new name]. Let (new name) fly into the unlimited skies of imagination and thought. Send (new name) gentle breezes and freshening winds to gently guide him/her along his/her path. Favor (new name) with all the airborne powers of the East!"

Stepping to the South, hold the child and say:

"Hail, South! Know (new name), a child walking once more upon the path. Help (new name). Protect (new name). Bless (new name). Let (new name) warmly pursue his/her life’s desire. Let (new name) bask in the glory of the golden light of passion. Let (new name) run with the lions of courage, never shrinking from the light of day. Send (new name) purifying candles to light his/her way and gently guide him/her along his/her path. Favor (new name) with all the fiery, sunlit powers of the South!"

In the West, hold the child and say:

"Hail, West! Know (new name), a child walking once more upon the path. Help (new name). Protect (new name). Bless (new name). Let [new name] swim uninhibited in the waters of the Mother. Let (new name) dive freely into the depths of his/her own feelings. Allow (new name) to swim with the blue dolphins and sing with the mermaids. Send (new name) the soothing sounds of the waves to calm his/her ruffled emotions. Favor (new name) with all the blue-roaring waterfall powers of the West!"

To the North, hold the child and say:

"Hail, North! Know (new name), a child walking once more upon the path. Help (new name). Protect (new name). Bless (new name). Let (new name) walk safely within the darkest places. Lead (new name) to safety in the night. Let (new name) climb the apple trees, stroke the animals, and learn the wisdom in the sounds of an untouched forest. Send (new name) the cool, damp smell of a pine forest in the moonlight to ground and balance him/her. Favor (new name) with all the earthly solidity of the North!"

Give the child back to the parents.

"Hail, (new name), and welcome! May the Goddess bless you as you grow. May the God protect you your whole life long. Remember, parents of (new name), that this is a distinct and separate soul, not an extension of your own. Allow (new name) to flourish in his/her own way. Since we do not introduce babies or children into our religion before they are old enough and wise enough to understand the meaning of what they are doing, we do not come here today to make you a Wiccan. We simply welcome you and wish you great blessings. The existence of this new little body for this very old soul makes us more aware of the wheel of life as it ends and begins again. Merry meet. Merry part, and merry meet again!

Have cakes and wine (or in some circles, it’s more accurate to say cookies and juice). Give Wiccaning gifts to the parents. Close the circle, dismiss the quarters, and say farewell to the deities.

Disclaimer: No one involved in this blog or its contents may be held responsible for any adverse reactions arising from following any of the instructions/recipes on this list. It is the reader’s personal responsibility to exercise all precautions and use his or her own discretion if following any instructions or advice from this blog.

Fair Use Notice: This page may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. This website distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107.

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Wednesday Whatever – Beltaine

April 14, 2010 at 9:39 am (Ancestors, Beltane, Folklore, History, Lore, Magic, pagan, Wednesday, Wisdom, Witch)

by Iain MacAnTsaoir,
Clannada na Gadelica Academia Gadelica
(a nonprofit
educational corporation, registered in the State of Tennessee).

The season of Imbolc ended at Beltaine which falls on approximately May 1st. Beltaine literally means "Bel’s fire" (Beal-teinne). Beltaine’s origin is the landing of the Tuatha De Danaan upon the shores of Ireland. This is a between time, and between light and dark, day and night, has a profound meaning for Celts. These are in a very real way, a Third time. It marks the beginning of the summer and the light half of the Celtic year. Traditionally, all fires were extinguished on the eve of Beltaine, and were re-lit from the ‘Need Fire’ which was kindled at dawn. Our ancestors were predominantly a pastoral people. Beltaine was the time when the cattle were put out to their summer grazing pastures in the mountains. The cattle were

driven through (between) the Beltaine fires for purification. It was believed that the sacred bonfires would also, bring protection, good fortune and fertility to the people. It was also the time when the Ruadh or warriors would test their fighting skills in the Beltaine Games. With the hard work of planting accomplished, it was a time when the clans came together in celebration with the hope that the crops would grow and flourish in the months ahead. Beltaine is the beginning of summer. The following is a poem translated out of the Gaelic by the Dal Riadh Celtic Trust and said to be written by Finn himself:

May, clad in cloth of gold, cometh this way;
The fluting of the blackbirds, heralds the day.
The dust colored cuckoo, cries welcome O Queen!
For winter has vanished, the thickets are green.
Soon the trampling of cattle, where river runs low!
The hair of the heather, the canna like snow.
Wild waters are sleeping, foam of blossom is here;
Peace, save the panic, in the heart of the deer.
The wild bee is busy, the ant honey spills,
The wandering kine, are abroad on the hills.
The harp of the forest, sounds low, sounds sweet;
Soft bloom on the heights; on the loch, haze of heat.
The waterfall dreams; snipe, corncrakes, drum
By the pool where the talk, of the rushes is come.
The swallow is swooping; song swings from each brae;
Rich harvest of mast falls; the swamp shimmers gay.
Happy the heart of man, eager each maid;
Lovely the forest, the wild plane, the green glade.
Truly winter is gone, come the time of delight,
The summer truce joyous, May, blossom-white.
In the heart of the meadows, the lapwings are quiet;
A winding stream, makes drowsy riot.
Race horses, sail, run, rejoice and be bold!
See, the shaft of the sun, makes the water-flag gold.
Loud, clear, the blackcap; the lark trills his voice
Hail May of delicate colors, tis May-Day – rejoice!

Many folk customs have survived until very recently. These are clearly surviving pre-Christian elements of this ancient festival. Official records show that the last public Beltaine festival to be held on Arran was in 1895. On this occasion the men of a certain townland made a tein-eigen or need-fire Beltaine eve. They fueled it with the nine sacred woods. The local people drove their herds through the fire.

In the preface, I mentioned a special bread called the bannock. This is a special cake made of eggs, milk and oatmeal. These bannocks, which are kneaded entirely by hand cannot come into contact with steel. Well into this century it was common, in the places where the fires were still lit, to have one piece of the cake blackened with charcoal. That piece was distributed from a hat along with the other pieces. Whoever drew this piece out of the hat had to leap three times through the flames. This custom is thought to have originated in the late Bronze Age. Unlike with the Gaulish Celts, there is no evidence of human sacrifice committed by the late Bronze Age Gaelic Celts. By this time the practice of having a "scapegoat" or "Fool" had replaced human sacrifice. One variation of the "scapegoat" saw the person who drew the blackened bannock be separated from the tribal celebration for the rest of the festival, after they had jumped the fire.

In the Highlands, the Beltaine fires and festivals were common until the mid-nineteenth century. Also, in the Shetlands, up until at least the same time, dancing around the bonfires continued, and it was considered that to jump over the flames brought prosperity and plenty. The Shetland fires were kept going for three days. Word has it that in the out of the way places, these practices never did stop, even to this day.

There are places which are indelibly etched upon our Gaelic psyche as being the places most commonly associated with the Need Fires. These places are those which, in the more ancient times of our pre-Christian ancestors, saw the first fires lit. Tara in Ireland for example, was the place where the first fires were lit. Only after the fire had been lit there, did they spring up all over Ireland. Likewise, Arthur’s seat, Edinburgh, is a traditional site of Beltaine fires which were lit at sunrise. Many people still climb to the top of this summit to watch the May sunrise. I have not yet found reference to the place on the Isle of Man where the first fires were lit.

Amongst the ancient customs of this festival which survives to this day, is that young women will wash their face in the dew of Beltaine morning to preserve their beauty. May dew was indeed considered to be holy water. People who were sprinkled with May dew were assured of health, To ensure a good milk supply, dairymaids would draw a rope made from the tails of Highland cattle through the May dew grass saying:

"Bainne an te so shios,
bainne an te so shuas,
‘nam ghogan mhor fhein"

(Milk of this one down,
milk of that one up,
into my own big pail).

This day was one which saw visits to the holy well. A visitor would walk three times around the well, then they would throw in a silver coin, after which, while praying, they would drink from the well using their hands. When those things were done, they would then ties a bit of colored cloth or a piece of clothing, called a cloutie to a branch of a nearby tree. The above had to be done in complete silence. The visitor also had to be well out of sight of the well before sunrise.

As mentioned above, this is a time in between. Beltaine, being the calends of summer, is a time between, therefore the veil between words thins, allowing this world and Tir na Nog (OtherWorld) to intermingle. This has always been considered the other time in the year when the veil between the worlds was thin. Because of this it has been long believed that the fae were abroad. As the fae were prone to stealing milk from cows, or even turning it sour, rowan crosses were hung in byres, and domestic animals were sprinkled with water from holy wells. It was particularly important that no fire (kindling) should be given away at this time.

As at the other festivals, games and racing were the norm. With the marches and races, horses were a prominent feature. The usual music and singing, markets and feasting were also to be found. In many places, a May Queen was elected. The maiden was crowned by an elder lady of notoriety, after the new queen and her court had arrived at a predetermined place. Some believe that in the older times, it was the May Queen who led the hymns to the rising sun, as all the people congregated on the appropriate hill at Beltaine. She is also believed to have led some of the marches in the older times.

A very general format for the communal customs can be established by looking at all of the evidence from the old countries. The actual Beltaine festivities began a few days beforehand the festival date, by the collection of the nine sacred woods for the kindling of the fires. Each fire was built in two places, with a narrow passage between the two. A circular trench was cut round them symbolizing the sun. The area was a sacred hill, or set of hills, like the Paps of Anu, and these were large enough to hold the entire assembled community.

On Beltaine eve all the domestic fires of the community were extinguished. Then, long before the oncoming dawn, the folk left their homes. They took their livestock with them and made their way up to the site sanctified by centuries of such veneration. The ritual was carried out by the Fili or Draoi, (The word Draoi is used here in its ‘paleo’ sense of a teacher of the skills and not in its later ‘neo’ sense), who await the arrival of the community.

Once assembled the eyes of everyone turned towards the horizon awaiting the rise of the new sun. The king or queen recited verses of poetry just before the first rays of the sun peek over the horizon. As the small glimmer of light grew into blazing radiance, the voices of the people raised in praise with song. This as the chosen people begin creating the Need Fire, the virgin flame from which the fires are kindled.

The sacred fire now lit in greeting to the sun, the whole community then formed a procession. They traveled three times around the fires. They then drove all the animals through the passages between the fires three times to be blessed and purified. This was to ensure fertility in the coming months before being driven up onto the hillsides for summer. After the blessings, torches were lit and carried back to all the homes to re-light the fires that had been extinguished. The ending of the ceremony was the feasting in which everyone made votive offerings to the sun.

This format was perhaps the simple plan that was followed for each of the festivals. The embellishments would vary according to location and festival being observed.


(prepared by Iain MacAnTsaoir; ©1996, 1998, 1999 Clannada na Gadelica)

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Wednesday Whatever – A Celebration of May Day

April 7, 2010 at 9:54 am (Associations, Beltane, Fertility, Fire, Folklore, History, Lore, Magic, pagan, Wednesday, Wisdom, Witch)

A Celebration of May Day
Mike Nichols

‘Perhaps it’s just as well that you won’t be here…
to be offended by the sight of our May Day celebrations.’

-Lord Summerisle to Sgt. Howie
from ‘The Wicker Man’

There are four great festivals of the Pagan Celtic year and the modern Witches’ calendar, as well. The two greatest of these are Halloween (the beginning of winter) and May Day (the beginning of summer). Being opposite each other on the wheel of the year, they separate the year into halves. Halloween (also called Samhain) is the Celtic New Year and is generally considered the more important of the two, though May Day runs a close second. Indeed, in some areas – notably Wales – it is considered the great holiday.

May Day ushers in the fifth month of the modern calendar year, the month of May. This month is named in honor of the goddess Maia, originally a Greek mountain nymph, later identified as the most beautiful of the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades. By Zeus, she is also the mother of Hermes, god of magic. Maia’s parents were Atlas and Pleione, a sea nymph.

The old Celtic name for May Day is Beltane (in its most popular Anglicized form), which is derived from the Irish Gaelic ‘Bealtaine’ or the Scottish Gaelic ‘Bealtuinn’, meaning ‘Bel-fire’, the fire of the Celtic god of light (Bel, Beli or Belinus). He, in turn, may be traced to the Middle Eastern god Baal. Other names for May Day include: Cetsamhain (‘opposite Samhain’), Walpurgisnacht (in Germany), and Roodmas (the medieval Church’s name). This last came from Church Fathers who were hoping to shift the common people’s allegiance from the Maypole (Pagan lingham – symbol of life) to the Holy Rood (the Cross – Roman instrument of death).

Incidentally, there is no historical justification for calling May 1st ‘Lady Day’. For hundreds of years, that title has been proper to the Vernal Equinox (approx. March 21st), another holiday sacred to the Great Goddess. The nontraditional use of ‘Lady Day’ for May 1st is quite recent (since the early 1970’s), and seems to be confined to America, where it has gained widespread acceptance among certain segments of the Craft population. This rather startling departure from tradition would seem to indicate an unfamiliarity with European calendar customs, as well as a lax attitude toward scholarship among too many Pagans. A simple glance at a dictionary (‘Webster’s 3rd’ or O.E.D.), encyclopedia (‘Benet’s’), or standard mythology reference (Jobe’s ‘Dictionary of Mythology, Folklore & Symbols’) would confirm the correct date for Lady Day as the Vernal Equinox.

By Celtic reckoning, the actual Beltane celebration begins on sundown of the preceding day, April 30, because the Celts always figured their days from sundown to sundown. And sundown was the proper time for Druids to kindle the great Bel-fires on the tops of the nearest beacon hill (such as Tara Hill, Co. Meath, in Ireland). These ‘need-fires’ had healing properties, and sky-clad Witches would jump through the flames to ensure protection.

Sgt. Howie (shocked): ‘But they are naked!’
Lord Summerisle: ‘Naturally. It’s much too dangerous to jump through the fire with your clothes on!’

-from "The Wicker Man"

Frequently, cattle would be driven between two such bon-fires (oak wood was the favorite fuel for them) and, on the morrow, they would be taken to their summer pastures. Other May Day customs include: walking the circuit of one’s property (‘beating the bounds’), repairing fences and boundary markers, processions of chimney-sweeps and milk maids, archery tournaments, Morris dances, sword dances, feasting, music, drinking, and maidens bathing their faces in the dew of May morning to retain their youthful beauty.

In the words of Witchcraft writers Janet and Stewart Farrar, the Beltane celebration was principally a time of

‘…unashamed human sexuality and fertility.’

Such associations include the obvious phallic symbolism of the Maypole and riding the hobby horse. Even a seemingly innocent children’s nursery rhyme, ‘Ride a cock horse to Banburry Cross…’ retains such memories. And the next line ‘…to see a fine Lady on a white horse’ is a reference to the annual ride of ‘Lady Godiva’ though Coventry. Every year for nearly three centuries, a sky-clad village maiden (elected Queen of the May) enacted this Pagan rite, until the Puritans put an end to the custom.

The Puritans, in fact, reacted with pious horror to most of the May Day rites, even making Maypoles illegal in 1644. They especially attempted to suppress the ‘greenwood marriages’ of young men and women who spent the entire night in the forest, staying out to greet the May sunrise, and bringing back boughs of flowers and garlands to decorate the village the next morning. One angry Puritan wrote that men

‘doe use commonly to runne into woodes in the night time, amongst maidens, to set bowes, in so muche, as I have hearde of tenne maidens whiche went to set May, and nine of them came home with childe.’

And another Puritan complained that, of the girls who go into the woods,

‘not the least one of them comes home again a virgin.’

Long after the Christian form of marriage (with its insistence on sexual monogamy) had replaced the older Pagan handfasting, the rules of strict fidelity were always relaxed for the May Eve rites. Names such as Robin Hood, Maid Marion, and Little John played an important part in May Day folklore, often used as titles for the dramatis personae of the celebrations. And modern surnames such as Robinson, Hodson, Johnson, and Godkin may attest to some distant May Eve spent in the woods.

These wildwood antics have inspired writers such as Kipling:

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!"

And Lerner and Lowe:

"It’s May! It’s May!
The lusty month of May!…
Those dreary vows that ev’ryone takes,
Ev’ryone breaks.
Ev’ryone makes divine mistakes!
The lusty month of May!"

It is certainly no accident that Queen Guinevere’s ‘abduction’ by Meliagrance occurs on May 1st when she and the court have gone a-Maying, or that the usually efficient Queen’s Guard, on this occasion, rode unarmed.

Some of these customs seem virtually identical to the old Roman feast of flowers, the Floriala, three days of unrestrained sexuality which began at sundown April 28th and reached a crescendo on May 1st. There are other, even older, associations with May 1st in Celtic mythology. According to the ancient Irish ‘Book of Invasions’, the first settler of Ireland, Partholan, arrived on May 1st; and it was on May 1st that the plague came which destroyed his people. Years later, the Tuatha De Danann were conquered by the Milesians on May Day. In Welsh myth, the perennial battle between Gwythur and Gwyn for the love of Creudylad took place each May Day; and it was on May Eve that Teirnyon lost his colts and found Pryderi. May Eve was also the occasion of a fearful scream that was heard each year throughout Wales, one of the three curses of the Coranians lifted by the skill of Lludd and Llevelys.

By the way, due to various calendrical changes down through the centuries, the traditional date of Beltane is not the same as its astrological date. This date, like all astronomically determined dates, may vary by a day or two depending on the year. However, it may be calculated easily enough by determining the date on which the sun is at 15 degrees Taurus (usually around May 5th). British Witches often refer to this date as Old Beltane, and folklorists call it Beltane O.S. (‘Old Style’). Some Covens prefer to celebrate on the old date and, at the very least, it gives one options. If a Coven is operating on ‘Pagan Standard Time’ and misses May 1st altogether, it can still throw a viable Beltane bash as long as it’s before May 5th. This may also be a consideration for Covens that need to organize activities around the week-end.

This date has long been considered a ‘power point’ of the Zodiac, and is symbolized by the Bull, one of the ‘tetramorph’ figures featured on the Tarot cards, the World and the Wheel of Fortune. (The other three symbols are the Lion, the Eagle, and the Spirit.) Astrologers know these four figures as the symbols of the four ‘fixed’ signs of the Zodiac (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius), and these naturally align with the four Great Sabbats of Witchcraft. Christians have adopted the same iconography to represent the four gospel-writers.

But for most, it is May 1st that is the great holiday of flowers, Maypoles, and greenwood frivolity. It is no wonder that, as recently as 1977, Ian Anderson could pen the following lyrics for the band Jethro Tull:

"For the May Day is the great day,
Sung along the old straight track.
And those who ancient lines did ley
Will heed this song that calls them back."

Document Copyright © 1986, 1999 by Mike Nichols HTML coding by: Mike Nichols © 1999. This document can be re-published only as long as no information is lost or changed, credit is given to the author, and it is provided or used without cost to others. Other uses of this document must be approved in writing by Mike Nichols. Revised: Sunday, February 7, 1999 c.e.

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Wednesday Whatever – The Twilight of the Celtic Gods for St Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2010 at 9:05 am (Ancestors, Fae, Faery, Fairies, Folklore, History, Lore, Magic, Ostara, pagan, Wednesday, Wisdom, Witch)

The Twilight of the Celtic Gods
by John Patrick Parle

The Milesians, according to myth, were the first Celts to settle in Ireland. This group was named after the eight sons of Mil (some texts say King Milesius); these Gaelic peoples, the myths report, came to Ireland from Spain. Ironically, the first phase of the diminishment of power of the Celtic gods came with the arrival of the Milesian Celts themselves. And, as might be expected, the second phase came with the arrival of St. Patrick. But elements of the Gods and Goddesses still remain in the Celtic mind as part of a folk-culture that bids many to dare not offend the fairies of the mounds or be outwitted by a cornered Leprechaun.
Ancestors of the Gaels
According to the Lebor Gabala in the Book of Leinster, there were 36 generations stretching from the Biblical Adam (via Seth) to Mil, and after, to the Milesian Celts. (The abundant influence of the Irish monks, working as scribes, can be clearly seen in this genealogy.) The bard-author of this myth states firmly that these earlier generations were "our ancestors." They were the Gaedels (sometimes spelled Goidils), or as we say, the Gaelic Celts.

The Gaels trace their mythic lineage to one Fenius Farsaid, a sort of king of Scythia, a territory in what is now southern Russia, near the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. According to the monk-inspired twist in the myth, Fenius was descended from Noah, through Japeth. And Fenius was active in helping build the Tower of Babel. When the dispersal of the 72 world languages occurred, Fenius was quick to found a great school of these languages in Scythia. (An ironic bend to this myth is that some historians believe that the Indo-European family of languages, of which Irish Gaelic is one, came originally from this region of the world.)

Pharaoh in Egypt was deeply enthused about learning all the languages, so he bid Fenius Farsaid and his son Nel to settle in the land of the Nile. Nel fell in love with pharaoh’s daughter, Scota, they married, and had a son named Gaedel Glas, whose chief role in Celtic mythology is having invented the Irish Gaelic language. The author of the myth also makes it clear that the armor and vesture of Gaedel Glas were all green in color.

The generations passed until Eber Scot, the great grandson of Gaedel Glas, got into difficulty in Egypt, was forced to leave, and thus his people began a period of travels lasting three hundred years. The mythic ancestors of the Gaels first went back to Scythia, but things did not work out there over the long run. Then a druid named Caicher had a vision. He announced: "Rise, we shall not rest until we reach Ireland." But the Gaels had never heard of a place named Ireland. Caicher assured them that it was very far away, and that it would be found only by their descendants.

According to the myths, the Gaels resided a long while in their boats in a place called the Macotic Marshes. (Speculation: what may really be meant here is an area around the Maeotic Sea, an ancient name for the region in the northern part of the Black Sea, adjacent to what was once Scythia.) This dark period was not to last forever.

Brath, a descendant of Eber Scot, urged his fellow Gaels to move on and explore. They left the Black Sea region, entered the Mediterranean, and landed for a while in Crete, and then for a while in Sicily. Finally, under Brath’s leadership they travelled westward until they reached Spain, where they wished to form a colony. Through a series of mythic battles, these Celtic Gaels gained control of Spain from the Iberians, and set the stage for fulfillment of the druid Caicher’s prophecy.

So the legendary story of the Gaelic Celts involved many generations, including the direct line of Fenius Farsaid, Nel (husband of the Egyptian Scota), Gaedel Glas, Eber Scot, and Brath (and many members in between). As the story proceeds, the myths tell us that Brath had a son named Breagon, who built an enormous watchtower on the northern coast of Spain (in a town he called Braganza or Brigantia, depending on what text you consult). Many feel that this tower was in the Galicia region of northern Spain, where Celtic culture still thrives today.

King Breagon, as some call him, had two sons: Ith and Bile; Bile had a son named Mil (or King Milesius, for whom the Celtic Milesians were named). Mil had eight sons, including Eber, Eremon, and Amergin the White Knee, a bard with druidic powers. It is these last three generations that in quick succession bring forward the story of conflict between the Celts and the Tuatha Dé Danann, the gods and goddesses of Ireland.
Milesians versus the Gods

One winter evening, Ith the son of Breagon stood on the watchtower and looked across the seas from Spain. He saw a land that sparked his curiosity. Ith wished to give the territory closer examination. He set off with thrice thirty warriors to this new land, which was Ireland.

The rulers of Ireland were now the Tuatha Dé Danann deities who had wrested control of the Isle from the Fir Bolg peoples and the Fomor giants. The tripartite kingship of the gods was now in the hands of Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht, and Mac Greine–these were sons of the god Ogma, and grandsons of the Dagda. When Ith arrived with his warriors, he spoke of Ireland in glowing terms, full of praises of the new land. The three kings of the gods considered this as a sign that the newcomer might try to possess the island, so they had Ith killed.
When news of Ith’s murder reached the Gaels in Spain, his nephew Mil rose up in anger and spoke his determination to even the score. So, the sons of Mil gathered a force of three score and five ships and sailed to Ireland,landing on the day before Beltaine, on the 17th day of the moon, in the year 3500 of the world. Amergin was the first to step off the ship, and plant his right foot on the Irish soil. Immediately he burst into an exposition of poetry, saying: "What land is better than this island of the setting sun?" The Celtic Milesians concurred that this would be their new home. But first they needed to contend with the Tuatha Dé Danann.

So the Milesians marched towards Tara, the seat of power of the gods. On their way, they met Eriu, one the deity queens, the wife of Mac Greine. She welcomed the warriors, and prophesied that Ireland would become theirs and that their race would be "the most perfect the world has ever seen." She then asked the Milesians to name the island after her, and Amergin consented to do this. Hence, Ireland’s name in the genitive Gaelic form is to this day "Erinn."
Once the Milesians reached Tara, the gods complained that the Celtic warriors had taken them by surprise. Amergin agreed to be fair and honorable, and concurred with a plan where the Milesians would embark on their ships once again and go a distance of nine waves from the shore. Upon returning to the land, the gods would then be ready for battle. This the Milesians did, but the gods raised up a powerful druidic wind, preventing the Milesians from reaching the shore.

Amergin’s voice then grew powerful. He proceeded to invoke the Land of Ireland itself, a charm higher then the gods. He bellowed: "I invoke the land of Eriu! The shining, shining sea! The fertile, fertile hill! The wooded vale! The river abundant, abundant in the water! The fishful, fishful lake! I implore that we regain the land of Eriu, we who have come over the lofty waves…" The incantation worked, and the Land of Ireland forced the druidic wind to die down. The Milesians landed and defeated the gods in two battles, the last in an area south of the present Tralee. The three kings of the gods were killed, and the Celtic Milesians gained control of Ireland. This is only partially true though, for the Tuatha Dé Danann retreated below the earth, continued to exert a strong influence, thus becoming the gods and goddesses of the Celtic Irish.

The New Order
The notion of a people defeating their own gods in battle, and reigning victorious in some way over them, is not a regular theme that one sees in the mythologies of the world. Why it happened this way in Ireland, or why the Celtic myths of Wales show humans leading successful raids to the Underworld, is not altogether clear. In the case of Ireland, though, it was not a complete victory.
The deities selected the god Dagda to be their new king, and he set about the task of giving each member of the Tuatha Dé Danann a fairy mound of their own, places where there would be "inexhaustible splendor and delight." In these sidh fairy mounds, the Celtic deities would engage in perpetual feasting, and never would a cauldron or drinking horn be dry. The Dagda chose the most elaborate mound for himself, at Newgrange (sometimes called the Brugh-na-Boyne; even so, his son Angus in a bit of chicanery tricked the Dagda, and took occupancy of the Newgrange sidh for his own).

The Milesian Celts, though now governors of Ireland, came to believe that the assistance of the gods and goddesses was necessary for living on the Isle. Charles Squire quotes an ancient tract from the Book of Leinster to this effect:

"Great was the power of the Dagda over the sons of Mil, even after the conquest of Ireland; for his subjects destroyed their corn and milk, so that they must needs make a treaty of peace with the Dagda. Not until then, and thanks to his good-will, were they able to harvest corn and drink the milk of their cows."

Hence the Celtic gods found their place within the Irish surroundings, and had a honorific role, even if their abode was below the ground.

Though the myths report that most of the gods remained in Ireland after the Milesian conquests, some gods left for the Otherworld of the West, the vast uncharted expanses of the Atlantic Ocean. Chief among these expatriate gods was Manannan, son of Lir the sea god. The Otherworld territories across the ocean had a number of names in myth: the Land of Promise (Tir Tairngire in Gaelic), the Plain of Happiness (Mag Mell), the Land of the Young (Tir-non-og), the Isle of the Women (Tir inna mBan), and others. In one myth, Bran the son of Febal (not to be confused with the Welsh Brân the Blessed) takes a voyage to the Otherworld of the West and meets Manannan, who extols the paradisiac quality of his adopted lands in the Atlantic. In another legend, an Irish king named Breasal voyages across the Atlantic and founds an island of magic that is visible only once every seven years. This legend spread around Europe, and medieval cartographers began placing the island on the western edges of their maps, calling the isle Hy-Brasil (a variant of the Gaelic words). One account is that when European explorers, who were well-familiar with these maps, reached South America they named the area Brazil, thinking they had reached Breasal’s Island.

The Annalists
With the coming of the Milesians a new form of Celtic myth arose. Oral legends of the new kings and their successors became standard practice, and the monk-scribes later wrote down these chronicles, the work of what became known as the annalists. To begin, there was the story of the first Milesian king of Ireland. Eber and Eremon, sons of Mil, divided Ireland between them after the conquest, Eber ruling over the south, and Eremon over the north. But quarrels soon began, battles commenced, and Eber was killed. Eremon then became the first Milesian Celtic king of all Ireland.

These kings of the annalists are quasi-historical, and more emphasis in the annals is placed on heroic humans and their feats. Although these myths show the humans interacting with the gods on occasion, the Celtic deities assumed roles that became smaller and smaller in the texts of the new stories.  Some kings merit mention. Tigernmas reigned about a century after Eremon, and legends say he was the first on Ireland to make ornaments of gold and to dye clothing. According to the stories, Tigernmas disappeared with the majority of Irishmen while worshiping a god named Cromm Cruaich. Conchobar was said to have lived about the time of Christ and was well known in myth; his rule in Ulster was the centerpiece of that cycle of legends. Conn of the Hundred Battles has high king sometime around 180 A.D., and his grandson was the illustrious King Cormac the Magnificent. The great grandson of Conn was Cairbre, who was said to have lived in about 280 A.D.

Another descendant of Conn was perhaps the first truly historical king of the lot: Niall of the Nine Hostages (379-404). He began the famous Ui Neill dynasty. Also, during Niall of the Nine Hostage’s reign, an event bearing a great impact on Celtic mythology happened: a Christian boy named Patrick was captured in a raid on Britain, and brought back as a slave to Ireland. The boy was to become a saint.

Saintly Legends and Pious Stories
The stories of Ireland in the fifth century are full of miraculous ordeals between St. Patrick and the druids; spiritual trials abound. Then there are the legends of Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland, and explaining the Christian Trinity by way of a shamrock. A clever tale has St. Patrick raising the Celtic hero Cuchulainn from the dead, who then attests to the truth of Christianity while standing before high king Laogaire the Second. The once skeptical Irish monarch immediately converts.

In another story, the Fenian hero Ossian returns to Ireland after staying in the Atlantic Otherworld for three hundred years. Having been at the Land of the Young during this sojourn, he has not aged a bit. But everywhere Ossian looks in Ireland, things have changed. It is now the age of St. Patrick. Men no longer look heroic, and when he asks about Finn and the Fenians, people tell him that these were folks who lived long ago. Upon stepping off his fairy horse and touching the ground of Ireland, the years return to Ossian, and he becomes a haggard old man. St. Patrick takes Ossian to his house and tries to convert him. But Ossian wants no part of an eternal life where there is no hunting, no wooing of women, no enjoying the tales of the Celtic bards.

A different story has the four children of the god Lir returning to Ireland after their centuries of journey as swans. Everyone they once knew is gone. St. Caemhoc greets them, and converts them to the new faith. As soon as holy water is sprinkled on them, they changed back from swans into real people. But they are very old, and St. Caemhoc gives them a Christian burial when they pass on.

The stories of the Christian saints are full of legends, like the one where St. Columba was the first person to have seen the Loch Ness monster. And although every honest Irishman knows for certain that Irish monks were the first Europeans to have ventured to America, the modern mind is apt to quarrel with the story of St. Brendan.

According to Proinsias Mac Cana, the "Navigatio Brendani" (Voyages of St. Brendan) became Ireland’s "greatest single contribution to medieval European literature." This ninth century work took its form in Latin and in numerous vernacular translations, and spread across Europe, such that there are about a hundred old manuscripts of the Voyages of St. Brendan still in existence. The story goes that St. Brendan (circas 484-578) was born in Tralee, Ireland, and presided over a monastery at Clonfert in County Galway. He and his monks got into their coracle boats and crossed the Atlantic to discover a marvelous land in the Western world. Medieval map-makers placed Brendan’s Isle in this area, and Mac Cana suggests that this may have influenced explorers like Columbus to risk the Atlantic journey. An example of how myth may have influenced reality! Slán agat. Go n-éiri an bóthar leat!

Sources And References:


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Winter Solstice Celebrations a.k.a. Christmas, Saturnalia, Yule

November 11, 2009 at 7:28 pm (Ancestors, Christmas, Folklore, History, Lore, Magic, pagan, Wednesday, Wisdom, Witch, Yule)

Winter Solstice Celebrations a.k.a. Christmas, Saturnalia, Yule
by B.A. Robinson; Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance


Religious folk worldwide observe many seasonal days of celebration during the month of December. Most are religious holy days, and are linked in some way to the winter solstice. On that day, the daytime hours are at a minimum in the Northern hemisphere, and night time is at a maximum. (In the southern hemisphere, the summer solstice is celebrated in December, when the night time is at a minimum and the daytime is at a maximum. We will assume that the reader lives in the Northern hemisphere for the rest of this essay.) People view other religions in various ways, and thus treat the celebrations of other faiths differently: Some people value the range of December celebrations, because it is evidence of diversity of belief within our common humanity. They respect both their own religious traditions and those of other faiths for their ability to inspire people to lead more ethical lives. Religious diversity is to them a positive influence. Others reject the importance of all celebrations other than the holy day recognized by their own religion. Some even reject their religion’s holy days which are seen to have Pagan origins (e.g. Easter and Christmas). Some view other religions as being inspired by Satan. Thus the solstice celebrations of other religions are rejected because they are seen to be Satanic in origin.

Origins of Solstice Celebration

The seasons of the year are caused by the 23.5º tilt of the earth’s axis. Because the earth is rotating like a top or gyroscope, it points in a fixed direction continuously – towards a point in space near the North Star. But the earth is also revolving around the sun. During half of the year, the southern hemisphere is more exposed to the sun than is the northern hemisphere. During the rest of the year, the reverse is true. At noontime in the Northern Hemisphere the sun appears high in the sky during summertime and low in the sky during winter. The time of the year when the sun reaches its maximum elevation occurs on the day with the greatest number of daylight hours. This is called the summer solstice, and is typically on JUNE 21 – the first day of summer. "Solstice" is derived from two words: "sol" meaning sun, and "sistere," to cause to stand still. The lowest elevation occurs about DEC-21 and is the winter solstice – the first day of winter, when the night time hours are at a maximum.

In pre-historic times, winter was a very difficult time for Aboriginal people in the northern latitudes. The growing season had ended and the tribe had to live off of stored food and whatever animals they could catch. The people would be troubled as the life-giving sun sank lower in the sky each noon. They feared that it would eventually disappear and leave them in permanent darkness and extreme cold. After the winter solstice, they would have reason to celebrate as they saw the sun rising and strengthening once more. Although many months of cold weather remained before spring, they took heart that the return of the warm season was inevitable. The concept of birth and or death/rebirth became associated with the winter solstice. The Aboriginal people had no elaborate instruments to detect the solstice. But they were able to notice a slight elevation of the sun’s path within a few days after the solstice – perhaps by DEC-25. Celebrations were often timed for about the 25th.

December Celebrations By Various Faiths – Ancient And Modern

  • Ancient Egypt: The god-man/savior Osiris died and was entombed on DEC-21. "At midnight, the priests emerged from an inner shrine crying ‘The Virgin has brought forth! The light is waxing" and showing the image of a baby to the worshipers."
  • Ancient Greece: The winter solstice ritual was called Lenaea, the Festival of the Wild Women. In very ancient times, a man representing the harvest god Dionysos was torn to pieces and eaten by a gang of women on this day. Later in the ritual, Dionysos would be reborn as a baby. By classical times, the human sacrifice had been replaced by the killing of a goat. The women’s role had changed to that of funeral mourners and observers of the birth.
  • Ancient Rome: Saturnalia began as a feast day for Saturn on DEC-17 and of Ops (DEC-19). About 50 BCE, both were later converted into two day celebrations. During the Empire, the festivals were combined to cover a full week: DEC-17 to 23. By the third century CE, there were many religions and spiritual mysteries being followed within the Roman Empire. Many, if not most, celebrated the birth of their god-man near the time of the solstice. Emperor Aurelian (270 to 275 CE) blended a number of Pagan solstice celebrations of the nativity of such god-men/saviors as Appolo, Attis, Baal, Dionysus, Helios, Hercules, Horus, Mithra, Osiris, Perseus, and Theseus into a single festival called the "Birthday of the Unconquered Sun" on DEC-25. At the time, Mithraism and Christianity were fierce competitors. Aurelian had even declared Mithraism the official religion of the Roman Empire in 274 CE. Christianity won out by becoming the new official religion in the 4th century CE.
  • Buddhism: On DEC-8, or on the Sunday immediately preceding, Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day (a.k.a. Rohatsu). It recalls the day in 596 BCE, when the Buddha achieved enlightenment. He had left his family and possessions behind at the age of 29, and sought the meaning of life – particularly the reasons for its hardships. He studied under many spiritual teachers without success. Finally, he sat under a pipal tree and vowed that he would stay there until he found what he was seeking. On the morning of the eighth day, he realized that everyone suffers due to ignorance. But ignorance can be overcome through the Eightfold Path that he advocated. This day is generally regarded as the birth day of Buddhism. Being an Eastern tradition, Bodhi Day has none of the associations with the solstice and the themes of death and birth that are seen in other religions
  • Christianity: Any record of the date of birth of Yeshua Ben Nazareth (later known as Jesus Christ) has been lost. There is sufficient evidence in the Gospels to indicate that Yeshua was born in the fall, but this seems to have been unknown to early Christians. By the beginning of the 4th century CE, there was intense interest in choosing a day to celebrate Yeshua’s birthday. The western church leaders selected Dec-25 because this was already the date recognized throughout the Roman Empire as the birthday of various Pagan gods. Since there was no central Christian authority at the time, it took centuries before the tradition was universally accepted: Eastern churches began to celebrate Christmas after 375 CE. The church in Jerusalem started in the 7th century. Ireland started in the 5th century Austria, England and Switzerland in the 8th Slavic lands in the 9th and 10th centuries. Many symbols and practices associated with Christmas are of Pagan origin: holly, ivy, mistletoe, yule log, the giving of gifts, decorated evergreen tree, magical reindeer, etc. Polydor Virgil, an early British Christian, said "Dancing, masques, mummeries, stageplays, and other such Christmas disorders now in use with Christians, were derived from these Roman Saturnalian and Bacchanalian festivals; which should cause all pious Christians eternally to abominate them." In Massachusetts, Puritans unsuccessfully tried to ban Christmas entirely during the 17th century, because of its heathenism. The English Parliament abolished Christmas in 1647. Some contemporary Christian faith groups do not celebrate Christmas. Included among these was the Worldwide Church of God (before its recent conversion to Evangelical Christianity) and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
  • Islam: During the period 1997 to 1999, the first day of the Islamic lunar month of Ramadan occurred in December. The nominal dates were 1997-Dec-31, 1998-Dec-20 and 1999-Dec-9. The actual date for the start of Ramadan depends upon the sighting of the crescent moon, and thus can be delayed by a few days from the nominal date. This is the holiest period in the Islamic year. It honors the lunar month in which the Qura’n was revealed by God to humanity. "It is during this month that Muslims observe the Fast of Ramadan. Lasting for the entire month, Muslims fast during the daylight hours and in the evening eat small meals and visit with friends and family. It is a time of worship and contemplation. A time to strengthen family and community ties." Because Ramadan is part of a lunar-based calendar, it starts about 11 days earlier each year. In the year 2000, the nominal date will be Nov-27. Ramadan is thus not associated with the winter solstice as are other religious celebrations. It is just by coincidence that it has occurred during December in recent years.
  • Judaism: Jews celebrate an 8 day festival of Hanukkah, (a.k.a. Feast of Lights, Festival of lights, Feast of Dedication, Chanukah, Chanukkah, Hanukah). It recalls the war fought by the Maccabees in the cause of religious freedom. Antiochus, the king of Syria, conquered Judea in the 2nd century BCE. He terminated worship in the Temple and stole the sacred lamp, the menorah, from before the altar. At the time of the solstice, they rededicated the Temple to a Pagan deity. Judah the Maccabee lead a band of rebels, and succeeding in retaking Jerusalem. They restored the temple and lit the menorah. It was exactly three years after the flame had been extinguished – at the time of the Pagan rite. Although they had found only sufficient consecrated oil to last for 24 hours, the flames burned steadily for eight days. "Today’s menorahs have nine branches; the ninth branch is for the shamash, or servant light, which is used to light the other eight candles. People eat potato latkes, exchange gifts, and play dreidel games. And as they gaze at the light of the menorah, they give thanks for the miracle in the Temple long ago." Modern-day Jews celebrate Hanukkah by lighting one candle for each of the eight days of the festival. Once a minor festival, it has been growing in importance in recent years, perhaps because of the pressure of Christmas.
  • Native American Spirituality:The Pueblo tribe observe both the summer and winter solstices. Although the specific details of the rituals differ frompueblo to pueblo, "the rites are built around the sun, the coming new year and the rebirth of vegetation in the spring….Winter solstice rites include prayerstick making, retreats, altars, emesis and prayers for increase." The Hopi tribe "is dedicated to giving aid and direction to the sun which is ready to ‘return’ and give strength to budding life." Their ceremony is called "Soyal." It lasts for 20 days and includes "prayerstick making, purification, rituals and a concluding rabbit hunt, feast and blessing…" There are countless stone structures created by Natives in the past to detect the solstices and equinoxes. One was called Calendar One by its modern-day finder. It is in a natural amphitheatre of about 20 acres in size in Vermont. From a stone enclosure in the center of the bowl, one can see a number of vertical rocks and natural features in the horizon which formed the edge of the bowl. At the solstices and equinoxes, the sun rises and sets at notches or peaks in the ridge which surrounded the calendar.
  • Neopaganism: This is a group of religions which are attempted re-creations of ancient Pagan religions. Of these, Wicca is the most common; it is loosely based on ancient Celtic beliefs and practices. Wiccans recognize eight seasonal days of celebration. Four are minor sabbats and occur at the two solstices and the two equinoxes. The other are major sabbats which happen approximately halfway between an equinox and solstice. The winter solstice sabbat is often called Yule. It is a time for introspection, and planning for the future. Wiccans may celebrate the Sabbat on the evening before, at sunrise on the morning of the solstice, or at the exact time of the astronomical event. Monotheistic religions, like Judaism, Christianity and Islam, tend to view time as linear. It started with creation; the world as we know it will end at some time in the future. Aboriginal and Neopagan religions see time as circular and repetitive, with lunar (monthly) and solar (yearly) cycles. Their "…rituals guarantee the continuity of nature’s cycles, which traditional human societies depend on for their sustenance." Prehistoric Europe: Many remains of ancient stone structures can be found in Europe. Some date back many millennia BCE. Some appear to have religious/astronomical purposes; others are burial tombs. These structures were built before writing was developed. One can only speculate on the significance of the winter solstice to the builders. Two examples are: In Maeshowe, (Orkneys, Scotland) there is a chambered cairn built on a leveled area with a surrounding bank and ditch. It has been carbon dated at 2750 BCE. Inside the cairn is a stone structure with a long entry tunnel. The structure is aligned so that sunlight can shine along the entry passage into the interior of the megalith, and illuminate the back of the structure. This happens at sunrise at the winter solstice. Starting in the late 1990′s, live video and still images have been broadcast to the world via the Internet. One of the most impressive prehistoric monuments in Europe is at Newgrange, in Brugh-na-Boyne, County Meath, in eastern Ireland. It covers an area of one acre, and has an entrance passage that is almost 60 feet (18 m) long. Above the entrance way is a stone box that allows the light from the sun to penetrate to the back of the cairn at sunrise on the winter solstice. Live video and stills from this site are also available on the Internet. It has been dated at about 3,300 BCE; it is one of the oldest structures in the world.


dawtch gold tree

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Wednesday Whatever – Reverencing the Dead at Samhain

October 21, 2009 at 10:59 am (Acceptance, Ancestors, Death, Halloween, Lore, Magic, pagan, Samhain, Shadow, Wednesday, Wisdom, Witch)

Reverencing the Dead at Samhain
From The Witches’ Well

So much as been said about the haunted time of Samhain, yet little has been said about how to interact with spirits, souls and ghosts, and how to reverence the dead at this pivotal time in the Celtic year. When the Sidhe open and the ‘dead’ are free to walk back and forth between the worlds, how might we respond? This article explores a Celtic understanding of death and the Otherworld and offers several traditional reasons for why the ‘living’ might be visited by ‘ghosts’ at this hallowed time of the year.

"There’s no need to holler; the dead are here!"

(137) Daniel Westforth Whittier, The Emerald Swamp (1984)

As human beings, we have all wondered what might be in store for us after we die. Every known culture has addressed this question, as it is one of the defining questions for our existence. We die; what does this mean for us? Do we go on to ‘heaven’ or ‘hell’ – as Christianity teaches – or do we get reincarnated, as some eastern religions teach? Do we go to a place of ‘shades’ where we continue to exist, but only as a shadow of our former selves, as ancient Greek religion taught, or is there nothing after this life, as the ancient Israelites seem to have believed and as modern atheism and materialism assert?

While there are almost as many options as there are people asking the question, we must not be discouraged by this plurality of belief where death and the ‘afterlife’ are concerned. From a spiritual point of view, it is not as important to know what happens after death as to continue asking the question and to continue entertaining extraordinary possibilities, for in this we strive toward being human. Asking the question of death and the afterlife is a way of living life to the fullest, seeking wisdom and wholeness.

The ancient Celts believed in an afterlife, and their conception of it is rather different from the options many of us in the West have grown up with. For the Celts living in ancient Britain, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, "this world" was paralleled by Another Country – an "Otherworld" that was, for all intents and purposes, ‘like’ this world. Death, for the Celts, was a doorway leading from this life into this next realm, where a person continued what they had been doing in this life.

There are two things that stand out as being quite unusual about the Celtic view. First, the Otherworld is not a place of punishment and reward. There is no ‘supreme being’ waiting to condemn you to an eternally boring heaven or a place of perpetual suffering. Death is simply a transition, and what you ‘get’ in the next life is what you have prepared yourself for while living this life. That is, if you have sought wisdom and wholeness while incarnate (in the flesh) then you will simply continue this quest on the Other side. If you have frittered this life away in mundane pursuits, you will end up waking up on the other side without much of a clue as to what’s going on. What you get is what you prepare yourself for.

Second, the Otherworld is quite close to this world. It is "right down the lane", or "right beyond the gate," as people used to say. There is a story of a druid and his student that I like to tell that illustrates this ‘nearness’ of the Otherworld. As the story goes, they were in the druid’s cave one night, each engaged in his respective studies, when the student looked up and asked his druid, "Horned One, where do we go when we die?" The druid, distracted from his work for a second, looked up and with a casual wave of his hand said, "Ah – over there," – alluding to another part of the cave. He then went back to his work. The student, however, was stunned by this revelation.

As this intimates, the Celts lived in close proximity with the dead. All places were potentially ‘haunted’, therefore, and this was seen to be natural. Because the dead were not in a place of punishment or reward, it was common for houses to be ‘haunted’ by past residents, some of whom stayed permanently ‘around’ while others came and went at different times and seasons. Certain places in the Celtic landscape were also haunted, such as burial mounds, stone circles, rings of standing stones and other megalithic monuments. These places functioned as doorways between the worlds; places where the dead could walk back and forth.

As the Celts were fascinated with borders – gates, streams and rivers, crossroads, and doorways were all considered ‘haunted’ by virtue of being places of transition. A fence, for instance, dividing the farm fields from the woods or pasture beyond was thought to be a place where communication with spirits was more likely to take place than in the middle of the field. Ghosts and spirits were known to travel along such boundaries. Because of the nearness of the Otherworld and existence of these doorways in the landscape, communication between the living and the dead was much more commonplace in the Celtic world than it is in a Christian cosmos. Celtic people even tended to welcome visits from the ‘dead’, as they didn’t think of spirits and souls necessarily being hostile or lost, or as needing to be ‘sent into the Light’ (this is just a pop version of the Christian view: "Light" simply taking the place of "Heaven")

While the Otherworld and this world were always in close proximity, at certain times of the year the pathways between ‘here’ and ‘there’ opened up to allow even more spiritual communication across the sidhe (a Celtic word used to refer to these gateways between the worlds in general) than usual. Celtic time was divided into definite periods, each having ritual and mythological parameters. At the transitions between these periods, communication with spirits and souls on the Otherside could better take place.

The Celts divided time up differently than we do today. Their day began at dusk rather than at dawn, as they believed that light emerges from darkness; that darkness precedes and grounds the light. The Celtic year was divided into seasons, the passage between which was always marked by a traditional festival. The four major festivals – Imbolc (Feb.2), Beltaine (May 1), Lughnassadh (Aug 2) and Samhain (Oct 31) – are the most liminal times, and as such the most potent for communication with spirits and souls of the dead. Each is marked by the enactment of rituals that allow people to move safely from one season into another, crossing between these luminous earthen times in safety.
Samhain (pronouned "Sow-en") is perhaps the most liminal of these festivals, as it not only marks the transition from one season to another (Autumn – Winter) but also the transition from one year to the next. Because of its importance, the Celts imagined that time became ‘strange’ as Samhain approached. At dusk on the 31st of October (the last day of the old year), they believed a new ‘day’ didn’t begin as it does at every other sunset. Rather, a period of ‘time between the worlds’ set in, lasting through the night until dawn on the 1st of November. During this time, the dead and other denizens of the Otherworld were free to come back and visit those of us still living in the incarnate realm. The first ‘day’ of the New Year was also unusual, therefore, as it began at dawn and ended at dusk, when the world returned to ‘regular time.’

Because of the significance of this ‘transition’ – the end of one year and the beginning of another – the veils and walls between ‘this’ world and the Otherworld were thought to dissolve. Ordinary time evaporated at sunset on 31 October, and thus the boundaries that normally defined the world and allowed people safe movement from place to place were displaced until sunrise the next day. Beginning at dusk on the 31st of October, spirits, the Sluagh-Sidhe (Faery folk) and souls of the discarnate (a term that describes beings on the Otherside) all came forth from the sidhe to roam freely for the night.

"Haunted in the Eaves of October
Spirits and Gnomes come out to play
To deck our homes with remembrance,
Witching up the powers of the Fay!"

We have all heard stories of ghosts and other visitants at Samhain. Our own popular lore (expressed in movies, TV shows and literature) is full of intimations that – at this time of the year – we are as unalone as we can possibly be, surrounded by a great congress of spirits and souls, deities and ancient beings. This is very much in concert with an ancient Celtic understanding of Samhain, except that they didn’t think of all discarnates as malevolent or "up to no good." As the veil between worlds dissolved at sunset each year on the 31st of October, Celtic people made certain preparations for the night’s rituals, revels and feasting. They made themselves ready to receive the dead in a variety of ways, and were filled as much with anticipation and fascination as with ‘dread.’

Celtic people in times past actually anticipated visits from ancestors, relatives, lost loves and friends, and even from the souls of household animals (such as hunting dogs) during Samhain Night. They were deeply connected with their past, and as such they believed that so long as they were living life with integrity and good purpose, relatives & ancestors who has passed over the sidhe would be interested in visiting their place of dwelling at Samhain. If you had somehow dishonored the clan or your own particular family in some way, however, you might find yourself quite alone on Samhain night! Not to be visited at this haunted time by at least one ancestor, spirit-guide or relative might mean that you had lost your way or that you were acting in a way that made you less than  interesting to those who had passed through this world before you!

The Celts were romantics and as such they valued the deep emotional connections they had experienced with others in this life. When a friend or a lover died, this connection remained, linking the dead lover or friend with their living partner. The bond between Celtic friends and lovers enabled the living partner to continue experiencing the presence of the discarnate one in deeply poetic ways. Imaginative ‘conversations’ would take place between them throughout the year and then the dead would come back to visit the living at Samhain.

Celtic people would also imagine being visited by spiritual mentors at Samhain. Pagan Celts often invited legendary Druids & Gwrach to their end-of-year celebrations. If they had actually been mentored in this life by a Druid or Gwrach who had then passed beyond the veil into the Otherworld, they would surely be expecting a visit from that person sometime during the night. Celtic followers of Christ likewise treated any anamchara (i.e., soul friend; spiritual director) they may have known who was living on the Otherside with the same respect, expecting to be visited by them before the New Year began.

While most spirits and souls who came to visit people in this world during Samhain came simply for fellowship and with good intentions, there was some cause for trepidation, especially if you had wronged someone who then died before you could make amends. The Celts were very keen on inter-personal and communal justice. How one treated family and other members of the tuath (i.e., "tribe") was crucial for maintaining a kind of ‘psychic balance’ in the world.
When someone cheated, hurt or in some other way demeaned or insulted another person, this undid the psychic balance until restitution could be enacted.

If the person you wronged died before you got a chance to make amends, Samhain might be your last chance to mend the breach. According to Celtic codes of restitution, you might make an offering to the family or friend of the one you had wronged as Samhain drew near. If that wasn’t possible, you could choose to leave an offering of food or perhaps a valued possession out on your doorstep at dusk on the 31st of October in the hopes that the ghost of the person you had wronged would see it and forgive you. One could also take such an offering up to one of the bonfires lit on the heaths during Samhain Night. Throwing it on the blazing fire was seen to symbolize delivering it to its intended recipient on the Otherside.

If wrong was done to someone in your own household, everyone would expect the ghost of that person to show up during the passage of Samhain and haunt the guilty party until their gestures and offerings of restitution were accepted. Then the discarnate person would be invited to sit down at the Dumb Supper and partake of a ritual meal with the living. One of the main purposes in observing Samhain is this reestablishment of communal and interpersonal balance; undoing wrongs and forgiving faults and actions that have unsettled the ‘cosmic equation.’ Once all of these acts of restitution have been made, people were then free to go forward in revelry, communing with the dead, dancing throughout the night in hallowed cirlces, around outdoor bonfires and before their own hearths at home.

How might we keep Samhain today, given the nature of the Celtic understanding of death and the Otherworld? First, we need to get ourselves into the mood to be haunted. This may take anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days and so it’s always good to begin ‘setting the state’ for Samhain at least by the beginning Ioho; the short, three-day ‘month’ at the end of the Celtic year. IOHO – which means "Yew" – begins at dusk on the 28th of October and continues until dusk on the 31st. The Yew is a mysterious evergreen often found growing in graveyards and believed to be a gateway into the Otherworld. A single Yew may live for centuries, though not in the usual way. When its branches touch the soil they grab hold, sprouting new roots and becoming new trees. Thus the Yew renews itself and is born again from its own death.
There is an unbroken continuity in the growth of any old Yew, the present tree being a distant descendant of the original. Because of this unique way of propagating itself, Yews also have a tendency to migrate, inch by inch and foot by foot, from where the original tree was planted. As such, the Yew is a symbol of regeneration & the transmigration of the soul.

Ancient Europeans often buried their dead near consecrated Yew trees. In some Northern European cultures, there was no more hallowed place for interment than a grove of old and gnarly Yews. Many of these ancient groves became Christian graveyards in later centuries. Thus to walk in some of the older cemeteries in Europe is to be in a place where people have been buried for upwards of 2,500 years.

It is a custom among Celtic Pagans today to visit graveyards sometime before dusk on 31 October, in order to reverence the dead and get into the mood to be haunted. Always remember, when visiting a graveyard, that you are on sacred ground and that respect must always be paid to the dead or else retribution may come. By visiting graves, mausoleums and tombs we show reverence for the dead. Consider visiting the grave of someone you know who has died. If you have lost loved ones, friends or relatives in the previous year, consider journeying to a cemetery before Samhain to visit their graves.

If you find a Yew tree growing anywhere near a familiar grave, touch it; encounter it with respect. Yews are energized by a deep-running psychic power. Contact with a Yew Tree may connect your incarnate soul with the essences of loved ones who have recently crossed over. A link with the dead who are known to you may be established by this contact, helping a departed person find their way home for Samhain.

If you have permission, cut a small sprig of Yew from a tree growing near the grave of a loved one or an ancestor and then plant it by your house. This will act as a beacon to guide the souls of the beloved dead to your home. If the Yew cutting takes root, imagine seeing spirits moving in, around and through its branches at Samhain each year as it grows.

From the 29th to the 31st of October the doors between the worlds are opening, and as such graveyards are believed to come to life with various presences. Places of interment are transitional in nature, and thus are always a bit ‘haunted.’ Then, in the Season of Samhain, they become quick with the dead. Go there with reverence and respect for the liminal nature of the place, open to whatever you may experience or remember as you walk around, reading inscriptions and listening for voices from Another Country.

Try not to ‘spook’ yourself and – at the same time, if you can -remain ‘open’ to whatever might happen. If you imagine that a spirit or a ghost is present, ‘greet’ it by making three equal-armed crosses before you in the air. This is an ancient symbol of the Goddess – signifying Maiden, Mother and Crone; the three ‘phases’ of the Goddess – and as such is a way of blessing any discarnate entity you may encounter. To walk around a graveyard is to move in the ley-lines of mystical rapport with spirits and souls. Accept whatever happens and use whatever arts of taghairm (divination) you know to interpret it….

Montague Whitsel

Disclaimer: No one involved in this blog or its contents may be held responsible for any adverse reactions arising from following any of the instructions/recipes on this list. It is the reader’s personal responsibility to exercise all precautions and use his or her own discretion if following any instructions or advice from this blog.

Fair Use Notice: This page may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. This website distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107.

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Wednesday Whatever – The Origins of Halloween

October 14, 2009 at 10:06 am (Ancestors, Associations, Death, Divination, Faery, Folklore, Halloween, History, Lore, Magic, pagan, Samhain, Wednesday, Wisdom, Witch)

The Origins of Halloween
By Rowan Moonstone,
published in Cauldrons and Broomsticks
A newsletter
for and by the Pagan/Wiccan Internet Community
Samhain issue 1999.

In recent years, there have been a number of pamphlets put out by various Christian organizations dealing with the origins of modern day Halloween customs. Being a Witch myself, and a student of the ancient Celts, from whom we get this holiday, I have found these pamphlets woefully inaccurate and poorly researched. In an effort to correct some of this erroneous information, I have spent several months researching the religious life of the ancient Celtic peoples and the survivals of that religious life in modern day times. Listed below are some of the most commonly asked questions concerning the origins and Customs of Halloween. Following the questions is a lengthy bibliography where the curious reader can go to learn more about this holiday than space in this small pamphlet permits.

Where does Halloween come from? Our modern celebration of Halloween is a descendent of the ancient Celtic fire festival called "Samhain". The word is pronounced "sow-in", with "sow" rhyming with cow.

What does "Samhain" mean? The Irish English dictionary published by the Irish Texts Society defines the word as follows:

"Samhain, All Hallowtide, the feast of the dead in Pagan and Christian times, signalizing the close of harvest and the initiation of the winter season, lasting till May, during which troops (esp. the Fiann) were quartered. Faeries were imagined as particularly active at this season. From it the half year is reckoned. also called Feile Moingfinne (Snow Goddess).(1)

The Scottish Gaelis Dictionary defines it as

"Hallowtide. The Feast of All Soula. Sam + Fuin = end of summer." (2)

Contrary to the information published by many organizations, there is no archaeological or literary evidence to indicate that Samhain was a deity. The Celtic Gods of the dead were Gwynn ap Nudd for the British, and Arawn for the Welsh. The Irish did not have a "lord of death" as such.

Why was the end of summer of significance to the Celts? The Celts were a pastoral people as opposed to an agricultural people. The end of summer was significant to them because it meant the time of year when the structure of their lives changed radically. The cattle were brought down from the summer pastures in the hills and the people were gathered into the houses for the long winter nights of story- telling and handicrafts.

What does it have to do with a festival of the dead? The Celts believed that when people died, they went to a land of eternal youth and happiness called Tir nan Og. They did not have the concept of heaven and hell that the Christian church later brought into the land. The dead were sometimes believed to be dwelling with the Fairy Folk, who lived in the numerous mounds or sidhe (pron. "shee") that dotted the Irish and Scottish countryside. Samhain was the new year to the Celts. In the Celtic belief system, turning points, such as the time between one day and the next, the meeting of sea and shore, or the turning of one year into the next were seen as magical times. The turning of the year was the most potent of these times. This was the time when the "veil between the worlds" was at its thinnest, and the living could communicate with their beloved dead in Tir nan Og.

What about the aspects of "evil" that we associate with the night today? The Celts did not have demons and devils in their belief system. The fairies, however, were often considered hostile and dangerous to humans because they were seen as being resentful of men taking over their lands. On this night, they would sometimes trick humans into becoming lost in the fairy mounds, where they would be trapped forever. After the coming of the Christians to the Celtic lands, certain of the folk saw the fairies as those angels who had sided neither with God or with Lucifer in their dispute, and thus, were condemned to walk the earth until judgment day. (3)

In addition to the fairies, many humans were abroad on this night, causing mischief. Since this night belonged neither to one year or the other, Celtic folk believed that chaos reigned and the people would engage in "horseplay and practical jokes".(4) This served also as a final outlet for high spirits before the gloom of winter set in.

What about "trick or treat"? During the course of these hijinks, many of the people would imitate the fairies and go from house to house begging for treats. Failure to supply the treats would usually result in practical jokes being visited on the owner of the house. Since the fairies were abroad on this night, an offering of food or milk was frequently left for them on the steps of the house, so the homeowner could gain the blessings of the "good folk" for the coming year. Many of the households would also leave out a "dumb supper" for the spirits of the departed.(5)

The folks who were abroad in the night imitating the fairies would some- times carry turnips carved to represent faces. This is the origin of our modern Jack-o-lantern.

Was this also a religious festival? Yes. Celtic religion was very closely tied to the Earth. Their great legends are concerned with momentous happenings which took place around the time of Samhain. many of the great battles and legends of kings and heroes center on this night. Many of the legends concern the promotion of fertility of the earth and the insurance of the continuance of the lives of the people through the dark winter season.

How was the religious festival observed? Unfortunately, we know very little about that. W.G. Wood-Martin, in his book, "Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland" states,

"There is paritively little trace of the religion of the Druids now discoverable, save in the folklore of the peasantry, and the references relative to it that occur in ancient and authentic Irish manuscripts are, as far as present appearances go, meagre and insufficient to support anything like a sound theory for full development of the ancient religion. "(6)

The Druids were the priests of the Celtic peoples. They passed on their teachings by oral tradition instead of committing them to writing, so when they perished, most of their religious teachings were lost. We DO know that this festival was characterized as one of the four great "Fire Festivals" of the Celts. Legends tell us that on this night, all the hearth fires in Ireland were extinguished, and then re-lit from the central fire of the Druids at Tlachtga, 12 miles from the royal hill of Tara. This fire was kindled from "need fire" which had been generated by the friction of rubbing two sticks together as opposed to more conventional methods common in those days.(7) The extinguishing of the fires symbolized the "dark half" of the year, and the re-kindling from the Druidic fires was symbolic of the returning life hoped for, and brought about through the ministrations of the priesthood.

What about sacrifices? Animals were certainly killed at this time of year. This was the time to "cull" from the herds those animals which were not desired for breeding purposes for the next year. Most certainly, some of these would have been done in a ritualistic manner for the use of the priesthood.

Were humans sacrificed? Scholars are sharply divided on this account, with about half believing that it took place and half doubting its veracity. Caesar and Tacitus certainly tell tales of the human sacrifices of the Celts, but Nora Chadwick points out in her book "The Celts" that

"it is not without interest that the Romans themselves had abolished human sacrifices not long before Caesar’s time, and references to the practice among various barbarian peoples have certain overtones of self-righteousness. There is little direct archaeological evidence relevant to Celtic sacrifice." (8)

Indeed, there is little reference to this practice in Celtic literature either. The only surviving story echoes the story of the Minotaur in Greek legend. The Fomorians, a race of evil giants said to inhabit portions of Ireland before the coming of the Tuatha de Danaan, or "people of the Goddess Danu", demanded the sacrifice of 2/3 of the corn, milk, and first born children of the Fir Bolg, or human inhabitants of Ireland. The De Danaan ended this practice in the second battle of Moy Tura, which incidentally took place on Samhain.

What other practices were associated with this season? Folk tradition tells us of many divination practices associated with Samhain. Among the most common were divinations dealing with marriage, weather, and the coming fortunes for the year. These were performed via such methods as ducking for apples, and apple peeling.

Ducking for apples was a marriage divination. The first person to bite an apple would be the first to marry in the coming year. Apple peeling was a divination to see how long your life would be. The longer the unbroken apple peel, the longer your life was destined to be.(9)

In Scotland, people would place stones in the ashes of the hearth before retiring for the night. Anyone whose stone had been disturbed during the night was said to be destined to die during the coming year.

How did these ancient Celtic practices come to America? When the potato crop in Ireland failed, many of the Irish people, modern day descendents of the Celts, immigrated to America, bringing with them their folk practices, which are the remnants of the Celtic festival observances.

We in America view this as a harvest festival. Did the Celts also view it as such? Yes. The Celts had 3 harvests: Aug 1, or Lammas, was the first harvest, when the first fruits were offered to the Gods in thanks. The Fall Equinox was the "true harvest". This was when the bulk of the crops would be brought in. Samhain was the final harvest of the year. Anything left on the vines or in the fields after this date was considered blasted by the fairies, or "pu’ka", and unfit for human consumption.

Does anyone today celebrate Samhain as a religious observance? Yes. many followers of various pagan religions, such as Druids and Wiccans observe this day as a religious festival. They view it as a memorial day for their dead friends, similar to the national holiday of Memorial Day in May. It is still a night to practice various forms of divination concerning future events. Also, it is considered a time to wrap up old projects, take stock of ones life, and initiate new projects for the coming year. As the winter season is approaching, it is a good time to do studying on research projects and also a good time to begin hand work such as sewing, leather working, woodworking, etc. for Yule gifts later in the year.

Does this involve human or animal sacrifice? Absolutely not! Hollywood to the contrary, blood sacrifice is not practiced by modern day followers of Wicca or Druidism. There may be some people who think they are practicing Wicca by performing blood sacrifices, but this is not condoned by reputable practitioners of the modern day Neo-Pagan religions.


(1) Rev. Patrick Dineen, "An Irish English Dictionary" (Dublin, 1927), p. 937

(2) Malcolm MacLennan, "A Pronouncing and Etymological Dictionary of the Gelic Language" (Aberdeen, 1979), p. 279

(3) W.G. Wood-Martin,"Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland" (Port Washington, 1902), p. 5.

(4) Kevin Danaher,"The Year in Ireland", (Cork,1972), p. 214

(5) Alwyn & Brinley Rees,"Celtic Heritage" (New York,1961), p. 90

(6) Wood-Martin, p. 249

(7) Rees & Rees, p. 90

(8) Nora Chadwick, "The Celts" (Harmondsworth,1982), p. 151

(9) Madeleine Pelner Cosman, "Medieval Holidays and Festivals," (New York, 1981), p. 81

Disclaimer: No one involved in this blog or its contents may be held responsible for any adverse reactions arising from following any of the instructions/recipes on this list. It is the reader’s personal responsibility to exercise all precautions and use his or her own discretion if following any instructions or advice from this blog.

Fair Use Notice: This page may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. This website distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107.

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