Mabon, the autumnal equinox, is the second of the harvest festivals – often associated with apples. It falls very near Thanksgiving and is the feast of the final harvest. It is named after Mabon ap Modron, a Welsh hero. This is the time of year when the light begins to grow weaker – a time of reflection and balance. OBOD refers to it as a time of reckoning and counting, of drawing inward. Just as the spring equinox was a time of renewal, fertility, and rebirth, at the other side of the year the autumn equinox is a time of the rich rot, the fruit of one’s labors, and the long slow sleep. It is the time of death and the time of apples, renewal and rebirth from another perspective: returning to the ground.
Monthly Archives: April 2014
Lughnasadh is another of the Celtic High Days, a festival which (according to the lore) was instigated by Lugh in memory of his mother Tailtiu after she died because of her great labor in clearing the fields of Ireland so her people could grow food. He also hosted games of strength and skill in her honor, and many continue that tradition today. Lughnasadh is the first of the harvest festivals – the festival associated with grain and therefore with brewing as well. It is a festival of gratitude for the fruits of the earth and the labor and skill that goes into their production. In fact, the holiday is often associated with skill – of skill, of cunning, or of strength – perhaps because of its origins with Lugh the Manyskilled.
Litha (also known as Midsummer or the Summer Solstice) is a celebration of high summer, the height of power and maturity. It is commonly considered the most magically potent time of year: spells should be worked and herbs gathered on Litha. Crops are beginning to ripen. It’s a time of rejoicing, feasting, fruition and celebration; a faery day. One magical tradition associated with midsummer involves hunting for fern seeds. Supposedly, exactly at midnight, their seeds appear, and if you snatch one you will gain the power of invisibility. Lore says that plants (medicinal and magical) gathered at midnight on midsummer’s day are the most potent and powerful. Midsummer is the turning point of the year – light into darkness, the longest day and the shortest night.
Beltane (also known as May Day) is a celebration of fertility and blossoming on the first of May. There are many, many traditions associated with this holiday – washing one’s face in dew to maintain youthful beauty, the Maypole dance, Maying (staying out all night in the greenwood to “gather flowers”), weaving flower wreaths and gifting others flowers and sweets. Some traditions call for choosing a May Queen and King to lead the revels; this festival celebrates the bloom of youth and sexuality. In some traditions the May Queen and the May King fulfill the Great Rite to ensure the fertility of the land and the folk, or there is a sort of wild hunt which ends with the May Queen consorting with a Green Man or Horned God.
Ostara is a Germanic holiday often referred to as the Pagan forerunner of Easter. It was named for the Germanic goddess of the dawn, Eostre. Many Easter traditions related to eggs and rabbits are pagan in origin – Ostara is a holiday of fertility, new life, and rebirth. In Slavic traditions, eggs are fantastically decorated by the women of the family, as part of a collective spell to bind up a great monster. This holiday celebrates the returning fertility and life of the earth in spring. It is a festival of celebration and joy as the world greens and livens after the long winter. Children are especially celebrated and honored during this time. Many people say that on the day of the equinox eggs can be balanced on end.
Imbolc, also called Candlemas, is a holiday usually translated as ‘ewe’s milk’ or ‘in the belly,’ and was celebrated about the time that sheep began lambing. It is usually considered sacred to Brighid, and there are many traditions related to the goddess that are associated with the holiday: the creation of Brighid dolls, a procession of the doll through the community, the making of sun-wheels (Brighid’s cross) to secure Her blessing and protection, leaving out food for Brighid and Her kine (offerings of dairy and bread are considered especially appropriate), and leaving out spans of cloth overnight in the dew to be blessed upon her passing. The larger sense of this holiday is one of purification and preparation. Some people bless their candles and their seeds on this day.
Yule (also called the Longest Night) is a celebration of the successful return of the sun after the longest night of the year. We celebrate the return of the light and the kindling of hope after a long, cold winter. Traditions include feasting, wassailing (originally the practice of making offerings of drink and song to please the spirits in orchards to ensure a good harvest the next year), and the burning of a Yule log. Some people keep vigils on the longest night to wait for the sun’s return, and when it appears they make a great big joyful racket in celebration (kind of like the modern New Year’s tradition of running around noisemaking). Yule is a celebration of returning light, community, and the promise of life.
Samhain, also called ‘All Souls’ Night,’ is a holiday dedicated to honoring the dead – one of two holidays in the wheel of the ear when the veils of the worlds are thought to be naturally permeable and the spirits of our dead may return for a time to visit their loved ones. On Samhain, we remember our dead by telling stories, making offerings, and introducing new family members to those that have passed on. Some individuals have a tradition of ‘dumb suppers’ – setting extra places at the table for their beloved dead and eating in silence. Because of this thinning of the veils, Samhain traditions often involve divination, and it is because of disguises originally used to confuse wandering spirits that we have the tradition of trick-or-treating as we know it today.
If you have not experienced something, then for you it is not real. – Kabir
Traveler, there is no path
paths are made by walking.
– Antonio Machado
Something ancient and holy was unfolding all around me. It was what the wandering pilgrim-poet Basho called ‘a glimpse of the underglimmer,’ an experience of the deeply real that lurks everywhere beneath centuries of stereotypes and false images that prevent us from truly seeing other people, other places, other times.
– ‘The Art of Pilgrimage’
Admit that once you have got up
from your chair and opened the door
once you have walked out into the clean air
toward that edge and taken the path up high
beyond the ordinary, you have become
the privileged and the pilgrim,
the one who will tell the story
and the one, coming back
from the mountain,
who helped to make it.
– ‘Admit,’ David Whyte
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.