Yule recap, revisited.

Ugh.  My DP reviewer required me to elaborate a bit on my Yule ritual…. seven months after the fact!   Oh well, here goes; I’ve added a final paragraph to the original version.

The Wheel turns, and I suddenly find myself doing my very last High Day recap!

I have to say that for a while I rather despaired about writing a Yule ritual for our local group. Originally one of our OBOD members had agreed to do the rite, but she subsequently got a new evening job that keeps her from attending most of the rituals so the job fell back to me.

I had an idea to go with a theme related to the Brú na Bóinne and wrote a liturgy which seemed pretty good, but it was definitely lacking in “oomph”. I was worried that it would be a rather lackluster rite… but then about a week before the solstice I suddenly had an idea; our ritual was scheduled for the evening of the solstice, but why not have a sunrise solitary component that came out of and linked back into the group ritual? So my idea was that during the hallowing of the blessings phase I would bless extra wine. Then, after the blessings the group would do a working, raising energy and transferring it to the extra blessed wine. This then would be portioned out and sent home with all of the participants to be used as part of individual solitary sunrise invocations, and I really think it worked very well.

So let’s talk about the ritual. There were ten participants in total, including one person who was new to our group and another person who was new to Pagan group rituals altogether. It was an exceptionally mild day for December in Ontario, reaching a high of 10 degrees, but it had been raining and threatened to continue doing so. Fortunately it pretty much stopped except for the odd drop here and there just as we got going, which allowed us to hold the ritual outdoors around a small bonfire.

After the procession from the house to the fire, and the purification, we started with me doing a guided meditation based on entering the Brú na Boinne.

Following the meditation we did the normal steps; the Earth Mother prayer, establishing and opening the gates, and invoking the Kindred. For the deities of the occasion we invoked The Dagda, Boann, and Oengus Mac Og. I then proceeded to tell the story of the birth of Oengus and the how he came to rule at Brú na Boinne, using the variation that saw him tricking Elcmar at Samhain.

After the story-telling we took the omen, called down the blessings, and then performed the energy-raising working. After thanking the beings and closing it off, we roasted some chestnuts on the bonfire and then went inside for our traditional potluck. While the folk ate, I filled small containers with a couple of ounces of the blessed wine and gave them to each participant along with the some instructions for the solitary component.

Overall the ritual seemed to have really worked. Feedback from the participants indicated that they really felt that the guided meditation drew them in and helped them to enter the sacred space and to ground themselves. The folk additionally seemed to appreciate the solitary offering aspect of it as well; it helped them make a deeply personal connection to the purposes of the ritual. As a result, it may become a tradition for us.  One aspect of the ritual which really worked well was that we finally managed to use a chant really effectively in the blessing of the wine.  This was due largely to me finding a Youtube recording of the chant and sending it out to people in advance so that they knew the words… definitely a good idea!

Ostara, Revised

The following essays are revised version of previous ones which for one reason or another did not pass muster with my DP reviewer.  For this one, I was advised that my original essay lacked any Pagan lore.  It’s a fair cop,  but I think for a good reason which the new revised final paragraph hopefully makes apparent.

Ostara is almost here!

To us Canadians, Ostara is what Imbolc is to most of the rest of the northern hemisphere; the harbinger of the first real signs of spring. The ground begins to turn from ice to mud, it becomes as likely to rain as it is to snow, and the deep winter funk that has lain over our hearts since Imbolc finally begins to lift.

For me, Ostara marks some of the most special changes in the wheel of the year. To begin with, the birds start to return. The first of the Robins and Red-Winged Blackbirds appear, and the morning air becomes alive with their songs. Great formations of Trumpeter Swans and Canadian Geese go honking by. The beautiful, lonely Herons stop by for a visit, and we even see the occasional eagle on its way to its northern perches.

Ostara also brings a miraculous change to our national tree; the Maple sap begins to run! Even now I have six of my Maples tapped and am collecting sap to boil this weekend. Fresh maple syrup is truly a gift from the gods for which I am ever grateful!

On the wheel of the food production year, this is the time to begin indoor planting of some vegetables to give them a head start before transplanting them at Beltane. It is also possible to start planting some cold-hearty crops such as beans and spinach.

I have here dwelt long on the seasonal changes because the spring equinox, as with the fall, has very little if any evidence of actually being marked by the ancients. Those of the Norse/Germanic kin can at least point to the existence of a particular goddess, Ēostre, who may be related with this date. However for those of us working within the Celtic hearth culture there is simply nothing historical to work with. The proximity of Ostara to Easter tempts one to draw inferences that fertility symbols such as eggs and rabbits which are typically, and seemingly illogically, associated with the Christian High Day were borrowed from older Pagan celebrations. Such inferences certainly seem likely to be true on the Germanic side however, for the Celts, fertility symbols are more properly associated with Beltaine. As a result of this lack of Celtic traditions I personally identify this High Day more strongly as a celebration of the Canadian spring, and consider activities such as maple syrup making to be properly traditional.

Yule Recap

The Wheel turns, and I suddenly find myself doing my very last High Day recap!

I have to say that for a while I rather despaired about writing a Yule ritual for our local group.  Originally one of our OBOD members had agreed to do the rite, but she subsequently got a new evening job that keeps her from attending most of the rituals so the job fell  back to me.

I had an idea to go with a theme related to the Brú na Bóinne and wrote a liturgy which seemed pretty good, but it was definitely lacking in “oomph”.  I was worried that it would be a rather lackluster rite… but then about a week before the solstice I suddenly had an idea; our ritual was scheduled for the evening of the solstice, but why not have a sunrise solitary component that came out of and linked back into the group ritual?  So my idea was that during the hallowing of the blessings phase I would bless extra wine.  Then, after the blessings the group would do a working, raising energy and transferring it to the extra blessed wine.  This then would be portioned out and sent home with all of the participants to be used as part of individual solitary sunrise invocations, and I really think it worked very well.

So let’s talk about the ritual.  There were ten participants in total, including one person who was new to our group and another person who was new to Pagan group rituals altogether.  It was an exceptionally mild day for December in Ontario, reaching a high of 10 degrees, but it had been raining and threatened to continue doing so.  Fortunately it pretty much stopped except for the odd drop here and there just as we got going, which allowed us to hold the ritual outdoors around a small bonfire.

After the procession from the house to the fire, and the purification, we started with me doing a guided meditation:

“Let us take three deep breaths and clear our minds

Now let us leave this place and this time behind
and think of yourself standing, as our ancestors once did,
on the banks of the river Boyne in Ireland
before you is the the Brú na Boinne,
the great mound which the English call New Grange,
and it is dusk on the eve of the winter solstice.

You approach the mound, walking past the solemn standing stones
which encircle it.  You pass the great stone that marks the entrance, with its triskele that was carved by people who are long since dust, and you enter the mound.

The passageway is long and high and goes slightly upward,
and as you walk, the setting sun grows dimmer and dimmer
until you are in complete darkness.

And there, in the dark heart of Brú na Boinne,
you sit down to wait out the longest night of the year.

And as you sit, you feel the cool, slumbering energy of the earth surrounding you and being drawn up into you by your breath
as the hours pass, the energy is drawn up into you by your breath.

As the hours become eternity, you become suddenly aware of a new energy.
The light of the newborn sun out in the world is rising,
is entering the passageway, from a shaft above the entrance.

Inch by inch the direct light of the sun, aligned perfectly to the solstice,
creeps down the narrow passageway towards you.
Turn your head now towards the fire and
remember your ancestor sitting in the Brú na Boinne,
the light of the solstice sun blazing upon them,
igniting the cool earth energy within them,
as you slowly open your eyes.

After the meditation we did the normal steps; the Earth Mother prayer, establishing and opening the gates, and invoking the Kindred.   For the deities of the occasion we invoked The Dagda, Boann, and Oengus Mac Og.  I then proceeded to tell the story of the birth of Oengus and the how he came to rule at Brú na Boinne, using the variation that saw him tricking Elcmar at Samhain.

After the story-telling we took the omen, called down the blessings, and then performed the energy-raising working.  After thanking the beings and closing it off, we roasted some chestnuts on the bonfire and then went inside for our traditional potluck.  While the folk ate, I filled small containers with a couple of ounces of the blessed wine and gave them to each participant along with the following instructions for the solitary component.

Winter Solstice Sunrise Invocation

 Sunrise in London on December 22nd 2011 is expected at 7:53am.  It is best if you can perform this invocation at that time.  If you are unable to for any reason, however, you can perform this anytime before sunset.

 Take several deep breaths.  Ground and center yourself.

 Raise the cup to the sky and recall that the wine contains the blessings of the Dagda, Boann, and Oengus as well as the energy of our tribe.  Take a sip of the wine and feel yourself drinking in the blessings of the Gods.  Let the blessings fill you.  Use the energy that flows into you as you recite the following (or feel free to improvise as you wish):

Returning sun, I welcome you!
Even in the moment of the triumph of dark night
I welcome your rebirth!

Hear me as I call out to you
And pray for your safe return
this solstice morning!

In your absence
the Earth has gone to sleep
and winter is upon us.  

Return to us, then,
that your children may embrace hope to sustain us
through the cold days ahead.

Reborn sun, I give you this offering
may it speed your strengthening
that you may return your warmth to the Earth.

Reborn sun, accept my sacrifice!

Reverently pour the remaining wine on the ground.  If you are lucky enough to actually see the sun, pause a moment and let its light fill you.  Go in peace and blessings.

Overall the ritual seemed to go smoothly and was well received.  In terms of what went right, I can definitely say that the chanting was much more successful than previous attempts, which I attribute mostly to telling people well in advance what chant we would be using, and posting a link to a YouTube version of the chant.  Getting everyone’s enthusiastic participation really helped build the energy during the working.

As far as what could be improved, the only real issue with the ritual was that we had set the altar up in a gazebo in the expectation of rain, and this required a lot of moving back and forth between the gazebo and the firepit.  So, preparing for uncertain weather remains a bit of a challenge.

Our group is really starting to gel, and as a result the rituals are becoming more engaging and more personal.  As I end these recap essays, I look forward to our Grove’s future ahead.

Yuletide

It’s getting close to the winter solstice and hence time for my final High Day essay!

In some ways Yule is the hardest High Day to discuss due to the fact that many different cultures had celebrations at this time of the year and many of them have largely been consumed into the Christian and secular holiday of Christmas.   Additionally, the habit of early Neo-Pagans  inventing new myths (such as that of the Holly King and Oak King) further muddies the water for those trying to sort out solstice tradtions from the perspective of a particular culture.

Most of the elements of Yule which Neo-Pagans typically embrace, such as the tree, the log, wassailing, and visiting elves seem to be particularly Germanic in origin.  From a Celtic perspective the traditions and elements are much less clear.   Although the landscape of the Celtic peoples is littered with monuments which are aligned to the winter solstice sun, such as Newgrange, these were built by neolithic pre-Celtic peoples.  While we do know that the Celtics incorporated these structures into their fairy faith, it is unclear as to what extent if any the Celts used them for ritual purposes.

There are some living traditions that come down to us, including the Scottish Hogmanny, the Irish Wren Day, and various Mummers traditions throughout the Celtic fringe.  Most if not all of these have been co-opted into either Christmas or News Years celebrations, but they can all provide some fodder for traditionalist solstice rituals.  More typical for those working with the Celtic hearth cultures is the invocation of the sun god cycle with Yule marking the birth of the divine child of light; Óengus mac ind-Og in Irish or Mabon ap Modron in the Welsh.

As far as seasonal changes at this time of year, Yule really marks the beginning of winter here in Canada.  Whether or not we have any snow on the ground, the earth feels like it has gone into hibernation;  nothing green is still alive and no flying or crawling insect is to be seen.  The gulls and geese and robins are all gone, and the cardinals and jays and chickadees are out looking for seeds.  Most noticeable, of course,  is the long, dark nights.

Samhain Recap

Samhain has finally come and gone.  Our local Grove had originally planned to gather on the 31st but the main participant, our Chief Bard, fell ill so we decided to reschedule for the pre-Julian calendar Samhain, November 13th.  This was all well and good anyway since we had decided to do a primarily Gaelic Traditionalist celebration.

I still had my own personal rites on the 31st, performing an enhanced daily devotional and divination as mentioned in my previous post as well as pumpkin carving and other seasonal activities.

When the 13th arrived it was unseasonably mild in temperature but very gusty.  In Gaelic tradition, the entire village would put out their hearth fires on Samhain and then the men would create a new need-fire in the center of the village from which the hearth fires would be relit.  So, starting the need fire was the first order of business.  This is not a simple task.

Prior to planning for the ritual, I had no experience with bow drills.  So, I tried my hand at making one and got pretty good at creating a lot of smoke, but try and try as I might I could not make a coal.   So, I did not even bother bringing the bow, instead bringing flint and steel.  However, one of the other men did bring his bow drill kit and apparently he has succeeded in making fire in the past.  Unfortunately not even with a prayer to Brigid could he make one that night.  It was time for Plan B: the flint and steel.   Even this was not easy with the great gusts of wind.  Fortunately our Chief Bard led the group into the chant

come fire come we welcome you
come fire come we honour you

and with the power thus raised, we finally kindled the tinder and had our fire.  Our Bard did most of the rest of the work, talking about the role of fire in Celtic life, how the Celts prepared for winter, and the ever presence of death in the cycle of life.  Following a meditation we offered letters written to the departed to the fire and then passed around whiskey and told stories of our ancestors.  Our Bard then gave us a tale of Cailleach.

We had planned a Morris dance as well, but this fell through as one of the dancers did not attend.  We’ll have to wait until next year for that.  The remainder of the night was devoted to the potluck, after first setting a place for the ancestors.  A lovely, powerful celebration.

Samhain

It’s Thursday, so it must be time for another High Day essay.  Today’s its the biggie: Samhain.  Where to even start?

Well, let’s start with Samhain’s association as a ‘Feast of the Dead’.  As far we know, the ancient Celts did not celebrate the equinoxes.  Instead, the hinges of the year were Beltaine and Samhain.  Thus, as a liminal event marking the beginning of the dark part of the year, the gates between the worlds are said to open, allowing the dead to return to the mortal world.  The tradition of setting a place for the ancestors at dinner is said to be a very old tradition indeed.

Fire has played a very significant role in Samhain celebrations.  In the Celtic world, typically all of the fires in a village would be extinguished and a need-fire created by the men.  The village’s hearth fires would then be lit from the need-fire.

Samhain also has an aspect of the marking of the final harvest and preparing for the coming winter.   Livestock was slaughtered and meat and food prepared for storage over winter.  Tales would be told of the witch hag of winter.

In North America, of course, the prevalent modern custom is that of Halloween with its costumes, candy, horror films, and pumpkin carving.  Many homes are also decorated with seasonal displays marking the end of the harvest, particularly corn stalks, straw, and gourds.

As for the Earth at Samhain, here in Canada the day really does mark the end of the year.  The trees are mostly bare, with a few red and gold leaves hanging on  here and there.  The nuts have fallen and have been hoarded by squirrels. The deer are on the move for rutting season.   Great flocks of birds pass by overhead on their way south.  The farmers are rushing to bring in the last of the harvest before the first frost.  Samhain even marks the first day that most of us can reasonably expect to see snow, although we prefer that it holds off until closer to Yule!

Fall Equinox

The wheel keeps turning and its time once again for another High Day essay.  Today I’m discussing the Fall Equinox.  This is one of the several High Days for which we have very little, if any, evidence of how or even whether the ancients celebrated it.  Yet, it seems unlikely that such a liminal day which, for many ancients, hinged the year between its dark and light halves would go unmarked.

The absence of evidence of ancient celebrations has generally been filled within Neo-Paganism with various fabrications.  These include the celebration of the Welsh ‘divine child’ Mabon ap Modron, the feast of the second harvest, corn king sacrifices, and Alban Elfred in the Druid Revivalist movements.  Regardless of how one wishes to celebrate this High Day certainly there are plenty of seasonal traditions that one can work with including the gathering of nuts (especially acorns) and Fall fruits (especially apples) and mead making.

For myself, the Fall Equinox marks one of my favourite times of the year.  The heat and pests of summer are gone, the leaves turn red and gold, the morning air is crisp and welcoming.  There is always much to be done; firewood to be brought in, the last of the garden to be harvested, chimneys to be swept; but the time between the Equinox and Samhain is a moment to be cherished before the winter arrives.