The summer solstice is known variably as Midsummer or Litha. As the longest day of the year, celebrations usually involve honoring a sun deity and building bonfires to represent the light and heat of the sun. It is also a popular tradition to gather herbs for medicinal and magical use, since they, like the sun, are thought to be at their most potent (Wodening, 112).
At Midsummer, the Earth is in full bloom, and green is the reigning color. Some believe this is when the Green Man, or Oak King, is at the height of his reign, while others believe the Holly King takes over at Midsummer. No matter which version of the myth you subscribe to, there is no denying the significance of the Green Man at Midsummer.
Similar to the spring and autumn cross-quarters, Midsummer is thought to be a time when the veil between the worlds in thin. But where the autumn cross-quarter is dedicated to the Dead and the spring cross-quarter to the witches, Midsummer is for the Fae. This may explain Shakespeare’s season of choice for his fairy-centric play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Wodening, Swain. Path to the Gods: Anglo-Saxon Paganism for Beginners. Huntsville, MO: Wednesbury Shire, 2012. Print.
Despite all the sunny days we’ve had since Eostre, Beltane managed to land on a cold and rainy one. I made the best of it in my mind by thinking of the weather as the dark half of the year’s final farewell. After all, my enthusiasm for this time of year is more for Walpurgisnacht than it is for Beltane, so I took the weather as a positive. That is, until I arrived at the outdoor ritual site. I was equipped with a hooded coat and an umbrella, but the wind did not agree with my hood, which kept blowing off my head. I abandoned my umbrella in order to free my hands, but ended up have to hold my hood in place most of the time instead. Irked as I was with my situation, I didn’t let it deter me from appreciating the ritual as best I could.
This was a Celtic rite in honor of Belanus, Caer, and Aengus. We had a small fire, appropriate for the day as both a cold one and a fire festival. Unfortunately, the heat of the fire did not extend very far out and I was not near it for most of the ritual. Because of the cold, I had trouble focusing during the grounding and centering meditation. This left me feeling slightly disconnected for the remainder of the ritual. I went through the motions and said the words, but I was not as mentally present as I should have been.
Since I have a small personal pantheon, but no single patron at this time, I decided to give my praise offerings from now on to each deity from my pantheon on the High Day I associate most with them. Previously, I was offering to deities as they came into my life. I gave my praise offering to Fréo (Freya) this time since she is associated with both fertility and witchcraft. Fertility is a significant aspect of Beltane, while witchcraft is significant to Walpurgisnacht.
The omens drawn for this rite were Elhaz, Naudiz, and Uruz. The head druid couldn’t immediately interpret the first omen, so he drew two more for clarification. After ritual, he remembered that Elhaz pictorially represents wings. One of our patrons, Caern, takes the form of a swan, so this was definitely a good omen. The other two were also interpreted as positive.
We were supposed to dance the maypole after ritual, and at least two of us, myself included, brought drums for the occasion, but no one felt up to it in the wet cold. Once again, we went to Denny’s to seek warmth and to feast.
The Spring-Cross quarter is most commonly known as Beltane in the neopagan community. It corresponds with our modern May Day and with the German Walpurgis Night. Although the Cross-Quarter days have more historical significance to the Celtic peoples than to the Germanic peoples, the most iconic element of this High Day today is the Maypole, which originated in Germanic lands. The original symbolic meaning of the maypole was lost when it was adapted into a Christian context, though some scholars suggest it had something to do with a reverence for trees or was representative of the world tree, Ygdrassil. Some even suggest that it was a phallic symbol, which would correspond well with our current understanding of Beltane as a fertility festival.
Unlike Eostre, which is also a fertility festival, Beltane celebrates the fertility of the people rather than of the land. This is a logical correspondence for ancient pagans, since the first major planting of the year would have been completed, leaving time for more personal pursuits. Even today, Neopagans retain these associations, despite not being as dependent on the land. We may not have to base our entire livelihoods on our crops, but many of us maintain our own gardens and have plenty of work to keep us busy in early springtime.
The Germanic counterpart to Beltane, Walpurgis Night, is named for the 8th century saint, Walpurga, whose feast was celebrated the following day. Although Christian in origin, the Eve of Walpurga’s feast was and is a night for pagan-based festivities. Germanic pagans believe it is on this night when Witches gather for a celebration on Brocken mountain. It is a night, much like Samhain, when the vail between the worlds is thin and marks the end of Woden’s Wild Hunt, which began on Samhain.
I celebrated Eostre with my grove on the Saturday before the equinox. It was our first outdoor ritual since Lunaghsadh. There was a snow storm the preceding day and the temperature was still chilly. The sun was out, but the shade of the tree where we held ritual was a bit too nippy for comfort. Because of this, the head druid kept the opening grounding meditation short.
We honored Frey and Freya as patrons of the rite for their association with fertility. In addition, I brought an offering for Hretha, the obscure goddess for whom the Anglo Saxon month corresponding to our March, Hrethmonath, is named. I feel that I have been called upon by this goddess to help remove her from obscurity. Making a public offering to her during her own month seemed like a good first step to this end.
I also had the honor of being one of the two ealu-bora (ale-bearers) of the rite. In our grove, we refer to the ealu-bora as Valkyries. In ancient Anglo-Saxon symbol rites, the ealu-bora were women of high status. The term Valkyrie is often used in modern rites due to the similar role held by Valkyries in Valhalla and to indicate the level of honor associated with this task.
The runes drawn for the omen were Perthro and Ingwaz. The head druid first drew Perthro (a rune of mystery, luck, and fate) and told us that it was best read in combination with others, so he drew again and got Ingwaz, which is associated with Frey (one of the patrons of the rite), fertility, peace and harmony. In conjunction with Ingwaz, this was taken to be a very good Omen.
We usually enjoy a potluck feast after ritual, but no one was in the mood to sit outside in the cold, so we all went to Denny’s instead. I was glad to be out of the cold, but also very happy to finally be holding rituals outdoors again.
ADF and most Neopagans recognize Ostara (or Eostre) as falling on the spring equinox. The Anglo-Saxons, however, would have most likely celebrated the feast of Eostre on or just after the full moon following the equinox, which coincides closely with the Christian Easter holiday. Either way, Eostre is the festival of early spring and the deities of springtime, especially Eostre. Beltane too is a springtime festival, but the focus is slightly different. It seems to be the general consensus that Eostre is for celebrating the fertility of the land, while Beltane is for celebrating the fertility of the people. Although some areas of the northern hemisphere start their gardens as early as Imbolc, Eostre is widely recognized as the start of planting season. By Beltane, the hard work is done and people can turn their attention to more personal festivities.
Eostre is also a popular time of year for clearing out clutter and ridding one’s house of stagnant winter air and energies. Spring cleaning that may have begun at Imbolc really gets going around the spring equinox. For busy Neopagans, the simple act of opening a window or bringing in fresh flowers can be turned into a meaningful ritual to wake up and rejuvenate a home and it’s inhabitants.
Common symbols of the season include colored eggs, bunnies, and flowers. There are many legends surrounding the association of bunnies and eggs with Eostre, but some claim the association came about in Christian times. Nevertheless, rabbits were associated with fertility in pagan times even if not specifically associated with Eostre. Don’t let the specificities keep you from letting the Easter bunny visit!
My grove celebrated Imbolc on January 30th. We honored Bride as patron. Manannán mac Lir was the gatekeeper. I am feeling increasingly more comfortable around the people in my grove and, for this reason, feel more spiritually connected than I did during the first few High Days I attended with them. I brought my own praise offerings and spoke my praise out loud as I did last time. Even though I waffle over whether or not I believe the Powers can hear our thoughts, speaking out loud results in a more powerful experience for me. A particular highlight of this ritual were the tea candles we were allowed to take home with us. One of the grove members brought a candle that had been blessed at a shrine to Bride/St. Brigid in Kildare, Ireland and used it to light the tea candles. I could definitely feel Bride’s presence during the rite. The omens drawn to know whether or not the Gods, and Bride specifically, accepted our offerings were positive. The omen drawn asking for Bride’s word of wisdom to us was the rune, Elhaz, which I took to be more of a blessing than imparted wisdom, though it could be either.
The Winter Cross-Quarter is most commonly known as Imbolc among Neopagans. At this time of year, we can finally begin to see the effects of the Sun’s return. The Earth is awakening from her Winter slumber and the first signs of spring can be seen. This is the High Day of new beginnings. It is time to put in motion plans made during Yule for the coming year.
Solomoþ (or Ewemeolc) is the Anglo-Saxon holy tide associated with the February cross-quarter. Solmonaþ refers to the month of February. The word “sol” is variably translated as mud, cakes, or sun. Bede translates it as “cakes” due to the seasonal tradition of offering cakes to the gods, particularly to the Earth Mother (Eorðe). Ewemeolc refers to the lactation of the ewe’s which usually took place in early February (Albertsson, 157).
This is the time of year when the Saxon (and most Indo-European) pagans began preparing for the planting season. To that end, a “Charming of the Plough” ritual took place, during which ploughs would be brought out from storage and blessed to ensure bountiful crops.
Modern traditions for Imbolc include spring cleaning and lighting a candle in every room of the house to celebrate the returning light of the sun. Most Neopagans honor the Celtic goddess, Bride (or Brigid) on this day and it is customary to leave out a piece of cloth by the hearth overnight for Her to bless.
Albertsson, Alaric. Travels through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagan. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2009. Print.
(End of DP essay)
As for my personal relationship with this holiday, it’s undergoing some changes. I never much cared for February. I often get seasonal depression in Spring. February may still look and feel like winter in most of the places I have lived, but I am most affected by time spent in anticipation. I love anticipating autumn and the winter holidays much more than living through them. Does that even make sense? I tend to live my life in the future. Yes, I know, bad, bad. I always hear how important it is to live in the present, and I have been making efforts to do so. However, I don’t exactly “not” appreciate the present. I don’t look to the future because I would rather be there (well, OK, I’ve been guilty of that a time or two), I like the feeling of the future in the present air. I love the present because I can feel what’s coming, and that feeling only exists in the present.
Anyway, February feels like Spring is coming. And Spring has never been my favorite season. It’s muddy. It’s slushy. If there was a lot of snow the previous winter, there is probably going to be a lot of flooding as it melts. And the bugs! Ugh the bugs. Yeah, ok, bad on me again for not loving the bugs. I love them from a distance. I try to be nice to them. I have a bugzooka for transporting them (alive) to the outside. But ugh, the sound of flies inside all year long because one or two inevitably sneaks in at some point during our comings and goings. Having to constantly shake out my shoes to make sure there’s nothing creeping in them. My terrible phobia of wasps…
Nevertheless, I have new ambitions for this spring time, so I am almost looking forward to it. I am going to plant my first garden! ٩(^ᴗ^)۶ And, with my husband’s help, I am going to make the back yard look more like the sacred space it is. I will be performing my own mini blessing ritual to prepare the garden tools and hopefully ward them against my not so green thumb. 🙂 Speaking of which, that little Money tree I bought last summer is still alive. 😮 I am off to a good start already :p
Another “better late than never” post :p
I was able to meet up with my Grove again for this High Day, after having celebrated Winter Nights/Samhain alone. It was a small turn out this time. Just five of us, but that’s fine by me. I much prefer smaller groups. I learned that my Grove seeded two other groves shortly before I found them, which is why the turn outs the past several High Days have been relatively small (though this Yule was the smallest yet).
We began the ritual by passing around an orange with a lighted candle in it while chanting “the light returns.” I found it to be a very powerful experience and got me into the ritual mindset a lot better than the usual opening meditation. However, this could be because I am getting more comfortable with group ritual in general.
The rite this time was Norse, per this Grove’s custom of alternating Celtic and Norse hearth cultures. Heimdall was gatekeeper, while Baldr and Odin were patrons of the rite. I brought praise offerings for Odin (or Woden, as I know Him) and for my ancestors. This is the first time I brought my own offerings rather than using those provided by the grove. I also took a big step and spoke my praise offerings aloud, which I haven’t done before. Bringing my own offerings and speaking the praises aloud felt much more powerful than my silent second-hand offerings have in the past. As with the opening chant, I don’t know if it was the method or my increased comfort with ritual that had this effect – maybe a little of both.
When our senior Druid drew an omen from the Shining Ones for the group, he got the rune Thurisaz, which he interpreted as a negative omen. He meditated on this for a moment and determined that the Gods wanted the orange we used during the opening chant. After offering the orange, he drew the rune Tyr for the Gods, Ansuz for the ancestors, and Gebo for the Nature spirits, all of which were interpreted as positive omens.
We held this ritual in the basement of a New Age store. This store has a mascot cat, but this time there was also a tiny black kitten. The kitten came and went from our area during ritual and made quite a scene when he nearly fell into a tall plastic bin. He had to be rescued. Silly kitty! Despite his antics, the ritual ran smoothly. In fact, I felt that the kitten’s presence only added positively to the ambience. 🙂
The Winter Solstice, most commonly known as Yule among Neopagans, marks the shortest day and longest night of the year. Symbolically, this is when the Sun is reborn and hope is returned to the world.
Although ADF recognizes the Winter Solstice as a single High Day, Germanic Neopagans usually celebrate it over the course of twelve days, beginning on Mother’s Night and ending on or around New Year’s eve. Mother’s Night, or Mōdraniht (night of the mothers), is supposed to take place the night before the solstice, but many Neopagans, myself included, choose to celebrate it on December 20th every year so that the 12 nights of Yule line up with the end of the modern new year.
The particulars of the original Anglo-Saxon Mōdraniht and Yule rituals are unknown. According to Swain Wodening, the only explicit mention of Mōdraniht comes from Bede and the exact length of the Anglo-Saxon yuletide holidays is unknown (“Path to the Gods” 89, 96). What we do know is that Yule heralds the start of the Anglo-Saxon year.
Modern Yuletide customs are adapted from what evidence we have of ancient rites performed during this time of year. Such customs involve honoring the Disir (on Mother’s night), decorating an outdoor Yule tree for the nature spirits, and burning a Yule log.
Wodening, Swain. Path to the Gods: Anglo-Saxon Paganism for Beginners. Huntsville, MO: Wednesbury Shire, 2012. Print.
I was on my own for ritual the very first time this High Day. It was a little intimidating. I spent at least two hours on Halloween writing the my script. I couldn’t perform the rite on Halloween because I had trick-or-treaters to tend to, so November 1st was the day.
Everything ran much smoother than I expected. I had all my offerings ready to go, all my divination tools, everything was where I needed it to be. I went to the liquor store the day before to get something especially for Hel, the patron of my rite. I would have liked to have gotten Mead for the Shining Ones as a whole, but there was no mead where I went. I have heard rumor, though, that Hel likes Whiskey, so thats what I got. I stood in the whisky aisle and scanned all the options until something felt right. The first bottle that drew my attention was above my budget so I asked kindly if the Powers or Hel herself might suggest a second choice. Apple Whiskey it was. It smells absolutely lovely and my whole room smelled of apples as it sat in one of my libation pitchers.
Since Hel was Patron goddess, it seemed appropriate to call on Modgud as the gatekeeper. I have not dealt with her before and I got the feeling that she didn’t care too much for the incense I offered. Sorry Modgud!
I used my tarot deck to take the omen rather than my usual rune set. I am trying to break in my deck and get more familiar with it before I visit my family for Yule (so I can do readings for them). The omen was a positive one. I drew a card for each of the three Kindred. For the ancestors, The Lovers; For the Nature Spirits, an inverted Page of Pentacles; and for the Deities, the Ace of Wands. Considering that most of what I had to say to the ancestors tonight involved apologies for neglecting them and a request to forge a closer bond, the Lovers card was a welcome one. The inverted card, however, was slightly disconcerting, but it didn’t tell me anything I don’t already know. The Ace of Wands came to the rescue as a light at the end of the tunnel, a seed of hope. I took the overall message to be positive.
Since the veil between worlds is thin at this time, I thought it a good time to ask about a patron. If there is a best time for receiving clear messages, it would be now. I asked if any of the Germanic pantheon is interested in becoming my patron and I drew both a card and a rune from which to divine a message. My first interpretation of the message led to Móna, a deity with whom I am already close, but not one I’ve ever known to act as a personal patron. I wondered if my interpretation wasn’t biased since Móna was already in my thoughts. Just in case, I asked for a simple yes or no from my pendulum. I got a yes. I am still in doubt about Móna as a patron, but never mind that. He is already a very important deity to me, and if that relationship is to develop into something more, I’ll leave it up to time to tell.
Putting aside my reservations about Móna, I felt like a was missing a huge chunk of the message. Not all aspects of the card and rune pointed clearly to Móna. I considered that maybe there is more than one deity trying to communicate with me. I looked at the message again and all of a sudden I just knew that it was Freó. Not just in a stretch-the-interpretation kind of way. It was clear, it felt clear. I had no doubt this time. But Freó? Really? I’ve heard time and again that a patron can very well be one a person has absolutely no affinity towards. But still, Freó? What can I possibly do for her? I’m not the promiscuous, free-love, comfortable-with-my-sexuality sort, scorpio though I may be. I sometimes wish I was, but it’s not me by any means. Me, who held fast to my virginity until marriage because it seemed like the most wonderfully romantic thing to do and me, who has no desire of ever procreating? What can this sexy fertility goddess want from me? Yes, I know she is much more than a goddess of love and sex. She has a lot of titles. I respect her very much as the goddess she is, but I am still confused why she’d want anything to do with a prude like me. Nonetheless, I am pleased to have experienced such a clear message about Her and I hope to discover, in time, what it is She sees in me.