Today I bought my first Christmas tree…yes I really just wrote that. For those who know me well, that’s probably one of the most baffling statements I have ever made. For me this time of year has always brought tension and a feeling of great misunderstanding.
My spirituality is aligned to the Earth Mother and as such I celebrate her seasons and the old festivals with great joy. Across my whole adult life I have never felt the desire to join in with celebrations of Christianity… or do Ramadan or Hanukkah for that matter…or any other festival or religion that has nothing to do with me. I have celebrated the Summer Solstice every year, and filled my home with the festivities, warmth and love that brings.
Each year I explain (yet again) that I have no problems with people celebrating their Christmas and encourage them to honour their traditions. But I take offence at being asked to support and celebrate a tradition that for thousands of years has actively tried to destroy my own. I take a deep breath each time I see the rolling of the eyes and patronising voices saying …“It’s not about religion - that’s got nothing to do with it. It’s about family, Jodie”. So, as a pagan, I am supposed to just sit around listening to songs about Jesus, with symbols of Jesus on the apparent day of the birth of Jesus and just suck it all up? Despite how uncomfortable it makes me feel, and how much it reminds me about what we have lost as humans due to this religion. That we have moved away from the Earth as Mother, as sacred. This religion has devastated countless Indigenous and earth-based cultures on this planet - in exchange for the ‘one god’ somewhere up in the sky - where the ‘true sacred’ has been now situated for so many people. I have never bought the line that it is only about family and values. Integrity, ethics, values, and family are human traits. They don’t belong to any religion or festival. They belong to us all.
But now I have my daughter, almost two, and she is not me. She is her own person, with her own thoughts and ideas now forming about the world. I have been watching her eyes light up with the new sparkling trees she is seeing in the shopping centres and I am reminded of a friend of mine from Canada many years ago when I was in my early 20’s. Reminded of her heart breaking for her then-2-year-old boy, who loved his Solstice time, his presents, the music, the parties and the excitement of waiting up to catch a glimpse of the Solstice Faerie. But her family was hounding her, “How could you do this to him? Poor child not getting Christmas! You horrible mother!”
I remember one night she sat up with me crying…“He gets everything and what more could any other child get? Would they ask a Jewish person to take part in a celebration that was on Hitler’s birthday? ‘Oh it has nothing to do with Hitler anymore – it’s just about family’ Just lots of Hitler symbols and songs about Hitler. Really - would they ask this of any other tradition but ours?“ I remember feeling angry and upset that she had been placed in this position – having to undermine her own beliefs so that her child would ‘fit in’ to the main stream. While this was an extreme example she gave, it was fair, festivals are far from neutral. They are imbedded with deep social, cultural and religious ideologies. I remember discussing this very issue one year at Roma park lands with the Buddhist and Muslim woman from my workplace. The three of us had quietly stepped out while the rest of the staff happily celebrated their Christmas party. It has never occurred to them to just make it an end of year party, or indeed reflect upon how isolating these cultural and religious symbols can be for people who have different beliefs. But that’s what mainstream privilege brings…your festivals are viewed as normal, other people are the ones causing the problem. My friend in Canada decided to stick to her traditions and honour the Earth path. Then he started daycare….
It didn’t matter to these children that he received everything that they received and more. The following year he was teased mercilessly as the child who doesn’t get Christmas. He then came home in tears, “Why doesn’t Santa love me? Haven’t I been good enough?” Her heart then broke in a whole new way.
The following year she had a HUGE solstice. The Solstice Faerie came and filled the garden with presents and the lounge with glitter. Family and friends visited. But she also decorated her first evergreen tree with lights and symbols of both the Solstice and Christmas. A few days after the Solstice Faerie came, Santa visited too that year. Not a lot of presents (as Santa knew he already had a lot of things from the Solstice Faerie of course!). When at daycare, as always, he was asked about his Christmas. He proudly said ”I had a great Christmas, and the Solstice Faerie came to my house too! What about you?“ Suddenly - instead of being teased – all the children wanted to know more about this interesting Solstice Faerie that brings presents…two days earlier than Christmas!
I remember thinking then, years away from having my child that my own beliefs and politics need to have flexibility when it comes to bringing up a child in a mainstream world. That I would learn from this moment, and while I respect the choices many people make in this area, for me I decided that my world would have to open more when my child/children came along.
So tonight I will get out the lights, and the new decorations of the Suns and the Santa’s. The Solstice decorations will go up as usual around the house and garden, filling my home with light. But now there is also a tree. Perhaps in years to come I can re-story this tradition. This tree may become a way for me to honour the winter solstice happening in the land of my ancestors, when our country is in the peak of Summer. The old Celtic winter solstice symbols of red and green, mistletoe and holly and lights that always honured the Earth Mothers labour in the longest night of the year, and the birth of her son at the break of winter solstice dawn in mid-December each year. So within one tree we will have the celebration of the sun and warmth happening here in this land and the remembering of our ancestry in the coldest time of the year.
I have not felt the need to celebrate other peoples’ traditions ever since I left home. But as bizarre as it is…here I am…now planning my first Christmas since I was a child. In my heart this is still the warm time of Summer Solstice, Alban Heruin, of feasts, of friends, of dancing, of sun flowers, cicadas, geckos, wild storms and dancing. When the strong Sun shines brightly…and for just a moment…stands still. But my daughter has her own story to write, so somewhere in these warm and wild celebrations I shift and allow room for other stories to be nurtured alongside my own, as we all move into the tide of celebrating our lives together within all these sparkles of light that surround us.
Imbolc (Oimelc- ewe’s milk)
Timing of Imbolc
Sun moves into Aquarius (Uranus and Saturn energy) usually falls 40 days after Winter Solstice and is midway between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. It is usually celebrated August 1st /2nd in the Southern Hemisphere and the start of February in the Northern Hemisphere.
The most accurate timing for Imbolc 2010 is August 8 (00:45 Sydney time)
Stories and history of Imbolc
In Irish, Imbolc (pronounced im’olk) from the Old Irish, meaning “in the belly” (i mbolg), refers to the turn in the season and the subsequent pregnancy of ewes, and is also a Celtic term for Spring. Another name is Oimelc, meaning “ewe’s milk”. Milk was poured into the ground at this time, nurturing the Mother.
It is known as the ‘feast of the waxing light’ as the Goddess returns from the underworld a pregnant virgin. It is the time of new beginnings, as the land is made pure to prepare for spring. It is the rite of the maiden, a time for celebrating new beginnings, purity and initiations. The maiden passes through the country blessing the land. It is a fire and moon rite. Goddesses that feature are Bridget (fire, women’s magick, fertility) and Blodewedd (maiden initiator, lunar mysteries and owl) Brighid’s Crosses are made from wheat stalks and exchanged as symbols of protection and prosperity in the coming year. The Maiden is honored, and traditionally Straw Brideo’gas (corn dollies) were created from oat or wheat straw and placed in baskets with white flowers. Young girls carried the Brideo’gas door to door, and collected gifts. The dolls were layed on sacred bark of birch, broom, or white willow. Older women made special acorn wands for the dollies to hold.
The Winter Crone Calleach sends a dragon to kill the maiden Bridget of spring. Brigit sends a lamb and wins, thus becoming the time of the maiden. We celebrate the growth of the young horned God and chant the Mother back to the Earth. The next waning moon is said to take away the rains.
Fire and purification rites have been used for centuries during Imbolc. Fire represents the increasing Sun, and also the power to transform and cleanse the spirit.
In Australia Wattle day is also celebrated around this season, and is a highly appropriate use of flower for Imbolc as the land bursts into this bright, joyous and abundant flower. This rich maiden time is often used as a time to bless the home and garden, let go of the old and prepare for new growth. Herbs, mixed with milk, honey and white or yellow flowers are used to bless the garden and traditionally young girls in white would bless the fields.
Candles burn in house and garden for Fire Goddess Brigit, and to welcome and lure back the sunshine. Honey cakes are baked, to share and to leave as an offering with candles during the night. A white silk ribbon or clothing was also hung outside the doorstep for blessing on this night. Traditionally Celts use ribbons to tie/knot a wish or commitment and tie ribbons into the trees to send the wish on the wind. The clothes or ribbon were kept for 12 months as protection from harm.
Peacock, moon, white or yellow flowers (I use white eucalypt and wattle) and symbols of the maiden
Herbs and Trees
Birch-renewal, new beginnings
Basil- initiations, cleansing
Ash-re-birth/ continual circle between worlds
Angelica- visions, joy
Heather and white and pink flowers- alter decorations
Rosemary- enhance memory, protection of home and purification, enhances energy
Myrrh- spiritual awareness, brings peace
Things to do at Imbolc
· Use herbs, mixed with milk, honey and white flowers and bless your garden or local lakes and parks.
· Burn candles in the house and garden for Fire goddess Brigit, and to welcome and lure back the sunshine.
· Bake honey cakes and leave as an offering with candles during the night. Buttered bread and milk may also be left.
· Make straw brigets crosses
· Put white flowers and light white candles throughout the house\
· Write or read poetry and tell stories.
· Hang a white silk ribbon or piece of lace outside the doorstep for blessing on this night.
· Decorate or build a new alter in white for the season(white shells, white feathers, sage, quartz crystals etc)
· Cleanse and bless your home
· Think about what is new and being dreamed or birthed in your life and celebrate that beginning in ritual
· Dance, sing, play
· Spend time with young children, or host a special children’s Imbolc sleep over with everyone dressed in white and play games into the night
· Make corn dollies for Bridget
· Self purification rites eg smudging and water blessings
· Write a blessing or poem for your child, or a child close to you
· Make Priapic Wands (acorn tipped) made as the season warms to spring as a symbol of male fertility
· have a group of women over dressed in white and plan something creative, writing, art, clay (maybe bring a change of clothes for messy art) J
· Build a bon fire, celebrate, burn the old, cleansed and new from the Imbolc season
· Place a candle in each room to welcome Bridget and to also welcome the rebirth of the Sun
· Place a besom (Broom) by the front door to symbolize sweeping out the old and welcoming the new (Celtic custom)
The milk flows - as the Sun grows
The maiden sweeps in with her sweet, cool, crisp breath
and we are cleansed, washed clean….
Blessed with flowers, honey and the power of Her light
Reborn we are now seen…
Samhaine - day of the dead
Samhaine (pronounced Sow-en) it is a traditional Celtic festival in which people have gathered over the centuries, eaten together, drunk and marked the seasonal changes. Samhaine marks the end of the Celtic year, end of the harvest and beginning the dark half of the seasons. On this night people celebrate and also remember and honour those who have past. Traditionally it is believed to be the night in which the thinnest veil exists between the living and the dead, the cloak drops for one night and ancestors walk again. As such during celebrations the Celts often used to dress as spirits, paint their faces white, leave out sweets, and carve and light pumpkins to attract their past loved ones and repel negativity from the home. Fires, bells and drums were used to repel negative spirits. Halloween has formed from this festival, celebrated going into winter (Oct 31st in the Northern Hemp/ end of April in the Southern hemp).
It is the night of the Dark Goddess, destruction of the old, and a night when traditionally Priestesses and Druids used herbs and tranced to meet with the ancestors. It was a time for deep trance work, scrying, cursing and releasing the old. The Crone Mother is in her prime and we honour her knowledge and the gift of sacred wisdom. Many Crone Goddesses, War or Destroyer Goddesses are honoured this night. Morrigain, Macha, Badb, Scatha, Calleach… A cauldron of water (womb of the Goddess) is consecrated and drunk for the wisdom of the Crone. It was also a traditional time for slaughter moving into winter. The Celts believed that the smell of blood and grain that was burning called the ancestors to begin the night. Modern pagans do much the same, but often in the form of a roast dinner.
The local community would burn messages into the fires for the dead, carve pumpkins’, feast, tell stories, celebrate and do apple bobbing. In Celtic Goddess culture there is a time for every season both in the land and in ourselves. Samhaine is the tide of death and darkness. It is the time to look inward, a time to let go, a time to face the past, and a time in which the Ancestors Law is strong and processing feelings surrounding grief or honouring those who have past is celebrated as richly as the light and birth of spring.
It is customary to set a place at the table for people who have past at the Samhaine feast. Sometimes a window was left open to the west to invite the loved one in, with a candle in the western window or door to help guide their path home. We honour the natural, creative and transformative power that death and stillness brings, and through this slowing down and honest reflection we give ourselves true balance. As the leaves fall and plants focus in on their roots it signals the time of darkness, the time for dealing with the past before the time of Birch, new beginnings.
Symbols of Samhaine often used in offering….
Rosemary: The herb of remembrance, laid out or burnt for the dead
Apples: life after death and a symbol of the divinity of the Mother Goddess
Pomegranates: Seeds of death and rebirth
Dittany of Crete: thrown into fire to honour those past
Pumpkins: Carved to attract and welcome loved ones and scare and repel negativity from the home during the night of the thinnest veil
Fumitory: underworld and protection
Red poppy’s: Sacrifice, visions, moon, mother
Deadly Nightshade: ointment that was traditionally used over bodies and placed on brooms, once
absorbed into the skin gave the feeling of flying
Sage: cleansing and purification
Acorns/ oak leaves: wisdom from the past and life contained within
Things to do on Samhaine
Carve pumpkins and place candle in them around your home
Make recipes with apples or pumpkins (pumpkin soup, roast pumpkin, apple crumple, baked apples, and pumpkin pie)
Do apple bobbing (very popular with kids)
In the week leading up to Samhaine think about something from your past you need to let go and give yourself time to reflect and do ritual to work through it
Cook a roast dinner on Samhaine night, add grain and rosemary for the smell of Samhaine, or if you are vegetarian roast vegetables in rosemary
Write a poem to a person close to you who has died, or write a note with things you wanted to say before they died, then burn it with rosemary into a fire and let it go
Keep a writing pad by your bed, and place mugwort under your pillow. Many people find they dream about spirits, the Goddess or remember past friends or relatives during this tide
Invite friends and family over on Samhaine night and have a rich feast to celebrate the dark half of the year beginning and the move towards Winter
Meditate, do journey work, dance
Do ceremony that honours the Crone’s and their wisdom and drink from her cauldron
Spend time in the garden or in nature on Samhaine night. Put incense, herbs, sweets, fruit and candles in your garden. The Celts during this night often burnt herbs and did vision quests either connecting with the Fae or the ancestors on the night when the veil is at its thinnest
The richness of darkness and death move amongst us, the Earth stands still, cold to her bones. For a moment we move through this wonderful transition, a moment of stillness and profound darkness now waiting until the light of winter solstice dawn, we move deep into the caves of our souls and truly see ourselves, ready to be birthed again as the wheel of the year turns..
Traditional date is August 1st in northern hemisphere, when the Sun moves into Leo for the strength of the solar energy. In southern hemisphere is celebrated February 2nd. It is the midpoint between Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox.
Stories of Lughnasadh (Luh guh’ nahs eye or Loo nas saw)
Lughnasadh is a deep, dark time of reflection and journey, and is the Celtic harvest festival. The wheat from the first harvest is cut with Lughs sword and used to bake the first loaf of bread. This marks the harvest and a time to give thanks. Saxons had a Christian rite called Lammas (loaf mass). The first bread from the harvest was brought to church and broken. Lughnasadh is the Fourth Gaelic Fire Festival (female) and first harvest festival. It is the wake of Lugh- Sun God and High King and bright god of the Tuatha de Danaan, who died in ecstasy at Summer Solstice.
It is a time to celebrate the fruits of the Earth Mother and fertility of the Earth and a time of markets, community gatherings and feasts. Lughnasadh means “Lugh’s assembly” and celebrates the beginning of harvest season, the decline of summer to winter. It is a funeral feast but also a time to commemorate the mother and the ripening of her fruits. Lughs foster mother may be honoured (Tailti) who died working and preparing the land for agriculture. Lughnasadh celebrations in Ireland are often called the “Tailltean Games” a time to honour Tailti in which funeral games were held on this day. It is a time of games and celebration. Ireland’s oldest festival the ‘Puck festival’ is also celebrated during this time.
It is a season of dismissing regrets, farewells and preparation for winter. Bread is often baked, often in symbolised shapes, and thrown into the fire to release fear. It is a time of letting go and releasing of fear and is especially good for good for divorce ceremonies and letting go of the past.
Other activities may include the making of harvest corn dolls, wheat weaving, baking bread or meditating on an ear of wheat. Meditations and rituals often focus on releasing fear or anger. It is also a time of feasting and dancing
Among its activities, couples could enter into a “trial marriage” known as a “Brehon wedding.” The two would clasp hands and thrust them through a circular opening in a special stone, while announcing to the Brehons — judges and lawyers — that they intended to live together for a trial period of one year, after which the marriage would be formalised. Either party could break the marriage by a public announcement during the feast of Beltaine in the Spring. No harsh words were allowed between wives and husbands at this time. The levying or collecting of debts was also not allowed during Lughnasadh.
Herbs and symbols
Colours: greens, browns and oranges
Barley- to symbolise earth, wealth and love and for making corn dolls
Hazel Tree- Ruled by Mercury- used in water rites
Hollyhock-to offer to the land- also sacred to faerie
Corn and other fruit and vegetables of the season
Things you could do at Lughnasadh
- Bake bread and feast
- Think of regrets that have not been released and bake bread into figures that represent your thoughts and burn what you want to release into the fire
- Divorce ceremonies/ or self blessings to deal with past relationships
- Make corn dolls from corn husks, dolls can be used to honour the Goddess, as decoration of the season or as aspects of yourself you wish to burn and release. You can make one corn doll to represent the Grain Goddess and keep it in your home to represent your own personal harvest and joys in your life.
- Weave braids/threads with wheat with an intent of something you are weaving in your life
- Meditation, journey and reflection
- Make gingerbread, eat corn or popcorn
- Write in a diary, or write poetry about what you are farewelling in your own life and what you see as your harvest and the joy building in your life
The wheel turns and the Mothers fruits grow, and with reflections into the depth of ourselves we reap the richness of our harvest
Summer Solstice, Alban Heruin
Summer Solstice otherwise known as Alban Heruin to the Celts falls on the 21st December. This festive day of joy and happiness is one of the great solar festivals and celebrates the peak of Summer. It is the longest day of the year when the great Sun stands proudly at his highest point in the sky. All across the world great monuments can be found across hundreds of cultures that mark the exact moment of the Solstice sun. Great stones, megaliths, tunnels and monuments have been constructed to honour this specific astronomical moment in time. The Solstice is the great joyous celebration of light at its brightest.
For me it is the time when the electrical storms fill the sky and the song of cicadas and geckos echo through the night. The Suns warmth and light brings brightness all around us and within us. We walk more outside, meet more with friends, have BBQ’s and enjoy the beach. Sunshine brings strength and inspiration. He warms the Earth and through his strength and energy, life in the Earth Mother is born and nurtured, and She is able to bring fertility and beauty to land and sea, to the depth of Earth soils and to our hearts.
Timing of Solstice
Solstice is derived from Latin and means ‘sun stopping’ or ‘sun standing still’, as midsummer day is the day in which the sun rises and falls in exactly the same position on the horizon, then reverses its path from this day forward as the season changes. The solstices occur because the rotation axis of the Earth is tilted by an angle of 23.5 degrees from the vertical. If the Earth’s rotation was at right angles to the plane of its orbit around the Sun, there would be no solstice days and no seasons. The celebration of the Solstice falls on the cusp between Gemini and Cancer (between 21st-23rd December).
Stories of Summer Solstice
Summer Solstice is the celebration of the peak of Summers beauty. It is the climax of the Suns power, when the beauty of the union of the Sun and Moon (God and Goddess) shift the seasons. The Sun God Bel-awn dies in ecstasy with the Summer Goddess. Their power invokes a trance that moves and shifts the world and the seasons from this day forward. Tides turn and his warmth leaves as he departs for the underworld. He sacrifices his life and his energy for the Goddess. It is the turning tide as both God and Goddess have their place and their time for bringing fertility to the land. The Great Mother claims her power, after the energy of the Sun has warmed the Earth, and she now brings fertility to the land. Summer Solstice is also associated with Taranis, King of the Oak Thunder God who brings the Summer rains.
To the Celts Summer Solstice is one of the ‘spirit nights’ (with Samhain and Beltaine). These nights are considered strong nights in which spirits and the faerie realm are most active.
Midsummer fires were lit on hills (closest to the sun) and were viewed as protective to the land, crops and livestock and brought strength and fertility in love. Images of the past winter (such as the Winter Goddess or the Holly King) were burnt on the midsummer fires. Sometimes a mock fight between two men in front of the High Priestess and community took place. The Holly King and Oak King symbolically struggle and the Oak (light) wins.
Dancing in circles is often associated with honouring the Sun. The great Celtic Sun God Bel (Bel-awn or Belinos) and Lugh are often honoured. Also due to the turning of light and dark many Gods and Goddesses that represent both polarities of light and dark are celebrated such as Danu, Anu, Macha, Epona, Aine and Rhiannon.
St Johns Wort or Bels Flower is sacred to the Sun and used widely at Summer Solstice. The beautiful bright Yellow flowers are often used to decorate sacred space. St Johns Wort is considered a common plant and is often growing out of control in several city and country areas. In old times women would pick the yellow flowers at Solstice dawn. If they placed the dew on their faces from the Suns flower this dawn it was believed they would find love within the year.
Water on Solstice Day
For centuries the old people have bathed in fresh water on Solstice morning, as the Goddess is said to bathe herself in freshwater streams on Solstice eve, blessing all the waters. Some people offer herbs to the water, throw wishes spoken into roses to be carried downstream, or take water from streams to bless their homes and animals. Wash their faces in the morning dew or take and early morning swim. A gold dish of water left out Solstice eve, is called Sun water and considered blessed by both the Water Goddess Sulis and the Sun God Bel.
Rites of dawn focus on honouring the Father and the Sun .Thanking him for his sacrifice, warmth and energy in nurturing the Earth Mother. Some people burn herbs for the Sun at dawn, and wait for first light welcoming the Solstice Sun with a candle or lantern.
Farwell the Sun at the exact same point on the horizon and welcome the Moon and the Mother with milk, honey and herbs. Feast together and celebrate abundance, fertility and beauty.
Herbs for Summer Solstice
Lavender-Thrown into the Summer fire ensures a good year: stability, calm, blessings
St Johns Wort-Gathered mid-Summer, herb to honour Sun/Bel, protection, fire
Verbena-Gathered on Midsummer Eve- soaked in water overnight, relieves stress, aphrodisiac, dreaming, protection, honour the sun & inspiration.
Lavender, St Johns Wort and Verbena: Traditionally bound together as a solstice fire offering. Can make wishes for the coming season, or burn something you wish to change.
Chamomile- traditional herb of the sun, relaxing
Elder, Birch, Oak, Ash and thorn- traditional herbs to see Faeries on Solstice night
Fennel- Protects Home, family and Fertility, alibility to face danger/adversity. Gathered Midsummer Eve and hung in the home.
Mistletoe- Mistletoe berries were gathered on Solstice night, legends said the berries infused with the suns power of this night would turn golden and were prized for their healing ability.
Rosemary-enhance memory, protection and purification
Mugwort- Midsummer herb for protection, ritual bathing, women’s herb, dreaming & visions, protection of home and safety in journeys (comp. moonstone & pearls)
Offerings-yellow, orange flowers, sun flowers and fruits, incenses
Things to do on Summer Solstice
- Burn herbs for the Sun and to make wishes for the coming season
- Leave out a dish for Sun water (preferably gold) on Solstice night and bath in the water on Solstice morning
- Throw coins or offering into water or streams on Solstice morning
- Go for a swim in the Solstice waters
- Leave crystals out for cleansing under both the Solstice Sun and the Moon as the season changes
- Light a candle or lantern with the Solstice Sun at Dawn, Welcome his light and his nurturing to the Earth Mother and give thanks at Sunset as he departs
- Write letters to special men in your life and tell them how they nurture your life
- Watch the sunset and burn herbs in thanks to the Sun God
- After dark place milk, honey and herbs into the ground to welcome the Mother
- Place herbs, cake, honey and incense in the garden for the faeries
- In Celtic tradition some people spent the night before Solstice out on the hills awaiting the dawn and seeking inspiration
- Have friends over and enjoy food and celebrations
- Dance, drum, sing and enjoy
- Get some elderflower cordial (found at most shopping centres and health food stores) and mix with champagne or use for jellys to bring the fun and the sacred together
- Decorate the house with orange and yellow flowers
- Put a big sunflower by your bed or on your work desk
- Light torches, have bon fires or roll a sun wheel lit on fire down a hill
- Light a bonfire to encourage and honour the light of the Sun- do fire jumping for cleansing and new beginnings
- Decorate your altar with sunflowers, marigolds, gold material, orange and yellow crystals and images of the Sun
- Children often enjoy activities such as making decorations with golden tinsel and images of the sun, making a sun dial and planting sun flowers
- Have a picnic with friends and children and bathe in the sun
- Place mugwort and any other midsummer herbs under your pillow on Solstice night to encourage dreams on this strong night
- Celebrate the light and joy of the sun by hanging lanterns around your home, lighting candles or hanging fairy lights
History of Beltaine
Beltaine is a Gaelic word for the month of May (meaning bright/shining fire or sun fire). Shining one or bright one is also a term used for Great Bel, Sun God of the Celts. The festival is also referred to as Cetsamhain, meaning “opposite Samhain”, Beltaine’s direct opposite festival in the dark half of the year. It is the luscious fertility tide of the year; it is the celebration of life. It is Bridget’s fire festival, Goddess of fertility, purification, midwifery, fire and sexuality. Eight holy days and tides of the Earth grace the Mothers body. By weaving ourselves into her rhythms we work with the energy of the Earth and speak her song. The rhythm of this season is Beltaine.
As the Earth sprouts forth in deep pregnancy, flowers and seeds bursting from her flesh, she waits…in her most sensual self…the abundance of birth and fertility of the Earth is coming. The ancient ones watched this tide to help the Mother transform from sensual Maiden to fertile Mother to birth; they offered their own fertility to nourish Her. It is the time where union between people and the land brings fertility and abundance to all. We nurture Her and She in turn nurtures us. The fertility is circular, sensual and beautiful.
The old ones at this tide would make love directly on the land under the light of the purifying Beltaine fires. Across the landscape the hills would be alight with fires and love making as couples left their houses and were considering ‘gone-a-maying’, returning at dawn washing their faces with the Beltaine Dew. Rites of pleasure are however no arbitrary act. By offering your body, your pleasure, your fertility and your love, the Earth is nurtured and She breathes in the passion to heal and rejoice. The Priestesses and Priests of the Celtic tribes would invoke the Gods through mortals, and through the ceremony of the Great Rite they would make love under the apple branches to honor and bring love to the Earth. Traditionally within certain ceremonies the Priestesses asked the Priest to kill the King Stag and return to them for the rite. No King could be crowned in Britain without passing this rite of passage with the Priestesses. Children conceived on this sacred night are considered children of the Gods.
It is also a time a unions. Handfastings (Celtic marriage) or renewals of love were often performed this day. Ribbons are bound with promises and tied onto lovers hands. It was also a time of separation between lovers and cutting the binds the no longer bring love.
Beltaine is a time of deep pleasure and joy. Great fires are burnt for purification; sweets and fruits offered to the Earth and burning everything that is no longer needed in your life- so that only pleasure remains.
Beltaine starts when the Sun enters Taurus and the season turns to light. In the Southern hemisphere Beltaine is October 31st in the Northern hemisphere is fall on April 30th, followed by May Day. The month following Beltaine is a time of joy. Beltaine is a cross-quarter day, marking the midpoint in the Sun’s progress between the spring equinox and summer solstice. Beltaine begins the light half of the year. All fear has been released and for this next month (the mead moon or honeymoon) is the best time for marriage and all sexual taboos are lifted. Newlyweds were given honey to eat during this time to encourage fertility.
Roses- sexuality, love and beauty
Oak- thunder gods, guardians, wisdom and fertility, Sky father
Willow- fertility, Lunar, Goddess, water and love
Neroli- for seduction
Marigolds- to cleanse, bless and decorate the Beltaine circle
Almond- love magick
Apples- given to the Goddess as a symbol of her wisdom and love
Pigs- which feed on acorns the symbol of the Goddess wisdom
Hares-for fertility and luck
Bulls- have been associated with Beltaine. As the community used to walk all their livestock between two fires on Beltaine night for purification
Hawthorn –wreaths placed on top of the maypoles to represent the Goddess
Activities of the Beltaine Tide
Make love, feast, drink and dance and deeply enjoy sensuality, pleasure and beauty
Burn purification fires or do fire jumping if you have the ability to have a bonfire, to cleanse your spirit for the Beltaine season. Or you could burn a small fire in a fire proof container and burn writings or symbols of things you would like to let go of.
Indulge in rich wonderful foods that bring you pleasure and joy
Water or fertilize the plants around you, bring them richness and joy
Leave nuts, fruits and apples out on Beltaine night so the animals can also indulge in pleasure and joy to nurture the Earth
Dress in red and fill your home with flowers and beauty
If you have a partner have a romantic dinner at home and tell them from your heart why you are with them. It is a great time for reaffirming relationships and love.
Leave offerings for faeries (milk, cake, honey, herbs and incense burning throughout the garden) Beltaine nights is considered one of the high tide nights in which the veils between the faerie realm and physical world are thin.
Maypole dancing (or November pole dancing in the southern hemisphere) is a traditional fertility dance of Beltaine performed by men and women dancing in opposite directions. Red ribbons held by women (representing their blood and fertility) white ribbons held by men (to represent their semen and fertility) spiraling together to bind fertility magick for the Earth Mother.
Bind red and white ribbons together as a symbol of fertility and tie them to trees with wishes of things you would like to birth in your life
In Britain Hawthorn or Rowan branches which are flowing at this time are brought into the home. If you are in the southern hemisphere watch your local area. For me is the Jacarandas that blooms and burst forth in the week of Beltaine and bring a carpet of lavender to the city floor.
Whatever ever activities you choose in your life, make sure in this tide of Beltaine you are having some serious fun and pleasure!
The fair maid who, the first of May,
Goes to the fields at break of day
& washes in dew from the hawthorn tree,
Will ever after handsome be.
- English folk rhyme
When the fire of Beltaine is lit in flame and in our bodies -we wake up the fiery heart of the Earth Mother… we nurture her birth and allow her fertility and passion to transform us all
What a wonderful Spring Equinox it has been. Spring Equinox, also known as Alban Eiler or Ostara, the time when day and night stand equal and spring birth explodes through the landscape. The time of light is growing and the Sun Gods warmth upon the Mother brings new growth. It is a time for new beginnings, to weave yourself into the landscape and grow with her. As the Earth Mother explodes with her fertility and light-how are you growing with her tide? Spring is a time of new ventures and sprouting new ideas. This Spring I sow the seed of Oakwillow into the fertile hands of GAIA at the Goddess conference in October. I bury my painted eggs into the deep rich earth of Danu and breathe deep into the new sweetness in the air. It is the time of the powerful Maiden and the young Horned God, dancing in their youth, awaiting the union of Beltaine as the fertility of the Earth reaches her crescendo. Enjoy the nectar and sweetness of your springtide and may the seeds you sow be fruitful .