MAY EVE, EASTWIND SABBAT:
FACTS AND MISINFORMATION
The following contains elements of a work authored by Mike Nichols, a Welsh Witch from K.C., Missouri. Go to: http://www.sacred-texts.com/bos/bos013.htm for the original text.
Lord Rhuddlwm, March, 2008
The Wheel of the Year consists of eight Sabbats. Four are Solar in nature, and four are Lunar in nature; all mark the passing of the year with natural milestones. All Sabbats are major or minor, the major Sabbats being Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane, and Lughnasadh. The minor Sabbats are Yule (Winter Solstice), Ostara (Spring Equinox), Litha (Summer Solstice) and Mabon (Autumn Equinox). It is through these Sabbats that witches through out the world mark the passing of the year with celebration and reverence for the deities and events that each represents. The above named holidays are marked by witches in the Northern Hemisphere. The witches in the Southern Hemisphere reverse the Sabbats due to the opposite seasons.
The Beltaine season of April 30-May 1 is unique. It includes:
* A Pagan Sabbat: Beltaine, usually celebrated on or near the evening of April 30. Mainly celebrated by Neo-Pagans
* Two Christian holy days:
* A secular celebration, May Day.
* A Welsh festival: Nos Galon Mai, The Eastwind Sabbat which Begins Sundown, April 30. This is the Festival of the beginning of Summer. Our Goddess presides.
* Georgia Pagans -Witches & Druids celebrate Beltaine in different ways.
* See a Basic Sabbat Ritual
* Visit Other Sabbat Festivals
* Go to Books about Welsh Faerie Witchcraft
There is a great deal of misinformation circulated about this festival; almost as much as with Halloween. Read the following information and then go to the links to arm yourself with true information.
There are four great festivals of the Witch's calendar. The two greatest of these are Nos Galon Gaeof (Halloween - the beginning of winter) and Nos Galon Mai (May Day - the beginning of summer). These two festivals are opposite each other on the wheel of the year, and divide 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.
Nos Galon Mai, also called May Day, Beltainne: (pronounced Bel-tinna, also known as Beltain, Beltane, May Day etc.), is a Sabbat celebrating fertility and the union of the young God and the Goddess. This is a wonderful celebration of the love between the God and Goddess. It is their sacred marriage. (This is where the God and Goddess concieve the spring for the following year born at Imbolc.) Celebrated with your loved one, now is the time to lay in the fertile soil and germinate those seeds you planted. In Celtic mythology this is the beginning of summer, or the growing time. Colours for this sabbat: Red and White (red for Her womb and white for His semen. It's a fertility thing), and green for the background.
At this time, life is renewing itself. Birds and animals are mating. In the fields, newly planted seeds are beginning to grow. Great fires are lit honoring the fertility God Belenos. Some leap the fires to show the exuberance of the season. Maypoles are erected and bright ribbons are entwined around it. The Maypole, a phallic symbol, represents the masculine. The soft, colorful ribbons represent the feminine. The union of the two symbolizes the union of the God and Goddess. This is the time to fertilize your dreams with action. It is legend that children conceived at Beltane were gifted by the gods.
Nos Galon Mai 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 (within the last 15 years), 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.
Frequently, cattle would also 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 principly 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 Marian, and Little John played an important par 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 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 iconograp-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 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.
Post # 2
Feb 15, 2009
Though Summer Solstice is officially the first day of summer, Wiccan tradition calls it Midsummer. That's likely because by the experience of those who lived in most parts of Europe where holiday festivals celebrated the day, it was definitely "mid-summer." Summer temperatures and the growing season are well established by this time, and the Sun is at maximum power. This is the longest day of the year and the actual date of the solstice can vary from June 20- 22, depending on what time of day the Sun enters the 0 degree of Cancer.
"Solstice," as was said here at Winter Solstice, comes from the Latin words sol for the Sun and sistere, which means, "to cause to stand still." Since Yule the days have been gradually lengthening. Now Sun seems to "stand still" for about three days, and from this point until next Winter Solstice (the shortest day and longest night), the days will gradually shorten. This description fits the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere, it happens the other way around. When it is Yule in the north, "down under" it is Midsummer. At southern hemisphere Midsummer, we in the north are celebrating Yule.
Myths of the season depict the culmination of light that is also the onset of increasing darkness. A favorite one from the Norse countries is the challenge to the Oak King (God of the waxing year) by the Holly King (God of the waning year). The two battle and of course, the Holly King wins, for it is he will reign until Yule, when he gives way to the rebirth of the Child of Light, the baby Oak King. The two are alternatively called Bright Lord and Dark Lord in similar enactments of the myth of transition from waxing to waning, light to dark. Though often "played" as two separate god images, the two are but aspects of one, and may alternatively be depicted as a transition from naÃ¯ve youth to the mature Father God, who recognizes his responsibility to his Goddess and his people, even as he celebrates the culmination of his light and power. He is the youth at Beltane, hormones charged in anticipation. Now he faces a new phase of life.
The Goddess, who in her Maiden aspect met the youthful God in sacred marriage at Beltane, has now become Mother, pregnant, just as the Earth is pregnant with the growth that will become the harvest. The Mother reigns as Queen of Summer, and it is through her that her Consort comes to mature realization of his full role, and its ultimate sacrifice. She is the Earth; he is the energy and heat that has gone into the Earth so that together they create new life. His energy will be born within the grains and fruits of the harvest that in the next two turns of the wheel must be reaped and die to feed the people. The God will become a willing sacrifice, falling with the harvest and becoming the seed of his own rebirth as the wheel turns.
It is in mythologies of this eternal cycle of life, death and life again, that we see the Goddess as the eternal Wheel itself, and the God as the traveler on the wheel, each year repeating his cycle of birth, waxing, culmination, waning, death, leading to rebirth and so and on.
Midsummer rites sometimes include fairy lore, and the association of fairies with this day has been most famously celebrated in Shakesphere's A Midsummer Night's Dream. It's said that the little people, the elves and fairies, can be more easily seen at Midsummer, and that this is one of the days when the veil between the worlds is thin. We are forewarned, then, to take care when walking in the forest mists, lest we stumble into in the land of fairie where time is suspended, and we can be lost to the world for longer than we know!
An herb especially associated with Midsummer is St. John's wort. This plant with its bright yellow flower of four spikes like the solar cross is ruled by the Sun. One legend has it that if you should step on a St. John's wort flower on Midsummer's Night, you are magically transported to fairyland. St. John's wort gathered in this season can be hung over your door as an amulet of protection.
Another plant to be gathered at Midsummer as an amulet of protection is mistletoe, sacred to the Druids. Found growing in the top branches of oak trees, the mistletoe was cut at high noon with a golden sickle and never allowed to touch the ground, lest its magick be grounded. Cut it with friends who can catch the falling mistletoe in a white sheet.
In the Nordic countries where the equinoxes and solstices were the primary festivals and where the name Midsummer may have first emerged, the ancients celebrated with bonfires. The fire magic was used for divination, to encourage fertility of couples who would jump the fires together and to generate energy encouraging the Sun's potency through the growing season so that harvest abundance would be assured.
Midsummer by Other Names
Litha, another popular name for Summer Solstice, probably comes from Saxon tradition, though there are no clear sources for it. Raven Grimassi, in his Encyclopedia of Wicca & Witchcraft says that the name might be derived from the Anglo-Saxon lida, which means, "moon." This name for the summer Sabbat came into use in modern Wicca through works of the 1970s such as Starhawk's The Spiral Dance.
In ancient festivals of Gaul, Midsummer celebrations were called Feast of Epona. Epona is sometimes pictured as a Goddess riding a white mare, and sometimes as the white mare itself.
In ancient Rome, Vesta, Goddess of the Hearth, was honored in mid-June. The shrines of Vesta were usually open only to the Vestal Virgins, her priestesses, but during the annual festival of Vestalia, married women were also welcomed.
Medicine Wheels, stone circles built by Native American tribes, have been found to be aligned with the rising Sun at Summer Solstice, indicating the importance they gave this season.
The Christians, after the conversion of Europe to Christianity, attached a new meaning to the Midsummer festival time, just has they had for other pagan holidays. June 24th became the Feast of St. John the Baptist, his day to be celebrated as a day of triumph when just as this saint was the forerunner of Jesus, Summer Solstice is a forecast of the birth that would arrive with Winter Solstice.
Summer Solstice has been marked in many places around the world by stone circles or carved markers or tunneled passages through which light on solstice rising would flow. By this it is clearly shown that ancient people thought the day important enough to make great effort to predict and record its occurrence.
Post # 3
Feb 15, 2009
or Lammas, is August 1. Now the Corn King dies as his body is harvested from the fields so that I may be fed, so that I may live, so that I may go into the winter months of darkness rich with his blood and love in my veins. The Dark King, Shepherd of souls, becomes stronger now. With WInter I will go inward, to the inner depths of my own soul. And HE will embrace me with His love in the coming trials and celebrations of the Wintertime. Some of my crops are harvested and I give thanks. Some of my crops are not yet ready and I must insure their harvest.
The festival of Lugnasadh, or Lammas marks the end of summer and the beginning of fall. This is the first of three harvest festivals. The day now grows visibly shorter and the temperatures begin to hint at the winter to come.
We get the name, "Lammas" from the medieval Christians. Lammas means, "loaf-mass," giving us the tradition of baking loves of bread from the first grain harvest. These were often laid on the church altar as an offering. This represented the use of the first fruits of harvest.
"Lugnasadh" is the name of the holiday that comes to us from Gaelic, referring to the feast celebrating the games of the Irish sun god, Lugh. Reading the lore, we find that Lugh actually is commemorating the death of Taillte, his foster mother. The Lugnasadh celibrations are often called the Tailltean Games in Ireland.
A very common custom during this time is the handfasting that lasts a year and a day. Couples use this time to decide if they can live together for life or to part ways. If they decided to handfast for life, a ceremony would insue making that official. Handfastings of both types can occur during any time of year, though during this time is a well known practice.
Lugnasadh is the common time of year for medieval guilds to put on Renaissance Festivals. Merchants attending these will display their wares in traditional Renaissance appearance. Today, there are large groups of people that work the fairs as actors and actresses. They dress in medieval costumes and even learn to talk the common speech of the Renaissance period. Ren fare is a place where one can go to this day to see traditional, full contact jousting. Traditional music and dance is there. Shows and parades go through the day. Re-enactment of famous field battles is also common.
Traditional food and drink is available. These festivals are great fun, but beware of overspending, as the opportunity is great and tempting indeed!
Once upon a Lammas Night
When corn rigs are bonny,
Beneath the Moon's unclouded light, I held awhile to Annie...
The time went by with careless heed
Between the late and early,
With small persuasion she agreed
To see me through the barley...
Corn rigs and barley rigs,
Corn rigs are bonny!
I'll not forget that happy night
Among the rigs with Annie!
or Fall Equinox, happens near or on September 21.Today, the length of night time is equal to the length of daytime. At the Equinox, I become aware that this time is not the balance, or rather the order, one usually sees in nature. Nature is not really balanced. But ordered. A cyprus by the ocean grows windblown by ocean storm and wind, bowing towards the earth. That cyprus is the usual balance or order of nature - stable, poised, in harmony. ALL of nature leans like the ocean-blown cyprus towards the dark earth. But Fall Equinox is a balance of light and dark, night and day and therefore is truly an outlandish moment in time: equality, a equal balancing, an actual moment of balance. I draw on my roots in the darkness, yet revel in the kiss of summer breeze and sun. I face the darkness of the fall and winter ahead and so face mysteries. The Goddess has surprises for me in the wintry months ahead that will surpass my best hopes.
The Wolf and the Stag
In the time before the tribes of Man walked upon the Earth, the Wolf and the Stag were of the same blood. They shared the world with all of the other animals in peace and friendship.
It came that a dangerous time fell upon the land. The spirits of the South had become harsh and had baked the earth until it was hard and dry. They kept the spirits of West from bringing water to the parched land. Food became scarce and the water that remained was like acid on the tongue. When the rains did come, they fell upon the barren ground in angry sheets that gouged great fissures in the face of the world.
Stag worried greatly for his sister Wolf. She had become thin and weak and Stag knew that the snows of Winter were not long from coming to bring the world to icy sleep. Fearing that Wolf could not survive, Stag called out to the Goddess for aid.
"Great Mother" cried Stag, "Please save my sister! There is no food and she is weak and sick. She must eat soon or she will perish."
"All that you require you need only to seek." the voice of the Goddess sang in Stag's heart. "But remember, that whatever you seek, if you find it not within, you will never find it without."
The words of the Goddess confused Stag and he cried out again," Mother, the Earth is barren and the Winter comes soon. I fear it may already be too late, for had I food to give her I know not if she has the strength to eat."
"If you find food for her," the Goddess spoke in rustling leaves, "then I shall grant her the strength she shall need to eat." And then she was gone. Stag was gladdened at the hope of saving his sister and hurried off to find nourishment for Wolf.
Long and hard Stag searched, turning the ground with his hooves, moving rocks and logs with his horns, but he found nothing to bring back for his sister. He continued his quest until he was too weak to search any longer.
With great sadness in his heart he returned to Wolf and wept, "Forgive me my sister, but I have searched the land over and could find no food for you to eat."
"Then this is how it must be." said Wolf. "I thank you for your efforts, my brother. I shall think of you often and will await you arrival in the Summerland. I love you, Stag." With that, Wolf laid down to wait for death to take her. Stag laid with her and wept tears of desperation and helplessness.
Wolf had lain motionless for a long time when the Dark Goddess appeared to Stag again and said, "I must take Wolf now to the Summerland." and reached out icy fingers toward WolfÂ¹s still form.
Stag could bear his sorrow no more and cried out at the Goddess. "No!" he bellowed, "Do not take the life of my sister! She is kind and wise and loving of all things. If only one of us can survive then let it be her. I offer over my life to you if it will let her live."
"Brave Stag," whispered the Goddess, "Your love for Wolf is true and strong. I will grant your request, her life is spared."
Wolf's body twitched and shuddered violently and with a great yelp, Wolf leapt to her feet. What Stag saw next struck terror in his heart. For the creature that stood before him was no longer held the loving eyes of his sister. No, these eyes said but one thing, hunger!
Wolf started to move toward Stag with cautious calculation and unwavering stare. Confused and frightened, Stag could think of but one thing to do, and that was run. Into the woods Stag dashed, with no thought but run. Wolf moved with lightning speed on spindly legs and wizened frame that belied the strength of the Goddess the flowed within, her eyes fixed on her goal.
Stag ran as hard as he could but quickly tired for he too had had nothing to eat for many days. Suddenly, Wolf was upon him in a blur of fang and claw and blood. Stag kicked at Wolf and forcing her off of him and held her at bay using his antlers as a shield.
"What has happened to my sister?" he thought. "Why is she doing this?" He continued to fight Wolf off but his strength ebbed quickly and he knew he could no longer keep her away. Just as Wolf was preparing for her next attack Stag heard the Goddess singing again, "if you find it not within, you will never find it without." and in that moment he understood it all. He was to be the food that his sister needed to survive. The Goddess had honored his request to spare the life of Wolf and to take his in her stead. In her wisdom, the Goddess had known that Wolf would never willingly take the life of her brother. So she had made the hunger blind her until all she could see was food.
All of the fear and confusion was washed away from Stag and he raised himself up to his full stature and proudly waited for Wolf to come. And Wolf did come.
As he fell, Stag saw the Goddess looking on and she was smiling at him. "Thank you for the life of my sister." he thought as death came to him in a warm embrace of blackness.
Wolf ate until she could eat no more and then, exhausted, she lay down and slept. She slept for a long time and dreamt of running through the forest with her brother.
Wolf awoke expecting to see her brother by her side as he had always been. Instead, she found StagÂ¹s lifeless body and the memory of what had occurred nearly tore her heart to pieces.
"What have I done?!" she sobbed. Her pain and sorrow welled up in her and burst forth from her throat as a sound the likes of which had never before been heard in the world. All the animals stopped and listened to the mournful sound and heard the name "Stag" as it was carried throughout the land on Wolf's baleful song.
The Goddess, hearing this cry, came to Wolf and soothed, "Weep not for your brother, my child, for he shall live on."
"But I have killed him!" wept Wolf.
"No," purred the Goddess, "So strong was Stag's love for you that he gave his life unto you that you might live. I shall bring him forth again and again as my lover and consort and the Stag shall ever more be a symbol of the love and sacrifice of the God."
"And so I shall forever honor his gift to me." said Wolf. "Leave me as I am, thin and gaunt, for it shall remind me of his love and sacrifice. And when the night is full I shall sing his name to the heavens, as will my children and my grandchildren so that the name of Stag will live on until Wolf and Stag are no more.
happens near Halloween and is when the Wiccan year begins. My altar cloth is black, because we are in the time of year that is dark. On my altar is the harvest, our "dead Lord" whose life is in the crops and "sacrificed" when the crops are killed to become our food. This is the time of death, of honoring and communing with spirits that have passed to the other side. Now the veil between the worlds is thin. It is a good time to invite our beloved dead to visit with us. This is not a gruesome exchange, but reverent, earthy, natural, further it is joyous and festive. Victor Anderson says "If a ghost of a loved one shows up, ask him to join the party."
In recent years, there have been a number of pamphlets and books put out be 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. A typical example of this information is contained in the following quote from the pamphlet entitled "What's Wrong with Halloween?" by Russell K. Tardo. "The Druids believed that on October 31st, the last day of the year by the ancient Celtic calendar, the lord of death gathered together the souls of the dead who had been made to enter bodies of animals, and decided what forms they should take the following year. Cats were held sacred because it was believed that they were once human beings ... We see that this holiday has its origin, basis and root in the occultic Druid celebration of the dead. Only they called it 'Samhain', who was the lord of the dead (a big demon)".1 When these books and pamphlets cite sources at all, they usually list the Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Americana, and the World Book Encyclopedia. The Britannica and the Americana make no mention of cats, but do, indeed list Samhain as the Lord of Death, contrary to Celtic scholars, and list no references. The World Book mentions the cats, and calls Samhain the Lord of Death, and lists as its sources several children's books (hardly what one could consider scholarly texts, and, of course, themselves citing no references).
In an effort to correct some of this erroneous information, I have researched the religious life of the ancient Celtic peoples and the survivals of that religious life in modern 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.
1. Where does Halloween come from? Our modern celebration of Halloween is a descendent of the ancient Celtic festival called "Samhain". The word is pronounced "sow-in", with "sow" rhyming
2. 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, signaling the close of harvest and the initiation of the winter season, lasting till May, during which troops were quartered. Fairies were imagined as particularly active at this season. From it, the half-year is reckoned. Also called Feile Moingfinne (Snow Goddess).2 The Scottish Gaelic Dictionary defines it as "Hallowtide. The Feast of All Souls. Sam + Fuin = end of summer."3 Contrary to the information published by many organizations, there is no archaeological or literary evidence to indicate that Samhain was a deity. Eliade's Encyclopedia of Religion states as follows: "The Eve and day of Samhain were characterized as a time when the barriers between the human and supernatural worlds were broken... Not a festival honoring any particular Celtic deity, Samhain acknowledged the entire spectrum of nonhuman forces that roamed the earth during that period."4 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.
3. 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 .
4. 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, (pronounced "shee" or "sh-thee") 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 magickal 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.
5. 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 man taking over their land. 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.5 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".6 This also served as a final outlet for high spirits before the gloom of winter set in.
6. 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 blessing 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.9 The folks who were abroad in the night imitating the fairies would sometimes carry turnips carved to represent faces. This is the origin of our modern Jack-o-lantern.
7. Was there any special significance of cats to the Celts? According to Katherine Briggs in Nine Lives: Cats in Folklore,, the Celts associated cats with the Cailleach Bheur, or Blue Hag of Winter. "She was a nature goddess, who herded the deer as her cattle. The touch of her staff drove the leaves off the trees and brought snow and harsh weather."7 Dr. Anne Ross addresses the use of divine animals in her book Pagan Celtic Britain and has this to day about cats."Cats do not play a large role in Celtic mythology ... the evidence for the cat as an important cult animal in Celtic mythology is slight"8 She cites as supporting evidence, the lack of archaeological artifacts and literary references in surviving works of mythology.
8. 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.
9. 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 comparatively 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, meager and insufficient to support anything like a sound theory for full development of the ancient religion."10 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 (such as the flint-and-steel method) common in those days.11 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.
10. 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 ritual manner for the use of the priesthood.
11. 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 sacrifice 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."12 Indeed, there is little reference to this practice in Celtic literature. The only surviving story echoes the tale 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. It should be noted, however, that this story appears in only one (relatively modern) manuscript from Irish literature, and that manuscript, the "Dinnsenchus", is known to be a collection of fables. According to P.W. Joyce in Vol. 2 of his Social History of Ancient Ireland, "Scattered everywhere through our ancient literature, both secular and ecclesiastical, we find abundant descriptions and details of the rites and superstitions of the pagan Irish; and in no place - with this single exception - do we find a word or hint pointing to human sacrifice to pagan gods or idols."13
12. 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.14 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.
13. How did these ancient Celtic practices come to America? When the potato crop in Ireland failed, many of the Irish people, modern descendants of the Celts, immigrated to America, bringing with them their folk practices, which were remnants of the Celtic festival observances.
14. 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 ("pu'ka") and unfit for human consumption.
15. Does anyone today celebrate Samhain as a religious observance? Yes. many followers of various pagan religions, such as Druidism and Wicca, observe this day as a religious festival. They view it as a memorial day for their dead friends and family, much as the world does the national Memorial Day holiday in May. It is still a night to practice various forms of divination concerning future events. It is also considered a time to wrap up old projects, take stock of one's 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. And while "satanists" are using this holiday as their own, this is certainly not the only example of a holiday (or even religious symbols) being "borrowed" from an older religion by a newer one.
16. Does this involve human or animal sacrifice? Absolutely NOT! Hollywood to the contrary, blood sacrifice is not practiced by modern followers of Wicca or Druidism. There may be some people who THINK they are practicing Wicca by performing blood sacrificing, but this is NOT condoned by reputable practitioners of today's neo-Pagan religions.
or winter solstice happens near December 21, which is the longest darkest night of the year. The dark of Winter is safe like my bedcovers at night. Dark whispers of a Mother's love caress me. In the darkness of the Mother's womb, the void I am safe, sustained, at peace. and can move inward, into my own dark self, looking, learning, purifying. I can cleanse myself of all that blocks me from being born new with the rising new solstice sun when the sun king is born, with promises for the Spring ahead.
Our Christian friends are often quite surprised at how enthusiastically we Pagans celebrate the 'Christmas' season. Even though we prefer to use the word 'Yule', and our celebrations may peak a few days BEFORE the 25th, we nonetheless follow many of the traditional customs of the season: decorated trees, carolling, presents, Yule logs, and mistletoe. We might even go so far as putting up a 'Nativity set', though for us the three central characters are likely to be interpreted as Mother Nature,Father Time, and the Baby Sun-God. None of this will come as a surprise to anyone who knows the true history of the holiday, of course.
In fact, if truth be known, the holiday of Christmas has always been more Pagan than Christian, with it's associations of Nordic divination, Celtic fertility rites, and Roman Mithraism. That is why both Martin Luther and John Calvin abhorred it, why the Puritans refused to acknowledge it, much less celebrate it (to them, no day of the year could be more holy than the Sabbath), and why it was even made ILLEGAL in Boston! The holiday was already too closely associated with the birth of older Pagan gods and heroes. And many
of them (like Oedipus, Theseus, Hercules, Perseus, Jason, Dionysus, Apollo, Mithra, Horus and even Arthur) possessed a narrative of birth, death, and resurrection that was uncomfortably close to that of Jesus. And to make matters worse, many of them pre-dated the Christian Savior.
Ultimately, of course, the holiday is rooted deeply in the cycle of the year. It is the Winter Solstice that is being celebrated, seed-time of the year, the longest night and shortest day. It is the birthday of the new Sun King, the Son of God -- by whatever name you choose to call him. On this darkest of nights, the Goddess becomes the Great Mother and once again gives birth. And it makes perfect poetic sense that on the longest night of the winter, 'the dark night of our souls', there springs the new spark of hope, the Sacred Fire,the Light of the World, the Coel Coeth.
That is why Pagans have as much right to claim this holiday as Christians. Perhaps even more so, as the Christians were rather late in laying claim to it, and tried more than once to reject it. There had been a tradition in the West that Mary bore the child Jesus on the twenty-fifth day, but no one could seem to decide on the month. Finally, in 320 C.E., the Catholic Fathers in Rome decided to make it December, in an effort to co-opt the Mithraic celebration of the Romans and the Yule celebrations of the Celts and Saxons.
There was never much pretense that the date they finally chose was historically accurate. Shepherds just don't 'tend their flocks by night' in the high pastures in the dead of winter! But if one wishes to use the New Testament as historical evidence, this reference may
point to sometime in the spring as the time of Jesus's birth. This is because the lambing season occurs in the spring and that is the only time when shepherds are likely to 'watch their flocks by night' -- to make sure the lambing goes well. Knowing this, the Eastern half of the Church continued to reject December 25, preferring a 'movable date' fixed by their astrologers according to the moon.
Thus, despite its shaky start (for over three centuries, no one knew when Jesus was supposed to have been born!), December 25 finally began to catch on. By 529, it was a civic holiday, and all work or public business (except that of cooks, bakers, or any that contributed to the delight of the holiday) was prohibited by the Emperor Justinian. In 563, the Council of Braga forbade fasting on Christmas Day, and four years later the Council of Tours proclaimed the twelve days from December 25 to Epiphany as a sacred, festive season. This last point is perhaps the hardest to impress upon the modern reader, who is lucky to get a single day off work. Christmas, in the Middle Ages, was not a SINGLE day, but rather a period of TWELVE days, from December 25 to January 6. The Twelve Days of Christmas, in fact. It is certainly lamentable that the modern world has abandoned this approach, along with the popular Twelfth Night celebrations.
Of course, the Christian version of the holiday spread to many countries no faster than Christianity itself, which means that 'Christmas' wasn't celebrated in Ireland until the late fifth century; in England, Switzerland, and Austria until the seventh; in Germany until the eighth; and in the Slavic lands until the ninth and tenth. Not that these countries lacked their own mid-winter celebrations of Yuletide. Long before the world had heard of Jesus, Pagans had been observing the season by bringing in the Yule log, wishing on it, and lighting it from the remains of last year's log. Riddles were posed and answered, magic and rituals were practiced, wild boars were sacrificed and consumed along with large quantities of liquor, corn dollies were carried from house to house while carolling, fertility rites were practiced (girls standing under a sprig of mistletoe were subject to a bit more than a kiss), and divinations were cast for the coming Spring. Many of these Pagan customs, in an appropriately watered-down form, have entered the mainstream of Christian celebration, though most celebrants do not realize (or do not mention it, if they do) their origins.
For modern Witches, Yule (from the Anglo-Saxon 'Yula', meaning 'wheel' of the year) is usually celebrated on the actual Winter Solstice, which may vary by a few days, though it usually occurs on or around December 21st. It is a Lesser Sabbat or Lower Holiday in the modern Pagan calendar, one of the four quarter-days of the year, but a very important one. This year (1997) it occurs on December 21st 12:08 PM PST. Pagan customs are still enthusiastically followed. Once, the Yule log had been the center of the celebration. It was lighted on the eve of the solstice (it should light on the first try) and must be kept burning for twelve hours, for good luck. It should be made of ash. Later, the Yule log was replaced by the Yule tree but, instead of burning it, burning candles were placed on it. In Christianity, Protestants might claim that Martin Luther invented the custom, and Catholics might grant St. Boniface the honor, but the custom can demonstrably be traced back through the Roman Saturnalia all the way to ancient Egypt. Needless to say, such a tree should be cut down rather than purchased, and should be disposed of by burning, the proper way to dispatch any sacred object.
Along with the evergreen, the holly and the ivy and the mistletoe were important plants of the season, all symbolizing fertility and everlasting life. Mistletoe was especially venerated by the Celtic Druids, who cut it with a golden sickle on the sixth night of the moon, and believed it to be an aphrodisiac. (Magically -- not medicinally! It's highly toxic!) But aphrodisiacs must have been the smallest part of the Yuletide menu in ancient times, as contemporary reports indicate that the tables fairly creaked under the strain of every type of good food. And drink! The most popular of which was the 'wassail cup' deriving its name from the Anglo-Saxon term 'waes hael' (be whole or hale).
Medieval Christmas folklore seems endless: that animals will all kneel down as the Holy Night arrives, that bees hum the '100th psalm' on Christmas Eve, that a windy Christmas will bring good luck, that a person born on Christmas Day can see the Little People, that a cricket on the hearth brings good luck, that if one opens all the doors of the house at midnight all the evil spirits will depart, that you will have one lucky month for each Christmas pudding you sample, that the tree must be taken down by Twelfth Night or bad luck is sure to follow, that 'if Christmas on a Sunday be, a windy winter we shall see', that 'hours of sun on Christmas Day, so many frosts in the month of May', that one can use the Twelve Days of Christmas to predict the weather for each of the twelve months of the coming year, and so on.
Remembering that most Christmas customs are ultimately based upon older Pagan customs, it only remains for modern Pagans to reclaim their lost traditions. In doing so, we can share many common customs with our Christian friends, albeit with a slightly different interpretation. And thus we all share in the beauty of this most magical of seasons, when the Mother Goddess once again gives birth to the baby Sun-God and sets the wheel in motion again. To conclude with a long-overdue paraphrase, 'Goddess bless us, every one!'
or Candlemas, on February 2, is the festival of the Goddess Brigid, patron of poetry, healing, and metalsmithing. Brigid's poetry inspires me to shake off winter's sleep now, stretch and start to get ready for Spring. I am still drowsy.
In most areas in North America, February 2nd is usually a day during the most dismal part of the year weather wise. It is usually rainy or snowy and most often quite cold. This makes a perfect time for the Wiccan Festival of Lights! February 2nd marks the day of Imbolc, or in some traditions, Oimelc. The name of "Candlemas" comes to us by way of the Christians. This is the day that marks the beginning of the Spring season of growth. We can see the new budding flowers and the signs that Spring is on her way. Imbolc literally means "in the belly." In the womb of the Goddess Mother there are the beginnings of new life, waiting to explode into our view! The seeds that were planted in Her at the solstice are now growing and the new wheel grows. This is also the lambing season and so we get the word, Oimelc, which means "milk of ewes."
The Irish often call this day, "BrigitÂs Day," in honor of the Goddess Brigit. She is considered a goddess of fire, so in Kildare, Ireland, a group of 19 women kept a flame burning in her honor. It was during this time that Brigit would bestow a special blessing on any woman about to be married, as another form of the name Brigit is "Bride." The Great Goddess of Ireland could never be called a demon by the Church, so instead, the Roman Catholics canonized her. She became "Saint Brigit, patron SAINT of smithcraft, poetry, and healing." The Church told the uneducated Irish peasant on the street that Brigit was really an early Christian missionary sent to the Emerald Isle, and that she performed miracles so the people there believed that she was a goddess. We donÂt know why, but many of the Irish bought this. Another piece of lore commonly believed by the Irish was that Brigit was the mother of Christ. They gave no consideration to the fact that the boy never spent any of his childhood in Ireland.
This Holiday was often marked by the use of sacred fires, symbolizing the fire of birth and healing, the fire of the forge, and the fire of inspiration. Bonfires were lit and the chandlers celebrated their holiday. The Church was quick to make use of this symbolism as well, using "Candlemas" as the day to bless the candles that would be used in the church for the coming year. The following day, St. BlaiseÂs Day, was for using the blessed candles to bless the throats of the parishioners, keeping them from colds, flu and the like.
Imbolc is a great day for making candles! One custom is to put one in each window of your home and let them burn down until morning. For safety sake, you may not want to do this if you have pets or children. In all cases, make sure the candles are well secured form tipping. It is a very cheery picture to see a house on a dark dreary night to be lit up with candles. This is a good time for using candles in magick and in divination. It is an excellent time for cleansing and purification. It is the time to clean the house and bring in the bright new energy that comes with the birth of all things new that is brought by Spring.
happens about March 21, and I pass from one time into the other, yet am between one time and another. I completely shed winter's sleep. As a time of passing, transition, it is powerful - a time of balance - equal day and equal night - so a time of magic. I am poised between being bound, and the movement of Spring. Bound like sleeping beauty who is released by love's kiss into the violent passion of Spring. Bound as in the cosmic egg, which exploded when the cosmos was hatched. Explosive moment of creation - moving dynamically chaotically.
Child of eternity,
Ever pure, ever free,
Ever laughing, ever loving,
Come dance with us!
Ostara marks the return of Spring. In 1998, Ostara falls on March 20, at 2:54 PM PST. Ostara is also the beginning of the Vernal (Spring) Equinox. This high holiday is named for the traditional Wiccan Goddess of Spring, the Goddess Ostara. Ostara is a Goddess of the East and of the dawn. We picture here the Goddess in her Maiden form.
The symbols of this celebration usually have much to do with bright colors. Consider clothing accented with brightly colored accessories and jewelry. Decorate your environment with bright flowers and fresh greenery.
There are many fertility themes associated with Ostara. The origin of "Easter Eggs" is found here. Eggs and rabbits are very common symbols of fertility. This is also where we get the "Easter Bunny." The main theme here is renewal. Spring is the renewal and rebirth of Nature herself.
At this time we think of renewing ourselves. We renew our thoughts, our dreams, and our aspirations. We think of renewing our relationships. This is an excellent time of year to begin anything new or to completely revitalize something. This is also an excellent month for prosperity rituals or rituals that have anything to do with growth.