Imbolc Festival

Imbolc is an Irish/Gaelic quarter day festival celebrated between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox around February 2 to honor the first hints of spring.

The name Imbolc is a bit of a mystery. Some scholars say that it means “in the belly” which referred to the pregnancy of ewes. Since this was the time of the birthing for the ewes, this makes sense. And others say it means to wash or cleanse such as a ritual cleansing.

The Goddess Brigid was the deity of honor for this celebration. Brigid represented the Spring season which includes fertility. She is also known for her healing attributes.

The customs around this celebration revolve around fertility, healing, and springtime. A custom that has carried over to modern times is Spring Cleaning. After the long, cold, closed up house with the smell of smoke from the fireplace, the house is in need of a good cleaning and airing out. The same is true today. And what better motivation to clean then to do it for the goddess Brigid before she visits your house.

Other customs include making Brigid dolls. This was done by the menfolk and symbolized fertility. Brigid crosses were popular also. It was used for not only decoration but symbolized Brigid’s protection of hearth and home and healing blessings. Divination was also done for the purpose of knowing the future health of the family, livestock, and crops for the coming growing season. There are many other traditions and I encourage you to investigate them for yourself.

And of course, what is a festival without a feast and socialization. This holiday was eventually taken over and the customs and stories replaced by Christian concepts and is now known as St. Brigid’s Day or Candlemass. Many cultures still celebrate the original meaning today.



Winter Solstice Festival

The Winter Solstice – where the day is the shortest and the night is the longest of the year.

Why celebrate such an occasion? Why was it a day of significance for our ancestors?

Our ancestors used astronomical events, such as the moon and sun, to guide their activities such as sowing seeds, growing crops, harvesting, monitoring winter reserves, and mating of the animals. Farming, eating, and surviving all depended on this awareness.

Naturally, their spiritual beliefs are tied to nature and the agriculture cycle which are reflected in their rituals and celebrations.

The winter solstice was an event that was seen as the reversal of the suns ebbing presence in the sky which contribute to their concepts of birth, rebirth, and the sun gods. The disappearing sun was of very much concern to them. The sun has been shining less and less at this time and it appears that the sun stands still and doesn’t move for three days in the sky. This would have been alarming for the first humans. A ritual would be needed to coax the sun back.

Indeed, this became a yearly ritual for the rebirth of the sun to warm the earth again.

This time was also used as a rebirth of our own inner self. It was a time for self reflection, rest, rejuvenating from the rigorous growing cycle, and creativity and stories that sparked the imagination.

To celebrate, our ancestors tied stories of the Gods / Goddess into these occasions of change and celebration.  Many Christmas traditions and customs we see today came from the people who celebrated Yule / Winter Solstice / Midwinter. For example the Christmas Tree, wreath, and Yule log, Santa Clause and his reindeer, and the exchanging of presents came from Scandinavian and German culture.  The mistletoe came from the ancient Celtic Druids.

The tree and wreath were from the evergreen tree which symbolized the green of spring and summer. Also, by bringing in evergreen which includes pine, helped to protect against illness (evil spirits). Pine interestingly helps boost immunity and protects respiratory health which is needed in the long winter being cooped up in a house.

Santa Clause came from several cultures around the world. In Scandinavia Odin traveled the midwinter sky on his eight legged horse, Sleipnir, dropping off presents. The Dutch had Sinterklaas.

Caroling came from wassailing door to door singing for the health of neighbors and driving out the evil spirits (illness) from the fields to ensure good crop growth for the coming new growing season.

Indeed, this dark time was a useful time not only to renew the earth but ourselves as well. The evergreens can help us today to think of the spring/summer time and give us hope through the long dark nights. Also, as we have learned, they can help protect us from illness. The winter stories of the customs can be a very joyous time. We can plan for the future, use our imagination, and be creative during this time welcoming the sun back.


Samhain Ritual 2017

Our Grove celebrated Samhain on November the 4th, this year. I’m glad of that because in my mind it was separated from the modern day hype of Halloween which resembles nothing like the significance it holds.

This was the third Samhain that I have observed since being involved with pagans. The first was with a wiccan group, the second was my own personal rite because I missed the Grove’s event. I made it this time and I was glad.

Our Grove has grown a little bit since I have been there, but I guess when I started there were others who had moved away. So, it is nice to see the participation.

The cloaks were out in full force and looked so beautiful. I just wore a poncho type sweater. I do not have a cloak as of yet but that is on my list.

This was the last outdoor event of the year. The procession was a moving one as always when it’s outdoors. We actually take a little walk down and up the path to the field to the stone circle. So you can imagine that would be nostalgic to your soul, and it is!

The ritual was beautiful and I had the part where I sprinkled the tree with water for the Hallowing part. I decided to not take a bigger role due to too much going on in my life at the time. I got to be an observer.

The main deity was Donn and the Ancestors. I offered the ancestors some alcohol. After the main deity was honored, we were invited to honor and make offerings to our spirit allies. I choose Mother Earth. I offered her some river water with a mix of calendula and lavender.

For our magical working we put a clove into an apple and said a name of a loved one or friend who had recently passed to offer them healing and an easy passage to the otherworld.

After the ritual was over is was dusk and one of our members sang a beautiful chilling song which was an excellent ending.

Winter Solstice Ritual 2017

Our Grove celebrated Winter Solstice early this year on December 9th due to availability of our rented space and weather.

This celebration was my second Winter Solstice with the Grove. Last year we had to do a virtual gathering due to inclement weather. This year we were in luck and the weather was not bad at all (at least for me). We planned on doing a Norse Themed Sumbel in ADF style.

I was not sure how this was going to take place. I knew it was going to be indoors and somehow it was going to be like a great hall. I had wild expectations for the ambiance and decorations. That was not to be. But it was a very good celebration and I would not mind if all of the High Days were that way.

The altar was set up and the tables were arranged like a great hall set before the altar. That was as far as the scenery there was. Oh well, we do rent the place and could only do so much and I watch too much of the television show, The Vikings. Yes, I had way too high of expectations (laughing).

For our workshop before the ritual, we sang pagan carols. I have never heard pagan carols and I rather liked it. I have been researching the meaning and customs of the Winter Solstice and Yule and have come to like the holiday. I have had a hate relationship with modern day christian holidays. After the research, I have come to the conclusion that we need to take back this holiday and the others and own it.

A grove member brought her keyboard and played and sang in her bardic voice. It was lovely. I brought my friend along. She has been to a few of the Grove’s celebrations and for the first time, I got to hear her singing. She could be a bard also. She has a very lovely singing voice.

For the procession, we walked into the room where the ritual was going to take place and sang our customary song. Then instead of standing around the altar, we sat down at our places around the tables. Our Senior Druid led the ritual standing up. Our mead was poured by a designated attendant.

The bardic spirit was welcomed and we had a sip of mead. After the natures spirits, ancestors, and gods and goddesses were honored, we all each in turn got to name a spirit, ancestor, and god or goddess to honor and we had a sip of mead to toast them all one at a time. I had the honor of welcoming the gods and goddesses. I offered them some Indian incense that my sister had given to me a few months ago.

My welcoming speech was short and sweet and I had to wing it, because my notes were on my phone and my phone did not sync. Actually, there is a funny story about my phone that happened right before I left to travel for the ritual. It was not funny at the time. But, when the ritual started and I realized that my phone did not sync, I right away knew what happened. That was the funny part. The Shinning ones played a trick on me. It went well but not as planned. And that was their plan, or Loki’s.

For the main deities to be honored, Odin & Thor, I offered them Irish beer. I did not have access to Norse beer and I did not know that you could actually buy mead. So next time I am at the liquor store, I am buying some mead to keep on hand.

When the time came for honoring our own personal spirit allies, ancestors, and deities, I honored the Earth Mother. I am making it a point to honor her in my own personal way at each ritual. This time I brewed some herbal tea for her to soothe, heal, and give her back some love.

After the ritual reversed and ended, it was time for feasting. I brought a sausage dip and my friend brought some cherries that we soaked in a sauce. There was many vegan and vegetarian dishes. This time I made a point of trying each one. There was many that I liked.

For the hour long ride to the ritual and back home, me and my friend got to chat which was way overdue because we are so busy working and taking care of our families that we don’t get to meet often. We have many shared interests including heathenry and it was a very nice time.

Picture by: Michele O’Donnell

Samhain Festival

Samhain is the third and final harvest festival and is celebrated anywhere between October 31st and the first week of November.  This registers the end of the growing season and the beginning of winter.

The last of the harvest is taken in and handled and preserved for the long winter months ahead. The livestock is taken out of the summer fields and taken to their winter home. Animals that are not going to make it through the winter for whatever reason, are processed for food. This also reduces the strain of feeding them through the winter and reduces sickness while they are in close quarters in their winter homes.

Preparations are in full sway for the long dark winter months ahead. Once again, this is a community wide festival to celebrate and honor the deities of the occasion for the success of the years growing season and for protection for the dark half of the year.

Beltaine was the beginning of summer or the light half of the year and special bonfires were lit and a ritual fire symbolizing cleansing was done. The same is done for the beginning of the dark half of the year. As is the custom, the people would light their sticks and bring it back to their hearths to relight their homes fires.

This time is considered a time when the veil between the worlds are thinner and communication with the spirits and dead are easier. Symbolizing the spirits, the people would dress up and go door to door playing tricks and collecting treats. Thus, the origins for the modern day customs of Halloween. Instead of carving pumpkins, they would carve turnips. And when feasting, they set a place for the dead also.

This is the beginning of the Celtic new year. A great time for divining and finding out what is in store for the upcoming year.

As you are making your final preparations for the winter, this is a good time to reflect on life and death; a time to honor our ancestors; a time to go within and cultivate and nurture your soul with rest, crafts, and staying warm by the fires.

Happy New Year!



Autumn Equinox Festival

Autumn Equinox is celebrated around September 21 of each year and signifies the end of the growing season. This would be the second harvest festival of three, with Lughnasadh being the first. This time forward, is for harvesting the crops which includes not only gathering the crops from the field; but also handling, sorting, cleaning, packing, canning, and preserving the food for winter storage.

In ancient times, this was of utmost importance as it was the most labor intensive time of the growing season and required plenty of hands to help for the survival of the community or tribe through the winter. Even in modern times, this is an important time for agriculture.

In addition to the agriculture significance, would be the importance of the sun. This is the day when the light from the sun and darkness is of equal length. This signifies a transitional period in the year as both the Autumn Equinox and Spring Equinox are about the position of the sun in relation to the earth. During Spring, the light from the sun begins to increase until the Autumn Equinox when the light begins to decrease.

The transitional period can be seen through the slant of the sun, changing of the leaves, bird migration, harvesting of the crops, as well as the colder weather and the need for fires once again.

In times past, our ancestors who depended on the earth for their very existence, would have community celebrations with rituals of offerings to the gods and goddesses who ruled over agriculture, crops, and the sun for a successful and bountiful harvest. Appreciation and offerings were very important to them and helped aligned them with the vibrations of the earth.

Since this is the time when the light from the sun decreases, they recognized that this was a perfect time to reflect on balance in their personal lives as well as their inner lives. It is important to recognize the light and dark part of your own self so that you can interact with others in a balanced way.

Festivities would include games, activities, and crafts that are harvest related, rituals of thanksgiving, stories of old and of the gods and goddesses.

Today, we can honor this part of the year by picking apples that are now ripe for the harvest and making your favorite apple dishes. Or perhaps you can spend some time in nature to reflect on change. Other activities could be:


  • Celebration of hearth and home
  • Welcoming the gods and goddesses
  • Telling stories
  • Counting your blessings
  • Honoring the darkness and embracing it physically as well as spiritually
  • Organizing a food drive
  • Harvesting and preserving food from your garden
  • Personal rituals

Rituals and celebrations and times of giving honor where it is due help us to acquire balance in ourselves in relation to the earth for our existence. It also helps us transition from our focus of one activity to another. Let us honor the earth and the deities that helped make our harvest a success.


The Solitary Druid: Walking the Path of Wisdom and Spirit, by Rev. Robert (Skip) Ellison

Autumn Equinox Ritual 2017

This was my first Autumn Equinox Ritual and it was held at the yoga center in Adams, NY on September 30th. We always gather an hour before the ritual starts to give us time to talk, settle down, prepare, and do a little group craft.

Our group craft this year was drawing our own personal wheel of the year on a piece of paper and drawing symbols or pictures of what that time of the year means to us. Next year, we will do one as a grove.

After the group craft, chatting, and letting our food for the feasting heat up, we had our pre-ritual and last minute ritual parts were assigned. We sang our processional song down to the stone circle. We sang Come We Now as a People. This walk always prepares my mind for the sacredness of the situation. Upon reaching the stone circle we gathered in a circle clockwise. The outsiders were given their offerings.

I had the privilege of being assigned to sprinkle the ritual space with water for the purification. This was followed by the incense. The bard and gatekeeper, Lady Brighid, were honored.

The earth mother was honored next and I had offered to call to her. This was followed by singing The River is Flowing. The Three Hollows was next. This consisted of singing the Portal Song while 3 volunteers made an offering of silver to the well, whiskey to the fire,  and holy water for the tree. I volunteered to offer the silver to the well.

Our ritual leader lead us into the grove attunement. Our grove does the Two Powers Meditation. 

Next up was the calling and offerings to the Nature Spirits, Ancestors, and Shinning Ones. I made an offering of whiskey for the Ancestors. I choose this because they most likely miss drinking spirits while they were alive.

The main deity of the occasion was actually several deities. Our grove choose to honor earth mothers of many pantheons because the good harvest was due to them. We choose Tailtiu, Gaia, Danu, Frigga, Prithvi, and Macha. Each person called to their earth mother and told a little about them and made their offering. I had the part of Danu. I was nervous but toward the end, the words were just flowing out of my mouth, thanks to her help. I gave her an offering of water from our local river, the Oswegatchie, which I added fresh healing herbs from my garden this summer. I felt that our Mother really needed healing because of the neglect all this centuries. I feel that the people of the planet need to turn their attention to the earth mother and start forming a relationship with her and give her offerings of thanks. Perhaps, we as a people will become more caring towards each other.

Our grove next made our individual offerings to our personal deities or spirit guides. Our seer drew the omens from her oracle card deck. The omens were good. We called for the blessings and hollowing of the waters, followed by our toast and boast. It was good to hear what was going on in our grove member’s lives.

Our magical working consisted of candle magic. I made soy candles for the grove and we did a little mediation while holding them and infusing healing magic inside.

Then it was time to reverse things. We thanked the Beings of the Occasion and the Kindreds. Our ritual leader closed the gates. We were led out of the Two Powers Meditation, and I thanked the earth mother.

Our rite was ended and we sang the recessional chant, Now the Rite is at an End. 

I am very happy to be taking part in the rituals now that I am a member of the Northern Rivers Grove.

Photo Credit: Michele O’Donnell