Wheel of the Year

The Wheel of the Year is all the Pagan holidays or High Days and Cross quarter days  celebrated in a year. There are four High Days and 4 Cross quarter days making a total of eight celebrations. This is a new pagan tradition started in the 20th century.

Not all ancient cultures celebrated all eight festivals. There was certain ones that were important to them. Remember that the growing season was their life and their survival depended on it. The sun and the length of days held importance. Celebrating the coming back of the sun was a joyous time when the colder months meant the lack of it.

Each turn of the wheel of the sun holds meaning; and marks certain traditions and customs to be performed in that particular time frame. There is a season and a time for everything and certain preparations need to be done so that everything gets done. This prepares your mind and body and internal clock to be set for the growing season. Which is your life.

Think of the ‘wheel” as a wagon wheel with eight spokes. Each spoke represents a festival and as the wheel turns each spoke or festival gets it’s turn. A High Day is the Equinox’s and the Solstice’s. A Cross Quarter Day is the festival celebrated in between the High Day’s.

The High Days and Cross Quarter days are as follows:

Winter Solstice / Yule (High Day)

Imbolc (Cross Quarter Day)

Spring Equinox / Ostara (High Day)

Beltaine (Cross Quarter Day)

Summer Solstice / Midsummer (High Day)

Lughnassadh (Cross Quarter Day)

Autumn Equinox (High Day)

Samhain (Cross Quarter Day)

Each festival has it’s meaning and customs and helps prepare you physically and mentally for each season. Getting your body and mind in sync with the earth will help with all kinds of ailments that we modern people suffer with.

 

 

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Spring Equinox Festival

The festival for the Spring Equinox is held on or about March 21st. This is where the length of day and night are equal. The sun and the length of days were very important to ancient cultures, for their lives depended on the growing season. Thus, it was only natural to hold some sort of ritual to show appreciation through acknowledgement and offerings.

Although, the calendar may say it’s Spring, many regions still have a long way to go before they can get out and prepare for the warmer months. This makes celebrating all the festivals of the modern “Wheel of the Year” very important. It helps you turn your attention ever so slowly through the lengthening of the light of the sun. There is a time and a place and customs for every turn.

The Celts did not celebrate the Spring Equinox as far as a festival goes. But many surrounding cultures did have traditions for welcoming the Spring.

The color green is a given for the greening of the fields. The eggs associated with Easter are another Spring tradition of many cultures. Eggs symbolized fertility. At this time, blessing the land for fertility is important to assure a good growing season. Also, the nature spirits are known for birthing new life in the Spring. Fertility and rabbits abound, and the promise of colorful flowers.

It’s only natural to incorporate these symbols in your life around this time and use them in your rituals. These symbolize the meaning of Spring and acknowledging the Gods and Goddesses and making offerings to them for a good growing season is appropriate.

And after your ritual, whether personal or in the community, feast on the good bounty of food shared by all. Don’t forget to have fun. Enjoy!

https://www.adf.org/rituals/celtic/ostara/index.html

https://www.thoughtco.com/all-about-ostara-the-spring-equinox-2562471

 

 

 

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.

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/winter_soltice

https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/12/winter-solstice-december-year-shortest-day-explained-science/

http://www.quick-good-fortune.com/Winter-Solstice-Magic-Traditions.html

thoughtco.com/christmas-customs-with-pagan-roots-2563021

https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/herbs-and-spices/pine.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Claus

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

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

Lughnasadh Festival

Lughnasadh is the beginning of the harvest season. It’s when the first grains and fruits are ready to be picked, consumed, and preserved. This usually takes place around August 1st but does vary from different regions based on culture and beliefs. In the past it was even a month long event.

This festival can be traced to Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man, as well as throughout Northern Europe.

Lughnasadh is also referred to as Lammas; which means “Loaf Mass.” Which makes sense being that the grains are harvested, ground, and baked into loafs.

With this turn in seasons, it’s only natural to get together with the tribe, village, or community to celebrate. These celebrations also served as helping one another out with harvesting and preserving. After all, many hands make light work.

Along with celebration, comes spiritual beliefs. Being thankful for the land and weather for good crops, means life. Another year at surviving. Who can they thank? Their gods and goddesses of course. And along with that comes the stories told from generation to generation. Stories of might, bravery, perseverance, heroic deeds, and magic. These qualities were needed for their survival and their stories helped with instilling that in the people as well as fostering their imagination.

This time was the perfect time for gatherings, religious ceremonies, athletic contests, feasting, match making, and trading. So it was a happy time indeed.

Lughnasadh is named after the Irish sun god, Lugh and nasadh means assembly. The stories say that Lugh started this celebration in remembrance of this his foster mother, Tailtiu. Since Lugh is associated with skill in all things, the funeral games are a popular activity during this celebration. Some stories say this was started because of Lugh’s wedding also.

Who is right? Does that really matter? It’s time to get out in the warm sun and pick the fruits of your labor. It’s time to get together with the community in good companionship and help one another for the big job ahead. And why not thank momma earth, the gods, nature spirits, and the ancestors for the gifts and blessings received.

Have a picnic, feast, do some match making, start a trail marriage, do some trading for more supplies, have a wedding, and enjoy some good natured athletic contests. Soon, the dark time will be upon us once more.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lughnasadh

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lugh

http://www.druidry.org/druid-way/teaching-and-practice/druid-festivals/lughnasadh/deeper-lughnasadh