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Posts Tagged ‘hallows’

I’ve long thought about writing up the holidays that I celebrate, as an Anglo-Saxon pagan druid with a strong English folk bent. So here you go – the wheel of the year, with the names I call each holiday and what I do primarily to celebrate each one.

  • Yule – greenery, lights, candles, and 12 days of preparation to begin the new year
  • Candlemas – the celebration of the returning light. Buying and preparing candles, cleaning oil lamps, blessing the home with light.
  • Eostara – the celebration of the dawn, the radiant dawn maiden Eostre, and the balancing towards the growing light of the year. Sometimes just “Spring Equinox”
  • May Day – For summer is a comin’ in and winter’s gone away-oh. Celebration of summer, and also of the first harvests of vegetables in Texas, planted back in February.
  • Midsummer – bonfires, grilling, burned herbs for protection, and protection against hurricanes and tropical storms. Purification by fire, dawn and sunset rituals.
  • Lammas – John Barleycorn, the sacrifice of Ing, the first grain harvest. Loaves baked and sacrificed for the blessings of the harvest for the whole season. Sacrifice – personal and as a group – made to ensure the prosperity of the group.
  • Harvest Home – very much a mini-Thanksgiving, this is the height of the harvest, and the middle of the second growing season in Texas. Naming a harvest queen, drawing her around in a wagon to bless the town. The “holy month” of the harvest.
  • Hallows – Ancestor’s night, the welcoming in of winter, the blood harvest and final sacrifice. Celebration of prosperity (hopefully) and of a year well spent. Entering into a liminal time between Hallows and Yule in preparation for beginning the cycle again.

I should note that a lot of this calendar is UPG and modern Neopaganism derived, just with an English-folk flavor to it. It works for me, and makes me feel connected to the ancestors of spirit from whom I draw my practice.

I also observe the Anglo-Saxon Lunar Months, which begin on the new moon – the true new moon, not the dark moon (so 2-3 days after the actual “dark moon”, when the first crescent is visible in the sky). You can find out when those dates are here.

This lunar calendar is given to us by Bede, so your mileage may vary as to how accurate it is, but I find it meshes well with the 8 holidays I celebrate above:

January, Bede explained, corresponds to an Anglo-Saxon month known as Æftera Geola, or “After Yule”—the month, quite literally, after Christmas.

February was Sōlmōnath, a name that apparently derived from an Old English word for wet sand or mud, sōl; according to Bede, it meant “the month of cakes,” when ritual offerings of savory cakes and loaves of bread would be made to ensure a good year’s harvest. The connection between Old English mud and Bede’s “month of cakes” has long confused scholars of Old English, with some claiming that Bede could even have gotten the name wrong—but it’s plausible that the name Sōlmōnath might have referred to the cakes’ sandy, gritty texture.

March was Hrēðmonath to the ancient Anglo-Saxons, and was named in honor of a little-known pagan fertility goddess named Hreða, or Rheda. Her name eventually became Lide in some southern dialects of English, and the name Lide or Lide-month was still being used locally in parts of southwest England until as recently as the 19th century.

April corresponds to the Anglo-Saxon Eostremonath, which took its name from another mysterious pagan deity named Eostre. She is thought to have been a goddess of the dawn who was honored with a festival around the time of the spring equinox, which, according to some accounts, eventually morphed into our festival of Easter. Oddly, no account of Eostre is recorded anywhere else outside of Bede’s writings, casting some doubt on the reliability of his account—but as the Oxford English Dictionary explains, “it seems unlikely that Bede would have invented a fictitious pagan festival in order to account for a Christian one.”

May was Thrimilce, or “the month of three milkings,” when livestock were often so well fed on fresh spring grass that they could be milked three times a day.

June and July were together known as Liða, an Old English word meaning “mild” or “gentle,” which referred to the period of warm, seasonable weather either side of Midsummer. To differentiate between the two, June was sometimes known as Ærraliða, or “before-mild,” and July was Æfteraliða, or “after-mild;” in some years a “leap month” was added to the calendar at the height of the summer, which was Thriliða, or the “third-mild.”

August was Weodmonath or the “plant month.”

After that came September, or Hāligmonath, meaning “holy month,” when celebrations and religious festivals would be held to celebrate a successful summer’s crop.
October was Winterfylleth, or the “winter full moon,” because, as Bede explained, winter was said to begin on the first full moon in October.

November was Blōtmonath, or “the month of blood sacrifices.” No one is quite sure what the purpose of this late autumnal sacrifice would have been, but it’s likely that any older or infirm livestock that seemed unlikely to see out bad weather ahead would be killed both as a stockpile of food, and as an offering for a safe and mild winter.

And December, finally, was Ærra Geola or the month “before Yule,” after which Æftera Geola would come round again.

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Last night some friends and I (Hi Yngvi!) did a group ritual to celebrate Hallows. It went well, minus one quick trip to the kitchen for a forgotten offering, but it brought to mind some of what I miss about previous ritual groups I’ve worked with, and something I feel I’m missing out on as a solitary Druid.

In the Core Order, you do a lot of work to set up a ritual – warding, honoring, recreating the cosmos and hallows, etc. Then you welcome in the Kindreds… and then it seems like there’s a short working where you make offerings to the deities or spirits of the occasion and then it’s right on to the omen and blessing part of the ritual, take everything down and you’re done. The middle part – the actual working in honor of the high day – is fairly short (or nearly nonexistent) compared to the rest of the work.

In my previous work, there was always setup involved, distributed to members of the group (or done by the leaders, depending on the step), but the main focus of the work was definitely on the High Day working – and it was definitely WORKING. There was decidedly magic involved. Maybe because my previous group was Wiccan, and a Witch Turns The Wheel, but I miss that feeling of purpose, and of magic, in my ADF rituals.

I also miss sitting with my groupmates after the working as we discussed the working and all things magical, winding down the energy and grounding. Last night we did a small ancestor toast, but that was really it, and we were on to dismissing the hallows and taking down the ritual. There are definitely reasons for that – some of which I didn’t know before hand (like we were only doing one round of toasting, so I should name everyone in the first round instead of just starting with the first one and then being like “whoops! now we’re done?”). Plus we were short on time. But it still felt like the “guts” of the ritual weren’t the important focus that they could have been. (This is not a criticism of my friends’ ritual skills – I was co-leading the ritual, so it’s just as much my fault!)

I am finally getting to where I have parts of the COoR that I use consistently (though I just got a new ritual template from another Anglo-Saxon Druid, and I’m totally stealing parts of that for my own use), and there are even parts I can improv offhand without a script, but I haven’t found a good way to feel the “magic” of High Day rituals.

Maybe that’s just a difference in focus – the high days are about honoring and giving gifts and receiving blessings, not about actively, magically turning the wheel of the year. The ADF rituals I’ve done where I’ve had magical workings to do – especially my oath rite – have been much more powerful. High days feel more like a ritual of obligation and less like they spring from a magical need. It feels like a Druid honors, offers, celebrates… but a Witch works.

Perhaps I need to work on combining some of my previous path into my ADF workings, and elaborate on the “work” part of the ADF COoR – it’s definitely got a spot built into the ritual format, but it’s not a required part of the high day. As I work out how to meld the Neopagan Wheel of the Year with the Anglo-Saxon holidays (which actually line up pretty well – no surprise there), I think I may be feeding some more Neopagan magical work into the ADF celebratory rituals. I’m more driven to do rituals that have purpose, and “Yay Ancestors, Have a Beer!” isn’t quite the purpose that I need from my rituals.

As much as I’m a working Druid (and intend to continue to be so), deep down I think I may still be a Witch – and a Witch Turns the Wheel.

Blessed Hallows!

 

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This week’s meditations included my winter solstice ritual, where I felt hurried to get through the Two Powers meditation. Fortunately I was able to slow myself down and take some extra breaths, so I didn’t feel hurried through the rest of the ritual.

Also I did a bit of mental grove work, which is quickly becoming my favorite meditation. The combination of visual with a still mind seems to really work for me. Some of this week was spent away from home, so it’s nice to be able to take a hallows with me wherever I end up.

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As a note – this is a fuzzy sort of post. I’m not really sure exactly what I’m doing, since as a meditation exercise, this is pretty new for me. Still, I’ve been asked to put together what I have so far, so here goes!

Before I start my visualizations, I do a grounding and centering meditation, like the Two Powers meditation. You generally want your mind to be stable and clear before you start introducing new imagery to it, and I need to get better at the Two Powers meditation anyway, so I’m using that one. Any grounding and centering meditation will work.

I start my visualization exercise by creating a Hallows (a Fire, Well, and Tree, consecrated as the Sacred Hallows, ADF style). I like to do a simple consecration of each, followed by sprinkling and censing the area while saying “By the Might of the Water, and the Light of the Fire, this Grove is made whole and holy.” This sets up a ritual space that I do need to take down at the end (don’t forget that part), but isn’t a formal ritual where I need to worry about offerings to the Kindreds.

I do make an offering of incense to the gatekeeper though. I’ve tried this with Cernunnos and with Garanus (the Crane), and it worked equally well both times, though I liked the energy of Garanus better. I ask the Gatekeeper to open the gates and to help me to feel their power as the sacred center.

Because I play video games, the main image I’ve been using for this type of connection is that of a Portal – an oblong “hole” in the fabric of the universe that you use to travel from this place to some other, presumably distant (or just different) place. Depending on the game, these are either cast by magical spellcasters, read from a scroll that enables a portal, or fired out of a dimensional portal gun that you point at things. Still, the image is pretty consistent – you get a glowy sort of oval that you can step through and be transported to another place.

Since that image is one that is ingrained in my brain pretty strongly, it’s something I can refer to easily and that works with the kind of image and connection I’m trying to build. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, think about maybe an arched doorway, or the center of a ring of standing stones, or even a tunnel. Watchers of science fiction television shows might envision something like a stargate. Basically, you want an image that works for you, that suggests an opening from wherever you are now into another place that might be distant or otherwise removed.

After you do your grounding exercise, I start to visualize a portal.* (I’m going to use the term portal since that’s the image I’m using. Feel free to substitute in a word that suits your own imagery better!) I concentrate on seeing in my mind’s eye this dimensional opening that leads into an unknown place. I try to see the edges of the portal grow distinct, and they glow slightly, but are a little out of focus. In the center there are stars – sort of like the deep, universal stars that you’d see in a truly dark place on a night with no moon. Endless sorts of stars.

And as I peer into that portal, from my little Hallows, I start to put together other portals, there in that deep dimensional starry place. Those portals lead to other Hallows, which I can’t quite see, because as a solitary, I really am working off my own imagination (with a little help from YouTube) about what other Hallows might look like. But there are always fires, or  wells, or trees, or all three. Some of them are elaborate, and others are simpler, like my own. They are imaginary Hallows, kind of like my Mental Grove (which, now that I think of it, is a place I should be trying this work from!) You could think of this step like a hallway of other “doors”, or, if you’re using the stone circle imagery, as though you’re looking through stones on one side, but can see portals out between all the other stones.

Basically I’m trying to establish that even though I’m here in my own Hallows, I’m connected through that sacred center to all the other Hallows, both linearly in space and vertically in time. I’ve not tried actually looking for any specific places to visit, I’m just looking to create that connection to something bigger.

Once I’ve sat for awhile and built up the visualization, I slowly allow my mind to come back to center and present, usually by making sure I’m mentally back in front of my own Hallows instead of out looking around. When I’m solidly back in myself, I close the Gates (with the help of the Gatekeeper), and return the fire, well, and tree to their normal, material selves. The whole process makes for a smallish ritual that takes 5-15 minutes, depending on how long you work with the meditative aspect of the visualization.

I think repeating this exercise will help me fine tune it (right now it’s a little fuzzy still, since I don’t have a clear picture of what I want to do). I also think practice will help me think less about the actual setup and more about what the experience/visualization is symbolizing. Right now I still feel more like I”m setting it up, and less like I’m actually connecting to anything. I don’t wonder if the reason I had better luck with Garanus as a Gatekeeper was simply that I’ve got a stronger connection to the Nature Spirits than I do to the Gods and Goddesses, of any stripe. (Not to mention my lack of a true hearth culture – I sometimes work in Celtic, but I have been drawn to Gaulish lately) I want to really *feel* a connection to the sacred center though, especially since creating it is such a big part of the CooR, and since feeling that connection is a big part of having a religious experience, for me.

 

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