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Posts Tagged ‘may day’

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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Beltane is the second cross-quarter day in the Neopagan calendar, and occurs on or around May 1st. This is sometimes considered the second most important holiday to Samhain, and is in a lot of ways it’s mirror holiday. While Samhain celebrates death, the ending of the year, and the beloved dead, Beltane is a fertility festival, steeped in the coming new life of the earth and the return of flowers, as well as the promise of a good harvest. I have heard it said that Samhain is when the Otherworld comes closest to joining our world, and that Beltane is when our world is closest to joining the Otherworld.

Ancient Gaelic traditions include building fires and driving the livestock between them to bless them. Many other traditions, like maypole dancing, come from the Germanic cultures, making this Neopagan holiday a good blend of Indo European traditions. The name Beltane is, itself, Gaelic – the Germanic culture celebrated Walpurgis Night. There is a possible connection as well to the Roman festival of Flora, the goddess of flowers, though the festival of flowers was centered less on bonfires and more on flowers and drinking. (Drinking, of course, is likely common to all of these celebrations, but modern Neopagans are warned to be careful about combining alcohol with bonfire jumping.)

In the Neopagan Wheel of the Year, Beltane is when the Goddess and the God are celebrating their fertility and consummating their marriage. Common traditions are creating flower garlands, dancing a may-pole, building bonfires, having sex (consenting adults only), and generally celebrating the fact that Summer is on its way in, and the Earth’s fertility has resumed, and it’s not cold and snowy anymore. Less common are flower baskets (May baskets) left anonymously as gifts on people’s porches (which makes a nice counterpart to trick-or-treating at Samhain). The May morning dew is said to be miraculously healing and rejuvenating, leading to myths about bathing your face in it, or gathering it in special cloths.

Beltane, Walpurgis Night, May Day and other associated holidays are all celebrated widely, even into modern times in a lot of places, regardless of Christianization. In many places, May is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, but the same celebrations (like giving baskets of flowers) are simply given new names and continued. In other places, people simply continue to build their bonfires and celebrate the coming of May, regardless of what tradition or religion they might be.

This is, in general, an extremely lighthearted and joyful celebration in modern times. It frequently gets connected with faeries and fey lore, and gives modern Neopagans a chance to dance, sing, drink, and make merry at the end of winter. This year, since the spring has been so cool and wet (and even, in some places, snowy) many US Neopagans are looking forward to Beltane and hoping that the weather will cooperate. Here on the Gulf Coast, the cooler weather has meant that things aren’t growing as fast as they usually do, so my celebration will include some extra oomph for my garden, so that it will be productive and fruitful before the heat of summer!

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