High Day Essays

2. Short essays on each of the eight ADF High Days including a discussion of the meaning of each feast. (125 words min. each)

BELTANE ESSAY

I live in South Central and Coastal Texas. I know Beltane is coming when wildflowers transition from pale tones and profusions of Indian paintbrushes and Bluebonnets, to more vibrant and deeper toned blooms. The greenery becomes lusher and, most years, the grasses transition from rich green to an undertone of browning as the sun’s heat becomes stronger. It is also the season of torrential rain storms, terrific lightning, tornadoes, and, when I am in Houston, concerns about the coming Hurricane season.

In ancient times, Beltane was an agrarian holiday celebrated around May 1st when cattle returned to the fields. The Celts in particular recognized two main seasons, Winter and Summer, with Beltane marking this transition. Fire festivities sought to protect and bless people and animals and promote fruitfulness. Sympathetic magic via copulating in the fields and other fertility rites promoted the fecundity of land and beast. Sympathetic magic may be part of “goin’ a-May-ing” (as my Southern granny called it), visiting neighbors with gifts of flowers for which food was traditionally provided. This exchange of bounty gets the fertile energies of the season moving through the community; it also echoes the gift cycle common across Indo-European religions and in ADF practices.

Nature spirits are more active. Winter involved withdrawal into human controlled land. Even crops were thus far protected within the Earth. Nature spirits are now a greater part of life as cattle and people go beyond these bounds. Honoring and propitiating these spirits was necessary as was purifying and protecting animals and people before venturing out into the land populated by those from whom domesticated spaces were taken. Bonfire traditions of this holiday continued into modernity in several areas. Cattle were run between and people jumped fires, and hearths were extinguished and re-lit from the sacred bonfires to bring those blessings into the home. Modern Neopagan practices may not emphasize the gift cycle, nor the potential danger of the wilderness. Instead, they emphasize passion and the Sacred Marriage to celebrate the rising fertility of the land. Many Neopagans utilize a myth cycle involving a maiden Goddess moving into motherhood through sex with the virile God (whom She may or may not have birthed). Divinatory rites may recognize the liminal aspect of this transition time.

Bonewits, I. (2005). A Neopagan Druid Calendar. Retrieved April 27, 2018, from http://www.neopagan.net/NeoDruidismCalendar.html

Britannica, T. E. (2011, October 11). Beltane. Retrieved April 27, 2018, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Beltane

Cabot, Laurie. Celebrate the Earth: A Year of Holidays in the Pagan Tradition. New York: Delta, 1994.

Cunningham, Scott. Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1988.

 SUMMER SOLSTICE ESSAY

Summer Solstice, an astronomical event, occurs in the Northern Hemisphere when the sun’s vertical noon rays are directly above the Tropic of Cancer. This day is the longest of the year, marking the beginning of summer and transition to ever increasing darkness as nights lengthen. The Celts do not appear to have celebrated the Summer Solstice specifically, based on available literary and archaeological evidence. However, solar holidays were celebrated by the inhabitants of the British Isles before the coming of the Celts and some solar themes are seen in Celtic mythology. It is reasonable to consider that the marking of this day might be important for decisions about planting, harvest, and animal husbandry in an agrarian society. The solstice is also a time when fruits begin to ripen in many geographical areas; this would have been well worth celebrating as available foods gained in variety and tastiness. Some plants were believed to have increased potency as well, leading to an ongoing tradition of gathering herbs at this time.

ADF celebrates on or around June 21st. The Summer Solstice is honored under various names with the commonly used Litha likely being derived from the English historian Bede. The word allegedly meant a gentle time of year and referred to June and July in the British Isles. Wicca speaks of the myth cycle of the Holly and Oak Kings who battle each year, the Oak King’s reign ending in defeat by the Holly King until Yule. These figures are often conceived as two faces of the male divine principle. As a modern Druid and Neopagan, I celebrate Summer Solstice as a point of connection with my greater Pagan community. I also celebrate because in Texas the power of the Sun and its role in my life are very tangible. In exploring the Irish Celtic hearth culture, I see connection with the defeat of the Fomorians by Nuada at Midsummer, beginning the reign of the Shining Ones as they overcome the Darkness. The Celtic god Lugh and fairy queen (and maybe goddess) Aine are also often celebrated this night, as are the Fair Folk more generally. Bonfires and related festivities, racing burning wheels down hills into water, and the blessing of holy wells are common folk customs.

Bonewits, I. (2005). A Neopagan Druid Calendar. Retrieved April 27, 2018, from http://www.neopagan.net/NeoDruidismCalendar.html

Cana, P. M., & Dillon, M. (2016, February 09). Celtic religion. Retrieved June 13, 2018, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Celtic-religion

Cabot, Laurie. Celebrate the Earth: A Year of Holidays in the Pagan Tradition. New York: Delta, 1994.

Cunningham, Scott. Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1988.

LAMMAS ESSAY

Lammas or Lunasa, August 1st or 2nd, is the first harvest festival when the grains ripen. The theme is celebrated across European cultures, but modern traditions are largely Celtic and/or Anglo-Saxon in derivation. The Celtic Lunasa celebrates the sun god Lugh, tutelary god of the month August in the Irish language, whose light is waning even as the bounty ripens, and his foster-mother Tailtiu who died clearing the land for agriculture. Lunasa involves games of strength and skill as well as feasting. The Anglo-Saxon hearth celebrates Ing Freya, and the sacrifice of the grain itself. Many Pagans honor John Barleycorn as the spirit of the grain and the Grain Mother. Traditional festivities revolved around the cutting of the first sheaf, which would often be used to bake special bread or in community rites, and the cutting of the last sheaf. Some common traditions include making corn dollies and Grain Mothers, or blessing a sheaf to stand in the home or barn until spring. These items might later be used in Imbolc rites as the Earth awakens. The most popular method of celebration might be baking. Indeed, Lammas comes from the Anglo-Saxon hlaf-mas, or loaf mass. Ancient and modern practices at this time carry a theme of the ripening of the bounty of all the energy put forth (by us and the sun) and the cycle of growth and sacrifice necessary for life to continue as the grain ripens, is cut down, nurtures the earth and Her people, and is reborn in the Spring. Wiccans often incorporate this into the myth cycle of their God and Goddess, with Her moving through motherhood and approaching her winter role as crone and Him being sacrificed to be reborn and become again Her lover. The exact astrological date halfway between the equinox and solstice tends to be August 7th and some in ADF and other traditions mark it with the breaking of a stick, as a thing that cannot be undone to honor the moment. It is one of my favorite holidays, when I take stock of the seeds I have planted and begin to prepare myself to harvest the results, noting unmet needs in preparation for the drawing in of winter ahead.

Albertsson, A. (2013). To Walk a Pagan Path: Practical spirituality for every day. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn.

Bonewits, I. (2005). A Neopagan Druid Calendar. Retrieved April 27, 2018, from http://www.neopagan.net/NeoDruidismCalendar.html

Cana, P. M., & Dillon, M. (2016, February 09). Celtic religion. Retrieved June 13, 2018, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Celtic-religion

Cabot, Laurie. Celebrate the Earth: A Year of Holidays in the Pagan Tradition. New York: Delta, 1994.

Cunningham, Scott. Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1988.

AUTUMNAL EQUINOX ESSAY

The astronomical equinox occurs between the 20th and 23rd of September in the northern hemisphere; it is the point at which the sun is balanced on the equator before rising and setting farther south of true east and west. This day is a liminal time, fairly equally balanced in light and darkness. In some traditions it marks the descent into the dark half of the year, although many Indo-European cultures marked this at Samhain or Yule instead. There is little evidence of ancient Indo-European cultures celebrating the autumn equinox specifically. My Grove this year will be celebrating a Baltic holy day using the myth of Marzana and Jarilo, her divine brother husband, who She is doomed to kill despite the depth of Their love because They are personifications of forces in tension, of life and death. We will be mourning His death and celebrating Her growing power over the coming winter months, making offerings to Her for blessings and protection during that time

The day is widely celebrated in the neopagan Wheel of the Year as Harvest Home, Alban Elfed, or Mabon, among others. The harvest of the last of the corn and grain, nuts, vegetables, berries, and apples are commonly acknowledged, with folk customs around these harvests sometimes being incorporated into neopagan practice. Themes of the divine child being seeded into the Earth Mother to ripen over winter and be born at spring may come into play in some myth cycles, especially of a Wiccan variety. In addition, all the planning, sowing, and tending of our hard work and personal goals, things celebrated in earlier high days in many paths, are being reaped at this time and the bounty of our hard work celebrated. For me, this has always been a time that sparks spark introspection, identifying and letting go of the things that have spoiled harvest or goals that are no longer meaningful. While I celebrate my growth, prosperity, and blessings, I also acknowledge the need to consider what did not work so well as I prepare to sink back into myself over the coming winter. I commonly meditate, journal, cook special meals using newly available ingredients, and make offerings in thanks for my many blessings to mark the occasion.

Albertsson, A. (2013). To Walk a Pagan Path: Practical spirituality for every day. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn.

Bonewits, I. (2005). A Neopagan Druid Calendar. Retrieved April 27, 2018, from http://www.neopagan.net/NeoDruidismCalendar.html

Cabot, Laurie. Celebrate the Earth: A Year of Holidays in the Pagan Tradition. New York: Delta, 1994.

Cunningham, Scott. Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1988.

SAMHAIN ESSAY

Samhain, treated as the neopagan new year in many traditions, is one of the attested fire festivals of the Celtic hearth culture. Being from San Antonio, Texas, the themes of this high day are seen in Dia de los Muertos and other Catholic rites around these dates. I grew up with a culture that acknowledged the central role of death in life and maintained strong ties to beloved family and cultural or personal heroes across that threshold in a way that was as joyous as it was sorrowful. That had a powerful role in shaping my understanding of Samhain. It is generally seen as a time when the Veil between the worlds in thin, the shadow side of Beltane, and the transition from the light half of the year to the dark. Historically, the final hunting harvest of slaughtering the herds, occurred now. Where we were as a people going out into the world with herds and to till, now we withdraw into our homes and immediate, civilized surrounds. The Sidhe and the dead walk among us, and may prowl the edges of our warmth, or get comfortable in those emptied lands. Propitiatory rites and offerings were made, and bonfires lit for protection and blessing in the coming months. Food offerings or a seat at table for beloved dead were often part of the festival. Modern costume traditions and trick or treating may have evolved from mumming, where people dressed up and went door to door reciting verse in exchange for treats.

Though I am a vegan, I recognize the vital importance animal husbandry had for my ancestors and has for many cultures around the world today. This aspect is largely lacking from many neopagan celebrations today, although recently harvested apples and nuts sometimes play a prominent role, particularly in folk divination practices. Dumb suppers, telling stories of cultural or family heroes and beloved dead, mumming important myths, and acknowledging the vital role death plays in life and rebirth. Propitiatory rites are far less common, but many modern celebrations continue to embrace the use of fire as a centerpiece of celebrations, to purify and bless the folk and release anything holding us back on the cycle of rebirth into the coming year.

Albertsson, A. (2013). To Walk a Pagan Path: Practical spirituality for every day. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn.

Bonewits, I. (2005). A Neopagan Druid Calendar. Retrieved April 27, 2018, from http://www.neopagan.net/NeoDruidismCalendar.html

Cabot, Laurie. Celebrate the Earth: A Year of Holidays in the Pagan Tradition. New York: Delta, 1994.

Cunningham, Scott. Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1988.

YULE ESSAY

Yule is a common name for the winter solstice, widely celebrated across neopagan traditions. The astronomical solstice occurs between December 20th and 23rd, and marks the longest night of the year; the sun will be at its southern most point when rising and setting and begin to gradually traverse north, back across the equator. There is no attested celebration for it in the Celtic hearth culture, but Yule rites were common in Nordic cultures. One tradition involved swearing oaths for the new year on Freyr’s boar, which would then be anointed and sacrificed. My Grove practices in an Anglo-Saxon hearth and makes a bread pig for use in this rite. The Yule tree or log was felled, decorated, and burned for blessings, being lit with the remains of the log from the prior year, with feasting and merry making. Crop lands and trees were wassailed, from the Anglo-Saxon wæs hæl (be whole or hale), to ensure abundance in the coming year. In broader neopagan myth cycles, the Oak King is born at this time, the Goddess having nurtured Him in Her womb all year, and subsequently fights and kills the Holly King, who slew Him/His Father at Midsummer.

Modern non-pagan culture has incorporated many of the traditions of these celebrations from the time when Christianity spread across Europe, converting different cultures. Yule trees, wassailing, gifting and feasting, all have survived in modern Christian and secular celebrations. Even for those who have no spiritual or religious practice, this is a time of family, togetherness, celebrating love, giving gifts, and bringing community and warmth into the darkest, and often dreariest, part of the year. My own home in Texas rarely sees ice or snow, and is in fact at its most temperate, weather wise, rainy but cool. As climate has changed, sometimes we even still have leaves on the deciduous trees at this time of year. Still, cooler winds begin to blow, and I can feel my own energies sunk back into the root of myself, renewing and resting. I often do shadow work, and inner seeking for wisdom and strength at this time, enriching the loam of myself for the coming days of greater work.

Albertsson, A. (2013). To Walk a Pagan Path: Practical spirituality for every day. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn.

Bonewits, I. (2005). A Neopagan Druid Calendar. Retrieved April 27, 2018, from http://www.neopagan.net/NeoDruidismCalendar.html

Cabot, Laurie. Celebrate the Earth: A Year of Holidays in the Pagan Tradition. New York: Delta, 1994.

Cunningham, Scott. Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1988.

Lindemans, Micha F. “Freyr.” Encyclopedia Mythica. 3 March 1997, 11 April 2010

IMBOLC ESSAY

Imbolc is the most personally meaningful high day for me, associated as it is with my Lady Brighid. It is across-quarter festival celebrated either February 1st or 2nd, and as the Celts reckoned days from sunset to sunset, festivities started the sunset before. This day celebrated the coming in of the ewe’s milk, one of the first indications of spring and returning life. Traditions such as the secular groundhog seeing his shadow and Cailleach gathering firewood meaning more sun and a long winter are forms of weather divination common to this time as people begin to look forward to and plan for expanded work and boundaries. Many folk traditions survive to modern time and have been incorporated into neopagan practice, particularly Celtic ones. The making of a Brideog, which is then welcomed into the home and given offerings and a place to sleep that night, Brighid’s Crosses for blessings and protection, or a brat brid for healing are all commonly done. The high day is widely associated with energies of renewal, of cleaning and planning and preparation for the time of planting, not only in agricultural cycles but in terms of personal growth as well. Other traditions, like the Norse Charming of the Plough, directly involve invoking blessings for fertility and abundance on the land and the tools used to work it.

My veganism impacts my celebration of this holiday as well. I do not use dairy products of any kind, which Brighid does not seem to mind and I bake Her a fresh loaf of braided bread. For me, this day is very much about Her and celebrating renewing energies rather than of the return of dairy, as vital as that resource was to my ancestors. I make a new Brighid’s cross for blessing and protection in the coming year, and make offerings in gratitude for the blessings of the year past. I usually also finalize some of my personal goals and plans for the coming year, what I want my harvest to be so to speak, and thus start thinking of the resources I will need to accomplish them. This year, I want to expand my healing work and so am going to hand stitch a brat brid to be charmed that evening.

Albertsson, A. (2013). To Walk a Pagan Path: Practical spirituality for every day. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn.

Bonewits, I. (2005). A Neopagan Druid Calendar. Retrieved April 27, 2018, from http://www.neopagan.net/NeoDruidismCalendar.html

Cabot, Laurie. Celebrate the Earth: A Year of Holidays in the Pagan Tradition. New York: Delta, 1994.

Cunningham, Scott. Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1988.

Weatherstone, Lunaea. (2015). Tending Brigid’s Flame: Awaken to the Celtic Goddess of Hearth, Temple, and Forge. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn.

VERNAL EQUINOX ESSAY

The Vernal Equinox is an astronomical event occurring between March 20th and 23rd during which night and day are equally balanced, and the sun crosses the equator again to rise and set above true north. There is no Celtic holiday attested at this time, but some form of celebration seems to have occurred in Germanic and Baltic hearths. Many Baltic tribes had customs involving drowning or otherwise killing Marzana, goddess of death who reigns in winter, gaining her power in mourning and rage at her killing of her brother-husband Jarilo, to bring about the spring and summer. Modern neopagans often celebrate the coming of true Spring, and the awakening of fertility. In some myth cycles, this is the time when the reborn God/Oak King/Divine Child begins his courtship of the Goddess in her maiden aspect. This high day is often called Ostara, after Eostre, whose name derives from the reconstructed proto-Indo-European *H₂ewsṓs, a PIE dawn goddess. Goddesses of dawn and sunset are a common theme across Indo-European cultures, and the association of dawn and spring seems a natural one, especially as the Equinox is the time when the year tips into days that hold more light than darkness. Coloring eggs, blessing eggs to bury, planting charmed seeds, gathering spring flowers for various creations, and pastel colors are all very common practices across traditions. Many of these folk customs, along with fertile hares, such as those associated with Freya, and the eating of candy and chocolate in seasonally appropriate shapes, have survived in secular and Christian cultural practices.

In my area, this is a time when the weather loses all balance, or perhaps balances at extremes. Often, the early morning and evening are very cold, sometimes even at freezing, while you need shorts and flip flops for the 90 degree weather at 2 pm. The wildflowers begin to proliferate, carpeting the state in a tapestry of bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes, and my favorite flower, daisies. Spring storms may pop up and blustery winds, but everything within and around stirs the blood. I often spend time assessing where I am in gathering resources and skill building for my personal growth goals for the year at this holiday, in addition to the more traditional fertility celebrations.

Albertsson, A. (2013). To Walk a Pagan Path: Practical spirituality for every day. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn.

Bonewits, I. (2005). A Neopagan Druid Calendar. Retrieved April 27, 2018, from http://www.neopagan.net/NeoDruidismCalendar.html

Cabot, Laurie. Celebrate the Earth: A Year of Holidays in the Pagan Tradition. New York: Delta, 1994.

Cunningham, Scott. Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1988.

 

 

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