Category Archives: Holidays

The Eight-Fold Wheel of the Year

The Eight-Fold Wheel of the Year is a solar calendar marking the eight seasonal points of the ancient and indigenous western European holiday tradition.

It has always been vital for human survival to live in tune with the seasonal cycle in order to plan ahead and prepare for the various environmental changes that occur over a year. Our lithic ancestors needed to know when berries ripen, when herds migrate or when the snow comes just for basic survival. Along the way certain specific celestial events were noted that marked the beginnings and midpoints of the seasons and these dates were set apart as special. As civilization developed and farming became central to life, celebrations and holidays were created through tradition and the foresight of wise and creative participants. This is such an intrinsic part of our evolutionary heritage that our greatest holidays, those with long histories attached to them still carry these ancient seasonal and astronomical markers.

In the mid 20th century an uncertain group of Euro-traditionalist scholars combined the four-point seasonal holidays of the Germanic Anglo-Saxon tradition with a quite similar though differently organized traditional Celtic holiday calendar to create the Eight-Fold Seasonal Cycle. Though originally combined by neo-pagans to satisfy their need for a holiday cycle and to reclaim the old ways, it corresponds naturally with the holiday cycle already celebrated throughout Western civilization. It serves as a useful toolbox for those desiring to orient themselves with a more naturalistic or even indigenous outlook on life.

The Holidays

There is no “true” beginning or end to the Eight-Fold Seasonal Cycle, and different communities begin their year at different points for cultural and historical reasons of their own. Since I have a strong affinity for the Irish Celtic orientation I would normally begin with Samhain, but for this article I’ll start at at a point that seems like a more natural beginning, Yule.

Each holiday is presented below in brief. Click on the name of each holiday to be taken to a full article describing that day in more detail.

Yule, Dec 21st
A Germanic holiday in its origin, Yule falls at the winter solstice. It’s a time of new beginnings as the midpoint of winter. After two brutal months of winter the days are finally becoming longer once again and there is hope for a new summer just months ahead. It’s a time to celebrate the birth of a new year, and new sun. Yule traditions coupled with traditions from the Roman Saturnalia and transferred into a Christian context have been handed down to us as the modern day Christmas.

Imbolc, Feb 1
Imbolc is an Irish holiday. It’s the first defining evidence of the fulfillment of the promise made at Yule. The young earth is becoming fertile and the young sun has begun to show signs of his virility. This is when seeds that have lain dormant in the earth begin to show the first signs of sprouting. Life is starting to become more active after the hard winter. It is a time for lovers. The symbolism of Imbolc has been adapted into multiple different celebrations such as Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras.

Ostara, March 21st
Ostara falls on the Spring Equinox. At Ostara the Corn Mother is celebrated in her first stirrings of pregnancy. Agriculturally Ostara comes at the end of the Spring sowing season. Flowers are blooming everywhere and the animals are starting their mating dances as pollen wafts through the air. This holiday was wholesale converted, name and all into the Church as Easter and many of its symbolism such as rabbits and colored eggs were adopted along with it.

Beltane, May 1
Beltane is an Irish holiday and is also full of fertility symbolism. As the crops and herds are flourishing and pollinators are active, sexuality is pervasive through Beltane. Ancient customs recall celebrations in which lovers met in the fields, the forests, or along the shores for trysts and escapades. The Maypole with its phallic symbolism was commonly danced at Beltane.

Midsummer, June 21st
The summer solstice is the longest day of the year, with the sun at its strongest, therefore Midsummer represents the triumph of light over darkness. It is the counterpart to Yule, the fulfillment of prophecy. The Solar Hero born at Yule rises to his destiny. He could be King Arthur, Lugh Lamfada or God.

Lugnasadh, Aug 1
Lugnasadh is the first real harvest festival. It means “The Wake of Lugh.” As autumn approaches, summer day’s become noticeably shorter as winter’s grip is only a short way off and the sun begins to die. As a celebration many competitions and public dances are traditional.

Mabon, Sept 21

Mabon is the autumnal equinox. To some degree Mabon is a time of mourning. The Solar Hero is near death, and the cold grip of winter begins moving in steadily to rule the land. The powers of light and darkness are balanced one final time, allegorically locked in combat and the hero meets his doom.

Samhain, Oct 31st-Nov 1st
Samhain traditionally celebrates the last harvest of the season. It was the highest feast day on the old Celtic calendar and often regarded as the Celtic New Year. It represents the end of the active season and the beginning of the dormant season, the season of death as the solar hero lies slain. As such the date is associated with ghosts and dark themes eventually becoming the modern day Halloween.

As you see, the Solar Wheel follows the annual cycle through the activity of the sun and its relationship with the earth in order to sustain life. The symbolism associated with that has been built into allegories, mythologies and cultures, but at their core lays our genuine evolutionary nature. As natural beings, we are dependent upon this cycle of life, the dance between sun and earth. By living in tune with the seasonal cycle along with other traditions, customs and philosophies which I can only call Indigenist, I think we become more centered and grounded as human beings and more complete. With that completeness we lose a lot of insecurity, and anxiety about the meaning of it all and our place within it. This is just such a thing I think can help restore a bit of sanity to modern humanity.


Ostara and the Origin of Easter’s Symbolism

Easter is perhaps the most significant day on the Western liturgical calendar, celebrated in commemoration of the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead after his crucifixion on Good Friday. Many of the symbols and traditions of Easter have their origins in an older, Germanic tradition that is still celebrated to this day by Christians and neopagan revivalists alike, Ostara.

Ostara is traditionally celebrated on March 21, spring equinox as it is the solar compliment to Easter’s lunar reckoning. It is one point on the Eight-Fold Wheel of the Year, and it is regarded as one of the four high holy days in modern Druidry called Alban Eiler: “the Light of the Earth.”

The word Ostara derives from the old Anglo-Saxon word Eostre, the name of an obscure Germanic goddess about whom little is known today. Her name is linguistically related to the word for “east,” giving further credence to the strong solar significance of the holiday. And from this name we also derive the word Easter.

In modern paganism Ostara is regarded as the Festival of the Trees, due to the regrowth of their foliage at this time of year, a strong metaphor for resurrection and rebirth. Agriculturally Ostara comes at the end of the spring sowing season. Flowers are blooming everywhere and the insect population is making a drastic comeback. The animals are beginning to start their mating dances and pollen wafts through the air fertilizing the crops. Colored eggs and rabbits are indicative of this season by virtue of their association with fertility. In such, this holiday is directly associated with the inner Cauldron of Incubation. This is a very inspirational time.

At Ostara the Corn Mother is celebrated in her first stirrings of pregnancy and often symbolically sacrificed as an expectant mother must sacrifice of herself to bare and care for her children. This is a consistent theme amongst many agricultural societies from the Anglo-Saxon John Barley Corn to various Native America manifestations of the Corn Mother.

It’s not all just joy and the pleasures of fertility, however. Ostara also has certain themes of conflict associated with it. As the day that finally signifies the summer’s conquest over winter, the conquest of darkness by light, and allegorically the conquest of evil by the good an d majestic solar hero. And so we see ritual competitive sports and ball games are traditional at this time. Amongst many Western European populations there will be a ritualized and symbolic battle between the seasons, often in the form of a sword dance wherein the participants act out the opposing roles as either teams or one on one.

Ostara may not be Easter, but the two holidays share a common history, symbolism and philosophical character that are significant to the natural cycles of life. The winter has finally ended. There is abundance in life and resources looking forward. The darkness has been conquered.


Bob Marley’s Rebel Music, My Guiding Light

Today would have been Bob Marley’s 75th birthday if he had lived. Tragically, he died of cancer on May 11, 1981 at the age of 36. Most people know that Bob Marley and the Wailers put reggae on the map, taking it from obscure local Jamaican music and turning it into the international phenomenon it became. But for me, Bob Marley isn’t just another name among the many other ground-breaking musicians of the 1960s and 70s. When we talk about Bob Marley we’re not just talking about music anymore; we’ve crossed into the subject of mysticism and religion. Bob Marley is less like a rock star and more like a biblical messenger.

I grew up in coastal and beach towns, so I always knew who Bob Marley was, but through a lot of my early teens I was more into punk rock and heavy metal. Then in 1993, I was the president of my church youth group at St. Anne’s and we took part in an annual Diocesan Youth Camp Out. This was two nights at an outdoor coastal retreat which brought high school kids together from Catholic churches over the whole Florida Panhandle. The theme that year was “One Love, One Life” and Bob Marley’s hit song was played at all the activities throughout the weekend. The t-shirts had red, green and gold on them. It was a genuine religious experience on a Florida beach with Bob Marley’s message front and center.

I was captivated by how much of Marley’s music was religious in its nature. It may as well be gospel music. Listening to Marley’s lyrics is like listening to a hymn, and that one-drop beat and the rootsy melodies are infectious. It wasn’t a stretch for Marley’s music to become an influential part of my ever-growing spiritual life.

As I grew into my late teens, I became more disillusioned with modern life. I’d had a miserable experience in public school. I came to realized that the Church is full of vipers, but only after I had been bitten. I became aware of the corruption of government. The ongoing and almost unconscious genocide of Native peoples weighed on my mind and my soul. I felt like I had been lied to my whole life, and that everything I thought I knew up to that point was propaganda. I didn’t know who I was.  What does any of it even mean? I became angry and a little bit radical. I learned that thinking for myself is an act of rebellion.

I could have gone bad at this point, but I didn’t. Instead this is when Bob Marley’s music became most important to me. It captured my frustration and soothed what it could, and redirected what it couldn’t into a positive fire. This was real rebel music. It was rooted in positivity and righteousness, rather than the negativity found in so much of other rebellious music. Rather than being angry, self-destructive and nihilistic, I learned to be impassioned about injustice, and constructive while invigorating my faith and maintaining a sense of wonder about the world. This is what held me together. The message I learned from Bob Marley and through him from other reggae artists and the Rastafarian movement is something that has continually been a guiding light for me over the years.


It encouraged me to embrace my roots.
It helped me bridge the gap between my indigenous traditions and my orthodoxy.
It helped me understand the significance of my place in the greater movement of history.
It helped me to see that each native struggle as another front of the same global struggle for freedom, and sovereignty.
It helped me to understand that I have a role to play in this struggle and how I can fulfill that mission through education, prayer, and service to my people and revitalization of our traditional cultures.

I can’t stress enough how important it was for me that this message of reggae didn’t just want to teach me rules and ethics and tell me to be a good boy, and it didn’t just encourage me to rebel without a cause. The Rastafarian philosophy freely recognized and validated my grievances with the modern world and gave me positive means to deal with negative realities.

So today isn’t just another birthday of another popular musician to me. It is the anniversary of the day a great man came into the world who would have a positive spiritual impact on many disillusioned youth throughout the world for over five decades now. He may have saved my life. While Bob Marley should be remembered for his groundbreaking music, he is also remembered for his role as an emissary of the divine, a messenger for the revolutionary word of God – Jah Rastafari.


Imbolc (St. Brigid’s Day)

Imbolc is an ancient Celtic Fire Festival traditionally celebrated on February 1st and heralds in the beginning of spring. For several hundred years this day has been the feast day of Saint Brigid of Kildare and before that of an Irish goddess by a similar name.

As the first day of spring, Imbolc is placed early in the season because Celtic people recognized that seasons begin upon their incubation rather than at their midpoint as the seasons are generally measured today. Similarly, the feast day itself as with all Celtic fire festivals begins the eve before the actual calendar date. Being a fire festival, Imbolc was marked by bonfires, hearthfires and candles. And as is traditional for the Irish any time of year, Imbolc would be celebrated with a solemn visit to sacred wells, or rivers

By Imbolc, the days have become noticeably longer since midwinter’s darkness as the sun continues to mature in the sky. The young earth is becoming fertile and the young sun begins to show signs of his virility. Seeds that have lain dormant in the earth will soon sprout. Life is becoming more active as the cold winter fades away. The stag begins to regrow his antlers and shall soon be searching for his spring-time mate. This is the day for coming of age.

In its earliest incarnations, Imbolc was a shepherd’s holiday likely called Oimelc, meaning “ewe’s milk.” At this time of year, the female sheep have often recently given birth and are lactating. Another proposed meaning of the name Imbolc would translate to “in the belly” carrying forward this theme of fertility, mating and pair-bonding.

Though Imbolc is still celebrated continuously in parts of Ireland and Britain, it was also adopted into the neopagan Eightfold Wheel of the Year in the mid twentieth century. In this progression, Imbolc is the first discernible evidence of the fulfillment of that divine promise of Yule, celebrating the returning of light and the fertility of the earth.


Anciently, Imbolc is the feast day of Brigid, patroness of poetry, medicine and metallurgy and celebrates her as the fertile virgin Earth-bride to be mated to the returning sun of spring personified as the youthful Green Man, an archetype of the springtime blooming. His hair and beard are usually represented as leaves and vines. His symbols are horns, vegetation and snakes. Though, the male hero plays an integral role in this relationship, Imbolc is truly in celebration of the Bride. Amongst her many epithets Brigid is referred to as “mistress of fire,” “old lady of the whirling fire,” and selchi shut emyss; “mistress of serpents.” The Catholic saint is portrayed just as strikingly though far less romantically as a bride of Christ.

The serpent is also a symbol of Imbolc. Much like the similar event of Groundhog Day which falls at this same time, the sighting of snakes at this time of year indicates the arrival of spring. Snakes brumate in the winter; a kind of mild hibernation. They return in the spring, making their reappearance a sign of springtime fertility. Snakes have been seen as symbolic of rebirth in many cultures due to the manner in which they slough their skin and are thus each time ‘reborn.’ The sighting of the first serpent of spring is considered a good omen bestowing virile blessings upon the seer. For this reason, the historical celebrations of Imbolc included the pounding of a serpent effigy and the pronouncement: “Today is the day of the Bride. The serpent shall come from his hole. I will not molest the serpent and the serpent will not molest me.”

As an agricultural celebration and the first fertility rite of the year, Imbolc is a time to prepare the fields for the sowing. Traditional celebrations for this time include breaking ground for new crops or blessing the fields, the plows and other farming tools, and offerings were made of milk, honey or mead, and cakes or bread.

Historically, by this time the winter supplies would be dwindling. Few if any fruits or vegetables were available. Wild animals are quite lean in late winter and so were the people having dropped their summer weight as they entered the lean season the Church would eventually institute as the season of Lent. Since wild foods are scarcest and our favorites scarcer still, this time period has historically marked a time of fasting.


Friday the 13th and the Ghost in My Backseat

Paraskevidekatriaphobia is the fear of Friday the 13th, and this evening, I had my weird Friday the 13th experience.

I was on my way home from dropping off my daughter at her school dance. As I was turning a corner I saw for a brief flash in my rearview mirror the image of a ghastly woman as if she was sitting in my back seat. She had a sort of bluish illumination with two dark eyes with blackened mascara-like smears running down her face. Nothing too original, but it did cause me a split second’s release of adrenaline. The best part is that I know exactly what I saw and why.

Yeah, kinda like that!

For uncertain reasons in the Western world and especially the United States when the 13th of the month falls on a Friday it is believed to be an unlucky day.

I grew up with this superstition and believed in it to whatever degree young children can believe in anything they have no ability to understand and no reason to believe other than the influence of their peers. The fact that I was a very young child at the beginnings of the extremely successful Friday the 13th movie franchise has shaded my view of the event in a particular light for me.

I’m not unique in this, these days Americans particularly see Friday the 13th as a scary and dark day, a sort of reverse holiday similar to Halloween without the costumes or trick-or-treating. It comes with its own myths and urban legends. Much like the Santa Claus at Christmas of the Easter Bunny in spring, the murderous hockey mask clad and machete wielding zombie Jason Vorheese from the Friday the 13th movies is and for a long time to come will be in the future attached to this spooky unholiday. This really is a testament more to the quality of the marketing of the franchise than the quality of the movies themselves that even as I child I found to be more funny than frightening, but I still love them. Jason lives in mythology alongside classic legendary supernatural evils like the Headless Horseman, Dracula, or Frankenstein.

There’s a fair amount of speculation regarding the origin of the Friday the 13th superstition, but no one really knows for sure. The number 13 has been considered an unlucky number for hundreds of years. This is so prevalent that most hotels do not even host a 13th floor. The numbers on an elevator will often go straight from 12 to 14 because many people are afraid to rent a room on the 13th floor. It might seem crazy, but it’s true.

The superstition of 13 being bad luck seems to have arisen during the middle ages and is assumed to have come from the story of the arrest of Jesus after the Last Supper when He and His twelve apostles were present equaling thirteen.  Similarly, the fact Jesus was crucified on the following day; Friday made that day a particularly infamous part of the week, one which Catholics and Orthodox Christians still consider a day of fasting. These two beliefs combined seem to be the origin of the superstition; two unlucky points occurring at once although the origins of Friday the 13th being especially unlucky didn’t seem to arise until the 19th century.

In the 20th century authors such as Maurice Druon in his novel Le Roi de fer (1955), and John J. Robinson in his book Born in Blood: The Lost Secrets of Freemasonry (1989) postulated a connection between this superstition and the day on which the Knights Templar were arrested on charges of heresy by King Philip the IV of France, Friday the 13th of October 1307. This was echoed in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (2003), and other books, memes and papers since then. Although this is one of my favorite hypotheses, the evidence to support this being the origin of the superstition is dubious at best. It’s more likely a combination of reasons.


In my car, as quickly as the ghastly woman had appeared in my rearview mirror she was gone, but I could still see the impression of her eyes. They were spots of dirt with what appeared to be smeared finger print running down the glass. As I was turning the corner the setting sun passed directly behind me for just a brief moment. The sun’s rays reflected off of the mirror in a manner framing the fingerprints in a glow and accentuating the smudges. Then my lizard brain took over and assembled this into an image I could make sense out of based on the fact I’ve been thinking about Friday the 13th and creepy stuff all day. When my daughter gets home from her dance we plan on watching some scary movies.

Human psychology is such a fascinating subject.


Beltane, Fire of Life

Here we are the beginning of summer. The earth is waking up and her creatures are becoming active once more. The sun sets later in the evening. Flowers are blooming. Bees are pollinating the crops. Birds are laying their eggs. The mating season is in full swing. Life is abundant. This is the season of Beltane.

Beltane is an ancient festival traditionally celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. This holiday coincides with the Germanic festival of Walpurgis. It is traditionally celebrated on May 1st. Ancient Gaelic tradition, much like Jewish tradition considered the beginning of each new day to be at sunset. Therefore, May 1st on the Celtic calendar really begins at sunset on April 30th of the Gregorian calendar.

The name Beltane is thought to be derived from a Gaelic term meaning the “fire of Belenos,” referring to an obscure Celtic solar deity. This date is a celebration that officially kicks off the active summer season, fully separate from the dormant times of winter. It is the counterpart to and opposite or the season of Samhain.

Flowers and blossoms are especially symbolic of this date as the crops have set to full blossom, some even starting to fruit. For this reason, the Flower Maiden plays a central role in the theme of the season. Coming of age, the Lord in his guise as the youthful Green Man or Stag Lord regaining his antlers has arrived not only to court the Flower Maiden, but to consummate their relationship, in their symbolic roles of pistol and stamen. Here, the young maiden is transformed into a woman through the loss of her virginity.

Sexuality pervades the themes of Beltane. Ancient customs recall celebrations in which lovers met in the fields, the forests, or along the shores for sexual escapades. As the counterpart and opposite to Samhain, bonfires also characterize Beltane and many of these midnight trysts occur at the edges of the firelight. The Maypole was commonly danced at Beltane. Often times a new pole would be erected each year, while the previous year’s pole was burned as part of a bonfire. The new pole would be allowed to stand all throughout the year. In some cases a live tree would be used instead.

Amongst herders, two fires would be built close beside each other. Then they would drive their herds between them as a means of purification, protection and fertility. The people would in some cases themselves also pass between the fires. Jumping over the fires to secure good blessings was also a custom practiced in certain parts of Ireland. These festivities often continued all throughout the night and culminated with the participants observing the sunrise, and bathing or washing with water touched by the first light of the season.

The boar hunt was another traditional activity occurring this time of year, held with great ceremonial significance. Ham and other pork dishes are traditional Beltane feast items. According to Alexie Kondratiev, the mythology associated with this holiday is Maponos (the youthful male) slaying the boar that will later kill him at Samhain. The boar in this case represents the forces of winter and death which are keeping the Flower Maiden (the earth) imprisoned. The young warrior as the solar hero defeats the dominating beast, sometimes a hag or wicked parental figure, freeing the earth maiden, symbolizing the spring. The conquest of the beast frees the earth to be the bride of the sun. In some traditions the hero must conquer the boar to retrieve his tusks, or some other item to use as a weapon to defeat the beast which imprisons the maiden. Here we obsere a common theme regarding the quest for a weapon that deals both death and life. Examples of such stories occur all throughout Celtic literature such as in the Welsh Mabinog, and can be seen especially in the marriage of Blodeuwedd and Lleu.

This is the beginning of the Celtic summer.


Samhain (Halloween), Harvest of Souls

A Jack O’Lantern, an American twist on an ancient Halloween tradition.

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. The spookiness, the costumes, and the troops of kids and families marching through the streets, shaking down the neighborhood for candy has left an indelible imprint upon my Autumnal expectations. Like most traditional Western holidays, Halloween and the rituals associated with it are descended from ancient traditions lost on most of modern society.

The name “Halloween” is actually a contraction of the phrase All Hallows Eve, but that is the later Christianized name for the holiday that stretches back into historical obscurity. The earlier and more indigenous form of the holiday is of Celtic origin and was known as Samhain (Sow-un) in Ireland.

Samhain is a three day festival that begins sunset on October 31 and ends at sunset on November 2. Traditionally, it celebrates the last harvest of the season and is often regarded as the Gaelic (Irish and Scottish Celtic) New Year. It was the highest feast day on the old calendar. Samhain translates from Gaelic for “Summer’s End,” and it represents the end of the active season and the beginning of the dormant season.

As a harvest festival Samhain is full of deep symbolism. The warm season is over. The season of light is at its close and darkness regains its dominion of the land. The last of the season’s crops have been harvested. The fields, formerly lush and bursting with life now lay stripped of their bounty. The harsh autumn sunlight cast upon the barren fields creates an eerie atmosphere and a sense of dread as winter approaches. Amongst herding communities this is the time that traditionally concluded with the fall slaughters. This is also a time amongst many communities that kicks off the traditional hunting season.


Surrounded by dead fields, bloody slaughters, the turn toward hunting as a means of subsistence, the waning of the sun’s influence, and the impending frost which will kill off what is left of the season’s greenery makes the theme of death inescapable. These are often somber days, therefore it is important that this day is celebrated with much festivity and jubilation as things will only become darker and colder as times progress toward Yule.

The last sheaf of the harvest would be traditionally cut ceremoniously and fashioned into a corn dolly. The corn dolly is named for the corn mother and placed in a special location where she can watch over the household, hall, circle, or clan. She will serve to continue to bestow the blessings of the harvest upon the community all throughout the barren winter months.

Due to the spirit of darkness and death, Samhain is a time when the veil between this world and the Otherworld is at its thinnest. This time of year brings with it the highest potential for vision seeking and prophecy. This is a time for to meditate upon the subconscious powers of the inner cauldrons and the cauldron of Annwn.

There is much folklore associated with Samhain. Fairy mounds are abundant with the jubilance of the Shining Ones, the Fair Folk and the Sidhe. The Solar hero is slain in the boar hunt and lies dead until he is reborn at Yule. The Kernunnos archetype reigns from this time forward, leading the Wild Hunt through the skies and the countryside, herding the souls of those who died during the previous year and taken on animal forms. In Germanic tradition the Wild Hunt is lead by either Odin or Thor.

Traditional celebrations for this holiday are naturally enough centered on bonfires, torches, and lanterns. As the origin of the modern Halloween; masquerade balls and parades are also appropriate ways to celebrate Samhain. Revelers would march through the town streets from house to house singing seasonal songs. Soul cakes (little square cakes with currants) were given out to the roving bands, who would offer a prayer or song for the dead of that house. This is the origin of “trick or treat” in which young, costumed children venture from house to house collecting candy.

Harvest delicacies are abundant this time of year. Fresh fruits are traditional and symbolic. In Celtic countries apples are symbolic of the season. In America, corn and pumpkins are profound harvest symbols. In my celebration, all three are important. Corn and apples are paired as symbols of the old world and new world tradition and are the appropriate sacrifices for this day. Since Mabon is a traditional brewer’s holiday, by Samhain the beer is usually well prepared and properly aged. Ales and ciders are especially traditional at this time of year.

Halloween is a great holiday. Its roots run deep and its symbols have profound spiritual and practical significance that have been watered down by a civilization whose people largely no longer live in a seasonal and agricultural society dictated by the changing seasons, but within the preserved customs of Halloween, the real meaning of Samhain can still be observed.


Mabon, Harvest of Heroes

The Festival of Mabon is the second of three harvest festivals attributed to the neo-pagan and Western spiritual revivalist’s eight-fold Wheel of the Year. It is celebrated on or near September 21 and coincides with the autumn equinox. The festival has also been adopted by Revival Druidry as Alban Elfed; one of the four High Holy days.

Mabon is an interesting festival to write about. Although the date on which Mabon falls is astronomically significant, a festival by this name did not exist historically. Notable academic and occultist Aidan Kelly named the equinox festival “Mabon” after the Welsh legendary figure and member of King Arthur’s court, Mabon ap Modron. It’s positioned right next to Michaelmas, the Catholic Church’s Feast of St. Michael the Archangel who is said to be the most like God, and whose characteristics are perhaps the most reminiscent of the solar hero, complete even in archetype as a warrior and dragon-slayer.

Mabon is significant in that as the second of three harvest festivals it lies between two other significant historical Celtic holidays, Lugnasadh and Samhain (Halloween) and contains elements of both. The autumn equinox signals the end of the mythic cycle. With the sun’s height being at Midsummer, it has now begun to wane. Together with the spring holiday Ostara, Mabon is one of two days of the year when the daylight hours are of equal length as the nighttime hours.


To some degree Mabon is a time of mourning. The powers of light and darkness are balanced one final time, allegorically locked in combat. The hero meets his doom as either the hunter is slain by his intended prey, or as Arthur mortally wounded on the battlefield defending his kingdom against the forces of darkness and chaos. It could be a myriad of turns on this theme. The Solar Hero is dying, and the cold grip of winter begins moving in stealthily to rule the land.

Much like the other harvest festivals, this is a time to reflect on the past, especially the past year. What have your efforts yielded? What positive or negative results have you experienced as a result of your choices and behaviors? What did you do that has had positive results in your life that you could do more or again? What changes would you make for the coming year in order to have even better results? Give thanks for life and all the good fortune you have no matter how difficult the past year may have been.

Equinox time is also a traditional time to begin brewing. Consider that the season’s harvest of wheat and fruits is just now being gathered and distributed. The beers, wines, and ciders which are such a part of the Halloween and Yuletide traditions are begun at this time. Even as the summer’s project of cultivating the fields comes to a close, it’s time for the beginning of new projects.

Lughnasadh: Harvest of Life

The Irish Celtic Festival of Lughnasadh is traditionally celebrated on August 1st but extends throughout much of the month. It is the first genuine harvest festival of the year and it coincides directly with the Anglo-Saxon holiday of Lammas.



The holiday is named for Lugh, the Irish hero of light. His name derives from the word for lightning and illumination. Amongst Germanic peoples, this day was sacred to the god Thor: the god of thunder, storms and agriculture. Thunder and lightning are obvious signs of rain and storm which are naturally an important ecological phenomenon for agricultural societies.

Lugh is of course more than a simple agricultural deity. As a patron of light, Lugh is the embodiment of all things light represents: intelligence, knowledge, wisdom, enlightenment. Science and artistry are also considered to have been invented by Lugh. Considering his close association with the Roman god Mars, Lugh is a patron of martial prowess, which is perhaps best exemplified through his son Cuchulain. All of these attributes, whether agricultural or innovative attest to Lugh as a god of wealth, the guardian and benefactor of the tribe’s prosperity.  It is probably more than mere coincidence that this time of year in Anglos-Saxon tradition, bondsmen would pay their rent.

This holiday, along with Imbolc, Beltane and Samhain represent the four main festivals of the medieval Irish calendar.  As the first true harvest festival in the seasonal cycle, Lughnasadh has certain associations with death.  In fact, the name itself translates roughly as “the wake of Lugh.”  Whereas holidays in the earlier seasons coincide with increasing life, harvest festivals are the first signs of the summer’s demise.  With the summer day’s becoming noticeably shorter at this time, it becomes quite obvious that winter’s grip is only a short way off.  Although the theme of a wake is a significant part of the festival, the overall atmosphere is generally one of joy and revelry.

The legends tell us that Lugh established the harvest fair of Lugnasadh in honor of his foster-mother Tailtiu at the Town of Teltown in County Meath.  Tailtu’s death was a necessary component in establishing the growing of the crops and the abundant harvest that follows.  These celebrations quite often resembled today’s Scottish Highland Games. Lugnasadh often involved horse races, and martial arts displays or competitions.  Competitive games such as chess were also a part of the festivities, representing Lugh’s victory over the Fomorian King Bres who previously controlled the powers of the Harvest, establishing the Irish agricultural tradition.

                     

Lugh is the hero of Light. For this reason he is often compared with the Sun, since the Sun is the greatest source of light with which humans and earthly crops interact. As a hero of Light, Lugh is also called Samh-ildánach, “the many gifted one,” because of his multiple skills in all the arts and trades.  Just as darkness represents ignorance, Light represents knowledge, and in this case knowledge of many, if not all things. In the old legends we find that Lugh (representing the Sun) conquers the Fomorians (representing darkness, ignorance and oppression). When this is done, Lugh wrestles from the King of primitive darkness the knowledge of cultivation and the harvest.

This is a celebration of the Harvest.  On this day families gather together to give thanks for the bounty of the Harvest and to reenact the mythological event that brought the Ancestors from a life of oppression and into a life of abundance with the knowledge of agriculture. It must be remembered that it is only with this knowledge that humankind has managed to not only survive, but to thrive in even inhospitable environments. It is agriculture that has allowed human beings to settle lands, build defensive structures and over all make life safer for acquiring food. This has allowed civilization to flourish and become specialized, developing art, literature, economics, and other remarkable aspects of material culture.

Midsummer

Midsummer is a traditional holiday celebrated throughout many of the world’s cultures, with ancient origins.  It is the celebration of the summer solstice, an important astronomical date on the annual cycle.  It is celebrated on or near the 21st of June. In many Celtic communities it is commonly celebrated on June 24th.

Due to its connection with the agricultural cycle, Midsummer is most often celebrated on the 21st of June by modern Heathens and neo-pagans as one of the eight sabbats. In Revival Druidry it is called Alban Heruin and is one of the four high holidays.

The summer solstice is the longest day of the year, with the sun at its strongest, therefore Midsummer represents the triumph of light over darkness.  The solar hero born at Yule and celebrated as the child of light is now at his peak.  He overthrows the oppressive king of winter and takes his rightful place upon the throne of the earth.  Just as in our time today, in ancient days marriages often occurred at Midsummer.

                    

As an agricultural holiday, in many parts of the world this is the earliest time that a harvest can be made since the springtime sowing; therefore it is a festival of first fruits. Traditional Midsummer rites are often centered on bonfires.  New fires would be kindled and offerings of flowers were made to them.  In many communities an effigy of a person would be burned in the bonfire.  Similarly to Beltane, cattle would be driven through the smoke of the fires as a means of blessing, protecting and enhancing the livelihood of the tribe and community.  Torches were lit from central bonfires and carried home where the hearth was lit.  Participants would dance around these fires and tend them throughout the night.  This all-night affair was commonly called “the watch,” and it was an integral part of the festivities.  Near the early morning when he fires had died down some, some of the revelers would jump over the flames for good luck and to encourage the crops to grow.

Midsummer Bonfire in Freiburg im Breisgau

Similar traditions are found on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.  Native American communities such as the Creeks, Seminoles, Cherokee, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and many others of the Eastern Woodland traditions celebrate the Green Corn rite: the new fire ceremony, the New Year, the greatest fast culminating in the first feast of the year.

At this time in the environment, the wild flora is also at its peak, especially of the medicinal variety, so this holiday also has a focus on gathering and honoring medicine.  Blackberries and wild plums are also ripening, making for natural symbols of this season. On the Muskogee calendar, June is Kvco Hvse or “Blackberry Sun.”

In many Germanic countries the Maypole is celebrated at Midsummer.  In some communities the Maypole was left up from Beltane and burned at Midsummer. Midsummer is the height of the spiritual year.  Medicine is strongest at this time.  Spirits of nature and of the ancestors, both good and malevolent are very active on a Midsummer’s night which inspired one of Shakespear’s most classic works; A Midsummer Night’s Dream.