Modern Pagan traditions have the Oak and Holly kings fighting at the summer and winter solstices. It’s a good excuse to evoke some mumming drama and get some chaps to hit each other with bits of wood, and as such is not without merit. But what of the oak and the holly?
Winter is certainly holly’s season. The deciduous trees shed their leaves a month or two ago, so the dark glossy hues of the holly stand out. Red holly berries can be one of the few bright things in a winter environment, still vivid even on gloomy days, and vibrant against backdrops of snow. Holly is certainly King at this time of year, but in practice he’s probably been King since Samhain.
This is me and my chap at last year’s mistletoe rite. It was cold, hence my failed attempts at rolling into a ball like a hedgehog. Midwinter is usually a tough time for outdoor ritual, but the attraction of Druids to mistletoe means outdoors is where you need to be. I’ve been to rituals working with pre-cut mistletoe, and it isn’t at the same. It’s a much more immediate experience when you’re in the process of removing a living, parasitic plant from the tree branch it has grown on. We go to an apple orchard, where there is a great deal of mistletoe, singing, and good cheer.
Rituals often raise interesting issues about what we do for real, and what we gently fake. The Great rite is a frequent case in point. We turn suspicions of historic sacrifice into corn dollies, offer wine and mead to the earth and not blood. Often a Druid ritual can seem less like an encounter with raw and wild nature, more like something safe and on the edges of familiarity. But then, England doesn’t have much wilderness, most of our more dangerous wildlife is gone – no bears and wolves round here, and I’ve not seen a boar.
All Hallows Eve falls on the 31st of October – the night before All Hallows Day, also known as All Saints Day. It’s part of the Catholic calendar. All Hallows Eve is also, in this tradition, known as All Souls Night – a time for remembering the less saintly-dead. It’s this tradition that Mexican day of the dead festivities, and pumpkin lanterns would seem to belong to.
We know that Samhain was the end of the Celtic summer. However, as with all ancient festivals, the issue of dates is a tad compromised by the problems of calendars. In 1582, the Gregorian calendar came in, adjusting the previous Julian calendar and fine tuning when leap years happen. The reason for this is that the date of Easter is calculated (because the only reference to it is the Jewish lunar calendar) in relation to the spring equinox, so calendar drift was causing the Church some headaches.
I live in an area where the winters are long. And cold. And snowy. Sometimes it seems like spring will never come again. So 5 years ago I started making corn dollies out of corn husks and cotton embroidery floss, cotton twine or jute twine. But these were not just ANY sort of corn dollies, these are SPRING corn dollies.
I know we traditionally associate Beltane with sexuality, but autumn is a lively time of year for many life forms. There are nuts dropping all over the place, the deer will be rutting soon, and the fungi are waving their genitals.
I’m late with this post. I normally aim to blog in the first two days of the month, and in truth this time I nearly forgot. The 1st brought me a handfasting, the 2nd a political launch and as I swapped hastily between celebrant and press officer hats, the Druid blogger hat didn’t get a look in. I wear a lot of hats, so this kind of thing happens now and then.
When you have one identity defined by one thing you are doing, it’s much easier to steer the course of your life and pace yourself in line with the year. The more hats you have, the harder it is to keep an overview. I frequently end up running from one kind of job to another, so busy trying to be in the right headspace for the task in hand that I don’t pay as much attention as I might to the bigger picture. So here I am wondering how it got to be September already, and nearly missing a post.
Lugnasadh, or Lammas, marks the end of the grain harvest, the time for celebration as all the crops are in. Yesterday, I walked in the Cotswolds, and I saw a great many ripe but un-harvested fields. In other years, I’ve seen it all come in well before Lugnasadh, and I’ve also seen the harvest fall much later. In wet summers, the crops can fail, and there is nothing of the grain to celebrate.
For me, this highlights an issue of Pagan disconnection from the Wheel of the Year. We celebrate the grain harvest at Lammas (the name means ‘loaf mass’) but most of us will not have been involved with the harvest, or even have an inkling as to when it happened in our locality. Not all areas are grain growing either. Does it even make sense to celebrate this festival if you live in an upland area that grows sheep, not corn?