As the sun moves north of the equator on its way up to the Tropic of Cancer, the days continue to grow shorter and the nights longer. This is the time of the An Ghrian Mór or “small sun” to the ancient Celts, that marks the commencement of the dark half of the year. Now is the festival of Samhain for those of us south of the equator.
The word “Samhain” is said to come from the Scots Gaelic samhainn and the Irish Gaelic samain or samfuin, both meaning “summer’s end” (at least from an etymological perspective) with sam meaning “summer” and fuin meaning “sunset” or “end”. Within the Irish medieval myth mentioned earlier, Tochmarc Emire, Samhain is the first of the four quarter days mentioned by Emer to the Ulster hero Cu Chulainn: “Samhain, when the summer goes to its rest, ” records Ronald Hutton in his book, Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain.
In Ireland and Scotland, a festival referred to as Feile na Marbh (the Festival of the Dead) was believed to have taken place; or in modern language, Oíche Shamhna (Irish) and Scots Gaelic, Oidhche Shamhna where the custom was (and in some places today still is) to set a place for the dead at the Samhain feast, and to tell tales of the ancestors on that night.
Originally, the “Feast of the Dead” was celebrated in Celtic countries by leaving food offerings on altars and doorsteps for the “wandering dead”, or a single candle was left lit in the window to help guide the spirits of ancestors home. Ancestors can fall into three categories – blood relatives, lineage (spiritual or otherwise), and those who are not related to us but who have inspired/enabled us to make life changing decisions (often for the better).
Samhain is a time of introspection. It is a time to heal the source of our deepest wounds, and those we have inflicted upon others around us. It is a time when we can learn to see things more clearly. We use this time to remove all falsehoods that we have built up throughout the year. We also can use this time of the year to remove those aspects of our life, which we have grown out of or no longer need.
The sacred Wheel of the Year has turned and here south of the equator we find ourselves at Samhain and awaiting the veils between the world of the living and the realm of the dead to open before us.
At this rather sombre time of the year, we remember those who have left this world as the thinning of the veil makes it easier for us to contact our ancestors, as well as other spirits. Ancestors need not only be those of our blood line, those people who we have known in this life – they can also anyone who has helped shaped us into the people we are today, who have inspired us to follow a path closer to the calling of our own True Will, in order to reach our highest ideals.
During the stillness of Samhain night, light a candle and give thanks to those who have gone before you, regardless of your relationship with or memory of them.
As the ecstatic Lord of the Wine makes his descent in to the Underworld where he will take up the mantle of the Dread Lord of Shadows, the comforter of souls, the Goddess too transforms into a slightly all of aspect that refuses to be confirmed to the typical “Maiden Mother Crone” aspect. This is the time of the Dark Goddess, the shape shifter as she slips between the worlds, the unpredictable one who merges in and out the shadows, as well as merging in and out of the modern stereotypes of the Goddess – sometimes she is depicted as an old Crone, other times she is the Maiden, and yet she can also appear as the terrifying Mother who devours her children. It is only through this “devouring”, that we fully understand the Mysteries which surround us.
The Underworld into which the God has entered is the place of initiation where he must pass through in order to be reborn at the Winter Solstice. Yet, until he is joined with his initiator, the Goddess who is the great teacher of all life’s mysteries, he rules alone for the Goddess still has her own fires to light and cauldron to stir in our world before she departs to join her beloved.
Samhain is a time for introspection, as we too draw our energy within and prepare for the colder Winter months. And as we do, it will be wise to remember what happened to Gwion Bach, in the Welsh myth of Taliesin the Bard, should you happen to come across an old woman (Ceridwen) asking you to stir a cauldron in which a sacred brew is being prepared.
I am delighted to announce that the third edition of Dancing the Sacred Wheel is nearing completed due to the need to change publishing platforms.
Dancing the Sacred Wheel is a journey through the traditional eight seasonal festivals (sabbats) and how they relate to the Southern Hemisphere. Incorporating history and traditional Pagan lore with personal experience and ritual insights, invaluable pointers are included as to how to incorporate the localised elements into something that also provides a “traditional” feel.
While the focus of Dancing the Sacred Wheel is for the Southern Hemispheric practitioner, a challenge is set to the reader, regardless of which hemisphere they reside, to draw inspiration from their local environment, and to create a “Wheel of the Year” that is completely unique for them.
To win your own copy of Dancing the Sacred Wheel (3rd edition) simply like and share the post found on the TDM Publishing Facebook pageh.
The winner will be announced at the end of April 2019.
It is that time of the year again that despite the ever lingering daylight savings, a definite change can be felt as the earth’s wobbling rotation pulls away from the sun here in the Southern Hemisphere. The mornings are distinctively darker and the sun lingers longer below the horizon, and there is an ever slight chill in the air. Yes, the time of the Autumn Equinox draws near (21st of March to be exact for this year).
As such, it appears time again to point out an erroneous association that first appeared in the 1970s and which, despite numerous attempts to rectify over the years, still perpetuates itself within modern Paganism – that being the usage of the term “Mabon” as an alleged alternative name for the Autumn Equinox.
As the sacred Wheel of the Year is turning towards Lughnasadh and beyond in the Southern Hemisphere, now is the time for bringing in your harvest, for giving thanks for or acknowledging what you have received (whether expecting or not). Sometimes the reasoning behind what we have received is not always clear to us at the time – we need to have “faith” as the underlying meaning will make itself known when the “time is right”. This meaning may even call for an action or direction that we have not been expecting.
As the Wheel of the Year turns, for those of us residing south of the equator, the festival of Lughnasadh is almost upon us. A Celtic word believed to mean “the commemoration of Lugh”, the Irish God associated with the Sun and agriculture, the festival of Lughnasadh marked the funeral games that Lugh held in honour of his foster mother, Tailte, who died while clearing the Forest of Breg and making it a plain for cultivation. The modern day Telltown (Tailtean) in County Meath, Eire, is believed to have been named after Tailte.
us the Celts were believed to commence the celebrations of their festivals at dusk the previous day and continue through the night until the dawn, in the Southern Hemisphere Lughnasadh is usually celebrated aroond 31 January through until 2 February. With February being associated with some of our hottest weather, the power of the Sun King might seem to be a long way off, however to the more observant, the dwindling hours of light are starting to be noticed.
The first of the three harvest festivals that make up the Wheel of the Year, Lughnasadh is the festival of first fruits, where a blessing of the crop would take place around this time of the year as now was the time that apples were beginning to ripen on the trees, Summer vegetables being picked from the gardens, and the corn, tall and green, awaiting to be harvested. It is the time that we can start gathering in the first harvests of grain, wheat and barley.
To the Anglo-Saxons, this was the festival of Lammas (meaning “loaf-mas day”), marking the harvesting of the grain. The first sheaf of wheat was said to have been ceremonially reaped, threshed, milled and baked into a loaf which is then eaten, providing life. The Christian sacrament of Communion, where the bread is blessed, becomes the body of God and is then eaten to nourish the faithful, echoes the Pagan Mystery of the Grain God.
Grain has always been associated with Gods who are killed and dismembered and then resurrected from the Underworld, such as Tammuz, Osiris and Adonis. The Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone is a story about the cycle of death and rebirth associated with grain. Demeter, the fertility Goddess, will not allow anything to grow until she finds her daughter who has been carried off to the Underworld. The ancient Eleusinian Mysteries, believed to have been celebrated around the Autumn Equinox, culminated in the revelation of a single ear of corn, a symbol to the initiate of the cyclical nature of life, for the corn is both seed and fruit, promise and fulfilment.
Within many traditions of Wicca, the God has moved from His guise as the Solar King to that of the Shadow One. Just like the Sun, His power and energy is waning as He freely gives it to the crops in order to ensure life. The Goddess is also changing, slowly moving from Her guise as the bountiful mother to that of the wise old Crone. While it is the God who figures prominently at this Sabbat, without the Goddess, there would be no crops, no harvest to be thankful for.
Juliet Batten indicates that in the old Maori calendar the eight month was when kua makura te kai; ka kai te tangata i nga kai hou o te tau (“fruits have now set and people eat the first fruits of the year”). Young gourds might now be ready to eat, but the kumara still had much growing to do. Rehua (Antares) was the Summer star, personifying heat and the power to ripen all fruits, the star that governed the migration of whitebait, with many proverbs indicating its importance, or that of his wife, Ruhia.
Kaore ana a Rehua i tatu ki raro (“Rehua has not yet alighted”) referred to the stage before fruit has formed on the trees. On a hot day people would say Kua tahu a Rehau (“Rehua has burnt/kindled”). Other proverbs refer to te paki o Rhuia (“the fine weather of Ruhia”) and the heat that she brings. Another saying was Rehua kai tangata (“people become food for Rehua”), for now that the planting season was over, men were again free for raiding expeditions. Food was scarce now.
Lughnasadh is the festival that reminds us to refresh and vitalise the body and spirit for the important harvesting work that lies ahead. It is also the time of giving thanks for the bountiful harvest that can be seen and felt all around. You should be seeing the efforts of your labour beginning to manifest. Look at your life and see where you have aimed. What have you accomplished that you set out to do? What still needs to be done? Now is the time to stop and look at the big picture – are you still on track? Are you where you want to be? Are you who you want to be? If you are unhappy, not satisfied, are you able to see what needs to be changed? Are you prepared to make that change?
The Goddess provides but only what we are willing to work for and harvest by our own efforts. All that she provides will rot on the vine and grow wild if we do not add our own labour of love and care to her efforts.
Hoof and horn, hoof and horn All that dies shall be reborn Corn and grain, corn and grain All that falls shall rise again.
References: Billinghurst, Frances, Dancing the Sacred Wheel (TDM Publishing, 2014) Moorey, Teresa and Brideson, Jane, Wheel of the Year: Myth and Magic through the Seasons (Hodder & Stoughton, 1997) Rainbird, Ariadne, and Rankine, David, Magick without Peers (Capall Bann Publishing, 2001) Batten, Juliet, Celebrating the Southern Seasons: Rituals for Aotearoa (Tandem Press, 1995) Nichols, Mike, The Witches’ Sabbats (Acorn Guild Press, 2005)
For those of us residing in the Southern Hemisphere, mid Summer is upon us, marking the time of the year when the sun is allegedly in its glory, being the time of the longest day and the shortest night.
While the term “Mid Summer” indicates the height of the Summer, there is still an undertone of darkness in the light. This is because as the power of the sun is celebrated, from this point, it also commences its decline in power as the Southern Hemisphere begins to rotate away from the sun (as in the diagram below).
As the sun completes is southward journey, it rests briefly over the Tropic of Capricorn before moving northward again. When it enters the astrological sign of Capricorn in the Southern Hemisphere, we know that the sun is at its highest and brightest, and that the time of the Summer Solstice has arrived. For those of us residing in Adelaide in South Australia, this timing will be on Friday, 22 December 2017 around 2:58 am).
The end of October, that marks the gateway to summer, may have passed, however tomorrow, 7 November marks the astronomical timing of Bealtaine, when the sun moves into 15 deg Scorpio. The festival of Bealtaine is based around an ancient Celtic festival that was associated with the sun. It is often believed that the word “Bealtaine” means “bright fire,” however medieval Irish glossators associated it with the God, Bel, who was considered to be a version of the ancient Celtic God of fire and light, Belenos.
Belenos: the Shining One
Belenos (meaning meant “bright, brilliant” or “shining”), or variants of his name, was known throughout the Celtic lands of western Europe, such as Belenus and Bel. At least 31 inscriptions citing Belenos or Apollo Belenos (as he was sometimes known in Roman-dominated areas) have been found by archaeologists, more citations than almost any other Celtic deity. His name, nature, and function are testified to by classical commentators and the imagery of sculpture and votive offerings associated with Belenos.
The following is an excerpt from chapter 7 of Dancing the Sacred Wheel: A Journey through the Southern Sabbats (TDM Publishing, 2014) the first book written by the Temple of the Dark Moon’s very own High Priestess that explores the eight seasonal festivals commonly found within modern Paganism from both a traditional point of view as well as providing insight as to how they can be adapted in the Southern Hemisphere. Having taken nearly 10 years to research and write, this 292 paged book can be purchased from Amazon.com and all other affiliated stores.
The preference for spelling Bealtaine as such is because the word Bealtaine is believed to come from the Irish Gaelic, with Bealtuinn the Scottish Gaelic equivalent. Both words mean bel-fire.
Chapter 7 – Bealtaine – The Sacred Union
As the sun has now reached the midway point between the Equator and the Tropic of Capricorn, it continues to bring more and more warmth and light to the waiting earth. The hours of daylight lengthen as the nights slowly shorten with each rotation of the earth and get increasingly warmer.
In the southern skies, Bealtaine heralds the return of the brilliant constellation of Orion the Hunter. To the northeast, the reddish star Aldebaran has joined the Pleiades. The Great Square of Pegasus is prominent, straddling the meridian, and in the southwest Scorpius is setting, with the Southern Cross lying on its side just above the southern horizon.
For the Ngarrindjeri people, the Pleiades, also known as the “Seven Sisters”, (now at their highest point in the Southern Hemisphere) marks the time when initiations into cultural wisdom and knowledge takes place. This is the time when “… swimming is restricted when the waters are full of life, too dangerous for women to enter”.
Along the waters of the Coorong, flocks of Australian pelicans (Pelecanus conspicillatus) (the totem animal of the Ngarrindjeri people, known as Ngori) catch the warming air currents, which allow their large bodies to lift effortlessly in the skies. The Ngarrindjeri people refer to this time of the year as Luwadang, the time of warmth, which lasts from November to January.
In the Top End, the Bininj/Mungguy brace themselves as Gunumeleng is about to arrive. From mid-October to late December, the pre-monsoon weather arrives as the humidity increases along with the temperatures. Thunderstorms build to bring rain to the dry land. With the increasing amount of water, birdlife and new growth soon appear. Barramundi move from the waterholes to the estuaries where they breed and the local people seek shelter from the approaching storms and the impending Wet Season. Along the Cobourg Peninsular (some 350 kilometres from Darwin), it is Barligar time, which means that the mangroves become favourite hunting grounds for mud crabs.
The Australian Bealtaine arrives when the native bottlebrush (Callistemon spp.) is a mass of beautiful red flowers. The flame trees erupt into fire with their brilliant scarlet red flowers as if they too are acknowledging that Summer has arrived.
A favourite chant that can be heard during this time of the year is taken from Rudyard Kipling’s “A Tree Song” from Puck on Pook’s Hill:
Oh, do not tell the priest our plight, or he would call it a sin, But we’ve been out in the woods all night, a-conjuring summer in, Good news we bring by word of mouth, good news for cattle and corn Now as the sun comes up from the north, With oak, and ash, and thorn.