Imbolc is taken from the Irish-Gaelic which is translated as “in the belly” (of the mother) and falls around 8 August in the Southern Hemisphere (when the sun moves into 15 degrees Leo). It represents the quickening of light and life and around us we begin to notice the first stirrings of spring as the first flowers begin to appear. These seeds have lain dormant within the earth over the cold winter months now begin to stir with life. All around us there is evidence of the earth’s slow awakening to the growing power of the sun, and we may find in ourselves this awakening as we venture more and more outdoors.
Being a festival of fire, Imbolc celebrates the light of spring piercing the darkness of winter. As new life flows through the world of nature, we celebrate the waking of the soul as our spirits begin to quicken. Now is the time look toward the future.
In contemporary witchcraft lore, at Imbolc the Goddess awakes from her slumber in the Underground and emerges youthful, bright eyed and virginal again. She is the Flower Maiden and while there is an air of innocence about Her, this is coupled with a degree of knowing, similar to retaining knowledge of a past life. She is aware of Her powers of potential and is unrestrained and full of the energy of youth. There is an air of innocent about Her, however She is not naive. It is the young God who tends to be the naive one, as He begins to understand His sacred purpose and is initiated into the mysteries of His sex.
Imbolc is a good time to contemplate what needs to take root and grow in our life, and what to be swept away in order to make room for our new plans. In doing this, it is a good idea to sit down and ponder on some searching questions, to get in touch with what is seeking the light of day within us and to be prepared to let go of anything outworn. However, it is best to proceed cautiously for it is a time to design and plan, to dig foundations rather than to build. Imbolc is the glimmering of the year’s increase, but only the first glimmering for, as in nature, the weather can still change and nip new life in the bud.
Imbolc is a good time also to cleanse ritual tools, consecrate items we have not consecrated yet, and even rearrange the altar. Add a small vase of spring flowers or a fresh white candle to capture the essence of Imbolc.
Source: Dancing the Sacred Wheel by Frances Billinghurst (TDM Publishing)
As the Wheel of the Year turns, we find ourselves now at the Winter Solstice. The sun is at its northern most point during its yearly migration across the sky which means that whilst the Northern Hemisphere is basking in its warmth, for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere, the warming rays are a distant memory.
It is with this longing that we create our rituals that focus around the return of the Child of Promise, the Invincible Sun, or as it was known to the Romans, the Sol Invicus, the Unconquerable Sun.
The Winter Solstice is also the time of the never-ending battle between the Holly King and his twin, the Oak King. Twice a year (usually at the solstices) they meet and battle for the hand of the Goddess.
At the time of the Summer Solstice, Oak King is at the height of his strength, while the Holly King is at his weakest. However, the Holly King begins to regain his power, and at the Autumn Equinox, the tables finally turn in the Holly King’s favour for at the Winter Solstice, he vanquishes the Oak King. Robert Graves, in his poetic work The White Goddess, identified a number of paired hero-figures which he believes are variants of this myth, including Lleu Llaw Gyffes and Gronw Pebr; Gwyn and Gwythr; Lugh and Balor; Balan and Balin; Gawain and the Green Knight; the robin and the wren; and even Jesus and John the Baptist.
The Goddess reminds us not to take things for granted for the worse of the Winter storms are yet to come as the Night Hag, the Bone Mother of Winter still stalks the land.
Within the darkness, we ask ourselves: “To die and be reborn, the Wheel is turning, What must we lose to the night?”
We release our fears and inhibitations in order to expose that fragile light deep within our selves that has been stiffled or hidden. And as we light our candles to honour the returning light that the Child of Promise will bring, we also encourge this light to shine forth.
The timing of the winter solstice is marked when the sun reaches its furthest north position in the sky and starts to move back towards the south. As it does, it marks one of the main turning points in the year, the others being the equinoxes as well as the summer solstice (that occurs in December). The timing for the winter solstice this year will fall on Saturday, 22 June at 1:24 am (Adelaide time). From this moment onwards, days start becoming longer and night times shorter. however with the worse of the winter weather yet to arrive, this thought is not often the first that comes to mind.
In ancient Europe the winter solstice (the timing of which in the Northern Hemisphere takes place in December) was seen as a time of celebration. The Romans had a week-long celebration called Saturnalia during which all wars had to stop and courts did not try criminals. Later this festival became Dies Natalis of Sol Invicti or the Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun celebrated on 25 December each year.
Within modern Paganism practices, the winter solstice is the time that marks the rebirth of the sun/son, the divine Child of the Goddess who emerges from her dark womb.
The following “Solstice Prayer” by Thorn Coyle reflects the anticipation of waiting for the first rays of the sun to appear over the horizon:
We wait in the dark for the light to appear, Mother, give birth to our brother the Sun. We wait in the dark for the light to appear, Mother, give birth to our brother the Sun! We wait. We watch. Out of the cold comes the promise of newness. We wait. We watch. Out of the cold comes the promise of day!
The Child of Promise is the new sun, which is small and weak at this time of the year, but will grow stronger as the sacred Wheel of the Year turns. As such, the Winter Solstice is a time for celebrating new beginnings and to focus on what you wish to bring into your life.
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).