The 30 Days of Druidry prompt series separates the next two prompts into the Fire Festivals (Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtaine, and Lughnasadh) and the Solar Festivals (Winter Solstice, Vernal Equinox, Summer Solstice, and Autumnal Equinox), but I don’t think of them in that division. For me, and for my Grove, the Wheel of the Year progresses strongly in its round, leading from one season into the next. It is true that there is more evidence from the Celtic lands relating to the Fire Festivals, but my worship is not solely Celtic. We have influences from Slavic folk practice, from Norse custom, and from local revelation. So rather than using what feels like an artificial division for my worship, let us follow the Wheel around, beginning in the darkness.
Our Samhain celebration honours the dead. We honour Donn, the first Ancestor, who welcomes our Ancestors into his hall, before they move on in death. We feast in their honour, we share their stories, and sing to them across the veil. We share the foods of the final harvests, apples, pork, root vegetables. We draw lots to see who will take home the carline, our representation of An Cailleach, and give her hospitality this winter. This is our last celebration of the year, as our year ends at Samhain. It doesn’t begin here, not really, as we enter the gap in the torc. Between Samhain and Solstice Tide is a period of time associated with the dead. It is an in-between time, especially here in Southern Ontario. All of the harvest has completed, and Irish lore also says that anything left in the fields and on the bushes after Samhain belongs to the fair folk. We have just ten hours of steadily shrinking daylight on November 1, and after the clocks change back to EST, the sun begins to set at 5:00 pm.
As the Earth gets darker, the snow comes, and it can be hard for us Pagans when all of the trappings of Christmas appear. But some of these things are symbols of our holidays too (though they appear a little early for me!). In my household, we celebrate the Winter Solstice as a seasonal tide — twelve days of worship that span from December 20 through December 31. At our Grove rite, we celebrate the birth of Lugh, honouring his mother Eithne, and telling the story of how Jinny Wren became King of the Birds. We honour our female Ancestors, drawing an omen for the coming year. We sing to the trees and give thanks for their gifts. We honour the land-spirits and the spirits of our home. We cook traditional Ukrainian dishes and welcome our Ancestors for a feast. We eat boar and make resolutions, having had time to internalize our year-omen. Of course, we visit family and share their customs with them also. On January 1, the New Year is here, and we return to our regular time.
Some celebrate Imbolc as the beginning of Spring, but for us we are still in deep winter. We do weather divination: If Candlemas Day be bright and clear, there’ll be two Winters in the year. On a bright and sunny Imbolc, An Cailleach collects her firewood for the next weeks. We pray for snow so that she sleeps. Because it is so cold, in our Grove this is a celebration of the hearth and home. We honour Brighid and her many names: hearth goddess, poet, smith, healer, Brig Ambue, Brighid of the Judgements, Brighid of hospitality. Our flametenders light their candles bright, and we gather around her fire and sing her praise. We are blessed threefold with her gifts of the girdle, cross, and mantle.
The Vernal Equinox comes on the wind, and we are grateful for the light returned. In our home, we light a candle for the bright and shining Dawn. March 25 is Lá na Cailleach, and this is the primary celebration in our Grove for this season. At the end of Winter, we honour the Winter Goddess for we know that though this season may be challenging, it is necessary. We give her what she is due, and a favourable omen turns the Wheel from Winter to Spring. We have brought with us baskets filled with the tools of our crafts, with seeds, with foods, and we and those baskets are blessed with the Waters of Life and the promise of Spring.
It is not yet time to move outside — there are still six weeks to Bealtaine — but the Earth ever changes as the Wheel turns.