The wren, the wren, the king of all birds
On Solstice Day was caught in the furze
Although she is little, her honour is great
Jump up, O children, and give her a treat!
Christmas morning is a quiet time for the cat and I, as my husband is on night shift. I don’t particularly feel the magic of this morning this year; we’ve chosen not to exchange presents and opt instead for seeing some Jays games next summer, though there are a few small things tucked away in stockings.
Instead, I’m thinking about the virtues, most especially of hospitality, and how best to embody it within the next year. Of course, the exchanging of gifts is one aspect, but there is much more about hospitality that is shown in our actions than solely in material items.
John Beckett’s article “Hospitality in Practice” has some excellent ideas for sharing hospitality at your public rituals. I like to think our Grove does well, but there is always room for improvement.
On a more personal note, I am reflecting on my personal embodiment of the virtues in my life. Since I have stepped down from all positions of responsibility in my Grove, ADF, and our local community (with the exception of the ADF Priesthood), I am taking the time to ensure that my life and work is of service to the Gods, Folk, and Land, and in line with my personal ethics code — which includes living with integrity, and always improving my service. May I be even better in the new year.
Tonight we honour our Ancestors, and we do this following Ukrainian custom. Unfortunately, my brother and his girlfriend are sick and cannot join us, so gorging on cabbage rolls won’t happen until next week. (I’m preparing the cabbage rolls anyway, and one or two might not make it into the freezer.) Instead, the two of us will have a simple meal of sausage and cabbage.
I have, however, made a small amount of kutia, a wheat berry pudding that is served as the first dish of the night. Usually I make a very simple version, but there are complex ones that feature druid fruits and nuts. This year, I varied our usual recipe by adding toasted almond slivers and almond extract.
We weren’t going to have a didukh this year, though there was a lovely bundle of wheat in a store we happened to visit, so it came home with us. This bundle of wheat represents the spirits of the Ancestors, and will remain on the altar for the rest of Solstice Tide.
Brighid, hear my praise:
you are the daughter of the Dagda, the poet, smith, and healer,
you are the fire on my hearth, the centre of my home,
you are the Dove among birds, Vine among trees, Sun among stars.
Tonight, I honour Brighid, of hearth and holy flame. May She burn ever bright in our hearts.
Tonight, we offer to An Cailleach, the goddess of winter and the name we call the spirit who resides atop the Oak Ridges Moraine, the northernmost feature of our watershed. She reigns in this place from Samhain through to the Vernal Equinox, and her presence is felt in the chill air and frozen land.
She is necessary to the movement of things, and so we honour her this day.
Cailleach Bhéara, Bone Mother
The Land itself arose from your gnarled hands.
Shifting and changing, making and raising:
From the depths of Winter, all things may take shape.
Cailleach Bhéara, Deer Herder
All the animals of the woods respond to your call.
Bluejays and owls, squirrel-kin and deer:
In the depths of Winter, they follow your voice.
Cailleach Bhéara, Veiled One
Wash your plaid in the cauldron, bleach out its colours.
Cover the Land with snow so that we look inside ourselves:
Through the depths of Winter, we are tempered by you.
Tonight, our evening will start by celebrating Dair na Coille, which we do on the first night of the Cold Moon according to our lunar reckoning. We will visit a wooded area nearby and leave small, wildlife-friendly and biodegradable offerings for the new souls returning to this world this year on the west wind, from the realm of the Ancestors.
Then, returning home, we’ll be honouring our female Ancestors, especially important to us this year because of our pregnancy. We will give them offerings and ask for their blessings upon our family.
We will also be taking an omen for this new year. This will be year four of this practice, and the last three have been stunningly accurate, and we’ve seen great growth in our personal lives. Because it is a year-omen, it can take time to come to fruition, but it puts our actions into perspective as we work towards our goals. After receiving this omen, we have some days before the Boar-Feast, at which we will share our resolutions, so the coming days often include some self-reflection in light of the knowledge of the year to come.
If you’re looking for alternate ideas for your Solstice eve celebrations, check out the Three Cranes Grove Solstice-along Day One, with a suggestion for an all-night vigil hailing the Norse gods at each hour.
At our little hearth, the two of us celebrate Solstice Tide, twelve days of worship between December 20 and December 31. I can’t take credit for this tradition, of course — I learned of it first from Three Cranes Grove and their Yule-Along on Facebook, and some inspiration there came from The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas, which I have also read.
Our Solstice Tide looks a little different each year, taking into account things like my Brighidine flametending shifts, the moon phase, when our Grove and family gatherings are, and work schedules. The overall feel is still the same from year to year, and I find it helps with focusing on our faith and traditions during this season of secular stress.
This year, it seems that Solstice Tide starts even earlier with our Grove’s Winter Solstice ritual tonight. I’m serving as Fire Tender, so I get the pleasure of having a front row seat to our annual winter play.
Because of the New Moon (first sliver) falling on the same night as Solstice Eve, we’ve expanded our Solstice Tide by a day so that we don’t have four things to do that night – my stamina is waning in the last weeks of pregnancy.
While I feel it’s important to share what we do, I won’t be sharing our actual ritual texts as those are for my hearth only this year. Please keep in mind that some of this is UPG, Grove-specific, or a seemingly strange mix of traditions, but one’s hearth religion is simply that and no more, with influences from various sources for various reasons.
Here’s a brief summary of our worship in the last half of December:
19 – Ringing in the Season. Welcoming this seasonal tide with a purification of smoke and bells.
20 – Mothernight. Appealing to Eithne and our female ancestors for a year-omen. Dáir na Coille (first sliver of the New Moon). Leaving offerings outside for the new souls that will be born this year, coming in on the wind. Solstice Vigil. My husband will stay up all night on behalf of our household, waiting for the return of the Sun.
21 – Winter Solstice. My husband will tag me in when he goes to bed, so I can perform the sunrise rite.
22 – An Cailleach of the Moraine. Honouring a local spirit important to our watershed and Grove.
23 – Hearth Flame I. Honouring Brighid as the centre of our home.
24 – Sviata Vechera. Ukrainian Christmas Eve supper.
25 – Gifting Day. Remembering and acting in accordance with the virtue of hospitality.
26 – Wren Day. Celebrating Jinny Wren as the King of All Birds.
27 – Honouring the Nature Spirits.
28 – Wassailing the Trees. The cup it is white and the ale it is brown!
29 – Bringing in the Boar. Having contemplated the year-omen, declaring our resolutions. Also, some Twelfth Night festivities including the crowning of the Bean King.
30 – Hearth Flame II. Honouring Brighid as Fire Tender and the ADF Unity Flame.
31 – Twelfth Night. A small gathering to drive the dark away.
January 1 – Full Cold Moon. Not technically part of Solstice Tide this year but falling immediately after, honouring Eithne at the first full moon of Winter.
It’s imperative that for community events to survive, many hands need to contribute to making the workload light. Not everyone is skilled in writing and leading ritual, not all of us want to be part of the ritual team, and that’s okay. Some of us have disabilities or other limitations that mean we have to get creative with our help, and that’s okay too.
I’ve been asked in the past what people can do to help out their communities at rituals and other events if leadership isn’t for you. Here’s a short list of suggestions, so you can see if there’s any that are right for you, your situation, and your talents. For some of these, you may wish to check with the ritual or event leader first before preparing.
- Come early to the event, especially if you are a group member — set up tables & chairs, put out tablecloths, etc.
- Be a greeter, and make new guests feel welcome. Organize and set out a hospitality basket for guests (if your group doesn’t have one, volunteer to make one!)
- Cook a homemade, traditional, or seasonal dish to share at the potluck. The fellowship after the rite is almost as important as the rite itself. Show your commitment to your friends by preparing something wonderful.
- Help in the kitchen — set up and organize the feast; set out trash, recycling, and compost bags; afterwards, wash the dishes.
- Stay after the event to help clean up — sweeping, putting away tables, packing bins.
- Create a piece of devotional art to be displayed on the altar or given as an offering on behalf of the folk.
- Cook/assemble the main offering for the Deity of the Occasion (DotO) on behalf of the folk.
- Cook/assemble the offerings to welcome the Kindreds.
- Learn a new song, and teach it to others for performance in ritual.
- Tell or read a story about the DotO, in, before, or after ritual.
- Write or lead a meditation to prepare for the rite, or to meet the DotO in advance of the rite.
- Plan a craft or activity for before or after the rite.
- If you have a part in ritual, take the time to learn and rehearse your part in advance.
Your Grove/Worship Group
- Take the lead on organizing a charity or fundraising event.
- Volunteer to help with study night — it can be as easy as bringing an article to read out loud and discuss.
- Host an event in your home. Clean your home well for your friends to make them feel welcome.
- Bring a snack to share at business meetings, study nights, etc.
- Attend business meetings. Show your leadership that you care about the direction of your group.
- Be honest about your level of commitment and abilities.
- Shadow a leadership/board member in preparation for taking on that position yourself in future years.
Social Events (Pub Moots, etc)
- Put your phone away!
- Talk to people who aren’t in your immediate friend group.
- For pan-Pagan events, refrain as much as possible from talking about your private group’s personal business.
Large Community Events (Samhain Dance, Pagan Pride, etc.)
- Join the setup and/or tear-down volunteer teams. Without these day-of volunteers, your core organizing committee will have to do all of this work themselves.
- Attend planning meetings and see how you can help out with advance planning. Large events like Pagan Pride often have specialized teams like first aid or hospitality that could use volunteers.
- Like, share, and comment on social media posts to help promote the event.
- Shadow a team leader in preparation for taking on that position yourself in future years.
If you don’t have time to commit to volunteering, but you have the financial ability to donate, consider donating on a regular basis to your Grove or community organizations. Donations such as $5/month, or one hour’s wages/month might not seem like a lot, but many groups run on donations or small amounts of membership dues, and every contribution helps.
What are some other ways that you can help out at events or with your group, if leadership isn’t for you?
Turning our attention now to the light half of the year, we approach Bealtaine, and the movement from the inside to the outside. Bealtaine is the first rite that we hold outside, and in our tradition it has little to do with lust and fertility, but instead is about the protective and transformative fire. We begin our rite in our outdoor hall, tying ribbons onto our Tree as our May bush, and ritually extinguish and relight our hearthfire from nine sacred woods. We send out folk acting as warriors to propitiate the outsiders, then cleanse ourselves and the space, and then process into the outdoors with song. At this time, we tell the story of the coming of the Tuatha Dé Danann to Ireland, and honour those gods among them that are important to us but are not Gods of our Grove. We pass between two torches lit from our hearth and sacrificial fires, and the outdoor season truly begins.
The Summer Solstice belongs to the Sun, of course, but this is also the day on which we honour Manannán mac Lir, who throughout the year we call upon as Gatekeeper in our rites. On this day he is the guest of honour, and we ask Lugh his foster-son to act as Gatekeeper in his stead. We pay Manannán for this service in the traditional way of rushes and yellow flowers. We also raise a sunwheel in which we have woven the ribbons from the May bush at Bealtaine. The day after the rite, we walk a path from our downtown botanical gardens to Lake Ontario, where we leave Manannán’s offerings.
Coming into Lughnasadh, the weather is hot and we pray for respite from the baleful sun. My husband and I go blueberry picking in the days before the rite, but we don’t eat any until the first of them have been offered to Tailtiu and Lugh. Our ritual is preceded by athletic games, where those who wish compete for the championship bracelets. We try to ensure that our games are challenging but accessible — the most important things are that we honour the Gods and that we have fun. We honour Tailtiu for her gifts of agriculture, Lugh as king, as slayer of Balor, and as bringer of the cooling rains.
Harvest Home is the name for our Autumnal Equinox celebration, and we hold a sacred feast in our outdoor hall. An Dagda is our honoured guest, for he is master of Druidry and keeper of the Coire Ansic, the Un-Dry Cauldron. Our rite begins around our feasting table, and once we have established our space and welcomed the Kindreds, we sit and feast with them. During the feast, people are welcome to give offerings to the Kindreds, sing, boast about their accomplishments, or toast each other. Oaths are permitted only by prior agreement. This is an excellent rite for bonding, and the food is always delicious. The weather is cooling, but we are still firmly within the outdoor realm until the night of Samhain.
I cannot say that any of these holidays are my favourite; I like them all for their own reasons. Now, after years of their practice and development, I see them being equally as important as each other. There are elements of each that may arise and become more important for that celebration, in that year, but the next year may be different as we go around the Wheel again. The observance of the Wheel of the Year is probably the most important aspect of my practice — ensuring that the folk have a chance to celebrate in community, moving with the seasons, and honouring the Gods at the right time and in the right way.