Monday, 29 June 2009

Pimms and Strawberries on the lawn


We celebrated the Solstice with Pimms and Strawberries on the lawn. It was a beautiful day and many old friends came to support and gossip.

Ruth, the hostess, kept an eye out for everyone's comfort and people relaxed and enjoyed the abundance that was there to share.

Later on that day when the guests had gone, Ruth and I went for a walk on the beach and thought about where we have got to and how things have moved on.

It was a lovely day and we have much to be thankful for.

Happy Solstice.

Monday, 15 June 2009

SUMMER SOLSTICE AND MIDSUMMER DAY


(21st June & 24th June)

In farming communities the summer was a time of hard work and toil to reap the benefits of the growing season. Long hours of work would be needed to weed and hoe all the crops. The sheep would have been sheared and the women would be busy spinning the wool. In England, after sundown, large bonfires would be lit on Midsummer Eve, which would provide light to the revellers and ward off evil spirits. Similar to the traditions at Beltaine people often jumped through the fires for good luck. In addition to these fires, the streets were lined with lanterns, and the people carried their own little lanterns as they wandered from one bonfire to another. Lighting the bonfires was known as ‘setting the watch’ while the wandering bands were called a ‘marching watch’. Often Morris dancers and other traditional players joined them.

The summer solstice is the high point of the sun when he is at his strongest, but it is also the day when he begins to weaken. Once again the year has turned and the great wheel goes on. The Druids would worship in their oak groves and the Old Ones would meet at the ancient monument at Avebury, in Wiltshire, the great sun temple of old.

At dawn the sun can be greeted from a hill facing east. Now the best of the summer will follow and we ask that the sun will bless the crops and give us a good harvest.

Summer Solstice was another excuse to deck the halls (although mainly over the front doors) with boughs of greenery. Five plants were thought to have special magical properties on this night: rue, roses, St. John’s wort, vervain and trefoil.

This was an important time for the faery folk who especially liked to go a riddling. Remember to wear your jacket inside out if you venture out on this fine summer night. If you get lost seek out one of the ‘ley lines’, the old straight tracks, until you get home. This will keep you safe, as will crossing a stream of living (running) water.


Puck. How now, spirit! whither wander you?
Fairy. Over hill over dale,
Through bush, through briar,
Over park, over pale,
Through flood, through fire,
I do wander every where,
Swifter than the moon√ęs sphere:
And I serve the Fairy Queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The cowslips tall her pensioners be,
In their gold coats spots you see:
Those be rubies, fairy favours:
In those freckles live their savours.
I must go seek some dewdrops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.
Farewell, thou lob of spirits: I’ll be gone-
Our queen and all her elves come here anon.

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’
from ‘The Complete Works of Shakespeare’ Cambridge University Press

This is the time of year to be out of doors, enjoying the sunshine (if it’s not a cold summer), the time for barbecues and beach parties. My friend Ruth celebrates this time of year by inviting friends round to a garden party. They have a beautiful garden and bring the food that she has prepared and the contributions from friends onto outdoor tables. Each year the guests try to outdo each other with sumptuous puddings and sweets. She prepares a Pimms cocktail in a large glass bowl and a fruit cocktail for those who don’t want alcohol. The tables overflow with strawberries and cream, salads and fresh fruit. The children all meet up and play together in the sunshine and as Ruth is lucky enough to live near a beach they can enjoy the beauty of a walk by the sea and give thanks for the energy and warmth of the sun and the power and life force of the water.

BELTAINE

(May eve – 30th April)

Beltaine is the glorious season of rich growth when scarcity gives way to plenty and it is time to celebrate Mother Earth in all her gifts. May Day is the call to awaken. It is one of the great celebrations in Europe, celebrated from Ireland to Russia. Finally the winter is over and the cattle are sent to their summer pastures. In times past bonfires would smoulder and the cattle would be cleansed of ticks by being driven through a thick medicinal smoke of burning herbs. Since Beltaine got its name from its bonfires it is the perfect time to have one.

The month of May was always a time of relief in agricultural communities when it was possible to feel the warmth in the air. Young people were allowed out all night to hunt through the woods and coppices for the first branches of flowering hawthorn, and bring them back to decorate their homes. They would also collect the green of the sycamore tree, the wood traditionally used to make love spoons.

Here we go gathering knots of may,
Knots of may, knots of may,
Here we go gathering knots of may,
On a cold and frosty morning

As the month of May suggests it is the time to bring out the Maypole and join in the traditional dancing around it with ribbons. There is no real evidence that Maypole dancing was a Pagan or Celtic tradition. The Maypole dancing that we know today was brought to England by John Ruskin, a Victorian who ran a Teacher Training College. He had seen the dancing around a pole with ribbons in Italy, brought it back to England, and taught it to his teachers who then went out and taught it to school children. There may well have been May Day dances around a tree that had been decorated with the May branches. These may have been included with the May Day civic dances that were around in the 15th and 16th Centuries but the Puritans frowned on such happy behaviour, linking it with Pagan activities, and tried to put a stop to it. (You may like to find out more about the dances from the website www.kickback.btinternet.co.uk )

Be that as it may, for many the maypole dance is still the symbol of this season, weaving and celebrating the sexuality of male and female together. For others the white maypole lifted high above the ground is the symbol of the white mare of Rhiannon/Aphrodite/Venus who rode onto the land from the ocean to teach us about the sacredness of love between two people. For others it is the weaving of summer warmth and good growth, fertilising the sun power from above with the nourishing earth power below. According to Marian Green in her book ‘A Calendar of Festivals’ dancing around the maypole represents the tidal patterns of energy being sent down from the sun and the unwinding shows how the power is returned to the sky in a cyclic and unending pattern.

Other rites at this time may include the jumping of the water. A narrow part of a stream can be used to jump over and give thanks for water and hope that there will be enough to feed the land and crops for the growing months. Some may like to jump the cauldron with another person for whom they wish to give thanks. Children love this ritual and jump with family, friends and loved ones, even favourite teddies have been included.

May Day rites also include the Holly and Oak Lords battling for the hand of the maiden who, after her mating, would become the Mother and bring forth the following spring. After this fight, when he is beaten, the Holly Lord retires with his hounds to the Wild Wood to rest until he is recalled at Samhaine. This would take place on May eve. In Cornwall they still tell of the various battles between dark and light, good and evil with Robin Hood, St George and the dragon, or St Michael. Some still have the crowning of the May Queen, a modern version of Maid Marian, the ancient White Lady who could change herself into a deer to hide in the forest, who brought healing water from the secret springs and who cared for all the wild creatures and the forest.

Trees have long been the centre of our celebrations. At this time it is good to decorate the May Tree representing the tree of life. Hang ribbons, flowers and eggshells saved from Eostar on the tree. You may have stayed up all night on May eve making things to decorate your tree (and yourself). Include lots of singing, games and dancing to welcome the summer. Also on May Day those who wanted to look after their skin would be out before sunrise, seeking a patch of dew to bathe their face and eyes.

Many weddings would take place at this time of year, the young couples pledging themselves for ‘a year and a day’. To seal their bond they would leap over a bonfire hand in hand. We have chosen this time to write a letter to someone we love or care about, to tell her or him how much s/he is appreciated. It may be someone you have been married to for some time and you wish to renew your vows or express things that you don’t often say, or it may be a daughter, son, parent or friend. It could even be someone you would like to know better. We have great fun with our letter writing, which we feel is something of a dying art. We use lovely bright coloured pens and illustrate the letters with drawings or pressed flowers. My daughter is especially fond of the scented pens that are available now. If we don’t get round to writing we try to say something special in a ‘phone call or when we see the person but a letter is very special so it is always worth making the effort.

Spend time out of doors, have picnics, play outdoor games, throw a ball round, play hoop and ball (throw a hoop and someone else try to throw a ball through it when it is in the air); all target games are good like archery for example. At this time of year, as at the others, it is an opportunity to let go of unwanted things in our lives. One way we have marked the season (as yet I’ve not done this with children but I don’t see why one shouldn’t) is to light a bonfire and ask the people who will attend to wear or bring something that represents a part of her or himself that s/he wishes to be rid of. They would then at an appropriate moment throw it on the fire, give thanks for the lesson it has taught them and then ask for a blessing on all that they wish for the summer months to come.


For the May Day is the great day
Sung along the old great track
And those who ancient lines did ley
Will heed this song that calls them back

Ian Anderson

EOSTAR & THE VERNAL EQUINOX

(21st – 22nd March)
Primroses and violets stay with us from Imbolc and purple lupines line the mountains in the deserts of California. In the flowering seed sleeps the knowledge and promise of maturity. If the snow has gone we can see the fields greening and soon it will be time for the blackthorn to blossom and the delicate pinks and whites of the orchard blossoms to line our pathways. It is time to celebrate the equality of light and dark. In times gone by, as soon as the soil began to warm up and be workable the seed corn and barley would have been sown by hand. Among it would be the special ears of corn saved as the corn doll, symbol of the corn god sacrificed at harvest-tide.

This is the Vernal Equinox, and the season of spring reaches its apex, halfway through its journey from Imbolc to Beltaine. The Great Mother Goddess, who has returned to her virgin aspect at Imbolc, welcomes the young sun god’s embraces and conceives a child. The child will be born nine months from now, at the next Winter Solstice. (The old folk name for the Vernal Equinox is ‘Lady Day’).

With the lunar aspect of the Goddess we remember the descent of the Goddess into the Underworld for three days, the time when the moon is dark and hidden from our view. We can then celebrate the next full moon (the Eostar) when the Goddess returns from her sojourn into the Land of Death. For some this is the time to celebrate the Hand-fasting, a sacred marriage between Goddess and God, the ultimate Great Rite although the British custom is to transfer this to Beltaine, when the climate is more suited to outdoor celebrations! Though I have placed the telling of the Descent stories in Samhaine they also belong here with the ascent back to the Upper World at spring.

Easter was taken from the name of a Teutonic lunar Goddess, Eostre (from whom we also get the name of the female hormone, oestrogen). Eostar falls on the Vernal Equinox full moon. For some people there is confusion about dates at this time of year. Eostar is a lunar holiday, honouring a lunar Goddess, at the Vernal Full Moon. Eostar is reserved for the nearest festival. In our family we are not so specific and celebrate this season whenever we feel like enjoying some spring activities.

In her book ‘The Spiral Dance’ Starhawk talks of a basket of story eggs – each painted egg is taken out of the basket and a story is told. One of the eggs is painted half black and half gold to represent the balance of the equinox. In Ceisiwr Serith’s book ‘The Pagan Family’ he suggests the fun of an egg fight. Each person chooses an egg. Two people then face the small ends of their eggs towards each other. One of them hits the other’s egg with her own. When one person’s cracks, he turns his around and has another chance with the other side. (He does not say whether this is with raw eggs or hard-boiled!)

For several years my daughter and I (and any friends who had dropped in at the time) would take our bell sticks and go for a walk out along the wooded paths and as we went we would bang the ground with our sticks calling, “Wake up earth! Wake up earth!” and skip around to wake all the sleeping nature. It is a long time since we have felt able to pick the wild flowers that blossom at this time so we content ourselves with a wonderful spring walk and leave the flowers for others to enjoy. If we want to deck our home with primroses and violets and early daffodils we have to grow them ourselves.

We focus now on new life and the return of hope after a long winter and find ways to celebrate the emerging life. Following the cleaning of the home at Imbolc we like to invite friends round to batik eggs. This is a wonderful activity that we have done for several years. I was taught the traditional Ukrainian egg batik method from a friend, Helen, in Bedford nearly twenty years ago and for the last five years I have gathered together my friends, decorated eggs and shared food and gossip (the noble and much maligned art of news sharing).