Worshipping the Sun of God

Damh explains what guides his worship and what a modern Druid does

Druidry has no written sacred book. The book I use is nature herself, and I take my lessons from the world around me. The seasons are an important part of this, the Sun’s relationship to the Earth.

I celebrate a sequence of eight seasonal festivals, one about every six weeks, to mark the turning of the ‘Wheel of the Year’. Because it’s a wheel, there is no real starting point, but I will start this explanation at the Winter Solstice.

The Winter Solstice is the time I celebrate the rebirth of the Sun. Solstice means ‘Sun in stasis’, and this is the longest night of the year. The Sun’s arc across the sky has got as low as it’s going to get.

The Sun is seen as the young God, reborn of the Goddess, like a tiny candle flame he flickers in the darkness. For about 4 days the arc of the Sun remains the same (hence the name of the day), but then on about the 25th December, the arc starts to get visibly higher, and the days get longer. So to celebrate Xmas at this time is natural for me. As others celebrate the birth of the Son of God, I celebrate the rebirth of the Sun of God.

Next is Imbolc around the 1st February. This is the first of the agricultural festivals, and it’s linked with the first snowdrops, and the birth of the first lambs. It is the first of three Spring festivals, and looking around at the land I often find it hard to relate this time of year to Spring, but it is there when I look hard enough. This festival is sacred to the Goddess Brighid, and is often celebrated with an ‘Eisteddfod’ or a gathering of Bards, where poem, song and story are offered to this ancient and great Goddess.

The Spring Equinox arrives next around the 21st March. This is the time of equal day and night. It is one of the cusps of the year where light hangs in balance. After this time the days will be longer than the nights, early flowers are already in bloom, but the cold is still with us. This is a time when I plant seeds, not only physical seeds, but my thoughts and ideas for the coming year.

As the wheel turns so it brings us Beltane on the 1st of May, still celebrated as May Day. A time of fertility and the old start of Summer. Again, as this is an agricultural festival so it’s date is often marked by the blossoming of the May tree, the Hawthorn. ‘Don’t cast a clout, til May is out’ is the old saying. Meaning don’t cast off your coat until the May blossoms. At this time I see that the tiny God who was born on the Winter Solstice has grown into a strapping youth, and on this day he goes into the Greenwood, there to lay with the Goddess of the Land, and their union brings fertility to the land, and all who live on it.

The Summer Solstice is next. Probably the festival mostly associated with Druids, but that is really due to the modern Druid association with Stonehenge. In reality it is the relationship with the Wheel of the Year in its entirety that is important. But the Summer Solstice marks the time where the arc of the Sun is at its zenith. And after about four days, the days will begin to get shorter. I see this day being a battle between the Oak and Holly Kings – the Oak King being the God of the Waxing Year, the Holly, the God of the Waning Year. They are brothers but fight for control of the light, and on the Summer Solstice the Holly King wins. Even though the warmest weather is yet to come, the light is waning. But I still celebrate the Sun at it’s most powerful on this day. If I can I’ll stay up all night at one of the local sacred sites, on a hill, as a vigil for the Sun’s power, and hopefully the sky will be clear and I’ll be able to see the Sun as he rises on his day of power.

Lughnasadh, the first of the Harvest festivals is next. The child God has lain with the Goddess and the seed of the future has been planted. He has been at his most powerful, and at Lughnasadh I see him as an old man with a crooked cane, symbolised by the corn in the field. He has become John Barleycorn, and he now gives of himself so I can have bread as the corn is cut. Lughnasadh is a time of great celebration and games. Sharing the bread or body of the God transformed is part of the ceremony that marks this time of year.

This leads to the Autumn Equinox, and the second harvest where light and dark are once more in equal balance, and I bring in the berries of the land. The Earth is pregnant from the union at Beltane, and the fruits of the land are a symbol of this fertility.

And then comes Samhain, Summer’s End, still marked to this day as ‘Hallowe’en’. The last of the harvest festivals as the apples, sloes, and hips are collected. On this night it is said that the veil that separates the living from the dead is thin. So I think about my friends and relations who have already made that trip to the Summerlands. Sometimes I will lay an extra place at the dinner table so they can join me in my meal, but whatever happens I will share a symbolic feast with them, often of bread, salt, honey and wine (not all at once of course). It is also the night that the Wild Hunt, led by Gwyn ap Nudd, King of the Faerie, flies across the sky, collecting all of those souls who have passed away, to take them to the Isle of the Blessed. I offer a prayer that on this night, the Hunt passes me by, leaving me to see another day.

The leaves are turning gold, and some are already falling. The Goddess, like the God, has different faces, a Maiden in Spring, a Mother in Summer/Autumn, and a Crone in Winter. At Samhain I am very aware of her Crone aspect, bringing the coldness of her breath as strong winds and gales that strip the trees of leaves, so that they will nourish the seeds below. And there the circle turns once more as the Winter Solstice returns with the promise of rebirth, and the life of the seeds nourished by the gifts of Winter reach for the Sun, and our lives turn ever onward.

For further information about Druidry click here and for Damh’s personal website click here.

Damh (pronounced Darv) is a modern-day Bard whose spirituality, and love of folk tradition, is expressed through his music, storytelling and poetry. He is an Honorary Bard of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD)
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The Tinder dating app isn't just about sex – it's about friendship, too. And sex

The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, as I found out quickly while using the app.

The first time I met someone using Tinder, the free dating app that requires users to swipe left for “no” and right for “yes” before enabling new “matches” to chat, it was an unqualified success. I should probably qualify that. I was newly single after five years in a committed relationship and wasn’t looking for anything more than fun, friendship and, well, who knows. A few weeks earlier I had tried to give my number to a girl in a cinema café in Brixton. I wrote it on a postcard I’d been using as a bookmark. She said she had a boyfriend, but wanted to keep the postcard. I had no date and I lost my page.

My Tinder date was a master’s student from Valencia called Anna (her name wasn’t really Anna, of course, I’m not a sociopath). When I arrived at the appointed meeting place, she told me I was far more handsome IRL (“in real life”) than my pictures suggested. I was flattered and full of praise for the directness of continental Europeans but also thought sadly to myself: “If only the same could be said about you.”

Anna and I became friends, at least for a while. The date wasn’t a success in the traditional sense of leading us into a contract based on exclusivity, an accumulating cache of resentments and a mortgage, but it had put me back in the game (an appropriate metaphor – people speak regularly of “playing” with the app).

According to Sean Rad, the co-founder who launched Tinder in late 2012, the service was invented for people like me. “It was really a way to overcome my own problems,” he told the editor of Cosmopolitan at an event in London last month. “It was weird to me, to start a conversation [with a stranger]. Once I had an introduction I was fine, but it’s that first step. It’s difficult for a lot of people.” After just one outing, I’d learned two fundamental lessons about the world of online dating: pretty much everyone has at least one decent picture of themselves, and meeting women using a so-called hook-up app is seldom straightforwardly about sex.

Although sometimes it is. My second Tinder date took place in Vienna. I met Louisa (ditto, name) outside some notable church or other one evening while visiting on holiday (Tinder tourism being, in my view, a far more compelling way to get to know a place than a cumbersome Lonely Planet guide). We drank cocktails by the Danube and rambled across the city before making the romantic decision to stay awake all night, as she had to leave early the next day to go hiking with friends. It was just like the Richard Linklater movie Before Sunrise – something I said out loud more than a few times as the Aperol Spritzes took their toll.

When we met up in London a few months later, Louisa and I decided to skip the second part of Linklater’s beautiful triptych and fast-track our relationship straight to the third, Before Midnight, which takes place 18 years after the protagonists’ first meet in Vienna, and have begun to discover that they hate each others’ guts.

Which is one of the many hazards of the swiping life: unlike with older, web-based platforms such as Match.com or OkCupid, which require a substantial written profile, Tinder users know relatively little about their prospective mates. All that’s necessary is a Facebook account and a single photograph. University, occupation, a short bio and mutual Facebook “likes” are optional (my bio is made up entirely of emojis: the pizza slice, the dancing lady, the stack of books).

Worse still, you will see people you know on Tinder – that includes colleagues, neighbours and exes – and they will see you. Far more people swipe out of boredom or curiosity than are ever likely to want to meet up, in part because swiping is so brain-corrosively addictive.

While the company is cagey about its user data, we know that Tinder has been downloaded over 100 million times and has produced upwards of 11 billion matches – though the number of people who have made contact will be far lower. It may sound like a lot but the Tinder user-base remains stuck at around the 50 million mark: a self-selecting coterie of mainly urban, reasonably affluent, generally white men and women, mostly aged between 18 and 34.

A new generation of apps – such as Hey! Vina and Skout – is seeking to capitalise on Tinder’s reputation as a portal for sleaze, a charge Sean Rad was keen to deny at the London event. Tinder is working on a new iteration, Tinder Social, for groups of friends who want to hang out with other groups on a night out, rather than dating. This makes sense for a relatively fresh business determined to keep on growing: more people are in relationships than out of them, after all.

After two years of using Tinder, off and on, last weekend I deleted the app. I had been visiting a friend in Sweden, and took it pretty badly when a Tinder date invited me to a terrible nightclub, only to take a few looks at me and bolt without even bothering to fabricate an excuse. But on the plane back to London the next day, a strange thing happened. Before takeoff, the woman sitting beside me started crying. I assumed something bad had happened but she explained that she was terrified of flying. Almost as terrified, it turned out, as I am. We wound up holding hands through a horrific patch of mid-air turbulence, exchanged anecdotes to distract ourselves and even, when we were safely in sight of the ground, a kiss.

She’s in my phone, but as a contact on Facebook rather than an avatar on a dating app. I’ll probably never see her again but who knows. People connect in strange new ways all the time. The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, but you can be sure that if you look closely at the lines, you’ll almost certainly notice the pixels.

Philip Maughan is Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad