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.