Red Oak Grove’s Samhain/Calan Gaeaf

This last Saturday I attended Red Oak Grove‘s Samhain / Calan Gaeaf ritual. This was my first ritual in attendance as an official friend of the grove (first level of membership). I also brought my husband to the event, and though he hadn’t planned to attend the ritual part of it at first, right before we processed off to the ritual site he asked to come along (with our little dog Rolo in tow).

This ritual was my first group ritual after dark, lit by a torch, the ritual fire, some jack o’ lanterns around the edge, and the occasional flashlight for the ritual leaders to see what they were doing or reading. A list of those who have died since last Calan Gaeaf was read, along with a phrase or two of their contributions. We were then invited to remember aloud a loved one who has passed on, and I remembered my mother’s mother. Her memory has always weighed heavily on my mind: in childhood for the stories my mom always told, and as an adult as I’ve seen the pain my mom experienced in her grief for her mother, which has only recently really healed enough for my mom to move on and live her life more fully.

The omens were perfectly tied to the time of year and the event of Halloween, which was pretty awesome.

I really appreciated the symbolism behind literally stumbling around in the dark, and how the light (electronic or fire-based) then illuminated the way. I also have rarely appreciated the warmth of a fire pit so much as this weekend, when nights dropped to freezing temperatures and when I was bundled in what never seemed like enough layers of clothing! I think it’s rare for humans in modern society to experience such a sharp desire and need for fire. During the day, our tent was warmed by the light of the sun that was trapped and insulated within, providing quite a snuggly retreat.

On the way to the event, I listened to the DruidCast podcast episode 76, in which Kristopher Hughes discussed being a medical examiner of the dead and his own views on death and dying. The process of grief for a loved one is something I have only recently understood, experiencing the death of a pet and my husband’s grandparents as an adult. That process helped me empathize with my mother enough to understand how she could cause such pain to her loved ones while suffering in grief. I would not have been able to rekindle our relationship without this deeper understanding. Death is a part of the human experience, but the grieving process does not receive a lot of real understanding and empathy by our society (except for some sympathy, turning to pity and then frustration when someone doesn’t just “get over it”).

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Excerpt from Imbolc Ritual

I am following the Solitary Druid Fellowship‘s liturgy for Imbolc, but I am adding this for honoring Brighid:

The land has lay quietly in winter
Yet the sun’s light increases daily
And the earliest heralds of springtime have taken note.
It won’t be long before the crocus buds
and the lambs drop from the ewes,
and then birds will be all a-twitter,
pairing off among rain and flowers.

The land is pregnant and showing;
Despite her cold and childless arms,
The Mother Earth is glowing.

Brighid comes this night!
Brighid, who stirs the spark of life;
Brighid, who blesses the deep well of the earth’s womb;
Brighid, who wears the green mantle of the summer to come.

Here and now, I welcome you, Brighid,
On this day of hope and promise —
It’s too early to be sure of anything
Yet faith in the world is alive and well.

Brighid, I have struggled with my devotion;
I have struggled with my faith,
But I come to you today with an open heart.

I keep vigil in the fire of my heart.
It is sometimes a roaring fire
Other times a smoldering ember
Yet ever does it burn with love for you.

Solitary Druid Fellowship: Yule Ritual

I used the Winter Solstice liturgy from Solitary Druid Fellowship (a recently-added branch off of ADF). I have to say, it was really nice having a pre-made liturgy intended for solitary practice. It’s difficult being fairly new to ADF liturgy and feeling that I need to significantly adapt an existing ritual intended for groups or make my own ritual. This made it easier, and as I’ve noticed that my anxiety issues have previously interfered with doing rituals, especially with new groups of people, I needed some “easy”.

That didn’t mean I didn’t avoid the ritual until December 31st, ten days after I had intended to do the ritual … *sigh*…

But hey, I did it, and it was great. It was awesome to feel such a connection to my spiritual path. It’s honestly been a while since I’ve felt that. The best was the omen. I used the Druid Animal Oracle deck, and drew three cards for three questions:

  1. How was the offering received? = Blackbird
  2. What is the Kindreds’ response to the offering? = Hind (white deer) reversed
  3. Any other wisdom that the Kindreds would like me to learn? = Fox

After the ritual, my husband (who is supportive but not particularly inclined to participate) informed me that a herd of ten deer, does and yearlings, had passed through our yard near the end of the ritual. He took a picture for me:

Image

After he told me this, we saw two stragglers (a doe and a yearling) pass by and head the same direction, making an even twelve … and were soon thereafter followed by a stag. The synchronicity of it being the last day of the year (12 months) and the last day of Yuletide (12 days), along with a deer (albeit a white one) showing up in my omen, was powerful and heartening.

Happy end of 2012, everyone! It was not the easiest year for me, and I’m pretty happy to see it go, and to also welcome a new year with new possibilities.

Samhain Greetings!

I always feel a little overwhelmed with the holidays, and thus haven’t always gone through with any sort of celebration. So instead of planning a ritual, I want to start with little traditions that are inclusive for all the non-Pagans in my life, like my husband and the rest of my family.

Here’s something I started this year and plan to continue in future years. I made and wrote little notes to those I’ve known who have passed away, or in some cases, grandparents I didn’t know but have heard so much about that I wish I had.

When I began, I asked my husband if he wanted to write anything. He declined, but then saw me preparing the final product, and said, “Well, I didn’t know you were going to light candles and do that!” Then he promptly got some paper and did the same, and said he looked forward to doing it with kids and possibly having extended family come for an evening to celebrate the same way. “I really like this,” he kept repeating.

I love beginnings.

About Lughnasadh

Research and Lore

Lughnasadh is one of the four ADF High Days that is also one of the four main Celtic holidays, and its main association is harvest time.  It specifically marks the beginning of the harvest season when corn is beginning to ripen, and the harvests of other crops are to come.  Traditionally in Ireland, this is also the time for community gatherings or fairs pulling people from many communities, as they sell items, make purchases, see distant friends and family, and compete in games of athleticism and warrior skills.  The first games were said to have horse racing, hurling, and martial arts, though a revival of the games in the early 20th century focused on competitions more comparable to the modern Olympic games.

The holiday Lughnasadh is named for Lugh, one of the primary gods of the Irish pantheon and related to the Welsh god Llew Llaw Gyffes and the Pan-Celtic god Lugus (of which Lugh and Llew Llaw Gyffes could be considered derivations or localizations).  Lugh is the son of a god (one of the Tuatha De Danann) and a giant (daughter of Balor of the Evil Eye, a Fomorian).  He won his place in the king’s court at Tara by showing his mastery in a number of athletic feats and skills, and thereafter was a great warrior of the Tuatha De Danann; he joined their fight against the Fomorians and killed Balor.  As a warrior, Lugh is known for his cunning mind as much as his strength; he is reputed in one poem to have killed Bres, a half-Fomorian, by tricking him to drink poison, and he is reputed to be the inventor of fidchell, a strategic board game comparable to chess.  In another account, Lugh spares the life of Bres in exchange for to knowledge of when to plough, reap, and sow.

According to Irish lore (in the Book of Invasions), Lugh established the festival and its many fairs in honor of his foster mother, Tailtiu, who cleared the lands for agricultural use and then died of exhaustion from these efforts.  In the stories and poems featuring Lugh we find ample evidence of Lughnasadh primary associations: the connection between Tailtiu and agriculture makes for an easy association with the agricultural harvest and the trade of such goods in a community gathering, and Lugh’s exhibition of skills and physical prowess as a warrior is clearly linked with the Lughnasadh games, which are based on athletic and warrior-type skills.

Bibliography:

“Lugh.”  Wikipedia, 5 July 2010. Web. 11 Aug 2010.

“Lughnasadh.” Wikipedia, 10 Aug 2010. Web. 11 Aug 2010.

“The Original Tailteann Games.”  Tailteann Games, n.d. Web. 11 Aug 2010.

“The Tailteann Games: An Olympic Event for the Celtic Race.” About.com: Ireland Travel, n.d. Web. 11 Aug 2010.

Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise.  Celtic Gods and Heroes.  Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2000.  Print.

Personal Commentary

When I reflected on my non-Neo-Pagan childhood, I found that there was a community event very similar to the Lughnasadh fairs of old: county fairs, which are held in the summertime and early fall.  In the region I was raised in, county fairs included people selling homemade and handcrafted goods (pies, jams, quilts, toys, craft works, and artwork) and youth and adults competing in competition of skill (carnival games with darts and tossing balls, ribbon prizes for baked goods or handmade crafts competitions, youth competitions for showing household and farm animals, etc).  I loved these fairs tremendously as a child, and next summer I’d like to look for any near here to visit.  I hope someday to take my own children to such fairs.

I personally have found it difficult in the past to feel the connection between autumn and the figurative concept of “harvesting” in one’s life, as my life has always revolved around the academic year.  Themes of spring and autumn seemed almost ill-timed because, within the academic year, autumn is all about beginnings and planting the seeds of the year, and spring or early summer is the time of “reaping what you sow.”  This year, however, it seems more applicable to my personal life; I am currently entering my second year of teaching, and at this time I’m reaping the benefits of having a year of experience under my belt.  It is a time to show what mastery of skill and knowledge I have in this field, and put them to good use as I begin a school year.  In general in this profession, summers are a time of taking care of business, whether it be curriculum development, a much needed “breather,” or a mixture of both.  The end of summer marks the culmination of whatever has been achieved over the summer: perhaps a better-prepared start to the school year, or perhaps just a healthier and more refreshed mental state.

Yet another fundamental aspect of Lughnasadh cannot be neglected: joining together to celebrate as a community.  After a summer break, August is the time to rejoin my school community.  The summer “break” has been relaxing but isolating; I moved here only a year ago, and know few people outside of the school I work in, so I look forward to rejoining the only local place of community in which I feel established.  As I have reflected on my isolation a lot this summer, especially lately as the community-focused holiday Lughnasadh approached and passed, I am also using this time of year to connect to other local Pagans and Pagan or Druid organizations, to be a part of a spiritual community.  Though typically introverted and shy, and thus not particularly liking the process of meeting new people and beginning to establish social groups, I know this is an important process for my spiritual development as well as my life’s balance.

The most beautiful thing to me about the High Days is that, through the lore and metaphors of the cycling seasons, they hold wisdom to help us live well.  Lughnasadh this year is a personal reminder to recognize the benefit of being connected with others, being part of a community (or, as is the case in modern life, many communities).  This has been a particular life-long challenge for me, as I have often focused too heavily on the demands of my formal education and, currently, the rigorous beginning of a career in public school teaching.  Thus my personal priority for honoring the spirit of Lughnasadh is making effort to connect with others and remain connected with them, and to prioritize making time for establishing and maintaining my familial relationships, friendships, and new community ties in the coming year.  I also celebrated my first High Day in two major events: the first by attending a local Druid/Pagan group event that included a brief ritual, and the second by performing my first rite (solitary) based on the ADF Core Order Ritual format.  Much of the text in the ritual I wrote myself, albeit influenced by other ADF rituals and chants I found online.