Ancient Celebrations – Part 9 – Imbolc/ Imbolg

Brigid, along with The Dagda was the first born of the Children of Danu and as such is a fitting symbol of Imbolc/ Imbolg, which possibly comes from the Old Irish i mbolc meaning “in the belly”, and refers to the pregnancy of ewes. Imbolc is celebrated traditionally from sunset on 31 January to 1 February, since the day started at sunset.

The alignment of some ancient monuments, such as the Mound of the Hostages on the Hill of Tara, indicate that Imbolc has been celebrated in Ireland for possibly 12,000 years. The inner chamber is aligned with the rising sun of both Imbolc and Samhain.

In Gaelic Ireland, Imbolc was the feis or festival marking the beginning of spring, during which great feasts were held. Celebrations involved lighting a hearth fire at home, candles or a bonfire. This lighting of candles and fires represented the return of warmth as the sun slowly increased in strength.

Sacred wells were visited at Imbolc, and participants would pray for health while walking sunwise around the well, representing the womb of Danu, who is connected with sacred water. Sacrificial offerings, such as coins were placed in the well and clooties (small pieces of cloth from old clothing) are dipped in the water. They are then tied to a branch of a sacred tree in honour of Bile, the great oak. Water from the well was drawn from the well and participants would later use this to sprinkle and bless the home, family members, livestock and fields.

In recent times, Imbolc is celebrated by Irish Christians as Saint Brigid’s Day, but the festival is based on Brigid in her role as a fertility goddess. On Imbolc Eve, Brigid visits deserving households and blesses them.

Brigid represents the transition from the dark season of winter into spring and her presence was very welcome at this time of year. Families would have a special meal on Imbolc Eve, including included food such as colcannon (mashed potatoes with kale or cabbage), dumplings and barmbrack (round bread). Some of the food and drink would be set aside for Brigid.

Brigid was invited into the home and a bed be made for her. A family member, representing Brigid, would circle the home three times carrying rushes and knock on the door requesting to be let in. On the third knock they are welcomed in, the meal is had, and the rushes are then strewn on the floor as a bed for Brigid. A white wand, usually made of birch, would be set by the bed, representing the wand Brigid uses to make the vegetation grow again.

The following morning a Brídeóg (a doll like representation of Brigid made from reeds and clad in bits of cloth, shells and flowers) would be paraded around the community by young women.

For a personal perspective of Imbolc/ Imbolg see Sean Twomey’s article Imbolg: An Lá Nua agus Tús Nua

Brideog, National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin
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Imbolg: An Lá Nua agus Tús Nua

Imbolc: A new day and a new start

The time of year for rebirth, renewal and healing is just around the corner once again, the time of ‘I mbolg’/ ’in the belly’ or Imbolg/Imbolc. It is time for the one who was born under the halo of fire and nurtured by the Bó Bán Naofa that resides between both worlds to walk again. Sacred Brighid, She of the forge, inspiration and healing. The Triple Aspect Goddess, the daughter of an Dagda and Boanne, the 5th Century nun, the Irish patron saint or which archetype your creed associates with Her, works through and within us.

Andrew has already written a brief history about this day in Ancient Celebrations – Part 8 – Lá Fhéile Bríde/ St. Brigid’s Day – Home | Order of Celtic Wolves and  I will add this link to it also which gives a history of Lá Bríghid from medieval era up to more recent times and of the Lasair Naofa or sacred flame of Kildare. Lighting the Perpetual Flame of Brigid – A brief history of the flame (kildare.ie)

To date in the Republic of Ireland, 3 of the 4 major days of celebration fall on or around national bank holidays.  The May weekend (Bealtine), August weekend (Lúgnasadh), and October weekend (Samhain). Even the months ‘as gaeilge’ are Bealtaine(May), Lúnasa(August) and Samhain(November). But Imbolg is left behind as the first day of Spring (an t-Earrach) and February (an Feabhra) is just a Church holiday. But this is changing.

Globally, the pandemic rocked us all but the light getting brighter as the end of the tunnel is getting nearer. This is especially true for Ireland. The HSE is still under pressure, but it is easing gradually. It has been announced that the pandemic restrictions will be finally lifted and as a mark of national celebration the country is getting a new public or bank holiday added to the year. This year it will be March 18th, the day after Patrick’s day but from 2023 onwards, it will be February 1st or Imbolg/ Brighids Day. The reason for the extra national holiday is to thank the Irish public for their patience and safeguard for themselves and others during the global pandemic. The day was chosen also as a memorial of those who lost their lives to the disease (approx. 6,136 source JHU CSSE COVID-19 Data dated 26/01/22).

As well as the Goddess of the forge, She is also the Goddess of healing and according to the various medieval texts, She wears a cloak. According to legend, when the cloak is placed on an afflicted wound or diseased area, they are healed completely. Even the legends surrounding the saint/nun archetype tells us of a similar healing cloak. The cloak is wrapped around the world now and the healing has begun.

This Imbolg, I will be undertaking a personal pilgrimage to Tobair na Faithní or Tobar Eoghain Naofa in the Muskerry hills (Sliabh Musheramore is the name of the mountain in the old Barony of Duhallow in Northwest County Cork). It is a Sacred Well that I have wrote about before in The Threefold Path – Home | Order of Celtic Wolves . There is a particular folktale that comes from Cullen, a small town nearby concerning St. Laitarian (also one of the aspects of the harvest Goddess that was associated with the Well in pre-Christian Ireland Lasair, Inghne Bhuidhe and Latiaran meaning flame, yellow hair and  bundle/stack associated with harvest in seangaeilge).

“Latiaran went to the local forge each morning  to take live coals from the fire in her apron or habit to her cell to start a fire. Because of her great holiness she was able to take these red-hot coals in her apron without getting burned in any way. It must be said that other a number of other Irish saints are also credited with this miraculous power. One morning the Blacksmith watching the saint lifting her habit to collect the red-hot coals complemented her on having a nice pair of legs. Latiaran was so much taken in by the Blacksmith’s compliment that she looked down and did agree that she had nice legs.

Next, we know her apron was on fire, and she completely lost her head and cursed the poor Blacksmith for the compliment he paid her. She prophesied that the sound of a smith’s hammer would never again be heard in Cullen. Apparently, this is the case. After this incident at the forge folklore tells us that Latiaran disappeared down through the ground and ended up in her cell. This spot is marked by a heart shaped stone where she entered the ground, but others would say that this stone marks her grave. This stone is at the holy well. Nearby ruins show where a church once stood and a tree from which items can be hung to so that their ailments can be taken away. Many cures are recorded as having taken place there. Crippled people walking away cured leaving behind their crutches and sticks.” 

This particular piece of local folklore dates apparently dates back to the 5th Century and coincidently the day associated to her is 25th July (very close to Lúgnasadh and the start of the harvest celebrations) just as her 2 other sisters (also ‘nuns of the 5th Century’) with St. Inion Buí/Inghne Bhuidhe celebrated on the 6th of May (Bealtine??) in nearby Dromtarriffe and St. Lasairin  celebrated at the 28th January (Imbolg??) in Kilmeen (source Cork folklore Project “Graveyards of Duhallow, Co. Cork” Tierney John).

Tosaíonn am nua dúinn agus muid ag cur tús le lá nua. Tá lá an leighis ag teacht.

Le meas,

Seán Ó Tuama.

Ancient Celebrations – Part 8 – Lá Fhéile Bríde/ St. Brigid’s Day

1 February is St. Brigid’s Day, which has been celebrated for hundreds of years in Ireland. Who was St. Brigid, how is her day celebrated today and what are her links to a much older Celtic Goddess?

According to the story recorded by an Irish Catholic priest, Saint Brigid was born Brigit and her mother was Brocca, a Christian baptised by Saint Patrick. Her father was Dubthach, a Leinster chieftain and Brocca’s slave master. When Dubthach’s wife discovered Brocca was pregnant, she was sold to a Druid landowner.

When Brigid was born, she grew up pure and virtuous and the stories state that she fed the poor and healed the sick. At age ten, Brigid was returned to her father’s home, as he was still her legal master.

Brigid’s charity did not end when she left her mother, and she donated Dubthach’s possessions to anyone who asked. Dubthach tired of Brigid’s charitably nature and took her before the king of Leinster. Whilst Dubthach spoke to the king, Brigid gave Dubthach’s jeweled sword to a beggar, so he could barter it for food for his family. The king witnessed this and convinced Dubthach to grant her freedom saying, “her merit before God is greater than ours.”

On being freed, Brigid returned to the Druid and her mother, now in charge of the Druid’s dairy. Brigid took over from her mother and often gave away milk. However, the dairy still prospered and the Druid eventually freed Brocca.

Brigid’s father Dubthach, had arranged for her to marry a bard, but she refused and made a vow to always be chaste. She devoted her life to the church and at age 40 founded the Church of the Oak, a monastery, which was built above a pagan shrine to the Celtic goddess Brigid, beneath a large oak tree.

Whether St. Brigid is a real historical figure is a matter of great debate. Her feast day was originally a Celtic pagan festival called Imbolc, which marked the midpoint between winter and spring.

Some scholars suggest that St. Brigid is a Christianisation of the goddess Brigid. Others believe she was formerly chief druid at the temple of the goddess Brigid. When she converted to Christianity, she then transformed the temple into a Christian monastery. After her death, the name and characteristics of the goddess became attached to the saint. St. Brigid was made one of Ireland’s three patron saints, alongside St. Columba and the more famous St. Patrick.

Since 2018, St Brigid’s Day Festival in London has become an annual celebration. St. Brigid’s Day is a time to celebrate the enormous creativity and talent of women and is now celebrated at Irish Embassies and Consulates worldwide. From February 2023, St. Brigid’s Day will become a Bank Holiday in Eire.

The Celtic Diet – Part 5 – Burns Night

Burns night is celebrated with a supper and commerates the life and poetry of Scottish poet Robert Burns, known affectionately as Rabbie Burns, the National Bard, Bard of Ayrshire, the Ploughman Poet and many other various titles. He was born on 25 January 1759 in Alloway, Ayrshire in the Western lowlands of Scotland. He is the best known of the poets who have written in the Scottish Gaelic, though much of his writing is in a “light Scots dialect” of English, accessible to an audience beyond Scotland. He also wrote in standard English, and in these writings his political or civil commentary is often at its bluntest.

Robert Burns

After his death on 21 July 1796, he became a great source of inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism, and has remained a cultural icon in Scotland and among Scottish emigrants and their progeny throughout the world.

Many, though, throughout the English speaking world link arms and sing Auld Lang’s Syne, the best known of Rabbie’s compositions to mark the New Year in the modern calendar, after midnight.

The Battle of Sherramuir

The Corries – Sherrifmuir Fight

“The Battle of Sherramuir” is a song written by Rabbie about the Battle of Sheriffmuir which occurred in Scotland in 1715 at the height of the Jacobite rising in England and Scotland. It was written when Burns toured the Highlands in 1787 and first published in The Scots Musical Museum, 1790. It was written to be sung to the ‘Cameronian Rant’.

Burns Night

Burns night suppers are normally held on or near the poet’s birthday, 25 January. There’s traditional dancing and neeps, haggis and tatties are the food of the day. All washed down with a Scottish whisky.

So let’s have a look at some great recipes for a traditional Burns Night.

Recipes

Traditional Haggis. Neeps and Tatties

Haggis, Neeps and Tatties

Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: Depends on cooking method (10 – 60 mins)
Serves: 41 haggis

Ingredients

400g neeps (swede [yellow turnip])
500g tatties (potatoes)
butter
50ml milk (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Cook your haggis* according to the cooking method on pack.
  2. Meanwhile, peel your neeps and tatties.
  3. Cube them, then boil separately till tender.
  4. Drain, then mash separately with a good bit of butter.
  5. If you like, add a glug of milk to get a smoother consistency.
  6. Then add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Once your haggis is ready, serve alongside the neeps and tatties for a traditional Burns supper.

Haggis

Making your own Haggis is not for the feint hearted and some of the ingredients are not that easy to purchase, especially the sheep’s stomach bag in which it is cooked. You can cook the rest of the ingredients separately, though, but ensure it stays moist and should never be served dry.

Ingredients

1 sheep’s stomach bag
1 sheep’s pluck – liver, lungs and heart
3 onions
250g beef Suet
150g oatmeal
salt and black pepper
a pinch of cayenne
150mls of stock/gravy

Method

  1. Clean the stomach bag thoroughly and soak overnight. In the morning turn it inside out.
  2. Wash the pluck and boil for 1.5 hours, ensuring the windpipe hangs over the pot allowing drainage of the impurities.
  3. Mince the heart and lungs and grate half the liver.
  4. Chop up the onions and suet.
  5. Warm the oatmeal in the oven.
  6. Mix all the above together and season with the salt and pepper. Then add the cayenne.
  7. Pour over enough of the pluck boiled water to make the mixture watery.
  8. Fill the bag with the mixture until it’s half full.
  9. Press out the air and sew the bag up.
  10. Boil for 3 hours (you may need to prick the bag with a small needle if it fills up with air) without the lid on.
  11. Serve with neeps and tatties.
  12. Alternatively, buy a ready to cook haggis! It’s far easier and you are guaranteed to enjoy!

Best Place to Purchase

Although many supermarkets sell haggis, the best place to buy is from an award winning Scottish butcher. Some only do local delivery, though, but their are some award winning butchers that sell online. Also, if you have a delicate palate (like myself) you can try various alternative haggis, including vegan and vegetarian alternatives.

An Súil Éile ar an Blian Anuas agus an Súil Éile ar an Blian Amárach

Remembering the Past and Looking to the Future

Sacred Well at Cath Pass Cork/Kerry Border

From out of the earth, the well pours forth the waters of life which cut a path forward to the seas to return back by air and cloud so that the magickal journey will continue anew.

Another year has passed and it hasn’t really been much kind to us but it has been a lot better than 2019 especially with the world wide vaccination programme that has prevented a lot more deaths than the previous year under the pandemic. I know there are still restrictions but are not as stringent as they were previously. Hopefully things will be a lot better for the new year as we open the front door to welcome its dawn and sweep the dirt and rubbish of the old year out the back door (an old Irish tradition of welcoming the new calendar year that I only heard of in the last few years. It seems to be a an image of the old rural whitewashed thatched houses for the tourist industry but a very pleasant one all the same).

I am a frontline healthcare worker and there has been a lot of pressure on the health services but again, it has relaxed a good bit since the introduction of the vaccine to the populace. Yes, you still can get sick from contracting the virus while being vaccinated but mortality rates and chances of hospitalisation have decreased dramatically.

Castlenalacht

Looking back on the year that was and how my personal path has evolved during this time, I have come to appreciate more that which influences indirectly or what I manipulate and fashion into tools to aid my path. Those of you who have read my written pieces throughout 2021 will have a good idea of what I mean by that. Basically it’s changing what inspires me to what I want to aspire to and finally, make it a reality that impacts on my path both physically and psychologically (some can say spiritually as well). I am a fairly active person and started cycling for pleasure as well as for personal challenges. This year I took on 3 challenges. I hadn’t planned to do them but attempted them on a whim (okay okay, my partner ‘volunteered’ me for the NCBI charity one). The first was cycling a total of 300km for National Council for the Blind Ireland and I completed it over a 5 day period with the last trip being the most memorable. This can be found in ‘An Scéal a Trí Sliabh’ which I wrote during the Summer. Another charity cycle I attempted and completed was the 120km Fort to Fort for the Mercy University Hospital Cork ( where I work) which was the beginning of another change of my life which I wrote about in ‘Draíocht na Sidhe’. I did another charity cycle a few weeks ago which was the Christmas Cracker Cycle for Marymount University Hospital Cork which is a palliative care centre. This one was very important to me personally as it was the care and dedication of the staff in this organisation that was with my maternal grandmother & grandfather, paternal grandmother and fathers of two very close friends all of whom had different forms of terminal cancers. It was only 85km but it was the toughest challenge I have done to date. A week ago, a surgeon friend of mine sent me a link for another challenge in September 22. The 160km Beara cycle tour. Funny how things come back to you. Ardgroom village is one of the checkpoints on the route. I have written about Ardgroom Stone Circle and taken some of you there in both written (‘Scéal a Trí Sliabh’) and videos and pictures I have shared in social media groups such as the OCW member page and my own Na Mhac Tíre na hEirú (affiliated with OCW). This area is populated with a lot of Neolithic sites which I will be looking out for along the tour (that’s if I survive Healy’s Pass).

Drombeg

Owing to the weather conditions and due to national restrictions, I wasn’t able to travel much for some key dates of the year for personal decompressions/rituals. However, I did manage to go to Knocknacoille, John’s Well/ Tobar Brighid Naofa and a long day trip to Ardgroom but also I had the opportunity to conduct live decompressions at Drombeg Stone Circle at Crom Domhnaigh/ Cheile Tailte/ Lugnasadh and at the Linear Orthostadt stones of Castlenalacht just before  Grianstad an Grimhridh/ Winter solstice on social media. I want to personally thank those who attended and endured everything that could go wrong and my Cork accent butchering the Irish language. A cairde, Andrew agus Johnny, go raibh maith agaibh.

Ardgroom

I was disappointed on the morning up in Castlenalacht as I was hoping to catch some type of sunrise with the tallest standing stone but typical of Irish weather, I felt like a politician arriving at Newgrange. It was too overcast and started raining as soon as I left. But not all is lost. At the moment , there are weather alerts for the county and we have had nothing but bad weather but there was a small break. One morning I left the house to get to my car and a beautiful sun rise over the hills greeted me. It’s that one perfect moment that makes you pause, give you time to look what you have accomplished and what you can look forward to in the future.

I was very lucky to get this photo

Thank you all for listening to my journey over the past and previous year. So lets all raise a glass in toast.

Súil éile ar an bhliain anaus agus súil éile ar an bhliáin amárach.

Go n-ardóidh an bóthar chun beannú dui tar do chosán gach éirí gréine nua.

Go mbeadh an ghaoth i gcónaí ar do chúl agus go dtitfidh an bháisteach go réidh ar do shála.

Go mbeannaí tú do bheannacht ag teach Donn nuair a ghlacfaidh an fear dubh do lámh.

Athbliain faoi mhaise daoibh féin.

Sláinte.

Seán Ó Tuama.

Ancient Celebrations – Part 7 – Wren’s Day

Saint Stephen’s Day, also called the Feast of Saint Stephen, is a Christian saint’s day to commemorate Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr celebrated on 26 December.

In Irish, it is called Lá Fhéile Stiofáin or Lá an Dreoilín, the latter meaning the Wren Day. When used in this context, “wren” it alludes to several legends, including those found in Irish mythology, linking episodes in the life of Jesus to the wren. People dress up in old clothes, wear straw hats and travel from door to door with fake wrens (previously real wrens were killed) and they dance, sing and play music.

A Mummer’s Festival is held at this time every year in the village of New Inn, County Galway, and Dingle in County Kerry. Mumming is also a big tradition in County Fermanagh in Ulster. Saint Stephen’s Day is also a popular day for visiting family members and going to the theatre to see a pantomime.

In the UK Boxing Day originated as a holiday to give gifts to the poor. The Carol “Good King Wenceslas” tells the story of a Bohemian king going on a journey and braving harsh winter weather to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen. During the journey, his page is about to give up the struggle against the cold weather, but is enabled to continue by following the king’s footprints, step for step, through the deep snow. The legend is based on the life of the historical Saint Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia or Svatý Václav in Czech (907–935).

Whether you are a Christian or otherwise, St Stephen’s Day is a great day to show appreciation for what you have and give to the poor. Maybe go through your possessions that you no longer use and donate them to charity, or donate money. Let’s always care for those in society who have illness, disabilities, the widowed, the single parents and all who suffer from poverty.

However you spend the day, may you be blessed and wishing you all good health.

Watch a video of The West Clare Wrenboys

Druidry – Exposing the Frauds – Part 1 – Meddygon Myddvai

The Physicians of Myddfai (Meddygon Myddfai) were a succession of physicians who lived in the parish of Myddfai in Carmarthenshire, Wales.

Instructions for preparing herbal medicine attributed to the family have survived in the Red Book of Hergest, which dates from the late 14th century, and in other, “more recent”, Welsh manuscripts.

The “more recent” Welsh manuscripts have been used since as a definite guide to Druid herbal medicine.

With renewed 19th century “Christian” interest in Druidry, antiquarians visited Myddfai parish to collect further oral traditions regarding the family of physicians, including a legend of its origins. The first reference to this story occurs in a diary compiled by the topographer Richard Fenton, who visited the parish in 1808.

The story was subsequently expanded in an article in 1821 periodical The Cambro-Briton and in an introduction to the 1861 book Meddygon Myddvai. The latter version was based on the oral accounts given by three elderly residents of the parish in 1841 to William Rees.

The book Meddygon Myddvai, published in 1861 by John Pughe, collects together most of the materials attributed to the Physicians, which it groups under two manuscripts. What it terms the “first” manuscript is the material included in the Red Book of Hergest, corrected by comparison with other copies.

The “second” manuscript, however, consists of materials found in a manuscript formerly known as MS Llanover C.24 and now held by the National Library of Wales. It was brought to light by, and is partly in the hand of, the antiquarian and bard Iolo Morganwg (Edward Williams).

The text purports to be a collection of herbal medicinal prescriptions and herb names compiled by Hywel Feddyg ab Rhys ab Llywelyn ab Philip Feddyg, a descendant of the Physicians of Myddfai.

However, the Llanover “Meddygon Myddfai” manuscript is one of Williams’ forgeries, and was compiled by him based on the materials he found in a manuscript compiled by Harri Jones of Pontypool.

So, whilst the information found in the first part can be credited (with extensive revisions) to the Red Book of Hergest, the latter part of Meddygon Myddvai can be dismissed as another fraud, whose prolific material has been promulgated by modern Druid Orders.

Ancient Celebrations – Part 6 – Perihelion, Aphelion and the Solstices

The Earth is closest to the Sun – at its Perihelion – about 2 weeks after the December Solstice and farthest from the Sun – at its Aphelion – about 2 weeks after the June Solstice.

Earth orbits the Sun in an elliptical path, which means that there is 1 point of the path when the Sun is at its closest to the Earth and 1 point when it is furthest away.

The shape of this path varies due to gravitational influences of other planetary objects, particularly the Moon. Approximately every 100,000 years, Earth’s orbital path changes from being nearly circular to elliptical. The difference of the Earth’s orbital shape from a perfect circle is known as its eccentricity. An eccentricity value of 0 is a circular orbit, while values between 0 and 1 describe an elliptical orbit.

The dates when Earth reaches the extreme points on its orbit are not fixed because of the variations in its eccentricity. In 1246, the December Solstice was on the same day as the Earth reached its Perihelion. Since then, the Perihelion and Aphelion dates have drifted by a day every 58 years. In the short-term, the dates can vary up to 2 days from one year to another.

Mathematicians and astronomers estimate that in the year 6430, over 4000 years from now, the timing of the Perihelion and the March Equinox will coincide.

The Earth is closest to the Sun – at its Perihelion – about 2 weeks after the December Solstice and farthest from the Sun – at its Aphelion – about 2 weeks after the June Solstice.

Earth orbits the Sun in an elliptical path, which means that there is 1 point of the path when the Sun is at its closest to the Earth and 1 point when it is furthest away.

The shape of this path varies due to gravitational influences of other planetary objects, particularly the Moon. Approximately every 100,000 years, Earth’s orbital path changes from being nearly circular to elliptical. The difference of the Earth’s orbital shape from a perfect circle is known as its eccentricity. An eccentricity value of 0 is a circular orbit, while values between 0 and 1 describe an elliptical orbit.

The dates when Earth reaches the extreme points on its orbit are not fixed because of the variations in its eccentricity. In 1246, the December Solstice was on the same day as the Earth reached its Perihelion. Since then, the Perihelion and Aphelion dates have drifted by a day every 58 years. In the short-term, the dates can vary up to 2 days from one year to another.

Mathematicians and astronomers estimate that in the year 6430, over 4000 years from now, the timing of the Perihelion and the March Equinox will coincide.

Ancient Ancestors Placed Markers For Astrological Events

You might wonder why we are discussing such things in great detail and the connection with today’s revived interest in Solstice and Equinox Celebrations.

From at least 5000 years ago ancient monuments have marked out Solstice and Equinoxes with their alignment with the Sun. The ancients would have spent many years (even decades) putting up these monuments, with blood, sweat and tears for future generations to enjoy.

Our ancestors lived amidst nature more than most of us do today. They observed the universe, noting its rhythms. They used both solar and lunar calendars, tracking the Sun’s path across the sky. Here are some examples of the ancient sites and monuments that were built to align with the solstices or equinoxes.

1) Stonehenge

Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England

Each year, thousands visit Stonehenge on the Summer Solstice. The huge monolith stones (many of which were transported from miles away in South Wales) were arranged in a circle around 3000 BC. The huge monument marks the relation between the Sun and the seasons.

On the dawning of the summer solstice, the sun rises directly above the Heel Stone. Although the tallest trilithon at the monument is no longer standing, the sun would have set between the narrow gap of these uprights during the winter solstice.

2) Newgrange

Newgrange, Donore, County Meath, Ireland

Around 3200 B.C., ancient people in Ireland built a huge mound and surrounded it with stones. Today, the knoll is called Newgrange.

Illuminated passage during Winter Solstice

For five days around the winter solstice, a beam of sunlight illuminates a small room inside the mound for 17 minutes at dawn. The room holds only twenty people at a time.

3) Machu Picchu (Peru)

Maccha Picchu, Peru

Marking out Solstices and Equinoxes wasn’t just limited to Britain and Ireland. The awe inspiring Machu Picchu was the transcendent City of the Incas. This archaeological site is perched atop a mountain overlooking the Urubamba Valley in Peru.

Intihuatana Stone, Maccha Picchu, Peru

The giant Intihuatana (meaning “the place when the Sun gets tied”) stone at the top of this sacred mountain is perfectly positioned so that each corner sits at the four cardinal points (north, south, east, and west), and at an angle of about 13 degrees northward. The stone casts a shadow throughout the day. However, at exactly noon on the date of the spring or fall equinox, the Sun’s shadow disappears. The stone is a precise indicator of the date of the two equinoxes.

4) Other Examples

The importance of marking out ancient Celebrations is seen from many other ancient monuments throughout the world, including the Mayan Pyramid, Chichen Itza in Mexico, the Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, and the Great Sphinx and Pyramid of Khafre in Egypt.

Added to the list are thousands of smaller stone circles concentrated mainly around Britain, Ireland and Northern Europe, but found as far away as Northern India. These time keeping circles show that the ancients viewed these events as important.

Solstices – Longest and Shortest Day of the Year

The June solstice is the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere.

The date varies between June 20 and June 22, depending on the year, and the local time zone.

A solstice happens when the sun’s zenith is at its furthest point from the equator. On the June solstice, it reaches its northernmost point and the Earth’s North Pole tilts directly towards the sun, at about 23.4 degrees.

It’s also known as the northern solstice because it occurs when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer in the Northern Hemisphere.

In the tropical zodiac used in Western Astrology it is at this exact point that the Sun enters the Astrological sign of Cancer (however, the Sun is still physically positioned in Gemini due to the precession of the Equinoxes).

The Winter Solstice takes place each year between 20-22 December, depending on the year and your location. All Solstices and Equinoxes are events that happens around the world at the exact same point.

For the December Solstice, this is when the Sun is aligned to the most Southerly point, the tropic of Capricorn. Indeed in the tropical zodiac it is seen as the time when the Sun enters Capricorn. For those south of the equator it is the time of the summer solstice.

It is a time of celebration. A time of rebirth of the dying sun, or the Sun at it’s zenith in other parts of the world. Many festivities take place this time of year, but Christmas is the most well known. The controversial 19th century Welsh Druid Iolo Morganwg called it Alban Arthan, which translates to The Light of Arthur the legendary King. But whatever you call it, or however you celebrate it, solstice blessings to you and your kin.

Ancient Celebrations – Part 5 – Saturnalia

Saturnalia was an ancient Roman festival in honour of the god Saturn. It was originally held on 17 December but was later extended with festivities to 23 December. Saturnalia was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn, and a public banquet. This was followed by private gift giving and continual partying. Many believe Saturnalia was a major influence on customs associated with later celebrations in western Europe, especially Christmas. Let’s look at the origins of this pagan holiday and similarities with today’s festivities.

Ancient Roman historian Justinus states Saturn was an historical king of the pre-Roman Italy: “Saturnus, is said to have been a man of such extraordinary justice, that no one was a slave in his reign, or had any private property, but all things were common to all, and undivided, as one estate for the use of every one; in memory of which way of life, it has been ordered that at the Saturnalia slaves should everywhere sit down with their masters at the entertainments, the rank of all being made equal.” Saturn was viewed as an agricultural deity who reigned over the world in the Golden Age. The term Golden Age is adopted from Greek mythology and is the first of five Ages, Gold being the first and the one during which the Golden Race of lived. After the end of the first age was the Silver, then Bronze, followed by the Heroic age. The fifth contempary age of the time was Iron. The Golden Age of Saturn’s rule was a period when pre-Romans enjoyed the fruits of the earth without labour in an age of innocence. The revelries of Saturnalia reflected the conditions of this lost mythical age.

Examples of Sigillaria gifts

During Saturnalia, Roman society was turned on its head. As well a sacrifice, feasting and partying, masters provided table service for their slaves and freedmen. Gambling was permitted for all and it was a time of liberty. A “Ruler of the Saturnalia” was elected by lots, who was a master of ceremonies and comparable to the “Lord of Misrule” at the Feast of Fools, which originated in Northern France. Gifts exchanged were usually ancient joke shop type items know as gag gifts or small clay or wax figurines known as sigillaria. Toys were given to children. Saturnalia was held sixteen days before the Kalends of January, which marked the birth of the unconquerable Sun.

Fifth century Roman writer, Macrobius Ambrosius Theodosius is our major source of information about Saturnalia. He described Saturnalia as a festival of light leading to the winter solstice. Like the Christian Advent, candles were lit each day to symbolise the quest for knowledge and truth. The renewal of light and the coming new year was celebrated in the later Roman Empire as the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, the “Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun” on 23
December. The Philocalian calendar of AD 354 actually dates the festival of “Natalis Invicti” on 25 December. There is limited evidence that Natalis Invicti was celebrated before the mid-4th century. Despite similarities between Christmas and Saturnalia it is only since the 12th century, that the near-solstice date of 25 December for Christmas was selected because it was the date of the festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti. However, Hippolytus of Rome, between 202 and 211, said in his commentary on the Book of Daniel that the birth of Jesus took place on December 25, which was prior to Natalis Invicti.

Ancient Celebrations – Part 4 – Yuletide

Yule or Yuletide (Yule season) is an ancient festival observed by the Germanic peoples. It has connections to Woden (Odin) and sacrificial feasts. Like many other pagan festivities, Yule was Christianised and transformed into Christmastide. Despite this, Yule is still commonly used in Carols and in connection with Christmas, such as the Yule log.

How was this ancient festival celebrated, what was its meaning and how does it influence Christmas celebrations today?

The Norse All Father, Odin, also bears the names jólfaðr (Old Norse for “Yule father”) and jólnir (“the Yule one”). A link was later made to the French word jolif, meaning jolly, which was itself derived from Old Norse. It can also mean feast, as in hugins jól (Old Norse “Huginn’s Yule”), which referred to “a raven’s feast”.

The earliest written mention of Yule is from fourth century Gothic, in connection in the month that fell from November to January on the old lunisolar calendar. Yule was originally a 3-day celebration.

During Yule, farmers gathered at the heathen temple and brought along food for the feast. All drank ale and livestock, including horses, were sacrificed. The sacrificial blood (hlaut) from them was collected in vessels (hlautbolli), which was then smeared around the inside and outside of the temple with sacrificial twigs (aspergills). The blood was also sprinkled around the pedestals of the statue representations of gods and on all men present. The meat, however, was boiled and served as food at the banquet.

Fires were lit in the middle of the temple floor, and kettles hung over them. The chieftain blessed both the sacrificial meat and the sacrificial beaker, as he held it over the fire. Toasts were drunk to Odin “for victory and power to the king”, a second to Njörðr and Freyr “for good harvests and for peace”, and thirdly a beaker was to be drunk to the king himself. Toasts were then drunk to the memory of the departed.

King Haakon I of Norway who ruled from 934–961 is credited with the Christianisation of Norway. He also rescheduled the date of Yule to coincide with Christian celebrations held at a similar time. When Haakon arrived in Norway, he was already a confirmed Christian, but the land was completely heathen. Haakon hid his Christianity to ensure the support of tribal chieftains. Eventually, Haakon introduced a law ensuring Yule celebrations took place at the same time as Christmas. When he solidly established himself and held power over the whole country, he then had the gospel preached. His popularity caused many to be baptised, and some stopped making sacrifices.

Yule eventually became synonymous with Christmas, with the Yule Father being replaced with the jolly image of Santa Claus. Many modern pagans have since reclaimed Yule as their own and celebrate it with a mixture of ancient and modern traditions.