When we think about the practices that various groups and cultures did on a yearly cycle, agricultural holidays are some of the most prominent. The modern Wheel of the Year in the Druid tradition seeks to re-establish a set of holidays that clearly align with the changing season and with earth-based practices. Therefore, many druids celebrate the “Wheel of the Year” or a set of eight holidays occurring every seven weeks. The holidays in the Wheel include include the solstices and equinoxes (which we give special names in the Druid Revival tradition, see below) as well as the four fire festivals (which occur at the halfway point between solstice and equinox/equinox and solstice).
The following material comes from a workshop that I wrote a while ago to introduce new druids into the wheel of the year. It started with a guided meditation for the wheel of the year, which I posted a few weeks ago on the blog. I thought this might be of use to others, so here it is!
The following graphic shows the holidays as we progress from Alban Arthan, the Winter Solstice and the time of greatest darkness, to Alban Hefin, the Summer Solstice and time of the greatest light. As you can see from the graphic, Alban Eiler and Alban Elfed fall on the midpoints—they provide us two balance points of the year where the darkness and light are equal. The other six holidays firmly sit within the light or dark half of the year and reflect the themes of growth, harvest, compost, and rebirth.
Recognizing these holidays as part of a never-ending cycle is important. This cycle is repeated in our weather, our light patterns, and our growing and harvesting seasons externally. Internally, it can also be reflected in our own lives. We must have times of light and times of dark, times of harvest and times of sowing, times of high energy and times of quite reflection. Celebrating the wheel of the year allows us to recognize this in our lives as well as balance our own energies with those of the land.
Celebrating the Wheel of the Year
As we begin to celebrate the wheel of the year, many druids express a growing sense of closeness to nature and an appreciation for the seasons. The wheel gives us a sense of balance, of marking the passage of time, and recognizing what each season can teach us. Druids often celebrate the Wheel of the Year in a variety of ways. Both spiritual/magical and more mundane/physical activities are appropriate for the celebration of the holidays. Her are some ideas:
- Celebrating the holiday with grove ritual, food, and companionship.
- Building outdoor/indoor shrines and decorating a personal altar for the season
- Planting or harvesting herbs, fruits, leafy greens, etc.
- Engaging in various bardic arts such as wildcrafting, painting, music, writing
- Donating your time to others, such as participating in in environmental clean-up,
- Celebrating the holidays through personal ritual (it might be really useful to you to create your own meanings and ritual celebrations for each holiday)
- meditation, reflection, and engaging in divination work.
The Wheel of the Year: Holidays
Samhain / Samhuinn – Approx. November 1st
Samhain was traditionally the Celtic New Year, a time when the veil between the worlds grew thin and the Celts honored their ancestors. Druidry often recognizes three kinds of ancestors: ancestors of our blood, ancestors of our lands, and ancestors of our spiritual tradition. Samhain is usually our most solemn holiday, where we recognize the death that fall and the dark months bring, the need to compost and go into stillness, and the coming of the cold months.
This quote, gives you a sense of our Samhain ritual (adapted from the OBOD ritual) is telling of this holiday: “It is during this time that the last of the leaves are blown off the trees, that the ground becomes cold and frozen. Like an egg or a womb, the Cailleach (known also as the crone) gives the land and us time to rest, to dream, so that in the springtime, the land and her peoples may awaken anew. She is nothing to fear—she is but part of the cycle that the lands, and that we humans live in the course of our lives. She walks in the space between worlds, to our land.”
Alban Arthur / Winter Solstice / Yule – Approx. December 21st
This is the second of our “dark half of the year” holidays; the time of the greatest darkness in the year. In the druidic tradition, darkness is not something to be feared or something that it is evil—it is part of the cycle; we cannot appreciate the light if we never experience the darkness. So we use this as a period of rest, of gestation, of recognizing the need for the cold and dark of the winter months for the land to rest and regenerate. In our grove, this is when we traditionally give gifts, burn the Yule log, and work to bring light back into the world.
Here is part of our Alban Arthur ritual (adapted from the OBOD ritual): “Now is the time to acknowledge all that has gone before and is no more. The warm breezes of the high summer are but a memory, we are far from that place and now we witness the darkest point. The oak is bare, the earth is cold, the sky is black—from where could hope arise? Our eyes are wet with the tears of dreams lost to the dark. Our inner vision is misted by grief. Let the darkness be felt within our minds and our hearts. Only out of the darkness does light arise….only when we have mourned the passing of the old can rebirth occur….we know well that there will be a new dawn tomorrow, after this the longest of nights. Yet we often forget this simple truth: When we let go of our longing for the past, we are free to nurture the still small light of hope in our hearts.”
Imbolc – Approx. February 2nd
The third of our “dark half of the year” celebrations, Imbolc was traditionally a Celtic festival that celebrated the first sign of spring—and for most families, this was the lactating of the ewes, showing that they were going to give birth to lambs. Although it seems still very much winter in South East Michigan during this holiday, we recognize the importance of the turning of the wheel and the brightening of days. In our grove, we do healing of ourselves and our lands and recognize this holiday as one of reflection and rejuvenation. We usually also focus on the element of water during this holiday.
Here is a quote from our Imbolc ritual (adapted from OBOD): “Imbolc is a time when we begin to see the first stirrings of spring in the world. Although the world is still plunged in darkness, we are moving towards the light half of the year; the snow is melting into water to nourish the land. Imbolc is a time of renewal and rebirth, a time of purification and starting anew, a time of quiet anticipation and reflection. This is a time that we seek healing for ourselves and for this land.”
Alban Eiler/Eilir / Spring Equinox – Approx. March 21st
The Spring Equinox is one of our two “balance” holidays, or when night and day are in equal balance. The Spring Equinox allows us to step from the dark into the light half of the year, and for Michigan, truly does give us the first signs of spring in the land. This is the time when we recognize the importance of planting, growing, and nurturing new ideas, projects, plans, and yes, even plants. We seek balance in our lives and recognize the importance of balancing our activities in the greater landscape to minimize our impact.
Here is a quote from our Alban Eiler ritual (adapted from OBOD): , “Today, as we celebrate the balance of the light and the dark and the first day of spring, we recognize that our path is not one we walk alone. Just as the earth begins to awaken from her slumber, so too do animals in hibernation begin to emerge forth once more. The summer birds return from their long winter months in the south, and the amphibians come out from the watery depths to seek the light coming back into the world. It is today, we honor the coming spring, planting the seeds of change, and seeking new beginnings.”
Beltane – Approx. May 1st
Beltane is the third of our spring holidays, and celebrates the return of fertility to the land. Beltane is a holiday about fertility—bringing back the fertility to the land after the long winter, as well as bringing fertility to the land’s people. The Celts celebrated Beltane with maypoles, dancing, fires, and the great rite. Cattle were traditionally driven through the smoke of the bonfires to bless them with health and fertility for the coming year. In Ireland, the fires of Tara were the first ones lit every year at Beltane—all other fires were lit from Tara’s flame. For our ritual, we raise a maypole (symbolizing the union of masculine/projective and feminine/receptive energies) and walk through the Beltane fires in blessing.
Quote from our Beltane Ritual: “Beltane is a time to bring abundance and fertility to your life—whether you are looking to conceive a child or birth an idea, to enjoy fruitfulness in your career or creative endeavors, or just see your garden bloom. Beltane is one of the two times in the year when the veils between the worlds are thinnest—this is a time of “no time” and is associated with the otherworld/fairy/spirit realms.”
Alban Hefin/Heruin / Summer Solstice– Approx. June 21st
Alban Hefin takes place on the summer solstice, where we celebrate the heat and light of high summer and the fire of the sun. For our grove and the broader OBOD tradition, we really take the time just to “be” during this holiday—to be present here and now and simply enjoy the bounty of the summer. This is also a great time to gather herbs (for magical or mundane purposes).
Here is a quote from our Alban Hefin grove celebration: “Today is the celebration of the Summer Solstice in our part of the world. The Turning point – The longest day and the shortest night. This is a time of fullness, of life in blossomed expression, of the forest filled with creatures awake and moving. The summer solstice is marked throughout the whole world and belongs not to one area or people, but stands for truth universal. As one we stand in this circle, we attend the triumph of the light. Now is the time to celebrate the sun, the fire that burns to give us life, and the fire that burns within us.”
Lughnasadh – Approx. August 1st
Lughnasadh is one of the four traditional fire festivals and is the festival of the first harvest. In early August, the tomatoes and vegetables ripen, the grains grow heavy in the fields, and we celebrate the bounty—and future bounty—of the land. In Ireland, this festival was (and is) celebrated with games, festivities, and the gathering of the berries and fruits of high summer. Our grove, likewise, celebrates this with games and also offerings to the land in thanksgiving.
Here is a quote from our Lughnasadh ritual, “Lughnasadh marks the time of the beginning of harvesting which is then completed by Alban Elfed, the Autumnal Equinox. This is a time of joy and of preparing for the Autumn and winter months. It is now that we begin to reap what we have sown, and it is now that we understand the wisdom of careful preparation, of the sowing of good seeds in our lives, and in the lives of others.”
Alban Elfed / Fall Equinox – Approx. September 21st
Alban Elfed represents the eighth holiday in our wheel of the year. We return once more to the time balance, when we enter the dark half of the year. Alban Elfed is the third of the harvest holidays, and a time when we recognize the need for balance in our lands, our lives, in what we harvest, and what we store away for the coming winter months. Alban Elfed is also the time of the OBOD East Coast Gathering, a gathering that takes place in Eastern Pennsylvania and that many of our grove members attend.
Here is a quote from our Alban Elfed ritual: “I proclaim the festival of Alban Elfed, The Light of the Water, at the time of the Autumn Equinox! I proclaim the symmetry of day and night! I proclaim the balance of summer and winter! But balance lasts but for a moment, for from this very time, night becomes longer than day for a full half-year, until at the other side of the Wheel, when we reach the moment of the equinox again, and day gains in strength and exceeds the time of night for a full half-year again. Today we seek balance in our lives, drawing upon the energies of the four elements and this sacred time of balance.”