‘High Days’ Posts

 

High Days: Mabon

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Mabon, also known as the Fall Equinox, is the second harvest festival in my mind, and the beginning of Autumn. It is the final reminder that we need to finish up projects and harvesting, and prepare for the onslaught of the upcoming winter. Like Ostara, it is another season of equilibrium, when the day and nights are supposedly of equal length.

During this time of year, we will finish packing away food and start dragging dead trees up from the woods in the back of our home for splitting. The coolness of the season will allow us to work outside for many hours without the intense heat of summer.

This is my second favorite season because of the depth of color from the changing leaves and the harvested wheat and pumpkins. Many fall festivals will be held where people will sell off their canned/baked goods and quilts. Many livestock over the next few months will be slaughtered and sold so that farmers can conserve feed over the winter. The slaughtered meat is also stored away in smokehouses and attics to prepare in meals once the snow comes. Some farmers would also gather for the last big feast of the year before they are driven into their homes by the cold.

Even the Miwok tribes would use this time of year to celebrate the Acorn Festival, which allowed them to come together and exchange news and supplies before returning to their homes to remain isolated throughout the winter months.

(Word Count: 248)

 

High Days: Lughnasadh

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Lughnasadh is the first of the harvest festivals, when my father and I begin to harvest corn, tomatoes, potatoes, and other such crops, and many breads are baked from harvested wheat. This is also the time of year in my family when we need to start canning/freezing food for the upcoming winter and preparing ourselves before the cold comes.

This festival is very Celtic in origin, being named after the Irish God Lugh, and hosting the ancient tradition of games (or even considered Olympics) during this time of year.

Many Native American tribes celebrate what is known as an eagle dance during this time of year. Even as I write this, my home is in a severe drought, and our crops are suffering. To many Native Americans, the eagle has supernatural powers because it is able to fly into the heavens and carry their prayers to the Gods. The Eagle was also thought to control rain and thunder, so many prayers were in the image of the eagle to bring rain to quench the dryness of the season.

(Word Count: 178)

 

High Days: Midsummer

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Midsummer is, in modern culture, celebrated as the first day of summer. But traditionally it is the middle of the light half of the year, hence the term “Mid Summer”. It is the half-point of the year, and now symbolizes all of the days getting shorter again; a reminder of the upcoming winter. Now we prepare for the first harvest, often many fruits such as raspberries and cherries (at least at my place) are ready for picking. Honeysuckle blooms, filling the air with sweet aroma, and the sun also blooms, filling the world with warmth.

To many Native American cultures, summer is heaven and winter is hell. This time of year often brings many tribes together for their ritualistic (and often perceived as barbaric) sundance. It’s a time to renew yourself through pain and self-sacrifice over several days of fasting and symbolic icons, which all come together to represent personal rebirth.

(Word Count: 151)

 

High Days: Beltane

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The Celtic Beltane is the last of the fertility festivals in my eyes, and the most recognized fertile of the High Days. Most of the fields have been sewn, and now we ask that they be blessed with a good harvest in the fall.

Symbolically, Beltane represents the union of the God and Goddess, often depicted in a maypole dance and/or some sort of sacred sexual act. It is a fire festival, and probably one of the most energetic high rites I’ve ever attended. There’s even tale of farmers lighting two great bonfires and driving their cattle between them for purification and fertility.

Beltane is not thought of as the beginning of summer in modern culture due to the misrepresentation of the Summer Solstice being given the title of “First day of Summer.” But traditionally it is Beltane that marks the beginning of the summer season.

To the Cherokee, the moon during May is known as the “planting moon”, the Ojibwe call it the “blossom moon”, and even the Apache call it the “season when the leaves are green”. The Ute’s celebrate this time of year by performing a Bear Dance, which is specific for mating and courtship.

It is clear that in many cultures, this time of year is fairly universal for being the season of fertility.

(Word Count: 218)

 

High Days: Ostara

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The Germanic Ostara is the time when Spring has officially sprung, and is supposed to be a time of equilibrium. The cold death of winter is melting away, revealing a supple and fertile mother earth. During this time I’m ready to shake off the winter ice and peek my head out of the thicket to smell the freshness of Spring. Soon we’ll start planting the first seeds after the last frost and our animals will soon start to give birth.

I like this particular holiday because Spring in general is my favorite season. Everything has renewed vigor, it’s not too hot, and the budding trees and flowers show me the promises of a lush time of year to come. Ostara is for new beginnings and spring cleaning, which is always very important to me. I like to reevaluate my life and clean out all of the dusty and negativity to start anew. Now the days will seem extra long, allowing people to be more productive, and the return of the sun lifts our spirits from the depression of the dark winter.

This is the time of the Navajo Mountain Chant, when the tribe of Arizona comes together to celebrate the end of the thunderstorms, before the spring winds come.

(Word Count: 209)

 

High Days: Imbolc

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Imbolc has always been a very simple holiday for me. When the time comes for Imbolc, I celebrate the return of the sun (or the God) and the beginning of spring, as well as the ending of winter. It is a time when the ewe’s begin lactating, thus milk is very sacred. In my Grove, this holiday is most particularly devoted to Brigid’s fire and all three of her aspects, as she is often associated with milk and many farm animals. Even though people overshadow Imbolc with the secular Groundhog Day, the tradition remains the same. Will winter continue on, or will spring return light upon the land?

I enjoy this holiday in its simplicity, and celebrate it as one of the three fertility holidays, followed by Ostara and Beltane. Many dishes prepared in traditional yellows and whites, often with milk and corn, are prepared in honor of the season.

(Word Count: 150)

 

High Days: Yule

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Traditionally, the Nordic Yule (or the “Winter Solstice”) is known by majority as the shortest day of the year and the longest night. When I originally became interested in paganism at the age of 16 (rather, I just called it “witchcraft” back then), I read that this was the time when the Oak King killed the Holly King. Even now I’m not entirely sure where this reference comes from, and do not include it in my way of thinking.

To me, Yule is a symbol of the death of nature, and the start of winter. It is the quiet and dark time where Mother Nature sleeps under a blanket of snow (at least in my territory). I embrace the quietness of nature through meditation. There are not many things as spiritually moving as walking into the woods after a snowfall, and listening to the silence of the world around me. All you hear is a quiet whisper of the trees, a few birds, and the crunching of the snow beneath your feet. It is cold, pure, and silent, and it allows me to embrace father winter and kickstart my survival instinct. In a way, you can sense and feel the rebirth of the Sun just by breathing the mix of the crisp winter and the bright sun.

With this, Yule brings celebration and honor of the Sun’s return. We celebrate with feasting, gifts, and warmth. Many traditions follow in the footsteps of celebration, such as the Yule Tree and decorations of holly, mistletoe, and pine.

Even some Native American tribes celebrate winter traditions. Like the modern Celtic tradition, the Pueblo and Hopi tribes celebrated the coming of the sun and the rebirth of foliage in the spring. There is even a structure in Vermont called “Calendar One” that acts as a stone enclosure with rocks positioned to show the rising and setting of the sun at certain notches within the stone during the Soltices.

My father and I celebrate much of the secular form of Yule/Christmas (he is, afterall, Methodist Christian). We decorate with pine boughs around the outline of our house, we put up a tree and holiday garden, we feast and exchange gifts. But even the secular form of this particular holiday, be it pagan or christian, is kept alive and imbued with tradition.

You can see many pictures of our home during this time of year on my website:
Yule/Christmas 2005
Yule/Christmas 2006

(Word Count: 386, does not include the text for linking pictures)

 

High Days: Samhain

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Samhain is a time of reflection and honoring the past, as it begins the new year. Not just the past turn of the wheel, but also continuing to remember the ancestors that came before us so that they and their lessons are not forgotten. During this time of year, the last of the harvest is gathered and put away for the upcoming winter months. To me, this time of year is also when I can feel the earth falling asleep and my survival instincts begin to kick in, much like my animal brethren. We begin chopping wood to save up for the coming cold, we begin to hunt for meat to hold us over during the poverty of winter.

Traditionally, Samhain was celebrated by the Celts of 2,000 years ago, who celebrated their new year as November 1st. It was a time when the veil between the physical world and spiritual world was the thinnest. October 31st was thought to be when unruly spirits would cause trouble and damage what was left of crops. To honor, costumes were made and hearth fires were lit for protection over the winter.

The Iroquois native tribes also celebrated a “Feast of the Dead”, which was held every 12 years in honor of departed loved ones. Though the Iroquois held regular funeral rites to honor their departed with feasts and emotion, their “Feast of the Dead” was the most important. A large grave was dug and lined with their sacred beaver skins, where they removed the bodies from their graves and reburied them into their new home. Many other Native traditions do not speak of their dead except during festivals to honor them, for they feel it is rude.

Samhain, to me anyways, is the ending of the three harvest festivals, following Lughnasadh and Mabon. Like all things that begin and end, they symbolize stages in our lives. Samhain symbolizes the ending of one stage and the beginning of another.
(Word Count: 326)

Not included in the dedicants essay, but I thought was important:
In the 600’s, Pope Boniface IV appointed November 1st as “All Saint’s Day” as a time to honor saints and martyrs, no doubt to supercede the Celts Samhain with a more Christian oriented holiday. Eventually the church made November 2nd “All Soul’s Day” as a time to honor the dead, somewhere around 1000 A.D., though this is not as widely celebrated. Ironically the modern day equivalent, Halloween, is currently deemed by some Christians as evil and a time where the Devil has influence over children.