All Hail Iolo Morganwg, the 19th-century radical poet and forger who gave us Alban Arthan which is said to translate to “The Quarter or Light of the Little Bear” and inspired the alternative respelling is Alban Arthuan – ‘light of Arthur’…
Of course we’ve very little idea of what the Druids did or did not believe, but re-creationist tradition sees the four astronomical festivals (The Solstices and Equinoxes) as being ‘high times’ for celebrations. With the amazing solstice alignments at Newgrange, Stonehenge and other neolithic sites there was certainly some tradition relating to this time of (and these times) of year – but all of these pre-date the Druids (as well as the Pyramids).
Romantic re-creationists speculate that druids would gather by the oldest mistletoe-clad oak where the Chief Druid would make his way to the mistletoe to be cut whilst below, other Druids would hold open a sheet to catch it, making sure none of it touched the ground. With his golden sickle, and in one chop, the Chief Druid would remove the mistletoe to be caught below. (Thank you Robert Graves)…
Of course the winter solstice may have been immensely important because the people were economically dependent on monitoring the progress of the seasons.
Starvation was common during the first months of the winter and in temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began.
It is suggested at this time cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter, thus it was almost the only time of year when a plentiful supply of fresh meat was available.
The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking at this time. The concentration of the observances were not always on the day commencing at midnight or at dawn, but the beginning of the pagan day, which in many cultures fell on the previous eve.
Because the event was seen as the reversal of the Sun’s ebbing presence in the sky, concepts of the birth or rebirth of sun gods became common and, in cultures which used cyclic calendars based on the winter solstice, the “year as reborn” was celebrated with reference to life-death-rebirth deities or “new beginnings” .
For Celtic pagans, Yule is the time when the Sun God Lugh is reborn in human form to rejoin his beloved wife Eriu
She is described as a hag, who transformed into a beautiful Goddess by the marriage and personifies the land of Ireland in her every feature and character. She becomes known in legend as the “Sovereignty of Ireland”.
In these legends, Lugh takes his bride in the form of the Maiden Goddess, to look out upon their land and in seeing the suffering of their people they grow worried and concerned.
The summer High Holy Day Lughnasadh is celebrated by many traditions as the moment when Lugh, as the Sacred King, sacrifices his own life to save his suffering people.
In doing so his blood is spread across the fields to ensure the fertility of the fields and a bountiful harvest of crop and herd.
As the harvests are brought in, and winters covers the land, the Great Mother (the Mother Goddess) resurrects Lugh from the ground, rising him up into the dark sky and returns him (as the Sun) to the universe.
The effort to raise Lugh into the sky causes Eriu to grow old as she shared her knowledge with the God to teach him all he needed to know to govern over his people once more.
Bestowing her Old Crone wisdom upon Lugh brings the cycle back to the beginning of the legend.
Yule is also the celebration of the cycle of life through Eriu and all her incarnations as the Maiden, Mother and Crone Goddess.
The Goddess Eriu at Uisneach
Today’s celebrations of the Solstice, Yule and Christmas-tide represent a patch-work of solar traditions, pagan practices, Christian symbolism and neo-Pagan folklore.
Yet beneath it all there is one simple observation…
We are at mid-winter, the shortest day.Before the Winter Solstice there was the promise of coming darkness – after the promise of the light.
The symbolic battle between the Oak and the Holly, the wren and the robin mark the turning points of the year – and by extension the turning points in our own lives and communities. It is this cycle which we celebrate, by whatever name or mythology we choose … it is the perpetual cycle of life death and re-birth of the nature which inspires us in our darkest depths.
So may I wish you all a Cool Yule, a Super Solstice and a Creative Christmas …
May You Never Thirst