Lughnasadh marks the time of the beginning of harvesting which is then completed by Alban Elfed. It is a time of joy, but also a time to begin preparing for the Autumn. It is now that we begin to reap what we have sown, and it is now that we understand the wisdom of careful preparation, and of the sowing of good seeds in our lives and the lives of others.
The theme of this season is the ageing of the year, as the Corn Mother becomes the Crone and the warrior Sun King Lugh is soon to be felled. The theme of sacrifice is important at this time, and Lugh undergoes death and rebirth in a sacrificial mating with the Goddess, which shows the intimate connection recognised in these festivals between human fertility and the fertility of the land. The corn is cut down and is reborn as the loaf of bread. But although Lughnasadh is named after Lugh, its origins are more closely associated with Lugh’s foster-mother, Tailtiu, who laboured to clear the plains of Ireland for agrarian use and so died.
“At this season we are faced with divergent meanings, depending on which cultural tradition we look at. In the European grain cycle of wheat and barley, it is the beginning of harvest, and the first loaves of bread are offered to the Great Mother. In the Maori cycle of the kumara, it is not yet harvest; in fact – far from being a time of plenty – it is te waru patote, the lean month, when the staple crop is at its scarcest. We can allow the discrepancy to speak to us. While the European ovens are full, the Maori rua (storage pits) are empty. It is not harvest for everyone in our land; economic discrepancies are a reality. Let this be the Festival of the Half Harvest, a time to reflect on inequalities of wealth distribution and to consider how resources may be shared. This could be the season of pledges and koha, for generous giving of our own harvest, whether inner or outer.” (Juliet Batten)
Autumn Equinox / Alban Elfed / Mabon / Poututerangi / Te Ngahuru / Seed Time and Harvest – Sunday 22 March, 11:00am
At Alban Elfed (Time of Fulfilment) the hours of daylight become equal to the hours of night once again, but this time it is the dark that will shortly have the ascendancy.
For our ancestors, who were more aware than ourselves of their dependency on the land, this was a time of fruition of the year’s work; it represented the culmination of the year’s endeavours to ensure they would have enough food to see them through the winter. Everyone worked their hardest to bring in the grain – wheat, barley, oats or rye – which would provide the following year’s bread and beer, and store it safely against the coming months of scarcity.
“Autumn equinox is harvest time in both Maori and European traditions, the time of plenty, when rituals of celebration take place. Two symbols can now sit side by side: the kumara and the ear of corn, for both are abundant. Even though corn in Europe was traditionally an ear of wheat, sweet corn or maize is readily available to use today, and carries a similar meaning. At harvest, European and Maori symbolism is surprisingly similar. The rua, or underground kumara pit, is a symbol which parallels the European imagery of the return of the seed to the earth.
“This was when Persephone the Maiden, goddess of the young corn, went to dwell with Hades in his realm of death, the underworld. The story is echoed by the Maori tale of the goddess Pani, mother of the kumara, who is shamed by Maui and descends to the underworld with Hine-mataiti, mother of the kiore; and also by the story of Hine-titama who went to the underworld and became Hine-nui-te-po. The imagery is repeated in the story of Mabon imprisoned in the dark dungeon.
“It is a time for contemplation of how the balance of light and dark tips at equinox and, as we now enter the dying time of the year, the mysteries of life and death. This is when we make the transition from outer to inner, from above to below, from light into dark, when we draw faith and prepare ourselves, contemplating the outer harvest of both cultures: kumara in the storehouses and grain in the granaries, as well as the inner harvest of our own lives. What has been gathered into our inner storehouses to be drawn on during times of need? Have we replenished ourselves and harvested from life during the growing season of the year?” (Juliet Batten)
Samhain, in the Celtic tradition, at the end of Autumn, beginning of Winter, meant ‘Summers End’, signalling the end of the Old year and the beginning of the New, and this is why we celebrate it now, at the midpoint between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice. The harvest of the year is complete, kumara is stored in the dark rua, and apples, nuts pumpkins and other fruits are stored away to sustain us over the long winter nights. In Maori tradition, it has been described as the time when ‘crops are stored in pits; labours are over’ and when the emphasis shifts into the bush, the domain of Tane, as a food source.
The word Halloween comes from All Hallows Eve, the time when our predecessors, in family and in spirit were remembered and honoured. The Sun God, whose Zenith was celebrated at midsummer, is dead, and is journeying the sunless sea that is the womb of the mother. This is a time between times, when the veil between the realms of the living and the dead grows thin. A time to claim and reclaim what is in our depths at this time of changeover, at the beginning of the Celtic New Year, and the threshold of the Maori New Year.
Winter Solstice / Alban Arthan / Te Maruaroa o te Takurua / Matariki – Herald of the New Year – Sunday 21 June, 4:00pm
The Winter Solstice ceremony of the Druid tradition is known as Alban Arthan – “The Light of Arthur”. Here Arthur is equated with the Sun-God who dies and is reborn as the Celtic ‘Son of Light’ – the Mabon – at the Winter Solstice. During the ceremony the apparent death of the sun is mourned, and then as the need-fire is lit at the Time of the Solstice, the rebirth of the Sun, and by association, the return of Arthur, is celebrated.
The Sun-God Mithras was also born at the time of shortest light and maximum darkness, and it is at this time that the mystery of death and resurrection or rebirth is acted out symbolically by the very planets themselves.
The reappearance of the Pleiades—Matariki (little eyes)—in the tail of the Milky Way during the waning moon of June, signifies the turn of the season. Matariki is the food provider, and brings reason to celebrate, feast and dance.
Ra – the Sun God – was said to have two wives, both daughters of Tangaroa. Winter solstice was the time of the ‘changing of the sun’, when – after spending half the year with Hine-takurua, the Winter Woman in the South, far out on the ocean (for she was identified with the work of fishing) –Ra began his return to his other wife Hine-raumati, the Summer Woman who dwells on land and who was associated with the gathering of forest food, game and the growing of crops. Old men would observe at Winter Solstice: ‘The sun is returning to land to dwell with the Summer Maid.’
Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, is a time when nature seems to stand still; a key moment of deepening and withdrawing. It is an opportunity for us to reflect on what lies within our own darkness that is awaiting birth. What have we offered to the Great Mother for gestation and holding? As we light candles at Solstice, we might focus on what we are kindling within ourselves.
Imbolc or Imbolg (pronounced without the ‘b’) represents the time of the quickening of the year, the first foetal stirrings of Spring in the womb of Mother Earth. Nuinn described the ceremony in this way:
‘It is the only one of our eight festivals given entirely to the Mother Goddess under many names, Brighid being the central one of three, each representing a season. It is a quiet ceremony, with water, lights and readings showing the many forms of the feminine in deity.’
“The moment of First Light lies exactly midway between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox in Pakawera, the second lunar month of the Maori year. Celebrating this festival tunes us into the subtle movement of the seasons — we become aware of the increasing light and we honour the delicate movement of first quickening. It is time of small intimate gatherings, especially of women. For this is the return of Brighid, the Goddess, as Maiden, released from her dark Crone phase, renewed once more as part of the cycle of birth, growth, death and rebirth. In welcoming her back from the underworld, we celebrate renewal both in nature and in our own lives. The colour white signifies this phase of the Celtic triple goddess (black being the Crone phase and red the Mother phase). The white of the waxing moon, of candles and of the newly flowing milk all reflect the Goddess in her Maiden aspect. Maiden energy may be celebrated with the naming of goddesses of fire and of the dawn, of air and of lights: Hine-ahu-one, Brighid, Mahuika, Rauroha, or the maidens returned from the underworld — Persephone, Proserpine, Kore.” (Juliet Batten)
Imbolc is a fire festival — as are the other quarter-day festivals of Samhuin, Beltane and Lughnasadh — with particular emphasis on light rather than heat. For this reason at the ritual centre of the circle are eight white candles rising out of a dish of water — symbolising the rising light of spring emerging from the creative feminine waters. In this symbol, the feminine element of water and the masculine element of fire are united in perfect harmony.
The Spring Equinox ceremony of the Druid tradition is known as Alban Eilir—”Light of the Earth”. Alban Eilir, at the Point of Balance between Imbolc and Beltane — as it is at the point of balance between day and night — is a time for festivity and celebration for it marks the beginning of a new phase, the beginning of the triumph of light. The forces of light are equally balanced with the forces of darkness at this time, but light is on the increase – and will reach its apogee at the Summer Solstice three months later.
The four festivals of the two solstices and the two equinoxes are solar – being markings of the times of the longest and shortest days with the solstices, and of times of equality between day and night with the equinoxes. The four ‘fire festivals’ that occur between the solar festivals are lunar, and so we see in the Druidic calendar a balanced flow between lunar and solar celebrations.
In Europe, Spring Equinox was the festival of Eostre, the Saxon goddess of the dawn and spring.
In ancient Maori society, the rising of the star Aotahi (Canopus) announced the arrival of Spring, together with the flowering of kowhai, rangiora and kotukutuku, the plants of the fourth lunar month spanning September and October. This was also a sign for kumara planting to begin. Rongomatane, the god of cultivated food, was also the male personification of the moon and had even more power over the growing of crops than Tane, who was associated with the sun. On the upper part of the digging implements was sometimes carved the crescent moon, a symbol of the fertilising power of Rongo.
The deity of the Kumara crop itself was the goddess Pani-tinaku. Tinaku meant ‘to increase’, and she was seen as the germinator, whose stomach was the storehouse.
Puawananga (clematis) now flowering, was regarded as one of the three first-born children of the stars Rehua (Antares) and Puanga (Rigel).
A key event was the return of pipiwharauroa, the shining cuckoo, from its winter stay in Hawaiki, the legendary Pacific homeland of the Maori.
Alban Eiler, at the point of balance between Imbolc and Beltane, is at the point of balance too between day and night, and it is a perfect time to open to the quality of balance in our own lives.
Halfway between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice, this is a high-energy time when the whole earth sings of growth and regeneration. Birds are nesting, deciduous trees leafing, flowers are blossoming and the increasing sun power quickens both sap and blood.
The original meaning of Beltane is ‘The Good Fire’ or the ‘Bel-fire’. Bel was ‘the Bright One’ – the god of light and fire. The major feature of the Bealteinne festival in many lands was jumping over the fire. Young people jumped over it to bring themselves husbands or wives; intending travellers to ensure a safe journey; pregnant women to ensure an easy delivery, young women to ensure their fertility, etc. The magical properties of the Belteinne fire were firmly believed in.
To the Maori, this was Whiringanuku, the fifth month, when ka whakaniho nga mea katoa o te whenua i konei (‘all things now put forth fresh growth’). A good flowering of ti kouka (cabbage tree) is said to be a sign that a long, fine summer will follow.
Beltane is the third of the Spring celebrations in the Druid tradition. The invigorating energies of spring growth are flowing at their strongest through the earth, and indeed through us too. The two elemental symbols for Beltane are water (healing and the time of the first swim) and fire (‘destroyed the powers hostile to humankind, purified the air, and allowed human and beast and vegetation to thrive and become fertile’).
A meditation on creativity in one’s own life, and the creative nature of duality is ideal preparation for this ceremony.
Summer Solstice, the longest day, arrives as the year is coming to an end and the holiday season about to begin. Although this is when the sun’s light reaches its maximum, it is but the threshold of summer. The crimson flowers of the pohutukawa fringe the coastline, dancing against the blue sea. In a sense, it is the most extrovert of the eight celebrations – and as the countryside around us revels in colourful and fragrant splendour, we too celebrate the strength and power of the sun and the richness of the earth.
This time is known in the Druid tradition as that of Alban Hefin – ‘The light of Summer’ or ‘The Light of the Shore’. At Alban Hefin, the elevation of the new sun which was born at the time of Alban Arthan is completed. The Winter Solstice was an occasion for mourning the death of the old year and the lowering of all light. Then the sun-child the Mabon was born, and by Alban Eilir, the Spring Equinox, he had already disputed with darkness the rulership of the Earth’s time. By now, at the Summer Solstice, he has definitely won and reduced darkness to but a few hours. He is now therefore the victor, and at his most potent. But here is embodied also the teaching of paradoxes – for in reaching his apogee, he has also sown the seed of his downfall – for, of course, from this point the year begins the descent towards the time of the shortest day again – Alban Arthan. As it is said in the Taoist tradition: ‘When Yang peaks i shifts to Yin; when Yin peaks, it shifts to Yang’.
Summer is also announced by the appearance of the star/spirit woman Parearohi shimmering in the sky with her consort Rehua (Antares, the red star in Scorpio). Rehua was sometimes also referred to as the sun and people would say karakia to Rehua: ‘Rehua is the sun, and if he did not shine the grass and vegetation would die and life would cease’.
“It was time for the sun god, Ra, to change wives. At the takanga o te ra (changing of the sun) at the maruaroa (solstice), Ra would begin to leave his summer wife Hine-raumati, whose domain was the earth and all its food, and go to live with his winter wife, Hine-takurua, whose domain was the sea. The changeover at summer solstice seems equivalent to the European idea of the seeding of the light with the darkness to come, as the sun’s power begins to decline. It also reflects a new seasonal emphasis in Maori food gathering, from land to sea.’ (Juliet Batten)
The essential feature of this festival is the recognition that we are at the mid-point of the year — the turning or balance point between the waxing powers of spring and early summer and the waning powers of late summer and autumn. It is therefore an ideal time to work on the qualities of alignment and balance.