The Wheel of the Year: High Holy Days
ADF Groves celebrate the 8 Neo-Pagan High Days: Samhain, Winter Solstice, Imbolc, Spring Equinox, Beltaine, Summer Solstice, Lughnassad, and Autumnal Equinox. The following description of those High Days shows the traditions that the Grove has for each High Day.
Neo-Pagan name: Samhain
Samhian is the feast of the dead, the time when our ancestors are closest to us. The tension between Samos and Giamos breaks, the heat of the summer is a distant memory, and the cold of the winter is heralded an all-too-real taste of what is to come.
Traditionally, Samhain was a time of reflection and celebration: the harvest had come in, and there was fresh meat and lots of grain. There was respect and fear of the ancestors who were about at this time, and rituals to remember them and appease them were common.
The modern trappings of Halloween are ever-present now, and those, too, inform our practice. The Grove celebrates Samhain with our longest ritual of the year, dedicated to Cernunnos as the god who holds the opposites apart. Many of us also celebrate by cooking a meal for the ancestors and dining with them.
Neo-Pagan name: Yule
The winter solstice is a dark time, but a time full of hope and newness. The earth has descended into darkness, but at the moment of triumph, the darkness gives way once more to the light, and the momentum swings. It is the dawn on the morning of the winter solstice that assures us that winter cannot and will not last forever.
The ancients would celebrate in halls, or by wassailing between them. There may have been many associations with rebirth, as evidenced by the shaft of light that enters the Newgrange burial mound in Ireland. In Rome, social orders were reversed at Saturnalia.
In secular America, our rituals are mostly focused around family and kindness. Gift-giving is common, as are roaring fireplaces and kisses under the mistletoe. The Grove focuses on being together and giving to those less fotunate, holding a toy drive each Yule.
Neo-Pagan Name: Imbolc
Imbolc is a time of the renewal of the earth, where the bounty of the world returns in full. The animals begin to give birth, the first shoots may begin to appear through the melting snow and ice, and though winter is still holding her grip, the world is obviously changing.
Historically, Imbolc is the time when the sheep begin to lactate, a sure sign that the winter will come to an end. Modern folklore also seeks signs that the winter will come to an end on this day, too: Groundhog Day is February 2nd in the US, and we celebrate a strange ritual where the length of winter is determined by whether a groundhog sees his shadow or not.
Three Cranes Grove, ADF, has always found this High Day to be of particular importance. It's a time for us to come out of our winter hiding places, meet up again with our friends, and remember that even if the earth itself has not warmed up, there are friends and family who extend warm feelings to us. Imbolc is, for us, a time of renewal, and it's also very much a time of giving thanks.
Our Imbolc rite is one of the most popular in Three Cranes history, often drawing our largest attendance levels, and we have not changed much about it from year to year. The patron for the rite is Brigando, lady of fire, healing, and inspiration. Imbolc is a rebirth of our creative spirits, and we celebrate each rite with a poem:
Your first candle lit, is your sunrise birth; the flame of your house reaching
The reading of this poem, along with the lighting of the candles is the highlight of the rite, and we encourage those participating in the rite to help us with it, whether they're a Grove member or not. This is a joyous rite designed to bring the sun back into our lives, and to warm our hearts.
Neo-Pagan name: Ostara
The spring equinox is a time of planting, where the ground is thawed and new things can be initiated. It's a time to think about plans for the future, and to gather together all the things you will need for the work you will do in the year to come.
In ancient days, the folk would bring their tools to the priests who would then "charm" them. This charming or blessing would keep those tools in good working order throughout the year, and would thus sustain the lives of the folk through the always dangerous time from planting to harvest.
The Grove celebrates by bringing forth the tools we use in our work and blessing them in the "working" portion of our rite. Many also celebrate by taking their first spring hikes in the crisp spring mornings.
Neo-Pagan name: Beltaine
Beltaine is a liminal time of the year. Again, the tension between Samos and Giamos breaks, and the cold of the winter has become a lingering memory, while the promise of warm summers arrives in full force.
In ancient days, Beltaine was a time of separation. In Ireland, the women would leave the settlement with the animals while the men would stay and work the fields. This festival began the warring and hunting season, and the health and safety of animals and crops was vitally important: between harvest and planting, fears of sickness are almost tangible.
There is a tradition of Neo-Pagan marriages at Beltaine, but it's firmly modern. The Grove usually celebrates with a maypole dance, and often with a processional through a pair of fires to represent the purification aspects of this High Day.
Neo-Pagan name: Midsummer
The sun has reached its height on this day, overpowering the darkness and the night. But on the day of the sun's greatest triumph, the sunset brings the first change in momentum in the constant battle of light and dark. After this sunset, the days will get shorter and the nights longer.
Often celebrated by bonfires and music in the ancient world, the concept of the "needfire" in Germanic tribes, which is a fire designed to ward off the plague. Bonfires are a common fixture in the ancient and modern celebrations of this holiday.
Our Grove has always focused this festival on community: there is a definite feeling of togetherness and family that permeates this festival, and we spend it picnicing in the park or at a local community festival. This is a festival of joy in each other that we will always hold dear.
Neo-Pagan name: Lughnassadh
This feast is focused on the reaping and harvest traditions. It's a time of much work, and much joy, as the lean summer months are ending and the bounty of fall is expanding. This time of the year is strongly focused on women: their heroism and their strength. It is also focused on marriage and sovereignty.
In Gaul, August 1 was a festival of sovereignty, the marriage of the king to the land. In Ireland, it was the funeral games held for Lugh's foster mother.
Our Grove celebrates the harvest by holding games and crowning a champion, who receives special honour. This festival is a time to look back and see how what was planted in spring came to fruit in the late summer.
Neo-Pagan name: Mabon
A time of harvests, it is also a time of reflection. As Pagans, we see this as the beginning of the "dark half" of the year, commonly a time when the world begins to change and hibernate. As moderns, this is a time eulogized by many teen-angsty songs as a time of separation from our summer loves, a return to isolation and "real life".
Three Cranes Grove, ADF, was born on this day in 2002. Of all our High Days, we take special care in working this rite, in planning it out. We celebrate our inception, when two Druids who had never worked a ritual together before stood out on a cold night, struggling to read the familiar yet strange words in the darkness, only a fire to light their way.
These are the High Days as Three Cranes Grove, ADF, celebrates them. Please come join us for a rite.
The photos come from Three Cranes Grove, ADF, and a variety of members and friends have provided them over the years, including Rev. Jenni Hunt (Samhain, Sp. Equinox, and Summer Solstice), Anna Messinger (Imbolc), and Selene Tawney (Beltaine).
Samos and Giamos are Gaulish words that define the general cycles of the Wheel of the Year, which might be described well as a tension between between the light and the darkness. Simply, Samos is the summer light and Giamos is the winter darkness.
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