Tag Archives: seasons

hidden practice

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Over the years I have had a few people tell me that they can’t practice their Pagan spirituality because of their circumstances. Usually it is because of living with a conservative family member. While I have never really experienced this myself, I do get the feeling it is a common problem that affects not just the young. For some folks, hiding their true spiritual beliefs may be a matter of survival if they are dependent on others for home and shelter. Whatever your reason for not being able to practice openly, I hope the following ideas and insights may be of help to you.

church
For those of you who not only are restricted from openly practicing Paganism, but are also required to attend a mainstream church, here are a couple of strategies for you…

Before entering the church, remember this silent prayer-

“Whatever way my words may stray, it is to the Old Gods I truly pray.”

Also, when reciting prayers or singing hymns, you can quietly, or in your mind, add an “s” to the end of words like god, spirit, and lord. Likewise, replace the word “one” with “the” in things you may have to recite such as the Nicene Creed… “We believe in the Gods, the Father, the Almighty, makers of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen…”

And if you go to a church where all kneel to pray, think “this I do not to submit myself, but to dwell closer to Mother Earth”.

Adopting some form of soft polytheistic viewpoint may help ease inner conflicts as well; thinking of saints and other figures as avatars/versions of older deities, for example. Adopting some form of Pagan Gnosticism as a world view may help resolve some issues as well. Some would consider Christianity but another form of Paganism.

If you’re expected to wear a cross, find one that incorporates a tree emblem, or get a Celtic or equal-armed cross, to make it more meaningful to you.

altar
Of course, one need not have any kind of altar to practice Paganism. A person could actually do everything mentally, visualizing devotionals, rituals, energy work, everything. However, it is beneficial to have some kind of touchstone in the physical world (especially if you can’t get out in nature as much as you’d like), to prevent a feeling of disconnect or “being in one’s head” all the time. If you have a small space to yourself, preferably the top of a bookshelf, then you can establish a discreet altar. You can use animal figurines to represent gods and goddesses, as most deities have animal associations. The Yule season is a great time to find altar items with a hidden meaning: a regal reindeer figure could represent Cernunnos or other antlered gods, you may find angel figurines that remind you of certain goddesses, and some rustic or unusual “Santa” figurines are reminiscent of Pagan gods.

9th night of YuleYou may even want to adopt Christian statuary for use on your altar. How can one not think of the Star Goddess when viewing one of those statues of Mary crowned with stars and standing on a globe?

Santa Marija Assunta
daily devotions
If you don’t have a lot of privacy, you’ll have to get creative with how you commemorate even day to day devotions. There are Pagan prayers that can be used with a traditional rosary, and doing so can be a ritual in itself. Also, there are traditional rosaries that have a tree for the crucifix. Prayer for your Druid Beads by Sarva Antah is a very easily memorized set of song prayers that honors nature spirits, ancestors, and deities. Yes, doing the prayers silently counts, as does simply meditating on the spirits, and no one around you would be the wiser.

holidays
How lucky we are to live in a culture that still retains so many of the older Pagan customs. We can light candles on a Yule log or decorate an Easter egg, and no one bats an eye or even thinks about how these customs relate to Paganism. Relish the special meaning these things have for you, even as those around you give them little thought. When you light a candle, or enact any of these customs, quietly or in your mind say something like, “This I do, in honor of my gods.”
You may not have a space or privacy to give offerings, but you can eat symbolic foods as a way of showing honor. Quietly or in your mind, say this blessing:

“Spirits (or Kindreds/specific deities), taste as I taste,
and let this sacred food of (name of holiday) be as an offering to you, through me.”

Some simple ideas for symbolic foods that can be easily obtained to commemorate the holidays are: an apple slice for Samhain, pork or gingerbread for Yule, a dairy food or honey for Imbolc, an egg for Ostara, a strawberry for Beltane, an orange slice for Midsummer, bread or berries for Lammas, and fruit salad for Harvest Home.
symbolic foods of the holidays
magic
Here is where you may feel the most limited if you are of a mind to make magic a vital part of your lifestyle. Yet, it can be done. Use ordinary objects for your “tools”, and ordinary actions as your “works of magic”. Kitchen magic can be very subtle, using a wooden spoon as your wand and the entire contents of the kitchen as materials. Don’t forget about the subtle use of color magic and visualizations. You can simply send your energy out in accordance with your goal, and that requires no materials nor spoken words at all. Yes, every little thing you do (with intention) is magic! In your mind, dedicate whatever you’re doing, toward your goal.

divination
There are a number of divination methods that require no special tools. Divination of Nature requires only your observance and intuition and includes the interpretation of dreams. In bibliomancy, one flips open a book, and reads a randomly selected passage. It is possible to use an ordinary deck of playing cards for divination. Pendulum divination can be done with only a key on a string.

learning
If you are just starting out and seeking a way to learn all you need to know, I would recommend that you first learn all you can from trusted internet sources. (See my recommendations on book and internet resources.) Try to memorize what seems important, then clear your browser history. It may be tempting to obtain a lot of books, but if you have access to a good library, reading up on mythology and philosophy will give you a better foundation in the beginning. Some libraries will even order Pagan books if you put in a request. You can read them at the library if you feel it isn’t safe to bring them home.

If you are embarking on a hidden practice, take heart. Know that the circumstances holding you back are most likely temporary as are all things in life. You may even learn and grow from the experience.

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The Nature and Character of Lugh

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It seems like every year around this time, I’m fighting misinformation on the god Lúgh. Everywhere one looks on the internet, people are perpetuating the same outdated stuff; that Lúgh is a sun god, and/or a god of the grain. The origin of such notions is from new age books that never bothered to research beyond outdated Victorian-era anthropology.

I mean, you only have look it up on wikipedia to know that his name doesn’t link him to the sun: “The exact etymology of Lugus is unknown and contested. The Proto-Celtic root of the name, *lug-, is generally believed to have been derived from one of several different Proto-Indo-European roots, such as *leug- “black”, *leuǵ- “to break”, and *leugʰ- “to swear an oath”. It was once thought that the root may be derived from Proto-Indo-European *leuk- “to shine”, but there are difficulties with this etymology and few modern scholars accept it as being possible (notably because Proto-Indo-European *-k- never produced Proto-Celtic *-g-).”

Some of the later new age publications actually acknowledge that modern scholars say Lúgh isn’t a sun god, but word it so as to not step on the toes of the die-hard sun theorists. The main passage that comes to mind is one published in Lammas: Celebrating the Fruits of First Harvest by Anna Franklin & Paul Mason, and has been copied onto Lúgh articles all over the internet. It states: “While some writers state, without hesitation, that Lugh was a sun god, others, with equal force, argue that he was neither a god of the sun nor harvest.” What the author seems to be doing here, is giving both ideas equal merit. However, they don’t have equal merit. The actual historical record speaks for itself.

There is no record of Lúgh being worshiped as a sun god, but ample evidence that both his name meaning and his roles in Celtic religion were something else entirely.

“…helped along by Victorian scholars’ obsession with “solar myths”, it was taken for granted that Lúgh was a solar god… However, traditional, ritual-associated ideas about Lúgh show no trace of this… Lugus has his domain in storm rather than in sunlight, and that if his name has any relation to “light” it more properly means “lightning-flash”… This is the principal function of his invincible spear…”Lugus: The Many-Gifted Lord by Alexei Kondratiev

Why does it irk me so that the misinformation persists? Because people who think Lúgh is a sun god are getting the story wrong. Because if you’re getting the story wrong, then you’re also misunderstanding the meaning of an entire holiday; Lughnasadh. Because if you think Lúgh is a sun god, you do not know the real Lúgh. The real Lúgh is much more interesting and complex.

So that is why I’m writing this. It’s time to go beyond calling out the sun myth debacle, and move on to telling folks about his true character.

Excuse me, do you have a moment to talk about our lord and hero, Lúgh?

He was known by the continental Celts as Lugus, by the Welsh as Lleu, and by the Irish as Lúgh. We must look to all these cultures to get a complete picture of who Lúgh is. When Romans encountered Lugus, they equated him with their god Mercury, patron of travelers, commerce, trickery, and eloquence.

Relief of Mercury and Rosmerta from Eisenberg in present day Rhineland-Palatinate.

Relief of Mercury and Rosmerta from Eisenberg in present day Rhineland-Palatinate.

Early depictions of Lugus show him with a Tree of Life, twin serpents, dogs or wolves, birds (especially two ravens), horses, and mistletoe. He has similarities with Cernunnos, as they are both threshold gods, psychopomps, have a triple form, and a magical bag.

He has much in common with, and may actually be the prototype for- Odin. Like Odin, he wields a spear and is associated with two ravens. They are both psychopomp deities (again, like Cernunnos and Mercury). Both are travelers and magicians. Odin is god of wisdom, Lúgh of intellect and of every skill. Odin is one-eyed. Lúgh closes one eye to do magic on the battlefield. Odin was hung on a tree, pierced by his own spear, died and was reborn. So was Lleu. There are a few similarities with Loki as well, as they are both tricksters and associated with the mistletoe, however Lúgh is seen in a much more positive light than Loki. (For more of such comparisons, read The Birth of Lugh – Óðinn and Loki among the Celts by Thor Ewing, and Of Norse Loki and the Celtic Lugh.)

Lugus

Archaeological Museum of Dijon

So if you know a little about Norse mythology, you may be starting to form a picture in your mind of some of the aspects of Lúgh’s character; imagine a younger, smaller, Celtic Odin (especially in his traveler guise), with a fair bit of the trickiness of Loki. Now imagine that like Thor, he can also wield lightning. He shares some strikingly similar characteristics and powers with these gods.

I think of all the modern day depictions of Lúgh in art, the Magician in Lo Scarabeo’s Celtic Tarot captures his spirit the best; the slender wiry god sits perched in his sacred oak (a tree sacred to several Indo-European thunder gods), a floppy red Odin-eske hat covering one eye, and his magic bag slung over his shoulder. The torc around his neck is huge (or is it the god that’s small?). He is surrounded by some of his symbolic animals (serpent, horse…). Torcs and rings of gold hang from the trees. A fidchell board (Celtic chess- his invention) lies at his knee.

Lugus The Magician from Lo Scarabeo’s Celtic Tarot

Lugus The Magician from Lo Scarabeo’s Celtic Tarot

In Irish lore, Lúgh was born of a Fomorian mother (Ethniu), and a Tuatha Dé Danann father (Cian). The Fomorians were an earlier race of beings that inhabited Ireland, sometimes depicted as monstrous giants, sometimes from under the sea. They represent wild chaotic nature. The Tuatha Dé were the race of divine beings that would later become the Sídhe, and were often represented as the gods of humanity and civilization.

Lúgh was born of both races, and so has a mastery of both nature and civilization, of the below and the above, of humankind and the divine. It is no wonder then, that his traditional places of worship are high hills with a nearby water source.

In the Battle of Mag Tured, Lúgh goes up against his own grandfather, the evil Fomorian king Balor. With his swift sling (or in folk tradition, his spear), he pierces Balor through his fiery poisonous eye (which represents the harsh summer sun). In winning this battle, he gains control of the land for the Tuatha Dé (and metaphorically saves the crops from scorching in the fields from Balor’s evil sun-eye).

He was fostered by Manannán mac Lir, the sea god and gatekeeper to the Otherworld, and so has many water associations and inherited much of Manannán’s magic. He was also fostered by Tailtiu, a Fir Bolg queen who died clearing land for agriculture. And it was in honor of his foster mother Tailtiu that Lúgh instituted the first Lughnasadh festival and funeral games.

I have just hit a very few of the highlights here, describing some of the points in the mythology that tie in with the season of Lughnasadh, and describing some of Lúgh’s traits that I find especially interesting. I know I have left out a lot of important parts of his lore. Find more of the story of Lugh in Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of the Taking of Ireland), and The Second Battle of Mag Tured (Moytura). Read about Lleu in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogion.

He is god of Land, Sky, and Sea. God to kings, warriors, and farmers. He is the quintessential underdog, surviving and winning despite the odds and with intellect and magic rather than brute force only. He is both hero and trickster and sovereign protector of the land. He is patron of travelers, for he travels with the lightning, small and swift, many places at once. He traverses worlds.

As Alexei said, “His many gifts remain at the disposal of those who trouble to seek him out.” Indeed, I hope you do.

The Nature and Character of Lugh | Ozark Pagan Mamma

offerings

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In ADF Druidry, giving offering is a big component of our rituals. In this very tangible way we establish and maintain a give and take relationship with the Three Kindreds (collectively; the deities, ancestors and nature spirits). It is spiritual hospitality. It is ghosti, the Proto-Indo-European word from which we get the English words guest and host.

offerings of oats, cornmeal, and seeds

In our protogrove, we like to include a time for “group offerings” in every ritual. This is a time for folks (anyone who wants to, that is), to come up the the altar, one at a time, and place their own offerings into the offering bowl (or fire, if we’re outside). They can say something if they like, but that’s optional. They can use the basic offerings we provide (which is usually oats, cornmeal, and birdseed), or bring their own biodegradable/burnable offering.

When creating a personalized offering, there are so many options. There are several things you will want to keep in mind, however. First of all, your offering needs to be of natural materials that will degrade and not pollute the environment. How will you deliver (disperse) your offering? Fresh green offerings such as herbs and flowers will degrade quickly, but other food offerings may need to be finely crumbled. If an offering can’t be crumbled into tiny pieces, it will need to be either buried or burned. If your ritual is taking place on your own land, it may not be so important to you that the offering return quickly to the natural elements. However, it has been my experience that burning is preferable as a quick and satisfying mode of delivery in a ritual setting. The following are a few ideas are for burnable offerings…

offering cakes
An offering cake can be made of any kind of of bread or biscuit dough, or even salt dough. (Although salt dough is not edible, the salt in it is an excellent offering, and salt dough can be a bit easier to shape into creative forms than other doughs, making it an offering of art rather than food.)

spiced salt dough offering cakes
To personalize an offering cake, mix items into the batter before baking (or in the case of salt dough, drying), such as herbs, flavorings or spices associated with the holiday you are celebrating or spirit/deity you are honoring. A biscuit shaped circle is a classic shape for an offering cake, but you can make them in any shape. Try using cookie cutters, molds, stamps, or shaping with your hands. You can shape the cakes into a symbol associated with the deity/spirit/occasion you are honoring. The tops can be decorated with diluted food coloring or garnished with herbs or flowers.

offering bundles
One way to make several small offerings at once is to use an offering bundle. Place items inside a scrap of natural fabric (a seven inch square seems to work well). Gather up the edges, and tie off the end with a string or cord. You could also use a large pliable leaf or piece of brown paper and fold your bundle. Some ideas for items to place in the bundle are: a written prayer or devotional poem, herbs, flowers, dried fruit/nuts, grains, and loose incense.

offering bundle

Another option for an offering bundle is to skip the container and just tie items on a stick (this will however limit what can be used to what will stay tied on) . You may even want to carve runes or symbols onto the stick itself, and anoint the entire bundle with an appropriate tincture or oil.

offering stick

High Days – unscripted

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In a previous article I talked about how to celebrate High Days without a ritual, yet still with meaning and reverence. For this one I’ll be covering the middle ground; having a bit more structure; with an ADF ritual that flows organically, and is totally unscripted. I formulated this guide with solitaries and families in mind, and the rituals are to take place in the home- in the dining room area.

To do an unscripted ritual, the first thing you need to know is the structure of your ritual by heart. ADF ritual structure may seem quite complicated to new comers, but after you’ve done that type of ritual for a while, you will indeed see the logical order of it. You may find Druid Ritual Beads quite useful to keeping track of ritual sequence in the beginning, and if that still doesn’t help as much as you need, put off doing unscripted rituals until it comes naturally for you. You don’t need to memorize liturgy, but you may find it helpful if you have some favorite turns of phrases memorized, and I will go more into wordage below.

The following basic formula pretty much adheres to the Core Order of Ritual. The “musts” of the Core Order are included, so you can count it as specifically ADF-style on your Dedicant Program documentation. Some items in the Core Order are optional, and so I have adapted and rearranged things a bit to be more appropriate to a home setting. In my personal practice I have replaced the Outsider appropriation with a simple Anglo-Saxon Hallowing because I don’t want to set up a ghosti relationship with Outsider spirits; I’d rather drive away, than appease such entities. After all, whatever is fed, comes back, right?  I have placed the Hallowing and the purification portions of ritual at the beginning of ritual. Opening prayer and the Earth Mother prayer are combined for simplicity like the one in “The Standard ADF Liturgy”.

Preliminaries
Before beginning ritual, the basic set up it to have your house cleaned to your satisfaction and to have a High Day altar set up in your dining area and easy to see, and get to, from the table. You may want to get the whole family involved in preparing items and decorations for this. Be sure to include symbols of the Three Hallows, offering and libation bowls, and a goblet for the Waters of Life. Your Fire Hallow should be a candle or lamp that will burn for the full length of the ritual. If using music, have that close at hand as well, to turn on and off easily. You may want to use a High Day playlist with a guided two powers meditation (or just meditative music) included at the beginning for the Three Realms centering, and an ending song at the last. You will also want to have a meal prepared and table set. You may also want to have additional offerings (besides portions of the meal) at the ready; incense and dry grains, as well as Three Hallows offerings such as silver beads (for the Well), spice, red ochre, or vermillion (for the Tree), and oil (for the Fire).

Fire Hallowing
As I mentioned above, I do a fire hallowing instead of an Outsider appropriation to drive any unfriendly entities from my ritual space. Doing this is pretty straight forward; I walk around the house carrying a lantern or sheltered candle while singing the Anglo-Saxon Hallowing Charm. It’s pretty easy to memorize short chants/songs like this. If you are not comfortable singing, you could just say it like a poem. Or one could also simply say “Thunor (or “gods/spirits of fire”) hallow this home.” After making the round, use the flame from the lamp to light the Fire Hallow on the altar.
(If you choose to do an Outsider appropriation instead of a fire hallowing, do so at the edge of your yard or property and you can say something very simple, like “Outsiders, take this and turn away from our rites.” then libate or give offering.)

Water Purification
Simply sprinkle the ritual area with water. You can also infuse the area with juniper smoke, as per Celtic tradition. Then place a drop of water on everyone’s forehead. No words are necessary, but if you want, you can say something like “May all ill turn away.”

Opening Prayer
You can combine the opening prayer with honoring the Earth Mother by memorizing this simple line: “Earth, Holy Mother, bearer of all life, we pray that you bless and uphold this rite (on this day of _______).” Kneel to touch the earth and give offering.

Three Realms Centering
For this you could use a recording of a guided centering meditation that includes water, earth, and sky (such as the Two Powers meditation), or memorize a Three Realms blessing and say it while centering. The simplest blessing I know is “As it was, as it is, as it evermore shall be, I stand at the Center- of Earth, Sky and Sea.” Another option would be to learn an ADF Land, Sea, Sky Chant and center yourself while singing it.

Three Hallows
(Light the Fire Hallow, if you haven’t already.) For this portion of the ritual, you could simply offer to the Hallows without saying anything at all. You could also just say what you’re doing while doing it, for example: “I give silver to the Well. I give oil to the Fire. I give spice (or incense, red ochre, or vermillion) to the Tree.” Another option is to sing the ever popular Portal Song while offering to the Hallows.

Gatekeeper & Opening the Gates
In you own words, simply hail/call a Gatekeeper, make an offering, then ask the Gatekeeper to be a ward. For example: “Hail Manannan, Gatekeeper, accept this offering and ward the ways between.” Then place hands or a wand over the Hallows and say “May the Hallows open as a Gate.” lift hands or wand while taking a step back, then say something like “The Gates are open between the Worlds.”

Calling & Offering
*At this point of the ritual, the food is brought out and everyone sits at the table for the feast.
Invoking Spirits can be quite a simple matter if need be. One can simply say “Hail <name>, (<title>, <descriptor>,) be with us and accept our offering”. Then place an offering (a portion of the meal) on the offering bowl and a libation in the libation bowl. You can go around the table and have everyone (who wants to) make hails, offerings, and libations. Go around once for the Nature Spirits, once for the Ancestors, and once for the Deities. Then make another round for the Deities of the Occasion.
You may choose to proceed with the meal, in communion with the Kindreds, before going on to the rest of the ritual.

Divination
Simply say something like “Do the Kindreds accept our offerings?” and divine using your preferred divination method. Make more offerings, if they’re called for. You can also divine an omen for what the following season holds in store.

Blessing Cup
Pour a drink into a goblet and say something like “Kindreds, we ask for your blessing. Holy Ones, give to us the Waters of Life.”
(Hold goblet out with both hands and feel the energy flow into it.) Then, “We drink in the name of the Kindred.” Pass the goblet around the table for all to drink. This would be a good place in ritual to sing (or play) a blessing chant. (“Blessing in the Waters” is my favorite.)

Music & Merriment
Enact the customs of the season; play music, games, magic, tell stories, or whatever seems fitting to the mood of the High Day.
You may want to save dessert for this stage of the ritual.

Final Prayers
Make sure each participant is given a chance to approach the altar in one’s own way. Perhaps make available little strips of flash paper on which to to write prayers and devotions. The slips will instantly burn when touched to the Fire Hallow.

Thanking & Ending
Simply thank all the Spirits in reverse order and close the Gates. Sing or play an ending song and extinguish the flame.
I like to say (or sing, to the tune of a Lisa Thiel song) “As it was, as it is, as it evermore shall be… with the ebb, with the flow- blessed be.”

blessingsinthewaters

Countdown to Lammas – Holiday Planner

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July  8th – 14th

  • Decorate home for the holiday / make crafts to decorate home, like wheat weaving and dough crafts.
  • Take seasonal (outdoor) pictures with family/friends.
  • Firm up ritual plans, if you haven’t already. Will you be attending a festival, local event, a family event, or doing something on your own? If you are planning the ritual, decide on location and script/liturgy.
  • In addition to any ritual plans, you may want to plan on attending a local harvest festival or fair; check community calendars and plan accordingly.

July 15th – 21st

  • Make menu plans and grocery list.
  • Find some good berry patches and places to pick pawpaws.

July 22nd – 31st

  • Shop for menu items.
  • Forage paw paws (if ready) and wild berries.
  • Prepare some menu items in advance (breads and desserts, for example).

August 1st

  • Prepare feast (or potluck dish).
  • Have ritual, attend any other festivities, and celebrate!

*And by “Lammas” I mean to include Lughnasadh and Freyfaxi.

thanks

Countdown to Midsummer – Holiday Planner

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May 23rd – 29th

  • Decorate home for the holiday / make crafts to decorate home.
  • Take seasonal (outdoor) pictures with family/friends.

June 1st – 8th

  • Firm up ritual plans, if you haven’t already. Will you be attending a festival, local event, a family event, or doing something on your own? If you are planning the ritual, decide on location and script/liturgy.
  • Make sun medallions (if using), as well as any other salt dough or papier-mâché projects (such as a sun-shaped piñata) so they will have time to dry.

June 9th – 15th

  • Make menu plans and grocery list.
  • Find a place to pick/obtain herbs for making an herb (or herb & flower) chaplet for your Midsummer ritual. (See this School of the Seasons newsletter on magical Midsummer herbs and their uses.)

June 16th – the Solstice

  • Shop for menu items.
  • Prepare feast.
  • Obtain herbs to use in ritual and make herb chaplets, etc.
  • Have ritual, make merry, and feast.

BlessedMidsummer

Essays on the Eight High Days (ADF Dedicant)

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This is another item from my ADF Dedicant studies; short essays on each of the eight ADF High Days including a discussion of the meaning of each feast.

Essays on the Eight High Days

Winter Solstice / Yule
Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year. It occurs sometime between December 20th to 22nd each year. The Norse- originated holiday associated with the Winter Solstice is Yule. However, Yule is considered a season; hence the phrase “Yuletide Season”. Ásatrúar and Fyrnsidu folks celebrate Yule for twelve nights, beginning on Modranecht (Solstice night). Modranecht is a celebration of the family’s female Ancestors; Idesa for the Anglo-Saxons, Dísir for the Norse. A lot of customs that were thought to have originated in Pagan times are actually quite new. For example, the Yule (Christmas) tree is less that three hundred years old, originating in early modern Germany. Yet one must wonder if it was a lingering Pagan mindset that created such a tradition, for the tree veneration symbolism is obvious. The Yule tree is the World Tree, the Yggdrasil or Irminsul. One Anglo-Saxon tradition that is truly ancient is Wassailing, which was originally a ceremony of singing and drinking to the health of apple trees. The Wassail is a drink of hot mulled cider. Also, the traditions of bringing greenery in the home, burning a Yule log, and caroling, all have ancient Norse origins.
Many Neopagans celebrate this holiday as the re-birth of the sun. Heathens celebrate Yule starting on Modranecht by lighting candles on a Yule log, having a ritual honoring the Dísir/Idesa, and feasting and celebrating the Twelve Nights of Yule. On the Twelve Nights, each of the months of the year are reflected upon, and on the first nine nights, each of the Nine Noble Virtues are meditated upon. On the Twelfth Night, oaths are sworn.

Imbolc / Ewemeolc / Disting
On February 2nd falls a holiday that commemorates the first signs of Spring. Imbolc is a Gaelic word that refers to lactation of ewes. The Anglo-Saxon name for this holiday is Ewemeolc and also celebrates the lactation of ewes. It is also the commemoration of the agricultural year, reflected in the ceremony known as the blessing of the plough, in which farming implements are blessed and cakes offered to the Earth Mother. For Ásatrú folk, the holiday celebrated at this time of the year is Disting, in honor of the Dísir, or female guardian spirits.
In Gaelic culture, Imbolc is also a High Day which is dedicated to a specific deity: Bríd (or Brigit), the goddess of poetry, healing, and smith-craft. Many Neopagans follow the Irish traditions of weaving new Bríd’s crosses/triskelles to put up over doorways and windows, and making a Bríd doll. The Scottish custom of stepping through “Bríd’s Girdle” (a rope hoop) to symbolize rebirth/renewal is a lesser- known custom. Since this is a holiday of purification and renewal, it is the time to do a thorough physical house cleaning, and a spiritual house cleaning ritual using juniper smoke and water. Many Neopagans see this holiday as a time of celebrating early spring and they celebrate by lighting candles and honoring fire goddesses and/or maiden goddesses.

Spring Equinox / Ēostre
The Spring (or vernal) equinox is one of the two times each year in which the tilt of the Earth’s axis in in a position in which the equator is lined up with the center of the sun. It occurs sometime between March 20th to 23rd. (The other time of the year this happens is the autumnal equinox in September.) It is commonly thought that the equinoxes are times of equal day and equal night, but this is not strictly so, for on most places on earth, day and night only come close to being equal.
The Neopagan holiday associated with the Spring Equinox is most commonly called Ôstarâ (Old High German) or Ēostre (Anglo-Saxon). These were names for a goddess that we actually know very little about. The only mention of her is from an eighth century Christian cleric known as the Venerable Bede. He refers to her as the heathen goddess after whom a spring month was named, and that during that month a holiday was celebrated in her honor. Her name may mean “to shine”, and linguists think she may be the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European goddess of the dawn known as Hausos. Some Norse Pagans equate her with Idunn, keeper of the apples of youth. Most Neopagans associate the unexplained (but seemingly Pagan) symbols of “Easter” (rabbits, colored eggs) with the goddess Ēostre.
This High Day marks the end of Winter and the beginning of the season of rebirth. Most Neopagans mark this High Day by honoring maiden goddesses and celebrating the rebirth of nature. Many (especially those with children) reclaim the traditions of “Easter” by coloring eggs, having egg hunts, and sharing a special dinner.

Beltane / May Day
Beltane (or Irish Bealtaine), May 1st, is the Celtic beginning of Summer. The name probably means bright fire or new fire. Historically, it was the day that the Tuatha Dé Danann first arrived in Ireland. At Beltane, the herds were brought out to summer grazing lands. All fires were put out and rekindled from the Beltane fires. People jumped over the Beltane fire for luck. The livestock were driven between two fires for purification from disease and as a way for the deities to bless the herds and insure fertility. Other customs that survive in varying degrees include hilltop gatherings, rising at dawn to bathe your face in May dew (for beauty and youthfulness), and gathering flowers. These flowers are used to make flower crowns and fill May baskets (little paper cones filled with flowers given to friends and neighbors). It is traditionally a time that the fairies are out, about, and mischievous, for it is considered one of the three “spirit nights” when the veil is thin between this world and the Otherworld. (The other two spirit nights are Samhain and Midsummer.)
The Maypole is a tradition of German origin at dates back to the 16th century- and the kind with ribbons that are woven around is an even more recent variation. The tradition really caught on with the Anglo-Saxons. Morris Dancing is also an Anglo-Saxon tradition of May Day. The Celtic tradition is/was to decorate a May bush- a branch of piece of a tree (sometimes a living tree) decorated with flowers and blown eggs. Some of these decorate the inside of homes, some are set outside- the ones outside were danced around in the evening of Beltane.
Neopagans celebrate as many of these customs as is possible for the group’s or individual’s circumstances. I’d like to note, according to Vance Randolph in “Ozark Superstitions”, there are many Ozarks May Day customs including; packing away winter clothes in Sassafras leaves, and going barefoot outside for the first time in the year.

Summer Solstice / Midsummer
The Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year. Astronomically (and on our calendars), it marks the beginning of summer, but seasonally, and in the Celtic way of reckoning, it is in fact Midsummer. However, across Europe, Midsummer is not celebrated on the actual solstice, it is celebrated on June 24th. The reason for this is because the 24th was the date of the solstice when the Julian calendar was created.
Traditions surrounding Midsummer mostly involve fire; lighting fires on hilltops, and in Wales, rolling a flaming wheel down a hill (it symbolizes the journey of the sun). It is also traditional to gather healing herbs on Midsummer. In Ireland, Midsummer was known as one of the three ‘spirit nights’ of the year (the others being Bealtaine and Samhain). All sorts of rituals and magic were enacted for protection against fairies. In western Ireland, especially around Cnoc Aine, Midsummer is closely associated with the fairy queen Aine.
Neopagans celebrate Midsummer by honoring sun deities and fire, and by burning sun symbols in honor of the sun. In Celtic, Norse and Anglo-Saxon cultures, the sun deities are goddesses.

Lughnasadh / Lammas
The traditional date of this High Day was August 1st, though Lughnasadh themed fairs take place throughout the month of August in Ireland. Lughnasadh means ‘the gathering of Lugh’. Despite the name, Lughnasadh was not so much a holiday in honor of Lugh, but rather, it was called by him to honor his foster-mother Tailtiu (pronounced tal-chuh). Her name meant “Great One of the Earth”. Legend has it she died in the effort of clearing land for agriculture. The Lughnasadh games were her funeral games. Her burial place was Teltown. An older name for this High Day is Bron Trogain, which means “the earth’s sorrowing in Autumn”.
Although it is widely believed in the Pagan community that Lugh was/is a sun and harvest god, many scholars believe this simply wasn’t so. What we do know about him is that he was/is a lord of every skill, patron of the arts, traveling, influence and commerce. He was called Lamfhada or ‘of the long arm’ in Gaelic because of his great spear and sling. He was called “the shining one”, but so were many other Celtic deities and this may have been simply a general term they used to refer to their gods, just as ADF Druids do today. The epithet “shining one” could mean something other than the sun as well. Many wonder if he was a lightning god, for in County Mayo thunderstorms were referred to as battles between Lugh and Balor.
In early Ireland Lughnasadh was a time of inter-tribal gathering, a time for races, competitive games, trading (especially of sheep and horses), reunions, marriage/handfasting (also called “Teltown marriages”), and of fairs. Lughnasadh was also a traditional time for gathering on hilltops, and for picking fraughans (wild blueberries).
Many Neopagans use the terms Lughnasadh and Lammas interchangeably. However, Lughnasadh’s traditional emphasis seems to have been on fairs and competitions. Lammas (the holiday’s English Christian name) is a feast of first grains harvested. Baking bread is an  especially important part of this day. Many Heathens honor the god Thunor/Thor and the goddess Sif (Thor’s wife) at this time. The reason for this is that Thor brings thunder the thunderstorms that nourish the grains and Sif is popularly thought to be a grain goddess. Most Neopagans celebrate this holiday with a meal of breads and first fruits, and honoring deities of grain, sun or thunder, and earth.

Autumn Equinox / Harvest Home
The Autumn equinox (as stated above for the Spring Equinox) is one of the two times each year in which the tilt of the Earth’s axis in in a position in which the equator is lined up with the center of the sun. It occurs in September sometime between the 20th to 23rd.
Another name for this holiday is “Harvest Home”. Although Harvest Home is actually the name of a Christian harvest festival started in the mid-1800s in England (celebrated the first Sunday after the full moon, “Harvest Moon”, closest to the equinox), the holiday clearly has an older-than-Christianity origin.  Ásatrú folk celebrate Haustblót  (“fall sacrifice”) or Winter Finding at the time of Autumn Equinox, and honor the Álfar (Elves).
Celebrating the harvest and feasting are big themes for the Autumn Equinox, but many Neopagans also celebrate the theme of balance, because of the (approximate) equal night, equal day theme.

Samhain / Hallows
Samhain, October 31st to November 1st, marks the Celtic end of Summer and the end of the harvest season. It is the origin of Halloween (appropriated in to Christianity as “All Hallows Eve”), and a time especially for honoring the Ancestors. Some Fyrnsidu call this day “Hallows”, in Ásatrú it is called “Winternights”, and is commemorated in mid-October. It’s the time of the Wild Hunt, in which a group of spirit huntsmen on horses and with hunting dogs go in wild pursuit across the skies, sweeping up those in their path, to bring to the land of the dead. The Wild Hunt is a widespread legend common to many Indo-European cultures, and the leader of the hunt varies according to the culture. In Norse culture the Wild Hunt would take place at Yule instead, or in addition to Winternights. At Samhain the boundary between our world and the worlds of the dead are closer, thinner, easier to traverse, and so spirits may pass between the worlds; the dead to the land of the living and also the living to the land of the dead. Neopagans prepare the favorite meals of departed loved ones and Ancestors, set a place at the table for them, and prepare a special shrine to them. Often this meal is eaten in silence, called the “Dumb Supper”. This is also a favored time for divination of all kinds.