The Wheel of the Year: High Holy Days

ADF Groves celebrate the 8 Neo-Pagan High Days: SamhainWinter SolsticeImbolcSpring EquinoxBeltaineSummer SolsticeLughnassad, and Autumnal Equinox. The following description of those High Days shows the traditions that the Grove has for each High Day.

Samhain (Nov. 1):

Samhain is the end of the old year, and the beginning of the new. This is the time when the veil between the worlds is thinnest. This festival was celebrated in Celtic cultures as the final harvest, the last feast before the winter famine. Often, it is associated with the Feast of the Dead, where ancestors are remembered and asked to join in the festivities.

In Neo-Pagan myth, the God dies at Samhain, symbolizing the reaping of the harvest. The God is sacrificed (or dies) at the end of the feast, and with his death, the world goes into a deathlike slumber. This may be tied to the mourning of the Goddess Demeter in Greek mythology, though if it is, the tie is very indirect. In Neo-Pagan myth, the Goddess mourns the death of her son and lover, while in Greek myth, Demeter mourns for her daughter, who will return in 6 months.

Winter Solstice (Dec. 22~ish):

The Celts did not really celebrate this Holy Day, and its later celebration probably came from Norse contact, where 12 days of Yule were celebrated. Rituals done at this time should probably be done to bring the Sun back, since until this day, the sun has been waning and is now showing nine and a half hours of light. The ancients, while they may have known that the Sun would return, likely did rituals of some sort to ensure the process.

In Neo-Pagan myth, the God is conceived (some say born, in which case he both dies and is conceived at Samhain) on the Winter Solstice. The symbolism is obvious when you compare the God to the Sun, which appears reborn from the darkness at this point.

Imbolc (Feb. 1):

In Ireland, it is around this time of year when the livestock begin to give birth, and the ewes begin to lactate again. The ice and snow begins to melt and the days start their climb to warmer temperatures, echoing the lactation that figures so prominently into ancient mythologies. This is a fertility festival, and shows the triumph over winter.

The modern folktale that if a groundhog sees his shadow on Feb. 2 is tied to this as well. There is a certain amount of fear that this winter is going to last much longer than we are prepared. In the ancient world, food was in short supply at this time, and the new birth and lactation signaled the continuance of the cycles.

Looking at Norse myth, we see that this is the time of year that the Norse were assured that the Nagalvinter (three consecutive winters) had not come this year. There is likely to be a certain amount of fear and axiety at this ritual, and worries about the coming spring not occurring are likely high.

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 Ceugant’s bride.
Your second, is the spark of your union with Bres, son of Elathan.
Your third, is the pillar of fire, as you took the veil, rising high and clear.
Your fourth are brothers, with Dagda your father, Broadb the red, Bedar Ogma and Angus.
Your fifth is eternal life’s spring; that sings your name, in crystal gaze.
Your sixth, is the flame of your altar, that never dies.
Your seventh, is the Grove at Llandwynwn, on Mena’s shore, where lovers tryst.
Your eighth is the strength of your Oxen of Dil, Fea and Fearna, Red and Black.
Your ninth, is the sign of your breath, as new life grows from old, your bridge of truth.
Your tenth, is a milk white cow, of redden ears, The Earth Mother’s Nectar, sweet!
Your eleventh, is a girdle, that spans night and day, yet heals and remains.
Your twelfth, is a veil of truth, in a flowering thorn, your wearyall path.
Your thirteenth, is for your son, Ruardan, to be reborn.
Your fourteenth, is the white light of the flowing word, born at sunrise — the molten sky.
Your fifteenth, is the Grove at Kildare, with solid Oak and crystal spring.
Your sixteenth, are shrines throughout Albion, in church, Well and Wall.
Your seventeenth, is your will, of black iron, forged in the determination of a thousand
Your eighteenth, is a healing, The White Dog at the Portal, the Chalice of your smile.
Your nineteenth is a Clarsach, which spells and binds, the hours, days and signs, all in a silver bough.
Your last is your first, the beginning of the turning sea, the ending of the three in one
The Dancing Sun in the hearts of all! The candle that never dies!

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.

Spring Equinox (Mar. 21~ish):

The Spring Equinox is the beginning of the Light half of the year, since this is where the light portion of the day exceeds 12 hours. Spring plantings begin at about this time.

In Neo-Pagan myth, the God begins to court the Goddess at this point.

Beltaine (May 1):

Beltainne is the beginning of Summer and the end of planting season. It is also the beginning of the season of war, and fires figure heavily into the festival. Fertility is paramount at this point, as all the fields have been planted and the Spring storms are ending. The only thing left for an agrarian community to do until harvest is pray that the year is a good one. Often, this is the time that couples decide to marry or have children, in a sense hoping that their own fertility will transfer to the land.

Neo-Pagan myth places the marriage of the God and Goddess at this point in the year. Many Neo-Pagans use Beltainne as their own date for marriage.

Summer Solstice (Jun. 22~ish):

The Summer Solstice is the height of the Solar year, and is the beginning of the descent into darkness.

Neo-Pagan myth has the God being at his strongest at this point, and the next festival is the beginning of his descent.

Lughnassad (Aug. 1):

This festival is the time of the first harvests, and the celebration of the games in honour of the God Lugh, commemorating his mother. These are displays of strength and skill designed to be a final fling before the weather turns colder.

In Neo-Pagan myth, Lughnassad often symbolizes the strength of the marriage between the God and Goddess.

Our Grove celebrates this rite at the Dublin Irish Festival, where we do ritual for the City of Dublin for the Sunday Druid Service. We hope you’ll be able to join us for this rite. If you’ve never seen a Pagan rite done for 300 people, this is your chance!

We also have a series of videos displaying our earliest rites [a href=”” target=new>2010 | 2011 | 2012] on our YouTube channel!

Autumnal Equinox (Sept. 22~ish):

The Autumnal Equinox is the beginning of the dark half of the year. The winter is menacing in the distance, but still a few days are warm and relaxing. The trees enter their earliest colours, beginning to paint the world bright oranges, yellows, and reds. Between now and Samhain we will see the colours become more vibrant, full of their last gasps of life, living as they have never lived before, until they finally fall from the trees to be crunched underfoot on cold days.

We return to our studies or our work, and ensure that we have planned well for the winter. The time of frost and naked trees is coming, and we must be ready.

Three Cranes Grove, ADF, was born on this day. 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.

On that night, mistakes were made. Names were mis-pronounced. We laughed at each other, and joked about our own unpreparedness. We swore that we would always have flashlights in the ritual kit, and we do to this day.

In the end, the rite was good. After the rite, we both stood, unsure of quite what to do. Finally, we smiled, and we sat down to eat together, knowing that the Kindred had been worshipped and were pleased with our efforts.

From two, we have grown. We have gone from a struggling pair of Druids to a group of dedicated people forming the Grove we are now. Often, I am amazed at the dedication our members show to the Grove. With each new member, the Grove has been able to serve the Kindred with more dedication and love, and we have opened doors to stronger connections with the Shining Ones, sometimes including deities we would never have imagined ourselves connected to.

When we returned to the Autumnal Equinox the next year, our Grove was 7 members strong. We decided to commemorate our Grove’s birth, the beginning of public ritual. As an ADF Grove is defined by public ritual, the rite should be a re-definition of who we are, built upon the past and looking to the future, seeking omens that further our development and remind us of who we are.

Our rite this time was more developed, more our own. Elements of the Three Cranes liturgical format were making their debut. No longer was our ritual a list of words repeated and forgotten; now, the rite was something we had created as a Grove. The rite held a little bit of all of us inside it, and a little bit of it was inside us all. We began a new tradition, seeking to put down the Grove’s history in verse. We committed ourselves to creating a new stanza each year, one that would reflect the manner in which the Grove grew, one that would show those who came after us, our children and thiers, that the Grove had a living history, not a stagnant and forgettable one.

We reflected on the Grove’s original purpose, and it rang true to us again as it did to the first rite. We had chosen the wording because it reflected what we could do in the future, but it grounded us, reminding us of the nourishment that we needed to provide in order to succeed. That nourishment is still required today, and we reflect on it as we did in the past. We called upon creativity, leadership, wisdom, and faith; these things still light our way. We know that the Grove may only fail us if we fail it, and so we supply it consistently with these things, and it grows stronger by the day.

For the first two rites, we called upon the God of the Tribe, Teutates. Teutates is a title, not a name: “the God of my people”. Other deities have stepped forward, sometimes quietly, sometimes not so, and laid claim to that title. It is possible that we might never know the true bearer, but we have thought about it often, and the Identity always seems clearer at this time of year. At an Autumnal Equinox rite in the next few years (it need not be this rite), I would like to install a Grove Patron. If we do that, then this is the rite we must do it in.

To watch this Grove grow and change has been one of my life’s greatest pleasures. It is to the other members of this Grove that I owe most of the credit, though. It is they who water it when I forget, they who tend it and weed it when I fall behind. Their pride in this Grove provides the sun that grows the trees, and their work provides the sweat that waters it. All this is done with faith in the Goddesses and Gods, a faith that shines brighter and stronger than any I have ever seen. I am proud to be a part of it.

So as we draw into the Autumn of the year, we remember that this is not a time of starvation and death, but one of bounty and life, where the earth gives of itself once more, and we reap the rewards of our hard work. It is an amazing time of year, and I am always deeply moved when it arrives.

These are the High Days as Three Cranes Grove, ADF, celebrates them. Please come join us for a rite.

Michael J Dangler