So when you gaze into the Midsummer fire, think of the power and beauty of the Light and before the Sun begins to wane for another half year, remember the Fir Bolgs with their flaming swords standing up to defeat by the Tuatha de Danann.
(Primary Source: Charles Squire, Celtic Myth and Legend. Newcastle Publishing Co., 1975.)
Summer Solstice Essay:
Danu and Stonehenge
A Druid Missal-Any, Summer Solstice 1987
By Emmon Bodfish
Midsummer Solstice, one the four minor High Days of the Reformed Druid Calendar, is associated with the Celtic Goddess Danu, Mother of the Gods, the Tuatha de Danann. She is particularly associated with rivers, and rivers from the Don in Russia to the Don in Scotland are thought to be named for Her. She is probably the same figure as the Irish Goddess, Anu, and the Breton’s Ana. Roman Diana and Greek Artemis may be other cognates of this Pan-Indo-European Deity. These theories are based on the study of word origins, and on the witness of Gallo-Roman writers of the period who noted the similarities in character, rituals, and Seasons of Worship of Danu and Diana. These primary historical sources, written when the Celtic religion was still practiced in Gaul, corroborate the evidence from linguistic studies. There is an opinion about that Danu was not an important Deity, or even that the Celts lacked a Mother-Goddess figure, but I can find no hard evidence in Philology, history, or Celtic Mythology for this point of view.
Like Roman Diana, Danu’s totem is the boar, an animal also associated with a female agricultural deity in the Balkans. Danu, like Frigga of the Germans, presides over marriage and fertility, and the luckiness of June weddings may be a distant memory of her festivities. Mugwort is Her sacred flower, an herb also sacred to Roman Diana; the ripe ear of grain is Her token. (This fits T. Edwards’ theory that the Christian Madonna was modeled after (to co-opt?) the various Mother-Grain Goddesses of pagan Europe.) On the Isle of Man it is customary to wear a sprig of mugwort to the Midsummer dance, and in England, placing mugwort under her pillow is said to bring a young woman dreams of her future husband.1In Scotland, there are all night bonfires, song fests, and dances for the young, unmarried people of the villages.
This is the morning on which the Sun used to rise over the heel stone at Stonehenge, thus beginning the new season in the Megalithic calendar. It no longer rises at that point owing to the procession of the Earth’s axis, but celebrations are held there, anyway.
The Druid did NOT build Stonehenge. It antedates their arrival in Britain by centuries. It was William Stuckeley in 1717 who mislocated the Druids there. He did some of the best archeological field work of his day, but his theorizing later wildly outstripped his data. The mistake was an honest one, however, considering what was known in his time. He showed that the stones were not a memorial to King Arthur nor a Roman temple, the two then common theories. He was the first to establish the monument as definitely pre-Roman. The only knowledge of pre-Roman Britain he had came from Roman and Greek writers of the Classical Period. They said that Britain was inhabited by Celts whose priests were the Druids. So, if the stones were older than any Roman constructions, Stuckeley reasoned, they must have been put there by Druids. He knew of no other candidates. But in the last two centuries, archeology has provided us with many, even too many other possibilities. The currently favored candidates are the early Neolithic farmers of Natufian stock, a longheaded, slender, fine-boned people who inhabited the Salisbury area from 2900-2500 B.C. coinciding with the most accurate modern date for the first cycle of building at Stonehenge. A larger boned hardier people later took over the monument and set up the Blue Stones, but they too had disappeared before the arrival of the Celts around 480 B.C.
This is not to say that the Celts did not take cognizance of the huge stones. They worked monuments of other prehistoric peoples into their mythology and song. Numerous Bardic compositions refer to the Sidh Mounds of Ireland and the Carnes of Scotland as sacred places and the long abandoned abodes of the Gods. They may have done the same for Stonehenge, but the English traditions and Bardic works were almost all lost, while the Irish are among the best preserved of any oral lore.
“Behold the Sidhe before your eyes.
It is manifest to you that it is a king’s mansion,
Which was built by the firm Dagda.
It is a wonder, a court, and admirable hill.”
“The Sidhe of Donegal” a seminar by Prof. Duran.
Two or more different groups of peoples, sharing the same or similar astronomically oriented beliefs, contributed to the five cycles of construction and reconstruction at Stonehenge. Theirs was a fairly sophisticated culture for the time. They knew that the Solstices, eclipses of the Moon, and the courses of the stars were regular predictable events. Their stone moving techniques were on a par with the times. Though not aligned accurately enough for an “observatory” in the modern sense, the stones can serve as a calendar rectifier, an eclipse predictor, and, of course, as a ritual site for religious ceremonies. But what those religions were must remain a matter of conjecture. Clearly they had something to do with sunrise, Midsummer Solstice, moonrise, and lunar eclipses, but what they meant, and what the people did there, is probably not recoverable. As Clannad sings “Forgotten is the race that no one knows.”2
1A friend of mine tried the experiment of putting mugwort under her pillow, but reported she had no dreams at all. “I guess I’m just going to stay single.” She is till fancy-free three years later. If anyone wants to try this, you can get mugwort in most herb shops. Send in your results and we’ll publish them for Lughnasadh.
2Clannad, a modern Irish Folk Group. “Ring of Stones,” good album.
Summer Solstice Essay:
Danu and Summer Fun
A Druid Missal-Any, Summer Solstice 1989
By Emmon Bodfish
Midsummer, the Summer Solstice, the longest day, the shortest night, this is one of the four astronomical High-Days of the Druid year. It is associated with Danu, Mother of the Celtic family of deities the Tuatha de Danann. She is cognate with the Irish Anu and Breton Ana. She may be cognate with classic Roman Diana, though Her character and role are more like those of Juno. Like Her, Danu is the patroness of marriage and sanctifier of the home, The particular luckiness of June weddings may be a folk memory of the time when this time of the year was sacred to the Goddess of marriage. She is associated with fertility of grain as well as of women, and She is linked to rivers and river valleys which bear Her name or cognates of it stretch all across Europe from the Danube to the Don and the De in Scotland. Rivers, valleys, grain, home, fertility and prosperity formed a thematic group in the Celtic mind. Her festival was on Midsummer day and all night bonefires, dances, and games of courtship and revel continued to be celebrated on the day and the preceding night well into this century. Again we see the Druid custom of counting the night which precedes the high-day as the one sacred to that day. There are many, many references to this night of revels in medieval and Renaissance folksong, as well as in Shakespeare and his Contemporaries.
The tension between the folk customs and the Christian church is succinctly in the traditional verse:
“Mierry do not tell the priest,
For I fear he would call it a sin,
But we have been in the woods this night,
A‘ conjuring the summer in.”
This fragment of a ballad was quoted to us by a folksinger whom we talked with at the Live Oak Park Faire, who had collected it in England. In this case the folk tradition probably goes back to Druid times.
This would be a propitious night for a vigil, or just to try sleeping out of doors if possible. Following another folk tradition whose roots are probably Druidic, single women might try sleeping with a pillow stuffed with mugwort, an herb sacred to Roman Diana, and probably to Danu or Ana, under their heads. This will bring dreams of their future husbands, and was a practice carried on into this century in Celtic countries. The only similar divination practice I have ever heard of for young men involved looking quickly into a particular sacred well, in which he might catch a glimpse of his future mate. But this had nothing to do with Danu or Midsummers.
Summer Solstice Essay: Belenos
A Druid Missal-Any, Summer Solstice 2001
By Stacey Weinberger
Midsummer, Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. On this day the Sun rises and sets at its most northerly points along the horizon and reaches its most highest point in the sky of the entire year at Solar Noon (1 p.m. daylight time.)
While there are several Celtic deities who are considered a Sun god or goddess, in the RDNA tradition it is Belenos who we honor and praise this Midsummer day.
Belenos, also know as Beli, Belin, or Belinus in Britain, is perhaps associated with the Phoenician word Ba’al, meaning master. The variant Belenos is found widely distributed in early inscriptions in Gaul and northern Italy. Beli Mawr (Great Beli) appears in The Mabinogion as a powerful king of Britain and ancestor-deity of the Welsh royal line, and may be identical in origin to Belenos Himself. The ancient name element “Bel-“ (root,) is also found in the Latin bellus, meaning bright or brilliant, beautiful, and all the words subsequently derived from it; in the Goidelic “bile,” meaning sacred tree, and other words of distant origin.
Bel was the young-god counterpart of the old-god Bran, as Jupiter was the counterpart of Saturn in the Roman pantheon or as Zeus was the to Cronos in the Greek pantheon. In general the first half of the year may well have been associated with Bran and the second half with Bel or Belenos.
Caesar’s Gaulish Apollo is generally to be taken to be Belenos in His native guise. Apollo is actually a latecomer to the Greek pantheon, and one of a variety of theories about His origins is that He was adopted from the Celts. Both are known as gods of light and of the sun. Both are gods of sacred springs. In the Shetlands as well as in the Orkneys, the sick visited the wells which were circled sun-wise before drinking from them. This is another tribute to Belenos, who like Apollo, is also a healer-god. Water and solar symbolism are closely linked in healing cults.
Whereas dedications to the Celtic gods in the form of inscribed altars appear to chiefly recur within one area, a few individual dedications are distributed widely. Belenos was one deity to be honored in such a way. His dedications are relatively common and widespread in Celtic Europe, particularly in southern and central Gaul, North Italy, and Noricum in the eastern Alps. Ausonius, a Bordeaux poet writing in the later half of the fourth century A.D. mentions sanctuaries in Acquitaine and writes of Phoebicius, who had been a temple-priest there.
Belenos is commemorated in place names as well. In England examples include Billingshurst in Sussex and Billingsgate in London. In France a number of places bear His name. The high rocky islet off the coast of Normandy formerly called Tombelaine, which in the slightly altered form of Les Tombelenes is a reef off Jersey’s north coast. Belenos also appears to be venerated in some parts as St. Bonnet.
It is thus not coincidence that in the liturgy for the Special Order of Worship for the Summer Solstice it is suggested that the altar fire be especially large. We welcome Belenos on this day of days asking Him to fill us with life, and warmth, and light our way as we honor Him with His element, and enjoy this glorious season before He begins to wend His way southward again.
Hail Belenos, God of the Sun!
Hail Belenos, Giver of Life!
Hail Belenos, Lord of Light!
Summer Solstice Essay:
Anu and Danu
A Druid Missal-Any, Summer Solstice 2002
By Stacey Weinberger
Midsummer, Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, one of the minor High Day of the Reformed Druid calendar, is associated with the goddess Danu. There has been much discussion in the scholarly community on whether Danu and Anu are cognates of one another or separate goddesses entirely.
Anu and Danu were both fertility goddesses and Mother Goddesses in early Irish mythology. Anu is described in Cormac’s Glossary (Sanas Cormaic, 10th century) as the mother of the Irish gods, and in the Coir Anmann (Fitness of Names) as the goddess of prosperity to whom the province of Munster owed its wealth and fertility. Danu is associated with the divine race of people, the Tuatha De Danann, the People of the Goddess Danu, who are recorded in the Leabhar Gebhála (Book of Invasions) having arrived in a cloud from the North, invading Ireland, and defeating the Fir Bolgs and later the Fomorians.
Anu is identified with the earth and fertility of Ireland. She gives her name to the two rounded hills in County Kerry, called Dá Chich Anann or the Paps of Anu. In Ireland today she is still talked about from Cork up into South County Tipperary and is considered the earth goddess of Ireland. A distinction is made between her and Danu. Anu is considered to be pre-Tuatha and possibly the Sheela na Gig.
Anu is also identified with Aine, another goddess associated the land. Her cult was localized to County Limerick, Munster, where she was still worshipped up until the 19th century. She was said to live in the hill Cnoc Aine. On St. Johns Eve, Midsummer’s Eve, the local people carried torches of hay and straw around the hill that were then taken to the fields to bless cattle (another instance of fire being used to insure the health and fertility of the flocks for the coming year.)
Danu, according to MacKillop, is the speculative name for the mother goddess of the Continental Celts, based on the evidence of place names, for example the Danube river (die Donau.) He writes that “a prosthetic D-changes Ana, Anu to Dana, Danu; some commentators advise that these forms are later scholarly inventions, while others point out that the name Dana has discrete associations and parallels.” But if you look at the types of places Danu is associated with, a pattern begins to form. Derivations of her name being rivers show strong evidence that she is a river goddess, as opposed to Anu who is a land goddess. Rivers all over the Indo-Europeans lands were named for her: the Danube in Austria (the Greek author Herodotus commented on the Keltoi residing in the area of the Danube valley in the fifth century B.C.,) the Don in southwest Russia (where an inscription referring to an attack on the kingdom of Bosporos and a scattering of La Tene objects across the southern steppes in indicates that some Celts might have reached,) Dneipr in the Ukraine (where the Celts settled around 300 BC,) Dniestr in Moldavia, and even the Don and Dee in Scotland are all cognates of her name.
Other linguistic evidence exists showing Danu’s position as a Pan-Indo-European river Goddess. Her name is Sanskrit and in India's Rig-Veda signifies “stream” and “the waters of heaven.”
The Druid Chronicles (Evolved) 1976
By Isaac Bonewits and Robert Larson
Lughnasadh begins the season of Foghamhar (Fôr,) now an Fomhar (uN FôR); which is fall or autumn, running from roughly the beginning of August till the end of October. Together, these two seasons constitute “the Summer Half of the Year” or “the Season of Life.”
Lughnasadh (Loo-Nu-Su) is known in Modern Irish as Lá Lúnasa (Laa Loo-Nu-Su,) in Welsh as Gwyl Awst (August Feast,) as Lla Lluanys or Laa ’n Ouyr (Day of the Harvest Season) in Manx and as Lammas, Apple Day and Harvest Home in English. It is the anniversary of the funeral games given by Lugh, the God of All Crafts, in honor of his Father. Essentially a harvest festival, this signals the beginning of the harvest season and the ripening of the apples (as well as other fruits and vegetables.) Enormous quantities of applejack, hard cider, mead and other alcoholic beverages are consumed at this time (it’s almost a duty!) by all enthusiastic Neopagans. Hasidic Druids may prefer to drink ten-day-old slivovitz (plum brandy) at this time, but it’s their stomach lining!
This holiday is a day of mixed joy and woe (Irish wakes are an old tradition,) for it is by now obvious that the days are getting shorter. Stories of the battles between Lugh and Balor (the good Sun-Fire God and the bad one) are retold, as the autumn quarter of Foghamhar begins.
Lughnasadh Essay: Funeral Games
A Druid Missal-Any, Lughnasadh 1983
By Emmon Bodfish
Originally a celebration of the funeral games for Lugh, the Celtic deity of Light. By August 1 the sun is lower in the sky and days significantly shorter. By now even the non-astronomically oriented can feel the summer’s decline. The sun, re-born on December 22, is ageing. The period of harvest, Foghamhar, is coming, and this High day marks the celebration of the First Fruits, and the first produce of the fields. In Celtic Countries, this middle of the summer festival is still marked in The Races in Ireland, Revels in Wales, and the Highland Cattle Show in Scotland. In a stock raising culture like the Iron Age Celts, this was the most likely time of market faires and Gatherings. The calves of the Spring were old enough to sell/trade; likewise the sheep would have been sheared and surplus wool of lambs could be bartered.
Lughnasadh Essay: Rosmearta
A Druid Missal-Any, Lughnasadh 1984
By Emmon Bodfish
Lughnasadh is known in Modern Irish as La Lunasa, in Welsh as Gwyl Awst, (August Feast,) as Lla Lluanys or Laa ’n Ouyr (day of the Harvest Season) in Manx and as Lammas, Apple Day, and Harvest Home in English. It is the anniversary of the funeral games given by Lugh, the God of all Crafts, in honor of his Father. Essentially a harvest festival, this signals the beginning of the harvest season and the ripening of the apples. This holiday is a day of mixed joy and woe (Irish wakes in the old tradition) for it is now obvious that the days are getting shorter. Stories of the battles between Lugh and Balor (the good Sun-Fire God and the bad one) are retold, as the autumn quarter of “Foghamhar begins.”
--The Druid Chronicles
A much cited but little understood goddess of the Celtic pantheon is Rosmearta, consort of one of the Mercury-like gods, though which one is not certain. It was probably not Lugh himself, whose story and exploits are fairly well known, at least in Irish tradition. She may have been associated with the Gaulish or Welsh Lugh, according to a piece of information from one of our Grove members, but there is no reference for it in any pre-medieval source we can find. His Gaulish name, Lugus, was known to the Romans, but it is not mentioned in connection with Rosmearta. Lugh’s wife is Eriu or Erin in the Irish literature. In any case, she seems to have functioned independently of her consort, judged by the number of references, shrines and place names that have survived. Her name is found in twenty-one different inscriptions, in Roman letters, on monuments in Gaul, dating from the first few centuries A.D. Caesar, Lucan, and later Latin chroniclers tell us that she was very popular, receiving much worship and tribute from the native Gauls.
One derivation of her name, (Branston, L.G. of E.) spring from the Celtic roots:
Branston cites the use of the term, smearta, in an early Cuchulain tale, in which the Irish hero smears with blood a false beard which he has made for himself from grasses. Besmearing his face, he effects a disguise. This fits with the Roman report of her popularity if she was “The much Anointed One.” Celtic deity’s statues and artifact were often anointed with precious oils, or with the blood of vanquished enemies when that deity was beseeched for favors or thanked for victories.
There is a sanctuary, on the Boyne in Ireland, called Rosmaree, which may be that of her Irish cognate. It is a high mound, of Bronze Age origin, and Medieval Legend tells of a speaking stone connected with it which gave answers to questions about all past deeds and events. It was appealed to in order to settle disputes or establish guilt, much to the despair of the Christian monks, who recorded the custom. Local folklore has it that even up to a century or so ago, no one passed by the stone, whose name is Druin Torerime, without dismounting and paying her homage. It was seen, apparently, as a female being.
This idea of giving answers and of knowing the past, of the actions of all mortals, adds credence to the second derivation of her name, Rosmearta, from the Indo-European root Smer, to think, to remember, to share or portion out.
Ta=from ti, tia, female, she
The All Remembering One
Her other attributes, her associations with vegetation, grain and Earth-bounty, which she meets out are consistent with the allotting function. She shares this function with another set of supernatural beings whose names derive from the same I.E. root, Smer. These are the Early Greek Moira, and the Germanic Norns, especially the middle Norn, Verthandi. In Greek her title is Lachesis, from lot, distribution, share. A more distant connection can be made to the Italic Parcae, also originally goddesses of vegetation, fertility and birth. But these three powers act differently in the Northern countries than they did among the Indo-Europeans of the Mediterranean. The Norns, Wyrd, and their cognates have none of the feeling of foreknowledge and predestination abou them that characterize the Classic Fates. For Homer, the Fates’ decision was unavoidable, even if one had foreknowledge and will. The Norn do not control the future. They set out one’s circumstances, one’s lot, and then record human action as present evolves into past. They do not control our action, but only mark them down, layer by layer, weaving the present into the past.
All these deities have in common the ancient link to vegetation and to the allotment of each person’s share in life, but in Celtic and Norse they are not concerned with the future, nor do they have the power and feeling of predestiny this implies. This concept, which in later Hellenic times attached itself to the Fates (and by way of Classic trained scholars to King Arthur’s Merddyn,) entered Europe with Christianity, there to cause numerous philosophical problems which hardly ended with Calvin. The Indo-European apportioning goddesses give only talents and setting. Greatness, as the poems of Cuchulain and Beowulf, and the Ossianic Fennians make clear, depends on what each person does with their portion. Rosmearta seems to have been a goddess who was thanked for success, harvest and victory.
Rosmearta can be beseeched with incense and aromatic oils to give us the circumstances in which we can be successful. (Blood is not to the modern aesthetic, unless you’re a hunter or a beef rancher.) Of course, we must know what these circumstances would be if we’re to ask for them and to recognize them when they occur. She can be thanked on Lughnasadh, along with Lugh and Danu, the Earth Mother, for the harvest that now begins, for our share.
Reaping and the Last Sheaf
A Druid Missal-Any, Lughnasadh 1985
By Emmon Bodfish
Lughnasadh, Feast of the First Fruits, begins the harvest season. Traditionally it marks the Funeral Games for Lugh, Celtic Sun-God, and by now it is clear that the summer is waning, and the Sun retreating southward. Our harvest this year at the Grove is hay, and apples, and the promise of Elderberries and Holly.