In England, Spring Equinox was celebrated as Lady Day, now fixed at March 25, to make it a dependable legal holiday while the Equinox shifts yearly between the 20th and the 22nd. Before the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in England in 1752, this holiday was the beginning of the New Year, legal and fiscal. In the Gaelic world, the new season, Samhra, wouldn’t begin until Bealtaine, but the New Year had commenced on Samhain on November 5th or 6th. Between Samhain and Bealtaine is the “Season of Sleep” and May Day begins the new “Season of Life.”
In modern Reform Druidism there is no whiskey, or intoxicant, in the chalice at services all through this Season of Sleep, only distilled water, the Waters-of-Sleep. Only water is poured out in the Offerings to the trees. It is the season of the Pine and the Birch. The latter, Bride’s tree, begins her season at Equinox. It has been a time of rest and in-drawing, the re-couping of our energies. Now life starts to re-awaken and we begin preparations for the major celebration of the Druid year, Bealtaine, the full-blown Rose.
Spring Equinox Essay:
Plowing and New Years
A Druid Missal-Any. Spring Equinox, 1985
By Emmon Bodfish
Equinox, the beginning of Spring, one the four Minor High Days in the Druid tradition. The Sun crosses the celestial equator, from Southern Declination to Northern, and the day and the night are of equal length. This is the time of renewal, the beginning of preparations for the summer to come. The holiday is older than Druidism; stones in the megaliths mark this sunrise. Plowing and planting begin. It is the season of egg gathering. The giving of painted eggs as gifts and offerings predates Christianity, or the introduction of chickens, originally a wild Indian pheasant, to European barnyards.
The Leechbook records this chant of English (Brythonic, really) farmers in the spring rites circa 950 A.D. The Christian church had not yet begun its campaign in earnest to expunge old pagan ways or else re-name and “Christianize” them as it would over the next five hundred years.
Erec! Erec! Erec!
Mother of Earth
Hail to thee, Earth!
Mother of mortals.
Be fruitful in
The God’s embrace
Filled with food
For the use of man.
In England, prior to the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1752, Spring Equinox was the beginning of the new year. It is still celebrated there as “Lady Day.” In the Gaelic world, the new season, Samhra, summer, won’t begin until Bealtaine, but the new year began on Samhain in November.
The emphasis of this season is balance, as day and night now stand balanced. Time to make recompense for old mistakes and receive the reward of our winter’s patience. The tree is the birch, Bride’s tree, the tree of Spring and Dawn, at the East point of the circle.
Spring Equinox Essay:
Sequanna and Rivers
A Druid Missal-Any, Spring Equinox 1986
By Emmon Bodfish
Spring Equinox, the Sun crosses the Equator and shines down over the Northern tropics. It is dawn at the North Pole. This is one of the four Minor Celtic High Days. The grain of the last sheaf, made in to the Corn-doll last autumn.(see Fall Equinox Missal-Any, ’85,) has been taken down from its place of honor, torn apart and scattered over the field prior to plowing. This holiday is one of renewal: planting, cleaning, fasting and “taking the bathes,” visiting holy wells and springs. In Southern Britain, if I recall an oral tradition correctly, it was associated with Sulis, Goddess of hot springs and the Rites at Bath, and perhaps in Gaul with Sequanna, Goddess of the source of the River Seinne. Here, in the valley of Dijon, numerous votive offerings to Her have been found, and traditions dramatically emphasizing Her powers to cure the sick were recorded by classic writers. (c.f. Barry Cunliffe, though he does not list his sources for this.) Twenty-two wooden plaques, carved in relief to represent internal organs, one, better preserved, showing anatomically accurate diction of trachea and lungs, have been recovered.
“The Celtic religious sense was strongly marked by the principle of reciprocity. To save a life, another would be sacrificed. Similarly,“ Cunliffe states, “if sacred waters were used by someone wanting a cure, a gift in exchange was expected of the user.” Votive offerings found in this spring portray the hopes of the pilgrims who brought them, like the exquisite statue of the little blind girl from the shrine of Sequanna. Other carvings are of organs or limbs, perhaps to communicate with the Goddess or to focus the ritual’s participants attention on the afflicted part. Wooden votives were carved from the heartwood of the Oak, and may depict the entire figure of the donor, sometimes holding the offering he has brought; a lamb, a jewel, a bar of silver. Most have very individual faces, as contrasted with the smooth, archetypical faces of Celtic God statues.
Spring Equinox, balance, awakening, a time of planting, a time in keeping with the theme of Irish Macha, Patroness of farmers, the Horse–goddess, who could run with the speed of a horse or become one. On the Continent She was called Epona. She was Rhiannon in Wales. She is a shape-shifting Goddess who can appear in human form, or in the form of a mare, or of a woman mounted on horseback. She is responsible not only for the fertility of herds, but of the ground as well. She is described in Celtic myths as the mother of kings or as capable of bestowing sovereignty on the rightful king. She is represented by the white mare whom the Kings of Ireland espouse at their coronations. Prof. J. Duran speculates that Macha and the mare represents the agrarian classes, the “Tuath,” the third of the three castes in ancient Celtic society. (The other two were the warriors and the Druids. “Caste” is a poor word since these categories were not rigid, and some movement between them was possible, but it is used in Indo-European studies for lack of a better term.)
Macha may have been the Patroness of the Tuath, as Bride was the Patroness of Bards, and as the Morgani were associated with the warrior caste. Llyr, or Manannan McLlyr, it is said, also has ancient equine themes running through His worship. There is a theory that He was a Horse-deity back on the steppes of the Indo-European homeland, and that only later, when the Celtic peoples reached the Atlantic coast and the Island, did He become a Sea-god. He is always portrayed in a chariot, or riding in a boat, or in a combination of both, as in His sea-shell boat drawn by porpoises. This considered, He may be more a charioteer or vehicular god than a Horse-deity.* Epona rides astride. Cernnunos, the other shape-shifting, fertility-bestowing deity, never rides. He sits on the ground among the wild beasts, and is spoken of as running with the deer. These latter two figures hark back to the earliest Eur-Asian levels, very likely to the Paleolithic. Similar figures may have been common to the Ice Age peoples of Eastern Europe and West Asia from whom the Proto-Indo-Europeans sprang. In that early time, in the art of the Magdelinian hunters, a similar theme can be seen.
The Paleolithic dancer wearing a horse-head mask is a woman. The men wear disguises of horned animals, bear, or mammoths. The connection between Macha, the female shape-shifter-shaman-magician, and the horse may be very old, paralleling the male enchanter of horned animals, from the time when the Horned Man and the Horse Woman danced in Paleolithic caves.
*Could He be persuaded to protect us nowadays in our cars?
Spring Equinox Essay:
Eggs and Rabbits
A Druid Missal-Any, Spring Equinox 1988
By Emmon Bodfish
Equinox, a Minor Druid High Day, the emphasis is on balance. Some customs of the season which are hold over from pre-Christian times include the colored and fanciful eggs and the “Easter Bunny” who brings them, though this was not the original sequence nor association.
Nora Chadwick, a noted historian, describes the spring rite of the “offering of the cakes and eggs,” recorded by classic authors in their descriptions of Druidic customs. Egg hunt, egg rolling games and rituals are still current in Ireland, Lithuania and eastern Europe, and may have a Pre-Indo-European origin, decorated eggs and painted clay models of eggs are a frequent theme of Aryan Balkan culture. They are part of the ensign of the Bird Goddess, whose worship seems to have been particular to spring and to the time of the spring rains, to judge from holdovers into Classic Greek times. Eggs are also part of the imagery of the Supreme Goddess of Old-European culture. In this connection they represent the Cosmic Egg, laid by the swan or Nile Goose, which was said to have begun the world. Small painted clay eggs where included inside statues of this Great Goddess, as in Marija Gimbutas drawings reproduced here.
A Cosmic Egg may also be associated with they mythical water bird of Creation. This myth is almost universal between Africa and the Artic; it was recorded in the scripts and hieroglyphs of the literate civilizations and sung in the oral traditions of hunting and fishing tribes.
In an ancient Egyptian myth, the Cosmic Egg was laid by the Nile Goose which was worshipped as the “Great Chatterer,” the creator of the world and of language. According to the Orphic story, uncreated Nyx (night) existed first and was pictured as a great black-winged bird hovering over the vast darkness. Though unmated, she produced an egg out of which flew gold-winged Eros, while the two halves of the shell Ouranos and Gaia (Heaven and Earth) were created. The beginning of the myth must lie in the Paleolithic ear.1 The Egg, plus chatter, that is words, began the world.
The Easter bunny wasn’t at all. It was a hare. The hare, not the rabbit, was the sacred animal of the Celts and Germans. Julius Caesar, in his war commentaries on Gaul, describes the Gauls and keeping “hares and certain other animals to amuse themselves, and which they do not eat” (nor hunt.) But the motive was more likely propitiation and divination than “amusement.” The hare was seen as a messenger animal capable of travel between this and the Other World, and was associated with both prophecy and madness. The March Hare brought in the spring and gave the seeds their fertility, or withheld it. To run afoul of him caused madness. By the Midd1e Ages, the madness element predominated, and his came to he regarded as a demonic species. Many pagan ensigns and symbols suffered similar defamation and prophecy has always been associated with madness in Indo-European traditions, And, unlike the egg theme, the theme of the March Hare is solidly Indo-European. Its sacred and tabooed nature extends to most of the Western European languages groups and cultures. If language is the oldest witness to history, as Lockwood asserts,2 then the Hare cult must go back to at least 3,500 B.C. and the second wave of the Indo European expansion before Celtic and Germanic and Italic diverged from one another. In these language groups the true word for hare, hara/haso, was tabooed and euphemisms were commonly invented for it in everyday speech.
Our American Ground Hog Day may be dim and assistant reflex of the March Hare theme with its element of prophecy of the early or a late spring. In the days of plowing and sowing magic, it was by the hare's behavior that people foretold the spring: weather and the prospects for the seeds about to be sown. By the shadows of posts and menhirs, not ground hogs, and by the points of the sun’s risings, the priestly castes at the Great: Henges determined the day of the Equinox kept the calendar of sowing and reaping in time with the Heavens.
(It bears saying again: The Druids did not build Stone Henge. Nor as far as we know did they make use of it as a calendar. This was the work and genius of the pre-Celtic peoples of the British Isles.)
1Marija Gimbutas, Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe, U. of California Press, 1982.
2Lockwood, Indo-European Philology, Hutchins University Library Press, 1969.
Spring Equinox Essay: The Birch
A Druid Missal-Any, Spring Equinox 1989
By Stacey Weinberger
Equinox, one of the four minor High Days in the Druid tradition, signifying the beginning of spring, dawn and the time of renewal. Day and night are of equal length now, and although it is the High Day Oimelc that marks the first stirrings of life, it is at the equinox that this becomes apparent. The Orinda Grove site is blossoming in all its splendor. We have never seen it so green (and without the help of seeding or modern technology!) The hills are a carpet of green, the live oak seems to have recovered from the attack by the oak moths and the ground around the altar has sprouted grass, clover and wintercress, with its peppery tasting flowers and subtle leaves.
As the cycle of the year continues. we move to the next in the circle of the trees at the Grove, the Birch. Passed down through Celtic oral tradition, the Birch is known as ‘Bride’s Tree.”
According to Paul Friedrich, author of Proto-Indo-European Trees, (University of Chicago Press, 1970) the birch has been a female-virgin symbol for many of the speakers of the Indo-European languages for over five thousand years. This would fit with one of the aspects of Bride as a Triple Goddess figure.
The Proto-Indo-Europeans, including (the ancestors of) the Celts probably associated the birch with the spring, comparing the brightness of the returning sun, the greening of the earth with something tangible, that represented the changing nature of the surroundings.
The birch’s association with spring and the return of light is probably not coincidental. P.I.E. forms of the word (for birch) lead back to “bright, shinning, to be white,” and seem to be based on the physical appearance of the birch
(explanatory parentheses by E.B. editor)
Spring Equinox Essay:
What is the Equinox?
A Druid Missal-Any, Spring Equinox 2001
By Stacey Weinberger
Equinox, three months past the Winter Solstice, Yule, marks the astronomical arrival of Spring. This is when the Sun crosses the celestial equator following the ecliptic moving northward. The celestial equator is the projection of the Earth’s equator on the sky. It divides the sky into two equal hemispheres and is everywhere 90 degrees from the celestial poles. If you watched the Sun for the course of a year it would appear to circle the sky. This apparent path of the Sun is the ecliptic. Another way to define it is to say the ecliptic is the projection of the earth’s orbit onto the sky.
Days and nights are now of equal length, and at the North Pole the sun rises above the horizon after a six month absence. The Sun rises exactly due East and sets exactly due West. The noon day Sun is shining directly upon the equator.
It is a time of balance. As the days start to warm, the nights remain still cold. While there are new buds of green foliage on the Sweet Gum trees outside my window, the thorny balls from the previous year still hang from their branches, stripped of their seeds by the local wild birds. But it is a time not just of balance in Nature but in our own selves. It is a time to look within and to reevaluate our lives, looking at where we’ve been this past year, and looking towards our own new growth with the coming of the new season. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that the East, the direction of the dawning Sun, also represents new beginnings.
Mad Sweeney News
Mountain stream, clear and limpid, wandering down towards the valley, whispering songs among the rushes—oh, that I were as the stream!
Mountain heather all in flower—longing fills me, at the sight, to stay upon the hills in the wind and the heather.
Small birds of the high mountain that soar up in the healthy wind, flitting from one peak to the other—oh, that I were as the bird!
Son of the mountain am I, far from home, making my song; but my heart is in the mountain, with the heather and the small birds.
Welsh; John Ceiriog Hughes; 1833-87
The Druid Chronicles (Evolved) 1976
By Isaac Bonewits and Robert Larson
Beltane begins the season of Samradh (Sâu-Ru,) now an Samhradh (un Sâu-Ru); which is Summer, running from roughly the beginning of May till the end of July.
Beltane (BauL-Ti-Ni, or BauL-Hi-Ni,) known in Modern Irish as Lá Bealtaine (Laa BauL-Hi-ni, or Laa Baul-Ti-ni,) in Welsh as Galan-Mai (Calends of May,) in Scottish Gaelic as Bealtiunn, and in Manx as Shenn da Boaddyn, Laa Boaldyn, or Laa ’nTourey (Day of Summer); is, of course, the day we know in English as May Day. It is also called by a variety of other names, such as Roodmas, Summer Day, Walpurgistag, St. Pierre’s Day, Red Square Day, etc. It is the beginning of the Summer Half of the Year (the seasons of Samradh and Foghamhar) and is a festival of unalloyed joy.
A very large number of important mythological events are connected with this day. It was on a Beltane that Partholan and his followers, the first inhabitants and partial creators of Ireland, landed on that isle. Three hundred years later, on the same day, they returned to the Other World. It was on a Beltane that the Tuatha De Danann and their people invaded Ireland. It was on a May Eve that Pryderi, the missing son of Rhiannon and Pwyll (Rulers of the Welsh Otherworld,) was lost by them and later (on another May Eve) was found by Teirnyon Twryf Vliant (and eventually restored to Them.) On every first day of May “till the day of doom,” Gwyn-son-of-Nudd fights with Gwyrthur-son-of Greidawl, for the hand of Lludd’s (Lugh’s) fair daughter, Creudylad. Most of these events, again, as all over Europe, have to do with stories of the forces of light defeating the forces of darkness. Why did you think the Marxists chose May Day as their international Holiday? And can you guess why Adam Weishaupt chose Walpurgistag as the day to announce the founding of the Bavarian Illuminati, and why the date at which the forces of evil later tried to Imannetize the Eschaton?
Pentalpha Vol. 3, No. 2 1980
By Isaac Bonewits
Beltane is one of the four Celtic Fire Festivals that mark the time between Solstices and Equinoxes and relate to the inner feminine, intuitive, yin side of our souls. Its symbol is a blossom. It is a day of blossoms and spring fever, of open hearts and merry trysts, of dance and raucous song, of mirth and mystery, of lechery and love.
Beltane, among the matriarchal, lunar festivals, stresses the importance of male-female interaction, mother nature’s need for fertilization, the earth’s need for female and male energy. As part of our celebration, we invite the coming of Pan and dance around a Maypole. We drink to Pan, the great god of nature, (so systematically belittled and bedeviled in recent centuries,) the scary instinctual goat god in us, who plays such haunting, beautifully spiritual music on his pipes.
A very large number of important mythological events are connected with this day. It was on a Beltane that Partholan and his followers, the first inhabitants and partial creators of Ireland, landed on that isle. Three hundred years later, on the same day, they returned to the Other World. It was on a Beltane that the Tuatha De Danann and their people invaded Ireland. It was on a May Eve that Pryderi, the missing son of Rhiannon and Pwyll (Rulers of the Welsh Otherworld,) was lost by them and later (on another May Eve) found by Teirnyon Twryf Vliant (and eventually restored to Them.) On every first day of May "till the day of doom,” Gwyn Ap Nudd fights with Gwyrthur Ap Greidawl, for the hand of Lludd’s (Lugh’s) fair daughter, Creudylad. Most of these events, again, as all over Europe, have to do with stories of the forces of light defeating the forces of darkness. Why did you think the Marxists chose May Day as their international Holy Day? And can you guess why Adam Weishaupt chose Walpurgistag (another name for Beltane) as the day to announce the founding of the Bavarian Illuminati, and why that was the date at which the forces of evil later tried to Immanetize the Eschaton?
A Druid Missal-Any Beltane 1982
By Emmon Bodfish
E. DWELLY has this to say about old Highland Beltaine, in Gaelic, Bealltuinn.
“On the first of May was held a great Druidical festival in favour of the god Belus. On this day, fires were kindled on the mountain tops for the purposes of sacrifice; and between these fires the cattle were driven to preserve them from contagion till next Mayday. On this day it was usual to extinguish all hearth fires, in order that they should be re-kindled from this purifying flame. In many parts of the Highlands, the young folks of the district used to meet on the moors on the first of May. They cut a table in the green sod, of a round figure, by cutting a trench in the ground of sufficient circumference to hold the whole company. They then kneaded a cake of oatmeal, kindled a fire and toasted the oatmeal cake in the embers. When a feast of eggs and custards had been eaten, they divided the cake into as many portions as there were persons in the company, as much alike as to size and shape as possible. They daubed one of the pieces with charcoal until it was black all over, and they then put all of them into a bonnet all together, and each person, blindfolded, drew out a portion. The bonnet holder was entitled to the last bit. Whoever drew the black bit was the devoted person who was to be sacrificed to Baal, whose favor they meant to implore in rendering the year productive. The devoted person was compelled to leap three times over the flames.”
This folk ritual may preserve an echo of prehistoric festivals.
Grove News on Beltane
A Druid Missal-Any, Summer Solstice 1982
By Emmon Bodfish
BELTAINE CELEBRATION went well despite two principle people being handicapped with bad colds. Sue has some color pictures of the merriment, which I hope we can print in the next Missal-Any. The standard Beltaine Service, as given in the Chronicles, was performed, beginning at 1:00 p.m. For the first time in the Grove’s history, we had our own altar on which we could build a fire. Though the altar is not in final form yet, the base served as a platform for a good blaze. Afterwards we had the Maypole Dance around our home made 11 foot tall Maypole. Such thanks to Daniel and Leslie Craig Hargar for helping splice two logs together, using only primitive hand tools, (i.e. the power saw gave out,) to create a 16 foot pole. All the May Dance participants brought their own ribbon, of whatever color, and we danced and wove them down the pole in the traditional Day dance, with the Bards singing and the Patriarch of Bards, Leslie playing guitar. It was a colorful, fast and flailing event, especially as many of us are not used to dancing in long robes, nor on the sides of halls. All the officers, and many of the members were in their full Druid robes, some barefoot, some in Engineer boots. After the Maypole was woven with the ribbons, we decided to leave it stand, at least until Solstice. Then we sat around, itched, Leslie sang requests from her lengthy Pagan repertory. Meanwhile most of us ate and enjoyed the return of the Season of the Waters of Life, in flavors wine, Irish Mist, and Whiskey. As this took effect, more people joined in the singing, shouting, and a few dancing through the underbrush,
Beltane Essay: Shafts and Gatherings
A Druid Missal-Any, Beltane 1983
By Emmon Bodfish
Beltaine, one of the greatest, and, now-a-days, best known, of the Old Celtic High Days, it marks the beginning of Samhradh, summer, and the “Season of Life.” Historically, it signaled the moving of the herds out to summer pastures in the mountains. Great fires were build to welcome back the Sun, and the cattle were driven through the flames for purification before starting on their way to the high meadows. The Druid caste, priests and priestesses, presided over these rites at which all the clans gathered together at the ritual sites such as Tara and Carnutes for celebration, planning, and deliberation. Quarrels were settled and justice meted out. This was another Druid function, that of magistrate, with a specialized sub-group of the priestly class acting as judges. Sacrifices were offered to Belenos and on the Continent, to Gaulish and Galatian analogs of this Indo-European Sky God. Another opinion holds that this derivation of Beltaine from the name of a sun god, Beal, is problematical, and that Beltaine was, like Samhain, a festival of all the Gods and Goddesses.