DRUIDS today celebrate eight festivals, which mark the key points of the cycle of each year in the natural world.
They are points of the year which would have had particular significance to our ancestors, whose lives depended on their crops and their livestock and so were profoundly affected by the changing seasons and the vagaries of the weather.
Probably the best-known of the year's key points is the Summer Solstice, when modern Druids traditionally descend on Stonehenge in the UK to watch the sun rise over the Heol Stone and to celebrate the peak of the power of the Sun at Midsummer. Yet the most powerful is arguably quite the opposite nodal point, the Winter Solstice, when the year is rekindled and dark is defeated by light, as the Sun King is reborn as the Mabon to grow into the fresh new year with all its gleaming bright new opportunities.
Four of the festivals, including the Summer Solstice, actually mark turning points in the year and are solar festivals, characterised as male, while the four intermediate ones are lunar and female (satisfying the Druid love of balance) and are associated more with turning tides, within man and within nature.
The festivals are:
February 1/2: Imbolc (Candelmas).
March 20/21: Alban Eiler or Spring Equinox.
May 1: Belteinne (Beltane).
June 21/22: Alban Hefin or Summer Solstice.
August 1: Lughnasadh.
September 20/23: Alban Elfed or Autumn Equinox.
October 31: Samhuinn (Hallowe'en).
December 20/21: Alban Arthan or Winter Solstice.
Each has its own symbolism and its own particular form of celebration which is closely related to all that is happening in the natural world around us at that specific time and what is to come through the year ahead.
Imbolc is the time of the quickening of the year with the first foetal stirrings of Spring in the womb of Mother Earth. The first shoots and the appearance of the Snowdrop herald the fire of Spring to come. A rejuvenating Spring that will occur not only in the outer World of Nature but also within our hearts.
Hail Brighid, bright one, the Light Bringer.
She of the sacred fire, the fertile Earth,
Patron Lady of smithcraft, of poetry and of healing.
It is with bright hearts we welcome your return to this land.
Alban Eiler (Spring Equinox)
Winter sometimes seems so long we could be forgiven for wondering whether Spring will ever return. But the Goddess is merely sleeping through the darkness of Winter and while she stirs at Imbolc at the beginning of February, she is truly awake by the time of the Spring Equinox.
Alban Eilir means “the Light of the Earth”. This festival at the Spring Equinox marks the point in the year when day and night are the same length, Light and Dark are in balance and Light is gaining. The earth awakens, new life emerges, sap rises, buds shoot and spring flowers are celebrated as gifts from nature. Spring returns and rejuvenates our own life force. This Equinox is also known as Ostara or Eostre (pronounced “Eas-tra”) and is celebrated as a festival of new growth, renewal, a re-balancing of energies and the return of longer days.
At Beltane we honour the fertility of all living things. We celebrate the returning warmth of the Sun, the greening of the Earth. After the darkness and quiescence of the winter months, the gentle stirrings of Imbolc and the balance of Alban Eilir (the Spring Equinox), the natural world now tips into an exuberance of creation. We seek to bring into our own lives the strength, vitality, passion and joy that we now see present throughout the natural world. At Beltane, we honour Life.
Alban Hefin (Summer Solstice)
Alban Hefin means “The Light of Summer” and Solstice means “Sun stand still”. Now is the balance point of the year as the natural world seems to pause as the waxing power of spring and early summer reaches its zenith. The Sun is at its height and the Land graces us with abundance. As the Goddess crowns the Sun God the King of Summer, we stand at the gateway into the waning powers of late summer and autumn.We welcome the Sun Father who with our Earth Mother brings us the Sacred Gift of Life. At this time and at this place, we open our hearts to the warmth of their love that lives within us all.
At Lughnasadh we celebrate the deity of Light, Lugh, the Shining One. Since we celebrated Imbolc, his Light from the Sun has triumphed over the cold winds and frosts and with its strength has nurtured and matured the crops. Now is the last moment of rest before the harvest begins that will complete by Alban Elfed (the Autumnal Equinox). With the expectation of the abundance to come, this is a time of joy but also a time to turn our minds to preparing for the Autumn to come.
To Lugh, the Lord of Harvest
To the Goddess, Lady of the Land
In reverence and respect
We give thanks for the first fruits of harvest.
We give thanks for the richness that is to come.
Alban Elfed (Autumn Equinox)
Alban Elfed means “Light of Autumn” and we celebrate the second harvest at this time of the Autumn Equinox. The fields are nearly empty and the crops have been stored for the coming winter.
But at this time of plenty, we recognise that the word “Equinox” means “the time of Equal Day and Night”. After this celebration, we begin the descent into winter.
Samhuinn in the Irish Gaelic means “Summer’s End” and is the time of the Celtic New Year. Now we stand on the Gateway to winter and give thanks to the Goddess for the fruitful harvest that will see us through the dark, bitter days that lie ahead. Samhuinn is also one of two points in the year, the other being Beltane, when the veil between this World and the Otherworld are stretched thin and we can join with our Ancestors to celebrate the bounty and love of the Goddess.
Alban Arthan (Winter Solstice)
Solstice means ‘Sun stand still’ as the Sun at this time in the Northern Hemisphere appears to rise in the East and set in the West in the same place for several days. The time of Longest Night, the Earth seems to pause in the face of overpowering dark. But then the Sun is reborn and begins its long journey back to power. Alban Arthan means ‘Light of Winter’ or ‘Light of Arthur’ where Arthur is the personification of the God of Light who is reborn as the Celtic ‘Son of Light’, the Mabon, on this day.
Alban Arthan therefore marks the time of completion and a new beginning and this moment of rebirth is marked by a great celebration called ‘Yule’ with feasting, dancing and merry-making.
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