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Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs

The summer solstice has been honoured around the world for millennia. In Britain and Ireland its marked by hundreds of earthworks, henges stone circles and rows, and it has a history of celebration from the Neolithic going through the Iron Age druids, through folklore and into the present day where it is honoured by pagans and heathens of many varieties. Solstice means solar standstill, and at this time the suns position from dawn to dusk does its highest arc in the sky, from its most north  easterly at dawn to its most north westerly at sunset, before gradually rising further south day on day until the winter solstice. During this time when it is at its most northern arc, its position at dawn  appears to 'stand still' until its journey south becomes discernible again. In many ways this can be seen as time where life force and the solar energies are at their height- a time of enthusiasm, celebration and empowerment, but also a time out of time, when the spirit world and our connection to our own souls may become more apparent.

Lighting fires has always been a popular practice at the summer solstice, and one that survived through to the modern era before being taken up with increasing enthusiasm in recent years. In Ireland there are many hills and ancient monuments sacred to or astronomically aligned to the summer solstice, but there are two especially famous hills, Knockainey, sacred to the fire goddess Aine, a faery queen, and Knoc Gréin, sacred to the solar goddess Greine. These two hills near each other in county Limerick were likely to have been beacon hills long ago, with twin fires honouring the sun at this time. Across Britain there are also many 'beacon' hills which are likely to have been used for the same purposes.  An agricultural tradition across Britain and Ireland was to drive cattle in between two fires at this time to purify and bless them, and a custom among young men in particular was to leap the flames as well to be blessed and as a sign of fiery prowess.

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May in Britain sees the hawthorn      ( Crataegus Monogyna) in flower, frothing down the lanes in clouds of white tinged with the deepest pink. So important is the hawthorn that in our indigenous traditions, the festival of Beltane cannot happen until the full moon after it blossoms, highlighting its significance to the goddess of Beltane the lady of sovereignty who goes by many names in British and Irish lore. At Beltane the goddess marries the sun god Bel, or sometimes oak king, or jack in the green, to bring fertility to the earth, and this is a highly erotic tree, associated with female sexuality and life force.  Known as the May tree, and the goddess tree, it is also the original Faery Thorn, marking places sacred to our Otherworldly kin. In Britain and Ireland there are many 'faery thorns' which are honoured as sacred magical places, and are protected even from roads and other development by their local villagers even to this day. Hawthorn blossom should never be taken inside the house lest the faeries wreak havoc on your home. However, the hawthorn is a powerfully magical tree to have as an ally and friend.

One of the greatest Celtic seers, Thomas the Rhymer, who lived in the early 13th century met the Queen of Elfland beneath a hawthorn tree, growing near his home in the Eildon hills in Scotland,  revealing its nature as a marker between the worlds and a tree beloved to the faery queens, preserving its place in our traditional sacred faery lore.

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  • Helena
    Helena says #
    I loved this entry! Thank you for the information about clooties - I did not know the real purpose behind them. From now on, I wil

Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs
The Nature of Blessing

What does it mean to bless something? To honour your blessings? How can we feel truly blessed?

Most of us only come across the term “blessing” after someone has sneezed, but for me as a Druid it is an integral part of my religion.  Alongside “prayer” however, the word can evoke memories of perhaps anti-pagan establishment.  If we can set aside these connotations and simply see the word for what it is, we can fill our lives with a wonder and enchantment, or perhaps re-enchantment that can otherwise escape us in today’s modern, secularised world.

So what is a blessing? A blessing is when we awaken, when we fully come to the here and now and see the wonder of life. It is to be absolutely awake and aware of who we are, where we are, and how we work in the flows, rhythms and cycles of life. It is being aware of the gods and ancestors, of how each part is played.  When we have awoken to this reality, life may flow easier, we may move through our days with more grace and compassion.

Being aware of our many blessings goes hand in hand with gratitude. If we give thanks for the blessing of lengthening sunlight, we awaken ourselves to the solar cycle of spring and the light half of the year. The sun gives freely of her gift, and this gift is a true blessing. When we give freely, when we are true to our selves and working for the greater good of the world, we too are blessing the world.  The rain that brings the flowers is a blessing. The person who helped us out of a dark place is a blessing.  A piece of music that sings to our soul is a blessing.

Being aware of these blessings takes us outside of ourselves, allowing room for a greater perspective that our narrow perception of the world can override. We have to shut off the internal monologue to be able to be aware of a blessing, to give and receive blessings with an open heart.

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Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs
When is Samhain?

All Hallows Eve falls on the 31st of October – the night before All Hallows Day, also known as All Saints Day. It’s part of the Catholic calendar. All Hallows Eve is also, in this tradition, known as All Souls Night – a time for remembering the less saintly-dead. It’s this tradition that Mexican day of the dead festivities, and pumpkin lanterns would seem to belong to.

We know that Samhain was the end of the Celtic summer. However, as with all ancient festivals, the issue of dates is a tad compromised by the problems of calendars. In 1582, the Gregorian calendar came in, adjusting the previous Julian calendar and fine tuning when leap years happen. The reason for this is that the date of Easter is calculated (because the only reference to it is the Jewish lunar calendar) in relation to the spring equinox, so calendar drift was causing the Church some headaches.

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  • HighburyPaul
    HighburyPaul says #
    Using leaf fall is slightly vague though. Leaves fall in temperate climates for over a period of 2-3 months (different species loo
  • Maria OToole
    Maria OToole says #
    And then there's the Southern Hemisphere...our Samhain is their springtime...
  • Maria OToole
    Maria OToole says #
    Oct. 31 for me marks the beginning of the 3rd harvest in an agricultural calendar: Lammas for grain, Mabon for the late fruit like
  • Arranell
    Arranell says #
    I was just thinking about exactly this the other day. I woke wondering if anyone else thinks we might be celebrating Samhain when
  • warren rake
    warren rake says #
    It is my understanding that the cross quarter days are the midway point between the solstice and the equinox, or vice versa... The

Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs
Avalon Midsummer potions ....

Midsummer runs riot all over this land, the winter lakes have long gone, giving rise to verdant fields and hedgerows, swathed with elderflower, cow parsley and meadowsweet like white foam. Comfrey flowers blush purple in the shadows. Glastonbury Tor truly becomes the Glass Castle of British myth at this time, entrance to the land of Faery. On Midsummer Eve, as the dusk gathers, the hill comes alive, pilgrims climb the summit to drum the sun down, somewhere in the woods that sprawl around its base, a fire is lit in vigil, as it has always been at this time. A new generation take over the duty every so often, each person called to the task by something inside them, a compulsion, a call from the hill itself. All who come to sit by its flames bring wood to burn, drink to share, a tale to tell… This night, and all through the season, the veils between the worlds are thin, or thinner still. This land of water and mist is only ever half a human place, the Summer Land – the county of Somerset- rises above the lakes when summer is at its height, to sink beneath the waters again when autumn comes. But for now Jack in the Green, Jack Stag as he is known here, is having his day…   

I make my way along the labyrinthine tracks, climbing along the hill's steep sides singing old songs to the spirits as I gather elderflower (Sambucus Nigra) for cordial and medicine. Blossoms fall like tiny stars as I reach precariously over brambles and nettles, I wind a strand of my hair over the branches in thanks for their gift. The apples nearby are swelling and green, not ripe for a few months yet. The promise of harvest can be seen on the horizon, but for now, for me, it is the time of the elder tree. Sleeping beneath an elder was said to lead someone into Faery never to return, and sitting below the tree at dusk on Midsummer's eve grants a vision of the faerie hosts. Here at this liminal time, as the wheel turns, on this Sacred Isle the realms of the Sidhe, of Faery, are close at hand. All who wander here step on to their Green Road, if only for a while.   

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
A Springtime Ceilidh

St. Patty's Day can be an odd time of year for we Irish Wiccans and Pagans. On the one hand, the attraction of all things Irish is strong. First there's that stirring fiddle music and the rumble of the drum. The food is mighty tasty, folks are feeling celebratory, and who doesn't like the color of bright, springy green? On the other, who wants to revere a man for driving the "snakes" out of Ireland, a.k.a. the Druids? There is still a spirited scholarly debate regarding how much damage St. Patrick actually did on his own versus the mythic qualities that surround him to this present day. This presents a quandary, but not one insurmountable. I believe that you can partake in festivities in your own way, honoring your Irish heritage. Perhaps this year is one of the most opportune times, when we have the Irish holiday falling within the same week as the Spring Equinox. If you do up a dinner party combining the two, with a focus on some of the more classic Celtic traditions– problem solved!

Take down your favorite celtic knotwork wall hanging and use it as a tablecloth. Hopefully it is nothing you mind cleaning a little spilled food or drink off of. Decorate the table with fresh cut spring flowers, such as daffodils. Invite about 4 to 6 others to join you and pull up a chair. For your menu, think Celtic-eclectic. This is your very own hybrid holiday, after-all.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

As the sun set on February 1st, Pagans everywhere began their preparations to celebrate Imbolc. This is an Irish word meaning “in the belly”, because lambs would be developing “in the belly” of the ewes (female sheep) at this time, waiting to be born in the spring. It is a fire feast because now we can truly see that the sun is growing stronger in the winter skies, and the days are getting longer.

But February 1st through 2nd (note: Irish pagans see the day as starting at dust the prior evening) is also sacred to the Celtic goddess known as Brigid or Bride. (The Celts were the tribes of people who eventually became the Welsh, Manx, Cornish, Scots, Irish, and people of Brittany). Her name means “Exalted (mighty) One”, as well as “Bright Arrow”. She is often seen as 3 goddesses in one, known as a “triple goddess”, because she had mastery over three things: fire and smith-craft, hearth and home, and poetry – which was thought of as magical, and born from the “fire” of inspiration. She is a goddess of fire, but also of water.

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