Ephemera: The Celtic Month Of The Vine & The Swan Story

160831 muin 2016 EPHEMERA

The new month is almost upon us. Leaving the month of the Hazel (tree) behind us, we start the new Celtic month of the Vine* (known as Muin to ancient and latter-day Celts, Druids etc) on 2nd September. The Celtic calendar being named after trees and the like that they would have seen growing around them.

Seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
close bosom-friend of the maturing sun,
conspiring with him now to load and bless
with fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run…

(John Keats)

The month of the vine, and romantics amongst you may know, is the month is associated with happiness and wrath. The sceptics may wonder whether this has something to do with the fact that the vine harvest would occur this month, and wine may indeed be the bringer of happiness, but also of wrath, when imbibed to excess.

Nevertheless, wine, as well as having a social aspect, was and still is used in ritual to bring us closer to all that is Holy, and usher us into sacred time of communion.

Now, swans are seen as a symbol of love and fidelity around the world because of their custom of mating for life, and this month is associated with the swan.

Interestingly, as a matter of history, the swan was sacred to the Druids. They saw it as representing the soul. In ancient Ireland, the bards, for instance, would wear a special ceremonial cloak called a tuigen, which was made of songbird feathers, but the cowl would consist of the skin and feathers of a swan.

The Celts also loved their stories. Here’s an ancient Gaelic/Celtic story – it is fictitious – but it’s a lovely story about love and swans, is relevant to the start of the new Celtic month, and is full of meaning:

Aengus had fallen in love with a young woman he had seen, seen in his dreams. Each night he would close his eyes, fall into a deep sleep, and dream only of her.

It took him three years of searching the length and breadth of the land before the young woman of his dreams was found by him. Her name was Caer Ibormeith. Every second year, she and over a hundred other young women, we chained in pairs, and were transformed into swans for a year.

Aengus was madly in love with her, and was told he could indeed marry the young lady of his dreams, but only if he could identify her in her swan form. Aengus looked at all the young women who were now swans, but to him, they all looked the same.

Inspiration came to him. He immediately turned himself into a swan, and recognised her at once. Much in love, they flew away together, singing beautiful music that put all listeners asleep for three days and nights.

I find that story quite charming, and appropriate for this month. Swans. Love. Two souls, finally, in a bond of togetherness, forever.

The month of the vine is also the time of the autumn equinox [literally ‘equal night’ and day], when light and darkness are in perfect balance.

Try to remember the kind of September,
when life was slow and oh so mellow.
Try to remember the kind of September,
when grass was green and grain so yellow.
Try to remember the kind of September,
when you were young and a callow fellow.
Try to remember and if you remember, then follow, follow…

(Lyrics by Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt

This month then is, or can be, a time of reflection for each of us, when we look back at the ‘light’ and dark’ in our life (however we define those words); at what has occurred in our life, in say, the last year, that has been positive and what, seemingly, has been negative; and a time of deep contemplation as to what action we (still) need to take to produce ‘fruit’ in our lives.

Something to do: On or near the start of the new month, maybe with a glass of wine (or soft drink, fruit juice) to hand to sip, take some time one evening to reflect on the last year or so. Make a list if you wish of what has been accomplished (and so, are grateful for), and what still needs to be done this year (and that list can form part of your ‘to do’ list).

This month is about reflection and balance.


Note: * based on the Beth-Luis-Nion version of the Druid/Celtic calendar.

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