Thoughts About Gŵyl Awst, Or Harvest: Celtic Thoughts

20170728 THOUGHTS ABOUT GWYL AWST OR HARVESTYes, Lammas or Lammas-tide, or harvest as many churches know is almost upon us. I love this time of the year. Hard work for the farmers and rural farmhands, but their tireless labour is appreciated by us all.

Usually celebrated during the very first few days of August, you might want to consider celebrating it on the first day of August, or the following weekend, but I’d also suggest you might like to celebrate it at the time of the upcoming full moon (on the evening of 7 August).

It is, nevertheless, a time to be thankful for the earth’s bounty, and grateful to the Great Provider Of All for the last year.

We plough the fields, and scatter the good seed on the land, but it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand…

(Hymn by Matthias Claudius, Translated by Jane Montgomery Campbell, and one of my favourite, seasonal, hymns at primary school.)

It is called the first harvest, because there is a second harvest at the time of the Autumn Equinox. Others will also know this time as Lughnasadh [(the ‘commemoration of Lugh’), but I like to call it by its old Welsh name Gŵyl Awst.

Lammas, for the inquisitive amongst you, by the way, comes from the Anglo-Saxon festival of hlaefmass – loaf, and so it’s good to celebrate the time with a loaf of bread – home-baked or perhaps, something special bought from a local shop. Maybe eat this special bread after your main meal one evening, with lashings of butter on it, and eat slowly, savouring eat bite as an act of deep meditation, deep reverence and with deep thanks-giving. Rituals don’t have to be lavish and complicated. Simple ones, with intentionality goes a long way. Why not invite family and friends along?

So, my grandmother, a great one for making home-made food would, especially at this time, make bara brith – Welsh for ‘speckled bread’. It’s similar to the Irish loaf, barmbrack.

Oh, this was my favourite type of bread as a child. A cross between bread and cake! The smell of baking bread over the hearth in her north Wales county cottage was heavenly, so inviting, and so impedingly-scrumptious. I can still remember the smell of that baked bread wafting up my nostrils, and my stomach rumbling in anticipation.

As a child, I knew I was in for a treat. There was, and is, nothing quite like freshly-baked bread, still piping-hot, and covered in lashings and lashings of real butter.

In Ireland, some of the mountain pilgrimages have survived. By far the most popular is the Reek Sunday pilgrimage at Croagh Patrick, which attracts tens of thousands of pilgrims each year. The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland established the custom of blessing fields at Lughnasadh.This time then, is a time of giving thanks by all to mother nature for all her fruits, gratitude to the the Lord of the Harvest, and a celebration using what has been sown.

And so, this Lammastide, as it has been since I was a child, I’ll be baking several bara brith, and sharing one – yes, the breaking of bread with family and friends – in a simple, ‘after meal’ remembrance ‘feast’, remembering all the good things that have happened this year, and giving thanks, in silence and humility, to the Source of All for the harvest, for life itself.

There’ll be more about the harvest and harvest celebration on Monday, but meanwhile don’t forget the harvest hymn, that you may want to sing, recite as poem or liturgy – see here for the Hymn For Gŵyl Awst.

 

Hymn For Alban Hefin [Summer Solstice 2017]

20170621 ALBAN HEFIN 1111The Summer Solstice, known to the Druids of old in the Welsh language as ‘Alban Hefin’ (which means ‘the light of the shore’) is almost upon us.

And to celebrate Alban Hefin, this Wednesday, 21 June 2017 at 5.24pm (UK time), I’ve written a poem, and have set it to music –  using a well-known and (personally) much-loved, delightful old Gaelic tune called ‘She moved through the fair’ – and so as well as a poem, it’s also a hymn for Celtic Christians, Druidic-Christians, Druids and others who might like to use it at the upcoming wonderful event of Alban Hefin.

The words are below, and so, at this stage it’s a poem or liturgy. But, I might find a way and be ‘brave’ enough to record it and sing it ready for tomorrow’s post. Meanwhile, the tune (though the unknown-to-me musician/singer breaks into singing at one point – singing the original song – can be found at here to give you an idea of the tune. )

So, happy Alban Hefin to you and yours, and here is ‘A Hymn For Alban Hefin 2017’

Great Light above.
All hail the sun
from whom all life proceeds,
Oh Glorious One.
Unending, unbroken
you traverse the sky.
Turning night to day.
With joy we cry.

Unresting, unheeding
in beauty you shine.
Full of health and vigour
poured out like new wine.
For all humankind
your riches bestow
from heaven above
to the Earth below.

All life you create
in the circle of love.
And we celebrate
your end-less gifts.
Laud and honour
for-ever be,
to you Bless-ed One,
For-ever Three.

Great Light above.
All hail the sun
from whom all life proceeds,
Oh Glorious One.
Unending, unbroken
you traverse the sky.
Turning night to day.
With joy we cry.

Tune: She moved through the fair
Words inspired by: Light’s Abode, Celestial Salem, attributed to Thomas á Kempis

Cosmic Fire [Within]: A Poem & Liturgy For Beltane.

20170425 COSMIC FIRE WITHIN POEMBeltane, celebrated on 1 May, is fast approaching.

The wheel turns, as the Earth continues to circle the sun. As it turns, and east is represented by the element of the wind (and we’re moving away from that), then due south is represented by fire, and we’re moving toward that.

Due south, the time of the summer solstice is the height of that season and element, so Beltane is south-east. Not quite east, not quite south. It’s a ‘moving into’ time’, as we move south-ward. In Wales and Ireland, and other Celtic countries Beltane is the beginning of summer, or at least the summer season represented by fire (even if, weather-wise, it doesn’t quite feel that way), and so many – perhaps yourself – will light candles and bonfires to welcome the wonderful event of Beltane, and usher in a new season.

Beltane is the time for dancing around maypoles (a popular event at primary school, but maybe not so now). It is the season of maturing life and deep found love, and the time of making vows, handfastings and other commitments. In Wales, Beltane is also known as Calan Mai. I’m afraid those words, themselves, don’t have a deep meaning, and they just mean the first day of May. However, the event itself is very significant and is a wonderful time of celebration.

My encouragement to you, then, is the celebrate the event in large ways or small, but to celebrate it is some significant way (that is unique to you).

With Beltane and fire in mind, here’s a poem, a Beltane liturgy that may be of use. It will form part of my Beltane celebrations.

Cosmic Fire [Within]

Before time itself,
when matter was but a dream in the Divine mind,
in the cosmic explosive crucible
of the furthest reaches of space,
fire roared.

Before life was formed,
when cosmic radiation coalesced
into a myriad of starry forms,
as the universe expanded,
fire grew.

Before humanity arose,
when the universe was oh-so-young and innocent,
the Source of All
planned that you should be here, and
fire moved.

Before this present time,
before you even knew that you are ‘you’,
energy was planted in all the elements.
Visible only to those who have eyes to see.
Fire hid.

From the very start,
it was ordained, that one place for the element of fire
to reside, to enliven and to empower,
was deep in the very core of humanity’s being, in your
heart.

Praise be to you Brother Sun, Sister fire.
Visible and invisible are you.
Felt and yet unknown.
Through you we can shine like a myriad stars in the sky.
A return to the beginning.

 

Haiku #7: Vernal Equinox[ology]: Ephemera

20170320 vernal equinoxolgy EPHEMERAAs you may know, I’m fascinated by the traditional haiku – short Japanese poems consisting of three lines; and the lines containing firstly five syllables, then seven, then five; and somewhere in the haiku there is usually a seasonal reference (called a ‘kigo’), however oblique.

It’s the Spring equinox today, and time to celebrate the time of equal day lengths and equal night. I also love liturgy and ritual, and so have penned three haiku to celebrate today and to use this evening as liturgy in part of my ritual for the ocassion.

And, so, here’s some words, in the form of haiku, to mark the season, the turning of the Circle, and in praise to the One behind it all.

Equal nights for owls,
And days for soaring eagles.
Vernal equinox.

Ascendant light, now.
The night but bows for six months.
Perfect harmony.

Celebrate, candle!
Mark the Circle’s turning, well.
Oh, Veriditas!

You might have your own unique way of celebrating this time, but if you want to use (and adapt) any, or all, of the haiku above, please do so. But, however, complex or simple your ritual and liturgy is, my encouragement is to do something today (or even tomorrow) to celebrate this wonderful day – so light a candle, meditate, plant a seed (or, perhaps donate a small amount of money to a tree-planting charity), or pause in gratitude as the Circle turns. Praise be to the Circle-Turner.

 

Liturgy For Alban Eilir, The Spring Equinox [Monday, 20 March 2017]

20170316 litrugy for alban eilir EPHEMERAIt’s now only a short time until the Spring equinox happens, 20 March – that time when day and night are of equal length, and thereafter we move slowly toward summer when the sun climbs higher and days lengthen even more. In Wales Spring Equinox is a ‘magical’ time, and is known as Alban Eiler, which means, quite aptly, ‘the light of the earth’.

To celebrate this wonderful event, here’s some words that you might consider using and/or adapting as a Liturgy For Alban Eiler, for your own celebration

Earth Blessing:

(Facing east)
Blessed be the One who crosses boundaries,
who is evident in the lengthening day,
in the turning of the Great Circle, and
who is felt in the soft, refreshing Spring wind.

(Facing south)
Blessed be the One who is evident in the colour green,
Viriditas,
who makes plants grow and flower,
and the trees to prepare for blossom, and
who warms the earth as the sun rises higher in the sky.

(facing west)
Blessed by the One who causes nature to stir from her sleep,
who waters the earth, and calls to the deep,
and the deep joyfully replies and springs to life, and
who changes the slow, icy brooks into life-laden babbling streams.

(facing north)
Blessed be the One who speaks to the earth,
and from decay new life immediately appears,
who showers the earth with rain from your storehouse of abundance, and
who blesses the earth, which, in turn, blesses us.

(facing east)
Lord of the elements, ‘Three-Personned’ God, we praise you.

For Personal Renewal

Lord of Springtime, Lord of All,
refresh us and awaken our senses.
Cleanse us inwardly,
and dispel the dust of resistance and old habits,
and fill us with your love and grace,
that the blessings you give us, we can give back to you
in eternal praise.

End Of Day Liturgy

Praise to you, Mother-Labourer of All,
who has birthed all creation and who re-creates.
I/We rest now with you,
Maker and loving Sustainer of all your children, and
I/We ask you to enfold me/us,
and all those on my/our heart/s.
Amen.

The Elements: The Wind Whispers

20170215-the-wind-whipers-poetry-and-liturgySince the celebration of Imbolc or Candlemas, usually the first few days of February, we’ve moved into the season of spring. Sometimes, local weather patterns prevail for a time to give a wintery feel, but rest assured spring is on its way. [Except for my antipodean friends. Sorry].

For ancient Celts, Christian Celts, Druids and those of many other ancient tribes, the cardinal point for spring is the east. So, my recommendation is that, for any ritual or recitation you make to celebrate the season, you face the east – unless you have a fixed custom, of course. For me, at this time, I like to start three compass/cardinal points ‘back’, and so as I work my way through a recitation at each compass point in a clockwise fashion, I end, for this season of spring, by facing the east. East represents spring time.

And the main element of spring is air/wind.

Here’s a poem entitled ‘The Wind Whispers’, about this season of spring and its main element:

– oOo-

I hear your voice on the sound of the wind,
and I hear you call out my name
deep within.

With no companion to my mood
I walk, but know
that in my solitude
I must bow to the wind that buffets me so.

Tonight was the first spring thunder
in the mighty rush of rain.
And the earth, like a child that knows her poems by heart,
declares, yes, that it’s spring once again.

And so I part the thrusting branches
and come  beneath
the blesséd and the blessing trees,
that look upward at God all day
and lift their leafy arms to pray.

Beneath a canopy of stars,
of broken branches showing the scars
of many winds and so much strife,
this is life.

Yes, the wind whispers to us all.
Its words carry across the tree tops, and it sings.
And, back comes the wind full strength with a body-blow
dandelion-pixabay-smalllike that of angel-wings.

Praise be to you my dear Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and now serene,
I hear your voice…and I hear you call out my name,
welcoming me, and those of my kin.

-oOo-

This is a ‘found poem. That is, a new poem fashioned from, and/or based upon the thoughts and words of others that have gone before. In this case, this poem written by me, was prompted by some great words penned by:  Rudyard Kipling, Sara Teasdale, St Francis of Assisi, Joyce Kilmer, Rainer Maria Rilke, Wendell Berry, and Douglas Malloch.

 

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Ephemera: Imbolc: Liturgy & Ritual: Ideas & Resources

20170127-imbolc3-ephemeraThe circle is turning, and Imbolc is coming ever closer. that time of the ushering in of Spring, a new season, a new start – sometimes called St Brigid’s Day or Candlemas.

Having looked at the meaning of this festival in brief – see here, and having thought about ideas that you might like to do to celebrate Imbolc, St Brigid’s Day or Candlemas in a meal – see here, today (in this third instalment) we look at a few ideas regarding ritual and liturgy (words and deeds) to celebrate this wonderful event, for you to consider. Do adapt this to suit your circumstances, and make this a truly memorable ‘fire festival’.

Words

The following are a few poems or prayers that you might like to use in some form of rite (which can be elaborate, or used at the time of a celebratory meal (with words spoken either before, during or after), or  read them to yourself as you consider the turning of the wheel, and Winter becomes Spring.

O most noble Greenness, rooted in the sun,
shining forth in streaming splendour upon the wheel of Earth.
No earthly sense or being can comprehend you.
You are encircled by the very arms of Divine mysteries.
You are radiant like the red of dawn!
You glow like the incandescence of the sun!

Hildegard von Bingen
English version by Jerry Dybdal and Matthew Fox

And/Or

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil.

Robert Frost (1874–1963).

And/Or

For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;

Song of Solomon 2:11-12  The Book

And/Or

The wilderness and the desert will be glad,
And the Arabah will rejoice and blossom;
Like the crocus
It will blossom profusely
And rejoice with rejoicing and shout of joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
The majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They will see the glory of the Lord,
The majesty of our God.
Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the [c]feeble.
Say to those with anxious heart,
‘Take courage, fear not..’

Isaiah 35:1-4a The Book

And/Or

Praise to you, Oh Caring one,
nurturing, generous and milky kind,
yet defiant as the snowdrop in a cold climate,
feisty, pure and natural
with your white singular unbroken focus,
Maid-Mother to us all,
praise to you.

Tess Ward (Anglican Priest), The Celtic Wheel Of The Year

And/or

A sleeping world emerges to new possibilities,
weakening winter’s icy grip,
and birdsong and bleating lamb
announce to all the promise
that in due season
creation bursts into life.
And whilst leaves that fell in winter
lie upon the ground,
soon to feed the earth
in nature’s wondrous cycle
of death and rebirth,
within the tree is a stirring of new growth
For the cycle of life
Which brings death and rebirth.

Copyright © John Birch, 2016. Used with permission. Click here to go to originating webpage.

And/or

We rejoice in the promise of Spring
For lengthening days
And sunlight’s warmth upon the soil
We rejoice in the promise of Spring
For a snowdrop’s beauty
Reflecting its Creator’s artistry
We rejoice in the promise of Spring
For new born lambs
Their joy and exuberance
We rejoice in the promise of Spring
For all of creation
And the majesty of its Creator
We rejoice in the promise of Spring

Copyright © John Birch, 2016. Used with permission. Click here to go to originating webpage.

Deeds/Action

Imbolc is a great time to start new things, and as hinted above in ancient sacred text, Springtime is not only a good time to reflect, give thanks and look forward in hope, but it’s also a good time to ‘do’ something – for yourself and others. So, here’s a few activities you might like to consider:

Fire: An Imbolc tradition, being a ‘fire festival’ was to light a fire! Fires celebrated not only Brigid, and the returning power of the sun, and in the Christian calendar, Candlemas is the time when when candles were lit for Virgin Mary and/or to signify the Christ-child as the Light of the world. A brazier might be inappropriate now, but why not light a candle (or several throughout the evening celebration, a short time of reciting poems and/or prayers)?

Water: Imbolc was also a time for visiting a spring or a well, to both purify onself and bring fertility to our dreams. Indeed, Well dressing (also once known as well flowering) was regularly practised in rural England. Then, wells, springs or other water sources were decorated with designs created from flower petals. So, why not set out to visit a riiver, stream, or well, nearby? Make it a special occasion.

House Spring Clean: Now is a great time to spring clean your home, usually undertaken before Imbolc Eve. It’s a wonderful time to get rid of anything that is cluttering up your home and stagnating the energy. But, don’t see it as a chore to be completed as quickly as possible. Take your time. This, too, can be a holy acivity!

Trees: Why not plant, or fund the planting of a tree? There is a great need for each of us to be wise stewards of nature, and here’s an opportunity to do something practical. For a web charity link for a tree-planting/forests preservation group in the UK, see here.

Make Brigid’s Cross: This is ideal for those artistically included, and if you can’t find any rushes to ‘weave’ together you can use drinking straws (and it will still mean something deep as it’s the intention that counts). Details of making a Brigid’s Cross is here.

Conclusion

So, there you have – the third and concluding part of the Imbolc 2017 articles. I hope you’ve found this all useful.

Whatever you do, my prayers and thoughts are with you and those whom you love. May you (all) have a happy, deep and blessed Imbolc. Tadhg

 

Ephemera: Imbolc: Celebration Meal Ideas To Mark The Festival

20171016-imbolc2-ephemeraSo, Imbolc, that time of entering into the season of Spring is almost upon us [2 February], and here’s a few ideas to really celebrate that event, that festival in food, whether you’re thinking of entertaining for a few people or celebrating by yourself on that day, especially if you’ve never celebrated Imbolc before in this way.

Which day?
So, choose which time of the day (and I prefer evening), and then which day you’ll be timecelebrating Imbolc. Remember, some using the ancients’ way of reckoning the calendar would understand the start of Imbolc as happening on the evening of 1 February, by our modern view, rather than 2 February. Yes, to the ancients the new day starts in the evening (before). You get to chose.

But, it’s about celebration, so let’s plan to make it a time to enjoy.

Outline
And because it’s a celebration, what follows are a few ideas – not recipes – of things you can incorporate into you main meal of the day (or other meals, as you feel appropriate).

food-bread-1770432_960_720You might like to do the whole meal as an Imbolc celebration, or just one part of it. If in doubt, or if this in the first festival celebration, I’d suggest you plan part of the meal as a celebration. On a number of occasions I’ve had a normal meal, and ‘focused’ on part of the meal (to celebrate the event) and bought a special bread for after the meal. A remembrance of bread being a staple food, the Bread of life?

Also, because we’re all busy people I’ve suggested below, small but significant ways and items that can be shop-bought for convenience sake (though if you have time to bake and make, why not…but you don’t have to do that to celebrate and make the event really meaningful). But, to do that, buy a few special things (even if they cost a few pence more – quantities don’t have to be gargantuan. Just token meaningful foods, ‘treats’, maybe, if the item is really expensive!)

The suggestions below are just that: suggestions. They are ideas to try something different, to experiment with something that you may not usually buy, and may be ‘richer’ in fats etc, but it is a celebration and a time to enjoy the moving into a new season. So, do ‘splash out’ and enjoy yourself, and try the following food ideas (unless, ofcourse, you’ve been otherwise advised (medically) or have an allergy, intolerance etc to the foods suggested. In all things, do follow medical advice and common-sense).

So, that said…let’s prepare to party.

Preparation
Whether it’s a meal for yourself or a few others, too, preparation can be fun, meaningful and easy to accomplish. If you’re not usually into formality or table lay-out I’d suggest having just one or two additional elements.

Candles! I love candles, and though they can be expensive, I’d suggest the simpler the candle, the better. One candle, lit, on a table looks great. Go for ‘minimalist’ if you wish – it can, in many circumstances, make it even more meaningful.

candleBecause the sun would still be low in the sky and light in the evening would be dim, and because early Romans believed candlelight would scare away evil, and because Jesus is the light of the world, candles were specifically used (for all or some of those reasons) at this time – hence in many churches it’s Candlemas. So, candles are quite apt and meaningful.

Later, as you gaze upon that lit candle, remember, the sun rising higher in the sky and Spring returning, new life, a ‘chasing away’ of the dark and light dawning, and ponder on growth, good things, and hope.

flowersNature on display! I really like those displays that contain berries and fir cones etc and they look great as a table display. If, however, you have children who may think they’re edible, then how about a bowl of nuts and fruit (containing strawberries, oranges, apples, bananas etc)?  And, the latter are a great desert. Or, what about a small bunch of inexpensive spring flowers! Both can look great, and act as a great reminder of gratitude to the earth, to nature, to the Source of All behind it.

For this event, celebrate with foods that honour the earth, hearth and home, such as milk products vegetables, bread etc, and these are incorporated in the suggestions below.

Breakfast ideas
Milk: Imbolc is about milk – think of baby ewes being born and their mother’s milk flowing to nurture them. It’s a time of fertility, new life. So, why not something different, milk-wise to pour over your breakfast cereal?

milkYou might like to try full-fat milk instead of skimmed or semi-skimmed milk if one of the latter two are your normal diet. I know this seems like awful and unhealthy advice – but it’s a treat to celebrate the festival, and only for one day. I confess, for that day I intend to indulge (and for one day only I’ll be buying a bottle of Jersey milk. Great for coffee!). But, to encourage healthy eating you might like, instead, to try organic or lactose-free milk for the day? Whatever you do, make it special to you, try something different and really enjoy it.

How about yoghurt?
Fruit with cereal?
Fairtrade coffee?

How about free-range or ‘happy’ eggs for an omelette? Maybe, even a cheese omelette. It’s a great way to start the day.

Main meal ideas
For starters to a main meal you could have a vegetable soup to celebrate the event – to remember the simple, natural things in life – something cheese-based, or combine the two with cheese soup! Sainsbury’s stock some really nice soups, such as:

  • Spring vegetable soup,
  • Broccoli & Stilton soup,
  • Mediterranean Vegetable & Balsamic soup,
  • Tomato and Basil soup,
  • Tomato, Lentil & Red Pepper soup (my favourite) and others.

food-fishFor the main meal, this again, is personal choice. I’m not a vegetarian, but my special meal at this current time, and one that I’ll use as a main meal for this event is fish. I love lemon sole, and especially if that includes sweet potato ‘chips’ (or ‘fries’ to some, though these are even-cooked), onion rings, and lashings of mixed vegetables (to include peas, haricot-vert beans, broccoli, spring onions, and sweetcorn). And, maybe, a creamy white (cheesy?) sauce for the fish?

And For Desert/Sweet ideas
Also, for after the meal, why not put some cheeses out with those cracker-type dry biscuits, and some real butter? Okay, maybe some might go for some kind of lighter spread as we’re all cholesterol conscious, but enjoy it. You might like to try a few cheeses, such as:

  • cheddar
  • goats cheese
  • emmental
  • French brie
  • Roquefort
  • Camembert
  • Stinking Bishop (is a favourite, and recommended to try if you’re in the UK)
  • Caerphilly cheese (Last, but by no means least. Caerphilly cheese is a hard, crumbly white cheese that originated in the area around Caerphilly in Wales. I’m biased, I know, but I’ll be buying this.)

cheeseBread is also another great, traditional food to include in your Imbolc meal.. Use it with your sandwiches for lunch, maybe? It can be used in the main meal, throughout the meal, but I like to use it, especially at an event such as this, after the main meal (and with that cheese, later).

And then bread takes on an almost magical existence. For just a few minutes the bread is cut, a little butter or spread is added, each person takes a little, and all eat together. Communion? Eucharist. It ‘works’ even if you do this by yourself – as somewhere in the world others are doing the same and are ‘connected’ with you  in that act of ritual and reverence!

As you eat it by yourself or with others, it’s a great way of remembering the bounty of the earth, all those that have been involved in bringing it to your table, and ofcourse it’s a great time of expressing gratitude to the Giver of All. Take time to ponder.

But what type of bread? Because  time seems to run by so quickly, I usually buy some shop-bought bread, but I always seek out something rather special at times like this. I’d suggest:

  • wholemeal, organic bread
  • Irish soda bread
  • traditional Welsh bread, bara brith, or Irish barmbrack bread, and the latter is also sold in Sainsbury (both are favourites of mine, and have the consistency almost of a fruit cake which you can spread it with butter – especially warm butter, so it can rightly be regarded  as a desert, too!).

Finally
Throughout the meal, maybe between courses, or at the beginning and at the end, it’s good to pause, to give thanks, and look forward to the Spring, the season of growth and new opportunities in nature, and in our lives!

Some may like to recite a poem or prayer at certain times, and more about those ideas will be covered in tomorrows article on: ‘Your Powerful Imbolc Ritual & Liturgy: Ideas & Resources’.

So, plan a great event, enjoy it, and take your time. We all rush around far too much, and here’s an opportunity to slow down and appreciate the simple, natural things in life as we yet again mark the season’s change, and give thanks.

loveBut, do remember, the abovementioned are only ideas, and even if you cannot afford anything but the simplest of meals without the trimming of candles etc, the Source of All will not be overawed by your food or table display, won’t be looking to mark your efforts out of ten, but will be gazing at you with unbounded love! You matter. So, enjoy Imbolc.

 

 

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Ephemera: Imbolc, Candlemas, St Brigit’s Day: In Brief [1/3]

20170125-imbolc1-ephemeraThe circle is turning, and Imbolc is coming ever closer.

The Winter solstice, when the sun was at its lowest point denoting mid-winter is behind us.  The  Spring equinox, that is mid-spring is still some weeks ahead of us and  denotes the ‘height’ of that season. But, in between is Imbolc, a moving into the season of Spring, and metaphorically, a knocking on Spring’s door and walking through it, and waving goodbye to Winter. It’s the start of something new!

‘It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.’ Rainer Maria Rilke

What follows, today, is an outline of the meaning of Imbolc; followed by an article imbolc1tomorrow highlighting some great ideas for a meal (for yourself and/or friends and family) to celebrate the event, followed by another article day latter of some suggested Imbolc liturgy and ritual for you to try/

Yes, it’s time to celebrate in all kinds of ways!

Event: Imbolc
Date: 2 February
Thought: ‘It’s the start of spring. Let’s celebrate’
Incense: Rosemary, Frankincense, Myrrh, Cinnamon
Decorations: Corn Dolly, Besom, Spring Flowers
Colours: White, Orange, Red

Imbolc then, is halfway between the Winter Solstice and Spring equinox, and is the first of this year’s in-between or Celtic ‘quarter-cross’ days.

Imbolc, or Candlemas, or Brigid’s Day as it is sometimes called takes place on (or about) 2 February. The date can vary, and the ancients’ way of reckoning would mean their new days would start the evening before from our viewpoint: so some, now, may be celebrating this Imbolc on the evening of 1 February, whilst others may choose the evening of 2 February. You get to choose.

Pronunciations vary for the word Imbolc, but the ones I prefer are ‘ih-mulk’ or ‘ee-mulk’ [with the stress on the second syllable], related to Oimelc and which means ‘ewe’s milk’ in Scottish Gaelic, and which is pertinent to this time of year

Imbolc

Imbolc was an important ‘fire festival’ to ancient Celts and Druids, and still is to latter-day ones, too.  Those ancients celebrated Brigantia at this time, and she is linked to fertility, childbirth and milking – hence the association of Imbolc to milk or ewes milk, a sign that spring was on its way.

‘You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep the Spring from coming.’ Pablo Neruda

During that ancient Imbolc ritual it was customary to pour milk (or cream), a libation, onto the earth. This was done in thanksgiving, as an offering of nurturing, and to assist in the return of fertility and generosity of the earth to its people, and the return of Spring.

Imbolc was traditionally a time of weather divination, and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came out from their winter dens may, it is said by some, be a forerunner of the North American idea of Groundhog Day.

For instance, some believed that if Imbolc was bright and sunny, this was because the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA (pronounced  “kah-luhkh”) – the Divine Hag – had ‘engineered’ good weather so she could gather plenty of fire-wood, and so they would know winter would last longer. A bad weather day meant that the Cailleach wasn’t out and about looking for winter fuel and had stayed home, snoozing, and so winter would be almost over. Naturally, every one wanted the foulest of weather for Imbolc.

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter will not come again.

Candlemas

Many churches celebrate the ritual purification of Mary and/or the presentation of theimbolc2 Christ-child at the Temple, at this time. Because the sun would still be low in the sky and light in the evening would be dim, and because early Romans believed candlelight would scare away evil, and because Jesus is the light of the world, candles were specifically used (for all or some of those reasons) at this time – hence Candlemas. A wonderful time of thanks, a great time of remembrance and hope, and an opportunity to look forward.

St Brigid

The Church quickly associated this time with Saint Brigid, and noticed that that saint had many similarities with Brigantia. On the evening before Imbolc many people would have had a special meal (and, a meal was aside a meal for Brigid), especially as it was that night that Brigid, unseen, was said to visit  households and bless the residents therein.

Brigid (usually pronounced by some as ‘breed’) is the traditional patroness of healing, poetry and smith craft, which are all centred on practical and inspired wisdom.

And, many people, especially in Ireland would recognise the beautiful little crosses madeimbolc-3-220px-saint_brigids_cross from reeds which are called Saint Brigid’s Crosses and are thought to protect the homes for a year if they are hung over the doors.

In the Northern Ireland a family member, representing Brigid, would circle the house three times carrying  a corn-dolly, a doll-like figure known as a Brídeóg (also called a ‘Breedhoge’ or ‘Biddy) made of rushes and clad in bits of cloth, shells and/or flowers. They would then they would knock three times on the door asking to be admitted. Ofcourse, they would be allowed in, and would devour the special meal set aside for Brigid, thus conferring a blessing on all in the house.

Brigit, ever excellent woman,
golden sparkling flame,
lead us to the eternal Kingdom,
the dazzling resplendent sun.

St Brigid is one of my favourite saints. As well as being a very noble lady, she was eminently practical. She worked in a leper colony which found itself without anything for its residents to drink. When the lepers, whom she nursed, were thirsty, they implored her for beer, but there was none to be had. She immediately prayed and changed the water, which was used for the bath, into a most  excellent beer. She is also is said to have changed her dirty bathwater into beer so that visiting clerics would have something to drink. An interesting story, don’t you think? And, probably just the kind of person I’d like to invite to my next party!

Conclusion

So, Imbolc is a season of change, and it’s here where the first signs of spring and the ‘return’ of the sun are celebrated. It is the start of a new beginning, a season of fertility and growth, a time of planning new things in your home, at work, in your life. It’s an opportunity given by the Source of All, God, the Universe to start something new, a time to be bold, a time to grow. It’s time to celebrate. How will you celebrate it?

There’s more!

Tomorrow they’ll be an Imbolc article on how to celebrate the event with food: ‘Your Special Imbolc Meal’, and the following day an article on: ‘Your Powerful Imbolc Ritual & Liturgy: Ideas & Resources’.

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Ephemera: The Celtic Month Of The Rowan Tree [21 January – 17 February]

20170120-rowan-tree-month-ephemera-222Today is the last day of the Birch tree month, and tomorrow, Saturday, 21 January 2017  is the first day of the Celtic month of the Rowan tree.

So, here’s some information about the tree, the month, folklore, and some encouragement to do something to celebrate the new month, the month of the Rowan tree.

Name: The name ‘Rowan’ tree is recorded from 1804, and before that it was known as the ‘rountree’, though going further back it is derived from the old Germanic verb ‘raud-inan’, meaning ‘to redden’, in reference to the trees wonderfully red berries.In Old English the tree was known as the cwic-beám, and some, maybe a very few, still refer to the tree as the quicken, or the quicken-tree.

Oh! Rowan Tree Oh! Rowan Tree!
Thou’lt aye be dear to me,
Entwined thou art wi mony ties,
O’ hame and infancy.
Thy leaves were aye the first o’ spring,
Thy flow’rs the simmer’s pride;
There was nae sic a bonny tree
In a’ the countryside.Oh! Rowan Tree.

Part of a traditional Scottish poem/song, by Carolina Oliphant. She was descended from Clan Oliphant, an old family which had settled in Perthshire in the 12th century.

rowan-tree-wiki-common-licence-800px-rowan_tree_20081002bAbout the tree: Rowan trees occur widely throughout Europe, in western Asia in Russia and the Caucasus region, in north Africa in the mountains of Morocco, and in north America (where they may be called the Mountain Ash).

They are fast-growing trees, a short-lived pioneer tree in the rose family, Rosaceae. They reach a maximum height of about 10-15 metres. The flowers blossom after the leaves have appeared, usually around May or early June. They’re  creamy-white in colour. Individual flowers have a diameter of about 1 cm, and they grow in dense clusters or corymbs, each containing up to 250 flowers, and measuring 8-15 cm. across. The strong, sweet scent attracts pollinating insects, including many species of flies, bees and beetles.

The Rowan tree is a tough tree. It is a strong wood that has been used to make spinning wheels, spindles and walking sticks over the years.

rowan-druidess-alexandre_cabanel_004Celts & Druid views: Held by many of the ancients, Celts and Druids to be sacred, the Rowan tree was often planted in or near places of worship, and so you may find them (still) growing close to stone circles, groves, or where ley lines cross, or near houses.

Imbolc, the festival associated with the Goddess Brigid and known by some as Candlemas falls within the Rowan Tree month (in about ten days time), and is another time for celebration.

Rowan was the prescribed wood on which runes were, and still are, inscribed to make rune staves.

Folklore: The Rowan tree is said to be one of the most protective of all trees, and is first and foremost a protection against negative influences. The Rowan has protected homes for centuries, and many today are delighted to see a Rowan tree (or several) growing nearby houses.

According to folklore, the dragon is the Rowan tree guardian. It appears frequently in Celtic myth often depicted as a snake-like creature or a worm. When the dragon swallows its own tale it symbolizes immortality, which is another attribute of the Rowan tree feature.

The Rowan is yet another tree sacred to Brigid of the Tuatha Dé Danann, patron of crafts and spinning.

rowan-tree-wiki-common-licence-rowanberries_in_late_august_2004_in_helsinkiGreek mythology tells us  how Hebe, the goddess of youth, dispensed rejuvenating ambrosia to the gods from her magical chalice. When, through carelessness, she lost this cup, the gods sent an eagle to recover it. The feathers and drops of blood which the eagle shed in the  fight with the demons, who had the cup, fell to earth, where each of them turned into a Rowan tree. Hence the Rowan trees leaves took on the shape from the eagle’s feathers, and the appearance of its berries from the droplets of blood.

In Norse mythology it is regarded as the tree from which the first woman was made, (the first man being made from the Ash tree). It was also said to have saved the life of Thor by bending over a fast-flowing river in the Underworld which was sweeping him away, and helped him back to the shore.

Celebration: The way in which some celebrate, in ritual, the beginning of each Celtic month is many and varied. Whichever way you celebrate, I would encourage you (particularly if you’ve never set out to celebrate the new months) to, at least:

  • make yourself a drink to sip and enjoy (wine, coffee, hot chocolate, water etc) to get into the mood of peace and calm, and to make this a good, comfortable and blessed time, and
  • with your eyes closed, let your thoughts quieten, and meditate deeply on giving thanks for the month that has ended (and maybe list, mentally, some of the good things), and to think ahead to the new month (and maybe, think (but, don’t worry) about some of the challenges ahead and where energy will be needed – it’s okay to ‘drift’ in and out of meditation, here, and
  • because the Rowan tree is the tree for protection and positive energy, do something relevant, maybe lighting a candle, seeing its energy displayed as light, and imagine/prayer/send protective energy to where it is needed (in your life, in the life of your family or friends, or anywhere in the world or cosmos, and
  • when you come to the end of this time, extinguish the candle, but take a few minutes to contemplate the new month in a positive way.

Happy Rowan tree month to you and yours, Tadhg.

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