Winter Solstice 2007

What does a druid do on the winter solstice? That depends on the druid.

ire7If you’re a Reconstructionist, you don’t do much. There isn’t a whole lot of evidence that the ancient druids did anything to celebrate the two solstices and equinoxes; their high holy days were the four cross-quarter holidays (Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain). The solstices and equinoxes aren’t even marked in the Coligny calendar, for example, while there is evidence there for Samhain, Lughnasadh, and Beltane.

If you’re a Revivalist, you celebrate Alban Arthuan, the festival to honor King Arthur and the return of the light. Druids commonly gather in a sacred space and watch for the sun to rise, greeting it with the powerful “Awen” chant, and honoring it with ceremony. However, the Revivalists are not dogmatic, and traditions vary widely among them.

I have called myself Reconstructionist on this site several times, but honestly I’m not quite sure about that.

I think it’s vital to separate what is really known about the druids from the traditions that have grown up about them in the past three hundred years — the wishful thinking, the projection of modern values back onto them, and the modern invented deities and festivals. But I absolutely believe that these newer traditions can be just as powerful as the ancient ones, and in my own experience, it’s been valuable to draw inspiration from both sources, as well as directly from my own connection with Spirit.

So I can see both points of view. My wife says that makes me a Revivalist…

Anyway, if you’re the Lilly family druids, you get up before dawn (which is not hard when the sun comes up at 7:14), and go play in a foot of snow while you wait for sunrise. Last year it was uncommonly warm, but utterly cloudless; this year was very cold, but completely overcast. When the time came, we had to take it on faith that the sun had come up — it was totally hidden by thick clouds. Somehow, though, the birds knew: they had been silent up till then, but suddenly on cue they lauched a battery of song at the skies.

So naturally we sang as well — “Here Comes the Sun”, “Mr. Sun”, and the perennial favorite, “Why Does the Sun Shine? (The Sun is a Mass of Incandescent Gas)“. The birds listened politely. Then we hung pine cones rolled in peanut butter and birdseed from the apple tree and put more birdseed in the feeder, and went in to have our own breakfast.

Our traditional breakfast is sausage biscuits. This ancient tradition dates from long ago when Daddy was a young boy, and his mother used to make them for him. Then we opened presents — Santa naturally comes to our house on the solstice — and had a jolly time.

Recently we’ve been avoiding electric lights when the sun goes down. Instead, we light candles throughout the house, and we really love it. For the children (and for us too, honestly), this makes dusk a magical time; the darkness closes around you, and each light in the house is a tiny flickering window into mystery. The children can’t dash around the house and go crazy the way they can when the house is flooded with electric light. They gather around the candles and look at books, and while my wife makes dinner I read wonder tales to them. Somewhere we have a book of Celtic wonder stories, and I would dearly love to have read to them from it, but it’s still boxed up from our move; so I read Yule stories to them from Starhawk’s Circle Round, and stories of world creation from a fantastic collection of native american indian tales; and when the Solstice actually came I switched over to the D’Aulaire’s Norse myths, which they have absolutely adored.

When Ymir lived long ago
Was no sand or sea, no surging waves.
Nowhere was there earth nor heaven above.
Bur a grinning gap and grass nowhere.

The sons of Bur then built up the lands.
Moulded in magnificence middle-Earth:
Sun stared from the south on the stones of their hall,
From the ground there sprouted green leeks.

Sun turned from the south, sister of Moon,
Her right arm rested on the rim of Heaven;
She had no inkling where her hall was,
Nor Moon a notion of what might he had,
The planets knew not where their places were.

The high gods gathered in council
In their hall of judgment. all the rulers:
To Night and to Nightfall their names gave,
The Morning they named and the Mid-Day,
Mid-Winter, Mid-Summer, for the assigning of years.


Voluspa, trans. Auden & Taylor

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Comments

  1. Jeff,

    When we talked on the phone recently, I found the description of the difference between Reconstructionist and Revivalist pagan paths to be a true revelation.

    I’m glad to see the distinction showing up here in the context of specific religious expression, such as celebrating Holidays.

    The more I think about it, the more I see how this lens applies to so many different concepts of Tradition.

    Wishing all those in the Land of Lilly Seasonal Awesomeness in myriad forms!
    🙂

  2. It sounds like your family of Druids had a wonderful Holiday Season. Thanks for sharing the magic of your ceremonies.

  3. Jeff,

    I think you’re definitely a revivalist. I sense from your writing that you try to capture the meaning of old traditions (rather than the form), and express them in your own particular way.

    For me, that’s the only way to genuinely engage in spiritual activity – the diversity of creative expression.

  4. Jeff Lilly says:

    Slade, I agree that this tension appears in just about every religion out there — except maybe the very new ones. Wars have been fought over the matter in the Christian context, but even within single Christian traditions you can see the tension. I have read somewhere that the monastic system in Catholicism developed in order to sort of “contain” the individualistic, inspirational, iconoclastic believers, to keep them isolated from the mass of followers who cleaved to the established forms. This would only work if the iconoclasts are few in number, of course… In the case of druidism, for good or ill, the revivalists greatly outnumber the reconstructionists. 🙂

    Ali, if you’re reading — I know you were brought up Catholic, and are now a revivalist druid: what would you say to that characterization of the monastic system?

  5. Jeff Lilly says:

    Thanks, Patricia! We sure did have a great time. Did you have a good holiday?

  6. Jeff Lilly says:

    Vitor, thanks for your thoughts. I recently had an email exchange with Philip Carr-Gomm, one of the world’s foremost revival druids, and he agreed I was revivalist as well. 🙂 I do want to stress, though, that I think it’s vitally important to know the old ways as deeply and thoroughly as possible. It’s a deep, deep well of tradition, and knowledge of it enriches practice so much.

    Carr-Gomm says that reconstructivist druidism is like going to a fantastic restaurant and having a great meal, while revivalist druidism is the same, but you get to help out in the restaurant’s kitchen. (Slade, how is it this kind of discussion always turns to food??!) Within that metaphor, I’d say: it’s best to know how to make the restaurant’s special old favorites before you try your hand at a new recipe.

  7. Great site–I’m drawn closer to druidry, the druid tradition, and enjoyed visiting your site. I’m sure to return.

    Blessings

  8. I love your description of your family’s Solstice celebration–it sounds absolutely magical.

    I am personally extremely skeptical of Reconstructionist Druidry, which is a pretty big turnaround from my attitude as a teenager when I would have dismissed anything “inauthentic” out of hand. But at the time I was still operating within a belief framework that was extremely concerned with absolute truth (I was raised Mormon), and one of the assumptions it left me with was that the only truth worth bothering with was the objective truth. Therefore for Druidry to be TRUE, it would have to have always been true, and thus unchanged since the dawn of time.

    As an adult, coming out of Mormonism more formally (and being basically more intellectually self-aware), I have serious reservations abotu that kind of approach. I think the evidence for anyone having access to one absolute spiritual truth is sadly lacking.

    Armed with more knowledge of histroy and religion (as divorced from the lens of Mormonism as I can muster), it now seems to me silly to say that a “made-up” religious tradition is somehow invalid. every religious tradition was made up at some point. The fact that something was made up a long time ago (or by an innovator whosae name is now lost to history) doesn’t actually itself make it somehow more valid.

    On the other hand, if spiritual practices or beliefs have proven themselves useful over a very long time, that certainly does lend them validity in my opinion. How long does “the test of time” take? I don’t know that there’s a threshold per se. Older isn’t necessarily better. but continuous utility over a long period of time certainly implies a measure of value. Thus an ancient practice that hasn;t been used for millenia might actually be less valuable than a more revent practice that has been used for only a couple of centuries. The newer practice might even be more relevant if it speaks to people now.

    So if I’m going to be a Druid, it’s definitely going to be the Revivalist kind.

  9. Kullervo, great point about allegedly “made-up” religious traditions versus those that “aren’t.” We all need more perspective. Also interesting comment about the value of a tradition over time. Hadn’t thought of that before.

  10. Jeff Lilly says:

    Riverwolf, thanks for coming by! Sorry for my belated welcome!

    Kullervo, while I agree with everything you’ve said wholeheartedly, let me take a moment and speak up for the Reconstructionists. 🙂 I think most would say that if you’re not going to follow the true ancient ways of the druids, isn’t it rather presumptuous or misleading to call yourself one? A reconstructionist might say, “Go ahead and worship however you want, but if you’re going to deviate too far from real historic practice, don’t call yourself a druid!”

    Personally I think that this argument carries some weight. On the other hand, the meaning of the word druid has changed over the past 300 years of revival druidism; it’s not a word that just belongs to the reconstructionists anymore. 🙂

  11. You made my point for me–for 300 years the Revivalists have been calling themselves Druids. And while they haven’t reconstructed the ancient Druid faith, they have certainly taken inspiration from it. So it’s not a total non-sequitur. And again, the reconstructionists can’t possibly completely reconstruct ancient Druidry, so if that’s our measuring stick, why should they be able to call themselves Druids? Where do you draw the line?

    300 years is plenty of time for language to change, and nobody really owns words.

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