What does a druid do on the winter solstice? That depends on the druid.
If 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.
This past spring, an arsonist destroyed the Church’s meeting house. It is now a two-story skeleton of blackened bones, wrapped round with a single yellow caution strip, as if that were the only thing holding it up. Around it, the forest, lawn and garden are lush with summer growth.
Near the top of the hill stands the husk of a tree, struck by lightning. It was also smitten this spring. At the base of the tree, one of the Church’s members cut a crop-circle-like maze in the tall grass with a weed whacker, and placed a salvaged soot-covered statuette in its center. Before the Solstice ceremony, and late into the evening afterwards, the children played games in the maze, and chased lightning bugs.
The Nature Church has been purified by fire.
It’s been a month since the Spring Equinox, and now at last in Massachusetts we’re getting some truly springlike weather — yesterday was the first day we could go outside without coats or sweaters. I spent the day with my hands in the earth, digging and weeding out a garden plot behind our apartment that lay fallow all last year, while the kids rode their bicycles and tricycles and asked to see more worms and pleaded for a chance to use my spade.
The fact that I haven’t written about our equinox ritual before now gives you some indication of how busy we’ve been this spring. I think for many of us, it has been a difficult time — many of my friends have been ill, overwhelmed with work or too many responsibilities, or stricken with tragedy of one kind or another. Still, a few days ago my cousin and his wife were blessed with twins, and the sun continues to rise earlier and earlier each morning on schedule… So not all is lost.
This past Monday we finally managed to get the family out in to the woods to celebrate the autumnal equinox — Alban Elued in the Druid Revival tradition. Two weeks previous, at the actual equinox, my wife was quite sick with a cold. One week ago it was raining cats and dogs. This weekend was perfect.
For some notes on the origin and meaning of Alban Elued, see this previous post.
Our family’s Alban Elued ritual is drawn directly from the pages of John Michael Greer’s Druidry Handbook. It is in no way supposed to be a reconstructed ritual, a reenactment of what ancient Druids performed 2000 years ago. Almost nothing is known about their rituals or holidays. Instead, this is a ritual of the Druid Revival tradition, which mixes elements of known Celtic mythology with Arthurian romances and 19th-century mysticism. The overall effect is eclectic and hermetic, infused throughout with nature symbolism.
This morning was deliciously bright, clear, and cool in western Massachusetts, reminding me that Alban Elued, the Druid celebration of the Autumnal Equinox, is coming before long. Another big hint is that we just spent a tidy bundle on back-to-school clothes.
Scrunch up on the couch
And cuddle in my arms,
Thor’s out a-striding,
And frightening the children.
He’s barreled down Bifrost
And slung his hammer wide,
It smacks and cracks the mountaintops,
It rivens the summer sky.
Lightning-crowned thunder clouds
Follow in his train,
They slam our doors and windows,
They whip the porch with rain.
Forget the hazy heat of the day,
Forget your games and plans you laid,
The world outside is a dangerous place
Where gods walk and giants play.
Now Thor’s grumbling beyond the hills,
He has children of his own,
And promises to keep.
The rain is soft, the air is cool,
The birds are singing,
The children asleep.