The wheel of the year isn't the same for everybody. Narrowing it down to Ireland, there were four big fire festivals. Everybody knows them Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane, and Lughnassa. Of course, spelling will vary. Wicca has introduced the equinoxes, solstices and a few holidays from other parts of the world into the wheel of the year. Yule is from my perspective the most popular addition. Wicca is a wonderful, beautiful religion, but I am coming from a different perspective.
I am a Celtic re-constructionist, Family Tradition practitioner via Stukeley. So the easy answer is a sort of druid. Wicca and Neo-Wicca have used the same names of my holidays in their "Wheel of the Year". Not being Wiccan I have a whole different set of things I celebrate on those common dates.
First off this is My Tradition, My experience a hefty dose of Trad lore plus some UPG. Not everything is in any way factual and I won't be able to cite sources for everything. I will try to match things up with sources or blatantly label UPG, but I may forget so usual disclaimers in place. Food is such a primal part of human interaction that each Holy day has a specific food, or type of food associated with it. While we don't forbid types of food it is more worshipful to consume the appropriate food on the appropriate day.
Samhain -- traditionally is the evening of October 31st through the morning and even into the afternoon of November 1st. I said some of this earlier in the thread but I will repeat. It is the darkness that precedes the light, or the obvious darkening preceding the lightening of the year. It begins the traditionally "unseeligh" downturn of the year. According to classical writers Coligny and Ceaser sacrifices were offered at this time. Burnt offerings were given to Tuetantes and drowned in vats offerings were given to Taranis, Crom Cruach is said to have welcomed human sacrifices at this time as well.
Obviously I am not into the human sacrifice thing, but burnt animal offerings are part of my tradition.
Why do we stick with this particular day and night? It is an anniversary to some specific events in our mythology. Fomorians would exact their tribute of grain from the De Danaans at this time. The burning of Tara by Aillen Mac Midgna is remembered. Those are specific examples of why we use specific days and not the astrological dates.
What we do: If there is to be a sacrifice to overcome some great tragedy an animal, usually a food species of bird or as large as a goat, is well cared for until the time of the offering. The animal is usually roasted over an open flame. The viscera, skin and some choice bits are allowed to burn up into nothingness, this is the appropriate sacrifice.
Other than that the feast is the Feast of Apples. This means that the food prepared will be very apple influenced. Pork makes a big appearance for this feast as well. The specific dishes prepared are not as important as that there is a lot of food available. I always say that no-one leaves my house hungry. Everyone will be fed. A place is set for the dearly departed. After a suitably solemn meal filled with the remembrances of departed loved ones a plate full of food is set aside for the dead and everybody leaves the room for a couple of hours. This is a terrific time to don masks and go trick or treating if that is a custom in your part of the world.
After the return of the living to the dining area, the plates and food are placed just outside the door. Back door by tradition, but apartment living has changed traditions before. Now while still in a jolly masked mood it is time for divination games and other talking with the dead. The dead should have been suitably reverenced during the solemn dinner and are ready to joke around and pass gossip. This goes on until well into the night.
After the children go to sleep this is still a very auspicious day for becoming pregnant.
The next day is spent in a New Years cleaning. All the old broken things of the year are thrown out. Once upon a time they were burnt. It is a time for creating or freshening up spells, wards, and enchantments. That takes us through the entire Samhain celebration.
Imbolc is next because Yule rightfully belongs to the Norse in my book.
Imbolc, meaning first light and Oimelg meaning first milk, both are supposed to be true. The first bit of milk is mythically a sign of the returning warmth and sun.
For us this is always on February 1 and 2. The date is dependant on the Christians who gave this day to St. Brighid thus conflating the saint and the Goddess. Since our religion is one of community and family we keep this day. Also so few of us own milk giving animals that we would have very little way of knowing when the nanny goats and ewes actually come into first milk. This is a celebration of that ideal. We honor the concept of the first gift of milk from our livestock and give honor to their Matron Goddess.
What we do: This is another up all night event. The first feast The Feast of Milk and Honey is the evening celebration. A great deal of time and effort is spent in making something tasty out of milk, honey and the last of winters fruits to go along with other dairy related foods. Again, just what doesn't matter as how much. Each place at dinner, or scattered throughout the dining table-less apartment are long burning, long lasting candles. After a brief prayer in honor of the Goddess Brighid the candles are lit. It is the responsibility of the participants to keep "their" candle lit. All night.
Dinner is a big noisy affair with singing and storytelling and children running underfoot. The candles are spoken to and generally cared for like infants. The adults remain awake all night to make sure the sun comes up. Before dawn linen squares are put just out of doors so that they become "Brigit's Mantles" to aid in household healing in the coming year. First light of Brigit's sun touches the fabric and voila instant magick. Her healing magicks are done on this night; Brighid is the goddess to talk to when in need of healing.
The next morning's feast is the best of the new cream and the first of the new spring fruits. After an early breakfast people make Brighid's crosses from rushes or when I was a very small girl indeed, construction paper. I have also seen some beautiful wire work Brighid's crosses and other materials are surely just as beautiful. The honor is in the making, not so much as what it is made from.
That brings us to Feb 2.
Beltane is May day and in my Trad the last day of April until the first day of May.
Why this day and not another like the Scottish day of 15 May? It is an anniversary for important Mythological events in my Tradition. Both the Partholonians and the Milesians invaded Ireland on this day.
This is a celebration of new life and new beginnings. This is a good time for starting new projects or life changing activities. This is the start of the light half or "seelie" half of the year. Things are growing and waxing large from this point forward. Death and darkness have relinquished their hold on the land and the people.
What we do: This is a big outdoor fire festival in my trad. Two bonfires are set up and everyone and their animals pass between them. Easy when you only have two cats not so easy when you have a bunch of cattle. The size and distance of the fires varies considerably.
This is the Feast of fruit and berries. Lot's of berry related foods. We like foods that don't take a lot of preparation. We spend most of the holiday out of doors, in our fields if we have any. We go to camping spots if we are not farmers or aren't near any co-religionists who own farms or ranches. Rabbit and game hens seem to be very popular too. The symbolism of new life goes right along with the holiday.
Competitive games, like foot races and football, are used to make everybody exhausted enough to dance into a trance state. There is lots of singing and dancing around fires. Later, the small children are led away to bed so that they can wake up before dawn to gather Lady Day bouquets.
This is another very auspicious day for becoming pregnant.
Lady Day bouquets are given to all women who are somebody's mother. Then everyone packs up and goes home.
Lughnassa is by far my favorite day. It falls close to my birthday and has always signaled to me my closeness with the god Lugh. The festival is named for Lugh, but in my tradition is more about his foster mother Tailtu. All day August 1st is Lughnassa. Technically speaking a good Lughnassa games and horse fair would have lasted weeks, but that isn't now.
Lughnassa is partially about Lugh defeating Balor. He managed to throw his holy spear, a gift from the Goddess Danu, into the great, red, evil eye for which the Fomorian king was named.
The part that is played by his foster mother Tailtu is also significant. She raised Lugh to do all manner of great things. She died after the second battle of Mag Tuired. The feast is her funeral feast.
What we do: This feast is the Feast of All Grains. For many of my co-religionists the best offering of grains that they can make is liquor and beer. Wheat, rye, barley and corn turn into the best home-brewed beverage around. I generally stick to bread based food items. I also make pastas, polentas, and rice dishes. The other foods are summer foods, watermelons, fruits, BBQ' ed and roasted meats. Outdoor cooking is key.
We spend all day out of doors. We go to open fields, baren meadows or down to the beach. We compete in sports until dark. This may include foot races, Frisbee, swimming and diving competitions or something like volleyball. The important part is the exertion and competitive nature of the event. We break for lunch of outdoorsy foods, some appropriate beverages and then compete in games of skill or in tall tale telling far into the evening.
When Tailtu raised Lugh alongside the Mac Eirc clan of the Fir Bolg she taught him to excel in every skill. We try to emulate that teaching on this day. Every one does their level best to triumph over his fellows in these competitions. It is our way of honoring both the sun god Lugh and the goddess Tailtu who is known for clearing land in Ireland for human habitation.
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