Living the Celtic Year – winter solstice

Living the Celtic Year Ceremonies

By Debbie and Steve Merritt

At the heart of Druidism lies a love of Nature and her changing faces as the seasons turn. Eight times a year, about every 6 weeks or so, Druids participate in a celebration that expresses this love.

Some people have asked if they have to have particular beliefs to join in with our ceremonies. The answer is simply, no. Our Druid Order (the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids) is comprised of people of many faiths, who join together in celebrating the power and beauty of Nature in our lives. We work with spiritual teachings that combine the inspiration of the ancient Druids, and the old stories with contemporary scholarship and insights into the relationship between human beings and the world of plants and animals, stars and stones.

There is absolutely no requirement to join the Order, and will only talk about it if someone asks us to.

For thousands of years the indigenous peoples around the world have lived their lives around the seasons. Many of these formed the spiritualities or religions of the people. As the seasons changed, the focus of their lives changed, such as resting and mending or making in the winter, and harvesting towards the end of summer. Our farmers and gardeners follow a modified year today, and more and more of us, as we turn to nature for solace and inspiration, mark the turning of the year with ceremonies and festivities.

Steve and I have started to hold seasonal ceremonies throughout the year, open to all who come in peace. Children are especially welcome (accompanied by an appropriate adult). We are grateful to Heather Lodge, who have welcomed us there. It is accessible to all, and is, of course, on the bus route!

Winter Solstice or Yule

The Winter Solstice falls on or around the 21st of December

In this darkest time of the year we celebrate the return of the Divine Child, the Mabon, the rebirth of the golden solstice Sun, who will bring warmth, light and life back to Earth again.

While Samhain is strongly connected with insular Celtic culture, Alban Arthan is a universal festival, which has been (and still is) celebrated by many peoples and long before the coming of the Celts. The Winter Solstice is probably (together with the Summer Solstice) the oldest seasonal festival of humankind.

We know today that the Sun will return, because the course of the Sun and the other planets in our system have been scientifically explored. Our ancestors did not take the return of the Sun for granted, and in addition they were suffering much more under the hardships of severe winter weather than we do today. For an agricultural society, whose survival depended mostly on crops, the return of the Sun was not just a matter of casual celebration, it was rather a matter of life or death.

One of the main features of a traditional winter solstice celebration in Northern European countries is the Yule log. A log or a big piece of wood is burned in the central fireplace. According to tradition it must come from one’s own land or be a gift, and it must not be purchased. It is traditionally ignited with the remaining piece of last year’s Yule log. This way, the light is passed on from one year to another. The Yule log is to burn slowly for 12 days in the fireplace, before it is extinguished. The ashes are stowed away and in springtime mixed with seeds and brought out on the fields. Thus, the power of the Sun, symbolised in the Yule log, is distributed over the land. The rest of the wood is kept until next year to ignite the new log.

Another tradition says that there is a perpetual battle between the Oak King, the God of the waxing light, or the Divine Child, and the Holly king, the God of the waning light, or the Dark Lord. Each year at the winter solstice, the Oak King wins the battle and rules, until he is defeated by the Holly King at the time of the summer solstice.

The central and essential thought of Alban Arthan is renewal. We let the past behind us and greet the new. The world is undergoing constant change and we must change and adjust, too, in order to be able to survive. Change is inevitable. In this knowledge, humankind celebrates festivals since times unknown, giving people the opportunity to let go of the old and to embrace the new things which life would certainly hold in store.

We will be celebrating on Saturday 18th December at 3pm at Heather Lodge, Brodick.

Please contact me at debbiemerritt2@gmail.com if you plan to attend so that we can plan according to numbers, and give you more details.