Monday, December 9, 2013

X-mas and the Three Ancestors

There are times, particularly when we have young children, that the festivities going on around us in wider culture become an important part of life, whether it falls into our belief system or not. As we have been coming up to the holiday season and the midsummer solstice, the intensity of Christmas activity around my family has been giving me a lot to think about. My son, who is two, adores the Christmas trees that decorate the local shopping malls and my parents’ home. We have paid our respects to the fire festival in our home, however, his interest in the external goings on have also encouraged me to invite a selection of the more traditional decorations into our home too. The question I have been tumbling with is “how?”.

As someone who tends to baulk at the disconnectedness of having pine trees, fake snow, holly and reindeer decorating the place in the middle of summer I have had a lot of difficulty with this. I needed to make it feel right in my head before I could meaningfully bring it into my home without feeling I had somehow been coerced into it.

I have spent a fair amount of time thinking about this and have discussed the idea of combining the festivals of X-mas and Litha with many fellow pagans and Druids. It has been an eye-opening time. There are various ways that people go about doing it. It seems that those who have children do tend towards making it more of the “traditional” x-mas style event, while those who do not, might be happier to use some x-mas decorations in tandem with decorations for Litha. Personally, for the last eight years I have been happy with my red and gold decorated bare branch painted black, which for me represents the rebirthing and cleansing energy of the fire festival, but also gives us somewhere to put the presents.

Probably the most important thing for me in this discussion is “to tree or not to tree?” and by tree I most certainly am referring specifically to the pine variety, whether real or fake. It is just so undeniably the most important symbol of the popular celebrations. To have one is to invite in the “spirit of Christmas”. It’s what Santa is looking for when he turns up, right? It’s the same thing that every other family in our culture around the planet wants to have in their living room. Somehow I feel like my blackened stick, though beautiful and meaningful, is missing something, particularly when it comes to the Santa myth.

So. Alternatives? Where to now? I had a small revelation the other evening. I had just purchased a beautiful statue of Cernnunos and was thinking that its colour – a green with a gold sheen to it – was rather Christmassy. I then thought about the connection with the celebrations of other pagans around the world at this time of year: as many of us bring into our homes the traditional decorations of Yule, despite the seasonal incongruities, we are connecting all at the same time with the heritage of our ancestors. I realised that to make the festival have real meaning, while bringing into my home the out-of-season and non-native pine tree, all I needed to do was imagine it as a process of inviting in a tradition that is globally shared and connecting with the pagan ancestors of the past.

The idea of “the three ancestors” is something dear to my heart. They are the ancestors of “blood, mud and wisdom” as Emma Restall-Orr has called them. They are the ancestors of our bloodlines who have given us our physicality, the ancestors of the land that we live in who provide us with a sense of place and being, and the ancestors of our inspiration and learning who have made us who we are in personality and mind, and create our culture too. The incorporation of this idea as important to the x-mas celebrations seemed to fit very well: my dilemma could be described as a three way tension between a) the bloodline ancestors as represented by the traditional yule and Christmas decorations, b) the inspirations of both the culture around me in x-mas and my own pagan culture’s celebrations of Litha, and c) my connection with the ancestors of the land as the fire season, summer, the beach etc. In acknowledging this as a time where all three ancestors should be honoured allows an amazing balance to the way I see things that is helping me to reimagine what I feel about this time of year.

Let me paint you a picture of where I am heading with this. Here are some ideas as to how the decorating might be worked out:

Bloodline ancestors:
  • Triquetras representing the three ancestors
  • Other celtic designs
  • Celtic deities and spirits
  • Faeries
  • Yuletide symbolism

o   Holly
o   Mistletoe
o   Ivy
o   Yule log
o   Gift giving
Inspiration ancestors:
  •           Santa symbols:

o   Reindeer, sleigh
o   North pole
o   Snow, snowman, snowflakes
  •          Litha symbols:

o   Sun
o   Fire
o   Flowers
o   Abundance (food and gifts)
o   Fruit

Land ancestors:
  • Symbols of fire
  • Native plants and animals
  • Seashells
  • Summer flowers

Our tree will be a pine. There are two reasons for this. One is that it connects with the traditions of yule and the yule log, also that it is a tree of the northern hemisphere where my ancestors came from. The other is that it is representing the global tradition and a symbol of the myth of Santa. I think the idea of Santa is a very important moral myth in popular culture, particularly for teaching children about the dynamics of giving and receiving from others, and the difference between being “naughty” and “nice”. There are certain capitalist values woven in there too, for example, the focus on materialism and that we reward good behaviour with monetary value. These are a reality of the world we live in, but they do tend to grate on me and if we look at many of the Christmas movies out there, you can see I’m not alone. There is also a counter-mythos in much of our understanding of Christmas, that the material focus of receiving gifts is not the real spirit of the season, but rather the self-less giving of gifts and a sense of family, charity and caring is more important. Santa has his associated rituals: writing the letter, getting the photo, leaving out the cookies, milk and carrots, singing carols, but most important of all is having a tree and giving gifts.

It is amazing what a difference having a child will do for the way we choose to look at festivals that have a place in popular culture. They want to be involved in everything, and there is no way we can stop them, nor should we. This is the reality of the world they live in and to be fully functioning little humans, they need to understand as much as they can. The least we can do is bring meaning to the process so that they can have an even deeper experience with it, helping them, and us too, to understand all that we have been given and all that can be taken away, and feeling a deep gratitude for all that is.

Friday, May 3, 2013

A Year of Two Life Cycles

I often wondered about the traditional Pagan story of the wheel of the year, where the God dies and is reborn in the winter, grows in the spring, matures in summer and becomes and elder in the autumn, to die and be reborn again in winter. I wondered whether it could fit into the wheel of the year I have created for my own area in Sydney, but have generally fallen short as to whether the death and rebirth time would happen in the winter or the summer. Should it come with the death of the darkness and the rebirth of the sun as it begins to wax through the spring as in the traditional story? Or should it sit in the fire season, a time of so much death, rebirth, cleansing and renewal, making way for a new kind of life cycle story? How could it work? I thought about it many times and no matter which one I decided on, I always felt that the other was somehow being neglected. There are quite clearly two times of death and rebirth in our wheel, so how could it work as a story? I wondered whether there could be an intertwining of stories somehow – two deaths; two life cycles in the year. Would they both last a full year, with overlapping stories to tell, or might there be another way?

This is the conclusion that my fellow druids and I, at one of our ritual workshops once discovered. It was Peace festival and the autumn equinox and we were thinking about the meaning of the changeover from the light, active, external half of the year to the dark, passive, internal half. We felt a shift in moving from one to the other, but, thankfully, not like another death to make things even more difficult: it was more of an initiation and maturing; a coming into an emotional adulthood, where now, in the dark time, we would begin to work on our internal lives. Noticing this time as a kind of adulthood, conveniently halfway between our two rebirth points on the wheel, we realised that the year could indeed be split into two lifecycles, though each would only last six months, with an active summer child, born in the fire season and an introspective dark child, born at midwinter. The light child would come into adulthood by realising their dark self at the autumn equinox, while the dark child would realise adulthood in coming to light and action at the spring equinox.

The idea of the two lifecycles made us more aware of the split of the year into a light/active half, and a dark/introspective half with counterpoints at the equinoxes and the different energies of these times. The light/active part, from spring equinox to autumn equinox, is where the focus is on taking action and dealing with the external world. Through this period what we have learned in the introspective, dark part of the year comes to take form in the physical and we are called on to put our ideals and values into practice. It is a time to walk your talk and explore physical connections with the Earth, the trees, and other beings. The dark/introspective part of the year, from autumn equinox to spring equinox, is a time when we look into the self and to the spirit realms for guidance and reflection. We work on our internal selves, with our own emotional and spiritual development being at the focus of our activity. We work on improving ourselves, planning and studying in preparation for the more active time. Of course this is only a focus of our spiritual activity, and not a suggestion that they be exclusive to one another. It would of course be impractical and boring to limit ourselves to one or the other. It’s not a limitation, just a guide for what the energies of the time are guiding us towards, particularly in ritual and group work.

Since that Peace festival gathering, we have seen that this idea falls quite naturally into the Sydney Wheel of the Year we have been using, and also enriched it, particularly as it brought greater meaning to the Peace and Wind Change Festivals at the equinoxes, where the initiation into the light and dark mysteries occurs. There is a great deal of potential for further development in the idea too I believe. I feels really right and we will be exploring it more in coming years. Feel free to explore the idea for yourself.

Here is a summary of the way that the lifecycles develop through our Sydney Wheel festivals through the year. I will give a brief description of the festival’s ideas so that you can feel what is going on at that time and see how it works with the life cycle stages. It will also be useful, I hope if you’re not familiar with the Sydney Wheel of the year. I hope this helps you to get a better picture of how it all works.

FIRE – The height of summer’s heat, the dry fire time. Often overlaps significantly with Storm festival. Celebrate rebirth and renewal, cleansing and waymaking. The active elder dies and the active child is born.

STORM – The active child has a frenetic energy of fertility and life, though often also flood. At this time we can often refer to it as the Tempest Child of flying emotions that need to be set free and released. Celebrate coming to life, growth, fertility and creativity. Set the tempest child free through dance, song and movement.

PEACE – The intensity of summer passes. The active child initiates into the dark, introspective adult of inner wisdom. Celebrate peace, comfort, meditation, reflection, the inner worlds and the inner self.

MOON – The skies clear of humidity and the moon shines brightly in the crisp, fresh air. You can see for long distances and the stars are bright. The dark adult matures into the dark elder,  keeper of the dark mysteries. Celebrate divination, the otherworlds, ancestors, psychic abilities, healing and magic.

HARDENING – The bark on the trees shelters them from the winter cold. The sun is reborn, and so, the dark elder is reborn as the dark child. A time for indoor activities and the celebration of home and hearth, study, feasting, friendship and storytelling.

FLOWER – Flowers in the bush bloom like words on the poet’s lips. The dark child is intuitive and wise, and represents a connection to our own inner child who is full of inspiration and innate wisdom. They are the Flower Child of freedom. Celebrate inspiration, youth, beauty, art, poetry and love.

WINDCHANGE – A time of warm weather before the rains come. Sunny days, cool waters and blustery winds – the winds of change. The dark child initiates at this time into the active adult. It is a time to put what we have learned in the dark time into action to make a difference in the world.

BARKFALL – The bark breaks and begins to fall away in preparation for the times of fire and burning. A time to release and let go of what is no longer needed. The active adult becomes the active elder, keeper of the light mysteries – practical knowledge, skill, craft and action. This is a time of much movement, purpose and activity.

The wheel of the year may work for your area even if you’re not in Sydney. Many people over the country have told me it works in their areas, whether they are from Queensland or Victoria, there seem to be at least a few overlaps and maybe just a slight adjustment on timing. By exploring your own area you are sure to work out a unique wheel of the year and then the life cycle stories will have something special to add to it, no matter where you are.

For our group, bringing this idea of two life cycles into our wheel of the year has helped us to reconcile the traditional story of the lifecycle and has made it easier for us to understand our own personal progress through the year. The energies of the seasons reflect the life stages of the two stories and it brings greater meaning to each one of the festivals as it is a deeper layer onto the way we understand them: the storm season for example not just being a time of fertility, growth and emotions, but of the tantrum-like emotions and flowing hormonal floods of a growing youth blooming into their true self. It has helped us to add extra nuance to each season in this way, and to see how we can relate to it in richer, more meaningful ways bringing balance to our psyches as we explore the different parts of ourselves as child, youth, adult and elder.

As with most of my articles, I’ll stress that this idea is a work in progress, and always will be. We do our best to understand the energies of the world around us and hope to find guidance through learning to understand the messages it has for us. I’ll also stress that this is my own and my friends’ experience and you will have your own which might be different. It all adds to the rich tapestry of our spirituality. I humbly hope, however, that it might help you on your journey through this incredible sacred landscape. Awen /|\

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Workshops for 2013

Last year Druids Down Under in Sydney met regularly to do workshops on ritual for the Sydney wheel of the year. We met at approximately monthly intervals on weekends with the purpose of observing the changes in the land around us and bringing the ideas which formed from that together as a group to discus their significance as symbols for ritual. We used the wheel of the year which I had created for Coastal Sydney, and even though we were holding our workshops in South Western Sydney, we felt that much of the symbolism was the same, save for a few flowers which did not bloom there, or the coming of frost which isn't felt nearer to the beach. Each workshop was divided into three sections: 1) a discussion of the natural changes which had occured and the most significant natural phenomena of that particular time, eg. storms, insects, cold wind, wattle blooms etc. 2) We discussed the meaning of these as symbols and how to interpret them for spiritual understanding. We also worked out ways that this knowledge could be brought together to create a ritual. 3) Using a basic ritual format I had adapted from circles in the British Druid Order I had attended, we created and held new rituals which incorporated these ideas.

It was a great success and the group which formed out of it now work well together in ritual, as well as sharing a common bond in following this cycle together through the year. As we enter 2013 we will be starting to hold a new series of workshops to deepen this knowledge and open it up to new members. It has been a wonderful journey so far with the main basis for practice having been a focus on the seasonal changes. This year our focus is to be on expanding upon that, but also on bringing in a closer melding of the traditional Celtic mythologies to different festivals. Some examples are the story of Brigit for our Flower Festival in August which is similar to Imbolc, or the story of the Mabon and how it can relate to the Peace Festival around the autumnal equinox. It is going to be an interesting year of exploration.

These workshops are public and further information about them can be found via our facebook page. Just search for "Druids Down Under". Alternatively you can email me, Julie, at, though facebook is our preferred method for networking and posting events.