Tag Archives: Druids

Runere McLain Presents the Winter Solstice

The Oakman or Greenman

Today is the Winter Solstice and Rita Bay has a visit from a special guest. Runere McLain has managed a boisterous family, a series of interesting jobs, a writing career, a home with loads of pets and a fascinating life with a twist of paranormal of her own. She is published with L&L Dreamspell. Her credits include Dreamspell Haunts Vol II New Orleans’ Coast of Spanish Gold and ‘The Making Of Smokey, The Vampire Bayou Dorg’  (http://www.lldreamspell.com). Celebrated world over for thousands of years, Winter Solstice starts the solar year. Beginning the Wheel of the Year, it’s a celebration of Light and the rebirth of the Sun. In old Europe it was known as Yule, from the Norse Jul, meaning wheel.

Many Western-based cultures refer to this holiday as “Christmas,” yet research into the origins of Christmas reveal pagan roots. In the third century Emperor Aurelian established December 25 as the birthday of the “Invincible Sun” as part of the Roman Winter Solstice celebrations. Shortly thereafter, in 273, the Christian church selected this day to represent the birthday of Jesus, and by 336, this Roman solar feast day was Christianized. January 6, celebrated as Epiphany in Christendom and linked with the visit of the Magi, was originally an Egyptian date for the Winter Solstice.

Many Christmas traditions have roots in pagan celebration as well, sharing the use of sacred herbs for scents and cooking, and sacred Druidic colors of red, green and white used for Christmas decorations. Mistletoe hung from a ceiling (for good luck during the coming year), the creation and hanging of an evergreen wreath on the door (symbol of the Wheel of Life), and the custom of family feasting together and exchanging gifts (the heart of Saturnalia) have long been shared religious traditions.

Even old Santa Claus may be claimed as a Pagan Godform. A folk figure with multicultural roots, he embodies characteristics of Saturn (Roman agricultural god), Cronos (Greek god, also known as Father Time), the Holly King (Celtic god of the dying year), Father Ice/Grandfather Frost (Russian winter god), Thor (Norse sky god who rides the sky in a chariot drawn by goats), Odin/Wotan (Scandinavian/Teutonic All-Father who rides the sky on an eight-legged horse), Frey (Norse fertility god), and the Tomte (a Norse Land Spirit known for giving gifts to children at this time of year). 

For all the differences in Christianity and Paganism, this season is the one that truly joins them in intent. Both see this as a time to strengthen the bond of family and friends by visiting and exchanging gifts and greetings. Both decorate their homes with lights, greens and holiday colors. Both see this as a time to help others, with food and clothing drives to help social service organizations aid those less fortunate. Both greet the dawn of their personal celebratory day – Winter Solstice on the 22nd of December this year, and Christmas on the 25th—with the ringing of bells.

But the strongest common bond, considered by both to be the spirit of this holiday’s intent, lies in this shared heartfelt blessing: Peace on Earth; good will toward all men.

Thanks so much, Runere. Runere wrote a fascinating blog last week on the ceremony connected with the Winter Solstice. Check it out here: http://southernsizzleromance.wordpress.com/2011/12/16/phantasy-friday-a-winter-solstice-celebration/   You can visit Runere at RunereMcLain.com.

 Tomorrow, Christmas Favorites. Rita Bay

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Allison Knight Presents Christmas in the Middle Ages

Many thanks to award-winning and multi-published author Allison Knight for contributing to Rita Bay’s Holiday Celebrations with her blog on Medieval Christmas. Allison is the author of the outstanding Song Medieval series from Champagne Books. WINDSONG is the latest in the series.

First, no one knows exactly on what day Christ was born. Pope Julius I selected December 25 way back in the 6th century. It might have been a play on words for the Druids celebrated the “Birth of the SUN” at that time and Julius declared the day to be the “Birth of the SON.” Since I write about medieval England, I’ll concentrate on their traditions. It’s not surprising to learn most of their traditions were influenced by the Druids.

Let’s start with the Yule log, a tradition in every castle and manor house in England. The Druids had a great reverence for trees, especially evergreens which you’ll see later. All trees were special and had spiritual meaning for the pagans. During the winter solstice, they’d selected a big log and keep it burning for the entire 12 days of celebrations which also included a lot of food, drink and games.

Back to the English Yule log. In the middle ages, the men of the household went into the woods searching for the perfect tree, then dragged it home and kept it burning for the twelve days of Christmas. If it burned for the full 12 days it brought good luck to the household. 

The English also followed the tradition of feasting and drinking. The host would toast his guests with Wassail, a strong hot drink of ale, honey and spices. Caroling came much later because the Church, which played a central part in everyone’s life, didn’t approve of it.

Even the breads they ate can be traced back to a pagan religion. The Druids baked bread to honor the God of the Harvest. At Christmas in the middle ages, they called their special bread the bread of life and inscribed it with a “J” for Jesus.

Gift giving had nothing to do with Christmas back then. This was a religious time and the peasants loved it. The food of the day was mince meat pies and yes, those pies had shredded bits of meat along with fruit and spices. They were much smaller and looked nothing like our pies today. The days involved all kinds of religious dramas played out in Church. In fact, the original Christmas tree did not come from Germany. Remember the evergreens I mentioned that the Druids held in such reverence. On the 24th of December, a big fur was place outside of Church and decorated with apples, hence the first Christmas tree. The play on the 24th was all about the fall of man and the part the apple played in his downfall.

The nativity crib was first constructed in Italy by St. Francis of Assisi in the early part of the 13th century, but it wasn’t part of the medieval Christmas tradition in England.

I’ll add one final note. December 28th was considered a day of extreme bad luck. You didn’t go any place or do anything if you could help it. Did I mention there was a lot of superstitions in the middle ages?

 Whatever your traditions, may I wish you all a Happy Christmas!

Award winning author, Allison Knight claims she’s married to the world’s greatest husband because he’s her greatest supporter and works with her on all her projects. The mother of four children, she retired from teaching to move south to warmer climes. She has written and published nineteen romances for both paperback and digital  publishers. Her third medieval romance from her ‘song’ series and a short story are available from Champagne Books, Inc.

Because she can never quite step out of teaching mode, she blogs often sharing the knowledge she gained writing and publishing in the romance genre. She also loves to talk  about the growing digital market.

You can find her at:

http://www.AllisonKnight.com

http://www.AllisonKnight.blogspot.com

http://www.facebook.com/AuthorAllisonKnight

She blogs once a month for The Writers’ Vineyard, http://thewritersvineyard.com

Thank you again, Allison. Tomorrow, the oldest surviving free-standing nativity scene.  Rita Bay

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The Celts: Masters of Song

Ancient Celtic Druid or Bard with Lyre

Early Celtic bards were trained by the Druids.  Their training was difficult with memory and accuracy of story and form was constantly being tested. The poets were imaginative, intelligent as well as gifted. The Celtic language possessed a natural rhythm and rhyme filled with alliteration and consonance that enhanced the beauty of their poetry.  Their work, like so much of the Celtic heritage, was an oral tradition that was later copied by Christians.  The first example of Celtic poetry was, according to the oral tradition, written by Amergin, a Milesian poet who came to Ireland hundreds of years before Christ. A short prayer and blessing follow. 

Celtic poetry features evocative imagery and reveal a worldview different from the Christian/Western traditional one.  While there are Christian elements in Celtic culture, it is also the foundation for neo-pagans rituals and traditional witchcraft.  To read more Celtic poetry and songs check out http://www.thepoetsgarret.com/celtic1.html.

The Mystery 

I am the wind that breathes upon the sea

I am the wave of the ocean

I am the murmur of the billows

I am the ox of the seven combats

I am the vulture upon the rocks

I am a beam of the sun

I am the fairest of plants

I am a wild boar in valour

I am a salmon in the water

I am a lake in the plain

I am a word of science

I am the point of the lance of battle

I am the God who created in the head the fire

Who is it who throws light into the meeting on the mountain?

Who announces the ages of the moon?

Who teaches the place where couches the sun? (If not I?)

A Celtic Blessing

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face.

May the rain fall soft upon your field,

And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.

A Celtic Prayer
Deep peace of the running waves to you.

Deep peace of the flowing air to you.

Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.

Deep peace of the shining stars to you.

Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you.

Tomorrow, The Saxons & their Mythology  Rita Bay

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The Druids

The Druids

Most of the knowledge about the Druids comes from the non-Celtic (Greek, Roman, Irish) writers of their time.  Julius Caesar, during his campaigns against the Celts, made numerous observations about the Celts including the Druids.  In one he stated that the Druids “know much about the stars and celestial motions, and about the size of the earth and universe, and about the essential nature of things, and about the powers and authority of’ the immortal gods; and these things they teach to their pupils.”  He also stated that Drudism originated in Britain.

The earliest known reference to the druids dates to the 2nd century BC. The Romans who wrote about the Druids regarded them as barbarians. (This from a culture that gloried in the fighting and deaths of  gladiators in the arenas.) Since they engaged in ritual human sacrifice, the Roman government sought to destroy them as they conquered the Gauls. Druidism was suppressed by the Roman government during the 1st century AD under the emperors Tiberius and Claudius.  (Personal note:  Destroying a culture’s institutions, such as its religion, is a tool for subjugation.) With the exception of Britain, Druidism disappeared from the written record by the 2nd century AD.

Sacred Oak

The Druids were one of the few unifying bonds between the Celtic tribes.  They preserved the culture, knowledge, religion, history, laws, and science. The Druids were reported to have studied for twenty years of oral instruction and memorizing. They and the nobles were the two high status classes.  The Druids were the judges, teachers and priests of the Celts.  They had authority over the tribal chiefs and settled disputes through arbitration.  They were responsible for the education of the minstrels and bards.

Gunderstrup Cauldron with Rituals Depicted

One of their primary beliefs was the belief in the soul’s immortality, including reincarnation. The Romans claimed the Druids participated in human sacrifice which was part of the ritual of divining and forseeing the future, another of their beliefs. Pliny the Elder described the ritual of oak (which was sacred to the Druids) and mistletoe in which on the sixth day of the moon white-clad druids climbed oak trees (specifically, Valonia oak), cut the mistletoe with a golden sickle, then sacrificed two white bulls.  The mistletoe was used to treat infertility.

The Druids survived for several centuries in Britain after they had been driven from the mainland of Europe.  They live on in the Irish stories, some may have become Celtic priests (They shaved the fronts of their heads in a similar fashion.), others may have functioned as prophets and seers in isolated areas.  Some of their rituals may have survived in the folk ways and customs of Britain. 

Tomorrow, Masters of Art      Rita Bay

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Neolithic Britain: The Henges

Stonehenge

The henges are Neolithic and Bronze Age earthworks that were built across Britain between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago.  All the henges feature a ring bank and ditch but with the ditch inside the bank rather than outside which would indicate that they were not for defensive purposes.  The henges were not occupied but were associated with ritual structures such as stone and timber circles.  Henges may contain various internal features, including timber or stone circles, pits or burials, which may pre- or post-date the henge enclosure. Henges and stone circles can exist together or separately. Burials were often located in the areas around the henges, predating or postdating the henges.

Avebury

Most experts (with exceptions, of course) agree that the henges were unique to Britain. The three largest are Avebury (Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, Stanton Drew stone circles, Ring of Brodgar (Orkney).  The most famous henge (called a henge even though the ditch is outside the earthwork bank) is Stonehenge.  Woodhenge which contained wooden posts rather than stones has been proposed as a place for the living, as opposed to Stonehenge being a place for the dead.  Ritual paths and the river Avon connect the two which are within site of each other.  

There are approximately 100 henges surviving across the British Isles. The construction of the henges vary from a single entrance through a gap in the bank, to two opposing entrances, and the four entrances with two sets of opposing entrances. Orientations (north-south, east-west) of the henges vary, though some of the stones correspond to the soltices.

The exact purpose of the henges is believed to be for rituals and astronomical observational. One theory states that the reversal of the bank and ditch design that was traditionally used for defense was that the purpose of the henges was NOT to keep something from getting in but to get something FROM GETTING OUT.  WHOA!!   Given the lack of contemporary evidence, however, the purposes of the henges are the conjecture of one culture about another culture with a vastly different worldview.  Later cultures and groups co-opted the henges for their own ritual purposes. The henges are associated with but were not constructed by the Druids. 

Tomorrow, The Celts & Celtic Culture      Rita Bay

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