The Quarter Festivals and the Druids

9 07 2019

Public access to Stonehenge currently takes place on four of the so-called ‘quarter festivals’. What exactly are the quarter festivals? And why are these occasions so celebrated by the Druids?

Druids: Stonehenge Summer Solstice

Quarter festivals are sets of four dates that divide the year into four equal quarters. The dates when Stonehenge has open access to the public are the solar quarter festivals, defined by the movements of the sun. The summer and winter solstices (usually 21 June and 21 December) are the days when the noontime sun is, respectively, highest and lowest in the sky and so the hours of daylight are, respectively, their longest and their shortest. The spring and autumn equinoxes (usually 21 March and 21 September) are the dates when the sun rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in the west and so the night and day are of equal length. These observable facts about the sun in the sky have made these points in the calendar sacred times in cultures all over the world – including at Stonehenge, whose axis is aligned to the directions of summer solstice sunrise and winter solstice sunset.

Druids: Stonehenge Summer Solstice

Druids: Stonehenge Summer Solstice

But there’s another set of quarter festivals – fitting in between the solar festivals – that were celebrated by the ancient Celts. They’re known as ‘lunar festivals’ because they were determined by the full moon. They didn’t fall on regular calendar dates like the solar festivals, since the cycles of the moon don’t match exactly with the calendar of the year defined by the sun’s movements (in reality the earth’s orbit around the sun). However, in modern usage these four originally lunar festivals have gained fixed calendar dates. Using the Irish terminology, the two most important are Samhain (31 October) and Beltane (1 May), which divide the year into summer and winter halves. The other two are Imbolc (1 February) and Lughnasa (1 August).

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The fixing of their dates links these four festivals to the corresponding Christian festivals and names by which they’re best known in English. Imbolc has become St Brigid’s Day, and the following day, 2 February, is Candlemas. Lughnasa corresponds to the harvest festival of Lammas. Samhain has become Halloween, the eve of All Saints’ Day, also known as Hallowmas. Of the four festivals, Beltane – May Day in English – has perhaps best preserved its pagan origins in the perennial customs of maypoles and may queens, although in modern times it has gained a new significance as Labour Day, the holy day of socialism.

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The lunar festivals were also called ‘fire festivals’ because the ancient Celts celebrated

them with bonfires. The establishment of Bonfire Night on 5 November shifted the fires of Halloween by a few days and attached to them a new political significance. In my view, it’s high time that British custom got over its symbolic need to demonise Roman Catholics (as represented by Guy Fawkes) and moved the bonfires back to Halloween where they belong. In Celtic – especially Irish – tradition there are many stories associated with the lunar festivals, especially with Samhain, when the veil between this world and the otherworld is very thin – a great opportunity for adventures back forth between the worlds.

 

Modern Druids conduct ceremonies on the four lunar festivals in the tradition of the ancient Celts. They also conduct ceremonies on the four, more universal, solar festivals. This makes a total of eight quarter festivals that provide the backbone of the Druids’ sacred calendar. It is thanks to modern Druids’ custom of doing ceremony at Stonehenge on the solar festivals that public access has been negotiated on those days. I understand that the Druids are also conducting ceremonies near Stonehenge on the lunar festivals too, in order to establish a custom of religious usage in this location which they hope in time will enable public access on these four dates as well.

Article by guest blogger and author/storyteller Anthony Nanson.  Sponsored by Stonehenge Guide Tours

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The Celtic Festival of Imbolc – 1st / 2nd February

1 02 2012

Imbolc is traditionally regarded as the first day of Spring.
Life is beginning to stir again. The Celtic festival of Imbolc or Imbolg – pronounced without the ‘b’ sound – is sometimes known as Oimelc, means ‘ewe’s milk’ – named due to the birth of the first lambs at this time, and celebrates the return of fresh milk. Sheep are earlier with their offspring than cattle, because they could crop lower for grass and so thrive on the sparse vegetation in late winter. Cattle would calf around March. Bulbs are beginning to shoot and new lambs are born – the cycle of new life returns to the earth. Imbolc marks the rebirth of nature and fertility. It is the celebration of the gradual dawning of increasing light, bringing nature to life again. Nature is awakening from her winter rest – the long winter darkness begins to break as the daylight hours begin to get longer. Christians celebrate this festival as Candlemas.Stonehenge maidens - Imbolc

“As the light lengthens, so the cold strengthens”

Maidens
Imbolc focuses on the Goddess, both as Mother – as she gave birth to the Sun God at the Winter solstice, and as the Maiden. Brigit was originally considered a form of the Triple Goddess.
Imbolc is a feast dedicated to the Goddess in her maiden aspect, in her guise as Brigid, Bridget, Bride, Brighid, Brigit or Brig – goddess of learning, poetry, prophesying, craftmanship, agriculture and healing. Imbolc is considered a traditional healing time and it is a good time to consider ways to improve your health.

Brigid is the virgin goddess who brings new life to the earth. She is known as Bride in Scotland – pronounced Breed – which is the origin of the word ‘bride’. Imbolc is also known as Bride’s Day. She was christianised as St. Bridget of Kildare, the patroness of sheep and fertility, and she was also known as the ‘Mother of Ireland’.
Briget’s Cross is woven from corn and consists of four arms that meet to form a square centre – a fire wheel.
Traditionally, on this day candlelit processions were led to St. Bridget’s holy shrines – wells

Imbolc Traditions

Imbolc is a ‘fire festival’. particular attention was paid to the hearth fire and keeping it alight.
A celebratory dish used to be made from the new lambs’ docked tails.

Bridie dolls are made out of a sheaf of oats and dressed in women’s clothing, and then ritually buried in the earth as a fertility rite. Another custom was to place the doll in a ‘Bride’s bed’ of woven wheat, like a basket, which was placed near the front door, or sometimes near the hearth. A white candle was burnt nearby all night.

Spring cleaning comes from the habit at Imbolc of getting rid of unwanted clutter and preparing for the new season, physically and mentally.
Now is the time to finish old habits and make a fresh start, and realise the world is full of new opportunities.

Imbolc is a time of optimism and for making new plans for the sunny days ahead. Plant the seeds of your plans now and tend them so they mature into your hopes and dreams. Now is the time to renew your New Year resolutions.

Like many Celtic festivals, the Imbolc celebrations centred around the lighting of fires. Fire was perhaps more important for this festival than others as it was also the holy day of Brigid (also known as Bride, Brigit, Brid), the Goddess of fire, healing and fertility. The lighting of fires celebrated the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months. For the Christian calendar, this holiday was reformed and renamed ‘Candlemas’ when candles are lit to remember the purification of the Virgin Mary.

Imbolc is still a special time for Pagans. As people who are deeply aware of what is going on in the natural world they recognise that there is strength in cold as well as heat, death as well as life. The Horned God reigns over the Autumn and Winter and although the light and warmth of the world may be weak, he is still in his power.

Many feel that human actions are best when they reflect the actions of nature, so as the world slowly springs back into action it is time for the small tasks that are neglected through the busy year. Rituals and activities might include the making of candles, planting spring flowers, reading poetry and telling stories.

Links: http://www.druidry.org/obod/intro/festivals.html
Link: http://www.new-age.co.uk

Merlin says “It is called Imbolc in the Druid tradition, or sometimes Oimelc. Although we would think of Imbolc as being in the midst of Winter, it represents in fact the first of a trio of Spring celebrations, since it is the time of the first appearance of the snowdrop, and of the melting of the snows and the clearing of the debris of Winter. It is a time when we sense the first glimmer of Spring, and when the lambs are born. In the Druid tradition it is a gentle, beautiful festival in which the Mother Goddess is honoured with eight candles rising out of the water at the centre of the ceremonial circle.”

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Merlin@ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Website





Stonehenge opens to Druids for Vernal Equinox

26 03 2010
 

English Heritage site welcomes worshippers to mark the start of spring

Druids celebrate the sping equinox at Stonehenge(Panasonic)

A handful of lucky Druids took advantage of a rare opportunity to walk amongst Stonehenge this Saturday, 20 March in celebration of the Spring Equinox. Less than a hundred visitors, including Druids and pagan worshippers met at around 5.30am to watch the sunrise and welcome in the spring.

Despite the wet, windy weather, traditional customs such as blessings, chants and drum choruses went ahead in the middle of the ordinarily protected English Heritage site.

With characters dressed in outfits of white robes, floral headdresses, witches brooms and even stag’s antlers, attendees worshipped as the sun rose directly above the equator.

Despite heavy cloud cover, the gathered crowd enjoyed a brief glimpse of the sun before taking advantage of their rare chance to touch and interact with the stones.

Formal proceedings were overseen by renowned Arch Druid of Stonehenge Rollo MaughFling, leading both traditional chants and calling for more contemporary solutions, too. When talking about the upcoming General Election, the Arch Druid strayed away from a political bias and instead asked that, “Whoever is best fitted to lead us out of recession and back into prosperity be the party that wins as many people are suffering.”

One fellow Druid not afraid of showing his political stance was notorious eco-campaigner, Arthur Uther Pendragon, announcing his decision to run as an independent candidate in the forthcoming election.

“I have stood three times previously,” he told MSN UK, “The first time, I embarrassed the British National Party into last place, the second time, the new leader of the Monster Raving Looney Party into last place, and the third time I embarrassed myself into last place, but still polling 1% of the Vote.”

The day was also saw a posthumous appearance by Wally Hope, the founder of the Stonehenge festival. Since his death in 1975, the ashes of Wally Hope have been carried to the stones by their official keepers.





Spring Equinox at Stonehenge

19 03 2010
This is the second of the four ‘sky points’ in our Wheel of the Year and it is when the sun does a perfect balancing act in the heavens.

 

At the Spring (or Vernal) Equinox the sun rises exactly in the east, travels through the sky for 12 hours and then sets exactly in the west. So all over the world, at this special moment, day and night are of equal length hence the word equinox which means ‘equal night’.

Of course, for those of us here in the northern hemisphere it is this equinox that brings us out of our winter.

For those in the southern hemisphere, this time is the autumnal equinox that is taking you in to your winter. And this is very much how I think of the equinoxes – as the ‘edges’ of winter. This is why they can be quite hard on our bodies as it is a major climatic shift, so it is a good time to give a boost to your immune system with natural remedies and cleansing foods.

Here in Wiltshire (as with the rest of rural Britain), it was traditional to drink dandelion and burdock cordials at this time as these herbs help to cleanse the blood and are a good tonic for the body after its winter hardships.

As the Vernal Equinox heralds the arrival of spring, it is a time of renewal in both nature and the home, so time for some spring-cleaning!

This is more than just a physical activity, it also helps to remove any old or negative energies accumulated over the dark, heavy winter months preparing the way for the positive growing energy of spring and summer.

As with all the other key festivals of the year, there are both Pagan and Christian associations with the Spring Equinox.

To Pagans, this is the time of the ancient Saxon goddess, Eostre, who stands for new beginnings and fertility.

This is why she is symbolized by eggs (new life) and rabbits/hares (fertility).

Her name is also the root of the term we give to the female hormone, oestrogen.By now, you may be beginning to see the Christian celebration derived from this festival – Easter.

And this is the reason why the ‘Easter Bunny’ brings us coloured eggs (and if you’re lucky chocolate ones!) at this time of year.

So, as nature starts to sprout the seeds that have been gestating in her belly throughout the winter, maybe you can start to think about what you want to ‘sprout’ in your life now and start to take action. 

Celti Wheel

Celtic Wheel

In between these ‘sky points’ are the Cross-quarter days which mark ‘gear shifts’ in the energy of the earth. These times are also important agriculturally.

Imbolc (Beginning of February) is when the first lambs are born and ewe’s milk is available again after the long winter. The year is beginning to stir and wake-up.

Beltane (Beginning of May) is the transition from spring to summer when Nature is pumping with life-force and fertility.

Lammas (Beginning of August) is the time of ripeness and when the earth starts to give up her harvest.

Samhain (Beginning of November) is the end/beginning of the Celtic year. It is a time when the veil between the worlds is thinnest and it is possible to commune with the ancestors.

There is great joy in being aware of the seasons in this way and celebrating them in simple ways.

As the year unfolds, we will look in detail at the eight energy-points of the year and the ways in which they affect us.

We will also look at how these festivals have been celebrated in Wiltshire, both past and present.

Merlin – Stonehenge Tour Guide
Stonehenge Stone Circle








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