Irish-American Witchcraft: Themes of Celebration – Sun and Shadow

Irish-American Witchcraft: Themes of Celebration – Sun and Shadow August 16, 2016

Recently in a conversation on an ADF discussion group Ian Corrigan asked a question about the connection between choosing deities appropriate to  holiday and establishing a viable local practice that fit with the person’s own practice and environment (I’m obviously paraphrasing here). This naturally spun off a bit and garnered several responses but it also got me thinking about the way that my own approach to holidays is multilayered.  I think of it a bit like celebrating in sun and shadow, hence the title of today’s blog, with the sun representing the public Druidic side of my practice and the shadow representing the private witchcraft side of things. Of course its not exactly that simple, and there’s the ‘and’ that bridges the middle to include as well, the Fairy aspects. So I thought perhaps I’d share a bit here about how I structure things and how it all fits together and works as a whole.

the sun setting behind a tree lined hill
Sunset at Samhain / Photo by M. Daimler

First the Sun. The name is a bit tongue in cheek, but with the exception of Samhain and some parts of Imbolc all of my Druidic practices are celebrated during daylight hours so its a fitting name anyway. The cycle of holidays for me is divided between an Irish ‘hearth’ centered on the Irish myths and especially those of the Tuatha De Danann, and a Germanic one. I’ve had a mixed hearth for many years at this point, but I approach it by honoring different things at different points rather than blending them together. These are all holidays that are celebrated with my whole family, are very family-friendly, and not very esoteric.

  1. Samhain – celebrated as a three day holiday, a time to honor the Gods, spirits, and ancestors, and to honor the shift from summer to winter.  We tell stories of the gods fighting against the Fomorians, and of the union of the Dagda and the Morrigan.
  2. Yule – 12 days from the solstice to the new year. At this time I especially acknowledge the house spirits, disir, and Wodan and Frau Holle. I also honor the Irish goddess Grian. Its a pretty busy time of year.
  3. Oimelc – a holiday celebrating the home and hearth, focused on cleansing and blessing. Brighid is honored in particular.
  4. Spring equinox – We honor our disir at this time as well as the bear goddess Artio.
  5. Bealtaine – celebrated as a three day holiday, a time to honor the arrival of the gods in Ireland, and the world more generally, and to celebrate the shift from winter to summer.
  6. Midsummer – At midsummer we honor and offer to Aine. This usually involves cake.
  7. Bron Trogain – a holiday celebrating the beginning of the harvest and honoring the bounty of the earth. We honor Macha in particular.
  8. Autumn Equinox – we celebrate this as a Germanic alfablot, a time to offer to the alfar and renew our connections to and reciprocity with the hidden folk of the land around us, especially the mounds.
predawn light filtered through clouds over a lake
Imbolc in my area – more daylight, hints of spring under the snow / Photo by M. Daimler

Shadow of course represents the deeper esoteric celebrations on each holiday, which for me tend to focus on Macha, Nuada, and the Morrigan more generally. These tie in to my witchcraft practices, specifically my Irish bantuiathech practices. Some of these are related to Irish mythology but are also more based on my own gnosis and personal experiences and preferences.

  1. Samhain – I reflect on the battle between the Tuatha De Danann and the Fomorians, and remember that in myth it is said that it is now that Macha and Nuada fell together in battle. I contemplate the importance of sacrifice for a cause and the impermanence of death. Theme: death
  2. Winter Solstice – in my personal practice the darkest part of the year belongs to Badb, and is a time for prophecy and for the spirits of the dead and the Otherworld. More than usual that is. Theme: the Otherworld/regeneration
  3. Oimelg – I reflect on Macha the wife of Nemed and her clearing of the plains for cultivation. I see this as a cosmogenical act and honor Macha in this guise as a creator of the world. Theme: birth/creation
  4. Spring Equinox – I reflect on  the three Morrigans causing strife and think about how without challenges and the urge to suceed we would not grow and change. Theme: growth/change
  5. Bealtaine – I reflect on the agreement between the Tuatha De Danann (and aos sidhe) and people when the gods went into the sidhe, and the way that reciprocity between us and the Powers creates balance and blessing.  Theme: fertility/renewal
  6. Midsummer – I reflect on the battle between the Fir Bolg and the Tuatha De Danann, and the use of magic by the three Morrigans, together, to subdue their enemies. A time to contemplate the importance of using power to serve the community. Theme: community
  7. Bron Trogain – I reflect on Macha of the Fairies, who cursed the men of Ulster. I believe personally that it was at a Lughnasadh Oenach that Macha was forced to race the king’s horses so it is at this holiday that I think about her story especially, and the importance of knowing when cursing is justice and when to disrupt the order so that ultimate it can be restored. Theme; harvest
  8. Autumn equinox – I reflect on Macha Mongruadh who was queen by her own hand. I see in her story many valuable lessons about knowing your own worth and standing up and fighting for yourself. Theme: effort

Now that’s two layers, and of course there’s a third–the “and” I mentioned–which is the Fairy Witchcraft aspect to things. This is less a matter of what I do as it is a matter of an awareness of the shifting of things from one time to another and an awareness of which Power is dominant during which part of the year. It’s kind of like paying attention to what the tide is doing when you live on the shoreline — you don’t so much do anything about it as you do certain things when the time is best for them to be done, if you understand what I’m saying. There is a pattern to the holidays as well, and who rules over what, and the moons tie in, but its so much more strongly woven into daily life as well that just cutting it up into eight slices does it a disservices I think. I’d also have to double the length of this blog to fit all that in, so I think leaving it at this is enough for now. Everyone needs a little bit of Mystery after all.

Wild roses and rose hips in the late summer / Photo by M. Daimler
Wild roses and rose hips in the late summer / Photo by M. Daimler

This all might seem like a lot but really it isn’t, it all fits together for me pretty seamlessly. The “Sun” celebrations are fun things, active and full of things to do, things that emphasize connecting and celebrating with my children and community. They also help me stay connected to the wider household Gods we honor and to the spirits of hearth and land.  The “shadow” celebrations are contemplative things that emphasize my devotion to more specific Gods and to my magical practices. They have a stronger theme that grows and evolves and links each to the next. The Fairy celebrations are a sort of constant thing, I guess I could compare it to oxygen, if the sun celebrations are breathing out and the Shadow are breathing in, then the fairy are the air itself, the thread that holds it all together underneath.

It seems complex but because everything is interrelated and built on the others it all actually flows together so it never seems like that much at all really. All of them hinge on paying attention to the world around us, to what is actually going on, to seeing and appreciating both our part in the world as well as the grander pattern of nature. The stories of the gods, the stories of Macha by her different names, and the way that Fairy interweaves into all of it doesn’t contradict the circles of nature but rather goes along with it and helps us feel more connected to it. It’s not a foreign thing we need to put ourselves into, it’s what we are already part of.

It’s the pattern of living, of breathing, ceaselessly in a cycle.

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