The long dark night.

Winter-Solstice-Stonehenge

Winter Solstice at Stonehenge

In 2019 December 22nd is the shortest day of the year, and the longest night.  Tonight the Sun dies and tomorrow it is reborn.

This is the night of Druantia, the white goddess, the Celtic tree goddess, the moon goddess, the triple goddess of Birth, Love and Death, the muse of the Celtic poets. Queen of the Druids, Wiccans and Neo-Pagans.  Virgin, drudge, whore, muse, hag and crone. Daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, fertile cornocopia or barren spinster.  She is the queen of the faeries and she is personified as a Wren.

In Celtic Druidic tradition the “Hunting of the Wren” was a ritual to see out the old and see in the new as the darkest day of winter passed.  The Christian Church in Ireland worked hard to eliminate the Celtic practice of Goddess Worship.  They made the wren into a traitor, who revealed the hiding place of St. Stephen who was then stoned to death.

 

To Juan at the Winter Solstice; by Robert Graves

There is one story and one story only
that will prove worth your telling,
whether as learned bard or gifted child;
to it all lines or lesser gauds belong
that startle with their shining
such common stories as they stray into.

Is it of trees you tell, their months and virtues,
or strange beasts that beset you,
of birds that croak at you the Triple will?
Or of the Zodiac and how slow it turns
below the Boreal Crown,
prison to all true kings that ever reigned?

Water to water, ark again to ark,
from woman back to woman:
So each new victim treads unfalteringly
the never altered circuit of his fate,
bringing twelve peers as witness
both to his starry rise and starry fall.

Or is it of the Virgin’s silver beauty,
all fish below the thighs?
She in her left hand bears a leafy quince;
when, with her right hand she crooks a finger, smiling,
how many the King hold back?
Royally then he barters life for love.

Or of the undying snake from chaos hatched,
whose coils contain the ocean,
into whose chops with naked sword he springs,
then in black water, tangled by the reeds,
battles three days and nights,
to be spewed up beside her scalloped shore?

Much snow if falling, winds roar hollowly,
the owl hoots from the elder,
fear in your heart cries to the loving-cup:
Sorrow to sorrow as the sparks fly upward.
The log groans and confesses:
There is one story and one story only.

Dwell on her graciousness, dwell on her smiling,
do not forget what flowers
the great boar trampled down in ivy time.
Her brow was creamy as the crested wave,
Her sea-blue eyes were wild
but nothing promised that is not performed.

Wren Hunting

wren

Happy St. Stephens Day. The Irish Countryside tradition is one of hunting. Fox hunting for some and Wren hunting for others. The Wren was the Celtic symbol of the old year, and was sacrificed in ancient Druidic tradition. Later this practice was Christianised by having the Wren responsibile for revealing the hiding place of the Martyr St Stephen.
In the best traditions the Wrenboys dress in motley outfits and go from door to door with a fake wren on a pole. They then sing songs, dance or play music to collect contributions which are used to fund a big party on St Stephens night.
It may be from this tradition that we get the practice of Christmas Carollers calling door to door collecting money for charities.
In Ireland the Wrenboys put pressure on the ‘donors’ with a rhyme or song such as this one below.

The wran, the wran, the king of all birds,
On St. Stephen’s day was caught in the furze.
His body is little but his family is great
So rise up landlady and give us a trate.
And if your trate be of the best
Your soul in heaven can find its rest.
And if your trate be of the small
It won’t plaze the boys at all.
A glass of whiskey and a bottle of beer
Merry Christmas and a glad New Year.
So up with the kettle and down with the pan
And give us a penny to bury the wran.

Happy Imbolc

Image

February 1st, St Bridgets Day, and the beginning of Spring.  Irish school kids are taught to make simple crosses from rushes to learn the story of St Bridget of Kildare.  A fascinating lady who embodies elements of the ancient pagan celtic goddess Brigid.  Feb 1st is the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.  The “cross-quarter” days were very special in the pagan celtic calendar.  This year Imbolc fell on the 3rd of Feb.  It is a season of fertility and fecundity, a very un-Catholic thing, definitely not something you want to associate with a nun.

Her Oratory was built under an Oak, a tree sacred to the Druids.  Her monastery tended an “eternal fire” guarded for hundreds of years by 19 nuns.  A practice which was almost stamped out by the Norman bishop of Dublin, and lasted until the reformation of the church.

The cross of St Bridget looks far more like a Celtic fertility symbol to me than any facsimile of the cross of Christ.  But who knows?  Its origin is hidden by the mists of time.

Of course, you have to be careful not to confuse the Irish St Bridget with the Swedish St Brigit, she of the 15 prayers.  No relation whatsoever!

Anyway, I need a poem.  Where am I going to find a poem about springtime that embodies the concept of a Pagan Celtic Fire Goddess who inspires artistic creativity and fertility?  A fecundity of both the land and the spirit!  Tricky……..

The Enkindled Spring:  by D. H. Lawrence

This spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green,
Wild puffing of emerald trees, and flame-filled bushes,
Thorn-blossom lifting in wreaths of smoke between
Where the wood fumes up and the watery, flickering rushes.
I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration
Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze
Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration,
Faces of people streaming across my gaze.
And I, what fountain of fire am I among
This leaping combustion of spring? My spirit is tossed
About like a shadow buffeted in the throng
Of flames, a shadow that’s gone astray, and is lost.