Happy New Year to Druids everywhere, and to all those who honor a tradition forgotten, but not gone.
It’s now known as Hallowe’en, or the evening of All Hallows Day, the time of year when this Middle World is closest to the spiritual Otherworld, and when those in the Otherworld can most easily return to visit family, friends and others still here, and when those of us here in the Middle World can most easily visit the spirit worlds.
We do this by dressing up as “ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night,” as Robert Burns wrote.
To Celtic peoples, Nov. 1 is known as Samhain, the end of the harvest season and the end of the year. It also marks the beginning of a new cycle of the year, when we begin to enter the dark time as the sun fades and the spirits of the dark begin to dominate the season.
It is a time to reflect on the past and honor those who have crossed to the spirit world. It was and remains a time to mimic the tricksters of the spirit world and treat them to small favors so they would remain friendly.
Samhain (pronounced: SAH-win) is the first of eight festivals of the Druid year, all of which are still observed, even as they were given different names as a new spiritual tradition spread throughout the Celtic world.
Next is the Winter Solstice, Dec. 21, known to the ancients as Yule, when the sun seems to stop its retreat toward darkness and begins to return, metaphorically defeating the powers of darkness and returning to dominate the world.
Third in the series is Imbolc, Feb. 1, when the first early signs of spring begin to show through the sleeping earth. The groundhog emerges from his winter sleep, lambs are born and we look for new life in grass, trees and flowers. A carryover of this tradition is Groundhog Day, or Candlemas Day, the Feast of Lights.
Next in the cycle is the Spring Equinox, March 21, when days and nights are again in balance and people prepare in earnest for the return of the sun.
At Beltane, May 1, the Druidic cycle is half-way through the year as people honor Belenos, a god of love. It is also a time to gather flowers, to dance and to honor Mother Earth during the modern romance festival of Mayday.
Midsummer brings another festival, as the sun reaches its highest point in its yearly journey – the Summer Solstice, June 21.
Then comes Lughnasadh, Aug. 1, time to gather the first harvest of wheat and bake the first loaves of bread from the new harvest. It is the day to honor Lugh, the sun god, with dancing and feasting. It is also known as Lammas (loaf-mass) Day.
Lugh was also known as a warrior, with his Sword of Light, and is remembered in Hollywood as Luke Skywalker, with his laser sword.
The final festival in the Druid year is the Autumn Equinox, Sept. 21, when the days and nights are again in balance and it is time to prepare for the full harvest and begin preparations for winter.
All these festivals go back many centuries, before the time when a new spiritual tradition began to spread throughout Europe. Rather then try to ban them entirely, the missionaries gave them new names and adapted them to fit the new tradition.
Nevertheless, the old ways continue, as modern Druids incorporate them into newer belief systems.
John T. Harding is the author of “Druidry for Today: A Tradition Forgotten But Not Gone,” available as an ebook or in paperback from Amazon.