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Seasons & Cycles

`The eightfold cycle is the simple terminology for the Pagan calendar, it represents the eight festivals which include the two Solstices, the two Equinoxes and the four fire festivals celebrated by the Pagan tradition.

Though it may be thought that these traditions are merely interesting without specific link with the religious-philosophic ideas of the Ancestors, with a little reflection it can be shown that they are directly related to the actual figures of the French-Gallic, Irish/Scots Gaelic and the Cymric Welsh mythologies, as well as to some more distinctly English Myths.

This is essentially the death/rebirth period, it represents the death of the old Sun and a temporary victory of the dark, as daylight has been reduced to a minimum,(The shortest day). It is the birth of the Child-Sun, the seed period of the life spirit, also the birth of Lugh.
The night is representative as the Mother of Light and there are numerous names for the seasonal Mother Goddess figures, Ana appears to be the most respected here. According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, History of the kings of Britain. Ana was the sister to Arthur, and also Alban Arthuan means the light of Arthur. At this time Arthur is equated with the Sun God who dies and is reborn at the Winter Solstice.
Grail prophecies show that Arthur will be reborn from his slumbers in a secret cave in the Welsh mountains to return as saviour of these Isles

Of course, the Winter Solstice is represented in Christianity by the Nativity. In A.D. 273 the Church adopted this festival to be Christ's birthday, though it is not dated in the Gospels, it is fitting as Christ was the sun king of the piscean age and his birthday, therefore, should be the Winter Solstice.

The sun God Mithras was also born at the time of shortest light and maximum darkness, and it is at this time that the mystery of death and resurrection is acted out by the very planets themselves in the disappearance and reappearance of various planets.

The ceremony belongs to an open air setting traditionally and in particular to any site with orientations towards sunrise/sunset. The rebirth of light was a preoccupation of pre 2000BC man, New Grange in Ireland was built so that the rising midwinter sun passed along the upper gallery of the approach passageway and penetrated right into the centre chamber.

At Stonehenge, the departing sun sets through the SouthWest Trilithon, whilst the Sun is reborn at midwinter sunrise through the SouthEast Trilithon.

This is the Earth, its washing, clearing from debris and soaking with rain, personified as Mata. In festivities candles are often lit rising from bowls of water, this represents the masculine rising from the feminine waters of the womb.

Dana is the Mother of men, Dana was the ancestress of the 'Tuatha De Danaan' , though Brighid is the most practical and one of the most widespread of Earth-Mother forms. Brighid was the daughter of the Dagda and was patroness of Poets, healers and Smiths.

Imbolc, pronounced with a silent 'b', is the first of the four 'Fire festivals', and represents the first foetal stirrings of spring in the womb of the Mother Earth. It was recognised as a time of great importance by the Celts, Druids, Aztecs, Tibetans and Greeks, to most it marks the New year.

In the Christian version of the festival, it represents the time when the infant Jesus is taken to the temple to be presented. There Simeon took the infant in his arms and declared he was " A light to lighten the Gentiles". In the pastoral calendar it is the lambing season and it is no coincidence that Imbolc celebrates the bringing of children into the world, just as it is no coincidence that it celebrates the waxing of the powers of light, and the appearance of the first flowers, the snowdrops which have been called the purification flower, Christ's flowers or Candlemas bells.

From the 11th century onwards the Pagan candlelight processions at Candlemas were added to by the blessing of the candles at the altar. The Church, unable to stop the Pagan custom of bearing candles through the streets of Rome at Imbolc (Candlemas), in wisdom assimilated this tradition having had no success at repressing it.

It was Henry VIII who decreed that "the bearing of candles is done in memory of Christ, the Spiritual light, whom Simeon did prophecy, as it is read in the church that day".

Persephone returns to the light, the snow white droplet flowers appear once again, the infant Jesus, the shining world light is presented and recognised by Simeon and Anna, the white lambs are born and a year of light begins. Spring

The light of Earth, and a point of balance between day and night, a solar equinox. Through astronomical observance we know that this is the time when days begin to dominate nights, it is the growing of youth period and therefore a time of foliage returning to the trees, springtime moving towards summer.

" The story of Arthur portrays the truth across a wider time scale, just as the sun always returns to assure us of his presence, so too do the forces of light always return to us, even though they appear to be absent for a certain time. They never die, just as Arthur never died; they merely wait for the right moment to appear in our lives or the life of the planet ".
Chosen chief of the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids~ Philip Carr Gomm.

"Arthur after his battles for unity went to the land of the Sidhe. He comes again when there is need. He sleeps and does not die, he is dark to us when the light of this mortal world blinds us".
The age of Arthur John Morris Weidenfeld 1973

We see here how the prophecies tie into the Christian message, 'Out of darkness is born light', also linked to this message is the Arthurian promise that when light is most needed, at our darkest hour, Arthur, the light, will return and lead us from the waste land.

"We must alter our lives to alter our hearts, for it is impossible to live one way and pray another".
William law.

The magic and blossom of the young May Queen is most certainly that of the maiden Tricksy, form of the Mother Goddess in youth, who is Grainne in Ireland, (she who tricks Diarmuid into taking her away ). Diarmuid had a love spot which made him irresistible to women, Grainne tricked him into running away with her when she saw the ageing Fionn, (Diarmuid's uncle) who had come to woo her.

The story has parallels to that of Tristan and Isolt or Lancelot and Guinevere, but quite simply it is representative of the lovers. It was the traditional time for the Celtic weddings. The young couples would dance the spiral dances of the maypole or labyrinthe, and be joined in marriage by the Druid priests. Great love-making and merriment would then ensue and the couples were given a case of honey mead and sent into the forest for three nights of the full moon, to consumate their marriages. The couples drank the mead and lived off the fruits of the forest and their passion.

If we reduce drastically this ceremony we find the roots of the Christian marriage, where after the ceremony the groom is told he may kiss the bride. This is followed traditionally by the honeymoon or the period of the honey-mead moon.

Another major feature of the Beltane festival was the Beltane fires. Two fires were lit within the ceremonial circle and couples would dance through, or jump over the fires to bring fertility. Cattle and sheep were driven between the fires for fertility. Anyone who was caught between the fires and unable to pass through would be ill fated in love and unfortunate in marriage, hence the term 'Caught between two fires'.

The term Beltane pertains to the God of light 'Bel' equated with the Greek Apollo. The spiral dances which children dance around the maypole on Mayday, match the carvings and turf mazes found at ancient Celtic sites and have fertility significance.

Documented evidence is lacking but May eve games were certainly held at one Turf maze, The Julian's Bower at Alkborough, Humberside, according to ' Earth rites - Janet and Colin Bord Paladin books 1982.
The horned God of the forest Cernunnos is fairly certainly honoured here, considering the horn dances are also held on this day. He links with Robyn Hode, whose name is phallic, Robyn was a synonym for the male organ, which again is represented by the maypole.

This is the period of the full mature sun at its zenith, Alban heruin means the light of shore, the longest day where the battle for light over dark has been won. This is the largest of the Druid festivals and contains three ceremonies.

  • 1) The vigil observance
  • 2) The Dawn ceremony
  • 3) The Noon ceremony
The sun is definitely the victor having reduced darkness to a few hours, the swords of his rays have great potency but here is embodied another of the great Druidic teaching of paradoxes, for in reaching his apogee, he has also sown the seed of his downfall as from this point on the year begins its descent towards the time of the shortest day at the winter solstice where the cycle completes and renews itself.

This represents the marriage of Lugh, the light with the Mother Earth and shows the Goddess supreme with fertility; The ripening harvest. Brighid is the Mother Goddess and is represented in every field by the Corn Dolly.

Lugh, known as the God of light and fire, in Irish legend was the leader of the Tuatha de Danaan, (the peoples of the Goddess Dana) , and in the story of the Tuatha's victory over Fomores, Lugh spares the life of Bres, a captured enemy leader, in exchange for advice on ploughing, sowing and reaping.

The Festival of Lughnasa - Maire Macniell. Oxford university press, London, 1962. This book is a highly recommended compilation of Customs, Folklore and Legend associated with the eight festivals.

Lugh was the spiritual father of CuChulainn, and is considered analoguous to Llew and to the warrior Llwch Llawwynawch who helped Arthur obtain the cauldron from Annwn.

Robert Graves says, "The Anglo-Saxon form of Lughomass, was Hlaf-mass or Loaf- mass, with reference to the corn harvest and the killing of the corn King.

This represents the final part of the harvest, and is a time for thanks and reflection. It brings a realisation of dark days ahead, the representative God is Dagda, the wise old man with the gift of endless food and the mother Goddess is Ceridwen as nurse of all seeds.

Legend is attached to Ceridwen's cauldron of inspiration, in it she mixed the brew of inspiration, the all-knowing, all-seeing brew for her son Afaggdu. Gwionbach who tended the brew for a year and a day received the three drops of inspiration as the cauldron bubbled over and the three drops landed on his thumb. He immediately sucked his thumb and receded the knowledge that Ceridwen would seek and destroy him. He fled and Ceridwen gave chase in all forms of shape-shifting until finally Gwionbach turned himself into a grain of wheat and Ceridwen became a hen who ate the wheat. He quickened in the womb and when he was born, he was too beautiful for her to kill him so she sewed him in a leather bag and cast him into the weir. He was found by Elphin looking for salmon and noticing the shining brow of the child on opening the bag he called 'Taliesin' (shining brow) , "Taliesin it is!" replied the child.

Taliesin was known to be the father of Merlin, the all-knowing, all -seeing Bard of Bards.

This time of thanksgiving, knowledge and reflection has been Christianized as the Harvest festival.

A three day festival which takes in the consulting and propitiating of the ancestors, the opening of the gate to the otherworld and opening the gates of time.

Here Ceridwen is linked with Sybil. This is the oldest of the Druid festivals on record, given to the British order by an ancient order in Brittany and was translated from Breton. This is the only record for sacrifice, as it was not possible to keep the whole herds through the winter, the minimum breeding stock were kept alive and the rest of the herds were slaughtered and salted. It is said that the veils between worlds are thinner at this time and it is known as a time of transition.

The Christian version is known as All Hallows, All Saints and All Souls.

We can see by the small comparisons within the eightfold cycle, or Pagan calendar, how many similarities are formed between religions and mythology, and indeed just how many pagan traditions have been Christianized over the centuries.

In the Grail mysteries Arthur is almost certainly likened to the Christ figure in Christianity, though Arthur himself was a Christian King, the stories, legends, surrounding Arthur are most certainly as parabolical as those of Christ in the Biblical parables, and have been used as teaching paradoxes by Druids for centuries.

The majority understand the legends of Arthur to begin and end at the Sword in the stone episode, which of course is not true as this is simply a chapter in a book of endless mystery and legend.

Underlying the mystery is a secret tradition which belongs to the mother earth herself, indeed Druidic teachings do commonly state that the stories are written in the earth. To try to enlighten one on the secret tradition of the Grail mysteries in an essay of this context and brevity is impossible, however, if we analyse some of the mentioned God/Goddess archetypes mentioned in the eightfold cycle, a primary understanding may at least be achieved.

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