The Circle of the Year
Samhain - 31.10
Alban Arthan - 20-22.12
Imbolc - 01.02
Alban Eilir - 19-21.03
Beltane - 01.05
Alban Hefin - 21.06
Lughnasadh - 01.08
Alban Elfed - 22-24.09
It is time. The sacred tide of Samhain slowly arriving to knock on our door. The dark veil of the winter covering our hearts. Slumbering daylight dozing our minds. For endless rest.
The great Goddess is now sailing towards us over the seas from the West. The wind in her sails the ancient breath of the sea gods. She is coming to us in the shape of the Cailleach, the old hag who is filled with wisdom from a long and rich life of magic. She is mother earth who was born, has grown, ripened and is now dying after yet another fruitful year. We receive her with our warm hearts wide open, to cherish her and listen to the wise words she whispers in our ears. Not more than a breath. A spell embalmed by a wisp of mist leaving her crooked mouth. Her words are both seeds and fruit that she harvested for us this past year. Which seeds do we take with us to plant into the dark earth? Which fruit is rotting and needs to be softly laid onto the ground to grow a new layer of humus? Which fruit is unripe and wants to be cherished close to the heart?
As the night falls, we surrender to not knowing, not acting. We lie down on a bed of damp moss. Evergreen pines are sheltering us. Their low-hanging thick branches spread like swan wings over our tired souls. Small earth creatures start to rise up from the soil and cross our body. Tiny crawling spirits cleaning away inessentialities. Silver gossamer is woven around our arms, legs, belly, head and eyes as we sink deeper into surrender. Mushrooms grow between our toes and fingers and roots crawl into our hair. Soft moonlight trickles through the trees, like tears from the stars. Infinity brushing our hearts. Time is endless. Rest is forever.
And then, when the moon is fullest and darkest and fullest again, when she is shattering her light over this silver cocoon held by the roots of the earth. Then, the sidhe gather around us. To dance, in mesmerizing whirlwinds of light and shadow. To sing the purest melodies, golden threads filled with secrets and stories and answers that we thought would never come.
We smile. The blessing of Samhain.
The great bear of the north is fast asleep. Deep down in his cave, all is still. There is no now, wasn’t, won’t be – nothing. Time is emtpy, life is sleeping. The lice in his fur have all forgotten about the day. No-one remembers, no-one knows there ever was.
Yet. Imperceivably, life is quietly brewing, deep down in his cells. Where the light of summer has left a vague memory. Not a scar, but a warm imprint, maybe. A promise of being ready. When.
The deepening of the night has come to a halt. The darkest dark can go no further. Time is forced to bend, back into the loop. For even he has to surrender to her endless cycle, of growth and decay.
The cycle: not a prison, but a promise. When we are free falling, lost under a dark curtain of despair. The black night weighing us down. We can count on her curves. And trust the imprint in our cells. All that is holding us back, the past whispering to us – of pains, and fears, of warnings, false reassurings. All that wants to be shed now for us to be able to listen. To hear the light when its first tones start tingling in our ears.
Blow it to the winds. Let it drop to the soil with the endless rain. Spit it into the great blazing fire. It is no longer needed, it is no longer you. Let the cracks in your skin grow bigger. For soon the day will breathe again, and we will no longer be gasping for air. It is time to let the light return, and leave the dark behind.
There! The feeblest ray of light stirs in the dark. Did you see it? We almost missed it. Only seconds ... wait a minute … is that the day getting stronger? Is that the night going to sleep? It is, it is, my friend. It all starts with a hint of a sigh, the day’s longing, because it knows its time is coming. Bless the dark. Bless the light.
Blessed Alban Arthan.
No longer are we walking in the dark. On rare mornings, sunrise melts through the swollen grey and catches us by surprise. The earth wakes up, Cernunnos stirs from his sleep. A long yawn, a frosted exhalation of elegant mist, tumbling over the fields, gathering all the fog that has clouded our hearts. Stronger and stronger the sun grows, until the cotton strings evaporate before our eyes. Our mists want dissolving, our skins want shedding. What once felt so comfortable has grown too tight for us now. And yet we are no more than just being.
When the melting water gushes down rivers and waterfalls choke with eagerness, hold on to that still pool of winter. Not fiercely clinging onto branches for fear of being washed away. Let go, surrender to the wildening waters, discover the pure joy of its playfulness. Our inner stillness remains undisturbed.
A bold woodpecker mocks in the distance. Cheeky chitterings dance around our ears. The birds want to play. Specks of light cheer up the forest floor. Like quartz crystals, or tiny squeals of joy. Snowdrops winking at you. Did you forget? The tearful twigs and buds, the mouldy roots – did you think it was forever? Before long these wooded lungs will be buzzing with pollen, and thick green leaves will sway in the winds … snowdrops only a prelude to the luscious symphony of spring. Like the lustful outburst of a new moon. The sensual thrill that so easily flows into desire and back. Any time now, we can fall in love again. And kiss the stars, who are about to drown in sunlight.
Imbolc, we are ready.
An island just off the shore, no more than a large granite rock and high cliffs dotted with the whitest seagulls you have ever seen. A tiny world in itself that never, under any weather conditions, seems to really find its peace, what with the endless piercing cries of the gulls and the wicked flapping of their winged friends. For a few days a year, dusk and dawn are lit up by a wild feast. From afar rays of light are seen, shooting off between dark grey clouds against soft pastel strokes in the sky. That’s where you’ll find them. A ravishing dance, a wild waltz of growing and diminishing powers. Contestants alternatingly towering over eachother, a matter of life and death, with all the elemental turmoil that comes with it: low but brightly piercing rays of sunlight, fierce hail storms and uprooting drizzle-filled winds.
Until suddenly, for the briefest of moments, all comes to a quiet halt. The conjuring dance freezes. Dance partners stop in their tracks, turn around and stare into eachother’s eyes. They know about this moment, of perfect balance. Tentatively at first, but greedily soon after, Day embraces Night, Light envelops Dark, Sun lights Moon and blissful contentedness sinks down into their breast. ‘Surrender,’ it is whispered, ‘Day is mine again’. The glass-like voice of Light beams into Dark. Instantly defeated she retreats to Night. Surrender only being temporarily, she knows. ‘Sooner we meet again’, she hisses to Light. But he is smiling, the stupified smile of blissful victory, lovingly wrapped around Day. My time has come, he thinks, and it will be bright, joyful, filled with laughter. All born from this very moment, this quiet balance, these peaceful hours.
A young blackbird boldly tries to stretch the day with his twilight song. Nobody wants to ruin its youthful eagerness. And besides, there is no stopping them now. Day, Light, Sun … they’re on a roll.
Alban Eilir, Light of the Earth, we’re done looking back.
Let’s move on.
Freedom! We run and run, breaths lost, hair loose. Over tender meadows full of eager grass, luminous valleys of fresh green blood. Abundant juicy life emerges where land was thought dead. A barren body has found its true fertility. We play and dance, and throw ourselves squealing with laughter into the arms of the beckoning unknown. No dangerous note can be heard in the enchanting song of the blackbird, luring us deeper and deeper into the woods. Or do you discern anything but joy in the cuckoo’s teasing peek-a-boo? No! This is not the time for reason nor consequences. Fall, head over heels! Taste, nay devour! Suck in the bewildering perfume of spring until you drop down drunk. Aaaah, drunk with bubbling bellies of excitement.
Darkness. All evening, they have been waiting patiently. A circle of men around an immense pile of fire wood. They watched the women prepare, the evening fall, the blackbirds grow silent, the stars rise and the owls hoot over the grassy curves around them. Until this very moment, right before midnight, the tension grown into a sharp silence. A line of torches dances up the hill top as a band of women carries the remnants of Samhain’s devastating fire into the circle. Each of them halting before a man. Then, without so much as a glance exchanged, torches are handed over, places swapped, women sink down and men step forward. Holding their torches high up in the air as a long potent cry leaves their chest – then, they light Bel’s fire.
A humming sound travels around the circle as anxious flames are licking their way up towards the top. But the men aren’t watching this heated play. They each rush down the hill into five directions – the five gates to the five corners of this land. And before long, the surrounding hills cast the blackest of shadows as they light up with numerous fires. As far as the eye can see, Bel’s treasure is carried across the old pathways, from man to man and mound to mound, until it reaches the furthest cliffs of this land. Deeper into the night, the central fire is calling. Men and women flood the sacred circle to join Cernunnos’ grand spectacle: a wild feast of burning loins and bursting hearts. The blazing fire feeding their mounting hunger to a ravishing heat. A great ball of fertility.
Eruption! And a subsiding energy pumping the last tension out of your chest, until you are utterly numb, dazed with nectar and bliss. This is Beltane. Fuck yes.
This is summer! An overwhelming wealth of blossoms and pollen, wafts of a million smells melting together, stuffing our noses with sneezes, smothering us with joy. Fierce light squeezes tears from our eyes as we try to follow the squealing swallows cutting through the midday sky. You feel an urge to get up and run. An irresistable desire to live to the full, experience more, meet new people, develop, roll out, achieve. Goal upon goal. We’re on a roll. Creations shoot out of our hands, as were we magicians, alchemists, master over matter at last. Yet like a child, we fool around with our fresh skills, shooting our nuts of gold in every direction with the carelessness of a young master. Not yet blistered by hubris and failure, convinced there’s only one way. Up.
This machine we curiously aborded at Beltane has gathered speed. At first we were boldly cheering for more in utter thrill. But then it sped up, more and more, roaring with an unsettling thunder, and now there seems to be no halting this rollercoaster. There’s no choice but to surrender to its speed, and take in, suck in, absorb, without understanding, without grounding, harder and harder, faster and faster, the corners of the smile on our face drawing back all the way to our ears, the mask of frenzy. All we know, all we’ve gathered is violently slung to furthest corners, like layers of skin ripped from our bones. But are we enjoying?
Fuck yes, we’re enjoying! And all the while, the generosity of mother earth poured by the gallon into our throats. This is life to the full, this is what we’ve been longing for all these dark nights of dull silence and loneliness. We’re alive, we have no idea where this is going, or where we’re coming from. Or how to stop this bloody whirlwind. Or will it stop? Will we ever be able to catch our breaths and grasp what has happened here?
We fall on our backs, heads crowned by long grass, wee winged beings hovering above us, fluttering thoughts as we drift off. A huge rock wall is towering above our heads, a cave at its feet. A mother lifting her skirts to show us where we will sleep. Later, when the nights are long and this brightest light is fading again. But not yet. Not yet is the cave beneath her skirts inviting enough to tempt us away from the velvet summer meadows. And so we lie still, and wait. Awake. Long hours of endless light, the sun never tired and reluctant to let the night sink below dusk. Persistant in its eerie grey and blue, sticking to the hours passing by. These summer nights last forever.
Twilight creatures rustle in shrubs while we wait by the fire. Dozing, no longer counting as we sink deeper into the night. Until right before dawn, when the mists draw up but the mighty sun is still asleep, we suddenly become aware of a circle of elders. There is no sound, and hardly any contours - more like shadows, an awareness of faint bodies next to us, across and opposite, all around the fire. Together we are holding this space, embracing the fire, backs straight, heads up high, no matter how tired and weary, for right before sunrise, right before light conquers the earth again, despair is deepest and hope most needed. Yet in this bond of ancestors, we feel immersed with trust.
And the moment we feel it, the light changes. The black night subdued, a gentle giggle of blueish yellow leaking into the sky. And then, confident beams splitting our heads with a loud cheer. Alban Hefin, we’ve looked the dark in the eye, but the lush ride is not over yet. This is summer!
Lugh is tired. The constant blazing light that shoots out of his eyes is wearing him out. Lazily the sun god bends down to kiss the Earth, the love of his life. So generously has she received his seed, so tenderly has she grown their fruit, so powerfully she now delivered our long awaited produce. The pinnacle of hours, days, weeks of patiently biding, gliding along a stream of unconsciousness. Not wanting, not needing to know what lay just beyond our grasp. And all of the sudden, the narrow scenery opens up to a broad landscape, fields filled with rich harvest, trees bursting with juicy fruit. Ready for us to gather our reserves for the darker months to come.
Sundown. Another day of dry and hot August air lies down. Laden stillness that finally breezes into pastel streaks across the horizon. One planet brightly pierces through the blue blanket, an early announcement of the breathtaking explosion of stars due at night. But for now, the vast soothing sea of air above us is capturing our gaze, if we listen carefully it still whispers of summer evenings of endless light. Hypnotised, we hardly notice how darkness is creeping up from under our toes, gradually leaking into the grass, shrubs and even trees over our heads. Until we look ahead at the horizon, the orange boundary to that limitless indigo expanse that we do not own: pitch black silhouettes outline the limits of our earthly realm. Below the horizon, we are submitted to the circle of time, of seasons and age, of day and night. And now, that night is falling. The few rippling clouds become dark patches and the last pale blue floats off to the west, towed away by the sun. Lugh’s last kiss on the lips of today. Lughnasadh, sweet and sour. We tumble around with glee in your bounty and turn a blind eye to the mounting chill.
We are leaving the meadows and walking the long way down again, following the groove of a winding mountain burn. Down, to our cave at the foot of the mountain, close to the heart of the mother. The sky is getting darker, the air slowly thickening with moisture. But if we turn around, the sun is still bright behind us, beaming confidence and setting fire to the grass tops waving us farewell. What lays before us is a calming blanket, a time of digesting all that we have gained and lost over the past half year, during that whirling and heart-filling sun tide. As we are winding our way down, we balance on the rim between two tides: day to one side, night to the other. From sun tide, where the fierce power of the fire star stirs us ever forward, to moon tide, where we are ruled by a paler, softer power. A gentle strength that we sometimes mistake for weakness, until we get caught in its spiralling hypnosis, too late recognising the false face of our hubris.
Are we ready to plunge into the dark again, into the womb of the Cailleach? To surrender in blissful oblivion, our cauldron filled with courage after a season of mirth and bustle. To surrender to the great goddess of transformation disguised as an old hag, who stirs us upside down in her slow brew of deadly herbs, stripping us of every delusion, every excess, dead ends and false intentions. And when it feels like the brewing is stretching forever, when time and matter seem to have melted into an amorphous substance and we are just bodies drifting in that endless cosmic goo, she hauls us back, like the loving mother she always was. We rise naked, empty but free.
Autumn equinox, we find ourselves staring at the running water before us. The cheery trickling that guided us down the mountain has now swollen into a swirling river, a threshold to the rest of our journey to the cave. Alban Elfed, light of the water reflecting our soul. We breathe in bravely and cross your gate.