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On Sunday the 18th of June, the Druids of Silver Birch Grove ADF (Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship) hosted a public and inclusive Winter Solstice ritual in collaboration with the PCV. I thought it might be a good idea to write a little bit about the ritual for posterity…and this blog. After all, I just so happened to be the one who led that ritual.
Druidry tends to draw together those with a more Celtic inclination and emphasis on nature. ADF encourages it’s members to explore one or more of the related Indo-European hearth cultures. As a practitioner of both Ásatrú and ADF Druidry it was only natural that I would write a ritual for Yule bringing together Norse traditions in the context of an ADF ritual. Yule is a favorite High Day for me and is one of the most jolly and sacred times of year: the Norse New Year.
The weather was cool but a clear day. We were fortunate to have 20 attendees, from a diversity of paths, backgrounds and walks of life. We formed a procession into the circle of stones, surrounded by the sacred grove, with the rhythm of Geoff and Mel’s drums. We gathered around the cairn of stones, with a guided meditation as the creek flowed over the rocks nearby. We followed the ADF core order of ritual, hidden in plain sight within a pocket of urban bushland. Heimdall warded the ways as the gate keeper, Bragi was implored for inspiration. By a good fire, a silvered well and a sacred tree we welcomed, honoured and gave gifts to Jord (the earth mother), the ancestors, the land wights and the Gods. Our deity of the occasion was Skadi, fierce goddess of winter, the mountains, the wild, archery and skiing. I told an ancient myth of her time with Njord by the sea. I had carefully crafted an arrow from fragrant mountain cedar wood and knapped an arrowhead from some bluestone I found on a trail in the Hills. I carried the arrow around the circle and past the altar as the drums intensified and cast it into the fire as a sacrifice. Others than made their own offerings, including Mark’s carefully made Yule goat. Sad to see such pieces invested with such time and care turn to flame and smoke, but that was part of the point after all.
Our ash tree Yule log burned on the fire. The altar decked in Yule decorations of pine, holly, white winter flowers and the last of autumnal oak leaves, held a statue of Skadi, the grove treasurers and the sun chariot. I gathered my runes to take the omen. Just as I started to turn toward the altar 3 ravens swooped through the middle of the grove and our ritual participants! Surely a sign that our ritual and offerings were well received?
The runes answered with Inguz, Fehu and Teiwaz. A sign that we had been building things up in the last year, that we had been generous with what we shared or gave back and that with sacrifices , we would be successful in the times ahead. A good Yule omen after having gifted some offerings, indeed.
I then led a sumbel rite where guests were invited to make any of the following: a toast in thanks or to ask the Gods, land wights or ancestors, a boast or an oath over the mead horn. Yule is an especially auspicious time for this. There were many fine toasts, boasts and a couple of renewed oaths. Not to mention, a lot of spiced mead!
The spirits were thanked and merrily the ritual drew to a close. The drums sounded once more as the procession left the circle. Afterwards there was a festive picnic feast as people enjoyed and afternoon of conversation and laughter.
At the time I was busy. My concern was for everyone else, the ritual and sacred space. Later I took it all in and reflected on the spiritual experience of it all. I was glad to hear everyone had felt welcome and enjoyed their time experiencing the sacred through the practices of two traditions. It is a humbling but beautiful experience to share your spiritual traditions and sacred practices for others from our Victorian Pagan community.
This article by PCV committee member Dean is from the 2017 Summer edition of Oak Leaves, the quarterly international publication of ADF.
The June Solstice is the Winter Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. South of the Equator the seasons are the reverse of those in the Northern Hemisphere. For ADF members in Australia then the short answer is to simply flip the Wheel of the Year so that we celebrate the High Days in accordance with the seasons here. Australia is a country, an island and a continent. It ranges from tropical rainforests near the Equator to vast wetlands and deserts, spinifex plains, saltbush scrub, mallee, dry open eucalypt woodlands, mountains ranges, cool ferny forested gullies and Mountain Ash forest – the largest flowering trees on Earth, all the way to the icy sub-Antarctic islands. Most parts of Australia have anywhere from 2-10 seasons reflected in Aboriginal knowledge and modern ecological understandings of the cycles at work within various ecosystems.
So what’s an ADF member to do for their personal or Grove High Day observances? We have to think about what the High Days mean to us as individuals and Groves. We have to think about the ADF Core Order of Ritual, the traditions of our Indo-European Hearth Cultures and balance that with what is going on in the local environment in which we live, work and come together for ritual. The Solstices and Equinoxes are astrological fixed points that do affect the amount of daylight, heat and behaviours of flora and fauna and the Cross-quarter days still hold traditional significance even if they have little agricultural basis in Australia. A sense of tradition, personal and/or ancestral connection to Indo-European Hearth Cultures is often a substantial factor in what draws people to Neo-Paganism and to ADF in particular here. Attunement with what is happening in nature, through ADF practices and simply spending time regularly in the local environment provides ample opportunities for observation of what is happening at different times near you, whether it is the oak shedding its leaves or the blue gum shedding its bark, or the flowering of daffodils or banksia trees.
Silver Birch Grove is my local Grove in Melbourne. It is Celtic in Hearth Culture, while my own Hearth Culture is Norse. Yule (in June) is my ritual new year, and my favourite High Day! When I lead a ritual for our Grove’s Yule celebration I try to incorporate traditions from the Norse into our High Day. There’s no snow, but morning frosts and the chance of cold rain…which always seems to stay clear while we hold our rituals. The creek is flowing higher with rain water, the damp earth of the nemeton has sprouted winter grass, while the eucalyptus and wattle surrounding our grove are lush and green. It is actually safe for us to have a ritual fire in our portable fire pit (fire is banned over most of Summer) for our Yule log. People bring holly, sprigs of pine and pinecones as well as native foliage from their gardens to add to the altar. The local blue-tongued lizards have gone into torpor. The calls of Australian magpies, little ravens and cockatoos as well as Winter visitors from the hills like currawongs and yellow robins rise through the air.
Last year at Yule we had Thor as our deity of the occasion. We usually tell a story of the deity of the occasion and last year I told the story of Thor and his goats visiting a family at Yule. The poor family had no food to offer their guest hospitality so Thor revealed himself and killed his goats to feed them and provide a feast with ample leftovers for the coldest nights. In the morning, he resurrected the goats from their bones with his hammer Mjolnir and continued on his way. We had a special imported beer with a goat on it as a perfect offering in addition to our usual offerings. When it came to the waters of life, I work in a sumbel, for Yule is traditionally a good time for one. As I bring my drinking horn filled with more mead than usual, participants are invited to make a boast, a toast or an oath. Yule being an especially auspicious time for oaths. We do three rounds for people to reflect on the past year, the present and the future. The ritual went well, Thor seemed pleased and the folk seemed jolly as we finished the ritual and had our own picnic feast.
For those of us in Australia the challenge is to find relevant meanings in our High Day celebrations that bring together aspects of traditional Hearth Cultures within very different environments. It’s still something that is unfolding and perhaps with more ADF members in time we will see a diversity of new expressions of old Hearth Cultures honouring the Kindreds Down Under.