The Old Corpse Road Folklore Collective
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The dog or hound has ever been a faithful servant of humanity and this is reflected in British myth and folklore where the dog is frequently one of the helping animals of the hero's search. Arthur's Cabal is one such dog, and Fionn's Bran and Sceolan are others. The dog is important in Celtic myth and appears frequently with hunter-gods, such as Sucellos, the 'Good Striker', and with the Horse-goddess Epona. Dogs were the usual attendants of the Celtic Mother Goddesses. When a god accompanied the Mother, he often took the form of a dog. The Celtic healer god Nodens took on his zoomorphic aspect as a dog. Dogs are associated with the healing waters. Canines have long been associated with Moon deities, especially Crescent New Moon Goddesses. Managarmr (Moondog) was the mightiest of all dog-wolf supernatural beings according to a Norse story.
In Celtic tradition spirits have been associated with springs and wells from the earliest times. In ancient Gaul the tutelary spirit was occasionally a god, such as Grannos or Borvo: more often the custodian of the healing spring was a fertility goddess, always beautiful, sometimes dangerous, and these female deities have metamorphosed over time into the faeries of popular tradition.
(or Gessa, plur. for Geis) Singular: Geas(gaysh), plural: Gease(gaysha).
Caesar said the goose was sacred to Celtic tribes and was not considered edible, because of her connection with the Sun-Egg. For similar reasons, medieval superstition forbade the killing of a goose in midwinter, when the sun was thought to be in need of maternal care to gain strength for the new seasons. Like other formerly sacred creatures, geese were said to contain souls of the unbaptized (pagans).It was associated with both Celtic and
Teutonic war gods, who were accompanied by a horse and a goose. In Gallic iconography epona, The Divine Horse, is depicted riding on a horned goose.
The Norse did not eat the goose.
Owls are one of the oldest species of vertebrate animal in existence, fossils have been found dating back 60 million years, showing the bird to have changed very little in that time. Throughout the history of mankind, the owl has featured significantly in mythology & folklore.
Owls are one of the few birds that have been found in prehistoric cave paintings. Owls have been both revered & feared throughout many civilisations from ancient to more recent times.
Autumn Equinox / Mabon / Alban Elfed. The autumnal equinox occurs when the sun crosses the equator on it's apparent journey southward, and we experience a day and a night that are of equal duration. This is before before the descent to the dark times. It is a time of balance, but light gives way to increased darkness. This balance in nature presented a powerful time for magic.To the ancients, this was a sacred time. A harvest festival is held, thanking the Goddess for giving us enough sustenance to feed us through the winter. Harvest festivals of many types still occur today in farming country
Since most European peasants were not accomplished at calculating he exact date of the equinox, they celebrated the event on a fixed calendar date, September 25th.
The Irish saw this time of year as the Waning of the Goddess. From the Summer to the Winter Solstice, they would hold festivals for the God who was seen as a dark, threatening being. To the Goidelic Celts, the spring was the time of joy in the rebirth of the Goddess. To Brythonic Celts, however, this was the time of the death of the God (the Sun or the Grain God).
It is the second harvest, and the Goddess mourns her fallen consort, but the emphasis is on the message of rebirth that can be found in the harvest seeds, It is a good time to walk the forests, gathering dried plants for use as altar decorations or herbal magick. Cornbread and cider are good additions to festivities and fall leaves make good altar decorations."The Light of the Water," the first day of Autumn, was also called Harvesthome. The Autumnal Equinox was the day when the sun again began to wane, as the dark half of the year drew near.
Mythically, this is the day of the year when the god of light is defeated by his twin and alter-ego, the god of darkness. It is the time of the year when night conquers day. And as I have recently shown in my seasonal reconstruction of the Welsh myth of Blodeuwedd, the Autumnal Equinox is the only day of the whole year when Llew (light) is vulnerable and it is possible to defeat him. Llew now stands on the balance (Libra/autumnalequinox), with one foot on the cauldron (Cancer/summer solstice) and his other foot on the goat (Capricorn/winter solstice). Thus he is betrayed by Blodeuwedd, the Virgin (Virgo) and transformed into an Eagle (Scorpio).
Two things are now likely to occur mythically, in rapid succession. Having defeated Llew, Goronwy (darkness) now takes over Llew's functions, both as
lover to Blodeuwedd, the Goddess, and as King of our own world. Although Goronwy, the Horned King, now sits on Llew's throne and begins his rule
immediately, his formal coronation will not be for another six weeks, occurring at Samhain (Halloween) or the beginning of Winter, when he becomes the Winter Lord, the Dark King, Lord of Misrule.
Goronwy's other function has more immediate results, however. He mates with the virgin goddess, and Blodeuwedd conceives, and will give birth -- nine
months later (at the Summer Solstice) -- to Goronwy's son, who is reallyanother incarnation of himself, the Dark Child.
Llew's sacrificial death at Harvest Home also identifies him with John Barleycorn, spirit of the fields. Thus, Llew represents not only the sun's power, but also the sun's life trapped and crystallized in the corn. Often this corn spirit was believed to reside most especially in the last sheaf or shock harvested, which was dressed in fine clothes, or woven into a wicker-like man-shaped form. This effigy was then cut and carried from the field, and usually burned, amidst much rejoicing.
So one may see Blodeuwedd and Goronwy in a new guise, not as conspirators who murder their king, but as kindly farmers who harvest the crop which
they had planted and so lovingly cared for. And yet, anyone who knows the old ballad of John Barleycorn knows that we have not heard the last of him.
Incidentally, this annual mock sacrifice of a large wicker-work figure (representing the vegetation spirit) may have been the origin of the misconception that Druids made human sacrifices. This charge was first made by Julius Caesar (who may not have had the most unbiased of motives), and has been re-stated many times since. However, as has often been pointed out, the only historians besides Caesar who make this accusation are those who have read Caesar. And in fact, upon reading Caesar's 'Gallic Wars' closely, one discovers that Caesar never claims to have actually witnessed such a sacrifice. Nor does he claim to have talked to anyone else who did. In fact, there is not one single eyewitness account of a human sacrifice performed by Druids in all of history!
Nor is there any archeological evidence to support the charge. If, for example, human sacrifices had been performed at the same ritual sites year after year, there would be physical traces. Yet there is not a scrap. Nor is there any native tradition or history which lends support. In fact, insular tradition seems to point in the opposite direction. The Druid's reverence for life was so strict that they refused to lift a sword to defend themselves when massacred by Roman soldiers on the Isle of Mona. Irish brehon laws forbade a Druid to touch a weapon, and any soul rash enough to unsheathe a sword in the presence of a Druid would be executed for such an outrage! Jesse Weston, in her brilliant study of the Four Hallows of British myth, 'From Ritual to Romance', points out that British folk tradition is, however, full of MOCK sacrifices. In the case of the wicker-man, such figures were referred to in very personified terms, dressed in clothes, addressed by name, etc. In such a religious ritual drama, everybody played along.
In the medieval miracle-play tradition of the 'Rise Up, Jock' variety (performed by troupes of mummers at all the village fairs), a young harlequin-like king always underwent a mock sacrificial death.
But invariably, the traditional cast of characters included a mysterious 'Doctor' who had learned many secrets while 'traveling in foreign lands'. The Doctor reaches into his bag of tricks, plies some magical cure, and presto! the young king rises up hale and whole again, to the cheers of the crowd. As Weston so sensibly points out, if the young king were ACTUALLY killed, he couldn't very well rise up again, which is the whole point of the ritual drama! It is an enactment of the death and resurrection of the vegetation spirit. And what better time to perform it than at the end of the harvest season?
In the rhythm of the year, Harvest Home marks a time of rest after hard work. The crops are gathered in, and winter is still a month and a half away! Although the nights are getting cooler, the days are still warm, and there is something magical in the sunlight, for it seems silvery and indirect. As we pursue our gentle hobbies of making corn dollies (those tiny vegetation spirits) and wheat weaving, our attention is suddenly arrested by the sound of baying from the skies (the 'Hounds of Annwn' passing?), as lines of geese cut silhouettes across a harvest moon. And we move closer to the hearth, the longer evening hours giving us time to catch up on our reading, munching on popcorn balls and caramel apples and sipping home-brewed mead or ale. What a wonderful time Harvest Home is! And how lucky we are to live in a part of the country where the season's changes are so dramatic and majestic!
Since ravens can be taught to speak, and have such a complex vocabulary of their own, they are connected symbolically to both wisdom and prophecy. But in Europe, at least from Christian times, ravens have several strikes against them: black is considered a negative color; ravens are carrion eaters; and they have a symbiotic relationship with man's oldest enemy, the wolf. In many western traditions raven represents darkness, destructiveness and evil. They are sometimes associated with deities of evil and of death. Both witches and the Devil were said to be able to take the shape of a raven.
Around March 21
Ostara or Vernal (spring) Equinox is the point of equilibrium - the balance is suspended just before spring bursts forth from winter. The God and Goddess are young children at play and holiday festivals use brightly colored eggs to represent the child within. Ostara is a time for collecting wildflowers, walking in nature's beauty and cultivating herb gardens. This is the time to free yourself from anything in the past that is holding you back.
At Vernal Equinox, and the season of Spring reaches it's apex, halfway through its journey from Candlemas to Beltane. Once again, night and day stand in perfect balance, with the powers of light on the ascendancy.The god of light now wins a victory over his twin, the god of darkness.
We think that the customs surrounding the celebration of the spring equinox were imported from Mediterranean lands, although there can be no doubt that the first inhabitants of the British Isles observed it, as evidence from megalithic sites shows. But it was certainly more popular to the south, where people celebrated the holiday as New Year's Day, and claimed it as the first day of the first sign of the Zodiac, Aries. However you look at it, it is certainly a time of new beginnings, as a simple glance at Nature will prove.
In the Roman Catholic Church, there are two holidays which get mixed up with the Vernal Equinox. The first, occurring on the fixed calendar day of March 25th in the old liturgical calendar, is called the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (or B.V.M., as she was typically abbreviated in Catholic Missals). 'Annunciation' means an announcement. This is the day that the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was 'in the family way'. Naturally, this had to be announced since Mary, being still a virgin, would have no other means of knowing it. Why did the Church pick the Vernal Equinox for the commemoration of this event? Because it was necessary to have Mary conceive the child Jesus a full nine months before his birth at the Winter Solstice (i.e., Christmas, celebrated on the fixed calendar date of December 25). Mary's pregnancy would take the natural nine months to complete, even if the conception was a bit unorthodox.
As mentioned before, the older Pagan equivalent of this scene focuses on the joyous process of natural conception, when the young virgin Goddess (in this case, 'virgin' in the original sense of meaning 'unmarried') mates with the young solar God, who has just displaced his rival. This is probably not their first mating, however. In the mythical sense, the couple may have been lovers since Candlemas, when the young God reached puberty. But the young Goddess was recently a mother (at the Winter Solstice) and is probably still nursing her new child. Therefore, conception is naturally delayed for six weeks or so and, despite earlier matings with the God, She does not conceive until (surprise!) the Vernal Equinox. This may also be their Hand-fasting, a sacred marriage between God and Goddess called a Hierogamy, the ultimate Great Rite.
Probably the nicest study of this theme occurs in M. Esther Harding's book, 'Woman's Mysteries'. Probably the nicest description of it occurs in M. Z.
Bradley's 'Mists of Avalon', in the scene where Morgan and Arthur assume the sacred roles. (Bradley follows the British custom of transferring the
episode to Beltane, when the climate is more suited to its outdoor celebration.)
The other Christian holiday which gets mixed up in this is Easter. Easter, too, celebrates the victory of a god of light (Jesus) over darkness (death), so it makes sense to place it at this season. Ironically, the name 'Easter' was taken from the name of a Teutonic lunar Goddess, Eostre (from
whence we also get the name of the female hormone, estrogen).
Her chief symbols were the bunny (both for fertility and because her worshipers saw a hare in the full moon) and the egg (symbolic of the cosmic egg of creation), images which Christians have been hard pressed to explain. Her holiday, the Eostara, was held on the Vernal Equinox Full Moon. Of course, the Church doesn't celebrate full moons, even if they do calculate by them, so they planted their Easter on the following Sunday. Thus, Easter is always the first Sunday, after the first Full Moon, after the Vernal Equinox. If you've ever wondered why Easter moved all around the calendar, now you know. (By the way, the Catholic Church was so adamant about NOT incorporating lunar Goddess symbolism that they added a further calculation: if Easter Sunday were to fall on the Full Moon itself, then Easter was postponed to the following Sunday instead.)
Incidentally, this raises another point: recently, some Pagan traditions began referring to the Vernal Equinox as Eostara. Historically, this is incorrect. Eostara is a lunar holiday, honoring a lunar Goddess, at the Vernal Full Moon. Hence, the name 'Eostara' is best reserved to the nearest Esbat, rather than the Sabbat itself. How this happened is difficult to say. However, it is notable that some of the same groups misappropriated the term 'Lady Day' for Beltane, which left no good folk name for the Equinox. Thus, Eostara was misappropriated for it, completing a chain-reaction of displacement. Needless to say, the old and accepted folk ame for the Vernal Equinox is 'Lady Day'. Christians sometimes insist that the title is in honor of Mary and her Annunciation, but Pagans will smile knowingly.
Another mythological motif which must surely arrest our attention at this time of year is that of the descent of the God or Goddess into the Underworld. Perhaps we see this most clearly in the Christian tradition. Beginning with his death on the cross on Good Friday, it is said that Jesus descended into hell' for the three days that his body lay entombed. But on the third day (that is, Easter Sunday), his body and soul rejoined, he arose from the dead and ascended into heaven.
By a strange 'coincidence', most ancient Pagan religions speak of the Goddess descending into the Underworld, also for a period of three days. Why three days? If we remember that we are here dealing with the lunar aspect of the Goddess, the reason should be obvious. As the text of one Book of Shadows gives it, '...as the moon waxes and wanes, and walks three nights in darkness, so the Goddess once spent three nights in the Kingdom of Death.' In our modern world, alienated as it is from nature, we tend to mark the time of the New Moon (when no moon is visible) as a single date on a calendar. We tend to forget that the moon is also hidden from our view on the day before and the day after our calendar date. But this did not go unnoticed by our ancestors, who always speak of the Goddess's sojourn into the land of Death as lasting for three days. Is it any wonder then, that we celebrate the next Full Moon (the Eostara) as the return of the Goddess from chthonic regions?
Naturally, this is the season to celebrate the victory of life over death, as any nature-lover will affirm. And the Christian religion was not misguided by celebrating Christ's victory over death at this same season. Nor is Christ the only solar hero to journey into the underworld. King Arthur, for example, does the same thing when he sets sail in his magical ship, Prydwen, to bring back precious gifts (i.e. the gifts of life) from the Land of the Dead, as we are told in the 'Mabinogi'. Welsh triads allude to Gwydion and Amaethon doing much the same thing. In fact, this theme is so universal that mythologists refer to it by a common phrase, 'the harrowing of hell'.
However, one might conjecture that the descent into hell, or the land of the dead, was originally accomplished, not by a solar male deity, but by a lunar female deity. It is Nature Herself who, in Spring, returns from the Underworld with her gift of abundant life. Solar heroes may have laid claim to this theme much later. The very fact that we are dealing with a three-day period of absence should tell us we are dealing with a lunar, not solar, theme. (Although one must make exception for those occasional MALE lunar deities, such as the Assyrian god, Sin.) At any rate, one of the nicest modern renditions of the harrowing of hell appears in many Books of Shadows as 'The Descent of the Goddess'.
Lady Day may be especially appropriate for the celebration of this theme, whether by storytelling, reading, or dramatic re-enactment.
For modern Witches, Lady Day is one of the Lesser Sabbats or Low Holidays of the year, one of the four quarter-days. And what date will Witches choose to celebrate? They may choose the traditional folk 'fixed' date of March 25th, starting on its Eve. Or they may choose the actual equinox point, when the Sun crosses the Equator and enters the astrological sign of Aries. This year (1988), that will occur at 3:39 am CST on March 20th.
The first day of spring, or the spring (Vernal) equinox was celebrated March 21. Alban Eiler, which means, "Light of the Earth," was the day that night and day stood equal. Crops were typically sown at this time. The equinoxes and solstices were seen, to the Celts, as a time of transition. This rare balance in nature made these days a powerful time for magic to the ancient Druids.
Day and night are equal as Spring begins to enliven the environment with new growth and more newborn animals. Many people feel "reborn"
after the long nights and coldness of winter. The Germanic Goddess Ostara or Eostre (Goddess of the Dawn), after whom Easter is named, is the tutelary deity of this holiday. It is she, as herald of the sun, who announces the triumphal return of life to the earth.Witches in the Greek tradition celebrate the return from Hades of Demeter's daughter Persephone; Witches in the Celtic tradition see in the blossoms the passing of Olwen, in whose footprintsflowers bloom. The enigmatic egg, laid by the regenerating snake or the heavenly bird, is a powerful symbol of the emergence of life out of apparent death or absence of life.