- a collection of essays on Neodruidic Studies
- a journal of Post-Reconstructionist Neopaganism

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Welcome to the Wasteland...

I.   “Celtic New Year” ( not. )

Contrary to just about everything you’ve read just about everywhere, there actually is a significant dearth of evidence to support the notion that the Celtic feast of Samhain (traditionally Nov. 1,) is the “beginning of the Celtic year”.

Yes, it's long been the assertion of Celtic Studies publications both academic and popular, yet the actual antiquity of the concept cannot be adequately verified.

In 1992 I had written an article, Samhain - Beginning or the End? for the very first edition of our grove’s newsletter suggesting this idea. The article was later published in ADF’s journal The Druids Progress (vol.11, pp12). More recently the British historian Ronald Hutton examined this “factoid” in his exhaustive study of the ritual calendar of the British isles,

"Stations of the Sun" (Oxford, 1996).
Hutton uses both the folk record and extensive researches into calendar references in the medieval literature to show that there is really little evidence that Samhain was considered the Celtic New Year any earlier than the late 1800's.
(Hutton, 1996: pp. 363)

II.   The Sacred Gap: 
The Year as a TORC
For all of our good intentions as serious Celtophiles, I still believe it's just too difficult for most of us to recalibrate our internal calendars to make the Samhain-as-Celtic-New-Years truism actually "work" emotionally. In seeking to reconcile the overwhelmingly "authentic" feel which Yule and New-Years creates at the year's end with the similarly familiar "fit" of Samhain as the feast of the death of the agrarian year, some time ago I began to articulate a pattern of myth and image which I believe we don't need to 'enforce' upon ourselves artificially. Rather, we can easily begin to discover that its componentry is already built-into us: as Westerners, we've actually been celebrating it all along...
If you simply give up trying to make Samhain represent a "beginning" and let the agrarian year end there, the grey twilight of November stands before us as the desolate Wasteland, the Wandering Place located between the cycles of life where eventually we will find our way from the exit of one year to the entrance of the next. We journey from November's dimming grey into the blackness of December and eventually, at the very pit of the year, we arrive at Yuletide, the great feasting-hall of our year's underworld, eventually then to emerge on it's far side, blessed with the spark of hope for the Sun's triumphant return.

It is my contention that although the year ends at Samhain (often translated as “Summer’s-End”), it does not begin there at the end of the old year, but rather, afterward, deep in the darkness of the year’s underworld after a period of wandering and repose, bathed in the Great Cauldron of Rebirth as the golden ring of the Sun slips for but awhile out of sight below those silver waters. That C-ring torc-circle, that lunula (crescent,) holding its fourth and secret unseen phase, that womb-tomb passage door, that horse-shoe-cove of trilithons, that entrance to the Caerdroia labyrinth; the seemingly incomplete cycle leaves a sacred doorway, a gap, a threshold; out through which passes the Old and in through which passes the New…

More on this theme at the Book of Sassafras:

III.   The NORNS     
Three Sisters in the Wasteland...

Perhaps one of the most ancient and widely distributed traditions in the
western Indo-European lore is that of the Three Sisters of Destiny; 

known to the northern tribes as the Norns... 

Each of the sisters represent a different aspect of time:

• The first, an old hag,
peers off into the left or west...
  Urdr, the past. 
• The second, a woman of middle-years, 
stares straight ahead to the south...  Verdandi, the present.
• And the third, a youth, looks off to the right or east...  Skuld, the future.

The Greeks knew them as the Morari: Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos. To the Romans they were the Parcae: Nona, Decima, and Morda. The hag spools the thread from her spindle to the middle woman who measures it, passing it on to the youth who, faceless, cuts it with her shears.

Each sister sees and knows and to a large degree governs her own temporal realm of destiny. These ancient and powerful spirits are perhaps best approached after All Hallows, in the dead of the year; between the worlds, in the Wasteland: the desolate wandering place much like the blasted heath upon which Macbeth encountered the same three "Weird Sisters" later immortalized by Shakespeare.
The story of Macbeth and Banquo's encounter with three weird sisters who address Macbeth in terms of his past, present and future, had already long been a part of the folk record by the time Shakespeare incorporated it into his play. In the lore of the Northern Tradition preserved in the Icelandic Eddas, the Norns were to be found at the base of Ygddraisil, the World Ash-tree. In the shadowy realm between this world and the underworld, at the roots of the Tree, they dwell in a cave that embraces a pool fed by the twelve fountains (or nine rivers) which ever feed and replenish that representative of the Great Well or Cauldron of all origins. It is there they continually tend the roots with water and clay and there they spin and weave their Great Webs; the great fabric of existence.

To the Dark-Ages people of ancient Northern Europe (including most of the British Isles,) the Wyrd was a very familiar and important dimension of their view of the world; a philosophical device not unlike the Eastern traditions’ Tao. Whereas the Asian view has the world and our lives made up of the dynamic interplay of a set of opposites, Yin and Yang, in the west a similar dynamic was seen in the meshing of the Weavers' threads. 

Consider the powerful old European metaphor of the Wyrd:

The stuff of existence as being like a woven fabric...

an infinite number of fibers meshed at right angles to as

many more opposing fibers; each single thread at some point

touches and affects every single other opposing thread.... 
A truly profound image for our contemplation.

- Earrach of Pittsburgh

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