Turning our attention now to the light half of the year, we approach Bealtaine, and the movement from the inside to the outside. Bealtaine is the first rite that we hold outside, and in our tradition it has little to do with lust and fertility, but instead is about the protective and transformative fire. We begin our rite in our outdoor hall, tying ribbons onto our Tree as our May bush, and ritually extinguish and relight our hearthfire from nine sacred woods. We send out folk acting as warriors to propitiate the outsiders, then cleanse ourselves and the space, and then process into the outdoors with song. At this time, we tell the story of the coming of the Tuatha Dé Danann to Ireland, and honour those gods among them that are important to us but are not Gods of our Grove. We pass between two torches lit from our hearth and sacrificial fires, and the outdoor season truly begins.
The Summer Solstice belongs to the Sun, of course, but this is also the day on which we honour Manannán mac Lir, who throughout the year we call upon as Gatekeeper in our rites. On this day he is the guest of honour, and we ask Lugh his foster-son to act as Gatekeeper in his stead. We pay Manannán for this service in the traditional way of rushes and yellow flowers. We also raise a sunwheel in which we have woven the ribbons from the May bush at Bealtaine. The day after the rite, we walk a path from our downtown botanical gardens to Lake Ontario, where we leave Manannán’s offerings.
Coming into Lughnasadh, the weather is hot and we pray for respite from the baleful sun. My husband and I go blueberry picking in the days before the rite, but we don’t eat any until the first of them have been offered to Tailtiu and Lugh. Our ritual is preceded by athletic games, where those who wish compete for the championship bracelets. We try to ensure that our games are challenging but accessible — the most important things are that we honour the Gods and that we have fun. We honour Tailtiu for her gifts of agriculture, Lugh as king, as slayer of Balor, and as bringer of the cooling rains.
Harvest Home is the name for our Autumnal Equinox celebration, and we hold a sacred feast in our outdoor hall. An Dagda is our honoured guest, for he is master of Druidry and keeper of the Coire Ansic, the Un-Dry Cauldron. Our rite begins around our feasting table, and once we have established our space and welcomed the Kindreds, we sit and feast with them. During the feast, people are welcome to give offerings to the Kindreds, sing, boast about their accomplishments, or toast each other. Oaths are permitted only by prior agreement. This is an excellent rite for bonding, and the food is always delicious. The weather is cooling, but we are still firmly within the outdoor realm until the night of Samhain.
I cannot say that any of these holidays are my favourite; I like them all for their own reasons. Now, after years of their practice and development, I see them being equally as important as each other. There are elements of each that may arise and become more important for that celebration, in that year, but the next year may be different as we go around the Wheel again. The observance of the Wheel of the Year is probably the most important aspect of my practice — ensuring that the folk have a chance to celebrate in community, moving with the seasons, and honouring the Gods at the right time and in the right way.