Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The Springtide and the coming of the May

For those of us living in the so-called developed world, it is difficult and perhaps impossible, to ignore the current focus of both the secular and Christian world. Those of us within Paganism and the Craft however, may hold a different perspective on current trends.

Much of the secular world and indeed our own Christian friends have been focused upon the Eastertide, the great observance and celebration of renewal and the promise of new life. Although falling this year in April and later than what is perhaps usual, the associated symbolism is still decidedly spring-like.

We in the Hearth have a somewhat different calendar. Our own spring observance, a celebration of the mid-point rather than the beginning of spring, was some weeks ago. Our focus now is very much on the coming of the May.

Many today know the spring equinox as Ostara or Eostre, the name of a Saxon Goddess of the Spring, a balance to the autumn equinox known by the name of a Celtic God, Mabon. For many years now, I have been uneasy using these names, preferring to call the equinoxes as exactly that, the equinoxes. It is a personal choice.

If ones’ practice is influenced by one culture or another, be it Saxon or Celt, then there is an argument for using one of these titles. I myself lean perhaps more towards the Saxon than the Celt and find admittedly, Ostara somewhat more acceptable as the name of a festival than Mabon, even though I rarely use it.

The adoption of these names for our contemporary festivals by many, without a close examination of their origin, reflects that sad mid-Atlantic and perhaps “Wiccanesque” standardisation of practice prevalent in contemporary Paganism. I for one prefer to celebrate our regional differences.

Ostara or Eostre is an enigmatic Goddess whose origin is unknown and if it was not for some brief mention by Bede, her name would be lost to us. We know so little about her historically, that it is luck that her name has survived to lend itself to both the Pagan and Christian spring festival. We could so easily be calling both festivals by very different names.

However, it is not the name that matters but the associated symbolism and the related meaning. Ostara or Eostre, is most likely a localised manifestation of the Goddess of Spring, celebrations in whose honour can be deduced from history and based on the evidence available to us, calling this spring festival Ostara, may have more validity than calling the autumn equinox Mabon.

Ostara is a Goddess with a meaning that is cross-cultural and universal, as are the symbols associated with the spring. The egg as a symbol of renewal and birth, crosses the same cultural boundaries. The Easter Bunny, a well known corruption of the Sacred Hare, leads us to draw comparisons with other “Hare Goddesses” and is yet another symbol with a wealth of meaning. Neither the egg nor the hare uniquely belong to the new religion but have been grafted on through folklore and tradition to become elements of a Christian Easter.

The second focus that the world currently appears obsessed with is quite obviously the wedding of the future heir to the English throne. The close proximity of Easter, with the feast day of Saint George falling between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, followed by a second Bank Holiday for the wedding at the beginning of the May Day weekend, has given many of us the opportunity to celebrate everything quintessentially English.

While on the one hand the spring like elements incorporated within the symbolism and celebration of Easter might appear somewhat out of season. The celebration of the marriage of a future king so close to May Day, with all its royal associations linked to the Oak King and the romantic and indeed sexual nature of Beltaine itself, merely seeks to emphasise the forcefully energetic elements found within these inter-related events.

The Maytide is near upon us and it is a time of celebration. It is a time to honour whichever royal house you favour, whether it is the House of Windsor or the House of the Greenwood.

FFF&F. Magpie.

Monday, 11 April 2011

"Broadsword" by Jethro Tull

I see a dark sail on the horizon.
Set under a black cloud that hides the sun.

Bring me my broadsword and clear understanding.
Bring me my cross of gold as a talisman.
Get up to the roundhouse on the cliff-top standing.
Take women and children and bed them down.

Bring me my broadsword and clear understanding.
Bring me my cross of gold as a talisman.
Bless with a hard heart those who surround me.
Bless the women and children who firm our hands.
Put our backs to the north wind. Hold fast by the river.
Sweet memories to drive us on for the motherland.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Peacocks, Buzzards and Crows

The beginning of April, Mothering Sunday and a fine day full of sunshine and hope. I am collected late morning by friends whose friendship is itself both a surprise and a pleasure, we journey back in time through English history and over the border to Tutbury.

Here, we discover much to our delight that this ancient Norman castle is open to the public, it being the first day of the season. Approaching from the outer bailey we see buzzards soaring above, sweeping over us in courtship and shrieking a royal welcome as we arrive at the gate. There are warning signs advising the public not to cross the defensive ditch by any route other that the bridge, there is a ram in the ditch. We never get to see that ram but I can't help hoping he is a black one.

Another royal bird, heard but never seen, serenades our arrival and delights us with its call as we explore the Jewel that is Tutbury. The peacock, the bird of Juno and others shrills out from behind the towers. Hidden from view he is another Jewel waiting to be found. A bird of sun and stars and as ever watchful as the thousand eyes on his tale.

Above us the ever present birds of wisdom and fate circle as we climb the towers, appreciating the land about us, the distant views and the sense of history gained by visiting a place such as Tutbury. Once this was the home of the De Ferrers and then later the Dukes of Lancaster, now famous as a one time prison of Mary of Scotland, this castle saw battle in more than one civil war before it was slighted by Cromwell.

Much has been lost yet much remains, like Paganism, Folklore and the Craft, a puzzle to be deciphered, reconstituted and rediscovered on a quest to understand. Every bird and heraldic beast tells us a story and leads us to a moment of  wonder, each tribe had its totem, each family its crest, we each our own badge choose or more usually, have it chosen for us.