Themes of Sovereignty Seen at Litha, Welsh Alban Heruin, Traditional Midsummer Festival

Christopher Williams, ‘ 1911.

In the Celtic lunar calendar of trees, the summer months include the moons of Oak, Holly and Hazel, and the festivals of Beltaine, Summer Solstice, and Lammas. The Sacred Hallows this season illuminates are the Wand and the Pentacle, the magical instruments of elemental Fire and Light married to Earth and Fertility in harmony. The name Lammas, celebrated on August 1st, was Christianized from the Festival for the Irish light god, Lugh and Welsh Lleu Llaw Gyffes and means ‘Loaf Mass.’ Lugh or Lleu Llaw Gyffes is a solar light deity also known as ‘The Long-armed Spearman,’ or ‘Spearman with the Long Shaft,’ which suggests the lengthening days leading up to the Summer Solstice as well as other, more obviously phallic connotations. He is associated with Holly, both as the Sacred Solstice Tree, and also the Celtic lunar tree month of Holly and as the sacred King. As the ‘Holly King,’ he also comes into play at Lammas, or the Festival for Lugh, when Ivy Girl ‘captures’ him after a merry chase by suggestively tossing her holly wreath over the ‘head’ of his Holly staff.

Litha, observed on and as the Summer Solstice, is commemorated by huge bonfires, ritualized observances of the Sacred Marriage of the Goddess as the Earth or Land with the God as the Fire and Light, and by handfasting ceremonies among Witches and Pagans. The 8th-century monk, Bede, wrote in his ‘The Reckoning of Time’ about the summer months, giving “Litha” as the seasonal name for both June and July in the Roman Julian calendar. Litha is a term adopted by modern Pagans of every stripe in observing Midsummer Festival, and Druids observe Midsummer’s Day as ancient Welsh ‘Alban Heruin.’

The lunar Celtic tree- ‘month’ of Hazel spans the Summer Solstice. The Hazel tree confers “female wisdom” and, like Rowan and Willow, is considered a quintessential Witch tree (“Witch Hazel”). The Irish Celtic Sea God Manannán mac Lir (Welsh, Manawydan fab Llir, Lord of the ‘People of the Goddess, Dana) gave Lugh his initiatory magical armor and is also associated with Hazel; the wisdom-conferring well fed by nine magical Hazel trees stood in his fairy hall. Manannán also possessed a Cauldron of Regeneration and a Shaman’s “Crane Bag,” which contained all the esoteric wisdom of the Druid, including poetry, chants, incantations, divination, symbolism, history and the lore and secret significance of all things. That is knowledge was considered “women’s magic” from the earliest times is evident in the legend that the Crane Bag was said to be made from the skin of a woman; Woman contained the inspired wisdom of evolution and rebirth, like the Hazel nuts in the legends, as magical, divine women were thought to be capable of shape-shifting into Crane form.

Every woman carries within her the genetic code that marked the evolution of the first human woman. The “Mitochondrial Eve” theory refers to this phenomenon, whereby each woman carries the DNA or genetic blueprint of the first human female in the mitochondrial lining of every cell. As the Divine Ancestress, the Original Woman is the human Clan Mother, and the actual stuff of her revolutionary design passes, intact, through the female line. This may be why, in many cultures past and present, sovereignty and “royal blood” was originally traced through the mother, and why “kingship” was conferred through marriage to a royal woman, mythologized as Guinevere, Blodeuwedd, Epona, Elaine, Isis, and others. The complete record of evolutionary changes that render us “human” are passed on only through the female line. A “sacred marriage” between the candidate for kingship and the Goddess was a traditional means of elevating the newly crowned king to his throne. The Mother Goddess archetype contains the concepts of genetic memory, wisdom, maternal protection and resurrection.

An understanding of this ancient human lineage from the Original Mother underscored the most ancient concepts of the Goddess held by our ancestors. Many traditions practice ancestor worship, honouring those who have gone before and who have left us their legacy. Linking to ancestral wisdom and informing it with our current knowledge will enable us to proceed more wisely into our collective future.

Hazel month spans the Summer Solstice and the event of the sun entering the sign of Cancer. The Hazel Rune is Kaunaz, meaning hearth fire, forge, creativity, passion, craft and instinct, but also blemish. Gwion was scarred by Cerridwen’s scalding potion conferring wisdom, but was thereby transformed into the legendary Bard, Taliesin. The Gaelic name for Hazel is Coll, and its letter is C. Hazel nuts were once thought to contain enlightenment, visions, and poetic inspiration. The Solstice also falls under the influence of Cancer, the watery denizen of deep emotions and sensitive perception. Nut trees of all types are characteristic of this Solstice, and of the hard-shelled richness of its Cancerian quality. The Apple tree shares this Sabbat, called “Quert” (“koo airt”) in the Celtic lunar tree calendar , and fruit trees of all kinds are appropriate to remember here. This is a time when deeply submerged wisdom may emerge into conscious awareness. The encoded, genetic wisdom of generations of female ancestors may come forward to inspire the actions of the present, forth this is the time of Mother-Wisdom. The Isis-like ability to intuitively know what is right in certain situations, like the High Priestess card of the Tarot, may inform your choices, and if you choose to verbalize your choices your words will be well chosen and judicious. You may find that you have the capacity to inspire others and they you. Flow of energy is the character of this month, and an appreciation for the fertile and renewing properties of water.

Christopher Williams, ‘Blodeuwedd,’ 1930

Blodewedd (Welsh pronunciation: blõ’-de-weth) is from Middle Welsh for “Flower-Faced.” She is the supernatural wife of Llew Llaw Gyffes, the solar hawk god, in Welsh mythology.

She was made from Nine Sacred Flowers, including Broom, Meadowsweet, and Oak by the magicians Math and Gwydion. She is a central figure in Math fab Mathonwy, the last of the Four Branches of the Mabinogion. Guinevere is a version of the Flower Maiden, whom Arthur married in order to ensure his covenant with Albion, an ancient name for England.

Blodewedd’s animal avatar is Owl, and the honorific, ‘Flower Face,’ also applies to Owl, owing to the owl face resembling a pansy flower. Owl bestows the ability to see in the dark, to hunt and pinpoint Truth with accuracy, to communicate with The Ancestors, to pierce the shadows of depression or obscurity, to travel in the Otherworld, to journey to all realms of the Tree of Life, and to see beyond the veil. She is the Bride in all Her glory.

Traditional Summer Solstice motifs survive within modern national sovereignty feasts, outdoor picnics and fireworks celebrations. In Europe, feasts surrounding St. John’s Day preserve many ancient, Summer Solstice motifs, including bathing in sacred wells of various Goddesses and weaving wreaths of the nine sacred flowers to the ornamenting of wells in honor of the Flower Maiden, Blodeuwedd. Outside of Pagan communities’ observances of Summer Solstice, people mark these traditional celebratory modes during the early July festivities of Memorial Day picnics. (The province of Quebec celebrates St. Jean-Baptiste Day, June 24th.) Certain archetypal images, which have to do with the theme of clan regencies, have survived in the observances of Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day (honouring the ancestors), and, of course, American 4th of July. July 4th marks America’s independence from a king, and the beginning of self-rule, or ultimate national and personal sovereignty. (By contrast, July 1st, Dominion, or Canada Day, commemorates the formation of Canada as a dominion, a self-governing territory under another’s rule.) The remarkable thing about Independence Day’s proximity to the Summer Solstice is that Midsummer was, for time immemorial, the occasion for the Rites of Sovereignty, when the King was invested to the throne and married the Goddess as the land.

Traditional Summer Solstice motifs survive within modern national sovereignty feasts, outdoor picnics and fireworks celebrations. In Europe, feasts surrounding St. John’s Day preserve many ancient, Summer Solstice motifs, including bathing in sacred wells of various Goddesses and weaving wreaths of the nine sacred flowers to the ornamenting of wells in honour of the Flower Maiden, Blodeuwedd. Outside of Pagan communities’ observances of Summer Solstice, people mark these traditional celebratory modes during the early July festivities of Memorial Day picnics. (The province of Quebec celebrates St. Jean-Baptiste Day, June 24th.) Certain archetypal images, which have to do with the theme of clan regencies, have survived in the observances of Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day (honouring the ancestors).

Juneteenth (June 19th) is slated to soon become an official national ‘holiday’ (‘holy day’) in America, commemorating the final cessation of the legal practice and conduct of slavery in the state of Texas, which lagged behind the rest of the country in banning the practice by two months. American 4th of July marks America’s independence from a king, and the beginning of self-rule, or ultimate national and personal sovereignty. (By contrast, July 1st, Dominion, or Canada Day, commemorates the formation of Canada as a dominion, a self-governing territory under another’s rule.) The remarkable thing about Independence Day’s proximity to the Summer Solstice is that Midsummer was, for time immemorial, the occasion for the Rites of Sovereignty, when the King was invested to the throne and married the Goddess as the land.

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I'm a writer/researcher/arts educator on Vancouver Island and all round global citizen who loves humans even though we're such a phenomenal pain-in-the-ass.

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Yvonne Owens, PhD

Yvonne Owens, PhD

I'm a writer/researcher/arts educator on Vancouver Island and all round global citizen who loves humans even though we're such a phenomenal pain-in-the-ass.

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