Sunday, 24 December 2017

Solstice Celebrations with Druids

I went away for a few days before Christmas, to visit a friend in the Cotswolds.

On the first evening, there was a Druid ceremony to mark the solstice.
I'm not entirely sure where it took place, but it was quite close to the River Severn - it took a bit longer to drive to than my friend had anticipated, and at the end we got slightly lost and had to ask dog walkers the way. There was a fiery orange sunset, just getting dark when we pulled into the farmyard to park, still not entirely sure we were at the right place.
I opened the car door, and could hear drumming and singing in the near distance. "I can hear them!" I said.
We headed for the sound. Just down the lane was an orchard, lit with flaming torches in a circle around a fire in the middle, with more torches further out, under trees at the four quarters. A procession of people, some dressed for the cold, some in patchwork cloaks and blankets, were coming to form a circle around the fire, where a cauldron steamed gently. We were invited to join the circle.
Mead was poured onto the ground as an offering. The men went off with the priestess's felted shawl to gather the mistletoe without it touching the ground, and without using iron, while the women gathered round the fire. The priestess explained that this was a male ritual, though there was no reason why women couldn't cut mistletoe. Dividing up the tasks between the sexes was in their tradition, but didn't imply that one sex was better than the other - the idea was to come together to form a whole.
When the men came back, they arranged the mistletoe on a frame near the fire, where it was blessed. Then everyone came forward in turn to ladle the mead in the cauldron (to which a sprig of mistletoe had been added) into a drinking horn, which was then passed round the circle. We were all invited to say a few words, if we wanted to, so I brought greetings from the Goddess of the Wye to the Goddess of the Severn (in Welsh mythology, the Wye and the Severn are sisters, daughters of the Sea God).
Off in the next field, an owl hooted - and when the talk turned to the original druid ceremonies that involved sacrificing a white bull, a cow across the lane bellowed!
We circled the orchard to bless the trees - and when the ceremony was over, we headed for the pub.

This was the Three Horseshoes at Frampton-upon-Severn - which was the CAMRA Rural Pub of the Year in 2016, and seems to be a meeting place for more than one Pagan group in the area.
They were serving Uley Bitter. I once went on a CAMRA trip to Uley Brewery, where we ended up down in the brewer's cellar, singing while he played the accordion, and drinking his excellent beer. This is normally only available in pubs quite close to the brewer, and sure enough, when we looked at a map, Uley was not far away. So it was an unexpected delight to see it there - and it was just as good as I remembered.

The Druids seem to be really lovely people, and I came away with a blessed sprig of mistletoe which is now hanging up to soak up all the negative energy that might come my way in the year ahead.

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