The problem with festivals

Having just taken on a new Druidry student who isn’t English, I’m thinking (and not for the first time) about Druid festivals. I previously had the joy of teaching someone in America, and although that culture is rooted in some of the same ancestry as the UK, there are a lot of differences. With Druids all over the world – North and South Americas, Middle East, Russia, Australasia, Europe… I’m not aware of druids in Africa, but maybe there are – seasonal festivals create some interesting issues.

The festivals we have, and share with the wiccans, are a 20th century innovation. There is evidence in the alignments of prehistoric sites for celebration of the solstices. The Celtic festivals – Imbolc, Beltain, Lugnasadh and Samhain no doubt existed historically and are very old, but as far as I can tell, not all were celebrated in all places. The addition of the equinoxes makes for a nice, balanced wheel of the year, but I’m not aware of historical celebrations of this before Stukely in the 1700s. So the idea that ancient druids celebrated these 8 festivals, seems a bit ropey.

Then there’s the issue of what happens on the ground. Druids in the southern hemisphere have a totally different relationship between calendar dates and seasons to their northern counterparts. The seasons themselves differ depending on how far from the equator you are, as do day lengths. A Druid in the Arctic Circle would surely want to honour the patters of light and darkness they experience, not seasonal celebrations pertaining to an entirely different relationship with the sun.

In my own part of the world, there are local events to celebrate – bores on the river (as mentioned in a recent blog) and the coming of migrant swans in the winter. Things that as little as twenty miles away, it would make no sense to be working with. Every place has its own events, history, landscape, and even climate. Different ways of working, different forms of farming or the realities of industry colour how we relate to the seasons. The further one is, physically or conceptually, from rural Britain, the less relevant the 8 festivals become.

Do we follow in the traditions of Ross Nichols and Gerald Gardner and stick to the 8 festivals? Do we assume that these 8 are representative of what ancient British Druids did, and therefore give them priority, no matter how they fit with life as we experience it? How we answer that is going to inform a great deal about how any of us understand and live our own Druidry. Which is more important? The historical Druidry as best we understand it, or the land we are living in? Do we look to British ancestry, no matter where in the world we are, or do we look around us?

I’m in a position where I can very easily do either, and where there is not much direct conflict between seasons as experienced and how the 8 festivals fall. I have spent a lot of years celebrating the big 8, but this last year, I haven’t and I think it’s made me more conscious of what is around me. I am consequently less inclined to want to impose an arbitrary system onto my relationship with the changing energies of the year. I would rather react to what is, and how I feel, than focus on those fixed dates.

When I was looking after the Druid Network’s directory, I noticed that a lot of groups were starting to define their Druidry in terms of their geography. There are older groups, particularly in America, who define as being Welsh Druidry, or Irish Druidry as their tradition, but I was starting to see the emergence of Australian Druidry, and other lands where there is no history of this to draw on doing the same. I like this idea. I think a druidry that is a living, breathing response to where we are and what we experience is far preferable to being caught in the dogmatic structure of a ritual cycle that doesn’t fit. In choosing this, I am also choosing that the land and how I experience nature is the core of my Druidry, not what I know of the history. This is increasingly the case for me, and I realise it has considerable implications not only for how I want to progress in my own path, but also for how I will be supporting others when called to do so.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

2 responses to “The problem with festivals

  • jaylancaster

    Growing up in the countryside, I was a pagan-by-nature but as a teenager I started to read books (because it seemed that the written word of other people must have more relevance and “truth” than my own direct experience) and try to fit their teachings to my situation…which was awkward as one of the books I was slavishly following was Australian!

    I gave up being a Pagan-By-Date a long while ago. I live 200 miles north of where I was a child, and the seasons march at a different rate here. My calendar is outside on the leaves of trees not books.

  • Knitterstone Clee

    Totally with you on this one Nimue, especially “a druidry that is a living, breathing response to where we are and what we experience” that is my druidry too! Beltaine, if I can call i that so others know what I mean, to me on Clee Hill is when the Hawthorn Blooms, Lughanasadh is when the fields around are harvested, and even the Solstices and Equinoxes, I mark by the places of the sun setting in the landscape. trying to live without “dates” doesnt work very well when you have little ones at school, but observing what is happening is sooooo important, knowing when the plums are ready to be made into Jam and getting them before the wasps! of course a story of a landscape can help with the timing of things and the changes, but then i love stories too!!

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