Archive for the ‘oak king’ Tag

Gifts of Solstice, Part II

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Solstice — sometimes called the “world’s oldest holiday” …

Arthur, the “Christmas King”, because according to some traditions like those established by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his “Medieval bestseller” Historia Regum Britanniae, (History of the Kings of Britain) and Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, Arthur’s birth (or death) takes place on Christmas, just as his coronation (and wedding to Guinevere) take place at Pentecost. Alban Arthan, one name for the winter solstice — the “Light of Arthur”, as it’s sometimes translated.

A multitude of holiday carols, because there are plenty, whether or not you’re Christian, to sing and celebrate the season. Like some kind of hemispheric fanboy, I can never resist the Australian adaptation of Christmas to summertime temperatures and kangaroos (“boomers”) rather than reindeer, in the form of Rolf Harris’s 1960 holiday song “Six White Boomers“, with its chorus (according to some versions):

Six white boomers, snow white boomers,
racing Santa Claus through the blazing sun.
Six white boomers, snow white boomers,
on his Australian run.

(This gives the silly, snarky meme “OK, boomer” a whole new feel.)

santa-oka-holly

time of the Oak and Holly kings/image courtesy learnreligions.com

The battle between Holly King and Oak King. (Brothers, enemies, both needed for balance. According to some accounts, they’re servants of the goddess Arianrhod, with the vanquished king retiring to the astral plane until his opposite, victorious solstice.)

Blended traditions that tell how the crown of thorns Christ wore to his crucifixion, and the Cross itself, were both made from the holly. The “rising of the sun” and the “running of the deer” in the ancient carol, “The Holly and the Ivy”:

 

Antiphony’s gorgeous and light-hearted version of Kim Baryluk’s “Solstice Carol” (and the Wyrd Sisters’ meditative version):

 

Contrasts. Nowhere in the year is there such a contrast between light and dark, hot and cold — whether you’re on the eve of Summer Solstice and the Long Light, or the Winter, and the Long Dark.

Solstice gifts, all of these.

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Flaming Toward Solstice

The heat is on — at least for a few days here in Southern VT, where temps yesterday and today reached 80 F / 27 C.

Do you feel it, that flaming toward summer solstice? If you’ve spent time outdoors, even at sunrise or sunset, you can sense the shift. The birds feel it, launching their first songs when the sun still lacks half an hour to cresting the horizon. Trees know it, their leaves finally fully unfurled and deeply green.

We’re two weeks out from the longest day — about the time I frequently sense a shift, turn my thoughts toward the next festival, and “listen harder”.

Just about year ago I posted 19 Ways to Celebrate Summer Solstice, and looking at it again, I see how many of the 19 Ways are for solitaries. Part of the appeal of Druidry is how any one of us can begin it, and deepen it, right where we are. We don’t need to find or start a group, though groups can provide fellowship and community, a hearth to cherish, a portable temple to support our practice, and also those chance conversations that can transform a ritual afternoon or evening, spark a friendship, mark a turning point, or open up a new direction for us to take. Yet most of the Ways could also fit group practice as well.

But I also want to yellow my nose with dandelion pollen as I sniff the flowers, stretch out full length in the grass, run my fingers over the bark as I listen to a favorite tree, anticipate the berries that will follow the delicate white flowers now on the berry vines, mark the slow dissolution of a fallen branch as the earth takes it back, ponder an anthill, study the mud-dauber wasp as it enlarges its nest. So many lives neighboring mine, why would I want to miss them? I have an appointment with the wild I will not miss.

The lore of the solstices is wisdom. Just as it reaches the heyday of its strength, the sun’s light yields, and the days once again start to shorten. And in the southern hemisphere, dark now rules over half of each day, but come winter solstice and the light will slowly begin to grow again.

From the traditions of OBOD, the Order I belong to, emerge older accounts of a three-part observance, a vigil till midnight (and for those willing, an all-night watch, interspersing periods of meditation with music, storytelling, etc.), a dawn ceremony to welcome the shortest day on Solstice itself, and a final noon rite several hours after that. Our local Vermont Druid group is hosting a full Solstice weekend, with a Friday evening mountain-top potluck, a sundown ritual Saturday evening, followed by night drumming, discussion and vigil, and a breakfast the next morning.

Harvesting and hauling firewood for the ritual a week ago, from the conservancy forest land where our “host for the Solstice” lives, we came on a large half-standing cherry, whose wood we cut and stacked, to await the bonfire.

cherrybonfire

Cherry bonfire wood stacked. Photo courtesy Bruce W.

We can read rituals and myths, imagine them enacted, choose a portion which we will enact and dramatize, or maybe leave in half-symbolic form. The Oak King reaches his greatest power at Summer Solstice, and we crown him with a chaplet made of his own leaves. Yet it is the Holly King who rises, going forward, as the Oak weakens. We pass the oak-leaf crown to each other, and perhaps some of us hold in our thoughts the ancient proverb: nomine mutato, de te fabula narratur. Change the names, and it’s a story about you. A little shiver in the heat.

May your Solstice burn brightly!

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