THE TURNING YEAR
It is said that the Cailleach rules over the winter months and is keeper of the cold and storms. That she washes her plaid in the Corryvrekan and lays it on the ground turning the land white with frost and snow. Some believe that when the light half of year begins, she goes to sleep and becomes part of the landscape. While to others she is transformed from an old hag into the beautiful maiden Bride, who rules in this form for the summer months, in a never-ending cycle of birth and rebirth. I like the idea of a sacrificial sleep, a giving her life to the land for the light half of the year and in exchange the land returns her power and goes to sleep during her winter reign.
Whatever you believe, the turning year is rich with folklore and ancient customs. Part of my practice is honouring these festivals in a way that has meaning to me. I have included the calendar dates that are now associated with them. Originally these sacred times were dictated by the weather, the changing seasons, or cycles of the moon.
The seasonal festivals of the year are all celebrated with both common and varied local traditions that are specific to the festival. Saying that, some are similar in nature. They highlight the importance on the time of seasonal change and the traditional work that would be done at each turn of the year. Bonfires lit up the Scottish hilltops (except on 1st February). All the festivals had ceremonies to ensure protection and blessing of the coming season. It was believed that supernatural forces were more active at these liminal times. Festive fairs, food, flowers, customs, and ancient rites appropriate to the season were observed to varying degrees all over Scotland.
November 1st – this translates as summers end. Start of the new year and the Cailleach’s reign. A liminal time when all things from the otherworld and witches are out and about. A festival of fire, guising, ancestral veneration, offerings for protection and all manner of divination. It marks the beginning of winter and dark half of the year.
LA FHEIL BRIDE
February 1st - dedicated to Brìde who is said to visit houses on this night for the appropriations left out for her, along with items people wished to be blessed. It has associations with snowdrops, milk, snakes, sacred wells, lustration, and light. Close to Candlemas, it marks the early beginning of spring.
May 1st - the other major fire festival and liminal time of the year. A traditional time of migration of people, beasts and of course the Aos Sith (faery folk). Associated with the first dew, whitethorn flowers, Bannocks and offerings made for good luck. It marks the beginning of summer and light half of the year.
August 1st – associated with Lugh of the Tuatha De Dannan. A festival of funeral games to honour the dead, and Lammas, the festival that honours the harvest and spirts of the land (making of the Cailleach doll). Both mark the beginning of autumn.
EQUINOX AND SOLAR FESTIVALS
December 21st - also known as midwinter. It is an indigenous Germanic winter festival associated with Odin, the wild hunt, sacrifice, feasting and drinking. It coincides with the winter solstice.
LATHA NA CAILLICHE
March 25th - also known as Auld wife’s day. A time of stormy weather, the Cailleach’s final show of strength before the time of the big sun. It coincides with the spring equinox.
AN FHEILL SHEATHAN
June 24th - - also known as Midsummer and dedicated to St John the Baptist. The best time to harvest plants for protection against the sith. It coincides with the summer solstice.
LA FHEILE MICHEAL
September 23rd - also known as Michaelmas and dedicated to Archangel Michael the holy warrior. Associated with the sea and horses. It coincides with the autumn equinox.
KEEPING TRADITIONS ALIVE
There are other important festivals such as Martinmas on the 11th of November, the old date for Samhuinn before the calendars were changed. I am often asked how I celebrate the festivals but believe you must hear your own call of the Cailleach (reawakening) be that in terms of the primal pull to the spirits of the three realms. To the folklore and folktales of Scotland. To the magical ways of the ancestors. When this happens, you will find your own way to celebrate in a meaningful way to keep your folk traditions alive.
I often hold gatherings at the festival times, as these were traditional times for people to come together to celebrate as a community. If you are interested in the teachings I offer, please get in touch.
I was invited to Rowan’s “Singing their souls home” event to honour the women killed in the Crook of Devon witch hunts. I feel so grateful to have been included in such a special tribute to those who were brutally tortured and murdered. It was a beautiful evening and such a privilege to meet so many likeminded women. Thank you, Rowan,.