Note: this post is written from the perspective of someone living in the Northern Hemisphere on the West Coast of North America. Also it is full of my headcanon about the gods. You shouldn’t take anything here as necessarily backed up by the lore or even other polytheists.
Since deciding on the four fire festivals and how they worked with the three main gods of my practice, I’ve been struggling to find a way to fit in the solstices and equinoxes with the same cosmology. The 8 holidays of the NeoPagan Wheel of the Year are important to me — I have always loved the solstices and the equinoxes, and the four fire festivals balance out the year for me. I like the symmetry of having 8 holidays throughout the year that tell some sort of story about my cosmology.
The problem has been figuring out what that cosmology is, and how They fit into it.
Imbolc is Brighid’s time, because, well, traditionally it is, and it also just is, in my experience, nevermind what tradition says. Brighid is birth and newness and spring and lambing and the start of all things; Imbolc is a fitting time for Her.
Where people might cock an eyebrow is where I assign Samhain to Manannan and Beltane to the Morrigan. A sex holiday to a war goddess? Lolwut?
But it’s a sovereignty holiday too, because sex and sovereignty are always together; and it’s a thinning of the veil and She is the queen of the fairies, the phantom ruler of the liminal spaces we fear. It’s International Workers’ Day, a day of revolution and the rights of labourers. And it’s the true start of Summer, and to me the Morrigan is not death, but life — the moments between when we breath our first and our last. She is what cuts off that life, but She is not on the other side. Life is the most liminal state one can be in; She is hot blood pumping in the veins; the thrill of the hunt; the ecstasy of sex; all the beauty and horror that comes with a life fully lived.
M’Lord Manannan is gentle, and loving, and death. He is the deeps of the ocean, the underworld; He is there to guide us to the land beyond living. When we step beyond the veil, it’s His hand we take in our own. It’s His embrace that tells us everything is okay. Where the Morrigan is life, and the moments leading up to death, and the decision to end life itself, Manannan is death Himself. They are in partnership and opposition.
He is also the rain and the mist, and here in BC October is notoriously rainy. It might not always be; the climate changes rapidly these days and I don’t know what kind of future we’re recklessly wreaking, but in my childhood memories fall is full of rainy days and puddles and changing leaves and the smell of woodsmoke, and my favourite holiday, Halloween. The holiday that makes me feel at home, that makes me feel safe; so is it any wonder that it’s sacred to my Father?
The August fire festival I had the most trouble with, as it’s normally referred to as Lughnasadh, and, well, Lugh has no spot in my practice. I’ve encountered Him before. He’s nice, but He’s not part of this. So I searched for a new word for the holiday, for a way to incorporate all of the Three into it, to make it a holiday for all of Them. Finally I settled upon Loafmass, and decided it would be a time of baking bread and gathering berries. Birth, life, and death are all represented in agriculture, in the processes of making foods, of gathering foods to eat. The beginning of August is too early to gather blackberries, but I consider them part of that season as well, part of the rituals of the Three, of our harvests, of the food that sustains us in its death.
I have yet to make bread, for many reasons that getting into now would make this post much too long. Suffice it to say I am determined to make bread for Loafmass at some point in the next few years; I am hoping that if it is not this year, it is next year.
So the four fire festivals sorted, even if I haven’t fully figured out what to do for them — I have the cosmology more or less nailed down. What about the other four holidays? I already knew that Summer Solstice had to be for Manannan, which I was trying to reconcile — His time was Samhain, the time of the ancestors, of death, but somehow it was also the Summer Solstice? What dates did Brighid and the Morrigan have? And how did I divide them up evenly?
Finally, last night it hit me. I drew out the months in a diagram and drew lines from holiday to holiday, to try and visually map it out, and suddenly it was clear: Manannan is death, and Brighid is re/birth, and the Morrigan is the liminal spaces in between.
On the Summer Solstice we have the Longest Day; it is the herald of the long march into dark. It is the Dying of the Light. It is the day that signals our march towards Winter, towards the dark, towards the long sleep of the earth. So of course it would make sense that it’s His day; He is joyful and full of mirth, and He signals the end of things, the long sleep in his arms.
Conversely, the Winter Solstice is the Longest Night, the herald of the return of the sun (Brighid). It is the Rebirth of the Light. It is sacred to Brighid, who is a midwife to all, including Herself. It is the beginning of things; we may not be fully awake yet, but every day we get a little closer to warmth and light.
And They are each present in each other’s solstice; during the Summer Solstice Brighid is the Sun, and at the end of the day She relinquishes Her rule over that half of the year to Him, lets Him take us to the dark — and during Longest Night He is the warmth in the darkness, the flickering on the edge of the fire, and with dawn’s light He returns rule to Brighid, lets Her lead us back to summer. And so it cycles.
Which leaves us with the equinoxes, vernal and autumnal, and who better to rule over the liminal times, the midpoints between solstices, than the Morrigan? When the Longest Night makes us question if we’ll ever see the sun again; when Longest Day makes us go nutty with lack of sleep, the equinoxes remind us that life goes on. Life is in balance. We only need to be patient, and we might yet grasp at some of it yet.
And now that I have a working cosmology, it’s time to figure out what rituals I plan on actually doing to celebrate these days and the Three. Especially as one is coming up fairly soon.