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Solstice and the lack of symbolism in Britain

July 3rd, 2013
'The Molecule Men' in Berlin during sun rise 2003

‘The Molecule Men’ in Berlin during sun rise 2003

Tom Shakespeare has written a brilliant piece for the BBC on why celebrating the seasonal festivals makes sense in the 21st century:

The Church’s appropriation of many pagan festivals has left an important gap – the summer solstice. Tom Shakespeare casts an envious eye at the seasonal rituals celebrated in other countries and urges more symbolism in British holidays and traditions.

If in this year of 2013, an interplanetary anthropologist came to England for fieldwork, what would they discover? On a variable Sunday each spring, we give our children more chocolate than is good for them, eat roast lamb and visit garden centres.

On the last day of October, we dress the kids up in old sheets, black bin liners and plastic fangs, and send them down the street to extort sweets from our neighbours. A few days later, we gather around a bonfire, set off rockets and celebrate the execution of a Catholic conspirator. The following month, we get together with our birth families to exchange gifts, to eat too much and to argue.

And that’s about it.

The word “festival” is now reserved for occasions when people who are young, or would like to be, huddle together in a field to listen to music in the rain and shop for ethnic clothing and candles. And get inebriated.

Some 1,500 years ago, our Anglo-Saxon and Celtic ancestors had a much better idea. They celebrated regularly to mark the passage of the seasons that governed the natural world around them and the cycle of the sun, which gave them light and warmth.

Read the Shakespeare article    and on the theme of the solstice listen to the amazing Colloquoy of the Oak and Holly King produced by Damh the Bard and Cerri Lee

8 Responses to “Solstice and the lack of symbolism in Britain”

  1. Thank you!!!
    In the US we have pretty much the same situation, other than the “Jesus is the reason for the season” crowd, who simply want to abolish every holiday that isn’t “verifiably” Christian (which obviously raises the question, which of them is?!!! Well, obviously not obvious to them). I am, as well as a member of OBOD, but also a member of the Friends General Conference branch of Quakerism, which, at least in our meeting, is Universalist in theology. I sometimes refer to myself as a “Quagan”. ;-} In our meeting, we generally celebrate the Winter Solstice, although, to my sorrow, no others. Recently we’ve had a few decidedly Christian families join, and the flavour of the meeting has changed a bit, so I don’t know what that bodes for the future.

    Besides that, I also attend as many of the Quarter and Cross-quarter celebrations as possible held by Mother Grove Temple, which at least partly satisfies my need for ritual celebration. Nonetheless, I feel a need for the Gods as well as the Goddesses, so I am still left feeling somewhat unsatisfied by those. I may be a woman, but I feel very strongly that gender balance is the solution to centuries of sexism, not just swinging the pendulum the other way. Gender is so fluid, anyway, I believe people restrict themselves if they say “I am a woman, so I must worship the Goddess(es)” or “I am a man, so I must worship the God(s)”. I have personally experienced being called by Cernunnos, so for me there is particularly a lack in that regard! However, the Cailleach also has also has laid a claim to me, so I’m not exactly completely alienated by the rituals – it just disturbs my innate desire for balance.

    Some folks up here in our beautiful mountains (the Appalachians) have started a Meetup group to explore starting a seed group, so that’s the most exciting news in these parts I’ve heard in a long time! Send us good wishes, please! The initial name (which I suppose we can vote to change once we’ve met for the first time) is “The Druid Abides”, referring to the film “The Big Lebowski”. While quite funny, that’s hardly dignified! We’ll meet on the 17th of this month. I am hopeful that will offer greater support and coalesce the spirit of Druidry here in our very special mountains! I feel that then I can begin to experience the approach that is truly consonant with my own spiritual direction.

  2. Afraid to say I found this piece irksome in the extreme, not least because he thinks Druids at Stonehenge ‘contrived’ but mostly because, bowing to the metropolitan pressure to be a hip atheist at all costs, he seems to want a paganism-lite: a paganism without deity. While I agree with him on the need for festival, and meaningful seasonal festival at that, I felt belittled for acting out of religious rather than secular conviction. The point of ritual/festival is surely to connect with something Other, but he seems to want it to remain firmly in the Human.

    I’m probably getting too worked up over a short Radio 4 programme and I freely admit my reaction may have much to do with my general irritation with evangelical atheism!

    • Andy! who says paganism without deity is lite? Some might see it as rather courageous and Otherness located deep within humanness as evocative as Otherness located elsewhere! Being a transigtheist myself I’m not sure what I think! 🙂

      • Well Philip, as a committed henofideist (touche!) I would hope that Paganism is a broad enough henge to accommodate a range of views on the nature of deity – I would never want to be prescriptive. But if you are of the opinion that it’s all psychology, or you simply reverence a non-theistic Nature, why use the P word at all? Why not call yourself a Jungian or a Deep Ecologist?

        But we’re getting mired in theology here. To return to my main point: didn’t you think Shakespeare was just a tad condescending to the people who *already* celebrate the Solstices?

  3. Andy, I share your irritation with evangelical atheism – evangelical anything makes me squirm. My thoughts are, if you are so sure of your position, why do you have to put so much energy into trying to convince everyone else to believe the same way? I like to evangelise tolerance, myself! 😉 I too found Shakespeare’s attitude toward Druids specifically, and Pagans generally to be patronising and irritating. I applaud his recommendation that people can benefit from celebrating generally, of course, and atheists need to celebrate something, just as all humans need this. I am taken aback, though, that some Atheists seem to find every topic an occasion for sidelong or underhanded evangelism. I hope that someday people could just learn to respect each others’ beliefs – or is the nature of belief that “in order for mine to be right, everyone else’s must be wrong”? Mystery to me!

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