We have been fortunate to have had 2 visits to what can only be described as Neolithic Heaven over the past 2 years, a truly remarkable and inspiring place, these shots barely scratch the surface of the number of Sites on the islands of Orkney – if you have an interest in (pre)history, then Orkney should be at the top of your list of places to visit!
Perhaps one of the few remaining ‘Traditional’ celebrations that most within the UK mark is some form of a celebration at this time of year, whether Christmas, Solstice or any other number of named celebrations that occur at this time of year… We find ourselves looking back to our childhoods, with many fondly remember houses bedecked with decorations, home-cooked festive foods and time spent with family – perhaps our recollections have become rose-tinted with the passage of time, but certainly growing up in the 1970’s it seems in reflection that although commercialised it most certainly wasn’t as obvious or as crass as it now seems to have become…
Yesterday I was gifted with an unexpected boon, the final day of my work meetings were unexpectedly cancelled and I was given a chance to travel home early from a week away at my company’s head office, 160 miles away from home… Knowing that friends were travelling to watch the Solstice Sunrise at the Rollrite stones in Oxfordshire I decided to leave my hotel early – sans breakfast – and surprise my friends by meeting up with them and watching in the Solstice dawn together… An hour and a quarter later and as the sky began to lighten I arrived and met up with my friends, and along with about a dozen other hardy folks we awaited the sunrise as the day gradually became lighter and lighter…
Unfortunately the clouds refused to part for actual sunrise, but still, a chance to mark the time, to be in Companie and to take pause from the modern world and perhaps to have shared n experience that our Ancestors would have known was most definitely worthwhile, if a little muddy..
Afterwards a retreat to the Red Lion Pub at Long Compton for toast and coffee, then the long drive home, starting through the Oxfordshire winter countryside, bare trees covered in verdant Ivy, gnarled oaks bedecked with Mistletoe balls and picturesque villages, traditional scenes that resonate in a timeless way…. And yet, for all that was traditional there was also more that felt wrong… The gaudy ‘Christmas lights’ that seem to be becoming adopted by many, whose main function seems to be nothing more than ostentatious showiness, ‘my display of lights is better than yours’, or perhaps ‘look at how much money I can afford to waste on not only buying but also powering all this tat’ – a one-upmanship of nothing more than displaying wealth – perhaps at the expense of good taste!
I am not having a go at folks who decide to decorate their homes- after all as the saying goes ‘An Englishman’s – read person – Home is his castle’, but for me less is more – a little less of the flashing inflatable snowman and santas and perhaps some discrete coloured lights would be more acceptable to my own sensibilities – and although I understand that many find these displays do bring on festive cheer, for me they take away from what I find the more personal meanings of the Season and celebrations are, I would rather see something smaller, more personal and less ostentatious, with more meaning rather than the roads of houses all plastered with multicoloured neon signs and plastic crassness, for me a single candle in a window, or a yule log adorned with holly and ivy displayed in a windowsill, or some winter greenery – real not plastic – adorning the home feels more right…
Perhaps I am becoming a Christmas grump, perhaps as I slowly age I am becoming more intolerant to the hypocrisy of society, who ostentatiously celebrate the midwinter festival of the rebirth of the Sun / Son as nothing more than an excuse to overindulge, something that at a time of scant resource, in the coldest and darkest time of our ancestors would often have been a time of dread….
I have to say that discovering – some 15 years ago now – a recording of ‘Solstice’ from a 1985 BBC Radio 4 production may well have tainted my viewpoint, listening to the ‘Solstice’ audio play has become something of a tradition for us since we first encountered it – on the reverse side of an audio cassette that we were gifted from a friend within a group that we belonged to.
We were actually given the tape for the other side, which contained the ‘Rollright Ritual’ – an interesting and inspirational piece to be sure, based on William Gray’s Rite and book – but after being immersed into the world of the Rollright Rite we noticed that the other side of the cassette was called Solstice, so sat down to listen…
Although perhaps not entirely factually accurate – as amongst other things the original colours of Father Christmas’s clothing are something that is disputed https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_suit – I do have to say that the ethos of the piece, of seeking behind the crass commercialisation and looking back to the origins of the celebration of the Solstice / Christmas is something that resonates deeply within me, perhaps it is something you have already encountered, of perhaps it will be something you will find for the first time after reading this piece, but I do hope that it is something that you find of as much interest as have I….
Yesterday I attended a small local moot, and after the Yule feast we played the Solstice broadcast, which was well received and agreed by all to be thought provoking… I would ask you to take a listen, the quality is not good, but it can be understood, perhaps set aside half an hour, dim the lights, close off all extraneous noise, sit down in the evening with a glass of whatever tipple you find most welcome and spend some time to contemplate the recording and the message it carries – all the more interesting for the understanding even 33 years ago as to how commercialised Christmas had become then – and I have to say that now it is even worse in my own personal opinion…
For the actual broadcast itself… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrI1tio2P6k
For a transcript of the audio….https://driftlessabyss.blogspot.com/2018/12/the-red-and-white-of-winter-solstice.html
Blessings of the Darker Tide, may the returning light bring with it all you need for the coming year…
A summer roadtrip following on from Solstice for some of the Hearth, to revisit Cairn Holy, Tollhousie Stone Circle, 12 Apostles Stone Circle and also the Wicker Man filming locations, those who know our love for the film will recognise the places in Kircudbright, Gatehouse of Fleet and the last pieces of the smaller Wicker Man’s feet.
Members of the Hearth and Friends took a week long trip to Orkney for Beltane 2018, the Islands rewarded us with beautiful clear, warm, still days and clear – if chilly nights.
We attended a locally organised Beltane Open Rite on the Sunday before Beltane, then held our own observances on May Eve – Walpurgisnacht, which was a Full Moon, a once in 28 year event, and had the Ring of Brodgar to ourselves for 7 hours, from sunset until the wee hours of the morning, it is an amazing and very active sight….
We were busy visiting sites each day, and yet only scratched the surface of the neolithic and Norse heritage and sites of the Islands, they have captured a place in our hearts and a return trip is now being planned…..
It is not often that one gets the chance to do something epic, not for oneself, but for others, the weekend just gone was one of those times, and it was both a privilege and an honour to have been able to facilitate such a special weekend for those of our Beltane Student Intake that were able to undertake the Pilgrimage and sit their first Vigil.
The 16 planned Rituals were crafted in advance, a series of interlocking Rites that built on the previous ones to forge connections, to bring awareness and understanding to bear, to allow the students to experience many places and concepts outside if what they would normally get in the mundane world.
Day One was an early start, the clouds promised rain but we were fortunate it held off all through the daylight and only a light shower troubled us in the early evening for about half an hour. We started with a hearty cooked breakfast and then on to the Rollright Stones for the first 3 Rituals, one at the Kings Men – introducing the format of the weekend’s Rituals and what we hope to achieve, one at The Whispering Knights and one at the King’s Stone. The purpose was to explore the individual roles that we undertake upon our Paths – in both mundane and spiritual forms – and to attempt to access personal Lore and gnosis.
Off next to Wayland’s Smithy, with homage paid to Wayland and an exploration of the passion that drives us undertaken, then on to Uffington, with Rites at both the White Horse – another Role understood – and Uffington Castle – another Role and an exploration of the understanding and use of intellect, and how it alone cannot suffice. While at the Castle we had flypasts by a Spitfire and the Red Arrows – quite apt really as the visualisation just used included the flight of arrow from hunter to prey!
Next on to Avebury, with Hares seen on the journey here! Avebury is a powerful place and one to ponder why and how it was built, bringing together the appreciation of what was achieved by our Ancestors – even if we do not understand their reasoning or have the ‘keys’ to unlock its meaning to them.
Finally for Saturday we moved on to West Kennet Longbarrow – our chance to be hosted by the Ancestors for the night, and to join them in sleep and to see what dreams may come……. When we arrived it was to find others using the Longbarrow, so we had a chance to sit outside and watch the beautiful sunset while feeling the energy awakened by their drums inside the Longbarrow…… as we were in no rush it gave all a chance to catch breath before we moved onto our Rites.
Rituals to explore the emotions one to honour the Ancestors, a Full Moon Rite to the Ogham Goddess of Coll, another Role discovered, a chance to understand that not all choices we have to make are always visible and then a sip from the Poison Chalice and then for the students a chance to sit Vigil – the night spent as ‘sleeping with the Dead!’ – While we took turns to sit and ward them whilst listening to the Owl’s holding congress outside and watching the Bats whirl around our heads and fly into the Longbarrow! After our own Rituals – drumming, chanting, singing, anything to raise energy and give a sense of the Otherness of the place – we all experienced more than the mundane reality, a slow steady drumbeat on the very verge of hearing was noted by us all, one that continued for over an hour after we had stopped drumming!
The next morning was a welcoming Rite for the returning Sun, the day dawned cloudy but dry – with a bit of rain later in the day while we were exploring Glastonbury Market. The morning Ritual gave us a chance to balance both the Moon Ritual of the previous night with its Goddess focus with one for the Sun focussed more on the God, and of course to celebrate the fact the students had all survived the night, their sip from the Poison Chalice and the Vigil. Then after breakfast at Little Chef it was on to the Ridgeway outside Stonehenge, to perform a Rite to celebrate those who keep the Lore alive, ensuring that all are aware that everyone shares in every role that has been discussed, none are more worthy or more prestigious than another, everyone has their parts to play.
Then on to Glastonbury and the chance for some Retail Therapy before checking in to the Premier Inn – unfortunately Adele’s wonderful B and B – the Covenstead, which would have been our preferred place to spend the night – was fully booked. An earlyish meal in the Brewer’s Fayre – too many of us had sore feet and were tired out from the 2 days to even contemplate walking into Glastonbury – even though that had been the original plan – then some discussion of the weekend and the Student’s experiences while sipping a 15 year old single malt whisky, then bed by 1030pm.
Bank Holiday Monday – our final day and a couple of final Rites – ascending the Tor for a Ritual to explore Spirit, the bringing together of all the Elements into one, and how our beliefs impact on what we experience before a visit to the White Well – with some chanting performed by us in the stunning acoustics of the place and finally a chance to visit the Chalice Well. Originally our plan had been to call at Belas Knap on the way home – to perform our final Rite, but as we had others who were not with us who had not yet visited Belas Knap we decided – as it was getting late and we already faced a long 4 hour drive home – to perform our final piece of Ritual in the calmness of the Chalice Well gardens, so finding a secluded spot we did what was needed quietly, paid our respects, sought some healing for tired feet in the Healing Pool and then headed home.
I shall let the students write up their own experiences for their own records, and also ask those that can to write something for sharing, detailing their experiences and how they felt, we will post this as soon as we are able.
It was an important weekend and a significant milestone for the Students, a commitment made, a test and ordeal passed, and acceptance granted by those not of the Mundane….. it may only be their 1st Vigil, but it is an important one, and from it they have gained in confidence and connection, soon they shall Dedicate to the Hearth – if they feel after 6 months training that they are ready to do so and that we are the group they wish to belong to, if not they are – of course – free to walk away with no ill feeling. Our group ethos is that we wish to have only those who want to be here, who are of the same mind as ourselves within the Coven, those who are able to join in with the Egregor, it matters not if only 1 or 2 of the original 8 students makes it to Initiation and is accepted by the Gods, we aren’t looking to recruit the most people, there is no need, ego plays no part in what we do, no what matters more is that the right people are within. The Gods and Ancestors would have it no other way!
Then, once Dedicated a further 7 moons of deeper training, where they start to receive the more Guarded Lore before we can look to attempt Initiation around Beltane!
I trust that our experiences – and those of our Students – have provided food for thought and perhaps inspiration for your own Paths.
Breaca of Albion
Today we took our Harvest Sabbat Roadtrip, originally planned for Lammas, but mundane life got in the way, and so the Roadtrip and Ritual was postponed until this weekend, the day after ‘Lord’s Day’, and 12 months to the day since we last visited Bryn Celli Ddu to perform our Harvest Ritual when we were still with the previous group…. in fact that time 12 months ago was the first time that the 4 Founders of The Hearth of Albion had been able to travel together and to talk…. and on that day the Old Ones decreed we needed more time alone together and events transpired to give us that time and thus the seeds of The Hearth of Albion were set that day.
So, to tell the tale in full, yesterday was an evening of training, and a few single malts to honour the birthday of one of the Founders, then today, his actual Birthday we had planned to travel to Anglesey, to perform our John Barleycorn Harvest Rite at Bryn Celli Ddu, then to travel on to Barcloyiadd Y Gawres to connect to the Ancestors, and to the beach below to reconnect with Mannanan Mac Lyr before travelling on to the Hut Circles above Holyhead – a place I feel I have known before – and then hopefully on to Dun Llygwy, about 300 miles and a fair bit of time needed!
After the previous week of torrential rain we were half expecting to be getting rather wet today, but the day dawned clear, still and warm, so after a full English cooked breakfast we left for Wales at 9am, reaching Bryn Celli Ddu at about 11am, as we got out of the cars the only other visitors were just leaving, meaning we had the place to ourselves! A short walk along the blackberry and juniper berry lined path and we arrive at Bryn Celli Ddu, a complex monument with different phases that culminate in the chambered tomb that stands there today. Time given to explore and feel the peace of the Site before the first of the day’s Rituals, our Harvest Rite – the Sacrifice of John Barleycorn!
Once complete we disposed of the body……..erm, only joking, once complete we returned to the car park to anoint and honour the ‘keystone’ that 12 months ago gave us the chance to talk….. after last year’s Harvest Rite we suffered an accident, reversing out of the car park my passenger side front wheel struck this rock and punctured the tyre, meaning that Roadtrip was brought to an unceremonious end, with us having to be recovered to a local garage. The people in the other car we were travelling with that day decided as we were stuck to head home, and the 4 of us were left to await recovery and repair – something that happened far quicker that was anticipated, so we were back on the road within an hour and a half…… which gave us all a chance to talk about things and to then go and do some exploring together, which led to a memorable day… proving that sometimes the curse you see is actually a blessing in disguise, although seeing it as such is not always easy at the time!
So, today we had the chance to give our thanks, a few words said together, a toast given and libation and offering made to the stone that truly started it all for the Hearth of Albion! Then it was back to the cars and we headed off to Barcloyiadd Y Gawres, a Burial Chamber on a headland overlooking a bay on the West of Anglesey!
The Panorama above shows the view from the top of the mound, offerings had been left within, but access was again not possible. After this down to the beach for a paddle and to connect with Mannanan – a short unscripted Rite speaking from the heart and an offering given, a ‘mermaid’s purse’ – containing an unborn but still alive dogfish – was spotted on the beach and returned to the sea, a life given back to the ocean and Mannanan honoured.
Finally, a chance to sit and contemplate at the Hut Circes above Holyhead…. not a ‘sacred site’ in terms of a Stone Circle or Burial Mound, but still an important place, one where the lives of the Ancestors can be felt, where they can be understood as real folk, with their concerns, passions, loves and foibles, a place where they can be ‘real’ to us. Some of us experienced things that told us we had been here before……
With time then running on we abandoned the last visit of Dun Llygwy and headed home, an enjoyable day with interesting folks exploring meaningful places together, alignment and understanding achieved, honour and debts paid…. we shall return again to explore more!
Breaca of Albion
For each of the 8 Sabbats of the Wheel of the Year (yes, we know they are not all Traditional Witchcraft Sabbats, even though some are modern reinterpretations they are something that we chose to mark for our main public observances, although the older less well known Witchcraft Festivals are also celebrated) we as a Hearth take a Roadtrip, most are one day trips, of no more than 350 miles round trip, but for Summer Solstice we decided to follow on from what we completed last Litha – when with another group – and to celebrate together with a few days away.
So, for Summer Solstice 2015, to mark the longest day and shortest night, to celebrate the Sabbat of Litha – a time when the Lore dictates that the Oak King surrenders his crown to his brother the Holly King – we undertook a 3 day Roadtrip to Glastonbury, visiting a variety of Places of Power to pay our respects on both the way down and the return trip, witnessing Sunrise on the Solstice atop Glastonbury Tor, with chance to perform the Rites needed in a more private and secluded setting and to generally bond further the alignment which we share. One extra Rite was also written to connect to those we need to, both those who may walk aligned pathways or those who may in future seek to join us.
Upon our return we also held a second Sabbat Ritual locally for the students of our Beltane Intake who weren’t able to mark the Solstice with the Roadtrip this year…… though another few trips are planned for them in the next few months!
Day 1 – Saturday 20th June 2015 – Litha Eve
Day One – We left Manchester at 7am on Saturday the 20th and made our way to a drizzly Rollright Stones for the opening Ritual of the Solstice Weekend, once again renewing our connection to a place we have visited many times before, paying our respects while accompanied by the croncking of the Ravens and the chattering of the Magpies.
Next we moved on to Waylands Smithy, seeing the Morris Men Festival in Marlborough en route, arriving here as the rain stopped and the heat started to build, having the Site to ourselves for the half hour we needed to complete what was required, squirrels frolicking in the trees around us and the calling of Corvid’s and the accompaniment of birdsong the only noises heard. Lore and Gnosis was recovered, with a new way to use Stangs discovered in a way that links the older Lore with new praxis, which brings it to new relevance for our age, akin to the aims we agreed within our Coda!
Next was Uffington White ‘Horse’, Dragon Hill and Uffington Castle, busy with people, but peaceful yet filled with energy swirling around from both Dragon Hill and the White ‘Horse’, it was here that the intent we had manifest – of making connections – started to become apparent, with questions being asked of our Paths, our Stangs and ourselves, from a 6 year old through to 4 American Tourists! Our replies were met with friendly acceptance and shared understanding.
On from here to Glastonbury, to meet with friends who travelled the day before, and to book into The Covenstead B+B – the most wonderful B+B in the world, a Witchcraft themed hotel full of fantastic genuine artefacts, luxuriously appointed and hosted by Adele, a wonderful person who provides not only absolute luxury but also friendship and stimulating conversation late into the night! Some food at the extremely busy George and Pilgrim, then back for a few drinks, a chat and a relatively early night as we were up at 330am in order to get atop the Tor for sunrise at 453am.
Day 2 – Sunday 21st June 2015 – Litha – Summer Solstice
We all rose at 330am, some with ease, some with the thoughts of ‘Why the Hell am I doing this?’, and dressed in Ritual wear, robes, cloaks, swords, Stangs, Headdresses, etc., meeting at 4am in The Covenstead’s ‘Temple Room’ to depart on the walk to the top of Glastonbury Tor. Hitting the base of the Tor – where the real climb began – at 420am it seemed as though we would have plenty of time to reach the top, yet the heavy robes, the Ritual Gear and the fact that hubris needed to be overcome meant we soon found it hard going, some more than others, the laughter of the Raven’s urging us all forwards. Aid was given from those who found the going easier than others, and we all managed to reach the summit of the Tor in time for the sunrise – which unfortunately was not visible due to the clouds.
The atmosphere atop the Tor was great, several hundred folks were present, ranging from Druids, drummers, Pagans of every ilk and alignment along with some interested and a few seeking nothing but as excuse to party – whatever their choice for being there all were welcome and bathed in the swirling Solstice energies that spiralled around the Tor like the coils of an Ancient Serpent!
Although we usually remain anonymous in our online presence, the fact that the Solstice Sunrise was a celebration and not a Ritual – which we performed later and away from everyone else in a more private and sheltered site – meant we were happy to be seen, talked to and photographed, the one to the left above shows Aldebaran and Breaca in Ritual wear, with Ulrich just caught at the side of the picture, the second one, the one of Daeneb in her Red Cloak and headdress was actually featured on the Daily Express Website in their Solstice Gallery! Both of these were from photos taken by other Solstice Revellers and shared via the internet!
Ulrich – who should have had a Drinking Horn in hand, but elected to carry the water up the Tor – and mightily glad are we that he did, Aldebaran – enjoying the atmosphere, and Daeneb, with sword – we were approached by one person who asked why Daeneb was the only one with a sword, the rest of us in concert all then pulled back robes to reveal our swords, still peace-bound, to which the person then beat a hasty retreat!
After experiencing the atmosphere we descended the Tor – far more easily than the ascent – and found a quiet corner in the field at the base of the Tor to hold our Rite, a beautiful peaceful Rite enhanced by the swirling serpent energies of the place and the day!
Then back to the Covenstead for showers, breakfast and then a trip to the Chalice Well Gardens followed by a last wander around the wonderful shops of Glastonbury, a meal and a few drinks with Adele and talking into the small hours rounded off a wonderful day.
Day 3 – Monday 22nd June 2015 – The return Home
Our last day in Glastonbury dawned grey and wet, with the promise of a warm and sunny day to follow, after a leisurely – and huge – breakfast with Adele we took our leave and packed the cars for the trip home, further Respects and Rituals to be paid on the long 400 mile winding journey home!
First stop, a journey 40 miles south to pay our respects to Cerne Abbas Giant, a mighty and ‘proud’ fellow, unfortunately access to the Giant himself is not allowed – in order to preserve him from damage – so we did what we needed and left, as we turned to look back where we had worked it was to see a huge stunning Raven sat on the fence post where we had worked, another sign of connection not lost upon us all!
Next stop, Stonehenge, with so many people paying to go and walk around the stones – you cannot walk between them normally – we felt it impossible to go and to work inside, so chose a place in sight of the ‘Hanging Stones’, within the Ritual Landscape to do our Rite, respects paid, and about 300 faces turned to look in our direction as the Horn was blown!
Next stop was just up the road, Old Sarum, a large site which was built by the Ancients and reworked by both Saxon and Norman, impressive earthworks that rival those of Avebury in depth if not in sheer size!
Next was the trip to Avebury, via Pewsey White Horse, where Cloaks and headdresses were donned by some in order for us to pay special Respect to such a wonderful Site, Ritual complete it was time to move on to our final stopover, West Kennet Longbarrow, the site of an overnight Vigil the Year before, and a place we will soon be returning to with the Beltane Students for their 1st Vigil, getting out of the car we were given a flypast by a large Raven, 10 foot from the car flying into the wind, who seemed almost to hang in the air as he slowly glided past us, a stunning encounter!
The 10 minute walk up to West Kennet from the road affords excellent views of the whole Ritual Landscape, but the most striking feature has to be Silbury Hill, unfortunately access is not possible in order to try to prevent the damage that has previously been a major problem from reoccurring, but nevertheless it is an awe inspiring site, very reminiscent of Dragon Hill at Uffington!
Arriving at West Kennet we had the final 3 pieces of a 3 day long series of Rituals to perform, the first 2 were done atop the Long Barrow, where we had sat Vigil the Year before, the final part was performed inside, we all felt the presence of the Ancestors and Old Ones as we chanted our way through our Rite, power building to a crescendo before release, at which time we were acknowledged by those who had come before.
On leaving it was to notice a Swift flying into the Barrow, and upon inspection it was to find a nest of Swift Hatchlings nesting in the Longbarrow, proving that in the midst of death there is always life!
We then travelled the 3 hours home to relax before spending the Tuesday evening performing a Sabbat Rite with the Beltane Students on the Moors above Manchester, where one of the Students was brought forward to play the Oak King in the first open part of the Rite, before the deeper part of the Ritual which then followed. All present seemed to gain a connection and have lots to think about between now and their next Training Session.
We of the Hearth of Albion hope your Solstice Celebrations were as fulfilling and personally meaningful as were our own, may the coming Dark Half of the Year, with its Harvests and Autumnal Glory, prove to be a season of mellow mists, bountiful harvests and personal happiness for you and yours.
Breaca of Albion