Folklore

The Old Corpse Road Folklore Collective

The Old Corpse Road Folklore Collective provides a resource for people interested in folklore, paganism, mythology, legend and all related matters. The site is aimed at those wanting to connect with other like-minded individuals and groups and allows us to share and enjoy the fruits of our past. We also extend our interests to all related matters such as black and folk metal, traditional folk music, artwork and local and worldwide events. If we sound like your type of people then join us. We accept all people into the collective as long as you respect one another...

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Dog

The dog or hound has ever been a faithful servant of humanity and this is reflected in British myth and folklore where the dog is frequently one of the helping animals of the hero's search. Arthur's Cabal is one such dog, and Fionn's Bran and Sceolan are others. The dog is important in Celtic myth and appears frequently with hunter-gods, such as Sucellos, the 'Good Striker', and with the Horse-goddess Epona. Dogs were the usual attendants of the Celtic Mother Goddesses. When a god accompanied the Mother, he often took the form of a dog. The Celtic healer god Nodens took on his zoomorphic aspect as a dog. Dogs are associated with the healing waters. Canines have long been associated with Moon deities, especially Crescent New Moon Goddesses. Managarmr (Moondog) was the mightiest of all dog-wolf supernatural beings according to a Norse story.

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Bee

In early traditions bees were believed to have originated in paradise and were known as "little servants of Gods". In Celtic lore bees have a secret wisdom derived from the Otherworld.

It was considered bad luck to kill one.

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Cedar

Ancient Celts on the Mainland used cedar oil to preserve heads of enemies taken in battle. To draw Earth energy, to ground yourself place the palms of your hands against the ends of the needles. Also known as the Tree of Life, Arbor Vitae, Yellow Cedar. Description Cedar (Cedrus) is a genus of coniferous trees in the plant family Pinaceae. They are most closely related to the Firs (Abies), sharing a very similar cone structure. They are native to the mountains of the western Himalaya and the Mediterranean region, occurring at altitudes of 1,500–3200 m in the Himalaya and 1,000–2,200 m in the Mediterranean. Cedars are trees up to 30–40 m (occasionally 60 m) tall with spicy-resinous scented wood, thick ridged or square-cracked bark, and broad, level branches. The shoots are dimorphic, with long shoots, which form the framework of the branches, and short shoots, which carry most of the leaves. The leaves are evergreen and needle-like, 8–60 mm long, arranged in an open spiral phyllotaxis on long shoots, and in dense spiral clusters of 15–45 together on short shoots; they vary from bright grass-green to dark green to strongly glaucous pale blue-green, depending on the thickness of the white wax layer which protects the leaves from desiccation. The seed cones are barrel-shaped, 6–12 cm long and 3–8 cm broad, green maturing grey-brown, and, as in Abies, disintegrate at maturity to release the winged seeds. The seeds are 10–15 mm long, with a 20–30 mm wing; as in Abies, the seeds have 2–3 resin blisters, containing an unpleasant-tasting resin, thought to be a defense against squirrel predation. Cone maturation takes one year, with pollination in autumn and the seeds maturing the same time a year later. The pollen cones are slender ovoid, 3–8 cm long, produced in late summer and shedding pollen in autumn.

Fish

In Celtic tradition spirits have been associated with springs and wells from the earliest times. In ancient Gaul the tutelary spirit was occasionally a god, such as Grannos or Borvo: more often the custodian of the healing spring was a fertility goddess, always beautiful, sometimes dangerous, and these female deities have metamorphosed over time into the faeries of popular tradition.

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Catnip

Nepeta is a genus of about 250 species of flowering plants in the family Lamiaceae. The members of this group are known as catnip or catmint because of their famed effect on cats—nepeta pleasantly stimulates cats' pheromonic receptors, typically resulting in the animal temporarily exhibiting behaviors indicative of being in an induced, euphorically giddy sort of state. The genus is native to Europe, Asia and Africa, with the highest species diversity in the Mediterranean region east to mainland China. It is now also common in North America.[1] Most of the species are herbaceous perennial plants, but some are annuals. They have sturdy stems with opposite heart-shaped, green to grayish-green leaves. The flowers are white, blue, pink or lilac and occur in several clusters toward the tip of the stems. The flowers are tubular and spotted with tiny purple dots. It is ruled by the planet Venus, and is therefore useful in love, beauty, and happiness spells. One of my favorite uses for catnip is; "cat magick", If you feed your cat some catnip, it will build a psychic bond between you and your cat! You can also make a pink sachet and fill it with Catnip to wear or carry to draw love to you. Another fun use for catnip is to grow some in your home. Aside from pleasing your cat, this will draw positive vibrations and good luck to you and to your house. Chewed by warriors for fierceness in battle. Individuals interested in cultivating Catnip are advised to sow the seeds directly into the garden and be especially careful not to injure developing plants (releasing the volatile oil) or the neighborhood cats will destroy the crop. The following bit of English folklore says it all. If you set it, the cats will eat it. If you sow it, the cats won’t know it. Besides being grown for the enjoyment of pet cats, Catnip has a history of use as a beverage and a medicine. Before European trade with China began bringing large quantities of fine Eastern Tea to Europe, Catnip tea was a domestic favorite especially among tea loving residents of the British Isles. When growing the plant for this purpose, mature leaves should be collected while they are still fresh and dried in the shade (not in the sun, or the volatile oil will be lost) for several days. One teaspoon of the dried herb is then added to each cup of boiling water and allowed to steep. The tea should not be boiled or, again, the oil will be lost. The drink is an excellent source of vitamin C. The number of various uses of Catnip tea for medicinal purposes is extraordinary. A survey of the literature indicates that it has been used at one time or another to cure just about every human disorder. Some of its more popular uses in Europe would include curing chronic bronchitis, diarrhea, upset stomachs, infant colic, flatulency, spasms, and “various lower type female disorders”. The tea is said to induce perspiration and has been used to break fevers, bring on sleep, and to cool a person down on a hot summer day. A use has even been found for the roots of Catnip. According to English folklore, the root of Catnip: “when chewed is said to make the most gentle person fierce and quarrelsome, and there is a legend of a certain hangman who could never screw up his courage to the point of hanging anybody till he had partaken of it.”

Goose

(or Gessa, plur. for Geis) Singular: Geas(gaysh), plural: Gease(gaysha).
Caesar said the goose was sacred to Celtic tribes and was not considered edible, because of her connection with the Sun-Egg. For similar reasons, medieval superstition forbade the killing of a goose in midwinter, when the sun was thought to be in need of maternal care to gain strength for the new seasons. Like other formerly sacred creatures, geese were said to contain souls of the unbaptized (pagans).It was associated with both Celtic and
Teutonic war gods, who were accompanied by a horse and a goose. In Gallic iconography epona, The Divine Horse, is depicted riding on a horned goose.
The Norse did not eat the goose.

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Birch

The silver birch (Betula pendula Roth) is the most common tree in much of Europe. It is one of the first trees to grow back in an area after a mature forest is cut; this is probably a large part of its symbolic connection with new beginnings. Description When the huge glaciers of the last ice age receded around twelve and a half thousand years ago, Downy Birch trees would have been one of the first to re-colonise the rocky, ice-scoured landscape. Hence, in botanical terms the birch is referred to as a pioneer species. Silver Birch is more prevalent today over the whole of Britain, and tends to grow most abundantly in the North West of Scotland. The Downy Birch isn’t so commonly today, but the Silver Birch is still the first tree to colonize waste ground, and is in fact considered a pest by some as it invades forests of pine, which are often grown as a cash crop. Formerly covering the whole of the United Kingdom, it is a graceful and slender tree with a characteristic white bole. The name Betula is the family name that the birch belongs to, along with hornbeam and hazel, the Latin name pendula for the Silver Birch means ‘drooping branches’, and its habit of hanging down are another easy way of recognition. The Latin name of pubescens for the Downy Birch means ‘hairy’ which is reflected by its downy (hairy) twigs. Birch trees are deciduous (they loose their leaves in winter) The Silver Birch thrives in dry places, whilst the Downy Birch prefers wetter locations, which is probably why Silver Birch are found to the East of Britain and Downy Birch to the West. The Silver Birch seldom attains more than 80 years old, especially in a woodland where other trees will soon outgrow its height of 30 metres, with the Downy Birch attaining a possible 20 metres. The trunk of the Birch is slender, with a bark almost as tough as the wood of the tree, in Silver Birch the bark is silvery white in colour, making it easily recognised, the Downy Birch having a somewhat darker brown colour. The leaves of both species are similar in shape, although there are subtle differences, it’s easier to attempt to distinguish the two by the colour of the bark. Birch trees are monoecious, which means they have both male and female flowers with pollination achieved by the wind. The male flower or catkin is drooping whilst the female flower or catkin is upright. Origin The word birch is thought to have derived from the Sanskrit word bhurga meaning a 'tree whose bark is used to write upon'. When the poet S.T. Coleridge called it the 'Lady of the Woods', he was possibly drawing on an existing folk term for the tree. Birch figures in many anglicised place names, such as Birkenhead, Birkhall and Berkhamstead, and appears most commonly in northern England and Scotland. Beithe (pronounced 'bey'), the Gaelic word for birch, is widespread in Highland place names such as Glen an Beithe in Argyll, Loch a Bhealaich Bheithe in Inverness-shire and Beith in Sutherland. The adjective 'silver' connected with birch seems to be a relatively recent invention, apparently making its first appearance in a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Folklore The birch tree stood for Beith, the first letter of the druidic alphabet or Tree Ogham (Birch or beorc was also the runic letter B). Beithe, has two meanings in Irish. It can mean "being," in the sense of the verb to be, and it is also a noun meaning "a being." In early Celtic mythology, the birch came to symbolise renewal and purification. It was the sacred beth of Cerridwen, representing beginnings and birth.The whiteness of the tree's bark apparently suggested its connection with the White Goddess, who was both birthgiver and death-bringer in her Crone form as the carrion-eating white sow. In Herefordshire a birch tree decorated with white and red rags was propped against a stable door on May Day to prevent the horses from being Hag ridden by witches or having their manes knotted by fairires. 19th C navvies and their brides considered themselves legally married if they jumped over a brich broom held across the threshhold. Birch was celebrated during the festival of Samhain (what is now Halloween in Britain), the start of the Celtic year, when purification was also important. Bundles of birch twigs were used to drive out the spirits of the old year. Later this would evolve into the 'beating the bounds' ceremonies in local parishes. Gardeners still use the birch besom, or broom, to 'purify' their gardens. Besoms were also of course the archetypal witches' broomsticks, used in their shamanic flights, perhaps after the use of extracts of the fly agaric mushrooms commonly found in birchwoods. The fly agaric is the preferred ‘shroom’ of the Shaman, with the fungus found predominantly in Britain growing beneath a Birch tree.The Birch also represents the ‘mound of venus’ (female mons pubis), the besom when stood with its birch head upright represents the female, with the ash handle upwards it represents the male. Interestingly, the birch also has strong fertility connections with the celebrations of Beltane, the second, summer, half of the Celtic year (nowadays celebrated as May Day). Beltane fires in Scotland were ritually made of birch and oak, and a birch tree was often used as a, sometimes living, maypole. As birch is one of the first trees to come into leaf it would be an obvious choice as representation of the emergence of spring. Deities associated with birch are mostly love and fertility goddesses, such as the northern European Frigga and Freya. Eostre (from whom we derive the word Easter), the Anglo Saxon goddess of spring was celebrated around and through the birch tree between the spring equinox and Beltane. According to the medieval herbalist Culpepper, the birch is ruled over by Venus - both the planet and the goddess. According to Scottish Highland folklore, a barren cow herded with a birch stick would become fertile, or a pregnant cow bear a healthy calf. On the Isle of Man, off the west coast of Scotland, criminals were 'birched' to purify them and to drive out evil influences. Some say the birch is the only tree never to be struck by lightening, whether this is because it is associated with fertility or because its too well hidden in the woodland to be accessible is anyone’s guess. It is said that to see green Birch in a dream was an omen of illness but to see two birches growing together with briars on the grave of two lovers indicated that death had not divided them Uses The uses of birch are many and varied. The wood is tough, heavy and straightgrained, making it suitable for handles and toys and good for turning. It was used to make hardwearing bobbins, spools and reels for the Lancashire cotton industry. Traditionally, babies' cradles were made of birch wood, drawing on the earlier symbolism of new beginnings. In 1842, J.C. Loudon, in his Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs wrote that, "The Highlanders of Scotland make everything of it;" and proceeded to list all manner of household and agricultural implements as well as its use as a general building material. Though the wood lends itself well enough to many of these uses, the availability of the wood in the Highlands must also have played a part in its use. Loudon furthermore mentions that " … the branches are employed as fuel in the distillation of whiskey, the spray is used for smoking hams and herrings, for which last purpose it is preferred to every other kind of wood. The bark is used for tanning leather, and sometimes, when dried and twisted into a rope, instead of candles. The spray is used for thatching houses; and, dried in summer, with the leaves on, makes a good bed when heath is scarce." Of old, the Druids made the sap into a cordial to celebrate the spring equinox. Th Birch is used as firewood due to its high calorific value per unit weight and unit volume. The wood burns quickly and hot, and emits a beautiful smell. Birch is prized by the Sami people as it burns well, without popping, even when frozen and freshly hewn. The bark is also used in starting fires. The bark will burn very well, even when wet, because of the oils it contains. With care, the bark can be split into very thin sheets that will ignite from even the smallest of sparks. Birch leaves make a diuretic tea and to make extracts for dyes and cosmetics. Ground birch bark, fermented in sea water, is used for seasoning the woolen, hemp or linen sails and hemp rope of traditional Norwegian boats. Its sap was extensively used to make birch sap wine, especially in Scotland, where it is now making somewhat of a revival, especially by home brewers, although collecting the sap is made difficult as there is a two week window in early March when the sap can be gathered. The sap can be tapped as it rises in spring and fermented. Birch is used to make the famous Birch besom , used by gardeners’ for sweeping up leaves in autumn, the birch making the head of the besom, its tendril like branches making it the ideal sweeping brush. The wood was used as timber for smoking hams, herrings, and the whiskey industry, and the branches for thatching on houses. Medicinal Folklore and herbalism credit different parts of the birch with a variety of medicinal properties. The leaves are diuretic and antiseptic, and an effective remedy for cystitis and other urinary tract infections. They were also used to dissolve kidney stones and relieve rheumatism and gout. The sap (as wine or cordial) similarly prevents kidney and bladder stones, treats rheumatism, and can be used to treat skin complaints. The bark is used externally for relief of muscle pain and is used by placing the internal part of the bark against the skin. Birch leaves are effective in lowering blood pressure, and an infusion of birch leaves will cool a fever and therefore aid the symptoms of the common cold. "Beneath you birch with silver bark And boughs so pendulous and fair, The brook falls scattered down the rock: and all is mossy there." Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Owl

Owls are one of the oldest species of vertebrate animal in existence, fossils have been found dating back 60 million years, showing the bird to have changed very little in that time. Throughout the history of mankind, the owl has featured significantly in mythology & folklore.

Owls are one of the few birds that have been found in prehistoric cave paintings. Owls have been both revered & feared throughout many civilisations from ancient to more recent times. 

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Alban Elfed

September 21
Autumn Equinox / Mabon / Alban Elfed. The autumnal equinox occurs when the sun crosses the equator on it's apparent journey southward, and we experience a day and a night that are of equal duration. This is before before the descent to the dark times. It is a time of balance, but light gives way to increased darkness. This balance in nature presented a powerful time for magic.To the ancients, this was a sacred time. A harvest festival is held, thanking the Goddess for giving us enough sustenance to feed us through the winter. Harvest festivals of many types still occur today in farming country

Since most European peasants were not accomplished at calculating he exact date of the equinox, they celebrated the event on a fixed calendar date, September 25th.

The Irish saw this time of year as the Waning of the Goddess. From the Summer to the Winter Solstice, they would hold festivals for the God ­ who was seen as a dark, threatening being. To the Goidelic Celts, the spring was the time of joy in the rebirth of the Goddess. To Brythonic Celts, however, this was the time of the death of the God (the Sun or the Grain God).

It is the second harvest, and the Goddess mourns her fallen consort, but the emphasis is on the message of rebirth that can be found in the harvest seeds, It is a good time to walk the forests, gathering dried plants for use as altar decorations or herbal magick. Cornbread and cider are good additions to festivities and fall leaves make good altar decorations."The Light of the Water," the first day of Autumn, was also called Harvesthome. The Autumnal Equinox was the day when the sun again began to wane, as the dark half of the year drew near.

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 Mythically, this is the day of the year when the god of light is defeated by his twin and alter-ego, the god of darkness. It is the time of the year when night conquers day. And as I have recently shown in my seasonal reconstruction of the Welsh myth of Blodeuwedd, the Autumnal Equinox is the only day of the whole year when Llew (light) is vulnerable and it is possible to defeat him. Llew now stands on the balance (Libra/autumnalequinox), with one foot on the cauldron (Cancer/summer solstice) and his other foot on the goat (Capricorn/winter solstice). Thus he is betrayed by Blodeuwedd, the Virgin (Virgo) and transformed into an Eagle (Scorpio).

 Two things are now likely to occur mythically, in rapid succession. Having defeated Llew, Goronwy (darkness) now takes over Llew's functions, both as
lover to Blodeuwedd, the Goddess, and as King of our own world. Although Goronwy, the Horned King, now sits on Llew's throne and begins his rule
immediately, his formal coronation will not be for another six weeks, occurring at Samhain (Halloween) or the beginning of Winter, when he becomes the Winter Lord, the Dark King, Lord of Misrule.

Goronwy's other function has more immediate results, however. He mates with  the virgin goddess, and Blodeuwedd conceives, and will give birth -- nine
  months later (at the Summer Solstice) -- to Goronwy's son, who is reallyanother incarnation of himself, the Dark Child.

   Llew's sacrificial death at Harvest Home also identifies him with John Barleycorn, spirit of the fields. Thus, Llew represents not only the sun's power, but also the sun's life trapped and crystallized in the corn. Often this corn spirit was believed to reside most especially in the last sheaf   or shock harvested, which was dressed in fine clothes, or woven into a wicker-like man-shaped form. This effigy was then cut and carried from the   field, and usually burned, amidst much rejoicing.

 So one may see Blodeuwedd and Goronwy in a new guise, not as conspirators who murder their king, but as kindly farmers who harvest the crop which
 they had planted and so lovingly cared for. And yet, anyone who knows the old ballad of John Barleycorn knows that we have not heard the last of him.

   Incidentally, this annual mock sacrifice of a large wicker-work figure  (representing the vegetation spirit) may have been the origin of the misconception that Druids made human sacrifices. This charge was first made  by Julius Caesar (who may not have had the most unbiased of motives), and   has been re-stated many times since. However, as has often been pointed  out, the only historians besides Caesar who make this accusation are those    who have read Caesar. And in fact, upon reading Caesar's 'Gallic Wars'  closely, one discovers that Caesar never claims to have actually witnessed  such a sacrifice. Nor does he claim to have talked to anyone else who did.   In fact, there is not one single eyewitness account of a human sacrifice performed by Druids in all of history!

   Nor is there any archeological evidence to support the charge. If, for  example, human sacrifices had been performed at the same ritual sites year  after year, there would be physical traces. Yet there is not a scrap. Nor     is there any native tradition or history which lends support. In fact,   insular tradition seems to point in the opposite direction. The Druid's    reverence for life was so strict that they refused to lift a sword to   defend themselves when massacred by Roman soldiers on the Isle of Mona.    Irish brehon laws forbade a Druid to touch a weapon, and any soul rash   enough to unsheathe a sword in the presence of a Druid would be executed    for such an outrage! Jesse Weston, in her brilliant study of the Four  Hallows of British myth, 'From Ritual to Romance', points out that British   folk tradition is, however, full of MOCK sacrifices. In the case of the     wicker-man, such figures were referred to in very personified terms,    dressed in clothes, addressed by name, etc. In such a religious ritual drama, everybody played along.

   In the medieval miracle-play tradition of the 'Rise Up, Jock' variety (performed by troupes of mummers at all the village fairs), a young harlequin-like king always underwent a mock sacrificial death.

  But invariably, the traditional cast of characters included a mysterious  'Doctor' who had learned many secrets while 'traveling in foreign lands'.   The Doctor reaches into his bag of tricks, plies some magical cure, and  presto! the young king rises up hale and whole again, to the cheers of the   crowd. As Weston so sensibly points out, if the young king were ACTUALLY   killed, he couldn't very well rise up again, which is the whole point of  the ritual drama! It is an enactment of the death and resurrection of the   vegetation spirit. And what better time to perform it than at the end of the harvest season?

  In the rhythm of the year, Harvest Home marks a time of rest after hard  work. The crops are gathered in, and winter is still a month and a half  away! Although the nights are getting cooler, the days are still warm, and     there is something magical in the sunlight, for it seems silvery and  indirect. As we pursue our gentle hobbies of making corn dollies (those tiny vegetation spirits) and wheat weaving, our attention is suddenly arrested by the sound of baying from the skies (the 'Hounds of Annwn'  passing?), as lines of geese cut silhouettes across a harvest moon. And we move closer to the hearth, the longer evening hours giving us time to catch up on our reading, munching on popcorn balls and caramel apples and sipping   home-brewed mead or ale. What a wonderful time Harvest Home is! And how  lucky we are to live in a part of the country where the season's changes are so dramatic and majestic!

Raven

They slept until the black raven, the blithe hearted proclaimed the joy of heaven
- Beowulf

European Lore

Since ravens can be taught to speak, and have such a complex vocabulary of their own, they are connected symbolically to both wisdom and prophecy. But in Europe, at least from Christian times, ravens have several strikes against them: black is considered a negative color; ravens are carrion eaters; and they have a symbiotic relationship with man's oldest enemy, the wolf. In many western traditions raven represents darkness, destructiveness and evil. They are sometimes associated with deities of evil and of death. Both witches and the Devil were said to be able to take the shape of a raven.

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Alban Eiler

Around March 21
Ostara or Vernal (spring) Equinox is the point of equilibrium - the balance is suspended just before spring bursts forth from winter. The God and Goddess are young children at play and holiday festivals use brightly colored eggs to represent the child within. Ostara is a time for collecting wildflowers, walking in nature's beauty and cultivating herb gardens. This is the time to free yourself from anything in the past that is holding you back.

At Vernal Equinox, and the season of Spring reaches it's apex, halfway through its journey from Candlemas to Beltane. Once again, night and day stand in perfect balance, with the powers of light on the ascendancy.The god of light now wins a victory over his twin, the god of darkness.

We think that the customs surrounding the celebration of the spring equinox were imported from Mediterranean lands, although there can be no doubt that   the first inhabitants of the British Isles observed it, as evidence from megalithic sites shows. But it was certainly more popular to the south, where people celebrated the holiday as New Year's Day, and claimed it as the first day of the first sign of the Zodiac, Aries. However you look at  it, it is certainly a time of new beginnings, as a simple glance at Nature will prove.

In the Roman Catholic Church, there are two holidays which get mixed up with the Vernal Equinox. The first, occurring on the fixed calendar day of March 25th in the old liturgical calendar, is called the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (or B.V.M., as she was typically abbreviated in Catholic Missals). 'Annunciation' means an announcement.  This is the day that the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was 'in the family way'. Naturally, this had to be announced since Mary, being still a virgin, would have no other means of knowing it. Why did the Church pick the Vernal Equinox for the commemoration of this event? Because it was necessary to have Mary conceive  the child Jesus a full nine months before his birth at the Winter Solstice   (i.e., Christmas, celebrated on the fixed calendar date of December 25). Mary's pregnancy would take the natural nine months to complete, even if the conception was a bit unorthodox.
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  As mentioned before, the older Pagan equivalent of this scene focuses on the joyous process of natural conception, when the young virgin Goddess (in this case, 'virgin' in the original sense of meaning 'unmarried') mates  with the young solar God, who has just displaced his rival. This is probably not their first mating, however. In the mythical sense, the couple  may have been lovers since Candlemas, when the young God reached puberty. But the young Goddess was recently a mother (at the Winter Solstice) and is   probably still nursing her new child. Therefore, conception is naturally  delayed for six weeks or so and, despite earlier matings with the God, She   does not conceive until (surprise!) the Vernal Equinox. This may also be    their Hand-fasting, a sacred marriage between God and Goddess called a Hierogamy, the ultimate Great Rite.

Probably the nicest study of this theme occurs in M. Esther Harding's book, 'Woman's Mysteries'. Probably the nicest description of it occurs in M. Z.
  Bradley's 'Mists of Avalon', in the scene where Morgan and Arthur assume  the sacred roles. (Bradley follows the British custom of transferring the
     episode to Beltane, when the climate is more suited to its outdoor celebration.)

 The other Christian holiday which gets mixed up in this is Easter. Easter, too, celebrates the victory of a god of light (Jesus) over darkness (death), so it makes sense to place it at this season. Ironically, the name 'Easter' was taken from the name of a Teutonic lunar Goddess, Eostre (from
       whence we also get the name of the female hormone, estrogen).

    Her chief symbols were the bunny (both for fertility and because her worshipers saw a hare in the full moon) and the egg (symbolic of the cosmic egg of creation), images which Christians have been hard pressed to explain. Her holiday, the Eostara, was held on the Vernal Equinox Full Moon. Of course, the Church doesn't celebrate full moons, even if they do calculate by them, so they planted their Easter on the following Sunday. Thus, Easter is always the first Sunday, after the first Full Moon, after the Vernal Equinox. If you've ever wondered why Easter moved all around the calendar, now you know. (By the way, the Catholic Church was so adamant  about NOT incorporating lunar Goddess symbolism that they added a further calculation: if Easter Sunday were to fall on the Full Moon itself, then Easter was postponed to the following Sunday instead.)

  Incidentally, this raises another point: recently, some Pagan traditions began referring to the Vernal Equinox as Eostara. Historically, this is incorrect. Eostara is a lunar holiday, honoring a lunar Goddess, at the Vernal Full Moon. Hence, the name 'Eostara' is best reserved to the nearest Esbat, rather than the Sabbat itself. How this happened is difficult to say. However, it is notable that some of the same groups misappropriated the term 'Lady Day' for Beltane, which left no good folk name for the Equinox. Thus, Eostara was misappropriated for it, completing a chain-reaction of displacement. Needless to say, the old and accepted folk ame for the Vernal Equinox is 'Lady Day'. Christians sometimes insist that the title is in honor of Mary and her Annunciation, but Pagans will smile knowingly.

 Another mythological motif which must surely arrest our attention at this time of year is that of the descent of the God or Goddess into the Underworld. Perhaps we see this most clearly in the Christian tradition. Beginning with his death on the cross on Good Friday, it is said that Jesus  descended into hell' for the three days that his body lay entombed. But on the third day (that is, Easter Sunday), his body and soul rejoined, he arose from the dead and ascended into heaven.

   By a strange 'coincidence', most ancient Pagan religions speak of the Goddess descending into the Underworld, also for a period of three days. Why three days? If we remember that we are here dealing with the lunar aspect of the Goddess, the reason should be obvious. As the text of one Book of Shadows gives it, '...as the moon waxes and wanes, and walks three nights in darkness, so the Goddess once spent three nights in the Kingdom  of Death.' In our modern world, alienated as it is from nature, we tend to mark the time of the New Moon (when no moon is visible) as a single date on a calendar. We tend to forget that the moon is also hidden from our view on the day before and the day after our calendar date. But this did not go unnoticed by our ancestors, who always speak of the Goddess's sojourn into the land of Death as lasting for three days. Is it any wonder then, that we celebrate the next Full Moon (the Eostara) as the return of the Goddess from chthonic regions?

 Naturally, this is the season to celebrate the victory of life over death, as any nature-lover will affirm. And the Christian religion was not misguided by celebrating Christ's victory over death at this same season. Nor is Christ the only solar hero to journey into the underworld. King Arthur, for example, does the same thing when he sets sail in his magical  ship, Prydwen, to bring back precious gifts (i.e. the gifts of life) from the Land of the Dead, as we are told in the 'Mabinogi'. Welsh triads allude  to Gwydion and Amaethon doing much the same thing. In fact, this theme is so universal that mythologists refer to it by a common phrase, 'the harrowing of hell'.

  However, one might conjecture that the descent into hell, or the land of the dead, was originally accomplished, not by a solar male deity, but by a  lunar female deity. It is Nature Herself who, in Spring, returns from the Underworld with her gift of abundant life. Solar heroes may have laid claim to this theme much later. The very fact that we are dealing with a three-day period of absence should tell us we are dealing with a lunar, not  solar, theme. (Although one must make exception for those occasional MALE lunar deities, such as the Assyrian god, Sin.) At any rate, one of the  nicest modern renditions of the harrowing of hell appears in many Books of Shadows as 'The Descent of the Goddess'.

 Lady Day may be especially appropriate for the celebration of this theme, whether by storytelling, reading, or dramatic re-enactment.

For modern Witches, Lady Day is one of the Lesser Sabbats or Low Holidays of the year, one of the four quarter-days. And what date will Witches  choose to celebrate? They may choose the traditional folk 'fixed' date of March 25th, starting on its Eve. Or they may choose the actual equinox point, when the Sun crosses the Equator and enters the astrological sign of Aries. This year (1988), that will occur at 3:39 am CST on March 20th.

Alban Eiler
The first day of spring, or the spring (Vernal) equinox was celebrated March 21. Alban Eiler, which means, "Light of the Earth," was the day that night and day stood equal. Crops were typically sown at this time. The equinoxes and solstices were seen, to the Celts, as a time of transition. This rare balance in nature made these days a powerful time for magic to the ancient Druids.

Day and night are equal as Spring begins to enliven the environment with new growth and more newborn animals. Many people feel "reborn"
after the long nights and coldness of winter. The Germanic Goddess Ostara or Eostre (Goddess of the Dawn), after whom Easter is named, is the tutelary deity of this holiday. It is she, as herald of the sun, who announces the triumphal return of life to the earth.Witches in the Greek tradition celebrate the return from Hades of Demeter's daughter Persephone; Witches in the Celtic tradition see in the blossoms the passing of Olwen, in whose footprintsflowers bloom. The enigmatic egg, laid by the regenerating snake or the heavenly bird, is a powerful symbol of the emergence of life out of apparent death or absence of life.