Spring Equinox 2016

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Last week our Grove celebrated Alban Eilir/Spring Equinox. As a Grove we have done public ritual before at Stonehenge Aotearoa, and we don’t exactly make a secret of our Grove’s existence, with only 4 of our 8 seasonal festivals being open to Grove members only. This year we decided to do some community outreach, by getting an article in the local paper inviting people to the ceremony.

Putting ourselves out there like this was scary. You never know how the public may react. One of the reasons we felt it was important to make ourselves known more in the community was because many of us feel like some of the ideas we see for the future of our Grove involves being a part of the local wider community.

The outcome was that we had around 45 people turn up for our ritual. One family had come because of the newspaper article, and they looked like they were very excited to have found us. Everyone was able to find a car park due to us opening up the paddock to parking, which was great for those of us who have been struggling with our small car park as our Grove has grown.

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The rain held off enough for us to hold the ritual outside in the herb garden, which has been beautifully tended to by one of our new members during the last 2 months. Not only were the plants calling to us about their spring growth, they were laughing with joy from the gentle touch of calm, knowledgable attention.

A couple of years ago we introduced sunflower seeds to our Spring ritual. We hand out the seeds for everyone to mediate on things they would like to grow in the coming months before planting them in some soil. We grow these at Woolshed, harvesting the seeds at the end of the season to use for the next years ritual. Part of the reason behind this is that the seeds we are using carry a whakapapa which we are building on as we continue to strengthen and build our community.

After our ritual we had the eisteddfod inside after the ritual. Many people shared poems, songs and stories. Our first offering was a rendition of a Jethro Tull song from one of our new visitors. Our Grove Storyteller told a tale of Pani-tinaku and how she and her husband, Rongo-manui came into possession of kumara seeds and growing them to feed their people. Kumara planting is an important aspect in this part of the year in the Maori tradition.

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Our bellies full from feasting it was time for the annual tor toss. This is proceeded by a tale about the cultural and historic reasons for why we climb to the top of the tor and throw eggs off to see who can get their egg the furtherest. Our tor toss always involves accusations of cheating, near misses for the judges having egg on their face,and lots and lots of laughter. We even have a prize giving!

Alban Eilir is one of my favourite festivals. Thanks everyone who made it such a delight this year, and I look forward to getting to know any of our new visitors should they return.

– Mary

 

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Beltane / Whiringanuku

Beltane flowers, 2015

Ah, spring time. It’s a tempestuous time of the year in Wellington, but the days gradually get warmer and you know it’s only going to get better.
Last weekend the grove celebrated Beltane. Below are a few thoughts on what we did for the festival this year.

The Beltane Fires

Brazier, Beltane 2015
Last year we started a new Beltane tradition of keeping a Beltane fire (or fires, if we use the twin fires in the ritual) burning during the day. While Beltane is one of the four fire festivals, fire has typically been more a feature of our Samhain ritual. The warmth of the Samhain fire in the middle of winter and act of gathering around it to share in stories and food resonates strongly with all of us. It’s a time when we seek the comfort and warmth of community; when we’re all a bit weary from the dark cold winter. It also serves as a beacon fire as the veil grows thin, calling the spirits home. The veil also grows thin at Beltane, but with the warmth of the returning sun, our Beltane fire has often been more symbolic than real. Last year, one of our grovers had the idea of using the Beltane fire as more of a focal point in our ritual. Our ritual fire is now a focal point: for its ritual purification purposes, as a beacon like at Samhain, but also as a specific ritual tool.

We light the fire around midday, tend to it through the afternoon, and those who wish to can come prior to the ritual with offerings for the fire. The purpose of starting the fire early is to burn things we need or want to be rid of, items which have significance to us, but can’t just be chucked out with the ordinary. Some of the things in past burnings have included old photos, letters, legal papers, toys, items of clothing, books, art works. In this way we combine the ritual power of the Beltane fire with the wider for a slightly more practical focus: marrying the celebration and joy of Beltane with the purification of fire for the release of pent-up energy, letting go, and moving forward.

The spring winds that dominate Wellington’s spring meant we decided on the day to use the braziers rather than the bonfire: nobody wants their robe to catch fire! But there were many things to burn, dancing around the fire, and the sun was warm enough that we weren’t all huddling in front of the brazier! Later during the ritual, the braziers were used for grovers to walk between, and to burn mugwort for the purification aspect of the ritual.

Brigid’s Well

Brighids Well, Beltane 2015
The two elemental symbols for Beltane are fire (destroyed the powers hostile to humankind, purified the air, and allowed human and beast and vegetation to thrive and become fertile) and water (healing and the time of the first swim).

As the time of the first swim of the year, a small group who arrived early set off into the forest to visit Brigid’s Well before lighting the Beltane fires.

Ribbons at Brighids Well, Beltane 2015

We took with us a ribbon to tie next to the well, with the names of people we sought healing or blessing for. The forest walk was full of activity, with kakariki echoing through the trees, curious piwakwaka flitting so close you could almost touch them, and a frog leaping out of the stream as we were leaving offerings for Brighid! It seems everything was out enjoying the sun.

Eisteddfod

Our eisteddfod continues to grow, with several poems, songs, and stories shared. In the days before Beltane, I came across the poem The Sun by Mary Oliver. For me, this is a fitting celebration of spring, and also a reminder that as things get busier as we head towards Christmas, we should remember to focus on what’s important in life.

Our eisteddfod also saw the introduction of a piece of grove history – an Eisteddfod Chair! This beautifully carved chair (or bench, to be specific), made of native macrocarpa with kowhai carvings, was donated by one of our grovers. While we’re still deciding where it will be placed in the long term, it was a fitting addition to our eisteddfod and a perfect example of the productivity and creativity of Beltane.

– Nicola