The Major Festivals
(Y Gwyliau Pennaf)
The Names of the Major Festivals given here are mutated versions of the original meanings - the correct names remain under wraps of Y Plant for obvious reasons. (I found some time ago one fellow from New Zealand regurgitating the names given here as authentically Keltic and speaking as if he were an authority on the subject!
Well, well, well..........!)
Gwedy Haf or 'Summer's End' is observed on 31st October. Two main seasons were originally recognised in Britain - Summer and Winter. The former ended on the above date while the latter commenced on 1st November, the Cymreig 'Calan Gaeaf' (First day of Winter). This was the first Major Festival and New Year celebration until Christianity was foist upon Britain, causing the date of the new Year to be changed to March 25th. In 1600 the date was again changed to January 1st which remains the 'official' British New Year.
January 1st, therefore, is an obvious innovation, occupying c. a 416 year period of our island's history and, on account of the brevity of the observation, has little legitimate place in British traditions. Indeed the Isle of Man maintained the original Keltic date until well into the 20th century. This, then, is the festival at which we hold "Y Gymanfa Fawr" (The Great Assembly) - a gathering of all who are "of the family." This includes those who have been born, married or adopted into the family and those considered kindred "by brother right" - allies in battle. The festival is held indoors.
The assembly commences with a religious ceremony during which the Deities which head the family are invited and a libation poured in their honour. Following this, all who have passed over in death and those yet to be born are called from their unseen dwelling place by bridging the planes of 'time and 'timelessness' in a special way. Again a libation is poured in honour of their kinship. (This is the origin of visitors being offered a drink when they arrive at one's home at New Year today.)
Next follows a period of silent meditation during which the unseen may communicate with the minds of those physically present. Glimpses into the future are common during meditation and many old folk customs such as divinatory games stem from the practices here described.
On completion of the Silent Assembly, the Assembly of Tongues allows any important family business to be raised and discussed.
Following this, any children born during the year together with those adopted are presented to the entire assembly and hailed as true-born members of the family. The major religious portion of the night now finds its place with the blessing of future endeavours and a thanksgiving for the successes and benefits of the old year.
With these formalities over, a feast commences during which family news and stories are exchanged.
Many extant folk customs teach a wealth of older ideaology relative to this time of year - the mashed potatoes and the Hallowe'en apple which, when consumed, reveals the seed of continuing life at the core. A traditional Welsh supper is the 'stwmp naw rhyw' (the mash of nine sorts) representing the nine months of Mother Earth's waking life before She rests for the Winter.
The food aspect of this festival had nothing to do with harvest in earlier times but was linked to the slaughter of farm animals for forward-planning of provisions for the winter months. (Another simple truth and necessity which was perverted into a 'death' aspect at this time of year by Chiristianity when the festival, among many others, was stolen by this Middle Eastern cult.)
The festival ends by bidding the unseen guests to remain or depart as they will, then the stream of earthly time is set to flow in its appointed channel and the Four Great Portals are closed by the porters for another twelve months.
"How fair the light of Gwydyon fell where gentle down and woodland blend;
Now mirror'd in the chanterelle on this the night at Summer's End."
February 2nd is traditionally the day on which the Lady of Earth in Her virgin aspect returns at sunrise from Her three bleak months of Winter's exile. Spring's reappearance is observed and encouraged on the evening and night of the 1st - Y Dychweliad simply meaning "The Return". This too is an indoor festival.
The festival commences with the Dark Lord of decay and death laying aside His rule for nine months. He Who has cleared away much and has permitted the soil to rest for a season graciously gives way to the Earth Goddess in Spring. Following this synmbolic act, the women decorate each room with a multitude of spring flowers then carry lighted torches to the door of the dwelling. There they remain while the Goddess is invited, then the torch-lit procession accompanies the Unseen Guest to where a special bower of blooms has been prepared in Her honour.
The men are called in one by one and each is granted a prayer or special request of The Lady.
The symbolism of awakening or calling with light and a return at sunrise is always present in some fairy tales such as Sleeping Beauty when the young lord, who is the Sun God, kisses the sleeping maiden (The Earth Goddess) lightly upon the brow to break the spell of sleep which held her inert.
A young woman representing The Lady first reaffirms the function of the Earth Goddess then accepts a bowl of spring flowers.
"Morwyn am I, Beloved of Ynys Y Kedyrn.
The sun in his rising, My fair harbinger from the morning hillside My return beheld."
Into these she breathes the breath of life and distributed them to all the women present.
There is a token repast to conclude as, in former times, the winter's supply of provisions would have been too depleted to permit feasting of any great extent.
Y Briodas Lân
This term means 'The Sacred Marriage', the union of The Earth Goddess and Sun God and is celebrated on May Eve, the start of summer. The people are invited to the 'marriage' in the usual Welsh manner and the festival opens with a detailed examination of all strata of true union - the approximation of spirits, minds, emotions and instincts as well as the physical union in marriage. Part of the prelude which you may read in the text develops this theme metaphorically yet lucidly.
"Endless is the toiling loom in Colur's Tower
Where they who so desire a hand my reach
To weave new colours in their unseen garments.
This night two Royal Cloaks their colours blend - weft upon weft, warp upon warp,
Garment with garment."
Thereafter, as in most festivals, an old legend is enacted by the poeple. At this time, The Lady under enchantment is found and freed by the Young Lord and Her hand is given in marriage for His loyalty and kindness.
There follows a marriage feast around a form of maypole - a symbol retained today in village culture in many parts of Britain.
This term means literally "The Wheat Reaping", that being reaped of course is Lleu Llaw Gyffes (The Wheat or Corn God, Son of the Earth Goddess). The celebration is held on August Eve and is largely a pre-harvest gathering designed to set the seal on or ensure a plentiful harvest. The legend of the Corn God with His betrayal and transmogrification into an eagle by the poisoned spear is the basis of the mystery play on this particular night.
"The golden Lord His reaper doth await,
By fairest of all blooms betrayed,
And the shadows of Bryn Kyfergyr
The lance of death conceal."
It is probably the shortest of the festivals, taking perhaps one and a half hours to complete.
There is a simple repast to conclude as the main thanksgiving feast for a good harvest in-gathered will be held around mid-September.
Copyright © Gareth Pengwerin 1991
All rights reserved.