Sixth High Day recap: Autumn Equinox

A candle lights the way. Image by my other half.

A candle lights the way. Image by my other half.

Autumn Equinox has always been one of my favourite seasonal celebrations, marking as it does the start of my favourite season, a time of blustery days and still-warm sun, of golden leaves and crunchy woodland walks.

This year, my local village green held an Equinox Labyrinth, an interactive art installation by Kay Barett, of Kay’s Pathway. The Labyrinth was marked out in birdseed (so it would be eaten by wildlife once used) on the grass, in a Celtic spiral and after dark, was illuminated by dozens of candles in glass jars to mark the path. Visitors took a conker (horse chestnut) from a pile outside the Labyrinth and walked the path to the centre, to lay it down in the middle, forming a “conker cairn”.

The night was calm and clear, and the candles on the Labyrinth emulated the stars overhead, and the whole experience was very peaceful and beautiful. I saw the conker as an offering to Nerthus, the Earth Mother, and I briefly knelt and touched the Earth as I lay it down on the central cairn.

The Labyrinth seemed to bring a lot of people from the village together, from older folks slowly walking the path deep in thought, to young kids running in circles.

Labyrinth path. Image by my other half.

Labyrinth path. Image by my other half.

Once my wife and I returned home, it was time for an ADF  druid ritual for the Equinox. I used the Core Order of Ritual to create a short, stripped-back ritual outline suitable for a home shrine rite. Keeping to the Norse hearth culture, I honoured Nerthus, the Earth Mother and Njord, the god of the sea and shore. Njord was chosen because in traditional British druidry, the Autumn Equinox is known as Alban Elued, the Light of the Shore, and is seen as a liminal time, so celebrating both Earth and Sea, personified as the (possible) siblings Njord and Nerthus, seemed to fit well. Offerings were made of honey ale and seasonal apples.

All aglow. Image by my other half.

All aglow. Image by my other half.



Sixth High Day: Autumn Equinox

"Autumn". Image from Pixabay (CC 2.0)

“Autumn”. Image from Pixabay (CC 2.0)

The Autumnal Equinox usually occurs around 20/21 September, but this year is as late as the 23rd. It marks the second point in the year when day and night are of equal length, the first being the Spring Equinox. The word equinox comes from the Latin for “equal night”. From this day on, the nights will be longer than the days, making the Equinox the start of the dark half of the year.

Astronomically, the Equinox occurs when the plane of Earth’s equator passes the centre of the Sun. At this moment, the Earth’s axis neither inclines towards nor away from the Sun, causing day and night to be exactly equal.

The Equinox marks the first day of Autumn. The word Autumn comes from the Latin Autumnare meaning “to ripen”, which neatly describes what is going on in nature at this time of year.

Blackberries.  Image from Wikimedia commons

Blackberries. Image from Wikimedia commons

The Equinox is the time of the second harvest: of fruits, nuts and berries. Ronald Hutton writes that harvest festivals were often held around this time of year, involving feasting and rejoicing in the bounty of nature that is stored up at this time to prepare for the winter ahead. In parts of Britain and Northern Europe, the whole month of September was called “Halig-monath”, meaning “holy month” because of the religious significance of harvest festivals.

The Autumn Equinox is known by many names in Paganism, including Mabon, Second Harvest and Gleichentag (literally “even day”). Some modern Druids call the day Alban Elfed, meaning “the Light of the Water”, since the day sits on the western point of the traditional Wheel of the Year and in Celtic myth, the Western Isles mark the point where the sun sets, and are associated with the Otherworld.

No matter what name it is called, the Autumn Equinox is a liminal time, not light nor dark, not summer nor winter. By this time of year, the earth is beginning to show signs of the descent into winter’s cold: the temperature starts to slowly drop (although it remains warm for a while yet) and the first few leaves begin to turn gold and red. Squirrels begin to gather nuts and store them in their caches, and migratory birds prepare to leave for warmer climes, while other, Northern, birds, arrive in Britain to take advantage of our relatively warm winters.

In my own personal paganism, I always feel most “pagan” and connected to the land at Autumn. The whispering of the falling leaves, and the activity of the local wildlife really remind me of the life that is all around us, even in a time of year often associated with death.

Coifi, of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, writes:

This is the time of the turning of the Light into Darkness. Let us step forward into the darkening days holding before us the divine promise of new Light at the end of the Dark Days, from year to year and life to life.


ADF. Our Own Druidry: An Introduction to Ár nDraíocht Féin and the Druid Path. Tucson: ADF Publishing, 2009.

Carr-Gomm, Philip. Druid mysteries: ancient wisdom for the 21st century. London: Rider, 2002.

Hutton, Ronald. Stations of the sun: a history of the ritual year in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Heathen Round Table: September

The Norns as depicted by Marvel Comics. Image from Marvel Wiki

The Norns as depicted by Marvel Comics. Image from Marvel Wiki

I thought that the Heathen Round Table had stopped, but turns out it’s just moved from WordPress to Tumblr and is now HERE. This month’s prompt: Somebody requested a discussion of Wyrd and Orlog. what do these concepts mean to you? how do they fit into your practice?

I had heard of “Wyrd” before, mostly thanks to Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters and also Alan Garner’s Weirdstone of Brisingamen. In both cases, “Wyrd” usually means something equivalent to “fate”.

In Norse myth, it is spun by the three sisters, or Norns, who tend for Ygdrassil, the world-tree. Their names, Urdh, Verdandi and Skuld, translate as “had been”, “becoming” and “will become”, showing how Wyrd is affected by time.

Luckily, I have just finished a chapter in A Practical Heathen’s Guide to Asatru by Patricia Lafayllve which discusses Wyrd and Orlog (the latter of which I had never heard of before). Lafayllve says:

Taken together, Wyrd and Orlog are very similar to a tapestry – one set of fibers is horizontal, the other vertical, and they are so interwoven that they form a larger picture. This tapestry, if you will, has a beginning, but is constantly being woven at the other end. Orlog, which translates as “ur-law” is the point at which all things begin.

“Ur-law” means first or primal law, and refers to laws by which everything in existence is bound. In a scientific sense, then, Orlog can cover the laws of gravity, time, genetics, evolution etc., which create and to an extent limit our circumstances in life. Orlog also refers to fundamental moral laws, such as caring for kin and practicing reciprocal altruism, laws which evolutionary psychologists are increasingly showing to be instinctive evolutionary adaptations.

Orlog cannot be changed. As Lafayllve puts it, a Blue Morpho caterpillar will become a Blue Morpho butterfly, and it cannot become a Gypsy Moth.

Orlog, then, for us, was originally laid down by the first of our ancestors, and we cannot change it. A mundane example would be the families we are born into – we cannot escape our DNA, no matter how much we may wish to.

Wyrd, on the other hand, is based on your own individual circumstances, and as you are the one “weaving” your Wyrd, you can change it. Going back to the caterpillar example, while two Blue Morpho caterpillars may share the same Orlog, each one’s actions will affect their own Wyrd: which direction they take, what food they eat, how they avoid predators, all will lead to a different outcome. We create our Wyrd as we go through life. So Wyrd is really rather unlike “fate” or “destiny” as it is not out of our hands.

This doesn’t mean we “create our own reality” as New-Age nonsense popularly states. We are bound by Orlog, and also limited by the fact that our Wyrd interacts and interconnects with the Wyrd of everyone else around us. Other people, both familiar and strangers, impact our lives and we impact theirs, our Wyrds entwine even if for a brief moment. Other animals and plants we share our space with also have their own Wyrd, and how we act in relationship to them affects both their Wyrd and our own. As Lafayllve writes:

Wyrd impacts every entity, both seen and unseen. Every moment we encounter people, pets, rocks, trees, ancestors, descendents, and even gods. Every time any encounter happens, it changes all of the entities involved.

In practice, the concept of Orlog reminds us that we are rooted in the past, that we have limits, and we share those limits with everyone else, both human and non-human. Wyrd reminds us that we can change our “fate” and determine our own path, but at the same time are connected with everyone and everything around us in a vast tapestry of life.

The Norns spin the web of Wyrd and Orlog. Image from Wikimedia Commons

The Norns spin the web of Wyrd and Orlog. Image from Wikimedia Commons


Scott "Squishy" Squibbles, Sophomore at Monsters University. Image from Disney Wikia

Scott “Squishy” Squibbles, Sophomore at Monsters University. Image from Disney Wikia

I’ve always had problems with the so-called “hard polytheism” that pervades certain forms of paganism, especially when so often you hear the loudest hard polytheist voices saying that theirs is the only *real true way* of being a pagan. The alternative, “soft polytheism” also makes little sense to me. If “all goddesses are the same goddess” then why are they so different in the myths? To conflate them seems to deny the historical reality that these are different figures who developed in different cultures at different times.

Ian Corrigan of ADF (who is one of the deepest pagan thinkers out there, even if I don’t always agree with his conclusions – check out his current Patheos blog and his old blog Into the Mound), has a middle way: the wonderfully-named “Squishy polytheism“!

Ian says:

I can’t stand by the so-called ‘hard’ position – that every named deity is a separate and unique individual – and feel true to my understanding of ancient religion. Nevertheless I am a polytheist and animist, and continue to apply reconstructionist methods to my effort to build modern spirituality. Doing so does not require any specific position on the nature of the gods.

When it comes to how the ancients understood or practiced their polytheism, he writes:

The most basic examination of either ancient European Pagan literature or of modern polytheist religions makes it clear that a range of metaphysical models always exists in the polyvalency of a nature-modeled religious system. We see multiple names of what is understood as the ‘same’ deity, even as local expressions of that deity diverge over time.

In practice, as in modern ADF practice, the gods are addressed “as if” they were distinct individuals, i.e. as if hard polytheism were true. This is a core “game rule” (to use Michael J. Dangler’s term) that allows ritual to function. But your own opinions or beliefs about what, if anything, the gods *really* are, is up to you.

Ian even fits us non-literal, archetypal naturalist pagans into the “squishy” model, saying:

Incidentally this largely solves, for me, the problem of those archetypalists who feel inclined to define themselves as atheist when contrasted with the current hard polytheist position. The ‘archetypalist theist’ is, to me, every bit as much a theist as is the literalist. It seems to me that in the big tent of our modern Pagan restoration we mainly agree (or act as if we agree) that the gods and spirits exist. We disagree on what they exist *as* – discarnate intelligences, self-willed complexes in a collective consciousness, psycho-linguistic cultural artifacts – all these are theoretical models of what the spirits “really” might be.

I would quibble at being called a theist, since the term denotes “someone who believes in the existence of a god” (Cambridge Dictionary), but otherwise I appreciate the archetypal/metaphorical model of paganism being mentioned here.

So, I’m happy to be squishy!

Image from Oh My Disney

Image from Oh My Disney

Nine Virtues: Integrity

Image from "guide images". Quote from C.S. Lewis

Image from “guide images”. Quote from C.S. Lewis

The DP textbook, Our Own Druidry, defines integrity as “Honour, being trustworthy to oneself and others, involving oath-keeping, honesty, fairness, respect and self-confidence”. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles”.

The ADF definition certainly packs a lot in, and it is interesting to note that the Nine Noble Virtues of Asatru count Fidelity, Truth and Honour as separate virtues, while ADF lump them together as part of Integrity. I think that the concepts of honour, truth and integrity do overlap a lot, so it makes sense to consider them as manifestations of one virtue.

I think of integrity as being what you do when nobody is watching: how well you actually live your Virtues rather than just “perform” them for other people. Seen this way, integrity might actually act as the foundation stone of all the other virtues.

“Honour” is a word that often gets misused in today’s discourse, and perverted into justification for such atrocities as “honour killings”, but in its original form it is simply the quality of right action, of behaving in a respectful, trustworthy and honest way. As part of integrity, honour allows for trust, which builds lasting and mutually supportive relationships.

Integrity, like courage, also means standing up for what is right and true even in the face of opposition, and not allowing yourself to be cowed by peer pressure or public opinion, but stay true to yourself. One common Druidic saying, probably dating from the 18th century Druid Revival and the works of Edward Williams (Iolo Morganwg) is “Truth against the World”. Speaking the truth, even if nobody else wants to hear it, is a Druidic duty.

The ADF definition also mentions “oath-keeping”, which was a vitally important part of many Pagan cultures. The ancient Norse (and modern Heathens) swore oaths on an arm-ring which was held sacred to the gods, especially Thor. To break such an oath was to invite the enmity of the gods and of your tribe. Even today, it is important that your word is your bond, and you don’t make promises you cannot or do not intend to keep.

The “self-confidence” attested to in the ADF definition is a consequence of living a life of integrity, and knowing who you are, what you believe and what you stand for. Gandhi said that “happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony”. Without integrity, one cannot be confident in oneself.

Image from "best quotes" (CC2.0)

Image from “best quotes” (CC2.0)


ADF, Our Own Druidry. ADF Publishing, 2009

Oxford English Dictionary for Students. Oxford University Press, 2006

Michael J. Dangler, The ADF Dedicant Path through the Wheel of the Year. Garanus, 2010