Ideally, the first post here woulda been about Samhain, but I’ve said that for a long time and I don’t wanna keep puttin it off, so I figure I’ll just dive right in. This post is taken in large part from question I got on Tumblr, but I decided it would make a good first real post.
[[Image: lit candles in a window. Two candles in clear glass candleholders on either side of frame, the left one gold and the right one silver, flanking a brass metal bridge-shaped tealight candleholder with four candles and evergreen tree cutouts across the bridge. A sun shaped incense hold with a stick of incense sits in the middle.]]
Grianstad an Gheimhridh, sometimes called Meán Gheimhridh or just Midwinter, is a pretty minor holiday for most Gaelic Polytheists, if they even celebrate it. We can assume the ancient Irish celebrated it to some degree because of sites like the tomb at Newgrange that fills with light only on the winter solstice and because we can extrapolate based on the fact that most European cultures did/do celebrate in some fashion.
In the image, the gold candle was for Áine and the silver one for Gráinne, representing the warm face and the cool face of the sun, respectively. The middle candle holder is just pretty and seemed seasonally appropriate. Then the sun-shaped incense burner I’ve had since…lord, 2004? One of those things from when I thought I needed all the accouterment in the world that just stuck around on a shelf and has finally found a good home. I started to walk away and this was just really pretty, so I thought I’d share.
For me, however, the desire comes from other places. One of these comes from the celebration of Grianstad an tSamhraidh. On the Isle of Man and in the northern Irish counties, Manannán mac Lir was paid his rent or otherwise honored at this time, but in some of the southern counties, this was Áine’s time. Having family from both County Derry, where a large modern statue of Manannán mac Lir stands today, and from County Kerry and County Clare, I combine these practices and do something honoring both of them then. I also feel that, as time marched on, this would have been a natural progression of the celebrations through increased communications and interaction of the regions had there been no outside interference.
If you’re familiar with Áine, it’s commonly said that she has a sister, Gráinne (sometimes spelled Graine or Grian), both associated with hills near each other in the County Limerick. Gráinne’s name literally means sun, thus influencing our understanding of them as goddesses. In this way, Áine is associated with the yellow face of the summer sun and Gráinne the white, winter sun.
The other part of this equation that I haven’t mentioned is that I kinda fell into my honoring of Áine. I have Seasonal Affective Disorder and, even down South, this leaves me in a bad place durin the dead of winter, so I started honoring Áine as a way of reminding myself of summer. But something felt off still. So, I started to do more reading and stumbled on Gráinne and her lore. I decided that it felt inhospitable to honor Áine and not her sister, so using this information and suggestions from somewhere that I honestly don’t remember, I decided that Grianstad an Gheimhridh would be Gráinne’s. But I still couldn’t figure out a way to do this that didn’t fill me with dread and blah because of my general feelings about winter. Then it hit me: ask Gráinne to be gentle and to be as warm as possible so that I could be outside as much as possible and to reserve the coldest of the cold for when An Cailleach just had to visit and to help keep that visit short here.
So, as to the celebration itself, I REALLY wish I’d had the time and energy to go out somewhere because it’s just been so damn warm and because I generally go down to the river for Grianstad an tSamhraidh, which I’m lovin (although I’m also acutely aware of what this means about global climate change), but alas work and scheduling just didn’t allow for that. I keep a small shrine for Áine in the window sill (literally just a candle and incense plate) and I decided that I should add one for Gráinne, especially given that I have a matching candle holder to the one I was using. I added a seasonal one for funsies and flare that had 4 votive holders that would allow for all night burning. I prayed to both Áine and Gráinne, welcoming the latter and wishing the former a timely return. I know that down here we the solstices fall at the beginning of our seasons technically, but it’s also when the seasons have really been building for a while. I burned some incense, too, and just sat and contemplated, singing a song that I sing for various holidays that to me just screams for the peace we need in the world and that I petition na Dé to do anything they can on the regular. I’m definitely one for ritual actions and prayers, but I’m also one to let things take a natural course, so I tend to keep em just that simple. I find that havin a playlist made on my phone is helpful, though it’s also hard to find ritual music for me, too.
Ultimately, this is a holiday that’s taken multiple forms for me over the years. It’s slowly comin into its own in my practice and one of my goals for the year is to really solidify a lot of ritual aspects. I know each holiday is different and that’s important, but I really like the idea of a ritualized beginning and ending that unites them all. It’s started kinda happenin organically, which I love, but I also wanna hone it and make it something really important for the future.