Grianstad an Gheimhridh 2016

Image of an altar with candles on a white painted windowsill. On the far left is a large lit pillar candle, white at the top and fading to gold at the bottom. Next is a clear faceted glass candle holder holding a lit white taper candle. In the middle of the space is a gold arched candleholder with the silhouettes of pine trees on the front. This holds 4 lit votive candles; the left 2 are white, the right 2 are gold. In front of this sits a lit small white

TheModernSouthernPolytheist’s Grianstad an Gheimhridh altar for Gráinne 2016

Grianstad an Gheimhridh Shona, y’all! It’s hard to believe it’s that time again! Yet here we are.

I feel like a lot has changed in the last year, and yet this was a ritual that felt familiar. I’m hopin by next year to have somewhat of a solidified liturgy, but I made the decision a long time ago to let that kind of thing develop as naturally as I could. I don’t wanna force somethin and end up hatin it or it feelin disingenuous.

That said, the format and connection to other holidays has really taken shape this year. I’ve come to a lot of realizations and, through talkin to other Gaelic Polytheists in various locations across the country and the globe, I feel like things are takin shape in more concrete ways. Discussions of local cultus in the South, most of whom seem to be Hellenic Polytheists, has also truly had a major impact. It’s helped me flesh out my own ideas as well as solidify the idea that we don’t all have to practice identically and never even did. The idea of true orthodoxy simply doesn’t fit into my understanding of a Gaelic Polytheist worldview.

Which brings me to this year’s ritual. In the last year, I’ve truly come to see Gráinne/Grain as Áine’s sister. I realize in retrospect that I’d somehow come to view her as an enemy or adversary. I think it has to do with my own struggles with winter that led to that, but one day it was like a light turned on and that idea just seems so foreign to me now. As such, I altered the idea of the ritual to be about transitioning from the time of Áine to the time of Gráinne rather than about somethin more akin to tolerating the winter.

In a Gaelic worldview, days begin with sundown of the calendar day before, similarly to the way Jewish days run. I was out of town visiting family for an early Christmas since I’ll be workin on the 25th, so I knew I couldn’t do a full ritual that night. Before leaving and while the sun was just barely still in the sky, I burned a stick of incense I reserve for Áine, thanking her for her warmth and wishing her a speedy return. Before I went to bed that night, I lit a small jar candle that I’d got to use that felt appropriate for Gráinne, said a quick prayer, and let it burn overnight. I’ll admit that I had more time and expendable income this year than I have in a long time and likely more than I’ll have again for a while, so I splurged a little. I found a gorgeous white candle that transitions to gold that I feel really represents the transition from the pale face of the winter sun, Gráinne, to the warm yellow summer sun, Áine. I doubt that I’ll ever find a candle that does the opposite (I looked and didn’t see one), but it’s given me ideas for ways to incorporate those color transitions in the future.

White to gold candle representing the transition from Grainne to Áine

As for the ritual itself, I started by lighting the gold taper candle and thanking Áine for her warmth and presence. I then used this candle to light the the two white votive candles. From these candles, I lit the white taper representing Gráinne, then lit the gold votives. Really, this was all symbolism of the rising and setting sun, the transition of the seasons, etc. Lastly, I lit the white and gold pilar candle, talkin to Gráinne and askin that she keep us warm, drive away the bitter cold the An Cailleach brings, and that my relationship with and understanding of her grow. I let all the candles burn until they burned out, except for the pillar, which I put out when I left for work tonight. I think I wanna burn it again, maybe every couple weeks or somethin and time it to be about done by the time Grianstad an tSamhraidh hits.


In the future, I really wanna repeat this ritual, in reverse, to welcome Áine at Grianstad an tSamhraidh. But at the same time, this doesn’t feel totally right. I don’t know if it’s cause I’m in the South and our days are longer or what, but by the time the solstices roll around, we’ve been in the swing of the season for a while. I’ve never been one to do much with the equinoxes, but I’ve been entertainin the idea some kind of small recognition of the beginnin of this transition. It’s not been more than a passing thought, but it’s definitely an idea I want to explore.

All in all, I feel like it was a successful ritual. As a side note, the little strings of lights were an impulse buy while I was at Target. They were just festive and on sale, but I really think they added a nice touch. They’re not somethin I leave on their shrine all the time, but in this year of transition and without any other holiday decorations, it just felt nice.

Grianstad an Gheimhridh

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.

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[[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.