It’s Pancake Day here in the UK. As a child pancakes were something we ate in the run up to Easter, to herald the start of Lent. My family were fairly religious, so this was something we did partake in.
As an adult and someone who has practiced the craft for over 30 years, Pancake Day was acknowledged in my house as my children were fond of pancakes. The religious meaning behind the day had gone.
But did you know that the original celebration was a pagan festival?
The Slavs – a diverse group of tribal people, who lived throughout central and Eastern- Europe circa the 5th – 10th century – worshipped a God named Jarilo (I think it’s pronounced Yarilo). They believed that the changing of the season, from winter to spring, was a struggle between Jarilo, who was the God of vegetation, fertility and springtime, and the spirits of the cold and darkness.
They believed they had to help Jarilo win this struggle and this was a part of their spring celebration. The entire celebration lasted a week, with a large part of it making and eating pancakes. The hot, round pancakes symbolised the sun, and the Slavs believed that by eating the pancakes they would be imbued with the power, heat and warmth of the sun.
I think that is a wonderful and happy belief to have.
Beltane is here once more. I love this festival the most, the feelings it evokes inside of me, the rituals, the abundance of flowers…..oh, and my birthday falls very near to this festival too adding an extra layer of sparkle to my celebrations.
What is Beltane?
Beltane is a fire festival. It marks the beginning of summer – although we are led to believe that the beginning of summer is actually around June 21st – 23rd, this is in fact midsummer. Way, way back in time we celebrated the beginning of summer at this time of year in the northern hemisphere. Cattle were driven out to the pastures by walking by the Beltane fire. The tribespeople also walked by or around the Beltane fire too as the flames, smoke, and ashes were believed to have protective qualities.
Maypoles are erected at this time too. The significance of maypoles has been lost through time, but many speculate that they are remnants of the old Gaelic may bushes or trees that became outlawed. Others speculate that the maypole is a phallic symbol and this seems to be quite a popular belief. Beltane is steeped in myth and lore and it is believed that this festival is dedicated to fertility rites.
There are so many myths and legends associated with any of the festivals so it is impossible to tell what is true. What I have found is that we can celebrate these festivals by looking at our surroundings, seeing what is going on in the natural world around us. Indeed, at this time of year life is springing forth all around us and it’s easy to see why our ancestors believed that this was a potent time to perform any kind of fertility rite.
I love the stories about courting couples who would go into the woods on Beltane Eve (April 30th) to bring in the may. Spending the night together in the woods sounds like a fabulous way to start your celebrations off, although the reality of that here up north makes me cold just thinking about it. But this sort of activity was an integral part of the Beltane celebrations with maidens going off to gather flowers to decorate the may tree and their homes. Their suitors would follow them out into the woods to woo them.
Whatever you believe, I hope you have a wonderful Beltane and that your life is filled with love and joy.
St. Swithun’s day, if thou dost rain, For forty days it will remain; St. Swithun’s day, if thou be fair, For forty days ’twill rain na mair.
The myth originates from the time of a Saxon bishop called Swithin. As he lay dying he requested to buried outdoors so that he could be trampled upon and rained upon. However, nine years later – on July 15th – his remains were moved to a shrine inside Winchester Cathedral and during this time there was a violent storm which lasted for forty days. This led to the old wives tale we have above.
Is there any truth in it?
Well, apparently the Met Office have put this to the test on at least 55 occasions when it has rained on St. Swithin’s day and they found that forty days of rain did not follow. The fact that the British summer can either be wonderful or miserable is down to weather patterns that set in by the middle of July. Either Atlantic weather systems will fall directly across the UK, bringing wet weather or they will pass to the North, bringing fair and settled weather.
So it would seem St. Swithin has little to do with cursing our summers here in the UK, it is down to mother nature and how a weather system forms during July. That said, we got rain on St. Swithin’s day and have experienced rain every day since. This has prompted me to conduct my own survey and I am recording my findings for future reference.