Thursday, June 20, 2024

The Summer Solstice 2024


Here, wearing my grandfather's 1913 Flagman's Cap, to announce this is the Summer Solstice.  Here in Oxford, Mississippi, this starts 3:50 PM, 20 June 2024. This day is 4 hours and 36 minutes longer than that of the Winter Solstice in December. 

In the old days, the folk used to lift a glass to Dagda this day. I still follow the practice myself. Bonfires always welcomed on this day. To you all, enjoy the Summer Solstice. 

Barry R McCain

Friday, September 29, 2023

Happy Michaelmas

And a Happy Michaelmas to one and all...  so named as this is the feast day of Saint Michael.  At least, since Christian times, and it falls near one of the Celtic quarter days. The actual quarter day was 23 September on this year, but the festival is celebrated on 29 September in more recent times. In Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, this was, and still is, an important festival time. 

Saint Michael was an important angel in the Christian cosmology. He was a warrior, the leader of God's army. The festival is much older than Christian times however, and it was the Celtic god Lugh that was the original celestial being associated with Michaelmas. Lugh is the god associated with the harvest, with various arts, crafts, etc. There is a pseudo history of him being the 'sun god.' However, this is in error stemming from a mistaken etymology of his name that suggested his name was linked to 'light.'  The real etymology of Lugh is from the Indo-European word lewgh meaning 'to bind by oath.'  And Lugh was the god of oaths. 

And on that theme... the photo is of two Morning Glory flowers. This photo I took just minutes ago. The Morning Glory is the fancy name for a Sweet Potato. And, my garden, half of my garden in fact, has been taken over by Sweet Potato vines. Harvest date of these sweet potatoes will be in the first week of October, which is a fitting tribute to Lugh I think. 

Anyroad, a very happy Michaelmas to you all, and tip a cup to Saint Michael, or to Lugh, as they are pretty much the same entity.  A fire in the firepit and the drink of your choice are all that is needed to mark this day. Enjoy. 

Barry R McCain 

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Lúnasa 2023


This a view of my back garden, taken just a few minutes ago. This is also, Lúnasa, and ancient Gaelic festival day, which I observe. It has been celebrated from several thousand years and is as popular as ever in Ireland especially, but also in Scotland, and of course, in the Diaspora. 

In this photo you see my back vegetable garden and my smoker which has a rack of pork ribs in it right now. The fire pit there, which tonight we shall have a small fire to mark Lúnasa. Today I planted fall garden crops, bunch onions, carrots, and romaine lettuce. I love fall gardening. It is a small photo so it is hard to see details, but there are sweet potatoes, string beans, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, sunflowers, blue berries, all back there. Also various herbs which are used daily in the kitchen. The birds love my back garden, today I have seen Indigo Buntings and Golden Finches, they come here to eat the sunflower seeds I grow for them.  

The garden a fine acknowledgement to Lúnasa.  Gardens are magical places, I also have a small Hawthorn struggling to survive our summer heat, but seems to be doing ok. A Hawthorn is a sacred tree as it attracts the Síthe, i.e. the Fairies. 

For those who are awake, have a grand Lúnasa, observe the traditions. Light a fire, say words to the ancestors, have an offering of drink for yourself and remember to pour a sip to the old ones, the Síthe. What a wonderful spot in this Cosmos we are in. Enjoy. 

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Beltane 2023


Beltane is the anglicised name of the Gaelic May Day festival.  May Day is on 1 May and is held on or near the halfway mark between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. It is one of the oldest and most ancient festival days. It is widely observed in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, and in modern times has spread to the Diaspora.  

In Irish Gaelic it is called Lá Bealtaine, in Scottish Gaelic, Là Bealltainn, an in Manx Gaelic Laa Boaltinn.  Beltane is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals, along with Samhain, Imbolc, and Lughnasa.  There are several theories on the etymology of Beltane; the most accepted one is that it is from the common Celtic Belo-tenia, meaning 'bright or shinning fire,' which in turn goes back to the Indo-European 'Bhel (to shine) tepnos (warm).

It is not a 'fire festival,' but fire is a integral part of the festivities.  Prior to modern times it was a festival to mark and celebrate the moving of livestock to summer pastures and to honour the old gods and evoke the blessings of fertility of the tribe and the life giving cattle.  

Beltane is mentioned in the earliest written Gaelic literature when Christian monks began to write down Gaelic lore and myths in early medieval times.  The medieval accounts were ancient even then and date back before Christianity was introduced to the Gaelic homelands. 

On the Beltane Eve the festival began.  The people gathered to feast, have drink, and make offerings to the Aos Sí, who are the old gods of the Gaels.  Byres, the windows and doors of homes, etc., were decorated with flowers.  It was a joyous festival ushering in the bountiful time when the days grew longer, the sun shined more, and the weather grew warmer.

Beltane survived the coming of Christianity and continued on for centuries, despite the attempts of overly zealous Christian officials who wanted to stop the practice, as they were fully aware of the pagan origins of Beltane.  By the 20th century the festival had almost died out and was only celebrated and practiced in certain areas in Ireland, Scotland, and Man.  In the late 20th century there was a revival of Beltane festivities.  The focus of Beltane changed some in these modern times, but the main core beliefs did remain.  The concept of the season change, the coming of the sun, and the start of the season of growth and plenty, etc., remain.


Fire was and is an integral part of Beltane.  All fires were put out on Beltane Eve and then rekindled starting with the lighting of the bonfire.  It was this holy flame from which the 'new' flames of the the folk began.  It was the 'force fire' and sacred.   Many will recognise the fire ritual as the same ritual used in the Catholic Church and several other Christian denominations in the Easter lighting of the Paschal candle.  There are too many Beltane nuances and rituals to describe here, but there is one core aspect of the ritual.  This is a Deiseal procession around the sacred fire.  Deiseal means 'right-hand direction' or Sunwise (clockwise).   The Deiseal procession around the sacred fire was a Blessing of the Cosmos upon all. 

Beltane is still celebrated and the practice is growing.  It is now held not only in the Gaelic homeland, but in the Diaspora, and has been incorporated into similar May Eve and May Day celebrations in Europe.  While many see Beltane as just a good time with a bonfire, there is also a growing interest in the spiritual aspects of the festival.  The concepts of the a new growing season, the connection to the Old Ways of ancestors, and reflection upon life, are also now part of Beltane for a growing number of people.

a sacred fire of Bealtaine

Do enjoy Beltane.  A bonfire is best way to partake of course and with a Deiseal (clockwise) procession around the sacred fire.  Followed by toasts to the Aos Sí, to Ancestors, to the coming season of Summer.  If you lack the means of a bonfire, a candle will do, or even a wee fire in your fire-pit.  Connect with your Ancestors and the Old Ways, as these are good things. 

Monday, December 5, 2022

Irish Christmas Cake


Link to...  Irish Christmas Cake recipe

Today, I began the preparation of my Irish Christmas Cake. I did two last year and they turned out well. I will chronicle this year's cake. I assume by now, everyone that knows me also knows that I eat a very low carbohydrate diet. I have been low carb for almost five years now. Christmas Cake is anything but low carb. But, I have a dispensation. It is, I can eat anything I want on the week of Christmas. This is a lovely dispensation. The one week of me eating more carbs does not do much damage to me. I like to enjoy Christmas and fully enjoy this festival time. The Winter Solstice, the ancient festival, Yule, and Christmas, are kept in this house. 

The link above is a good recipe for an Irish Christmas Cake.  I adjust this recipe to my tastes, so my recipe slightly different, but with this one you do get the general idea. 

I will post my recipe and photos of the process as I progress with the project. I suggest that others also make a Christmas Cake. They are a wonderful part of the season.  

Cheers, and Merry Christmas. 

Barry R McCain

Monday, October 31, 2022

Notes About Halloween!

I like Halloween, I always have and still do. Here is some basic data on this wonderful festival. The name Halloween is a contraction of the words 'All Hallows Eve.' This is a name created by Pope Boniface IV who proclaimed it 'All Saints Day' in AD 609.  Hallow is an archaic word meaning 'Saint' or 'holy person.' The plural is Hallows.  

From this we get to All Hallows Eve on 31 October and on 1 November we have All Hallows Day.  But, there was already an important festival at this time. In the Isles, there was Samhain (said Sow-in). Samhain was a festival that dates to early pagan times and it was an old festival already when Pope Boniface attempted to claim it. In Gaelic, Halloween is still known by its real name, Samhain and Halloween night is Oiche Shamhna (said ee-ah how-na).

Samhain has a folk etymology that goes back to the middle Gaelic word Samain (also said Sow-in) meaning summer. But, that is a pseudo etymology, the real origin is from the Proto Celtic word 'Samoni,'which means 'assembly' in this case the gathering of the living and the dead, which happened on 31 October to the daybreak of 2 November. The 1st century BC Gaulish Coligny calendar marks the date. So even in ancient time the Celts already had Samhain as a major festival time.

Samhain was important to the ancient Celts as it marked the change of season, i.e. the start of winter. At this time the cattle herds went from summer pastures to their winter pastures. Very important to the pastoral people in the Isles. On Samhain people gathered, feasted, held contests, and there were rituals associated with this time. This change from light to dark, from summer to winter, marked a time when the portals between worlds, our world and the Otherworld, opened up. Beings and entities from the Otherworld could and did appear and walk about in our world. 

These Otherworld beings included the Síthe (people of the mounds, also known today as the Fairies), the spirits of the dead, including one's ancestors, and other odd entities associated with the Otherworld. From ancient times to the present, it is in this context, that Samhain and 'Halloween' became the festival that we have today in the 21st century. 

carving the Jack o'lantern

The Gaelic people in Ireland and Scotland had many ways to commemorate Samhain. As already mentioned, the were assemblies, feasts, parties, bonfires, etc.  People also practiced seership (divination), and the use of costumes and icons to protect themselves from any malicious entities that came into our world from the Otherworld. 

Dagda, the Gaelic Sky Father, had control over time and the passages from our world to the Otherworld. Dagda is a psychopomp, i.e. a guide to souls to and from the place of the Dead. There were, and still are, bonfires lit up hills and mountains to commemorate Samhain.  These fires were part of the rituals associated with this movement of entities between the world. 

The Gaelic people also made toasts and left offerings to the Síthe. An example is seen in the Hebrides, on the island of the Lewis the population presented 'Seonaidh' with a cup of ale on the eve of Samhain. Seonaidh was a nickname for the Manannán, one of the Síthe, particularly revered in the Hebrides. This practice endured into the 20th century. Seonaidh is a taboo name, i.e. it was thought better not to say Manannán's name out loud. Important members of the Síthe often were known by pet names.  Much like the Síthe themselves were often called Na Daoine Maithe (the good people) rather than their real name.  

painting of Dagda by Howard David Johnson

Samhain/Halloween is a time of heightened spiritual activity, a time when the passages between the worlds opens. It is a time to revere ancestors, to be cognizant of the Síthe.

Guardians of the home 

Samhain was brought to America via the many Irish and Scottish immigrants that came here. It has evolved into the modern Halloween and has become a world wide festival.  It is good to remember its Gaelic origins. Many people, sadly most people, have little or no idea why we have all those curious customs associated with Halloween. The ghosts, the entities of the Otherworld, the feasts, candy, parties, bonfires, etc., have lost their meaning to many in our consumer, materialistic, post modern society. Too many people participate in Halloween not knowing what the festival is and the older spiritual connections. 

I have placed a Jack o'lantern out, and I will welcome trick or treaters to my door. Later tonight I will have a fire in my large firepit, have a salutation to Dagda and my ancestors.  I wish ever one a wonderful Halloween. 

© 2022 Barry R McCain 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

The Autumn Equinox 2022


The  Autumn Equinox is on 22 September. Where I live in the wooded hills of north Mississippi, it arrives at 8:30 AM.  On the equinox, day and night are of equal length. This even is the start of Autumn. The days begin to grow shorter than the night. It has been noted and celebrated by our ancestors for millenniums. The Harvest Moon is the full moon nearest to the Autumn Equinox. This full moon allowed farmers to use its light to assist in the long hours of harvest. In the Northern Hemisphere our Harvest Moon came on 10 September this year. 

In Gaelic the Autumn Equinox called Cónocht an Fhómhair. This equinox has been celebrated since ancient times. There is a Carn on Loughcrew in County Meath, with a passage grave that has an opening that is aligned with the Autumn Equinox. This structure dates to 3000 BC, some 5000 years plus old. The Carn is called Sliabh na Cailleach and on the morning of the Autumn Equinox a shaft of light enters this ancient tomb. The Autumn Equinox is a day of celebration and ritual. 

Sliabh na Cailleach

View from road going toward Sliabh na Cailleach

The Autumn Equinox is a time to reflect upon our ancestors, to light a fire, and to enjoy a libation as an offering to the old ones. And.. it begins my favourite time of the year. BTW, it was on Sliabh na Cailleach that I had an incident with the Bean Sí Beara.   

© Barry R McCain 2022


Monday, August 1, 2022

Lúnasa 2022

 Today is Lúnasa. Traditionally it is on 1 August, which is around the halfway point between the Summer solstice and Autumn equinox. It is also spelled Lughnasadh (an older spelling in Gaelic), in Scots Gaelic spelled Lùnastal, and in Manx Gaelic, Luanistn. 


Lúnasa is an ancient festival date, even by Gaelic standards, and has been celebrated more than a thousand years before the coming of Christianity to the Isles. It dates to pagan times. 

It was a time of feasts and celebration of the harvest. There were offerings of the 'First Fruits' of the harvest, and a sacrifice of a bull (which was eaten by the people), a ritual dance and play which portrayed the god Lugh seizing the harvest for the tribe. Many activities took place during this time; visits to the holy wells, processions to hill and mountain tops, seer craft, etc.

The festival is linked to Lugh, but it also is connected to Dagda, also known as Crom. Lúnasa is also call Crom Dubh Sunday. I like and keep the old Celtic traditions and festivals. 

The festival is still widely practiced in Ireland and Scotland and by some still, in the Gaelic Diaspora.  It is a rainy day here, so I will light a candle and pour a libation to Dagda, my personal celebration of today.


A Druid

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Imbolc 2022


A Bríd's Cross

Today, at sunset, marks the beginning of the festival of Imbolc. This a Gaelic festival to honour the beginning of Spring and falls between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. The festival is general to Celtic areas, but is perhaps most celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man - which are the Gaelic homelands. It is indeed an ancient celebration and is mentioned in the earliest Gaelic literature, and it was old even at that time. 

In Christian times Imbolc was conflated with the veneration of Saint Bríd. Bríd is also a goddess, a prominent member of the Tuatha Dé, and it is no accident that the Church synchronized Imbolc to Lá Fhéile Bríde (Saint Brid's Day). It was a way to allow the people to continue their ancient custom, but place it into the Judeo-Christian cosmology.

The etymology of Imbolc has several theories, but given its ancient origins, it is most likely from an early proto Celtic word 'embibolgon' which means 'budding.'  And, this is when the first buds on early blooming plants start to show the signs of the growing sunlight at this latitude.

Saint Bríd

There are several customs still observed on Imbolc - visits to Holy Wells, where one walks sunwise, known as Deiseil in Gaelic, around the Holy Well and leaves a Clootie on the Faerie Tree (or bush). A Clootie is a piece of cloth tied to a Faerie Tree. The Clootie is to invoke blessings on home, family, clan, and livestock and fields. The practiced is still done to this day. One will also light a fire, candles or a bonfire, and celebrate with a feast and libations. This was also a time when divination is done. 

In Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, there are numerous accounts throughout the centuries to the present, of people celebrating this festival. Saint Bríd is a very thinly Christianized form of the older goddess Bríd and the saint retains many of the attributes of the older goddess.

So I wish you all a Merry Imbolc and a Happy Saint Bríd's Day.  Light a candle tonight after sundown, and have a glass of drink and salute the growing daylight and wish the best to your family and loved ones.     

© Barry R McCain 

Finding the McCains

Thursday, January 6, 2022

6 January, The Old Christmas


6 January is Old Christmas. This is Christmas day by the Julian Calendar.

The Julian Calendar was developed circa 30 BC and became, more or less, standard by 8 BC.  The Julian Calendar had errors and over time was less accurate.  

In the late 1500s it was a problem and Pope Gregory XIII changed the calendar to make it match the solar cycle. The Pope and his advisors, did this by eliminating 11 full days and thus created the Gregorian Calendar.

Several countries did not accept this calendar change, notably the Isles did not.  Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England, continued to use the old Julian Calendar. Finally, given that the calendar was hopelessly wrong, the crown adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1752.

In the 1700s many thousands of Irish, Scots, Scots-Irish, and English, were settling in the Colonies. Many of these people, the Anglo-Celts, lived on the frontier. Some did not know of the calendar change and some flat out refused to use the new calendar, so for many early Americans Christmas Day fell on 6 January rather than 25 December. By the 1800s most people accepted the new calendar and used it, a few did not.  In the Southern Uplands and Backsttlements, some people continued to use the Old Christmas, as they felt it was the real Christmas.

Even in the 20th Century some people still kept the Old Christmas.  It was my grandmother McCain that told me about the Old Christmas and she kept it and the new one, meaning she observed by 25 December and 6 January, as Christmas.  I always liked that.  I am keeping up the tradition and I also keep both Christmases.