Sunday, 26 January 2014

Re-imagining the Beaker Year

I've been inspired by this article by Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, and a series of responses - ranging from the intelligently-engaged Bosco Peters to the mind-numbing, jaw-dropping "Anonymous", who equates the liturgical calendar to the Bible itself. (I presume s/he means the Bible. It could equally be some other Holy Book).

Whether you agree with Miranda or not, there's no harm in remembering the reasons why the year is shaped as it is, and consider the way the story plays out.

The fundamentals of the Beaker year are laid out in the Beaker Common Prayer, of course. But I am considering a process of Liturgical Renewal (as I do every week or so) - and so I feel that it's worth spelling out the way the Beaker year is working.

The Beaker Year, in line with the old Pagan one, is divided into Quarter Days (Solstices and Equinoxes), with between them the Cross-Quarter or Eights Days (Imbolc, Samhain, Beltane and Lammas). The more determined Beaker Folk then divide the year even further into 16ths, or even 32nds. This gives them the advantage of having a feast every 11 or 12 days, which makes them happy, I suppose.

The Beaker year starts, in line with the Old Calendars, on 31st October-1st November, or Samhain. Or on 21 December at the Winter Solstice. Or 6 January (Old New Year). Or 25 March (Lady Day) or Old Lady Day (6 April). Or, like Methodists, on September 1. We like celebrate, so the more new years the better. So, to simplify matters, let's start the calendar - somewhat controversially - on 1 January.

From 1 Jan through to the Spring or Vernon Equinox (named after a bloke called Vernon Equinox, who discovered it), we concentrate on the lengthening days, the preparations for the Spring - the there-but-not-there-yet-ness of the warming sun. And, since we are often snowed in during these months, we stick to inside activities - looking out the windows, tea light-lighting, processing around the inner perimeter of the Moot House. Nice, dry stuff.

In the middle of this time, we have Imbolc. At Imbolc, which is also known as Candlemas, we like to light a lot of tea lights. Imbolc itself is some pagan festival to do with the lactation of ewes, but we try to resist the urge to go near any ewes at this time. Partly because, although we love all of Gaia's little creatures, we are quite scared of sheep. Especially when they're lactating. Makes them awful grumpy.

At the Spring Equinox, to celebrate the returning strength of the sun, we like to light some tea lights.

Then, just 6 short weeks after Spring Equinox, we celebrate May Day. We like to light bonfires for May Day. And St John's Eve, Halloween, New Year (all of them) and Lammas. We like bonfires and tea lights.

From May Day to Summer Solstice, we like to light tea lights. But only in darkened rooms, or at night. They're a bit useless during the day. Sometimes we like to wrap voile around things. We generally stick to inanimate objects.

At Summer Solstice, we celebrate from the actual Solstice all the way through to Midsummer Day. On St John's Eve, our Beaker ancestors would sit up all night at the long barrow to see who was going to die in the following year, and then run off into the woods for wild fertility rites. We light to light a tea light.

And then the year is all downhill to Yule. At Autumn Solstice, we like to light some tea lights. It's getting dark again, so it all feels quite cosy. And then, as Kirstytide (10 October) gives way to Samhain, we light some tea lights. And a bonfire.

From Samhain to Winter Solstice, we argue about when Solstice is Yule, whether Yule is one month or two, whether the Venerable Bede made the whole thing up. And we light a tea light.

By the end of the year, we find that we have got all the way through 12 months, and everything is much as it was, except the Tea Light Holder dump at the end of the Big Field is a lot more full of aluminium cups than it was in January. But we've had some nice feelings, and seen some nice fires, and lit a lot of tea lights, and that's the main thing isn't it?

1 comment :

  1. I hadn't realised that the Beaker year was so simplified (I meant dumbed down). Surely all of this should be in pre-Roman Celtic script and scratched onto tablets symbolically kept in a Tent guarded by Cherubim and Sycophants?

    As for the Church of England revising the common lectionery, that'd be a good thing, particularly if they stopped jumping between Epistles and Gospels and returned to the BCP Lectionery and BCP itself, when life was much simpler, language was more colourful and people came to church to be condescended too and if the Vicar was a hunting man, to admire the stuffed head of boars on the Vicarage wall.

    A gentler time when those who couldn't (or wouldn't) work were put in front of the Poor Law committee of upright Christian Gentlemen and either put in the stocks, given a miserly pittance or cast into the work house.


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