Among the current membership of the Order of Maine Druidry we don’t necessarily hold to the old language. All of us were raised to speak English and while there are a few like myself who enjoy looking up a few words in the ancient language of my ancestors, for the most part it doesn’t necessarily dictate how I practice today.
One thing I do like is to use are the words for holidays like the traditional Druid festivals like the Solstices and the Equinoxes. Respectively these are the Winter Solstice, Alban Arthuan (Light of Winter); The Spring Equinox, Alban Eiler (Light of the Earth), The Summer Solstice, Alban Heffin (Light of Summer or Light of the Shore courtesy of Iolo Morganwg); and The Autumnal Equinox, Alban Elfed (The Light of the Water).
Most if not all of us celebrate the Eight stations on the Wheel of the Year. As practitioners of Druidry, it is inherent that we celebrate the holidays that those of our tribe celebrate and I cannot think of one of us that looks to any of the traditional “Neo-Pagan” holidays as being insignificant or less important because it isn’t “Druid” based. In general, I would say that the larger Druid Orders also feel similarly based upon information from their websites.
Of the Equinoxes and Solstices, one sticks out to me though, Alban Hefin. While the other “Alban Gates” have more direct correspondences (Winter, Earth, Water) Alban Hefin translates as “Light of the Shore” which I find appealing.
If there is anything that can be said about Druids, it is that they enjoy liminal spaces and there is no space that is more liminal than a place where the three traditional Druid elements meet (Earth, Sea and Sky). I am far from a traditional Druid though. I still invoke the four elements of Air, Fire, Water and Earth. However, if one looks closely enough, Fire is present at the shore too as the energy that moves the tides and changes the face of the waters. The shore though, is a wonderful place for edgwork, it is a place where easily recognizable relationships exist. While I won’t speak for all Druids, I can at least speak for myself when I say that the “shore” is a powerful place to watch those relationships unfold.
By contrast, Alban Arthuan, the Light of Winter, has an equally deep connection to it even though simply addressed. Winter is a time of sleep and rest. It is a time when our human activities are limited and the lack of fruitful vegetation keeps us closer to home nibbling slowly at what stores our ancestors were capable of gathering from the previous season’s harvest.. The root word in the Gaelic languages for Bear is “Art”. In fact, my own name “Alban Artur” (given me by one of my Mentors) means “Light of the Bear”. What research I have done online and in the limited tomes I have at home has offered up little in the way of connecting “Art” and “Arthuan”. However, we all know that Bears sleep over much of the winter and while the few Bears that live in the Celtic lands these days are probably in cages of some type, they did populate the area in the time when these ancient languages were being developed. It is not a huge leap in logic to wonder or even posit that these two words share a common root and that “Winter” could just as easily mean something along the lines of “Slumber of the Bear”. We do know that the Celts and Gauls fashioned much of their language around what they observed in the Wild earth around them. If this can be said about Alban Arthuan, then certainly we can consider that the term “Shore” has a deeper connotation to it in relation to a celestial event.
Coming back to Alban Hefin: When I looked up the word “Hefin” by itself, it is given the meaning “Summer”. This makes obvious sense from a particular point of view since Alban Hefin is smack dab in the middle of Summer. On the other hand, I became more interested to understand the difference between “Summer” and “Shore” in relation to one another and in relation to context. Unfortunately, online research has done little to offer me any tangible options in that direction and so rather, I am going to summon the faces of my ancestors and attempt to bring the idea forward in that manner.
However, these are simple thoughts of a person who is mildly interested. I have other things to think about and do that distract me from the simplicity of the spoken word. There are languages that my soul has learned and must speak that are more important, the true language of our ancestors.
The question I have is essentially “Why ‘Shore’?” What is it about Midsummer that makes it more “Shore-like” than Midwinter? Envisioning this, I imagine Popham Beach, a place I took my family back to a couple of months after Beltane on the Beach, 2014. I see my feet in the water, the sun dappling my skin as the tide washes over them. I see the sand moving around my foot, over it and covering it as the water rolls back out away from the land. Sunlight slides through the air and a breeze embraces me as people laugh and play and swim through the waters. I am standing in a place where millions of relationships are happening all at once. Millions of spirits interacting, communication and then going on, sometimes together, sometimes apart. I am involved in my own relationships. My wife, my son, my friends; buried in the shifting sand of a tidal beach is the land where my feet touch Earth and Sea and Sky while the energy of Fire moves all of us together, changing us in each moment.
May you all have a blessed and wonderful Alban Hefin be you by the shore, beneath the trees, sitting upon the green grass or wherever Wild Nature finds you with your arms open. Blessings of Awen.
~The Order of Maine Druidry