Gentlidecht Holiday Cycle

In Irish legend there are only four documented feast days: Samain, Imbolc, Beltain, and Lughnasadh or Brón Trogain, as it is called in Tochmar Emire (Wooing of Emir.)  As a result many folks who identify as Celtic Reconstructionists of the Irish persuasion only celebrate those four days as their annual religious cycle. However, neolithic sites, folklore, and evidence in other Indoeuropean cultures show that something could have been going on at other times of the year and just not mentioned by the monks who wrote down the Tochmar Emire.  Further, being a modern religion there is no reason why groups or individuals can’t have feasts and festivals specific to their religious practice.  What follows are a few examples of feasts and festivals folks in the CR community have added to their ritual year with links so you can do further research.

March 17 – Hero-Feast of Cú Chulainn:  Promoted by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus (PSVL) blog posts and a Facebook Page this Saint Patrick Day alternative is gaining popularity. 

March 25 – Latha na Cailliche: While the festival is Scottish in origin there is no reason why followers of Gentlidecht can’t also make offerings to her as she is found in Ireland as Cailleach Beara.  Being a goddess associated with the winter and storms it may not be a bad idea. Brian Walsh goes into some detail on his blog.

June 17 – Hero-Feast of Suibhne Geilt: Another feast day promoted by PSVL this one is for the legendary Irish king who was afflicted by the curse of a saint (one called Rónán), went mad as the result of being adversely affected by the spirits of battle, and then lived in the wilderness for many years, taking on bird-like characteristics, and occasionally uttering inspired nature poetry.

June  25 (or Summer Solstice)  – Midummer, Paying Rent to Manannan and Lá Fhéile Oirbsen (Law Ayluh Oribsheen) are all terms that can be applied to a holiday that many Irish polytheist have taken on to honor Manannan Mac Lir.  The practice comes from the June 25th Manx tradition of paying rent (in the form of rushes) to the first king of the Island so that he does not allow the sea to rise up and swallow the land.  Many examples of rent paying rituals can be found with a simple search.

September 20 (or Fall Equinox) – Lá Fhéile Aibhneacha (Law Ayluh Ow-wen-uch-ah) or the Festival of the Rivers.  This is a festival day I devised to give thanks to the local land goddesses during the harvest season. Just as the Boyne and Shannon are goddesses in Ireland, the rivers in North America are goddesses and we should thank them for the life they bring to our land.

Varied Sept – Nov – Hero-Feast of Finn mac Cumhaill: The third Irish hero feast proposed by PSVL’s blog. Now my placement and reason for this feast do vary from PSVL, and I expect to do a post about it in the future in some detail.  For now though, I place what I will be calling Lá Fhéile Finn mac Cumhaill around the start of deer hunting season in hopes for a good hunt.

Decmber 13 – Lá Fhéile Badhbh:  This feast is celebrated by Faoladh who has yet to fully explain it other than to say “it’s got to do with werewolves.”

In addition to the major feast days of, Oíche Shamhna (Eekhuh Hownuh), Lá Fhéile Bhríd (Law Ayluh Vreedj), Lá Bealtaine (Law Byaltinyuh), and Lá Lúnasa (Law Loonuhsuh), and any monthly feasts held,  genti could have a busy year of festivities that would be the envy of any other Neopagan religion.

If you are interested in developing feasts and holidays of your own, I encourage you to read the books listed below to get started.

Danaher, K. (1972). The Year in Ireland: Irish Calendar Customs. Dublin: Mercier Press.

Ó Súilleábhain, S. (1977). Irish Folk Custom and Belief. Cork: Mercier Press.

On the Modern Druid

Anytime one speaks of Irish religion it is expected that the druids would be discussed . Historically the
Druids were part of the social strata that would fall into the sacral function
of the trifunctional hypothesis . They were highly educated in mathematics, astronomy,
astrology, liturgy, poetry, law and many other areas that the common man, and
many nobles were ignorant of. They spent many years of their life learning what
they needed to know to be a druid. In today’s world anyone with a college
education has spent twenty years in school; does this make them a druid? Maybe
in a classical sense they would be, it’s up for debate, but for purposes of
being a druid in Gentlidecht, no.
I have waffled on this topic over the years.  Druids of antiquity are very much rooted in ancient Irish culture and were replaced by the educated sacral class of Christianity, the monks and priests.  The Druids had special schools they attended, held special status in the communities, and based on classical writers were very influential in inter-tribal politics.  To be honest we either have to reconstruct the social structures of the ancient world, or we have to adapt and modernize the function of the druid class.  These days I am very much a proponent of reconstruction of the religion and the religious structures in a modern context, so let’s look at how druids may look in 21st century western culture.
The modernization of the druids actually began with the incoming Christians.  While the monks and priests took over some of the functions, they allowed others to continue under other names.  The fili, the sacred poet is one such example of a druid under a different title.  This craft would have been taught in  rural oral tradition schools, known as hedge schools.  Hedge schools of various types survived unto the 19th century, including some for the purpose of teaching Irish bardic tradition or filidecht.  Today there are those who are practicing a reconstructed version of filidecht which is defined by Erynn Laurie as “the practice of sacred, ritual poetcraft in
early Irish and Scottish tradition.”  These folks could have a claim to the title of druid, but interestingly the individuals that I know do not do so.
Most of the other functions of the druids in ancient society are not considered sacral today.  Lawyers, judges, astronomers, teachers, or philosophers are all secular in nature.  Setting those aside as being ‘not druids’ in the modern context we are left with just a few functions for those who may have a claim to being druid, those who perform duties recognized as religious in nature; the priests.  For a moment we have to consider what this means in both a modern and historical context.  Priests of antiquity were not the pastoral counselors of today but strictly the servants of the gods. They fulfilled the roles of  performing all of the functions needed during religious rituals (ritual technicians) , they maintained the religious sites, and they may have advised kings and chieftains on matters pertaining to the gods.  Today most clergy are expected to perform the roles of the ancient priests but also act as advisers, counselors and therapists to those who come to them.  
Ancient priests required a specialized training for their jobs and we should expect our druids to have  specialized training for the religious functions they will fulfill.  For some functions this training will come through the organization or group to which they belong, such as the role of being a ritual technician and leading the religious services where rituals are to be done in a particular fashion.  For pastoral leaders they will have to attend specialized training courses and may even require a license from the government under whose jurisdiction they fall.  No role of a druid can be performed without some sort of education.  
None of this makes clear how one becomes a druid.  One can become a modern priest of some sort and, if their community accepts the term, call themselves a druid.  One can join any number of organizations that use the term druid for it’s membership.  One can be honored with the title of  druid by a community for services of a sacred nature to that community.  The fact of the matter no one can become a druid as the term is used in the Irish lore. 
In the tradition of Irish heathen practice I call Gentlidecht, a druid is simply one of the people who leads the rituals.  A temporary title for the purpose of performing a religious function for the group.  I expect and hope this will change one day when we have temples again and possibly full-time clergy but in the mean time this works well.