Celtic Festival of Aine

Aine “shining” Pronounced: AWN-yuh

“She was, and perhaps still is, worshipped on Midsummer Eve by the peasantry, who carried torches of hay and straw, tied on poles and lighted, round her hill at night. Afterwards they dispersed themselves among their cultivated fields and pastures, waving the torches over the crops and the cattle to bring luck and increase for the following year.” – T. W. Rolleston, Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race (1911)

Aine is often considered the Gaelic Goddess of the summer sun. According to Lebor Gabála Érenn (pronounced LEV-ar GA-vah-la ER-inn, in English “The Book of the Taking of Ireland”) Her father is the Dagda and Brigid is Her sister. Other sources say She is the daughter or wife of Manannan Mac Lir or the daughter of Egobail and has sisters named Aillen and Fennen.

However, mythology and folklore tell us that She is much more. Living in a hill like the other Tuatha De Danann, She resides in Limerick within Cnoc Aine (also called Knockainey), seven miles from Cnoc Greine (“Hill of Grian, Hill of the sun”). Grain may be another aspect of Aine or her sister. Some modern Gaelic polytheists believe Aine is the bright summer sun an ghrian mhór and Grain is the pale winter sun an ghrian bheag. The Gaels divided the year into the light half and the dark half, so it fits the cosmology even if there’s no evidence to support the belief.

Although Grain and Grainne mean different things, Grian may have parts of Her mythology hidden in the typical, medieval European love triangle of a young woman, the older king whom she is to marry and the beautiful young man loyal to the king that she loves. The 16th century Tóraigheacht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne (The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne) from the Fenian Cycle may contain parts from the 10th century. Ageing Fianna leader Fionn mac Cumhaill is set to marry Grainne, the beautiful daughter of the High King of Ireland Cormac mac Airt against her wishes. It becomes a love triangle when Grainne decides she wants the best Fianna warrior, Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, the foster son of God Aengus mac Og. The solar connection is that the chase for Grainne and Diarmuid lasted one year and a day. Every night they slept in a different cave, like the sun hiding at night. Aside from deities’ help, the solar year and the caves, it was a very popular story in Europe, and Ireland has a few versions.

Aine still was honored with a fire rite to bless the fertility of the land in the mid-19th century. Her heat could bless or scorch the fields and She was called upon for prosperity and protection of the cattle and crops. Aine was sometimes honored on Midsummer’s Eve, June 24. The sun appears to be stopped in the sky during the three days of a solstice, so many cultures celebrate when the sun begins to move again. This is usually December 25 and June 24, known to Christians as Christmas and St John the Baptist Day.

Aine is also associated with the long, social festival held around August 1st, too. Most Pagans think that it is only under the name Lughnasa which this holiday was celebrated, but in Ulster the deity honored was the 6,000 year old Celto-Germanic horse and Sovereignty Goddess Macha, in Leinster it was Brig, and around Limerick Aine is the focus.

Aine is the Sovereignty Goddess of Munster, the southern province of Ireland, and the divine ancestor of many powerful families in the region. Through Aine, they found a way to claim rightful rulership of the land. Often Celtic Sovereignty Goddesses are also horse Goddesses. One of Aine’s names is Lair Derg (“Red Mare”).

In one of Aine’s legends, a King of Munster killed Her father and then raped Her. She sucked the flesh off of his ear and cursed him with Her magic. Thus began the battle of Magh Mucrama. Of course that king could no longer be king because Aine had blemished him. Celtic Sovereignty Goddesses will dispose of an unworthy ruler, often in brutal ways.

Later stories depict Her as a Fairy Queen who takes many mortal lovers and gave birth to several half human, half fairy children. For this reason, some modern Gaelic polytheists consider Aine a Goddess of love.

On the evening of June 24, celebrate the Festival of Aine as the regal solar Goddess. It is through Her power that all food grows. Whatever you eat, Aine was necessary for their lives. (If the plants were grown with artificial lights, they evolved under Aine’s gaze.) The food other animals ate came from the energy of the sun, too. Basically you would have no energy for growth and renewal of cells without Aine. You’d be dead.

Aine also provides the important vitamin D. When humans living far from the equator experienced the prolonged darkness of winter, they lost weight from dwindling food supplies. The fat released its stored vitamin D; otherwise people would not have had the necessary vitamin. (Evolution is amazing!)

In a time when people are choosing solar power both passive and active, Aine is Queen over these changes. Solar cookers are cheap, easy to make and rarely need to be replaced, making them very popular in sunny places. In some parts of Africa solar cookers purify water and cook meals at a price much more affordable than solar panels which break and keep people dependent on foreign aid. I remember when my parents built our far off the grid Vermont home by themselves; it was positioned to receive as much full sunlight as possible. A lot of ancient cultures built homes for passive solar heat, with the south side (in the Northern hemisphere) long and facing full sun.

There are a lot of reasons to thank Aine. In the great uncertainty of Climate Change Chaos, honoring Her may take the form of a ceremony to help farmers dealing with flood, drought, forest fires and extreme heat or unusual cold. You don’t need to be at a farm to do this. Most crops are coated in pesticides which among other problems are endocrine disruptors, so standing near a huge field of corn that might have been sprayed the day before your ritual isn’t a smart idea.

If you have a garden, including a plot at the organic community garden or pots of herbs on a patio or balcony, this could be a wonderful place for your evening rite. If you grow no food or don’t have the privacy you’d like, maybe a pleasant acquaintance with organic farm or garden would be fine with you “visualizing the growth of crops” or “celebrating the Midsummer in an old Irish way” (because Americans tend to like “Irish” and understand “visualization” better than “ritual”) at their land. A medicinal marijuana or hemp field (they don’t need pesticides) might make it more personal for some people.

A house plant is just as good if you remember what you’re celebrating: the life-giving power of the sun. Your house plant knows Aine. Through the simple meditation of exhaling to the plant so it may enjoy your carbon dioxide and inhaling mindfully the oxygen from plants, the two of you can deeply connect. If you want a visualization or mantra, think of the exhale being red and say “red” silently because your breath is connected to your blood. Inhale thinking “green” or imaging green, the magickal alchemy of photosynthesis. Of course, you could do this at the edge of a field or garden to form a relationship with the green world.

Every ceremony needs an intention. If you are involved with solar power, you might honor Aine for that reason, including if you sell solar systems. Farmers were concerned with profits as much as food in the 19th century, so Aine is not going to be offended if in your solar power rite to celebrate Her you ask for increase in customers. If you are honestly trying to get more reliant on solar power, honoring Aine’s power and asking Her for panels and batteries is appropriate. Like all magick, it just has to really be something about which you feel passionate. If you want to focus on solar energy but don’t see yourself having solar power at home (you rent or live with grey skies or in the shadows of mountains), buying batteries with a solar charger or radio that is powered by the sun is a good service offering to Aine. Each little divestment from fossil fuels does matter. Huge lifestyle changes often don’t last. But choosing a small step and asking for the deities to bless it, especially during a rite traditionally about growth, is an excellent way to sustainably make personal changes. You feel good and want to try another step towards your goal. (Most groups fall apart when instead of realistic success they focus on a building too soon.)

Your libation might be solar tea. Tea bags and water in a glass jar in the sun all afternoon make sun tea. Look online for more details. The glass jars could be empty Snapple jars from which you removed the sunlight-blocking label and washed. Used mayonnaise and pasta sauce jars usually need a good soak in water with a lot of baking soda before washing to remove the smells and tastes, so start cleaning those now. Fill with baking soda and water a few times if needed. Solar tea honors the power of Aine.

Yellow flowers are traditional in most northern European summer solstice festivals. St John’s wort is said to be strongest today. It’s a powerful plant for mild depression (internal capsules or tinctures), neurological pain (4-6 weeks of a jar filled with the plant, especially flowers, and organic olive oil sealed without air bubbles – air will cause mold – and then strained makes a massage oil for neuropathic pain) and magickal good fortune and protection. It’s often put on altars today, and then kept all year hanging with the flowers facing down as it dries. The plant has a lot of folklore. If you buy it dry, make sure that it’s a responsible, organic company that loves plants and maintains ecosystems. You want a strong life force.

Other yellow flowers can definitely be added to your altar. A bouquet may be an offering for Aine. Flowers in the hair are traditional in many places. Please never buy flowers from a florist. The flower industry uses insane levels of pesticides that go against the values of any nature-based ritual or desire for healthy reproductive organs, hormones and metabolisms of all animals including humans. I heard a MD doctor mention that the Seine River, sacred home of Sequana, is “pure estrogen by now” due to pesticide run-off from farms.

Farmers markets sometimes sell organic flowers. A Mennonite farm used to charge people $1 to pick wildflowers by their roadside pie stand. When picking any wild plant, only take 10% of plants, so if you find a field of daisies (day’s eye) or day lilies, don’t take tons. They’re genitals of plants and needed for reproduction and important to the ecosystem. (Invasive species are a different matter, but an invasive species cannot invade a healthy ecosystem. If you go through the hard work of digging up the invasive species, plant the native plants that were destroyed by “progress” including forest flowers and bushes. Fill the ecosystem gaps that allowed an invasive species in the ecosystem.)

Although fire is traditional, I wouldn’t recommend one unless in a safe fire pit. There are forest fires raging across the world and 80% of American states are in droughts. This isn’t damp, cool Ireland in June. Beeswax candles actually clean toxins from the air and make a fine Aine festival fire. Outdoors, keep the candles protected from wind and have a couple jugs of water ready. (I am a big fan of having a fire extinguisher ready at all rites involving fire.)

People moved in a circle, definitely clockwise if like all other Irish processions around hills. Then they blessed the fields of crops and cattle. You should circle the garden or around your altar clockwise, the direction the sun moves. This could be meditative, carrying a beeswax candle in a tall glass jar, or dancing. Careful dancing in the field or around your houseplant while asking for Aine to protect crops until the harvest is over – that’s a fine idea. If you are in a garden, stand in one place and dance with your torso, arms and head. You don’t want to crush a plant.

Most importantly, focus on the power of Aine and make an offering. Organic flowers, using batteries charged by the sun, sun tea, food in season like certain berries, homemade breads (the end result of the grains growing), organic dairy (She blesses the cattle) and second hand or Fair Trade yellow glass beads, second hand yellow “semi-precious” stones like sunstone, pyrite (fool’s gold) or citrine, and even jewelry or items made from gold metal are good offerings. Glass or metal charms of the sun without toxic metals like lead (pewter ingredients can be dangerous) from local artisans or an artist’s destash would also be great for decorations and offerings.

A papier mache sun is really easy since it is basically a ball shape. Old torn newspaper and glue made of flour and water (a bit of children’s white paste can be added) over crumbled newspaper in a round shape, then when very dry painted yellow (milk paints are best) is pretty basic. Adding cones of crumbled newspapers and maybe wire with masking tape can turn the ball into shining rays. Yellow fabric, especially with embroidery of solar images, would be a good altar cloth. Using corn meal or another grain you could make larger solar crosses – a circle with an equal armed cross inside. (Seeds could be a problem for a farm or garden – barley seeds and flax seeds, my regular offering, grow in 3 days where they’re scattered! You may want to grind your own or buy organic flour.)

There’s a lot of environmentally responsible ways to have Pagan rituals. Remember that the planet is very different now. What the ancients made have had a lot of, we probably don’t. Many grains are gone, along with other species in this, the 6th major extinction. We can’t afford to make mistakes they made because we know better and we live in a much more fragile situation. A sun “mosaic” of bottle caps nailed to repurposed wood from a broken chair could be beautiful and not add to factories and landfills. Although slaves were common in every agricultural society (except perhaps the Indus civilization), your rituals don’t need child labor, sweatshops and unsafe work environments. The ritual focuses on the safe growth of crops/solar energy. We don’t want the growth of sweatshops, pesticides or mining.

Rituals in general were simple. For people in our society that can sound boring or vague. Just ask yourself if your ritual ideas match the ritual’s intention. Use mind maps to gather information and brainstorm actions. Sometimes they work better than lists. (I received a letter from a prisoner who found that the mind maps instructions in Steel Bars, Sacred Waters helped them learn about deities.) I know that pesticides, human rights violations and pollution are never part of my rituals’ intentions. I can’t imagine using plastics to honor Frey, God of This World, for example. There’s no deity that could support GMOs, which destroy fertility. Offering GMO food to Ceres or Isis or Dionysus is an insult. They’d rather you make a service offering that helps or protects the fertility of the land.

Beeswax candles and organic food do cost more than petroleum product candles and pesticide coated foods, but rituals were something people took seriously. They save for them. Poor Brazilians or Haitians will save in order to get a nice offering for the Orixas or lwas. Something handmade that took time has great value. Whittle a bird or spin wool – you have a meaningful offering. For glass beads, something that ancient Celtic people highly valued, I often get destash from Etsy vendors. String them on hemp jewelry twine or the metal from an old spiral bound notebook and you have a grand offering.

The elements of this ritual – plants, sun, yellow, fire, cattle, clockwise movement in the beginning, prayers for Aine to bless and protect food, hopes for a good harvest, paying attention to the seasons, moving through fields, offering, praise and prayers for Aine – can become as creative as your imagination allows. I feel that rituals based on agriculture rites are completely changed when they become about “growing prosperity in your life” or “reaping the harvest of your personal dreams” while totally ignoring the importance of the original rite. People used magickal charms and personal divination in everyday life, so seamlessly that scholars have to rethink the difference between magick and religion. There’s nothing wrong with focusing on your needs and desires. They matter.

But the deity or ancestors or land spirits being honored matter most because they are the reason for the festival. Without Them… well, no us. Obviously no festival. And the best way to know a deity is to know Them physically. Their nature, geography, the process of those jobs of which They are patrons. Sweat and ache like the smith. Pick grapes and make wine. Milk a goat. Ride a ferry across a lake or sea. Turn off all lights and electric noise and hear the Wild Hunt. Tend a fire. Cook on a fire. Churn butter. Blow glass. Weave. Most of these things are work but without distractions you can often reach a meditative state. Many people garden for the connection to soil and life, having their bodies in motion and being calmed. Knitting and basket weaving are meditative. Tools and fire require mindfulness for safety. You can best understand a deity if you understand what They meant hundreds or thousands of years ago.

Tribal and community rituals shouldn’t be changed to meet only the needs of the individual just because our society changed in some unhealthy ways. The lie of the rugged individual who can be anything they want if they just try, the denial of the many shared concerns that connect us to people we might not like in our neighborhood and the legacies of oppression and modern bigotry – rituals from people who understood their vulnerable dependence on the land and water and sky, their vulnerable dependence on a community can help us.

We need the same things as they did and it’s important to put the most important things first in a ritual. There are deities of commerce like Mercury, the most honored deity in Roman Gaul by choice. All aspects of people’s lives were covered by the year’s rituals. To turn them into “I want this” rituals I see in most Pagan books disgusts me. The personal growth and good fortune comes from honoring the deity. Once They’re paying attention to you, your life WILL change. More often than not, it’ll be in ways that involve social justice, deep healing (including releasing lies you tell yourself) and the environment. The deities have need of us. The more we become who we honestly are, the more we are sharing the gifts They sent into the world via our birth.

Dearest Aine, Queen of summertime’s life, May everyone be protected from heat stroke, drought, flooding and wildfire and may all have plenty of healthy foods! May I be part of that!

4 thoughts on “Celtic Festival of Aine”

  1. […] At this time the early rye and barley harvests would have begun. In Ireland, various August 1st Lughnasa festivals were celebrating the start of the harvest, not only dedicated to Lugh (who as Lug was incredibly popular in Iberia and Gaul), but also Macha, Brig and other deities depending on where in Ireland you lived. (Macha in Ulster; Brig in Leincester.) There is the 1879 account of the July 23rd evening ritual for fertility and safety of the crops and cattle in the name of the Goddess Aine, detailed here. […]

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