Yule 2008 (Winter Solstice) - Bath, Stonehenge, Avebury and Stoney Littleton

This page includes reports and photographs from the various events I attended during the season of Yule/Winter Solstice in 2008. This celebration - centred on 21 December - sees the sun rising exactly in the south east and performing its shallowest arc across the sky - giving us the shortest day. With the sun effectively standing still for three days, the new solar year begins on 25 December with gradually more light and heat, taking us on to the first signs of new life we see at Imbolc. In the meantime a good knees-up is deserved as we celebrate the end of the dark days and the re-birth of the sun. My season started with the Bard of Bath Competition on 13 December, going on to Stonehenge the next day for the Gorsedd of Bards of Cor Gawr for Alban Arthan. The following Saturday I went to Avebury for the Free and Open Gorsedd of Caer Abiri. The next morning it was Managed Open Access at Stonehenge, immediately followed by a ritual with the Genesis Order of Druids. Later that day it was back to Avebury for the Cauldron of Cerridwen Winter Solstice event. And the following morning I managed to get over to Stoney Littleton long barrow to view the solar alignment.

Page Updates

28 Dec 2008 - Six additional photos in the Bard of Bath section denoted with [1] in their captions
1-3 Jan 2009 - Montage added to the beginning of several of the sections

The Bard of Bath Competition (13 Dec 2008)

The competition to find the 13th Bard of Bath was held on 13 December 2008 in the Mission Theatre. The event was hosted by Simon Capes from Emporium Cabaret. Former Bard of Bath Kevan Manwaring came to the stage to remind everyone of the rules. Kevan was judging the night, along with Brendan Georgeson and Richard Carder. Outgoing Bard Thommie Gillow then introduced the event, prior to performing with her Red Boot Band. Simon Capes then declared the competition open and I was up first to perform. Each contest had five minutes to introduce themselves and their manifesto for the year ahead, before performing their contribution in an additional 10 minutes. This link will take you to a separate page of my photos, with the complete poem being spread across all the performance pictures as captions. Next up was Drift Snowbarger, followed by Matt Alford. A break then followed, with Thommie performing poetry and Susie Billingshurst singing a song. Following the break we had the performances from the final two contestants - David Lassman and Master Duncan. The judges then left the room for their deliberations, with Rob Spalding taking to the stage to sing some songs. Thommie then returned to the stage to perform her winning poem from last year, prior to announcing the winner - Master Duncan. Archdruid of Bath Richard Carder took to the stage to congratulate the winner. Richard and other former bards then linked hands with Master Duncan to tone the Awen and perform the Druid’s Vow. The next competition takes place in December 2009.

2008 competition montage

Setting up on the evening

Setting up on the evening [1]

MC Simon Capes gets things underway

Kevan Manwaring reminds everyone of the rules

Outgoing Bard Thommie Gillow gets ready to perform with her Red Boot Band

Outgoing Bard Thommie Gillow gets ready to perform with her Red Boot Band [1]

The Red Boot Band give it the max

The Red Boot Band give it the max [1]

The Red Boot Band give it the max

Simon Capes declares the competition open

Contestant 1 - Matthew Holbrook. Click here for more pictures and the 80-line poem

Contestant 2 - Drift Snowbarger

Contestant 3 - Matt Alford

Thommie gets ready to perform again [1]

Thommie performs a poem in the interval [1]

Thommie performs a poem in the interval

Susie Billingshurst performs a song in the interval

Contestant 4 - David Lassman

Contestant 5 - Master Duncan

Rob Spalding sings during judging the process

Thommie performs her winning poem from last year, prior to announcing the winner

The winner - Master Duncan

Richard Carder congratulates the winner [1]

Toning the Awen around Master Duncan

That night's moon viewed from my garden

That night's moon viewed from my garden

The Gorsedd of Bards of Cor Gawr for Alban Arthan (14 Dec 2008)

This Gorsedd occurs at Stonehenge twice a year - at mid-summer sunrise (Alban Hefin) and mid-winter sunset (Alban Arthan). This year the winter event was held at sunset on 14 December. The group of 70 or so members and friends of the Druid Network met in the Stonehenge car park from 16:00. I handed out my chocolate Solstice Discs to provide a bit of a sugar boost and we processed into the site at 16:30. Stopping just before the monument, people entered the stones one-by-one after pausing to reflect on the occasion. A faint patch of red indicated the setting sun on an otherwise black sky. Once the circle had formed up, everyone was welcomed and the directional peace blessings were performed and the four quarters opened. Then links to the three worlds were established - earth, ocean and sky. The group had a chance to remember anyone who had passed over this year. We were then taken on a journey back in time to be standing at the Cauldron of Cerridwen. Everyone was then invited to step forward to release something into the cauldron.

Any offerings of bread and mead were then requested to be added to the centre of the circle. Volunteers were asked to step forward to be initiated into The Gorsedd of Bards of Cor Gawr. A small group accepted the offer and formed an outward facing circle, with everyone else closing in around them. The initiation text was recited before the rest of the group toned the Awen three times around them. They then rejoined the rest of the circle as the newest bards of Cor Gawr. Two handfastings were then carried out and there was plenty of mistletoe to share. The mead and bread were then blessed. Copious amounts of bread and mead then made their way around the circle and the floor was open for bardic performances. Sadly, I had to decline the offer as the cold was taking quite a toll on my health. With the allowed two hours almost at an end, the links to the three worlds were closed, followed by the four quarters and the event was over. Overall a powerful and exciting ritual, but I for one couldn’t wait to be guided back to the car park by the torchlight of the two security guards!

A cold December Sunday night in the Stonehenge car park!

A cold December Sunday night in the Stonehenge car park!

The Free and Open Gorsedd of Caer Abiri (20 Dec 2008)

The Winter Solstice ritual of the Free and Open Gorsedd of Caer Abiri was held at Avebury on 20 December. The group gathered at the Red Lion to catch up. I handed out my chocolate Solstice Discs prior to us processing in to the remains of the Southern Inner circle some time after 13:30. Willth welcomed everyone and started with the Call For Peace, with everyone answering back. This was followed by the opening of the four quarters. Willth then handed over to Rollo, who was making a welcome return to Avebury. Rollo talked about the various problems affecting the country and the rest of the world. He got the group to raise energy to help through use of the Druid Mantra. He then did a reading for everyone to recite back, before handing over to Donna for something similar. Rollo and Donna also blessed the vat of flowers.

Willth asked for details of those in need of healing and got the group to raise energy through two lots of three tones of the Druid Mantra. Various announcements were made. Kes told the group that she had been accepted as a pagan priest by her local police constabulary. There was an astrological announcement and a new three-day-old member of the clan was brought around for everyone to meet. Terry went into detail about the exact timing of the Solstice Point and how it relates to the Avebury landscape. He also read a version of the Druid Prayer. Bard of Avebury Robyn y Glas was called for the first bardic performance in the form of a song. I was then called to read my Winter Solstice poetry. We then joined hands and recited the Druid Vow, before making a bit of noise with drumming from Kes, guitar from Robyn y Glas, hand claps and other contributions. Willth asked if there were any other offerings before requesting the four quarters to be closed and declaring the event over.

Montage of the Yule 2008 event

Avebury wakes up [Photo: Peter Walker]

The famous Avebury trees with exposed roots [Photo: Peter Walker]

Meeting up at the Red Lion

Processing to the Southern Inner Circle

Forming up the circle

Willth welcomes everyone to the Free and Open Gorsedd

The North Quarter is opened

Rollo make a welcome return to Avebury

Rollo and Donna bless the flowers

Rollo talks about the problems in the world and gets the group to tone the Druid Mantra

Rollo gets the group to recite his text back to him

Donna follows with a different text

Kes makes her announcement about becoming a pagan priest for her local police constabulary

The newest member of the clan puts in an appearance

Terry talks about how the Solstice Point affects Avebury

Robyn y Glas performs a song

A bit of noise from the group

A bit of noise from the group

The north quarter is closed

Willth thanks everyone for coming

A triumphant return to Avebury for Rollo

Cold hands on a crook... [Photo: Peter Walker]

...belonging to Matthew [Photo: Peter Walker]

Ray's legs are covered up for once [Photo: Peter Walker]

Keep of the Stones Terry...[Photo: Peter Walker]

...and his magic staff [Photo: Peter Walker]

Managed Open Access At Stonehenge (21 Dec 2008)

Managed Open Access at the two solstices can be disappointing if you’re after a spiritual experience. Two thousand people descended on Stonehenge in apocalyptic scenes of the Drove been crammed with cars as far as the eye could see, fires burning at regular intervals and migraine-inducing drum ’n’ bass filling the air. Parking on the bumpy and boggy Drove was soon exhausted and so people had to ignore the police cones on the A344 and start filling that up with cars. The road eventually had to be closed - I did wonder whether that might have been the thing to do in the first place! Knowing the problem of parking at this time of year, I arrived in the middle of the night and slept in the car. Rollo ran the event at Stonehenge and from what I could hear it was very similar to the event held at Avebury the previous day. There was again a lot of use of the Druid Mantra and we recited the Druid Vow. Outside of that it was difficult to tell what was going on because of people talking in loud voices and heavy drumming in the background. So the effort expended in getting here would have been wasted had it not been for a smaller scale event afterwards. One thing that made me smile was a man absolutely doing his nut at the top of the stairs upon entry, shouting at everyone that any singing in the tunnel simply would not be tolerated! When someone challenged this rather bizarre request, he replied that everyone needs a rule to break when they are at Stonehenge!

Stonehenge begins to wake up [Photo: Peter Walker]

The chaos of managed open access

The chaos of managed open access

The chaos of managed open access

I managed to unearth Ray and Willth in the large crowd

The chaos of managed open access

The chaos of managed open access

The chaos of managed open access [Photo: Peter Walker]

Merlin of England pauses for a photo

Genesis Order of Druids at Stonehenge (21 Dec 2008)

The Genesis Order of Druids held its Winter Solstice ritual immediately following the Managed Open Access one. The group gathered near the Heel Stone and the ceremony was opened by Archdruidess Mel. The four quarters were then opened. Although it appeared as though all the paraphernalia had been packed, it seems the magic compass had been left back in Portsmouth! Everyone had their own view of where each direction was. I called North, at least I think I did :) Swordbearer James then did the Call For Peace and this was followed by readings for the main part of the ceremony from Mel, Priest Mr Nick, Priestess Xowie and Archdruid Stormwatch. Mr Nick then lit the main candle and invited others to light smaller ones from this candle - symbolising the return of the sun. The Awen was then toned three times. I read my Winter Solstice poem at this point. It was then time for Mel to bless the bread being held by Xowie and then for Stormwatch to bless the mead also being held by Xowie. Mel took the bread around circle and the cup of mead was passed from person to person. The Genesis Order Prayer was then recited, immediately followed by three readings of the Druid Vow. Arthur was then called for a rare bardic performance. With that Mel began to end the ceremony, with the quarters being closed in a similar manner to how they were opened :) Overall this was an excellent ritual and it made me feel that it had been worth coming out that morning after all.

Montage of the complete event

Stormwatch and Mel spot the Holbrook zoom lens!

Setting up the circle

Setting up the circle

Arthur joins the circle

Archdruidess Mel gets things underway

Archdruidess Mel gets things underway

Getting the main candle lit

Stormwatch grabs a light

Candles are shared out

I give my Winter Solstice poem another reading [Photo: Matt Jeal]

I give my Winter Solstice poem another reading [Photo: Matt Jeal]

Xowie holds the bread for Mel to bless

Stormwatch then blessed the mead

Mel brings the bread around the circle

Arthur does a rare bardic performance

Reciting the Druid Vow [Photo: Peter Walker]

Nearing the end [Photo: Peter Walker]

The triumphant end to the ritual

Xowie, Mel and Stormwatch at the end of the ritual

The Cauldron of Cerridwen Ritual at Avebury (21 Dec 2008)

The Cauldron of Cerridwen Winter Solstice event took place on 21 December. The group met at the Red Lion and then processed into Southern Inner circle to set up. Taran welcomed everyone to the event and Fae entered the circle to read the first poem. Sian followed by blessing the altar. She then set up the casting of the circle and Woodoak stepped forward to accept the sword, before walking around the circle. The four quarters were then opened by individuals from the circle. Willow talked about the rebirth of the sun, with Taran and Sian following with the Invocation for the Lord and Lady for Cernunnos and Cerridwen. They both then led the Charge of the Goddess, with Sian welcoming the Lady. Then it was on to the Charge of the God with Taran welcoming the Lord.

It was then time for the twice-yearly battle between the Holly King and Oak King. Willow talked about their roles. The two Kings appeared with their respective wives and were taken around the circle to gain support. The two Kings then gave their speeches and the battle commenced. The Oak King won and vowed to reign for the next six months in the build-up to Summer through Beltane. The defeated Holly King was then taken around the circle by his Wife and then the Victorious Oak King was taken around by his Wife. The next poem was read out by Lucara and then Gyfyu sang the Merry Yule song. It was then time for the bread and juice to be blessed before being taken around the circle. Robyn y Glas performed a song, a young bard entered the circle to read her new poem and I followed with the final reading of my Winter Solstice poem for 2008. A lady also appeared from the circle to sing her own magical song. Sian and Taran gave thanks to Cerridwen and Cernunnos. The four quarters were then released and Woodoak collected the sword again so he could release the circle. The event concluded with three readings of the Druid Vow and a Merry Meet, Merry Part and Merry Meet again.

Montage of the Yule 2008 event

Meeting up at the Red Lion

Setting up in the Southern Inner Circle

Getting ready to begin

Getting ready to begin

Fae reads the first poem

Sian blesses the altar

Woodoak prepares to cast the circle

The circle is protected with fire

Opening the West Quarter

Opening the North Quarter

Willow talks about rebirth of the sun

Taran welcomes The Lord

Sian Welcomes The Lady

Willow talks about the Holly and Oak Kings

The two Kings appear before crowd

And the fighting begins

They are fighting for who will win the right to rule for the next six months

They are fighting for who will win the right to rule for the next six months

They are fighting for who will win the right to rule for the next six months

The Holly King is dead. Long live the Oak King!

The Oak King receives his crown

The Oak King receives his crown

The Oak King reads out his plans for the next six months

The victorious Oak King is taken around the circle

Lucara reads the next poem

Gyfu sings a song

Robyn y Glas sings the next song

A lady appears from the circle to sing a beautiful song

Closing the North Quarter

Closing the West Quarter

Woodoak takes the sword to release the circle once again

Stoney Littleton (22 Dec 2008)

The 5,000-year-old Stoney Littleton long barrow faces South East and so lights up to the sunrise of Winter Solstice. It’s always worth going to have a look at this phenomenon, even though the chances of a clear sunrise at this time of year are not that great.

Crossing the bridge

A sign marks the way

The entrance faces south east to pick up the Winter Solstice sunrise

A few weak rays of sun enter the chamber

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Page last updated: 05 Jan 2009