The Pleiades, The Equinoxes, and the Fairies: A New Way to Approach Celebrating Holy Days
  


O they rade on, and farther on,

And they waded thro rivers aboon the knee,

And they saw neither sun nor moon,

But they heard the roaring of the sea.”

- Thomas the Rhymer, traditional ballad

Usually when I write, even when I am including personal gnosis (UPG) or personal practice, I also include a lot of references and citations to back up what I am saying. This article is going to be a bit different because while it will include references and citations it is something that is woven largely from personal theories and possibilities rather than provable certainties.  

I was talking recently with my friend Seo Helrune – who is a big part of almost everything in the following article – about the idea of re-enchanting the mortal world. It’s a concept that has been coming up in the last few years among different communities and one I have written about myself. My view has always been that to achieve this re-enchantment of our world we need only to change how we perceive it because there is plenty of enchantment already here. But experiences in Iceland this September have changed my understanding of several things including this subject. I believe now that it is essential that we do actively seek to bring the Other into our world and that it is essential for us to return our world to a state of balance with the Otherworld by opening the way for it again.

But first some history of the Pleiades. 

The Pleiades are found across world folklore often although not always given a female nature and described as seven sisters, a mother and six daughters, or seven women (Sparavigna, 2008; White, 2016). In many of these stories the stars are numbered at seven, although occasionally they are viewed as six with a missing or hidden seventh star which may reflect the ease or difficulty of counting the stars in the constellation. In modern terms the number is much higher and in some folklore it can be higher as well but for the purposes of this article we will be focusing on the number seven which does seem to be the most common. The constellation is often referred to in Western culture simply as ‘the Seven Sisters’ the name coming from Greek mythology which names each star after one of seven divine sisters. In Egypt the Pleiades where called the ‘Seven Hathors’ and were represented by seven cows and a divine bull [the star Aldebaran] which provided food for the dead (Sparvigna, 2008). 

The Pleiades have a long and varied history across the world as timekeepers. Across many cultures the historic heliacal rising of the Pleiades marked the new year and the beginning of the spring planting season; in others this time was marked by the period when the Pleiades were conjunct with the sun and invisible in the sky (Maunder, 1906; Sparavigna, 2008; White, 2016). For some native American tribes the conjunction period was the signal to begin spring planting while in Greece the heliacal rising began the sailing season (Maclure, 2017). This would mean that the vernal equinox was the beginning of the new year, marked by the conjunction of the sun with the Pleiades, proceeding into the heliacal rising period. In contrast it has been suggested that the acronychal rising period through the culmination was a time when the gates to the Otherworld or spirit world where opened perhaps giving us the root of the celebration of Samhain (Maclure, 2017). The month of November is now sometimes called the month of the Pleiades (Maclure, 2017).

The cycle of the Pleiades has changed over the millennia with their crucial rising points and significant dates shifting slowly later through the year, which must be kept in mind as we proceed. We are looking not only at when things occur now but also discussing the dating of events across thousands of years and this can be a bit confusing. That said, the Pleiades have four major processional points worth noting: when they disappear from the sky (conjunct with the sun), when they are at the eastern horizon just before dawn (heliacal rising), when they are on the eastern horizon just after sunset (acronychal rising), and when they appear directly overhead at midnight (culmination). There are also heliacal setting and acronychal setting points but I have been unable to find out anything about those dates yet. 4 thousand years ago the Pleiades were conjunct with the sun at the vernal equinox; the heliacal rising would occur roughly 6 weeks later near Beltane; the acronychal rising at the autumnal equinox; the culmination around Samhain (Maunder, 1906; Sparavigna, 2008). There was a time, or I should say there have been times, where the Pleiades processions, equinoxes, and fire festivals lined up exactly but that timing is fluid. As Maclure explains: “In the 11th century, the Julian calendar used back then was about one week out of step with the seasons. In the year 1000, the September solstice fell on September 17 and the December solstice fell on December 15. Amazingly, October 31, 1000, fell about midway between these equinox and solstice datesSome 1,000 years ago, the midnight culmination of the Pleiades and [Samhain] pretty much happened on the same date.” (Maclure, 2007). Because of equinox drift and the calendar change these events now occur about 21 days later than they did then, meaning that for example the culmination of the Pleiades occurs on November 21st in 2018. The conjunction with the sun occurs in May and the heliacal rising in June. Gordon White suggests that the celebration of the different Pleiadean dates was so important in India that the holidays would be shifted across quarter days as the stars slowly moved into new periods (White, 2016). 

There is evidence that the Pleiades were important not only in folklore and timing major activities but also potentially for ritual activity although we can only guess. These guesses are based on alignments or depictions of the constellation at major locations that did seem to have ritual purposes. An artifact now called the ‘Nebra Sky Disk’ was recovered in Germany, dating from 1600 BCE and depicting the Pleiades; its purpose is unknown. Looking further back we find an array of Neolithic sites that have alignments to the equinoxes which may include the Pleiades. It is somewhat hard to be certain with some of these as archeoastronomy tends to focus heavily on solar and sometimes lunar alignments but nonetheless there is evidence of connections. In Ireland there is evidence of a Pleiadean alignment in the Gabhra valley (Halpin, 2018). Several other sites in Ireland also have alignments worth noting here. Dowth has several potential reconstructed alignments including one with Samhain that might in my opinion have been significant for the culmination of the Pleiades. Dowth more generally has potential connections to the Pleiades through its famous seven sun stone, a Neolithic stone carved with seven symbols often interpreted as suns but which may in fact represent the seven stars of the Pleiades (Murphy, 2017). Although only supposition the possibility of the symbols tying into the Pleiades also connects wider folklore about the stars to the naming-tale of Dowth which includes a story of seven cows and a bull, their owner who tried to build a tower into the sky, and his sister who held the sun still (Murphy, 2017). If we look to Sliabh na Caillagh and cairn T we find an equinox alignment that may have included the conjunction with the Pleiades, as well as intricate engravings of suns and stars within the cairn’s chamber. In Donegal Ireland we find the Grianan of Aileach which has equinox alignments and quite interestingly during the period when the rising sunlight casts a beam of light across the fort on the equinox the light points directly at the Seven Sisters mountains in the Derryveagh mountain range (Resnick, 2016). In 10,000 BCE in Turkey at Gobleki Tepe the vernal equinox would have been noted by the alignment of the monument and included the Pleiades and Orion (White, 2016). The Rig Veda, drawing on astrological references dating to the same time period, talks about the importance of the Pleiades and their rising on the winter solstice (White, 2016). There is even some evidence suggesting that the Pleiades may have been noted in cave art during the paleolithic period, particularly in the cave paintings at Lascaux and La-Tête-du-Lion (Sparavigna, 2008)

Now we move into the realm of personal gnosis, shared gnosis, and my own practices, beginning with a bit of backstory on my own connections to things Pleiadean and the equinoxes.

For decades I have worn – and now have tattooed on my arm – a seven pointed star as a symbol of my practice. I cannot say when I started believing this or why but I have long thought it was a symbol closely connected to the Good People. There are multiple levels of meaning to this symbol but one which I have mentioned in some of my previous writing which again I cannot remember where I first came across the idea is that each point represents one of seven permanent or fixed gateways between the mortal world and the Otherworld. What I do know is that for several decades I have seen this symbol called a ‘Pleiadean star’ although I never understood the connection. Recently as I began studying this and trying to work in knew personal gnosis I think I have begun to understand the connection between the symbol, gateways, and the Pleiades. 


I have never put much emphasis on celebrating the equinoxes until a few years ago when I had a visionary experience that included entering into an agreement with Themselves that I would make specific offerings to them on those dates. These offerings, as it was explained to me, where to open the road and keep the way open. I didn’t know why those dates, but I didn’t question it either as it was (at the time) a personal gnosis that didn’t impact anyone else. It did oddly coincide with a belief I had long held that the Good People moved their homes at these times, something that isn’t found in folklore which emphasizes Samhain and Bealtaine for those activities. Since my own work primarily focuses on connecting to the Good People I could see the logic, I thought, in creating this sort of gateway although I generally advise people against setting up fey highways on principle. 

Now in September of 2018 I went to Iceland with a group and while there several of us had some interesting experiences involving the Pleiades and the autumnal equinox. These experiences led two of us to begin theorizing that this time – the equinox and the rising of the Pleiades – was an extremely important one and a period of celebration of some sort for Themselves. It makes sense to me on an intuitive level that the Good Folk would time their holy days by the stars and not the sun or moon, which folklore and ballads tell us are lacking in Fairy. This insight into the Otherworld led to further investigation about the Pleiades more generally and resulted in some further personal gnosis via dreams. Through this I realized that the time period from the acronychal rising until culmination was a particularly important one, which they referred to [in a dream] as an ‘open door’. Although I haven’t received any specific guidance relating to the spring equinox and later heliacal risings I believe the conjunction represents a still point, a ’closed door’ if you will that re-opens with the heliacal rising. Perhaps not literally, any more than human holy days are literal, but energetically and ritually. These are times that I believe are sacred to the Other and I have come to believe very strongly can be - and probably historically were – sacred to humans. Perhaps they are the ones who taught us to watch those stars and celebrate those times 10,000 years ago. 

Where does that leave us? Well, for myself I think I have my own folklore of the Pleiades now, still as seven sisters but as Fairy Queens. My own holidays will be changing to adapt to this new system (old system?) because I feel that it is profoundly important. I haven’t worked out all the details yet, specifically when it makes sense to honor the new year*, but I know that these four main points are times to celebrate and I can work with that. The acronychal rising is the opening of the door. The culmination is the celestial fairy rade. The conjunction is the closing of the way. The heliacal rising is the return of the Sisters. The equinoxes are times to offer to them, specifically focused on opening the roads, while the other two holy days are more purely celebratory in nature, honoring the connection that has been created and reaffirming it.

I started this by talking about re-enchanting the world. Offering to them on the equinoxes and following the cycle of the Pleiades are ways I think we can do that. We can open the door and re-build the old connections, even if this means a human world that is more spirit filled and more wild. Not everything of the Otherworld is safe or gentle but we need Them as much as they need us and our world needs the balance they provide. Iceland taught me that as well. 

Sources:

White, G., (2016) Star.Ships

Halpin, D., (2018) The Pleiades and Beltane https://www.facebook.com/CircleStoriesDavidHalpin/photos/a.508106326204715/619216361760377/?type=3&permPage=1&hc_location=ufi 

Sparavigna, A., (2008) The Pleiades: The celestial herd of ancient timekeepers

Maunder, E., (1906) Heliacal Risings and Settings of Stars

Maclure, B.,  (2007) November is the Month of the Pleiades

---- (2017) Pleiades Star Cluster; aka the seven sisters

Murphy, A., (2017) Ancient Sites Dowth – Dubad

--- (2018) Ancient Astronomers of the Stone Age https://mythicalireland.com/astronomy/ancient-astronomers-of-the-stone-age/ 

Resnick, J., (2016) Grianan of Aileach in Ireland Aligns to Equinoxes https://www.spiritualsun.com/spiritual-sites/grianan-of-aileach-in-ireland-aligns-to-equinoxes