As spring wanes, the mane of Shamash Sun-Cat has grown back to its full splendour after his battle with the Black Horse of Winter and, with it, its rays of light and heat bring life and vigour back to the world in the way of summer. While spring may have brought us new growth, the things we have planted have not yet bloomed or come into fruition. But now is the time for the work to begin. Summer is almost upon us and the hard labour of reaping and harvesting is on the horizon. It is the time of the Sun-Cat, and the celebration of all things male and solar.
In Grimalkin society Shamash Sun-Cat rules the Day while his mate Inghira Moon-Cat rules the Night. Shamash is the embodiment of health, strength, vitality, virility and the essence of life itself and, even as his mate rules the darkness, his presence can still be felt as his warm rays still heat the world below and reflect upon the surface of the moons. Shamash is the life-giver and the regenerator and he, and all things male, are celebrated on Midsummer’s Day, or Adrach, in the Grimalkin Calendar. At Midwinter, the roles are reversed and all things female are celebrated.
Grimalkins celebrate the male deity that is Shamash, not only as a life-giving force, but as a representation of the male energy. The male Grimalkin is a creature that knows his role in the fabric of the clowder, and in the Cosmic Order. He fulfils many roles, not only as protector and builder of the place we call home, but as the maintainer and grower and creator of things. Just as the female creates things of use for different purposes, so the male creates things of purpose that keep the clowder and all its functions going. If the female Grimalkin is the soul of the clowder, the male Grimalkin is most definitely the heart. For there is no real separation between the sexes; while one gravitates towards one particular field, so does the other. But both male and female work together as a team to keep the clowder functioning as a well-oiled machine and a safe and comfortable home for all.
But to day is the day of the male. We need our male-folk. They are the very foundation stones upon which we build our society. Their unfailing dedication to their work and tasks make them invaluable, irreplaceable and much valued individuals in our world. Their brightness, vitality and creativity beams out of them with everything they do, whether they tend to the sick or elderly in the clowder hospital, or are thatching the roof of a new tavern. Their energy is infectious and inspires others to take up tasks they would not have necessarily considered before, galvanising others with their leadership and get-up-and-go. These Grimalkins are like solar flares or hot days in the Moon of Hazel, blazing, cheerful, garrulous and free with their laughter and mirth. For the more reserved of the male-folk, there are those who are passive and kind, warm and glowing like late summer afternoons by the sea. They are thoughtful and generous with their time and knowledge. Such male Grimalkins have their whiskers in a book or journal and will always seek to assist others in need. The studious and bookish Grimalkin is a good friend in times of crisis.
All of the male-folk embody the spirit of Shamash in one way or another. Midsummer not only celebrates the day of the male-folk – fathers, brothers, uncles, nephews, male friends or spouses – but also is a time to begin new projects. It is an assertive and productive time when all things and all tools are available to one, and the long summer ahead provides one with the light and the resources to begin in new endeavours, or journeys. Spring is a time of new beginnings, yes, but summer is the time when folk are at their busiest, and when most opportunities arise to partake in things one has never done before. Shamash Sun-Cat gives us the energy and the courage to take a leap of faith into the unknown and see where it takes us, all the while his sun-ray mane lighting the way.
It is important we start new things, or pick up the threads of what we did before if we do not want to stagnate. Our personal growth and our happiness, to a degree, depend on our ability to adapt and learn new things, or to hone our skills, or perfect old ones. The male Grimalkin is always learning, always striving to add another string to his bow. This makes his a great asset to those around him, and because of his light, his skills and his creativity, he is in need, and in demand. The fact that his skills are in demand are a testament to his talents and ingenuity for he has worked on those skills alone. He has no-one to thank but himself. That is a noble calling and any Grimalkin who has honed his skills, made them his own and set himself on his way in the world should be a proud creature indeed. The world requires more of the industrious and enterprising Grimalkin.
But those skills and those talents are rare and to be valued. Such time and effort has gone into the making of the enterprising Grimalkin. The creativity in his paws must be given room to act freely and without hindrance. Good, solid, things can be made with those paws. And good, solid foundations can be found if the Grimalkin values himself and his talents as much as those around him do. If he gives his heart and soul as much attention as he does his skills, then a fortress he will build out of himself. And it will be good, and right and just.
The poem by the celebrated Bard Eriffin Aengus illustrates the rise of the masculine thus:
Wake up, wake up, O my brother,
for you have slept too long in the darkness.
Throw off the shackles of your past
and break the prison bars of your despair.
Wake up, my brother,
and feel the touch of sunlight on your skin.
Throw open the window of your soul and let fly
your spirit into the great beyond.
Wake up, my brother,
and shed not another tear for what has gone before,
or for maidens loved and lost,
for your life is just beginning.
Wake up, my brother,
for the battle cries of long fought wars
are slowly receding from your memory.
Step into the light; that will be your victory.
Wake up, my brother,
and feel the solid and bountiful earth beneath your feet.
Take up your bow and hunt the sacred boar
and pursue the faerie hind that holds the secrets of your heart.
Wake up, my brother,
and know the mysteries of life and death.
For all that you are and all you will become,
and you shall become a god.
Eriffinn Aengus of the Golden Branch
The male Grimalkin is an essential part of the Whole, the All. We cannot function without them. We must recognise and honour the Divine in them as they recognise and honour the Divine in us. The world is too much out of balance right now. One is set against the other and that cannot be. We must work as a team. They are as much a part of us as we are a part of them. Let us see them as Sun-Cats, and our Brothers in Light.
For many, winter is a testing period, especially for those who are old or infirm. Winter, the Time of Deepest Darkness, the time when the world sleeps, is also a time of healing and regeneration in preparation for the rigours of the coming of spring. During the Deepest Darkness, Grimalkins retreat into the safety of the clowders and settlements, to roaring hearths and hot meals. At Deepest Darkness, when Shamash’s supremacy is diminished by the Black Horse of Winter, the power of the Sun-Cat is not completely weakened by the loss of his magnificent mane of sun-rays. In these most shadowy of days, we are not forsaken but even the mighty Sun-Cat must rest and regain his strength. For now, The Black Horse of Winter and Inghira Moon-Cat rule these long nights and starry skies.
Winter is a productive time even though the earth seems to be sleeping. While the ground is covered in a deep quilt of snow, seeds are germinating below the earth and, like the seeds, Grimalkins are busy making do and mending. While the hard work of harvesting and gathering is at an end, the more creative pursuits of making Yule/Mordrach gifts and decorations begins.
Hibernation and retreating into the safety of the clowders and settlements is not just practical and life-saving, it is also a symbolic act – all must return to the earth, the body of the Great Mother, once a year, for regeneration and rebirth. We may lament the passing of the warm, heady days of summer but we rejoice that the toil of the past two seasons is over and we can finally enjoy the fruits of our labours. Winter is the final act in the great opera of the year, a time when we gather together with family, friends, neighbours, acquaintances and strangers and reaffirm our bonds of kinship with one another and express our gratitude for all that we have.
Shamash Sun-Cat and the Black Horse of Winter
Every year, at Oliach (autumn equinox), a great battle begins between two forces of nature. The astronomical observance of the autumn equinox last for three days and, on the first day of Oliach, Shamash Sun-Cat begin his epic battle with the Black Horse of Winter. This battle lasts until the final day of Oliach when the Sun-Cat is defeated and overcome by the Black Horse. During the battle, the Black Horse tears out the Sun-Cat’s mane and so his power wanes. As his mane is destroyed, the power of the suns wane until they almost disappear from sight at the midwinter solstice, at Mordrach. It is during this time the Black Horse reigns, bringing the snows and ice to the world. Shamash, his mane now gone, retreats into the belly of the earth until it starts to regrow. On the third day of the midwinter solstice, the first golden hair appears on his forehead and this heralds the return of the suns. Now his strength begins to return. But it will be an arduous process and the winter is long; he must rest and regenerate so he can fight her once more and bring light back to the world once more.
While the black horse of Winter may maim, defeat and banish Shamash Sun-Cat to the bowels of the earth, she is not an evil creature. She is an aspect of nature and creation like Shamash or Inghira. While many lament her coming, she serves an important purpose; she brings the winter, the dark, feminine half of the year when the earth must rest otherwise it will wither and die. Too much warm, masculine energy depletes and exhausts. There must be a balance of the masculine and feminine and the battle of Shamash and the Black Horse represents this. It is the balance of life. The earth and its creatures must rest. The Black Horse may seem harsh, but she is just and wise.
The Black Horse also represents the Great Mother Goddess in Her Crone aspect – deep, powerful, strong, introspective. She goes paw-in-hoof with Inghira Moon-Cat, the bringer of sleep, dreams, and healing through darkness. The Black Horse also brings these things but on a larger and longer scale, of days, months, years and aeons, rather than the minutes and hours by which we live by. The continual cycle of wakefulness and hibernation the earth must endure ensures it and its creatures regenerate and renew endlessly over many ages. This has been the task of the Black Horse and Shamash Since the Creation in the First Days of the New Dawn.
She is not a force to be feared even though she may bring death to many. But after the winter solstice, her power begins to fade. Shamash’s mane begins to grow and the world is preparing for the re-emergence of the light. At Falia, the vernal equinox, Shamash returns to the world and defeats the Black Horse of Winter and drives her back to the high north where she will stay until Oliach. As Shamash’s mane grows the suns become warmer and climb higher in the sky until, at Adrach, the summer solstice, it is fully grown and he, and the suns, are at full power.
The moon festival (moon festivals are held from the autumn equinox to the beginning of the Far Pavilions’ new year) of Morchuria is held between the festivals of Oliach (autumn equinox) and Mordrach (midwinter) in the Grimalkin calendar. At this time the year descends into darkness and the observance marks the beginning of the winter. Morchuria is the Grimalkin remembrance festival where we ask those who have departed this mortal life to join us in our celebrations. Vigils are held in the forest, at barrows and burial cairns, in groves and in homes. Candles are lit and incense is burned to invite the departed and the spirits of the forest into the household to sing, dance and feast. All merriments are held in their honour. The official remembrance ceremony takes place in the Central Council Chamber and we sing songs and read poems to remember our loved ones.
After the initial ceremony and the invocation to the spirits at sunsdown, all gather at the torch-lit Henge and hold a banquet. Huge cauldrons of stew, casseroles and hot fruit puddings bubble deliciously over roaring fires, all washed down with hot spiced mead, warm fruit cordial or spiced milk. Balefires are lit under which potatoes and apples cook. All merriments honour the Great Mother in her Dark Aspect – the bringer of night, of winter, and of arcane secrets. All around the forest hollowed out ‘neeps glow with candles, their odd faces leering through the dark to frighten away evil.
Morchuria is also known as the Day of the Elders where the elders of the clowder are honoured and given gifts. Elders are the cornerstone of Grimalkin society – all wisdom, skills and trades are passed down from the old ones. They are revered as great teachers and they represent the Great Mother in her Crone aspect – the tester and initiator of souls. The young ones (and older ones who should know better) dress up in costumes and scare each other in the dark for it is the only time they can stay up all night without going to bed. Adults dress as demons, swarthy spirits and shades to frighten the young ones who then converge upon the ‘evil-doers’ and ‘vanquish’ them with sticks. This is a symbolic gesture; badness and negativity are driven out by the light and innocence of youth and, by doing this every year, it not only drives away malevolent spirits, but teaches youngsters to never fear the darkness.
Ancestral Shrines and Honouring the Spirits
“A great oak does not mourn the loss of a single twig.”
Old Grimalkin Saying.
Ancestral shrines are found in all Grimalkin homes. They consist of small niches or spaces within the household sometimes with statuettes and items belonging to the deceased. Some items may represent the trade or profession of the forebear. Candles are lit and flowers placed on the shrine to mark anniversaries such as the ancestors’ birth and death. At Morchuria, the Day of the Ancestors, offerings of food and wine are placed on the shrine and the departed are invited into the home so they can celebrate along with the living. The shrine will be in a private part of a Grimalkin’s dwelling, such as a bedroom or ante-room. The deceased will then take his or her place on the shine in the form of a figurine, or an object that reminds the family and friends of that Grimalkin. If a Grimalkin was fond of the sea, it would be a shell, or if they liked to walk in the woods, it would be an acorn, nut or pinecone. Grimalkins have many ways of remembering those who have crossed over into the Otherworld.
But shrines are not just confined to the home; our respect for the dead is great and there are public shrines all over the clowder, usually dedicated to the founders, or other prominent Grimalkins. Yew groves are also places where many a historical Grimalkin is buried. West of the Henge is a grove where there are burial cairns and graves in abundance. Here one will find votive offerings of food and flowers making the burial grounds not a place of sadness, but one of memory and joy. Stone effigies of Grimalkins past look down benevolently at those who come to remember, in particular, the memorial to Celandine Ursula Longwhisker, the mother of Winnowyn Longwhisker, who was Clowder Mother for many decades. Here, a robed Celandine stands with paws outstretched with a silver halo around her head and a dormant lion at her feet. Many come to honour her with flowers and music on the anniversaries of her birth and death.
The Wildcat equivalent of ancestral shrines is the Halls of the Ancestors. When a Wildcat dies, it is believed their soul is taken by the Irya Nos, the Dark Sister, to the halls of their forefathers. Each clan has its own ancestral hall that has an entrance in the physical world. These entrances can be in the side of a barrow, a cave in the mountainside, or at the entrance to a waterfall. Wildcats (like Grimalkins) believe the afterlife lies parallel to the mortal world, existing side-by-side. Votive offerings are placed at the entrances of these halls at set times during the year. In Old Grimalkin, these places are called ahnn-dachann (place of the ancestors) and date back to a time when the clowders, as we know them, did not exist. Some are more than ten-thousand years old. The ancestral spirits that reside within the halls are called manes. In the Halls of the Ancestors, life is eternal in a world of everlasting summer. In these otherworldly fields and mountain passes, clans will visit other clans and share meat and mead with one another. In this land there is no war and no strife, no Wildcat fighting Wildcat. Here, everyone is a Laird. In the world of Grimalkin, entrances to barrows and caves are doorways to the world of the spirits, not the spirits of the departed, but to the realm of the elementals, spirits and faeys. But one must be careful – not all spirits are friendly. Some can be mischievous and swarthy.