It’s almost midwinter, so I want to talk about Grian.
Which is hard, because everything I wanna talk about is extremely UPG. We know very little about Grian, aside from knowing that her name means sun and she has a few places named after her. So I don’t want people to see this and go “great resource!!!” as if I found all this in some long-lost book in the back of the Trinity College library. I am not an academic, these are just my feelings and thoughts.
Hoo boy do I have a lot of those.
But I do want this to inspire other Gaelic Polytheists to honor her (especially if they honor Áine) and start thinking about their own associations with her. I want her to be more than a foil to Áine or an offshoot of the Cailleach. I want her to have SPG and prayers and devotions. I want her to be celebrated, like I’ve celebrated her.
Grian, to me, is all about one phrase: Winter survival.
In our times that phrase means something a little different than it would back then, though I’m sure there are practitioners out there who could use the more literal meaning as well. In modern times I’ve seen the term winter survival used in the same breath as “depression”, “SAD”, and even “disability”. My favorite writer on the subject is Maranda Elizabeth, if you want to hear more about what I mean. (Anything I would say would just be repeating them, so why not just go to the source?)
The local winter-related Cailleach are more associated with the more bitter parts of winter for me: the cold fronts, the polar vortexes, the frigid winds from the northern plains whipping against the vinyl siding of my home. Grian is associated with the somewhat softer aspects: clear bright days, sunlight filtering in the house at an angle only allowed in winter, and even the occasional unseasonably warm day.
(This doesn’t mean that the Cailleach are bad and that Grian is good. It’s just that one is associated with winter weather and the other the winter sun. Your own associations with each will color your perspective.)
I see her in the evergreens, especially the ones who only bear fruit in winter like junipers, cherry laurels, and hollies. I see her in winter birds like the Eurasian wren and the North American cardinal. I see her in the sunsets that happen a little bit later every day, and in the arrival of Orion in the crisp night sky.
In my (again, SUPER UPG, YMMV) imagination of how the control of the sun works between Áine and Grian, Áine gets the sun at its peak and does her damn best at burning it at full blast. This is probably colored by me living in Texas and hating summer and especially hating August and September, where it feels like she’s wringing out every drop of extreme heat out of the sun before her time is up. When Grian gets the sun, pale and low in the sky, it’s her job to nurture it back to its summer glory.
This means I also associate her with spring, because hey, she’s in control during spring too! This, again, is probably due to my locale: Spring is usually in full swing by late March, with summer’s influence already showing up by May… Someone who lives where spring doesn’t show its face until April (or later) will probably not feel the same way! Brigid may stir the seeds and symbolize our late winter fires, but Grian controls the sun that will later warm us and nurture all those spring seedlings.
I’ve talked about my personal associations with her and how I view her place in the lore, but what of my personal experiences with her? Grian is, weirdly enough, the closest thing I’ve had to a patron in a while. She reminds me to take care of myself, to reach out to others in these long bitter nights, to treat myself better, to brave the cold and go outside even just for a little while. She reminds me that winter is temporary, just like many roadblocks in my life. She reminds me that winter exists for a reason, that we all need periods of rest and reflection. Her presence feels like cream-colored cable knit sweaters, like warm breakfast tea, like crisp air hitting your lungs, like the pale blue sky of sunny January days.
So, maybe you’ve read all this rambling and are thinking Sounds good, but how should I honor her on Grianstad an Gheimhridh? We don’t know what the customs were, if any, for Midwinter, so you can do whatever feels right. Prayers and offerings would be standard. If you love winter, you can thank her for her presence. If winter is hard for you, no matter the reason, ask her for protection and support in the coming months. I personally include candles in my own prayer/ritual, and my offerings can include peppermint, eggnog, and even cookies. (A great excuse to keep those foods in your holiday festivities if you don’t celebrate Christmas!) It’s a small holiday, even for a near-devotee like me, but it can still be a time of celebration, self-care, reflection, and remembering that winter will pass.