The Holly Moon was called Tinne by the Celts. It lasts from a few weeks after the summer solstice through early August, a few days after one of the most important Celtic ritual seasonal holidays—Lughnasa.
The question I want to explore here is, why did the Celts choose the holly tree at this time of year? How can it help us, today, as a kind of “medicine” for our own calendar year?
To start, holly is not typically associated with the summer. At least since Medieval times, holly has had a strong symbolic connection to Christmas. It is often used in Yuletide decorations, and Jesus’ crown is sometimes depicted as holly. Green leaves represents eternal life, thorns and red berries symbolize the passion and blood.
When a Celtic king passed his rulership on, the new king was said to be crowned with holly as well. The eternal green, then, is closely associated with rulership and power. In some Wicca traditions, the Holly King was one of the faces of the Sun God. This suggests an ancient connection between kingship and holly. And in heraldry imagery, holly represented the truth.
To traditional, Earth-based cultures, the evergreen holly could have represented not eternal life in heaven, but the natural primordial energy and strength of a vegetal world deeply rooted in Earth. Druids wore holly in their hair as protection against spirits with evil intent. Holly wood was used in the construction of weapons and also was said to have a talismanic quality of offering protection.
Finally, the connection between Lughnasa and the Holly Moon is not coincidental. Lughnasa marks the beginning of the harvest season, and was celebrated widely in Scotland and Ireland. Rites included making offerings of the first fruit, and a ritual play in which Lugh gathers the harvest and supports the powers of famine and blight.
While most trees and plants are in a process of ripening, maturing, and sweeting, holly stays ever green. This suggests that even when harvesting, then moving toward a diminishing of seasonal light and the process of decay, the energy of holly is helpful medicine. Even as we move closer to the dark season, the evergreen of holly reminds us of some other power, the eternal green fuse, around us.