Daily Archives: December 5, 2011

Oak, Holly, and Yuletide Jollies

Oak, Holly, and Yuletide Jollies

by A. MacFeylynnd

Yule, the Winter Solstice holiday, holds a special place in my heart. I love Yule for several different reasons. To me, it means the worst of the winter darkness has passed. There is poetry in the thought that light is reborn in the midst of darkness.

Candles are used during this celebration as symbols of the Sun’s light and of the new year. Electric lights only became popular in the early 20th century as a substitute for candles. You will see the theme of the returning light in the way Christians hang Christmas lights and put a star at the top of their trees. Decorating the tree with light is believed to have originated in Germany and Scandinavia. Families would bring a “live” tree into the home so the wood spirits would have a warm place to live during the cold winter months. Bells were hung on the limbs of the tree so you could “hear” when a spirit was present, food and treats were left on the branches so the spirit could eat, and a five-pointed star — the pentagram — was placed at the top of the tree.

The German Martin Luther is credited as the first person to decorate his tree with candles. After seeing how beautiful the stars were at night, he wanted to recreate the image for his children.

“Christmas” trees were introduced to the court of Queen Victoria by her husband, Prince Albert. Although it was the custom to decorate live evergreen trees in honor of the Gods, our modern practice of cutting down a tree to bring indoors is a blasphemous desecration of the original concept. The evergreen is one of few plants to remain green even in winter and it is a symbol of life during the season of death. Decorating these trees and branches is a way of celebrating life. They are adorned with lights to encourage and honor the Sun, tinsel to encourage the melting of the snow, and the fruits of the harvest to give thanks and to ensure a bounty for the next planting season.

The low point on the “Wheel of the Year,” Yule is associated with the birth of the Divine King, the Sun god. Although he is still young and weak, the days are getting longer as his light begins to grow. Earth is in darkness and the Goddess is sleeping (some say). The God who died at the harvest festival of Lammas — cut down with the grain — has spent this time traveling in the underworld and is now reborn. And that is what I find beautiful — that when things are at their darkest, light will return to the world.

Which brings us to the battle between the Oak King, representing the waxing year, and the Holly King, who represents the waning year. The Oak King, The Child of Promise, comes from the union, the love and the creative forces of the God and Goddess and is considered to be the creative principle of the universe — the mighty one who conquers darkness and brings light to the world. He is virile, fertile and a creative force who plants seeds that will bring new life, thus ensuring its continuation. He is the lord of nature and of the forest and he reminds us of our connection to every living thing.

The Holly King, the God of death and the underworld, is he who conquers light and brings rest and rebirth to the world. He is the other half of the eternal struggle between dark and light (not good and evil). He is the God who gathers souls to him to help prepare them for rebirth, even as he dies and is reborn. He is a healer who can comfort us in times of sorrow and loss because he has walked that path before us. He is a god of judgment, retribution and balance, the keeper of the laws.

At Midsummer, as the year begins its turn toward the dark again, Holly is victorious, but at Midwinter, the Oak King defeats the forces of darkness, revealing himself as a vegetation god who must die each year so that life can be renewed.

Decorated trees, lights, wreaths on the door — these are symbols of the season. Many of these symbols originated as many as 5,000 years ago. They represent reasons for celebration in the Christmas tradition and the earlier pagan rites: rebirth and everlasting life told in the stories of the birth, death and resurrection of Hercules, Dionysus, Mithra, Horus, Jesus, Arthur and many others.

Holly and ivy are also Yule symbols. Their origins are ancient. Romans used holly during the Winter Solstice, known to them as the Saturnalia. Gifts of holly were exchanged. Holly was believed to ward off lightning and evil spirits. It was also seen as a symbol of the masculine, ivy the symbol of the feminine. The custom of decorating the doorway with the two plants intertwined represented a symbolic union of the two halves of divinity.

Celtic people believed that mistletoe was a strong charm against lightning, thunder and evil. Druids harvested the plant from sacred oak trees five days after the New Moon following the Winter Solstice. Norse people also considered the plant sacred. Warriors who met under the mistletoe would not fight, but maintained a truce until the next day. Other cultures considered mistletoe to be aphrodisiac, thus came the custom of “kissing under the mistletoe.”

Giving gifts at Yule is another old symbol. Saturnalia in Rome was celebrated as the beginning of the New Year and presents were given to represent good luck and prosperity.

The tradition of Christmas gift-giving is a mystery. Many believe the ritual to have descended from the ancient Roman Saturnalia festival. Saturnalia (named for Saturn, the Roman God of sowing) was observed from roughly December 17 through December 25. Its purpose? To see out the old year and safeguard the health of the crops sown in winter. For the populace of Rome, it was also a time of feasting and gift-giving. The citizens exchanged “strenae” — boughs of laurel and evergreen that brought good luck — and the children received “sigillaria,” small clay dolls which were purchased at a special fair held during the week of Saturnalia. Gifts of homemade pastries and sweets would be exchanged and those of higher rank might make presents of jewelry or pieces of gold and silver.

Christian tradition equates the giving of gifts to the Magi who visited the Christ child shortly after his birth, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Savior.

And last, but not least, we have our modern Santa Claus. Santa is a combination of several figures — St. Nick from Holland, Father Christmas from England, Kris Kringle from Germany and Father Winter from Russia, among others. These figures all have pagan roots. Norse and Germanic peoples tell stories of the Yule Elf, who brings presents on the Solstice to those who leave offerings of porridge. Odin is a Norse god also identified with the character of Santa. One of his titles was Jolnir, “Lord of the Yule,” and he bears a resemblance to Santa.

You see there are many ways to celebrate Yule and many symbols of this holiday. However you celebrate, I wish you a Blessed Yule, a Happy Alban Arthan and a Merry Christmas.

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Why the Dove is the Bird of Peace

Why the Dove is the Bird of Peace

by Orion

Once upon a time, so an Azerbaijani legend says, there were two kingdoms in Central Asia led by two kings who hated each other. For many years their enmity grew, and their armies and armories grew, and the threat of war seemed an ever-greater likelihood. One day, something happened that no one now remembers, but this forgotten event caused the hatred between the two kings to erupt and war was declared, one upon the other.

As the kings arrayed themselves for battle, one of them called for his armor and helmet, shield and spear. The king’s men-at-arms and servants went to retrieve the helmet and armor, shield and spear, but when they returned, they did not have the king’s battle gear with them.

The king demanded to know why they had disobeyed his order. None of the servants spoke until the king’s own mother stepped forward and said “I commanded them to leave your helmet and armor undisturbed.”

“For what reason do you dare to block my command?” asked the king.

His mother said, “I will show you a secret, wonderful thing, the thing that has made me defy your order.”

She took him to the royal armory where the helmet and armor, shield and spear were kept. “Behold!” said the mother of the king, and motioned to the helmet. And there within, a dove had built her nest, and there the dove sat, trembling in fright, protecting her newborn chicks.

The king, the great leader and warrior, was touched by the simple sight of a creature so small and beautiful, willing to risk everything to protect her small brood. He decided to risk his own life by entering the battle without his helmet and armor, and let the dove remain at peace on her nest.

“Perhaps,” he said, “if I foster and protect this small dove, the gods and goddesses will shelter and protect me in battle” And forth he went.

When battle was met, the opposing army rushed forth, their king at the head of his troops. He strode forth to meet his rival hand-to-hand, but stopped when he saw the other king standing before him without helmet or armor. This second king was surprised, but also secretly afeared — was this king so powerful as to need no armor? Had he enchantments of special favor of the gods and goddesses that he dared enter battle without a helmet?

So the second king called halt to his army, and shouted across the field “Why do you come for battle without aid of helmet or armor?”

“Come forth to parlay and I will tell you,” the first king replied. So both kings laid their weapons down and strode forth to talk. And the first king told the second of the dove nesting in his helmet, and how he had been so moved by the bravery of this small bird and the love that she bore her nestlings that he had left her undisturbed.

Now the second king had always believed his rival to be a great tyrant, with only cruelty and greed in his heart. And yet here was his bitter rival risking his life and kingdom for the benefit of one small dove. So moved was the second king that he laid aside his own armor and helmet, and sought peace between the kingdoms rather than war. And in this way, the dove became known throughout the land as a bird of peace.

This story may be an ancient one, but it is one of the many myths from many cultures that revere the dove as a symbol of peace, and it is still taught to children in Azerbaijan. For many thousands of years, in places utterly different in geography and culture, the dove emerges again and again as the symbol of peace, love and the representation of the divine.

Most of us are familiar with the ancient Sumerian and Hebrew myth of the great flood and the building of an ark to save the animals from the divine wrath that caused the flood. In the most ancient accounts, adapted later by the early Christian church and persisting to this day, it is the dove that brings the news that the flood is over. She returns to the ark with an olive branch in her beak, signifying peace between the beings of the Earth and the divine.

Aphrodite, ancient and lovely, is borne in her chariot drawn by doves, and has often been depicted with doves because She brings love and beauty and peace in which to enjoy the bounties of love. Aphrodite’s daughters, the Pleiades — the Seven Sisters in the night sky– were also known in Greece as “a flock of doves.”

Thousands of years later, Christians adopted the dove as the symbol of the “Holy Spirit.” Artists have often painted doves flocking about Jesus, drawing from the many Biblical associations of the dove with the presence of God. In the New Testament, Mary is told of her conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit descending as a dove. The four main gospels of the New Testament describe the baptism of Jesus when “the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove” came down from the heavens.

Islam too, holds the dove sacred as a representation of the divine. It is told that a dove flew from Mohammed’s ear, convincing those who heard him that his message came directly from the Divine.

It is not only in Near-Eastern and European cultures that we find the image of the dove associated with peace, love and divine presence. The Aztec Goddess Xochiquetzal is, in part, a goddess of love and she becomes the mother of humanity after the great flood in Aztec mythology. It is She who gives the gift of speech to humans, descending on humankind in the form of a dove to create the languages of the world.

In some northern American indigenous cultures, the spirits of the dead take the form of a dove immediately after departing the body. Dove feathers are sometimes incorporated into prayer sticks as a means of connecting with the guidance of the spirits.

In India and South Asia, Kamadeva, the Hindu god of love, is depicted armed with a quiver of flowers and riding on a dove. Again, the dove becomes the symbol of divinity, love and peace.

It is 2002 in the United States, and we are again on the brink of war. Of what significance is the dove to us, as pagans, as Americans, as warriors or as pacifists? Perhaps it is the very universal nature of the dove that we must heed — the presence of this gentle bird in cultures across the span of time, culture, and geography, always representing love, peace and presence of the god and goddess.

If the dove could halt a war and bring peace between bitter enemies an eon ago in Azerbaijan, perhaps it is not too late in our own time and place. Can we bring the gifts of the dove into our circles, into our hearts, and find divine insights into the protracted violence of the modern world? Can this bird, a symbol of peace and divinity common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam provide guidance to us to bring peace within and between those religions?

As pagans, we take responsibility for our own personal reality. We work for the greatest and highest good. Too often our vision is clouded, our spirits muddled with fear, anger, or confusion. It is not a simple world we live in, and commonality becomes elusive as society becomes fractious. But perhaps if we focus on the dove — whose wing-beats resonate peace throughout the cultures of the world — she will show us what the greatest and highest good can be.

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Reclaiming the Winter Solstice

Reclaiming the Winter Solstice

by Melanie Fire Salamander

 

I’m know I’m not the only person, pagan or otherwise, who approaches the winter holiday season gingerly. To begin with, Americans generally consider Christmas a time to gather with their families. Even for those who get along with their relations, the togetherness (and the cleanup afterward) can be stressful.

Further, as a non-Christian, I find it somewhat alienating how Christmas permeates our culture. It’s hard for any non-Christian to ignore — witness the Jewish households with Christmas trees.

Specifically, as a pagan, I find Christmas the height of the borrowed holiday double-bind. The holidays of the winter solstice are the pagan holidays most thieved from and later overlaid by Christianity. Granted anything appropriated by Christians from pagans can be appropriated right back, but the holiday feels somewhat marred in the process.

I think this feeling arises partly because the forced marriage of pagan and Christian traditions I grew up with doesn’t entirely work. The symbolism of giving gifts seems flawed, unless you see the receivers as avatars of the infant Christ gifted by Magi(cians), which philosophy I haven’t seen promulgated. In Christmas gift-giving, the traditional pagan solstice gifts have lost their former meanings of luck and fertility and the propitiation of the dead. Because the symbolism no longer works, greed and guilt are often the main components that remain.

Thus, when I was a child trying to be Christian, I found Christmas the holiday that required the most hypocrisy. You knew if you were told to write an essay about the true meaning of Christmas you weren’t supposed to lust for presents, but rather to harp on peace on earth and the blessings of the Christ child. Peace on earth is a fine hope, but I only wrote about it as a child because I knew I was supposed to.

But I’ve always loved the Christmas traditions of my childhood. The Christmas tree spangled with tinsel and glowing with colored lights, Christmas feasts, the house warm and scented with baking, snow on the hills, a holly wreath with blood-red berries — because these symbols were Christianized, they remained to color my childhood, and they speak as deeply to me as anything Halloween does.

More than any other Sabbat, the winter solstice I think requires a conscious act of reclaiming. We have many solstice traditions to choose from, more than meet an initial glance. It’s a glorious time, a deep symbol, the return of the sun and the many myths that stem from it. I think the time and symbol are worth reclaiming. I think we owe it to ourselves to meditate, dig deep and choose and practice the solstice traditions that most speak to us.

The pagan roots of Christmas

The early Christians quite consciously chose the pagan sun holiday for the celebration of their Son-god’s birth. Christmas falls during the Roman Saturnalia and at the birth of the Mithraic sun god. According to A Witches Bible Compleat, by Janet and Stewart Farrar, the Archbishop of Constantinople wrote that church fathers fixed the Nativity during the pagan holidays because “while the heathen were busied with their profane rites, the Christian might perform their holy ones without disturbance.”

Other Christians accused those who kept Christmas at the solstice of performing sun worship. Armenians, who celebrate Christmas on January 6, elsewhere Epiphany, called Roman Christians idolaters, according to Funk and Wagnall’s Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend. Similarly, under the Puritans in 1644, the English Parliament expressly forbade observing Christmas. Augustine admitted that putting Christmas at the winter solstice was a conscious identification of the Son with the sun but defended the symbolism.

The Christmas most Americans know as children mixes a celebration of the birth of Christ with traditions from the Roman Saturnalia, the Northern European Yule, and the Celtic solstice.

Saturnalia, the great leveler

Saturnalia, a string of related festivals beginning December 17 and lasting a week in its final incarnation, celebrated the Golden Age of the Roman god Saturn. Its roots lay in a solstice ceremony designed to protect winter-sown crops. One of its signal customs was a leveling of rank and age; during Saturnalia, courts passed down no punishments, schools closed, wars ceased, gambling was encouraged, and social distinctions were leveled or reversed. The slave was equal to the freeman, and the master served the servant. All took bawdy liberty in speech and action.

Christmas inherited this turnabout of power. Early Europeans’ Christmastime saw the reign of the Lord of Misrule, called in Scotland the Abbot of Unreason. The Lord of Misrule ran the revels from All Hallows until Twelfth Night, arranging parties and theatricals and inflicting penalties for any misdeeds he saw fit. A related custom survived in York till the eighteenth century, as Doreen Valiente writes in An ABC of Witchcraft; there the people carried mistletoe to the high church altar and proclaimed (in the words of a contemporary) “`a public and universal liberty, pardon and freedom to all sorts of inferior and even wicked people at the gates of the city, towards the four quarters of heaven.'”

Saturnalia may have given us our tradition of decking interiors with evergreen boughs, and may be the source of Christmas gift-giving. In the latter days of festival week, Romans exchanged gifts of wax fruit, candles and dolls. Funk and Wagnall’s identifies the fruit as symbolizing fertility, the candles as echoing the customary new fires of solstice, and the dolls as a remnant of human sacrifice. Reports from a Roman outpost reflect the sacrificial aspect of Saturnalia, Funk and Wagnall’snotes; inhabitants there elected a King Saturn and gave him great freedom, only to ritually murder him at feast’s end.

Yule: fertility and ghosts

At the winter solstice, Scandinavians worshipped Frey, god of fertility; further south, the Angli celebrated December 24 as New Year’s Eve, called modranecht (mother night), a vigil also connected with fertility rites. In general, the traditional Yule (from the Norse Iul, meaning wheel) was a feast devoted to fertility and the ancestors, which passed on to Christmas fecund and ghostly traditions.

The Christmas roast pig is kissing cousin to julgalti, the pig offered to Frey for fertility in the coming year, according to Funk and Wagnall’s. Hence the apple in its mouth. Similarly, Yule was a time to charm grain and fruit to grow thick. Traditional Scots kept the Corn Maiden from harvest till Yule and then distributed her to the cattle, according to the Farrars. The Germans scattered the ashes of the Yule log on the fields for fertility, or kept its last charred pieces to bind in the last sheaf of the coming harvest. The French retained a piece of Yule log through the year to protect the house against fire and lightning, to ensure bountiful crops and the easy birth of calves.

The solstice was also a weather predictor, according to Funk and Wagnall’s. In more recent tradition, a white Christmas is said to mean a prosperous New Year, while a green, cloudy or hot Christmas fills the churchyard.

Yule is a time for spirits. European tradition, transferred to the Christian holiday, held that each house should be clean and prepared for Christmas before the household went to church, so the spirits could inspect it. Spirits likewise stayed for Christmas dinner. In Sweden, householders set a special table for them.

European folk beliefs say that someone who sits under a pine tree on Christmas Eve can hear the sound of angels — but death will soon follow. Death also awaits one who hears farm animals converse in the barn that night. A person born on Christmas can see spirits. Dreams on the Northern modranecht were believed to foretell the coming year, according to Nigel Pennick in The Pagan Book of Days.

We tree kingsIn the British Isles, Celtic Yule traditions survive with amazing resilience. The fight of the Oak and Holly Kings, representatives of the waxing and waning year, is recalled in the still-current hunting of the wren — a custom also found in ancient Greece and Rome.

In the myth behind the practice, the robin redbreast, identified with the Oak King, caught and killed the wren, representative of the waning year and the Holly King. The robin traditionally trapped the wren in an ivy bush, in Ireland a holly bush, the Farrars write. The robin’s tree was the birch, the tree associated with the after-solstice period in the Celtic tree calendar.

In the wren hunt, according to Pennick, a group of droluns(Wren Boys) captured the wren, which during the rest of the year was sacrosanct. The droluns ensconced the bird in a lantern and trooped it around the village on a holly branch on its way to death. Alternatively, men with birch rods chased the wren and killed it. Wren Boys still tour County Clare in west Ireland on December 26, now a group of adult musicians who go door to door with a wren effigy on a holly branch. In County Mayo, Wren Boys are holly-bearing children, including girls, who knock on doors repeating a traditional verse that asks for money to bury the wren. In Scotland and the North of England, in a possibly related custom, masked and caroling children formerly celebrated Hogmany on New Year’s Eve, traveling the neighborhood soliciting oat cakes.

The wren’s rival, the robin of the waxing year, was linked to Robin Hood, according to Robert Graves in The White Goddess. Robin was a god of the witches; Graves writes that a London tract of 1693 named Robin Goodfellow an ithyphallic witch-god. In Cornwall, he notes, “robin” means phallus. Robin “Hood,” or “Hod,” was thought to exist in the hod, the log at the back of the fire, in other words the Yule log. Woodlice who ran from the burning Yule log were called “Robin Hood’s steeds,” and Robin was said to escape up the chimney as a robin. The Yule log is traditionally of oak, again connecting it with the Oak King; in some places it’s burnt bit by bit through the twelve days of Christmas, but elsewhere celebrants retain a chunk to light the next Yule log.

Another British Christmas custom recalling the kings’ fight was traditional mummery, in which the brilliantly armored St. George fought and defeated a dark Turkish knight. But, as Valiente notes, the victorious St. George immediately cried out he had killed his brother, showing that “darkness and light, winter and summer, are complementary.” A mysterious doctor revived the Turk, and all rejoiced.

Too often, as the Farrars write, this understanding of light and dark’s balance turns to a contest of good vs. evil. In Dewsbury, Yorkshire, for nearly seven centuries, church bells knelled “the Old Lad’s Passing” or “the Devil’s Knell” at Christmas Eve’s eleventh hour, warning the Devil that Christ was coming. Other connections link the Holly King and the Devil. The Farrars tie the Devil’s nickname, Old Nick, to Nik, a name for Woden, “very much a Holly King.” Santa Claus — St. Nicholas — is likewise a disguised Holly King. Not only do households put up holly garlands in his honor, in early tales he rode a horse, as Woden does, rather than driving reindeer.

More solstice tree traditions

Another Celtic Yuletide custom was wassailing, in which a group of people carried a bowl of wassail (cider) into an orchard. The celebrants chose one tree to represent the whole grove and dipped its branch tips in wassail, stuck bits of wassail-soaked cake among its twigs and sprinkled wassail on its roots, according to Pauline Campanelli in Wheel of the Year. Morris dancers might mime the abundant harvests they hoped the orchard would produce in the following year. Similarly, traditional British believed that Christmas sun shining through fruit trees foretold a big harvest, according to Funk and Wagnall’s.

It’s not surprising a culture that named its letters and months for trees had many tree customs. Only one day of the Celtic calendar lacks a ruling tree and ogham letter. The Celts called this day, December 23, the Secret of the Unhewn Stone.

Like apples, evergreens also connect with the solstice, as a symbol of eternal life. Christmas Eve mystery plays of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries combined evergreens and apples, the fruit tied to the trees’ branches. Seasonal celebrants decked interiors with holly, fir, pine, bayberry, rosemary, branches of the evergreen box shrub and also ivy and mistletoe.

Ivy is sacred both to Osiris, the Egyptian god of death and rebirth, and to the Greek wine-god Dionysos — both gods traditionally resurrected at this time of year. In the England of previous centuries, Campanelli writes, harvesters bound the last sheaf of grain with ivy and called it the Ivy Girl, a figure considered to combat the Holly Boy. This combat marks an older competition between Goddess and God, from before the Oak King’s entrance on the scene. Such a scenario also appears in the tradi- tional carol “The Holly and the Ivy.”

Mistletoe in contrast connects with the Oak King, found suspended as it is on the Celtic magick oak. The Druids collected mistletoe at the winter solstice, their ritual Alban Arthuan, as well as at the summer solstice; in winter, the mistletoe has white berries, representing the semen of the God and bringing fertility. Traditionally, a girl who stands under mistletoe tacked up indoors may be kissed by any boy who comes up.

Traditions of tree trimming and evergreen decoration may have combined to engender the Christmas tree. Campanelli writes that the first Christmas tree was decorated in Riga in Latvia, in 1510, when a local merchants’ guild carried an evergreen festooned with fake flowers to market and burned it there, a sort of combination Christmas tree and Yule log.

The Christmas tree has become popular only in the last 150 years, migrating to the United States from Germany. However, its German name, Tannenbaum, may reflect older roots; Campanelli relates the word to tinne or glastin, the sacred trees of the ancient Celts. More distantly, Funk and Wagnall’sconnects the Christmas tree to flower-decorated May trees and May poles. Campanelli draws in the cult of Cybele and Attis, in which ritualists dragged a fir tree into the temple and adorned with it violets, mourning the dead Attis, soon miraculously to rise. A fir cone tips Dionysos’s thrysus, and the pine is sacred to Pan and Sylvanus. Whatever their provenance and meaning, seasonal evergreens shouldn’t hang too long. Funk and Wagnall’s says you must throw them out of doors by Epiphany; Valiente gives you till Candlemas but says if you’ve not done it then, hobgoblins will haunt you.

The Yule’s for you

Given that the Christmas we know comes from the Celtic and Northern Yules and from Saturnalia, using parts of one, several or all of these rites in your rite is only appropriate. Create a Yule of the spirits, or a ritual for garden or personal fertility. Choose a Lord or Lady of Misrule, Holly and Oak Kings or an Ivy Girl and Holly Boy.

Or turn to other traditions. Ancient Athenians at the winter solstice held the Lenaea, the Feast of Wild Women. The nine Wild Women of the ritual reenacted the death and rebirth of Dionysos. Once probably a human sacrifice, the god’s representative by classical times had become a goat kid, which the Wild Women killed, then mourned. Then Dionysos was reborn in ritual, and the Wild Women rejoiced.

The winter solstice similarly commemorated the rebirth of Egyptian Osiris, who after a mummification beginning November 3 was buried on the solstice. Two days later, his sister and wife Isis gave birth to his son and second self, the sun-god Horus — the return of light to the world.

In this hemisphere, the Hopi and Pueblo Indians of the American Southwest hold solstice rituals over several days, including kachina dances, corn and meal rites and war society ceremonies. The Hopi also perform phallic rites and hawk dances. Their neighbors the Zuni relight their sacred fire for the solstice.

You can look for inspiration to nonpagan religions. Though Judaism is a monotheistic tradition, it has roots in an ancient pagan past. Hanukkah, the Feast of Lights, most recently celebrates the dedication of a new altar in the Temple after the old had been destroyed, but the feast falls during a much more ancient Jewish solstice observance. The lighting of the lamps parallels the celebrations worldwide in which a lit fire hails the returning sun.

Work with any of these traditions, or find one of your own, perhaps connected with your heritage or travels. The solstice holiday comes woven of many strands; choose one that feels right, learn all you can about it and do what speaks to you, honoring the places and peoples your ritual comes from. Reclaim this Sabbat, and let the reborn sun fill your life with light.

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As the Sun Returns, So Too Do We Return from Darkness

As the Sun Returns, So Too Do We Return from Darkness

by Gemini Star Child

 

The wind shrieks over the plain, unstopped by the leafless trees. Branches brittle and dry rattle uncomfortably and evergreens emit a low moaning. Ragged clouds scud across the sky, gray upon gray upon gray. Snow blankets the ground and its blowing crystals sting the face. Ice crusts the water, and fire lies secretly hidden in the spark of life entombed within the seeds.

Hoary cold grips my bones as I clutch my cloak closer about my shoulders. It is the time of Winter Solstice. How did I get here? What path has brought me to this place? At Mabon I passed through the door from the light time to the dark time of the year. I gathered and harvested, and feasted in plenty. Then I bade farewell to sunshine and summer’s gay dancing. Closed the windows, stacked the wood. Brought out the comforter and the sweaters.

Samhain’s night deep underground, I faced the veil between the worlds, and the veil was thin. So thin. So easy to slip through to the other side. I heard them, the dead, in circle with me. They spoke their truth, from a perspective beyond the scope of this world. They invited me to look from their perspective and to face my own truth from their eyes. In that space, what mattered the harvest just gathered? What mattered the material things accumulated? What mattered the friends and enemies, the burdens and benefits, the cares of the world above?

They invited me to choose on which side of the veil I would stand that night. I chose to stay on this side of the veil. I would need that harvest to sustain me. But to emerge from the underworld meant dumping the baggage with which I had entered it. For I realized I could not truly be open to renewal so long as I clung to the baggage of the past. It was not the baggage that was holding me back, it was the clinging.

So here I am on this bleak winter’s day. I am empty and therefore finally able to receive. I have brought nothing here to this Solstice. Like the fallow earth, I lay down and await the awakening of life. Patience. Silence. Darkness rushes in. I am transported into the void. The void is another dimension, beyond the veil of the living or the veil of the dead. And there in the nothingness, I find fullness. The stars twinkle from their nuclear fires. Nebulae sing in eternal choruses. Galaxies dance in swirls of delight. Comets and meteors dash on their courses. Huge gas clouds hang in radiant energy, giving birth to suns that will light the universe. The void is so empty its fullness overwhelms me.

Only by becoming myself totally empty could I be so richly filled. Like a bare twig I lay in the snow. I do not bring light into this place nor do I call for light to renew my hope. I have been to the void. I know the light is eternal and it will come when it comes. For now, I embrace the darkness and it is enough.

Well it was that I cast this circle as a barrier and a rampart against the other world. I look out at that world from my safe sanctuary here between the worlds. I see the mad frenzy of consumerism, consuming the very souls of those who pursue it. Materialism unrestrained, whipped into frantic urgency by commercial greed. The very opposite of the path I have just now trod. “Where are the hands there, open to receive the gifts of Winter Solstice? Where are the hearts there, open to receive the eternal light?” I turn away.

The night will pass, and so will winter. Candlemas is coming, when I shall dedicate myself anew to the Goddess. I shall appreciate that act of devotion and that festival of light all the more for having emptied myself, embraced the darkness, and travelled the void. For I choose not to be the casual bystander to my own fate; but to enter it, live it, be it, create it — and to emerge ever renewed. May the blessings of Winter Solstice carry you to new Life!

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Making the Most Out of the Dark Time of the Year

Making the Most Out of the Dark Time of the Year

by C. Cheek

In the days before deep freezers and electric heating, winter was a time of deprivation, a time of hungry children and wolves baying in the dark. Now, winter means a thousand media images asking you to spend money you don’t have, to buy presents people don’t need, in celebration of a god you don’t worship. The difficulty of turning down yet another plate of free cookies is nothing like wondering if you’ll have enough food to last until the spring. We live in better times now, times in which our main problem is one of excess. But aren’t we missing something? The silence and hunger of winter have something to teach us.

How then, can we draw back our lives? How can we cast off the gluttony and excess that surrounds us and listen for what darkness has to teach? Here are some practical suggestions for bringing this paring-down into your own life.

Clear your debts: Shinto-Buddhists, on December 31, pay off old debts to start the New Year with a clean slate. Even if you can’t “consolidate all your high credit card bills into one easy payment” as the spam advises, how about giving back that ten bucks you borrowed from your sister? And what about other debts? Sometimes we owe debts to our friends that aren’t monetary. We all borrow things — books, clothes, movies, CDs — and sometimes those things never find their way back to their owners. Those shoes will sit in your closet, with you always meaning to give them back to Sarah next time you see her, and then years later you clean it out and realize that Sarah has moved out of state. The shoes have now entered that uncomfortable stage where you don’t feel right keeping them, but you can’t get rid of them either. Go through your home and find anything that doesn’t belong to you, and make a point of returning it. Don’t wait until the next time you accidentally see that person. Bring that book back now, or send that DVD in the mail if your cousin lives too far away.

Sometimes we have emotional debts. In many relationships, we ask more than we offer. Are you the asker? Do you have a friend who listens to all your problems without complaint? Or maybe your coworker has covered your shift? Think about your life and try to balance out, get down to a place where you owe no debts, and have no obligations tugging you out of your center.

Clear your home: While you’re getting rid of some of your money, how about going through your household goods? Do you really need four spatulas? Are you ever going to wear that size six bridesmaid’s dress again? Many worthwhile charities could use donations, but more to the point, we can use the feeling of relief we get when things we don’t need leave our homes. Maternity clothes are a perfect example. I kept bags of maternity clothes in the closet for almost a year after my daughter was born. Clothes are symbolic of periods in our lives. Giving my maternity clothes to the Goodwill meant that I was acknowledging the end of the childbearing chapter in my life. Hard? Yes, it’s always hard to close a door.

Let this be the month to slay white elephants. When my grandmother died, she left boxes and boxes of antiques, which a packrat like me couldn’t resist — a silver-plated teapot, a porcelain figurine, a souvenir from someone’s trip to Mexico — a lifetime of clutter from my grandmother’s life. She hadn’t showed these things to me while she was alive, so the objects had no sentimental value. I kept them because they were too `good’ to throw away. But there’s a perfect place
for white elephants: re-gifting. How about that lava lamp, or your singing bass? Look at it, think about all the people you know, and try to decide who would like to get this as a “just because” gift. Can’t think of anyone? There are always eBay and yard sales.

Clean your home. Once you’ve gotten rid of the knickknacks you never really liked, it’s time to get rid of the dirt. Some Zen practitioners believe that manual labor is the perfect meditation. Launder those curtains. Wipe down the walls. Push the mop back and forth against that floor, and let your mind empty itself. And when you’re in that restful center place without thought, wash away the negative energy that’s accumulated in your home. Pour it down the drain with the dirty water.

Clean your body on the outside: When your home is clean and uncluttered, you can work on the home of your soul. My morning shower feels so rushed. Some days there isn’t even enough time to wash my hair. Make a day for cleaning. Sit down, look at yourself. Toenails grow, calluses build up on feet and elbows. Get a pumice stone and rub away that built-up skin. That skin is weeks old. Let it go. You don’t need it anymore. A toenail can take 12– 18 months to grow out. What were you doing when that toenail first came out the quick? Maybe there was something in your life a year ago that you wish hadn’t happened. Snip, snip. Throw that crescent into the garbage.

Sometimes we get so caught up in our outside face, we forget to show people who we really are. When you’re a child, soap and water seem enough. Then, you add moisturizer, conditioner, make-up, colognes — product after product until the scents and chemicals swirl around you. Don’t forget, you’re a human under there. If you dare, let your hair go un-dyed, leave off the conditioner and hairspray and gel, stop your make-up routine for a week. Or only a day? Do what you can. Look in the mirror. That skin, that hair, that’s you. Haven’t seen her for a while, have you?

Clean your body on the inside: You know those egg sandwiches for breakfast aren’t really good for you, and neither is that two-latte-a-day habit. Yes, we all gain weight over the holidays. Unless they’re living in Siberia, no one can escape the Christmas blitz. Free food, parties, candy on sale; sluggish overeating can make us feel terrible. Go through your pantry and get rid of the food you don’t need. Give it to food banks. No, not just the can of beans; the food you really don’t need, the Oreos, the cake mix, the six-pack of soda, the giant tub of frosting. In this day of plenty, we don’t need high-calorie foodstuffs hoarded away. Be a lean hungry wolf, not a fat hoarding chipmunk.

Make New Year’s resolutions and diet, not just to lose weight, but also to feel hunger. That’s right, hunger. Hunger can teach us things about ourselves that we can’t learn in any other way. That empty belly, the grumble, the hint of pain. Our ancestors lived with that for months on end. Could you live on dwindling supplies of grain and dried meat? No? Could you live without cigarettes, or caffeine, or chocolate, or beer? Try. See if you can. See how strong you are. See what’s in your core. Maybe you’re tougher than you gave yourself credit for.

Clear your heart: Take a vacation from people who harm you, from those who sap your energy, from those who make you angry. The holidays can be hard to bear, and there’s no reason to keep carrying emotional angst around with us until spring. Sometimes people hurt us, knowingly or unknowingly. Get a notepad and write down the hurt: My sister criticized me. Someone dinged my car in the parking lot. My co-worker got a raise and I didn’t. Take those notes and burn them. Watch the smoke fly away. You don’t need the hurt anymore. In the spring, you’ll make a new life for yourself. Feel neutral yet? No? Maybe you’re the one who harmed someone. Find the strength within you to apologize to your brother for yelling at him. Admit to your roommate that you didn’t clean your mess, and make it right. Even if it hurts, you’ll feel better afterwards.

Some friends and I used to play roller hockey on Sunday mornings. We’d get up early, and play for hours until our arms and feet ached and our shirts were soaked. No shower feels as good as the one that sluices off sweat. No meal feels as good as the one that truly slakes hunger. By truly embracing the cold and darkness of winter, we’ll make the most of spring. Now is the time to tear away all the old weeds in our flower bed and clear the soil to make room for new growth. Let go of that which you don’t need, and that which you can live without. Prune away the inessentials, until only you remain. Then we’ll see what blooms when the earth warms again.

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Moon Rituals – New Moon Manifestation Ceremony

Moon Rituals

New Moon Manifestation Ceremony

By Phylameana lila Desy

The new moon is the birthing cycle of the moon’s various phases. The new moon phase is an optimal time for planning and seeding your intentions. Seedlings need a period of gestation before they break through the soil and reach for the sunlight. This is also true for our ideas and our desires. The dark side of the moon, with its mysterious unseen forces, offers a nurturing environment where our intentions can establish roots before their miraculous manifestations begin to sprout and reach out to the stars.

Ceremony for Birthing Your Wishes and Desires

Setting aside a few minutes each month during the new moon phase to focus on yours wishes and desires will help give you clarity of mind and fill your heart with promise. When it comes to setting goals or planning ahead for your future there is no better time to get started than during the new moon. Any intentions stated or written down carries power, so please take care in considering the things that you really want. The saying “Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.”is fair warning whenever setting your new moon intentions into motion. But, no worries. The moon has its phases and so do our individual wants and needs. This is why it is a good practice to rededicate your list of intentions each month when another new moon visits.

Prep for Upcoming New Moon Manifestation

  1. Check a moon phase calendarfor the next upcoming new moon. 
  2. Set aside 20-30 minutes to do the ritual itself. 
  3. Supply suggestions:
    • notebooks
    • pen and colored markers
    • scissors
    • scotch tape
    • candle
    • matches
    • incense
    • smudge sticks
    • meditation CDs

     

  4. Prepare yourself a sacred space where to perform the ceremony when the new moon arrives

Setting your New Moon Intentions in Motion

  1. Cleanse your sacred area with an opening prayer, a sage smudging, and/or by burning some incense. 
  2. Light one or more candles. 
  3. Center your being and calm yourself in whatever way is appropriate for you. Take some deep cleansing breaths, slip in a meditation CD to listen to, and/or leisurely sip on a cup of relaxing herbal tea. 
  4. Open your notebook, and date the first page. Write down these words “I accept these things into my life now or something better for my highest good and for the highest good of all concerned.” or something similar. Below your affirmation statement, begin writing down your desires. Your list may consist of only one item or you may have several pages written down. Try not to limit yourself. If having many things in your life helps to fulfill you then don’t deny yourself wanting these things. 
  5. During the month when an item on your new moon list comes to you, don’t merely cross it off of your list, take the time to rewrite the list in its entirety eliminating the manifested item from the listing. This is highly recommended. At the same time you may add whatever else that you have decided you would like. Feel free to reword any of the original phrases if they better fit your life now. It is natural that your desires will change as time advances. 
  6. A second notebook will be used as a manifestation scrapbook where you paste in pictures or catalog clippings of items that you want to manifest. This is a fun project so enjoy yourself. You will soon be amazed how these things begin to find their way into your life once you start this process.

Rededicating your New Moon Intentions

Each month at the new moon rededicate your intentions by renewing your list at a repeated ritual. This is accomplished by rewriting your list out using a fresh sheet of paper. Don’t get in the habit of simply scratching out the items you no longer desire and adding the new stuff to the bottom of your old list. You don’t want clutter and sloppiness energies messing up your new stuff do you? Disregard any items that no longer feed your soul and add new things that do.

It is helpful to salt and pepper your manifest list with smaller items that will manifest quickly, such as tickets to the ballet, lunch with a friend, or a day at the spa. You may think that smaller things are too trivial to put on your intention list… Wrong! Things that tend to manifest with little effort still deserve to be written down. Write down everything that you desire, no matter how little or simple. If it is something that makes you happy, write it down. Manifesting smaller items on our lists actually creates a steady flow of energy to the list. These smaller manifestations create movement, allowing an ebb and flow of the tides. We are dealing here with the moon cycles after all. Besides, sometimes we forget to appreciate the smaller pleasures in our lives while we are waiting for the BIG stuff to come in. If you only write statements like, “I want to win the lottery” in your notebook then you are limiting yourself by not allowing abundance to flow to you from other avenues.

Categories: Articles, Daily Posts, Ritual Working | Leave a comment

Thought of the Day for December 5th

Winter Comments & Graphics
“He who controls others may be powerful,
but he who has mastered himself is mightier still.”

~ Lao Tzu

Thought For The Day
~Magickal Graphics~

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Daily Affirmation for Monday, December 5th

Winter Comments & Graphics 

I feel joyful! Nothing can take my joy away.

 

~Magickal Graphics~

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