The Sabbats

Yuletide Thoughts, Life and Death

Yuletide Thoughts, Life and Death

Author:   Crick   

Many a silvery moon has risen over the years as this old witch contemplates the lessons, which pertain to one’s spiritual endeavors. As the face of our sacred mother, casts her ancient glow over those who wisely embrace her. The mysteries of life silently unfold. As I stand before her loving gaze, thoughts of spiritual quests rise within my mind. Knowledge gained is but a threshold for answers yet to be met.

And so as a witch I find myself walking the edges of life like the thin blades of grass wavering back and forth in a quiet and forgotten glen. For one whom embraces the old ways, a way of life that has survived the hand of man, there will always are more questions than answers. Witchcraft is not the creation of humankind, but rather the mystical tools awaiting those who seek them out.

Magic is the energy that fuels the perception that one draws from their experiences in this realm. But how does one define the parameters of magic in a way that serves as a path of understanding and more importantly as a catalyst of desire to seek out those questions that heighten ones awareness of self and of one’s place along the road of spirituality?

This is a personal question with as many answers as there are pagans who seek to examine such goals within themselves. For me personally, such musings often wander to the ancient questions of life and death. As a witch I see the two events as forming an intertwining polarity of awareness and mystery, each concept and indeed reality, dependent upon the other. And indeed, as mysteries of life tend to be, any answer offered over the centuries are simply musings based upon the experiences of but one half of this spiritual conundrum.

As the migration of human beings travel through the tendrils of life, many are the religions, which have sprung up along the way, which claim to have the answers to such a profound mystery. But are they simply casting their eyes towards a limited source of light while the darkness that they fear stands at the ready just beyond their willingness to face such eternal unknowns? The fear of such darkness is based not upon any perceptible knowledge of that which awaits each of us regardless of personal belief, but rather upon a primordial lapse in the consciousness of our spirit. Can it be that the quest for spiritual growth has been stymied by the roadblock of ignorance and fear and has thus fallen to the wayside of spiritual quests by such folks?

The advent of Yule brings forth a telling of the God who has traversed both sides of the mysteries of life and death and then once again unto life as we know it. The divine mother, who stands deeply aware over all aspects of existence at all levels, awaits his return with a sure knowledge that he will re-appear. For she is the progenitor of the mysteries that serve as the challenges that we as individuals need to experience in order to draw closer to her whom we adore. Of course I use the term “mother” as an adjectival in order to provide form to that spiritual aspect in which I personally subscribe to. There are of course many descriptions which can be used to describe that entity which opens the gates to life but which in turn limits our understanding of what is just on the other side of the door.

And yet there are many rays of light that may serve to give us a glimpse into that which we perceive as the darkness or unknown in our annals of awareness.

For instance one may ponder, is life and death the only avenues available to understand the tenets of the mysteries of life. Or do we simply lack the inquisitiveness and individual courage to seek out these pinpoints of light that may well be emanating from the dark? For instance, many pagans and indeed those of other spiritual paths are adept at astral projecting. But where is it that that one projects their spirit to? Apparently we are not projecting into some physical vestige of this life and so are we projecting into locations found within the realm of death? Or perhaps we are projecting into realities that are totally unconnected to either our awareness of life or the hidden destinies of death?

Pagans are also adept at connecting with spirits who travel back and forth through the veil. And so I wonder, what forms our sense of fear in relation to death, a sense of dread, which these denizens seem to lack? Or do they convey a similar sense of fear when they travel to this side of the veil? And if so, why do we consistently seek them out, though we fear to extend our spiritual selves to their side of the realm?

When I think of life and death, I often wonder if such a cloak of darkness in relation to our limited awareness was intentionally erected. What better way than to test our spiritual resolve and to test the temerity of our belief in a supreme entity. And what better way to measure our desire to accept the challenges involved in our spiritual ascension, though in all reality we have no choice in the outcome of such a Chautauqua. Each of us will eventually be brought to the threshold and once there, cast through into even greater mysteries then perhaps that which we face within our current awareness.

Of course I do not seek to turn the handle to the door of death until it is my turn to do so. But the lessons of Yule triumphs over any unfounded fears that I may have incurred from the ignorance of our species while engaged within this realm. As a witch, I trust in a sacred knowledge that initiated the first step along a long and arduous journey back to the bosom of what I perceive as the sacred giver of life and knowledge at all spiritual levels.

I see death as a continuance of this forbidden knowledge. A knowledge that is hidden only from those who lack the courage to grasp those bits and pieces of wisdom, while in this realm, that eventually will reveal the true and beautiful tapestry of spiritual accomplishment. These are my thoughts about the lessons that Yule brings forth.

May you each have a very enlightening and spiritual Yule experience and may you find your own answers in regards to Yule and the experiences that it offers…

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Spiritual Aspects of Yule

Spiritual Aspects of Yule

Author:   Crick   

As we approach the season of Yule (Winter Solstice, Alban Arthan) , I personally find myself entering a state of both celebration and reflection. When I reach out and touch the heartbeat of Mannuz, I can sense the intense joy of our Sacred Mother. For her son, our God, is about to be reborn, thus completing yet another segment in the Wheel of Life. When we entered the New Year, which commenced with Samhain and began our life travels anew, I found myself filled with an anticipation and excitement of that which is yet to unfold.

But before I look too far ahead, I muse on that which went before. The highs and the lows of the preceding year, that are now all but fading memories. For each experience is a contribution to our spiritual growth, whether it had a positive or negative impact.

I personally feel that spiritual knowledge is a gift and that the more knowledge that one attains that the greater the gift becomes. And there is no greater gift then that of a life experience that has had some effect on our lives.

As the wheel of the year slowly turned, there were at times life experiences that seemed insurmountable, but we found a way over. There were life experiences that caused so much grief, that we cried a river of tears, but we found a way across. And of course there were life experiences that had us laughing so deeply that we could barely catch a breath, but we found a way to breathe.

And so though the past year has been bittersweet, there is still much to rejoice about within the coming Yuletide season.

It is no secret that some religious belief systems have superimposed the alleged birth date of their God over that of the God of the pagans. This was done, in spite of the fact that the placement of the constellations from that period speaks otherwise. But then Yule is not a time to foment ill will, even if an established cause could be presented.

Instead I feel empathy for those who worship a distant and revengeful God to the exclusion of the Sacred Mother, for they are missing out on some of the most ancient joys of life. For not only do we as pagans have such a deep and enduring love from our Mother, but we also draw strength and wisdom from our sacred father. And between the two, we as pagans have an opportunity to walk the spiritual path with a steady sense of balance. It is through our own perspectives and actions that we maintain this balance or fall out of stride.

As individuals, the choice is ours to make. We have the opportunity to draw upon the spiritual aspects offered by both our Sacred Mother and Sacred Father in order to advance within our spiritual growth.

Yule is a feisty, twelve-day period of celebration, a time during which, feasting is a common activity. But while we feast on food to sustain the physical self, it is also a time to feast on the experiences of the year past in order to sustain knowledge for the journey ahead.
Yule is a time of reflection, then acceptance and then of moving on.

Upon the longest night of the year, our God is re-born from the slumbers of death. He brings with him the sacred light by way of the Sun. And from this moment forth the fertility of the land is once again restored. And so too are the fertility of fresh thoughts and new goals introduced into our hearts and souls. Our spirits cherish this moment of his birth for it is a time to shed the chains of the experiences past and to surge forth with a renewed purpose in our lives. The birth of our Sun God is an affirmation that life goes on and that the door to spiritual growth stands wide open.

Yule is a time to celebrate both the joys and the sorrows we have experienced up to this point. For both aspects, that of light and that of dark have strived to offer us knowledge of life that we can use to build upon as we travel forth. The rebirth of the Sun God, who brings so much joy to the heart of our Goddess is a sign that even within the darkness one can always find a ray of light. For his birth marks the time when the Oak King vanquishes the Holly King. This analogy of victory represents the power of light overcoming the power of darkness. This represents a balance and a sense of hope in the challenges of life that await each of us.

The nights become shorter and the days become longer as life begins to stir within the grasp of the Winter Solstice in anticipation of the coming of Spring.

It is a time to realize that no matter how tough or insurmountable a barrier may seem, we have been given the gift of our life experiences as a tool to achieve our spiritual goals.

As a time of celebration, Yule is also a time to be with family and close friends with which to share the joy of our Blessed Mother as she smiles with anticipation at the thought of reuniting with her son, as the time of the sacred birth draws near. For from such relationships we receive the gifts of love. And like a seed that has laid dormant, awaiting the warm touch of the Sun to sprout forth and prosper, we should take heed and allow these moments of love to define our actions and our mind set as we venture forth into the approaching segments of the wheel of life. To let such an experience to wither away with the passing of Yule is to cast such a special gift asunder.

And so with that I wish each of you a very joyous celebration of our Sun God.

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Chri… Yuletide!

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Chri… Yuletide!

Author:   Lori Dake   

One of the things I truly enjoy doing is decorating for the Holidays, and the Sunday before Thanksgiving is when I start doing my yearly ritual. It was a lot later when I was growing up, sometimes as late as Christmas Eve, because we always had a real tree, and as you all know, real trees tend to dry out and look rather Charlie Brown-ish if it’s left up too long.

I do miss the wonderful pine smell, but I certainly don’t miss the pine needles all over the floor stabbing my toes, or the resin giving me a terrible rash as I string up the lights, nor do I miss the aftermath of what an urban Pagan apartment dweller is to do with a tree that was cut down for our amusement. So, since we use an artificial tree year after year, I get to decorate mine much earlier, as well as lavishly cover our humble abode in twinkly white lights and pretty red ribbons. So, early decorating is a bit of a tradition I have started, and hey – one of the perks of having your own family is to change things up a bit!

And why do I choose to decorate before Thanksgiving? I means seriously! Don’t we always complain about how the holidays are rolling around earlier and earlier, no thanks to the Big Box stores (and all their evilness!) trying to make a few more dollars? Well, quite frankly, I’m going to be busy preparing Thursday’s feast all this week starting on Monday, since I do prep work like a well-founded catering company! Also, since we run a home business predominantly through eBay, the Dakes will be in a retail full swing, trying to compete with those aforementioned Big Box stores and their incredibly low prices! And, Sunday is Clean Up The House! day around these parts, so this is really the only opportunity I have to decorate before Santa starts to pack up his sleigh. That, and well, decorating, for me at least, is a lot of work – an all-day thing actually! – so I want to enjoy the fruits of my labor for just a little bit longer. But I promise, after New Year’s Day, they really do come down! I swear! Really! No ornaments will be discovered with decorated eggs!

So, with this being the Saturday before, I’ve already started straightening up the living room / warehouse to make room for all the decorations, and I’ve even bought a couple new items for this year’s Yule Diorama, which is my version of the Nativity Scene; I have a wolf and a moose to add! I have such fond memories of playing with the cast of characters as a kid, so I restructured the scene to more accurately reflect my Pagan beliefs.

My husband said if I keep adding onto it, that by the time our son has his own kids, my little “manger scene” is going to take up a whole wall! And since almost all of the pieces in my Yule Diorama were originally intended to be children’s playthings, as opposed to being delicate, hand painted porcelain religious icons to be admired and not touched, I happily welcome the thought of having that wall of critters and magickal creatures readily available for my future grandchildren.

We also break another tradition of throwing ourselves into bankruptcy over buying the biggest and best gifts for extended family and ourselves. My husband’s family is huge, and their tradition is that everyone buys everyone a gift. When his sisters, their husbands, their children and now, their children’s husbands and children are factored in, even token five dollar gifts can easily jack up to over a thousand dollars!

So, in order to still manage to give something to everyone, I also invest a full day of cookie baking, with at least four varieties and a dozen cookies per gift bag. (Yes, that’s a LOT of flour and sugar, but soooo good!) Okay, so we end up looking like cheapskates to some of our wealthier family members, especially when the gifts we get in exchange are pretty darn sweet, but I am at least trying to convey the message we do care and hopefully one day, someone will do the math and realize just how much work and love was put into them all. If anything, I got to make my home smell delicious and was able to sprinkle a little magick into their tummies!

Now, one tradition I have retained intact from childhood is to add at least one new ornament for the tree. For at least the last decade, I’ve been desperately searching for a blue Santa, more like a Father Christmas than the Coca-Cola image people are mostly familiar with, because somehow, it just feel ‘right’, for lack of a better term. Our tree is very Pagan-ish, but without being blatant or tacky about it, and I feel it reflects our faith as a whole. So, to find that special Santa would be such a wonderful addition to all the birds, bells, stars, icicles, snowflakes and winter woodland creatures that currently adorn our happy little tree, and it would just plain make me happy.

Here’s the way I see it:

Yes, we’re Pagan, yes we celebrate Yule, but yes, we also open presents on Christmas and have no problem calling them Christmas presents. Sure, we also open a special gift at Yule, but just like any religiously blended family, that’s another perk: more presents for the holidays! But no, we do not send out cards that say “Merry Christmas!” on them, unless we specifically know the recipients celebrate the holiday as such.

Oh, and no – I wouldn’t be offended if you or anyone else were to wish me a “Merry Christmas”. I know a couple times, people have tap-danced around that term, and it always came off as rather awkward, even in email form. I was able to just sense that fumbling around with a half-hearted, generic “Happy Holidays”, and to me, it just took away from the gesture.

Now, while I honestly do appreciate that extra effort, the sentiment is all the same to me, so I kindly ask my friends and family to just say whatever comes to mind. It’s not necessary with us. We always appreciate the sincere wishes, in all its guises. I’m a vegetarian too; as just the same, I’m not out to inconvenience anyone when what he or she gives me is out of love (I’ll just stick with the sides!)

So in closing, I wish a Merry Christmas to you, a Blessed Solstice, a Happy Yuletide, a Happy Hanukkah, a Happy Kwanzaa, a Happy Boxing Day and a thousand other ways to wish you a wonderful holiday, however you wish to call and celebrate it!

PS. Pssst! So hey – if anyone comes across a blue Santa ornament, would you kindly let me know where to find it? :) I’d really like to start a new quest!

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Footnotes:
Yule Diorama: http://pagan-wiccan-practice.suite101.com/article.cfm/the_pagan_nativity_scene

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The First Yule

The First Yule

Author:   Serenity Starbright Dilsworth (Owl)    

Once upon a time … before your mother was born … and before her mother was born …and even before your mother’s mother was born …. when the world was new and the Earth and the Sun gave birth to the first beings …the very first people … the very first animals … and the very first plants.

It was the season of Spring, which celebrates new life, and the Sun shone warm and smiled down upon the world from his lofty perch in the sky while Earth took pride in all her newborns and nurtured them tenderly and with love. It was a time of great joy!

The Moon waxed and waned and traveled the night skies and Earth’s Children grew healthy and strong through the warm Summer season. They laughed and worked, played and danced and The Earth and Sun watched over them lovingly.

Then came the Autumn season …and the Earth began to sleep longer with every passing day. She grew so tired and was not able to feed her children any longer. She did not have enough strength to bring forth new life. High overhead … the Sun grew distant … and took longer and longer to return each morning. The nights grew longer and cold winds replaced the gentle breezes of the Summer.

Then …one very cold day …the Earth went to sleep. She laid her head down upon a pile of fallen leaves and nestled under a pure white blanket of snow. And she slept … and she slept … and she slept and nothing the Children could do would disturb her Winter slumber. The children called and called to her, but she did not wake up.

The children looked to the skies for advice and comfort from the Sun … but he was so distant that he could no longer be seen at all …and the children were frightened and sad … it was the Longest Night they had ever known.

The people wept and wondered what would happen to them now for it was bitterly cold and the bounty from Spring and Summer was depleting. They were afraid that they would starve and freeze with Father Sun so far away and Mother Earth sleeping.

They went to the Moon … sister to the Sun … with all their concerns and worries … entreating her to have the Sun return and Moon listened quietly.

The Moon gazed upon the children and advised them gently:” Do not fear little ones … go climb the tallest of trees and the highest of mountains … turn your voices to the sky and yule a mighty song to reach the Sun.”

The children had never heard of a yule or a song. (In the Ancient Tongue, to yule means to yell or yodel … to call out loudly in song.) And they asked Moon to explain what it is because they very much wanted to reach the Sun in hopes he could wake the Earth.

The Moon smiled gently. “Look deep within yourselves and find your magick …find that thing that makes you the special person you are … find the thing that brings you joy …take your dreams and your desires … your hopes and your love … and weave all of that together into sound.”

So the children climbed the tallest trees and the highest mountains and closed their eyes to find the magick within them …they brought forth their hopes, their dreams, their joys and their love and when they opened their mouths … their voices rang across the skies in a symphony or harmony and the Sun heard them …he turned and began his journey back … the better to hear this glorious sound.

The closer he came … the more his warmth spread across the Earth … and the Earth smiled in her sleep and dreamt of Spring… The Wheel turned and hope and joy spread amongst the children.

And that …dear children …is the story of the first Yule.

This is an old story that has been told and retold many times. It is one I used to tell at Winter Solstice in the coven I belonged to when I lived in New England. I put it into writing so that the story may be preserved and enjoyed by others and it is my hope that folks will tell the tale to their children who in turn will eventually tell it to their children.

Yule is a time of joy, of hope, of dreams and wishes. On the Longest Night, it is good to gather with those that we love and cherish and stand upon the Earth as she slumbers and call out to the Sun in mighty song to herald his return and the fulfillment of dreams and wishes.

Rowan Pendragon explains: The winter solstice occurs when the Earth is tilted on its axis farthest away from the sun. This means that when the northern half of the Earth is pointed away from the sun at winter solstice then the southern part of the Earth is going to be tilted closest to the sun. This is why when we are celebrating winter solstice in the northern hemispheres our Pagan friends “down under” are celebrating summer solstice. We often celebrate Yule and the solstice on either December 20th or 21st but the fact is the date varies each year since the holiday is based on an astronomical event; when the event occurs is when the holiday takes place.

When the winter solstice comes we experiences the longest night of the year and the shortest day of light. On the night of Yule we first honor the death of the God and the decline of the sun, something that has been slowly happening from the day after the summer solstice. After we make this honoring we then begin to work acts of sympathetic magick to encourage the sun’s return and to aid the Goddess in her long night of labor as she prepares to birth the Son, the Child of Light, the Young God.

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Footnotes:
Day 1 of Yule – Preparing for Yule 2011 by Rowan Pendragon
Day 7 of Yule – The Return of The Light by Rowan Pendragon

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The Scottish Song “The Thirteen Days of Yule”

The Scottish Song “The Thirteen Days of Yule”

The 13 Days of Yule was sung in Scotland as far back as the early 1800’s, to the tune of The Twelve Days of Christmas.

“Yule” was originally a heathen feast that lasted for 12-13 days.  Eventually it came to represent the midwinter season of December and January.  Later it became synonymous with Christmas.

The Thirteen Days of Yule

The King sent his Lady on the first Yule day, A papingoe*, aye. Who learns my carol and carries it away.

The King sent his lady on the second Yule day, Two partridges and a papingoe, aye. Who learns my carol and carries it away.

The King sent his lady on the third Yule day, Three plovers**, three partridges and a papingoe, aye. Who learns my carol and carries it away.

The King sent his lady on the fourth Yule day, A goose that was grey, Three plovers, three partridges and a papingoe, aye. Who learns my carol and carries it away.

The King sent his lady on the fifth Yule day, Three starlings, a goose that was grey, Three plovers, three partridges and a papingoe, aye. Who learns my carol and carries it away.

The King sent his lady on the sixth Yule day, Three goldspinks, three starlings, a goose that was grey, Three plovers, three partridges and a papingoe, aye. Who learns my carol and carries it away.

The King sent his lady on the seventh Yule day, A bull that was brown, Three goldspinks, three starlings, a goose that was grey, Three plovers, three partridges and a papingoe, aye. Who learns my carol and carries it away.

The King sent his lady on the eighth Yule day, Three ducks a-merry laying, a bull that was brown, Three goldspinks, three starlings, a goose that was grey, Three plovers, three partridges and a papingoe, aye. Who learns my carol and carries it away.

The King sent his lady on the ninth Yule day, Three swans a-merry swimming, three ducks a-merry laying, A bull that was brown, Three goldspinks, three starlings, a goose that was grey, Three plovers, three partridges and a papingoe, aye. Who learns my carol and carries it away.

The King sent his lady on the tenth Yule day, An Arabian baboon, Three swans a-merry swimming, three ducks a-merry laying, A bull that was brown, Three goldspinks, three starlings, a goose that was grey, Three plovers, three partridges and a papingoe, aye. Who learns my carol and carries it away.

The King sent his lady on the eleventh Yule day, Three hinds a-merry hunting, an Arabian baboon, Three swans a-merry swimming, three ducks a-merry laying, A bull that was brown, Three goldspinks, three starlings, a goose that was grey, Three plovers, three partridges and a papingoe, aye. Who learns my carol and carries it away.

The King sent his lady on the twelfth Yule day, Three maids a-merry dancing, three hinds a-merry hunting, An Arabian baboon, Three swans a-merry swimming, three ducks a-merry laying, A bull that was brown, Three goldspinks, three starlings, a goose that was grey, Three plovers, three partridges and a papingoe, aye. Who learns my carol and carries it away.

The King sent his lady on the thirteenth Yule day, Three stalks o merry corn, three maids a-merry dancing, Three hinds a-merry hunting, an Arabian baboon, Three swans a-merry swimming, three ducks a-merry laying, A bull that was brown, Three goldspinks, three starlings, a goose that was grey, Three plovers, three partridges and a papingoe, aye. Who learns my carol and carries it away.

*papingoe = a parrot (though some people think it’s a peacock) **a plover is a type of bird

MamaLisasWorld

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‘Twas The Night Before Yule

Yule Comments & Graphics

‘Twas The Night Before Yule

‘Twas the night before Yule, and all through the Coven, The cookies were baked and removed from the oven. The bayberry candles were lit on the table, The altar was wrapped in a new cloth of sable.

The children were nestled, all snug in their beds, While visions of Yuletime danced in their heads. Their stockings were hung by the chimney with care, In hopes that some presents soon would be there!

With Rocker in his new robe, and I in mine, We were asking our Goddess her blessing divine. When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, We sprang from our Circle to see what was the matter.

Away to the window, tripping over my sash, My eyes were a-glamoured with a bright silver flash. The moon on the breasts of the Goddess and God Drew my eyes to behold the blessed Circle they trod.

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, But the manifestations of all those we hold Dear. The physical forms of those whom we pray to, Even Saint Nick, and his miniature sleigh, too!

Jehovah, Mohammet, Shiva, Hera and Thor. Zeus, Freya, Brahma, and many, many more. All the Spiritual Entities who’d ever been mentioned. Even some, like dear Loki, who sowed seeds of dissension.

They greeted eah other with smile, warm and sweet. Then, forming a Circle, they all took a seat. With multiple Voices all joined as One, The Corners were Called. And, when that was done.

The Chalice was passed from Hand to Hand. Then, a blanket of silence enfolded the land. A crystal clear Voice began to hold sway. Which Deity spoke? I could not say.

But, clearly, I heard all the love in that Voice. It caused my tired heart to take flight and rejoice. “Our Children, it seems, have missed the whole point. “We now join together, their hearts to anoint.

“Pour all of Our love O’er their hearts of stone. “Let them see that together they’re never alone! “Show them it matters not which of Us that they choose. “Their sad hate and mistrust cause each of Us to lose!”

As I stood there transfixed, I could suddenly see If we all stand as one, what a world this could be! Put ALL of our differences well behind us. Let the love of the Gods enfold and remind us.

We ARE all the same,though varied our skins. We all dream the same dreams, we all sin the same sins. With a look of enlightenment etched on my face, I beheld all the Gods in Their glory and grace!

They all bowed Their heads then said”So mote it be!” They all smiled at each Other bestowing winks on me. One by One they disappeared from my sight. Just the Goddess and God were left in the light.

As slowly They twinkled, fading by degree, “Happy Yuletide to all!! Blessed be times three!”

–Written by Mary, a.k.a. Wandering Poet, a.k.a. littlebit Permission to reprint granted to all who keep this credit line by the author.

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Rainbow Gryphon

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Praises to the Snow Queen


Praises to the Snow Queen

The lightness of Your touch may not be noticed
The brightness of Your presence may not be seen
The coolness of Your body may not be felt
Until You, Goddess of Snow, fall heavy
Until You, White Lady of the Forest, reflect sunshine
Until You, Ice Queen, want to be felt

Praises to the White Goddess
Praises to the Lady of the Ice Forest
Praises to the Snow Queen

Blessed Be

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Let’s Take A Look At the Many Winter Customs Around The World

Winter Customs Around the World

By Patti Wigington, About.com

Winter Around the World:

Whether you observe Yule, Christmas, Sol Invictus, or Hogmanay, the winter season is typically a time of celebration around the world. Traditions vary widely from one country to the next, but one thing they all have in common is the observance of customs around the time of the winter solstice. Here are some ways that residents of different countries observe the season.

Australia:

Althought Australia is huge geographically, the population sits at under 20 million people. Many of them come from a blend of cultures and ethnic backgrounds, and celebration in December is often a mix of many different elements. Because Australia is in the southern hemisphere, December is part of the warm season. Residents still hhave Christmas trees, Father Christmas, Christmas Carols and gifts which are a familiar Christmas and gifts, as well as being visited by Father Christmas. Because it coincides with school holidays, it’s not uncommon for Australians to celebrate the season on vacation away from home.

China:

In China, only about two percent of the population observes Christmas as a religious holiday, although it is gaining in popularity as a commercial event. However, the main winter festival in China is New Year celebration that occurs at the end of January. Recently, it’s become known as the Spring Festival, and is a time of gift-giving and feasting. A key aspect of the Chinese New Year is , and painings and portraits are brought out and honored in the family’s home.

Denmark:

In Denmark, Christmas Eve dinner is a big cause for celebration. The most anticipated part of the meal is the traditional rice pudding, baked with a single almond inside. Whichever guest gets the almond in his pudding is guaranteed good luck for the coming year. Children leave out glasses of milk for the Juulnisse, which are elves that live in peoples’ homes, and for Julemanden, the Danish version of Santa Claus.

Finland:

The Finns have a tradition of resting and relaxing on Christmas Day. The night before, on Christmas Eve, is really the time of the big feast — and leftovers are consumed the next day. On December 26, the day of St. Stephen the Martyr, everyone goes out and visits friends and relatives, weather permitting. One fun custom is that of Glogg parties, which involve the drinking of Glogg, a mulled wine made from Madeira, and the eating of lots of baked treats.

Greece:

Christmas was typically not a huge holiday in Greece, as it is in North America. However, the recognition of St. Nicholas has always been important, because he was the patron saint of sailors, among other things. Hearth fires burn for several days between December 25 and January 6, and a sprig of basil is wrapped around a wooden cross to protect the home from the Killantzaroi, which are negative spirits that only appear during the twelve days after Christmas. Gifts are exchanged on January 1, which is St. Basil’s day.

India:

India’s Hindu population typically observes this time of year by placing clay oil lamps on the roof in honor of the return of the sun. The country’s Christians celebrate by decorating mango and banana trees, and adorning homes with red flowers, such as the poinsettia. Gifts are exchanged with family and friends, and baksheesh, or , is given to the poor and needy.

Italy:

In Italy, there is the legend of La Befana, a kind old witch who travels the earth giving gifts to children. It is said that the three Magi stopped on their way to Bethlehem and asked her for shelter for a night. She rejected them, but later realized she’d been quite rude. However, when she went to call them back, they had gone. Now she travels the world, searching, and delivering gifts to all the children.

Romania:

In Romania, people still observe an old fertility ritual which probably pre-dates Christianity. A woman bakes a confection called a turta, made of pastry dough and filled with melted sugar and honey. Before baking the cake, as the wife is kneading the dough, she follows her husband outdoors. The man goes from one barren tree to another, threatening to cut each down. Each time, the wife begs him to spare the tree, saying, “Oh no, I am sure this tree will be as heavy with fruit next spring as my fingers are with dough today.” The man relents, the wife bakes the turta, and the trees are spared for another year.

Scotland:

In Scotland, the big holiday is that of . On Hogmanay, which is observed on December 31, festivities typically spill over into the first couple of days of January. There’s a tradition known as “first-footing”, in which the first person to cross a home’s threshold brings the residents good luck for the coming year — as long as the guest is dark-haired and male. The tradition stems from back when a red- or blonde-haired stranger was probably an invading Norseman.

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