Posts Tagged With: Winter solstice

Winter Solstice: Other Mid-Winter Traditions

Winter Solstice: Other Mid-Winter Traditions

Author: Christina Aubin

Yule/Winter Solstice (between December 21st and 23rd) also known as: Nollaig; Yuletide, Alban Arthan; Juul; Jul; Jiuleis; Joulupukki; Children’s Day; Dies Natalis Invicti Solis; Saturnalia; Mid-Winter; Brumalia; Sacaea; Festival of Kronos (Cronos); Dazh Boh; Chaomos; Inti Raymi; Dong Zhi; Soyal; Sada; Touji; Zagmuk; Sacaea

Other Mid-Winter Traditions

Yule Log

Yule log also known as the Yule clog, and Yule block, is the foundation log for the Yule eve’s hearth fire. When this tradition began is hard to say, it was mentioned in the 1600’s by John Aubrey, however as traditions are they may have well existed far longer than written word.

The Yule Log was the largest log that could fit in the hearth that had to be found and not cut; it was kindled with a section of the prior year’s Yule log. There is much ceremony and lore surrounding the Yule log. The log itself was treated much like a special guest on Yule eve, libations were poured on it, and songs sung to it, it was paraded in with much merriment and festivity. It was considered ill fortune if the log were to go out on Yule day.

“Ever at Yuletide, when the great log flamed in chimney corner, laugh and jest went round.” Aldrich: Wyndham Towers, stanza 5

There is folklore surrounding the use of the ashes of the Yule log — from the missing them with animal feed, ashes stepped in water assisting animals to bear young and for overall animal good health, placing ashes in the nest’s of poultry to increase their yield and ashes used to help in fertilizing the fruit trees in orchards. The ashes of the Yule log were revered as a potent magical entity.

Yule Candle

Yule candles were traditionally large, around a foot and half, candles, which were lighted on Yule Eve. Once lit the candle should not be moved. A small piece of the candle is kept for the following year to light the next Yule candle.

Candles have long been associated with the winter holidays; they cast a soft warm light, whilst reminding us of the central theme of the Winter Solstice holiday. We have always made wax talismans from the wax drippings, infusing them with the greenery we decorated with.

Mari Lwyd

The Mari Lwyd, the gray mare, is a Mid-Winter tradition from the area of Glamorgan and Gwent in Wales, it involves a horse, long since parted, enigmatically returning to life. Today one can see the horse and his companions travel house-to-house, and pub-to-pub through the streets of Llangynwyd on New Year’s Day, due to a revival of the tradition in the 1980’s. Upon the arrival of the Mari and his party the singsongs of introduction, followed by pwnco, a battle of wits. Folks inside the home or pub exchange challenges, mocking one another in verse, which carries on for as long as creatively allows.

Mummers Plays

Mumming plays typically reenact the struggle of Mid-Winter between the energies of life and the energies death and the resurrection of life from death. The Seven Champions also know as the Guisers, the Tipteerers, the Johnny Jacks, the Soulers, the Soulcakers, the Pace Eggers, the White Boys, the Paper Boys, the play actors, still enact mummer’s plays during mid-winter celebrations to this day throughout most areas of the British Isles and has spread into other areas of world with English emigrants and the increasing popularity of Morris Dance groups.

The majority of Mumming Plays feature a battle between a champion and an opponent, reminiscent of the clash between the Oak King and Holly King that is traditional at Mid-winter. One typically witnesses the champion being killed by his opponent, perhaps many times, only to then see the champion brought to life each time by a physician. The other two kinds of the Mumming Plays are the Sword Dance Play and the Wooing or Plough play.

The plays, are difficult to summarize due to their numerous and diverse displays through time and place. From where and when mumming plays became a part of English seasonal celebrations is still a question that puzzles both folklorists and historians. The first certain references to the mumming plays sprung up in the late 18th century, how long they had been around is still a mystery.

Wassailing

“Wassaile the trees, that they might beare; Many a plum and many a peare: For more or lesse fruits they will bring, As you do give them wassailing” Robert Herrick, Hesperides (1648)

Wassailing can be traced back through written history back into unwritten history, when traditions, legends and song were remembered and told, when life itself was magical by just being. Although thought of as of Celtic origins, variations of Wassailing can be found in Ancient Rome and even in the present day Romanian custom of turta.

Wassailing began, according to a fifth-century Saxon legend, by a lovely lasso, the beautiful Rowena. It is she who toasted with the words “Wes-hal”(Good health!) to the English King Vortigern. Rowena toasted to the king with a wine that was a form of the ancient Roman drink hypocras, also know as hyppocras. Hypocras is a type of mulled wine of which spans back through time, it is claimed that this wine is named after the Greek Hippocrates.

Wassailing traditions have taken varied forms, most dependent on the geographic area. All, however, seemed centered firmly around song, drink, merriment, health, fruitfulness, the banishing of spirits bend on ill and the welcoming of those who bring fruitfulness and bounty. The word Wassail is derived from the Old English ‘Wes Hal’, meaning “Good Health” or “Be Whole”

Since times origination apples have been thought to be the “food of the Gods”. Apples have a long and celebrated place in history. Ensuring a good harvest was imperative to the success and survival of families and groups. Some time in the dim past people during winter began toasting and singing to the health of the trees in the orchard.

In some areas, cake and toasts were soaked in cider then brought to the orchard and either laid on the ground around or hung in the braches of the oldest and best trees. This ritual of offering is then followed by a merry ruckus created by those who are wassailing to scare off any bad sprits intent on harming the future apple crop. Singing a traditional, or perhaps not so traditional Wassailing song follows the ruckus. The singing is said to bring the beneficial spirits, who enable a bountiful crop to bless the orchard.

In another tradition, it is the village men who go into the orchards bearing the all important wassail bowl. They share drink, food, song and dance with the apple trees, a merry event indeed. In some places the tree is even threatened with an ax if it not to bear ample fruit, in others the spirits of ill are chased with said ax in hand. As it is with folk customs, the actual components of the custom can vary, sometimes greatly from area to area each adding its own special flare.

Wassail is served in a special Wassail bowl, sometimes known as the Loving cup. Through time the materials used for the Wassailing bowl varied and changed sometimes from silver or pewter, later from wood. The bowl decorated festively – and the Wassail is drunk directly from the bowl. References to Wassailing and the Wassail bowl can be found in the writings of Charles Dickens; by Dickens’ time Wassailing has become entwined with begging door to door.

Traditional Wassailing songs – also called wassails, were sung much like holiday carols.

1. “Here’s to thee, old apple tree, that blooms well, bears well. Hats full, caps full, Three bushel bags full, An’ all under one tree. Hurrah! Hurrah!”

2. “Here’s to thee, old apple tree; Whence thou may’st bud and whence thou may’st blow, And whence thou may’st bear apples enow Hats full, Caps full, Bushel, Bushel sacks full And my pockets full too! Huzza!”

3. “Old Apple-Tree, we Wassail thee, And hoping thou will bear For the Lord doth know where we shall be Till apples come another year; For us to bear well and bloom well, So merry let us be, Let everyman take off his hat And shout to the old Apple-tree; Old Apple-Tree, we Wassail thee, And hoping thou will bear Hats-full, caps-full Three Bushel bag-fulls, And a heap under the stair.”

4. “Apple tree prosper, bud, bloom and bear, that we may have plenty of cider next year. And where there’s a barrel, we hope there are ten, that we may have cider when we come again.

5. With our wassail, wassail, wassail! And joy come to our jolly wassail! A-wassail, a-wassail!

6. The Moon, she shines down; the apples are ripe and the nuts they are brown. Whence thou mayest bud, dear old apple tree, and whence thou mayest bear, we sing unto thee. With our wassail, wassail, wassail! And joy come to our jolly wassail! A-wassail, a-wassail!”

7. “Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green, Here we come a-wandering, so fair to be seen. We are not beggars’ children that go from door to door, But we are neighbors children that you have seen before. Love and joy come to you, and to you your wassail too, And God bless you and send you a happy New Year, And God send you a happy New Year!” Our wassail cup is made of rosemary-tree, So is your beer of the best barley. -English North and Midlands traditional song

Yuletide Greenery It is a long tradition for greenery to be brought indoors during the Winter Solstice as a remembrance that even when it seems the world is dead and lifeless, life does indeed persist. Customary greens include holly with its berries, hawthorn, mistletoe, and other evergreens, which are made into garlands, ropes and wreaths and other decorations

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown,
Of all trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown:
O, the rising of the sun,
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the choir.

– Christmas Carol

Evergreens have long since reminded people of the continuation of life through death, of life in winter, and harkens the eventual return of the Sun. The bringing indoors the evergreens at mid-winter, throughout many cultures, have been documented for as long as there is written records, and as is the way of traditions the practice pre-dates those very records. Evergreens are thought to offer protection and to bring good fortune to the household. Traditional winter evergreens include: Bay, Box, Holly Ivy, Mistletoe, Rosemary, and Yew.
Mistletoe, is an important symbol at Mid-Winter. It is a parasitic plant which has a root system embedded in its host plant. It tends to grow on oak, maple, juniper, cypress and other deciduous trees. It is speculated that kissing under the mistletoe is a remnant of an old fertility ritual this is due to the physical properties of the mistletoe. To the Romans mistletoe was a plant of peace, under which the parties of a dispute would find solution.

In times long past, after the new moon, following the winter solstice, Druids would harvest the mistletoe off the oak trees in a specific Druidic ritual. In England and Wales the farmers would give a bunch of mistletoe to the first cow given birth to after Winter Solstice in later days Christmas, bringing luck to the whole herd. It is believed to ward of fires, lightening, water brought fertility and was an antidote to poison. Its ancient uses can be traced back to the writings of Pliny in his Natural History (77 CE).

Hawthorn, more specifically the Holy Thorn, is an important Winter Solstice as it blooms twice a year — mid-winter and again in May. It is customary to burn the household hawthorn that had been bent and woven into a sphere that had hung in the house as protection and create a new one for the coming new year. Every Christmas branches of the Hawthorn bush at St. John’s are sent to the Queen and Queen Mother, reminiscent this practice during Stuart times.

Holly finds itself one of the most recognizable winter decorations. It is a potent symbol as it bears fruit, its berries, in the deep of winter, reminding that life is always burgeoning forth even when it seems impossible. It is said that Holly can only be brought in the home during mid-winter – to bring it in during other times was unlucky. Holly is a plant generally thought of to be highly protective, thus the tradition of planting it near both homes and churches. It was also used in divination regarding matters of the heart. The size of the berry yield traditionally indicates the severity of the coming winter.

Halcyon Days The Rapper Sword Dance

The “Halcyon Days” are the fourteen windless, days seven days before and seven days after the Winter Solstice, so named for the Greek Halcyon or Kingfisher and their nesting period. The Halcyon Days are calm, peaceful, happy, and prosperous days. The Kingfisher is a symbol of peace and prosperity.

The explanation for the Halcyon Days can be found in the myth of one of the sisters of the Pleiades, Alcyone sometimes known as Halcyone. The myth goes as such:

Alcyone, was the daughter of ®olus, who is the (guardian of the winds and ®giale,. Alcyone married Ceyx of Trachis. Ceyx drowned in a storm at sea. Alcyone, who was heartbroken by the loss of her love, threw herself into the sea upon receiving the news of her husband’s demise. The Gods who pitied poor Alcyone her anguish so they transformed her into a halcyon, the kingfisher of Greece.

The halcyon hen lays her eggs around Winter Solstice at the edge of the sea. In order to ensure the safety of his daughter’s eggs, ®olus stops his winds so the water is calm for 14 days centered on the winter solstice to allow incubation.

Blessed Solstice!

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The Summer Solstice: A Time for Awakening

The Summer Solstice: A Time for Awakening

Author: Robin Fennelly

The Great Wheel has turned once again and the longest day, the Summer Solstice, offers opportunity to stand in the heat of Solar Flame, cast the strength of our Inner Sun into the spotlight and bask in the expansive culmination of the prior months’ hard work and efforts.

Many celebrate the Summer Solstice with the story of the Oak King and Holly King. The Oak King having been crowned at the Winter Solstice is filled to bursting with the energy and power of solar energy and light; and it is He who draws the sacred seasons toward the bounty of Summer’s fullness. The Holly King has lain silently in his space of renewed slumber and HE waits to rise again at the time of the Summer Solstice. On the sacred day of the Solstice, the Holly King emerges to claim his own and triumphant in the battle for dominance with his brother now reigns as the keeper of death and rebirth. HE stands in command as the harvest is reaped and the silence of the cold and snows fall upon the lands. HE knows that he will only have half of the year to weave His magick before the battle ensues once again and the world will bow to his brother, the Mighty Oak. They are one and the same but each work their will wearing the appropriate face and archetypal energy in accord with the ebb and flow of the seasons, the expansion and contraction of the energetic state and the necessary demise of one so the other may reign supreme.

It is this same action that is applied to our inner spiritual workings. We work diligently with goal of increasing and expanding the flow of energy that moves within and ultimately arrive at the temporary state of that form of energy being dominant. This dominance must surrender to the gradual giving way towards a new form and a re-birthing (or re-crowning) of what will then serve us in continued growth. And, similarly it often does become an inner battle when we cling too fiercely to the comfort and familiarity of the old way of being. With this thought in mind, I would like to share another way in which to honor this season.

We can use this dynamic of energy to call forth our Inner Sun and the energetic changes that have occurred in concert with the increasing of the outer sun’s strength and have brought us to this midpoint of peak. To consciously engage the energy of the Solstice as a tool for enlivening our inner light is similar to the pulling back and tautness of the slingshot band forming its own state of temporary imbalance in order to send the stone straight, steady and fully propelled on its intended course. It is the tipping of the scales towards one extreme of expansion before the necessary contraction that draws all into a state of equilibrium and (temporary) balance at the equinox. This cycle of expansion and contraction- balance and purposeful imbalance- occur in a pattern of alternating the center of focus and the point of expression.

We find ourselves drawn to the longer days that have been gradually moving towards the apex of this day of the longest hours of light. We feel ourselves emerging into the fullness of this Light filled with the realized potential and life sustaining energy of the sun. We are infused with its power and take pleasure in opening our senses to the full experience of being lit from within and shining that magick on all we encounter. This is the center of our focus and we cling to the last vestiges of daylight before the cycle moves towards the waning time.

And, it is from this place of extreme that we drink in all of the light we able to hold to carry us forward in the days and months ahead, knowing they will bring increasingly shorter hours of daylight and longer times of nightscape. This absorption of the catalytic fires will be the fuel that will burn throughout the months ahead as we move into the space of darkness, cold and introspection and become the lantern of that light.

I usually craft a personal working for the solstices and the equinoxes using the solar energies as the continuous energetic thread. Below is a simple ritual that you may use to celebrate the Solstice as an awakening to and reaffirming of the solar energies that are part of our inherent make-up. Each of the workings I do serves to enliven and increasingly strengthen the solar current. It is this current that I use for energetic protocol and workings. And, it is this current that supports the lunar work that I do. In this way, I maintain the tools that are needed so that I may remain in sync with the energetic tides that flow around me and have as my foundation the Inner Sun that will Light the way.

A Ritual of Awakening

For the working:

1/Gold or Yellow Pillar Candle
1/White Pillar Candle
1/Black or Dark Pillar Candle
Candle snuffer (optional)

Place the candles in a triangular shape on a small altar table. The White Pillar would be the point of the triangle with the Gold on the Left base and the Black on the Right base. A white or gold altar cloth would be suggested. Something plain is preferable rather than a patterned cloth. Everything should be very simple, uncluttered and clean with the candles as the central focus.

Sacred space is prepared is whatever way is compatible with your path. Invoke those Patrons, Guides or Deity that you work with and wish to have witness and support this rite. For my ritual I would use RA, as the sustaining light and Anpu as holder of the dark and the midnight Sun. I also work regularly with Het-Heru (as the Ureaus) and would call Her forth as inner anchor for the energy.

Make statement of your intent to enliven and awaken your Inner Sun that its flame may burn brightly in the months ahead. You want to speak this aloud, so that all of your subtle bodies may respond to the physical vibration of the words you are setting forth.

Begin by lighting the Gold candle. Declare this candle as the energy of the Sun (RA) held in its peak of potency and life sustaining properties. It is the catalyst that bursts forth at the dawn of each day. It is the strength and fullness of light as the midday sun. And, it is the drawing of the solar energies into the belly of night; still burning brightly as its mysteries are held in the Midnight Sun. Take some time to connect with these energies and envision this solar cycle in whatever way presents and feels natural to you. Breathe in deeply, feeling the expansion of your lungs and imagining this expansion as the heat and warmth of the growing sun.

Next, stand before the White Candle (Het-Heru) . Make declaration that this candle represents the pure illumined energy of your Higher Self and the power and strength that is held within. This candle represents your Spirit and the true nature of your being, that flows with the cycles of nature, the seasons, the Universal and Cosmic laws. Feel its resonance within you as you speak each work of description. You may also wish to say your mundane and magickal names, affirming your identify in Spirit and Matter. Using the Gold pillar as Source, light the White candle of your Being. Place the Gold pillar back on its stand. Return your focus to the growing flame of the White candle as the brilliance of Light that is held within the solar fires that have burned so hot and so pure that nothing remains except that which holds All. Breathe your energy into this candle feeling the resonance and connection to the core of your inner sun. And, inhale deeply the reciprocity of its energetic return spreading throughout your body. Allow this enlivened energy to move through your body as it will and making note of where it settles. You may experience a pulsating feeling at the center of your solar plexus or feel something like a sun-filled liquid warmth moving gently through you. Just continue to breathe gently as you envision the circuit you have created of inhale and exhale, receipt and return.

Move to stand in front of the Dark Pillar (Anpu) . Make declaration that this candle represents the coming season of darkness and decrease in visible light. This is also the power and the mystery of the Midnight Sun and the spark of potent flame that lay within the depths of all that gives illusion of shadow. Take a moment to feel the raw energy of this darkness and the imposing silence that reaches long into the night. Using the White Pillar, light this candle. As you do so, declare this as the quickening of the darkness so that it may nurture and hold strong the spark of catalytic flame that will burst forth at the Winter Solstice. Place the White Pillar back on its stand. Return your focus to the Dark Candle and breathe into its flame and open to connecting deeply to the contrast of white/blue flame and dark wax. Envision the lantern of your own Inner Sun lighting the paths of this darkness. Envision the reality that on this earth plane; night and day occur simultaneously with only the designation of geographical location as the determining factor as to what we name as dark and light.

Come to stand at center point in front of these three lit candles. Allow your gaze to move from one to the other, remembering what each represents and the energy of connection you have made. Soften your gaze, and allow the stream of light emanating from each to interweave. Breathe deeply and fully as you relax into this weaving. Soften your gaze further and see these three streams coming to a central point directed towards you. Breathe into this co-mingling of energy feeling its point of connection at the same place you felt the settling of your inner flame previously when connecting to the Gold pillar. Feel the strength of the Sun (Gold Pillar) , Your Inner Sun (White Pillar) and the Midnight Flame (Dark Pillar) coalescing as a singular Source of Light to bring forward and light the paths of your own inner darkness as the year wanes.

When you have received all that is needed, offer up gratitude for this experience. Offer up service to the nurturing and tending of this Fiery energy within and the gift and blessings of the Solar Flame you have received. Stand once again before each of the candles and offer thanks to their individual energies and then gently use a snuffer to extinguish each candle in turn. When you have extinguished the Dark Pillar, take a deep breath in and gently breathe out in exhale of release allowing whatever excess energy you may feel to gently fall away, leaving you feeling renewed and empowered.

Thank the Deities and those seen and unseen Who have offered their witness and support. Close down your sacred space in whatever way is in keeping with your path. Be sure to get something to eat and drink immediately following to ground and center. If necessary, connect with the earth or floor beneath you allowing any excess to drain into the Great Mother.

May the blessings of Solstice Light burn ever brightly informing and infusing all of your actions. Blessed Be.

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The Gift of Yule: An Illuminated Wheel

The Gift of Yule: An Illuminated Wheel

Author: Robin Fennelly

The night is cold and I stand facing the darkness; thick and almost opaque in its veiling. I think on all that has brought me to this point of the Great Wheel and call to myself the memories of lessons learned and shadowy places uncovered needing nurturance and cultivation. Each memory is illuminated from within and I feel the heat of my Inner Sun flaring out from center’s core; extending light filled streams of connection to each treasured sensation and image.

Tingling energy moves across my back affirming my growing anticipation of the promise held in the rising sun as I await the dawning of the Solstice Sun. I think on the moments of waiting I have seen at this same cycle of time the many years before and how each has held its own joy of new expression. I breathe into these thoughts, envisioning the flame of sunlight growing within myself. I breathe deeply into the joy of being able to turn the focus of that light outwards as the sun gains strength in the sky above and I attune to that same solar cycle within.

I look ahead and see rays of filtered light flowing around and through me casting their long slim finger-like beams on the snowscape in front of me. The time is now. One more deep breath in affirming the strength of the dark that has come before, and I turn to face the rising sun. Dawn of the Winter Solstice has come and with its rising so too does the rising of my illuminated self; forever changed.

As we celebrate the Winter Solstice and the blessings of the return of the Light that holds the promise of lengthening days we are also priming our Inner Light that has been in process of quickening during this waning half of the year. There are many stories that are woven through the cycle of the Wheel, the cycles of the God and Goddess primary among them. I would like to offer an interpretation of the Greater Wheel of the Year as a journey of Light that begins at the time of the Winter Solstice. We are all familiar with the concept of the Divine Spark, Inner Flame or Inner Sun said to reside within each of us. This is the aspect of our being that emits great light and connects us with the outer particles of light, in all of its forms, which surround us. This light serves as a beacon calling to itself the flow of Prana (the life force) that enlivens us and makes us identifiable by our own personal signature to all other beings of light. In rhythm with the outer movement of the Sun and its waxing and waning of energy from solstice to solstice we can attune to our inner sun’s rhythm and use the energy of the Wheel to quicken, enliven, sustain and renew its energy.

I like to use the analogy of a lighthouse, shining the brilliance of its massive light 360-degrees out over the waters as beacon and guide for all to see as they are carried on the waters towards the edge of shore. They have set their course and the light serves to offer up clarity and safety on their journey. We are the strength of that lighthouse and the beacon of light is that which emanates from our inner sun’s core. Each action we take from the time of that light being birthed and renewed at the time of the Winter Solstice is a step towards the brilliance of our own light radiating outward in dynamic outpour towards all whom we encounter.

At the point of its reaching its full spectrum of expression at the Summer Solstice, this light now begins its journey of turning inward. And, the fullness of this light now guides the way for navigation through our inner waters and landscape. It becomes the lantern of the Hermit as we move through the darkness of our fears and doubts and is fueled by those things we find in these spaces that are to be transformed and energized as seedlings of the greater light to be reborn at the Winter Solstice.

The Waxing Sun’s Light

The cycle of the Waxing of the Light begins at the time of the Winter Solstice. This is the space of our inner awakening. Through the energy of this cycle of rebirthing we have opportunity to experience the inner awakening of our own Divine flame. We light candles and wait in anticipation of the rising of the sun on Solstice morning and are uplifted in the joy of the Great Mother and her giving birth to the Sun King of Life. This Light of the Solstice is in process of renewal and what lay hidden beneath the shadow of the longest night and darkness is the time for reaffirming the light within and awaiting the birth of an awakened mind, heart and spirit ready to do the Great Work.

This inner light we have cultivated and called forth continues to grow and we welcome the fires of Imbolc as the sustenance of what the burgeoning of longer days holds as potential. The Goddess takes her place as new mother, fiercely protective of the light she has brought into being. And through the quickening of the fires of this light she begins the process of transformation and renewal as her energy shifts into the form of the Maiden. We guard and nurture the growing flame within as mother and anticipate with the fervency of the Maiden the maturing of what has been created.

We find ourselves now at the time of the Vernal Equinox. This is the pause of respite when there is equal balance of day and night. This is the point of integration and synthesis of the work and effort offered beginning at the Winter Solstice. The Vernal Equinox holds the product of renewal and the stirrings of the increasing state of awareness illuminated by the potential that is held within the fertile space of manifest form. We find the space of balance within ourselves and seek out the opportunity to shine that light more brightly as it has strengthened and we open to taking in more of the light that surrounds us. We begin the dance of enlivened exchange shifting eagerly between what has been and what will be.

This opening to receiving the downpour of the light of growth is the preface to the union of the polarities at Beltane. These take the forms of male and female, God and Goddess and are the positive and negative charges needed to generate sufficient electrical current of vibrant and pulsing Light to flow and move towards a state of overt Life. This is the time of procreation and as such the continuation of what has been seeded within is ready to be conceptualized and brought forth into manifest form. Like attracts like and we use the electro-magnetic attraction of our inner sun to create the cycle of connection and flow to the physical sun. We open to receiving and mirroring back the life giving properties as above, so below, as within, so without.

We continue this expansion of our inner light and reach its apex of form and intent at the Summer Solstice. In opposition to the longest night of the Winter Solstice, the brilliance of full sun and illuminated action holds the power of this outpouring. It is at this point that we have fully ignited our Inner Sun and it is now the time of full expression of the strength and power of its dynamic energy that will carry us forward into the waning light of the year. This lengthened day is the pivotal point of beginning to turn within. The light will begin to dwindle in outward expression and the need to cultivate, and nurture the inner space of light we hold at our core becomes the focus.

I stand in a fragrant field bursting with Summer’s flowers. The sun shines brightly overhead and I feel the radiance of warmth and the pulsing of vibrant light moving through me. I am a reflection of that sun and all that has been nurtured and tended within has grown into the abundant field of beauty that lay before me. I breathe deeply into these thoughts. Affirming my own strength and the longevity of my solar outpouring.

I breathe deeply into the inner space of warmth and see the flaming sun at my center’s core. As I continue to breathe into this truth, the sun begins its descent into the evening. The sky darkens and the final light of sunset retreats; the darkness moving in shadow and drawing this hidden light inward; moving through me as I stand strong and resilient in receipt. The time of the Solstice is at hand and the work of refocusing the brilliance of summer’s light becomes the breath of my intent.

The Waning Sun’s Light

The Waning half of the year supports the process of redirecting the inner light we have brought to its fullness and sending focus inward. We celebrate Lammas and eat heartily of the grain of life, cut down at its peak and offered up as sacrifice to fuel our hunger. As we move through this turning within the need to cull and harvest what will act as the fuel to sustain the brilliance of its fire is the task of intent. In the physical world we gather our food and energy stores and offer up to sacrifice those products which did not thrive in the heat of the spring and summer sun. We look carefully at what we think will nourish and sustain us in the dark months ahead and we choose wisely where we shine our light so as not to exhaust its outward presence.

If we have chosen well and have done the necessary work to maintain that which will carry us through the long night’s journeys those inner fires burn brightly at the time of the Autumnal Equinox. This point of balance offers another time of integration and rest from the efforts laid forth. We begin to settle in as the days grow shorter and the cooler air fulfills the promise of winter’s hold. We spend more time in reflection and stoke the fires of our inner hearth lights, feeding them from what we have brought into this inner space from our plantings during the waning light. The balance of light and dark is the fertile womb that begins the transition of what has been revealed by the inner flames and is ready to become the seeding of wisdom.

The growing darkness consumes the fullness of day and we look to our ancestors as the veils part at Samhain. The fires of the cauldrons and candles light the way for their return to this world in shadow and as specter; and our own inner light shines brightly as beacon to welcome their wisdom into our hearts, minds and bodies. This is the calling to the Midnight Sun and the deep transformation that will illuminate the way of the mystic. This is the sun that burns hot and intent-filled within the earth’s core. This is the hidden sun that although we may not see its face at the midnight hour in our geographical location, the sun has reached its apex of noon at the exact geographical polar opposite. This is the sun of the Great Work that glows its brightest within the fuelings of our will and intent. And, it is within this shadowy landscape that those parts of self which have eluded the sun’s full light are analyzed, refined and embraced as we clear the way for what will be birthed anew at the Winter Solstice.

This journey of Light is one that contracts and expands, much like the astrological retrograde of planetary energy. There is opportunity to reach back in time and space before turning full thrust ahead. And there is space for hovering in momentary pause, not stagnation, but dynamic pause during the balance of the Equinoxes. Each of the cross quarter days offers the point of flexible expansion towards the next contraction or pause. Each is a mini-birth of sorts of the refined energy in preparation for what lay ahead. We return to the Winter Solstice as the cycle begins anew, but we have been changed in the process. Our inner light has transformed every space it has reached and the you that stands waiting to call forth the Light of return emerges from the longest night blazing in full glory.

The night is cold and I stand facing the darkness; thick and almost opaque in its veiling. I think on all that has brought me to this point of the Great Wheel…

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Holiday Traditions Through the Zodiac

Holiday Traditions Through the Zodiac

Use Astrology to find your perfect yearly ritual

Sally PhilipsSally Philips on the topics of holidays, astrology

 

What’s your favorite part of the holidays? Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Winter Solstice, you’ve got plenty of traditions to choose from. Here are some of each zodiac sign’s favorite ways to make the season merry.

 

Aries (March 21 – April 19)

You’re in luck, Aries, because most holiday traditions include your favorite element — Fire! Both Kwanzaa and Hanukkah have candle-lighting rituals that last seven days. On Christmas day, you can take charge of burning the Yule log, an ancient custom that originated in pagan winter solstice Fire festivals.

Taurus (April 20 – May 20)

With all of their delicious traditional foods, the holidays are made for your discerning palate. Christmas party hosts would be wise to check with you when it comes to fine-tuning their spiked eggnog. And if you’re Jewish, surely your latkes are the tastiest.

Gemini (May 21 – June 20)

Some people complain about the holidays being too busy, but this time of year is perfect for your short attention span. You love keeping your dance card chock full as you flit from shopping spree to social gathering. Don’t be surprised if your family nicknames you “the Blur.”

Cancer (June 21 – July 22)

From twinkling lights to boughs of holly, you excel in making your home a warm and comfy haven for intimate gatherings, often decorating with your own handcrafted items. Your friends and family rely on you to create the perfect atmosphere for their best holiday memories.

Leo (July 23 – Aug. 22)

With your big heart, giving thoughtful presents is key to a happy holiday. You also love to hang with the kids because they bring out your playful side … so you’re usually the one on the floor helping them open, assemble and play with their new toys.

Virgo (Aug. 23 – Sept. 22)

You love the miraculous story of Mary’s virgin birth, so you look forward to setting up a creche each Christmas season. Since white is your color, you surround the manger scene with billows of cotton snow. Spraying white frost figures on your windows is another one of your favorites. And if it snows on Christmas day … ecstasy!

Libra (Sept. 23 – Oct. 22)

You have a blast picking out ribbons, paper and other baubles for wrapping presents. It calls on your artistic abilities, satisfies your love of beauty and gives you practice in overcoming your personal bugaboo — indecision — since you’ve only got so many shopping days before your gifts must be wrapped and ready.

Scorpio (Oct. 23 – Nov. 21)

For you, dear Scorpio, it’s got to be mistletoe. Adopted from Scandinavia, this tradition gives you the perfect excuse to amp your favorite flirtation up a notch. One can never tell what will come of a kiss in a doorway … but you could have a very happy New Year!

Sagittarius (Nov. 22 – Dec. 21)

You’re a big fan of getting away for the holidays, but if you must stay home, gambling with your cronies on a Christmas football game — or playing a competitive game online — can satisfy your restless nature. For Jewish celebrants, try a bout of the traditional Hanukkah betting game and spin the dreidel.

Capricorn (Dec. 22 – Jan. 19)

Family traditions of all types make your nostalgic soul happy as long as they follow the same patterns you grew up with. The Christmas dinner table must have all of your favorite dishes, and everything else, from decorating the tree to opening presents, must be “just so” as well.

Aquarius (Jan. 20 – Feb. 18)

Some families have developed a tradition of volunteering to help the needy during the holidays. Whether that means donating toys to children or helping out in a soup kitchen, you and your community-oriented soul are on board. Sending a hefty donation to your favorite cause might also be on your list.

Pisces (Feb. 19 – March 20)

Even though you usually describe yourself as spiritual rather than religious, you make an exception for Christmas when you look forward to attending a midnight Mass. The dimly lit cathedral with twinkling candles, chiming bells, magical singing and chanted prayers feeds your mystical soul.

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Let’s Talk Witch – Christmas and Yule Customs

Winter Images

Christmas and Yule Customs

 

The following article is one of my favorites. It drives this point home and then some, I hope you enjoy it.

Christmas and Yule Customs
by Rick Hayward

Now that Christmas is fast approaching and the year has once more come full circle, most of us will soon be busy adorning the house with brightly coloured decorations, a Christmas tree and all the other paraphernalia that goes to create a festive atmosphere.

Holly and mistletoe will almost certainly be included in our decorations as evergreens have been used in the winter festivities from very ancient times and definitely long before Christianity appeared on the scene.

What Christians celebrate as the birthday of Christ is really something that was superimposed on to a much earlier pagan festival–that which celebrated the Winter Solstice or the time when the Sun reaches its lowest point south and is reborn at the beginning of a new cycle of seasons.

In Northern Europe and Scandinavia it was noted by the early Christian scholar, Bede, that the heathens began the year on December 25th which they called Mother’s Night in honour of the great Earth Mother. Their celebrations were held in order to ensure fertility and abundance during the coming year, and these included much feasting, burning of lamps, lighting of great fires (the Yule fires) and exchanges of gifts.

The Romans, too, held their great celebrations–Saturnalia– from December 17th to 25th and it was the latter date which they honoured as the birthday of the Unconquered Sun. The Saturnalia was characterized by much merry-making, sometimes going to riotous extremes, with masters and slaves temporarily exchanging roles. The use of evergreens to decorate the streets and houses was also very much in evidence at this great winter festival.

That we now celebrate the birth of Christ at the same time is largely due to the early Church Fathers who found it was much easier to win converts to the faith by making Christ’s birthday coincide with an already long established pagan festival. In fact, it wasn’t until the 4th century that Pope Julius I finally established the 25th as the official birthday of Christ; earlier Christians differed widely as to this date– some choosing September 29th, while others held that January 6th or March 29th were the correct dates.

As we have seen, the pagan element in Christmas lives on in the festival at the Winter Solstice. But these elements are also very much alive in our use of evergreens as decorations at this time of year.

Like most evergreens, the holly and mistletoe have long been held to symbolize eternal life, regeneration and rebirth.

Holly, with its bright red berries and dark spiky foliage, has been revered from ancient times as a symbol of life everlasting. It was associated with strength and masculinity and was considered useful in the treatment of various ailments which were seen to lower the vital spirits.

In old England, a decoction of holly leaves was considered a cure for worms; but most of all this prickly evergreen was looked upon as a luck bringer–particularly in rural areas where a bunch of holly hung in the cow shed or stable was thought to favour the animals if placed there on Christmas Eve. Many people used to take a piece of holly from the church decorations at Christmas as a charm against bad luck in the coming year. Holly was also considered a very protective tree which, if planted outside the house, was believed to avert lightning, fire and the evil spells of witches.
An old holly spell describes how to know one’s future spouse. At midnight on a Friday, nine holly leaves must be plucked and tied with nine knots in a three-cornered cloth. This is then placed under the pillow and, provided silence is observed from the time of plucking until dawn the next day, your future spouse will come to you in your dreams.

In certain areas of Wales, it was thought extremely unlucky to bring holly into the house before December 24th and if you did so there would be family quarrels and domestic upheavals. You would also be inviting disaster if you burned green holly or squashed the red berries.

Turning now to mistletoe, it seems that this is by far the most mystical of the plants associated with Christmas and has, from very ancient times, been treated as magical or sacred. It is often included in modern Christmas decorations simply for the fun of kissing beneath it and, though this seems to be a peculiarly English custom, it probably harks back to the mistletoe’s association with fertility.

The real reason why mistletoe is now associated with Christmas is very much a carry-over from ancient practices, when it was considered as somehow belonging to the gods. The Roman historian, Pliny, gives an early account of how the Druids would hold a very solemn ceremony at the Winter Solstice when the mistletoe had to be gathered, for the Druids looked upon this unusual plant, which has no roots in the earth, as being of divine origin or produced by lightning. Mistletoe which grew on the oak was considered especially potent in magical virtues, for it was the oak that the Druids held as sacred to the gods.

At the Winter Solstice, the Druids would lead a procession into the forest and, on finding the sacred plant growing on an oak, the chief priest, dressed all in white, would climb the tree and cut the mistletoe with a knife or sickle made of gold. The mistletoe was not allowed to touch the ground and was therefore caught in a white linen cloth.

On securing the sacred mistletoe, the Druids would then carry it to their temple where it would be laid beneath the altar stone for three days. Early on the fourth day, which would correspond to our Christmas Day, it was taken out, chopped into pieces and handed out among the worshippers. The berries were used by the priests to heal various diseases.

Mistletoe was considered something of a universal panacea, as can be gleaned from the ancient Celtic word for it–uile, which literally translated means ‘all-healer’. A widespread belief was that mistletoe could cure anything from headaches to epilepsy; and indeed modern research has shown that the drug guipsine which is used in the treatment of nervous illnesses and high blood pressure is contained in mistletoe.
Until quite recently the rural folk of Sweden and Switzerland believed that the mistletoe could only be picked at certain times and in a special way if its full potency as healer and protector was to be secured. The Sun must be in Sagittarius (close to the Winter Solstice) and the Moon must be on the wane and, following ancient practices, the mistletoe must not be just picked but shot or knocked down and caught before reaching the ground.

Not only was mistletoe looked upon as a healer of all ills, but if hung around the house was believed to protect the home against fire and other hazards. As the mistletoe was supposed to have been produced by lightning, it had the power to protect the home against thunder bolts by a kind of sympathetic magic.

Of great importance, however, was the power of mistletoe to protect against witchcraft and sorcery. This is evident in an old superstition which holds that a sprig of mistletoe placed beneath the pillow will avert nightmares (once considered to be the product of evil demons).

In the north of England, it used to be the practice of farmers to give mistletoe to the first cow that calved after New Year’s Day. This was believed to ensure health to the stock and a good milk yield throughout the year. Underlying this old belief is the fear of witches or mischievous fairy folk who could play havoc with dairy produce, so here mistletoe was used as a counter magic against such evil influences. In Sweden, too, a bunch of this magical plant hung from the living room ceiling or in the stable or cow-shed was thought to render trolls powerless to work mischief.

With such a tremendous array of myth, magic and folklore associated with it, reaching far back into the pagan past, it is understandable that even today this favourite Christmas plant is forbidden in many churches. Yet even the holly and the ivy, much celebrated in a popular carol of that title, were once revered as sacred and magical by our pre-Christian ancestors.

In view of what has been said, one could speculate that even if Christianity had never emerged it is more than likely that we would still be getting ready for the late-December festivities, putting up decorations, including holly and mistletoe, in order to celebrate the rebirth of the Sun, the great giver and sustainer of all earthly life.

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Celebrating Other Spirituality 365 Days A Year – Winter Solstice, Midwinter

Winter Images

December 19, 20 and 21

Winter Solstice, Midwinter

The Solstice, taken from the Latin for “the Sun stands still,” is considered to be the true New Year—astronomically as well as spirituality. At this time, we see the simultaneous death and rebirth of the Sun-God, represented in the shortest day and longest night of the year. From this time forward, the sun grows in strength and power as the hours of daylight increase.

Midwinter, of Winter Solstice, marked the end of the first half of the Celtic year. As was Samhain, which has the Roman festival of Pomona and the Christian All Souls grafted on to it, the Celtic Winter Solstice was subsequently confused with the Roman Saturnalia, and later the Christian Christmas. Mythologically, most of the Midwinter celebrations focused on the symbology of a new or younger God, overthrowing the older or father God, which would then bring forth a new and more potent life to the people and the land.

Although the Solstice takes place on December 21, Midwinter (renamed Yule by the Anglo Saxons) covers several weeks on either side of Solstice. In medieval times, Yule began around St. Nicholas’s Day and ran until Candlemas. Eventually, Yule was redefined to mean either the Nativity (December 25) or the 12 days of celebration beginning on this date. The word Christmas then replaced Yule in most English-speaking countries. However, the Danish preserved Yule as a way of maintaining their old style of festivities that incorporated several weeks of celebration.

In Wicca, and modern Paganism, the Winter Solstice is the time of new beginnings, a time to reflect on the past and project for the future. Magickally, the Winter Solstice affords us a perfect time to formulate a plan of action, a goal we can work towards during the coming year.

 

Magickal Activities for Yule

The Yule Candle

Traditionally, the Yule Candle was a very large ornamental candle, usually blue, green or red in color. The candle should be large enough to last the entire Yule season. The candle should be lit and extinguished by the head of the household. It is best placed on the mantle over the hearth or on the sill of the window in the front of the house. The candle must be extinguished with a candle-snuffer or pair of tongs; to blow it out will bring bad luck. Each night, all the members of the household gather as a family prayer is read and the candle is lit.

Before retiring for the night, the prayer is again read and the candle extinguished.

Sample Prayer
Let hope and peace dome with this light, To
illuminate and cheer the way. For from the darkness
of the night, Will come a better—brighter day.

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Winter Solstice: Other Mid-Winter Traditions

Winter Solstice: Other Mid-Winter Traditions

Author: Christina Aubin

Yule/Winter Solstice (between December 21st and 23rd) also known as: Nollaig; Yuletide, Alban Arthan; Juul; Jul; Jiuleis; Joulupukki; Children’s Day; Dies Natalis Invicti Solis; Saturnalia; Mid-Winter; Brumalia; Sacaea; Festival of Kronos (Cronos); Dazh Boh; Chaomos; Inti Raymi; Dong Zhi; Soyal; Sada; Touji; Zagmuk; Sacaea

Other Mid-Winter Traditions

Yule Log

Yule log also known as the Yule clog, and Yule block, is the foundation log for the Yule eve’s hearth fire. When this tradition began is hard to say, it was mentioned in the 1600’s by John Aubrey, however as traditions are they may have well existed far longer than written word.

The Yule Log was the largest log that could fit in the hearth that had to be found and not cut; it was kindled with a section of the prior year’s Yule log. There is much ceremony and lore surrounding the Yule log. The log itself was treated much like a special guest on Yule eve, libations were poured on it, and songs sung to it, it was paraded in with much merriment and festivity. It was considered ill fortune if the log were to go out on Yule day.

“Ever at Yuletide, when the great log flamed in chimney corner, laugh and jest went round.” Aldrich: Wyndham Towers, stanza 5

There is folklore surrounding the use of the ashes of the Yule log — from the missing them with animal feed, ashes stepped in water assisting animals to bear young and for overall animal good health, placing ashes in the nest’s of poultry to increase their yield and ashes used to help in fertilizing the fruit trees in orchards. The ashes of the Yule log were revered as a potent magical entity.

Yule Candle

Yule candles were traditionally large, around a foot and half, candles, which were lighted on Yule Eve. Once lit the candle should not be moved. A small piece of the candle is kept for the following year to light the next Yule candle.

Candles have long been associated with the winter holidays; they cast a soft warm light, whilst reminding us of the central theme of the Winter Solstice holiday. We have always made wax talismans from the wax drippings, infusing them with the greenery we decorated with.

Mari Lwyd

The Mari Lwyd, the gray mare, is a Mid-Winter tradition from the area of Glamorgan and Gwent in Wales, it involves a horse, long since parted, enigmatically returning to life. Today one can see the horse and his companions travel house-to-house, and pub-to-pub through the streets of Llangynwyd on New Year’s Day, due to a revival of the tradition in the 1980’s. Upon the arrival of the Mari and his party the singsongs of introduction, followed by pwnco, a battle of wits. Folks inside the home or pub exchange challenges, mocking one another in verse, which carries on for as long as creatively allows.

Mummers Plays

Mumming plays typically reenact the struggle of Mid-Winter between the energies of life and the energies death and the resurrection of life from death. The Seven Champions also know as the Guisers, the Tipteerers, the Johnny Jacks, the Soulers, the Soulcakers, the Pace Eggers, the White Boys, the Paper Boys, the play actors, still enact mummer’s plays during mid-winter celebrations to this day throughout most areas of the British Isles and has spread into other areas of world with English emigrants and the increasing popularity of Morris Dance groups.

The majority of Mumming Plays feature a battle between a champion and an opponent, reminiscent of the clash between the Oak King and Holly King that is traditional at Mid-winter. One typically witnesses the champion being killed by his opponent, perhaps many times, only to then see the champion brought to life each time by a physician. The other two kinds of the Mumming Plays are the Sword Dance Play and the Wooing or Plough play.

The plays, are difficult to summarize due to their numerous and diverse displays through time and place. From where and when mumming plays became a part of English seasonal celebrations is still a question that puzzles both folklorists and historians. The first certain references to the mumming plays sprung up in the late 18th century, how long they had been around is still a mystery.

Wassailing

“Wassaile the trees, that they might beare; Many a plum and many a peare: For more or lesse fruits they will bring, As you do give them wassailing” Robert Herrick, Hesperides (1648)

Wassailing can be traced back through written history back into unwritten history, when traditions, legends and song were remembered and told, when life itself was magical by just being. Although thought of as of Celtic origins, variations of Wassailing can be found in Ancient Rome and even in the present day Romanian custom of turta.

Wassailing began, according to a fifth-century Saxon legend, by a lovely lasso, the beautiful Rowena. It is she who toasted with the words “Wes-hal”(Good health!) to the English King Vortigern. Rowena toasted to the king with a wine that was a form of the ancient Roman drink hypocras, also know as hyppocras. Hypocras is a type of mulled wine of which spans back through time, it is claimed that this wine is named after the Greek Hippocrates.

Wassailing traditions have taken varied forms, most dependent on the geographic area. All, however, seemed centered firmly around song, drink, merriment, health, fruitfulness, the banishing of spirits bend on ill and the welcoming of those who bring fruitfulness and bounty. The word Wassail is derived from the Old English ‘Wes Hal’, meaning “Good Health” or “Be Whole”

Since times origination apples have been thought to be the “food of the Gods”. Apples have a long and celebrated place in history. Ensuring a good harvest was imperative to the success and survival of families and groups. Some time in the dim past people during winter began toasting and singing to the health of the trees in the orchard.

In some areas, cake and toasts were soaked in cider then brought to the orchard and either laid on the ground around or hung in the braches of the oldest and best trees. This ritual of offering is then followed by a merry ruckus created by those who are wassailing to scare off any bad sprits intent on harming the future apple crop. Singing a traditional, or perhaps not so traditional Wassailing song follows the ruckus. The singing is said to bring the beneficial spirits, who enable a bountiful crop to bless the orchard.

In another tradition, it is the village men who go into the orchards bearing the all important wassail bowl. They share drink, food, song and dance with the apple trees, a merry event indeed. In some places the tree is even threatened with an ax if it not to bear ample fruit, in others the spirits of ill are chased with said ax in hand. As it is with folk customs, the actual components of the custom can vary, sometimes greatly from area to area each adding its own special flare.

Wassail is served in a special Wassail bowl, sometimes known as the Loving cup. Through time the materials used for the Wassailing bowl varied and changed sometimes from silver or pewter, later from wood. The bowl decorated festively – and the Wassail is drunk directly from the bowl. References to Wassailing and the Wassail bowl can be found in the writings of Charles Dickens; by Dickens’ time Wassailing has become entwined with begging door to door.

Traditional Wassailing songs – also called wassails, were sung much like holiday carols.

1. “Here’s to thee, old apple tree, that blooms well, bears well. Hats full, caps full, Three bushel bags full, An’ all under one tree. Hurrah! Hurrah!”

2. “Here’s to thee, old apple tree; Whence thou may’st bud and whence thou may’st blow, And whence thou may’st bear apples enow Hats full, Caps full, Bushel, Bushel sacks full And my pockets full too! Huzza!”

3. “Old Apple-Tree, we Wassail thee, And hoping thou will bear For the Lord doth know where we shall be Till apples come another year; For us to bear well and bloom well, So merry let us be, Let everyman take off his hat And shout to the old Apple-tree; Old Apple-Tree, we Wassail thee, And hoping thou will bear Hats-full, caps-full Three Bushel bag-fulls, And a heap under the stair.”

4. “Apple tree prosper, bud, bloom and bear, that we may have plenty of cider next year. And where there’s a barrel, we hope there are ten, that we may have cider when we come again.

5. With our wassail, wassail, wassail! And joy come to our jolly wassail! A-wassail, a-wassail!

6. The Moon, she shines down; the apples are ripe and the nuts they are brown. Whence thou mayest bud, dear old apple tree, and whence thou mayest bear, we sing unto thee. With our wassail, wassail, wassail! And joy come to our jolly wassail! A-wassail, a-wassail!”

7. “Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green, Here we come a-wandering, so fair to be seen. We are not beggars’ children that go from door to door, But we are neighbors children that you have seen before. Love and joy come to you, and to you your wassail too, And God bless you and send you a happy New Year, And God send you a happy New Year!” Our wassail cup is made of rosemary-tree, So is your beer of the best barley. -English North and Midlands traditional song

Yuletide Greenery It is a long tradition for greenery to be brought indoors during the Winter Solstice as a remembrance that even when it seems the world is dead and lifeless, life does indeed persist. Customary greens include holly with its berries, hawthorn, mistletoe, and other evergreens, which are made into garlands, ropes and wreaths and other decorations

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown,
Of all trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown:
O, the rising of the sun,
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the choir.

– Christmas Carol

Evergreens have long since reminded people of the continuation of life through death, of life in winter, and harkens the eventual return of the Sun. The bringing indoors the evergreens at mid-winter, throughout many cultures, have been documented for as long as there is written records, and as is the way of traditions the practice pre-dates those very records. Evergreens are thought to offer protection and to bring good fortune to the household. Traditional winter evergreens include: Bay, Box, Holly Ivy, Mistletoe, Rosemary, and Yew.
Mistletoe, is an important symbol at Mid-Winter. It is a parasitic plant which has a root system embedded in its host plant. It tends to grow on oak, maple, juniper, cypress and other deciduous trees. It is speculated that kissing under the mistletoe is a remnant of an old fertility ritual this is due to the physical properties of the mistletoe. To the Romans mistletoe was a plant of peace, under which the parties of a dispute would find solution.

In times long past, after the new moon, following the winter solstice, Druids would harvest the mistletoe off the oak trees in a specific Druidic ritual. In England and Wales the farmers would give a bunch of mistletoe to the first cow given birth to after Winter Solstice in later days Christmas, bringing luck to the whole herd. It is believed to ward of fires, lightening, water brought fertility and was an antidote to poison. Its ancient uses can be traced back to the writings of Pliny in his Natural History (77 CE).

Hawthorn, more specifically the Holy Thorn, is an important Winter Solstice as it blooms twice a year — mid-winter and again in May. It is customary to burn the household hawthorn that had been bent and woven into a sphere that had hung in the house as protection and create a new one for the coming new year. Every Christmas branches of the Hawthorn bush at St. John’s are sent to the Queen and Queen Mother, reminiscent this practice during Stuart times.

Holly finds itself one of the most recognizable winter decorations. It is a potent symbol as it bears fruit, its berries, in the deep of winter, reminding that life is always burgeoning forth even when it seems impossible. It is said that Holly can only be brought in the home during mid-winter – to bring it in during other times was unlucky. Holly is a plant generally thought of to be highly protective, thus the tradition of planting it near both homes and churches. It was also used in divination regarding matters of the heart. The size of the berry yield traditionally indicates the severity of the coming winter.

Halcyon Days The Rapper Sword Dance

The “Halcyon Days” are the fourteen windless, days seven days before and seven days after the Winter Solstice, so named for the Greek Halcyon or Kingfisher and their nesting period. The Halcyon Days are calm, peaceful, happy, and prosperous days. The Kingfisher is a symbol of peace and prosperity.

The explanation for the Halcyon Days can be found in the myth of one of the sisters of the Pleiades, Alcyone sometimes known as Halcyone. The myth goes as such:

Alcyone, was the daughter of ®olus, who is the (guardian of the winds and ®giale,. Alcyone married Ceyx of Trachis. Ceyx drowned in a storm at sea. Alcyone, who was heartbroken by the loss of her love, threw herself into the sea upon receiving the news of her husband’s demise. The Gods who pitied poor Alcyone her anguish so they transformed her into a halcyon, the kingfisher of Greece.

The halcyon hen lays her eggs around Winter Solstice at the edge of the sea. In order to ensure the safety of his daughter’s eggs, ®olus stops his winds so the water is calm for 14 days centered on the winter solstice to allow incubation.

Blessed Solstice!

Christina Aubin

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How To Hold a Goddess Ritual for Yule – Solitary Rite

How To Hold a Goddess Ritual for Yule – Solitary Rite

Yule is the time of the Winter Solstice, and for many Pagans, it’s a time to say goodbye to the old, and welcome the new. As the sun returns to the earth, life begins once more. This ritual can be performed by a solitary practitioner, either male or female. It’s also easily adaptable to a small group of people.

Perform this ritual on the evening of the Winter Solstice. If you normally wear a ritual robe or ceremonial gown, do so — and feel free to embellish for the season! Consider a crown of holly, a special Yule-themed robe, or adding holiday bling to your existing robe. Sparkly is good! Decorate your altar with a Yule log or tree (although obviously the tree might have to go on the floor, rather than the altar itself), lots of seasonal symbolism, and candles — after all, Yule is a celebration of light.

You’ll also want to have some holiday incense on your altar. Frankincense, cinnamon, myrrh — all are appropriate to the season; don’t light it just yet, though. Finally, have two candles in seasonal colors.

If you normally cast a circle, do so now.

To begin the ritual, sit on the floor near your altar — don’t light the candles just yet. Take a few moments to remember what it was like for our ancestors at this time of year. The harvest had been brought in, and they knew that in a few months, their stockpiles of food would be running low. It was the season of Death, the time when the earth went dormant once more, sleeping until the spring returned. Our ancestors knew that despite the darkness of this night, soon the light would return to the earth, bringing with it life. This night, the Winter Solstice, welcomes back the Sun, the ultimate giver of light.

Light the first candle, and say:

Tonight is the night of the Solstice,
the longest night of the year.
As the Wheel turns once more, I know that
tomorrow, the Sun will begin its journey back to us.
With it, new life will begin,
a blessing from Earth to her children.

Light the second candle, and say:

It is the season of the winter goddess.
Tonight I celebrate the festival of the winter solstice,
the rebirth of the Sun, and the return of light to the Earth.
As the Wheel of the Year turns once more,
I honor the eternal cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth.

Light the remaining candles on the altar at this time, and if you have decorative holiday lighting, turn it on. Return to your place at the altar, and face the holiday tree or Yule log. Raise your arms up to the tree, and say:

Today I honor the god of the forest,
the King of nature, who rules the season.
I give my thanks to the beautiful goddess,
whose blessings bring new life to the earth.
This gift I offer you tonight,
sending my prayers to you upon the air.

Light your incense, and if you’d like to make an offering of food, bread, or something else, do so now. As the smoke of the incense rises to the night sky, meditate on what changes you’d like to see before the next Sabbat. Reflect upon the time of the season. Although winter is here, life lies dormant beneath the soil. What new things will you bring to fruition for yourself when the planting season returns? How will you change yourself, and maintain your spirit throughout the cold months? When you are ready, either end the rite, or continue on with additional rituals, such as Cakes and Ale or Drawing Down the Moon.

Tips:

  1. If you don’t have a ritual robe, you can take a cleansing bath before the rite, and then wear a simple cotton or other organic material. Another option would be to make a robe as a Yule gift to yourself!
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