Magickal Goody of the Day
Make Your Own Yule Smudge Stick
When Yule rolls around – December if you’re in the northern hemisphere, or in June for our readers below the equator – one of the most notable aspects of the season is that of the scents and smells. There’s something about our olfactory system triggering certain memories and recollections, and the Yule season is no exception. Aromas like pine needles, cinnamon, mulled spices, frankincense – all of these are reminders of the winter holidays for many of us.
One of the things I love to do once the weather gets cold is make seasonal smudge sticks. These are essentially like any other smudge stick – you bundle herbs together, tie with string, and allow them to dry out before eventually burning them – but I wanted to put together a combination of plants that evoked the scents of winter.
There’s a park near me that has an arboretum, and it’s a great location for me to go and just wander around, especially when I feel a need to get outside and reconnect with nature, but don’t have the time to dedicate to a half-day hiking trip. Although it’s right in the middle of my town, the arboretum is usually pretty well deserted, other than the occasional dog-walker – most residents use a nearby recreational park for their activities instead. And that means I’ve usually got the place to myself.
I went out for a stroll through the arboretum as the weather was beginning to get chilly – it was cold enough for a jacket, but I didn’t quite need gloves or a hat yet.
As I walked, I stopped and took the time to visit with the trees in the arboretum. Many of them had newly fallen branches lying beneath them, so I took it upon myself to gather them up. After all, it wasn’t like anyone else was going to use them! I collected pine branches and cones, some fir, and a bit of juniper as well, and decided that once I couldn’t carry any more branches in my arms, I was done. I took them home, shook out the extra bits of detritus, and got to work making seasonal smudge sticks for the upcoming Yule season. Smudging is a great way to cleanse a sacred space, and most people use smudge sticks made of sweetgrass or sage for this purpose, but why not use more seasonally appropriate plants at Yule?
Now, I’ve done a bit of experimenting and found that some types of plants definitely work better than others. For instance, certain members of the fir family begin to drop their needles as soon as they begin to dry, which means you’ll end up with needles all over your floor, and not in your smudge stick if you use them. On the other hand, the trees with the longer, softer needles seem to work really well, and lend themselves nicely to a project like this.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Scissors or garden clippers
- Cotton string
- Seasonal plants such as evergreens (pine, fir, juniper, balsam, and cedar), as well as other scents you find appealing – I used rosemary in mine in addition to the pine, fir, and juniper.
Trim your clippings down to a manageable length – I usually keep mine between six and ten inches, but if you’d like to make shorter smudge sticks, go right ahead. Cut a length of string about five feet long. Put several branches together, and wind the string tightly around the stems of the bundle, leaving two inches of loose string where you began. Tie a knot when you get to the end, and leave a loop so you can hang them for drying. Depending on how fresh your branches are – and how much sap is in them – it can take a few weeks to dry them out. Once they’re done, burn them in Yule rituals and ceremonies, or use them for cleansing a sacred space.
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Incense of the Day
YULE PURIFICATION INCENSE
1 part juniper leaves
1 part juniper berries
½ part rosemary leaves
4 parts frankincense
–Anna Franklin, Yule (The Eight Sabbats)
Gemstone of the Day
Herb of the Day
Yule Legend of the Day
In Italian folklore, Befana is an old woman who delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5) in a similar way to St Nicholas or Santa Claus.
A popular belief is that her name derives from the Feast of Epiphany or in Italian La Festa dell’Epifania. Epiphania (Epiphany in English) is a Latin word with Greek origins. “Epiphany” means either the “Feast of the Epiphany” (January 6) or “manifestation (of the divinity).” Some suggest that Befana is descended from the Sabine/Roman goddess named Strina.
In popular folklore Befana visits all the children of Italy on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany to fill their stockings with candy and presents if they are good. Or a lump of coal or dark candy if they are bad. In many poorer parts of Italy and in particular rural Sicily, a stick in a stocking was placed instead of coal. Being a good housekeeper, many say she will sweep the floor before she leaves. To some the sweeping meant the sweeping away of the problems of the year. The child’s family typically leaves a small glass of wine and a plate with a few morsels of food, often regional or local, for the Befana.
She is usually portrayed as an old lady riding a broomstick through the air wearing a black shawl and is covered in soot because she enters the children’s houses through the chimney. She is often smiling and carries a bag or hamper filled with candy, gifts, or both.
The Befana is celebrated throughout all of Italy, and has become a national icon. In the regions of the Marches, Umbria and Latium, her figure is associated with the Papal States, where the Epiphany held the most importance. Urbania is thought to be her official home. Every year there is a big festival held to celebrate the holiday. About 30,000-50,000 people attend the festivities. Hundreds of Befana’s are present, swinging from the main tower. They juggle, dance and greet all the children. Traditionally, all Italian children may expect to find a lump of “coal” in their stockings (actually rock candy made black with caramel coloring), as every child has been at least occasionally bad during the year.
- Piazza Navona in central Rome is the site of a popular market each year between Christmas and the Epiphany, where toys, sugar charcoal and other candies are on sale. The feast of the Befana in Rome was immortalized in four famous sonnets in the Roman dialect by the 19th century Roman poet Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli. In Ottorino Respighi’s 1928 Feste Romane (“Roman Festivals”), the fourth movement, titled La Befana, is an orchestral portrayal of this Piazza Navona festival. Romans believe that at the midnight January 6 the Befana shows herself from a window of Piazza Navona, and they always go there to watch her (it’s a joke everybody tells while going to the feast to buy candies, toys and sweets).
- The town of Urbania in the Province of Pesaro e Urbino within the Marches, where the national Befana festival is held each year, usually between January 2 and 6. A “house of the Befana” is scheduled to be built and the post office has a mailbox reserved for letters addressed to the Befana, mirroring what happens with Santa Claus in Rovaniemi.
- In Fornovo di Taro a little town by Parma the national meeting “Raduno Nazionale delle Befane e dei Befani” is held the 5th and 6 January. Lot of events and great fun.
In other parts of the world where a vibrant Italian community exists, traditions involving Befana may be observed and shared or celebrated with the wider community. In Toronto, Canada for example, a Befana Choir shows up on Winter Solstice each December to sing in the Kensington Market Festival of Lights parade. Women, men, and children dressed in La Befana costume and nose sing love songs to serenade the sun to beckon its return. The singing hags gather in the street to give candy to children, to cackle and screech to accordion music, and to sing in every key imaginable as delighted parade participants join in the cacophony. Sometimes, the Befanas dance with parade goers and dust down the willing as parade goers walk by.
The tradition of Befana appears to incorporate other pre-Christian popular elements as well, adapted to Christian culture and related to the celebration of the New Year. Historian Carlo Ginzburg relates her to Nicevenn. The old lady character should then represent the old year just passed, ready to be burned in order to give place to the new one. In many European countries the tradition still exists of burning a puppet of an old lady at the beginning of the New Year, called Giubiana in Northern Italy, with clear Celtic origins. Italian anthropologists Claudia and Luigi Manciocco, in their book Una Casa Senza Porte (House without a Door) trace Befana’s origins back to Neolithic beliefs and practices. The team of anthropologists also wrote about Befana as a figure that evolved into a goddess associated with fertility and agriculture.
Befana also maintains many similarities with Perchta and her Pre-Christian Alpine traditions.
You might be a Redneck Pagan if…
- If you think “widdershins” refers to the calves of the bereaved lady next door….
- If you think fetch deer is a command you give yer dawg….
- If you think a goblet is a young turkey….
- If you think Drawing Down the Moon means demolishing the outhouse….
- If you call your coven mates “Bud” and “Sis”….
- If you think a Great Rite is turning onto County Road 13….
- If your Quarter candles smell like kerosene….
- If you pronounce “Athame” as “Athaym” and “Samhain” as “Sammon” or “Sam-hayn”….
- If you think a “Sidhe” is a girl….
- If your idea of the “Goddess” is the Coors Swedish Bikini Ski Team….
- If your Bard plays the banjo….
- If your ‘Long Lost Friend really IS….
- If your lawn is decorated with at least one, preferably two or more, plastic pink flamingos, whom you regard as your familiars….
- If your Wand of Power is a cattle prod….
- If your ceremonial belt has your name on the back and a belt buckle bigger than your head….
- If you call the Quarters by invoking “Billy, Joe, Jim and Bob”….
- If you call the Gods by hollerin’ “Hey y’all, watch me!”….
- If your favorite robe has the logo of a manufacturer of major farm equipment on the back….
- If you’ve ever harvested ritual herbs with a weed wacker….
- If your ritual staff is a double barrel shotgun….
- If your ritual garments include any one of the following: plaid flannels, long johns, a pistol belt, or cowboy boots….
- If you’ve ever blessed chewing tobacco or snuff….
- If your ritual wine is Maddog 20/20, Night Train or White Lady 21….
- If the instructions to get to your Covenstead include the words “After you turn off the paved road”….
- If your altar-cloth is a rebel flag….
- If you use junk cars to mark the four corners of your circle….
- If your Eternal Flame just happens to be under a still….
- If you use an engine block for an altar….
- If your High Priestess is your cousin – as well as your wife….
- If, when drawing down the moon, you say, “Ya’ll come on down, ya hear?”….
- If your pickup truck has an Athame rack….
- If your crystal ball is made of polystyrene (i.e., a bowling ball)….
- If your High Priestess has a spittoon on her altar….
You might be a Redneck Pagan!
More meteors? Plus Cassiopeia in the north
Tonight – December 14, 2015 – the peak of the Geminid meteor shower has passed, but don’t let that stop you from going outside tonight and watch for meteors! According to our trusty Observer’s Handbook, the peak is at 1800 UTC today. That is noon central time in North America. And that means tonight’s chances are still good for a meteor display. The usual rules for meteor-watching apply. A dark sky location is best. Let your eyes adjust to the dark, and lie back comfortably while letting your eyes roam among the stars. When one person in your group sees a meteor, call out “meteor!” Then everyone can turn and look.
The photo at the top of this post is from Vince Babkirk in Thailand, who caught a meteor in fog on Saturday night. He wrote:
We had a heavy marine layer, light pollution from the squid boats on the Gulf of Thailand, and some low clouds overnight. But I still managed to get my first capture of a Geminid meteor with Jupiter above.
Now let’s turn toward the northern sky and its famous constellation Cassiopeia the Queen. On December evenings, this constellation appears high in the northeast at nightfall as seen from latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere. Cassiopeia can also be seen from tropical and subtropical latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, appearing low in the north at nightfall and early evening.
In mid-December, Cassiopeia swings directly over Polaris, the North Star, at around 7 to 8 p.m. local clock time. (You can’t see Polaris from temperate latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere because it’s below the horizon in that part of the world.) Cassiopeia – sometimes called The Lady of the Chair – is famous for having the shape of a telltale W or M. You will find this configuration of stars as a starlit M whenever she reigns highest in the sky, hovering over Polaris.
Because Cassiopeia returns to the same spot in the sky about four minutes earlier with each passing day, look for Cassiopeia to be at her high point over Polaris, the North Star, at about 6 to 7 p.m. local time by the month’s end.
From a dark country sky, you’ll see that Cassiopeia sits atop the luminous band of stars known as the Milky Way. Arching from horizon to horizon, this soft-glowing boulevard of stars represents an edgewise view into the flat disk of our own Milky Way galaxy. When Cassiopeia climbs above Polaris, the North Star, on these dark winter evenings, note that this hazy belt of stars that we call the Milky Way extends through the Northern Cross in the western sky and past Orion the Hunter in your eastern sky.
This Milky Way is fainter than the glorious broad band of the Milky Way we see in a Northern Hemisphere summer or Southern Hemisphere winter. That’s because we are looking toward the star-rich center of the galaxy at the opposite side of the year. On these December nights, we are looking toward the galaxy’s outer edge, not the center.
As the night marches onward, Cassiopeia – like the hour hand of a clock – circles around the North Star, though in a counter-clockwise direction.
By dawn, you will find Cassiopeia has swept down in the northwest – to a point below the North Star. At that time, if you’re at a southerly latitude, you might not be able to see Cassiopeia. The constellation might be below your horizon. But if you’re located at a latitude like those in the northern U.S., you will still see Cassiopeia sitting on or near your northern horizon.
Look northward on these cold December evenings to see the Queen Cassiopeia sitting proudly on her throne, atop the northern terminus of the Milky Way!
Bottom line: Watch for the constellation Cassiopeia the Queen on these December evenings. It is shaped like an M or W. You’ll find Cassiopeia in the northeast at nightfall, sweeping higher in the north as evening progresses.