Witchcraft – Chapter Four – The Trials

Witchcraft

Chapter Four – The Trials

by Ilil Arbel, Ph.D.

To understand the connection between Christianity and the Old Religion, one must make the acquaintance of the Devil. Satan is an ambivalent fellow, and trying to figure out his character, origin, and relationship to God is difficult.

Here is a sentence from Isaiah, stating with authority that God created evil. “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I the Lord do all these things.”  Clear enough.  But if he was created by God, who is always good, how can the Devil be bad?

Again, God wants to be killed in the person of Christ. It is his design, and it is meant for the benefit of mankind. If so, why are those who execute Christ considered “Devilish” for so long?  They were doing God’s will!

God is all powerful and all good. However, if God wanted to create a world which was all good, and couldn’t do it, than he is not all powerful. If he didn’t want to make a world which was all good, than He is not all good.

How do you get out of that?  You create an Adversary, who is equal to God in power, and is in a constant struggle with Him. But that doesn’t work either. The notion is taken from Persian Dualism, and to true Christians, this is heresy. The solution?  God permits the Devil to operate and make man into a sinner. In other words, an evil principle is needed to test men’s faith. This solution works until you ask the next question. Why is the sinner punished for what is permitted by God?

This would lead nowhere. If you continue with the questioning, eventually you will hit the wall — it is so because the Church says that it is so. Well, heresy or not, the Adversary, permitted or otherwise, remained. He had to. He was badly needed.

The Devil has many forms. He has superhuman intelligence and cunning, though sometimes he can be tricked. He is a handsome fellow, unless he transforms himself into an animal or a monster. He can perform miracles. He has tremendous legal expertise. He has scientific knowledge and understands the nature of the universe — and the psychology of men and women. He can be, and often is, quite charming.

During those times, if you were a good Christian, you believed in him. For without sin there is no overcoming temptation, no salvation, no need of a Church. Without Satan, there is no Christianity.

On the other hand, Satan could not have existed without the Church. Pagans had no fear of magic in itself. They were aware of magic used for good or for bad purposes, but the power itself they considered neutral. Most importantly, it came from men and women, natural to humanity itself. So the gods, demigods, spirits, etc., could never have given birth to the powerful entity of Satan.

To Christians, supernatural powers should come only from God, as miracles. If the saints did not perform them, then a demon did. Shows of second sight, moving of objects without physical action, transportation by levitation and so on frightened them.

As the smaller spirits and demigods were changed into demons, only one entity was strong enough to assume the role of the Adversary. The Devil took the shape of the familiar horned god. Pan loved nature; he was one with the earth; he even looked right with his horns and hooves. He was perfect for the job, and he got it. The new “evil entity” and his hordes of demons were now ready to tempt and mislead mankind.

In 380, Emperor Theodosius declared that all his subjects had to become Christians. Anyone following a different religion was a heretic. The heretics were to expect penalties by an authority guided by divine wisdom. The Church didn’t only kill the heretic – his or her family and friends were also seized. Their property was confiscated. Anyone who opposed them was declared a disciple of the Devil.

Christians now felt free to desecrate any temple – a good excuse to loot. In the process, they destroyed an enormous amount of Pagan literature. This literature was irreplaceable, and its destruction left us with huge holes in our understanding of the period. The Church destroyed the theater and any nonreligious music; limited art to religious subjects; declared that science was the Devil’s tool. It ignored the natural world with all its wonders, and feared it as temptation for sin. Life was just a preliminary to the glory of the afterlife in Heaven.

In a world that closed upon itself and denied nature, the Witches were at a disadvantage even before the great trials. They were part of a different, threatening way of life. The Church declared a war on Paganism. In the name of saving people’s souls it prepared to kill any number of bodies.

For the body didn’t matter at all. Pain and suffering were good if they happened in the name of Christ.  The salvation of one’s soul depended on purity, celibacy, and iron obedience. So what if the body of the sinner was tortured, or even killed?  Only the soul mattered. In one document, a priest declared that if an innocent person was executed, it didn’t really matter. God will recognize his own and the person will go directly to paradise. The brief, sad life on this dreary, sinful world did not count. From the 11th century on, the Catholic Church had many rival religions. They included Manicheans, Catharists, Waldenses and Albagenses. All were Christian, but the Church declared they were heretics. For various reasons, they also included Witchcraft, so to be a witch meant to be automatically a heretic.

Part of the crusade against witches was the spreading of wild rumors about their immoral and unnatural activities. The Church accused them of flying on broomsticks, having demon lovers, and murdering Christian children. It was quite a successful campaign, and brought a large number of women, some of them teen age girls or even children, to the stake.

The professional witch hunter made a very good living. There is a story about Matthew Hopkins, a professional witch hunter during the time of Puritans. The man developed a practical and quick system of destroying his victims. He would go into a village, find out who was unpopular with the Puritan regime, and report them. They would be tortured for a confession, and Hopkins would be paid per head for each conviction. The victims almost always confessed, since death was preferable to weeks of continuous torture.

Most of the victims, of course, had nothing to do with the Old Religion. They never saw a coven or an initiation ceremony. They may have known a little herbal medicine and possibly talked to their cats – strong evidence in those days. Enough to put them on the rack or burn them at the stake.

In 1318 and again in 1320, the Pope brought Witchcraft under the jurisdiction of the Inquisition. The inquisition, as usual, was ready to eradicate any heretic, so the witch trials expanded. Women were made to confess to crimes that were everything the Old Religion abhorred. People would say anything under torture, and the torture was too horrible to describe in a book such as this. The women confessed, under this horror, the orgy-like nature of the Sabbats. They admitted to submitting themselves to intercourse with the Devil – often described as taking the shape of a male goat!  They admitted to casting spells that harmed their neighbors’ health, domestic animals, or crops; of using human body parts, even children’s, in their magical brews; of cannibalism, particularly involving newborn babies; of giving birth to the children of demons. All that and more – from people who worshiped Nature, who were the guardians of the sacred earth.

As the hysteria continued, the Pope sent two Dominican inquisitors, Kramer and Sprenger, to Germany. The two men wrote a book together, considered at the time the best textbook on Witchcraft. The name of this book was, in Latin, Malleus Maleficarum, which means The Witch’s Hammer. It is still available today, in the translation of Montague Summers. Summers was one of the few twentieth-century men to believe that the witches got what they deserved. He later wrote a book of his own, The History of Witchcraft, explaining the wickedness of Witchcraft. His book is a mind-boggling piece of superstition, ignorance and hate. As Summers was an educated man, a respected man of the Church, the book throws light on the obvious question: “How could they?  How could men of God torture and kill in the name of such nonsense?”  Read The History of Witchcraft. It’s worth it. You’ll understand what a Grand Inquisitor was really like.

The Malleus Maleficarun is horrifying. It explains the depraved nature of the Witch. It permits, even encourages torture, as means of extracting confession. It approves of life imprisonment for the repenting witch, and death to the unrepenting. It explains a sudden insanity as demonic possession – thus allowing the torture of the insane, a practice that lasted for centuries. The worst of it is that it is calmly arranged as a logical, clear, methodical, legal text.

This monstrous book extended its influence until the middle of the 18th century. Even Martin Luther was interested in it. Despite his objection to much within the Catholic Church, he believed in the Devil, and had, apparently, a confrontation with him. There is a story, substantiated by an ink stain in the castle of Wartburg, that the Devil tried to harass Luther. Luther threw his ink bottle at him. One wonders about his state of mind and his hallucinations.

Interestingly, Luther thought that witches rarely attended any Sabbats. According to Montague Summers, he held that witches generally hallucinated it under drugs or in a trance, but not always. On rare occasions, he thought, the Sabbats actually took place. Obviously, Luther couldn’t make up his mind. At any rate, he did not object to the witch hunts or the executions. Perhaps he didn’t care much.

There are always those who try to stop the madness of mobs. They are the enlightened, the brave, the true heroes of their time. The philosopher Giordano Bruno, for instance, burned at the stake for saying what St. Augustine said before — that witches were just sadly deluded women. Great doctors like Paracelus, Johan Wier and Thomas Syderham risked their lives to fight it.

To end the madness, it took an inquisitor who could no longer tolerate it. Alonso Salaza y Frias, after a mass execution in Navarre, decided to do an investigation of his own. When it was finished, he openly declared that all the victims of this particular execution were innocent. He then refused, officially, to accept any further accusation without tangible proof. During trials, he would allow no torture. The property of the accused witch would no longer be confiscated.

The public lost interest. Without the pleasure of seeing a woman humiliated and tortured to death, and without the hope of material gains, what was the point of accusing anyone?  And you had to supply proof!  What an innovation!  No doubt, some bemoaned the good old days, when all you had to do was point at someone you didn’t like and wail: “witch!”

In England, they pretended they did not use torture, but some of their methods were so near it that the distinction is not clear. They were actively hunting witches for centuries, but eventually, in 1712, one witch was convicted but not executed. The British, like the Spanish, began to lose interest in the spectacle of horror. In Scotland the last burning was in 1727. In Germany, the last execution was in 1628. In France, it was stopped by a law passed in 1682. Europe began to emerge from the darkness.

The horror story is not yet over, though. Witchcraft in early America will be dealt with in the next chapter. While fewer people were executed in this country, it is probably the worst example, since the immigrants came here to escape oppression.

Folk medicine:

  • A lynx’s claw.
  • A weasel’s bones.
  • Snakes’ vertebrae.
  • Iron pirate pieces. If struck over the body of a sick person, the striking of the pirate will clear both physical and mental diseases and the effect of the evil eye.
  • Charcoal of an aspen tree. In today’s folk medicine, the charcoal is useful if the tree was hit by lightning. It is possible that the aspen in the grave was burned in the same way.

Magic items:

  • Horses’ teeth.
  • Twigs of a rowan tree.
  • An iron knife.
  • A sword.

The old Scandinavian Sagas describe activities of witches which are still part of today’s ceremonies. They also tell the usual stories – shape changing, riding on poles, or sending the soul out of the bodies.

Another interesting ancient connection exists in Mexico. A witch cult there was centered around a goddess, or a “Witch Queen.”  She always carried or rode a broom. The broom, to the Mexicans, symbolized purity and cleanliness. This is particularly important because the Medieval European witch considered cleanliness and order essential. Her contemporaries rarely bathed, and kept food debris on their straw-covered floors for weeks. The witches in Mexico, just like the European ones, always wore big necklaces. Men wore the same kind of leather apron as the Irish male witches.They worked in small rooms to confine the power – much like the circles of power of the European witches.

There is no explanation to the similarity. Some historical researchers believe that perhaps people traveled across the Atlantic before Columbus, and introduced the Old Religion to Mexico. Or perhaps the needs of Witchcraft created similar evolution wherever and whenever it was practiced.

Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome treated magic as if it was science. Not that they were particularly concerned with pure science; they were more interested in practical results. However, they had to know the medicinal and poisonous properties of hundreds of plants; they knew how to use hypnosis; they understood human consciousness. The magicians combined their practice with incantations and prayers, which is why today’s scientists do not take them seriously. But they were not much different. When achieving an identical result, today’s scientist credits it to reasoning or experimentation. The sorcerer assumed they were given by a supernatural power.

Some great scholars in Greece worked as sorcerers. Pythagoras, the mathematician, openly practiced philosophy, science and magic. He had a strong influence on Plato, not himself a sorcerer, but clearly a believer. One can see that in his Dialogues Aristotle suggested the influence of the magical theory in his History of Animals. Neither he nor Plato feared the magicians, though many other people did. Obviously, they understood, with their better education and sharp minds, what the sorcerers were doing.

Finding the roots of Ancient Greek Witchcraft and Hellenistic Witchcraft is easy. One has simply to look at their great holidays. Take, for example, the Eleuisian holiday which attracted thousands of people. Much like the May holiday participants in the British Isles, the Greeks had games, theater, wine, food, dancing and music. Everyone was at least half drunk and ready for religious ecstasy. Mystical rites included the purging of the fear of death, the procession in honor of the dead, and the wild, whirling dancing. People fell into trance-like states, many acting as if they were in direct communication with the gods. It was similar to Voodoo possession – or to the ancient shaman/witch union with the unseen forces. Naturally, some people were better at it than others, and some became priests and priestesses.

The best known priestesses were those who worked at the Oracle of Delphi. They dedicated their lives to the gods and practiced prophecy and divination. The priestess sat over a cleft in the rocks, from which fumes of various drugs rose to envelop her body. The drugs brought on a trance state, and under it she told the future. Another priestess or priest had to explain the messages, because often they were hard to understand. Many of the prophecies came true, and the practice lasted thousands of years. It is silly to dismiss the whole thing as a lie, as the Catholic church later tried. Ancient Greece was a culture of sophistication, intellect and learning. Could a handful of priests really trick these people for so long?

The god Pan is another connection with witchcraft. In the Dianic tradition of Witchcraft, one of the schools still active today, the horned god is still named Pan. Is it the same deity? There are some differences. But this happens to every ancient religion. Take the Judeo-Christian tradition. The current merciful God is very different from the angry desert deity that took the Israelites out of Egypt and into Canaan, destroying entire nations in His path. And yet any Priest, Minister or Rabbi would be horrified if you dared suggest that it was another God – Jehovah is Jehovah! Well, Pan is Pan. Then and now, he is a nature god, a part of every living animal and plant. And he is still with his goddess and with those who call themselves the Guardians of the Earth.

Shape changing was common in Greece, too, as seen by both mythology and literature. Zeus’ love affairs are famous for it. He changed into a swan, a bull, or even a shower of golden rain, as the occasion demanded. Also, the famous book The Golden Ass, by Apuleius of Madaura tells of such a change. It is a story of Greek man who, with the help of an untrained witch’s apprentice, turns himself accidentally into a donkey. After many misadventures, the goddess Isis restores him from the animal shape and he becomes her priest.

There are several great Greek witches. Medea is probably the most famous witch of antiquity. She is strong, possibly insane, and murderous. Hecate is first a moon goddess, then a witch goddess who rules the nights and all its frightening creatures. Circe is a sorceress who turns her lovers into swine when she tires of them. All the Greek stories of the great, power wielding, magnificent witches view them as evil. This is because they were, originally, priestesses of the Old Religion, worshipers of the mother goddess. The “new” Greek religion saw them as competition and turned them into evil hags, as most cultures do. For further proof, the texts often stress the witches’ knowledge of herbal medicine and magic – the obvious traits of the followers of Wicca, then as now.

The Romans used much magic in their daily lives. They employed magical astrology, and used amulets, incantations, healing and cursing formulas.

The Romans had an interesting device, very similar to today’s Ouija board. It was a metal disk, supported by a wooden tripod. On its rim, the letters of the alphabet were inscribed. The person performing the ritual suspended a ring on a thread, right above the disk. Some incantation was said, and the ring began to swing like a pendulum, forming words and answering questions.

The Aeneid describes magic extensively. Dido, the tragic heroin, is a powerful sorceress whose magic eventually turns against herself, much like Medea’s in Greece. Horace’s plays describe evil Witchcraft, including some horrifying ritual murder of children. Other Roman poets describe necromancy and divination. Obviously, witches in Rome had a bad reputation.

Romans, as a nation, enjoyed cruelty. One has only to look at their arena games and war atrocities to see that. The stories about the witches reflect that taste. Unquestionably, some Roman witches turned to the dark side. The records show that their help was often used for poisoning, necromancy, and even attempts at raising of the dead and the creation of zombies. It was a sad period for true followers of the Old Religion.

In Egypt, magic was entirely scientific. It was mixed with religion, but nevertheless practiced as a precise and organized activity. From the mythologies and magic books it is clear that they had a system of the Occult based on subjects. There are separate texts on astrology, alchemy, formulas for magic in daily use, etc. The practitioners were specialists. The ordinary people, in addition to consulting the experts, could also purchase amulets and herbs for self protection and do-it-yourself magic.

Repeating the magic formula in exactly the same way, even down to the tone of voice, was called “right speaking.”  The Book of the Dead stated that the gates to the other world would not open to a person who did not know his secret name or who uttered it incorrectly. The name of each gate in the other world also required correct reading and pronunciation.

The Egyptians had many books containing formulas and incantations, spells and charms for daily use. Amulets were important. They were worn by the living and put on the dead. Amulets could be made of any material and sometimes carved with magic formulas. Some shapes were particularly popular, such as the scarab and the heart. The Egyptians even had amulets to protect each part of the body. The books often mention dreams and shape changing. For example, there are spells in the Book of the Dead teaching the newly deceased how to change into birds, crocodiles, or serpents.

The positive image of the witch lasted for generations. Eventually, however, patriarchal monotheism took over in the West, first by Judaism and later by Christianity. With it, the position of the witch deteriorated. The Bible often refers to witches in a negative manner. They are always fiercely persecuted by the priests of Jehovah. Most notable is the Witch of Endor, who is consulted secretly by King Saul. The story is interesting because  Saul killed  many witches on the demand of the Prophet Samuel. She is one of the few survivors.

Earlier, Moses and Aaron practiced Egyptian magic, described in detail in Exodus. They turned a stick into a snake, for instance, during a competition with the Egyptian magicians. The plagues visited on the Egyptians, including such things as pestilence and darkness in the middle of the day, sound like malevolent Witchcraft. Naturally, the Bible describes the plagues as punishment by God.

King Solomon, David’s son, was supposed to be the wisest man of his generation, perhaps the wisest ever to live on Earth. He was a magician as well. The book The Wisdom of Solomon was written many years after his death, but much of it is probably based on his words. In it he said that God gave him power and knowledge, and that his studies included not only science but the Occult. In the original text, this included power over demons. The sentence was mistakenly translated as power over the winds, because the two words are similar in the original Hebrew. He also claimed knowledge of exorcism.

Nevertheless, the Bible is determined that no witch should be permitted to live. The reason is simple. A witch is not only a worshiper of a competing religion, but a symbol of a matriarchal society. A society ruled by women is offensive to the male-dominated Jews and Christians. So the settlement of the Israelites in Canaan is the point in time in which the power of the Old Religion began its slow decline. It has taken many centuries and a fierce struggle, but a gentle nature religion is no match to the powerful, military, new religion. Starting from Mount Sinai, a fiery volcano in the desert, the Judeo-Christian creed swept everything in its violent path and conquered the Western world.

 

Source:

Encyclopedia MYTHICA

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MIDWINTER NIGHT’S EVE – Y U L E

MIDWINTER NIGHT’S EVE  –  Y U L E
by Mike Nichols

Our Christian friends are often quite surprised at how enthusiastically we
Pagans celebrate the ‘Christmas’ season. Even though we prefer to use the word
‘Yule’, and our celebrations may peak a few days BEFORE the 25th, we nonetheless follow many of the traditional customs of the season: decorated trees, caroling, presents, Yule logs, and  mistletoe. We might even go so far as putting up a ‘Nativity set’, though for us the three central characters are likely to be interpreted as Mother Nature, Father Time, and the Baby Sun-God. None of this will come as a surprise to anyone who knows the true history of the holiday, of course.

In fact, if truth be known, the holiday of Christmas has always been more Pagan
than Christian, with it’s associations of Nordic divination, Celtic fertility
rites, and Roman Mithraism. That is why both Martin Luther and John Calvin
abhorred it, why the Puritans refused to acknowledge it, much less celebrate it
(to them, no day of the year could be more holy than the Sabbath), and why it
was even made ILLEGAL in Boston! The holiday was already too closely associated with the birth of older Pagan gods and heroes. And many of them (like Oedipus, Theseus, Hercules, Perseus, Jason, Dionysus, Apollo, Mithra, Horus and even Arthur) possessed a narrative of birth, death, and resurrection that was uncomfortably close to that of Jesus. And to make matters worse, many of them pre-dated the Christian Savior.

Ultimately, of course, the holiday is rooted deeply in the cycle of the year. It
is the Winter Solstice that is being celebrated, seed-time of the year, the
longest night and shortest day. It is the birthday of the new Sun King, the Son
of God — by whatever name you choose to call him. On this darkest of nights,
the Goddess becomes the Great Mother and once again gives birth. And it makes
perfect poetic sense that on the longest night of the winter, ‘the dark night of
our souls’, there springs the new spark of hope, the Sacred Fire, the Light of
the World, the Coel Coeth.

That is why Pagans have as much right to claim this holiday as Christians.
Perhaps even more so, as the Christians were rather late in laying claim to it,
and tried more than once to reject it. There had been a tradition in the West
that Mary bore the child Jesus on the twenty-fifth day, but no one could seem to
decide on the month. Finally, in 320 C.E., the Catholic Fathers in Rome decided
to make it December, in an effort to co-opt the Mithraic celebration of the
Romans and the Yule celebrations of the Celts and Saxons.

There was never much pretense that the date they finally chose was historically
accurate. Shepherds just don’t ‘tend their flocks by night’ in the high
pastures in the dead of winter! But if one wishes to use the New Testament as
historical evidence, this reference may point to sometime in the spring as the
time of Jesus’ birth. This is because the lambing season occurs in the spring
and that is the only time when shepherds are likely to ‘watch their flocks by
night’ – to make sure the lambing goes well. Knowing this, the Eastern half of
the Church continued to reject December 25, preferring a ‘movable date’ fixed by
their astrologers according to the moon.

Thus, despite its shaky start (for over three centuries, no one knew when Jesus
was supposed to have been born!), December 25 finally began to catch on. By 529,
it was a civic holiday, and all work or public business (except that of cooks,
bakers, or any that contributed to the delight of the holiday) was prohibited by
the Emperor Justinian. In 563, the Council of Braga forbade fasting on Christmas
Day, and four years later the Council of Tours proclaimed the twelve days from
December 25 to Epiphany as a sacred, festive season. This last point is perhaps
the hardest to impress upon the modern reader, who is lucky to get a single day
off work. Christmas, in the Middle Ages, was not a SINGLE day, but rather a
period of TWELVE days, from December 25 to January 6. The Twelve Days of
Christmas, in fact. It is certainly lamentable that the modern world has
abandoned this approach, along with the popular Twelfth Night celebrations.

Of course, the Christian version of the holiday spread to many countries no
faster than Christianity itself, which means that ‘Christmas’ wasn’t celebrated
in Ireland until the late fifth century; in England, Switzerland, and Austria
until the seventh; in Germany until the eighth; and in the Slavic lands until
the ninth and tenth. Not that these countries lacked their own mid-winter
celebrations of Yuletide. Long before the world had heard of Jesus, Pagans had
been observing the season by bringing in the Yule log, wishing on it, and
lighting it from the remains of last year’s log. Riddles were posed and
answered, magic and rituals were practiced, wild boars were sacrificed and
consumed along with large quantities of liquor, corn dollies were carried from
house to house while caroling, fertility rites were practiced (girls standing
under a sprig of mistletoe were subject to a bit more than a kiss), and
divinations were cast for the coming Spring. Many of these Pagan customs, in an
appropriately watered-down form, have entered the mainstream of Christian
celebration, though most celebrants do not realize (or do not mention it, if
they do) their origins.

For modern Witches, Yule (from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Yula’, meaning ‘wheel’ of the
year) is usually celebrated on the actual Winter Solstice, which may vary by a
few days, though it usually occurs on or around December 21st. It is a Lesser
Sabbat or Lower Holiday in the modern Pagan calendar, one of the four quarter-
days of the year, but a very important one. This year (1988) it occurs on
December 21st at 9:28 am CST. Pagan customs are still enthusiastically
followed. Once, the Yule log had been the center of the celebration. It was
lighted on the eve of the solstice (it should light on the first try) and must
be kept burning for twelve hours, for good luck. It should be made of ash.
Later, the Yule log was replaced by the Yule tree but, instead of burning it,
burning candles were placed on it. In Christianity, Protestants might claim that
Martin Luther invented the custom, and Catholics might grant St. Boniface the
honor, but the custom can demonstrably be traced back through the Roman
Saturnalia all the way to ancient Egypt. Needless to say, such a tree should be
cut down rather than purchased, and should be disposed of by burning, the proper
way to dispatch any sacred object.

Along with the evergreen, the holly and the ivy and the mistletoe were important
plants of the season, all symbolizing fertility and everlasting life. Mistletoe
was especially venerated by the Celtic Druids, who cut it with a golden sickle
on the sixth night of the moon, and believed it to be an aphrodisiac. (Magically
— not medicinally! It’s highly toxic!) But aphrodisiacs must have been the
smallest part of the Yuletide menu in ancient times, as contemporary reports
indicate that the tables fairly creaked under the strain of every type of good
food. And drink! The most popular of which was the ‘wassail cup’ deriving its
name from the Anglo-Saxon term ‘waes hael’ (be whole or hale).

Medieval Christmas folklore seems endless: that animals will all kneel down as
the Holy Night arrives, that bees hum the ‘100th psalm’ on Christmas Eve, that a
windy Christmas will bring good luck, that a person born on Christmas Day can
see the Little People, that a cricket on the hearth brings good luck, that if
one opens all the doors of the house at midnight all the evil spirits will
depart, that you will have one lucky month for each Christmas pudding you
sample, that the tree must be taken down by Twelfth Night or bad luck is sure to
follow, that ‘if Christmas on a Sunday be, a windy winter we shall see’, that
‘hours of sun on Christmas Day, so many frosts in the month of May’, that one
can use the Twelve Days of Christmas to predict the weather for each of the
twelve months of the coming year, and so on.

Remembering that most Christmas customs are ultimately based upon older Pagan
customs, it only remains for modern Pagans to reclaim their lost traditions. In
doing so, we can share many common customs with our Christian friends, albeit
with a slightly different interpretation. And thus we all share in the beauty of
this most magical of seasons, when the Mother Goddess once again gives birth to
the baby Sun-God and sets the wheel in motion again. To conclude with a long-
overdue paraphrase, ‘Goddess bless us, every one!

Midwinter Night’s Eve: Yule

Midwinter Night’s Eve: Yule

By Mike Nichols

 

Our Christian friends are often quite surprised at how enthusiastically we
Pagans celebrate the ‘Christmas’ season.  Even though we prefer to use the word
‘Yule’, and our celebrations may peak a few days BEFORE the 25th, we nonetheless follow many of the traditional customs of the season: decorated trees, carolling, presents, Yule logs, and mistletoe.  We might even go so far as
putting up a ‘Nativity set’, though for us the three central characters are
likely to be interpreted as Mother Nature, Father Time, and the Baby Sun-God.
None of this will come as a surprise to anyone who knows the true history of the
holiday, of course.

In fact, if truth be known, the holiday of Christmas has always been more
Pagan than Christian, with it’s associations of Nordic divination, Celtic
fertility rites, and Roman Mithraism.  That is why both Martin Luther and John
Calvin abhorred it, why the Puritans refused to acknowledge it, much less
celebrate it (to them, no day of the year could be more holy than the Sabbath),
and why it was even made ILLEGAL in Boston!  The holiday was already too closely associated with the birth of older Pagan gods and heroes.  And many of them (like Oedipus, Theseus, Hercules, Perseus, Jason, Dionysus, Apollo, Mithra, Horus and even Arthur) possessed a narrative of birth, death, and resurrection that was uncomfortably close to that of Jesus. And to make matters worse, many of them pre-dated the Christian Savior.

Ultimately, of course, the holiday is rooted deeply in the cycle of the
year.  It is the Winter Solstice that is being celebrated, seed-time of the
year, the longest night and shortest day.  It is the birthday of the new Sun
King, the Son of God — by whatever name you choose to call him.  On this
darkest of nights, the Goddess becomes the Great Mother and once again gives
birth.  And it makes perfect poetic sense that on the longest night of the
winter, ‘the dark night of our souls’, there springs the new spark of hope, the
Sacred Fire, the Light of the World, the Coel Coeth.

That is why Pagans have as much right to claim this holiday as Christians.
Perhaps even more so, as the Christians were rather late in laying claim to it,
and tried more than once to reject it.  There had been a tradition in the West
that Mary bore the child Jesus on the twenty-fifth day, but no one could seem to
decide on the month. Finally, in 320 C.E., the Catholic Fathers in Rome decided
to make it December, in an effort to co-opt the Mithraic celebration of the
Romans and the Yule celebrations of the Celts and Saxons.

There was never much pretense that the date they finally chose was
historically accurate.  Shepherds just don’t ‘tend their flocks by night’ in the
high pastures in the dead of winter!  But if one wishes to use the New Testament
as historical evidence, this reference may point to sometime in the spring as
the time of Jesus’s birth.  This is because the lambing season occurs in the
spring and that is the only time when shepherds are likely to ‘watch their
flocks by night’ – to make sure the lambing goes well.  Knowing this, the
Eastern half of the Church continued to reject December 25, preferring a
‘movable date’ fixed by their astrologers according to the moon.

Thus, despite its shaky start (for over three centuries, no one knew when
Jesus was supposed to have been born!), December 25 finally began to catch on.
By 529, it was a civic holiday, and all work or public business (except that of
cooks, bakers, or any that contributed to the delight of the holiday) was
prohibited by the Emperor Justinian.  In 563, the Council of Braga forbade
fasting on Christmas Day, and four years later the Council of Tours proclaimed
the twelve days from December 25 to Epiphany as a sacred, festive season.  This
last point is perhaps the hardest to impress upon the modern reader, who is
lucky to get a single day off work.  Christmas, in the Middle Ages, was not a
SINGLE day, but rather a period of TWELVE days, from December 25 to January 6.  The Twelve Days of Christmas, in fact.  It is certainly lamentable that the modern world has abandoned this approach, along with the popular Twelfth Night celebrations.

Of course, the Christian version of the holiday spread to many countries no
faster than Christianity itself, which means that ‘Christmas’ wasn’t celebrated
in Ireland until the late fifth century; in England, Switzerland, and Austria
until the seventh; in Germany until the eighth; and in the Slavic lands until
the ninth and tenth. Not that these countries lacked their own mid-winter
celebrations of Yuletide.  Long before the world had heard of Jesus, Pagans had
been observing the season by bringing in the Yule log, wishing on it, and
lighting it from the remains of last year’s log.  Riddles were posed and
answered, magic and rituals were practiced, wild boars were sacrificed and
consumed along with large quantities of liquor, corn dollies were carried from
house to house while carolling, fertility rites were practiced (girls standing
under a sprig of mistletoe were subject to a bit more than a kiss), and
divinations were cast for the coming Spring.  Many of these Pagan customs, in an
appropriately watered-down form, have entered the mainstream of Christian
celebration, though most celebrants do not realize (or do not mention it, if
they do) their origins.

For modern Witches, Yule (from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Yula’, meaning ‘wheel’ of
the year) is usually celebrated on the actual Winter Solstice, which may vary by
a few days, though it usually occurs on or around December 21st.  It is a Lesser
Sabbat or Lower Holiday in the modern Pagan calendar, one of the four quarter-
days of the year, but a very important one.  This year (1988) it occurs on
December 21st at 9:28 am CST.  Pagan customs are still enthusiastically
followed. Once, the Yule log had been the center of the celebration.  It was
lighted on the eve of the solstice (it should light on the first try) and must
be kept burning for twelve hours, for good luck.  It should be made of ash.
Later, the Yule log was replaced by the Yule tree but, instead of burning it,
burning candles were placed on it.  In Christianity, Protestants might claim
that Martin Luther invented the custom, and Catholics might grant St. Boniface
the honor, but the custom can demonstrably be traced back through the Roman
Saturnalia all the way to ancient Egypt.  Needless to say, such a tree should be
cut down rather than purchased, and should be disposed of by burning, the proper way to dispatch any sacred object.

Along with the evergreen, the holly and the ivy and the mistletoe were
important plants of the season, all symbolizing fertility and everlasting life.
Mistletoe was especially venerated by the Celtic Druids, who cut it with a
golden sickle on the sixth night of the moon, and believed it to be an
aphrodisiac.  (Magically – not medicinally!  It’s highly toxic!)  But aphrodisiacs must have been the smallest part of the Yuletide menu in ancient times, as contemporary reports indicate that the tables fairly creaked under the strain of every type of good food.  And drink!  The most popular of which was the ‘wassail cup’ deriving its name from the Anglo-Saxon term ‘waes hael’ (be whole or hale).

Medieval Christmas folklore seems endless: that animals will all kneel down
as the Holy Night arrives, that bees hum the ‘100th psalm’ on Christmas Eve,
that a windy Christmas will bring good luck, that a person born on Christmas Day can see the Little People, that a cricket on the hearth brings good luck, that
if one opens all the doors of the house at midnight all the evil spirits will depart, that you will have one lucky month for each Christmas pudding you sample, that the tree must be taken down by Twelfth Night or bad luck is sure to follow, that ‘if Christmas on a Sunday be, a windy winter we shall see’, that ‘hours of sun on Christmas Day, so many frosts in the month of May’, that one
can use the Twelve Days of Christmas to predict the weather for each of the
twelve months of the coming year, and so on.

Remembering that most Christmas customs are ultimately based upon older
Pagan customs, it only remains for modern Pagans to reclaim their lost traditions.  In doing so, we can share many common customs with our Christian
friends, albeit with a slightly different interpretation.  And thus we all share
in the beauty of this most magical of seasons, when the Mother Goddess once
again gives birth to the baby Sun-God and sets the wheel in motion again.  To
conclude with a long-overdue paraphrase, ‘Goddess bless us, every one!’

The Witches Almanac for Sunday, November 10th

Witchy Cat Graphics & Comments
The Witches Almanac for Sunday, November 10th

Sunday (Sun): Healing, spirituality, success, strength and protection.

Martin Luther’s Birthday

Waxing Moon

The Waxing Moon is the ideal time for magick to draw things toward you.

Moon Sign: Aquarius

Aquarius: Rebellious energy. Time to break habits and make abrupt changes. Personal freedom and individuality is the focus.

Moon Phase: Second Quarter 12:57 am

Moon enters Pisces 5:36 pm

Pisces: The focus is on dreaming, nostalgia, intuition and psychic impressions. A good time for spiritual or philanthropic activities.

Incense: Heliotrope

Color: Gold

Midwinter Night’s Eve: Yule by Mike Nichols

To be it wouldn’t be a Sabbat without an article from Mike Nichols. He is absolutely, fabulous Pagan writer. I hope you enjoy this article as much as I do.

 

Midwinter Night’s Eve: Yule
by Mike Nichols

Our Christian friends are often quite surprised at how enthusiastically we Pagans  celebrate the ‘Christmas’ season.  Even though we prefer to use the word ‘Yule’, and our  celebrations may peak a few days before the 25th, we nonetheless follow many of the  traditional customs of the season: decorated trees, carolling, presents, Yule logs, and  mistletoe.  We might even go so far as putting up a ‘Nativity set’, though for us the three  central characters are likely to be interpreted as Mother Nature, Father Time, and the Baby  Sun-God.  None of this will come as a surprise to anyone who knows the true history of the  holiday, of course.

In fact, if truth be known, the holiday of Christmas has always been more Pagan than  Christian, with it’s associations of Nordic divination, Celtic fertility rites, and Roman  Mithraism.  That is why both Martin Luther and John Calvin abhorred it, why the Puritans  refused to acknowledge it, much less celebrate it (to them, no day of the year could be  more holy than the Sabbath), and why it was even made illegal in Boston!  The holiday  was  already too closely associated with the birth of older Pagan gods and heroes.  And many of  them (like Oedipus, Theseus, Hercules, Perseus, Jason, Dionysus, Apollo, Mithra, Horus and  even Arthur) possessed a narrative of birth, death, and resurrection that was uncomfortably  close to that of Jesus. And to make matters worse, many of them pre-dated the Christian  Savior.

Ultimately, of course, the holiday is rooted deeply in the cycle of the year.  It is the  Winter Solstice that is being celebrated, seed-time of the year, the longest night and  shortest day.  It is the birthday of the new Sun King, the Son of God — by whatever name  you choose to call him.  On this darkest of nights, the Goddess becomes the Great Mother  and once again gives birth.  And it makes perfect poetic sense that on the longest night of  the winter, ‘the dark night of our souls’, there springs the new spark of hope, the Sacred  Fire, the Light of the World, the Coel Coeth.

That is why Pagans have as much right to claim this holiday as Christians.  Perhaps even  more so, as the Christians were rather late in laying claim to it, and tried more than once  to reject it.  There had been a tradition in the West that Mary bore the child Jesus on the  twenty-fifth day, but no one could seem to decide on the month. Finally, in 320 C.E., the  Catholic Fathers in Rome decided to make it December, in an effort to co-opt the Mithraic  celebration of the Romans and the Yule celebrations of the Celts and Saxons.

There was never much pretense that the date they finally chose was historically  accurate.  Shepherds just don’t ‘tend their flocks by night’ in the high pastures in the  dead of winter!  But if one wishes to use the New Testament as historical evidence, this  reference may point to sometime in the spring as the time of Jesus’s birth.  This is  because the lambing season occurs in the spring and that is the only time when shepherds  are likely to ‘watch their flocks by night’ — to make sure the lambing goes well.  Knowing  this, the Eastern half of the Church continued to reject December 25, preferring a ‘movable  date’ fixed by their astrologers according to the moon.

Thus, despite its shaky start (for over three centuries, no one knew when Jesus was  supposed to have been born!), December 25 finally began to catch on.  By 529, it was a  civic holiday, and all work or public business (except that of cooks, bakers, or any that  contributed to the delight of the holiday) was prohibited by the Emperor Justinian.  In  563, the Council of Braga forbade fasting on Christmas Day, and four years later the  Council of Tours proclaimed the twelve days from December 25 to Epiphany as a sacred,  festive season.  This last point is perhaps the hardest to impress upon the modern reader,  who is lucky to get a single day off work.  Christmas, in the Middle Ages, was not a  single day, but rather a period of twelve days, from December 25 to January 6.  The Twelve  Days of  Christmas, in fact.  It is certainly lamentable that the modern world has abandoned this  approach, along with the popular Twelfth Night celebrations.

Of course, the Christian version of the holiday spread to many countries no faster than  Christianity itself, which means that ‘Christmas’ wasn’t celebrated in Ireland until the  late fifth century; in England, Switzerland, and Austria until the seventh; in Germany  until the eighth; and in the Slavic lands until the ninth and tenth. Not that these  countries lacked their own mid-winter celebrations of Yuletide.  Long before the world had  heard of Jesus, Pagans had been observing the season by bringing in the Yule log, wishing  on it, and lighting it from the remains of last year’s log.  Riddles were posed and  answered, magic and rituals were practiced, wild boars were sacrificed and consumed along  with large quantities of liquor, corn dollies were carried from house to house while  carolling, fertility rites were practiced (girls standing under a sprig of mistletoe were  subject to a bit more than a kiss), and divinations were cast for the coming Spring.  Many  of these Pagan customs, in an appropriately watered-down form, have entered the mainstream  of Christian celebration, though most celebrants do not realize (or do not mention it, if  they do) their origins.

For modern Witches, Yule (from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Yula’, meaning ‘wheel’ of the year) is  usually celebrated on the actual Winter Solstice, which may vary by a few days, though it  usually occurs on or around December 21st.  It is a Lesser Sabbat or Lower Holiday in the  modern Pagan calendar, one of the four quarter-days of the year, but a very important one.   This year (1988) it occurs on December 21st at 9:28 am CST.  Pagan customs are still  enthusiastically followed. Once, the Yule log had been the center of the celebration.  It  was lighted on the eve of the solstice (it should light on the first try) and must be kept  burning for twelve hours, for good luck.  It should be made of ash.  Later, the Yule log  was replaced by the Yule tree but, instead of burning it, burning candles were placed on  it.  In Christianity, Protestants might claim that Martin Luther invented the custom, and  Catholics might grant St. Boniface the honor, but the custom can demonstrably be traced  back through the Roman Saturnalia all the way to ancient Egypt.  Needless to say, such a  tree should be cut down rather than purchased, and should be disposed of by burning, the  proper way to dispatch any sacred object.

Along with the evergreen, the holly and the ivy and the mistletoe were important plants  of the season, all symbolizing fertility and everlasting life.  Mistletoe was especially  venerated by the Celtic Druids, who cut it with a golden sickle on the sixth night of the  moon, and believed it to be an aphrodisiac.  (Magically — not medicinally!  It’s highly  toxic!)  But aphrodisiacs must have been the smallest part of the Yuletide menu in ancient  times, as contemporary reports indicate that the tables fairly creaked under the strain of  every type of good food.  And drink!  The most popular of which was the ‘wassail cup’  deriving its name from the Anglo-Saxon term ‘waes hael’ (be whole or hale).

Medieval Christmas folklore seems endless: that animals will all kneel down as the Holy  Night arrives, that bees hum the ‘100th psalm’ on Christmas Eve, that a windy Christmas  will bring good luck, that a person born on Christmas Day can see the Little People, that a  cricket on the hearth brings good luck, that if one opens all the doors of the house at  midnight all the evil spirits will depart, that you will have one lucky month for each  Christmas pudding you sample, that the tree must be taken down by Twelfth Night or bad luck  is sure to follow, that ‘if Christmas on a Sunday be, a windy winter we shall see’, that  ‘hours of sun on Christmas Day, so many frosts in the month of May’, that one can use the  Twelve Days of Christmas to predict the weather for each of the twelve months of the coming  year, and so on.

Remembering that most Christmas customs are ultimately based upon older Pagan customs,  it only remains for modern Pagans to reclaim their lost traditions.  In doing so, we can  share many common customs with our Christian friends, albeit with a slightly different  interpretation.  And thus we all share in the beauty of this most magical of seasons, when  the Mother Goddess once again gives birth to the baby Sun-God and sets the wheel in motion  again.  To conclude with a long-overdue paraphrase, ‘Goddess bless us, every one!’

Today’s Affirmation, Thought & Meditation for February 24th

Fairy Pictures, Images, Comments, Graphics
Sorry about running a little late postings these. My cable got knocked out for some unknown reason. You know cable is fantastic according to my husband. Yeah right! Again I apologize.

 

Today’s Affirmation

I am committed to finding the most worth while routes for my energies – I will work to transform my emotion into the exhilarating energies of the spirit.

 

Today’s Thought

“My heart, which is so full to overflowing,has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.”

Martin Luther (1483 -1546)

 

Today’s Meditation

The Complete Breath

This is a form of yogic meditation in which deep breathing is synchronized with arm movements to unite mind and body.

  1. Lie on your back with arms out to the sides.
  2. Close your eyes and focus on breathing through your nose
  3. Inhale for five counts and exhale for ten.
  4. Repeat three times, noticing the sense of relaxation that permeates your body.
  5. Take five more breaths, this time raising our arm over your head as you inhale and returning your arm to your sides as you exhale.