Celebrating Legends, Folklore & Spirituality 365 Days a Year for Jan. 6 – Twelfth Night, Epiphany of Kore, and Persephone

HALLOWEEN

January 6

Twelfth Night, Epiphany of Kore, and Persephone

Traditionally, on this day the ancient Greeks would carry the statue of Kore around her temple seven times as they prayed for protection and good fortune. Following the temple activities ties a nocturnal rite was held in honor of Kore (daughter of Zeus and Demeter, whose name means “maiden”), an aspect of Persephone before her marriage to Hades.

On this day in Old Europe the ashes from the Yule log were removed, and either stored for magickal purposes or scattered on the fields to insure fertility. Later on in the day the Lord of Misrule, known as the King of the Bean, was selected. Cakes were made, and a bean was baked into one. Whomever found the bean in his cake was then elected king for the day. The king, along with the Queen of the Pea (selected by finding the pea baked into another batch of cakes) ruled over the final Yuletide festivities.

Advertisements

OIMELC – February 2

OIMELC – February 2

Down with Rosemary and so
Down with baies and mistletoe;
Down with Holly, live and all
Wherewith ys drest the Yuletide Hall;
That so the superstitious find No one least Branch there left behind;
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected there, maids, trust to me,
So many goblins you shall see.
–Robert Herrick

Oimelc – Imbolc in the Saxon – marks the first stirring of life in the earth.
The Yule season originally ended at Oimelc. But with increasing organization and industrialization, increasing demands for labor and production, the holiday kept shrinking, first to the two weeks ending at Twelfth Night, then to a single week ending at New Year’s, then to a single day.

Oimelc begins a season of purification similar to that preceding Yule. It ends
at Ostara. No marriages, initiations or puberty rites should be celebrated
between Oimelc and Ostara.

The candles and torches at Oimelc signify the divine life-force awakening
dormant life to new growth.

THEMES

Growth of roots begin again. Bare branches begin to swell with leaf buds, and
growth appears at the tips of evergreen branches. The tools of agriculture are
being make ready for Spring.

Xian feasts of St. Brigid, and Celtic feast of Brigit, the maiden aspect of the
triple goddess and mother of Dagda. Her symbol is the white swan. A Roman feast of Bacchus and Ceres. The Lupercalia, a feast of Pan. The Nephelim or Titans, those offspring of human-divine unions said to have ruled Atlantis.

Grannus, a mysterious Celtic god whom the Romans identified with Apollo.

PURPOSE OF THE RITES

To awaken life in the Earth. Fire tires to strengthen the young Sun, to bring
the fertilizing, purifying, protective and vitalizing influence of fire to the
fields, orchards, domestic animals, and people. To drive away winter. To charm
candles for household use throughout the year.

FOLK CUSTOMS

The three functions of Oimelc – end of Yule, feast of candles or torches, and
beginning of a purificatory season – are divided by the Xian calendar among
Twelfth Night, Candlemas and Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras, Carnival). The customs of all three feasts are derived from Oimelc, with at most a thin Xian gloss.

Parades of giant figures (Titans?) in rural towns in France and at Mardi Gras
and Carnival celebrations. A figure representing the Spirit of Winter or Death,
sometime made of straw, sometimes resembling a snowman, is drowned, burnt or in once case, stuffed with fireworks and exploded. They symbol of Montreal’s Winter Carnival is the giant figure of Bonhomme di Neige (snowman).

Groundhog Day, Chinese New Year and St. Valentine’s Day customs.

The French provinces are so rich in Oimelc customs they cannot be listed here.
Refer to “The Golden Bough”.

Wassailing the trees: at midnight, carolers carry a bucket of ale, cider or
lamb’s wool in a torchlight procession through the orchards. The leader dips a
piece of toast in the drink and sedges it in the fork of each tree, with the
traditional cheer (variations exist) of: “Hats full, holes full, barrels full,
and the little heap under the stairs!”.

Who finds the bean in the Twelfth Night cake becomes king of the feast; who
finds the pea becomes queen – never mind the gender of the finders. Rag-bag
finery and gilt-paper crowns identify the king and queen. The rulers give
ridiculous orders to the guests, who must obey their every command. They are
waited on obsequiously, and everything they do is remarked and announced
admiringly and importantly: “The King drinks!”, “The Queen sneezes!” and
everyone politely imitates the ruler’s example.

SYMBOLIC DECORATIONS

Snowdrops are picked for vases, but otherwise no special decorative effects are
indicated. Go carnival, balloons and confetti.

SOCIAL ACTIVITIES

Parades, with showers of confetti, gala balls, masks, street dancing, mumming,
winter sports, ice and snow sculpture.

THE RITE

Dress in dark colors with much silver jewelry. Outdoors, after dark on the Even,
have the site arranged with a fire in the cauldron and the altar draped in
white, at the Northeast. The fire may be composed all or in part of Yule greens.

Go in a torchlight procession to the Circle. Include a stamping dance, possibly beating the ground with sticks, before the Invocation. The invocation may end with the calling of Hertha, a Teutonic goddess of the earth and the hearth. Call her name three times and at each call beat on the ground three times with the palms of both hands.

A figure representing Winter should be burned in the fire. Communion may consist of Sabbat Cakes or a Twelfth Night cake (there are many traditional recipes) and cider or wassail. A procession may leave the Circle for a time to wassail a nearby orchard. Couples may leap the bonfire. Supplies of candles brought by the coveners are blessed.

Boys puberty rites may be celebrated. These usually include mock plowing by the boys.

Close the Circle and go indoors for the feast.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Celebrating Other Spirituality 365 Days A Year – Epiphany,

Celebrating Other Spirituality 365 Days A Year

Twelfth Night, Epiphany of Kore, and Persephone

Traditionally on this day the ancient Greeks would carry the statue of Kore around her temple seven times as they prayed for protection and good fortune. Following the temple activities a nocturnal rite was held in honor of Kore (daughter of Zeus and Demeter, whose name means “maiden:), an aspect of Persephone before her marriage to Hades.

On this day in Old Europe the ashes from the Yule log were removed and either stored for magickal purposes or scattered on the field to insure fertility. Later on in the day the Lord of Misrule, known as the King of the Bean, were selected. Cakes were made, and a bean was baked into one. Whomever found the bean in his cake was then elected King for the day. The King, along with the Queen of the Pea (selected by finding the pea baked into another batch of cakes) ruled over the final Yuletide festivities.

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!

Let’s Talk Witch – Let’s Make Some Spicy Wassail, Yum, Yum!

Let’s Talk Witch – Let’s Make Some Spicy Wassail, Yum, Yum!

Wassail was traditionally a hot drink made of ale, sherry, sugar, and spices, with pieces of toast and roasted apples floating in it. It is the legendary drink served on the Feast of the Three Kings with an oversized, decorated sweet yeast bread. The word wassail is derived from the Anglo-Saxon toast waes haeil, or “be whole.” On Christmas or Twelfth Night, revelers would carry a large bowl from door to door, asking for it to be filled, a custom known as wassailing. There are now many versions of wassail, and the palate for hot strong beer is limited, so it has evolved into a spiked juice toddy. The antique French Api apple was probably the apple of choice of the day. It is now called a Lady apple; look for it at Christmas, but any apple will do.

Ingredients:

2 quarts unfiltered apple juice or apple cider

1 quart cranberry juice cocktail

1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

27 whole cloves

15 allspice berries

4 (4-inch) cinnamon sticks

5 small firm cooking apples of your choice

1/2 cup water

1 medium orange

2 cups Calvados

Combine the apple juice, cranberry juice, and brown sugar in a 6-quart slow cooker. Place 12 of the cloves, the allspice berries, and the cinnamon sticks in a small piece of cheesecloth and tie with kitchen twine to make a bag. Add to the slow cooker, cover, and cook on low for 4 to 5 hours.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 375°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Stud each apple with 3 of the remaining cloves and place in an 8-by-8-inch baking pan. Add the water and bake until the apples are just a bit tender when pierced with a knife, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.

After the juices have stewed for 4 to 5 hours, add the apples to the slow cooker. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the orange peel in wide strips, making sure to avoid the white pith, and add the peels to the slow cooker.

Remove the spice bag and stir in the Calvados. Serve hot (leave the slow cooker on to keep the cocktail warm).

The Yule of Our Ancestors

The Yule of Our Ancestors

by Wlfgar Greggarson

The Yule tree is probably one of the most recognizable symbols of the Yule
season. For me, the tree always stood for the coming together of family. It has
been one thing that bound my family together, the center focus for the children
eagerly awaiting the present-opening ritual. For the adults, it was a
comfortable place to drink and catch up on old times. The Yule tree was a
much-needed place of peace for my large family. Now, as an adult with a little
more worldly knowledge, I have found a deeper understanding of the Yule tree’s
lore and purpose.

Customarily, the tree was a spruce or other evergreen, which symbolized the
survival of green life through the barren months of winter, the people’s hope
and nature’s promise that the earth would once again spring back to life. It
was a symbol that the cold touch from the god of death would wane with the
rebirth of the newly returned sun. Surely the goddess of life would and could
replenish all of the earth after Old Man Winter had his fun.

In various parts of Europe, fruit-bearing trees were an important feature
during the Yule season. In more natural times, the folk would gather at a large
apple tree on Twelfth Night to hang cider-soaked bread on its branches for the
good spirits and all the fey and thus renew and strengthen the fragile and
cherished relationship with the wee folk.

Yule has also been a time to begin certain harvest magick. In parts of Denmark,
the people would go out and shake the fruit trees, then hang a token of the
Yule season in their branches and pray for a good harvest in the summer. The
fruit tree is also a sign of the triumph of life through death, much as the
evergreen is a symbol of life’s continuance.

Possibly the origin of decorating the Yule tree lies with the people known as
the Lapplanders or, more correctly, the Sami. It is said the Sami would take
small portions of meals eaten on holy days, put them in pieces of birch bark,
then after making ships out of them, complete with sails, hang them on trees
behind their homes as offerings to the J”l (Yule) spirits.

At some point, it became unsafe to observe heathen Yule practices publicly; it
is probable that, at this point, the Yule tree was brought into the home. Pagan
Yule practices, symbolism and holy tokens became enmeshed and hidden within the
Christ birth mythology. Yule’s theme of honoring the sun, newly reborn, and the
triumph of light through darkness is quite an easy target for an opportunistic
religion.

There are many other Yule traditions, such as wreath making, cake baking, ale
brewing and so on. Another was wassailing, a kind of ritual toasting and
singing, which comes from the words Wes Hal, meaning to be whole. Wassail the
drink was usually a hot cider mixture drunk from a maple turned bowl.

The actual Yule feast is also a favorite of this hungry heathen. The Yule
season ended on Twelfth Night, which is now celebrated on December 31. In more
ancient times, Mothers Night was observed on December 25 and the festivities
continued until January 5. Mothers Night, the beginning of the Yule season
ritual observance, was practiced on different days at different places and
times and is now celebrated beginning at sunset on December 20. Mothers Night
activities included making wreaths woven with wishes for the coming year, a
rite to bless the family and exchanging gifts.

Wreath making can be a fun activity for a coven, kindred or family. Wreaths can
be made using a circular candle holder that holds four candles. Evergreen
branches, sprigs of holly and nuts are good items to offer as gifts to the Yule
spirits. Being that a gift calls for a gift, we can tie small pieces of red
ribbon onto the wreaths with our requests and wishes for the coming season, to
be answered by the Yule spirits.

The Yule log is probably one of the most important aspects of the Yule time
festivities. The log traditionally was kindled from the burnt remains of the
previous year’s Yule fire. The Yule log symbolizes the light returning to
conquer the darkness. Decoration for your log can be of various evergreens,
holly, mistletoe, nuts, fruit and so forth. There are many traditional ways to
collect your log; what I do, because it seems most practical, is save the
thickest part of my Yule tree when it comes time to throw it away. This I keep
through the year (making sure a well-intentioned friend doesn’t accidentally
throw it in the fireplace – no names mentioned), then I decorate it, put
offerings on it and send it to Valhalla.

The burning of the log can be a fun party for your group or family with a round
of toasting, boasting, bragging or promises for things to come in the next
year. In my opinion, this is best done drinking hot cider, because when mead or
ale is drunk, the toasting, boasting and bragging can get out of hand.

Appropriate items to hang on our trees include cookies in the shape of horses,
swine, birds, cats and trees. Apples if available, most varieties of nuts,
strings of cranberries and popcorn are also nice. I like to use my scroll saw
to cut wood into shapes such as horses, swine or other holy tokens such as
pentagrams, labrys, Thor’s hammers, sun wheels and, one of my favorites, the
Valknut, which is three interlocking triangles, a symbol sacred to Odin.

Other Yule season facts are out there, not far out of reach. We can research
and find these things and revive the practices that touch our heathen hearts.
It is our right and responsibility to revive this old lore and educate others
of the many pagan origins of this very heathen time. I hope this small article
will stir your interest in our pagan heritage.

Wassail!

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!’

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!’

OIMELC – February 2

OIMELC – February 2

Down with Rosemary and so
Down with baies and mistletoe;
Down with Holly, live and all
Wherewith ys drest the Yuletide Hall;
That so the superstitious find
No one least Branch there left behind;
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected there, maids, trust to me,
So many goblins you shall see.
–Robert Herrick

Oimelc – Imbolc in the Saxon – marks the first stirring of life in the earth.
The Yule season originally ended at Oimelc. But with increasing organization and
industrialization, increasing demands for labor and production, the holiday kept
shrinking, first to the two weeks ending at Twelfth Night, then to a single week
ending at New Year’s, then to a single day.

Oimelc begins a season of purification similar to that preceding Yule. It ends
at Ostara. No marriages, initiations or puberty rites should be celebrated
between Oimelc and Ostara.

The candles and torches at Oimelc signify the divine life-force awakening
dormant life to new growth.

THEMES

Growth of roots begin again. Bare branches begin to swell with leaf buds, and
growth appears at the tips of evergreen branches. The tools of agriculture are
being make ready for Spring.

Xian feasts of St. Brigid, and Celtic feast of Brigit, the maiden aspect of the
triple goddess and mother of Dagda. Her symbol is the white swan. A Roman feast
of Bacchus and Ceres. The Lupercalia, a feast of Pan. The Nephelim or Titans,
those offspring of human-divine unions said to have ruled Atlantis.

Grannus, a mysterious Celtic god whom the Romans identified with Apollo.

PURPOSE OF THE RITES

To awaken life in the Earth. Fire tires to strengthen the young Sun, to bring
the fertilizing, purifying, protective and vitalizing influence of fire to the
fields, orchards, domestic animals, and people. To drive away winter. To charm
candles for household use throughout the year.

FOLK CUSTOMS

The three functions of Oimelc – end of Yule, feast of candles or torches, and
beginning of a purificatory season – are divided by the Xian calendar among
Twelfth Night, Candlemas and Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras, Carnival). The customs
of all three feasts are derived from Oimelc, with at most a thin Xian gloss.

Parades of giant figures (Titans?) in rural towns in France and at Mardi Gras
and Carnival celebrations. A figure representing the Spirit of Winter or Death,
sometime made of straw, sometimes resembling a snowman, is drowned, burnt or in
once case, stuffed with fireworks and exploded. They symbol of Montreal’s Winter
Carnival is the giant figure of Bonhomme di Neige (snowman).

Groundhog Day, Chinese New Year and St. Valentine’s Day customs.

The French provinces are so rich in Oimelc customs they cannot be listed here.
Refer to “The Golden Bough”.

Wassailing the trees: at midnight, carolers carry a bucket of ale, cider or
lamb’s wool in a torchlight procession through the orchards. The leader dips a
piece of toast in the drink and sedges it in the fork of each tree, with the
traditional cheer (variations exist) of: “Hats full, holes full, barrels full,
and the little heap under the stairs!”.

Who finds the bean in the Twelfth Night cake becomes king of the feast; who
finds the pea becomes queen – never mind the gender of the finders. Rag-bag
finery and gilt-paper crowns identify the king and queen. The rulers give
ridiculous orders to the guests, who must obey their every command. They are
waited on obsequiously, and everything they do is remarked and announced
admiringly and importantly: “The King drinks!”, “The Queen sneezes!” and
everyone politely imitates the ruler’s example.

SYMBOLIC DECORATIONS

Snowdrops are picked for vases, but otherwise no special decorative effects are
indicated. Go carnival, balloons and confetti.

SOCIAL ACTIVITIES

Parades, with showers of confetti, gala balls, masks, street dancing, mumming,
winter sports, ice and snow sculpture.

THE RITE

Dress in dark colors with much silver jewelry. Outdoors, after dark on the Even,
have the site arranged with a fire in the cauldron and the altar draped in
white, at the Northeast. The fire may be composed all or in part of Yule greens.

Go in a torchlight procession to the Circle. Include a stamping dance, possibly
beating the ground with sticks, before the Invocation. The invocation may end
with the calling of Hertha, a Teutonic goddess of the earth and the hearth. Call
her name three times and at each call beat on the ground three times with the
palms of both hands.

A figure representing Winter should be burned in the fire. Communion may consist
of Sabbat Cakes or a Twelfth Night cake (there are many traditional recipes) and
cider or wassail. A procession may leave the Circle for a time to wassail a
nearby orchard. Couples may leap the bonfire. Supplies of candles brought by the
coveners are blessed.

Boys puberty rites may be celebrated. These usually include mock plowing by the
boys.

Close the Circle and go indoors for the feast.

La Befana – The Celebration of Epiphany

La Befana – The Celebration of Epiphany

By GrannyMoon, For The Lunar Monthly
 
Holidays in Italy are rich in traditions which have,for the most part,a religious history.
A favorite Italian holiday occurs on January 6.It is commonly known as “La Befana “
(Twelfth Night or the Eve of the Epiphany or Little Christmas ). La Befana is a personification of
the “spirit of the Epiphany ” and can almost be considered a nickname for “Epifania,” the proper
Italian word for epiphany.While the Western Christian Church celebrates December 25th,the
Eastern Christian Church to this day recognizes January 6 as the celebration of the nativity.
January 6 was also kept as the physical birthday in Bethlehem.
 
Tradition depicts La Befana as a kindly old lady with a stereotypical nose with a big red mole on
top of it and a pointy chin.Wearing an old coat mended with carefully with colorful patches and
tattered shoes,she flies around on a broom and carries her black bag filled with sweets and
presents for the children.Entering the houses through the chimney she places her gifts inside
the children ’s stockings hung with care,the night before.The buoni ragazzi (good kids)are very
happy to find their stocking filled with presents.They have been busy writing letters to La Befana,
la buona strega (good witch).But for the children who have not been good,there will not be
presents,but a lump of coal!
 
The origin of the tradition is veiled in mystery and in all likelihood this poetic figure goes
back to country legends of pre-Christian times.Befana also exists in various other popular
traditions.For instance on the evening of January 5 th ,”The Old Woman ” ((symbolizing the
out going winter),Befana appears in street processions as a masked figure with her consort,
“Befano “,”The Old Man “.Their followers revel as music fills the street,they receive
offerings,the gift of prosperity and blessings from Befana.Then to assure a good year,
the dolls are burned in effigy in the town square,welcoming the returning spring.
Her festival has usurped an ancient pagan feast set celebrated on the Magic Night,the 6th day of
the New Year,chosen by ancient Eastern astronomers according to their complicated calculations.
Epiphany was, therefore, pagan in origin.Only later was the day associated with the life of Christ.
 
Apparently there was a woman with a broom called Befana found on some Etruscan scratchings.
The people in remote areas of the Emilia still call on her by that version of the name to bestow or
cure malocchio (evil eye).Even la scopa (the broom)is considered a blessing against evil.
In Italy tradition,however,the Christmas holidays ending on 6th January,is quite fitting for a gift-
giver since the Feast of the Epiphany commemorates the visit of the Magi (or 3 Wise Men)to the
infant Jesus,with their gifts of gold,frankincense,and myrrh.The Magi were named Balthazar,
Melchior,and Gaspar,according to tradition.According to legend the three men during their
journey stopped and asked an old woman for food and shelter.She refused and they continued
on their way.Within a few hours the woman had a change of heart but the Magi were long gone.
The Befana is depicted as a witch astride a broom,still searching the world for the Baby Jesus.
Thinking of the opportunity she had missed,Befana stops every child to give them a small treat in
hopes that one was the Christ child.Each year on the eve of the Epiphany she sets out looking
for the baby Jesus.
 
Many welcome La Befana by laying out a small meal for her.Consisting of sausage and
broccoli and usually accompanied by a glass of wine.After her arrival, it is a time for celebration
and people move from house to house visiting friends and relatives.
 
This is a song used by some Italian children,a rough translation into English would be:
 
La Befana comes at night
In tattered shoes
Dressed in the Roman style
Long live la Befana!!
She brings cinders and coals
To the naughty children
To the good children
She brings sweets and lots of gifts.
 
Take frankincense, both of the best and the inferior kind,also cumin seed.Have ready a
separate scaldino (spirit bowl),which is kept only for this purpose.And should it happen that
affairs of any kind go badly,fill the scaldino with glowing coals,then take three pinches of best
incense and three of the second quality,and put them all ‘in fila ’ (in a row)on the threshold of the
door.Then take the rest of your incense and the cumin,and put it into the burning coal,and
carry it about,and wave it over the bed and in every corner,saying:
.
In nome del cielo!
Delle stelle e della luna!
Mi levo questo mal d ’occhio
Per mia maggior ’ fortuna!
Befana!Befana!Befana!
Che mi date mal d ’occhio maladetta sia
Befana!Befana!Befana!
Chi mi ha dato il maldocchio
Me lo porta via
E maggior fortuna Mi venga in casa mia!
.
Translation:
In the name of heaven
And of the stars and moon,
May this trouble change
Befana!Befana!Befana!
Should this deed be thine;
Befana!Befana!Befana!
Take it away,bring luck,I pray,
Into this house of mine!
 
Then when all is consumed in the scaldino,light the little piles of incense on the threshold of the
door, and go over it three times, and spit behind you over your shoulder three times,and say:
 
Befana!Befana!Befana!
Chi me ha dato maldocchio!Me lo porta via
 
Translation:
Befana!Befana!
Befana!I say,
Since thou gavest this bad luck,
Carry it away!
 
Then pass thrice backwards and forwards before the fire,spitting over the left shoulder,and
repeating the same incantation.
 
Looking for a place to celebrate in the typical Italian tradition…here are a few!
Paularo,Italy :La Femenate Bonfire (January 6).
Tarcento,Italy :Pignarul Giant Bonfire Festival (January 6).
Cividale,Italy :Historical Pageant and Costume Parade (January 6).
Gemona,Italy :Messa del Tallero Medieval Pageant (January 6).
Milan,Italy :Epiphany Parade of the Three Kings proceeds from the Duomo to the church of
Sant ’Eustorgio (January 6).
 
The legend of the Befana has had an important role in the imagination of all children of the world.
Those who wish to relive the magic of the first wonders of infancy and understand the meaning
and origins of this extraordinary figure,should be prepared to undertake a long voyage that will
carry them back in time,to the origins of human ’s history.
 
This little old lady so dear to children has continued to fascinate them for centuries, and they still
await her arrival on the night of her holiday.The gatherings at La Befana are filled with music,
song,traditional foods, sweets and gifts.Celebration reigns supreme, with people opening their
hearts by sharing love and peace in the World.
 
Source: “The Legend of Old Befana “, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,1980,by Tomie dePaola
“Etruscan Magic &Occult Remedies” by Charles Godfrey Leland,University Books,NY,1963
Befana incantation from “Etruscan Magic &Occult Remedies “, by Charles Godfrey Leland,University Books,NY,1963.
“Befana ” by Fabrisia
 
Copyright GrandmotherMoon