winter solstice

Brighid’s Healing Sword: Imbolc

February, 2018

This turn of the Greater Wheel moves us towards a place of newness and the quickening of what was brought to light at Yule, the Winter Solstice. We stand at the mid-mark between the act of revealing (Winter Solstice) the fertility that lay dormant from the triple harvest and the action of sowing and planting (Spring Equinox) what we hope will prove viable and grow to its fullest potential. This is the time of quickening and enlivening the hidden seeds of transition and preparation of what will wither and die and what will germinate a become viable product.

Our coven, Oak and Willow of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel Tradition, uses Imbolc to focus on the Celtic Goddess, Brighid. We craft candles, infusing them with her healing properties. We make oath and re-dedicate to our Coven and Tradition that the quickening of our minds and hearts awaken what can blossom in the months ahead. And, we call upon her creativity to inspire us as we move forward towards the next turn of the Wheel. This year we will call forth the Goddess as Warrior and wielder of the healing sword.

For most, the first encounter with this fiery Goddess is one associated with her triune nature. She is Maiden, Mother and Crone holding the keys to creativity, inspiration and deep healing. She is also the Triple Flame, acting as central catalyst of the purpose intended and initiator of those who willingly cross the threshold of transformation. As the patroness of poets, divination and prophecy she is the Fire of Inspiration. In her role of patroness of healers and Goddess of fertility, she is the Fire of the Hearth and childbirth. And, as patroness of smiths, craftsmen and the forge, she is the Fire of the Forge, burning brightly and transforming and transmuting all that enter the heat of the flame.

But, there is also a lesser-known aspect of the Goddess Brighid. Her ancient name of The Fiery Arrow gives some indication of this aspect, although it is usually associated with the Goddess as maintainer of justice and right action; setting the course of action in a balanced way and clearing away all that would interfere or challenge that state. If we take this idea to a deeper place of understanding, Brighid’s energy becomes that of the Warrior who wields the flaming sword that destroys, cauterizes and then heals. It is She, who heals with the precision of the surgeon guiding the scalpel. She, who cuts through the glamour and unyielding ignorance of ego driven will and carves the path of knowledge that becomes true gnosis. And, it is She, who plunges the un-tempered blade of inventive mind into the hellish fires that forge and manifest a blade that is pure, clear and strong in its action and intent.

I have worked with this aspect of Brighid for many years and in many ways, and the mark of its transformation has been lasting and opened the way for growth and a deeper understanding of the process of release and healing. Just as the sword’s blade goes through multiple steps of heating and cooling, resting and shaping to achieve the brilliance and beauty of what will become a finely crafted sword; the process of this healing warrior Goddess tests the metal of your own making. She allows you to see the rough product that is your will and plunges you deep into the flaming desire for what you wish to achieve. If you remain too long from inertia or misguided will, what emerges is misshapen and unusable. It’s brittleness breaks your spirit and the wounds it inflicts are jagged and long to heal. If tempered with enough flexibility to change course as needed, the honing and sharpening of the skills required for successful change are exacted. All is brought to the quickening fires so that what has been reshaped and reformed may become as one and part of the finished product. A time of rest and integration occurs and finally as the blade is brought from its place of synthesis and strengthening, it is plunged once again into the heart of greater Will and the flames of Intentional Desire. The finished product is a work of beauty and a gift from the forge of Brighid.

I offer to you a pathworking, inviting you to invoke the energy of Brighid’s Healing Sword and the opportunity to stand in Her radiance of remaking. May your journey be powerful and may the Goddess bless you with the crafting of your own healing blade.

The Smith’s Blade

Take a few deep breaths and allow your consciousness to settle at the space of the third eye. Turn your attention within and see on this inner landscape a blank screen and allow yourself to be drawn towards it. As you focus on this space you become aware of a small mist of indigo blue energy forming in front and around you. The particles are very small and the energy is both uplifting and relaxing as it encircles you. Take a few deep breaths and step through this veil.

As you emerge, you find yourself standing outside what appears to be a blacksmith’s shoppe. You can hear the rhythmic clanging of a hammer and smell the fires from the forge. It is evening and all is dark around you save for the light glowing from within and shimmering through slats of a wooden building. You step forward towards the open entryway and stand quietly observing a wiry built man bent over and working deftly as the glimmer of unpolished metal flashes.

Repetitively and with great precision, he places the unshaped metal into the forge, heating it and then pulling it out to the edge of the table, gently hammering it into the desired shape or at times simply allowing the red glow to cool before it is placed once again in the hot flames. This occurs for several times and with each heating and hammering, the metal takes on more of the shape of the blade.

He looks carefully at what has been crafted and satisfied that this process is finished, he gently wraps the blade and places it aside allowing it to cool completely. He pulls from the space in which he placed the cooling blade another wrapped item and as he unwraps it you see that this is a blade that had been crafted a day earlier.

He steps over to the grinder and begins to sharpen and finely hone the edges and point of the blade. You notice that this blade seems to glow and has a certain shine to it already, although it is not polished. You feel drawn to it, but remain standing in the doorway, hoping that you will remain unnoticed. He looks carefully at the edges and then plunges the sword into the heat of the flaming forge. Quickly the glowing red blade is retrieved and plunged into a water bath to speed the cooling and hardening process. Again the blade is tempered by heat and water and you think on the process of emotion and will and the need for the correct balance of each to be in place to make for supple yet strong action and purposeful will.

You see the Smith smiling as he lifts the blade upwards, knowingly and assured that it will have a certain amount of flexibility yet still retain its sharp edge. Now the sword is ready for completion. He selects the necessary parts of pommel, guard and hilt and with skill assembles all precisely and artistically. The sword is now complete and he lifts his gaze, staring directly at you, beckoning you to come towards him.

You are ready to speak, but he lifts a finger to his lips indicating for you to be silent and to follow behind him as he brushes past you. He steps outside and you turn towards him, both of you facing a sky that is now colored with the rising of the morning sun. He lifts the blade upward and it shines brightly as the first fiery rays of sunlight stream across it. The brilliance of its reflection expands and for a moment you close your eyes, the intensity is so great. You open them and see that the blacksmith is gone and hovering mid-air the sword glows red and pulses with heat that seems to course through you. The flaming glow fills the space and from its center the blade elongates and transforms into a woman of great beauty and flaming red hair. Her eyes glow like sunlit embers of flame and you bow in homage to the Goddess, Brighid. As she approaches you feel the power and strength of Her presence. You see that she carries the sword that you witnessed being crafted and you feel a gentleness about Her that offers you comfort as to how this Divine sword might be used. She has come as the healing sword to offer her many gifts if you ready for her transformative energy.

You approach and kneeling before her you speak of what needs healing and transformation. Each word spiraling up and out like wisps of smoke heated and released by her power. You surrender to her all your doubts and fears and one by one each is dissected and removed from your being leaving you feeling light and unencumbered. When you have finished offering all that has troubled you, she bids you to look upwards and as she lifts her fiery blade warm droplets of healing water shower down about you. Compassion and warmth envelope you and you are held in the embrace of the Goddess as she quickens and enlivens you. Rest in this state for as long as is needed.

When you have received all that is needed at this time, you gently rise and offer up gratitude to the Goddess for the blessings she has given. As these thankful thoughts quicken in your mind and move easily from your lips, you begin to step backwards, as flames begin to rise where Brighid was standing. They reach upwards like strands of red hair caught in a breeze and give the appearance of flickering with shades of emerald green and flashes of silvery metal. You stand taking in the beauty of the sight and the warmth of its heat and the knowledge that you have been transformed by the Goddess, Herself.

The flames gently dwindle and fade and in their place is the smith holding the sword of the Goddess. He walks towards you and gently places it in your hand, softly telling you that it had been crafted for you. He tells you that the gift of the healing sword is given to those who will use it wisely and courageously. And, that the Goddess who offers this gift is always near at hand, ready to inspire and offer her healing so that you may thrive and grow as Her Divine Child.

You take a deep breath in and close your eyes, holding the sword tightly to your breast and as you exhale and open your eyes, you see that your awareness has returned to that of observing the blank inner screen of your consciousness. You take a few deep breaths in and with each exhalation your awareness settles back into the space of your physical being and space surrounding you. You gently flutter your eyes open and look around at your surroundings with keener sight and the knowledge that you carry the healing blade within.

So Mote It Be!

 

***

About the Author:

Robin Fennelly is a Wiccan High Priestess, teacher, poet and author. She is the author of:

 

The Inner Chamber, Vol. One

It’s Written in the Stars

Astrology

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The Inner Chamber, Vol. Two

poetry of the spheres

Qabalah

 

The Inner Chamber, Vol. Three

Awakening the Paths

Qabalah

 

A Year With Gaia

The Eternal Cord

 

Temple of the Sun and Moon

Luminous Devotions

 

The Magickal Pen, Volume One

A Collection of Esoteric Writings

Click Image for Amazon Information

 

The Elemental Year

Aligning the Parts of SELF


The Enchanted Gate

Musings on the Magick of the Natural World

 

Sleeping with the Goddess

Nights of Devotion

 

A Weekly Reflection

Musings for the Year

 

Her books are available on Amazon or website and her Blogs can be found atRobin Fennelly 

 

Follow Robin on Facebook and on Instagram 

Celebrating the Old Ways in New Times

January, 2018

Celebrating the Old Ways in New Times January 2018

Bright Blessings, and Happy 2018!

Time flies when you are an old adult, doesn’t it? It seems like just yesterday, I was looking forward to Summer Solstice!

I write this on Winter Solstice 2017, and my Yule gathering is two days away. We are rearranging the menu and scheduling rides for everybody.

As it is in between Sabbats, I get to pick a topic! I decided to write about Winter itself.

Specifically, I’d like to write some Winter survival tips.

Unlike some people like my husband- who LIVE for winter (psychos!), the rest of us suffer various issues due to cold weather.

I started having issues with Winter the day we moved from the warm South, to the cold North. I recovered for the ONE winter I lived in Arizona, but the dry atmosphere there proved too hard on me, so back to the cold, moist North I came!

Every Winter is a struggle. The older I get, the worse it gets. I have developed routines to get me through Winter in one piece, and I’m happy to share my tips with you.

Without further adieu, I give you:

Saoirse’s Winter Survival Tips

  1. Staying Hydrated- This is very important for both your skin, and your insides, Dehydration is no laughing matter, and while in Summer, people encourage us to drink lots of water, in Winter, we don’t talk about it nearly as much, but it’s just as crucial. One thing to watch for is the tendency to drink lots of hot drinks in Wintertime, which translates into coffee, tea, and hot cocoa. Which means we shun water we are more partial to in warm weather. Hot drinks are fine, and can help us feel warm. Just don’t forget to drink plain water also.
  2. Sickness- Because we go outside less often, our germs are more enclosed, so we are exposed to more of them. People don’t want to call off from holiday gatherings, let alone take any time off of school or work. Please do. I understand there are some people out there who disease does not phase, but not everybody is so lucky. The condescending “Just wash your hands” with an eyeroll is pure bullshit, because some contagious illnesses are airborne. The selfish “I don’t want to use my sick time, because I want a longer vacation” is also very common. Some people have kids and elderly family they take care of who the flu, or infections can be fatal to, not to mention people with compromised immune systems. Also, don’t be afraid to say you won’t be coming to a gathering if you know somebody has strep or the next contagious thing. I’ve done this for years, even leaving a volunteer spot one day, because the coordinator showed up with bronchitis and refused to take antibiotics. Staying well is one of the best ways to survive winter.
  3. Steam is your friend- Breathing in that cold air outdoors as well as air the hearing system dries out wreaks havoc on the sinuses. A steamer is one way to help keep the house humid enough to keep you from having those awful winter nosebleeds. There have been times I did not own a steamer, and I just boiled pans of water on the stove to make the same effect. I swear by it.
  4. F-O-O-D- Winter means winter holiday food, which is consists of high yum, and sometimes low nutrients. The first thing health gurus do is shame people for the high caloric intake of holiday food. But there is a reason people serve these foods come wintertime. In days of yore, you might have your entire food stash go bad in one day. You wanted to stock your body up on whatever you could, and high caloric intake could mean survival in the event that food source DID run out. Without the risk of that, and our more sedentary lifestyles, that extra weight we gain just stays there, and doesn’t benefit us. I’m not going to tell anybody not to splurge on some goodies. All I’ll say is keep your nutrients up, and take supplements if needs be. Many suffer in winter due to lack of vitamin D from the sun because we are indoors staying warm! Take vitamin D pills if needs be, or drink more Vitamin D milk. Do what you need to do in order to keep your nutrients up. Remember also, food like chocolate makes you happy, which boosts the immune system, so have some!
  5. Reschedule without guilt- People, especially if they love you, want to see you. Of course! Sometimes, they are the least understanding people if you have to reschedule. Tough toenails, I say! If the weather is bad…if your car cannot handle the temperature…if you are sick…if you have trouble driving in the pitch dark that seems to shroud us 24 hours per day from Mid -September through March…RESCHEDULE. Don’t let anybody guilt you into going when it is unwise. Even if you are just tired, reschedule. People who really care about you will understand, and as for the folks who don’t understand? They don’t matter.
  6. Dress for weather – Both inside and out, dress appropriately for the weather. A lot of people want to crank their heat up to 75 or 80, and run around in skimpy clothes in wintertime. If you are a millionaire, be my guest. The rest of us have to keep the bills at bay. So the double layered clothes and shoes on until bedtime are the best way to dress. We are able to keep our heat set at 65 because we dress properly, and we keep the bills down. Since I crochet, handmade afghans in laps are provided, and cats and our dog will gladly curl up beside you for added warmth. Baking and cooking all winter will also help keep the house warm. When you go outside, do yourself a favor, and bundle up. Don’t wear shoes that are slick bottom, because you think they look cute, or you might fall and bust your ass. A mistake a lot of people make is assuming they do not need to bundle because they are driving someplace- but if your car breaks down, you will be very cold while you are arranging your alternative transportation. Or forbid your heater goes out! So bundle up!
  7. Fires- Most especially if you are Pagan…have outside fires all winter long, even if it’s just an occasional candle! I have yet to meet one Pagan who does not feel invigorated by fire, which represents light and life for us during these dark months. Burn fires just for the smell of them if needs be, or because you love the ambient glow of them, even if you do so for no other reason. If you’re like me, you love the way your hair and clothes smell after a wood fire. Warm your hearth, yard, and home with fire all winter.
  8. Skin Care- Oh, how the wind, cold, and heaters dry skin as badly as they dry out sinuses! Some say you ought to shower less, but I say a good hot soak every day in a bath or hot shower are good for skin. Scrub all that dead skin off, and hydrate with good lotion after each bath/shower. Drinking plenty of water helps with that as well, and chap sticks/lip glosses/Vaseline on the lips does wonders.
  9. Drive Accordingly- People forget how to drive when weather changes for some odd reason. The first DAY of it, I can see- but some people NEVER acclimate, and are enraged that they have to adapt. This makes no damned sense, and if this is you? Change. Lave the house earlier to account for driving more slowly if needs be. Police say you need to leave an entire car length between you and the next car per ten miles you are traveling. Yet people leave less than half a car length between them and the next driver while going 80mph in the 65 mph zone in rain, snow, sleet, and hail, and are genuinely shocked when a car wreck occurs. I am not calling that an accident in those situations. The lack of safety due to refusal to take precautions is a choice, and there is nothing accidental. It’s unnecessary, and inexcusable. It’s also completely avoidable. Always use the toilet before leaving the house no matter what, as it prevents urgency to GET someplace fast. Play music you like, and take the route you like the best so driving is less of a chore.
  10. Be understanding- Winter is something many of us just don’t look forward to, but nobody can fight it. Understand the things you need to do, and the things other people need to do in order to manage well. Accept winter. Plan for it, and try to enjoy it if you can.

I know there are a LOT more things you can do to survive winter than just what I listed, but here is my top ten list.

Blessed Winter.

Blessed Be!

***

About the Author:

Saoirse is a recovered Catholic.  I was called to the Old Ways at age 11, but I thought I was just fascinated with folklore. At age 19, I was called again, but I thought I was just a history buff, and could not explain the soul yearnings I got when I saw images of the Standing Stones in the Motherland. At age 29, I crossed over into New Age studies, and finally Wicca a couple years later. My name is Saoirse, pronounced like (Sare) and (Shah) Gaelic for freedom. The gods I serve are Odin and Nerthus. I speak with Freyja , Norder, and Thunor as well. The Bawon has been with me since I was a small child, and Rangda has been with me since the days I was still Catholic. I received my 0 and 1 Degree in an Eclectic Wiccan tradition, and my Elder is Lord Shadow. We practice in Columbus, Ohio. I am currently focusing more on my personal growth, and working towards a Second and Third Degree with Shadow. I received a writing degree from Otterbein University back in 2000. I have written arts columns for the s Council in Westerville. I give private tarot readings and can be reached through my Facebook page Tarot with Saoirse. You can, also, join me on my Youtube Channel

 

 

 

Celebrating the Old Ways in New Times

December, 2016

Winter Solstice 2016

Bright Blessings!
The Solstice Season is upon us, and all I can think about is planning my ritual and gathering. Then, I can’t wait until the hubbub dies down from shopping, and parties that last until January.
I have done my annual bowing out of all Christmas themed celebrations, and reminded people I do not send cards, or do gift exchanges.
I have had the gripe fests with others who want to avoid the mainstream holiday, but can’t get away from it. A friend hit the nail on the head yesterday, and said, “I am just NOT in the Xmas Spirit this year.” I told him that I am NEVER in the Xmas spirit. A lot of us aren’t.
Then, I started wondering, where does the Xmas Spirit come from? How did it go from the celebration of Pagan things, to the observance of the birth of the Xtian god, and then to become so commercialized?
My theory is all about greed, and herd mentality, and keeping up with the Jonses with who can buy the best presents, and whatnot. Truthfully, that is not well-researched, and it shows my bitter personal bias.
So instead of fussing, like I prefer to do, I’ll be an adult and share some history of the Ancient Roman celebration we draw many of our modern traditions from, and investigate WHY, in winter specifically, gift giving and charity are done so prolifically.
Ancient Roman Saturnalia
IO Saturn!
Major partying was done from December 17 through the 23 in ancient Rome in honor of the god Saturn.
Saturn is a god of agriculture, and it is believed when he reined, an Eden-like land of bounty and innocence was where people lived. He was also believed to be a god of liberation, and of the Capital. As he was the Roman aspect of the Greek god, Cronus, he was seen as a god of time as well, and they deemed it fit to have Saturnalia right at Solstice time, just before New Years. Both of which are markers of time.
Many things from our modern day “Xmas Spirit” come from Saturnalia.
Gift Giving and Liberation
As Saturn was a god of agriculture as well as liberation, he was unbound for the celebrations. For some reason, wool bound his feet year round, except during Saturnalia, when it was removed. In further observance of liberation, servants were allowed a short period of being allowed to say whatever they wanted to their employers, without risk of punishment. Blending the liberation and gift giving practice, masters served and fed splendid feasts to their servants. In some banquets, servants dined before masters, in others, they all ate together.
Gift giving day was December 19, and typically, gifts were kept fairly inexpensive. Children got toys, of course, and some favored gag gifts. Some employers would give extra money to their employees to use for them to buy their families gifts. We see this still done to this day in the form of holiday bonuses and the nice dinners some businesses host for staff.
Light of the World
After the Fourth Century in Ancient Rome, a festival for a sun god called Sol Invictus took place on December 25. Lights were kindled, and the birth of this god was celebrated. To me, this is another Solstice Celebration, and it was written that Xtians also took part in the festivities. The Church saw this and decided to observe the birth of Christ on December 25 as a result. Jesus became “The Light of the World” for Xtians, and the Church moved towards more separation from Pagan celebrations.
The Feast
Feasting seems to be a major part of every major holiday. This in particular was including not just the feats for the servants, like the holiday meals our employers give to us, but as veneration of a god of plenty.
Sacrifice
As with most all Pagan celebrations, there was sacrifice. Suckling pigs were offered- and are still eaten at Xmas to this day. But what many don’t know, is it is written there were some periods Saturn demanded human sacrifice. Gladiators were given to Saturn, and it was later said he specifically preferred just human heads. It is supposedly the demigod Hercules who said masks would be offered rather than real human heads. Today, people continue the tradition of sacrifice by donating to charity, or doing charitable works.
What’s all this got to do with today?
Aspects of the pre-Xtian Solstice time festivities were taken by the Church and used for Xmastime. The things that had originally been sacred to a Pagan god like gift giving, having time off work, and sacrifice, became secular, and done just for fun.
As the Ancient Romans were a people of commerce, I can’t say our modern society is the first to have commercialized the holidays. All I know is it all feels cheap to me today.
If each thing had a meaning besides lining some businesses pockets with money, maybe some of us would feel better about it.
Solstice time had been about giving thanks to gods like Saturn, and welcoming the sun, in anticipation of the growing season.
Jesus became the blanket “lord of everything”, and the “one true god” to Xtians. Observance of the seasons gradually fell out of favor in our world of grocery stores and hydroponic indoor gardens which give us fresh produce year round. They still observe the pre-Xtian festivities, and they don’t even know they are doing so.
So, for those of us who do not worship Sol Invictus, or Saturn, whose veneration a lot of Xtian modern Christmas things come from, getting “in the Christmas Spirit” might not happen. As far as I am concerned, that is completely okay.
Some of us stay away from shopping malls to avoid the pandemonium, avoid restaurants in busy areas, do not do the gift exchanges or parties, and do not send cards. We likewise travel after, or before the holidays rather than during them. Some do their charity work year round rather than just at the holidays, as well.
Some are sick to death of the demands of friends and family , and downright refuse to be guilted into attending something, or doing some holiday themed thing we do not feel in our hearts is right for us.
Instead of a ritual or spellwork, I am going to provide some affirmations for those who are not in the Xmas spirit, and who likewise do not want to be.
Ten Reasons Why it’s okay to not have “The Xmas Spirit”
It is a personal choice to have certain feelings or not. Nobody can force “cheer” or “jolliness” on you if you genuinely are not feeling it. It is what is, and other people who cannot deal with your choice will just have to suffer.
It is supposed to be for sacred purposes. Something is either sacred to you, or it’s not.
You don’t owe it to friends or family to do things with them just because they think you should. This is a huge reason some people eventually burn out from Xmas. Many refuse to be pressured by other people who feel it will be more fun for them if we are having fun along with them. It’s not fun for some of us, and that is okay.
Maybe the holiday brings bad memories, and you feel better off emotionally if you don’t put yourself in certain settings which force you to relive them. In this situation, you have to do what is best for you, and people who really care about you will understand.
Maybe your finances do not allow for gifts and cards for everybody. Maybe you also have limited space in your home, and just don’t have room for gifts from people. The shopping, and party crowds might make you crazy, and the traffic might make you feel worse. Staying out of it all might be necessary for you.
Maybe you don’t want to put the time and expense into decorating. You may have kids or pets that tear up things and you don’t have to deal with that if you don’t want to.
Maybe you just don’t have the time to do everything people invite you to do, and you don’t feel right choosing to turn down select invitations, so you respectfully decline them all indiscriminately.
Your job may prevent you from doing things, and it might not bother you. This is also something you cannot control.
You might have an extenuating circumstance and have to be absent this year, but plan to join in next year. That is okay too.
The last and most important reason why it is okay to not have “The Xmas Spirit” is if you just don’t want to, you just don’t have to.

Many of us dread the weeks following the day after Halloween, clear up to mid January when all has dies down from “holiday mania”, as I like to call it. Every year, it gets more stressful and difficult for me, and the only thing that saves me, and many like me during this time, is the fact that we exclude ourselves. I also understand many of my loved ones LIVE for Christmas, and they look forward to it year round.
May the holidays be joyous and blessed for those who celebrate them, and may they be over with quickly for those who don’t!
Blessed Be!

Red Pixie’s Elements of a Magical Life

December, 2012

Solstice Traditions

Winter solstice observances were held by virtually every culture in the world. Solstice rites were practiced among such diverse groups as Native South Americans, Celts, Persians, Orientals, and Africans. Solstice was known as Sacaea to the Mesopotamians, as the Festival of Kronos to the ancient Greeks, and as Saturnalia to the Romans. According to Norse traditions, the Valkyrie looked for souls to bring to Valhalla during Yule. Norwegians abstained from hunting or fishing for the twelve days during Yule as a way of letting the weary world rest and to hasten the revived sun’s appearance. In old Russia it was traditional to toss grain upon the doorways where carollers visited as a way of keeping the house from want throughout the rest of the winter. Ashes from the Yule log were mixed with cows’ feed in France and Germany to promote the animals’ health and help them calve. In Baltic regions today, corn is scattered near the door of the house for sustenance and ashes of the Yule log are given to fruit trees to increase their yield. Romanians bless the trees of the orchard on Yule with sweetened dough to bring good harvests. Serbs toss wheat on the burning Yule log to increase livestock bounty.

The most significant Yule tradition to persist over the centuries is the Christmas tree. Although the origin of the Christmas tree is generally ascribed to Martin Luther, its beginnings actually go back to pre-Christian times. Christmas trees are thought to have evolved from the rite of symbolically selecting and harvesting a “sacred tree,” a practice found in many ancient cultures. Evergreens and firs were sacred to early peoples, including the ancient Greeks, Celts, and Germans. The first Yule trees were born when pagans went into the forests during the winter solstice to give offerings to evergreens. Pines and firs remained green while other vegetation lost their leaves and appeared lifeless during the bitter winter cold. Their mysterious survival and vigor seemed to signify a life force within which carried with it the hope of renewed life.

The pinea silva or sacred pine groves that were attached to pagan Roman temples also pre-figured the Christmas tree. On the night before a holy day, Roman priests called “tree-bearers” cut one of the sacred pines, decorated it, and carried it into the temple. In fact, the German word for Christmas tree is not Kristenbaum, or Christmas tree, but Tannenbaum, or sacred tree.

Church leaders from the early centuries of the Church all the way through Puritan society in 17th century Massachusetts condemned the custom of bringing decorated evergreens into the home at Yule time. The custom was so beloved and persistent, however, that repeated attempts to eradicate ‘heathen’ practices ultimately failed-and now these pagan traditions, which largely celebrate nature, are among the most treasured elements of the season.

Decorating the tree with objects resembling fruits, nuts, berries, and even flowers is thought to be a symbolic act designed to bring about the return of summer’s bounty. In this way early cultures hoped to hurry the return of spring, and ensure survival through the rest of the harsh winter months.

Christmas wreaths are also ancient, and were traditionally made of evergreens, holly, and ivy. The wreath’s circle symbolizes the wheel of the year and the completion of another cycle. Holly represents the female element; ivy represents the male. Like evergreens, holly was believed to contain a mysterious life force because it bore berries in the middle of winter. Both holly and ivy were thought to have magical properties, and were used as protection against negative elements.

Kissing under the mistletoe is an old Druid tradition. Mistletoe was considered highly sacred by this culture because, as a parasitic kind of vegetation, it never touched the earth (growing instead on oaks and other trees), and also because it bore berries in winter when everything else appeared dead. Druids gathered the leaves and berries from special oaks with sickles made of gold. They called mistletoe “all-heal” because they felt it had the power of protection against illness and bad events, and also because they believed mistletoe spread goodwill. Legend has it that enemies meeting under the mistletoe cast their weapons aside, greeted each other amicably, and honored a temporary truce. White linen clothes were spread beneath the mistletoe as it was being gathered so none of it would touch the ground, lest its power be accidentally released back to the earth. Mistletoe berries were considered to be a powerful fertility substance. A kiss under the mistletoe meant love and the promise of marriage.

Burning the Yule log is perhaps the oldest of all Yule traditions, possibly dating back eons. Since the winter solstice was a solar holiday, fire in different forms was closely associated with it. Fires and candles were lit during Yule to give the waning sun renewed power and vigor-and also surely to provide sources of cheery heat and light during the darkest part of the northern winter. Even the burning brandy on plum pudding symbolized the sun’s rebirth. Traditionally the Yule log was made of oak; in northern European countries, the log was massive enough to burn for the entire twelve days of Yule. It was selected early in the year and set aside, then at winter solstice decorated with sprays of fir, evergreen, holly, ivy, or yew. A piece of the previous year’s Yule log was used to light the new Yule log. Once the ashes were cold they were gathered into powerful amulets, or scattered throughout the garden and fields to ensure fertility and bounty in the coming year.

Spirituality of Solstice

The spiritual ramifications of yule are profound for both neo-pagans and Christians. For Christians, the birth of Christ means a turning point between eternal death and eternal life. Devout Christians celebrate Christmas as the beginning of a new spiritual age of eternal life.

For neo-pagans, Yule is also a time of spiritual beginnings. Jul, or Yule, is an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning “wheel.” The winter solstice is the turning point in the natural cycle of the year; this darkest night in all the year is followed by a day that will dawn just a little bit earlier.

Because Yule signifies the completion of the wheel of the year, the period around the winter solstice is considered to be a good time for spiritual work. Some neo-pagans believe the dark nights of winter are when the veil between the spirit world and the living world is the thinnest. It is therefore an appropriate time for self-examination and meditation on hidden energies-both the energies lying dormant within the earth, and also those within ourselves. Yule traditions celebrate nature’s renewal, and help affirm our connection to the energy and power of the earth and the cosmos.

Nature’s Enduring Cycle

The winter solstice demonstrates the enduring cycle of the heavens by an event that has been directly observable, year in and year out, century after century, for millions of years. The new year begins with the turning point of the winter solstice, as it has down through eons-an unending cycle of dark and light, waning and waxing, ultimately representing nature’s birth, death, and rebirth. The winter solstice is a time to affirm our spiritual ties to nature through celebrations and traditions that are thousands of years old.

 

Whether celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or Yule, we can all delight in the season as a time to renew family ties, take joy in our natural environment, reflect on the events of the old year, and look forward in anticipation to the new. As the winter solstice demonstrates to us, every ending is a new beginning.

How do you celebrate Winter Solstice, leave me a message and let me know how you celebrate and what traditions you have.

InterWeavings

December, 2011

I’m so excited! The start of the Christmas season has begun!

Not because I celebrate as a Christian or even celebrate it as a secular holiday. It is because it signals my favorite time on the wheel of the year. Winter.

Just saying “winter” brings to my mind clear, crisp, cold nights standing outside looking at the stars, the darkness falling by late afternoon. The smell of wood burning in fireplaces and snuggling inside surrounded by the quiet of the night. Truly, Silent Night bliss.

Our home prepares for the decorations of the season in November with Thanksgiving. Cleaning and making room for family and guests is step one. Preparing menus for the next several weeks is step two   followed by the trimming of the house with decorations for Winter Solstice.

Our main tree is in the family room.  We have collected and made ornaments that represent the elements as well as suns, moons and stars.  We also look for things that each of the family loves. There are fairies, mountain bikes, birds, ballet dancers, roses, ivy, and frogs and things from our childhood trees, which are now considered “antique”! A star is shining on top and quilt batting is laid underneath as a blanket of snow. A blanket our cats look forward to each year.

I have a tree dedicated to Bridget in my kitchen. Garlands of macaroni as well as miniature pots and pans adorn it. Star anise is hung, as are little cookbooks. A cornhusk doll holding bread in on top and a darling cow sits patiently at the base.

This year I am creating a Pink Bubble tree for our bedroom. A Pink Bubble is a visualization technique where you see the person or situation as perfect and then surrounded by a pink bubble. Release the bubble to float and find the highest good of all concerned.  My tree is a pink feather tree with clear glass balls and garlands of glass balls. It looks like it is covered in bubbles! The larger glass balls can be opened for a slip of paper with a name or situation written on it to be placed inside. I wake each morning and smile as I see this tree. Blessings bubble up and are sent to family and friends

Christmas, Solstice, Winter; all three words remind me of the importance of family, friends and home. It is our need to find the Light in the darkness to bring hope, clarity and warmth.  How beautiful it is to be in harmony with the world at this time. A perfect time to “Pink Bubble” this beautiful planet!