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Posts Tagged ‘holiday’

This year, in addition to the Yule ritual we’ll be doing tomorrow night with our little study group, I’m planning to loosely follow along with Three Cranes Grove for their “Yule Along”. It’s a set of 12 “feasts” between the solstice and the new year, intended to bring reflection and celebration of the season. I like the idea a lot, and though I’ll be traveling for part of it, I definitely want to do some of these activities.

This is what they have suggested, as well as my plans for each day:

  • 12/19 Greeting the winter wanderer (Woden) – I’ll do an offering to the Wild Hunt (mostly propitiatory – while I honor the Hunt, I don’t want them hanging around my house!)
  • 12/20 Mother’s night/Idesa/Solstice vigil (to be posted that day) – Yule Ritual to the Idesa and Frige, with bonus Solstice Vigil Candles lit from the setting sun, to be burned throughout Yule. Opportunity for oathmaking here; I am considering an oath towards this new study group, to solidify my commitment to them.
  • 12/21 Solstice Day – Baking! Lighting candles! Hooray for the Sun!
  • 12/22 Nature Spirits – Offerings to the nature spirits
  • 12/23 Feast of Fools – Not sure yet what to do here. This is typically about role reversal, but I may just do something silly with my husband/friends.
  • 12/24 Alfar and housewights – housecleaning and offerings to the spirits of my home
  • 12/25 Spirit of hospitality and gifting – Presents! Hooray!
  • 12/26 Celebrations of winter/snow – Celebrating being warm with my family.
  • 12/27 Celebration of the evergreen – More presents, this time with extended family. I need to figure out how to work evergreens into this.
  • 12/28 God/desses of the household (Frige) – Knitting! Lots of knitting, as I’m working on two big projects right now.
  • 12/29 Shining ones – Offerings to Thunor, Frige, and Ing Frea
  • 12/30 Bringing in the boar (Ing Frea, deities/spirits concerning oaths) – Roast beast! (Roast beast is a feast I don’t mind in the least!) I’ll make pot roast and consider my new year’s resolutions and any oaths I am considering making.
  • 12/31 Twelfth Night — Resolutions, divination, remembrances, gratitudes – Party! Big party at my house, with friends and games and fun and champagne. I’ll initiate a conversation about resolutions, and maybe do some divination regarding the new year.
  • 1/1 New Year’s Day — Returning the home to regular time – Clean up, take down, and put away all the holiday stuffs. Get ready to go back to work, cook lunches, and make some pre-prepared meals. Basically return to the normal routine.

Some of these will be a little difficult, but I think planning for them in advance will make sure I stick to it. I love the idea of making Yule a “season” – a time of feasting, sacrifice, and honoring the various Gods and spirits of my path. I think this is a fun way to do it, and it means a little bit of sacred time each day, instead of trying to cram it all into one day and getting burnt out.

What are you doing to celebrate the Solstice/Yule? Any family traditions you have that you’d like to share? I’m always looking for new traditions to borrow and try out!

Blessed Yule!

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The Summer Solstice (in the Northern Hemisphere) occurs on or around June 21 every year, and marks the astronomical point at which the sun has reached its highest altitude in the sky. This produces the longest day/shortest night of the year, and the holy day of Midsummer or the Summer Solstice is celebrated at this time. This holiday is often referred to as Litha among various branches of neopaganism, a reference to Bede’s naming of the months of the summer.*

Historically this holiday was celebrated in most of Northern Europe, especially the British Isles, Scandinavia, and the Germanic lands, where celebrations included bonfires and the picking of golden-flowered plants, supposed to have miraculous healing powers. In the Scandinavia, where the sun sets very late and rises very early resulting in extremely long days, the Sun is the central figure, as well as the lit bonfires and celebrations of community. People frequently danced around (and through!) bonfires as a ritual of protection, as well as driving cattle through the fires to protect them. The strength of the Sun makes the crops grow, and there is a great deal of promised bounty as people tend the crops and prepare for the upcoming harvest.

In the Neopagan myth, this is the time of the second battle between the Holly King and the Oak King, where the Holly King defeats the Oak King (who has reigned since Yule) and will then rule until December when the two will battle again. This begins the “Dark” half of the year, where the Sun’s power wanes and the days grow shorter again until the cycle begins anew at Yule.

Bonfires are a very common method of celebrating this high day, often accompanied by all night vigils. This seems to be both an honoring of fire and a warding against wildfires, which are at their most dangerous during the hot dry summer months. The spirits of the land are also important at this time. Most central, however, is honoring the Sun at her (or his) strongest point in the year. I usually make a special point to watch both the sunrise and the sunset on Midsummer, and always have a “bonfire” in my charcoal grill, where I make offerings to Sunna, who is at her brightest (and most destructive!) at this time. As a tropical Pagan, my relationship with Sunna is one of deep respect as well as joy, for while it is sunny here most of the year, and I love basking in her warmth, it is very dangerous to underestimate the power of Sunna in summer, especially on exposed skin.

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The spring equinox, commonly called Ostara, is the high holy day that occurs halfway between Imbolc and Beltaine, on the astrological day when day and night are equal – usually around March 21. It mirrors the autumnal equinox, but serves as the gateway into the “light” half of the year.

Commonly, Neo-Pagans celebrate this holiday as the first coming of fertility to the land, with symbols of pastel flowers, rabbits, and eggs (much like the symbols surrounding the secular and Christian celebrations of Easter, which gets its name from the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre, for whom both the Christian and the Pagan holidays are named). The Anglo-Saxon celebration of Eostre in April, though slightly later than our modern celebrations, is the historical basis for this holy day. Eostre is the goddess of the dawn, and her celebration in modern paganism frequently emphasizes the strengthening of the sun. In the secular calendar, March 21 is counted as the first day of spring, which lines up well with the religious celebrations at this time.

This time of year is also the beginning of the rebirth of the agrarian gods, and in the myth of the Goddess and God commonly told in eclectic Wicca, this celebration is when the young God begins his courtship of the Goddess.

Egg decorating is a common custom during this time, for pretty much everyone, and is something I look forward to each year. I’ve decorated eggs since I was a child, and I find that I don’t feel “right” about this time of year until there is a collection of brightly colored eggs in my fridge. I also enjoy decorating my house with birds, nests full of eggs, bunnies, and flowers – symbols that I leave up through Beltaine usually, and the beginning of summer. I have a special connection to rabbits (and have since my childhood), so I enjoy surrounding myself with their imagery for this season.

Also common is the eating of chocolate (and other candy), especially in egg, bean, or bunny shapes, and I will always support holidays that encourage chocolate eating.

This is also one of the few holy days that has a myth that lines up with the agricultural calendar in my area. Though many people are just seeing the first renewed signs of life, it’s not hard to imagine this time of year as one of first plantings and the first fertility of the land (especially with eggs and rabbits as such potent fertility symbols). Since this is the time of year that I plant my spring garden, it’s nice to celebrate the holiday along side celebrating having my garden in the ground. This year the first seedlings will be coming up the week of the Equinox. Planting a garden is a deeply religious experience for me and is a crucial celebration of this season of the year (even if it doesn’t happen right on the actual equinox), and I make a point of channeling the fertility that abounds in Pagan religious celebrations into the ground itself, to increase the yields and fertility of my garden.

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My Imbolc/Ewemeolc ritual was performed on Friday, February 1 at 5:00 pm, just after I’d gotten home from work. This was a solitary ADF style rite, following the full CoOR. Using the published ritual template found here, I honored Nerthus as the Earth Mother and Heimdall as the Gatekeeper, and Frigga was the primary patron of the rite, as Queen of the Hearth. I may not use this association in the future, but it’s the one that seemed to fit as I was writing the ritual. I brought the following offerings:

  • Cornmeal for the Earth Mother
  • Milk for the Outdwellers, poured out in the back yard
  • Whiskey for Saga and Heimdall
  • Incense and my silver ring for the Fire/Well/Tree
  • A brownie for the Ancestors
  • Oats for the Nature Spirits
  • Whiskey for the Gods and for Frigga, as well as water shared from the pitcher I used for the waters of life

I offered whiskey even though I can’t drink it myself. All the offerings seemed well received, especially the brownie. Apparently my sweet-tooth is hereditary.

This was the first time I’d tried to go directly from “work mode” into “ritual mode” and the transition could have gone more smoothly. I will give myself more time for meditation next time, as I never really settled into the ritual. Also, this particular ritual script, though I like it a lot, was difficult to say at first – lots of alliteration (which is why I like it) was a little tongue-twistery until I settled into the poetic pattern. I’ll definitely use the ritual outline again though, as I liked it a lot – especially the Norse flavor of the poetry.

I felt like opening the gates went particularly well, but I didn’t feel as well-connected to Frigga as I’d hoped in this particular rite. My ease with the CoOR was definitely more apparent though, as I moved through the various steps, easily anticipating what would come next.

One thing I did notice about this particular ritual template was that I spent a lot more time “setting up” than I did actually celebrating the particular reason for the High Day. In the future, I’ll put more into the “celebration” aspect, so that it will feel more balanced. I definitely feel less at home with the Norse celebrations, so I need to do more research into their associations with High Days (or just do standard Neo Pagan celebrations, which I’m much more comfortable with, and give them a Norse flavor).

All the offerings, once made into their various bowls, were spread in my gardens as part of the blessing of the coming spring. My lime tree is in full bloom, so hopefully we’ll have a bumper crop of limes this coming year.

I drew runes for the first time in a long time for this ritual, since I was honoring Frigga, and it seemed appropriate. I received the following when I asked for the blessing:

  • Uruz – Aurochs: strength, dross
  • Nauthiz – Need/Necessity: oppression, lessons learned
  • Inguz – Ing: fertility, ancestors

I’ll admit to being really unfamiliar with this particular divination tool, so the “textbook” keyword meanings don’t mean much yet. I’ve had to do some researching to find deeper meanings, both in the rune poems and in other sources. From the Anglo-Saxon rune poem, I found the following:

Ur
The aurochs is proud and has great horns;
it is a very savage beast and fights with its horns;
a great ranger of the moors, it is a creature of mettle.
Nyd
Trouble is oppressive to the heart;
yet often it proves a source of help and salvation
to the children of men, to everyone who heeds it betimes.
Ing
Ing was first seen by men among the East-Danes,
till, followed by his chariot,
he departed eastwards over the waves.
So the Heardingas named the hero.

I found that just going to the Rune Poems helped a lot with finding a bigger meaning. From this, I get the following impression of the omen.

You will be given strength as you need it to overcome the coming troubles and trials, but that trouble will lead you toward fertility and peace.

This is, honestly, pretty similar to other omens I’ve been drawing on this Dedicant Path – that things are going to be rough at first, but that I just need to stick with it, and I’ll be glad for having made it through. I’m taking the similar omen to mean I’m not done with the troublesome part yet, which seems about right, as I’m still feeling a lot like I’m in the “action” part of “belief follows action”. Still, I am further along than I was, and I know this will take time.

This message is applicable to my personal life right now as well, which I can’t really discuss here.

It’s also a little trite, to be honest. It’s one of those divination messages that could apply to anyone at any time, and maybe that’s because I asked a very generic “What blessings do you give in return” question. As a blessing, it’s somewhat of a positive one, or at least has a positive outcome.

Either that or I’m totally barking up the wrong tree – a possibility that I’m not leaving behind, as almost every divination I’ve done (or had done) regarding ADF has said something about being troublesome and difficult but with a good outcome. We’ll see how the rest of this year goes.

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Yule is the festival that occurs on the Winter Solstice – the longest night of the year. It is generally celebrated on December 21, though the actual Solstice may happen a day or two earlier or later, depending on how the calendar lines up with the astronomical phenomenon of the Solstice.

The primary Neopagan celebration at Yule is that of the rebirth of the Sun. The Goddess-cycle says that She has been pregnant since the Spring, and the God, her lover, was slain at the harvest, ushering in the darkest part of the year. Now He is reborn and the light returns to the world.  This is also seen as the time when the newly birthed Oak King defeats his twin and rival, the Holly King, to rule for the coming “light” half of the year (the two will switch roles at Midsummer).

Common celebrations include bonfires and all-night-vigils to welcome the sunrise after the longest night of the year. Also common is gift-giving, feasting, lighting lots of candles to celebrate the return of light, and decorations of evergreens, to show the promise of returning spring and green things. This is the turning point of the year from dark to light, and though the coldest days of winter are still ahead, the increasing sunlight is a sign that spring will come again.

There is not a particularly notable celebration in the Celtic hearth culture for the Winter Solstice, though the Ancestors would still have been important at this time of year. In the Gaulish hearth, the midwinter feast of Devoriuros was a celebration of plenty, as well as of the renewal promised by the returning light. The Coligny calendar clearly marks the winter solstice, so there would have been some notation that the longest night had passed. (Our Own Druidry, 62-64)

I celebrate many of the secular traditions in North America that go along with this holiday, many of which have ties to the Neopagan (and older) customs of this time of year. I particularly enjoy baking cookies, giving gifts, hanging evergreens, and lots of candle light to illuminate the darkness. I also celebrate this holiday (and it’s Christian equivalent) multiple times, since each part of my family will have its own gift-giving and celebratory gathering, with a big feast as well.

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I do a lot of work to bring my Druidry into my life in a way that I can be happy with how it’s incorporated but also keep a very low profile. This runs me into trouble occasionally, but most prominently around the holidays.

My family is extremely Christian (they think being non-Christian is grounds for divorce, among other things), and so I have to smile and nod a lot, and let them continue to think what they want about me and what I believe. I need their support due to physical and mental health reasons, and I really value having a close relationship with them, so that arrangement doesn’t bother me most of the time. The good outweighs the discomfort, and it’s usually easy to dodge religious conversations or to talk generically about hope and blessings.

But around the holidays, it gets troublesome. I can sit through a Christmas Eve service without too much fuss (just like I sit through an Easter service every year as well), but it always feels a little hollow. I haven’t been struck down yet, but I am still not really comfortable in church, even if I love the Christmas carols.

I want to celebrate the Winter Solstice, to bring evergreens into my home as a reminder that the world will become green again. To decorate with the symbols of winter and nature. I can put up with Santa and the secular western Christmas holiday, but my family always gives me nativity sets and asks why I don’t have the advent wreath up.

I know that a lot of the symbols of this holiday are cross-cultural or have become secular. Many of the “traditional” Christian symbols, like Christmas trees, are borrowed from earlier Pagan ones and have become acceptable as part of the secular celebration of Christmas. Even if the actual Christmas Tree is a relatively young tradition, bringing evergreens into the house is quite old. Even the celebration of Christmas in December is a bid to appropriate an existing holiday and Christianize it.

Knowing all that, unfortunately, doesn’t help much with the practical applications. I’m expected to send Christmas cards. I use the excuse of not wanting to have to send out two different cards to send a very nature oriented, non-Christian-specific card, but it’s still seen as buying into their religious tradition. In return, I get a mailbox full of Jesus cards that I don’t want to put up on my mantle.

On some level, I appreciate being a closeted Pagan. It stretches my imagination, and I enjoy using symbols and items from Paganism to make the celebration of holidays my own in a way that other people will enjoy without knowing that they’re being Pagan.

I also truly love the decorations and celebrations this time of year. They give me the warm fuzzies, and I love participating in those traditions with my family. I love putting up holly and evergreens, pinecones and red ribbon, cranberries, oranges, and candles. I love having a tree decorated with white lights, red ribbon, birds, animals, and little nature scenes. My family has even bought into it, buying me new “Winter Woodland” ornaments for my tree every year (just as they buy snowmen for my aunt and Santas for my mom and snowflakes for my cousin). I even love a lot of Christmas music, though not the tinned, Christmas-Pop stuff they play in stores on eternal repeat. And cookies are pan-religious, right?

It’s easy to decorate for fall or spring, but for some reason decorating for Yule/Christmas is the one time that I feel conflicted, no matter how much I love and cherish having those decorations up in my house.

Even knowing that Yule/Winter Solstice and Christmas are pretty well intertwined, I still feel a bit like a bad Pagan. There are so many good, non-religious things to celebrate during the “Holidays” (which is one reason I love Thanksgiving so much), so I question why it bothers me so much. I can celebrate rebirth, family, warmth, hope, joy, blessings, and the new year without ascribing to any religion at all. I’m not sure why I still feel isolated by my beliefs in the midst of all the secular good vibes.

Even with a beautifully decorated tree in my living room and a hand-made wreath on my door, it puts a damper on my celebration to feel separated like I do. My Pagan beliefs are sustaining and meaningful, but I’m missing out on the community aspect of celebration. I think I’m just missing feeling unified with my family this time of year. Perhaps I should look into doing Grove work (though I’ll be out of town for the local Grove’s Yule celebration). I like being a solitary, but I also like working in a community, and this time of year I crave that community aspect more than others. (Odd for it also being a very introspective time of year in the Wheel.)

I don’t know that there’s an easy solution to all this. I’m obviously still going to decorate, and still going to celebrate on my own time. I’m still going to make cookies (in the shape of holly leaves and spirals), eat oranges to celebrate the sunshine, hang stockings, light candles, and give gifts.

Maybe I just need to work on accepting where I am, and just let myself love the holidays for what they are.

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I hope everyone in the US has a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday! Be well, and may your blessings today be many, and your relationships strengthened (with whomever you decide to celebrate, even if it’s just between you and your Gods)!

And if you’re not in the US, have a wonderful Thursday! I’ll eat a piece of pie in your honor!

Though I won’t have time or space to do a full ritual today, my hearth shrine will be very very busy with cooking and baking and burning candles. I love the energy of a bunch of people making a meal, and in my kitchen, there’s lots of room for people to cook together. I have lots of things to be thankful for, and my family (including my inlaws) are definitely on that list. Also I am hugely thankful for the medical care I’ve received over the last three years, that has brought me to the point where I am functioning like a well person again.

On a slightly more serious note, I hope you will choose not to shop on Thanksgiving, seeing as it’s the one holiday in our secular calendar that’s designed to be about being thankful for what you already have, and Friday will begin the Season of Buy All The Things. I’m saddened that retail workers will have to be at work for Thanksgiving – one of the few days they traditionally are allowed off at the same time as their families – and I hope this “experiment” by the big box stores of having huge “pre Black Friday” sales is a giant bust. Shopping can wait for one day. (Or if you must shop, do so online!)

I know that a holiday about being thankful isn’t a holiday that sells much stuff, but there have been Christmas/Holiday decorations and music playing since November 1 where I live. Let’s have a break from the commercialism for a day and rest and be thankful, even if it’s for very small things.

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