Yule: Embrace midwinter and solstice during year’s longest night

Plate with Yule log and cookies in shapes of acorns, leaves and woodland animals, lit pine tree in backgroung

A cake Yule log is accompanied by cookies reflecting nature’s gifts. Photo in public domain

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 21: The pale winter sun’s waning rays give way to the longest night of the year, on winter solstice—known also as Yule, or midwinter. One of the oldest celebrations of winter, Yule conjures visions of steaming cinnamon wassail, a crackling fireplace and the serenity of a blanket of snow. Despite the darkness and bitter cold, Yule is a time of joy: while enjoying the tranquility of midwinter, Pagans, Wiccans and many world citizens welcome the reemerging sun. Winter solstice marks a turning point when days begin, once again, to lengthen, and nights to shorten.

A HISTORY OF YULE:
THE LOG AND THE MISTLETOE

From the earliest centuries, Germanic peoples observed an indigenous midwinter festival; in ancient Rome, Saturnalia was held on the winter solstice, and evergreen décor, gifts and feasts accompanied the festival. (Wikipedia has details.) In pagan tradition, the Great Mother gave birth to the new Sun King on winter solstice—a belief still held by Pagans today—and as centuries progressed, outdoor bonfires were moved indoors to a hearth with a Yule log. (Note that in some regions, Yule bonfires are still held outdoors.)

In the hearth, a large oak log ceremoniously placed is kindled at dusk, being allowed to burn for many hours or several days—tradition varies. In Druid custom, mistletoe is cut from an oak tree. Decorated Yule candles help welcome such beloved traditions as wassail, toasts and caroling. (No fireplace in your home? No problem. Time Warner Cable is offering, through Jan. 2, the Holiday Yule Log, to light up television screens with a crackling fire.)

Today, Pagans and Wiccans still celebrate with wassail, feasts and, sometimes, a Yule log. Among some sects, Yule lasts 12 days from winter solstice. In some Scandinavian countries, this season is known as Jul.

RECIPES AND MORE

The spicy aroma of cinnamon wassail will warm any kitchen!

Find abundant wassail and Yule log recipes at Food Network, Martha Stewart and Cooks.com.

Feast dishes like Shortest Day Ham Loaf, Brighter Day Cheese Ball, Solstice Surprise Salad and Roasted Lamb Feast for a (Sun) King are at Wicca.com.

Instructions for a Yule ritual with candles and blessings is available at this UK site.

Interested in Yule songs? How about a Yule altar? Get an altar how-to, learn Yule songs for kids, access a Yule playlist, find suggestions of things to hang on a Pagan tree and more at PaganWiccan.com.

 

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Categories: International ObservancesWiccan / Pagan

Autumnal Equinox: Pagans, Wiccans observe event with Mabon and Ostara

Table set with candles, rocks, herbs, Wiccan symbols and stars

An altar set for Mabon. Photo in public domain

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 22: The autumnal equinox ushers in equal day and night around the globe, and for Pagans and Wiccans, this celestial event brings Mabon—the second harvest festival. As the Earth’s subsolar point crosses the Equator, the planet begins moving southward, increasing darkness in the Northern Hemisphere and light in the Southern Hemisphere. Wiccans use Mabon (or Ostara, in the Southern Hemisphere) as an opportunity for thanksgiving: to welcome the impending dark, to give thanks for the long hours of sunlight of summer and to rejoice in the current bountiful harvest. Spicy mulled wines, crisp apples and warming cider are offered and consumed.

Did you know? Mabon is the name of a god from Welsh mythology.

In the agricultural societies of centuries past, autumn meant gathering together after the long, laborious hours of summer planting. Though fewer families now spend the summer planting, tending and gathering, autumn can still be a time of winding down and reflecting. Wiccans recognize the aging Goddess and spend ample time in nature.

Make it! Apple dolls and Mabon cider: Anyone can celebrate the season (and its produce) with this craft—applehead dolls, complete with intricate features and explained at Martha Stewart.com. Brew up some Mabon cider with the easy-to-follow recipe found here.

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Lammas, Lughnassadh: Christians, Wiccans, Pagans mark grain harvest festival

Grains, breads and rolls on table

Lughnasadh and Lammas have long been a first harvest festival: a time for giving thanks for grains, and baking with the fresh crops. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, AUGUST 1: Freshly baked breads, golden grains, dancing and the imminent days of autumn are all central to today’s celebration—by Christians, Lammas, and by Wiccans and Pagans (in the Northern Hemisphere), Lughnassadh. Though the name varies by tradition, this first harvest festival draws its roots from the same agricultural festival, steeped deep in history.

It is the joyful simplicity of gratitude for the change in seasons—from a season of planting to a season of harvest—that marks today’s occasion. While Lammas is a Christian holiday, it is observed primarily by the English and those of the Anglo-Saxon tradition; the Catholic Church previously commemorated both Lammas and the feast of St. Peter in Chains on August 1, but the latter feast has since been removed from the Roman Calendar. (Learn more from Catholic Culture.) For Wiccans and Pagans everywhere, Lughnassadh is a time for reflection, renewed hope and dancing. Centuries ago, the blessing of the first fruits—that is, the first crops of the harvest—was performed in both the Eastern and Western Christian Churches.

HOLY BREADS

Learn more about the link between grains, breads and faith in Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads, a book filled with fascinating stories and traditional recipes, from ReadTheSpirit author Lynne Golodner.

LAMMAS: A LOAF TO MASS FOR BLESSING

The Anglo-Saxon version of Lammas, or hlaf-mas, “loaf-mass,” refers to the practice of bringing a loaf of freshly baked bread to one’s local church for blessing: the loaf would, of course, be made from the baker’s freshly harvested grain. The faithful would ask God’s blessings upon their harvest, and in some regions, Anglo-Saxon charms were placed upon the Lammas loaves. (Find scrumptious bread recipes at Allrecipes; get instructions for daily fresh bread from Mother Earth News.) Following Lammas Mass, Christians would partake in a Lammas Day feast, complete with the loaf that had been blessed in church.

LUGHNASSADH: A FESTIVAL FOR THE SUN KING

Ancient Celtic myth describes a god of sun, of light and brightness: He is Lugh, the deity for whom Lughnassadh is named. Ever mirthful, Lugh is honored alongside his foster mother, Tailtiu, who is said to be responsible for introducing agriculture to Ireland. The story of Lughnassadh is one of the cycle of life, of the harvesting of grains and crops, and of one season’s fruits dropping seeds for the next. (Wikipedia has details.) In many areas, corn dollies were made from the harvested corn, sometimes hung in the home for a measure of luck.

Today, modern Wiccans and Pagans enjoy the season’s freshest produce, preferably in a feast: blackberries, grains, grapes and apples. Aside from ceremonies with dancing and bonfires, anyone can participate in Lughnassadh by giving thanks for the food on the table. (Learn more from Wicca.com.) Try a walk in the woods or fields, visit an orchard, or collect seeds for next year’s planting season.

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Imbolc: Pagans, Wiccans reflect and embrace the approaching light of spring

Crocuses and green grass poke out from the snow

Imbolc welcomes the approach of spring while winter is still evident. Photo courtesy of WIkimedia Commons

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 1: The depths of winter may be the snowy reality for many right now, but Wiccans and Pagans welcome the impending warmth and light of spring on Imbolc (or Lughnassadh, in the Southern Hemisphere). Set halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, Imbolc is one of four Gaelic seasonal festivals and the first of three fertility festivals. Derived from the Old Irish i mbolg, “in the belly,” Imbolc was first a reference to the onset of lactation in ewes, which signified the approaching births of spring. Today, candles and tributes to one’s inner light substitute for the sun’s rays in many regions, as devotees hold faith that spring will come. (Read more reasons for celebrating Imbolc in this article at Patheos.) Imbolc is also marked as Saint Brighid’s Day.

The earliest Irish literature contains evidence of Imbolc festivals, some of which are associated with events in Irish mythology. Megalithic monuments (and their inner chambers) in Ireland reflect the importance of Imbolc, and enormous feasts were held in Gaelic Ireland for the festival. For both ancient and modern pagans, Imbolc focuses on Brighid, the goddess of the hearth, fertility and the lighter half of the year. (Wikipedia has details.) Brighid crosses were woven and hung on doors for good luck, children wove Brighid dollies and young and old asked for her blessings; today, Pagans and Wiccans continue many of these practices. (Find instructions and more at this UK site.)

CUSTOMS, RITES AND EMBRACING WINTER’S CHILL

Winter’s snow cleanses the earth, and upon melting, it fills rivers and streams that millions will depend upon for drinking water during the spring and summer months. Still, the bitter, grey weather can be trying—so Pagans and Wiccans focus their energies on spiritual renewal, household and physical cleaning and an internal purification similar to the Roman februa (think February) rituals. Devotees of any religion can benefit from candlelit meditation, journaling and relaxing baths before welcoming the bounty of spring. (Learn more about Imbolc foods, herbs, activities and more at Wicca.com.)

Did you know? Imbolc was traditionally a time of weather divination. Pagans would watch for serpents and badgers, emerging from their winter dens, as an indicator of spring.

A cleansing journal exercise: Just as with life’s events, the earth’s seasons cannot be rushed—nor are they in our control. As one Wiccan writer shares in the Huffington Post, this time of year is ideal for exercising creativity and for examining one’s inner fire. Light a candle, sit by a window and, looking out at the snowy landscape, ask: What is this fire in my heart? How do I keep it burning? And, finally: How do I tend my own hearth fire?

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Winter Solstice: Seasons change; Pagans, Wiccans observe Yule

Winter scene with snow in woods, sun shining through trees in back

Winter landscape in Sweden. Photo by Lisa Widerberg, courtesy of Flickr

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 21: The vast majority of our readers live in the Northern Hemisphere and to all of you we say: Welcome to the longest night of the year!

We also have many readers in the Southern Hemisphere, especially Australia and New Zealand, and to you we say: Enjoy midsummer!

Wherever you live—and as long as men and women have walked the earth—the solstices have been marked as auspicious turning points in the calendar. For our Northern readers, this is the winter solstice. Often termed Yuletide or Yulefest, the days surrounding winter solstice have long been marked with cold-weather festivals and warm feasts, giving thanks for the “rebirth of the sun” and the reversal from increasing darkness to increasing light. Ancient Germanic peoples observed Yule; ancient Romans held Saturnalia, Brumalia and other festivals for the sun with food, gift-giving, gambling and often ludicrous behavior. Today, Pagans and Wiccans gather for Yule festivities: feasting and the lighting of the celebrated Yule log, which will smolder for 12 days.

Want recipes? Bake a tasty version of a Yule log with recipes from Food Network, Taste of Home and Martha Stewart. Sit back, grab a hot drink and relax in the serenity of winter.

Germanic peoples are credited the religious festival called “Yule,” and during Yuletide—which lasted approximately two months—many participants paid tribute to the Wild Hunt (a ghostly procession in the winter sky) and the god Odin (the leader of the Wild Hunt). Of course, this depended on where you lived in Europe at that time. Traditionally, enormous feasts and livestock sacrifices were associated with Yule. So merry was the atmosphere in these activities, in fact, that Grettis Saga refers to Yule as the time of “greatest mirth and joy among men.” Today’s Pagans and Wiccans often exchange gifts at Yule meals, while praising the rebirth of the sun and various gods. (Learn more from Wicca.com.)

WINTER: FROM MACHU PICCU TO DONGZHI

Pot of wassail with orange slices floating in it, steaming on a stovetop

Wassail cider cooks on a stovetop. Photo courtesy of Flickr

Solstice traditions have many names around the world: Inti Raymi in the Incan Empire in honor of the sun god Inti, and Soyalangwul for the Zuni and the Hopi. In Machu Piccu, there still exists a large stone column known as an Intihuatana, or the “tying of the sun”; ancient peoples would ceremonially tie the sun to the stone so that it could not escape. The East Asian Dongzhi festival recalls yin/yang and the dark/light balance of the cosmos.

YULE: EMBRACE THE CHILL

Winter got you down? Recharge with some all-natural ideas from the Huffington Post, such as enjoying the beauty of firelight or relaxing to some Classical music. In years past, pagans “wassailed” their fields with cider drinks—but a tasty wassail is great for sipping! (Find a recipe here. For an alcoholic version, check out the New York Times.)

Get in touch with nature by decorating your home with holly, mistletoe and evergreens; for a warm scent, make a pomander by decorating oranges with cloves (get instructions from Martha Stewart), noting the orange’s resemblance to the sun.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

 

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Categories: International ObservancesWiccan / Pagan

Samhain: Pagans, Wiccans celebrate harvest festival

People gathering around candles, performing a ritual

Neopagans participate in a Samhain ritual that honors the dead. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 31: Cook up some acorn squash and apples, make a toast with mulled wine and learn the root of some of Halloween’s most ancient traditions, on Samhain. (You may also want to read our extensive column on the three days of Christian festivals that were established to eclipse Samhain.)

Originally a Gaelic festival that marked the end of harvest season and ushered in winter, Samhain is now celebrated by Wiccans and Pagans as a festival of darkness. In contrast to Beltane, which embraces the light and fertility of spring, Samhain rituals center around the spirits of the dead—both friendly and unfriendly. (Wikipedia has details.) From the earliest days, this time of year has been seen as the point at which the veil between this world and the afterworld is at its thinnest point.

Born of a pastoral people, Samhain began in the oral traditions of Irish mythology; it wasn’t until the Middle Ages when visiting Christian monks began penning some of the tales. Several essential events occurred annually on Samhain, such as taking stock of herds and ushering livestock into winter pastures. As even the earliest cultures believed that spirits could access our world most easily at this time of year, bonfires were lit to protect and cleanse people, livestock and pastures. Feasts were prepared, and the spirits of deceased ancestors were invited into the home with altars. Evil spirits were kept away with “guising” (costuming to fool the spirits), and turnip lanterns were often set in windows to scare evil spirits or to represent spiritual beings—a custom that likely evolved into the modern jack-o-lantern.

Several sites in Ireland are still associated with Samhain, such as Oweynagat—the “cave of the cats”—where otherworldly beings were said to emerge. The Hill of Ward in County Meath is rumored to have been the site of large Samhain gatherings and bonfires.

WICCANS, PAGANS & A MODERN SAMHAIN

Today’s Wiccans observe Samhain as a Sabbat, while Pagans—including Neopagans and Celtic Reconstructionists—attempt to observe its rituals as close as possible to their original form. (Learn more from Wicca.com.) The 19th and 20th centuries have brought a revival in ancient pagan festivals and customs, with an upsurge in visitation to age-old sites. Traditional colors include black, orange and white; foods include turnips, apples, gourds, nuts, mulled wines and beef; herbs include allspice and sage.

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Equinox, Mabon: Earth crosses celestial equator; Pagans mark autumn

Women walking in distance down a natural path in autumn

Photo courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 22: Relish the crisp, autumn air and the warm spices of the season, as Pagans celebrate Mabon and people around the Northern Hemisphere mark the autumnal equinox. For Pagans and Wiccans, Mabon is a type of Thanksgiving, recognizing the gifts of harvest; it is a time to seek blessings for the approaching winter months. Equinox, a celestial event, occurs twice per year and is so named because the length of day and night are (almost exactly) equal. (Wikipedia has details.) The equinox phenomenon can occur on any planet with a significant tilt to its rotational axis, such as Saturn. (Check out photos of Saturn’s equinox at Boston.com.)

Did you know? Thousands of years ago, Julius Caesar created his calendar with a drifting equinox. This moving calendar spurred Pope Gregory XIII to create the modern Gregorian calendar in 1582.

“Everything autumn” sums up the fare, symbols and activities of Mabon, as Pagans and Wiccans offer cider, wines and warming herbs and spices to gods and goddesses. Druids call this time Mea’n Fo’mhair, honoring the God of the Forest; Wiccans celebrate the Second Harvest Festival with altars, decorating them with pine cones, gourds, corn, apples and other autumn elements.

A time of mysteries, Wiccans recognize the aging of the goddess and visit ancestors’ graves, decorating them with leaves, acorns and other elements of fall. Tables are covered in feasts of breads, root vegetables and apple cider, as scents of cinnamon and nutmeg fill the air. (Learn more from Wicca.com.) Families gather, and preparations are made for the coming winter months.

Looking for an autumn activity? The festivities of Mabon can be enjoyed by everyone. Take a walk through the woods, while enjoying the bold colors of autumn; make a horn of plenty that will grace the home through the season. Kids can create corn husk dolls or applehead dolls, and homes can smell like fall with the addition of scented pine cones (get a DIY here).

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Categories: International Observances