Wednesday Whatever – Summer Solstice: Ura, the Night of the Heather

May 19, 2010 at 9:02 am (Ancestors, Associations, Fae, Faery, Fairies, Fairy, Flowers, Folklore, Heather, Herbs, History, Lore, Magic, pagan, Wednesday, Wisdom, Witch)

Summer Solstice: Ura, the Night of the Heather
by Sarah the SwampWitch,
Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002

The moon is perhaps humankind’s oldest form of marking time. According to some scholars, the Celts used a Lunar Calendar that consisted of 13 months, each 28 days in length. Each month of the Celtic Lunar calendar bears the name of a tree, which also stands for one of the consonants in the Celtic ‘tree alphabet’. There are basically two different versions of this Lunar calendar: the Beth-Luis-Nion (which begins on the Winter Solstice) and the Beth-Luis-Fearn (which begins on Samhain). I work with the Beth-Luis-Nion simply because it seems to work the best for my style of Witchcraft.

Beth-Luis-Nion version of The Celtic Tree calendar

  • B – Beth, the Birch Month (December 24th – January 20th)
  • L – Luis, the Rowan Month (January 21st – February 17th)
  • N – Nion, the Ash month (February 18th – March 17th)
  • F – Fearn, the Alder Month (March 18th – April 14th)
  • S – Saille, the Willow Month (April 15th – May 12th)
  • H – Huath, the Hawthorn Month (May 13th – June 9th)
  • D – Duir, the Oak Month (Jun 10th – July 7th)
  • T – Tinne, the Holly Month (July 8th – August 4th)
  • C – Coll, the Hazel Month (August 5th – September 1st)
  • M – Muin, the Vine Month (September 2nd – September 29th)
  • G – Gort, the Ivy Month (September 30th – October 27th
  • Ng – Ngetal, the Reed Month (October 28th – November 24th)
  • R – Ruis, the Elder Month (November 25th – December 23rd)

The five vowels I, A, O, U, and E have corresponding tree names to the nights of the solstices and equinoxes:

  • I – Idho, the Night of the Yew, Winter Solstice Eve
  • A – Ailm, the Night of the Silver Fir, Winter Solstice
  • – Herb too sacred to have a Celtic name, the Night of Mistletoe, Day after Winter Solstice
  • O – Onn, the Night of the Gorse Bush, Spring Equinox
  • U – Ura, the Night of the Heather, Summer Solstice
  • E – Eadha, the Night of the White Poplar, Alban Elfed or Autumnal Equinox

Here Is Lore On The Tree Of The Summer Solstice – Heather:

  • Latin name: Calluna vulgaris
  • Celtic name: Ura (pronounced: Oor’ uh)
  • Folk or Common Names: Common Heather, Ling, Scottish Heather
  • Parts used: herb, flowering shoots.
  • Herbal usage: Heather’s flowering shoots are used to treat insomnia, stomach aches, coughs and skin problems. The plant, used fresh or dried, strengthens the heart and raises blood pressure. It is slightly diuretic and a Heather Tea is often prescribed in cases of urinary infections. Heather is sometimes used in conjunction with corn silk and cowberries.
  • Magickal History & Associations: Heather is associated with the sun, and with the planet of Venus. Its color is resin colored and its element is water. Heather’s bird is the lark, and its animal association is the honey bee. In ancient times the Danes brewed a powerful beer made from honey and Heather. And for centuries the heather flowers have also been a special beverage to the bee, who in return creates delightful Heather honey! Its stones are amethyst, peridot, and amertine – and it is a feminine herb.

The herb is sacred to many Goddesses: Isis, Venus-Erycina, Uroica, Garbh Ogh, Cybele, Osiris, Venus, Guinevere, and Butes among them. White Heather was considered unlucky by Scottish loyalists because of its connection with the banishment of Bonny Prince Charles. Haether is the home to a type of Fey called Heather Pixies. Like other Pixies, the Heather Pixies have clear or golden auras and delicate, translucent wings. But these faeries are attracted specifically to the moors and to the Heather which covers them. They are not averse to human contact, but they don’t seek them out. They have a pranksterish nature.

Magickal Usage: Heather is sacred to the Summer Solstice. Heather is used for magick involving maturity, consummation, general luck, love, ritual power, conjuring ghosts, healing, protection, rain-making and water magick.

Charms made with Heather can be worn or carried as protection against danger, rape and other violent crimes. This flower represents good fortune and Heather can also be carried as a lucky charm. It was believed that wearing the blossom associated with your month of birth would bring exceptionally good luck – therefore people born in the month of Heather (August) should carry White Heather, for even better luck throughout the year.

Legend has it that a gift of white Heather brings luck to both the giver and the receiver, whereas red Heather is said to have been colored by heathens killed in battle by Christians, so is less lucky. Heather is associated with secrets from the Otherworld.

A sprig of white Heather placed in a special place of silence and meditation has the power to conjure ghosts, ‘haints’ or spirits. After picking a piece of white Heather at midnight, place it in a glass of river water in the darkest corner of your home. Sit and think of a departed loved one and it is said that the loved one’s shadow will visit you. Heather is said to ignite faery passions and open portals between their world and our own. Heather represents solitude because it thrives in wide open spaces, and Faeries who enjoy living in such undisturbed places are said to feast on the tender stalks of Heather.

The Fey of this flower are drawn to humans who are shy. Heather is useful for Solitary healing work (going within). Heather, if used along with Mistletoe, creates powerful healing medicine in both spiritual and physical aspects.

Heather can be used at Midsummer to promote love – carry red Heather for passion or white Heather for cooling the passion of unwanted suitors. If you give someone a gift of Heather it means: ‘Admiration’. A charm bag filled with Heather can be carried for decreasing egotism or self-involvement. As a water herb, Heather is very useful in weather magick. When burned outdoors with Fern, the herbal smoke of Heather attracts rain. Bouquets of Heather and Fern can also be dipped in water to call rain.

***Document Copyright © 99, 00, 01,02 by Sarah Nunn (Sarah the SwampWitch). This document can be re-published and shared only as long as no information is lost or changed, credit is given to the author, and it is provided or used without cost to others. Other uses of this document must be approved in writing by Sarah Nunn.

Disclaimer: No one involved in this blog or its contents may be held responsible for any adverse reactions arising from following any of the instructions/recipes on this list. It is the reader’s personal responsibility to exercise all precautions and use his or her own discretion if following any instructions or advice from this blog.

Fair Use Notice: This page may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. This website distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107.


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Wednesday Whatever – A Midsummer Night’s Lore

May 12, 2010 at 7:37 am (Folklore, History, Litha, Lore, Magic, pagan, Wednesday, Witch)

A Midsummer Night’s Lore
by Melanie Fire Salamander
From Widdershins E-zine

Cinquefoil, campion, lupine and foxglove nod on your doorstep; Nutka rose, salal bells, starflower and bleeding-heart hide in the woods, fully green now. Litha has come, longest day of the year, height of the sun. Of old, in Europe, Litha was the height too of pagan celebrations, the most important and widely honored of annual festivals.

Fire, love and magick wreathe ’round this time. As on Beltaine in Ireland, across Europe people of old leaped fires for fertility and luck on Midsummer Day, or on the night before, Midsummer Eve, according to Funk and Wagnall’s Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend. Farmers drove their cattle through the flames or smoke or ran with burning coals across the cattle pens. In the Scottish Highlands, herders circumambulated their sheep with torches lit at the Midsummer fire.

People took burning brands around their fields also to ensure fertility, and in Ireland threw them into gardens and potato fields. Ashes from the fire were mixed with seeds yet to plant. In parts of England country folk thought the apple crop would fail if they didn’t light the Midsummer fires. People relit their house fires from the Midsummer bonfire, in celebration hurled flaming disks heavenward and rolled flaming wheels downhill, burning circles that hailed the sun at zenith.

Midsummer, too, was a lovers’ festival. Lovers clasped hands over the bonfire, tossed flowers across to each other, leaped the flames together. Those who wanted lovers performed love divination. In Scandinavia, girls laid bunches of flowers under their pillows on Midsummer Eve to induce dreams of love and ensure them coming true. In England, it was said if an unmarried girl fasted on Midsummer Eve and at midnight set her table with a clean cloth, bread, cheese and ale, then left her yard door open and waited, the boy she would marry, or his spirit, would come in and feast with her.

Magick crowns Midsummer. Divining rods cut on this night are more infallible, dreams more likely to come true. Dew gathered Midsummer Eve restores sight. Fern, which confers invisibility, was said to bloom at midnight on Midsummer Eve and is best picked then. Indeed, any magickal plants plucked on Midsummer Eve at midnight are doubly efficacious and keep better.

You’d pick certain magickal herbs, namely St. John’s Wort, hawkweed, vervain, orpine, mullein, wormwood and mistletoe, at midnight on Midsummer Eve or noon Midsummer Day, to use as a charm to protect your house from fire and lightning, your family from disease, negative witchcraft and disaster. A pagan gardener might consider cultivating some or all of these; it’s not too late to buy at herb-oriented nurseries, the Herbfarm outside Fall City the chief of these and a wonderful place to visit, if a tad pricey. Whichever of these herbs you find, a gentle snip into a cloth, a spell whispered over, and you have a charm you can consecrate in the height of the sun.

In northern Europe, the Wild Hunt was often seen on Midsummer Eve, hallooing in the sky, in some districts led by Cernunnos. Midsummer’s Night by European tradition is a fairies’ night, and a witches’ night too. Rhiannon Ryall writes in West Country Wicca that her coven, employing rites said to be handed down for centuries in England’s West Country, would on Midsummer Eve decorate their symbols of the God and Goddess with flowers, yellow for the God, white for the Goddess. The coven that night would draw down the moon into their high priestess, and at sunrise draw down the sun into their high priest. The priest and priestess then celebrated the Great Rite, known to the coven as the Rite of Joining or the Crossing Rite.

Some of Ryall’s elders called this ritual the Ridencrux Rite. They told how formerly, in times of bad harvest or unseasonable weather, the High Priestess, on the nights between the new and full moon, would go to the nearest crossroads, wait for the first stranger traveling in the district. About this stranger the coven had done ritual beforehand, to ensure he embodied the God. The high priestess performed the Great Rite with him to make the next season’s sowing successful.

In the Middle Ages in Europe, traces of witchcraft and pagan remembrances were often linked with Midsummer. In Southern Estonia, Lutheran Church workers found a cottar’s wife accepting sacrifices on Midsummer Day, Juhan Kahk writes in Early Modern European Witchcraft: Centres and Peripheries, edited by Bengt Ankarloo and Gustave Henningsen. Likewise, on Midsummer Night in 1667, in Estonia’s Maarja-Magdaleena parish, peasants met at the country manor of Colonel Griefenspeer to perform a ritual to cure illnesses.

In Denmark, writes Jens Christian V. Johansen in another Early Modern European Witchcraft chapter, medieval witches were said to gather on Midsummer Day, and in Ribe on Midsummer Night. Inquisitors in the Middle Ages often said witches met on Corpus Christi, which some years fell close to Midsummer Eve, according to Witchcraft in the Middle Ages, by Jeffrey Burton Russell. The inquisitors explained witches chose the date to mock a central Christian festival, but Corpus Christi is no more important than a number of other Christian holidays, and it falls near a day traditionally associated with pagan worship. Coincidence? Probably not.

Anciently, pagans and witches hallowed Midsummer. Some burned for their right to observe their rites – we need not. But we can remember the past. In solidarity with those burned, we can collect our herbs at midnight; we can burn our bonfires and hail the sun.

Disclaimer: No one involved in this blog or its contents may be held responsible for any adverse reactions arising from following any of the instructions/recipes on this list. It is the reader’s personal responsibility to exercise all precautions and use his or her own discretion if following any instructions or advice from this blog.

Fair Use Notice: This page may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. This website distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107.

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Wednesday Whatever – Midsummer Hail and Farewell

May 5, 2010 at 9:39 am (Ancestors, Associations, Faery, Fairies, Fairy, Folklore, History, Litha, Lore, Magic, Midsummer, pagan, Wednesday, Wisdom, Witch)

Midsummer Hail and Farewell
by Ahneke Greystone, Midsummer 2000;
excerpt from:
Cauldrons and Broomsticks
A newsletter for and by the Pagan/Wiccan Internet Community,

That I am mortal I know and do confess
My span of day:
but when I gaze upon
The thousandfold circling gyre of the stars,
No longer do I walk on earth but rise
The peer of God himself to take my fill
At the ambrosial banquet of the undying.

– Claudius Ptolemaeus,
Greek-Egyptian, 2nd Century

Such a wonder, this season of paradox! A vibrant moment of existence, warm caresses from the Sun, long days to share with family and friends. It is a time for first harvest and second sowing. For some there is more to do than a day’s time allows; for others it is a time of sweet pause and respite. We are poised between increase and decline. Balanced on the Mystery.

Gathered around the fires of Midsummer Eve, we reflect on the turn of the Wheel and the symbolism of fire as a sign of our consciousness. The awakening we experience, as did the God, when times of frivolity and independence turn to times of responsibility and community. It is a time of maturity and reflection. On Midsummer Day our focus will be on celebration; a time for living in the moment and making merry. A Dance of Life, with our minds and bodies attuned to the awesome possibility and promise of existence. Tonight we are comforted knowing that as fire burns it cleanses and purifies, clearing the land and our psyche for the time of repose ahead. Providing the fertile source from which the cycle turns again in Winter.

This holiday transcends all time and culture. The heritage of the celebration is sometimes unacknowledged, and sometimes celebrated much as it has been for hundreds of years. Modern pagans recognize several names; it was called Litha or Vestalia in ancient Rome, Gathering Day in Wales, Feill-Sheathain in Scotland, Alban Heflin in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, Thing-Tideln in Scandinavia, All Couple’s Day in Greece, and it is the Celtic Feast of Epona. It was and often still is celebrated throughout Russia, Europe, the East, Africa and the Americas, and other places throughout the world honoring the season of ripeness and the advent of the harvesting.

In ancient times Midsummer was as well a time for celebration and reflection. Rites were ecstatic, celebrating fecundity and harvest, placating the gods for gentle rather than destructive weather. We knew that Divine whim could destroy the crops we needed to harvest in order for human and animal to survive the upcoming Winter. This was the most powerful fire festival of our solar holidays.

Summer was a time of war, a time of invasion and defense. Our ancient family connected the death of their compatriots with the peak and passing of Summer. The symbolism of the burgeoning land, cut into harvest, and the strong men who died in war was a powerful and integral part of the holiday. Even in ancient times, the paradox prevailed. Life and death.

The wedding month of June traces to our pagan roots. Courting traditionally began at the Winter Solstice, when days were not as filled with tasks, and there was time to focus on familial matters. Towards Spring, pregnancies became obvious. Marrying in May was considered unlucky, as that was the time of the Sacred Marriage. Thus, marriage became common after Beltane. Mead was traditionally drunk for the month following the bonding to guarantee fertility and the health of children conceived. The Full Moon in June is known as the Mead Moon, and we honor this today in our reference to a wedding holiday as a honeymoon.

Midsummer, especially the Eve, is a time when the Fairie become visible to our human eyes. The boundaries between the worlds are thin. Even those of us who rarely experience fey moments can be caught up in the mischief and mayhem brought to us this evening. We will be reminded that our world is a quixotic one. If we have become too staid, that will be remedied this evening! The fairies delight in revealing our human foibles and turning our world on end.

Midsummer in some traditions was the time the Ivy King was seen as battling and overcoming the Oak King. He ruled for the next six months, until the Winter Solstice when the fated battle began again, with the Oak King then victor. In other traditions, the Sun King was seen as born on the Winter Solstice, reaching his peak at Midsummer, to decline and pass either into the Underworld as reigning King there or into repose until his rebirth in Winter. The myth of Demeter and Persephone gave inspiration to a yearly cycle of the Feminine Divine, who at Midsummer is seen as the Daughter who has just begun her journey to the Underworld and the Mother who has not yet realized that her beloved daughter has gone. She will shortly understand this, and she will send the Earth into decline and mourning.

The Goddess at Midsummer is the Lover-Mother. She is pregnant and aware of the life within. This is a bittersweet time. The mature God is her husband and the father of her child. He is more her partner at this time than at any other. Emotionally and intellectually they are equals. She is enjoying this time of mundane connection. It is as though her tasks are done and she finds the time to relax and enjoy life. She who always leads and inspires can briefly lay her head upon the shoulder of her consort and let someone else take charge.

Shadowing her joy is the knowledge of what will come. Her lover will pass over and she will evolve once again separate from him. The child within is her connection to this Earthly time and the wonders of physical existence. It is also her connection to Eternity. What agony she will suffer, though, to see all that she loves pass. Even as her wiser self knows the purpose.

Goddesses for Midsummer include Earth Mothers and Goddesses of beauty and mature sexuality, fire Goddesses and Goddesses of the animals and the hunt. They include: Aine, Ameaterasu, Anahita, Aphrodite, Artemis, Asherah, Brighid, Cardea, Coaltique, Corn Mother, Danu, Erzulie, Esmeralda, Freya, Flora, Gaia, Hera, Hestia, Iamanja, Inanna, Ishtar, Li, Litha, Mawu, Oraea, Oshun, Oya, Pele, Rhea, Rhiannon, Spider Woman, The Corn Mothers, Tiamat, Tonantzin, Vesta, Yellow Land Earth Queen, Yemaya.

The God has matured from the free and independent young man to the wise elder, the King who has learned of commitment and responsibility to his Queen, his family and his community. He is the counselor and the person others turn to for leadership and guidance. The Lord of the Greenwood is now the Sun King. He wears his crown with dignity and with some sorrow. For he remembers how at Beltane he envisioned the blood upon the corn. He knows his time is about to end. He reflects on a life of joy and abandon, of peace and contentment, of accomplishment and triumph. It is the time when he looks back on his life, rather than forward. The time remaining is short. With age and maturity comes the wisdom in him that accepts his life, is aware of the contributions he has made and acknowledges his fate. He looks to the end with peace now, fearless and aware of his role in the theater of life.

The Gods of Midsummer are the Gods of the hunt, Gods of the Sun, Father Gods and the Gods of the Arts. They include: Apollo, Arthur, Balder, Balin, Cernunnos, Faunus, Gwynn ap Nudd, Hades, Heimdul, Helios, Herne, Hugh, Lugh, Pan, Perkunis, Phol, Ra, Taliesin, Woden.

Midsummer Correspondences

  • Colors – Verdant and growing shades, colors of light and fire – gold, green, hazel, orange, peridot, pink, red, yellow.
  • Trees: The most powerful being the oak, ivy and mistletoe, but also including evergreen and fruit-bearing trees – fir, holly, mistletoe, pine, hawthorne, maple, oak, peach, palm, rowan.
  • Crystals/Stones: Amber, carnelian, cat’s eye, citrine, clear quartz crystal, copper, emerald, garnet, peridot, ruby, sulfur, yellow topaz.
  • Flowers: Red flowers, carnations (red), honeysuckle, iris, lily, marigolds, nasturtiums, rose, sunflowers, trefoil, wisteria, witches’ broom.
  • Creatures: Cardinal, dove, lizard, magpie, parrot.
  • Herbs: Basil, chive, chervil, dragon’s blood, fennel, lavender, mint, parsley, Rosemary, rue, sage, St. John’s wort, tarragon, thyme, vervain, violet.
  • Incense: Carnation, cedar, cinnamon, copal, fir, frangipani, frankincense, myrrh, pine, rose, rosemary, sandalwood, tangerine, thyme, vervain, violet, wisteria.
  • Oils: Carnation, citronella, geranium, lime, musk, orange, tangerine, ylang-ylang.
  • Foods: Hot and spicy foods, corn, dark breads, tomato and red vegetable juices.

And now it is Midsummer! May you cherish the special moments of your life, honoring them as Divine gifts. May the love you have for family and community be paramount today, and may you see in the eyes of your mates, children, family and friends that spark of eternity that is a part of each of us. Celebrate!

Blessings of the Sun King and the Queen of Summer to you!

The night has a thousand eyes,
And the day but one;
Yet the light of the bright world dies
With the dying sun.

– William Bourdillon

Disclaimer: No one involved in this blog or its contents may be held responsible for any adverse reactions arising from following any of the instructions/recipes on this list. It is the reader’s personal responsibility to exercise all precautions and use his or her own discretion if following any instructions or advice from this blog.

Fair Use Notice: This page may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. This website distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107.

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Wednesday Whatever – Mystical May

April 28, 2010 at 9:09 am (Ancestors, Associations, Beltane, Fertility, Folklore, Greenman, History, Lore, Magic, Mysteries, pagan, Wednesday, Wisdom, Witch)

Mystical May
From the Mystical World Wide Web

‘But I must gather knots of flowers,
And buds and garlands gay,
For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother,
I’m to be Queen o’ the May.’

(Alfred Lord Tennyson)


The name for the month of May has been believed to derive from Maia, who was revered as the Roman Goddess of Springtime, of Growth and Increase, and the mother of Mercury, the winged messenger of the Gods. Yet this is disputed…before these deities featured in mythology, the name Maius or Magius, taken from the root Mag, meaning the Growing month or Shooting month was used. May has also been known as:

  • ‘Thrimilce’ (Cows go to milking three times a day) – Anglo-Saxons
  • ‘Bloumaand’ (Blossoming month) – Old Dutch

As part of the seasonal calendar May is the time of the Hare Moon according to Pagan belief and the period described as the Moon of the Shedding Ponies by Black Elk (Black Elk Speaks, Neihardt). This is the first month of Beltaine (May – July) within the Celtic calendar, the onset of summer. It was the traditional practice of shepherds to follow and stay with the flock when out to pasture, this being known as transhumance.

This is one example of how daily life was closely tied to that of the animal and the earth, an awareness of the balance and harmony needed between man and nature, something today we are desperately trying to save. In ancient times such practice would daily remind the people of the Creation myths, the power of evil, the potential of its destruction, hence their folklore is full of such references. In pagan beliefs man believed himself to be the guardian of nature, perhaps this is one reason why today we also see the close bond between the so called green movement and the knowledge, rituals and beliefs of pre-Christian practice, further connections being made with what is known as the new age movement.

This period has also been associated in the Christian church with St John, the Evangelist (27 December), or John in the Celtic church (6 May) who describes this month as having the longest days, indicating that light has triumphed over darkness, positive over negative, life over death. The symbol of the eagle is given to St John, emphasizing the need for a keen eye and sharp awareness, an eye that does not stray from the task. This could be seen as a metaphor to remind the people of the need to focus on refining the spirit and not being tempted to folly, for not letting the sun affect the work on the land, for pleasure to be kept at bay (hence another indication that love and courting is a distraction at this time despite its natural associations with fertility).

This is the time associated with the ritual of baptism too, when the joy of the spirit is given, being seen in all things. It was a time of many rituals establishing man’s relationship and commitment from the earth to a higher level of being. Here the folklore of birds comes in to focus, as it is the power of the invisible spirit, or the wind, which brings hope anew. In Christian beliefs this is reflected in the story of the raven and the dove with Noah, whilst in pagan practice it is a time of peace, when thanks and hope was asked for of Bel the Sun God.

Surprisingly perhaps May was believed generally to be an unlucky month which may be linked to the possibility of failure. This belief is thought to be of ancient origin as it was known to be the best time to plant and sow for the next year. It was a time when all spare hands were expected to work the land with no time for personal celebrations and/or courting. It was a time when the food supplies for the rest of the seasonal year were sown and therefore the health of the community depended upon it. An old country (UK) rhyme

Marry in May and rue the day!

Perhaps then quite naturally, it was also believed by many rural communities that a baby born in May would always be sickly. It was traditionally believed that any cats born in this month would not be good rat or mice catchers.

As part of the astrological calendar, May has many associations. This is the month of the house of Taurus (April 21 – May 21) and the house of Gemini (22 May – June 21). Taurus is the second sign of the zodiac, symbolized by the Sacred Bull or Heavenly bull and has close associations with all cattle. In ancient Persian astrology Taurus translated as the Bull of light, and in ancient Egypt Taurus represented fertility and development or growth and was linked closely with the success of the land to produce. The sacred bull was also seen by the ancient Egyptians as the vessel in which the God Osiris was celestial. Taurus reflects the second phase of the journey of the sun, and of the child relating to the early teen years.

Venus is the ruling planet of Taurus and the Roman Goddess of Love. To the ancients the planet Venus was seen as highly important being second to the Sun and the Moon. The ancient Greeks believed that Phaeton nearly destroyed the earth, known as the Blazing Star, the earth became consumed by fire and Phaeton was transformed into Venus. The ancient Assyrians knew the planet as the fearful dragon…who is clothed in fire. The Aztecs, called it The star that smoked, the Quetzalcoatl called it The feathered Serpent, and the Midrash knew it as The brilliant light… blazing from one end of the cosmos to the other. Venus, is often used to symbolize the inner qualities of romance, loyalty, practicality, caution and charm whilst also having a love of the land, art, of the finest luxuries that can be obtained with a powerful desire for beautiful possessions, (so there is a danger of excess in all things).

Aphrodite, the ancient Greek Goddess of Love was seen to influence those around her by the use of her magic girdle. One fitting and you were smitten. Taurus has a way of encouraging this response. Venus also brings the need for affection and a search for love, as those born during this time are also generous in love, sharing their enjoyment and their warmth. Taurus is a fixed, negative earth sign and the first earth sign associated with the statements ‘I am steadfast and provide stability’, ‘Mine’ and ‘I value possessions and enjoy indulgence’. It rules the throat and the neck. Taurus is associated with the Daisy, Dandelion, Foxglove, Lily of the Valley, Narcissus, Poppy and Rose. Taurus is further associated with the Apple, Blackthorn, Fig, Hawthorn, Pear, Vine and Willow.

Colors associated with Taurus are pale blue, all shades of green, pink and yellow. The main stone associated with Taurus is the Emerald, whilst the main stone associated with the month of April is the Diamond. Lucky number is seven, lucky day Thursday. Metal associated is copper.

‘The time of fertility and growth is upon us.’
‘I could tell you of my adventures –
beginning with this morning.’

Gemini is the third sign of the zodiac symbolized by the ‘Celestial Twins’. The word Gemini is Latin meaning ‘twin’. It has often been suggested that this symbolism indicates the need for the Gemini to find a partner, someone close or to feel needed, an important part of something. In ancient Greek mythology the twins of Castor (mortal) and Pollux (immortal) were associated with the sign, being the sons of Zeus and Leda. Zeus gave immortality to both upon the killing of Castor.

Gemini reflects the third phase of the journey of the sun, and of the child developing from the teen years through adolescence to young adulthood. Here we see the curious mind developing further, also to becoming aware of the close connections between thought and action. Gemini possesses the duality and contrast in nature, that of the light and dark or night and day, summer and winter, and the growth and decay in all things.

Mercury is the ruling planet of Gemini. In Roman mythology Mercury was the Messenger of the Gods, son of Jupiter and Maia and the equivalent of the God Hermes of ancient Greek mythology. Mercury is often used to symbolize the inner qualities of vitality, intelligence, quick thinking, restlessness, co-ordination and flexibility. One drawback of this being that settling upon and fully completing a task was very difficult, due to the need to explore and develop new projects before boredom set in. Despite the possible unreliability alluded to Gemini, they have a lot of energy and can bounce back, which means they can adapt well to changing situations and hence they love to be part of a group – although their membership is not always maintained.

It was once believed that as Gemini represents the twin, that those born in Gemini would also be ambidextrous. Gemini is a mutable, neutral sir sign and the first air sign associated with the statements ‘I encircle the earth’, ‘On the wings of the wind’ and ‘With the swiftness of sound’. It rules the nervous system, the hands, shoulders, arms and lungs. Gemini is associated with Heather, Lavender, Lily of the Valley, Privet, Tansy, Violets, Yarrow and also Ferns. Gemini is further associated with all nut trees, and also the Cedar, Chestnut, Hawthorn, Hazel, Linden and the Oak.

Colors associated with Gemini are light green, slate gray, yellow and any color combinations of spotted mixtures. The main stone associated with Gemini is the Agate, whilst the main stone associated with the month of May is the Emerald. Lucky number is five, lucky day Wednesday. Metal associated is quicksilver or mercury.

Holidays On May 1

May Day

This day is believed to have been a replacement of the Beltaine or Beltane when Celts celebrated the beginning of Spring often by the building and burning of huge bonfires to honor the Sun. In later times young people would collect any greenery and flowers from the woods and forests to decorate their homes (See also Mystical WWW Trees & Plants). This was to indicate the power of nature to fertilize and rejuvenate the land and so affect the prosperity and health of a community. The festivals that still continue can be seen to be examples of the fertility of the earth, with many prevalent in the UK. May Pole dancing, based around the White Hawthorn was later replaced by the garlanded Maypole (a pole decorated with bright ribbons and flowers which was to show the transition of fertility from Winter to Spring), and Morris Dancing.


Beltane or Bright Fire pagan celebrations, half-way between Midsummer and the vernal equinox. The first day of summer. Focus of the celebrations was courtship and love, and also of mating/fertility, being a time to start new relationships. The bee and the cow are symbolic of the goddess at this time, being able to create an endless supply of milk and honey. Oats, too, are connected with the goddess at this time.

The Green Man is also associated with Beltane as are the Goddesses Aphrodite and Maia. Brigid (1 February) and Columcille (7 June) were joint protectors of cattle and it was usual practice to ask for protection during the periods of Samhain, Imbolc to Beltane:

‘Everything within my dwelling or in my possession,
All kine and crops, all flocks and corn,
From Hallow Eve to Beltane Eve.’

It was traditionally believed in many parts of rural England (UK) that a beautiful complexion could be achieved by collecting dew on this day and gently smoothing it over the face.

‘The fair maid who at first of May,
Goes to the fields at break of day,
And washes in dew from the hawthorn tree,
Will ever after handsome be.’

Slovakia Day

Dedicated to Kupula, a Goddess of Fertility, and Poludnitsa, honored as Goddess of the Fields. Similar in traditions to that of Beltane.


Celtic feast day of Brioc, Patron Saint of purse makers. Born near to Cardigan, Wales, died 530. Lived fifth-sixth century, traveled to Cornwall, England and later Brittany where he was revered as on of the seven saints. The pagan prince Conan is said to have requested that Brioc baptize him after having witnessed Brioc sit calmly amongst a pack of wolves when reciting psalms. The wolves moved away strangely calmed by their meeting. Known for his charitable works and generous nature. Reputed to have accompanied Mawgan (24 September) to Cornwall from Wales.

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Wednesday Whatever – Beltaine

April 14, 2010 at 9:39 am (Ancestors, Beltane, Folklore, History, Lore, Magic, pagan, Wednesday, Wisdom, Witch)

by Iain MacAnTsaoir,
Clannada na Gadelica Academia Gadelica
(a nonprofit
educational corporation, registered in the State of Tennessee).

The season of Imbolc ended at Beltaine which falls on approximately May 1st. Beltaine literally means "Bel’s fire" (Beal-teinne). Beltaine’s origin is the landing of the Tuatha De Danaan upon the shores of Ireland. This is a between time, and between light and dark, day and night, has a profound meaning for Celts. These are in a very real way, a Third time. It marks the beginning of the summer and the light half of the Celtic year. Traditionally, all fires were extinguished on the eve of Beltaine, and were re-lit from the ‘Need Fire’ which was kindled at dawn. Our ancestors were predominantly a pastoral people. Beltaine was the time when the cattle were put out to their summer grazing pastures in the mountains. The cattle were

driven through (between) the Beltaine fires for purification. It was believed that the sacred bonfires would also, bring protection, good fortune and fertility to the people. It was also the time when the Ruadh or warriors would test their fighting skills in the Beltaine Games. With the hard work of planting accomplished, it was a time when the clans came together in celebration with the hope that the crops would grow and flourish in the months ahead. Beltaine is the beginning of summer. The following is a poem translated out of the Gaelic by the Dal Riadh Celtic Trust and said to be written by Finn himself:

May, clad in cloth of gold, cometh this way;
The fluting of the blackbirds, heralds the day.
The dust colored cuckoo, cries welcome O Queen!
For winter has vanished, the thickets are green.
Soon the trampling of cattle, where river runs low!
The hair of the heather, the canna like snow.
Wild waters are sleeping, foam of blossom is here;
Peace, save the panic, in the heart of the deer.
The wild bee is busy, the ant honey spills,
The wandering kine, are abroad on the hills.
The harp of the forest, sounds low, sounds sweet;
Soft bloom on the heights; on the loch, haze of heat.
The waterfall dreams; snipe, corncrakes, drum
By the pool where the talk, of the rushes is come.
The swallow is swooping; song swings from each brae;
Rich harvest of mast falls; the swamp shimmers gay.
Happy the heart of man, eager each maid;
Lovely the forest, the wild plane, the green glade.
Truly winter is gone, come the time of delight,
The summer truce joyous, May, blossom-white.
In the heart of the meadows, the lapwings are quiet;
A winding stream, makes drowsy riot.
Race horses, sail, run, rejoice and be bold!
See, the shaft of the sun, makes the water-flag gold.
Loud, clear, the blackcap; the lark trills his voice
Hail May of delicate colors, tis May-Day – rejoice!

Many folk customs have survived until very recently. These are clearly surviving pre-Christian elements of this ancient festival. Official records show that the last public Beltaine festival to be held on Arran was in 1895. On this occasion the men of a certain townland made a tein-eigen or need-fire Beltaine eve. They fueled it with the nine sacred woods. The local people drove their herds through the fire.

In the preface, I mentioned a special bread called the bannock. This is a special cake made of eggs, milk and oatmeal. These bannocks, which are kneaded entirely by hand cannot come into contact with steel. Well into this century it was common, in the places where the fires were still lit, to have one piece of the cake blackened with charcoal. That piece was distributed from a hat along with the other pieces. Whoever drew this piece out of the hat had to leap three times through the flames. This custom is thought to have originated in the late Bronze Age. Unlike with the Gaulish Celts, there is no evidence of human sacrifice committed by the late Bronze Age Gaelic Celts. By this time the practice of having a "scapegoat" or "Fool" had replaced human sacrifice. One variation of the "scapegoat" saw the person who drew the blackened bannock be separated from the tribal celebration for the rest of the festival, after they had jumped the fire.

In the Highlands, the Beltaine fires and festivals were common until the mid-nineteenth century. Also, in the Shetlands, up until at least the same time, dancing around the bonfires continued, and it was considered that to jump over the flames brought prosperity and plenty. The Shetland fires were kept going for three days. Word has it that in the out of the way places, these practices never did stop, even to this day.

There are places which are indelibly etched upon our Gaelic psyche as being the places most commonly associated with the Need Fires. These places are those which, in the more ancient times of our pre-Christian ancestors, saw the first fires lit. Tara in Ireland for example, was the place where the first fires were lit. Only after the fire had been lit there, did they spring up all over Ireland. Likewise, Arthur’s seat, Edinburgh, is a traditional site of Beltaine fires which were lit at sunrise. Many people still climb to the top of this summit to watch the May sunrise. I have not yet found reference to the place on the Isle of Man where the first fires were lit.

Amongst the ancient customs of this festival which survives to this day, is that young women will wash their face in the dew of Beltaine morning to preserve their beauty. May dew was indeed considered to be holy water. People who were sprinkled with May dew were assured of health, To ensure a good milk supply, dairymaids would draw a rope made from the tails of Highland cattle through the May dew grass saying:

"Bainne an te so shios,
bainne an te so shuas,
‘nam ghogan mhor fhein"

(Milk of this one down,
milk of that one up,
into my own big pail).

This day was one which saw visits to the holy well. A visitor would walk three times around the well, then they would throw in a silver coin, after which, while praying, they would drink from the well using their hands. When those things were done, they would then ties a bit of colored cloth or a piece of clothing, called a cloutie to a branch of a nearby tree. The above had to be done in complete silence. The visitor also had to be well out of sight of the well before sunrise.

As mentioned above, this is a time in between. Beltaine, being the calends of summer, is a time between, therefore the veil between words thins, allowing this world and Tir na Nog (OtherWorld) to intermingle. This has always been considered the other time in the year when the veil between the worlds was thin. Because of this it has been long believed that the fae were abroad. As the fae were prone to stealing milk from cows, or even turning it sour, rowan crosses were hung in byres, and domestic animals were sprinkled with water from holy wells. It was particularly important that no fire (kindling) should be given away at this time.

As at the other festivals, games and racing were the norm. With the marches and races, horses were a prominent feature. The usual music and singing, markets and feasting were also to be found. In many places, a May Queen was elected. The maiden was crowned by an elder lady of notoriety, after the new queen and her court had arrived at a predetermined place. Some believe that in the older times, it was the May Queen who led the hymns to the rising sun, as all the people congregated on the appropriate hill at Beltaine. She is also believed to have led some of the marches in the older times.

A very general format for the communal customs can be established by looking at all of the evidence from the old countries. The actual Beltaine festivities began a few days beforehand the festival date, by the collection of the nine sacred woods for the kindling of the fires. Each fire was built in two places, with a narrow passage between the two. A circular trench was cut round them symbolizing the sun. The area was a sacred hill, or set of hills, like the Paps of Anu, and these were large enough to hold the entire assembled community.

On Beltaine eve all the domestic fires of the community were extinguished. Then, long before the oncoming dawn, the folk left their homes. They took their livestock with them and made their way up to the site sanctified by centuries of such veneration. The ritual was carried out by the Fili or Draoi, (The word Draoi is used here in its ‘paleo’ sense of a teacher of the skills and not in its later ‘neo’ sense), who await the arrival of the community.

Once assembled the eyes of everyone turned towards the horizon awaiting the rise of the new sun. The king or queen recited verses of poetry just before the first rays of the sun peek over the horizon. As the small glimmer of light grew into blazing radiance, the voices of the people raised in praise with song. This as the chosen people begin creating the Need Fire, the virgin flame from which the fires are kindled.

The sacred fire now lit in greeting to the sun, the whole community then formed a procession. They traveled three times around the fires. They then drove all the animals through the passages between the fires three times to be blessed and purified. This was to ensure fertility in the coming months before being driven up onto the hillsides for summer. After the blessings, torches were lit and carried back to all the homes to re-light the fires that had been extinguished. The ending of the ceremony was the feasting in which everyone made votive offerings to the sun.

This format was perhaps the simple plan that was followed for each of the festivals. The embellishments would vary according to location and festival being observed.


(prepared by Iain MacAnTsaoir; ©1996, 1998, 1999 Clannada na Gadelica)

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Wednesday Whatever – A Celebration of May Day

April 7, 2010 at 9:54 am (Associations, Beltane, Fertility, Fire, Folklore, History, Lore, Magic, pagan, Wednesday, Wisdom, Witch)

A Celebration of May Day
Mike Nichols

‘Perhaps it’s just as well that you won’t be here…
to be offended by the sight of our May Day celebrations.’

-Lord Summerisle to Sgt. Howie
from ‘The Wicker Man’

There are four great festivals of the Pagan Celtic year and the modern Witches’ calendar, as well. The two greatest of these are Halloween (the beginning of winter) and May Day (the beginning of summer). Being opposite each other on the wheel of the year, they separate the year into halves. Halloween (also called Samhain) is the Celtic New Year and is generally considered the more important of the two, though May Day runs a close second. Indeed, in some areas – notably Wales – it is considered the great holiday.

May Day ushers in the fifth month of the modern calendar year, the month of May. This month is named in honor of the goddess Maia, originally a Greek mountain nymph, later identified as the most beautiful of the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades. By Zeus, she is also the mother of Hermes, god of magic. Maia’s parents were Atlas and Pleione, a sea nymph.

The old Celtic name for May Day is Beltane (in its most popular Anglicized form), which is derived from the Irish Gaelic ‘Bealtaine’ or the Scottish Gaelic ‘Bealtuinn’, meaning ‘Bel-fire’, the fire of the Celtic god of light (Bel, Beli or Belinus). He, in turn, may be traced to the Middle Eastern god Baal. Other names for May Day include: Cetsamhain (‘opposite Samhain’), Walpurgisnacht (in Germany), and Roodmas (the medieval Church’s name). This last came from Church Fathers who were hoping to shift the common people’s allegiance from the Maypole (Pagan lingham – symbol of life) to the Holy Rood (the Cross – Roman instrument of death).

Incidentally, there is no historical justification for calling May 1st ‘Lady Day’. For hundreds of years, that title has been proper to the Vernal Equinox (approx. March 21st), another holiday sacred to the Great Goddess. The nontraditional use of ‘Lady Day’ for May 1st is quite recent (since the early 1970’s), and seems to be confined to America, where it has gained widespread acceptance among certain segments of the Craft population. This rather startling departure from tradition would seem to indicate an unfamiliarity with European calendar customs, as well as a lax attitude toward scholarship among too many Pagans. A simple glance at a dictionary (‘Webster’s 3rd’ or O.E.D.), encyclopedia (‘Benet’s’), or standard mythology reference (Jobe’s ‘Dictionary of Mythology, Folklore & Symbols’) would confirm the correct date for Lady Day as the Vernal Equinox.

By Celtic reckoning, the actual Beltane celebration begins on sundown of the preceding day, April 30, because the Celts always figured their days from sundown to sundown. And sundown was the proper time for Druids to kindle the great Bel-fires on the tops of the nearest beacon hill (such as Tara Hill, Co. Meath, in Ireland). These ‘need-fires’ had healing properties, and sky-clad Witches would jump through the flames to ensure protection.

Sgt. Howie (shocked): ‘But they are naked!’
Lord Summerisle: ‘Naturally. It’s much too dangerous to jump through the fire with your clothes on!’

-from "The Wicker Man"

Frequently, cattle would be driven between two such bon-fires (oak wood was the favorite fuel for them) and, on the morrow, they would be taken to their summer pastures. Other May Day customs include: walking the circuit of one’s property (‘beating the bounds’), repairing fences and boundary markers, processions of chimney-sweeps and milk maids, archery tournaments, Morris dances, sword dances, feasting, music, drinking, and maidens bathing their faces in the dew of May morning to retain their youthful beauty.

In the words of Witchcraft writers Janet and Stewart Farrar, the Beltane celebration was principally a time of

‘…unashamed human sexuality and fertility.’

Such associations include the obvious phallic symbolism of the Maypole and riding the hobby horse. Even a seemingly innocent children’s nursery rhyme, ‘Ride a cock horse to Banburry Cross…’ retains such memories. And the next line ‘…to see a fine Lady on a white horse’ is a reference to the annual ride of ‘Lady Godiva’ though Coventry. Every year for nearly three centuries, a sky-clad village maiden (elected Queen of the May) enacted this Pagan rite, until the Puritans put an end to the custom.

The Puritans, in fact, reacted with pious horror to most of the May Day rites, even making Maypoles illegal in 1644. They especially attempted to suppress the ‘greenwood marriages’ of young men and women who spent the entire night in the forest, staying out to greet the May sunrise, and bringing back boughs of flowers and garlands to decorate the village the next morning. One angry Puritan wrote that men

‘doe use commonly to runne into woodes in the night time, amongst maidens, to set bowes, in so muche, as I have hearde of tenne maidens whiche went to set May, and nine of them came home with childe.’

And another Puritan complained that, of the girls who go into the woods,

‘not the least one of them comes home again a virgin.’

Long after the Christian form of marriage (with its insistence on sexual monogamy) had replaced the older Pagan handfasting, the rules of strict fidelity were always relaxed for the May Eve rites. Names such as Robin Hood, Maid Marion, and Little John played an important part in May Day folklore, often used as titles for the dramatis personae of the celebrations. And modern surnames such as Robinson, Hodson, Johnson, and Godkin may attest to some distant May Eve spent in the woods.

These wildwood antics have inspired writers such as Kipling:

Oh, do not tell the Priest our plight,
Or he would call it a sin;
But we have been out in the woods all night,
A-conjuring Summer in!"

And Lerner and Lowe:

"It’s May! It’s May!
The lusty month of May!…
Those dreary vows that ev’ryone takes,
Ev’ryone breaks.
Ev’ryone makes divine mistakes!
The lusty month of May!"

It is certainly no accident that Queen Guinevere’s ‘abduction’ by Meliagrance occurs on May 1st when she and the court have gone a-Maying, or that the usually efficient Queen’s Guard, on this occasion, rode unarmed.

Some of these customs seem virtually identical to the old Roman feast of flowers, the Floriala, three days of unrestrained sexuality which began at sundown April 28th and reached a crescendo on May 1st. There are other, even older, associations with May 1st in Celtic mythology. According to the ancient Irish ‘Book of Invasions’, the first settler of Ireland, Partholan, arrived on May 1st; and it was on May 1st that the plague came which destroyed his people. Years later, the Tuatha De Danann were conquered by the Milesians on May Day. In Welsh myth, the perennial battle between Gwythur and Gwyn for the love of Creudylad took place each May Day; and it was on May Eve that Teirnyon lost his colts and found Pryderi. May Eve was also the occasion of a fearful scream that was heard each year throughout Wales, one of the three curses of the Coranians lifted by the skill of Lludd and Llevelys.

By the way, due to various calendrical changes down through the centuries, the traditional date of Beltane is not the same as its astrological date. This date, like all astronomically determined dates, may vary by a day or two depending on the year. However, it may be calculated easily enough by determining the date on which the sun is at 15 degrees Taurus (usually around May 5th). British Witches often refer to this date as Old Beltane, and folklorists call it Beltane O.S. (‘Old Style’). Some Covens prefer to celebrate on the old date and, at the very least, it gives one options. If a Coven is operating on ‘Pagan Standard Time’ and misses May 1st altogether, it can still throw a viable Beltane bash as long as it’s before May 5th. This may also be a consideration for Covens that need to organize activities around the week-end.

This date has long been considered a ‘power point’ of the Zodiac, and is symbolized by the Bull, one of the ‘tetramorph’ figures featured on the Tarot cards, the World and the Wheel of Fortune. (The other three symbols are the Lion, the Eagle, and the Spirit.) Astrologers know these four figures as the symbols of the four ‘fixed’ signs of the Zodiac (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius), and these naturally align with the four Great Sabbats of Witchcraft. Christians have adopted the same iconography to represent the four gospel-writers.

But for most, it is May 1st that is the great holiday of flowers, Maypoles, and greenwood frivolity. It is no wonder that, as recently as 1977, Ian Anderson could pen the following lyrics for the band Jethro Tull:

"For the May Day is the great day,
Sung along the old straight track.
And those who ancient lines did ley
Will heed this song that calls them back."

Document Copyright © 1986, 1999 by Mike Nichols HTML coding by: Mike Nichols © 1999. This document can be re-published only as long as no information is lost or changed, credit is given to the author, and it is provided or used without cost to others. Other uses of this document must be approved in writing by Mike Nichols. Revised: Sunday, February 7, 1999 c.e.

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Wednesday Whatever – The Sacred Marriage

March 31, 2010 at 9:42 am (Ancestors, Associations, Beltane, History, Lore, Magic, pagan, Witch)

The Sacred Marriage
From Bonfire’s Beltane Page, link now defunct 😦

The pagan holiday of Beltane (May 1) marks the beginning of summer in the northern hemisphere. Beltane is a celebration of the new life that has emerged from barren winter, and for modern pagans, represents the passionate union of the Lord and the Lady. Many May Day customs have their source in the Beltane rituals of pagan Britain, most of which were suppressed by the Church as it struggled to gain supremacy over the existing pagan religions of the British Isles. One of the best-known folk-customs associated with Beltane involves having sex out in the fields to ensure that the next year’s crop will be bountiful. This custom is a remnant of a much earlier religious practice – the Sacred Marriage – was prominent throughout Europe and the Near East (Mesopotamia and Egypt) from ancient times until the first century C.E.

My honey-man, my honey-man sweetens me always, My lord, the honey-man of the gods, He is the one my womb loves best, His hand is honey, his foot is honey, He sweetens me always.

– from The Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi, in Inanna:
Queen of Heaven and Earth
by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer

"The sacred marriage was a fertility rite in which the current king of the land would publicly copulate with the high priestess, who represented the Goddess in her Earth Mother aspect. By joining with the king, the Earth Mother, through her priestess, demonstrated that he was her consort. This guaranteed that his kingdom would possess her good favor, and that they would enjoy fertile land and an abundant harvest. The king, in turn, became infused with the wisdom of the goddess, giving him the …[understanding] he needed to rule effectively. …the purpose of the Sacred Marriage is to use the sexual union of a man and woman to align and unite human will and the physical world with divine will and the supernatural world."

– Sex, Magick and Spirit,
Bonnie L. Johnston and Peter L. Schuerman,
p. 170

The Sacred Marriage ceremony is one of the two forms of sacred sexuality which consistently appear in the ancient religions of Europe and the Near East. The earliest recorded Sacred Marriage comes from the cuneiform tablets of Sumeria, which describe the divine union of the goddess Inanna with her king and consort, Dumuzi. Kramer, the archaeologist who first uncovered the remains of the Sumerian civilization, believed that this first written version of the Sacred Marriage was actually rooted in an even older oral tradition (1). We may never know when humans first began to practice the Sacred Marriage, but two Neolithic carvings hint that Kramer was right in guessing that it was practiced even before the Sumerians began building their cities: the first carving, which depicts a man and a woman embracing, was found at Catal Huyuk (a Neolithic city in Turkey); the second was found at Cascioarele, and is thought to have been created around the end of the 5th millennium B.C.E. Both of these carvings have been interpreted by some archaeologists as depicting a sacred marriage. The earliest known depiction of a copulating couple comes from Ain Sawaki, and is dated9th millennium B.C.E. The couple in this early carving is seated in a position that is common in Tantra, an Eastern form of sacred sexuality. (2)

The Sacred Marriage ceremonies we are aware of span several thousand and a wide variety of cultures. The Sumerians required that their king undergo a sacred marriage to the goddess Inanna (through one of her priestesses) to gain her divine favor for their cities. By uniting with Inanna, the king gained her protection of their city and her blessing of their crops, guaranteeing their survival. (3) When the Akkadians conquered the Sumerians, bringing their own goddess Ishtar with them, they too carried on the tradition of the Sacred Marriage as a means of gaining the goddesses favor and justifying their kings’ divine right to rule. The Canaanites, another Mesopotamian culture, celebrated the Sacred Marriage of their goddess Anat (who is very similar to the Akkadian Ishtar) to the thunder-god Baal. And, as Jane Harrison points out, the Phrygian goddess Kybele may have involved a Sacred Marriage ceremony: the four symbols, or tokens, of initiation into her cult were 1) eating from the timbrel, 2) drinking from the cymbal, 3) carrying the kernos, and 4) going down into the bridal chamber. At Phyla, the sanctuary of the Great Mother also contains a bridal chamber. (4) The Greeks referred to this ceremony as the hieros gamos, and they celebrated it as a reenactment of the union of Zeus and Hera by a priest and a priestess. The mysterious rituals at Eleusis, where the Greeks honored Demeter for teaching them the secrets of agriculture, probably involved a Sacred Marriage ceremony between Persephone, Demeter’s daughter, and the underworld god Hades. The Greek goddess of love, in her aspect as Aphrodite Teleia, was a goddess of wedlock; she is known to have engaged in at least one Sacred Marriage with a mortal: Aeneas, the Trojan. The worship of Dionysos at Athens is also known to have involved a Sacred Marriage:

"In the Hellenic festival of the Anthesteria or Feast of Flowers, the sacrifice made by the wife of the king-archon to Dionysos in his temple …and her copulation with the god were the high points of the ritual."

(5) In another myth, Dionysos marries the Ariadne, who is thought to have been either a Cretan priestess of Aphrodite or an incarnation of Aphrodite herself. The Egyptians practiced the Sacred Marriage in the worship of Amun: Amun’s high priest would ritually unite with the Queen, reinforcing her children’s divine right to rule by ensuring that they were the offspring of Amun. The various folk rituals from around the world, in which humans have sex in the fields to ensure the fertility of their crops, are remnants of the Sacred Marriage ceremony: like their ancient ancestors, these agricultural communities seek the blessings of the Divine through sexual ritual. It is highly likely that the worship of Isis and Osiris also involved a Sacred Marriage rite of some sort, referred to in surviving mythology in the story where Isis reassembles Osiris’ body, creates an artificial penis for it (the only piece she was unable to find), and then unites with Osiris to conceive Horus, the son who will avenge Osiris’ death.

There is a fascinating body of evidence that the Hebrew tribes of the Old Testament originally worshipped Asherah, the wife of Yahweh, and celebrated the union of their Divine Father and Divine Mother until the reforms of the prophets stamped out the worship of Asherah among the Hebrews. (6) As Riane Eisler points out,

"…Goddess worship (and with this, sacral sex) continued to flourish in Canaan during the very years the Old Testament was being established as the only officially sanctioned religions text. …[the] Hebrew prophets are constantly exhorting their people against backsliding to the worship of the Queen of Heaven, railing against ‘the whore of Babylon’ and the sinful ‘daughters of Zion’ – obliquely confirming that the sacred marriage was still a popular rite." (7)

Even Christianity contains a remnant of the Sacred Marriage at the very core of its doctrine: Mary, the mother of Jesus, is united with Yahweh to conceive Jesus. It is Mary’s divine union with her God which signifies Jesus’ divine nature and his identity as the Son of God. Early Christians removed the sexual symbolism from this union, terming it an "immaculate conception", because they believed that the end of the world was near, and that therefore marriage (or any type of sexual relationship) was a waste of time that could be spent purifying oneself for the return of Jesus and the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. However, the symbolism of sacred sex has not been completely eradicated: Julius Evola points out the obvious sexual nature the Easter rite of the consecration of the water.

"…celebrated in particular by the Orthodox church, [this rite] preserves visible traces of sexual symbolism: the candle, which has an obviously phallic meaning, is dipped three times in the font, symbol of the female principle of the Waters; the priest touches the water and blows on it three times, making the sign of the Greek letter pi; the consecration works pronounced at this juncture include the phrase ‘May the power of the Holy Ghost descend throughout the whole depth of this font…and fertilize all the substance of this water for regeneration’". (8)

The Sacred Marriage ceremony is so widespread that remnants of it have been found throughout the world, even in modern times. "The most evident…contemporary remnant of the sacred marriage in Eastern tradition is a Japanese rite that made world headlines in 1990, when Japan’s new emperor was crowned. At that time the press reported that there raged in Japan a heated controversy about a secret ceremony said by scholars to have its origins in prehistoric times. It was not clear from the press reports whether the new emperor actually had sex with a young woman who, according to these reports, was brought into a shrine where this ceremony was held, or whether, as the Imperial Household Agency claimed, the bed in the shrine was used as ‘a resting place for the Sun Goddess, but the emperor never touches it.’ What was clear was that a matted bed and coverlet were provided in the inner sanctum where this rite was performed so that the new emperor could commune ‘in a symbolically sexual way, with the spirit of the Sun Goddess.’ And what was also clear was that as late as 1990 in modern Japan the sacred marriage to the goddess was still, as in the hymsn of Inanna, considered necessary to legitimize a new male ruler’s power. Because in Shinto tradition, it was this union that ‘rendered the Emperor into a deity.’

Moreover, according to Japanese scholars, this was a ceremony that had its origins in ancient harvest festivals where (as in the European Paleolithic and Neolithic) the union of the female and male principles was linked with the continuing fruitfulness of the Earth." (9)


( 1 ) Sacred Pleasure, Riane Eisler, p. 67.
( 2) Spiritual Sex, Nik Douglas, pp. 31-32
( 3) Sex, Magick and Spirit, Bonnie L. Johnston and Peter L. Schuerman, p. 170.(4) Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, Jane Harrison, p. 535.
(5) The Metaphysics of Sex, Julius Evola, p. 185
(6) The Hebrew Goddess, Raphael Patai.
(7) Sacred Pleasure, Riane Eisler, p. 48.
(8) The Metaphysics of Sex, Julius Evola, p. 184
(9) Sacred Pleasure, Riane Eisler, p. 146.

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Wednesday Whatever – The Twilight of the Celtic Gods for St Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2010 at 9:05 am (Ancestors, Fae, Faery, Fairies, Folklore, History, Lore, Magic, Ostara, pagan, Wednesday, Wisdom, Witch)

The Twilight of the Celtic Gods
by John Patrick Parle

The Milesians, according to myth, were the first Celts to settle in Ireland. This group was named after the eight sons of Mil (some texts say King Milesius); these Gaelic peoples, the myths report, came to Ireland from Spain. Ironically, the first phase of the diminishment of power of the Celtic gods came with the arrival of the Milesian Celts themselves. And, as might be expected, the second phase came with the arrival of St. Patrick. But elements of the Gods and Goddesses still remain in the Celtic mind as part of a folk-culture that bids many to dare not offend the fairies of the mounds or be outwitted by a cornered Leprechaun.
Ancestors of the Gaels
According to the Lebor Gabala in the Book of Leinster, there were 36 generations stretching from the Biblical Adam (via Seth) to Mil, and after, to the Milesian Celts. (The abundant influence of the Irish monks, working as scribes, can be clearly seen in this genealogy.) The bard-author of this myth states firmly that these earlier generations were "our ancestors." They were the Gaedels (sometimes spelled Goidils), or as we say, the Gaelic Celts.

The Gaels trace their mythic lineage to one Fenius Farsaid, a sort of king of Scythia, a territory in what is now southern Russia, near the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. According to the monk-inspired twist in the myth, Fenius was descended from Noah, through Japeth. And Fenius was active in helping build the Tower of Babel. When the dispersal of the 72 world languages occurred, Fenius was quick to found a great school of these languages in Scythia. (An ironic bend to this myth is that some historians believe that the Indo-European family of languages, of which Irish Gaelic is one, came originally from this region of the world.)

Pharaoh in Egypt was deeply enthused about learning all the languages, so he bid Fenius Farsaid and his son Nel to settle in the land of the Nile. Nel fell in love with pharaoh’s daughter, Scota, they married, and had a son named Gaedel Glas, whose chief role in Celtic mythology is having invented the Irish Gaelic language. The author of the myth also makes it clear that the armor and vesture of Gaedel Glas were all green in color.

The generations passed until Eber Scot, the great grandson of Gaedel Glas, got into difficulty in Egypt, was forced to leave, and thus his people began a period of travels lasting three hundred years. The mythic ancestors of the Gaels first went back to Scythia, but things did not work out there over the long run. Then a druid named Caicher had a vision. He announced: "Rise, we shall not rest until we reach Ireland." But the Gaels had never heard of a place named Ireland. Caicher assured them that it was very far away, and that it would be found only by their descendants.

According to the myths, the Gaels resided a long while in their boats in a place called the Macotic Marshes. (Speculation: what may really be meant here is an area around the Maeotic Sea, an ancient name for the region in the northern part of the Black Sea, adjacent to what was once Scythia.) This dark period was not to last forever.

Brath, a descendant of Eber Scot, urged his fellow Gaels to move on and explore. They left the Black Sea region, entered the Mediterranean, and landed for a while in Crete, and then for a while in Sicily. Finally, under Brath’s leadership they travelled westward until they reached Spain, where they wished to form a colony. Through a series of mythic battles, these Celtic Gaels gained control of Spain from the Iberians, and set the stage for fulfillment of the druid Caicher’s prophecy.

So the legendary story of the Gaelic Celts involved many generations, including the direct line of Fenius Farsaid, Nel (husband of the Egyptian Scota), Gaedel Glas, Eber Scot, and Brath (and many members in between). As the story proceeds, the myths tell us that Brath had a son named Breagon, who built an enormous watchtower on the northern coast of Spain (in a town he called Braganza or Brigantia, depending on what text you consult). Many feel that this tower was in the Galicia region of northern Spain, where Celtic culture still thrives today.

King Breagon, as some call him, had two sons: Ith and Bile; Bile had a son named Mil (or King Milesius, for whom the Celtic Milesians were named). Mil had eight sons, including Eber, Eremon, and Amergin the White Knee, a bard with druidic powers. It is these last three generations that in quick succession bring forward the story of conflict between the Celts and the Tuatha Dé Danann, the gods and goddesses of Ireland.
Milesians versus the Gods

One winter evening, Ith the son of Breagon stood on the watchtower and looked across the seas from Spain. He saw a land that sparked his curiosity. Ith wished to give the territory closer examination. He set off with thrice thirty warriors to this new land, which was Ireland.

The rulers of Ireland were now the Tuatha Dé Danann deities who had wrested control of the Isle from the Fir Bolg peoples and the Fomor giants. The tripartite kingship of the gods was now in the hands of Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht, and Mac Greine–these were sons of the god Ogma, and grandsons of the Dagda. When Ith arrived with his warriors, he spoke of Ireland in glowing terms, full of praises of the new land. The three kings of the gods considered this as a sign that the newcomer might try to possess the island, so they had Ith killed.
When news of Ith’s murder reached the Gaels in Spain, his nephew Mil rose up in anger and spoke his determination to even the score. So, the sons of Mil gathered a force of three score and five ships and sailed to Ireland,landing on the day before Beltaine, on the 17th day of the moon, in the year 3500 of the world. Amergin was the first to step off the ship, and plant his right foot on the Irish soil. Immediately he burst into an exposition of poetry, saying: "What land is better than this island of the setting sun?" The Celtic Milesians concurred that this would be their new home. But first they needed to contend with the Tuatha Dé Danann.

So the Milesians marched towards Tara, the seat of power of the gods. On their way, they met Eriu, one the deity queens, the wife of Mac Greine. She welcomed the warriors, and prophesied that Ireland would become theirs and that their race would be "the most perfect the world has ever seen." She then asked the Milesians to name the island after her, and Amergin consented to do this. Hence, Ireland’s name in the genitive Gaelic form is to this day "Erinn."
Once the Milesians reached Tara, the gods complained that the Celtic warriors had taken them by surprise. Amergin agreed to be fair and honorable, and concurred with a plan where the Milesians would embark on their ships once again and go a distance of nine waves from the shore. Upon returning to the land, the gods would then be ready for battle. This the Milesians did, but the gods raised up a powerful druidic wind, preventing the Milesians from reaching the shore.

Amergin’s voice then grew powerful. He proceeded to invoke the Land of Ireland itself, a charm higher then the gods. He bellowed: "I invoke the land of Eriu! The shining, shining sea! The fertile, fertile hill! The wooded vale! The river abundant, abundant in the water! The fishful, fishful lake! I implore that we regain the land of Eriu, we who have come over the lofty waves…" The incantation worked, and the Land of Ireland forced the druidic wind to die down. The Milesians landed and defeated the gods in two battles, the last in an area south of the present Tralee. The three kings of the gods were killed, and the Celtic Milesians gained control of Ireland. This is only partially true though, for the Tuatha Dé Danann retreated below the earth, continued to exert a strong influence, thus becoming the gods and goddesses of the Celtic Irish.

The New Order
The notion of a people defeating their own gods in battle, and reigning victorious in some way over them, is not a regular theme that one sees in the mythologies of the world. Why it happened this way in Ireland, or why the Celtic myths of Wales show humans leading successful raids to the Underworld, is not altogether clear. In the case of Ireland, though, it was not a complete victory.
The deities selected the god Dagda to be their new king, and he set about the task of giving each member of the Tuatha Dé Danann a fairy mound of their own, places where there would be "inexhaustible splendor and delight." In these sidh fairy mounds, the Celtic deities would engage in perpetual feasting, and never would a cauldron or drinking horn be dry. The Dagda chose the most elaborate mound for himself, at Newgrange (sometimes called the Brugh-na-Boyne; even so, his son Angus in a bit of chicanery tricked the Dagda, and took occupancy of the Newgrange sidh for his own).

The Milesian Celts, though now governors of Ireland, came to believe that the assistance of the gods and goddesses was necessary for living on the Isle. Charles Squire quotes an ancient tract from the Book of Leinster to this effect:

"Great was the power of the Dagda over the sons of Mil, even after the conquest of Ireland; for his subjects destroyed their corn and milk, so that they must needs make a treaty of peace with the Dagda. Not until then, and thanks to his good-will, were they able to harvest corn and drink the milk of their cows."

Hence the Celtic gods found their place within the Irish surroundings, and had a honorific role, even if their abode was below the ground.

Though the myths report that most of the gods remained in Ireland after the Milesian conquests, some gods left for the Otherworld of the West, the vast uncharted expanses of the Atlantic Ocean. Chief among these expatriate gods was Manannan, son of Lir the sea god. The Otherworld territories across the ocean had a number of names in myth: the Land of Promise (Tir Tairngire in Gaelic), the Plain of Happiness (Mag Mell), the Land of the Young (Tir-non-og), the Isle of the Women (Tir inna mBan), and others. In one myth, Bran the son of Febal (not to be confused with the Welsh Brân the Blessed) takes a voyage to the Otherworld of the West and meets Manannan, who extols the paradisiac quality of his adopted lands in the Atlantic. In another legend, an Irish king named Breasal voyages across the Atlantic and founds an island of magic that is visible only once every seven years. This legend spread around Europe, and medieval cartographers began placing the island on the western edges of their maps, calling the isle Hy-Brasil (a variant of the Gaelic words). One account is that when European explorers, who were well-familiar with these maps, reached South America they named the area Brazil, thinking they had reached Breasal’s Island.

The Annalists
With the coming of the Milesians a new form of Celtic myth arose. Oral legends of the new kings and their successors became standard practice, and the monk-scribes later wrote down these chronicles, the work of what became known as the annalists. To begin, there was the story of the first Milesian king of Ireland. Eber and Eremon, sons of Mil, divided Ireland between them after the conquest, Eber ruling over the south, and Eremon over the north. But quarrels soon began, battles commenced, and Eber was killed. Eremon then became the first Milesian Celtic king of all Ireland.

These kings of the annalists are quasi-historical, and more emphasis in the annals is placed on heroic humans and their feats. Although these myths show the humans interacting with the gods on occasion, the Celtic deities assumed roles that became smaller and smaller in the texts of the new stories.  Some kings merit mention. Tigernmas reigned about a century after Eremon, and legends say he was the first on Ireland to make ornaments of gold and to dye clothing. According to the stories, Tigernmas disappeared with the majority of Irishmen while worshiping a god named Cromm Cruaich. Conchobar was said to have lived about the time of Christ and was well known in myth; his rule in Ulster was the centerpiece of that cycle of legends. Conn of the Hundred Battles has high king sometime around 180 A.D., and his grandson was the illustrious King Cormac the Magnificent. The great grandson of Conn was Cairbre, who was said to have lived in about 280 A.D.

Another descendant of Conn was perhaps the first truly historical king of the lot: Niall of the Nine Hostages (379-404). He began the famous Ui Neill dynasty. Also, during Niall of the Nine Hostage’s reign, an event bearing a great impact on Celtic mythology happened: a Christian boy named Patrick was captured in a raid on Britain, and brought back as a slave to Ireland. The boy was to become a saint.

Saintly Legends and Pious Stories
The stories of Ireland in the fifth century are full of miraculous ordeals between St. Patrick and the druids; spiritual trials abound. Then there are the legends of Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland, and explaining the Christian Trinity by way of a shamrock. A clever tale has St. Patrick raising the Celtic hero Cuchulainn from the dead, who then attests to the truth of Christianity while standing before high king Laogaire the Second. The once skeptical Irish monarch immediately converts.

In another story, the Fenian hero Ossian returns to Ireland after staying in the Atlantic Otherworld for three hundred years. Having been at the Land of the Young during this sojourn, he has not aged a bit. But everywhere Ossian looks in Ireland, things have changed. It is now the age of St. Patrick. Men no longer look heroic, and when he asks about Finn and the Fenians, people tell him that these were folks who lived long ago. Upon stepping off his fairy horse and touching the ground of Ireland, the years return to Ossian, and he becomes a haggard old man. St. Patrick takes Ossian to his house and tries to convert him. But Ossian wants no part of an eternal life where there is no hunting, no wooing of women, no enjoying the tales of the Celtic bards.

A different story has the four children of the god Lir returning to Ireland after their centuries of journey as swans. Everyone they once knew is gone. St. Caemhoc greets them, and converts them to the new faith. As soon as holy water is sprinkled on them, they changed back from swans into real people. But they are very old, and St. Caemhoc gives them a Christian burial when they pass on.

The stories of the Christian saints are full of legends, like the one where St. Columba was the first person to have seen the Loch Ness monster. And although every honest Irishman knows for certain that Irish monks were the first Europeans to have ventured to America, the modern mind is apt to quarrel with the story of St. Brendan.

According to Proinsias Mac Cana, the "Navigatio Brendani" (Voyages of St. Brendan) became Ireland’s "greatest single contribution to medieval European literature." This ninth century work took its form in Latin and in numerous vernacular translations, and spread across Europe, such that there are about a hundred old manuscripts of the Voyages of St. Brendan still in existence. The story goes that St. Brendan (circas 484-578) was born in Tralee, Ireland, and presided over a monastery at Clonfert in County Galway. He and his monks got into their coracle boats and crossed the Atlantic to discover a marvelous land in the Western world. Medieval map-makers placed Brendan’s Isle in this area, and Mac Cana suggests that this may have influenced explorers like Columbus to risk the Atlantic journey. An example of how myth may have influenced reality! Slán agat. Go n-éiri an bóthar leat!

Sources And References:


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Wednesday Whatever – You Call It Easter, We Call It Ostara

March 10, 2010 at 10:53 am (Ancestors, Associations, Children, Eggs, Eostre, Fae, Fertility, Flowers, Folklore, History, Kids, Lore, Magic, Ostara, pagan, Wednesday, Witch, Witchlets)

You Call It Easter, We Call It Ostara
by Peg Aloi Originally published on Witchvox

Try this sometime with your children or a young niece, nephew or cousin: on the day of the Vernal or Autumnal Equinox, just a few moments before the exact moment of the equinox, go outside with a raw egg. Find a reasonably level place on the sidewalk or driveway. For a few moments just before and just after the equinox, you can balance the egg upright (wider end down) by simply setting it down on the ground. No kidding! It will stand up all by itself. Kids love this, and most adults are amazed and delighted, too. This little "trick" brings together two of the most potent aspects of this holiday: the balancing of the earth’s gravity midway between the extremes of light and dark at Winter and Summer Solstice; and the symbolism of the egg.

The egg is one of the most notable symbols of Easter, but, as someone who was raised Catholic and who was never told exactly why we colored eggs at Easter, or why there was a bunny who delivered candy to us, or why it was traditional to buy new clothes to wear for church on Easter Sunday, I always wondered about this holiday. As with many of the seemingly unrelated secular symbols and traditions of Christmas (what do evergreen trees, mistletoe, reindeer and lights have to do with the birth of Christ? You might wanna read "You Call It Christmas, We Call It Yule" for an exploration of these connections), Easter too has adapted many ancient pagan symbols and customs in its observance.

Easter gets its name from the Teutonic goddess of spring and the dawn, whose name is spelled Oestre or Eastre (the origin of the word "east" comes from various Germanic, Austro-Hungarian words for dawn that share the root for the word "aurora" which means " to shine"). Modern pagans have generally accepted the spelling "Ostara" which honors this goddess as our word for the Vernal Equinox. The 1974 edition of Webster’s New World Dictionary defines Easter thus:

"orig., name of pagan vernal festival almost coincident in date with paschal festival of the church; Eastre, dawn goddess; 1. An annual Christian festival celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, held on the first Sunday after the date of the first full moon that occurs on or after March 21.

"The Vernal Equinox usually falls somewhere between March 19th and 22nd (note that the dictionary only mentions March 21st, as opposed to the date of the actual Equinox), and depending! upon when the first full moon on or after the Equinox occurs, Easter falls sometime between late-March and mid-April.

Because the Equinox and Easter are so close, many Catholics and others who celebrate Easter often see this holiday (which observes Christ’s resurrection from the dead after his death on Good Friday) as being synonymous with rebirth and rejuvenation: the symbolic resurrection of Christ is echoed in the awakening of the plant and animal life around us. But if we look more closely at some of these Easter customs, we will see that the origins are surprisingly, well, pagan! Eggs, bunnies, candy, Easter baskets, new clothes, all these "traditions" have their origin in practices which may have little or nothing to do with the Christian holiday.

For example, the traditional coloring and giving of eggs at Easter has very pagan associations. For eggs are clearly one of the most potent symbols of fertility, and spring is the season when animals begin to mate and flowers and trees pollinate and reproduce. In England and Northern Europe, eggs were often employed in folk magic when women wanted to be blessed with children. There is a great scene in the film The Wicker Man where a woman sits upon a tombstone in the cemetery, holding a child against her bared breasts with one hand, and holding up an egg in the other, rocking back and forth as she stares at the scandalized (and very uptight!) Sargent Howie.

Many cultures have a strong tradition of egg coloring; among Greeks, eggs are traditionally dyed dark red and given as gifts. As for the Easter egg hunt, a fun game for kids, I have heard at least one pagan teacher say that there is a rather scary history to this. As with many elements of our "ancient history," there is little or no factual documentation to back this up. But the story goes like this: Eggs were decorated and offered as gifts and to bring blessings of prosperity and abundance in the coming year; this was common in Old Europe. As Christianity rose and the ways of the "Old Religion" were shunned, people took to hiding the eggs and having children make a game out of finding them. This would take place with all the children of the village looking at the same time in everyone’s gardens and beneath fences and other spots. It is said, however, that those people who sought to seek out heathens and heretics would bribe children with coins or threats, and once those children uncovered eggs on someone’s property, that person was then accused of practicing the old ways. I have never read any historical account of this, so I cannot offer a source for this story (though I assume the person who first told me found it somewhere); when I find one, I will let you know! When I first heard it, I was eerily reminded of the way my own family conducted such egg hunts: our parents hid money inside colorful plastic eggs that could be opened and closed up again; some eggs contained pennies, some quarters and dimes and nickels, and some lucky kids would find a fifty-cent piece or silver dollar! In our mad scramble for pocket change, were my siblings and cousins and I mimicking the treacherous activities of children so long ago?

Traditional foods play a part in this holiday, as with so many others. Ham is the traditional main course served in many families on Easter Sunday, and the reason for this probably has to do with the agricultural way of life in old Europe. In late fall, usually in October, also known as the month of the Blood Moon, because it referred to the last time animals were slaughtered before winter, meats were salted and cured so they would last through the winter. Poorer people, who subsisted on farming and hunting, would often eat very sparingly in winter to assure their food supply would last. With the arrival of spring, there was less worry, and to celebrate the arrival of spring and of renewed abundance, they would serve the tastiest remaining cured meats, including hams. This also marked a seasonal end to eating cured foods and a return to eating fresh game (as animals emerged from hibernation looking for food), and no longer relying on stored root vegetables, but eating the young green plants so full of the vitamins and minerals that all living beings need to replenish their bodies in spring. Modern pagans can observe these same customs by eating the fresh greens and early vegetables abundant now: dandelion greens, nettles, asparagus, and the like.

There are some Witches who believe that fasting at the Equinox is very healthy and magical: it clears away all the toxins stored over winter, when we eat heavier foods to keep warm, and can create an altered state of consciousness for doing Equinox magic. By eliminating all the "poisons" from our diets for a few days (including sugar, caffeine, alcohol, red meats, dairy products, refined foods), and eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, we not only can shed a few pounds and improve the appearance of our hair and skin, but also improve our health over the long term. The overall benefit to health from an occasional cleansing fast helps strengthen our immune system, making our bodies more resistant to illness, and help us feel more alert and energetic. Try it! Be sure to "break" your fast slowly,! reintroducing your normal foods one at a time, instead of going from several days of fruits, grains and herbal tea to a feast of steak, potatoes and chocolate cake! The breaking of the fast can be incorporated into the cakes and wine portion of your ritual, or at the feast many Witches have afterwards.

Speaking of food, another favorite part of Easter for kids, no doubt, is that basket of treats! Nestled in plastic "grass" colored pink or green, we’d find foil wrapped candy eggs, hollow chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, marshmallow chicks (in pink, yellow or lavender!), fancy peanut butter or coconut eggs from Russell Stover, and of course our Mom always included one of the beautiful ceramic eggs she painted by hand. Like that other holiday where children are inundated with sugar (Hallowe’en), no one seems to know precisely where, when or how this custom began. And why are the baskets supposedly brought by a bunny???

There are some modern Witches and pagans who follow traditions that integrate the faery lore of the Celtic countries. It is customary to leave food and drink out for the fairies on the nights of our festivals, and it is believed that if the fairies are not honored with gifts at these times, they will work mischief in our lives. Certain holidays call for particular "fairy favorites." At Imbolc/Oimelc (February 2nd), for example, we leave gifts of dairy origin, like cheese, butter or fresh cream. At Lammas/Lughnasa (August 1st) we leave fresh grains or newly-baked bread. At Samhain, nuts and apples are traditional. And at Ostara, it is customary to leave something sweet (honey, or mead, or candy) – could this be connected to the Easter basket tradition? Perhaps a gift of sweets corresponds to the sweet nectar gathering in new spring flowers?

To refer again to The Wicker Man, the post office/candy shop where May Morrison works (she is the mother of Rowan Morrison, the young girl who is supposedly missing and who Sargent Howie has come to Summerisle to find) offers a large selection of candies shaped like animals. When Sargent Howie says "I like your rabbits" Mrs. Morrison scolds him saying "Those are hares! Lovely March hares, not silly old rabbits!" And when Howie goes to dig up the grave of Rowan Morrison (who it turns out is neither dead nor missing) he finds the carcass of a hare, and Lord Summerisle tries to convince him that Rowan was transformed into a hare upon her death. Clearly this is an illustration of the powerful association with animals that many ancient cultures have (Summerisle being a place where time has seemingly stood still and where the pagan pursuit of pleasure and simple agricultural ways define the way of life).

The forming of candy into the shape of rabbits or chicks is a way to acknowledge them as symbols; by eating them, we take on their characteristics, and enhance our own fertility, growth and vitality. For clearly the association of rabbits with Easter has something to do with fertility magic. Anyone who has kept rabbits as pets or knows anything about their biology has no question about the origin of the phrase "f**like a bunny." These cute furry creatures reproduce rapidly, and often! Same with chicks, who emerge wobbly and slimy from their eggs only to become fluffy, yellow and cute within a few hours. The Easter Bunny may well have its origin in the honoring of rabbits in spring as an animal sacred to the goddess Eastre, much as horses are sacred to the Celtic Epona, and the crow is sacred to the Morrigan. As a goddess of spring, she presides over the realm of the conception and birth of babies, both animal and human, and of the pollination, flowering and ripening of fruits in the plant kingdom.

Sexual activity is the root of all of life: to honor this activity is to honor our most direct connection to nature. At Beltane (April 31st-May 1st), pagans and Witches honor the sexual union of the god and goddess amid the flowers and fruits that have begun to cover the land; but prior to that, at Ostara, we welcome the return of the spring goddess from her long season of dormant sleep. The sap begins to flow, the trees are budding, the ground softens, ice melts, and everywhere the fragrance and color of spring slowly awakens and rejuvenates our own life force. I have always thought this had a lot to do with the tradition of wearing newly-bought or made clothes at Easter, in pastel spring colors.

Wearing such colors we echo the flowering plants, crocus, lilac, forsythia, bluebells, violets and new clothes allow us to feel we are renewing our persona. How many of us feel sort of "blah" after winter ends? Along with the fasting practice mentioned earlier, this is a time for many of us to create new beginnings in our lives: this can apply to jobs, relationships, living situations, lifestyle choices. But since the Equinox is such a potent time magically, and often falls in the period when Mercury is Retrograde, starting a new endeavor at this time can be problematic if we do not take care. One good way to avoid catastrophe is to engage in small, personally-oriented rites or activities: a new haircut, a new clothing style or make-up, a new exercise program, the grand old tradition of spring cleaning, a new course of study: all of these are relatively "safe" ways to begin anew without risking the weirdness and unpredictability of Mercury Retrograde. This is a very powerful time to do magic, not only because of the balancing of the earth’s energies, but because of the way our own beings echo the earth’s changes. We are literally reborn as we emerge from our winter sleep, ready to partake of all the pleasures of the earth, and to meet the challenges we will face as the world changes around us daily. As we greet and celebrate with our pagans brothers and sisters of the Southern Hemisphere (for whom the Vernal Equinox more closely resembles the beginning of autumn, in physical terms!), we remember that Spring is not only a season; it is a state of mind.

Blessed Be in the Season of Spring! Go Forth and Flower!

Disclaimer: No one involved in this blog or its contents may be held responsible for any adverse reactions arising from following any of the instructions/recipes on this list. It is the reader’s personal responsibility to exercise all precautions and use his or her own discretion if following any instructions or advice from this blog.

Fair Use Notice: This page may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. This website distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107.

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Wednesday Whatever – Reclaiming the Winter Solstice

December 23, 2009 at 10:32 am (Ancestors, Associations, Christmas, Fertility, History, Holly, Lore, Magic, Oak, pagan, Solstice, Wednesday, Witch, Yule)

Reclaiming the Winter Solstice
by Melanie Fire Salamander – Widdershins

I’m know I’m not the only person, pagan or otherwise, who approaches the winter holiday season gingerly. To begin with, Americans generally consider Christmas a time to gather with their families. Even for those who get along with their relations, the togetherness (and the cleanup afterward) can be stressful. Further, as a non-Christian, I find it somewhat alienating how Christmas permeates our culture. It’s hard for any non-Christian to ignore – witness the Jewish households with Christmas trees.

Specifically, as a pagan, I find Christmas the height of the borrowed holiday double-bind. The holidays of the winter solstice are the pagan holidays most thieved from and later overlaid by Christianity. Granted anything appropriated by Christians from pagans can be appropriated right back, but the holiday feels somewhat marred in the process. I think this feeling arises partly because the forced marriage of pagan and Christian traditions I grew up with doesn’t entirely work. The symbolism of giving gifts seems flawed, unless you see the receivers as avatars of the infant Christ gifted by Magi(cians), which philosophy I haven’t seen promulgated. In Christmas gift-giving, the traditional pagan solstice gifts have lost their former meanings of luck and fertility and the propitiation of the dead. Because the symbolism no longer works, greed and guilt are often the main components that remain.

Thus, when I was a child trying to be Christian, I found Christmas the holiday that required the most hypocrisy. You knew if you were told to write an essay about the true meaning of Christmas you weren’t supposed to lust for presents, but rather to harp on peace on earth and the blessings of the Christ child. Peace on earth is a fine hope, but I only wrote about it as a child because I knew I was supposed to. But I’ve always loved the Christmas traditions of my childhood. The Christmas tree spangled with tinsel and glowing with colored lights, Christmas feasts, the house warm and scented with baking, snow on the hills, a holly wreath with blood-red berries – because these symbols were Christianized, they remained to color my childhood, and they speak as deeply to me as anything Halloween does.

More than any other Sabbat, the winter solstice I think requires a conscious act of reclaiming. We have many solstice traditions to choose from, more than meet an initial glance. It’s a glorious time, a deep symbol, the return of the sun and the many myths that stem from it. I think the time and symbol are worth reclaiming. I think we owe it to ourselves to meditate, dig deep and choose and practice the solstice traditions that most speak to us.

The Pagan Roots of Christmas

The early Christians quite consciously chose the pagan sun holiday for the celebration of their Son-god’s birth. Christmas falls during the Roman Saturnalia and at the birth of the Mithraic sun god. According to A Witches Bible Compleat, by Janet and Stewart Farrar, the Archbishop of Constantinople wrote that church fathers fixed the Nativity during the pagan holidays because "while the heathen were busied with their profane rites, the Christians might perform their holy ones without disturbance." Other Christians accused those who kept Christmas at the solstice of performing sun worship. Armenians, who celebrate Christmas on January 6, elsewhere Epiphany, called Roman Christians idolaters, according to Funk and Wagnall’s Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend. Similarly, under the Puritans in 1644, the English Parliament expressly forbade observing Christmas. Augustine admitted that putting Christmas at the winter solstice was a conscious identification of the Son with the sun but defended the symbolism. The Christmas most Americans know as children mixes a celebration of the birth of Christ with traditions from the Roman Saturnalia, the Northern European Yule, and the Celtic solstice.

Saturnalia, The Great Leveler

Saturnalia, a string of related festivals beginning December 17 and lasting a week in its final incarnation, celebrated the Golden Age of the Roman god Saturn. Its roots lay in a solstice ceremony designed to protect winter-sown crops. One of its signal customs was a leveling of rank and age; during Saturnalia, courts passed down no punishments, schools closed, wars ceased, gambling was encouraged, and social distinctions were leveled or reversed. The slave was equal to the freeman, and the master served the servant. All took bawdy liberty in speech and action. Christmas inherited this turnabout of power. Early Europeans’ Christmastime saw the reign of the Lord of Misrule, called in Scotland the Abbot of Unreason. The Lord of Misrule ran the revels from All Hallows until Twelfth Night, arranging parties and theatricals and inflicting penalties for any misdeeds he saw fit. A related custom survived in York till the eighteenth century, as Doreen Valiente writes in An ABC of Witchcraft; there the people carried mistletoe to the high church altar and proclaimed (in the words of a contemporary) "`a public and universal liberty, pardon and freedom to all sorts of inferior and even wicked people at the gates of the city, towards the four quarters of heaven.’"

Saturnalia may have given us our tradition of decking interiors with evergreen boughs, and may be the source of Christmas gift-giving. In the latter days of festival week, Romans exchanged gifts of wax fruit, candles and dolls. Funk and Wagnall’s identifies the fruit as symbolizing fertility, the candles as echoing the customary new fires of solstice, and the dolls as a remnant of human sacrifice. Reports from a Roman outpost reflect the sacrificial aspect of Saturnalia, Funk and Wagnall’s notes; inhabitants there elected a King Saturn and gave him great freedom, only to ritually murder him at feast’s end.

Yule: Fertility And Ghosts

At the winter solstice, Scandinavians worshipped Frey, god of fertility; further south, the Angli celebrated December 24 as New Year’s Eve, called modranecht (mother night), a vigil also connected with fertility rites. In general, the traditional Yule (from the Norse Iul, meaning wheel) was a feast devoted to fertility and the ancestors, which passed on to Christmas fecund and ghostly traditions. The Christmas roast pig is kissing cousin to julgalti, the pig offered to Frey for fertility in the coming year, according to Funk and Wagnall’s. Hence the apple in its mouth. Similarly, Yule was a time to charm grain and fruit to grow thick. Traditional Scots kept the Corn Maiden from harvest till Yule and then distributed her to the cattle, according to the Farrars. The Germans scattered the ashes of the Yule log on the fields for fertility, or kept its last charred pieces to bind in the last sheaf of the coming harvest. The French retained a piece of Yule log through the year to protect the house against fire and lightning, to ensure bountiful crops and the easy birth of calves.

The solstice was also a weather predictor, according to Funk and Wagnall’s. In more recent tradition, a white Christmas is said to mean a prosperous New Year, while a green, cloudy or hot Christmas fills the churchyard. Yule is a time for spirits. European tradition, transferred to the Christian holiday, held that each house should be clean and prepared for Christmas before the household went to church, so the spirits could inspect it. Spirits likewise stayed for Christmas dinner. In Sweden, householders set a special table for them. European folk beliefs say that someone who sits under a pine tree on Christmas Eve can hear the sound of angels – but death will soon follow. Death also awaits one who hears farm animals converse in the barn that night. A person born on Christmas can see spirits. Dreams on the Northern modranecht were believed to foretell the coming year, according to Nigel Pennick in The Pagan Book of Days.

We Three Kings

In the British Isles, Celtic Yule traditions survive with amazing resilience. The fight of the Oak and Holly Kings, representatives of the waxing and waning year, is recalled in the still-current hunting of the wren – a custom also found in ancient Greece and Rome. In the myth behind the practice, the robin redbreast, identified with the Oak King, caught and killed the wren, representative of the waning year and the Holly King. The robin traditionally trapped the wren in an ivy bush, in Ireland a holly bush, the Farrars write. The robin’s tree was the birch, the tree associated with the after-solstice period in the Celtic tree calendar. In the wren hunt, according to Pennick, a group of droluns (Wren Boys) captured the wren, which during the rest of the year was sacrosanct. The droluns ensconced the bird in a lantern and trooped it around the village on a holly branch on its way to death. Alternatively, men with birch rods chased the wren and killed it. Wren Boys still tour County Clare in west Ireland on December 26, now a group of adult musicians who go door to door with a wren effigy on a holly branch. In County Mayo, Wren Boys are holly-bearing children, including girls, who knock on doors repeating a traditional verse that asks for money to bury the wren. In Scotland and the North of England, in a possibly related custom, masked and caroling children formerly celebrated Hogmany on New Year’s Eve, traveling the neighborhood soliciting oat cakes.

The wren’s rival, the robin of the waxing year, was linked to Robin Hood, according to Robert Graves in The White Goddess. Robin was a god of the witches; Graves writes that a London tract of 1693 named Robin Goodfellow an ithyphallic witch-god. In Cornwall, he notes, "robin" means phallus. Robin "Hood," or "Hod," was thought to exist in the hod, the log at the back of the fire, in other words the Yule log. Woodlice who ran from the burning Yule log were called "Robin Hood’s steeds," and Robin was said to escape up the chimney as a robin. The Yule log is traditionally of oak, again connecting it with the Oak King; in some places it’s burnt bit by bit through the twelve days of Christmas, but elsewhere celebrants retain a chunk to light the next Yule log.

Another British Christmas custom recalling the kings’ fight was traditional mummery, in which the brilliantly armored St. George fought and defeated a dark Turkish knight. But, as Valiente notes, the victorious St. George immediately cried out he had killed his brother, showing that "darkness and light, winter and summer, are complementary." A mysterious doctor revived the Turk, and all rejoiced. Too often, as the Farrars write, this understanding of light and dark’s balance turns to a contest of good vs. evil. In Dewsbury, Yorkshire, for nearly seven centuries, church bells knelled "the Old Lad’s Passing" or "the Devil’s Knell" at Christmas Eve’s eleventh hour, warning the Devil that Christ was coming. Other connections link the Holly King and the Devil. The Farrars tie the Devil’s nickname, Old Nick, to Nik, a name for Woden, "very much a Holly King." Santa Claus – St. Nicholas – is likewise a disguised Holly King. Not only do households put up holly garlands in his honor, in early tales he rode a horse, as Woden does, rather than driving reindeer.

More Solstice Tree Traditions

Another Celtic Yuletide custom was wassailing, in which a group of people carried a bowl of wassail (cider) into an orchard. The celebrants chose one tree to represent the whole grove and dipped its branch tips in wassail, stuck bits of wassail-soaked cake among its twigs and sprinkled wassail on its roots, according to Pauline Campanelli in Wheel of the Year. Morris dancers might mime the abundant harvests they hoped the orchard would produce in the following year. Similarly, traditional British believed that Christmas sun shining through fruit trees foretold a big harvest, according to Funk and Wagnall’s. It’s not surprising a culture that named its letters and months for trees had many tree customs. Only one day of the Celtic calendar lacks a ruling tree and ogham letter. The Celts called this day, December 23, the Secret of the Unhewn Stone.

Like apples, evergreens also connect with the solstice, as a symbol of eternal life. Christmas Eve mystery plays of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries combined evergreens and apples, the fruit tied to the trees’ branches. Seasonal celebrants decked interiors with holly, fir, pine, bayberry, rosemary, branches of the evergreen box shrub and also ivy and mistletoe. Ivy is sacred both to Osiris, the Egyptian god of death and rebirth, and to the Greek wine-god Dionysos – both gods traditionally resurrected at this time of year. In the England of previous centuries, Campanelli writes, harvesters bound the last sheaf of grain with ivy and called it the Ivy Girl, a figure considered to combat the Holly Boy. This combat marks an older competition between Goddess and God, from before the Oak King’s entrance on the scene. Such a scenario also appears in the traditional carol The Holly and the Ivy."

Mistletoe, in contrast, connects with the Oak King, found suspended as it is on the Celtic magick oak. The Druids collected mistletoe at the winter solstice, their ritual Alban Arthuan, as well as at the summer solstice; in winter, the mistletoe has white berries, representing the semen of the God and bringing fertility. Traditionally, a girl who stands under mistletoe tacked up indoors may be kissed by any boy who comes up. Traditions of tree trimming and evergreen decoration may have combined to engender the Christmas tree. Campanelli writes that the first Christmas tree was decorated in Riga in Latvia, in 1510, when a local merchants’ guild carried an evergreen festooned with fake flowers to market and burned it there, a sort of combination Christmas tree and Yule log.

The Christmas tree has become popular only in the last 150 years, migrating to the United States from Germany. However, its German name, Tannenbaum, may reflect older roots; Campanelli relates the word to tinne or glastin, the sacred trees of the ancient Celts. More distantly, Funk and Wagnall’s connects the Christmas tree to flower-decorated May trees and May poles. Campanelli draws in the cult of Cybele and Attis, in which ritualists dragged a fir tree into the temple and adorned with it violets, mourning the dead Attis, soon miraculously to rise. A fir cone tips Dionysos’s thrysus, and the pine is sacred to Pan and Sylvanus. Whatever their provenance and meaning, seasonal evergreens shouldn’t hang too long. Funk and Wagnall’s says you must throw them out of doors by Epiphany; Valiente gives you till Candlemas but says if you’ve not done it then, hobgoblins will haunt you.

The Yule’s For You

Given that the Christmas we know comes from the Celtic and Northern Yules and from Saturnalia, using parts of one, several or all of these rites in your rite is only appropriate. Create a Yule of the spirits, or a ritual for garden or personal fertility. Choose a Lord or Lady of Misrule, Holly and Oak Kings or an Ivy Girl and Holly Boy. Or turn to other traditions. Ancient Athenians at the winter solstice held the Lenaea, the Feast of Wild Women. The nine Wild Women of the ritual reenacted the death and rebirth of Dionysos. Once probably a human sacrifice, the god’s representative by classical times had become a goat kid, which the Wild Women killed, then mourned. Then Dionysos was reborn in ritual, and the Wild Women rejoiced. The winter solstice similarly commemorated the rebirth of Egyptian Osiris, who after a mummification beginning November 3 was buried on the solstice. Two days later, his sister and wife Isis gave birth to his son and second self, the sun-god Horus – the return of light to the world. In this hemisphere, the Hopi and Pueblo Indians of the American Southwest hold solstice rituals over several days, including kachina dances, corn and meal rites and war society ceremonies. The Hopi also perform phallic rites and hawk dances. Their neighbors the Zuni relight their sacred fire for the solstice.

You can look for inspiration to non-pagan religions. Though Judaism is a monotheistic tradition, it has roots in an ancient pagan past. Hanukkah, the Feast of Lights, most recently celebrates the dedication of a new altar in the Temple after the old had been destroyed, but the feast falls during a much more ancient Jewish solstice observance. The lighting of the lamps parallels the celebrations worldwide in which a lit fire hails the returning sun. Work with any of these traditions, or find one of your own, perhaps connected with your heritage or travels. The solstice holiday comes woven of many strands; choose one that feels right, learn all you can about it and do what speaks to you, honoring the places and peoples your ritual comes from. Reclaim this Sabbat, and let the reborn sun fill your life with light.

Disclaimer: No one involved in this blog or its contents may be held responsible for any adverse reactions arising from following any of the instructions/recipes on this list. It is the reader’s personal responsibility to exercise all precautions and use his or her own discretion if following any instructions or advice from this blog.

Fair Use Notice: This page may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. This website distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107.

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