Feeling a Bit Pagan Today

bunny and eggs

There is a bit of the pagan in the air this spring Sunday.

The secular celebration of Easter is all from pagan traditions. You’re being a modern Anglo Saxon if you have that bunny and decorated eggs as part of this holiday weekend.

They worshipped Eostre who was their goddess of springtime. This was the time to celebrate the true return of the sun from a long winter. Not that the Sun had been gone entirely, but it did not hold the power that it has in the other three seasons. The Christian holiday of Easter and other religions used the spring equinox as a guide to their own holy days.

But how did we get a rabbit with eggs?

eggs Ukrainian Easter Eggs from the exhibition “The Pysanka: A Symbol Of Hope,” at the Ukrainian Institute of America in New York. via CNN

Eostre saved a bird whose wings had frozen during the winter by turning it into a rabbit. That rabbit who had once been a bird retained its ability to lay eggs. Though never officially adapted by the church, the Easter Bunny was born.

Eggs had been a symbol of fertility for a much longer time than Christianity. Keep in mind that eggs from chickens and from birds natural come in many colors, so coloring them began as an imitation of nature.

Unlike today, eggs had once been much more scarce during the winter, so spring also meant the return of eggs to the diet. There are records of people giving each other decorated eggs at this time of year and as part of Easter celebrations that go back to the 11th century.

And So, It Is May Day Again

Bonfire at the Beltane Fire Festival 2019, Calton Hill, Edinburgh. The reunited May Queen and Green Man face the fire, while dancers raise their arms to heaven.
Image by Nyri0, Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

You made it through another Walpurgis Eve and now it is May Day.  The name derives from the Greek goddess Maia, the most important of the Seven Sisters (the Pleiades) and the mother of Hermes. Her name became the name for this month. The Romans called her Maius, goddess of Summer, and honored her during Ambarvalia.

Will you celebrate today? You might have a bonfire or a Maypole to dance around, move your cattle to summer pasture, decorate your home with flowers (or put a basket secretly at someone’s door), protect yourself from evil witchcraft, or just rest and have an early Labor Day.

May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian times with the festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers. The Walpurgis Night celebrations occurred in the Germanic countries.

May Day celebrations throughout Europe eventually traveled to the New World and so Maypole dances and May baskets filled with flowers or treats might be left secretly at someone’s doorstep. If the receiver of a basket catches the giver, a kiss is exchanged.

May Day basket
Did you catch anyone putting a May Day basket at your door?

In the Roman Catholic tradition, May is observed as Mary’s month, and May Day is usually a celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary with works of art, school ceremonies etc. Statues of Mary will sometimes be adorned with a ring of flowers in a May crowning.

May first is also International Workers’ Day which is also known as May Day and is a celebration of the international labor movement. This celebration of laborers and the working classes that is promoted by the international labor movement.  May 1 was chosen as the date for International Workers’ Day by the Socialists and Communists of the Second International to commemorate the Haymarket affair in Chicago that occurred on May 4, 1886.

Because May 1 also marks a traditional European spring holiday, it is a national public holiday in more than 80 countries. In some of those countries, it is officially celebrated as Labor Day or some variation without the spring season associations.

Beltane is an ancient Celtic festival which came into English from the Gaelic word bealltainn which literally means “May First.” Depending on where you are living, today might seem like spring or summer, or autumn or winter in the Southern Hemisphere. This Gaelic May Day festival was usually held on the first of May, or about halfway between the spring equinox and summer solstice.

Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. It is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals—along with Samhain, Imbolc and Lughnasadh.

In some of the earliest Irish literature and Irish mythology, Beltane is associated with summer. (It is aslo known as Cétshamhain which means “first of summer.”) In America, we think the unoficial start of summer as Memorial Day at the end of May.
The traditions of May day included driving cattle to summer pastures. Special bonfires were made and their flames, smoke and ashes were deemed to have protective powers. The people and their cattle would walk around or between bonfires, and sometimes leap over the flames or embers. Household fires would be doused and then re-lit from the Beltane bonfire. Of course, there was feasting and drinking. Doors and windows, even livestock, might be decorated with May flowers, particularly yellow and red as they evoked fire.

Though much of the May Day, spring/summer and Beltane celebrations have stopped, the annual Beltane Fire Festival held in Edinburgh, Scotland is one modern example. The modern neo-pagan community also embrace fire dancing and rituals and festivities at this time.

In Wales, Creiddylad was a character connected with this festival and is often called the May Queen. The maypole and its dance is a remnant of these old festivities.

In Finland, May 1 was celebrated as Rowan Witch Day, a time of honoring the goddess Rauni, who was associated with the rowan tree. Twigs and branches of the rowan are used as protection against evil.

The Rowan Tree in the Celtic Zodiac is the sign for Jan. 21st to Feb. 17. In mythology, the first woman was made from the Rowan tree. These trees are believed to have magical properties that can protect from witchcraft and misfortune. Small crosses made from rowan twigs were carried for such protection. It is also known as the goddess tree and the red berries can be fermented into wine, spirits and ale.

Rowan tree art via Amazon

A Shelf of Grimoires

the old books
Image: Suzy Hazelwood – Pexels

I was browsing at a local bookstore and came across a daily planner for practicing (or budding) witches.  Another book on the rather full shelf of like-minded books was Wicca Moon Magic which has a subtitle of A Wiccan’s Guide and Grimoire. I had to look up “grimoire” (grim-WAHR) which is a book of spells or textbook of magic. Yes, like those books the students at Hogwarts had to buy for classes.

These books have instructions on how to create magical objects like talismans and amulets, how to perform magical spells, charms and divination, and how to summon or invoke supernatural entities such as angels and spirits.

I would be more of at a Wicca for beginners level.  Though I find these things interesting, I have no desire to dabble in the dark or light arts. Like most people today, I view magic in its more commonly thought incarnation as entertainment and “tricks.”

Historically, magic is the practice of beliefs, rituals, and actions which are said to control and manipulate, either naturally or supernaturally, beings, and forces. It is not religion or science. Those who engage in magical practices are referred to as either magicians or witches. The former has fantasy book connotations. The latter has evil connotations. Despite plenty of negative connotations with magic throughout history, it still plays a part in many cultures today.

And, though I said it is not considered a religion, magic has played a part in some well-established religions. The angels of Christianity and Judaism have religious and magical connections. The Sefer Raziel HaMalakh is the Hebrew book of Raziel the angel. It is a grimoire of Practical Kabbalah from the Middle Ages written primarily in Hebrew and Aramaic.

Raziel was sent to Earth to teach Adam the spiritual laws of nature and life on Earth. That included knowledge of the planets and stars, the spiritual laws of creation, and the knowledge of the power of speech and thoughts. It even included knowledge about the power of a person’s soul. That’s a lot of learning. It is the knowledge needed to harmonize a physical and spiritual existence in this world.

I have found a whole figurative bookcase of writing about Wicca, Traditional Witchcraft, Hedge Witchcraft, Kitchen Witchcraft, and others.  I won’t write about them because my knowledge is limited. What I do identify with in these books and practices (and with those of the ancients) are their observances of celestial events.

In the planner book, astrological events and Moon phases are marked for each day.  Though I can’t say that I associate most celestial events with influence on me or my daily life, I do take note of the events.

I suppose over the years I have written some about topics that cross over into related topics, such as herbal uses, divination, folklore and folk traditions. These texts go into other areas that I have read about elsewhere like crystals, talismans, faeries, and spirit communication.

Wicca Moon Magic: A Wiccan’s Guide and Grimoire for Working Magic with Lunar Energies  My posts here clearly show that I pay attention to the Moon. I don’t worship it in any way, but I mark the phases. Wiccans  feel that the Moon’s influences on us is much greater than most of us.

A New Moon and Full Moon are the obvious phases for their attention but each phase of the lunar cycle is supposed to offer particular energies. For millennia, the Moon has been associated with love, passion, fertility, mystery, death and rebirth, and the afterlife.

 

Concerning the Yuletide

log-fireplace-pixa

I see that the Yule Log at Douglass College celebrates its 100th anniversary tomorrow.  This is a non-sectarian event, but this marking of the advent of winter falls on the first Sunday of the Christian Advent and the first night of Hanukkah. The Douglass College event embraces the diversity of seasonal celebrations with candles, which play a role in many observations during this time.

I attended the Yule Log celebration there my freshman year at neighboring Rutgers College and sang songs, and listened to students reading passages about the winter season.

Yule or Yuletide (“Yule time”) is a festival historically observed by Germanic peoples. It went through some remixes and later was, as many other pagan holidays, Christianised as Christmastide.

As a child, my family incorporated some of our the Austro-Hungarian traditions of our ancestors. We considered Yuletide to be a 12-day celebration (as with the more modern Twelve Days of Christmas).

“Officially” Yule 2018 will begin on the Winter Solstice on December 21 (at 5:23 PM ET for the Northern Hemisphere if you want to be Druid precise) and it will end on January 1, 2019. So, today’s post is early, but it gives you lots of time to prepare.

The most common present day custom is probably the Yule log, but there are also a Yule goat, Yule boar, Yule singing and other pagan Yule symbols.

Much earlier references to Yule are made in the Germanic month names Ærra Jéola (Before Yule) or Jiuli and Æftera Jéola (After Yule).

We also associate this time with the celebration to the Wild Hunt, the god Odin and the pagan Anglo-Saxon Mōdraniht. But you can mark the Yuletide and the winter season inside and outside your home with a variety of traditions.

I forgot this year when the first snow fell, to collect some of it for snow water – a kind of Pagan “holy” water.

I know that some people leave out birdseed ornaments and halved oranges as winter offerings to attract and aid the birds who remain for winter.

wassail

If you make some wassail, you can gather friends and go wassailing and after the sun has gone down, Sure, go ahead and burn a yule log in a bonfire, if you can.

Inside, you can make stovetop potpourri as an alternative to incense.

As the winter solstice comes upon us, get out the tarot cards and do a spread for you and your friends and see what is to come.

Hang mistletoe for protection, and also for consensual kisses. In the Christian era, mistletoe in the Western world became associated with Christmas as a decoration under which lovers are expected to kiss. It had also been considered protection from witches and demons. Mistletoe continued to be associated with fertility and vitality through the Middle Ages, and by the 18th century it had also become incorporated into Christmas celebrations around the world.

st-lucia-saffron-buns-vertical

In a cultural sense, I would be quite happy if someone decided to make me some Swedish Lussekatter rolls, or a loaf of cardamom-scented, studded with raisins and candied citron Norwegian Julekake bread. The smell of any baking in the house in winter always warms me and feels like the holiday season.

You can have a ritual bath with fresh orange slices and winter spices, such as frankincense and myrrh, or essential oils which is supposed to ensure future prosperity.

On a Winter Solstice or Yule altar you might find colors like reds, greens, whites, and metallic colors, but some holly, pine, ivy, mistletoe, juniper, or cedar greenery. The harvest can be represented by oranges, pears, nuts and berries.  Snowflake obsidian, clear quartz, or bloodstone may be found there too.

Neopaganism – and holiday rituals – can vary widely and also share similarities, having come from similar origins. Some may try to celebrate in a way as close as possible to how they believe Ancient Germanic pagans observed the tradition. Neopagan sects may celebrate Yule with a special meal and gift giving.

No matter how you treat this time of year, there are probably some roots back to the original Yuletide.

yule-16

I Just Felt Autumn

I just felt autumn as the equinox just clicked over in the Northern Hemisphere at 4:02 PM. I queued this post for that time in advance so that I could stand outside and feel it.  Okay, it’s not true that you can feel or even see anything happen at that moment.  But…

The Autumnal equinox of September happens and the astronomical start of fall in the Northern Hemisphere (and spring in the Southern Hemisphere) for a brief time is “equal night” – a day of about the same length as the night.

For real, the Sun crosses the “celestial equator.” This is an imaginary line that marks the equator on Earth extending up into the sky from north to south.

It may not happen tonight or even the next few weeks, but the days and nights are somewhat cooler in Paradelle. The days are definitely getting shorter, though that is hard to observe on any daily basis. I already had to change the setting on the timer that turns on some lights in my house.

When I say that I felt autumn, it is because as I stood outside at that moment of equinox I saw the changes in the plants around me. My vegetable garden’s leaves are turning yellow. I will start pinching out some of the tomato plant’s flowers in order to send all the energy to the remaining fruits. Some of those will never turn red and I will pick them half-ripened to falsely turn red in the house. I’ll grab some green ones before the first frost (not due around here for about another month – but no one knows for sure) and make fried green tomatoes and pickle some of them.

The squirrels have increased their activity. The chipmunks seem even more frantic than usual.

The maple leaves are changing.

In the morning when I take my coffee outside to drink, I see a few insects clinging to the screens or window glass trying to grab some house heat overnight. I find a few insects in flowers that didn’t survive the night.

In Ancient Greek mythology, the equinox is associated with the story of the abduction of Persephone. She was taken from her mother, the harvest goddess Demeter, to the underworld to become the wife of Hades, the god-king of the underworld. Demeter eventually got her daughter back from Hades, but only for nine months of the year. So, every fall Persephone would return to the underworld to spend three months with Hades. During these months, Demeter refused to use her divine skills to make plants grow, explaining why we have three months of winter every year.

Mabon is a modern Neopagan celebration which takes place around the September equinox. It is one of the six Sabbats based on the cycles of the sun. The ceremonies are based on the myth of Persephone, and it celebrates the second harvest and the start of winter preparations.

Gather at Stonehenge or Castlerigg and watch the sunrise. Respect the impending darkness; give thanks to the sunlight.

We’re Halfway There. Turn the Wheel of the Year

The Wheel of the Year in the Northern Hemisphere.
The Wheel of the Year in the Northern Hemisphere.

“Si sol splendescat Maria purificante,
major erit glacies post festum quam fuit ante.” *

Today is the exact halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Yes, it is Groundhog Day and I have written about that here before. But how many different ways can you explain the origin of our tradition of expecting an animal to predict the coming weather? I can always explain to people my love of the film Groundhog Day, but I’ve done that here too.

Today I’ll just write about the winter midpoint, also known as a cross-quarter day. No matter what that groundhog (or a badger, as the original German tradition had it) or any animal does when he pokes his head out from hibernation today, be optimistic. We are halfway through winter.

The Wheel of the Year is an annual cycle of seasonal festivals, observed by many modern Pagans. It can be considered to have either four or eight festivals. Some celebrate the four solstices and equinoxes, which are known as the “quarter days.” Some also celebrate the four midpoints between, such as today, which are known as the “cross quarter days.”

Festivals celebrating the cycle of the seasons was far more important to people in the past. You might also hear Wiccans refer to these festivals as sabbats, a term from the Middle Ages. It was probably taken partially from the Jewish Shabbat.

Today is Imbolc on the wheel, the first cross-quarter day. It is supposed to be a time for purification and spring cleaning in anticipation of the year’s new life.

ewe and lambs
In Ancient Rome, this was a shepherd’s holiday.

Among Celts, this day was associated with the onset of ewes’ lactation, prior to birthing the spring lambs. Celtic pagans dedicated this day to the goddess Brigid.

The Winter Solstice was the shortest day of the year with the fewest sunlit hours. But after that, the Sun started its return journey back toward us in the Northern Hemisphere. You didn’t notice that move back in December, but after today you can actually see and feel this gradual reappearance of the light.

Maybe you will pick up a hint of the coming of spring. Look for the first tiny buds. Some snowdrops will push their fragile blooms above the frosty soil or even through the snow.

Yes, hibernating animals are stirring in their dens and underground nests. They may even go out at night and grab a meal and then return to their winter tunnel.

If Groundhog Day seems silly, think of this as the Celtic Imbolc, or as the Chinese Li Chu’un, or the Christian Candlemas. The Latin quote at the top of this piece is a little rhyme translated as “If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, winter will have another flight. If on Candlemas Day it be shower and rain, winter is gone and will not come again.”  In other words, good weather today is a bad omen. Bad weather is a good sign.

So, don’t be concerned with midwinter divinatory practices. Spring is six weeks away. Some of those days to come will be wintery; some will be springlike.  It’s okay to hibernate for another six weeks and feel like the universe has decided that’s the way it should be.

* That quote at the top of this post is probably open to interpretation as far as the weather ahead. It translate as: “If the sun shines with Mary the mother of purifying,
after the feast of ice will be greater than it was before.”