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 people 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 were 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.

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 essay is translated as a rhyme:
“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. Reminds me of that groundhog. He sees his shadow if it is a sunny day, but that means more winter, though it would seem to indicate spring.

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 open to greater interpretation as far as the weather ahead. It literally translates as: “If the sun shines with Mary the mother of purifying, after the feast of ice will be greater than it was before.”

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.


Lammas Day

sickle and wheat harvest

First fruits
of the grain,
on ‘loaf mass’ day-
the autumn harvest has

August first is Lammas Day (Anglo-Saxon hlaf-mas, “loaf-mass”). It is sometimes known as Loaf Mass Day and is now a rather obscure Christian holiday still celebrated in some English-speaking countries in the Northern Hemisphere.

The name originates from the word “loaf” in reference to bread and “mass” in reference to the Christian liturgy celebrating Holy Communion with bread. In the early Church, it became the time for the blessing of the First Fruits of harvest. People would bring a loaf of bread made with the first harvested grains to the church for this purpose. The loaf of bread was to be made with grain harvested at Lammastide, which falls at the halfway point between the summer solstice and autumn September equinox.

I don’t recall ever celebrating this in any religious manner and my first memory of the day came when I taught Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Juliet is one of the few Shakespearean characters whose age and date of birth we know exactly. We are told that the coming Lammas Eve (July 31) would be her 14th birthday.

Juliet by J.W.Waterhouse, 1898
Young Juliet as illustrated by J.W.Waterhouse, 1898

I also learned that Wiccans use the names “Lughnasadh” or “Lammas” for the first of their autumn harvest festivals. It is one of the eight yearly “Sabbats” of their Wheel of the Year, following Midsummer and preceding Mabon. It is seen as one of the two most auspicious times for handfasting, the other being at Beltane.

Handfasting is something I have seen in ceremonies that were not at all Wiccan. Handfasting is an ancient Celtic ritual in which the hands are tied together to symbolize the binding of two lives. It has become more mainstream and is used symbolically in both religious and secular wedding vows and readings.

Walking By the New Black Moon


It was dark tonight on my walk in the woods. The days are getting shorter, but tonight is a New Moon which is sometimes called a Black Moon. That’s a popular term, not a scientific one, but the lack of a visible Moon tonight does make it a dark night.

A New Moon is the first phase of the Moon, occurring when the Moon and the Sun have the same elliptical longitude.

Halloween is a month away and the New Moon will occur in October 2016 the night before Halloween. That makes us think of the Black Moon being associated with Wicca and black magic.

Wikipedia says that a Black Moon can be a reference to any one of four astronomical events:
1. the second occurrence of a new moon in a calendar month
2. the third new moon in a season that has four of them
3. the absence of a full moon in a calendar month (which happens sometimes in February when January and March each have a second full moon)
4. the absence of a new moon in a calendar month which can only occur in February.

For some, any New Moon is a “black moon” because of the darker night.

Tonight’s Black Moon officially occurred at 8:11 p.m. ET, but for people in the Eastern Hemisphere, it will already be after midnight on Oct. 1 when it occurs. That means that on the other side of the globe it won’t technically be a “black moon” there.

Holidays guided by the lunar calendar are often made to coincide with things like the appearance of a crescent moon (which happens a few days from now). This will usher in the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, beginning Sunday evening Oct. 2, and the Islamic New Year, Muharram, on Monday, Oct. 3.

If You See A Will-o-the-Wisp Tonight

One of many Hecate items on etsy.com
This one by Pearl Whitecrow

November 16 is the Night of Hecate which begins at sunset. Hecate is the Greek goddess of the three paths, guardian of the household, protector of everything newly born, and the goddess of witchcraft.

She was once a widely revered and influential goddess, but through popular culture, her reputation and story have been twisted. She is now commonly shown as a “hag” or old witch stirring a cauldron.

This night was a celebration of the Three-formed Goddess. Hecate is part of the most ancient form of the triple Moon goddess as Crone or Dark Moon and it occurs near or on a Full Moon.

She was said to walk the roads at night, visiting cemeteries during the dark phase of the moon. She was described as shining, luminous and sometimes as invisible, seen only as a light or “will-o-the-wisp.”

A will-o’-the-wisp (ignis fatuus in Medieval Latin for  “foolish fire”) are atmospheric “ghost lights” seen by travelers at night. Often seen over bogs, swamps or marshes, they resemble a flickering lamp. Legend has it that they recede if approached and thereby lure the traveler  from the safe path.

This phenomenon is known by a variety of names, including jack-o’-lantern, hinkypunk, and hobby lantern in English folk belief.

The term “will-o’-the-wisp” comes from “wisp”, a bundle of sticks or paper sometimes used as a torch, and the name “Will.” Attaching a man’s name to these folk beliefs was fairly common – such as jack-o’-lantern for “Jack of [the] lantern.”

In the United States, they are often called “spook-lights”, “ghost-lights”, or “orbs” and are written about by both folklorists and paranormal enthusiasts.

It was said that this night was when Hecate’s supper at the Crossroads took place. People who worshiped Hecate honored her by performing sympathetic Magick and they would hold a supper at what they believed to be the Crossroads. It was much later that American blues songs began to use the Crossroads as a meeting place with the Devil.

Hecate’s original mythology portrayed her not as an old hag, but as a beautiful and powerful goddess. She was the only one of the ancient Titans who Zeus allowed to retain their authority once the Olympians seized control.

Zeus shared with Hecate, and only her, the power of giving humanity anything she wished, or withholding it if she pleased.

A lover of solitude, Hecate was a “virgin” goddess, unwilling to give up her freedom for marriage.

Hecate was usually depicted with her sacred dogs which were said to have three heads to see in all directions – including the past, present, and future. In the myth of the abduction of Persephone, Hecate saw and told Demeter what had become of her daughter.

Sometimes nicknamed the “Queen of the Night,” and walking with “ghosts” and other social outcasts, she was often accompanied on her travels by an owl, a symbol of wisdom. Though not a goddess of traditional wisdom, she was thought to have a special type of knowledge. In modern times, she has been made the goddess of trivia – something I fear has made her angry.

She could help the elderly make the transition into the next life in the way that a hospice nurse might today.

If you are out and about tonight, let us know if you see any ghost lights, will-o-the-wisps, three-headed dogs, or any strange doings at a place where three roads converged (what we often call a “Y-intersection” these days). Hecate will do you no harm.

a scientific explanation of the will-o-the-wisp
more on the Night of Hecate and her mythology

Black Moon Rising


I wrote earlier about the idea that a New Moon is sometimes called a Black Moon.  The Black Moon dates for 2014 included January when a  new moon occurred on both Jan 1st and the 30th. The same is true this month with a new moon on both the 1st and again on the 30th. That second new moon is considered a Black Moon.

In some aspects of Paganism, particularly amongst Wiccans, the Black Moon is considered to be a special time when any rituals, spells, or other workings are considered to be more powerful and effective. This doesn’t seem to be universally true and some groups seem to only consider it a normal occurrence of a dark moon. I have even seen some posts online that say that no rituals should be conducted at these times.

Whatever your beliefs, these are dark nights and it has an odd feeling, especially on a clear night, to not see the Moon in the sky.