Archives For Winter

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[Photo Credit: 22860 / Flickr]

Today, the U.S. honors Martin Luther King Jr. Public schools, government offices and many businesses are closed in order to recognize his work and sacrifice, as well as the staggering influence that his message has had on American society. Many Pagans, Polytheists and Heathens across the country are participating in local activities, both small and large, to recognize Dr. King and his influence.

Some choose to honor his work within the privacy of their practice. For example, T. Thorn Coyle noted that “Solar Cross Devotional will honor the legacy of Dr. King, focusing on economic and racial justice.” However, many others are attending larger public community events such as the second annual #96Hours action held this weekend in California’s Bay Area.

Organized by the Anti Police-Terror Organization, the #96Hours event consists of a weekend of scheduled actions, including protests, interfaith vigils, rallies and other activities, culminating in a march through the city of Oakland. Groups and individuals participating in the various activities include members of Coru Cathubodua, Solar Cross Temple, Golden Gate Kindred and more. Brennos Agrocunos, Vice Chief, Coru Cathubodua Priesthood said, “As Coru priests committed to core values of sovereignty, kinship, warriorship, and service, one of the ways we enact these values is in the streets standing shoulder to shoulder with members of all faiths in our communities, calling for justice and an end to oppression, and providing medical and logistical support to other activists.” We will have more details, including photos, tomorrow.

While King’s words and his life had a very specific purpose during a very tumultuous period in U.S. history, over time his message has been distilled down and come to permeate U.S. culture with a meaning that far exceeds the focused goals of that particular decade. In the wake of this past year’s events, King’s message appears to be returning with such a force, in many ways, to its very origins, regaining a new vitality and forward momentum. In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds. – Dr. Martin Luther King, a Letter from Birmingham Jail

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sharon knightOn Jan. 23, musicians Sharon Knight and Winter will be awarded the Lost Chord Award by the Society for Ritual Arts (SRA) in Berkeley, California. They are being honored for production of The Portals Project. As explained on the website, “Our honorees combine a love of antiquity and romance with an affinity for the haunting and melancholy, adding a hearty dash of feistiness, and reminding us that we can all see the world through the eyes of enchantment.”

Organizers go on to say, “The Lost Chord Award is given annually […] to a musician or musical group for work that embodies the mission of the Society – to inspire a spiritual sense of wonder, awe or connectedness.” Knight and Winter will be the organization’s first honorees.

The ceremony will be held at the Northbrae Community Church in Berkeley, California. It will begin with a meet-and-greet at 6pm, which will be followed by performances by harpist Diana Rowan, fiddle player Michael Mullen, indie band Imager, singer Margaret Davis, and Hungarian shaman Ivan Szendro. The convocation will be given by Chief Luisah Teish and keynote by author Diana Paxson.

Tickets are available on the event site, and all proceeds got to Knight and Winter’s Portals project and to the SRA. For those not in the area, SRA also plans on streaming the event.

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2000px-Pentacle_on_white.svgIn October 2015, Elder High Priestess and founder of the Gaia Group Crystal Tier died, after a long life of dedication to spiritual exploration and leadership in the New Jersey Pagan community. Crystal was born into a New Jersey musical family as Christine Gittler. She loved animals and reading and, due to a transient lifestyle, was often the caretaker of her younger siblings.

In her teens, Christine began her spiritual journeying, moving to Italy to join a rigorous Benedictine order of Catholic nuns called the Disciples of the Divine Master. When the order didn’t appeal to her, she returned to the U.S. to study with another group called the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Although she didn’t take her final vows, she was able to teach in schools across the country.

However, by the 1970s, Christine’s spiritual life took a turn. She began studying with Raymond Buckland’s group on Long Island and, while there, she met her life partner Roger Tier. Together, the two eventually founded their own magical tradition called The Gaia Group, and grew to become vocal environmental and political activists, which led to the creation of The World Peace Network. Christine and Roger continued this public work over the following two decades.

In her later years, Christina suffered from Multiple Sclerosis and spent much of her time studying yoga, knitting and writing letters. Her husband Roger died suddenly on Samhain 2011, and her own disease only worsened, leaving her crippled with pain. On Oct. 9, 2015, Christine died peacefully in a New Jersey nursing home. High Priestess and friend Francesca Ciancimino Howell said, “Crystal was an enlightened, truly awake soul. We of The Gaia Group and The Temple of Gaia were privileged to have known her as Initiator.” What is remembered, lives.

In Other News:

  • Immanion Press has released the long-awaited book: The Pagan Leadership Anthology: An Exploration of Leadership and Community in Paganism and Polytheism. Within its 340 pages, this new anthology, edited by Taylor Ellwood and Shauna Aura Knight, includes 30 essays by 30 different authors, who share “their failures and successes as leaders as well as [show] you how you can become a better Pagan leader.” The book is available directly through the Immanion Press website.
  • In February, Starhawk will be in New York City to facilitate a workshop and ritual with BrightFlameThe event, called Stories for the Future, will “explore our ancestral and personal stories,” culminating “in a powerful ritual of collective myth creation.” Organizers explain, “Stories shape our imagination and our ideas of the possible. How can we use the power of story to help us envision a positive future, and inspire people to want to work towards it? Stir in a little magic–the art of shaping and shifting consciousness, of connecting with the deep creative energies of nature, bending time and opening awareness.” Starhawk will also be available to sign copies of her new book. Stories for the Future will take place on Saturday, February 20th in the Westbeth Community Center.  Tickets are on sale now.
  • Green Egg Magazine has announced that it is currently seeking submissions of “original works, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, politics, art, photography, and music,” for the 2016 Spring issue. Editors are also asking any authors who would like their books reviewed to contact them via email. The announcement reads, “We’re looking for writers with knowledge and experience in any issue that is of interest to Pagans, Wiccans, Witches, etc.”  Green Egg Magazine was founded by Oberon Zell in 1969.
  • Two conferences are quickly approaching. In Claremont, California, the Conference of Current Pagan Studies will open its doors on Jan. 23. “This academic conference welcomes the community to be part” of the effort to demonstrate that Pagan Studies is “a legitimate field of study.” Then, on the following weekend on Jan 29, EarthSpirit’s Feast of Lights will welcome its guests to Amherst, Massachusetts. “A Feast of Lights is weekend of warmth at the coldest time of the year – a festival of Earth spirituality and the arts, of community and hope, of tradition and creativity.”
  • For our readers in Australia, the Tasmanian Pagan Alliance is preparing for its upcoming annual Harvest Festival. The event includes “Workshops, Bread Making, Craft Activities, Bardic Circle, Communal Harvest Altar, Ritual, Feasting, Dancing and Trade Table/Market Stalls.” This year’s theme “Celebrating the sweetness of the Wild Harvest.” Harvest Festival 2016 will be held Jan 29 – 31 in Forth, Tasmania.
  • And, lastly, we say goodbye to British actor Alan Rickman. What is remembered, lives.

Canada is a country known worldwide as a snowy and cold winter wonderland. Our national identity is forever marked by images of hockey players, snowmobiles, dogsleds and toques (a French Canadian word for a wool hat). By the time we reach Winter Solstice, the dark of winter is upon us. Sub-zero temperatures and cruel wind chill drives people indoors to keep warm. In the depth of winter, average temperatures vary from zero degrees Celsius on the West Coast and minus ten degrees Celsius on the East Coast, with the deep freeze of minus 22 degrees on the prairies in the middle of the country. Even with the mild temperatures provided by this year’s El Nino weather pattern, ice and snow abound. The short daylight hours contribute to Seasonal Affective Disorder, and other mental health issues. What is a Canadian Pagan to do?

Snowstorm, Montreal [Photo Credit: Mourial / Wikipedia]

Snowstorm, Montreal [Photo Credit: Mourial / Wikipedia]

For many Pagan folk, embracing the local landscape and climate becomes a deeply spiritual act. For Montreal, Quebec based Bard and storyteller, JD “Hobbes” Hickey, winter is a time to reflect and contemplate:

I think it’s important to build a healthy relationship with the realities of winter by immersing ourselves in the winter reality of cold, snow, and ice. If there’s one thing that unites Canadians, it’s complaining about winter. But in a spiritual setting, I would rather focus on the beauty of winter and building a healthy relationship with it. If you don’t respect the reality of winter, it can quite literally kill you. But if you prepare for winter, there are many beautiful aspects of it that people can appreciate if they make the time to notice it.

As the long dark nights and deep cold drive us indoors, solitary practice can be enhanced by the opportunities of winter, and devotional practice can go deep. Angela Grey, a Witch from Winnipeg, Manitoba, a city that made headlines in 2013 for being colder than planet Mars,  takes advantage of the dark half of the year to perform deeply personal work:

As a Canadian Pagan, my ritual year is divided into two distinct halves. The warm part of the year is about community: the cold half of the year is for me. That’s the time I set aside to do research, catch up on my reading, and focus on the private rituals that make up my personal path.  And my annual rituals to the Cailleach are the line that separates the two.

All through the summer, her candle sits veiled in grey and undisturbed in a little niche on my wall altar. But as soon as the first snow falls, I know that her half of the year has begun. That night, I take down her simple blue candle, and carefully unwrap it from its silver veil. I set it in front of the beautiful tapestry a friend made for me, and open my craft room window so the cold can come flooding in. I light the candle, and recite the invocation I wrote just for Her. “I call to the Bringer of Storms; I call to the Frost Bearer, the Blue Faced Hag; To She who stirs the cauldron at Corryvrekan; I call to the Grey Veiled Walker in the Night . . . ”

I don’t call too loud, or too long; I’m not sure I want the full attention of the fearsome power that is stirring to walk the land. When I think I have called Her just enough, I offer Her a simple meal of scotch and welsh cakes. It’s a small thing, but I hope that She’ll remember this token of respect in the coming months; that She’ll step around me when I’m caught out in the weather, and refrain from pushing my car off an icy road at night.

This ritual isn’t tied to a particular calendar date. Rather, it is done on the day of the first significant snowfall of the season.  This can have some odd consequences. I traveled [sic] a lot this fall, so over the course of a couple of weeks, I was present for the first snowfall in three different provinces. Rather than picking one of the days as the “true” arrival of the Cailleach, I ended up doing the ritual on three separate occasions. All through the winter, Her candle sits unveiled in its niche, available for me to take down an use in ritual. When the last of the snow melts in the spring, I give her one last offering, and veil it again for the summer months.

Ritual for The Cailleach. Photo by Angela Grey

Ritual for The Cailleach. [Photo Credit: Angela Grey]

In the darkest days of the long winter, some Pagans are still enjoying festival season. Tribal Hearth, a polytheistic group of volunteers and like-minded individuals, host Northern Lights Gathering, an intensive winter weekend each February at the Mansfield Activity Centre, in the rolling countryside an hour and a half north of Toronto, Ontario. The 2016 edition of this event sold out in ten hours, proving that the prospect of spending a weekend at a forest retreat in the cold has appeal to the local Pagan folk, and the landscape of winter appeals to all ages. According to event organizer Jessica Kelly:

Tribal Hearth uses the landscape to help shape sacred space. We’ve sent the children out to “paint” the snow or make ice lanterns that we use in ritual. We’ve even used snowballs in ritual. Watching elders spontaneously hop on a sled and hit the hills or a snow ball fight breaking out on the way back in from ritual reminds us that winter is not only a time for reflection but fun as well. Our participants are reminded to bring warm winter gear, some gleefully buy snow pants for the first time since they were children!

After outdoor activities our amazing caterers offer hot chocolate and discussions happen around the hearth fire in the main room.  A lot of planning goes into accommodating the unpredictable weather. This past year it was so cold that we could only have people outside for 10 minutes tops before the threat of frostbite was a real thing, so it became the biggest pagan pajama party going. This atmosphere inspires conversation. It’s a great opportunity to get to know people better, and it helps bridge the gap between generations.

The Frost Giant arrives at Northern Lights Gathering. Courtesy photo

The Frost Giant arrives at Northern Lights Gathering. [Courtesy Photo]

Yule is the big celebration of the season for many of us, and gathering together outside feels like the natural thing to do – even if it means facing ice and snow. Stephen Hergest, High Priest of the Evergreen Tradition in Calgary, Alberta, braves the elements to watch the sun rise every Winter Solstice morning, and has for the last twenty winters, at a local stone circle known as the Strathcona Stones:

Calgary weather is notoriously unpredictable. Sometimes the sky is too overcast for the Sun to make an appearance. Sometimes there’s a clear gap at the horizon where the Sun makes a brief appearance and vanishes again.  I’ve had to trudge around the circle through small drifts of snow, or over hard-packed ice. Sometimes the temperatures are bitterly cold, with brisk winds, and I’ve had to huddle against the tallest stone to keep out of the wind. I’ve occasionally been the only one up there. We always recommend to dress warmly because of the wind. I usually wear insulated snow boots, long underwear, layers of clothing, gloves, and a heavy parka with a toque and hood. Sometimes we’ll delay the start time to make the wait as short as possible.

There is perhaps a certain sense of irony, even ridiculousness, that the mysterious figures performing the solstice ritual are hooded with insulated parkas, their faces barely visible not only for effect or privacy, but merely to keep out the cold and to prevent frostbite. The ceremonial staff the leader carries is there to provide support while walking through the snow, and to have something to hold on to as he waits for the Sun to rise.

The Strathcona Stones, in Calgary, AB

The Strathcona Stones, in Calgary, AB. Photo by Stephen Hergest

Back in Montreal, JD “Hobbes” Hickey is putting a Pagan spin on the idea of seasonal letter writing. He has created the Solstice Dispatch Service, inviting Pagan children of all ages to write to the Oak and Holly Kings:

The idea stems around one of my favorite Yuletide myths: the battle between the Oak King and the Holly King. Being servants to their people, I saw a link between their regal countenances and the gentle generosity of Santa Claus and I decided to start my own Yuletide tradition: writing letters to the Oak King. The rules are that the letters must be hand-written and sent by post (no email!). Once received, they will be read and responded to with another hand-written letter, signed by the Solstice Kings themselves.

Since we announced the service on Social Media, we have been receiving many inquiries about how this would work. Can we write to the Oak King? Can we write to Odin instead? What about the Yule Fairies? We accept all forms of correspondence. And it’s not just children writing to the Oak Kings. We’ve received a dozen letters so far and only a third of them are from children or teens! It seems that everyone has a reason to write down their hopes and dreams for a brighter new year and send it off into the universe to hope for a reply.

Hickey adds that if this service proves to be a success, he may expand it to the Summer Solstice. If the demand exceeds his budget, he is considering exploring crowd funding to cover his operating costs.

JD "Hobbes" Hickey, Bard, storyteller and Solstice Dispatch Service operator. Courtesy photo..

JD “Hobbes” Hickey, Bard, storyteller and Solstice Dispatch Service operator. [Courtesy Photo]

Winter has offered Pagans in Canada an opportunity develop our own Pagan cultural traditions and practices. How we embrace the environment and its challenges informs not only how and where we worship and celebrate, but sometimes even who our Gods are. For part of the year the ceremonial garb includes long underwear and a toque, and the ritual cup holds hot chocolate instead of wine.

A Blessed Samhain

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 31, 2013 — 4 Comments

Tonight and tomorrow is when most modern Pagans celebrate Samhain. Samhain is the start of winter and of the new year in the old Celtic calendar. This is a time when the ancestors are honored, divinations for the new year are performed, and festivals are held in honor of the gods. It is a time of final harvest before the long winter ahead. It is perhaps the best-known and most widely celebrated of the modern Pagan holidays.

An ancestor altar.

An ancestor altar.

“[Samhain] marks the beginning of an entire new cycle. With the return of Darkness, the Year itself returns to the Otherworld womb from which it will grow to blossom again. All true growth takes place in darkness: the source of vitality is in the unconscious, before consciousness discovers the limiting forms of rationality.” – Alexei Kondratiev, The Apple Branch

This time of year also sees the celebration of Velu Laiks (“the time of spirits”) by Baltic PagansWinter Nights by Asatru in mid-October, Foundation Night in Ekklesía AntínoouFete Gede by Vodou practitioners, Día de los Muertos for followers of Santeria and several indigenous religions in Mexico and Latin America, Diwali for Hindus (November 3rd this year), and astrological “true” Samhain on November 7th for some Witches and Druids. In addition, Pagans in the Southern Hemisphere are currently celebrating Beltane.

It is a time when some communities acknowledge the Mighty Dead.

“The Mighty Dead are said to be those practitioners of our religion who are on the Other Side now, but who still take great interest in the activities of Witches on this side of the Veil. They have pledged to watch, to help and to teach. It is those Mighty Dead who stand behind us, or with us, in circle so frequently.”

Zan's memorial with Gary Suto (left, with flaming mandala) and parents Kay and Bruce Skidmore (to right of Gary).

Zan Fraser’s memorial.

Many who have been dear to our communities have crossed the veil this past year, joining the ranks of the Mighty Dead, including Layne Redmond, Nevill DruryMestre Didi, Zan Fraser, Allan Lowe, Peggy Hall, Lee Thompson Young, Barbara MertzRituparno Ghosh, Laura Janesdaughter, Victor Elon Anderson, Kyril Oakwind, Dennis Presser, Deena Celeste Buttta, George Lee, and Patricia Monaghan.

“I love that story about Susan Anthony that Zsuzsanna Budapest tells in her book. Some journalist asked Susan Anthony, because she didn’t believe in orthodox religion, I suppose, “Where do you think you’re to go when you die?” She said, “I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to stay around and help the women’s movement.” So even if I don’t live long enough to see these things, I’ll be around to make a nuisance of myself.” –Doreen Valiente, the Mother of Modern Witchcraft.

Below you’ll find an assortment of quotes from the media, and fellow Pagans, during this holiday season.

Joseph Mugnaini’s cover illustration for The Halloween Tree, by Ray Bradbury (1972)

Joseph Mugnaini’s cover illustration for The Halloween Tree, by Ray Bradbury (1972)

  • “It’s appropriate to do a saining of the home with juniper — a New Year tradition in the highlands of Scotland — and to set up altars or shrines for the ancestors. On the night of Oíche Shamhna, many of us hold a feast with our friends and family where we invite the honored dead to come and feast with us. A place of honor is laid at the table or on the altar, where the first food of the feast and cups full of drink are placed for the dead. This portion of the food is never eaten by the living, but is instead offered outside when the feast is done. Candles are often lit for the dead, and their names are spoken. Tales about their lives are shared and toasts might be made in their names. Divination is another common feature of this festival, and readings are often done to get a feel for the luck of the coming year.”The CR FAQ
  • “We’ve been doing the Ancestor Vigil here for about 20 years and every year it is a little different but the intention is always the same. It is not a Samhain ritual, it is not a celebration of Hallowe’en, it does not glom onto the trendy love of Dia de los Muertes. It is a ritual commemoration of the Recent Dead, the Beloved Long Dead and the Mighty Dead. We set up a central altar, a candle-lighting station and a place to get more info on Mother Grove Goddess Temple and to leave your food donations for the food pantry. People are invited to place mementos on the altar and there is a place in the ritual where we speak the names of the dead that are closest to us.”Byron Ballard
  • “We see the Hallowmas Woman in the stark November landscape, with its muted tones of olive, ochre, sienna brown. We find her in a cold statue in a graveyard, garlanded with dead roses, thorns, and blood-red rosehips. We see her in fogbound mornings when there is no distinction between sea, stones, and sky, and the Otherworld is just a step away. She lives within the brief days and long nights that draw us toward withdrawal and cocooning. The Hallowmas woman rests. She withdraws into herself. It is not a time of connection. She prefers her own company, turning down invitations to gather with others. The midwinter holidays will be here soon enough.” – Joanna Powell Colbert
  • “In Afro-Caribbean Religions like Voodoo, Vodou, and Lukumi or Santeria the true spirits of Halloween are the ancestors. Festivities run from October 30th to November 2nd. There are delectable dumb supper feasts, elaborate ancestors altars and offerings galore. It’s a time for reconnecting, remembering and honoring all those who have gone before. It is their blood that runs through our veins, they are the primary reason we are here.”Lilith Dorsey
  • “When I think of Samhain I think of the thinning of the veil between the worlds. In my grand model of the Universe – the constantly revised mental map I use to orient myself and make sense of my experiences – the veil is less a thing and more a condition.  It’s possible to travel from this world to the Otherworld at any time.  Drumming, dancing, and ritual can facilitate a meditative journey, as can skilled guides.  But at certain times and places these journeys are easier than at others. Traditionally, in-between times and places are most auspicious:  twilight, seashores, doorways – neither day nor night, neither land nor sea, neither within nor without.  Samhain, which literally means “Summer’s end,” is neither Summer nor Winter.  This is an ideal time to journey to the Otherworld to visit with our ancestors, to gather knowledge and wisdom, and to perform divinations.”John Beckett

May you all have a blessed Samhain, blessings to you, and your beloved dead on this season. Let this new cycle be one of great blessings for all of you.

Io Saturnalia!

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 17, 2012 — 3 Comments

“The healthy being craves an occasional wildness, a jolt from normality, a sharpening of the edge of appetite, his own little festival of Saturnalia, a brief excursion from his way of life.” – Robert Morrison MacIver

A very merry, and joyous, Saturnalia to all those who celebrate it, knowingly or not.

The Temple of Saturn, Villa Torlonia, Rome (Shutterstock)

The Temple of Saturn, Villa Torlonia, Rome

“The Saturnalia was the most popular holiday of the Roman year. Catullus (XIV) describes it as “the best of days,” and Seneca complains that the “whole mob has let itself go in pleasures” (Epistles, XVIII.3). Pliny the Younger writes that he retired to his room while the rest of the household celebrated (Epistles, II.17.24). It was an occasion for celebration, visits to friends, and the presentation of gifts, particularly wax candles (cerei), perhaps to signify the returning light after the solstice, and sigillaria. Martial wrote Xenia and Apophoreta for theSaturnalia. Both were published in December and intended to accompany the “guest gifts” which were given at that time of year. Aulus Gellius relates that he and his Roman compatriots would gather at the baths in Athens, where they were studying, and pose difficult questions to one another on the ancient poets, a crown of laurel being dedicated to Saturn if no-one could answer them (Attic Nights, XVIII.2).”

So get out your statue of Saturn, or if you don’t have one, I suppose a statue of Santa will have to do, place him on your best couch, and let the merriment begin!

“According to the Augustan historian Livy, following the sacrifice the Roman senate arranged a lectisternium, a ritual of Greek origin that typically involved placing the deity’s image on a sumptuous couch, as if he were present and actively participating in the festivities. A public banquet was held (convivium publicum), and afterward the shouting of io Saturnalia began, originally only on the single day.”

Those floppy red Santa hats? Also very appropriate for Saturnalia!

“One of the things I discovered in my research is that people wore a distinctive the floppy cap at Saturnalia known as a pileus or cap of liberty (see photo above, coin on the left). It was worn by ex-slaves  to symbolise their freedom. The custom of slaves and masters swapping places made thepileus the customary headware during the Saturnalia festivities. The pileus presumably is where Santa’s cap comes from. The next time you see revellers wearing the red and white  Christmas hat think about the ancient Romans and their slaves.”

As history professor, and Catholic priest, Gregory Elder points out: now is a time to loosen the bonds of our daily lives.

“In ordinary time, women and slaves were forbidden wine, but this rule was relaxed for the holiday. Likewise all restrictions on gambling were suspended, schools were closed, and people gave one another inexpensive presents, such as knives or dice. The toga, the mark of male citizens, was never worn, but colorful party clothes. The custom was also to wear a pointy skull cap, shaped like a small cone, rather like a pointy fez, called a “pileus.” Ordinarily, the pileus was worn only by freed slaves to commemorate their new liberations, but now everyone wore it, perhaps to represent that they were freed from the restrictions of ordinary life. In ordinary time, the statue of Saturn in the temple was tied with ropes, but on this festival, the ropes were undone, perhaps to represent a general loosening of old restrictions. A general tone of revelry prevailed in the Roman community.”

So lets start off this Winter holiday season by being a bit more charitable, a bit more fun, and a bit more open to reversing the norms of our daily lives. Io Saturnalia!

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up. This week, I unleash the special yuletide holiday hounds (they’re like the regular hounds, but with festive accessories) and bring you a collection of links that leans towards matters seasonal.

That’s all I have for now, I hope all my readers have had/will have a festive holiday season, whatever your faith or tradition.

A Blessed Solstice

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 21, 2011 — 22 Comments

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire:  it is the time for home.”Edith Sitwell

Tonight and tomorrow (depending on where you live) is the Winter Solstice (unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere, then it’s the Summer Solstice), traditionally thought to be the longest night and shortest day of the year (though not actually).

A view of Winter from Eugene, Oregon.
A view of Winter from Eugene, Oregon.

This time of year is held sacred by many modern Pagan and Heathen traditions, and has a rich history in ancient pagan religion.

The solstice time was marked as special by pre-historic peoples in both Ireland and England. While there is scant evidence of specific celebrations, it is generally thought that the pagan Celts did mark the solstice time.

Germanic pagans and modern Heathens celebrate Yule at this time. During this holiday the god Freyr was honored. Several traditions we associate with Christmas (eating a ham, hanging holly, mistletoe) come from Yule.

The ancient pagan Romans celebrated Saturnalia which typically ran from December 17th through the 23rd. The festival honored the god Saturn and featured lavish parties and role-reversals. From Saturnalia we can see the traditions of exchanging gifts and decorating evergreen trees indoors that would be adopted as Christmas traditions. Following Saturnalia were the birth celebrations in honor of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun) and Mithras both held on December 25th.

Many modern Pagans, including Wiccans, Witches, several Druidic traditions, and their many off-shoots hold this time as one of the eight Sabbats/holy days. Usually called Winter Solstice or Yule. It is a time when many of these traditions celebrate the re-birth of the god by the mother goddess.

Here are some quotes on our winter observances.

“But all this playful artifice had a very serious underside, a brooding quality designed to carry us across the threshold of the winter solstice. These are the dark days, the short days, the cold days in the northern hemisphere. Yet before this festival was finished (another reason, perhaps, for defending the full week’s celebration) the days began to lengthen again. That astronomic fact may be the secret to understanding the symbolics of the thing in any case.”Louis A. Ruprecht, Religion Dispatches

“[Alison] Skelton, 52, is daughter of the late University of Victoria poet Robin Skelton, who identified as a witch in his later years. From her father, Skelton, a psychic and painter, learned of the power of being transformed by the “spell-like qualities” of both art and Earth-based paganism. Skelton maintains pagans were originators of common Christmas customs involving star-topped evergreen trees (with the lights signifying “spirit”) and seasonal gift-giving (“to redistribute wealth”). “Pagan traditions are focused on the sacredness of nature. At Yule we want to encourage the light to return” from out of the creative darkness, says Skelton.”Doug Todd, The Vancouver Sun

“For millennia winter has been a time for festivals and meaningful celebrations, so “happy holidays” encompasses multiple traditions. This year I was invited to join in a different holiday tradition – the yule log in celebration of winter solstice, when the sun slowly lengthens its daily presence. After an offering was given for its gift, this locally harvested log had little holes drilled in it to receive slips of paper with the participants’ hopes for the coming year. Once filled, the log is burned and voices lift in song. My invitation came from a kind-eyed Wicca priestess with a warm home and lovely holiday tree topped with a pointy hat, although Yule isn’t restricted to Wiccan tradition.” – Sholeh Patrick, Coeur d’Alene Press

“From Europe to Asia, this ebbing and timid returning of the light is celebrated and longed for. In Scandinavian and Germanic countries around this time they celebrate Saint Lucia, bedecking a chosen girl in white robes with a blood-red sash and sending her around to work healing miracles. Belgium is home to the Koleduvane festival, which celebrates the birth of the sun. And Poland has the festival of Gody, during which people forgive one another and share food.”Indian Country Today Media Network

“The winter solstice gives us the opportunity to connect to our past and the earth. We should welcome both. Our past includes our pagan ancestors who deified the earth and its elements, its seasons, its natural forces. They understood the earth and belonged to it in a way that modern humankind has largely forgotten.”Will Moredock, Charleston City Paper

In addition to these written odes to the season, I also encourage to listen to a special seasonal song written and performed by T. Thorn Coyle, available for download at  Bandcamp (on a somewhat lighter note, Celtic folk-rock band Emerald Rose’s seasonal ditty “Santa Claus Is Pagan Too” is now available as a free MP3 download). No matter what your religion or tradition, may this year’s winter celebrations and observances bring you peace and joy!

Io Saturnalia!

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 17, 2011 — 8 Comments

“The healthy being craves an occasional wildness, a jolt from normality, a sharpening of the edge of appetite, his own little festival of Saturnalia, a brief excursion from his way of life.” – Robert Morrison MacIver

A very merry, and joyous, Saturnalia to all those who celebrate it, knowingly or not.

The Temple of Saturn, Villa Torlonia, Rome (Shutterstock)

The Temple of Saturn, Villa Torlonia, Rome

“The Saturnalia was the most popular holiday of the Roman year. Catullus (XIV) describes it as “the best of days,” and Seneca complains that the “whole mob has let itself go in pleasures” (Epistles, XVIII.3). Pliny the Younger writes that he retired to his room while the rest of the household celebrated (Epistles, II.17.24). It was an occasion for celebration, visits to friends, and the presentation of gifts, particularly wax candles (cerei), perhaps to signify the returning light after the solstice, and sigillaria. Martial wrote Xenia and Apophoreta for theSaturnalia. Both were published in December and intended to accompany the “guest gifts” which were given at that time of year. Aulus Gellius relates that he and his Roman compatriots would gather at the baths in Athens, where they were studying, and pose difficult questions to one another on the ancient poets, a crown of laurel being dedicated to Saturn if no-one could answer them (Attic Nights, XVIII.2).”

So get out your statue of Saturn, or if you don’t have one, I suppose a statue of Santa will have to do, place him on your best couch, and let the merriment begin!

“According to the Augustan historian Livy, following the sacrifice the Roman senate arranged a lectisternium, a ritual of Greek origin that typically involved placing the deity’s image on a sumptuous couch, as if he were present and actively participating in the festivities. A public banquet was held (convivium publicum), and afterward the shouting of io Saturnalia began, originally only on the single day.”

As history professor, and Catholic priest, Gregory Elder points out: now is a time to loosen the bonds of our daily lives.

“In ordinary time, women and slaves were forbidden wine, but this rule was relaxed for the holiday. Likewise all restrictions on gambling were suspended, schools were closed, and people gave one another inexpensive presents, such as knives or dice. The toga, the mark of male citizens, was never worn, but colorful party clothes. The custom was also to wear a pointy skull cap, shaped like a small cone, rather like a pointy fez, called a “pileus.” Ordinarily, the pileus was worn only by freed slaves to commemorate their new liberations, but now everyone wore it, perhaps to represent that they were freed from the restrictions of ordinary life. In ordinary time, the statue of Saturn in the temple was tied with ropes, but on this festival, the ropes were undone, perhaps to represent a general loosening of old restrictions. A general tone of revelry prevailed in the Roman community.”

So lets start off this Winter holiday season by being a bit more charitable, a bit more fun, and a bit more open to reversing the norms of our daily lives. Io Saturnalia!