Archives For Winter Solstice

Kari Tauring.

Kari Tauring [Courtesy Photo]

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA –The time around the winter solstice is, in the far northern parts of the northern hemisphere, a period of deep darkness. Many northern-based spiritual traditions, including forms of modern Heathenry and similar paths, have rich traditions, which involve dealing with this darkness in the physical world, as well as on emotional and spiritual levels.

Artist Kari Tauring, who has been exploring these concepts for some time, created a show called Winter Solstice in the Northlands, which she had been staging annually from 1999 to 2006. This December, after an eight year hiatus, she brought the show back to life.

We were able to catch up with Tauring in between her performances to ask her about the production and her background.

For the past twenty years I have worked as a musician and ritual artist, helping others create ceremony around transitional times. I don’t work with any one specific group. I was ordained through the Church of Spiritual Humanism in order to complete ceremonial paperwork [for weddings and other rites of passage]. Most people know me as a Nordic roots musician, story teller, and staff carrier or völva.

Since I grew up in an ethnic enclave of Norwegian Americans, it was natural to begin digging down the root of my folk tradition to find the sources in the very ancient material. I began studying the runes in 1989. Beginning in 2003, I began working with staff and stick (stav and tein) for rhythm, breath, alignment with the world tree, journey and rune song, a spiritual method called ‘volva stav.’ I served Heathenry in the Midwest formally as völva from 2010 until 2014, elected by the council at Midwest Thing held in Kansas. I also serve the Lutheran community as educator and spiritual facilitator. Everyone wants to know what their roots are and see how they connect.”

In December, Tauring told the MinnPost that unlike many solstice and holiday performances, this is not a “family-friendly” show. It is instead designed to be an intense exploration of the darkness. “We’re just told, ‘Everything’s going to be fine, and if you feel empty, just buy more stuff and if you don’t feel good after the holidays it’s because you have to shop better next year,’ ” said Tauring. “But this time of year is an opportunity to, from an ancient Nordic mindset, explore the origins of your own darkness.”

For this production, that means, “It’s not going to be all doom and gloom, but it also helps people to say, ‘It’s okay if you’re not happy at this time of year because this is the height of seasonal effective [sic] disorder; this is the height of not being in a happy place, and it’s okay and here are some tools.'”

Why resurrect the show now, after all this time? For years Tauring also produced family-friendly solstice shows with singing and puppets. She told the MinnPost that her kids are now grown and that she “wanted to shift … from the community-building to something more intense, because it’s been a really intense year with a lot of darkness in it.”

Not surprisingly, some of the tools Tauring uses in the show are runes. She explained a bit about how the tool is incorporated. “Ice and Fire are the first elements of creation in Norse mythology. One of the pieces in this production dealt primarily with the elements of creation and the process of creation and destruction. The runes for ice and fire play an obvious role here. One piece, Avalanche Runedance, was based on a rune stone from Hogganvik, Norway. The alphabet magic/prayers on this stone are really beautiful. I have been working at performing this stone for a few years and in this production I use my musical performance as a sound track for an interpretive dance.”

[Courtesy Photo]

Tauring teaching [Courtesy Photo]

In contrast to surrounding oneself with as much light as possible, as is typical in the United States for many cultural and religious paths, Tauring explained:

The Northern way of dealing with cold and dark is not to fight it. We embrace the sadness. We leave room to feel it. The juletide is a season, not a singular event. It lasted for twenty days in the not so olden times. In modern Scandinavia they still take at least two weeks off to ‘deal’ with the darkness. Another important thing is the lack of future tense . . . Old Norse and Finnish . . . don’t have a future tense, so the way the mind works is different. The names for the ‘fates’ are Is, Becoming, and Should. I am offering an ancient way of ’embracing the void’ and being present in the ‘becoming’ and creating of the past. And a way to be in relationship with the darkness.

Central to the performance, as Taurig presents, is the Norse concept of öorlog, which she defines on her own website as, “the summation of an individual human inheritance (physical, spiritual, ancestral, environmental and cultural).” It carries the experiences, behaviors, traumas, and traditions of our ancestors, and is the basis for the importance of ancestor work in these northern traditions.

She is fond of using a spindle to explain öorlog, writing, “Each of us is born with a spindle of thread spun by parents, grandparents, great-grandparents ad infinitum. This thread is our öorlog. We can not un-spin it, but we can look into it, review it, learn about it, and have memories that surface to help explain why some of the spin is strong and some is thin, lumpy, or even broken and tied back in. We can also choose to spin our strand differently.”

51LV400IMDL._SS280As this year’s production of Winter Solstice in the Northlands has a more intense focus than in the past, Tauring was able to use it to premiere some of her newest work. For those unable to see the show live, she promised that portions will be available for viewing online in the coming weeks. In addition, her next project, a fourth Nordic roots recording, will include the soundtrack for “Avalanche Runedance.” A Kickstarter campaign to fund that album will be launched in March.

A Blessed Solstice

The Wild Hunt —  December 21, 2014 — 7 Comments

Today marks the Winter Solstice, unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere, in which case its the Summer Solstice. The day is traditionally thought to be the longest night and shortest day of the year. This time of year is held sacred by many modern Pagan and Heathen traditions, and has a rich history in ancient Pagan religions.

By McKay Savage from London via Wikimedia Commons

By McKay Savage from London via Wikimedia Commons

The solstice time was important to 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, in some way, honor the time around the solstice.

Germanic Pagans and modern Heathens celebrate Yule at this time. During this holiday the god Freyr was honored. Several traditions, now commonly associated with Christmas, originated in old Yule celebrations such as eating a ham or hanging holly and mistletoe.

The ancient Pagan Romans celebrated Saturnalia, which typically ran from Dec. 17 through Dec. 23. 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. These were eventually adopted as Christmas traditions. Following Saturnalia, there were birth celebrations honoring Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun) and Mithras both held on Dec. 25.

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

Here are some thoughts on the observance of the holiday:

Many Pagans think of the Halloween season as the witchiest time of year, but for me it’s always been Yuletide. So many cherished holiday customs have survived from pagan antiquity into the present day, and new traditions and myths are being created all the time. Midwinter is full of Pagan and secular stuff that makes for great crafts, ceremonies, and parties. – Jason Mankey, Raise the Horns, “Celebrating Yule”

I have always loved the colour of the night sky in winter. It almost never seems entirely black; instead, it blue with refracted gloaming, even at the dark of the moon, even at midnight.  And yet, the stars are never so clear as they are in the midst of winter, as Orion charges out from the horizon to chase Taurus with Canis Major barking at his heels. The jewel in the Great Dog’s collar, Sirius, sparkles like a radiant prism diamond as it cycles through white, red, green and blue (though of course this is only atmospheric refraction) just over the Southern Horizon; Castor and Pollux wink out of the sky’s zenity; and the Pleiades sparkle like a celestial diamond ring.  Meanwhile, in the Northern Horizon the Dragon rears his head, and the Big and Little Bears point the way. – Sable Aradia,  49 Degrees, “The Longest Night”

There are two ways to experience this time of year: as movement, and as stillness.

The name this season’s holiday is given by Pagans reflects that duality. Call it solstice; call it Yule. One means the sun standing still… the other means wheel: the wheel of the sun, presumably, or the wheel of the year, turning and moving, changing all the time.

And though we crown our tree with a burnished copper sun, and leave candles burning throughout the longest night to encourage its return, I realize that, for me, the most important aspect of this holiday is its quiet. – Cat Chapin-Bishop, Quaker Pagan Reflections, “Stillness at Solstice”

So, why all this talk about family and holiday customs but not a whole lot on religion? Honestly, it’s because Jul is such an important time to be with friends and, most importantly, family that I want to focus on the what I consider the best part of the season. I want to focus on those things that bring us together. I’ve written in the past about Jul from a religious perspective but this year has been a real reminder to me about what is most important in life. – Kevin, Asatru Blog, “Family and the Holidays”

The winter solstice happens in nature around us. But it also happens inside of us, in our souls.  It can happen inside of us is summer or winter, spring or fall.  In the dark place of our soul, we carry secret wishes, pains, frustrations, loneliness, fears, regrets, worries. Darkness is not something to be afraid of. Sometimes we go to the dark place of our soul, where we can find safety and comfort. In the the dark place in our soul we can find rest and rejuvenation.  In the dark place of our soul we can find balance.  And when we have rested, and been comforted, and restored, we can return from the dark place in our soul to the world of light and new possibilities –  John Halstead, Humanistic Pagan, “Winter Solstice

A very blessed solstice and the merriest of holiday seasons to everyone.

[Photo Credit: Chris Hutchison]

[Photo Credit: Chris Hutchison]

This year has brought about many challenges within our communities and across the world. The closing of 2014 highlights what has seemed to be a complex year of politics, celebrations, complicated dynamics and transitions. As the Solstice is near, and 2015 approaches, people are looking for ways to recuperate, rejuvenate and internalize the rebirth of the sun as we move forward.

The longest night of the year, on the 21st of this month, represents the rebirth of the sun in many different traditions. This natural transition has many different spiritual significances, including the sun as a symbol of hope and growth. And the Gregorian calendar restarts one week later on New Year’s Eve, giving people this same sense of transition and hope.

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

In these times of civil unrest, many people are looking for a chance to recuperate from the on-going challenges and to prepare for new opportunities. One of the most important concepts in doing that is self care. This is the mental, spiritual, emotional and physical support that comes from specific actions, events, and activities that are personally fulfilling and intentional.

Self care, as an act, is something that is often instrumental in healing work, and balancing personal energies to prevent or decrease burnout or emotional fatigue. People  of many spiritual paths discuss having a daily spiritual practice or routine, as a form of self care. Some Pagan traditions stress this point for practitioners and, especially, students, but others do not.

Regardless, activism, teaching, Priest or Priestessing, and other forms of manifested spiritual activities can take an additional emotional toll.  When you add these additional tasks to the intensity of jobs, children, the holidays, and the everyday routines that challenge our minds, bodies and spirits, we see how self care becomes a needed act of health.

It is often understood that Pagan leaders have fallen into the traps of burnout, and many have decided to leave the community or have become ineffective leaders as a result. Recognizing the importance of having intentional activities and moments of release to support homeostasis is vital to the sustainability of personal health and community health.

Self care is not just about meditation and mindfulness, although these things are often included, but it can also include everything from good sleep and eating patterns, exercise, routine social engagements, to self imposed moments of time out.

While anyone is susceptible to levels of burnout, or emotional fatigue, service professionals are trained in this concept to help their clients and to increase their own job effectiveness. Several professionals within the psychology, social work and behavioral science fields shared their thoughts and insights on the importance of self care and the intersection of spirituality. Lupa Greenwolf has a Masters in Counseling Psychology and is a Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC), Jacki Richardson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in Missouri, and Elizabeth Rose is Master’s level Social Worker (MSW) in Southern California.

[Photo Credit: B. Monginoux / / CC lic.]

[Photo Credit: B. Monginoux / / CC lic.]

Lupa Greenwolf

What would you say are the reasons someone should identify effective self care techniques?

Preventative care is gaining wider acceptance in the medical community in general. For mental health care, self care is one of the best forms of preventative care there is. Many of us suffer from stress on a daily basis, even if we don’t have any other mental health concerns, and over time that stress can really wear us down. It has measurable effects on our mind and emotions as well as on our bodies. So one of the best things you can do for yourself is regular self care.

By self care I don’t just mean taking a week-long vacation somewhere; while vacations are great, most of us can only take one or two a year at the most. Instead, I’m talking about regular, even daily practices to reduce stress and otherwise increase mental well-being. For some people that’s meditation; for others it’s quality time with family or friends. Do you exercise a few times a week? That’s self care, too–physical exercise has been shown to boost psychological health. And if you exercise outside, as opposed to in a gym, you get the positive benefits of nature, even if it’s in a city park.

Self care isn’t just good for shaking off everyday stress, though. We all have times in our lives where things get really tough–the death of a loved one, a lost job, medical issues, all of these can make your life a lot harder to get through. And for people who have other mental conditions like anxiety and disorder, life can sometimes be a bit of a roller coaster when symptoms increase. So for the times when you’re knocked out of your usual comfort level, self care can help to keep you from feeling even worse until you can get your equilibrium back.

Finally, there are people who put themselves deliberately in situations that can increase the stress in their lives. When you go to a protest, both the activists and the police on duty are in high-stress positions, and over time continuing to be in the role of activist or officer can lead to burnout and other products of this immense amount of stress. In fact, anyone working a job or other activity where you’re subjected to spikes in your stress level on a regular basis–firefighters, teachers, people working on fishing boats, and more–can find their psychological reserves worn down faster than the rest of us, especially if they’re also experiencing potentially traumatic situations as part of the normal course of their work. For these people self care may need to include more intensive tools such as therapy, or good books on trauma work like Lipsky’s Trauma Stewardship, not just when they’re traumatized, but before it happens (there’s that preventative care again.)

As a professional, what do you find are some useful ways to identify and cope with end of the year burnout?


Lupa Greenwolf

The burnout associated with this time of year has several signs you may notice. You may feel physically or mentally tired, and the idea of getting up to go to work or school yet again just makes you want to roll back over and go to sleep (more than usual!) Once you get where you’re going, you may find yourself unable to focus on the tasks at hand, whether that’s responsibilities at the office or caring for young children as a stay at home parent. Some people become more irritable when they’re burned out and may snap at small provocations. Others find themselves crying for no real reason, or just feeling “off” in general. And it’s not uncommon to zone out, daydreaming about being anywhere except where you are now, even though you have a deadline to meet and entirely too much work to get it done. (Note: if these symptoms last for more than a few weeks or if they keep coming back you may wish to talk to a mental health professional about the possibility that there may be more than burnout going on.)

Just taking a little time each day–or even a moment every hour–to take a break from the usual stuff we do can have a big positive impact on our mental health. Think of it like having to work outside all day in really cold weather, but every hour you come back inside to warm up for a few minutes before you head back out. You can also make better use of your time off. Do the things that need to get done–make sure everyone gets fed and that everyone has clean socks (or ask someone else in your household if they can help or do it themselves.) But don’t feel you have to go above and beyond. And let yourself have at least one genuine day off a week if you can. Don’t just zone out in front of the TV; that’s doing the same old, same old. Instead, take the opportunity to get a change of scenery; go to a museum, or a park, or even just a walk in your own neighborhood if you can.

How can spirituality play a role in this process?

Spirituality is the art of feeling you are a part of something greater than yourself. Whenever I get stressed, I remember that I am just one tiny bit of a highly complex, interconnected universe made of intricate bits and parts ranging from atoms to galaxies. This reminds me that there’s a lot more going on than just my own concerns, and it inspires me a sense of wonder and awe that I am privileged enough to be a part of this amazing reality. It doesn’t take away the problems I face, but it puts them in perspective.

Actively participating in your spirituality, even in small ways, can help you feel more grounded. It gives you some sense of routine and predictability. Burnout is often accompanied by feeling out of control of one’s life, and when you’re able to regain some control in one part–like spirituality–it can help reduce the stress associated with other areas that are still largely out of your grasp.

The winter solstice is a particularly nice time in the Northern Hemisphere for shifting your energies (figuratively or literally) as it marks the time when the sun starts to head back north, signifying a return from darkness. (In the Southern Hemisphere, you may wish to see it as the beginning of a respite from the heat of summer, reflected in one’s own burnout.)

[Courtesy of Pixabay]

[Courtesy of Pixabay]

Elizabeth Rose

What would you say are the reasons someone should identify effective self care techniques?

What follows is a mixture of my clinical training, mostly as it supports my spiritual practices. I was a priestess before I was a therapist and social worker, and, lifelong, I’ve been a healer on my own journey. The best reason for self-care would be self-love or, to be more accurate, self-preservation. Of course, helper-types are notorious for thinking that the advice “be kind to yourself” applies to everyone BUT them. So, if I’m dealing with one of those (and I am one of those), I talk about “putting on your own oxygen mask first”. Most people generally understand that, to be prepared for the worst, you have to be able to breathe, to function mentally and physically.

Generally I strive for some degree of ongoing self-awareness of the condition of my body, mind and spirit, to catch problems before they debilitate me. In other words, I self-monitor. It can also mean making sure my timecard at my job is filled out and submitted 1st thing Friday morning, BEFORE I start taking calls, setting appointments or seeing clients. Worrying about how to make ends meet is not helpful for staying stress-free. A poor relationship with money (and the self-value connected to money) is also an area where many “helpers” struggle. For someone who likes to help,  it requires a conscious effort not to overextend one’s boundaries and to put personal priorities first. Doing so really helps decrease stress, however.

As a professional, what do you find are some useful ways to identify and cope with end of the year burnout?

I know, going into the holiday season, that I’m more likely to be tired, or stressed and make a point of observing myself for this – being more reactive, moody or achy. Having a mindfulness practice really helps. Checking myself, using a chakra model, helps me. Making sure my basic needs are taken care of, starting with the foundation: 1st chakra – “How well am I grounding whatever is coming to or through me?” “Do I have the basics: enough money, food, safe/quiet space just to be?”; 2nd chakra – “How am I nourishing myself or getting nourishment from others?” “Do I have any moments of joy or play in my day?”; 3rd chakra – “Am I able to positively influence my environment? If not, why not?”

On the therapeutic side, a formula from the recovery community, HALT (“Are you Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired?”) is really helpful and covers all these areas as well. If any of these are “empty” or in poor condition, go remedy the problem before proceeding further.  Getting regular massage, spa-time (even if it’s just my bathtub and some Epsom salts), more sleep, yoga and healthy food can help address those “lower chakra” issues. So can telling people who are crossing your boundaries to “step off”, as this can be a serious energy drain. During holidays, family often presents these sorts of challenges and navigating family boundaries can take a lot of awareness and energy management.

Elizabeth Rose

Elizabeth Rose

Doing a basic grounding and protecting process if I sense I’m getting shifted off my center is almost a reflex now. I was trained by Petey Stevens of Heartsong in a very useful model, although my Traditional Craft training used some similar methods. I’d also recommend practicing energy movements, in the manner described by Julie Henderson. Her book The Lover Within is a simple, basic text in energy work, a sort of Western Tantra. Learning how to condense overly-diffuse energy is really helpful for most empathic types. For protection, I simply connect to Earth and Sky, letting go into the  ground what I don’t need.

I also use music, sound and dance to shift my energy and recommend this for people who are strongly auditory or kinesthetic (as I am). I find the vibrations of certain sounds, like mantras, overtone chanting or singing songs that have positive resonance can work very well (and you can do them in the car or on a walk). Surrounding yourself with colors that shift your mood is beneficial too. You may find it humorous, but since, as a social worker, my job involves a lot of computer time, I do my nails with colors and designs that make me happy, since I look at my own hands …a lot. My inner priestess loves ornament! It raises my sense of joy. .

How can spirituality play a role in this process?

Spirituality infuses everything I do, but making time away from the rest of my work and family life is very important to what I like to call my “sanity-maintenance program”. Like any good Ban Drui, getting nature time is one of my most important spiritual tools. When I lived in San Francisco, I used to head up to Mt. Tamalpais and just take naps. Seriously. Allowing that Mother Mountain to just seep into me, through the fine osmosis of lying on Her sacred earth,  worked amazingly well.  Now that I live in Los Angeles, I walk in our accessible, local mountains, sometimes seeking a prayer spot, where I make offerings and ask for guidance. I allow the Divine to speak to me, whether God/dess or nature spirit. This brings a sense of the timelessness and grace, which puts my daily work or problems in perspective. Similarly, when I’m working, and feeling stressed or challenged, I reach into that spiritual place I’ve strengthened in nature and ask for help.

I also find some form of metta practice helps me do my work from a healthier place: wishing well for others and for myself, as a spiritual practice. The history/folklore-loving Trad Witch side is pretty practical and “ecumenical” in my practice, so I’ll use many kinds of practices and prayers that work for me.  Any way you can find a breath, a prayer, a tree, bird or breeze that calls you- even if only for a moment – away to the Fair Lands of magic, of creation and of dream, take that instant and recall your soul. Seek someone who supports your spirit and reach out to that person, if only for a brief phone call. A chat at the water cooler with a soul-friend can be a lifesaver when you are stressed. This is why our spiritual families are so important. We require reminders to feed our own souls, so we can keep doing what we must:  to survive and to remake the human world in the ideals of joy, healing and peace that are the true spirit of this deep season. This is the Light, the Sun, that must be reborn, first, in us, at this time of year.

[Photo Credit: Ashley Coombs / CC lic. - edited to fit space]

[Photo Credit: Ashley Coombs / CC lic. – edited from original]

Jacki Richardson

What would you say are the reasons someone should identify effective self care techniques?

As clinicians, our job is to keep our lenses as clear as possible so that we are not projecting our “stuff” onto clients. The more we take care of ourselves, the better we are able to really see what is going on with others (rather than what we want or don’t want to see in ourselves).

As a professional, what do you find are some useful ways to identify and cope with end of the year burnout?

There are two ends of the spectrum – being exceptionally irritable or impatient or negative (it may be different for others, however that negative, flattened emotion shows up for people individually) and the opposite – being unable to enjoy the things that I usually enjoy.  A subtle but important “red flag” for me is when I get “overly upset” when someone I’m working with doesn’t do what I see as in their best interests – self determination is key and my role is to facilitate growth and understanding. If I get overly emotionally attached to a specific outcome then it is a sign that I am missing a “hook” (or trigger) that has more to do with me than with the client.

As difficult as it may be to sustain over a lifetime, making a goal of journaling or self-reflection (meditation, prayer or otherwise) on a daily basis, and keeping a record/track of that is helpful to identify “burnout” earlier so that it can be addressed earlier (particularly before doing something regrettable).

My first mentor in social work talked to me about finding volunteer work completely outside the circle of my “professional track” – at times this has been working with animal rescue, a soup kitchen or toy drive. This year I am working on helping others to be able to give to even others. Whatever brings simple joy, even if only felt “remotely” at first.

How can spirituality play a role in this process?

Spirituality encompasses a lot. I find being able to share and release the burden to generate change in difficult situations (through meditation, visualization, prayer) to be very helpful. I had one client who made heart breaking choices around the holidays – she got on a bus and fled to another  state, leaving her children behind. After speaking with everyone involved she was given the opportunity to come back (she had left her children with her sister).  She ended up deciding to not come back. I remember after the call I visualized packing up a backpack with the blessings and what I hoped and wished and handing it to her.  I visualized her walking away from me on her own path. Being able to bless her and wish her well allowed me to release her emotionally but also hope and believe she could find her own way around a curve I was not able to see.

As we move deeper into the shadow months, inching closer toward the stressful holidays and the finality of 2014, how can concepts of self care result in healthier transitions? How can we use the momentum of the coming new year to identify healthy skills that will support healthier communities? What are the ways that self care activities can make us more capable of enduring the stresses of activism, teaching, and manifesting a healthy society and Pagan community?

As we move into another year, we reflect on the many ways that our version of Pagan spirituality, activities, choices, and responsibilities intersect with personal health, spiritual community, cultural obligations and societal expectations. Those in the field of social sciences are trained to understand that we are no good to our clients if we are not healthy within ourselves. This concept is something often neglected by people within the modern Pagan community, and within many other spiritual cultures.The importance of self care equates to personal and community accountability.

As 2014 comes to a close, the sun is reborn and 2015 greets us on the first of January remember to increase your sleep, eat healthy foods, spend quality time with the people you love, read a good book, practice mindfulness, go for a walk in the elements, watch a good movie, increase your daily spiritual connections, and find ways to give yourself some much needed time to rebalancing.

May we all transition into the New Year with a renewed sense of self, a clearer purpose, and an ability to embrace hope.

Looking for the perfect Solstice gift for your favorite Pagan, Heathen, or Polytheist? The Wild Hunt’s 2014 Winter Solstice Gift Guide, with expert advice, reviews and recommendations for the latest movies, books, gifts and treats can help. If you find something you like, just click on the photo to find more information or to purchase the product.*

For the Bookworm

Pagans may not be People of the Book, but we are people who own books – lots and lots of books. This is why we are kicking off our Gift Guide with ideas for the bookworms on your Solstice list. The first selection was recommended by a number of Heathens, while all the other book suggestions come to us from three Pagan book industry experts.


The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition – The unsanitized versions of the Brothers Grimm’ tales have never been published in English before, and Jack Zipes does an incredible job of translating them into colloquial English. Even those of you who think you know the original tales are going to be surprised. The illustrations by Andrea Dezsö fit perfectly with the fairy tales. Price: $35.00

Elysia Gallo is the senior acquisitions editor for Llewellyn Worldwide, based in Minnesota. She’s also active in her local Minneapolis community and blogs for Llewellyn’s Paganism blog, Reflections of the MoonHere are her suggestions:

witches broom

The Witch’s Broom – Elysia says, “This chunky little illustrated book makes a perfect stocking stuffer for the witch in your life! Besides looking adorable, it’s packed with myth, lore and legend about the witch’s broom, as well as many practical chapters for the modern witch on how to make, consecrate, decorate, and use your own broom in spells and ritual.” It’s the first in a series being compiled on the witch’s tools. Price: $12.79

wizard and witch

The Wizard and the Witch – 2014 has been a hard year for the Pagan community as we’ve lost many of our elders, one of whom was Morning Glory Zell. Luckily she lived to see her and Oberon’s dual biography, presented as an oral history in print. Elysia describes this book as “a great tale about the love between soul mates, and should be required reading for anyone looking to learn more about the history of modern Paganism.” It has a full-color photo insert as well, showing all phases of their lives. Price: $19.99

homemade magic

Homemade Magick – “Anyone who’s ever read a book penned by Lon Milo DuQuette knows that he’s as humorous as he is wise. For anyone interested in magic, of any path, and any knowledge level, you just can’t go wrong with a book by him. This one in particular is about becoming a magician in a very DIY manner – choosing a magical motto, self-initiation, raising kids in a magical home, and more. All good magic starts at home!” Price: $16.99

merlin stone

Merlin Stone Remembered – Merlin Stone was best known as the author of When God Was a Woman. Elysia says, “In this walk down memory lane, we learn about her unpublished works, her work on racism, and her previous career as an artist. We reach touching memories of her, as written by her life partner and by one of her daughters. If she was instrumental in turning you on to the Goddess, then you’ll love this collection.” It also includes full-color insert.  Price: $21.99

Taylor Ellwood is co-owner of Immanion Press. He’s also a holistic business coach, magician, and author. You can find him on G+. Here are Taylor’s picks:

manifesting wealth

Manifesting WealthTaylor says, “I admittedly have written this book, but I point readers to it because it takes a holistic approach to the concept of wealth, focusing on not just money, but also career, health, and relationships, as a guide for creating wealth in your life.” Price:  $18.00


Shades of Ritual – This is an anthology that explores ritual and magical work from the perspective of Pagans of Color. Taylor says, “Its sure to give you some great ideas for your own magical work.” Price: $6.50


The Queen of the Tearling – Written by a new author, “this book has a fascinating story that will draw you in. If you like Game of Thrones, you’ll enjoy this book.” Price:  $11.50

Erin Lale is the acquisitions editor at Eternal Press and Damnation Books. She curates the Time Yarns Universe, edited Berserkrgangr Magazine, wrote Asatru For Beginners and other books, writes the Gnosis Diary blog on Pagansquare and twice ran for public office as an out Heathen.

Carnival Charlatan – This contemporary urban fantasy about a reluctant witch pretending to be a carnival charlatan won an Amazon editors’ Best Books of 2014 Medallion. Price:  $18.00

At the Edge – Pagn author Angie Skelhorn’s contemporary fiction tells us, “There is support from the unseen to guide our lives on Earth.” Price:  $16.00

Escaped – This urban fantasy novel about a bruxa, a witch of the Portuguese tradition, is one of its publisher’s top ten bestsellers. Price:  $16.50


Games and Tarot

Alone or in groups; for fun or for insight; for adults or children, these suggestions cover everyone on your list. Taylor Ellwood offers recommendations on games.

Wildcraft  An Herbal Adventure GameWildcraft! – This family cooperative game teaches players about herbs and their uses. As players go up and down a long mountain path, similar to Chutes and Ladders, they draw plant cards, which feature herbs, and draw trouble cards, which feature common aliments such as mosquito bites. Players use the plant cards to help their own troubles, as well as other with their ailments. The game board and box are made with 100% recycled chipboard and printed with vegetable oil based inks, with no toxic varnish. Ages 5 and up. Price: $39


Talisman – Taylor describes this is as a sword and sorcery game in which you seek the crown of command before anyone else gets it. It’s fun for a game night, and has add-ons if you want to make it more challenging. Ages 9 and up. Price: $43.50

Descent: Journeys in the Dark – “This is a dungeon crawler, complete with figurines and customizable maps. It also comes with specific scenarios or you can create your own.” Ages 13 and up. Price: $52.50


Forbidden Desert – “This is a cooperative board game in which all players are trying to escape the desert. Do you have what it takes to cooperate and build the flying machine?” Ages 10 and up. Price: $19.50

Elysia Gallo makes a few suggestions on tarot decks and one datebook

cat tarot

Mystical Cats Tarot – When recommending this deck, Elysia says, “I might be a little biased as my cat is one of the purrfectly adorable kitties featured in this deck! But seriously, if you’re going to buy a feline-themed deck this year for one of your friends who is crazy about cats, this is the one to get!” Price: $28.99

Nicoletta Ceccoli Tarot – Elysia describes the art in this deck as “just so terribly, horribly gorgeous.” Can you read with it? She didn’t know, but said, “Sometimes decks are worth it just for the art.” Price: $29.95

date bookWitches’ Datebook – At Llewellyn, there are all kinds of wall calendars, from Steampunk to fairies, but Elysia says that she “just can’t go without the Witches’ Datebook.” She adds, “It’s always on my must-have list and I know people love to receive these as gifts, too.” Price: $8.79

Music and Movies

We’ll take you slightly off the beaten path and introduce you to some music and movies you may not be familiar with.

song solstice

Jennifer Cutting’s OCEAN Orchestra – “Song of Solstice” – This is my personal recommendation for the perfect Winter Solstice album. I don’t think I’ve ever had this strong a positive reaction to a CD, especially a holiday CD, but I can’t recommend this work of pure art by Jennifer Cutting highly enough. There are original songs, old world classics in French, orchestra accompaniment, hints of steampunk, renaissance recorders, electric guitars, female singers and male singers. You wouldn’t think such musical diversity would work on one CD, but the unifying theme of midwinter pulls it together nicely. All the songs celebrate the season in some way, and while most have a distinct Pagan vibe to them, your Lutheran mother would enjoy it, too.

The next few albums were recommended by Jason Pitzl-Waters, emeritus founder of The Wild Hunt, and host of A Darker Shade of Pagan podcast and the radio station Numinosis.


Faun – “Luna” – This band is out of Germany and has a sound that isn’t quite folk and isn’t quite medieval but some glorious mix of the two. My favorite song on the album is Hekate, but as a Hellenic polytheist I may just be biased. You can sample tracks at the link. Price: $9.50 for MP3

nightspiritsThe Moon and the Nightspirit – “Holdrejtek” – One reviewer said “Ágnes Tóth’s voice is a gorgeously melodic sound that invokes images of groves and faerie magic of old. The instruments are haunting and powerful. Violin, dulcimer, drums, and acoustic guitar come together beautifully in a rhythmic harmony I easily lose myself in…Mihály Szabó also provides deep and alluringly gruff background vocals that add to the stirring charm at the heart of the music that is reminiscent of something sacred and otherworldly.” Price: $8.99 for MP3

twilightLisa Gerrard – “Twilight Kingdom” – Lisa Gerrard is known for soaring, haunting vocals and this album showcases them more than any of her other works. At times almost operatic, but with mature restrain and an underlying somberness, the album sticks to simplified arrangements. If you know someone who enjoys Lisa Gerrard, Dead Can Dance, or appreciates refined vocals, this album would make a good gift. This album only comes in MP3 format. Price: $7.99 for MP3

Peg Aloi is a freelance writer, film critic and media studies scholar. She is an original founder and former media coordinator for The Witches’ Voice. Her blog, The Witching Hour, is on’s pagan portal. She teaches media studies at SUNY New Paltz, and has been a consultant on a number of feature films.

under skinUnder the Skin –  “This intense, unusual film is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, directed by Jonathan Glazer (SEXY BEAST and BIRTH). Starring Scarlett Johansson as a mysterious woman who travels through Scotland and entices men, it’s ostensibly the story of an alien, but there are layers of meaning that suggest it’s about the mysterious mating game we all play and feel alienated by. The nature of what it means to be a sexual being is explored via some very unusual imagery. This story commands every ounce of your attention and it is utterly riveting.”  Price: $12.99 for DVD

pridePride –  “It is 1985, a year of extremes and excitement. Punk is dead; new wave music is everywhere, Thatcher is hated, and London’s youth are on fire to change things. One group of gay activists, led by a young firebrand who wants his compatriots to be out and proud, decide to raise money for the miners who are on strike. The group travels to rural Wales and, despite initial wariness, manages to impress the locals with its passion. Based on a true story, this film exemplifies the ways that disparate groups can come together for a common cause.” The cast includes Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy and Paddy Considine. Price: $22.99 for DVD.

loversOnly Lovers Left Alive – “Jim Jarmusch’s latest is about vampires, love and survival. Tilda Swinton (Eve) and Tom Hiddleston (Adam) are an undead couple who meet up after many years apart, at Adam’s decrepit, isolated house in Detroit. They survive on blood bank supplies and struggle to maintain their undead appetites as humanely as possible. But a shift occurs when Eve’s impulsive, bloodthirsty sister (Mia Wasikowska) arrives, and the couple realizes that they may need to indulge their true natures. This film is as romantic as it is beautiful, set in Detroit and Morocco, with a haunting musical backdrop.” Price: $22.99 for DVD


You can buy the usual toys for kids. It is healthy for kids to play and that’s universal. What gets more difficult is to choose gifts that reflect your family’s religion and ethics. When you’re Pagan, Heathen or Polytheist, that can be a bit more challenging. Below are a few gift ideas for babies and children.


Viking Teething Toy Set – This set of teethers was created for different dental developmental stages. Jormungandr / the Midgard Serpent in limescale green helps the first frontal buds and to develop grip, Mjolnir / Thor’s Hammer in Odin’s beard grey soothes with it’s textured internal knot, and babies can clamp down on Sleipnir / Odin’s Steed in Norwegian red for molar relief! Price: $31.59 Canadian Dollars

leather baby boot

Baby Roman Sandals – These sandals are almost cute enough that I’d be willing to touch a baby just to put them on their little feet. The store says that they fit babies at about the 10 month age, so these would be actual walking shoes. If you visit the etsy store, be sure to also check out the red fleece jacket with the long pointed hood. Price: $13

viking boots

Viking Baby Booties – Looking for something warmer for baby? How about these knit Viking baby booties? These are hand-knit using 100% pure wool, and the ‘fur’ edging is a soft polyester eyelash blend. Also available are knit witch booties in black. Price: $15.32

baby 4 piece

4 PC Wiccan Pagan Baby Set – It includes a soft onesie, booties, bib, and a knit hat.  Each is embroidered with pentacles and the phrase “Magical Baby.” There are several colors to choose from. It is made for newborns up to 3 months of age. Price: $45

Honorable mentions: This Pan onesie, and this Thor’s hammer bib and diaper cover set.



Natural Earth Paints – These non-toxic paints are made with real earth. Mix them 1:1 with water for a paint that acts like a tempura or add more water to create water colors. Most of the paint kits are created from earth pigments and organic milk proteins, but vegan paints are also available. Each kit contains red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and brown. You can buy more colors individually. Price: $19.95 to $29.95


Sprout Watches – Teach your child how to tell time and be environmentally conscious at the same time. These eco-friendly watches are lead and phthalate free and feature 100% organic cotton straps, biodegradable cases and buckles, bamboo face plates, a glass cover rather than plastic and a mercury-free battery. There are many colors and styles to choose from and, these watches are one of the hot items for kids this year. Price: $30 – $75

back to roots

Back to the Roots AquaFarm – Pagans believe everything is interconnected and interdependent, but we weren’t born knowing that. This aqua farm demonstrates this very point by showing kids how plants and animals rely on one another. The plants filter the water while absorbing nutrients produced by the fish. Price: $54.99


4M Recycled Paper Beads Kit – Many kids like making their own jewelry, but buying the beads can get really expensive. This bead kit helps kids turn old newspapers and magazines into very cool looking beads. Not does this spark creativity and pride in craftsmanship, it also teaches them the importance of recycling. This gift is not suitable for children under the age of 5 due to choking hazard. Price: $10


nailsPagan Symbol Nail Appliques –  As shown in the photo, there are several groups of religious symbols offered in these nail applique sets. But you can choose any one or mix and match. The Pagan set has Goddess symbols, triquetras, pentacles, triple moons, and the tree of life. Paint your nails any color (except black), put the appliques on, and seal with 2 coats of clear top coat. Price: $4.25

Erin Lale, who offered book suggestions for adults, recommended a few titles geared at teen readers.

Severed Ties – “Pagan author Angie Skelhorn’s contemporary YA urban fantasy shows what happens when teens try to save their friend with magic.” Price: $11.50

Egypt Rising –  “An American teenager unlocks the magical secrets of the ancient Egyptians amid the chaos of the Arab Spring.” Price: $16.50

Weather  – “This Young Adult steampunk novel was written by an actual young adult, and is one of its publisher’s top ten bestsellers.” Price: $19




Fight off Colds Basket – Ahhh..the joy of winter. Snuggly winter blankets, delicious hot chocolate, and colds. This basket of goodies helps sooth the symptoms of colds and allows easier breathing. Included is an aromatherapy oil, an herbal decongestant salve, Aladdin’s Thieves oil, and a lavender, rosemary, and yarrow calming aromatherapy spray. Price: $35

light switch

Greenman Light Switch Plate or Doorbell – You can choose either the light switch or the doorbell plate. There are three finishes: vintage bronze, aged copper or blackened Iron. The artist only casts 100 of each so when they’re gone, they’re gone. Price: $18

car cling

Odin’s Raven Car Decal – This self adhesive vinyl decal adheres permanently to any vehicle or other flat surface. The decal is a recreation of the raven banner flown from raiding Viking ships to invoke Odin’s protection and his might in battle, and to strike fear into the hearts of the soft southern enemy. The raven is a special symbol that represents Odin’s ravens Huginn (thought) and Muninn (memory). Price: $8.87

candleholderTealight Luminaries – These luminaries are printed with walnut ink on mango paper. There are so many beautiful ones to choose from that I had a hard time picking one for the photo. I’ve ordered from this artist before and was impressed by how wonderful they look lit or unlit. There are even a few that say Winter Solstice Greetings. Price: $10

Artemis/Diana Cuff – This adjustable bracelet shows the Goddess in the woods with a young deer. The cuff design fits well with the cameo. If Diana isn’t what you’re looking for, this Etsy shop has over 1000 other items to choose from. Price: $28


For the Epicurean

Want to pamper someone on your gift list with a bit of luxury? Check out these gift ideas that combine form and function and, then, elevate it to art.


Natural Wool Solstice Sweater – One of a kind t-shirt style sweater with Celtic patterns on the top and bottom edges. One side depicts a pale winter sun shining through a bare tree. On the other side is a Celtic sun symbol. Either side can be worn as the front. The wool is 100% mountain merino locally sourced and naturally processed in Wyoming. Price:  $249


Solstice Wedding Band – Preparing for a handfasting or a renewal of your vows? This titanium engagement ring or wedding band was created specifically for the Solstice with an inlay of blue opal, 14k gold, Hawaiian Koa wood and a blue diamond that looks like the new born sun on a clear winter’s day. Beautiful for a man or a woman. Price:  $1340


Groovy Baker Suckers – Not your average sucker, by any means. The Winter Solstice sucker tastes like warm gingerbread with toffee sauce. Pure vanilla, orange zest, bits of toasted almonds, pecans, chopped apricots, and dates with a spash of brandy and topped with 23K edible gold dust. Check out their other flavors, too. Price: $10 for 7 suckers

Pagan Chocolates

Pagan Chocolates – Perfect stocking stuffer for any flavor of Pagan, Heathen, or Polytheist you know. Chocolates come with Celtic, Norse, Wiccan, Egyptian, and African symbols on them. The chocolate bars come in seven natural flavors including, white chocolate made with real cocoa butter and vanilla, white chocolate bar with matcha green tea, milk chocolate, semi sweet dark chocolate, bitter sweet extra dark chocolate, a blended chocolate made with 100% Kona Coffee, and a blended chocolate infused with natural peppermint oil. All the chocolates are fair-trade and non-gmo. Price: $2.50 – $10.00

In The Womb With Moons – Artist Ellie Bryan turns utilitarian items, like this mug, into works of art. While this gift would be perfect for expecting parents, the powerful image of a child ready to be born combined with the phases of the moon speak of any potential ready to come to fruition. Know someone who is preparing to enter a new stage in their life or career? Or someone who is starting a new project, is creative, or can always see the potential in others? Be sure to check out Bryan’s other ceramics in her shop. Price: $68

Butter Parfums – Haumea Botanicals makes these incredible smelling solid perfumes out of kukui nut butter, beeswax, and selected essential oils. I own every one of them. They are so pure that I can also use them for lip gloss. Lahela Nihipali is the owner of Haumea Botanicals, and she blends each one of these perfumes by hand out of natural Hawaiian ingredients. This is truly affordable decadence. Price: $10


For the Tree Hugging Pagan

food recycle

The Food Cycler uses eco-friendly technology to turn cooked or uncooked food waste into organic, nutrient-rich soil in only three hours! It is super fast, compact, and has no smell. Some may balk at calling it eco-friendly when it needs electricity to operate, but it can reduce food waste going into your garbage can by 90%. Price: $529

The Scrubba Wash Bag   The Scrubba Wash Bag

Scrubba –  Wash clothes anywhere, like at Pagan festivals, with the Scrubba wash bag. It’s a pocket-sized washing machine bag with a flexible internal washboard. Just stuff your clothes into the bag, add a small amount of water and biodegradable liquid laundry soap,and rub for about 3 minutes. You could do a weeks worth of underwear and socks or a pair of jeans at a time. It uses no electricity and minimal water. Price: $55.00


Instead of a thing, give an experience – The dirt-worshiping Pagan in your life may prefer a pass to a state park. Or they may want to renew their soul camping with 3000 of their closest friends at Pagan Spirit Gathering, one of the oldest Pagan camping festivals in the US.  This year PSG is offering gift certificates that are good for up to 5 years. Just enter the amount you want to give as a gift and you can choose when and how you forward it on to the recipient. You can also keep adding money to that same gift certificate throughout the year. Price: Any amount

For the TechnoMage

Pagans are not just religiously diverse, we are diverse in our interests, too. Perhaps the Pagans in your life are more apt to be plugged into technology than blissed out with nature.

Automatic  An Auto Accessory to Make You a Smarter Driver

Automatic – This is an iPhone app paired with a small piece of hardware called the Automatic Link that connects your iPhone to your car’s onboard computer when you drive. So what’s it do? It can tell you why that “check engine” light came on and can let you clear the light yourself. It knows where you parked your car and helps you find it easily. If you’re ever in a crash, it alerts emergency services with your location and can contact your loved ones to let them know what happened. It can also help you become a better driver by giving you a personalized feedback on your driving. Price: $99.95

Joby GripTight Micro Stand from

Joby GripTight Micro Stand – This small stand holds your smart phone perfectly still while you attend Pagan online video conferences or live stream a ritual with participants across the globe. Folds up to the size of your keys so you can stick it in your pocket and take it anywhere. Price: $30


3D Printing Pen – Bring spells to life with a pen that ejects warm thermoplastic. This pen allows your technomage to create 3D objects that harden in seconds. It has two extrusion speeds and includes 50 plastic refills in assorted colors. Price: $99.95

Apps – If you can think of an app you wish you had, or could give, chances are it’s already out there. There are apps which give you rune readings, tell you the current phase of the moon, spells of the day, herbalism. You name it, you’ll find it. Price: Free to $10.

To Trim the Tree

While I give ornaments as gifts to friends and family, I also give them as a special gift to myself each year. It can be a bit difficult to find ornaments and tree toppers that are explicitly Pagan in nature, rather than Christianized versions of Pagan symbols, but this is a good start.

heathen ornamentsSet of 4 Heathen Ornaments – Four ceramic oval ornaments. The symbols on the ornaments are Thor’s Hammer, Vegviser Viking Compass, Vlaknut, and Aegishjamr/Helm of Awe. This Etsy shop also has fairy, sorceress, and nature scene ornaments. Price: $24

goddess ornament

Goddess and God Ornaments – Each one of these ornaments is made from wood, acrylic, varnish, glass bead, ribbon, ink, and copper, and each one has a story behind it. This ornament tells the story of Niskai, a baby born of a mermaid mother and human father. Other ornaments tell of Gods and Goddesses from Japanese, Celtic, First Nations, Greek, and Egyptian mythos. Price: $9.50 to $10

sun ornament

Beeswax Sun Ornament – These ornaments are made of 100% pure Delaware beeswax and have a wired ribbon hanger. I’m giving you all fair warning; I’m going to order a bunch of these to hang on my tree 2 hours after this guide is published. So if you want one, you better hop on it. Price: $12

We hope you’ve enjoyed the gift guide. This is just a small taste of what Pagan or Pagan-friendly artisans and stores have to offer.  As always, when possible, support your community by buying local or buying direct from the artist.

*   *   *

*Disclaimer: This is a wholly independent gift guide. The Wild Hunt was not paid to endorse any of the listed products. All prices were current as of publication date.

A Blessed Solstice

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 21, 2013 — 4 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

Today (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).

Winter sky, from the top of Spencer Butte in Eugene, Oregon.

Winter sky, from the top of Spencer Butte in 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.

“The nights grow long but the the Winter sun – sharp angles – is still bright upon our faces. Do not forget this. We all walk into the labyrinth of darkness. We all return, born anew, in light. This happens moment to moment. Sometimes year by year. The Divine Twins stalk us, live within our skin, caress our minds, open our hearts. We are the dance of night and day, of frost and sunlight. We are the priestess, mediating every cusp and each turn. Do not forget this. The nights grow long and the Cosmos holds you in her arms. We are all the pregnancy of Night. We are all the possibility of Day. Do not forget this.”T. Thorn Coyle

“Darkness comes early as Solstice draws near. Lights are lit in windows, on trees, inside houses and along streets. We seek their comfort and warmth during these short days and long nights. The last month of the calendar is here and we eagerly anticipate the rebirth of a new annual cycle. We make merry during this time and yet, there is also an opportunity to acknowledge and honor the darkness: the darkness outside and the darkness within. Love, bliss and joy. Fear, anger and rage. All of these are part of being human. Positive and negative make a whole. Without our darkness, we are incomplete. “I must also have a dark side if I am to be whole,” Carl Jung wrote.”Lisa Levart, The Huffington Post

“We should all pause in appreciation of the sun’s warmth and spark of life each Solstice. Our ancient ancestors recognized this and lit bonfires to light a path and show the sun the way back north. Our next growing season and food stock depended on the return of our sun, just as our neighbors in the Southern Hemisphere depend on it bending their way. Their Winter Solstice is our Summer Solstice and vice-versa. This ancient dance of yin and yang between the Northern and Southern Hemisphere has been going on since time began. It’s a dance we can’t afford to have stopped. Old stonehenges in England and Salem, New Hampshire, among others sprinkled throughout the globe, track the celestial dance. On these sites ceremonies were held and rituals were preformed to ensure our sun stayed on track.”Joan Rusek, Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Through the ages, the fabled festival in honor of Saturnus had acquired various customs and traditions, many of which were adopted by the early Christians and persist to the current day. Our customary use in December of red and green, representing perennial foliage and berries, dates back to the Roman Saturnalia. During the festival, the Romans decorated their homes with evergreen wreaths, called serta, bearing red berries. The exchange of gifts, the singing of songs, and the dedication of specific foods at meals, all characterized the holidays. According to Macrobius, the celebration of the Saturnalia was extended with the Sigallaria, so named for the small earthenware figurines which were sold in Roman shops and given as gifts to children. The Temple of Saturnus, thought by many to be the oldest Roman temple recorded by the pontiffs, had been dedicated on the Saturnalia. After sacrifice in the Temple of Saturnus, the celebrants would enjoy a public banquet, then go out to the streets shouting the holiday greeting “IO Saturnalia!” for all to hear. The Saturnalia was an occasion for celebration, visits to friends, and the presentation of gifts, particularly cerei, wax candles, and sigillaria, clay dolls.”Mary Brown, Mainline Media News

“Icelandic children get to enjoy the favors on not one but 13 Father Christmases. Called the Yule Lads, these merry but mischievous fellows take turns visiting kids on the 13 nights leading up to Christmas. On each of those nights, children place one of their shoes on the windowsill. For good boys and girls, the Yule Lad will leave candy. If not, the Yule Lads are not subtle in expressing their disapproval: they fill the shoe with rotting potatoes. Don’t think well-behaved Icelandic kids have a sweet deal all around, however. They may enjoy 13 Santa Claus-like visits, but they also have to contend with a creature called Grýla who comes down from the mountains on Christmas and boils naughty children alive, and a giant, blood-thirsty black kitty called the Christmas Cat that prowls around the country on Christmas Eve and eats anyone who’s not wearing at least one new piece of clothing.” – Rachel Nuwer, Smithsonian Magazine.

“Winter Solstice is a perfect excuse to wind down for the year. It is happily emphasized since I am on Winter Break for school– hibernating more and going out less. For the last seven years and counting, I have held some sort of Winter Solstice gathering for friends and sometimes family. I have hosted sit-down traditional dinners and the more informal drinks and appetizers only fiesta. We have mulled spiced-wine together, played an old parlor game entitled, “The Minister’s Cat,” and lit candles. One of my favorite theme ideas was putting a spotlight on the sun: I served spicy Indian food for snacks and the soundtrack featured all songs mentioning the sun. There are a seemingly endless supply of these to choose from.” – Colleen DuVall, Witches & Pagans Magazine

“Though officially one of the “lesser sabbats,” Yule rituals have always had a special hold on me. There’s something special about the rebirth of the Lord of the Sun, and to see pagan imagery nearly every where you go this time of year makes it even more so. Of course I enjoy my ritual take on Yule, and I’ve been recycling bits and pieces of that ritual for over ten years now. I don’t write solitary ritual well, but many others do. I enjoyedthis solitary Yule Ritual over on Pagan by Design. I used to shy away from the Oak King/Holly King mythos at Yule, but lately I’ve been finding myself more drawn to it. Enacting an epic battle during ritual presents a whole series of challenges but when it works it’s pretty awesome. Yule was originally (and still is) a Norse holiday, and ADF has a whole page of Norse Yule Rituals worth perusing.”Jason Mankey, Patheos Pagan Channel

No matter what your religion or tradition, may this year’s winter celebrations and observances bring you peace and joy!

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!

The always-incisive T. Thorn Coyle, inspired by latest response at the Washington Post’s On Faith site, provides a counter-argument that Christians should take back Christmas, and Pagans should just leave it alone.

“Many people are likely to argue with me on this next point, and that is fine, but I say to anyone who is not a Christian and who celebrates Christmas: what exactly do you think you are doing? Why are you contributing to this beast, this monster, this creature that not only feeds on the sweat of poor people around the world but simultaneously takes more and more money to just maintain its caloric requirements? Why have you – atheist, Pagan, Christian, or Jew – been taken in?

Yes, Pagans have celebrated their Winter holidays for millenia, and with good reason. Yes, evergreen trees and special cakes were part of this. Yes, the birth of a baby God enters into some versions of the celebratory rituals. So separate it out again. Throw a party for your friends to ward off the cold. Honor Yule, or Winternights, or Solstice. Make gifts if you wish to. Cook food and kindle lights. But leave Christmas alone. Perhaps if enough of us cease to feed the monster, it will lose power, and Christmas can return to being a small celebration by a sect who believes that the Child of Promise so many Pagans speak of – the Bright One born from the cold – was named Jesus and came to work the magic of healing the sick and feeding the poor.”

I encourage you to read the whole thing and add your thoughts. You may also want to read her yearly solstice poem. If you have any other links to thoughts on this season, and our place within it, please share them in the comments.

My latest response at the Washington Post’s On Faith site is now up.

Here’s this week’s panel question:

“Keep Christ in Christmas!” is the familiar refrain of Christians who fear the secularization of the holy day celebrating the birth of Jesus, their savior. But in America, non-Christians often celebrate Christmas. According to a recent poll by the Christian group LifeWay Research, “A majority of agnostics or those claiming no preference (89 percent), individuals claiming other religions (62 percent), and even atheists (55 percent) celebrate Christmas along with 97 percent of Christians.” Do you need to be Christian to celebrate Christmas? What is Christmas all about?

Here’s an excerpt from my response:

“I won’t get into the debate over whether early Christians appropriated December 25th from pre-Christian faiths, or came by that date honestly, but few can argue that much of what we now culturally consider “Christmassy” came from non-Christian/Pagan sources. Decorating with greenery, decorating trees, the exchanging of gifts, feasting, even the special seasonal attention towards the poor and less fortunate can be found in several Western pre-Christian Winter-time holidays. In addition, many cultures had their own narratives/traditions about the (re)birth of the sun/son, promising a return of life and light in a time of cold and darkness. I don’t say this to diminish Christianity, but only to point out that these Winter celebrations are a deep part of us, and whether we identify as Christian, Pagan, agnostic, or atheist, there is a draw towards the light and fellowship that has become an integral part of this time through the centuries.”

I hope you’ll head over to the site and read my full response, and the other panelist responses, and share your thoughts.

A Blessed Solstice

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 21, 2010 — 25 Comments

“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.”William Blake

Today* is the Winter Solstice (unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere, then it’s the Summer Solstice), the longest night and shortest day of the year. This year a full lunar eclipse will be visible on the solstice in North America.

Sun Halo at Winter Solstice.

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.

“Virtually all cultures have their own way of acknowledging this moment. The Welsh word for solstice translates as “the point of roughness,” while the Talmud calls it “Tekufat Tevet,” first day of “the stripping time.” For the Chinese, winter’s beginning is “dongzhi,” when one tradition is making balls of glutinous rice, which symbolize family gathering. In Korea, these balls are mingled with a sweet red bean called pat jook. According to local lore, each winter solstice a ghost comes to haunt villagers. The red bean in the rice balls repels him. In parts of Scandinavia, the locals smear their front doors with butter so that Beiwe, sun goddess of fertility, can lap it up before she continues on her journey. (One wonders who does all the mopping up afterward.) Later, young women don candle-embedded helmets, while families go to bed having placed their shoes all in a row, to ensure peace over the coming year.”Richard Cohen, The New York Times

“The winter solstice is a pagan tradition that predates Christian beliefs, according to [Kristan] Cannon-Nixon. “It’s basically a New Year’s (celebration) and the Christian Christmas all rolled into one.”  She said when Sudbury’s pagan community and others interested in their beliefs gather on Dec. 19 at O’Connor Park, the evening will begin with a potluck dinner.  She said feasting together is an ancient tradition.  Following the meal, a ritual takes place, where pagans gather in a circle to pay “respect to the gods.” Cannon-Nixon said the ritual allows pagans to give thanks for the good things in their lives.”Jenny Jelen, Sudbury Northern Life

“The holiday is rooted deeply in the cycle of the year. It is the winter solstice that is being celebrated, seedtime of the year, the longest night and shortest day. It is the birthday of the new Sun King, the Son of God—by whatever name you choose to call him. On this darkest of nights, the Goddess becomes the Great Mother and once again gives birth. And it makes perfect poetic sense that on the longest night of the winter, “the dark night of our souls”, there springs the new spark of hope, the Sacred Fire, the Light of the World, the Coel Coeth.”Mike Nichols, The Witches’ Sabbats

Light the sky, oh heart, with such bold ray,
That the dark will lose its longing for the day.
Gaze too, upon full moon in earth’s eclipse
And see where self’s long shadow guards the way.

T. Thorn Coyle, Rubaiyat for Winter (excerpt)

No matter what your religion or tradition, may this year’s winter celebrations and observances bring you peace and joy!

* The Winter Solstice happens on December 21st at 23:38 UTC. Which means that it happened at approximately 03:35 PM PST for me. You can calculate the time for your own neck of the woods, here.