Archives For Winter Solstice

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.

Top Story: Hey, it happens to the best of us sometimes. Apparently around 300 Pagan revelers showed up to Stonehenge for the Winter Solstice a day early, under the mistaken assumption that the date is fixed on the calendar.

“A crowd of around 300 people, wearing traditional costume, met at the mystical stone circle on Monday morning to mark the rising of the sun on the shortest day of the year. But unfortunately their calculations were slightly out meaning they had in fact arrived 24 hours prematurely … A spokesman for English Heritage said: ‘About 300 people turned up a day early on Monday morning. We took pity on them and opened the stone circle so they could celebrate anyway. They were a day early but no doubt had a wonderful time as well.’”

While this has inspired some snark, it also provides a helpful reminder that the solstices (and equinoxes) are moving targets, and that you should always check before inviting 300 of your closest friends to frolic at the stones.

In Other News: Mistakenly early-bird Pagans weren’t the only bit of Pagan-oriented solstice coverage going on, the South Yorkshire Star interviews 82-year-old Wiccan Elder Patricia Crowther (one of, if not the, last living High Priestesses initiated directly by Gerald Gardner) for the holiday and finds her remarkably well-preserved.

“Patricia’s appearance – a full head of thick curls, barely wrinkled skin, and a razor-sharp mind – belies her years. “On my natal chart the moon is in Gemini, which is the sign of youth and the young-at-heart, and I know that has something to do with it,” she says. Her home is filled with unusual ornaments, most of which represent figures from mythology or the Goddess herself. There are also dozens of pictures of Patricia as a glamorous young woman. One particularly striking image is that of Patricia sitting naked on a stool for her initiation. “That’s what you have to do when you’re initiated – you go as you were born into life,” she explains. “There’s nothing dirty about it.” As with any qualification, becoming a High Priestess takes time and training.”

Crowther has a new book, “Covensense”, that was released this year. According to one review it contains some “narrow convictions” that will please some BTWs, and frustrate some of the more eclectic Wiccans out there. Personally, I think it’s wonderful that she’s still writing books, no matter how opinionated they might be.

Turning from Solstice-related stories for a moment, I want to quickly highlight two interviews with Pagan-friendly band Faith and the Muse, who’s latest Shinto-inspired album, “Ankoku Butoh”, was a top pick in my year-end best-of list. First Liz Ohanesian of the LA Weekly chats with them about the new album, then gets them to pick their favorite supernatural J-Horror films.

“Japan has one of the oldest traditions of ghost tales, even as far back as 1776, scholar and artist Toriyama Sekien attempted to categorize them in his illustrated series of collections of ghosts and spirits. But their origins can be found even earlier, and coincide with oral tales of Nature spirits – these are actually classic Goddess tales, found not only in Japanese Shinto belief, but in Celtic, Nordic and even Native American mythology – all the same foundation of the consequences that await when one messes with Nature. J-Horror has its very own Nature Mother, with snow-white skin and unbelievably long black hair, the vengeful spirit of the Woman Wronged.”

It’s an interesting-sounding round-up of films, especially for those who thought J-Horror began and ended with “Ringu”. For more Faith & The Muse goodness, and to order a copy of “Ankoku Butoh”, check out their official web site.

The Philadelphia Daily News has a cautionary tale about getting into arguments over religion. It seems that after two men had an argument over whose tradition of Santeria was better, one decided to end the argument permanently with a sawed-off shotgun.

“Hernandez, of Camac Street, North Philadelphia, shot Luis Freire, 55, because they had argued over whose version of the Afro-Caribbean religion Santeria was better, according to the statement, which the prosecution presented as evidence. “Unfortunately, in this day and age, it’s a sad commentary that killings happen over disputes ranging from heated arguments about religion to minor disputes over someone looking at someone the wrong way,” said Assistant District Attorney Brian M. Zarallo.”

Needless to say, Christian Hernandez’s strain of Santeria, whatever it was, won’t be well-served by having a convicted murderer in its ranks. It certainly makes the Internet flame-wars and rampant snark within the Pagan community seem sedate by comparison.

In a final note, the Suwanee, Georgia, school board is wrestling with how to handle public invocations after two substitute teachers, both Wiccans, asked for fair and equal treatment. This led to rumors that invocations would be eliminated entirely, an aim that was denied by the couple.

“Locals John and Rene Checkett addressed board members Tuesday and noted it was in no way their “aim or goal to remove prayer from our school system.” A story in last Friday’s Democrat quoted Rene Checkett to that effect, after rumors to the contrary drew a standing-room only crowd to a scheduled Dec. 15 board meeting. That meeting was canceled due to lack of public notice. The issue, Rene Checkett explained, was fair treatment for those with minority religious views. The couple, both Wiccans, met with Supt. Jerry Scarborough and board chair Jerry Taylor behind closed doors Friday to make their case for fair and equal treatment, particularly in regard to district policies. Both Checketts are substitute teachers. Taylor addressed a full crowd at the 6 p.m. meeting and made clear the district’s intent to handle the matter. “As a school district we need to adopt a policy that deals with religious activities in our school system that adheres to the rights of everyone based on the law of the land, which protects everyone,” Taylor said.”

The school board is going to be unveiling a new policy on public invocations in January, and it should be interesting to see how they address the concerns of religious minorities without causing an uproar with the local Christians.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

A Blessed Solstice

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 21, 2009 — 12 Comments

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.


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.

“Our Christian friends are often quite surprised at how enthusiastically we Pagans celebrate the ‘Christmas’ season. Even though we prefer to use the word “Yule”, and our celebrations may peak a few days before the twenty-fifth, we nonetheless follow many of the traditional customs of the season: decorated trees, caroling, presents, Yule logs, and mistletoe. We might even go so far as putting up a ‘Nativity set’, though for us the three central characters are likely to be interpreted as Mother Nature, Father Time, and the baby Sun God. None of this will come as a surprise to anyone who knows the true history of the holiday, of course.”Mike Nichols, The Witches’ Sabbats

“Many modern pagans attempt to observe the solstice in the traditional manner of the ancients. “There is a resurgent interest in more traditional religious groups that is often driven by ecological motives,” said Harry Yeide, a professor of religion at George Washington University. “These people do celebrate the solstice itself.” Pagans aren’t alone in commemorating the winter solstice in modern times. In a number of U.S. cities a Watertown, Massachusetts-based production called The Christmas Revels honors the winter solstice with an annually changing menu of traditional music and dance from around the world.”Brian Handwerk, National Geographic

“Ancient and not-so-ancient cultures were keenly aware of the sun’s annual cycle and many of them worshiped the sun. In fact, there was a lot of sun worshipping going on in Northern Europe. Ancient observatories like Stonehenge in Great Britain and the cavelike Newgrange in Ireland are examples of this. It’s no accident that the early Catholic Church established Dec. 25 as the day that Christ was born. No one really knows the exact date of Christ’s birth, but one of the reasons the church chose Dec. 25 was to battle against the great pagan celebrations that occurred around the time of the winter solstice, when the sun was “reborn” and started its upward climb into the sky.” - Mike Lynch, HeraldNet

“Celebrate Yule with a series of rituals, feasts, and other activities. In most ancient cultures, the celebration lasted more than a day. The ancient Roman Saturnalia festival sometimes went on for a week. Have Winter Solstice Eve and Day be the central focus for your household, and conceptualize other holiday festivities, including New Year’s office parties and Christmas visits with Christian relatives, as part of your Solstice celebration. By adopting this perspective, Pagan parents can help their children develop an understanding of the multicultural and interfaith aspects of this holiday time and view “Christmas” as just another form of Solstice. Have gift exchanges and feasts over the course of several days and nights as was done of old. Party hearty on New Year’s Eve not just to welcome in the new calendar year, but also to welcome the new solar year.”Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary

“‘Tis the season to be merry, and for some adherents of Pagan and earth-based religions, that means celebrating time-honored traditions that center on the Winter Solstice, which occurs on Monday. “The Winter Solstice, or Yule, has always been a time of celebration,” said Jim Mosher, of Topeka, high priest of the MoonShadow Coven, an earth-based religious group. “It is the return of the sun, the promise of the evergreen boughs and the birth of the midwinter — or sun — king.” The Winter Solstice is the shortest day and longest night of the year for those living north of the equator. Mosher noted the sun on the Winter Solstice is at its lowest point of the year in the sky. In Topeka, the sun is above the horizon less than 10 hours. In Yule celebrations, which Mosher said date back thousands of years, people conduct rituals designed to welcome back the sun and longer days of light.” - Phil Anderson, The Topeka Capital-Journal

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 17:47 UTC. Which means that it happened at approximately 09:47 AM PST for me. You can calculate the time for your own neck of the woods, here.

I have a few news stories I wanted to share before tomorrow’s Winter Solstice, starting with a look at the annual pilgrimage for Saint Lazarus in Cuba, that not only draws devout Catholics, but devout adherents to Santeria as well.

“Several thousand people walked to the church during the morning clutching bunches of mauve gladioli, pink bougainvillea and fat cigars to leave as offerings to the saint, who also symbolizes the deity Babalu-Aye in the Afro-Cuban Santeria faith. Experts explain this fusion of Santeria and Christian figures by saying that African slaves in Cuba originally pretended to worship the Catholic saints of their Spanish masters while secretly paying homage to their own deities.”

The Reuters article notes that religious expression, particularly Catholic religious expression, has become more pronounced in Cuba since the Pope John Paul II’s visit in the late 1990s. However, despite this relatively recent religious openness, Cuba is still rated as the least religiously free country in the Americas by a recent study of global restrictions on religion released by the Pew Forum. Santeria was initially suppressed by the Communist government, though those restrictions have lapsed over the decades, especially now that the faith draws in tourists interested in witnessing rites, or receiving initiations.

Over at the Washington Post/Newsweek’s On Faith religious blogging brain-trust, Starhawk weighs in on whether action regarding global warming is a moral imperative.

“Responding to climate change is the moral imperative of our time, and people of spirit and faith can play a vital role in helping us make this crucial transition. God, Goddess, Allah, Jehovah, Buddha, Krishna and the Great Spirit know that the politicians aren’t doing it! Watching the manipulations, stalling and deceptions going on in Copenhagen is enough to make us wonder if the Goddess really knew what she was up to in involving human beings–or if she simply didn’t finish the job … we need real commitments. What if every church, synagogue, mosque, temple, and Pagan grove committed to reduce their carbon footprint by the 90 percent that we truly need to reach by 2050? What if they started study groups and chevras and support groups to help people learn the skills and fund the projects and make the changes together?”

In addition to calling for stronger leadership on this issue within religious communities, Starhawk will also be attending the upcoming Gaza Freedom March along with 1300 other activists and notables, including Alice Walker and Roger Waters. You’ll be hearing more about her participation in this event soon. It should be interesting to see what ramifications, if any, her 2008 deportation from Israel will have.

In Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald conducted a Nielsen poll concerning religious belief, and found that 6% followed “obscure faiths” like Wicca, while 22% of the total population believe in the existence of witches.

“Committed Christians are even more likely to believe in witches (35 per cent). This may surprise many, but not Pastor Daniel Nalliah of Catch the Fire Ministries, who in October this year organised a prayer offensive on Mount Ainslie after the discovery, it seems, of an altar for black masses. It was, said Nalliah, “the work of dark forces wanting to cast spells on Australia and Federal Parliament [which Mount Ainslie overlooks] – witches have been at work to tear down the fabric of the robust democratic system of Australia through spells”. The offensive appears to have worked.”

The manner in which the survey and the results were conducted and reported didn’t please some local Pagans, who didn’t like being lumped in with UFO-believers, Jedi, and other “obscure” religions. That the 22% who believed in witches weren’t superstitious, just “informed”.

“…the 22 per cent who said they believed in witches are not necessarily superstitious but just informed. In the last Australian census more than 22,000 people admitted to following a pagan religion, many of them Wiccan or witches. To put this in perspective, this is more people than the Australian followers of the Jains, Ba’hai and Sikh religions combined. At the recent World Parliament of Religions hosted in Melbourne, witches and other pagans had their own educational stream just like the Christians and Buddhists. As for the 78 per cent who don’t believe in witches . . . I don’t believe in you either.”

That’s all I have for now, have a happy Solstice tomorrow. If you are looking for some Pagan-friendly holiday music, why not check out my just-posted A Darker Shade of Pagan 2009 Winter Holiday Music Special. It’s sure to put you in a proper Winter-feasting, welcoming-the-light-back sort of mood.

Top Story: Jon Lee Anderson of the Guardian brings us a riveting look at the massively violent drug wars raging in Rio’s favelas, where over 5000 people were murdered last year, and police-affiliated militias can be as deadly as the gangs. While exploring the question of if this situation can be reversed, and the culture of these gangs, Anderson focuses on Fernandinho, a gang-leader who converted to evangelical Christianity in 2007 and melds Christian morals with the violence of his trade.

“On 20 August 2007, a banner headline of the Rio tabloid Meia Hora said: “Thug beheads those who don’t follow his rules”, and underneath, “Fernandinho Guarabu, Dendê’s boss, uses an axe to execute his victims. The evangelical trafficker forbids even macumba in the favela.” (Macumba refers to one of the country’s African-derived religions, along with Umbanda and Candomblé, which strict evangelicals see as little more than witchcraft.) That same day, in the broadsheet O Dia, this report appeared: “In spite of his violence, the ‘word of God’ must always be propagated, sometimes in a radical way. Guarabu has supposedly banned Umbanda and Candomblé rituals, as well as spiritualist séances. At 6pm every day, a pastor’s prayer echoes on the narrow alleys.” What had happened was that Fernandinho had become friendly with Pastor Sidney, and had been born again. He took to his new faith with great enthusiasm. He had “Jesus Cristo” tattooed on one of his forearms in big letters, and Morro do Dendê was soon covered with new religious graffiti. The community swimming pool he had built now had a sign above it saying, “This Belongs to Jesus Christ”. Also, Fernandinho had supposedly ordered his men not to carry out “violent” crimes, such as carjacking, armed robbery and murder, although he was still selling drugs.”

Naturally, the story of Fernandinho’s conversion doesn’t have a happy ending for the Christians who sought to curb his violence. His gang is back to murdering informants, and Fernandinho is estranged from the pastor who converted him. That hasn’t stopped other, less scrupulous, pastors from ingratiating themselves, or even allowing their churches to be used by his operation. Proof, perhaps, that mere conversion can’t solve these problems, and may even redirect the violence into places they hadn’t anticipated (the violence against non-Christians in his favela for instance). With the international spotlight shining on Rio for the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics, it should be interesting to see what the government does to curb gang violence and reform the police forces before massive floods of international tourists arrive.

In Other News: The Poughkeepsie Journal has a surprisingly solid article by Lauren Yanks exploring the Winter Solstice from a variety of view-points both secular and spiritual. This includes a local Wiccan shop-owner and a Norse Pagan employee.

“Patrick Twamley also works at the Awareness Shop. Twamley follows the Norse pagan tradition. “In the Norse pagan tradition, the night before the solstice is usually called Mother’s Night,” he said. “It’s a time to honor the female ancestors of your line. This probably goes back to the idea of the mother giving birth to the sun.” As part of the Norse tradition, on the winter solstice Twamley sprinkles everybody with ale as a way of bestowing a blessing, usually out of a blessing bowl. Then there is a feast and a toast to the female spirits. “It’s a way to show gratitude for all we’ve been given,” he said.”

Yanks also asks academics about Native American traditions relating to the Winter Solstice, and interviews the minister of the Uniterian Universalist Fellowship in Poughkeepsie. Maybe papers should encourage more academics (Yanks teaches English at SUNY New Paltz) to write features for them, they, at least, know to quote multiple sources.

It seems English Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols made a theological faux pas while at a visit to a Hindu temple in London and (allegedly) placed flowers on the altar of the Hindu deities. This most likely unwitting violation of the First Commandment has gotten Rod “Crunchy Con” Dreher’s dander up.

“I’ll say this for the Muslims: they know better than to get into this syncretism garbage. It is not only possible to honor other religions without paying homage to their gods, it is mandatory for Christians. I would not expect a Jew or a Muslim to cross himself at a Christian altar, or before a Christian crucifix or an icon. Nor would I be insulted in the least if he didn’t. It’s those who are indifferent to what a gesture like this means that worry me.”

Ah yes, “syncretism garbage”. Never mind that this wasn’t an act of “syncretism”, but most likely an unwitting mistake, it’s enough of an excuse to unleash the river of bile and snark Dreher holds for minority non-Christian faiths in general, and for Pagan and African diasporic faiths in particular. Did a polytheist kick his puppy as a child? Did Wiccans steal his lunch-money? It can’t simply be Christian piety that drives this particular immaturity.

So have you heard about the Goth Pagan Robin Hood yet? No? You are so missing out! It seems a man calling himself Frater Osiris Xnoubis robbed a bank wearing black leathers and then proceeded to hand the money out at a local sandwich shop.

“He handed a note to terrified cashier Laura Sulling telling her he was armed and demanded she hand over the cash in her till. Xnoubis, a Pagan worshipper, stuffed £6,570 into a bag and told her to “have a nice day” before calmly walking out of the HSBC branch in Terminus Road, Eastbourne. He walked a few yards to The Gildridge pub where he handed barmaid Gemma Clark a £20 note for a bottle of beer and told her to keep the change. After downing his drink he left and went to nearby Harrisons sandwich bar. He handed the bag of cash to astonished owner Clive Benneys, who was also his landlord, saying: “You are good people, help yourselves.” Xnoubis left the shop and promptly went to the police station in Grove Road where he confessed to the robbery.”

A psychiatric report stated he was depressed, but not mentally ill. A judge sentenced him to three-and-a-half years after a guilty plea. Perhaps years from now they’ll sing ballads for brave Frater Osiris Xnoubis, who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Perhaps they’ll give him a merry band of goths and Pagans who help him in his quest! Hey, stranger things have happened.

In a final note, Erynn Rowan Laurie has a review up of “Ten Years of Triumph of the Moon”, a collection of essays inspired by, deriving from, or just celebrating the influential work of historian Ronald Hutton. She finds several things to like about the collection, but says its hindered by sloppy editing and some rather mediocre essays.

“There are a number of other articles in the book, some of which are passable, but unfortunately one of the editors had the least readable and least useful article in the whole compilation. It’s unfortunate he didn’t himself have an editor to look over his own work. I think that if you’re a Hutton fan, you’ll find a lot to like in this book, as well as a few things that might challenge your opinions. If you’re not specifically a Hutton fan but are interested in the state of scholarship regarding Paganism and the occult today, this will also be quite worth reading. Just be prepared for a lot of bad editing.”

Shame about the editing really, you’d expect better from an academic-oriented collection. Still, I’m looking forward to getting my hands on a copy for review (and my own edification).

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!