Archives For Yule

A Blessed Winter Solstice

The Wild Hunt —  December 20, 2015 — 4 Comments

This weekend, many Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists in the Northern Hemisphere are marking the Winter Solstice with celebrations, feasts, and rituals. The solstice will occur on Tuesday, Dec 22 at at 04:49 UTC. It is a day traditionally thought to be the longest night and shortest day of the year.

By McKay Savage from London via Wikimedia Commons

[Photo Credit: McKay Savage / Wikimedia Commons]

This time of year is held sacred within many different modern Pagan and Heathen traditions, and has a rich history in ancient Pagan religions. 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.

And, for our friends and family living in the Southern Hemisphere, it is the time of the Summer Solstice, considered the longest day and shortest night.

Here are some thoughts on the observance of this holiday:

“The solstice season is upon us, and it’s only a couple of weeks before the longest night of the year here in the northern hemisphere. It’s a season of darkness and cold, where we are given the opportunity to find the gifts that darkness brings. It can be hard, when the rest of the world seems to be doing their best to stave off their fear with bright lights, noise and extended shopping hours, but if we are able to push beyond that we can see the sacredness of this holy time, and the exquisite power that it brings.” – Joanna van der Hoeven, From “Darkness and the Winter Solstice”

  *   *   *

“A local Protestant minister, an old man with a booming preaching voice, invoked a father god whose radiance shines down. “Ave Sol Invictus,” I thought, considering that the minister stood in front of a wreath-decorated blazing fireplace, no Christian symbolism in sight. Maybe this was his non-sectarian mode of public speaking, but he talked about this “sacred valley” and the “sacred season” and invoked the ancestors. I felt right at home.”- Chas Clifton, From “Invoking the Birds and Hunting at Yule.”

  *   *   *

“Imagine a Yule ritual with a focus on new year’s resolutions; except instead of pointless promises that are abandoned two weeks into the year, these are powerful vows with the backing of a spiritual entity. An ancestor, spirit, or deity is called to witness the vows (each one by each individual, who would also give Them a suitable offering). Such a thing would require a fair amount of preparation and planning by anyone who would like to participate, but it has the potential to create incredibly strong bonds and powerful experiences.” – Molly Khan, From “Yule is more than the Returning Light.”

  *   *   *

“We sat around the fire for only a half hour or so. The night was thumpingly cold, and smoke kept blowing in our faces. My six year old son and four year old daughter were more interested in jabbing the fire with sticks than in listening to their parents’ makeshift stories about the Man on the Moon and other celestial beings. My daughter singed her hair, and the tip of her mitten melted. Glancing up at the stars and moon, I was suddenly overcome with…

Actually, no word captures the feelings that flooded me, but awe will suffice.” – John Horgan, From “Why a Science Writer Celebrates Winter Solstice”

  *   *   *

“The Winter Solstice is likely humanity’s oldest holy day. As the days shorten and the temperatures fall, Nature whispers a truth: Winter is coming. For those who live in northern latitudes and higher elevations, it’s already here. And it’s going to get worse, even here in Texas. What better time for us to come together and enjoy food and drink and to focus our attention on our families, our religious communities, and our most sacred traditions.” – John Beckett, From “Solstice Morning at Newgrange”

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From all of us at The Wild Hunt, may you have a very blessed solstice, winter or summer, and the merriest of holiday seasons.

[Photo Credit: Chris Hutchison]

[Photo Credit: Chris Hutchison]

In January 2014, Pope Francis—the Pontifex of Rome—released a pair of white doves after a prayer for peace in Ukraine. The doves were immediately attacked by a crow and a seagull. It doesn’t take a weatherman to see which way the wind blows. Nor does it take an augur to interpret this omen, especially in retrospect. Almost two years later, the Institute for the Study of War reports that “Russian-backed separatists intensified attacks along multiple frontline positions in Ukraine in early December 2015,” and the war shows no signs of abating.

[Donetsk, August 2014 / Wikipedia]

Donetsk, 3 August 2014 [Photo Credit: Nabak / Wikimedia]

Warfare rages across territory disputed by the governments of Syria and Iraq, and various factions including Daesh, and ripples ever outwards in concentric circles (Institute for the Study of War Report, p. 9-10). This week has seen talks between rival governments in Libya and a ceasefire between the Saudis and the Houthis in Yemen, but both truces are still uncertain and Daesh has a rapidly growing presence in both countries, as does Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQIP) in Yemen.

Daesh and the Taliban control an increasing amount of territory in Afghanistan. Egypt is again ruled by a military dictatorship, but nonetheless is unable to defeat or even effectively contain Daesh’s Sinai Province: “the insurgency is extending beyond Sinai to other parts of the country.” And six months after a ceasefire between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Turkey ended, another ceasefire seems increasingly unlikely, as Turkey has fired 100 times more airstrikes at the PKK than at Daesh.

More than 119 Palestinians and 20 Israelis have been killed in an “uptick in violence [which] began back in early October.” In Nigeria, Boko Haram (now also a Province of Daesh) has killed over 17,000 people in six years. Violence, potentially along ethnic lines, is erupting in Burundi, Rwanda’s neighbor. In Mexico, “at least 100,000 people over the last eight years” have died in battles both between drug cartels and between the cartels and the government. In the United States, The Guardian reports that as of December 8, 1,058 people have been killed by police officers this year alone.¹

What does this all add up to? A lot of people slain in battle, or in other politically-charged violence.²

Valföðr, Father of the Slain

Odin is “called Father of the Slain,” either “because all those that fall in battle are the sons of his adopt[i]on” (Gylfaginning 20, trans. Bodeur), or because half of the slain go to Freyja and half to him:

Half of the dead
each day does she choose,
And half does Othin have
(Grimnisnal 14, trans. Bellows)

Gylfaginning calls Odin’s “adopted sons” Einherjar, etymologically derived from ein “one, alone” and arr “warrior.”

In Phantom Armies of the Night: The Wild Hunt and Ghostly Processions of the Undead, Claude Lecouteux discusses possible connections between Odin, the Einherjar and the various folkloric entities often referred to as the Wild Hunt, which he defines as “a band of the dead whose passage over the earth at certain times of year is accompanied by diverse phenomena” (Lecouteux, 2011, p. 2).

Lecouteux spends quite a bit of time challenging existing scholarship and arguing that Odin’s associations with the Hunt may be of later provenance: “it is impossible to say whether this has been the case since the beginning or if he entered this legend much later” (p. 213), though he inclines much more towards the latter hypothesis. However, he acknowledges that questions of dates and definitive origins become less pressing when one considers the proliferation of diverse stories about the Wild Hunt and its cousins: “there was not one but there were many nocturnal hosts—often confused for each other, as we have seen, and some with a pronounced martial character and some without” (p. 214).

Odin and Sleipnir, Tjängvide image stone [Photo Credit: Berig / Wikimedia]

Unidentified rider astride Sleipnir, Tjängvide image stone [Photo Credit: Berig / Wikimedia]

Lecouteux traces “the first mention of Odin as the leader of a troop of the damned” to the Medieval Norwegian Dream Song or Draumkvedet of Olaf Åsteson, in which he appeared by the name Grutte Gráskeggi or “Graybeard” (Lecouteux, p. 223). He sees Gráskeggi as corresponding to one of Odin’s many names, Hárbarðr—also meaning “Graybeard.” Another contender for the “first evidence of the Hunt’s connection to Odin,” a fourteenth or fifteenth century charm “for protection against spirits of the night,” refers to “Wutanes Her,” but “it is impossible to know with any certainty whether Wutanes Her should be translated as Furious Army or Wotan’s Army” (Lecouteux, p. 241).

The first explicit mention of Odin by name is found in a text published by Nicolaus Gryse in 1593 in Rostock, Mirror of the Anti-Christian Papacy and Lutheran Christianity, which described the persistence among the peasantry of “invocations of Odin at harvesttime, for the pagans believed that this same diabolical huntsmen made his presence known in the fields at the time of the harvest” (Lecouteux, p. 224).

Furthermore, a 1654 Swedish book, Suebo-Gotland Antiquities by Uppsala University professor Johannes Locenius, reported the folk belief that “if any specter shows itself at evening or in the night on horseback or armed and accompanied by a loud din, people say that it is Odin passing through” (Lecouteux, p. 224). Lecouteux notes that those processions or apparitions with particularly warlike characteristics show strong thematic connections to Odin and the Einherjar:

The most solid argument in Odin’s favor is undoubtedly the fact that the Infernal Throng sometimes consists of warriors and horsemen. As the god of war and the owner of the horse Sleìpnir, Odin is at home in this context. He also finds a place as master of Jöl (Jölnir) [i.e. Yule], through his knowledge of necromancy and other magical practices that make him the god-shaman who has mastered the trance journey, and by his Einherjar, the dead warriors that make up the army with whom he will confront the powers of chaos during Ragnarök. (Lecouteux, p. 214)

Sometimes, too, the “Furious Army” is comprised of “criminals that have been broken on the wheel and hanged” (Lecouteux, p. 52), recalling Odin’s names Hangaguð and Hangatýr—both meaning “God of the Hanged.”

In his cataloging and analysis of various types of “ghostly processions,” Lecouteux distinguishes what he calls the “phantom army” phenomenon from those versions of the Hunt—often involving the “Doubles of sleepers” and led by female Powers such as Diana, Herodias, Percht, Frau Holle, Holda, or the euphemistically-named “Good Women” — which bring “prosperity with [them] as long as the rites are respected” (Lecouteux, p. 52). By contrast, however, “the passing of phantom armies is a bad omen: it heralds either some catastrophe or war” (Lecouteux, p. 52).

As with the crow and the dove in the Vatican, though, it should be painfully apparent to anyone witnessing a “phantom army” that “catastrophe or war” has already arrived. One detail to keep in mind, however, is the idea that “those who commit suicide or are those slain by arms cannot find rest and that wizards and witches are destined to transform into revenants and therefore become part of the nocturnal hosts” (Lecouteux, p.54). Thus, “phantom armies” may well be the result of widespread warfare as well as its harbinger. Like climate change, the full effects may not be visible yet, but they are surely inevitable.

Masked Warriors

In addition to apparitions of the literal dead, Lecouteux mentions Otto Höfler’s hypothesis that Wild Hunt stories may have originated in processions of the personified dead: “the Wild Hunt was possibly the image of brotherhoods that consisted of masked warriors. The mask permitted them to be identified with the dead. The festivals of this fraternity coincided with those on which commemoration of the dead was celebrated—in short, with ancestor worship” (Lecouteux, p. 229). Regarding the mask, it must be observed that “the same word in many languages was used to designate both the dead and masks—for example, the Latin larva and the Lithuanian kaukas” (Lecouteux, p. 177-178).

Dolon, ca. 460 BCE [Photo Credit: Jastrow / Wikimedia]

Dolon, Trojan warrior killed by Diomedes, Attic vase ca. 460 BCE [Photo Credit: Jastrow / Wikimedia]

The Spanish Società do Oso, which was “formed by living people,” is also cited as evidence in favor of Höfler’s theory. The Società do Oso was apparently able to accurately predict the deaths of individuals, and to “temporarily leave their bodies—that is, they created a Double” (Lecouteux, p. 229). Lecouteux writes that “the Double speaks in favor of ecstatic phenomena […] a sleeper emitted his Double, which joined with a procession of the dead and gained knowledge of his imminent death. On waking, he believed that he had really seen this procession and accredits its passage as such” (Lecouteux, p. 232).

He describes the ability to “divide into Doubles” as a “gift,” but also notes that “their duties were transferable” by handing their tokens of office (in one case, a cross and a font of holy water) to another human being. He further observes that “this transfer of power was strangely reminiscent of that of the Latvian werewolves, the name of a secret fraternity of men who could cast Doubles who would fight the wizards who had stolen the seeds,” and that “these particular werewolves were active on Santa Lucia’s Day, St. John’s Day, and Pentecost—dates that witnessed the passage of the Wild Hunt” (Lecouteux, p. 233-234).

Lecouteux concludes that “it is more than a certainty that ecstatic phenomena hid behind this legend complex, and it is more than sure that at its center were worship of the dead and fertility concerns” (Lecouteux, p. 235). Though the exact details are impossible to determine, he does mention his colleagues’ theories of strong connections, once again, to the warrior dead:

Höfler regards the members of these brotherhoods as soldiers, and we can find confirmation from our medieval narratives, which often depict armed men. Ronald Grambo belives that we have here the vestiges of an elitist cult of dead warriors. (Lecouteux, p. 235)


At Gods and Radicals, Lee Davies has written a four-part series entitled “The Hunt and the Hound,” which traces the Wild Hunt to the Proto-Indo-European Koryos—war bands “strongly associated with wolves and hounds” and who “masked, draped in skins or with painted bodies […] would not only embody the dead but literally and in actuality, to those people, become the dead.” Lee originally proposed creating “a spirit house in the form of a canine skull” and suggested that “there is a surfeit of political names which could be carved into lead and offered up for the Hunt to set its hounds upon.” The fourth and final part of the series details Lee’s experiences following up on what he had proposed: not quite as “originally envisioned,” but still unfolding.

In September, the same month that the first part of Lee’s series was published, Sable Aradia put forth a proposal—also posted at Gods and Radicals—for a ritual in which the magician or witch would “visualize the Hunt riding against the quarry you’ve requested.” In response, spirit-worker and writer Dver questioned the underlying premise “that the Hunt has the function of pursuing/destroying something wicked (and furthermore, destroying something we humans might want destroyed).” She pointed out that “I have never seen any indication that they can be petitioned to make our personal enemies their quarry, and it seems from the folklore that they would be just as likely to turn their rather terrifying sights on the person who drew their attention.”

Watercolor by Edgar Bundy, 1911. [Credit: Wellcome Images / Wikimedia]

“Death as general rides a horse on the battlefield,” Edgar Bundy, 1911. [Image Credit: Wellcome Images / Wikimedia]

Dver’s comment has already sparked discussion, and is surely part of an ongoing conversation. Lecouteux perhaps has something to offer, though he provides no easy answers. He describes the Wild Hunt as posing the “problem” of death for the living: “the entire legend revolves around the problem of our future in the otherworld or beyond the grave and what the fundamental implications of the unique status of the dead are for the living” (Lecouteux, p. 168). He, too, warns that the dead are often deliberately inscrutable and unpredictable: “depending on the nature of the texts, we meet souls in perdition as well as individuals who have no connection to purgatory and who lead a life about which we know nothing, for they overtly seek to conceal the purpose of their wanderings” (Lecouteux, p. 168-169). In the following paragraph, however, he makes the unsettling statement that “we can gain the impression that the Wild Hunt is a rite that both the living and the dead celebrate” (Lecouteux, p. 169).

So which is it—celebration or catastrophe? That question is unanswerable. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, “Everybody considers dying important, but as yet death is no festival. As yet men have not learned how one hallows the most beautiful festivals” (trans. Kauffman, “On Free Death”).

Nietzsche [Photo Credit: Isenhiem / Wikimedia]

Friedrich Nietzsche [Photo Credit: Isenhiem / Wikimedia]

He wrote, too, the challenge: “You say it is the good cause that hallows even war? I say unto you: it is the good war that hallows any cause” (“On War and Warriors”). A dangerous and highly suspect statement, to be sure, but there is an echo of the words, “Half of the dead/each day does she choose,/And half does Othin have.” The values for which wars are fought matter: they are the meanings we seek in our lives. But the meanings of some things in the world are beyond our comprehension. Some wars are bigger than picking sides, however good the cause. We would do well to remember that, especially at this time of year.

Folklore tells us that “the Wild Hunt appears most frequently” in the twelve days “between Christmas and Epiphany—that is, within the twelve-day Christmas cycle, when it is said that spirits have free rein to leave the otherworld and wander about the earth, performing various tasks” (Lecouteux, p. 17). Be forewarned.

And a passage from Viga-Glúm’s Saga, translated by George Johnston and quoted in Phantom Armies of the Night (Lecouteux, p. 52), reminds us once again that the Riding of the Powers is nothing to take lightly:

The ring-giver saw them riding
A snapping of swords must happen
It’s come, the grey spears’ greeting
As the gods ride [godreid] fast through the pasture
Odin exults to see
The Valkyries eager for battle
Those goddesses dripping forth gore
Drenching the lives of men.


1. Some may consider it hyperbolic to include this statistic in a list of ongoing wars and (counter-)insurgencies, but as is amply demonstrated by the example of Mexico’s cartel-related violence, law enforcement conduct necessarily has an effect upon and takes place within the context of what British General Frank Kitson called “low intensity operations.”

2. Sun Zi said, “The art of war is of vital importance to the State.” And Clausewitz wrote, “War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means.” And Foucault reversed Clausewitz: “politics is war by other means.”

The holidays in December are plentiful, and there are many different intersections of practice among Pagans today. Winter Solstice, Yule, and Saturnalia are three of the more commonly referenced in the modern Pagan community at this time. Yet there are other holidays that continue to find their way into the practices of Pagan homes. While some people continue to celebrate Christmas and some observe Hanukkah, Kwanzaa is one of the December holidays that is not often discussed in Pagan circles.

courtesy of Pixababy

[Courtesy of Pixababy]

Celebrated over seven days, Kwanzaa is a Pan-African, cultural holiday that celebrates a set of seven principles. The word Kwanzaa was derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” which is said to mean “first fruits” in Swahili. The “first harvest” has been celebrated in many African cultures throughout history.

The holiday called Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga. Dr. Karenga was a professor of Black studies at California State University – Long Beach. It is said that Kwanzaa was created as a way to support people of African descent in their attempts to connect to the roots of their culture.

Dr. Karenga’s life has not been without controversy and, for some, this has discouraged participation in the increasingly popular celebration of Kwanzaa. However, others choose not to associate the holiday with him at all and instead make their connections to harvest, faith, family and culture the forefront of their participation.

According to the Official Kwanzaa Website:

First, Kwanzaa was created to reaffirm and restore our rootedness in African culture. It is, therefore, an expression of recovery and reconstruction of African culture which was being conducted in the general context of the Black Liberation Movement of the ’60’s and in the specific context of The Organization Us, the founding organization of Kwanzaa and the authoritative keeper of its tradition.

Secondly, Kwanzaa was created to serve as a regular communal celebration to reaffirm and reinforce the bonds between us as a people. It was designed to be an ingathering to strengthen community and reaffirm common identity, purpose and direction as a people and a world community.

Thirdly, Kwanzaa was created to introduce and reinforce the Nguzo Saba (the Seven Principles.)

The seven principles include: (1) Umoja or Unity; (2)Kujichagulia or Self-Determination; (3) Ujima or Collective Work and Responsibility; (4) Ujamaaor Cooperative Economics; (5) Nia or Purpose; (6) Kuumba or Creativity; and (7) Imani or Faith.

Kwanzaa begins on Dec 26 and ends on Jan 1. There is a customary meal on Dec 31 during which families celebrate togetherness. The final day is for reflection and the honoring of the ancestors. Three questions (Kawaida) are to be asked on the day of reflection: “Who am I?”  “Am I really who I say I am?” “Am I all I ought to be?” 

A Kinara, a candle holder for seven candles, is one of the most notable symbols of Kwanzaa.  Because the seven candles are lit for each principle, the Kinara is one of most important pieces of the observance.

As many people of all religions grapple with the mesh of secular holidays, religious holidays, cultural celebrations and familial traditions, Kwanzaa should not be forgotten within the realm of December holidays.

Even as the popularity of Kwanzaa grows, mainstream culture does not embrace it as a part of the December festive celebrations and observances. Yet many African-Americans, including Modern Pagans and Polytheists, observe this cultural holiday.  In further exploring this intersection, I reached out to several other practitioners that celebrate Kwanzaa to understand their views and experiences.

Connie Jones-Steward

10681_10203235278082942_3081184162659216806_nAs an African-American, a priestess of the Goddess and a Wiccan, late December is a busy time for me; it is a time when I am celebrating the Winter Solstice, Christmas and Kwanzaa. I adopted Wicca as my religion in my mid-thirties and the Winter Solstice became one of my Holy Days. However as an African American and cultural Christian, Christmas and Kwanzaa have been part of my culture for much longer and I still celebrate them just as my culturally Jewish, yet Wiccan/Pagan, friends still celebrate Chanukah. Therefore I was rather surprised by the question of whether or not African-American Pagans celebrate Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is a celebration of the harvest and what could be more Pagan than a Harvest Celebration?

Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday not a religious one. It was never meant to displace or replace Christmas or any other holiday, therefore people of any religion are free to celebrate or observe it. It begins at 12:01 AM on December 26th and ends on January 1st so that it does not compete with Christmas or Yule/Solstice. Kwanzaa was first celebrated in 1966 and interest continues to grow. This year, on December 27th, I will be conducting a presentation on Kwanzaa to the Emerson Unitarian Universalist congregation in Canoga Park, CA”

Byron Tyler Coles

10610902_10203762582504887_7954145591126427499_nI celebrate Kwanzaa as a Biracial African-American as to reclaim a social and communal identity that I feel has been lost. As a pan-African celebration, Kwanzaa allows me to reflect upon the shared struggles of the African-diaspora. But more importantly, it allows to me give thanks for the many blessings that we have received and to hope and set intention for a brighter future.

Within my spiritual practices as a Pagan I hold an extremely special place for the honoring of my Ancestors, particular those who are directly related to me, grandmother-grandfather, great grandmother – great grandfather, and so forth. Whereas Kwanzaa is a fairly secular holiday, I place heavy spiritual meaning behind the pouring of libations as to give thanks for my ancestors continued guidance and wisdom. I also find myself pondering about what life will be like for generations to come, especially in these historical moments within the United States.

While Kwanzaa is both a time to reflect back on our labor and to give thanks for our current blessings, I light the Mishumma Saba as to set intention that the world will one day operate on the principles of Unity, Cooperative Economics, and Faith.

Lisa Bland

12366068_574548652721404_4536710089890161754_o“I celebrated Kwanzaa more when I was a young girl, and as a university student. I chose to celebrate as a way to connect with my black culture and other members of my community, and in doing so the principles of Kwanzaa helped shape much of my growth into adulthood. Now, as I start my own family, a biracial mother with a biracial child, it is crucial that she understands her heritage, and the cultures that are a part of who she is. As she grows I want her to understand the importance of Kwanzaa from a cultural and historical perspective, and also have the choice to incorporate it’s values into her life.

I started officially celebrating Kwanzaa in 2013, making a homemade Kinara and going through the process of beginning to learn the seven principles. Within my personal journey, Kwanzaa filled a void in my practice that was not complete with solstice/Yule or secular Christmas celebrations alone. Cultural celebration, ancestral ties and identity are a large part of spiritual connectivity, which is why Kwanzaa remains important in my own life.

One of my motivations, besides my own cultural enrichment and connectivity, was the hopes that I would be able to support my children in understanding the beauty and richness of their ancestral culture. If all we are fed are social messages telling us we are bad, it takes intentional learning and exploration to counteract that. Purposeful cultural enrichment has the ability to enhance a connection to self and to a place in the world.

As a non-religious cultural observance, Kwanzaa can compliment many variations of Pagan practice by including ancestral reverence and honoring the harvest, while also allowing spiritual choice. It is also one of the few holidays created by and for those of African descent to reclaim and restore cultural heritage, understanding, pride and awareness.

So if you see one of your African-American Pagan friends with a Kinara lit in their home in the month of December, it is perfectly fine to wish them a Blessed Kwanzaa.

More on Kwanzaa:

Official Kwanzaa Website “What is Kwanzaa?”

Sweet Honey in the Rock sings a wonderful, powerful song about the principles of Kwanzaa.

The Black Candle is a documentary about Kwanzaa and the impact on Black people. Maya Angelou narrates the documentary.

2000px-Pentacle_on_white.svgIt was announced that Morgan McFarland, co-founder of the McFarland Dianic tradition, died Dec. 7, 2015. Together with Mark Roberts, Morgan established the tradition in 1971 in Dallas, Texas. Several covens were eventually born, and Morgan began to write down all of her teachings. In 1977, Mark, who had served as High Priest, left the tradition to follow his own path. Then, in 1979, Morgan retired as High Priestess. However, the tradition continued to thrive.

Although Morgan never returned to coven life, she has always been considered the matriarch of the McFarland Dianic Wiccan tradition, and did serve as an adviser to the tradition’s council.

Claudiney Pietro, a Wiccan Priest from Brazil, wrote, “Today is a day of sorrow for the Craft of the Wise,” calling Morgan McFarland one of the most important and inspirational figures. We will have more on Morgan’s life and work in the coming weeks.

What is remembered, lives.

  *   *   *

12075017_1206418709377072_2965345679513940138_nIt has been just one month since the Paris terror attacks shocked the world, leaving 130 dead and hundreds wounded. Since that time, Pagans have been performing rituals in and around the city. As we reported in November, the Ligue Wiccane Eclectique, Paris-based Pagan group, organized a worldwide prayer candlelight vigil complete with a special chant. Coordinator Xavier Mondon noted that, despite the tragedy, “There is a willingness to unite and be present.”

Several weeks later, local Pagans organized a peace and protection ritual for the United Nations Climate Conference (COP21). They explained, “Although our community is diverse, as global citizens we were all touched by the devastating terrorist attacks in Paris. Now is an opportunity to lend your skills, energy, mojo, and Will to help PROTECT PARIS and TIP THE SCALES of the climate talks so we may have real, measurable, actionable results.” The two protection circles were kept active until this past weekend, during which they was taken down and opened.

Coming up this next weekend will be another public Pagan ritual. The Lique Wiccane Eclectique, which is also celebrating its 10 year anniversary, and Le Cercle de Sequana are staging a public Yule Ritual to be held Dec. 20 at 3 p.m. The event invitations ask guests to “come as they are,” bring food, decorations, tools and to dress for the weather. The ritual will take place outside at Château de Vincennes.

  *   *   *

operation circle careOperation Circle Care (OCC) is in its 9th year of operation and is an annual project of Circle Sanctuary. Each year the organization collects Pagan ritual and religious items for service members stationed overseas and on deployment. OCC organizers said, “Last year, we were proud to send packages to service members stationed in countries such as Kuwait, Germany, South Korea, Japan, and to Sailors & Marines at sea around the world.”

The program is 100% supported by Pagans for Pagans, as they note. Therefore, Circle reaches out to the larger community each year to make this project a reality. First, they ask for the names and contact information for any military service members that might like a Pagan gift package. In addition, they are asking for item donations, such as: Pagan jewelry, divination items, mini altar cloths, small God/Goddess symbols, Pagan music, handmade small craft items and more. A full list is on the website.

Organizers said, “What has always made the OCC project so special is its personal touch. Operation Circle Care contents are always made up of personal gifts donated by Pagans of many traditions.”

In Other News:

  • Last week, we noted the upcoming conference season, which is typically kicked off with the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. Its organizers have just newly updated the website with the complete event schedule. The conference theme is Social Justice, and the keynote speakers are Gus diZerega and Nikki Bado. As always, this conference takes place in Claremont, California over two days near the end of January. More information is on the website.
  • Terra Mysterium, a Chicago based theatre company, will be premiering its new, Pagan-themed, adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The play, titled A Midwinter’s Mummers Tale, “concerns the transformation of Esmerelda Pennywise […] through visitations from powerful Ancient beings. It will feature British folk customs, new arrangements of beloved British folk songs and original compositions, and bring a holiday magick of a different stripe to this beloved tale!”  Terra Mysterium will be performing the play over Yule weekend, Dec. 18-20, at the Lincoln Loft in Chicago. We will have more on this project coming up later this week.
  • The Green Album producers have announced a partnership with The Rainforest Trust. Partial proceeds from the album’s sale will be donated to the Trust and its work to “protect the world’s tropical forests.” The Green Album is a collaborative project that will feature fifteen different Pagan artists from around the world. It will be available for purchase in spring 2016.
  • Author and Priestess Arianna Alexsandra Collins has released her first novel Hearken to Avalon. On the site, Collins describes the book as “Set against the backdrop of myth and legend, history is rewritten by those who did not get to tell their side of the story. Meet the descendants of Avalon and Guy of Gisbourne, the Stag King.” Hearken to Avalon is available through her website and through Create Space.
  • The start of 2016 is only weeks away. Producers of the popular GBG Calendar say that it is not too late to order next year’s edition. With every calendar purchase, a donation is given to The Museum of Witchcraft and the Doreen Valiente Foundation. In addition, older calendars are also now available for purchase through the GBG Calendar website.
  • For those awaiting the distribution of A Beautiful Resistance, your wait is over. The paper version was released on Nov 5, and it has been shipped to all those who pre-ordered, and it is now available in some retails stores and by mail order. A digital version will be released tomorrow, Dec 15. A Beautiful Resistance is the first issue of a journal produced by the editors of the Gods & Radicals website. It’s 120-pages contain the works of 30 different Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist writers on a range of related topics.

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.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. Our hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

hydraulic fracturingOn Dec. 17, New York state officials announced that they would not allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the state. According to local news reports, Gov. Cuomo let his experts make the final call on the issue. Based on six years of study, state commissioners from both the Department of Heath and the Department of Environmental Conservation advised against proceeding at this time. DOH commissioner Dr. Zucker said, “I have considered all of the data and find significant questions and risks to public health which as of yet are unanswered … I asked myself, ‘would I let my family live in a community with fracking?’ The answer is no. I therefore cannot recommend anyone else’s family to live in such a community either.”

The announcement was a significant win for the newly formed Pagan Environmental Coalition of New York City, whose original mission was to convince officials to ban fracking in the state. Since its inception, PEC-NYC has attended rallies, lobbied at book signings and sent petitions to the Governor. The organization’s work was highlighted in a Wild Hunt article called “Pagans Join the Fight against Fracking.”

When the news was announced, the group celebrated, saying:

It has been an extremely exciting week for PEC-NYC. Between submitting hundreds of Pagan signatures to Governor Cuomo in support of wind power and the announcement of a state-wide ban on fracking, we are ecstatic. Today, we celebrate but tomorrow, we go back to work. There are pipelines to fight, an LNG port to stop, and a wind farm to build. We would like to thank all who signed, marched, rallied, and all who donated money, goods, and time to these causes. We look forward to further solidarity.  We are far from finished.

*   *   *

Presentation1In Jan. 2015, a new organization will be launching called The Koinon. Its purpose will be to serve the greater Hellenic community, regardless of practice. As noted on its website, whether “you are a reconstructionist who holds rituals in ancient Greek or an Eclectic whose rituals include the Watchtowers, you have a place at our table.”

Organizer Conor Davis told The Wild Hunt that the group would have its 501c3 status by the summer 2015. In the meantime, organizers are building the plan, structure and other specifics. Davis said that anyone interested in joining the group or helping can either watch the website for updated information. or contact the organizers directly at Although not yet published, Davis sent us the group’s mission statement:

We the Koinon exist to serve the Theoi and the Hellenic community by providing Hellenists of all walks of life, worship methods, and personal practices a network of support and a place to belong as a people.

We believe in engaging our local communities through service, interfaith outreach and education, and through charity.

We believe in serving the larger Hellenic community through ongoing education and by providing a place of belonging.

We respect the inherent worth and dignity of every person and therefore reject all forms of racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, and any other forms of discrimination.

*   *   *

pete pathfinderThe Aquariuan Tabernacle Church will be hosting a public memorial for Pete Pathfinder Davis on Dec. 27 in Seattle Washington. The group said that this will be the second of three memorial services. The first was held on the ATC property in the group’s own sacred space on Nov. 8.

The third “will be held at their annual Spring Mysteries Festival over Easter weekend” in Fort Flagler, Washington. This upcoming memorial will be held at Seattle Unity Church, located at 200 Eighth Avenue North in downtown Seattle. All are welcome to attend.

In Other News:


  • For those who have enjoyed reading Phaedra Bonewits’ blog, she has returned. After a long two-year hiatus, Bonewits has published an entry entited “On Gifts, Friendship and Love.” In this timely and particularly moving story, she recalls her days celebrating the many happy holiday seasons with Isaac and the little touches that made it special. She shares memories from their last Yule together and the friendships that made that difficult season more magical. It is personal story of joy, friendship, loss, darkness and re-emergence.
  • In another entirely different blog post, Tim Titus reacts to news of potential changes in U.S.- Cuban relations. His personal experience with the Cuban culture have given him a deep appreciation for the country, its culture and people, which he pours into this article. Near the end, he writes, “Silence is just as damaging as violence. It tears apart a family it its own quiet, seemingly innocent way. It accomplishes nothing and is counterproductive to any relationship.The U.S. and Cuba have been sitting at the Table of Silence together for far too long.” Titus’ article is an excellent glimpse into a world most Americans have not been able to see.
  • Local Asheville, North Carolina news outlet Mountain Xpress ran a story about resident village witch Byron Ballard. In the article, Ballard talks about her own practice and beliefs, calling herself a “forensic folklorist.” She “excavates folk practices from older generations.” Ballard discusses her beloved mountain culture and laments the loss or “thinning” of the region’s traditions.
  • ACTION Yule 2014 is now available complete with a new array of interviews.

That’s it for now.  Have a great day!

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]

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. Our hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Pagans in WDC March Dec. 13, 2014 [Photo Credit: Jen Huls]

Pagans in WDC March Dec. 13, 2014 [Photo Credit: Jen Huls]

Protesters continue to fill the streets of cities, large and small, across the county. Many Pagans, as collective units, have been joining these efforts in order to lend their own voices or assist those protesting. As noted last week, the Coru Cathubodua Priesthood used very strong words in their public call-to-action. Over the past three days, the group has taken their own words seriously and has been attending the protests in both Berkeley and Oakland. In addition to marching themselves, members of the Priesthood have also brought medical aid and similar services to those in need.

On the other side of the country, a group of east coast Pagans organized themselves into a unit to join the Dec. 13 march on Washington D.C, which is now estimated to have included over 25,000 people. The photo shows several of these marchers. The small group of around 15 Pagans stood with that crowed, holding up signs and chanting for change.

*   *   *

PEN-logoThe Pagan Educational Network , based in Indiana, continues its preliminary research for a possible new “clergy” conference. Organizers want to create a focused event that will help “teach clergy to become better at their calling.”

The idea was originally announced last summer, when PEN informally asked for feedback on the concept. Now organizers are asking for proposals from potential presenters. They said, “Examples of workshops would be/but not limited to: Life transitions, Hospital visits, grieving, counseling both individual and couples, interfaith,group administration, community relations, just to name a few.”  All proposals should be sent to: Rev. Dave C. Sassman, Pagan Clergy Conference, PO Box 24072, Indianapolis, IN 46224 or

 *   *   *

Circle Sanctuary logo

Circle Sanctuary logo

On Sat. Dec. 13, Circle Sanctuary participated in the national “Wreaths Across America” program that “lays wreaths at grave sites honoring deceased veterans.” Circle Cemetary is listed on the main website among the many other sites that also participate in this yearly interfaith memorial event.

Circle Coordinators said, “At Veterans Ridge of Circle Cemetery, wreaths [were] placed at grave sites of Pagans from across the nation who served in the U.S. military. These Pagan veterans include those who served in national guards of several states and those who did active duty service in the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force.” The wreaths themselves were blessed inside the temple space before being carried out and placed on the graves.

In Other News:

  • On Nov. 20, the San Francisco Chronicle published an obituary for Louise Muhler born in 1920. The obituary caught the eye of several Pagans, who shared it on blogs and social media. As it turns out, Muhler’s birth name was Astarte Lulu Panthea. She was the daughter of famed occultist Aleister Crowley. According to the obituary, Muhler, a practicing Christian, lived a full and very active life that took her around the world and back. May her family find peace in its loving memories.
  • Over the past month, The Earth Spirit Community, based in Massachusetts, has been holding its annual fundraiser to support events, interfaith outreach and other community-based work. To kick off the drive, the organization published a Samhain newsletter detailing a year’s projects, including those done locally, nationally and internationally. Since that point, it has been sharing photos and testimonies on its Facebook from new and longtime supporters.
  • On Dec. 5, shortly after author Raven Grimassi’s personal page was challenged Facebook, he and his wife, Stephanie, were in a car accident due to ice and snow. According to reports, his car flipped twice after sliding down an embankment. When he was finally able, Grimassi announced that both he and Stephanie were physically fine, aside from a few aches, but their car was totaled. He has since launched a Go Fund Me campaign to help offset the financial burdens caused by the accident.
  • There are many Yule events being planned for the next week. One of the, perhaps, more unusual celebrations is organized by Chalice of the Willow, a CUUPS chapter. The group is holding an overnight event starting at 6 pm on Dec 20 through 8 am Dec. 21. Organizers said, “The popularity and great response from last year’s event has brought on a new tradition. We will be having food, fun, and friendship! There will be workshops and discussions on various topics through out the night.”  Details, admissions costs and a schedule are posted on its Facebook event page.
  • For fans of Pagan Singer/Songwriter Arthur Hinds, his song “Set Your Spirit Free” is available for free on his CDBaby site. He says that he has released this song as a yuletide gift to his fans.
  • On Nov. 26, Sannion at The House of Vines blog announced the release of his latest book Thunderstruck with Wine: the hymns of Sannion. Now, just 18 days later, Sannion has posted that he has only two copies left. But he says, “I plan to order more copies of Thunderstruck as well as my other Nysa Press titles after the new year, so don’t despair if you miss out on this batch”  Thunderstruck with Wine is a collection of “31 poems honoring the god Dionysos in his multitude of forms.”

That is it for now.  Have a nice day.


The Solstice is upon us, both winter and summer. To honor this seasonal change, I’ve decided to set my journalistic instincts aside (almost) and replace them with a cup of cocoa, some holiday music, and a Santa hat. In other words, the following post is an opinion piece with some facts, some anecdotes and some over-sized, good-spirited, inflatable fun.

By 4028mdk09 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By 4028mdk09 (Own Work) via Wikimedia Commons

Here in the United States, it is very difficult to avoid the holiday buzz during the last few weeks of December no matter what you do or don’t celebrate. More specifically it’s difficult to hide from Christmas.This megalithic holiday hangs like celestial mistletoe over the entire month of December with tiny little elves waiting at every turn to plant sweet peppermint kisses on your cheek.

Part of this seasonal tsunami is the yearly debate over who owns the holiday. What is the true “reason for the season?” As I noted in my article Caught in the Crossfire, you can set your clocks to these Holiday Games which begin around Thanksgiving.

Remember Freedom From Religion Foundation’s New Jersey billboard “Keep Saturn in Saturnalia?” Since my Crossfire post, the sign has been the target of repeated vandalism. In the most recent incident, two men attempted to burn down the offending metal sign. Local police have stepped up surveillance.

American Atheists elected to go bigger and rented a 40 x 40 digital billboard in New York City’s Time Square.  After seeing this billboard, New York state Senator Andrew Lanza called it an “expression of hate” and added “Religious persecution of this kind …led to the Holocaust.”  In response, the American Atheists rented a second billboard near the Goethls bridge which happens to lead to the Senators’ Staten Island district.

download (1)

Courtesy of American Atheists

In a recent post for Americans United, Rob Boston claims “There is no war on Christmas.”  Is he right? Is this just the virulent rhetoric of right wing conservatives? From the spectator seats of the religious minority, I would say it’s definitely more than simply rhetoric.  While there may not be a “War on Christmas,” these daily events are definitely part of a muddy tug-o-war between two cultural extremes.

Just this past week, Georgia State Senator Mike Dugan proposed legislation that would ostensibly permit the use of Christmas Trees, mangers, and the words “Merry Christmas” within Georgia public schools. Here’s the caveat:  at least one other religion or secular seasonal display must also be represented. When a local CBS reporter questioned the need to legalize something that is already legal, the Senator replied, “A lot of [schools] don’t [display Christmas trees] because they’re afraid they’re going to step on somebody’s toes or there’s going to be legal ramifications.”

It sounds like the First Amendment needs a publicity manager and not a legislator.

All kidding aside, there are important religious freedom issues at stake. Minority religions do need to be ever vigilant as the U.S. becomes more religiously diverse. Our public space should be kept neutral in order that everyone is allowed to enjoy their lives – both secular and spiritual.

As I pointed out in my Crossfire post, minority religions have recently been implicated in the games as unwitting allies. Paganism has been dragged onto the side of secularists through a common interest in the Solstice, nature and mythology. Judaism, which was once on the secular side, often finds itself teamed with the conservative Christians. If you sing a few rounds of “Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel,” you’re clear to belt out “The Hallelujah Chorus.”

In his article on the proposed Georgia legislation, Jim Galloway of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution clearly demonstrates this holiday strategy. Galloway quotes Senator Dugan saying, ‘The trick is to include a slightly off-season menorah.’ Then Galloway himself adds, “Or a symbol from some other religion – maybe something Wiccan, or a comparable secular image. Perhaps a scene from Macy’s.” 

Courtesy of Flickr's swh

Courtesy of Flickr’s swh

According to Sen. Dugan, minority religions are the ticket, the “trick,” or the constitutional work-around for the legal installment of religious Christmas expressions within the public sphere.  However, minority religions are also the catalyst that forces the removal of all religious expression from that same public space in the first place. If that isn’t a paradoxical ironic Christmas conundrum.

Let’s take a closer look beyond the public sphere. What are we debating anyway? The reason for the season?  According to a new Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and Religion News Forum (RNF) poll, 90% of Americans celebrate Christmas. Of that number, 84% celebrate only Christmas while the remaining 6% celebrate both Christmas and another holiday.

Why is this so interesting? According to the latest Pew Forum pole, only 78% of Americans identify as Christian. If the two studies are accurate, at least 12% of the people celebrating Christmas are not Christian.  Moreover if you consider that a small portion of Christians don’t celebrate Christmas that number is actually higher than 12%.

Does this mean that Christmas is slowly becoming a secular holiday devoid of any spiritual essence?  Are other religions co-opting the holiday? Are there an increasing number of interfaith families? Or are religious or secular Solstice celebrations being recorded as Christmas celebrations? There are similarities in the traditions. Does it even matter?

By McKay Savage from London via Wikimedia Commons

By McKay Savage from London via Wikimedia Commons

I believe that the answer is deeper and more complex. Family cultural traditions are hard habits to break. When belief and nostalgia compete, nostalgia often wins or at least leaves an indelible mark. I still eat Matzoh during Passover which, if you have ever tried Matzoh, is almost inexplicable.

Let me illustrate with a personal anecdote. I have always celebrated Christmas despite growing up as wholly religious “none” (not to be confused with a holy religious nun.) My atheist father was raised Catholic so Christmas was his family tradition which we kept in a purely secular fashion. Each year our Christmas dinner guests were always Jewish friends and family and, on occasion, some Muslim friends. Despite our secularism, that night was always sacred and magical in ways that are completely indescribable.

When I began to explore the spiritual, I came to understand the deeper meanings within the Winter Solstice and that magic it brought. Today my multi-faith family has expanded to include Baptists, Methodists, Pagans of many practices and more. As such the magic of the season has only become stronger.

While watching this public Yuletide tug-o-war, I return to the original question, “What is the reason for the season?” When I listen closely and distill each and every seasonal prayer or story, I find a common point – a universal message.  It is one of hope.

Pagans find hope in the rebirth of the Sun through deity, through nature, through art and through mythology. Jews find hope in the oil that lasted for eight days.  Christians find hope in the birth of Christ. Hindus find hope in the lights of Diwali. Atheists find hope in the scientific rhythms of the stars.  And so on and so forth.

The reason for the season is hope, in whatever form it comes.

So I say: Keep the Sol in Solstice. Keep the Saturn in Saturnalia. Keep the Christ in Christmas. Whatever it is that brings you peace and however you choose to celebrate…..Keep the Hope in Humanity.

By User:Darwinek (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

By User:Darwinek (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons


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!