Archives For Yule

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.

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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 RevDavecs@gmail.com

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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 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/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!

Choir Boy

Eric O. Scott —  December 14, 2012 — 15 Comments
shepard large

Shepard Elementary School, St. Louis, MO.

Mr. Dellard, standing behind the piano in Shepard Elementary School’s music room, points to me. This is my signal; I step forward, separating myself from the rest of the eight year old boys that make up our public school choir’s tenor section. I have the solo in this song, the only song in our repertoire that even has a solo. For two verses, the twenty-five other children fade into the background, dim lights eclipsed by my star. They are merely the Supremes; I am Diana Ross.

“What you gonna call your pretty little baby?” the choir sings. “What you gonna call your pretty little baby, born, born in Bethlehem?”

“Some say one thing,” I reply, beaming. My voice echoes the bounce of the Mr. Dellard playing the melody. “I’ll say Immanuel!”

Thus did the Heathen child welcome Christ into the world.

December was the best time of year for a choir kid. No other after-school club at my school got the chance to travel around the city; we alone were allowed to skip class during the Christmas season and perform concerts in downtown St. Louis. There is no currency so precious to an eight-year-old as extra field trips. We lorded it over our fellows, reminding them that while they suffered in class, we were singing to the businessmen at Metropolitan Square. We told them this, and then we basked in the warm glow of their hate.

Most of our repertoire consisted of the classics: Santa songs, like “Up on the Housetop,” “Jolly Old St. Nicholas,” and so forth, and Jesus songs: “Silent Night,” “Away in a Manger.” But Mr. Dellard, to his credit, liked to experiment with new tunes from year to year. “What You Gonna Call Your Pretty Little Baby?” was one of that year’s experiments.

At the time, nothing seemed too strange about the song, though it was obviously different than the rest of our oeuvre. Mr. Dellard called the song a “spiritual,” but that word didn’t mean anything to a gang of third-graders. It was just the song we sang between “Little Drummer Boy” and “Give Love on Christmas Day.” There was nothing more significant about it than that.

Looking back now, almost two decades later, the irony of the scene pains me. For one, being a spiritual, “What You Gonna Call Your Pretty Little Baby?” is tied to the African-American experience. I went to a school whose student body was, by a substantial majority, black, and did not lack talented young vocalists. Yet the solo went to a white child. It’s also pretty obvious that the soloist represents Mary – indeed, most versions of the song address Mary by name, though obviously ours did not. Yet the solo went to a boy.  Finally, the song expresses, as much through its form of call-and-response and its rhythm as through its lyrics, the particular character of African-American Christianity. Yet the solo went to a boy who had never been Christian – not that any of my teachers knew that.

I also had a high, froggy voice. Perhaps Mr. Dellard gave me the part because it didn’t require much of a range.

I sang about Jesus with no reservations – it seemed perfectly normal to me. I had no real conception of religion at that point, and neither did the other children. We were young; we had little notion of the complex world beyond the blacktop of our schoolyard. The first time I ever discussed religion with a boy my own age, I mentioned that there were others kinds of people in the world than Christians, though at the time I didn’t know what they might be. He scoffed, and, in a tone that implied I was an idiot for not knowing better, said, “Man, everybody’s a Christian.” Then he paused, and added, “Except Catholics.”

We didn’t know any better. A questioning nature does not appear fully-formed at the onset of language; it takes training to develop. My classmate could not think of life beyond the Christian world of his birth, except for his first experience of irrational prejudice. I knew, if only to a degree, that I was different, that when my parents and I prayed, we spoke to someone besides Jesus. But I had no words to express those feelings – even the word “Pagan” was absent from my vocabulary.

For lack of any other way to conceive of myself, I went along with the others. When I was asked, I said I was a Christian. I didn’t know that I wasn’t.

But one boy did.

He was another member of the choir. He came to practice one afternoon with a sour look on his face and went to Mr. Dellard before we could start singing. He needed to talk to him about the song “Away in a Manger.” Mr. Dellard told us all to talk among ourselves and ignore him. Naturally, every one of us sat in rapt silence, listening to the whispers between the little boy and the music teacher.

I don’t remember much about the boy. He was a small black child, a year behind me, and consequently completely out of my social circle. We wore uniforms at my school – white polos and blue slacks, intended to prevent envy-inspired fights in the playground – so his clothes weren’t distinctive. But I can still remember everything he said, all those words not meant for my ears.

“Mr. Dellard, my mom doesn’t like me singing these songs,” he said.

“No?” said Mr. Dellard.

“No,” said the boy. “She doesn’t want me to learn it, or Silent Night. Or any of those songs.”

Mr. Dellard frowned. “Well, what are we going to do about that? If you can’t sing them, you can’t be in the choir.”

The ultimatum obviously pained the child. His parents didn’t mind the Santa songs – maybe he could just sing those? But Mr. Dellard said no, he couldn’t have one child standing around by himself for half a concert – Mr. Dellard couldn’t watch him and conduct the choir at the same time. Sing all the songs, or sing none of them; that was how it had to be.

The boy said he’d talk to his mother about it.

He missed the next choir practice. We all thought he had been forced to quit, but he came back the day after. We pounced as soon as he sat down. “What did you mom say? Can you sing the Christmas songs? Do you have to miss the field trip?”

“No,” he said. “I can go on the field trip. She said it was okay. Just as long as I don’t bring it home with me.”

I find myself thinking about that little boy every year at Yuletide. He was the first person outside of my family I ever knew to be something other than Christian. I still have no idea what religion he had been raised in, or the explanation his mother gave for why he couldn’t sing “Little Drummer Boy” like the rest of the kids. But that conversation with Mr. Dellard must have been a frightening, lonely experience for him. It’s hard at any age to be marked as different. It’s worse when you’re so young, when you’re so desperate to fit in.

I wish that I had been able to express any of this at the time. I probably had more in common with that child, whatever his family believed, than I did with anyone else at my school. But I faded into the crowd of other children, not even realizing how alike we were.

Memory: I can think of no other puzzle like it, one which grows more complicated the more effort we put into it. At times, I find myself humming along with a tune at Yuletide, and then recognize the song as one I sang as a child. My memories remain fond ones; I did love to sing, especially at Christmas time. But now I can’t help but think of the implications. It seems like a trivial thing to worry about, yes, but – but why were we singing about Jesus at a public school? Why was nobody bothered by the intertwining of Christian myths and public education but one little boy’s mother?

The lessons we receive in youth stay with us forever; while I am no developmental psychologist, I expect they inform the person we eventually turn out to be on a fundamental level. Those snowy days, standing inside of Union Station, singing our praises to the newborn king – they taught me, without anyone saying a word explicitly, that to be Christian was to be normal, that to be anything else was strange. That stayed with me, as much as the melodies and the lyrics.

How could a child help but take that home with him?

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!

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.

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.

A Blessed Solstice

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 21, 2008 — 2 Comments

Today* is the Winter 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 recent press 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

“Some solstice celebrations were jolly and some were fearful, but all involved using fire to entice the sun to return instead of continuing to retreat day after day until it didn’t come up at all and everybody would die. Prematurely. So every winter Solstice, I invoke my inner Druid, and celebrate by lighting the house with only candles (including dimmed candle bulbs in chandeliers) and fires in the fireplaces, invite family over and serve a really good meal (just in case it’s our last.)”Carol King, The Day (Connecticut)

“Pagans adorn their sacred spaces and homes with evergreens. We bring holly for protection, ivy for the faithful promise that life endures, and mistletoe for fertility. The candles we light to rekindle the fires of Sol, also symbolize our desire to rekindle our inner Sun — “As above, so below.” An old saying is: “A bayberry candle burned to the socket, brings food to the larder and gold to the pocket.” Placing candles or lights on the Yule Tree ensures that the household will have a year of plenty, warmth, and light. We feast to lighten our hearts and share the fellowship of others to warm ourselves from within when all seems bleak. The origin of the Christmas Ham is from the Norse ritual of slaughtering the best boar for the Yule feast.”Terry Smith, The Town Talk

“I say we celebrate the return of the sun. Let us return to our primitive roots. Sing in the streets or on the beach this Winter Solstice. Uncork that special bottle of wine or open that forty ounce bottle of Country Club malt liquor. Dust off your dancing shoes. Days will grow longer, hallelujah. The cold days and nights will become memories, the birds will migrate to Canada, the flowers will blossom, the glaciers will continue to melt and greed will return to Wall Street. (Well, we can deal with global warming and the Depression next year) It’ll soon be the shortest day of the year so hurry on down. Grab the cell phone and call your friends and family. Buy tickets and climb aboard the love train. It’ll be pulling into the station any time now. We can join hands if we want to.”‘Operadoc’, The Florida Union-Times

“Traditionally the log that celebrated Yule — a name that some scholars believe may have been derived from an old word for wheel, as the wheel of the year turned — was big enough to light 12 days of feasting. A fragment would be saved to light next year’s log, symbolizing continuity and rebirth. Many of us continue to light our homes and neighborhoods in an effort to bring cheer against the gathering gloom of deepest winter. But, again, Tuesday brings us the turn around, and we move slowly but steadily toward that next great celestial event — the vernal equinox. But for now, Mother Earth sleeps and replenishes herself and her creatures and her people. And there is a long draft of holiday cheer. Drink deep.”Michael Babcock, Great Falls Tribune

“I’m not so much celebrating Christmas as acknowledging Yule – the old Germanic and Norse mid-winter festival supplanted over a millennium ago by early Christian missionaries and to which we owe most of the seasonal fun, including the Christmas tree, the lights, holly, mistletoe and the ham. It’s no wonder that Christmas and Yule have become synonymous in the West.”Ian Vince, The Telegraph

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 12:04 UTC. Which means that it happened at approximately 06:04 AM CST for me. You can calculate the time for your own neck of the woods, here.

December brings many things: snow, cold weather, people acting horribly at shopping centers, and journalists seeking a new angle on holiday reporting. A favorite in recent years is to talk of the “pagan” origins of the Christmas holiday. These often come in the form of editorials rebutting the inane “War on Christmas” prattlings by Bill O’Reilly and his ilk. For example, Pete Langr of the Budgeteer News has this to say.

“It’s ironic that the effort to put Christ back in Christmas is both so profitable and so willing to focus on the Christmas tree and on the word “merry.” The Christmas tree itself “has nothing to do with other religious holidays celebrated in December” says my letter writer. Except that the Christmas tree was apparently co-opted by Christians from a pagan celebration in which evergreen boughs were hung in the home. In effect, the pagans lost an earlier culture war. Perhaps they bartered buttons saying ‘take back our winter solstice celebration.'”

And so on, and so forth. Some reporters have even tried to debunk the “Christmas traditions aren’t really Christian” debunkers.

“Despite popular belief, the idea of Christmas trees did not come from Pagan rituals. In fact, the first Christmas trees are believed to have originated in 17th century Germany. It took two centuries for the idea to catch on in the U.S.”

To bad the Bible somewhat refutes that notion.

“Jeremiah 10:2-4: “Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.” (KJV).”

The New York Times has its own formula for many beloved Christmas traditions: pagans invented them, Christians appropriated them, Dickens (and 19th century England) synthesized, secularized, and popularized them, and the public embraced the entire culturally tangled mess whole-cloth.

“Standiford, the author of four other non­fiction books, tidily explains the appeal of “A Christmas Carol,” its readership “said at the turn of the 20th century to be second only to the Bible’s.” Replacing the slippery Holy Ghost with anthropomorphized spirits, the infant Christ with a crippled child whose salvation waits on man’s — not God’s — generosity, Dickens laid claim to a religious festival, handing it over to the gathering forces of secular humanism. If a single night’s crash course in man’s power to redress his mistakes and redeem his future without appealing to an invisible and silent deity could rehabilitate even so apparently lost a cause as Ebenezer Scrooge, imagine what it might do for the rest of us!”

So the answer to the “pagan origins” debate is that everyone’s right. A lot of “Christmas-y” stuff is pre-Christian in some form or another, but it is equally true to say that they have been fully absorbed into a Christian context. In turn, both the pagan and Christian contexts for hanging the holly and trimming the tree have morphed into a fully secular affair, complete with a popular mythology that is a mish-mash of pagan, Christian, and pop-culture elements. What the Christmas warriors don’t understand is that their war was lost long ago, and the majority of people who just wanted a reason to find hope, merriment, and camaraderie during the bleak midwinter won out.

Nothing says “honoring the divine feminine” more than 76 Pieces of 1.45 ct. H color VS1 Diamonds arranged in the shape of the Goddess. At least according to Turkish company Bee Goddess and its co-founder Ece Sirin.


“Artemis”

“The Bee Goddess diamond and gold collection of pendants, bracelets and cufflinks brings together mythological symbols and sacred meanings from around the world and across the centuries. The key inspiration of the collection is the creativity, fertility and the loving compassion of the Goddess … Each Bee Goddess symbol invokes and expresses an archetypal meaning and story to enrich life with powers such as eternal love, energy, compassion, wisdom, wholeness, creativity unity, happiness, good luck, prosperity, and more. They are a beautiful reminder to channel one’s own inner divinity to elevate life from the ordinary to the magical and connect with others beyond the boundaries of time and space.”

If diamonds aren’t your thing, you can also get their designs in pure gold and white gold with diamonds. For those of Celtic persuasions, you can also get a diamond-encrusted spiral triskele as well (which they inexplicably label “Minerva”). As for cost? Well, it isn’t polite to mention such things, how tacky! You have to send them an information request to discuss a purchase (which means that unless you happened to win the lottery recently, you probably can’t afford it). No doubt these will be on the wish-lists of upper-crust Goddess worshipers across the globe this Yuletide season*.

* To be honest, despite my general distaste at excessive opulence, anything is better than those “journey” diamond pendants everyone seems to be hawking lately.