Yule: The Longest Night

Yule, or the Winter Solstice, is the longest night of the year.  In Paganism, this is when the Sun is reborn (or the Oak King, depending on your tradition).  Basically, it is the return of the days getting longer until the peak at Midsummer.  Believe it or not, many other Winter holidays celebrate this return of the light as well.  Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, with their progressing candle-lighting, are two that do.

There are many ways to celebrate Yule.  From Yule logs to pomanders to wassail (spiced wine) to making donations, several can be incorporated into other Winter festivities.   One year, my (Pagan) church had an overnight.  We lit candles and waited for sunrise in our jammies, entertaining ourselves with games, story-telling, and holiday-inspired snacks.  Most of us fell asleep by 4-5am but we had a great time celebrating Longest Night.

Traditionally, Yule logs were burned to bless the coming year and a piece was kept to light the next year’s fire, for continuity of blessings/protection.  These days, fireplaces are less common and most people won’t hang on to a charred piece of wood a whole year.  As a practical alternative, a reusable Yule log can be made by drilling holes into a small log and fitting it for candles and/or incense.  Sometimes, certain woods are preferred for the blessings they bestow (i.e. oak for strength, pine for prosperity, birch for fertility, aspen for spiritual wisdom, etc.).  It can be anointed with oils that are meaningful to you.  In short, they can be customized to fit the family.

Yule log-candles

Spices are a big part of all winter celebrations, am I right?  Whether you’re spicing up your mulled wine or baking gingerbread cookies, they bring a warmth all their own.  Speaking of spiced wine, the activity of wassailing – going door to door with song and drink – is the precursor of Christmas caroling.  The idea was to bless one’s neighbors, by drinking to their good health, and pouring a bit on the ground to assist Spring’s fertility.

Pomanders, made by punching cloves into oranges, create a nice holiday scent.  Experience tells me they can be somewhat messy to make and draw flies after a few days, though.  This year, I think I will just diffuse some clove and orange essential oils (1 to 5 ratio, respectively) instead.

In my family, we celebrate Yule in concert with Christmas.  After all, from Mithras to Horus to Jesus, it is celebrated as a birth of a Holy King in many traditions and for many years.  The winter holiday is a marking of a natural rhythm for me.  As a family, though, the most important thing for us is the time spent enjoying one another’s company.  And the sumptuous feast doesn’t hurt either…

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

Advertisements

Samhain, a Celebration of Life and Death

Samhain reminds us to honor our ancestors, celebrate life, and not fear death.

I’m pretty late with this post but better late than never, I suppose. 🙂  For reference, the Gaelic word Samhain is pronounced ‘sow-en’ or ‘sah-wen’ – not ‘sam-hane’ – and the featured image belongs to DragonOak.

Samhain is considered the 3rd and final harvest of the year, in many Pagan traditions.  It is the turn of the wheel that marks the finishing of Fall’s work and the brief resting period that sometimes follows, as we move into the darker half of the year (Samhain to Beltane).  For us, the bit of rest helps us gear up for the upcoming Holiday season.

Samhain is the Celtic/Gaelic version of an ancient holiday that reminds us to honor our ancestors.  Mexico’s Day of the Dead is similar in many ways.  It is the time of year the veil between our world and theirs is believed to be the thinnest.  Many choose this time to communicate with loved ones who’ve passed on, through divination.   Others may set an extra place at the table in remembrance.  Still others simply look back with fondness.

A secular celebration for many today, Halloween activities have a basis in these ancient Pagan traditions.  Dressing up was once meant to frighten off spirits who may wish to do harm.  Guising started in the Middle Ages, when people in costume went door to door asking for food or money as payment for songs or prayers for the dead.  This became trick-or-treating in the early 1900s, when kids would prank those who didn’t “treat” them.  Somewhere along the way, their end of the exchange became forgotten.

For me, the main point of Samhain is to honor those who came before me and respect Death as a natural part of Life’s cycle.  It is, effectively, the final harvest in this life, though I personally believe it is only the body that dies.   Far from being “scary” or “gruesome”, it is a reminder that life is a continual thing and death is nothing to fear.

However you celebrate, or choose not to, I hope you all enjoy the remainder of your Fall season and the time life gives us with our loved ones.

Fall into Mabon

It’s that time of year again.  The leaves are falling, garden harvests are happening, and back-to-school schedules are being settled into.  We’re on the cusp of my favorite season – Autumn.  Time to celebrate Mabon!

Mabon, or the Autumnal Equinox, is the second harvest celebration of the Pagan year.  Today, day and night are in equal balance, with the Wheel turning toward the coming winter.

Often celebrated as a wine festival and widely known as a Pagan Thanksgiving, it is a time of balance, relaxation, and completing tasks.  Mabon offers a brief respite between harvesting summer’s bounty and storing it away to last the winter.  It is also a time of reflection, as we look on the year thus far to see what worked for us and what didn’t.  What didn’t work is a lesson on improvement and a plan to look ahead, to do better next time.

My Autumn Doll
This is Autumn, a doll I made at a spirit doll workshop a few years ago.

Many foods and drinks are associated with Mabon, as it is a time of plenty.  The cornucopia is overflowing!  While wine is a common component, apples (cider…mmmm!) and root veggies also play a role.  Fall leaves, acorns and pinecones are frequent decorations on the Mabon altar, representing the continuity of life even as the world turns increasingly cold and dark.

Ways to celebrate are as unique as those celebrating.  From a simple meditation to creating gourd art to a full-blown ritual with the coven, pick what works for you.  So, pour a glass of wine/cider, eat a little root stew and sit outside to enjoy the fall leaves blowing about you.  Or have a bonfire and usher in Fall with some good friends and music.  Or teach your kids to make gourd art.  Or….oh, just get out there and have fun already!

 

*Featured photo isn’t taking caption…photo by OakenHoof, found at http://cloggin.co.uk/content/incredible-edible-harvest-festival

Happy Lughnasadh!

I wanted to pop in today to wish everyone, Pagan or not, a Happy Lughnasadh.  For the record, as it’s a dicey looking word (many Gaelic words are), it’s pronounced “loo-nah-sod” or “loo-nah-sad”.

In Pagan tradition, Lughnasadh (or Lammas, meaning ‘loaf-mass’) is the first of the 3* harvests.  It introduces the transition of summer into autumn and is often celebrated as a grain festival.  By some contrast, the next holiday, Mabon (or Autumn Equinox) is often considered a wine festival.

There are many ways to celebrate, from a simple meditation to a full-blown ritual.  It could be a baking of bread that is consecrated (blessed) before eating.  If eating freshly harvested foods, don’t forget to save the seeds, for it is said that, if they sprout the next year, one should plant it as a connection with the Divine.  This seems to go especially for trees, such as apple.  However one chooses to revel, the main point is to mindfully recognize where the Wheel of the Year currently sits and express gratitude for/reflect on/celebrate/etc. your place as part of Nature.

There is also some lore involved with the holiday, much of it Celtic, but I won’t get too far into it today.  I intend to create a series on the Pagan holidays soon enough, so there’s no need to be redundant. 🙂

As I said before, whether you’re Pagan or not…enjoy your day!

 

*According to some traditions, Samhain (pronounced sow-en, not sam-hane) is not counted as the third harvest.