Yule carol to a 250-year-old Slovak tune

This time before the Winter Solstice looks like a gloomy time at our latitude. The sun is far to the south and even at midday it sits near the horizon. Sunday will see the dark of the moon and arguably the darkest night, though the Solstice is a few days away. There will be only stars to light this long night.

Creative Commons image by fdecomite of Flickr.com

Creative Commons image by fdecomite of Flickr.com

Monday will usher in a tiny crescent of moon after sunset in the far western sky. And each day after that the crescent will grow and be higher in the sky as night falls.

On the 21st the sun will give the least light in the northern hemisphere and it will stay that way for three exceptionally dark days. It is a time of stars, of small, twinkling lights and of solace in the darkness. 

And yet, people have celebrated the
Winter Solstice since prehistoric times in one form or another. Music of wonder and hope belongs to this season and I am always in search of more songs that celebrate the sun and earth, the moon and the stars. When I can't find a song that fits just right, I have to put my nose to the grindstone and write my own.

Below you can find the lyrics I wrote for this Winter Solstice. It's a song for rising at dawn--not that early, so not hard to do--on the Winter Solstice and going out with a mug of something hot and spicy into the cold to greet the sun. 

The tune is from a 250-year-old Slovak carol by František Sušil. You can listen to the melody here and follow along with the words. It's meant to be sung as a lively tune, but it is easy enough even for those of us without a great deal of musical talent.

 

Rise in good cheer

 

Rise in good cheer children of earth

Bring a coal to kindle the hearth

Hail the rising winter sun

Star of hope and our rebirth

Greet the light this winter's morn'

Star of hope and our rebirth

Through midnight's shadow I may go

Storm of sleet and wind and snow

I seek a light to guide my way

Star of waking, light and truth

Shining at the darkest hour

Star of waking, light and truth

The Celtic Goddesses of the Cold Moon - International Moon Circle 6

The Cold Moon is cold indeed in Central Europe and the British Isles. It is almost never snowy but it is bone-chilling and often bleak. The sun shrinks down to the southern horizon, so that even at noon it shines crosswise across the land, throwing huge stark shadows, if it is visible at all. Mostly it isn't though and the sky and land are gray in the fallow time. 

It is at this moon that Celtic myths tell of imprisonment, ordeals, fierce storms and transformation. And yet it is also the time of rekindled hope, the sun almost disappearing and then returning, miraculously at last.

I have chosen to celebrate the Celtic goddesses for this moon. They are sometimes harsh in aspect but also embody the promise of solace and hope that the winter solstice brings. The Maiden for this moon is Aine, both a sun and moon goddess often recognized near the solstices; the Mother is Rhiannon of strength and steadfast courage in the face of unjust punishment; and the Dark Goddess is Cerridwen with her cauldron of change for the turning of the new calendar year.

Creative Commons Image by Barry of Flickr

Creative Commons Image by Barry of Flickr

The Waxing Moon

Aine is an Irish goddess of the land connected to both sun and moon. Her connection to the land means that she has the power to make a man king.

While she has many consorts, such a relationship must be on her terms. Several times in myth, she is forced to be with a man who desires power—raped by a king and captured by another man while sitting on the shores of a lake. But she escapes and takes her revenge, denying sovereignty to those who abuse her or the land.

Aine is bright and fertile, a high lady of healers and a protector of women, particularly women who have been abused. Today many rituals call on Aine to comfort and aid the victims of abuse or to bring justice to their abusers. (Burdette 2014) We can connect with Aine for rituals of healing (including healing for specific parts of the land), protection and calling on the sun for light and the powers of creativity. Her symbols are geese, the sun, the moon and apples. Use fir or apple scents.

Full Moon

Rhiannon was falsely accused of a terrible crime. She endured with dignity both the grief of a lost child and the great hardship of unjust punishment and humiliation. In times of injustice, hardship, misfortune or illness and when the sorrow of infertility spreads its shadow, we need Rhiannon’s courage and steadfastness along with the hope of eventual justice.

Creative Commons image by Lailantie Core

Creative Commons image by Lailantie Core

Still, there is no promise that we will be given all of our desires. Rhiannon suffered and was not actually granted a reward in compensation. Instead the hardship itself gifted her with even greater inner strength than she had possessed before. Her sorrow ended at last when her child was returned to her. She didn’t get revenge. Instead she continued to be a mother to the people. She was the one who was stronger and thus the one who could endure. Her symbols are horses and three magical birds who can both raise the dead and put the living to sleep. (Skye 2007)

You can connect to Rhiannon by doing horse-related crafts or putting up horse decorations. Put this quote of a Druid triad on your altar: “There are three spiritual instructors: worldly misfortune, bodily illness, and unmerited hatred.” Add a picture of Rhiannon and three bird figures or three candles (if possible decorated with birds or shaped like birds).

Also, do a Tarot reading or allow children to choose a Tarot card that they like and discuss the meanings and lessons of the cards. Tell the story of Rhiannon. Put out bird seed or homemade bird feeders for the birds who accompany Rhiannon. In today’s world unmerited hatred often comes in the form of racism, sexism, homophobia or ablism. Listen to the music of inclusion and anti-prejudice movements. Use the wood of oak and the greenery of holly at this time.

Cerridwen's Cauldron - Creative Commons image by Aida Di Leto Lundquist

Cerridwen's Cauldron - Creative Commons image by Aida Di Leto Lundquist

The Waning Moon

Cerridwen is the keeper of the cauldron of spiritual transformation. She is considered a dark goddess primarily because transformation of this magnitude usually hurts. She also governs death, rebirth, prophesy, magic and divine inspiration. She gives moral counsel and magical potions of deep wisdom. (Auset 2009)

The moment of standing in a free natural place in starlight is hers—that yearning after mystery which is always just beyond our grasp. Her symbols are a cauldron, a white sow or an old woman in starlight. You can connect to her through rituals of transformation, divination and magic. Burn rosemary and cedar incense. Greenery of ivy or pine is appropriate.

Bibliography

Auset, B. (2009). The Goddess Guide: Exploring the Attributes and Correspondences of the Divine Feminine. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
Burdette, A. (2014). Aine. In Greenfield, T. (Ed.), Naming the Goddess (pp. 90-92). Washington, DC: Moon Books.
Caputi, J. (2004). Goddesses and Monsters. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
Hunt, L. (2001). An Illustrated Meditation Guide: Celestial Goddesses. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
Jordan, M. (2004). Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses. New York, NY: Facts On File, Inc.
Koch, J. T., Ed. (2006). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc.
Leeming, D. and Page, J. (1994). Goddess: Myths of the Female Divine. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Littleton, C. S. Ed, (2005). Gods, Goddesses and Mythology, Volume 4. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation.
Loar, J. (2008). Goddesses for Every Day. Navato, CA: New World Library.
Lurker, M. (1987). A Dictionary of Gods, Goddesses, Devils and Demons. New York, NY: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd.
McLeod, S. P. (1960). The Devine Feminine in Ancient Europe. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc. Publishers.
Monagham, P. (1997). The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
Monagham, P. (1999). The Goddess Companion. Woodbury, MN. Llewellyn Publications.
Monagham, P. (2014). Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines. Novato, CA: New World Library.
Motz, L. (1997). The Faces of the Goddess. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Reid-Bowen, P. (2007). Goddess As Nature. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.
Skye, M. (2007). Goddess Alive! Woodbury, MN, Llewellyn Publications.
Slocum, S. K. Ed. (1992). Popular Arthurian Traditions. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press.
Sykes, E. (2002). Who’s Who in Non-Classical Mythology. New York, NY: Routledge.
Woodfield, S. (2014) Drawing Down the Sun: Rekindle the Magick of the Solar Goddesses. Woodbury, MN. Llewellyn Publications.

The women's wheel of the world

Celebrating of the rhythms of the earth through the goddesses of many cultures

Today many of us wish to connect to the cycles of nature. In our houses, jobs and schools, it can be difficult to feel a purpose in life. We lose touch, lose connection, and find ourselves drowning in everyday apathy or anxiety. 

There is an antidote in marking the rhythms of nature and feeling closer to the earth and the seasons of the sun. 

Beltane maiden.jpg

It isn’t just a nostalgic hippie concept. It’s a spiritual practice and a way to explore the huge questions in life in a way that doesn’t contradict science. For those of us who think too much, there is often a tension between the need for a spiritual sense of meaning and our logical insistence that what you see is what you get. 

The turning of the earth and the moon, the tilt of the earth and the seasons brought by sunlight—these are things science has well in hand. We know the sun will rise, just as we know bad days have only twenty-four hours. We know winter will come, just as we know that each of us has to get old someday. 

The rhythms of nature are simple and scientific. And at the same time they are profound and at the root of the greatest philosophical and spiritual traditions of humanity. The cycle of life is much larger than the circle of a year, but the whole is too vast—and frankly too harsh—to explain to children or even to contemplate directly as an adult. But we don't take in the circle of a year all at once. We come to it bit by bit. And we don’t have to contemplate it with the mind only. We use all of our senses, our body, heart and soul to perceive natural rhythms and the Wheel of the Year gives us the understanding we cannot gain through force of will.

The sacred sun days

Creative Commons image by Lostintheredwoods of flickr.com

Creative Commons image by Lostintheredwoods of flickr.com

As the earth tilts toward and away from the sun, we experience seasons. At the point when our part of the earth is tilted furthest toward the sun, we have the Summer Solstice--the time of greatest light. And when our part is tilted away we have the Winter Solstice. After each solstice we start to lean the other way. From light to darkness. And from darkness to light.

In the ancient tradition of the Celtic-Germanic-Slavic land I live on these solstices can be called Litha (for the Summer Solstice) and Yule (for the Winter Solstice). These are the best modern terms we have, originating from ancient European languages. Other cultures may have other terms for the solstices and the other sacred days of the wheel. My goal is to include the whole world and other terms are welcome.

Between these special days of the sun, there are the days when the light and dark are in perfect balance—the equinoxes. In the fall we call the equinox Mabon. In the spring we call the day of balance Ostara. 

If you make a cross and put the solstices opposite one another at the ends of one line and the equinoxes on the other axis, you have an ancient symbol of the sun. And if you make an X inside the cross, you then have a star with eight points or a wheel, the base of a mandala pattern. The four new points are for the days halfway between the equinoxes and solstices. Beltane on the first of May in the northern hemisphere (November in the south), Lammas at the cusp of August in the north (February in the south), Samhain on the first of November in the north (May in the south), and Imbolc in the earliest days of February in the north (August in the south). And that is what is called the Wheel of the Year.

It is a way of celebrating the rhythm of life and it starts as a recognition that there is darkness, release, relief, creation, expression, harvest, destruction, transformation—in natural and perpetual turning. When you mark the seasons of the year as sacred, your body, mind and soul reclaim their own rhythms. It doesn’t mean that you don’t suffer from life. But it connects you to the good in each season.

The Sacred Women from Around the World

There are many ways to celebrate the Wheel of the Year. We often cook special foods and exchange gifts. There are fun traditions for the whole family to enjoy and quiet observances for those who seek spiritual sustenance. One way to mark the sun days is to connect to the diverse spiritual teachings of our world through the myths of sacred women—the Goddess—and the many names for goddess in different tongues.

Marking the holy days with goddesses can be part of an active and vibrant family celebration or it can be a simple and quiet moment of meditation for an individual. The goddesses chosen for a sacred day should reflect the spirit of the season in their stories. Here I will suggest three goddesses for each of the solar holidays. As in many parts of the world, you can see goddesses as maidens, mothers and crones. There is a Maiden Goddess, a goddess full of independence and youth; a Mother Goddess, a nurturer and life-giver; and a Crone Goddess, a wise woman of healing and transformation--for each station of the sun.

Imbolc

My year begins in mid-winter because of importance of the alternating rhythm of the growing season and the time of greater contemplation and inner work. I also wish to start the year with the goddess I am closest with—Brigid. Our family Imbolc celebration usually includes a small, child-friendly ritual, sweet dumplings made with milk curd, seed cakes, many lit candles and candle making, candle-shaped cookies, Tarot and i-Ching readings, putting wishes for the year into a jar, hanging new Brigid’s crosses and waking up the Brigid doll sleeping in a basket by the fire on the morning of Imbolc. It may also include a trip to a spring or old well if we can manage it.

Creative Commons image by  the Borghese Collection

Creative Commons image by  the Borghese Collection

Brigid is the maiden of Imbolc and though she is also mother and wise woman in other aspects (Weber 2015),  I can add mother and crone goddesses to this day as well. 

Saulė is the Latvian “dear little white sun,” (Motz 1997) and a good mother goddess for the cold day of Imbolc. She also shares the care of orphans with Brigid, who is often called “foster mother” either of Christ when she is portrayed as a Christian saint or of the one offering prayers in Pagan prayer. (Daimler 2016) Because my husband and I are adoptive parents, this has particular meaning in our family. We could easily incorporate an offering of endearments to Saulė. And given that we don’t do Valentine’s Day here and my children often wonder what their American cousins are talking about, we could include making heart shaped endearments for one another, as words of endearment are special to Saulė. (Motz 1997)

Elli is my crone of Imbolc. She is the goddess of old age and wisdom and yet I find the story of her beating Thor in a wrestling match (Auset 2009) to be wonderfully light-hearted. She reminds me of an old granny sitting by the Imbolc fire and laughing over her exploits and the folly of head-strong young people who think they will never be old. A symbol of her might be a shawl spread over the rocking chair by the fire and a story read from the children’s book of Grandmother Tales that portray old women as smart and capable. 

I can envision these three—Brigid, Saulė and Elli—discussing the needs of family and kin, planning fo the year ahead and tempering one another with their complimentary energies of fire, compassion and wisdom.

Ostara

Our Ostara tradition is usually fairly simple. We color eggs, decorate and make egg and bunny shaped cookies. Then the children hunt for eggs on the morning of the equinox. In local tradition, we decorate a leafless tree in the front yard with colored eggs and ribbons. We may read rabbit stories or other stories relating to Ostara. We’ll usually have a special lunch or dinner consisting of lots of eggs, such as quiche.

The name of the day Ostara comes from a maiden goddess. Ostara or Ostre is the the Saxon goddess of youth, fertility and beauty, who is accompanied by a hare. (Sass 2003) Her symbols are eggs and the hare which are already well incorporated into our traditions, although it is good to remember her with words at this time and consciously honor her through these symbols.

Anna Perenna is my Mother Goddess for Ostara. She is the enduring year, the goddess of the promise of a new cycle. (Monagham 2014)  We honor her at Ostara to give thanks for the promised return of spring, which is in our part of the world very heartfelt for everyone, and also to remember that the year will turn again, inexorably and always. We can make our quiche or other dishes this day round in honor of her. And because she is considered a trickster as well, we can plan April Fools pranks. 

The crone of Ostara is the Cailleach, the Celtic lady of chaos, harsh winds and primordial forces. (Greenfield 2014) We often have snow on Ostara, a last blast of winter coating our Ostara tree in white. The threat of weather disasters for our tiny seedlings is far from over and still keep them indoors at this season. The Cailleach is fearsome and a reminder that chaos can come despite Anna Perenna’s turning of the wheel. But she also lends us inner strength, a vitality and perseverance that is often lacking in the modern, overly convenienced world. She is also the Celtic equivalent of the crone of the cold season that our local legend bids a raucous farewell at Beltane, so it is fitting to have her in mind beforehand. We can honor the Cailleach by making a wind chime of feathers and metal objects that will bring her voice to the wind.

Beltane

Our Beltane celebration has been in my husband’s home village for many years now. The village has a huge bonfire and a fifty-food maypole. This tends to overshadow anything I try to do. However, I always get together some sort of flower-shaped sweets and May baskets for us to give to neighbors and cousins during the festivities. We sometimes go out to greet the beautiful Beltane morning and place offerings at the base of the maypole. Otherwise it is a community event involving cooking whatever will feed the most people.

Creative Commons image by PROLisby of Flickr.com

Creative Commons image by PROLisby of Flickr.com

Ilankaka is the Nkondo maiden goddess for our Beltane. She is both creative and loving, but she also reminds us of the struggles of relationships, because she is captured by a man against her will and suffers great sorrow. (Monagham 1997) Beltane is a time of celebrating relationships and also making them better. The Maiden gives us the will to stand strong in ourselves as well and Ilankaka’s story is pertinent.

Panchamama is a delightful Incan mother goddess, honored in an unbroken line by tribes in the Andes and is still going strong today. She is an earth mother, a garden goddess and a “special companion” for women. (Leeming and Page 1994) May is they primary gardening month in our climate, when everything is planted and weeds grow desperately to beat the short growing season. It is a month when my life is very domestic and I love the idea of honoring Panchamama at this time.

The crone for Beltane might be Changing Woman. Her name in the Navajo language is Asdzan Nadleehe and she carries our ability to change within our lifetime, to be transformed and renewed at every age. (Loar (2008) There is a strong sense that Beltane is a time of when transformation is more possible, closer to the surface and a time to embrace the lessons of Changing Woman.

One of the ways I would recognize these goddesses is to put small offerings symbolic of their traditions in the earth at the base of the Maypole. We could leave a bright stone of polished marble (symbolic of Ilankaka’s brigtht radiance), some colored wooden beads like those often used in the Andes (as a symbol of Panchamama) and either a feather or a piece of snake skin (as symbols of Changing Woman). I would ask for the blessings of these goddesses on Beltane morning—the strength and independence to be a strong and healthy partner with the energy of the maiden Ilankaka still vibrant in my married life, the deep earth connection of Panchamama (and her help with my garden), and the ability to transform beautifully as does Changing Woman. 

Litha

The Summer Solstice is the solar holiday we have the least tradition for in our family. We often do little more than have a nice meal and try yet again to explain to the children about solstices from a scientific perspective. I try to have a bonfire but it isn’t always possible, sometimes due to lots of rain. This year for the first time, we will go to a local Pagan event that is appropriate for children. I am still searching for traditions for this time. If I could choose it would be playing music and drumming around a fire or some other activity involving expression and creativity.

Amaterasu is my Maiden Goddess for this time. She is often honored  in June in Japan. (Monagham, P. (2014) To me her seeming narcissism is a reminder of the necessity of putting ourselves out into the world, particularly women and especially when we are young. Today’s world is not kind to those who remain too passive. For better or for worse, we need goals and pride in our identity if we are to find a material life and work which brings us joy and fulfillment. Placing a small mirror on a flat stone or sundial to reflect a bit of the sun back into the sky, may be integrated into a ritual for Amaterasu.

Beiwe, the Arctic sun goddess, is the mother for this time. While the sun may seem too hot in many climates it is worth remembering that the northern climates need her warmth and life-giving energy. We are far enough north that even in the temporary heat, we have reason to see the sun as a nurturing mother. She can be honored by making “sun circles” out of leafing branches, (Monagham, P. (2014) and these could be placed around Amaterasu’s mirror.

Al-Lat is the ancient Middle Eastern sun goddess to provide a crone for this height of the sun’s power. She may be integrated into the ritual with a black stone or an eye drawn onto the mirror. 

Lammas

Lammas usually involves a camping trip or bonfire with friends, many of whom don’t share goddess spirituality, so my ritual celebration of the day is often quite simple. I like to make bread in interesting shapes and an outdoor altar if possible. I have a special tablecloth that everyone signs as a symbol of community and the feast.

White Buffalo Woman is my Maiden goddess for this time. She is both warrior and generous benefactor. She supports the community and brings the deeper meaning to community festivities that I long for. Her lessons involve respect for ecology and the earth, honoring warriors and defenders of the clan, as well as the desire to give back whatever it is that fills us with abundance. (Greenfield 2014) A perfect symbol of White Buffalo Woman is a picture or figure of a white cow, calf or horse.

Creative Commons image by Rosa y Dani of Flickr. com

Creative Commons image by Rosa y Dani of Flickr. com

 Saraswati is the Mother Goddess for this time, sharing her knowledge as a teacher. The earth is abundant at this time, but the wisdom to use the gifts of plenty wisely is crucial. Saraswati is not only a mother of abundance but also a mother of wise counsel, teaching and learning. A good symbol to bring her blessings to the day is a book.

Macha is the crone for this time of community and sharing. While White Buffalo Woman brings gentle gifts and fierce courage to the community and Saraswati brings the knowledge needed to nurture community, Macha embodies the energy of the activist for environmental and social justice, which is another important aspect of this day. Her energy be brought with a banner or sign with messages of the justice needed at the time. 

These symbols—a white animal, a book and a sign or banner—can be used to decorate the home or gathering of friends. This is a way to bring the healthy and beneficial energy of community together. 

Mabon

At Mabon we gather our family and sometimes close friends for a meal of thanksgiving. We visit or send gifts to older people. We also give gifts to or do kind things for animals. In my family the primary focus of Mabon is giving thanks and recognizing those who have given to us—for example our elders through all the struggles they have been through to bring us to this time and the animals that provide us with food, clothing, comfort, friendship and a healthy ecosystem to live in. 

Tabiti is a maiden goddess of hearth, family loyalty, harmony in the home and the protection of animals. (Auset 2009) She is also associated with the chieftains of family and clan and with oath giving. MacLeod 1960). Coals from the hearth make a good symbol for her and reiterating the oaths of family bonds and other commitments is a good way to honor her. New oaths may be given at Mabon feasts as well.

White Shell Woman is the Mother Goddess for Mabon. She watches over the crops and gardens that most directly sustain the family. She is a goddess of thanksgiving and the promise of light. (Hunt 2001) Both shells and corn are symbols of White Shell Woman. The best way to honor her is to give thanks for the many blessings we have, both material and immaterial. Even if we may still feel the lack of something, there is much to be thankful for, and gratitude brings many rewards.

Asase Yaa is the crone for this time. A Ghanian old woman of the land, she reminds us of the hard work needed to get nourishment from the earth. We must honor the work of those who labor hard so that we might eat as well as the sacrifices of previous generations. (Auset 2009) A symbol for Asase Yaa might well be a shovel or other tool of toil. To honor elders and those who have worked hard is to honor her.

One way to bring these energies together might be to allow each person in the gathering to say what they have to be thankful for in their lives. Each may throw corn or corn meal onto the fire as they finish speaking. Then each person could speak briefly of someone who they wish to honor, an elder or someone who has worked hard, and use a metal shovel to scoop out a bit of the embers of the fire. When the embers cool to ash, each person may state their oaths of family and community commitment, wet their hand with a little water and press it into the ash and then print their hand against a stone or wood surface prepared for this. These hand prints will then remain as reminders of the commitments made.

Samhain

With all the activities of Halloween going on, it can be difficult to get the family to focus for a moment on the spiritual side of Samhain. When my children were toddlers, they put out offerings for “Grandfather deer” and received small presents in the morning. We gave them candy and tried not to scold them for their many misdeeds on the basis of the concept that small children are “close to the ancestors.” Now as they grow older it is their turn to learn to give back and to honor ancestors as well.

My Maiden Goddess for Samhain is the Norse sun goddess Sunna. She is connected to spiritual magic and the symbol of a sun cross. (Woodfield 2014) This would be an excellent time to make bind-runes to put on talismans (a bag, shirt, doorway plaque or jewelry) for whatever magical energies you want to attract. Both bind runes and rune divination would be a way to connect with Sunna. 

Creative Commons image by Lisby of Flickr.com

Creative Commons image by Lisby of Flickr.com

Oya is the mother of nine children and my Mother Goddess for Samhain. She is a bit dark compared to most mother goddesses. Her connection to hurricanes, the transformative number nine and strong emotions of rage or fear may be frightening to some but I quickly connected with this goddess. While it is not comfortable to face these emotions, allowing them to be expressed can bring healing. I don’t necessarily want to go through hard times again, but I know that Oya can also play a part in healing from traumatic experiences, ecological devastation and social injustice. (Caputi 2004) A wild wind on a dark Samhain night is the time for Oya. Dressing up in ways that express dark and powerful emotion may be perfect way to honor her.

Baba Yaga is my Samhain crone. The contemporary stories that include her are scary enough to satisfy even secular concepts of Halloween. She is death, destruction and power, but she also grants wishes and punishes the unjust, the lazy and the apathetic bystander who tolerates injustice. (Greenfield (2014) To honor her we may make sacrifices in our lifestyle that help to redress imbalance or injustice or make commitments (Samhain resolutions of a sort) to work actively for justice and earth protection. 

Yule

Yule is already a very busy holiday for us. We have several cultures and an extended family to deal with. There are presents, big meals and various traditions happening every which way. Add to that the fact that we’ve been on a different continent away from home for two years but now we’ll be home, trying to reconstruct our home traditions. It is easy for the spiritual aspect to be overshadowed and almost impossible to hold any sort of small family ritual. The one thing we do always have is a Yule tree with decorations and usually a small scene of figures under it. This is one place where we can bring in the Goddess. 

I try to hold a brief dawn greeting of the sun with my husband and children on the morning of the Solstice. We usually also pull off a candlelight dinner the evening before with expressions of what we are thankful for and Solstice Tarot readings for the adults. 

It is into this part of the Yule celebration that I would like to bring some celebration of the Goddess. Usha, the Indian goddess of dawn, is my Maiden Goddess for Yule. Her twin sister is Night and they share the nursing of a child. They walk the same path, each in her own particular way. (Agrawala 1984).Her symbols might be a figure of an infant that is both dark and light or an infant wrapped in silk cloth with Indian designs. 

Ekhi, the Basque sun goddess (Sykes 2002) and motherly protector of humanity, is my Mother Goddess for Yule. She assures her children of hope and the eternal return of morning. She is a mother but is also born from the “reddish seas.” She reminds us of the need to stay a while in darkness in order to regenerate creative energy. She can be symbolized by a mother figure dressed in red or carrying a torch.

 Hekate is the Crone Goddess for Yule. She is a goddess of time, fate, solitude and witches, a mistress of the dead and “Keeper of the Keys to the Cosmos.” (Moss 2015) She can be symbolized by the figure of an old woman with a lantern or a key. 

Figures for these goddesses can be made out of clay or other materials and placed under the Yule tree. We can honor Ekhi at the candlelight feast on the eve of the Winter Solstice with poems of hope and thanksgiving for the promise of hope in difficult times. We can honor Hekate during the late night ritual of Solstice Tarot readings, lighting a candle in a small lantern. We can honor Usha at dawn when the sun returns.

Bibliography

Agrawala, P.K. (1984). Goddesses in Ancient India. New Dehli, India: Abhinav Publications
Auset, B. (2009). The Goddess Guide: Exploring the Attributes and Correspondences of the Divine Feminine. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
Caputi, J. (2004). Goddesses and Monsters. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
Chaudhuri, S. K. (2003). Hindu Gods and Goddesses in Japan. New Delhi, India: Vedams.
Daimler, M. (2016). Pagan Portals - Brigid. Winchester, UK: Moon Books.
Greenfield, T. Ed (2014) Naming the Goddess: Washington, DC. Moon Books
Hunt, L. (2001). An Illustrated Meditation Guide: Celestial Goddesses. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
Leeming, D. and Page, J. (1994). Goddess: Myths of the Female Divine. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.)
Loar, J. (2008). Goddesses for Every Day. Navato, CA: New World Library
MacLeod, S. P. (1960). The Devine Feminine in Ancient Europe. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc. Publishers
Monagham, P. (1997) The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines: Woodbury, MN. Llewellyn Publications
Monagham, P. (2014). Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines. Novato, CA: New World Library
Moss, V. (2015). Pagan Portals Hekate: A Devotional. Hants, UK: Moon Books
Motz, L. (1997). The Faces of the Goddess. New York, NY: Oxford University Press
Sass, R. (2003) The Old Saxon Language and Heathenry. Robert Sass)
Shaw, M (2006). Buddhist Goddesses of India. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Slocum, S. K. Ed. (1992). Popular Arthurian Traditions. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press.
Sykes, E. (2002). Who’s Who in Non-Classical. New York, NY: Routledge.
Warch, M. L. 2014). White Buffalo Woman. In T. Greenfield (Ed.), Naming the Goddess (pp. 328 - 330
 Weber, C. (2015). Brigid: History, Mystery and Magick of the Celtic Goddess. San Francisco, CA: Weiser Books
Woodfield, S. (2014) Drawing Down the Sun: Rekindle the Magick of the Solar Goddesses. Woodbury, MN. Llewellyn Publications

Twelve Days of Yule: Crafts, songs and cooking

I am sitting here with a glass of eggnog topped with freshly grated nutmeg. So, you can probably guess that I like this holiday. There are plenty of reasons to like it. First of all, whether we're in Central Europe or in Oregon when the time comes, the people around us are celebrating too. That comes with the handy bonus of some days off work, which are often sorely lacking during other Pagan Sabbats. The days off don’t exactly coincide with the Solstice but they still help out, especially if you celebrate the Twelve Days of Yule in one way or another.

The other reason I like Yule is the feeling of magic and wonder that seems to permeate the natural world during this season. I was always uncomfortable with secular Christmas and the commercialization of the holiday, even as a teenager. But I haven't let that stop me from absorbing the vital energy of the sun's return.

Still, not everyone in our family is quite so enthusiastic. When I told my Czech husband that there are twelve days of Pagan Yule he was aghast, saying he can barely handle one holiday. His mother gets very stressed over Christmas and he still has unresolved anxiety around the holidays. I rushed to reassure him. One thing I like about spreading it out is that there is no one big blow-out celebration and thus no one moment when everything has to be perfect or else it is all ruined. There is something, often a minor thing, special each day and a lot of it is flexible. Also children can get several gifts but only one at a time, which cuts down on the extremes of over-excitement as well as the greedy consumerism. Philosophically, the focus of this Sabbat should be on mystery and magic (spelled any which way), so secrets around gifts are quite called for as are fables about jolly old men arriving in the middle of the night and other things of wonder.

So, here goes.

Crafts and Cooking

Most years, I go out on a crisp, clear day to gather twigs from bare trees to make branch candles. You take a glass or clear jar and hot glue or even just rubber-band a neat row of twigs around the outside of the glass. If you use rubber bands, you might have to cover them with pretty yarn to make it more decorative. Then, you put a candle inside and you have a beautiful candleholder that can be used in the run-up to Yule to symbolize the hidden light of the sun dwelling in the womb of nature.

Next, I fix up my Czech advent wreath turned alter piece for the elements. In the Czech Republic people put a ceramic wreath accented with twigs of evergreen on their table. The wreath has four candle holders on it and four red candles are placed in these. Then, for four weeks before Christmas, they light candles – one on the first Sunday, two on the second and so on. It occurred to me this is a perfect stand for four elements candles. So, I decorate ours in a similar way and light each candle in honor of one of the elements, calling for the aid of elements in bringing the light and warmth of the sun back to us. All this requires for decoration is a few sprigs of fir and juniper from our trees and some dazzling orange suns that I cut out of tangerine peels.

I also make a very simple evergreen wreath for our door and the children make paper snowflakes for the windows. We make ice candles closer to Yule, so that they can be used on Solstice night. You do this by freezing a bowl or plastic container of water in the freezer with a tin can positioned in the middle of it, so that when you take it out and remove the bowl and the can, you have a bowl of ice with a depression in the middle for a candle. Again, this is a symbol of the sun being reborn in cold and ice.

This year we have already made salt dough ornaments and painted them, although this is really the only major craft I have planned with the kids, other than lots of cookies. I will try to make pinwheel cookies. I already have some gingerbread dough in the freezer and I’ll make sugar cookie dough, so we’ll make gingerbread figures and cookies in the shapes of suns, stars and Yule trees. And I will make our annual, much anticipated pan of decadent cinnamon rolls. 

The most important meal of the holiday comes on the eve of the Solstice for us. That is when we traditionally make round dishes. Usually we try to stick to a theme of the sun and the night sky. So, I usually make shepherd's pie with mashed potatoes on top. I liberally mix in tumeric powder with the mashed potatoes, which is tasty, healthy and handy for making the pie look like the sun. I also make blueberry or huckleberry pie for desert and put moon and star cookies on top to make a night sky.  There is always a large round dish of baked pumpkin or winter squash with brown sugar and butter on top. This is simple and uses our most successful home harvest crop.

Songs

Yule is good when it comes to songs but difficult at the same time. One of the hardest things about not really being able to relate to Christmas for me is that for years I have struggled with the fact that I like Christmas carols. I even like some of the overtly religious ones. For one thing, they have wonderful tunes and for another thing, they speak to some primal instinct for celebration in the season. Even the texts of the religious ones evoke the very spirit of wonder and comfort at the magical rebirth of light and hope that is at the heart of Yule. Certainly, some of the tunes of these songs predate Christianity, though we don’t always know for certain which ones.

One that we do know is Pagan for sure is:

 

Deck the Halls

 

Deck the halls with bows of holly

Fa la la la la la la la la

‘Tis the season to be jolly

Fa la la la la la la la la

Don ye now your gay apparel

Fa la la la la la la la la

Join the ancient Yuletide carol

Fa la la la la la la la la

 

See the blazing Yule before us

Fa la la la la la la la la

Strike the harp and join the chorus

Fa la la la la la la la la

Follow me in merry measure

Fa la la la la la la la la

While I tell of Yuletide treasure

Fa la la la la la la la la

 

Fast away the old year passes

Fa la la la la la la la la

Hail the new, ye lads and lasses

Fa la la la la la la la la

Sing we joyous all together

Fa la la la la la la la la

Heedless of the wind and weather

Fa la la la la la la la la

 

And here are some others with common tunes intact but with words that have been adapted by modern neo-Pagans. If anyone is upset by Pagans co-opting Christian songs for the holiday, one might point out that the Christians first co-opted the whole holiday from the Pagans of long ago, so it is justice of a sort.

 

Silent Night

 

Silent night, solstice night

All is calm, all is bright

Nature slumbers in forest and glen

‘Til in springtime she wakens again

Sleeping spirits grow strong!

Sleeping spirits grow strong!

 

Silent night, solstice night

Silver moon, shining bright

Snow blankets the sleeping Earth

Yule fires herald the sun’s rebirth

Hark, the light is reborn!

Hark, the light is reborn!

 

Silent night, solstice night

Quiet rest ‘til the light

Turning ever the rolling wheel

Brings the winter to comfort and heal.

Rest your spirit in peace!

Rest your spirit in peace!

 

Oh, Come All Ye Kindred

 

Oh, Come All Ye Kindred

Gather round the Yule Fire

Oh, come ye, oh, come ye,

To call the Sun.

Fires within us

Call the Fire above us.

Oh, come let us rejoice now.

Oh, come let us rejoice now.

Oh, come let us rejoice now

For the reborn Sun.

 

Yea, Sun, we greet Thee!

Born again at Yuletide!

Oh, Yule fires, Oh, trees bright

Are lighted for Thee!

Come and behold it

Light this day returns to us.

Oh, come let us rekindle.

Oh, come let us rekindle.

Oh, come let us rekindle.

The returning sun.

 

Finally, here is an original Yule song that came more or less unbidden into my head. The words can be sung to either Good King Wenceslas or Amazing Grace, depending on your mood.

 

Promised Hope

(To the tune of Good King Wenceslas)

 

O, promised hope that we hold dear

As days grow dark and cold.

All people wait this time of year

As ancient tales are told.

 

Father Sun departs the Earth.

The Goddess holds her child.

So, here we gather by the hearth,

While winter storms grow wild.

 

In darkest night, the world so chill,

We watch twelve days of Yule

To see the sun returning still

To herald the earth’s renewal.

 

Oh, Solstice Tree

 

Oh, Solstice tree

Oh, Solstice tree

How lovely are your branches.

Ever green through winter days.

Reminding us of old time ways.

 

Oh, Solstice tree

Oh, Solstice tree

How lovely are your branches.

Now sparkling with dazzling light

You bring us joy and delight.

 

Any other verses anyone?

 

The Twelve Days

 

This year, because we are in Eastern Oregon in the mountains, we will be able to go out and pick a little tree that needs thinning. We'll do that this weekend. We will then be set for the great celebrations to begin. This year I’m going to take a crack at some sort of celebration for each of the twelve days of Yule.

On the first night of Yule – that is for us the evening of the 20th of December – we will have a special dinner to honor both the sun and the “womb of the night” that holds the sun on Solstice night with round dishes, probably a round casserole, as well as baked pumpkin and tangerines for the sun and huckleberry pie with stars cut out of dough on top for goddess of the night. We will light our ice and branch candles and as many others as we want, to keep vigil on the longest night. We won’t leave them lit though, as fire is too much of a hazard here. Instead we will bank the fire to last. We’ll light the first of twelve candles and say something we wish for more of in ourselves during the next year. Each evening we will light one more of the twelve candles and tell the children what they symbolize. With somewhat older children one could say something one appreciates about each daily theme with the lighting of the new candle. Then, we will sing and put the children to bed.

In the morning on the 21st, I will wake up the children before dawn and get us all dressed to go outside. We’ll go out to the boulder where our grandmother's ashes were scattered and drum and sing to welcome the reborn sun. I will have to pay attention to when exactly dawn comes in order to keep the children from standing too long in the cold.

The first day of Yule has an outward focus of the sun and an inward focus on taking care of yourself. I think I may be able to bake my favorite cinnamon rolls on this day. I will also find some quiet time to do an annual Tarot reading that I do on the Winter Solstice. It is made up of a circle of twelve cards, each representing a month of the coming year, and one central card. It is the only truly predictive reading that I use.

The 22nd, the second day of Yule, is dedicated to prosperity and possessions. So, this is a logical time for giving and receiving, which is handy because the first day of Yule is usually hectic enough without adding gifts.  The evening before the children will put cookies by the hearth and say a special sun blessing. They will wake up to a present under the tree from Santa Claus and stockings full of good things. In this sense Santa Claus is the spirit of the old year and the old sun, he is an old man with a long white beard, dressed in the warm red of an old fire. We’ll also have a special family meal and give thanks for all that we had or gained in the old year.

On the 23rd, we will find time to go for a walk and sing carols. The third day of Yule is dedicated to communication and voice, thus singing.

The fourth day is dedicated to the home, so we usually stay home and make a special Czech holiday dinner of carp and potato salad and there will be another gift under the tree in the evening for the children. It is handy that the 24th is a state holiday here. This time the gift is brought by the newborn Baby Sun (a Pagan take on the atheist Czech tradition that has it that a magical spirit called, oddly enough for the Czech anti-thiests, “Little baby Jesus” sneaks into the living room to leave gifts while the family is somewhere else in the house). One of the adults usually distracts the children in another room while the other puts out the gifts, rings a small bell and jumps into the bathroom to pretend that he or she wasn’t actually there when Baby Sun showed up.

On the 25th, we often bake star-shaped gingerbread cookies that are made to stack one on top another to form trees. These we can decorate with white frosting and sparkles like Yule trees. We will make enough to take with us to the cousins the next day. This fifth day of Yule is dedicated to play and creativity.

The sixth day of Yule is dedicated to health. If we were at home in the Czech Republic, we could have a sauna on this day. Instead we'll soak in my mother's hot tub under the pine and apple trees. 

The seventh day is dedicated to love relationships. This is the first time my husband and I have been apart at this time of year in many years. Usually, we are visiting the relatives on Dec. 27th and we seize this rare opportunity to have babysitters and go on a date – the only date we get in a year without kids. It isn't much, just a quiet walk and a little while in a café in the picturesque little town of Trebon, but it is better than nothing.

The eighth day of Yule is dedicated to change and cycles and so it is a particularly good day for a ritual around something that needs change. It is also a time to honor the natural cycles of rebirth in some way. On this day we usually stage a change-of-the-guard pillow fight with the kids. This is where the children, as symbols of the new sun, pummel the parents, symbols of the old sun, with pillows and eventually “win” by exhausting them.

The ninth day of Yule is about learning, so we will surely read some of the Yule stories in the book Circle Round on this day and perhaps have some fun board games as a family. This is also Dec. 29, which is a day on which we honor our children’s birth families, because it is the birthday of one of their birth mothers. We will light a special candle.

The tenth day of Yule is dedicated to career and life path. For older children this would be a good day to play the game of life, dress up as various professions or have a discussion about what they want to do with their life path. We will probably read picture books about different professions and try to act them out. I will also do a ritual for myself around figuring out my own life path.

The eleventh day of Yule is for friendships and community. It is also New Year’s eve, so it is a good time to get together with a circle of friends that is broader than family. It is also a good day to discuss with children and decide something to do to help the community or other people in the world during the coming year, a special kind of New Year’s resolution. We will also visit an elderly neighbor on the day its self.

The final, twelfth day of Yule is dedicated to dreams, the subconscious and mysteries. If one has not overindulged too much on New Year’s night interesting dreams might come. It is a good time for introspective writing. I will try to make a mystery treasure hunt inside the house for the children to find a final treat of the season on New Years day. One Czech tradition we have adopted is that we always eat lentils (a symbol of prosperity) on New Years day (the twelfth day of Yule) in order to ensure abundance in the coming year.

That is the basic idea of our holiday traditions. We get a lot done without making any of it particularly stressful. I hope this year we will be able to integrate it with having a lot of American cousins around as well.

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Arie Farnam

Arie Farnam is a war correspondent turned peace organizer, a tree-hugging herbalist, a legally blind bike rider, the off-road mama of two awesome kids, an idealist with a practical streak and author of the Kyrennei Series. She grew up outside La Grande, Oregon and now lives in a small town near Prague in the Czech Republic.

Raising Little Pagans

Here is our first video showing the hands-on approach to Pagan seasonal festivals with children. This video covers Samhain through Ostrara and gives specific ideas of what a family with preschool-age children can accomplish. We are eclectic and follow no particular rigid tradition.

Happy watching. This video is appropriate for all ages.

Please note that my fiction is not aimed at children. The Soul and the Seed is a contemporary fantasy thriller with Pagan leanings. I recommend it for ages sixteen and up due to intense content, including some realistic violence. I hope Pagan readers will enjoy these books but I urge parents to be cautious about recommending them to children.