Why celebrate Yule, what is it?
Yule is the Winter Solstice, when the Sun rises and sets at the furthest point south on the horizon (this is the northern hemisphere’s winter).
If you can watch the Sun rise on Yule, look for a landmark that shows you how far south it rises. Watch from a normal place, some window in your house or your front or back door. You do not have to know the directions; just notice.
The daylight is short, the night time is long, the longest night of the year. It is tradition to play drums at sunrise on Yule. I wonder if that is where the idea of the Little Drummer Boy originated? Greeting the re-birth of a new Sun.
So, this is the low point of light, the least amount of light. We fight the darkness with fire, company and good cheer!
Traditions like these teach survival, teach us how to thrive in spite of tough natural forces. We celebrate Yule to remind each other that low times pass, cycles turn, and tough times will get better…soon. Maybe not just yet but soon.
We bolster each other’s spirits, make joyful memories and celebrate each other. We have each survived since last Yule. No one is guaranteed this, so we celebrate together!
This is a t8me of generosity, too. Generosity seems divine but is actually human. Sharing is an act of free will.
There is a perception that handmade gifts are best. But, handmade used to be all there was. It is a lovely tradition, and it still counts. Homemade cookies count as handmade. ( I love cookies!) But gifts you buy count, too.
What can you make? Not just things – do you make friends? Do you make someone happy?
In the days before industrial revolution, days of farm life, winter is an easier time of year. There is nothing to plow, sow or reap. Now, this is no longer true – in winter we are as busy as any other time of year. We travel, work, shop, host, decorate, cook, organise as if our lives depended on it.
All this activity during the dark time of year causes anxiety. Darkness is a natural time to rest and recover, not a natural time for high activity. Any time you can rest during this time, do!
The Holly and Oak trees both grow slow, strong and tall. Both have ovate shaped leaves with a pointed tip, both have leaves with several points around the edge. The Holly King rules the waning light from Summer solstice to Winter, and on Yule loses to his brother the Oak King.
Holly is evergreen and medicinal, if emetics are the medicine you need! Purging is a desperate measure but was commonly used in ancient medicine. Holly also stimulates the heart, increasing the pulse. Holly produces berries for birds to eat and spread its seeds.
Holly King is jolly, with bright red or white berries and deep green leaves. The sacred holly does not die when dark winter comes, and reminds us again that life survives. Holly King prepares us for loss, retraction, retrenching before the hard winter times arrive.
Some debate what is the “dark half of the year”. It can be defined several ways:
From Summer solstice, as the days get shorter and shorter.
From Autumn Equinox, when the night hours become equal with the day hours.
From Samhain, the time of frost and deep night.
At the end of Holly’s reign, he loses to his brother the Oak King. Oak defeats Holly when the light time of year begins.
Oak is beloved of Sun gods like Apollo. Oak is also a strong, tall, slow and steady growing tree. Oak produces acorns, which are food for mammals and are spread as mammals gather and hoard them.
These two brothers rival one another for the love of the Goddess, and represent two sides of the Greenman’s power. They represent two very different male aspects, the physician and the provider.
And at Yule we build a bonfire using the Greenman’s bones to invite light back into the world. Beginning with dry leaves, grass and twigs, adding larger branches as flames catch, and then piling logs around and on the growing blaze.
Hail the new light of the reborn Sun!
Samhain is the Gaelic word for “Summer’s End”. It is pronounced “SOW-in” in Irish Gaelic, “SHAW-vin” in Scots Gaelic, and “Pumpkin Spice” in American. 😀 I stole that joke.
Like English uses H to change the sounds of C and S, Gaelic uses the letter H to turn M into the V sound. M and V are more similar than you might have realized. That is a little Gaelic language tip for you; I did not get much further in my study of that language.
Samhain is the ancient holiday halfway between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice, around the first of November. This is when in Ireland, cattle were brought back down from their mountainous summer grazing fields to the valley fields. Newgrange and other paleolithic Irish monuments mark these astronomical events.
Thanks to Irish immigrants, Samhain became the basis for what we Americans call “Halloween”, a contraction for All Hallow’s Eve. Halloween is the evening before All Saints Day. Halloween is also known as All Souls Night, when we remember our own, ordinary, not-sainted folk. Simply, it is a festival to honor those who have gone before.
Ancestor worship pre-dates the worship of deities. From what I can understand, as Stone Age people, we humans did not fear death or miss our dead relatives the way we do now. Instead, we stayed in touch with their spirits and memories.
Usually, ancestor worship itself was conducted by the oldest living relatives in the family. Those who were closer to crossing over to become ancestors themselves, and who had known the older generations were deemed best for communicating with those spirits. It became their sole occupation. Priesthood must have been a really nice retirement plan!
Modern Pagans often hold unrelated loved ones, such as teachers or even celebrities, as emotional ancestors. Those who inspire us to become better people have also fed our growth as spiritual beings. They “parent” us this way.
Who are your unrelated ancestors? Among mine are the authors Anne McCaffrey and Jane Austen, singer Karen Carpenter and my high school choir teacher, Cheryl Patchen. McCaffrey taught me keep writing and singing in spite of neglect or abuse, and that adopted family can be the best family. Austen taught me to follow my better nature rather than give in to impulse. Carpenter warned me to keep fighting mental illness. Patchen believed in me.
Did you have neighbors growing up who helped raise you? Have you thought about the word “raise”? Good people lift each other up, and as my friend Carolsue says, we live in a world with good people.
Wiccans honor our dead at Samhain. We believe at this time of year, it is easier to converse with our ancestors. The “veil” between our world and theirs is thin at this time, and also at Beltaine, the opposite holiday from Samhain.
One way to remember them is to offer their names to the Samhain bonfire. You can speak their names to the fire, or write them on paper to burn. I usually do both, reading the name aloud and then burning the paper.
Samhain is also the third or fourth harvest festival of the year; it is the Blood Harvest. I am going to let those words hang for a moment… This is the hunting season for well-fed wildlife, or time to harvest your fattened livestock. Their bones went into the Samhain bonfire, bone + fire. This is the time of frost, when (before climate change) the weather would reliably get colder. Meat stayed good longer in a cold larder, or it was cured with salt or smoke. Then it should keep your family fed thru harsh winter months. They did not have things like Spam.
And of course, it is the time of pumpkins, winter squash, potatoes, young wine from Lughnasadh’s pressing, the last of those flavorful peppers, apples and plums. There is still time to plant winter greens to keep your family more healthy during winter.
Another way to honor the dead is the Dumb Supper. “Dumb” means “not speaking”. As you enjoy your marvelous harvests in a Samhain feast, set one plate full of your dinner with a burning candle to draw those spirits who love you. Some Wiccans eat this meal in silence (dumb), to listen for their visitors’ words from the other side.
Many Wiccans include a pomegranate in their Samhain feast to honor the marriage of Persephone and Hades. Do not believe those silly English scholars who mistranslated the old Greek myths: Persephone was NOT kidnapped. Plucking a crocus was essentially knocking on Hades’ door. She was NOT tricked into marrying; offering an unmarried woman a pomegranate was the same today as kneeling and offering her a ring. Her mother’s opinion of the match was another story.
A much-loved Samhain activity is to spend time looking thru family photo albums. Perhaps dust the picture frames if you keep family portraits. Tell stories of your elders’ (hopefully funny ones as well as any other), talk about your family’s history and traditions. We are settling into the darkest time of the year, which is a great time to rest and tell stories.
Samhain is our New Year festival, as well. We chase out and confuse bad spirits by wearing masks and set skulls and bones outside our doors to warn them away. The Irish extinguish their hearth fires, then meet at the village bonfire and take home its coals to restart their hearth for the new year. The old has passed, the new are coming back soon: at the Sun’s rebirth occurs at Yule.
Since it is a new year, you might scry or read your tarot cards to gain insight for the coming year. You might converse with your ancestors by visiting your relatives’ graveyards, or simply stand outside on your porch to await their coming to see you, just as you would wait for the living who have texted to say they are are on their way.
If you choose to scry, keep in mind that all news is not good. Be prepared to receive messages of any sort. Christians interpret hearing bad news as the “Devil’s words” and view our holiday with anxiety. Bless their hearts. Wiccan faith says to accept the whole cycle of life as it comes. When you receive messages, do your best to handle the news.
And this is one reason that Wiccans set circles of protection when we scry. We need to filter out those spirits who might mean harm, or who are just full of mischief. Think of all the people you know in life. They do not change their nature when they die.
Samhain New Year is an excellent time to purge your home of unwanted or unused items, or items with some painful connection. It might be a valuable item, but if it only brings you sorrow, purge it. Purge yourself of sorrows too, using that burning ritual I mentioned earlier. Write your sorrow on paper and add it to the Samhain fire. That catharsis is magnificent.
Walking a labyrinth is another Samhain tradition. The labyrinth reminds us that life is full of twists, turns, doubling back, rushing forward, and then doing it all over again with fresh perspective.
Think of all the feelings you get when you work thru any problem! They can all be there in the labyrinth. Interest in a new thing, satisfaction in that first turning back to see where you were before. Frustration of going back and forth when you thought you were done. Confusion when you are not sure if you are following the right color on the floor. Joy of sailing forward thru a long loop, and then anxiety as you see yet another turn ahead. Relief when you reach the center. Exhaustion when you realize you are about to go thru all of that again – or maybe you love seeing it all go by again and laugh at the places you were stuck or frustrated before.
You might outline a labyrinth in your own yard, using cornmeal or flour, bricks, masking tape or ribbon. To use a bag of cornmeal or flour for this, cut a pouring spout from the top fold and use the flour to trace the design. Non-toxic, needs no clean up. The Cretan labyrinth + is a simple and most ancient design. Or, quite simply, or you can mark out a spiral using a garden hose.
Samhain is a time of immense power and change. In this season, it behooves us to connect with our past and weigh our needs and desires. Take time to appreciate where you came from, the good and the bad together. Take time to evaluate where you are and appreciate your own wealth.
Awakened by crack
Dying tree trunk snapping
Branches landing above me
If anything in life teaches you to deal with failure, it’s gardening. Garden plants are delicate, tasty, and stressed. I’ve had good luck lately; the rosemary, fennel, sage, mint, garlic and lavender I put in recently are all thriving.
It is kind of cheating to say that those plants bode my gardening success. Herbs are the toughest members of the garden plant family. Since they don’t expend most of their energy producing huge fruit or even flowering much, herbs (I pronounce the “H” in herbs, by the way) thrive in a way vegetables and fruit often don’t.
I want to make a big, deep analogy about how non-creative types are less delicate than those of us who produce so much artwork effort. Maybe today I won’t indulge in my prejudices, since this post is about perserverance and surviving failure…but I am leaving this paragraph in this blog.
I planted beautiful tangerine colored pansies the week of Thanksgiving, in a flowerpot in our woods. I checked on them this weekend; all of them had been dug up and 3 of them tossed out of the pot. Damn squirrels. I put them back in the soil but will probably move them to the garden by the house. Or maybe I’ll tie fencing over the pot. Who knew squirrels got fussy about pansies? Stupid little tree rats.
I planted lettuce seeds in the kitchen garden. The cat used the area as her new toilet. Now I can only plant flowers there. I planted more lettuce seeds around the garlic; the garlic sprouted ahead of season and there’s no sign of lettuce.
I want to put in sweet potatoes this spring, and build a trellis for squash and tomato vines. I’m fairly sure, based on past behavior, that I will half-ass the trellis and it will fall down. And now I will blame my ADHD for the failure of a project that I haven’t even begun, except to imagine it. But oh, you should see how it looks in my mind!
I’d like to say I’m optimistic and cheerfully step up to try, try again. I’d like to smile big at the camera, shrug off these failures and proclaim tomorrow to be another day. Here we go:
OK! I’M GOING TO TRY THIS AGAIN! TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY! HERE WE GO!
That’s it – that’s optimism. Like high heeled shoes and false eyelashes, my optimism looks a lot better than it feels. Oddly, optimism works just fine without genuine enthusiasm.
I am collecting used, biodegradeable coffee cups from the trash bin at work. I plan to use them as planters for the persimmon seeds I collected this year, and put baby persimmon trees all over our woods come spring time. Isn’t that a great idea? You are welcome to start a betting pool on whether or not that happens or if I just barely manage to score the seeds to germinate and fling them by handsful out into the woods while yelling, “GOOD LUCK, GROW BIG FOR ME!”
In a similar vein, I wanted to join NaNoWriMo this year, as I’ve wanted to do for the past 10 years. I managed to write 7 blogs that month, 4 of them in the first week. But hey! That’s more than I managed to write in May, June and July this year. Go me!
I’m going to buy a living tree for Yule this year. I don’t know where I’ll plant it after the season is over, but I’m sure it’ll do fine. Along with the 50 goji berry shrubs I have seeds for, and the album’s worth of songs I’ve been meaning to make a demo recording of for the past 4 years.
2016 is another year. I’m going to try this all again.
When you believe weird things, you don’t have room to criticize. I could stop there. That’s the point I wanted to make. We’re done. Thanks for stopping by.
News stories arrive in which politicians admit they believe women are less valid creatures than men and don’t deserve things like paychecks or job promotions. That Jesus traveled around the world making sure every tribe got His message so that no one gets out of choosing between Heaven and Hell. That Jesus’ magic blood-drinking ritual saved them from cancer. Or that God is playing hide and seek from behind a comet.
I was raised to think all of these (except the last one) were valid religious beliefs. (I don’t have examples of other religions’ wacko beliefs, but feel free to leave comments if you know some good ones.) I still think they are valid, the same way I believe Narcissus was a beautiful young man who fell in love with his reflection in a pond and was turned into a flower. The same way I believe that Sedna’s fingers became whales and seals. The same way I have conversations with trees and babies and people’s pets and see the future in how a handful of stones fall.
I really stretch the patience of my secular humanist friends. Bless them, they love me even as I make them palm their faces in confused exasperation. Bless them a little extra, because they don’t usually believe in things like blessings.
Write down things you believe in and take a look at them again. Try to explain them to someone. (Trees are good listeners.) Do you believe that your feelings affect the outcome of your most beloved sports team’s scores? That closing your eyes makes prayer work better? That your hairstyle makes you look better? Do you believe that eating fast food every day won’t actually, literally, genuinely hurt anyone?
Yeah, those aren’t very religious examples. Hopefully they’re less aggravating or personal that way. I don’t want to anger anybody. I say claim your wacko beliefs. Everyone has their own.
Maybe we should have International Wacko Day where everyone posts their strangest deeply held belief on the Internet, so we can find fellow wackos and enjoy their company. We can all drink the traditional melted ice cream and strike things that irk us with inflatable toys, as has been done on Wacko Day for centuries. Or for the first time. It’ll be great.