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What is Yule?

What is Yule? Are you familiar with the word but unsure of it’s meaning? Or know a bit about Yule but unsure as to how to celebrate the festival or of the meaning behind the celebration?

Yule is the time in the calendar also known as Winter Solstice or Midwinter. It is the pre-christian, pagan celebration of the return of the sun. The precursor to the modern day, christian celebration of Christmas. It was honoured and celebrated across much of northern Europe, particularly in Celtic, Scandinavian/Nordic and Germanic cultures (known as Jul).

Here in the northern hemisphere, this time of year is very dark with only a little sun light each day, but on the Solstice, the shortest day of the year, some places see no sun light at all. To get through these dark times, people came together to feast and make merry; to make offerings to the Great Mother (Mother Nature/Gaia/Goddess / local deities) and to honour the sun to ensure its return once more. With the sun’s rebirth comes lighter and warmer weather to farm, grow food and livestock thus enabling their very survival. The welcome and vital sunrise was celebrated as a festival as it was believed to truly be a miracle and people rejoiced that they had been blessed by the light once more. The festivities lasted many days and more recently have been referred to as the 12 days or nights of Yule/Yuletide which gave forth to the 12 days of Christmas.

Living in tune with nature, the cycles of the earth and seasons of the land, the people of the day were at the mercy of the weather and of the Great Mother and would ensure they pleased Her with their offerings, in both thanks for what they harvested and in hope for success for the next year coming. The best of the produce would be served at these revelries and the rest would have to keep families going throughout the winter, lest they starve until the new crops began to grow and the new animals were of an age for slaughter. Spring was a lean season for eating, but a good successful harvest secured a hearty and abundant winter and a pleased Mother.

As well as a time of celebration, Yule was also a time of peace and quiet contemplation of the lessons learned. Gratitude and joy was shared for the year just gone and hope was encouraged for the year to come. The festivities were steeped in observed rituals and reverence as well as helping lift the communities through the bleak midwinter lull in work and idle hands. Instead of working the land, evergreens were gathered and brought inside, the branches, boughs and trees or bushes (Christmas tress and garlands by today’s understanding) were adorned with candles, lit to to give encouragement to the vegetation to grow and thrive in the coming year, and remind the sun to grow bright and strong, as well as to keep any fae, housed in the boughs, warm during this cold dark time.

Many traditions from the ancient ways are still in practice today, some have been modified to accommodate modern living but the essence remains true. This is not a commercial festival, with the business of busyness, but rather a meaningful time to make like nature and find the stillness in the dark to turn inwards in contemplation of what has gone before; give thanks and release what no longer serves or has expired, to say farewell to those souls who have departed this earthly plane in the past solar cycle and to also create, plan and make space for what is to come in the following cycle. It’s cold outside so connecting with kith and kin hearthside, round the Yule log, sharing in communal ritual and togetherness, gift giving and feasting is as important today as it was way back when.

So how do modern day pagans celebrate this important time in our Wheel of the Year (calendar)?

I can’t speak for anyone else but thought I would give you an insight into what yule looks like rounds at mine. A quick pinterest search will open to millions of pins of ways people across the globe are honouring the sun’s return. In the Northern hemisphere, December 21st (approx) is Winter Solstice, but in the Southern hemisphere, it is Summer Solstice that parties with Christmas, while their Winter festival is in June.

Our Yuletide celebrations begin at sunset of the evening of December 20th, Mother’s Night (Modranecht ). I say “our” celebrations, but I really mean mine! I’m the only pagan in the house, but my family share in some of the celebrations with me which is beautiful and has become traditional in our own wee family. All work must be complete by this evening, there is no “work” during Yuletide. This night is not too dissimilar to Samhuinn in that it is time for me to acknowledge and honour the Mothers who have come before me, my motherline ancestral thread. I have names for these women now, but in years gone by I didn’t so my ritual was more a prayer/blessing to all Mothers, and Mother-like women I know, knew and respected. I like to take time for myself and dedicate this time to meditation and a small ritual involving naming my ancestors and giving thanks.

The day of Solstice or Yule will fall on 20th or 21st or 22nd December. This year our shortest day is 22nd and the light will be reborn at sunrise on 23rd. We have a special meal – ALWAYS Nigella’s Christmas Ham (her Christmas cook book is the only bible I ever owned – it comes out every year without fail since I bought it in 2008) eaten by candle light, we have a small gift exchange – the gift has to be crafted (usually food! Once again thanking the Goddess that is Nigella) or be a second hand purchase or books – books are the best gift in my opinion, and if second hand then even better, especially if they are old and have an inscription in the inside cover. My copy of Little Women that my husband gave me for yule about 10 years ago, has an inscription from Elsie to Alice in pencil from April 1911 – who were Elsie and Alice?? Anyways, I digress. We watch the sunset into the longest night of the year, exchange a small gift and give thanks for the year gone and make a wish for the year to come. It’s such a cozy evening with just the twinkly tree lights and candles. This year, weather depending we are hoping to get the fire going and can sit outside for a bit as the sun goes down and burn our wishes and a makeshift yule log (as well as enjoying the chocolate variety for pudding). In ancestral times, the fires were extinguished and hearths were cleaned out. The communal village Yule log was lit from a taper saved from the previous year’s log to continue the luck and good fortune into the new year, and then each household’s new fire was lit from a flame from the blazing communal log. The following morning I will witness the sunrise, as it returns in welcome to join it as we dance its next dance.

A traditional Scottish Blessing for Solstice’s returning sun :

I welcome you,

sun of the seasons,

as you travel the skies aloft;

your steps are strong

on the wing of the heavens,

you are the glorious

mother of the stars.

A modern twist on the rejoicing the light is when my son and I jump in the car (usually the evening of 22nd or 23rd) and drive round all the local villages and look at all the lights people have decorated their homes and garden with, and bring along hot chocolate for our nighttime road trip. Over the course of the next couple of days, including Christmas day, the time is spent with family and friends celebrating the season, eating and feasting and laughing and enjoying (and stressing and arguing and eye rolling but there is always mulled wine and/or rum!) which is tempered by quiet moments of time to myself each evening (sometimes, especially on 24th or the 4th night of Yuletide, that quiet time is literally 5 mins before bed!).

But it’s the betwixt days between Christmas and New Year that are my favourite; lots of time for contemplation, working out the kinks and plans for next year, eating leftovers and rich foods, sleeping and resting, not keeping any routine or “normal hours”, seeing friends, getting outside into nature and cleansing (redding) the house ready for 12th Night, Hogmanay. The festivities all leading up to “The Bells” and steak pie and the traditions that come with this night. I prefer to have the tree down and the decorations away before The Bells, so as to welcome the new year in fresh and clean but I know I am in the minority for that.

Some other ways to honour the 12 nights of Yuletide could be to spend each of the 12 nights reflecting on a month of the year just gone i.e. first night, what lessons did January hold, 2nd night for February so on and so forth. Welcoming the sunrise with yoga sun salutation. Baking and sharing sun bread. Having a potted tree or an evergreen tree in your garden that you can decorate with birdseed, nuts and berry garlands and icicles for our feathered friends. I’m sure you have plenty of ideas that suit your needs/beliefs/wishes.

I love Yule and actually would happily fore-go Christmas in favour of yule but that would take some explaining to the family and result in hurt feelings and misunderstandings that quite frankly just aren’t worth the hassle – who needs more stress in December? So I will continue to celebrate both and maybe my 9yo will develop my same love for a low key Yule over the extravagant Xmas as he grows up but for now he is still all about Santa and the excess of the season. To him it’s magical and when I was his age, it was pure magic for me too.

Solstice Blessings to you

Lissa xx

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Remembering Our Ancestors

October is my month, Autumn is my season; the season of the witch, of transformation, a transition period, of evolution, of turning inward. It’s dark and it’s energy contemplative, shadowy, truth seeking, quiet, nourishing and soulful. This is the time before the pause, I’m in my home and nesting, tending the hearth, coorying down prepping for hibernation; I look forward to this point of the year, each and every year – you can keep your spring and summer, I’ll keep my late autumn.

Late October is also, associated with Halloween or All Hallow’s Eve, followed by Hallowmas, All Hallows Day, All Saints Day on 1st November then All Souls Day on the 2nd. In times gone by, the whole affair was known in Celtic traditions as Samhain/Samhuinn. In time before the Gregorian or Julian calendars with set dates and days, the passage of time was measured by the solar and lunar cycles. Much simpler, much more intune with what was happening naturally. The rituals of this fire festival were respected and revered on and around the dark moon, and that wouldn’t necessarily have been 31st October (because 31st October didn’t exist). The darkest sky at this time of year was considered to the be the gateway into the winter months and the point where the veil between the worlds was at its thinnest, allowing our ancestors to move between their world and ours. Of course, that also meant that any malevolent spirits could also traverse the veil, hence the need to ward them off with charms such as skulls (evolving into the jack o’lantern of today).

Honouring our ancestors and deceased loved ones, whether by telling and retelling their stories, looking at photographs, visiting their graves or by some other means of remembrance, is a long held tradition of keeping their memory alive in the now and carrying forth into the future.

Why is that important? People only stay “alive” for as long as we remember them and continue to tell their stories. Our ancestors make us who we are – we here because of them, whether they be someone to honour and love or are ashamed or embarrassed by, what ever horrors they lived through or were involved in, whether they were “good people” but “of their time”, whether their beliefs and values mirrored ours or not, which ever path they walked, how they lived, loved and breathed, we are here today thanks to them.

Our ancestral DNA is imprinted in our very fabric of existence. What magic and memories are you holding at a cellular level? How do you weave their story into you yours? We create and tell our own stories, but what can we learn from the past for today and moving forward.

I ask you, do you know who your ancestors are? If so, how far back and from where do they hail? Do you know your Red Thread, who your female ancestors are? A beautiful way to honour your ancestry is to trace it, see where your lineage lies and from where. Embrace your roots and learn your heritage. You may end up surprised or it may lead to conversations with relatives you’ve lost contact with and sharing of yet more stories or old photos, with names and people and places.

And looking to the future, we are the ancestors of tomorrow; whats (y)our legacy?

This year, the dark moon is Sunday evening, 27th October (actual 0% lunar visibility falls at 03.38GMT on Monday 28th) so celebrating and honouring our loved ones and the festival this weekend is perfectly appropriate. Samhuinn, the 13th New Moon of this year and the Celtic New Year all rolled into one celebration. So get your pumpkin ( or tumshie as per my household preference) carved, prepare, serve and enjoy a favourite meal of your loved one no longer earth-side, dook for apples and divine the future. Make merry and have a blessed Samhuinn.

Love Lissa

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Imbolc

The Wheel of the Year turns once more and now we, in the Northern Hemisphere, are awakening to the first rustlings of Spring and the Sabbat of Imbolc.

As the light lengthens, so the cold strengthens

Depending upon your point of view, Imbolc represents the start of Spring, the inbetween-ey time between Winter and Spring, or consider it be to very much a  Winter festival with Spring still a while off yet.

Regardless of how the Sabbat is considered, it remains one of the least celebrated of the 8 seasonal markers, to be honoured in the natural year. This is possibly due to people not understanding its significance or unsure of the associations with milk! So what on earth is Imbolc?

Imbolc, or Imbolg or Oimelc depending on your Celtic heritage, generally means “in the belly” or “ewe’s milk” – the ewe’s are lactating, we have milk once more and deep in the belly of mother nature, life is stirring and awakening. This is a festival of renewal and purification and as such, a far more appropriate time for making and sticking to new resolutions and goals. January is still very much a time of hibernation, darkness and heavy soul nourishing food not about diets and lack, but February with its longer and lightening evenings has a more spritely feel; a lighter feel both in the sky and in mood.

We are familiar with the solar festivals which quarter the year into the seasons : Spring / Autumn Equinoxes and Summer / Winter Solstices, but there are 4 cross quarter fire festivals which complete the 8 Sabbats on the Wheel Of The Year: Imbolc / Beltane / Lammas / Samhain. The solar markers are masculine energies while the fire festivals are very much feminine. Imbolc has an incredibly feminine feel to me. All that is happening on and around Imbolc is happening down here on and in the earth; Mother Nature, Gaia, Earth Mother.  It is also the first festival in the cycle where the Maiden aspect of the triple Goddess is honoured. She is also known as Brigid, Bride, Brig and is associated with poetry, healing, fertility, fire energy (and skills relating to fire, home, hearth or forge), inspiration and muse.

Imbolc is absolutely a time for women; mothers & daughters, friends, female family members spending time together, perhaps learning a new skill or just enjoying being in one another’s company, outwith the daily chores of home.  Last night after the sun was down and the moon was high (made all the more magnificent by the fact she was a super blue full moon) I gathered with 3 other women for an evening of Ecstatic Dance, a new experience for me and one which I will definitely be repeating.

There are many ways to honour this sacred time, whether you celebrate it from sunset on 31st January, or the 1/2 Feb or around the lunar Imbolc, or just when you feel the season start to shift, the actual calendar date is not important, there is no dogma dictating set times for the cross quarters, just what feels right for you. Alternatively you may not consider Imbolc at all, and look upon Candlemass as a marker in your year, or may not have anything at all and the start of February is the start of a new month as per any other. But if you wish to celebrate Imbolc you may wish to stock up on the candles (symbolic of the returning light, plus it is a fire festival), gather your girlfriends or relatives for a meal or a sacred circle, go out into nature (even if that just means your garden) and observe it; what do you notice, smell, hear, feel? Begin the purification of your home and by that I mean Spring Clean!! But go gently, a little at a time, just like nature, not a full on KonMari over one weekend or scrub the place from top to bottom until it stinks of bleach, easy does it (and hold back on the bleach, not good for nature or for you). Cultivate your own rituals and practices that you can revisit each year and reflect on the previous one. I have a bag of snow in the freezer that I collected the other week when it was lying thick in the ground. I will place this in a bowl with a candle to gently melt, taking with it the last of winter as the heat and light of the sun returns. I also make my own butter at Imbolc and use the butter milk to make scones.  If you want to see my previous Imbolc celebrations, you can here.

I hope you have a wonderful Imbolc, Imbolg or Pinch Punch First of the Month.

White Rabbits White Rabbit White Rabbits.

Lissa

x

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Spirituality: What does it mean?

Spirituality

Spirituality. What does it mean? Seriously! What does it mean to be ‘spiritual’?

What do you think it means? I’m not being sarcastic, but really asking, what do you genuinely think, when you hear the words Spiritual and Spirituality?

I think it means different things to different people.

Spirituality has become one of those terms used and, at times, over used and not always with clarity, but rather an air of mystique or pretension; there is an element of wankery attached to the word as it is banded about to express ones enlightened state of being (see what I mean about the wankery?).  But it also a sincere description of what some people experience or believe whether instead of or alongside their religion.

Is that any clearer? I’m not actually convinced that it is.

I had a friend tell me years ago that neither she nor her husband were religious people, but they were spiritual; I remember at the time thinking “what the fuck does that mean?” but not wanting to look ignorant, I just accepted the statement.

Only recently have I given the word any pause for thought. It hasn’t ever been  part of my consciousness when considering my path and beliefs, until I started hearing and seeing it used more and more on social media.

From a personal perspective, I do not consider myself ‘religious’ (I was christened as a baby into the Church Of Scotland, but at 8 weeks old, that choice was not mine to make. I have never felt any affinity with the church and haven’t attended a service other than for weddings or funerals since I left school). I don’t believe in God. I can accept that Jesus was a real man but that his miracles were more symbolic rather than literal. I don’t believe in heaven and hell other than that they were man-made constructs created to instil fear, compliance and obedience.  I do however believe that we are all part of something greater than just this existence on this one planet. There has to be life elsewhere, space is MAHOOSIVE!  We cannot possibly be the only creatures. I also believe in the Law of Attraction, energy, ghosts, reincarnation and that we are souls inhabiting a human body. Oh and I celebrate Christmas as it is a time with and for family.

Since high school I have identified as atheist, although at a guess I would say that that 2001 census has me down as CoS as I lived with my parents and they completed the form. However in the 2011 census I listed my religious beliefs as Pagan.

Pagan Wheel Of The Year

For 9 of the last 10 years, if I had to attach a religious label to myself, it would have been as Atheist Pagan. I follow the Wheel of the Year, the cycles of nature and the moon. I listen to my intuition and use divination tools and meditation for guidance.

I have had a life long love of witches and astrology, have visited various mediums (spooky wives) during my 20’s, but I never called myself, or considered myself to be spiritual.  

The past couple of years has seen my journey take a turn down the path of self development and exploration. This has lead me this year, to the Divine Feminine and Goddess / Priestess culture; Herstory if you will.  It’s fascinating and I can’t quench that thirst for more knowledge. Once I have read one book am ready to dive into the next and the next. The Goddesses or the Divine Feminine resonate with me, not as a woman up in the sky like the Big Man with the white beard, but as an energy that lives within each of us. She is always present, we just need to find her.  The use of Goddess Archetypes is helpful in doing this, to assist channelling the energy required.

This may read like utter bullshit and that’s perfectly fine. Not everyone will be on board with this line of thinking or belief. Each path or journey is as unique as the individual travelling it.

So, in answer to my question : Spirituality, what does it mean? I think it means whatever you understand it to be, in relation to your personal belief set.

Is it just semantics? Am I a spiritual person? Are you? Does it even matter? Probably not in all honesty, it’s just another label, but surely it’s down to personal opinion and what feels right?

I would love to know your thoughts on the subject if this is something you have an opinion on.

Lx