Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year's 2011 — Wiccan Style!

At this time of year, some neophyte and long-time Wiccans and Pagans can feel left out of the traditional religious and secular celebrations, including New Year's Eve.

As an Eclectic Wiccan, I follow the Wheel of the Year, so I celebrate the Sabbat of Yule, which is celebrated on the Winter Solstice. But, I also love the secular aspects of Christmas, so I use that theme to decorate my home.

And for me, New Year's occurs at the sacred time of Samhain (Halloween) on the Wheel, but I can also understand the importance of acknowledging the traditional turning of one calendar year into the next, so I practice my own personal New Year's Eve tradition on December 31.

On New Year's Day, January 1, I always include blackeye peas in a dish called, "Hoppin' Jack," a traditional food from where my family is from in the Midwest that is linked to a year of good luck and prosperity! I also thank the god and goddess for their continued blessings, and presence at my New Year's celebration.

I firmly believe that one of the glories of being Pagan is that you can craft your own celebrations that will then become your personal traditions to honor events that are important to you, and to your family. If you want to honor the passing of the calendar year, do so! Just make sure that you link your celebration to nature/ the earth, and perhaps include a god or goddess who would be appropriate to encorporate.

Pagan spirituality is flexibility. While there are a few common guidines, most Pagans find that their beliefs and practices are a highly personalized spirituality, rather than a rigid, dogmatic one.

So, if there is a day in addition to the eight Wiccan Sabbats that hold special significance to you, it's not a question of whether it's celebrated or acknowledged by other Pagans. What's more important is whether the event or date hold a spiritual meaning to YOU.

Some pagans actually celebrate the eight Sabbats based on agricultural markers, not on calendar dates. For example, Beltane, which is a planting Sabbat, is celebrated on May 1. But, for those who live in the Midwest, chances are good it's still too cold to actually plant anything. But if you wait until May 15 or so, the soil is warm enough, you can put seedlings in the ground, and observe Beltane as a planting and fertility festival on a later date. Likewise, if you live in a place where the harvest is gathered at the beginning of September, why wait until September 21 to observe Mabon?

Some covens celebrate their Initiation Day on a Blue Moon. Why? Because it's a rare lunar occurrence, which means it's a big cause for celebration when one finally rolls around.

At any rate, as a Pagan your spirituality is very personal and individualized. If you want to celebrate something of spiritual significance in a manner that's not a traditional "Pagan holiday," by all means break out the candles!

Here's a great example from the United Kingdom. New Year's is Hogmanay in Scotland — a four to five day blast, including parties, street festivals, entertainment and wild — occasionally terrifying — fire festivals that are Viking or pagan in origin. Enormous public New Year's events are held throughout Scotland, with something for the whole family, the biggest and most famous taking place in Edinburgh.

In addition to concerts, street parties, fireworks and more earthbound fire spectaculars — as well as consumption of one of Scotland's most famous products, Scotch whisky — there are a number of very ancient traditions associated with Hogmanay. Some say these traditions are dying out in favor of public celebrations, but they can still be found in smaller communities and private celebrations:

Redding the House: Like the annual spring cleaning in some communities, or the ritual cleaning of the kitchen for Passover, families traditionally did a major cleanup to ready the house for the New Year. Sweeping out the fireplace was very important and there was a skill in reading the ashes, the way some people read tea leaves.

First Footing: After the stroke of midnight, neighbors visit each other, bearing traditional symbolic gifts such as shortbread or black bun, a kind of fruit cake. The visitor, in turn, is offered a small whisky. A friend of mine who remembers first footing, also remembers that if you had a lot of friends, you'd be offered a great deal of whisky.

The first person to enter a house in the New Year, the first foot, could bring luck for the New Year. The luckiest was a tall, dark and handsome man. The unluckiest a red head and the unluckiest of all a red-headded woman.

Bonfires and Fire Festivals: Scotland's fire festivals at Hogmany and later in January may have pagan or Viking origins. The use of fire to purify and drive away evil spirits is an ancient idea. Fire is at the center of Hogmanay celebrations in Stonehaven, Comrie and Biggar and has recently become an element in Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebration.

The Singing of Auld Lang Syne: All over the world, people sing Robert Burn's version of this traditional Scottish air. How it became the New Year's song is something of a mystery. At Edinburgh's Hogmanay, people join hands for what is reputed to be the world's biggest Auld Lang Syne.

Although some of the Hogmanay Traditions are ancient, the celebrations were elevated in importance after the banning of Christmas in the 16th and 17th centuries. Under Oliver Cromwell, Parliament banned Christmas celebrations in 1647. The ban was lifted after Cromwell's downfall in 1660. But in Scotland, the stricter Scottish Presbyterian Church had been discouraging Christmas celebrations — as having no basis in the Bible, from as early as 1583. After the Cromwellian ban was lifted elsewhere, Christmas festivities continued to be discouraged in Scotland. In fact, Christmas remained a normal working day in Scotland until 1958 and Boxing Day did not become a National Holiday until much later.

But the impulse to party, and to put the products of Scotland's famous distilleries to good use, could not be repressed. In effect, Hogmany became Scotland's main outlet for the mid-winter impulse to chase away the darkness with light, warmth and festivities.

— Danu's Daughter

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Make This Yule Your Own Sacred Sabbat

For people of nearly every religious background, the season of the Winter Solstice is a time to gather with family and loved ones to celebrate the expectation of the strengthening of the sun. For Pagans and Wiccans, it's generally celebrated as Yule, but there are literally dozens of ways to thoroughly enjoy this season.

The date of Yule, or the Winter Solstice, varies between December 20-22 in the Northern Hemisphere and June 20-22 in the Southern Hemisphere. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, Yule falls on Dec. 21 this year, while June 21 was Yule for those living below the equator. Regardless of where you live, it is the time when we Pagans and Wiccans honor the slow return of the sun, by gathering together in love and merriment on the longest night of the year!

As a Solitary Practitioner in the Eclectic Wiccan tradition, I borrow liberally from faiths around the globe to celebrate this wonderful and joyous Sabbat. It is for me, a time to reflect on my tangible and intangible contributions to the world around me, and to renew my dedication to religious, ethnic, racial, cultural, and sexual tolerances, and to reaffirm my core spiritual responsibility to work at easing the burdens – as much as I am able – of those around me.

I respect Christians and Christmas, and because I am a former follower of that path, I have adapted some of that symbolism into my own practice – but I do not use anything related to Christ. Of course, it was early Christianity that initially adapted (um, rather forcefully actually) its holiday from the existing Pagan practices of the time in an attempt to convert those pesky non-believers, so it seems only fair that I would be among the tens of thousands to bring it full circle and return these ancient and glorious celebrations back to the Grove where they belong!

Of course, anyone who lives in the U.S. and isn't a Christian knows how difficult it is to avoid the holiday of all others. I choose to view Christmas in a primarily secular sense, that way I can enjoy the season with co-workers and friends, without having to clash on the religious issue. The only exception to this is a spiritual goal that I believe we can all agree on regardless of any or no religious path: Promoting peace, and good will/glad tidings to all!

In many Celtic-based traditions of Neo-Paganism, there is the enduring legend of the battle between the Oak King and the Holly King. These two mighty rulers fight for supremacy as the Wheel of the Year turns each season. At the Winter Solstice, or Yule, the Oak King kills the Holly King, and then reigns until Midsummer, or Litha. Once the Summer Solstice arrives, the Holly King returns to do battle with the old king, and defeats him. The Holly King then rules until Yule, when the cycle continues.

In some Wiccan traditions, the Oak King and the Holly King are seen as dual aspects of the Horned God. Each of these twin aspects rules for half the year, the consorts battling for the favor of the Goddess, then retiring to nurse his wounds for the next six months, until it is time for him to reign once more. It is important to note that each cycle offers an equal opportunity to honor the Goddess as it does the God.

I love these particualar traditions, and follow this concept throughout my personal celebrations, and decorations, always remembering the ever Turning of the Wheel.

Often, these two entities are portrayed in familiar ways – the Holly King frequently appears as a woodsy version of Santa Claus. He dresses in red, wears a sprig of holly in his tangled hair, and is sometimes depicted driving a team of eight stags. The Oak King is portrayed as a fertility god, and occasionally appears as the Green Man or other lord of the forest.

Ultimately, while these two beings do battle all year long, they are two essential parts of a whole. Despite being enemies, without one, the other would no longer exist.

Yule is a time of great symbolism and power. It marks the return of the sun, when they days finally begin to get a little longer. It's also a time to celebrate with family and friends, and share the spirit of giving during the holidays. Here are some great Yule rituals that you can do to celebrate this winter Sabbat, either as part of a group or as a solitary.

Yule Rituals

The ancients knew that the Winter Solstice was the longest night of the year – and that meant that the sun was beginning its long journey back towards earth. It was a time of celebration, and for rejoicing in the knowledge that soon, the cold days would begin to wane and the warm days of spring would return, and the dormant earth would come back to life.

On this one day, the sun stands still in the sky, and everyone on earth knows that change is coming.

A Yule Sabbat Celebration of Lights

Because this is a festival of fire and light, feel free to use lots of candles and lights, solar symbols, bright colors, or even a bonfire. Bring light back into your home and your life.

Difficulty: Average
Time Required: Varied

Here's How:

01 Like any Sabbat, this festival works well if paired up with a feast. Celebrate the sun's return by preparing all kinds of winter foods – whip up a batch of cornbread, a pot of buttered rum, plum pudding, cranberry dressing, game stew, etc. Have the whole family eat together prior to the ritual. Clean up, and when you're done, cover your table or altar with candles. Use as many as you like; they don't have to match. In the center, place a 'Sun Candle' (Dedicated to the God) on a riser, so it's above the rest. Don't light any of the candles just yet.

02 Turn off all the other lights, and face your altar. If your tradition requires you to cast a circle, do so now.

Face the candles, and say:

The wheel of the year has turned once more,
and the nights have grown longer and colder.

Tonight, the darkness begins to retreat,
and light begins its return once again.

As the wheel continues to spin,
the sun returns to us once more.

03 Light the Sun Candle, and say:

Even in the darkest hours,
even in the longest nights,
the spark of life lingered on.

Laying dormant, waiting,
ready to return
when the time was right.

The darkness will leave us now,
as the sun begins
its journey home.

04 Beginning with the candles closest to the Sun Candle, and working your way outward, light each of the other candles. As you light each one, say:

As the wheel turns, light returns.

Repeat this until all the candles are lit and burning. Then say:

The light of the sun has returned to us,
bringing life and warmth with it.

The shadows will vanish, and life will continue.
We are blessed by the light of the sun.

05 Take a moment to think about what the return of the sun means to you. The return of the light meant many things to different cultures. How does it affect you, and your loved ones? When you're ready, go through the house and turn all the lights back on. If you have children, make it a game – they can yell out, "Welcome back, light!"

If you're not too full from dinner, have some eggnog and cookies on standby, and take the time to bask in the light of your candles and eat some treats. When you're done, extinguish the candles from the outside of the altar working towards the center, leaving the Sun Candle for last.


** A Sun Candle is simply a candle you've designated to represent the sun in ritual. It can be in a sunny color – gold or yellow – and if you like, you can inscribe it with solar sigils.

If you like, you can do this ritual on the morning of Yule. Cook a big breakfast with lots of eggs, and watch the sun rise. If you do this, you can eliminate all the candles except the Sun Candle. Allow the Sun Candle to burn all day before you extinguish it.

What You Need:

Lots of candles, including a Sun Candle
A feast with lots of winter-themed food


Yule Tree Blessing

If your family uses a holiday tree at Yule – and many Pagan/Wiccan families do – you might want to consider a blessing ritual for the tree, both at the time you cut it down and again before you've decorated it. Although many families use fake holiday trees, a cut one from a tree farm is actually more environmentally friendly, so if you've never considered a live tree, maybe this is a good year to start a new tradition in your house.

Things to Take With You

You'll want to have the following items on hand when you go to cut down a tree for Yule:

A sharp saw
Some fertilizer sticks and birdseed

Selecting Your Tree

First of all, make sure you're in a place where you have permission to cut trees. Either find a local Christmas tree farm, or if you're on private property, get the approval of the landowner before you cut anything. Never cut a tree down in a park or forest without permission.

Don't just randomly start hacking away at trees. Take some time to wander around and find the tree that's right for you. Often, you'll know the right tree when you find it – it will be just the right height and width, the exact fullness you want, and so forth. In our family, our annual tradition is that we only cut down our tree if it has a bird's nest in it (obviously, by December the birds don't need it any more, it's just something my teenager started as a child).

Cutting Down Your Tree

If you've found the right tree, take a moment to touch it. Feel its energy flowing from the earth and into you. Recognize that once you've cut it down, it will no longer be a living thing. In many traditions, people find it comforting to ask the tree for permission to make the first cut. In Dorothy Morrison's book Yule, she recommends asking the tree to move its spirit deep into the ground so that it will not feel injury or pain when you cut the trunk.

Use the following blessing before you make the cut:

O evergreen, mighty tree, you who are full of life.
I am about to make the cut, and ask your permission.
We will take you into our home and honor you,
adorning you with light in this season of the sun.
We ask you, o evergreen, to bless our home with your energy.

As an alternative, if you have children with you and you'd like to make the occasion more fun than somber, try something like this instead:

Evergreen, evergreen, big fat tree!
I ask you now please to come home with me!
We'll cover you with ornaments and lots of pretty lights,
and let you shine about our house at Yule, the longest night!
Thank you, tree, thank you tree, for the gift you give today,
we'll plant another in your name, when spring comes our way!

Make the cut about eight inches above the ground, and cut quickly. Make sure no one is standing on the opposite side when the tree begins to fall. Using the gloves to protect your hands if necessary, tie the rope around the trunk so you can pull it out of the area. Before leaving, push the fertilizer sticks into the soil near the cut trunk. This will promote new growth from the remaining stump. If you can, periodically stop by and add more fertilizer sticks to the newly sprouted branches.

You may wish to also leave some birdseed on the ground as an offering to the wildlife in the area. Some families even use the birdseed to cast a protective circle around the stump where they've cut their tree down. Finally, if you've promised to plant a new tree somewhere in the spring, be sure to keep your word.

Decorating Your Tree

Decorating a Yule tree is a lot of fun, and should be a celebration of family. Put on some holiday music, light some incense or scented candles, get a pot of herbal tea brewing, and turn it into a ritual of its own. Before you decorate, you may wish to bless the tree once more.

Have on hand some salt, incense, a candle and water. Bless the tree as follows:

By the powers of earth, I bless this tree,
that it shall remain sacred, a symbol of life,
stable and strong in our home throughout the Yule season.

By the powers of air, I bless this tree,
as the cool winter winds blow away the baggage of the old year,
and we welcome the brightness of the new into our hearts and home.

By the powers of fire, I bless this tree,
as the days have gotten shorter, and the nights grown dark,
yet the warmth of the sun is returning, bringing with it life.

By the powers of water, I bless this tree,
a gift I give, that it may stay bright and green for us a bit longer,
so that we can enjoy the harmony and peace of Yule.

As you say the blessing, sprinkle the salt around the tree in a circle (not on the tree, just around it), smudging with the incense, passing the candle over it, and finally, adding water to the tray at the bottom.

Once you've finished the blessing, decorate your tree and celebrate!


Yule Log

If your family enjoys ritual, you can welcome back the sun at Yule with this simple winter ceremony. The first thing you'll need is a Yule Log. If you make it a week or two in advance, you can enjoy it as a centerpiece prior to burning it in the ceremony. You'll also need a fire, so if you can do this ritual outside, that's even better. As the Yule Log burns, all members of the family should surround it, forming a circle.

Difficulty: Average
Time Required: Varied

Here's How:

01 If you normally cast a circle, do so at this time.

This first section is for the adults – if there is more than one grownup, they can take turns saying the lines, or say them together:

The Wheel has turned once more, and
the earth has gone to sleep.
The leaves are gone, the crops have returned to the ground.
On this darkest of nights, we celebrate the light.
Tomorrow, the sun will return,
its journey continuing as it always does.
Welcome back, warmth.
Welcome back, light.
Welcome back, life.

02 The entire group now moves deosil – clockwise, or sunwise – around the fire. When each member has returned to his or her original position, it is time for the children to add their part. This section can be divided amongst the children, so that each gets a chance to speak.

Shadows go away, darkness is no more,
as the light of the sun comes back to us.

Warm the earth.
Warm the ground.
Warm the sky.
Warm our hearts.
Welcome back, sun.

03 Finally, each member of the group should take a moment to tell the others one thing that they are thankful for about their family – things like “I am happy that Mom cooks us such wonderful food,” or “I’m proud of Alex because he helps people who need it.”

When everyone has had a chance to speak, walk sunwise once more around the fire, and end the rite. If possible, save a bit of this year's Yule log to add to the fire for next year's ceremony.

What You Need:

A Yule Log
Family and friends to share the ceremony


Goddess Ritual for Yule

Yule is the time of the Winter Solstice, and for some Wiccans, it's a time to say goodbye to the old, and welcome the new. As the sun returns to the earth, life begins once more. This ritual can be performed by a solitary practitioner, either male or female. It's also easily adaptable to a small group of people.

01 Perform this ritual on the evening of the Winter Solstice. If you normally wear a ritual robe or ceremonial gown, do so – and feel free to embellish for the season! Consider a crown of holly, a special Yule-themed robe, or adding holiday bling to your existing robe. Sparkly is good! Decorate your altar with a Yule log or tree (although obviously the tree might have to go on the floor, rather than the altar itself), lots of seasonal symbolism, and candles – after all, Yule is a celebration of light.

02 You'll also want to have some holiday incense on your altar. Frankincense, cinnamon, myrrh – all are appropriate to the season; don't light it just yet, though. Finally, have two candles in seasonal colors.

03 If you normally cast a circle, do so now.

04 To begin the ritual, sit on the floor near your altar – don't light the candles just yet. Take a few moments to remember what it was like for our ancestors at this time of year. The harvest had been brought in, and they knew that in a few months, their stockpiles of food would be running low. It was the season of Death, the time when the earth went dormant once more, sleeping until the spring returned. Our ancestors knew that despite the darkness of this night, soon the light would return to the earth, bringing with it life. This night, the Winter Solstice, welcomes back the Sun, the ultimate giver of light.

05 Light the first candle, and say:

Tonight is the night of the Solstice,
the longest night of the year.
As the Wheel turns once more, I know that
tomorrow, the Sun will begin its journey back to us.
With it, new life will begin,
a blessing from Earth to her children.

06 Light the second candle, and say:

It is the season of the winter goddess.
Tonight I celebrate the festival of the winter solstice,
the rebirth of the Sun, and the return of light to the Earth.
As the Wheel of the Year turns once more,
I honor the eternal cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth.

07 Light the remaining candles on the altar at this time, and if you have decorative holiday lighting, turn it on. Return to your place at the altar, and face the holiday tree or Yule log. Raise your arms up to the tree, and say:

Today I honor the god of the forest,
the King of nature, who rules the season.
I give my thanks to the beautiful goddess,
whose blessings bring new life to the earth.
This gift I offer you tonight,
sending my prayers to you upon the air.

08 Light your incense, and if you'd like to make an offering of food, bread, or something else, do so now. As the smoke of the incense rises to the night sky, meditate on what changes you'd like to see before the next Sabbat. Reflect upon the time of the season. Although winter is here, life lies dormant beneath the soil. What new things will you bring to fruition for yourself when the planting season returns? How will you change yourself, and maintain your spirit throughout the cold months? When you are ready, either end the rite, or continue on with additional rituals, such as Cakes and Ale or Drawing Down the Moon.


If you don't have a ritual robe, you can take a cleansing bath before the rite, and then wear a simple cotton or other organic material. Another option would be to make a robe as a Yule gift to yourself!

What You Need:

A pair of seasonally-colored candles
Incense in a Yule-themed scent
Candles, lights, and sparkly things as you like!


Before you hold your Yule ritual, you may want to set up an altar to celebrate the season. Here are some quick tips on how to decorate for the Yule holiday, keeping the themes and symbolism of the Sabbat in mind, and ideas on how to deck your halls and walls for winter solstice. Enjoy the magic of the season with a Yule-themed altar!

Yule Altar

Winter is here, and even if the snow hasn't fallen yet, there's a definite chill in the air. Use cold colors to decorate your altar, such as blues and silvers and whites. Also find ways to include the reds, whites and greens of the season. Evergreen boughs never go out of style, so add some dark greens as well. Cover your altar with a cloth in a cool color, and then add candles in a variety of different wintery shades. Use candles in silvers and golds – and sparkle is always good too!

Symbols of Winter

Yule is a Sabbat that reflects the return of the sun, so add solar symbols to your altar. Gold discs, yellow candles, anything bright and shiny can represent the sun. Some people even get a large pillar candle, inscribe it with solar symbols, and designate it as their sun candle. You can also add evergreen boughs, sprigs of holly, pinecones, and as mentioned, a Yule log, and even Santa Claus. Consider antlers or reindeer, along with other symbols of fertility.

Other Signs of the Season

There's no limit to the number of things you can put on your Yule altar, as long as you've got the space. Consider some of these items as part of your Sabbat decor:

Fruit and nuts
Snowflakes, icicles, even a bowl of snow
Candy canes
Sun Wheels

A Festival of Light

Many cultures have winter festivals that are in fact celebrations of light. In addition to Christmas, there's Hanukkah with its brightly lit menorahs, Kwanzaa candles, and any number of other holidays. The Pagan's holiday Yule takes place on the day of the winter solstice. On that day, an amazing thing happens in the sky: The earth's axis tilts away from the sun in the Northern Hemisphere, and the sun reaches its greatest distance from the equatorial plane. Thus as a festival of the Sun, the most important part of any Yule celebration is light – candles, bonfires, and more.

Origins of Yule

In the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice has been celebrated for millenia. The Norse peoples viewed it as a time for much feasting, merrymaking, and, if the Icelandic sagas are to be believed, a time of sacrifice as well. Traditional customs such as the Yule log, the decorated tree, and wassailing can all be traced back to Norse origins.

Celtic Celebrations of Winter

The Celts of the British Isles celebrated midwinter as well. Although little is known about the specifics of what they did, many traditions persist. According to the writings of Pliny the Elder, this is the time of year in which Druid priests sacrificed a white bull and gathered mistletoe in celebration.

Roman Saturnalia

Few cultures knew how to party like the Romans. Saturnalia was a festival of general merrymaking and debauchery held around the time of the winter solstice. This week-long party was held in honor of the god Saturn, and involved sacrifices, gift-giving, special privileges for slaves, and a lot of feasting. Although this holiday was partly about giving presents, more importantly, it was to honor an agricultural god.

Welcoming the Sun Through the Ages

Four thousand years ago, the Ancient Egyptians took the time to celebrate the daily rebirth of Horus - the god of the Sun. As their culture flourished and spread throughout Mesopotamia, other civilizations decided to get in on the sun-welcoming action. They found that things went really well... until the weather got cooler, and crops began to die. Each year, this cycle of birth, death and rebirth took place, and they began to realize that every year after a period of cold and darkness, the Sun did indeed return.

Winter festivals were also common in Greece and Rome, as well as in the British Isles. When a new religion called Christianity popped up, the new hierarchy had trouble converting the Pagans, and as such, folks didn't want to give up their old holidays. Christian churches were built on old Pagan worship sites, and Pagan symbols were incorporated into the symbolism of Christianity. Within a few centuries, the Christians had everyone worshipping a new holiday, Christmas, which was celebrated on December 25.

In some traditions of Wicca and Paganism as previously described, the Yule celebration comes from the Celtic legend of the battle between the young Oak King and the Holly King. The Oak King, representing the light of the new year, tries each year to usurp the old Holly King, who is the symbol of darkness. Re-enactment of the battle is popular in some Wiccan rituals.

Twelve Days of Yule Prayers

The winter solstice is a time of reflection, during the darkest and longest night of the year. Why not take a moment to offer up a prayer on Yule? Try a different devotional each day, beginning 12 days prior to the Celebration of Yule (so this year begin the prayers on December 9) to give you food for thought during the holiday season.

Day 1 (December 9): A Prayer to the Earth at Yule

Just because the earth is cold doesn't mean there's nothing going on down there in the soil. Think about what lies dormant in your own life right now, and consider what may bloom a few months from now.

Cold and dark, this time of year,
the earth lies dormant, awaiting the return
of the sun, and with it, life.
Far beneath the frozen surface,
a heartbeat waits,
until the moment is right,
to spring.

Day 2 (December 10): Sunrise Prayer

The sun returns! The light returns!
The earth begins to warm once more!
The time of darkness has passed,
and a path of light begins the new day.
Welcome, welcome, the heat of the sun,
blessing us all with its rays.

Day 3 (December 11): A Prayer to the Winter Goddess

Despite the fact that some people hate cold weather, it does have its advantages. After all, a good cold day gives us an opportunity to cuddle up indoors with the people we love the most.

O! Mighty goddess, in silvery ice,
watching over us as we sleep,
a layer of shining white,
covering the earth each night,
frost on the world and in the soul,
we thank you for visiting us.
Because of you, we seek warmth
in the comfort of our homes and hearths.

Day 4 (December 12): Counting Your Blessings

Yule should be a time of joy and happiness, but for many people it can be stressful. This is a season to take a moment and be thankful for the blessings you have, and to take a moment to remember those less fortunate.

I am grateful for that which I have.
I am grateful for that which I do not.
I have much more than others, less than some,
But always blessed by the Goddess and God from whom it's all from.

Day 5 (December 13): A Prayer for the Beginning of Winter

In early winter, we can see the skies becoming overcast, and smell fresh snow in the air. Take a few minutes to think about the fact that even if the skies are cold and dark, it's only temporary.

See the gray skies overhead, preparing the way,
for the darkness soon to come.

See the gray skies overhead, preparing the way,
for the world to go cold and lifeless.

See the gray skies overhead, preparing the way,
for the longest night of the year.

See the gray skies overhead, preparing the way,
for the sun to one day return,
bringing with it light.

Day 6 (December 14): Sunset Prayer

The longest night has come once more,
the sun has set, and darkness fallen.
The trees are bare, the earth asleep,
and the skies are cold and black.

Yet, tonight we rejoice, in this longest night,
embracing the darkness that enfolds us.
We welcome the night and all that it holds,
as the light of the stars shines down.

Day 7 (December 15): A Nordic Yule Blessing

Yule is a time to set aside animosity between yourself and people who would normally antagonize you. The Norsemen had a tradition that enemies who met under a bough of mistletoe were obligated to lay down their arms. Set aside your differences, and think about that as you ponder this devotional.

Beneath the tree of light and life,
a blessing at this season of Jul!
To all that sit at my hearth,
today we are brothers, we are family,
and I drink to your health!

Today is a day to offer hospitality
to all that cross my threshold
in the name of the season.

Day 8 (December 16): A Snow Prayer for Yule

Depending on where you live, you may be seeing snowfall long before Yule arrives. Take a moment to appreciate its beauty, both as it falls and once it covers the ground.

From the reaches of the north,
a place of cold blue beauty,
comes to us the first winter storm.

Wind whipping, flakes flying,
the snow has fallen upon the earth,
keeping us close,
keeping us together,
wrapped up as everything sleeps
beneath a blanket of white.

Day 9 (December 17): A Prayer for the Old Gods

The Holly King is gone, and the Oak King reigns -
Yule is the time of the old winter gods!
Hail to Baldur! To Saturn! To Odin!
Hail to Ameratsu! To Demeter!
Hail to Ra! To Horus!
Hail to Frigga, Minerva Sulis and Cailleach Bheur!
It is their season, and high in the heavens,
may they grant us their blessings this winter day.

Day 10 (December 18): A Celtic Yule Blessing

The Celtic people knew the importance of the solstice. Although the Yule season marks the middle of winter, colder times were still to come. It was important to put aside staple foods for the coming months, because it would be many months before anything fresh grew again. Consider, as you think on this devotional, what your family has put aside – both material goods and things on the spiritual plane.

The food is put away for the winter,
the crops are set aside to feed us,
the cattle are come down from their fields,
and the sheep are in from the pasture.

The land is cold, the sea is stormy, the sky is gray.
The nights are dark, but we have our family,
kin and clan around the hearth,
staying warm in the midst of darkness,
our spirit and love a flame
a beacon burning brightly
in the night.

Day 11 (December 19): An Elemental Blessing

In the middle of winter, it's hard to remember sometimes that light is coming back to earth. However, despite the gray, cloudy days, we know that soon, the sun will return. Keep this in mind during those dreary days when it seems winter will never end, by invoking the four classical elements.

As the earth grows colder,
the winds blow faster,
the fire dwindles smaller,
and the rains fall harder,
let the light of the sun
find its way home.

Day 12 (December 20): Prayer to the Sun God, Ra

Great sun, wheel of fire, Ra in your glory,
hear me as I honor you on this,
the shortest day of the year.

Summer has gone, passed us by,
the fields are dead and cold,
all of earth sleeps in your absence.

Even in the darkest times,
you light the way for those who would need a beacon,
of hope, of brightness, shining in the night.

Winter is here, and colder days coming,
the fields are bare and the livestock thin.
We light these candles in your honor,
that you might gather your strength
and bring life back to the world.

O Ra, mighty sun above us,
we ask you to return, to bring back to us
the light and the warmth of your fire.
Bring life back to earth,
Bring light back to earth.

Hail Ra! Ruler of the sun!


Yule Magick and its Dieties

The Yule season is full of magick, much of it focusing on rebirth and renewal, as the sun makes its way back to the earth. Focus on this time of new beginnings with your magickal workings.

You might consider magick rituals for your home, for a sick friend, or to renew the earth from a season of over-use and under appreciation. Let your imagination and intuition guide your rituals, allowing the cosmic well-spring flow in the midst of a frozen wonderland.

While it may be mostly Pagans and Wiccans who celebrate the Yule holiday, nearly all cultures and faiths have some sort of winter solstice celebration or festival. Because of the theme of endless birth, life, death, and rebirth, the time of the solstice is often associated with deity and other legendary figures. No matter which path you follow, chances are good that one of your gods or goddesses has a winter solstice connection.

Alcyone (Greek): Alcyone is the Kingfisher goddess. She nests every winter for two weeks, and while she does, the wild seas become calm and peaceful.

Ameratasu (Japan): In feudal Japan, worshippers celebrated the return of Ameratasu, the sun goddess, who slept in a cold, remote cave. When the the other gods woke her with a loud celebration, she looked out of the cave and saw an image of herself in a mirror. The other gods convinced her to emerge from her seclusion and return sunlight to the universe.

Baldur (Norse): Baldur is associated with the legend of the mistletoe. His mother, Frigga, honored Baldur and asked all of nature to promise not to harm him. Unfortunately, in her haste, Frigga overlooked the mistletoe plant, so Loki - the resident trickster - took advantage of the opportunity and fooled Baldur's blind twin, Hod, into killing him with a spear made of mistletoe. Baldur was later restored to life.

Bona Dea (Roman): This fertility goddess was worshipped in a secret temple on the Aventine hill in Rome, and only women were permitted to attend her rites. Her annual festival was held early in December.

Cailleach Bheur (Celtic): In Scotland, she is also called Beira, the Queen of Winter. She is the hag aspect of the Triple Goddess, and rules the dark days between Samhain and Beltaine.

Demeter (Greek): Through her daughter, Persephone, Demeter is linked strongly to the changing of the seasons and is often connected to the image of the Dark Mother in winter. When Persephone was abducted by Hades, Demeter's grief caused the earth to die for six months, until her daughter's return.

Dionysus (Greek): A festival called Brumalia was held every December in honor of Dionysus and his fermented grape wine. The event proved so popular that the Romans adopted it as well in their celebrations of Bacchus.

Frau Holle (Norse): Frau Holle appears in many different forms in Scandinavian mythology and legend. She is associated with both the evergreen plants of the Yule season, and with snowfall, which is said to be Frau Holle shaking out her feathery mattresses.

Frigga (Norse): Frigga honored her son, Baldur, by asking all of nature not to harm him, but in her haste overlooked the mistletoe plant. Loki fooled Baldur's blind twin, Hod, into killing him with a spear made of mistletoe but Odin later restored him to life. As thanks, Frigga declared that mistletoe must be regarded as a plant of love, rather than death.

Holly King (British/Celtic): The Holly King is a figure found in British tales and folklore. He is similar to the Green Man, the archetype of the forest. In modern Pagan religion, the Holly King battles the Oak King for supremacy throughout the year. At the winter solstice, the Holly King is defeated.

Horus (Egyptian): Horus was one of the solar deities of the ancient Egyptians. He rose and set every day, and is often associated with Nut, the sky god. Horus later became connected with the aforementioned sun god, Ra.

La Befana (Italian): This character from Italian folklore is similar to St. Nicholas, in that she flies around delivering candy to well-behaved children in early January. She is depicted as an old woman on a broomstick, wearing a black shawl.

Lord of Misrule (British): The custom of appointing a Lord of Misrule to preside over winter holiday festivities actually has its roots in antiquity, during the Roman week of Saturnalia.

Mithras (Roman): Mithras was celebrated as part of a mystery religion in ancient Rome. He was a god of the sun, who was born around the time of the winter solstice and then experienced a resurrection around the spring equinox.

Odin (Norse): In some legends, Odin bestowed gifts at Yuletide upon his people, riding a magical flying horse across the sky. This legend may have combined with that of St. Nicholas to create the modern Santa Claus.

Saturn (Roman): Every December, the Romans threw a week-long celebration of debauchery and fun, called Saturnalia in honor of their agricultural god, Saturn. Roles were reversed, and slaves became the masters, at least temporarily. This is where the tradition of the Lord of Misrule originated.

Spider Woman (Hopi): Soyal is the Hopi festival of the winter solstice. It honors the Spider Woman and the Hawk Maiden, and celebrates the sun's victory over winter's darkness.


However you choose to celebrate the Yule Season, please remember also to honor the bonds between you and the planet and the Goddess and God, as well as your family and friends. May all the blessings of the season be yours at this magickal and sacred time, and may your Yule Log truly burn brightly year 'round!

Have a very Cool Yule!

— Danu's Daughter

Monday, November 15, 2010

THE Thoth Tarot Newly Available!

Considered by many to be the Holy Grail of Tarot Card Decks, the Thoth Tarot is finally back in print and is now widely available.

World renowned as the Tarot deck painstakingly designed by British occult legend Aleister Crowley, and illustrated under his supervision by Lady Frieda Harris, this deck remains a fantastic tool for divination.

Containing 78 cards born of more common tarot traditions, the Thoth deck contains kabbalistic and astrological aspects that most other tarot cards lack, bringing to it a new dimension to help with divinations, all as Crowley described in the Book of Thoth, also available for purchase.

Crowley (Oct. 12, 1875 – Dec. 1 1947) was born Edward Alexander Crowley, and was also known as both Frater Perdurabo and The Great Beast. A highly influential English occultist, mystic and ceremonial magician, he was responsible for founding the religious philosophy of Thelema. Through this belief he came to see himself as the prophet who was entrusted with informing humanity that it was entering the new Aeon of Horus in 1904, a time when old ethical and religious systems would be replaced.

Widely viewed – and often equally hated – as one of the most influential occultists of all time, he was a member of the esoteric Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and eventually a leader of Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.)

He is known today for his magical writings, especially The Book of the Law, the central sacred text of Thelema, although he also wrote widely on other subjects, including a large amount of fiction and poetry.

Crowley was also a bisexual, a recreational drug experimenter and social critic. In many of these roles he "was in revolt against the moral and religious values of his time," espousing a form of libertinism based upon the rule of "Do What Thou Wilt." (This is a similar precept embraced by Wiccans, with one HUGE difference: Wiccans add, “with harm to none,” as its religious, ethical and magickal compass.)

Because of this controversial philosophy, Crowley gained widespread notoriety during his lifetime, and was denounced by the popular press of the day as, "the wickedest man in the world."

Alongside his esoteric activities, he was an avid chess player, mountaineer, and it has also been alleged that he was a spy for the British government.

The illustrations of the Thoth deck are rich in symbolism, based upon Crowley's stated desire to incorporate symbols from many disparate disciplines, including science and philosophy, as well as to draw on his extensive knowledge of various occult system (as described in detail in his Book of Thoth). For example, The Hanged Man and The Moon draw from Egyptian mythology, and the Princess of Disks holds a disk bearing the Taijitu. The pip cards in the four suits (Wands, Cups, Swords, and Disks) depict their objects in carefully-crafted positions; for example, the Four of Swords (which Crowley named "truce") shows four swords with their points toward the center of an imaginary square, suggesting a possibly tense peace. The card illustrations are uniformly stark and vividly illustrated throughout.

Here are a few examples of the traditional Rider-Waite Major Arcana cards, side-by-side with the Thoth equivalent:

I: The Magician — I: The Magus
II: The High Priestess — II: The Priestess
VIII: Strength — XI: Lust [Lust card depicted above]
XI: Justice — VIII: Adjustment
X: Wheel of Fortune — X: Fortune
XIV: Temperance — XIV: Art
XX: Judgement — XX: The Æon
XXI: The World — XXI: The Universe

Crowley originally intended the Thoth deck to be a six-month project aimed at updating the traditional pictorial symbolism of the tarot. However, the project was to span five years, between 1938 and 1943, as its scope grew ever wider. Crowley and Harris were meticulous in their work, and Harris painted some of the cards as many as eight times. Early editions of the deck included two of Harris' early drafts of The Magus card, each making use of markedly different style and symbols.

Neither Harris nor Crowley lived to see the deck published. The first full publication was by Ordo Templi Orientis in 1969, although this initial printing was seen by many to be of inferior quality, and in 1977 Harris' paintings were rephotographed for a second edition. The current edition is based on a further update that took place in 1986.

[Note: The Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) (the Order of the Temple of the East, or the Order of Oriental Templars) is an international fraternal and religious organization founded at the beginning of the 20th century. Crowley has become the most well known member of the order.

Originally it was intended to be modelled after and associated with Freemasonry, but under Crowley's leadership, the O.T.O. was reorganized around the Law of Thelema as its central religious principle. This Law — expressed as “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law" and "Love is the law, love under will” — was promulgated in 1904 with the dictation of The Book of the Law.

Similar to many secret societies, the O.T.O. membership is based on an initiatory system with a series of degree ceremonies that use ritual drama to establish fraternal bonds and impart spiritual and philosophical teachings.

The O.T.O. also includes the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica (EGC) or Gnostic Catholic Church, which is the ecclesiastical arm of the Order. Its central rite, which is public, is called Liber XV, or the Gnostic Mass.]

Important Note: Anyone planning on ordering a reprint of the Aleister Crowley Thoth Tarot Deck should be very careful. The deck with a predominantly blue cover contains cards that are more muted in colors, while the deck with the green cover (often referred to as the “Large” deck rather than the “Small” deck version) contains cards that are much bolder in colors, and I believe closer to the originally produced deck.

Included with this green boxed deck you will also find an instruction booklet to aid you in learning the meaning behind each card as it falls in your spread, which also contains commentary and essays concerning the cards within.

— Danu’s Daughter

Sunday, November 14, 2010

ESP and YOU!!

In many faiths, including Wicca, the ability to “intuit” is valued and even cultivated through meditation and even magickal rituals to encourage and strengthen the practitioner's psychic talents.

In a fascinating series of studies, a psychologist has established for the first time scientifically that the capacity to perceive future events may be common among most people, regardless of religious beliefs or prior alleged psychic abilities.

These findings emphasize just how much we still do not understand about the life and abilities of our magnificent brains. While further studies are critical, the conclusions suggested by these studies go way beyond tantalizing my imagination.

[Note: The studies relate to psi phenomenon, defined as parapsychology, study of mental phenomena not explainable by accepted principles of science. The organized, scientific investigation of paranormal phenomena began with the foundation (1882) of the Society for Psychical Research in London. Such early efforts attempted to dissociate psychical phenomena from spiritualism and superstition, and particularly to investigate mediums and their claims of evoking spirits or apparitions. The society also studied automatic writing, levitation, and ectoplasmic and poltergeist activities. One of its principal founders, Frederic William Henry Myers, summed up the society's early efforts in Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death (1903). An American Society for Psychical Research was also founded, with James Hervey Hyslop as its leading spokesman. Considerable experimentation has been conducted, perhaps the best-known being that of Joseph Banks Rhine at Duke University. The Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man, created in the early 1960’s, has since replaced the Duke program. In Great Britain the work of Whately Carington and Samuel George Soal paralleled that of Rhine. The great majority of parapsychological studies have focused on the area called extrasensory perception (ESP), which includes telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition. The popular press often reports stories that are parapsychological in nature. Many scientists have criticized the claims made by parapsychologists, arguing in particular that there can be no proof of such phenomena, which underscores the importance of these new studies.]

A synopsis of the findings appeared in Psychology Today, and is reprinted in its entirety. Read it below, or at the website.

Have Scientists Finally Discovered Evidence for Psychic Phenomena?!
By Melissa Burkley, Ph.D.

"In Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, the White Queen tells Alice that in her land, "memory works both ways." Not only can the Queen remember things from the past, but she also remembers "things that happened the week after next." Alice attempts to argue with the Queen, stating "I'm sure mine only works one way...I can't remember things before they happen." The Queen replies, "It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards."

How much better would our lives be if we could live in the White Queen's kingdom, where ours memory would work backwards and forewords? For instance, in such a world, you could take an exam and then study for it afterwards to make sure you performed well in the past. Well, the good news is that according to a recent series of scientific studies by Daryl Bem, you already live in that world!

Dr. Bem, a social psychologist at Cornell University, conducted a series of studies that will soon be published in one of the most prestigious psychology journals (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology). Across nine experiments, Bem examined the idea that our brain has the ability to not only reflect on past experiences, but also anticipate future experiences. This ability for the brain to "see into the future" is often referred to as psi phenomena.

Although prior research has been conducted on the psi phenomena – we have all seen those movie images of people staring at Zener cards with a star or wavy lines on them – such studies often fail to meet the threshold of "scientific investigation." However, Bem's studies are unique in that they represent standard scientific methods and rely on well-established principles in psychology. Essentially, he took effects that are considered valid and reliable in psychology – studying improves memory, priming facilitates response times – and simply reversed their chronological order.

For example, we all know that rehearsing a set of words makes them easier to recall in the future, but what if the rehearsal occurs after the recall? In one of the studies, college students were given a list of words and after reading the list, were given a surprise recall test to see how many words they remembered. Next, a computer randomly selected some of the words on the list as practice words and the participants were asked to retype them several times. The results of the study showed that the students were better at recalling the words on the surprise recall test that they were later given, at random, to practice. According to Bem, practicing the words after the test somehow allowed the participants to "reach back in time to facilitate recall."

In another study, Bem examined whether the well-known priming effect could also be reversed. In a typical priming study, people are shown a photo and they have to quickly indicate if the photo represents a negative or positive image. If the photo is of a cuddly kitten, you press the "positive" button and if the photo is of maggots on rotting meat, you press the "negative" button. A wealth of research has examined how subliminal priming can speed up your ability to categorize these photos. Subliminal priming occurs when a word is flashed on the computer screen so quickly that your conscious brain doesn't recognize what you saw, but your nonconscious brain does. So you just see a flash, and if I asked you to tell me what you saw, you wouldn't be able to. But deep down, your nonconscious brain saw the word and processed it. In priming studies, we consistently find that people who are primed with a word consistent with the valence of the photo will categorize it quicker. So if I quickly flash the word "happy" before the kitten picture, you will click the "positive" button even quicker, but if I instead flash the word "ugly" before it, you will take longer to respond. This is because priming you with the word "happy" gets your mind ready to see happy things.

In Bem's retroactive priming study, he simply reversed the time sequence on this effect by flashing the primed word after the person categorized the photo. So I show you the kitten picture, you pick whether it is positive or negative, and then I randomly choose to prime you with a good or bad word. The results showed that people were quicker at categorizing photos when it was followed by a consistent prime. So not only will you categorize the kitten quicker when it is preceded by a good word, you will also categorize it quicker when it is followed by a good word. It was as if, while participants were categorizing the photo, their brain knew what word was coming next and this facilitated their decision.

These are just two examples of the studies that Bem conducted, but his other studies showed similar "retroactive" effects. The results clearly suggest that average "non-psychic" people seem to be able to anticipate future events.

One question you may be asking is how big of a difference was there? Does studying for a test after it has occurred, or priming you with a word after categorizing the photo make a dramatic change, or is it just a slight bump in performance? Essentially, these are questions of "effect size." It is true that the effect sizes in Bem's studies are small (e.g., only slightly larger than chance). However, there are several reasons why we shouldn't just disregard these results based on small, but highly consistent, effect sizes.

First, across his studies, Bem did find that certain people demonstrate stronger effects than others. In particular, people high in stimulus seeking – an aspect of extraversion where people respond more favorably to novel stimuli – showed effect sizes nearly twice the size of the average person. This suggests that some people are more sensitive to psi effects than others.

Second, small effect sizes are not that uncommon in psychology (and other sciences). For example, on average, the Bem studies showed an effect size of .20 (out of a possible range of 0-1). Although that is fairly small, it is as large as or larger than some well-established effects, including the link between aspirin and heart attack prevention, calcium intake and bone mass, second hand smoke and lung cancer, and condom use and HIV prevention (Bushman & Anderson, 2001). And as Cohen has pointed out, such small effect sizes are most likely to occur in the early stages of exploring a topic, when scientists are just starting to discover why the effect occurs and when it is most likely to occur.

So if we accept that these psi phenomena are real, how then can we explain them without throwing out our entire understanding of time and physics? Well, the truth is that these effects are actually pretty consistent with modern physics' take on time and space. For example, Einstein believed that the mere act of observing something here could affect something there, a phenomenon he called "spooky action at a distance."

Similarly, modern quantum physics has demonstrated that light particles seem to know what lies ahead of them and will adjust their behavior accordingly, even though the future event hasn't occurred yet. For example, in the classic "double slit experiment," physicists discovered that light particles respond differently when they are observed... But in 1999, researchers pushed this experiment to the limits by asking "what if the observation occurred after the light particles were deployed." Surprisingly, they found the particles acted the same way, as if they knew they were going to be observed in the future even though it hadn't happened yet...

Such trippy time effects seem to contradict common sense and trying to make sense of them may give the average person a headache, but physicists have just had to accept it. As Dr. Chiao, a physicist from Berkeley once said about quantum mechanics, "It's completely counterintuitive and outside our everyday experience, but we (physicists) have kind of gotten used to it."

So although humans perceive time as linear, it doesn't necessarily mean it is so. And as good scientists, we shouldn't let out preconceived beliefs and biases influence what we study, even if these preconceived beliefs reflect our basic assumptions about how time and space work.

Dr. Bem's work is thought provoking, and like good cutting-edge science is supposed to do, it offers more questions than answers. If we suspend our beliefs about time and accept that the brain is capable of reaching into the future, the next question becomes "how does it do this?" Just because the effect seems "supernatural" doesn't necessarily mean the cause is. Many scientific discoveries were once considered outlandish and more suited to science fiction (e.g., the earth being round, microscopic organisms). Future research is greatly needed to explore the exact reasons for these studies' effects.

Like many novel explorations in science, Bem's findings may have a profound effect on what we know and have come to accept as true. But for some of you, perhaps these effects are not such a big surprise, because somewhere deep down inside, you already knew you would be reading about them today!"

Suggested Reading:
Bem, D. J. (in press) Feeling the Future: Experimental evidence for anomalous retroactive influences on cognition and affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Visit Dr. Bem's website.
— Danu’s Daughter