Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Winter Solstice - Yule - Christmas

December 21/22: The day of the long night for those of us who live north of the equatorial zones . This day has the 24-hour period with the most hours of darkness. On this ultimate day of rest, even the mighty Sun stands momentarily still in the sky.The word solstice literally means "sun standing still." At the moment of the winter solstice, the path of the sun in the sky over the past six months has reached its furthest southern position and now turns northward.

Festivals, rituals and celebrations appear throughout human cultures, beginning at least in the Neolithic Period of 10,000 years ago. We all have heard of Stonehenge and its function as a megalithic solar observatory. We now know that it has a contemporary counterpart in Ireland called Newgrange, which is estimated to be 5000 years old. Newgrange is also a solar observatory designed to funnel a shaft of sunlight deep into its central chamber at dawn on the day of the Winter Solstice.

The best known celebration/festival during late December is Christmas, but it is a recent festival added to the list. Its date was set by the Roman Emperor during the Fourth Century to coincide with pagan rituals and celebrations surrounding the Winter Solstice. There are great similarities to the "Birth of the Son" and the "Rebirth of the Sun" beyond the obvious similarity of words.

Festivals of the Winter Solstice have ancient origins. The ancient Egyptians, Babylonians and Persians had renewal festivals during this period, as did the Romans and other European cultures: the Roman Saturnalia, the Norse and Germanic Yule and the Celtic festivals. Winter Solstice festivals were not limited to Europe either. Among these are the Pakistani Chaomas, the Tibetan Dosmoche, the Chinese Dong Zhi and the Japanese Hari Kuyo. Native North Americans also held solstice rituals. These all predate the introduction of Christianity to their region and many of these rituals and festivals were later incorporated into Christmas observances such as mistletoe and holly. In some traditions of Wicca and Paganism, 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.

At the root of all these celebrations and rituals is the battle between Light and Dark. The battle reaches a turning point on the Winter Solstice as the advances of Darkness are halted and the tide turns for the forces of Light. Light returns to drive the gloom away and to raise our spirits. As a festival of the Sun, the most important part of any Yule celebration is light,candles,and bonfires.

This year's winter solstice  (2010) — will coincide with a full lunar eclipse in a union that hasn't been seen in 456 years. The celestial eccentricity holds special significance.

"It's a ritual of transformation from darkness into light," says Nicole Cooper, a high priestess at Toronto's Wiccan Church of Canada. "It's the idea that when things seem really bleak, (it) is often our biggest opportunity for personal transformation."The idea that the sun and the moon are almost at their darkest at this point in time really only further goes to hammer that home."Cooper said Wiccans also see great significance in the unique coupling of the masculine energy of the sun and the feminine energy of the moon.

The last time the two celestial events happened at the same time was in AD 1554, according to NASA. An otherwise seemingly unexceptionable year in recorded history, the darkened moon happened during a bleak year for Tudor England. Lady Jane Grey was beheaded for treason that year, while Princess Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Mary of Guise — the mother of Mary, Queen of Scots — became regent of Scotland.

The eclipse will start just after midnight Eastern Time on Tuesday, with the main event starting at 1:30 a.m. ET and lasting until 5:30 a.m., when the moon reappears.

Yule, (pronounced EWE-elle) is when the dark half of the year relinquishes to the light half. Starting the next morning at sunrise, the sun climbs just a little higher and stays a little longer in the sky each day. Known as Solstice Night, or the longest night of the year, much celebration was to be had as the ancestors awaited the rebirth of the Oak King, the Sun King, the Giver of Life that warmed the frozen Earth and made her to bear forth from seeds protected through the fall and winter in her womb. Bonfires were lit in the fields, and crops and trees were "wassailed" with toasts of spiced cider.

Children were escorted from house to house with gifts of clove spiked apples and oranges which were laid in baskets of evergreen boughs and wheat stalks dusted with flour. The apples and oranges represented the sun, the boughs were symbolic of immortality, the wheat stalks portrayed the harvest, and the flour was accomplishment of triumph, light, and life. Holly, mistletoe, and ivy not only decorated the outside, but also the inside of homes. It was to extend invitation to Nature Sprites to come and join the celebration. A sprig of Holly was kept near the door all year long as a constant invitation for good fortune to pay visit to the residents.

The ceremonial Yule log was the highlight of the festival. In accordance to tradition, the log must either have been harvested from the householder's land, or given as a gift... it must never have been bought. Once dragged into the house and placed in the fireplace it was decorated in seasonal greenery, doused with cider or ale, and dusted with flour before set ablaze be a piece of last years log, (held onto for just this purpose). The log would burn throughout the night, then smolder for 12 days after before being ceremonially put out. Ash is the traditional wood of the Yule log. It is the sacred world tree of the Teutons, known as Yggdrasil. An herb of the Sun, Ash brings light into the hearth at the Solstice.

A different type of Yule log, and perhaps one more suitable for modern practitioners would be the type that is used as a base to hold three candles. Find a smaller branch of oak or pine, and flatten one side so it sets upright. Drill three holes in the top side to hold red, green, and white (season), green, gold, and black (the Sun God), or white, red, and black (the Great Goddess). Continue to decorate with greenery, red and gold bows, rosebuds, cloves, and dust with flour.

Candles are used during this celebration as symbols of the Sun's light and of the new year. Electric lights only became popular in the early 20th century as a substitute for candles. You will see the theme of the returning light in the way Christians hang Christmas lights and put a star at the top of their trees. Decorating the tree with light is believed to have originated in Germany and Scandinavia. Families would bring a "live" tree into the home so the wood spirits would have a warm place to live during the cold winter months. Bells were hung on the limbs of the tree so you could "hear" when a spirit was present, food and treats were left on the branches so the spirit could eat, and a five-pointed star -- the pentagram -- was placed at the top of the tree.

The German Martin Luther is credited as the first person to decorate his tree with candles. After seeing how beautiful the stars were at night, he wanted to recreate the image for his children.
"Christmas" trees were introduced to the court of Queen Victoria by her husband, Prince Albert. Although it was the custom to decorate live evergreen trees in honor of the Gods, our modern practice of cutting down a tree to bring indoors is a blasphemous desecration of the original concept. The evergreen is one of few plants to remain green even in winter and it is a symbol of life during the season of death. Decorating these trees and branches is a way of celebrating life. They are adorned with lights to encourage and honor the Sun, tinsel to encourage the melting of the snow, and the fruits of the harvest to give thanks and to ensure a bounty for the next planting season.

The low point on the "Wheel of the Year," Yule is associated with the birth of the Divine King, the Sun god. Although he is still young and weak, the days are getting longer as his light begins to grow. Earth is in darkness and the Goddess is sleeping (some say). The God who died at the harvest festival of Lammas -- cut down with the grain -- has spent this time traveling in the underworld and is now reborn. Which brings us to the battle between the Oak King, representing the waxing year, and the Holly King, who represents the waning year. The Oak King, The Child of Promise, comes from the union, the love and the creative forces of the God and Goddess and is considered to be the creative principle of the universe -- the mighty one who conquers darkness and brings light to the world. He is virile, fertile and a creative force who plants seeds that will bring new life, thus ensuring its continuation. He is the lord of nature and of the forest and he reminds us of our connection to every living thing.

The Holly King, the God of death and the underworld, is he who conquers light and brings rest and rebirth to the world. He is the other half of the eternal struggle between dark and light (not good and evil). He is the God who gathers souls to him to help prepare them for rebirth, even as he dies and is reborn. He is a healer who can comfort us in times of sorrow and loss because he has walked that path before us. He is a god of judgment, retribution and balance, the keeper of the laws.

At Midsummer, as the year begins its turn toward the dark again, Holly is victorious, but at Midwinter, the Oak King defeats the forces of darkness, revealing himself as a vegetation god who must die each year so that life can be renewed.

Decorated trees, lights, wreaths on the door -- these are symbols of the season. Many of these symbols originated as many as 5,000 years ago. They represent reasons for celebration in the Christmas tradition and the earlier pagan rites: rebirth and everlasting life told in the stories of the birth, death and resurrection of Hercules, Dionysus, Mithra, Horus, Jesus, Arthur and many others.

Holly and ivy are also Yule symbols. Their origins are ancient. Romans used holly during the Winter Solstice, known to them as the Saturnalia. Gifts of holly were exchanged. Holly was believed to ward off lightning and evil spirits. It was also seen as a symbol of the masculine, ivy the symbol of the feminine. The custom of decorating the doorway with the two plants intertwined represented a symbolic union of the two halves of divinity.

Celtic people believed that mistletoe was a strong charm against lightning, thunder and evil. Druids harvested the plant from sacred oak trees five days after the New Moon following the Winter Solstice. Norse people also considered the plant sacred. Warriors who met under the mistletoe would not fight, but maintained a truce until the next day. Other cultures considered mistletoe to be aphrodisiac, thus came the custom of "kissing under the mistletoe."

Giving gifts at Yule is another old symbol.The tradition of Christmas gift-giving is a mystery. Many believe the ritual to have descended from the ancient Roman Saturnalia festival. Saturnalia (named for Saturn, the Roman God of sowing) was observed from roughly December 17 through December 25. Its purpose? To see out the old year and safeguard the health of the crops sown in winter. For the populace of Rome, it was also a time of feasting and gift-giving. The citizens exchanged "strenae" -- boughs of laurel and evergreen that brought good luck -- and the children received "sigillaria," small clay dolls which were purchased at a special fair held during the week of Saturnalia. Gifts of homemade pastries and sweets would be exchanged and those of higher rank might make presents of jewelry or pieces of gold and silver.

Christian tradition equates the giving of gifts to the Magi who visited the Christ child shortly after his birth, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Savior.

And last, but not least, we have our modern Santa Claus. Santa is a combination of several figures -- St. Nick from Holland, Father Christmas from England, Kris Kringle from Germany and Father Winter from Russia, among others. These figures all have pagan roots. Norse and Germanic peoples tell stories of the Yule Elf, who brings presents on the Solstice to those who leave offerings of porridge. Odin is a Norse god also identified with the character of Santa. One of his titles was Jolnir, "Lord of the Yule," and he bears a resemblance to Santa.

Symbolism of Yule:
Rebirth of the Sun, The longest night of the year, The Winter Solstice, Introspect, Planning for the Future.

Symbols of Yule:
Yule log, or small Yule log with 3 candles, evergreen boughs or wreaths, holly, mistletoe hung in doorways, gold pillar candles, baskets of clove studded fruit, a simmering pot of wassail, poinsettias, christmas cactus.

Herbs of Yule:
Bayberry, blessed thistle, evergreen, frankincense holly, laurel, mistletoe, oak, pine, sage, yellow cedar.

Foods of Yule:
Cookies and caraway cakes soaked in cider, fruits, nuts, pork dishes, turkey, eggnog, ginger tea, spiced cider, wassail, or lamb's wool (ale, sugar, nutmeg, roasted apples).

Incense of Yule:
Pine, cedar, bayberry, cinnamon.
Colors of Yule:
Red, green, gold, white, silver, yellow, orange.

Stones of Yule:
Rubies, bloodstones, garnets, emeralds, diamonds.

Activities of Yule:
Caroling, wassailing the trees, burning the Yule log, decorating the Yule tree, exchanging of presents, kissing under the mistletoe, honoring Kriss Kringle the Germanic Pagan God of Yule

Spellworkings of Yule:
Peace, harmony, love, and increased happiness.

Wassail Recipe
Wassail was originally a word that meant to greet or salute someone -- groups would go out wassailing on cold evenings, and when they approached a door would be offered a mug of warm cider or ale. Over the years, the tradition evolved to include mixing eggs with alcohol and asperging the crops to ensure fertility. While this recipe doesn't include eggs, it sure is good, and it makes your house smell beautiful for Yule!

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 3 hours, 00 minute


•1 Gallon apple cider

•2 C. cranberry juice

•1/2 C honey

•1/2 C sugar

•2 oranges

•Whole cloves

•1 apple, peeled and diced




•3 cinnamon sticks (or 3 Tbs. ground cinnamon)

•1/2 C - 1 C brandy (optional)


Set your crock pot to its lower setting, and pour apple cider, cranberry juice, honey and sugar in, mixing carefully. As it heats up, stir so that the honey and sugar dissolve. Stud the oranges with the cloves, and place in the pot (they'll float). Add the diced apple. Add allspice, ginger and nutmeg to taste -- usually a couple of tablespoons of each is plenty. Finally, snap the cinnamon sticks in half and add those as well.
Cover your pot and allow to simmer 2 - 4 hours on low heat. About half an hour prior to serving, add the brandy if you choose to use it.

One year I decided to have a solstice tree as opposed to a Christmas Tree. I asked everyone who came to my solstice party to bring something natural to decorate the tree with. It turned out to be the most beautiful tree I have ever seen. Some of the decorations included:
- dehydrated slices of fruit such as blood oranges, lemons, limes, pears and apples which were hung in front of lights on the tree to give a look of stained glass ornaments
- strings of cranberries and popcorn wrapped around the tree
- pine cones decorated with beads and glitter
- leaves that had been treated so that just the veins remained and spray painted gold ( here is a recipe to make leaf skeletons)
- feathers
- the top of the tree was decorated with a stained glass eagle

An activity I had each guest do  that night,was to make a doll. I used dried poppy seed heads on stalks for the head and body. A wooden skewer was lashed across the middle to make the arms. I had strips of fabric precut and my guests used markers to write on them things they wished to let go of in the new year. They then dipped the fabric strips in melted wax  and draped them over the stick figures to create their poppets/dolls( make sure to use a double boiler affair to melt the wax and keep it melted through the night. Wax is highly flammable and will ignite over direct heat, use a water bath under the container with the wax!)
 It was highly entertaining to see everyones individual creations. We saved them until New Years Eve when we set them in the ground outside and burned them to release our wishes to the universe. Because of the wax, they burn long and bright. Be careful doing this, make sure they are far from the house and anything flammable as they are hard to put out.

You  can see there are many ways to celebrate Yule and many symbols of this holiday. However you celebrate, I wish you a Blessed Yule, a Happy Solstice and a Merry Christmas.

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Friday, 22 October 2010

Samhain/Halloween/All Saints

The Festival of Samhain marks the ending and beginning of the Celtic Year. Samhain (pronounced "Sow-in") comes from the Irish Gaelic and means "Summers End". Samhain  is held on Oct. 31st and is more commonly known as Halloween. It is a very important date as it represents a time to honor our ancestors, the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the Witches New Year. It is believed that on this day, the veil separating this world from spirit world is at its thinnest. It is on this day that we pay tribute to our dead, tie up all loose ends and reap a wonderful harvest.

  With the rise of Christianity, Samhain was changed to Hallowmas, or All Saints' Day, to commemorate the souls of the blessed dead who had been canonized that year, so the night before became popularly known as Halloween, All Hallows Eve, or Hollantide. November 2nd became All Souls Day, when prayers were to be offered to the souls of all who were departed and those who were waiting in Purgatory for entry into Heaven.

Samhain was an important agricultural observance. It was when the final harvest was taken and the folk were now dependent on stored food, hunting and slaughtering of animals for survival. Herds were culled to eliminate the weak and unnecessary and to ensure that the limited amount of food would go around for the next six months. In this aspect, Samhain is a holiday of plenty and feasting, laying in a layer of fat before the winter, and gathering together for safety and protection. Samhain is the time when we connect with the vital forces of nature and make ourselves ready for the long descent into winter

Samhain is also a time when the veil separating our world, the mortal realm, and the world of the Gods and spirits becomes thin. As such, it is a good time to commune with the recently departed before they continue their journey from death to the "Summerland" - the realm of the Gods. There they can enjoy an eternal paradise of feasting, joy and plenty, until they are ready to cross back over to our realm and become incarnate beings again.

In the past...Death was never very far away, yet to die was not the tragedy it is in modern times. What was of great importance to these people was to die with honour and to live in the memory of the clan and be honoured at the great feast Fleadh nan Mairbh (Feast of the Dead) which took place on Samhain Eve. (S. McSkimming,)

Samhain, as the beginning and ending of the yearly cycle, can be viewed as any other "New Years" celebration.. It is a time to reflect on that which we've brought into our lives, and that which we need for the times to come. Connecting with our roots and examining the directions we need to grow. We feast with the ancestors and ensure the continuing vitality of our people, be it ourselves, our family or the community in which we dwell. Death doesn't necessarily mean physical death (though it can mean that), but more productively, it can be seen as an inevitable heavy change or transformation. Something old must be gotten rid of to make room for something new to be able to come in. Use the magic of this time to say good-bye to an old habit or addiction, an old relationship, or anything else it is time to leave behind.

Some Rituals and Rites to Celebrate Samhain

Decorate your home and/or alter with the colors black and orange. Black represents the death of the Sun God and orange represents the Sun God's rebirth. Also use seasonal fruits and vegetables such as pumpkins, squash, apples and pomegranates. Another decorating idea is the use of decorative skulls and gravestone rubbings (putting a piece of paper up against a grave marker and gently rubbing coal, pencil or crayon across the paper until an impression of the stone is left on the paper).

Place candles in the window to help guide the spirit travelers.Samhain is a time to remember those who have been lost over the past year and to acknowledge that they are still with us in spirit. Light a candle and place it in a window (one that is free of drapes, curtains or other flammable materials) to help light the way for the spirits of those who have passed away.

Place cider, fruit and cookies outside for your ancestors to enjoy while on their ghostly travels.Most of us only think to leave plates of food out at night when we are expecting someone jolly and bearing gifts, but the tradition is really rooted in Wiccan tradition intended to honor the dead and help them depart the land of the living peacefully. Leave a plate of food in the window where you place your candle and think of any loved ones you have lost over the past year as you do so. Choose foods of the season or, if you are making the offering in remembrance of a specific loved one, leave foods that were their favorites.

Have a harvest feast and give thanks for the plentiful crops. Giving thanks will ensure that next year's crops will be just as plentiful.

Because this is a time of endings or starting over, take a piece of paper and write down a character trait or bad habit that you would like to change. Light the paper on fire and place it in a fireproof bowl.

Since this is a harvest festival, collect food to donate to a food bank so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of a "harvest"

Carve a turnip.The practice of carving hollowed-out turnips, known as “Samhnag” in Scottish Gaelic, dates back many hundreds of years. The turnips were turned into lanterns by placing a burning ember or small candle inside to commemorate the souls in purgatory. The small lanterns were also placed in windows to ward off the evil dead. The scarier the face, the more effective it was at keeping malevolent spirits away. Pumpkins were an American adaptation. The shape and colouring of turnips actually look more like a skull.
Carve a pumpkin.  Toast and eat the seeds in appreciation of the fruits of the season.

 Trick-or-treating is a customary celebration for children on Halloween. Children go in costume from house to house, asking for treats such as candy or sometimes money, with the question, "Trick or treat?" The word "trick" refers to a (mostly idle) "threat" to perform mischief on the homeowners or their property if no treat is given. In some parts of Scotland children still go guising. In this custom the child performs some sort of trick, i.e. sings a song or tells a ghost story, to earn their treats.

The practice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for treats on holidays dates back to the Middle Ages and includes Christmas wassailing. Trick-or-treating resembles the late medieval practice of souling, when poor folk would go door to door on Hallowmas (November 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2). It originated in Ireland and Britain

Pick some apples. Apples are a traditional fruit of the autumn season, but they actually play key roles in multiple Samhain rituals. Make a dish with fruits of the seasons like apples or pomegranates to celebrate the bounty of the earth. Bury the seeds afterwards to usher in new growth for the next year's harvest. Cut an apple in half, place five bay leaves in the center in the shape of a star, and bind the halves back together with black or red ribbon. Bless the offering in a traditional Samhain ritual and bury it afterwards as a symbol of love for the God and Goddess.

Light a fire. Bonfires are great for keeping away the chill of a crisp early autumn evening, but they are also symbolic during Samhain. After lighting your bonfire take a moment to write down any aspect of your life that you want to get rid of; it can be a part of your personality, something that has been causing you unnecessary stress or worry or a negative situation that has left you with feelings of anger, worry or regret. Focus on why you feel you need to be rid of this thing and how doing so will better your life. Cast the paper into the bonfire and watch it burn. As you do, imagine that negative aspect disappearing with the ashes of the bonfire and let it go.

In many agricultural societies, a popular pastime at Samhain was that of divining the name of one's future lover. Some revealed a face, others an initial or even a full name. These traditional methods were practiced in rural societies for centuries. You can use them today for your own divination.

Unmarried women were told that if they sat in a darkened room and gazed into a mirror on Halloween night, the face of their future husband would appear in the mirror. However, if they were destined to die before marriage, a skull would appear. The custom was widespread enough to be commemorated on greeting cards from the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Apple Divination
Apples have always been popular tools for foretelling the future. There are a number of traditional methods in folklore for seeing who one's lover might be.

•Peel the apple, keeping the peel in one long piece. When the peel comes off, drop it on the floor. The letter it forms is the first initial of your true love's name.

•Wait until midnight at Samhain, and cut an apple into nine pieces. Take the pieces into a dark room with a mirror (either hanging on the wall or a hand-held one will do). At midnight, begin eating the pieces of apple while looking into the mirror. When you get to the ninth piece, throw it over your shoulder. The face of your lover should appear in the mirror.

•If a girl has more than one potential lover, peel an apple and pull out the seeds. Place a wet seed on your cheek for each boyfriend. The last one left stuck to the skin represents the suitor who is the true love.

Water Divination

Water has always been known for its magical properties, so it's only natural to use it for divination workings. Try one of these on Samhain night.
•At midnight on Samhain, go to a lake and gaze into the water. You should see your lover's face reflected in the lake before you.
•Fill a cauldron with water, and then light a candle. Drip the hot wax into the water, and see what shape it forms. The shape will indicate the profession of your future lover.
•Find a moving body of water like a stream or river. Select a piece of wood to represent the person you wish to be your lover, and throw it in the water. If it floats downstream, he will be true and constant. If the wood gets caught up on the bank, or sinks, your lover will be unfaithful.

Food Divination

There are a number of divinations that use foods, baking and cooking as their focus. Some of these are still practiced today.
•Scottish Bannock Divination: in Scotland and northern England, a girl would bake a bannock cake in the evening. In complete silence, she walked to her room and placed the bannock under her pillow. Her dreams that night would show her the face of her lover, and in the morning she ate the bannock.
•To find out if you'll find love in the coming twelve months, separate an egg and drop the white into a glass of water. If it sinks immediately, love is forthcoming. If it floats on the top of the water, you'll spend the next year alone.
•Take two nuts, one for yourself and one for your lover. At midnight on Samhain, place them on a grate over your fire. If they burn well, you'll have a long and happy relationship. If one nut pops or burns, it means one of you will be unfaithful

How to Perform a Samhain Ritual

Samhain marks the end of the Pagan Wheel of the Year. Celebrated on Halloween night, usually at midnight, it's not about performing evil magic or costume parties. The Samhain ritual is a time to remember the dead and to plan for the coming year. It's a time of contemplation as we move into winter.

Instructions.Things You'll Need:

2 tablespoons of sea salt

White candle

Frankincense and myrrh incense

Relaxing music

Black, orange and/or gold clothes and jewelry

Obsidian or other black stone

Apple cider with cloves and cinnamon sticks

Apples in all colors

1Spend time writing down your goals for the coming year a week or so before your Samhain ritual. Concentrate on what you truly want to achieve. Make your goals reachable but ambitious. Collect objects or draw pictures that represent your goals.

2Add 2 tablespoons of sea salt to a hot bath. Light a white candle and incense of frankincense and myrrh. Put on music that relaxes you and helps you remember the good times in the past. Meditate in the bath on the deceased relatives whom you loved and visualize yourself being cleansed by the salt water.

3Wear black, orange or gold clothes and jewelry for your Samhain ritual. Buy a black stone, preferably an obsidian stone as black as you can find, from a jewelry or gem store. Bury it somewhere a week prior to Samhain to purify it for ritual.

4Make cider with cloves and cinnamon sticks for your Samhain ritual. Pumpkin bread is a nice alternative to pumpkin pie. For an interesting combination of flavors, roast or bake red potatoes and apples side by side. Apples in all colors also make beautiful altar decorations.

5Decorate your altar with the things that represent your goals and create the magic circle. Remember those who've been a comfort to you throughout your life and wish them joy wherever they are. Then concentrate on your goals for the coming year. Write down your goals as soon after the Samhain ritual as you can.

A Day of the Dead Altar

Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico on November 1st and 2nd. It's a time to remember deceased loved ones and honor them. November 1st was for remembering children that had passed on, November 2nd was for remembering the adults. Day of the Dead is a festive occasion, a time to celebrate, much like a family reunion. Making a Day of the Dead altar can be a way for you to honor the life of someone who was important to you, or remember your ancestors. There are no hard and fast rules about how the altar should be made. Be creative and make something that looks attractive and is meaningful to you.

Here's How:

1.The arch

If you have long sugar cane stalks, tie one to each of the back legs of the table and join them at the top (tie them together with string or use tape). Then, if you want, you can decorate the arch, attaching flowers to it. The arch represents the passage between life and death. If you can't get sugar cane stalks, get creative and make your arch out of other materials.

2.The base

Place boxes or crates on the table where you will build your altar in such a way that they create tiers so that the elements of the altar can be displayed attractively. Put a tablecloth over the table and boxes so that the boxes are hidden. Then place papel picado (buy direct) around the edge of the table and each layer.


Place a photo of the person to whom the altar is dedicated on the top level of the altar, in the center. If the altar is dedicated to more than one person, you can have several photos, or if your altar is not dedicated to anyone in particular, the photo can be omitted and it will be understood that your altar is in honor of all your ancestors.


Place a glass of water on the altar. Water is a source of life and represents purity. It quenches the thirst of the spirits.


Candles represent light, faith and hope. The flame guides the spirits on their journey. Sometimes four or more candles are placed together to form a cross which represents the cardinal directions, so that the spirits can find their way.


You can place flowers in vases or pull the petals out and scatter them over all the surfaces of the altar. If you use cempasuchil (marigolds), the scent will be even stronger if you pull out the petals. The bright colors of the marigolds and their fragrance are synonymous with Day of the Dead. Fresh flowers remind us of the impermanence of life.

7.Fruit, bread and food

Seasonal fruits and special bread called pan de muertos are usually placed on the altar, along with other foods that the person enjoyed in life. Mexicans usually place tamales, mole and hot chocolate on the altar, but you can use whatever fruit and other food are available to you. The food is a feast that is laid for the dead to enjoy. It is believed that they consume the scents and the essence of the food.


It is customary to burn copal incense, which clears the space of any negative energy or bad spirits, and helps the dead find their way.


1.If you don't have time or the materials to make an elaborate altar, you can make a simple one with just a photo, two candles, some flowers and fruit. The important thing is that it's meaningful to you.

2.Sugar skulls are a great addition to a Day of the Dead altar. Making them can be a fun project. Learn how to make sugar skulls, or purchase some online:

3.Get ideas by looking at photos of Day of the Dead Altars.

What You Need:

•A table, shelf or flat surface on which to build your altar

•Two long sugar cane stalks (or other material) to make an arch

•Boxes or crates to create levels

•A tablecloth and papel picado

•A photo of the person to whom the altar is dedicated

•A glass of water

•Flowers, preferably marigolds

•Fruit, bread, and other foods

•Candles and incense

•Things that the person enjoyed in life

Happy Halloween,

I am linking to Cindy's Show and Tell Friday
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Tuesday, 21 September 2010

House Clearing Ceremony

My House Blessing Altar

 The symbolism behind the objects I chose for my altar.
 This was a cottage I painted onto a stone to represent my home(Wyldestone Cottage), floating on a raft made from a heart on a dark blue silk cloth to represent the water. It has a small Buddha at the front door to symbolize peace to all who enter. There are three red hearts surrounding the house so that it may always be filled with love. I drew a card from the Angel Card series and got an angel climbing a mountain with the word purpose. ( I love this, I am a Capricorn often depicted as a hard working goat always striving to climb the mountain/overcome large obstacles in my life. This house renovation has given me a defined purpose like nothing else.Its a steep mountain but I am enjoying the view!) The cottage is surrounded by a braid of sweetgrass to keep good energy and a connection to spirit surrounding this space.

 The house has two dragons protecting it on either side as well as a phoenix at the top to represent the changes it will be going through during its transformation.The two jars at the top corners hold salt to represent the earth on the left and sacred water from Mongolia on the right.
 The top left corner holds Mother Mary supporting me with her prayers (Spirit) and the top right corner holds two joined lavender candles to represent fire and the balance of Libra which we have just passed into. There is a jade moon healing stone in the bottom left corner to bring healing into the house and in the bottom right corner is my medicine bag with bear medicine to support healing and knowledge.
 I used alternating glass beads to form a heart . Again playing on the balance between light and dark at this time of the year.
 There is a quartz crystal to amplify the prayers I want to put out to the universe.

 I have pictures on either side that represent to me both aspects of my Capricorn , water and mountains. The bottom picture also is a picture of a standing stone circle near my family home in England.
 The middle picture is a picture my Father took in Indonesia of a Buddha. This is to look over everything and bring peace to my endevours.

I meant to do a house clearing ceremony when I first got my house but so much happened so fast, that before I knew it my stuff was in the house already and I was starting on projects. A few full moons went by and each one I started to do this and for some reason never went through with it. Now it is Autumn Equinox and it just happens to fall on the Harvest Full Moon . I think that this is the most auspicious time of the year to do this ceremony. It is important and helpful to bless your home, put a circle of protection around it and infuse the rooms with meaningful intent ( peace, love, security, inspiration, health, abundance) ....any of the things you want in your life and the lives of those that enter your space.

I have been dreaming of owning my own home for most of my life but I think I really manifested it when I started this blog six months ago at Spring Equinox, the first day of spring and all the new beginnings that spring  represents. Now it is Autumn Equinox and it is time to give thanks for a most bountiful harvest.

You can do a space clearing anytime it suits you and as many times as you want to. They are good to clear the energy of places after arguments, grieving, a new move or before births, celebrations, rites of passage or just any time you want to shake things up. To stir up sluggish, negative energy, use loud tools like drums.To soothe stirred up energy, use calming tools like singing bowls or soft chanting. The early morning hours especially after a waxing full moon is a good time to space clear, harnessing the energy of the full moon to magnify your intent.

"Space clearing can have enormous impact on every aspect of your life. When you call for blessings and assistance from the unseen realm of Spirit., untold magic and joy can fill your heart so that your house becomes a home for your soul."
 Denise Linn, author of Space Clearing -  how to purify and create harmony in your home

Ideally you want your house to be freshly cleaned and cleared of all clutter to do a really good job. That's not going to be the case for me as the chaos is too great to do much with at this time. It is all where it is because at some point it will be put to use where it is or it is out of the way of an ongoing project. I would feel much better though if it was all tucked away and organized. For now I will be happy to bless my space such as it is and fill it with intent to become my dream home in it's finished state.

(Before I start with the space clearing for the inside of the home , I will first be doing this ceremony to put some protection around the perimeter of my property and my home)

There are four steps in space clearing:
Preparation, Purification, Invocation and Preservation


Spend time  in nature, slow down and become aware of the earths energy. Practice walking slowly around a room with your arm outstretched and notice where you feel subtle changes in temperature, stickiness in the air etc. Become aware of the subtle energies all around you. Where intention goes, energy flows, so be very clear on what you want to accomplish with your space clearing ie. to raise the energy of a space or to bring peace and harmony. Spend some time with the thought that your body is a sacred vessel that the vast  loving energies of the universe can pass through and out your hands into your home. Before you start, clean your house physically, let in fresh air, clear away all clutter and things like dead plants.Cleanse yourself with a bath or shower, cleaning your head especially to open communication with the higher realms.
Protect your energy field by imagining you are surrounded by a white light of sacred space or put some salt in your pockets to help ground you.

 Prepare your space clearing tools

Choose the tools you wish to work with, things like feathers,crystals,bells,drums, incense etc.
All tools should be cleaned both before and after your ceremony. Crystals can be put out to charge in the sun for a few hours. The other objects can be purified by passing them through the smoke of burning sage or cedar. Store them in a clean protective silk cloth until your ready to use them.

Preparation on the day

- tidy the space
- put any food and pets away
- cleanse yourself ( bathe in water and then purify yourself with the smoke of a sage smudge stick. Cup the smoke in your hands and wash it:
  - over your closed eyes" so I may see the truth"
  -  over your ears, "so that I may hear the truth",
  -  over your throat " so I may speak the truth",
  -  over your heart "so that my heart remains open"
  -  Cup your hand and pull the smoke over your arms and legs, front and back, over your head and offer some back to the Creator
- drink lots of water
- remove all jewelery
-set up your* blessing altar ( see below for more information on blessing altars and holy water)
- prepare flower offerings ( pick flowers as the sun is rising, do not smell them, leave the first scent reserved for the spirits)
- Meditate on the task before you
- talk to other members of the household about their intention for the space
- focus your intent on the results you wish to achieve
- Offer prayers at the blessing altar for the success of your ceremony


-Gather the items you will be using for the space clearing and put them on a tray that you can use to carry from room to room. Start at the bottom of the house and work your way upwards.
-Place the tray in the center of the room and stand in the doorway and attune yourself to the energy of the room. Radiate your intention into the space and send prayers to the Creator for guidance and assistance
-using the tools you have selected, circle the room clockwise( or counterclockwise in the southern hemisphere) and use them to break up stagnant energy. You can ring bells, drum, fan sage or cedar smoke, sprinkle salt( or salt and rice mixed with the ashes of prayers written on paper and burnt....sweep this up the next day), push the light of a candle into the corners, and sprinkle** holy water using a feather, a flower or your fingers. This covers air,earth, fire and water, using all the four elements to bless your home.
-once you are finished , go around the room smoothing the energy field with your hand, like you are petting a cat until you sense that it is settled and smooth.
- leave a flower offering and a tea-light(beeswax is best) candle burning in a bowl of salt in the center of the room

The invocation stage entails calling on a higher power for assistance, support and inspiration for filling your space with blessings. You can pray for the blessing you wish to instow in the rooms . You can make symbols in the air using your first two fingers or a quartz crystal to symbolize your intentions such as a heart, or peace sign and draw a figure eight ( the symbol of infinity) at the doorway when you are done to seal the energy in the room. When you have cleared all the rooms, cleanse and bless each member of the household to align their energy with the newly cleansed energy of the home.Return to the blessing altar and give thanks for the good fortune for the home and all its occupants and visitors. Do this with reverence, respect and devotion.


Once you are finished you can preserve the wonderful energy you have created by several methods:
-You can write a prayer on a piece of paper and plant it in a favorite plant. Every time it gets watered it will release the prayer
-Draw a symbol or word on a stone to place by the front door or near a plant
-Place a figurine of an angel or something that represents your form of spirituality( Buddha etc) in a special place in the home to watch over you and yours.
-Hang Tibetan Prayer Flags where they can blow in the breeze, releasing prayers to the universe
-Wash your hands in cool water afterwards. Have a snack of organic fresh food to eat to ground yourself. Everyone from the household should have a salt water bath ( or scrub with salt in the shower) within 6 hours of the space clearing

For more information on the importance of ritual and the specific components of ritual and altars read this post

*Blessing Altars
Altars are a way of creating sacred space and anchoring your intent when performing any kind of ritual. A blessing altar can be created to represent the type of energy you wish to draw to your home. For example an altar to attract love might be set on a pink or red cloth with pink candles, rose quartz, rose petals and a statue of Venus or Aphrodite watching over it. An altar for peace may be set on a blue cloth with blue and white candles, clear quartz crystals, cornflowers and a statue of Buddha for inner peace. Place things that signify your intent and a representation of your higher power. You may wish to mark the four directions or four elements ( the colours are white/north, yellow/east, red or green/south and black/west. The elements are earth(salt)/north, feather/air/east,smudge or incense/south and bowl of water /west.
All your tools that you will be using for your space clearing ceremony should be there as well.

Start your ceremony at the altar, take time to meditate there on your purpose, call in your higher power, say your prayers and state your intent.

 An example of a prayer for this might be:
I dedicate this space clearing to love, joy and good health. May harmony and peace embrace all the members of this family and may all that enter this place find comfort here. I humbly ask for spiritual guidance during this space clearing ( Denise Linn)

 When you are finished your ceremony, return to your altar to ground the energies that may have been stirred up.

An example of a prayer you may use at the conclusion could be:
Creator, spiritual guardians and angels, thank you, for the loving assistance that was given to us during this space clearing ceremony. Thank you for the peace and joy that is now flowing in this home. may the effects of this clearing and blessing continue for the months ahead, and may the wonderful, positive energy that has been instilled in this home bring comfort and rejuvenation to all.( Denise Linn)

** Holy water- you can obtain holy water from a temple or shrine or make your own. Water from a sacred place is best or at least make sure it is from a natural fresh water spring and bottled in glass.Water to be used for a space clearing should be in a glass or ceramic container( not metal or plastic). Pray and say incantations over the water such as "May the Creator within all things fill this water with blessings and peace. May the water bring purification, healing and love to this home and all who dwell there. So be it!"

Then use one of three ways to charge the water:
-leave it outdoors in direct sunlight for 3 hours for infusing your home with vibrant life and energy
-leave it outdoors under a full moon for creating a restful, nurturing,inspiring energy
-leave it outdoors on a moonless night with lots of stars for stellar energy which is joyful, full of magic and rapture
 Use feathers, flower petals, sprigs of rosemary or cedar to sprinkle your holy water or use it in a mister to mist the room

blessings and joy in your beautiful space,

I am linking with Cindys Show and Tell Friday

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Mabon - Autumn Equinox

                                                 Autumn Equinox

An equinox occurs twice a year, when the tilt of the Earth's axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun, the center of the Sun being in the same plane as the Earth's equator. The term equinox can also be used in a broader sense, meaning the date when such a passage happens. The name "equinox" is derived from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night), because around the equinox, the night and day are approximately equally long


Vernal equinox and autumnal equinox: these classical names are direct derivatives of Latin (ver = spring and autumnus = autumn).

March equinox and September equinox: a usage becoming the preferred standard by technical writers choosing to avoid Northern Hemisphere bias (implied by assuming that March is in the springtime and September is autumnal—true for those in the Northern Hemisphere but exactly opposite in the Southern Hemisphere).
Also called Harvest Home, this holiday is a ritual of thanksgiving for the fruits of the Earth and a recognition of the need to share them to secure the blessings of the Goddess and God during the winter months. Among the sabbats, it ( Mabon) is the second of the three harvest festivals, preceded by Lammas and followed by Samhain.

Mabon was not an authentic ancient festival either in name or date. The autumn equinox was not celebrated in Celtic countries, while all that is known about Anglo-Saxon customs of that time was that September was known as haleg-monath or 'holy month'.

The name Mabon has only been applied to the neopagan festival of the autumn equinox very recently; the term was invented by Aidan Kelly in the 1970s as part of a religious studies project. (The use of Litha for the Summer Solstice is also attributed to Kelly).

Previously, in Gardnerian Wicca the festival was simply known as the 'Autumnal Equinox', and many neopagans still refer to it as such, or use alternative titles such as the neo-Druidical Aban Efed, a term invented by Iolo Morgannwg.

The name Mabon was chosen to impart a more authentic-sounding "Celtic" feel to the event, since all the other festivals either had names deriving from genuine tradition, or had had names grafted on to them. The Spring Equinox had already been misleadingly termed 'Ostara', and so only the Autumn Equinox was left with a technical rather than an evocative title. Accordingly, the name Mabon was given to it, having been drawn (seemingly at random) from Welsh mythology.

The use of the name Mabon is much more prevalent in America than Britain, where many neopagans are scornfully dismissive of it as a blatantly inauthentic practice. The increasing number of American Neopagan publications sold in Britain by such publishers as Llewellyn has however resulted in some British neopagans adopting the term.

The Druids call this celebration, Mea'n Fo'mhair, and honor the The Green Man, the God of the Forest, by offering libations to trees. Offerings of ciders, wines, herbs and fertilizer are appropriate at this time. Wiccans celebrate the aging Goddess as she passes from Mother to Crone, and her consort the God as he prepares for death and re-birth.

The month of September also marks the 'Wine Moon,' the lunar cycle when grapes are harvested from the arbors, pressed and put away to become wine...The full moon closest to the Autumn Equinox is known as the 'Harvest Moon,' since farmers would also harvest their crops during the night with the light of the full moon to aid them."

"Symbols celebrating the season include various types of gourd and melons. Stalk can be tied together symbolizing the Harvest Lord and then set in a circle of gourds. A besom ( broom made of twigs) can be constructed to symbolize the polarity of male and female. The Harvest Lord is often symbolized by a straw man, whose sacrificial body is burned and its ashes scattered upon the earth. The Harvest Queen, or Kern Baby, is made from the last sheaf of the harvest and bundled by the reapers who proclaim, 'We have the Kern!' The sheaf is dressed in a white frock decorated with colorful ribbons depicting spring, and then hung upon a pole (a phallic fertility symbol). In Scotland, the last sheaf of harvest is called the Maiden, and must be cut by the youngest female in attendance

Various other names for this Lesser Wiccan Sabbat are The Second Harvest Festival, Wine Harvest, Feast of Avalon, Equinozio di Autunno (Strega), Alben Elfed (Caledonii), or Cornucopia. The Teutonic name, Winter Finding, spans a period of time from the Sabbat to Oct. 15th, Winter's Night, which is the Norse New Year. At this festival it is appropriate to wear all of your finery and dine and celebrate in a lavish setting. It is the drawing to and of family as we prepare for the winding down of the year at Samhain. It is a time to finish old business as we ready for a period of rest, relaxation, and reflection.

The author of the Pagan Family Circle writes: "While in the past, most all were farmers, this harvest festival traditionally applies to the harvest of foods, yet in this day and age, the 'harvest' may also apply to the 'seeds of dreams and wishes' that were planted many months earlier. Now is the time to see if they have come true. Whether they have come true or not ... a ritual to thank the growing energies of the God and the fertility of the Goddess should be preformed at this time. Lay upon your altar a sampling of your 'harvest'.... use it freely in your ritual. (Note: even if your 'harvest' came up empty, IE: your dreams were not fulfilled, the God and Goddess should still be thanked for the effort put forth in your name)"

Fall celebrations by various faiths and countries - ancient and modern
ANCIENT BRITAIN: Both the solstices and equinoxes "were the highly sophisticated preoccupation of the mysterious Megalithic peoples who pre-dated Celt, Roman and Saxon on Europe's Atlantic fringe by thousands of years." Stonehenge and other stone structures were aligned so that the solstices and equinoxes could be determined.

ANCIENT IRELAND: The spring and fall equinox were celebrated in ancient times. A cluster of megalithic cairns are scattered through the hills at Loughcrew, about 55 miles North West of Dublin in Ireland. Longhcrew Carin T is called a passage tomb. It was designed so that the light from the rising sun on the spring and summer equinoxes penetrates a long corridor and illuminates a backstone, which is decorated with astronomical symbols.

ASTROLOGERS: On the day of the fall solstice, the sun enters the sign of Libra -- the constellation of the balance or scales.

CHINA:The Chinese have Mid-Autumn or Moon festival. The predominant mood of these autumnal celebrations is a gladness for the fruits of the Earth mixed with a certain melancholy linked to the imminence of harsh weather. Remembrance of ancestors is also a common theme.

The joyous Mid-Autumn Festival, the third and last festival for the living, was celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eighth moon, around the time of the autumn equinox. Many referred to it simply as the "Fifteenth of the Eighth Moon". In the Western calendar, the day of the festival usually occurred sometime between the second week of September and the second week of October.

This day was also considered a harvest festival since fruits, vegetables and grain had been harvested by this time and food was abundant. With delinquent accounts settled prior to the festival , it was a time for relaxation and celebration. Food offerings were placed on an altar set up in the courtyard. Apples, pears, peaches, grapes, pomegranates , melons, oranges and pomelos might be seen. Special foods for the festival included moon cakes, cooked taro, edible snails from the taro patches or rice paddies cooked with sweet basil, and water caltrope, a type of water chestnut resembling black buffalo horns. Some people insisted that cooked taro be included because at the time of creation, taro was the first food discovered at night in the moonlight. Of all these foods, it could not be omitted from the Mid-Autumn Festival.

The round moon cakes, measuring about three inches in diameter and one and a half inches in thickness, resembled Western fruitcakes in taste and consistency. These cakes were made with melon seeds, lotus seeds, almonds, minced meats, bean paste, orange peels and lard. A golden yolk from a salted duck egg was placed at the center of each cake, and the golden brown crust was decorated with symbols of the festival. Traditionally, thirteen moon cakes were piled in a pyramid to symbolize the thirteen moons of a "complete year," that is, twelve moons plus one intercalary moon.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is a traditional festivity for both the Han and minority nationalities. The custom of worshipping the moon (called xi yue in Chinese) can be traced back as far as the ancient Xia and Shang Dynasties (2000 B.C.-1066 B.C.). In the Zhou Dynasty(1066 B.C.-221 B.C.), people hold ceremonies to greet winter and worship the moon whenever the Mid-Autumn Festival sets in. It becomes very prevalent in the Tang Dynasty(618-907 A.D.) that people enjoy and worship the full moon.
In the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279 A.D.), however, people send round moon cakes to their relatives as gifts in expression of their best wishes of family reunion. When it becomes dark, they look up at the full silver moon or go sightseeing on lakes to celebrate the festival. Since the Ming (1368-1644 A.D. ) and Qing Dynasties (1644-1911A.D.), the custom of Mid-Autumn Festival celebration becomes unprecedented popular. Together with the celebration there appear some special customs in different parts of the country, such as burning incense, planting Mid-Autumn trees, lighting lanterns on towers and fire dragon dances. However, the custom of playing under the moon is not so popular as it used to be nowadays, but it is not less popular to enjoy the bright silver moon. Whenever the festival sets in, people will look up at the full silver moon, drinking wine to celebrate their happy life or thinking of their relatives and friends far from home, and extending all of their best wishes to them.

There is a legend about moon-cakes. During the Yuan dynasty (A.D. 1280-1368) China was ruled by the Mongolian people. Leaders from the preceding Sung dynasty (A.D. 960-1280) were unhappy at submitting to the foreign rule, and set how to coordinate the rebellion without being discovered. The leaders of the rebellion, knowing that the Moon Festival was drawing near, ordered the making of special cakes. Backed into each moon caked was a message with the outline of the attack. On the night of the Moon Festival, the rebels successfully attached and overthrew the government. Today, moon cakes are eaten to commemorate this legend. For generations, moon cakes have been made with sweet fillings of nuts, mashed red beans, lotus-seed paste or Chinese dates, wrapped in a pastry. Sometimes a cooked egg yolk can be found in the middle of the rich tasting dessert. People compare moon cakes to the plum pudding and fruit cakes which are served in the English holiday seasons. Nowadays, there are hundreds varieties of moon cakes on sale a month before the arrival of Moon Festival.

For thousands of years, the Chinese people have related the vicissitudes of life to changes of the moon as it waxes and wanes; joy and sorrow, parting and reunion. Because the full moon is round and symbolizes reunion, the Mid-Autumn Festival is also known as the festival of reunion. All family members try to get together on this special day. Those who can not return home watch the bright moonlight and feel deep longing for their loved ones.

Today, festivities centered about the Mid-Autumn Festival are more varied. After a family reunion dinner, many people like to go out to attend special performances in parks or on public squares.People in different parts of China have different ways to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival. In Guangzhou in South China, a huge lantern show is a big attraction for local citizens. Thousands of differently shaped lanterns are lit, forming a fantastic contrast with the bright moonlight.

In East Chia's Zhejiang Province, watching the flood tide of the Qian-tang River during the Mid-Autumn Festival is not only a must for local people, but also an attraction for those from other parts of the country. The ebb and flow of tides coincide with the waxing and waning of the moon as it exerts a strong gravitational pull. In mid autumn, the sun, earth and moon send out strong gravitational forces upon the seas. The mouth of the Qiantang River is shaped like a bugle. So the flood tide which forms at the narrow mouth is particularly impressive. Spectators crowd on the river bank, watching the roaring waves. At its peak, the tide rises as high as three and a half meters.

CHRISTIANITY: The Christian Church replaced earlier Pagan solstices and equinox celebrations during Medieval times, with Christianized observances. Replacing the fall equinox is Michaelmas, the feast of the Archangel Michael, on SEP-29. "His feast was celebrated with a traditional well-fattened goose which had fed well on the stubble of the fields after the harvest. In many places, a there was also a tradition of special large loaves of bread made only for that day. By Michaelmas the harvest had to be completed and the new cycle of farming would begin. It was a time for beginning new leases, rendering accounts and paying the annual dues."

Other substitutions by the Church were: Replacing the spring equinox by the Feast of Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is held on MAR-25, on the nominal date of the spring equinox according to the old Julian calendar. There was a "brief flirtation with calling the Vernal Equinox 'Gabrielmas.' " This is the time when the angel Gabriel told Mary that she was pregnant. (Luke 1:26-38)

Replacing the summer solstice, Midsummer Day, is the feast of St. John the Baptist, celebrated on JUN-24.

Replacing the winter solstice is Christmas, on DEC-25 when Mary is traditionally believed to have given birth to Jesus, while still a virgin.

CHUMASH: This is a Native American tribe from Southern California. They celebrate their fall equinox sun ceremony during their month of Hutash (September). It takes place "after the harvest is picked, processed and stored....Kakunupmawa is a ritual name for the Sun. According to traditional Chumash lore, all humans were known as children of the Sun, or 'sons of Kakunupmawa.' " 5 The spiritual thoughts of the tribe would become focused the importance of unity in the face of winter confinement, death and rebirth.

DRUIDS: At this time of the year, the ancient Celts conducted a mock sacrifice of a large wicker-work figure which represented the vegetation spirit. This might have been the origin of Julius Caesar's comment in his Gallic Wars that the Druids performed human sacrifices. Although he never witnessed a human sacrifice and never met anyone who had, this story has been accepted and repeated often enough to be accepted as truth. The Celtic mock sacrifice has been reborn in the Burning Man Project, a yearly fall festival celebrated for one week in Black Rock Desert in Nevada.  The movie "The Wicker Man" was based on the Celtic tradition; to say more would ruin the film if you are seeing it for the first time.

FRANCE: A new calendar was adopted at the time of the French Revolution in the late 18th century. The first day of the year, the 1st of Vendemiaire (the grape-harvest month), was the date of the fall equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. The year was divided into twelve months of 30 days each. That left five or six surplus days which were celebrations ending the year, in honor of virtue, genius, work, opinion, prizes and revolution.

MAYAN: The ancient Mayans constructed a pyramid at Cihick©n Itz© which displayed different patterns of triangles of light at the time of the solstices and equinoxes. The dates signaled the start of a harvest, planting, or a religious ceremony. On the fall equinox, seven triangles become visible on the pyramid's staircase. 8

NATIVE AMERICAN SPIRITUALITY: There are countless stone structures created by Natives in the past and still standing in North America. One was called Calendar One by its modern-day finder. It is in a natural amphitheatre of about 20 acres in size in Vermont. From a stone enclosure in the center of the bowl, one can see a number of vertical rocks and other markers around the edge of the bowl "At the winter solstice, the sun rose at the southern peak of the east ridge and set at a notch at the southern end of the west ridge." The summer solstice and both equinoxes were similarly marked. 9

"America's Stonehenge" is a 4,000 year old megalithic site located on Mystery Hill in Salem NH. Carbon dating has estimated the age of some charcoal remnants at 3,000 and 4,000 years ago. Researchers have concluded that the site was erected either by Native Americans or an unknown migrant European population. 10 The site contains five standing stones and one fallen stone in a linear alignment which point to both the sunrise and sunset at the and fall equinoxes.

Mabon is one of the eight solar holidays or sabbats of American Neopaganism. It is celebrated on the autumn equinox, which in the northern hemisphere is circa September 21 and in the southern hemisphere is circa March 21.

JAPAN: The Spring and Autumn Equinoxes are observed as the seven-day celebration: the Higan-e. It is celebrated for three days before and after each Equinox. Six days was chosen because it is based on the six perfections, giving, observance of the precepts, perseverance, effort, meditation and wisdom - needed before one goes from this shore of samsara to the further shore or nirvana. Higan has Buddhist origins. It means the "other side of the river of death." This side of the river is the world where we live, and the other side is the realm where the souls of those who have passed away dwell. To pray for the repose of deceased ancestors, visits are made to the family grave. 'Bon' in August (July in some regions) is a time when the souls of our ancestors come to visit the people. On higan, it is their turn to visit the souls. Visiting the family grave usually means cleaning the tombstone, offering flowers and food, burning incense sticks, and praying. A popular offering is ohagi, made with glutinous rice covered with adzuki-bean paste or soybean flour. As higan approaches, confectioners become very busy trying to meet the expected demand for ohagi.

The rituals include repentance of past sins and prayers for enlightenment in the next life. It also includes remembrance of the dead and visits to the family graves. It is thought that the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes, being the most temperate times of the year, are ideal moments to reflect on the meaning of life." The Autumnal Equinox Day is an official national holiday in Japan, and is spent visiting family graves, and holding family reunions. There's a saying that goes, "both the heat and cold end with higan."
Symbolism of Mabon:
Second Harvest, the Mysteries, Equality and Balance.

Symbols of Mabon:
wine, gourds, pine cones, acorns, grains, corn, apples, pomegranates, vines such as ivy, dried seeds, and horns of plenty.

Herbs of Mabon:
Acorn, benzoin, ferns, grains, honeysuckle, marigold, milkweed, myrrh, passion flower, rose, sage, solomon's seal, tobacco, thistle, and vegetables.

Foods of Mabon:
Breads, nuts, apples, pomegranates, and vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, and onions.

Incense of Mabon:
Autumn Blend-benzoin, myrrh, and sage.

Colors of Mabon:
Red, orange, russet, maroon, brown, and gold.

Stones of Mabon:
Sapphire, lapis lazuli, and yellow agates.

Activities of Mabon:
Making wine, gathering dried herbs, plants, seeds and seed pods, walking in the woods, scattering offerings in harvested fields, offering libations to trees, adorning burial sites with leaves, acorns, and pine cones to honor those who have passed over.

Spellworkings of Mabon:
Protection, prosperity, security, and self-confidence. Also those of harmony and balance.
The Autumn Equinox begins at 00 Libra a time souls seek balance.

There are those who believe the equinox solar affect produces a reduction in the magnetic field of the Earth, providing easier access to other dimensions beginning around 24 hours before, and ending around 24 hours after the exact Equinox point.

Doorways or thresholds into the mysteries are more easily accessed during equinoxes and when we consciously engage this timing we are taking advantage of the opportunity to further activate our own experience of these sacred timings and what they have to offer us. This is a great time to be on the land, in a power spot that calls to you, whether that is in a forest, near a body of water, on a mountain, in a sacred site or in your back yard. What is important is to create the time and space that supports a direct experience of the mysteries that are ready to reveal themselves to you.

Depending on your individual spiritual path, there are many different ways you can celebrate Mabon, but typically the focus is on either the second harvest aspect, or the balance between light and dark. This, after all, is the time when there is an equal amount of day and night. While we celebrate the gifts of the earth, we also accept that the soil is dying. We have food to eat, but the crops are brown and going dormant. Warmth is behind us, cold lies ahead.

Mabon is the time of the autumn equinox, and the harvest is winding down. The fields are nearly bare, because the crops have been stored for the coming winter. Mabon is a time when we take a few moments to honor the changing seasons, and celebrate the second harvest. On or around September 21, for many Pagan and Wiccan traditions it is a time of giving thanks for the things we have, whether it is abundant crops or other blessings. It is also a time of balance and reflection, following the theme of equal hours light and dark. Here are some ways you and your family can celebrate this day of bounty and abundance.

1. Find Some Balance

Mabon is a time of balance, when there are equal hours of darkness and light, and that can affect people in different ways. For some, it's a season to honor the darker aspects of the goddess, calling upon that which is devoid of light. For others, it's a time of thankfulness, of gratitude for the abundance we have at the season of harvest. Because this is, for many people, a time of high energy, there is sometimes a feeling of restlessness in the air, a sense that something is just a bit "off". If you're feeling a bit spiritually lopsided, with this simple meditation you can restore a little balance into your life. You can also try a ritual to bring balance and harmony to your home.

2. Hold a Food Drive

Many Pagans and Wiccans count Mabon as a time of thanks and blessings -- and because of that, it seems like a good time to give to those less fortunate than ourselves. If you find yourself blessed with abundance at Mabon, why not give to those who aren't? Invite friends over for a feast, but ask each of them to bring a canned food, dry goods, or other non-perishable items? Donate the collected bounty to a local food bank or homeless shelter.

3. Pick Some Apples

Apples are the perfect symbol of the Mabon season. Long connected to wisdom and magic, there are so many wonderful things you can do with an apple. Find an orchard near you, and spend a day with your family. As you pick the apples, give thanks to Pomona, goddess of fruit trees. Be sure to only pick what you're going to use -- if you can, gather plenty to take home and preserve for the coming winter months. Take your apples home and use them in rituals, for divination, and for delicious recipes that your family can enjoy all season long.

4. Count Your Blessings

Mabon is a time of giving thanks, but sometimes we take our fortune for granted. Sit down and make a gratitude list. Write down things that you are thankful for. An attitude of gratefulness helps bring more abundance our way -- what are things you're glad you have in your life? Maybe it's the small things, like "I'm glad I have my cat Peaches" or "I'm glad my car is running." Maybe it's something bigger, like "I'm thankful I have a warm home and food to eat" or "I'm thankful people love me even when I'm cranky." Keep your list some place you can see it, and add to it when the mood strikes you.

5. Honor the Darkness

Without darkness, there is no light. Without night, there can be no day. Despite a basic human need to overlook the dark, there are many positive aspects to embracing the dark side, if it's just for a short time. After all, it was Demeter's love for her daughter Persephone that led her to wander the world, mourning for six months at a time, bringing us the death of the soil each fall. In some paths, Mabon is the time of year that celebrates the Crone aspect of a triune goddess. Celebrate a ritual that honors that aspect of the Goddess which we may not always find comforting or appealing, but which we must always be willing to acknowledge. Call upon the gods and goddesses of the dark night, and ask for their blessings this time of year.

6. Get Back to Nature

Fall is here, and that means the weather is bearable once more. The nights are becoming crisp and cool, and there's a chill in the air. Take your family on a nature walk, and enjoy the changing sights and sounds of the outdoors. Listen for geese honking in the sky above you, check the trees for changing in the colors of the leaves, and watch the ground for dropped items like acorns, nuts, and seed pods. If you live in an area that doesn't have any restrictions on removing natural items from park property, take a small bag with you and fill it up with the things you discover along the way. Bring your goodies home for your family's altar. If you are prohibited from removing natural items, fill your bag with trash and clean up the outdoors!

7. Tell Timeless Stories

In many cultures, fall was a time of celebration and gathering. It was the season in which friends and relatives would come from far and near to get together before the cold winter kept them apart for months at a time. Part of this custom was storytelling. Learn the harvest tales of your ancestors or of the people indigenous to the area in which you live. A common theme in these stories is the cycle of death and rebirth, as seen in the planting season. Learn about the stories of Osiris, Mithras, Dionysius, Odin and other deities who have died and then restored to life.

8. Raise Some Energy

It's not uncommon for Pagans and Wiccans to make remarks regarding the "energy" of an experience or event. If you're having friends or family over to celebrate Mabon with you, you can raise group energy by working together. A great way to do this is with a drum or music circle. Invite everyone to bring drums, rattles, bells, or other instruments. Those who don't have an instrument can clap their hands. Begin in a slow, regular rhythm, gradually increasing the tempo until it reaches a rapid pace. End the drumming at a pre-arranged signal, and you'll be able to feel that energy wash over the group in waves. Another way of raising group energy is chanting, or with dance. With enough people, you can hold a Spiral Dance.

9. Celebrate Hearth & Home

As autumn rolls in, we know we'll be spending more time indoors in just a few months. Take some time to do a fall version of spring cleaning. Physically clean your home from top to bottom, and then do a ritual smudging. Use sage or sweet grass, or asperge with consecrated water as you go through your home and bless each room. Decorate your home with symbols of the harvest season, and set up a family Mabon altar. Put sickles, scythes and bales of hay around the yard. Collect colorful autumn leaves, gourds and fallen twigs and place them in decorative baskets in your house. If you have any repairs that need to be done, do them now so you don't have to worry about them over the winter. Throw out or give away anything that's no longer of use.

10. Welcome the Gods of the Vine

Grapes are everywhere, so it's no surprise that the Mabon season is a popular time to celebrate wine making, and deities connected to the growth of the vine. Whether you see him as Bacchus, Dionysus, the Green Man, or some other vegetative god, the god of the vine is a key archetype in harvest celebrations. Take a tour of a local winery and see what it is they do this time of year. Better yet, try your hand at making your own wine! If you're not into wine, that's okay -- you can still enjoy the bounty of grapes, and use their leaves and vines for recipes and craft projects. However you celebrate these deities of vine and vegetation, you may want to leave a small offering of thanks as you reap the benefits of the grape harvest.

This is also an auspicious time to do a blessing to protect your house. As this day marks six months for me since I gave birth to this blog and began the physical manifestation of my home, I want to mark the occasion by giving my new home a good psychic cleansing and a blessing for positive energy and protection against negative energy
How to Hold a Hearth and Home Rite for Mabon

Check in with yourself and see if you are maintaining balance in the fundamental aspects of your life.
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Monday, 2 August 2010

Lammas/Lughnasadh/August 1st

Lughnasadh or Lammas is also the name used for one of the eight sabbats in the Wheel of the Year. It is the first of the three autumn harvest festivals, the other two being the Autumn equinox (also called Mabon by Wiccans) and Samhain. It is seen as one of the two most auspicious times for hand fasting, the other being at Beltane.

Lughnasadh marked the beginning of the harvest season, the Harvest of Grain (Bread), the ripening of first fruits (usually berries), and was traditionally a time of community gatherings, market festivals, horse races and reunions with distant family and friends. Among the Irish it was a favored time for hand fastings — trial marriages that would generally last a year and a day, with the option of ending the contract before the new year, or later formalizing it as a more permanent marriage.

In some English-speaking countries in the Northern Hemisphere, August 1 is Lammas Day (loaf-mass day), the festival of the wheat harvest, and is the first harvest festival of the year. On this day it was customary to bring to church a loaf made from the new crop. In many parts of England, tenants were bound to present freshly harvested wheat to their landlords on or before the first day of August. In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, where it is referred to regularly, it is called "the feast of first fruits". The blessing of new fruits was performed annually in both the Eastern and Western Churches on the first or the sixth of August (the latter being the feast of the Transfiguration of Christ).

In Celtic mythology, the Lughnasadh festival is said to have been begun by the god Lugh, as a funeral feast and games commemorating his foster-mother, Tailtiu, who died of exhaustion after clearing the plains of Ireland for agriculture.

On mainland Europe and in Ireland many people continue to celebrate the holiday with bonfires and dancing. It was a traditional day for family reunions and parties. The Christian church has established the ritual of blessing the fields on this day.

The Celts celebrate this festival from sunset August 1 until sunset August 2 and call it Lughnasadh after the God Lugh. It is the wake of Lugh, the Sun-King, whose light begins to dwindle after the summer solstice. The Saxon holiday of Lammas celebrates the harvesting of the grain. The first sheaf of wheat is ceremonially reaped, threshed, milled and baked into a loaf. The grain dies so that the people might live. Eating this bread, the bread of the Gods, gives us life. If all this sounds vaguely Christian, it is. In the sacrament of Communion, bread is blessed, becomes the body of God and is eaten to nourish the faithful. This Christian Mystery echoes the pagan Mystery of the Grain God.

Grain has always been associated with Gods who are killed and dismembered and then resurrected from the Underworld by the Goddess-Gods like Tammuz, Osiris and Adonis. The story of Demeter and Persephone is a story about the cycle of death and rebirth associated with grain. Demeter, the fertility Goddess, will not allow anything to grow until she finds her daughter who has been carried off to the Underworld. The Eleusinian Mysteries, celebrated around the Autumn Equinox, culminated in the revelation of a single ear of corn, a symbol to the initiate of the cyclical nature of life, for the corn is both seed and fruit, promise and fulfillment.

You can adapt the themes of Lughnasad and Lammas to create your own ceremony for honoring the passing of the light and the reaping of the grain.

Honoring the Grain God or Goddess

Bake a loaf of bread on Lammas. If you've never made bread before, this is a good time to start. Honor the source of the flour as you work with it: remember it was once a plant growing on the mother Earth. If you have a garden, add something you've harvested--herbs or onion or corn--to your bread. Most important is intention. All that is necessary to enter sacred time is an awareness of the meaning of your actions.

Shape the dough in the figure of a man or a woman and give your grain-person a name. If he's a man, you could call him Lugh, the Sun-King, or John Barleycorn, or the Pillsbury Dough Boy, or Adonis or Osiris or Tammuz. Pauline Campanelli in The Wheel of the Year suggests names for female figures: She of the Corn, She of the Threshing Floor, She of the Seed, She of the Great Loaf (these come from the Cyclades where they are the names of fertility figures), Freya (the Anglo-Saxon and Norse fertility Goddess who is, also called the Lady and the Giver of the Loaf), the Bride (Celtic) and Ziva or Siva (the Grain Goddess of, the Ukraine, Hungary, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia).


Like all holidays, Lammas calls for a feast. When your dough figure is baked and ready to eat, tear him or her apart with your fingers. You might want to start the feast with the Lord's Prayer, emphasizing the words "Give us this day our daily bread." The next part of the ceremony is best done with others. Feed each other hunks of bread, putting the food in the other person's mouth with words like "May you never go hungry," "May you always be nourished," "Eat of the bread of life" or "May you live forever." Offer each other drinks of water or wine with similar words. As if you were at a wake, make toasts to the passing summer, recalling the best moments of the year so far.

Corn Dolly

Another way to honor the Grain Goddess is to make a corn doll. This is a fun project to do with kids. Take dried-out corn husks and tie them together in the shape of a woman. She's your visual representation of the harvest. As you work on her, think about what you harvested this year. Give your corn dolly a name, perhaps one of the names of the Grain Goddess or one that symbolizes your personal harvest. Dress her in a skirt, apron and bonnet and give her a special place in your house. She is all yours till the spring when you will plant her with the new corn, returning to the Earth that which She has given to you. Corn Dollies are a form of straw work associated with harvest customs. Primitive communities believed that the corn spirit lived amongst the crop, and the harvest made it effectively homeless. Therefore, they fashioned hollow shapes from the last sheaf of wheat or other cereal crop. The corn spirit would then spend the winter in their homes until the "corn dolly" was ploughed into the first furrow of the new season. "Dolly" is a corruption of idol.

Food for Thought

Lammas is a festival of regrets and farewells, of harvest and preserves. Reflect on these topics alone in the privacy of your journal or share them with others around a fire. Lughnasad is one of the great Celtic fire-festivals, so if at all possible, have your feast around a bonfire. While you're sitting around the fire, you might want to tell stories. Look up the myths of any of the grain Gods and Goddesses mentioned above and try re-telling them in your own words.

Regrets: Think of the things you meant to do this summer or this year that are not coming to fruition. You can project your regrets onto natural objects like pine cones and throw them into the fire, releasing them. Or you can write them on dried corn husks (as suggested by Nancy Brady Cunningham in Feeding the Spirit) or on a piece of paper and burn them.

Farewells: What is passing from your life? What is over? Say good-bye to it. As with regrets, you can find visual symbols and throw them into the fire, the lake or the ocean. You can also bury them in the ground, perhaps in the form of bulbs which will manifest in a new form in spring.

Harvest: What have you harvested this year? What seeds have your planted that are sprouting? Find a visual way to represent these, perhaps creating a decoration in your house or altar which represents the harvest to you. Or you could make a corn dolly or learn to weave wheat. Look for classes in your area which can teach you how to weave wheat into wall pieces, which were made by early grain farmers as a resting place for the harvest spirits.
Preserves: This is also a good time for making preserves, either literally or symbolically. As you turn the summer's fruit into jams, jellies and chutneys for winter, think about the fruits that you have gathered this year and how you can hold onto them. How can you keep them sweet in the store of your memory?

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