Winter Solstice, unfolding

Whenever you celebrate Winter Solstice, ENJOY! This is a multi-day unfolding.

Rather than measuring minutes & seconds of daylight, our ancestors celebrated the return of the Sun as it began moving again, coming north as seen along the horizon at dawn or sunset. Their sacred sites were created to mark the solstice extreme points, from which you could then observe the return motion away from those points.

“Solstice” means the sun (Sol) standing still (stasis) – Thanks to Earth’s axis-tilt, the Sun reaches it southern-most point and then STAYS THERE for two-three days, before our tilt starts bringing it northward again. * 
Sun’s southern-most standstill dates, this year: December 21-22, 2015 at 23º S 26‘.

This year, the northern motion – the Sun’s return – can first be measured (though maybe not seen by the naked eye) on
* Wednesday, Dec. 23, as the Sun’s declination shifts to 23º S 25‘.

By Distaff Day, January 7, the Sun will have come a full 1º back northward – clearly noticeable if you’re using markers in the landscape (like Stonehenge), sunbeams within sites (like Newgrange or Fajada Butte) or shadow-casting markers (like a sundial). 
Marking the Solstice can be super-simple: Just mark where the rising or setting Sun’s light strikes a wall inside your home.

* Shortest days/longest nights:
December 18 thru 25, 2015 – 9 hours & 33 minutes
*Earliest Sunsets – the first week of December: 4:50pm
(before the Sun’s standstill)
*Latest Sunrises – the first week of January: 7:25am
(after the Sun’s standstill)
*Sun enters Capricorn, the so-called “first day of Winter”: Sorry, but thanks to the Precession of the Equinoxes, the Sun doesn’t get out of Sagittarius and into Capricorn until about January 20.

We measure lots of minutia now – length of days down to the second – because we can, but that doesn’t mean it needs to rule us, or our ritual dates and choices. Since I’m most thrilled with the return of the Sun and its light, I personally want to see that motion back to the north, but I’m also thrilled to celebrate with friends throughout this season, whatever the theme, date, or rationale.

Bless the root-growth and hibernation of the long dark nights, and bless the returning light!

Image: The Sun card from the “Golden Tarot of the Renaissance”

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Mabon – biting the ripe apple


She is well-pleased with the sound of rattles and of timbrels,
with the voice of flutes and the outcry of wolves and bright-eyed lions.
—“Homeric Hymn to the Mother of the Gods,”  translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White

kore-milkySQIs there any aroma so evocative as that of a fall morning? As a child, I associated autumn with the scent of burning leaves. Now, as that practice is relegated to the past, I realize the season has a scent of its own, independent of smoking leaf-piles along the curbs. The first hints of chill & damp are in the air, the remnants of gardens are past their peak, some late blooming flowers persist as the weather changes — all lend poignant fragrance to the crisp air.

As the sun continues to journey southward, our days shift and shorten. And their style of beauty is transformed. Rich autumn colors — gilded with orange and red, often dramatically contrasted by grayer skies — rival the lush beauties of spring with a bittersweet twist:  we know these transitional hues will fade rather than spread. Our Mabon holiday marks the Autumnal Equinox, midpoint between Sol’s far north point at Litha and Her distant southerly position at Yule. Check your trusty Farmer’s Almanac. Generally the Equinox falls within a day either way of September 21, based on the Sun’s declination (crossing from north of the equator to south), though the actual days and nights of equal length come a few days later.1   

As the final harvest festival, Mabon is often called the Witches’ Thanksgiving. The association of the name “Mabon” with this holiday seems to be of recent and rather loose origin.2 Mabon (“Mab” = son; “on” = deity) was the son of Modron (“Modr” = Mother; “on” = deity). Stolen from His mother and long-imprisoned, finally set free through the help of the animal kingdom, Mabon’s tale makes up a portion of the great Welsh epic, the Mabinogion.3 None of this seems clearly connected with this equinox, until we note that some sources parallel Modron with Demeter, whose Eleusinian Mysteries were celebrated in late September.4,5 Though the details of those rites remain tantalizingly elusive, we know they were closely connected with the Demeter-Kore myth. When Her maiden-daughter Kore is in the Lower World, grieving Mother Demeter withholds Earth’s fertility until Kore returns to visit the Earth’s surface for a portion of each year. The annual Eleusinian rites celebrated Demeter’s fruitful bounties, but their deeper impact concerned the Afterlife we would all eventually face. These ancient rites served to “make happier the hopes of those that participate therein concerning both the end of life and their whole existence.”6

The weeks from this holiday through to the winter solstice tend to be an introspective time for many people, as we pull in our energies and pull out the afghans. Are we mirroring Kore’s sojourn into the Lower World?  This can be a time to meet and come to grips with one’s own inner darknesses. Isn’t this what Kore does in agreeing to spend time in the Lower World? The Maiden-daughter transforms: Through Her pilgrimage into the dark (which, in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, began when she coveted a “phallic” narcissus) Kore Herself becomes Mother.7 The seed of Kore’s mating with Hades gestates in this darkness.

In addition to fall-bright leaves and golden grasses as altar decorations, pomegranates and apples make symbolic and tasty appearances. An apple cut vertically through the center reveals a vaginal-looking view of the core; a horizontal cut through a second apple reveals a pentagram of seeds, an echo of the apple’s five-petalled blossom, flower turned to fruit, Maiden-Kore evolving into Mother-Demeter, holding the promise of new birth. Red apples hold the symbolic hues of the Triple Goddess: a sweet interior of white for the Maiden, a protective skin of red for the Mother, and those Crone-black seeds which will themselves transform to Maiden. From Scandinavia to Avalon, apples symbolized the Afterlife & rebirth.8

According to some versions of this story, it was Kore’s consumption of pomegranate seeds in the Lower World that obliged her to return to that realm annually. In the Bible’s Song of Songs, so rife with symbols, the Bride and Bridegroom come together in a garden of pomegranates. Rock lyrics of the 1950s and ‘60s notwithstanding, the point isn’t that a Maiden-girl-child is transformed into a Mother-woman through the magical wave of a male wand as his sexual love “makes a woman of her.” The point is that the union of female-male energies — physical, spiritual, psychological, emotional, the apparently contradictory elements within ourselves — is transformative. Pomegranate seeds eaten in circle make a wonderful symbolic step onto trance work: As we eat these seeds and accept our darknesses, what do we seek on our journey through the winter? What can our own dark currents teach us?  What seeds of change are we harboring within ourselves? 

Whether through husbandry or hunting, this is also the season when both domestic and wild animals were traditionally asked to give-away their lives for our larders. The farm animals that had consumed food since spring became food for the winter; wild animals that raised their young and grew plump through the summer were hunted most avidly in the autumn, before they migrated out of range or became scrawny from poor forage once the snows began.

Today we live in an age of year-round factory-farming and “manufactured” meat.9 Many people choose a vegetarian path for various reasons. However, this ancient animal theme is significant and well worth honoring, even if you prefer to carve a slab of tofu rather than turkey. Just as we’ve felt a heightened connection with Mother Earth while consuming the lush summer produce, Mabon can be a time to explore a stronger sense of our symbiotic connection with the animals of our planet. In many cultures, hunted creatures are thanked for giving themselves as food to the people; they’re honored with dances and prayers to help maintain good relationship so the animals will continue to make themselves available to the tribe in the future. Animals, in the flesh and in spirit, dance through so much of our mythology. Animal-helpers — ousel, stag, owl, eagle, salmon — are crucial in the tale of Mabon’s rescue.10 This is a fine time to acknowledge and honor our symbiotic connection with Earth’s other creatures.

RITUAL IDEAS & QUESTIONS

  • How are we connecting now with Earth’s animal inhabitants?
  • Are we in contact with our power animals?
  • How do we honor and respect the animal-based foods we consume?
  • As the nights lengthen, how do we perceive and use this darkness?
  • Do you have a “dark side”?  How do you view, work with and honor it?
  • What are we gathering now to carry with us into the winter months?

______________________

“Homeric Hymn to the Mother of the Gods,”  translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, quoted in The Great Mother, Erich Neumann, (Princeton: Bollingen Series, 1974), p. 271.

1. All celestial data from The Old Farmer’s Almanac

2. I base this on a very brief conversation with Celtic scholar Michael Ranauro at Dragonfest 1996. The linguistic info that immediately follows on the names “Modron” and “Mabon” also came from him.

3. Caitlin and John Matthews, Encyclopædia of Celtic Wisdom, (Elements: Rockport, MA, 1994),  pp. 89-91.

4. Janet and Stewart Farrar, The Witches’ God, (Phoenix: Custer WA, 1989), pg. 199.

5. John and Caitlin Matthews, The Aquarian Guide to British & Irish Mythology, (Aquarian Press: Wellingborough, England, 1988), pp. 111, 112-3, 118-9. If we accept Modron/Demeter & Mabon/Kore parallels, have we uncovered evidence of a Celtic/Eleusinian Mystery Rite?  Not quite, I think – more like common and persistent themes.

6. The quote is from Isocrates, in Barbara G. Walker, The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, (Harper & Row: New York, 1983), pp. 218-220.

7. Neumann, ibid., pp. 305-325, on the Eleusinian mysteries.

8. Walker, ibid, pp. 48-50.

9. Jeremy Rifkin, The End of Work (G. P. Putnam’s Sons: New York, 1995), Chapter 8: “No More Farmers,” pp. 109-127, and John Robbins, Diet for a New America, (Stillpoint: Walpole NH, 1987).

10. Matthews, Encyclopædia of Celtic Wisdom, pp. 89-91.

Art: Kore figure, c. 530-520 BC, found on the Acropolis

Ostara: Red Eggs and Rabbits and Snakes, oh my!

“Spring is come home with her world-wandering feet,
And all things are made young with young desires.”

Image

Spring celebrates the Goddess as Maiden – Kore returns from the Underworld and brings the fructifying principle of nature back with Her.  Hibernating animals reawaken, migratory creatures return; plants, busy with root-growth all winter, begin pushing up and out.  The sunlight, growing since Yule morning, now graces and warms our days.  By Ostara – our Spring Equinox holiday takes its name from the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of Spring – we have nearly three more hours of sunlight each day than at the solstice.  Even if the weather’s still wintry, the earliest plants are struggling to rise and the nights are significantly shorter.

So are the shadows.  As the sun moves from a southern to a northern declination, we lose the low light angle and long daytime shadows of deep winter.  The light gains ascendancy and winter literally recedes.  The Vernal Equinox occurs on the first day on which the sun rises north of the equator, falling within a day either way of March 20.  This year it’s March 20, today.  The days and nights of equal length actually occur a few days earlier, this year on March 16 (sunrise to sunset, this day was still a few minutes less than twelve hours long) and March 17 (the daylight hours exceeded twelve hours by several minutes).

“Vernal” comes from the Latin verb vernare, meaning “To renew oneself in Spring, to be young.”  In a seasonal ordering of the Beth-Luis-Nion tree alphabet, Robert Graves connects the Latin vernare to the letter Fearn, between letters Onn and Saille.  In his poetic hand, the letters Onn-Fearn-Saille evolve into Anna Fearina Salmaona, “Queen of the Spring, Mother of the Willow,” a lovely image now, when the small willow aptly called red-twig gradually begins budding.  If your concept of “willow” tends only toward tall and weeping, watch for this widespread wild version glowing red along Colorado creek beds.  A decorated willow-branch archway figures in an Argentinean springtime ritual for mothers and godmothers.

The color red rules in Ostara traditions.  Numerous sources speak of eggs being dyed red now to symbolize rebirth, and red is surely a more compelling hue than the tender pastels that dominate modern Easter decor.  Zsuzsanna Budapest connects red eggs to the Festival of Astarte (March 17), an ancient Near-Eastern rite joining female/male energies (a nice analogy for the night-day balance).  Pauline Campanelli associates scarlet eggs to the Druids, colored red with furze (Onn) blossoms to honor the Sun.  Red dye can also be obtained from bark of the alder, named as a tree of resurrection in The Odyssey.

ImageEggs and the color red were both common burial inclusions.  Eggs have been found in or on ancient graves in Hungary, Egypt, Russia, Greece and Britain; red ochre has been found in megalithic graves in Pembrokeshire’s Prescelly Mountains, at the Çatal Hüyük site in Turkey and on the Salisbury Plain, among many others locations.  In the funerary context, red is usually interpreted as a charm for either rebirth through reincarnation or new birth into a life-after-death.  At birth, we arrive slicked with our mothers’ blood; there is a pleasing symmetry in departing back into the Earth’s womb wearing the same color.  And of course Spring, symbolically associated with the East (and the dawn) is as logical a time for rebirth rites as the autumn (sunsets and the West) is for death-rites.

Why the big emphasis on eggs?  For our ancestors, eggs were scarce during the winter months.  Hens need sunlight (and the Vitamin D it provides) to produce eggshells, so back then, when the hens began laying plentifully again, Spring had really returned.  Foods imported from distant regions and factory farms with artificial light sources now put eggs in the grocery stores year around.  An egg is first “born” when its laid, and then again when it hatches.  And while we tend to associate eggs with birds, remember that eggs are also laid by snakes.  By shedding their old skins, snakes symbolize regeneration and transformation as well (and they present an alternative to all the seasonal cuteness, though, alas, I’ve yet to see a chocolate snake).  Barbara Walker mentions a 13th Century French custom in which a snake was carried up to the baptismal font during Easter week.  Hibernating creatures, snakes too begin reawakening in Spring.

The rabbit or hare, the other main symbol at this time, is cited for its fertility.  This is more than mythological: The gestation period for a doe rabbit is a mere thirty-one days.  By contrast, cats and dogs carry their young twice as long; even squirrels average forty-four days.  Rabbits can begin breeding at six months.  Mad as a March hare?  That “madness” is estrus, sexual frenzy.  Ostara Herself was believed able to take the form of a hare, and these animals, especially white ones, were sacred to Her.  In British myth, the hare also symbolizes transformation, another reason for the creature’s significance now.

Ostara’s resurrection theme can’t be over emphasized.  This is the time for renewal, rebirth, resurrection after winter’s dormancy.  In my group, raw, preferably fertile eggs are decorated in circle and taken home to our personal altars (after we all try to stand them on end, of course, a feat allegedly possible only at the equinoxes).  If you plan to garden, Ostara is a logical time to bless those seeds; if you do any pruning, save the wood for the Beltane fires.  In celebrations, consider meditations and journeys on such questions as “what is awakening now in my life?”

RITUAL IDEAS and QUESTIONS

— Decorate and balance eggs

— Bless the seeds (or starter-plants) for your garden

— “What is (re)awakening now in my life?”

— “What is coming into balance?  What feels unbalanced?”

© 2014 Renna Shesso –
If you share this, please credit and link

_________________

Resources:

Alternative spellings are Eostre, Ostre, Eostara, possibly related to Eos and Astarte, and definitely the source of the word “Easter.”  Derived from estrus, from the Latin oestrus, or frenzy.

The quote comes from “From the Night of Forebeing, An Ode After Easter” by Francis Thompson (1859-1907)

Zsuzsanna E. Budapest, The Grandmother of Time

Pauline Campanelli, Ancient Ways – Campanelli has extensive information on coloring eggs with natural dyes.

Robert Graves, The White Goddess

Buffie Johnson, The Lady of the Beasts

John and Caitlin Matthews, The Aquarian Guide to British and Irish Mythology

Luisah Teish, Carnival of the Spirit

Barbara G. Walker, The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets

 

Fire Ceremonies: Igniting Change

Campfire_Pinecone

We stand around the fire bowl, drums pounding, flames leaping, and – one by one – step forward to discard and bid farewell.

Our objects look like sticks and colored paper and string, but looks can be deceiving: They’re more than that.  Having asked in shamanic journey what we personally needed to bid farewell to, we’ve each created an object as directed by Spirit and then infused the object with intention, with energy, with the very essence of that which we release.  That stuff, that baggage, is now literally out of me and into my object.  I consign it to the flames for complete transformation.

Fire is cathartic. Whether it comes from the sky as a lightning strike or from this snazzy foot-long lighter, we know on a visceral, non-verbal level that Fire is powerful.  It can be our friend, or it can mess with us.

Today we engage with Fire as an ally.  This fire was laid, kindled and fed with clear intention, specifically to receive and transform this old psychic debris we’re releasing.  Be gone!  And it is gone.  We can feel the shift.

*   *   *

That was Saturday.  Last night I watched another, different fire ceremony.  More people were present, the circle was on a beach, and the items discarded were notes written on the spot, spontaneously. People read their notes aloud, then handed them into the flames.  Fire was a good ally to them, too: As the group finished, participants were dabbing their eyes.  On camera.

This fire was on Tabatha’s Salon Takeover, a show that I happily consider guilty-pleasure-TV.  In this episode, plainspoken Australian trouble-shooter Tabatha gathered the dysfunctional beauty salon’s owner and employees on a nearby beach, and they use Fire to help purge and heal their accumulated ill-feelings.

Which version did I prefer?  The one I took part in, of course: heat, drums and hollering, and my clothes still smell like smoke.  But why should fires and ceremonies be just for us pagans?  I generally see practices like these coming into the mainstream as a great thing, because these practices work.  Let’s all take our healing where we find it, and wherever we find room to create it.

More people with more healing = a more healed world.

_______________

Campfire-Pinecones image from Emeldil at en.wikipedia

Grandmother Moon, Sister Moon…

Image

…Daughter Moon, Moon of Myself,

Thank you for the blessings in my life…

This is the prayer I speak to the Moon.  Full Moons like the one coming this evening are a great time for this simple ritual, but so is any moon-time.  If the Moon isn’t visible, I’m happy to talk with a planet or star instead.  I’ve had great chats with very-visible Jupiter in recent months, and with a particular star in the Big Dipper.

I greet the Moon (or other celestial light) and then proceed to say “thank you.”  For life, breath, food, warmth, an incredible circle of friends, a happy car with a great heater, for students, for clients, for health and vitality, for the chance to stand outside – or dance – “beneath the diamond sky.”  (thanks, Bob Dylan)

This is my most often-repeated ceremony these days, super simple.  Maybe I pour a libation, maybe I share a food offering first. Then speak my Greeting and my Thanks, and eventually a respectful Hail and Farewell.  That’s it.

This practice started years back:  On impulse, I stepped outside and just began.  So much spell-work is focused around asking for more.  I could use more of some stuff, sure!  But what if I began by saying “thank you” for what I already have?  Two MAJOR things happened that night:

  • First, that “cat” I saw out of the corner of my eye as I invoked, who wandered into the yard and sat down nearby to watch and listen? It was actually a young fox.  She hung around for months, but that was the night we met.
  • Second, once I began clearly and out-loud saying “thank you” for what I had, more of that good stuff started flowing in, consistently.  Unless the ________ (Goddess, the gods, Higher Power) knows I appreciate what they’ve already delivered, why should they hurry to send more?  I began saying “thanks,” and the flow in my life altered perceptively, as of that night.

Many friends are writing Gratitude notes, in journals and on Facebook.  While I value reading what others share, for me these practices work best when done live, physically, under the dome of sky.  That’s when I’m most clearly living it, breathing it, speaking and hearing it, feeling it deeply through and through.

So, tonight,

Hello, Moon!…