Tag Archives: yule

Winter Solstice 2015

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Today I celebrated Yule (I prefer to celebrate on the date of the actual Solstice, rather than on the 21st). I began by climbing the local Windmill Hill to “see” the Solstice Sun rise. It being a very cloudy day, I couldn’t actually see the Sun (typical!), but I enjoyed being there as the light grew brighter. I made some offerings of sherry to some of the trees on the hill, including a very large Oak tree. There were a couple of dog walkers around, and I think they were somewhat bemused to see this strange girl out on the hill spilling a chalice of sherry around the tree roots!

When I came home, I placed offerings of a satsuma, chestnut and mochi (in addition to the usual offerings of water, sake, rice and salt) at my Inari altar and recited the Hifumi and Inari Norito. As you can see from the photo above, I’ve recently started using the old Hindu shrine I picked up at an antiques fair as a makeshift Kamidana, until my finances mean I can get a genuine Shinto one. I think it works pretty well for the time being.

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I also made offerings at my Pagan shrine. The posters on the wall behind are prints from Brian Froud’s Good Faeries, Bad Faeries, which is an excellent book that I highly recommend. Unfortunately, I discovered that the cover of my copy and some of the inner pages had become utterly ruined by damp and had gone really mouldy, but not wanting to throw away the whole book, I cut out some of the pictures that were still OK. I plan to change them on my altar according to the season; I think the ones above look quite wintry.

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I also added some of the salt dough Green Men that I’d made and hadn’t given away yet to the altar. I put one Holly King mask on the God side of the altar, an Ivy Queen mask on the Goddess side, and another Holly King hanging in the centre.

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Finally, in the evening I made some “rune cookies,” just like I did last year (but with additional clove and ginger this year). Although the first batch turned out well, I unfortunately burned the second batch! Today’s been a bit of an unlucky day for cooking actually – the oven’s been playing up a bit as well. Perhaps I need to pay more attention to the Goddess of the Hearth and let her know that I appreciate her work for us! I did place an offering of the best (non-burnt) biscuits on both the Inari shrine and Pagan shrine – I hope the Powers That Be like them.

Have a Magical Yule everyone!

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Yule Moot 2015 with Medway Pagans

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Last night was was the final Medway Pagans moot of 2015 – but our first moot in a brand new venue, where we’ve moved for various reasons. We were all a bit nervous at first of moving somewhere new, but it turned out to be fantastic  – very friendly, with a great space for ritual.

The moot began with a lovely ritual by Phoenix, welcoming the birth of the Sun God, in which each of us received a candle to welcome in the light. We also sang a Pagan version of Silent Night, beginning with a solo by Phoenix which she sang really beautifully (she’s in a choir!). I think all of us singing together really heightened our emotions – as the ritual ended, I felt really moved. A lot of others felt the same way.

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After the ritual, our Yule dinner was served. And just like last year, it was delicious! I opted for the vegetarian courses this year, despite not being veggie – partly for a bit of a change, and partly because I am trying to cut down on meat (I used to be vegetarian for several years as a teenagers). I’m really glad I chose the veggie option – yummy soup followed by amazing mushroom patties.

Between courses we did Secret Santa. My husband (he always tries to come to the Yule meal even though he isn’t a Pagan, which means a lot to me) received some patchouli incense and a beautiful glass pyramid with a pentacle inside (he plans to put it on his desk at work), and I got a really interesting-looking book about candle magic, which may well prove useful when I hold the Imbolc moot in February. I’ll probably end up reviewing the book on this blog at some point!

I took the opportunity of the moot to film some of our members talk about their views on Paganism and feminism/women’s rights/gender equality, which I plan to use at the discussion I’m leading with Medway Inter Faith Action. I was delighted to hear so many views articulated so well by our members. Although everyone’s views on the subject varied, one theme that kept coming through was the idea of balance – that there must be equal Masculine and Feminine energies, and so both sexes should be treated equally. This is very useful for my presentation, as it takes a historical look at the relationship between Paganism and feminism, which at times could be rather one-sided towards the Feminine, so it is interesting to hear how ideas and attitudes have moved on in the 21st century to reinforce the notion of balance more than the idea of a primarily Goddess-centred belief system.

It’s also interesting how the ritual we performed right at the beginning of the moot had this theme of balance too – to directly quote from the wording of the ritual, “Darkness cannot exist with out the light, as the Goddess cannot exist without the God. They are in an eternal balance.”

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Yule Altar 2015

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I’ve added a few things to my altar to Yule-ify it a little now. There’s some ivy above it, a little wooden Christmas tree, a Yule-themed pentacle, and finally, a Nativity set.

I imagine a lot of people will think it’s strange that I have such a Christian symbol of a nativity set on my altar this year, so I thought I’d write a little about it.

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This nativity set was given to me by my parents this year – they actually have loads of nativity sets and they wanted me to take one of them. On top of this obvious sentimental value, I’ve always loved this nativity set; it’s carved out of stone and is based on Viking figures. The figurines are so beautiful, and remind me a little of Japanese dousojin figures as well. The set really reminds me that at one time, ordinary people did practise Christianity alongside the old ways, without any conflict.

The figures of Mary and Joseph are so simple and beautiful that I plan to use them after Christmas as God and Goddess figurines, replacing my smaller ones that are repainted Hina Matsuri dolls (I’ll probably start using these as Hina dolls again). I’ll only put out the ox, ass and Baby Jesus figures out at Christmas time. I personally see nothing wrong with appropriating figures from one religion (especially figures that look so generic anyway) to use for sacred purposes in another; people throughout history have always done this, such as the figures of Kannon that Japanese Christians would venerate as Mary, or the Celtic Goddess Brigid becoming St Brigid in Christianity. It reminds us that all religions are connected.

 

 

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The Finished Holly Kings

Last post, I posted pictures of some of the Holly King decorations I made out of salt dough to give to friends and relatives for Christmas. I’ve made a few more, as well as painted and glazed them, so I thought I’d share the finished items here!

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This was the first one I made; I based the shape very much the one on the Green Man mask I made for Beltane. My husband thought it looked a bit scary from a non-Pagan perspective – a bit devilish, perhaps? So I tried to make the other Holly Kings without such pointy horns.

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I really like how this one turned out; I thought the shape looked very “classic,” like the Green Man faces you see at churches.

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This is another one of my favourites. I think it looks a little like a pixie! This one I didn’t put a hole in for the ribbon as I wasn’t sure if the final products would be strong enough to support their own weight when hung so I made some without holes – it turns out that after baking, they are pretty strong and I didn’t have anything to worry about. I plan to stick strong magnets on the backs of the ones without holes.

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I experimented with making a Holly King with a proper face, rather than just a mask. It turned out alright, but I decided I preferred the mask design better.

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Some other small masks, including an Ivy King (Queen) at the bottom.

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This is the smallest one I made. Making eye holds within the holly leaves on such a small scale is really difficult, so I cheated and poked in the eyes with a straw after putting in the holly. I don’t think the result is as nice as shaping the holly around existing eye holes. I think this one turned out cute though.

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These two were my least favourite – they were made in the second batch, and for some reason the salt dough didn’t turn out as well that time (I think it needed more flour), and the result was harder to shape and a bit flat. Also, with the Ivy King I experimented with a different painting process (painting dark on light as opposed to light on dark which is what I did for the others), and didn’t like the result as much. But as a pair, I think they go together really nicely so I’ll give them as a couple.

 

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Salt Dough Holly Kings

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Today I was racking my brains trying to think of the perfect Christmas gifts for some of my relatives. Then I remembered that one of my aunts likes to paint us pictures as gifts, and I thought, why don’t I try making something as well?

I thought about the Green Man mask I made for Beltane, and wanted to try something similar. So I decided to make some salt dough Holly King ornaments that my relatives could put on their Christmas trees. I’ve had a go making things with salt dough before and found it pretty easy and fun.

Above is the result. It was a lot of fun, and because they’re flat, the Holly kings turned out a lot better than my first salt dough ornaments. Now all I have to do is paint them and puts some nice ribbons on them for hanging on the tree! And if they turn out well, I think I’ll make some more…

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Yuletide Cards from Hedingham Fair

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While purchasing a Wassail Cup for my brother-in-law for his birthday (he decided to start a tradition of wassailing the trees in his garden last year) from the fantastic online Pagan/Folk shop Hedingham Fair, I also decided to buy two sets of 25 Winter Solstice / Yule Cards to give as Christmas cards this year.

For £12.00, I think this set was an absolute bargain. The cards are beautiful – especially the linocut ones, with their dark, bold borders and bright colours. Although very Pagan in flavour, incorporating Yuletide symbols like the Holly King, Stonehenge, Viking deities and druid’s sickles, they also have plenty of images of Christmas familiar to non-Pagans (candles, holly, mistletoe etc.), making them perfect for Pagans who want to give Christmas cards that subtly express their Pagan pride to non-Pagan friends. I’m really excited to give them!

After buying the “Winter Solstice” Bumper Set, I discovered that they also have a 25 card bumper set of “Christmas” Cards as well, which are slightly more Christmas-themed than Yule-themed (although the two are pretty similar). I also discovered they have some other designs not included in the 25 bumper back, which is kind of a shame because they’re so nice! (But I guess they have to leave some designs out to save many). Maybe next year I’ll buy these ones as well! But for this year I am really happy with my purchase and can totally recommend these beautiful cards for any Pagans out there still looking for the perfect Christmas cards for their loved ones.

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Christmas 2014

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Merry Christmas everyone!

As always I spent Christmas with my family, and since I’m pretty much out of the broom closet now in terms of them knowing that I’m a practising Pagan, this year I decided to make them some cookies with a bit of a Pagan spin on them – each one had a different rune cut into them (the recipe was basically the same I used for my Samhain soul cakes but with additional raw cane sugar for that extra Christmas flavour!). I let everyone pick their own cookie and look up their meaning on this chart.

My husband tried one with a Peorth/Hearth rune on it, which apparently means “Divination/Luck/Primal Law.” We’re looking for a house right now so I hope a rune with a combined meaning of “Hearth” and “Luck” foretells some good fortune in that area in 2015! My sister, who’s recently given birth to her second son, picked out the “Fertility” rune and refused to eat it!

Although fortune telling activities like this aren’t usually associated with Christmas (it’s more of a Halloween thing in Britain), it is associated very much with O-shogatsu (Japanese New Year). Dreams had on the night of New Year are taken very seriously as they are said to fortell the year ahead, while a popular activity that Japanese may do while visiting the temple or shrine at New Year is O-mikuji – a kind of fortune telling “raffle” where the participant receives a slip of paper that tells them how lucky they will be in the future.

Because my sister now has two young children, our Christmas celebrations have changed quite a bit – they’re far more child-orientated now, just like they were when my sister and I were children. I think this is how it should be. Christmas is a very magical time for children indeed, and they should definitely take central stage. And as a Pagan, I can now celebrate the Winter Solstice as a more spiritual and personal time, so everyone’s happy!

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An Impromptu Wassail

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An apple tree sapling hung with wassail toast. By Andy Dingley (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Tonight when I went to visit some friends at my sister’s house, something very unexpected happened – my non-Pagan family suddenly decided to hold the very Pagan tradition of wassailing!

My brother-in-law had just planted some new apple and pear trees, and had heard about the Yule tradition of wassailing in orchards to ensure healthy growth. So he decided to hold a little wassailing ceremony with my Dad, his best friend and myself, based on the information he found on wassailing on Wikipedia.

My brother-in-law poured out the wassail drink (spiced cider) into a large wooden chalice handmade by his uncle, which certainly looked the part. We then dipped some toast in the wassail and, as I was the only woman taking part, I was selected as the Wassail Queen to hang the toast on the tree, while the others intoned the traditional wassail song. My Dad sprinkled both the young and old fruit trees with wassail, and finally we all shared the remaining wassail together (I suggested saying “May you never thirst” when offering the wassail to each other, as we do in ceremonies at Medway Pagans).

I was really very surprised to see my otherwise non-Pagan family hold such a ceremony, even if it was held just for a bit of fun. I’d really love to encourage them to hold more Pagan rituals in the future…perhaps I can?!

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Yule 2014

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Dode Church, decorated for Christmas

My first ever Winter Solstice as a Pagan has turned out to be even more magical than I imagined.

The day began with watching the sun rise with my husband at Windmill Hill, the highest point in Gravesend (the great thing about watching the dawn at Yule is that you don’t have to get up too early to do it – the sun rose at 8:00 this morning). Due to the cloud cover and the houses and trees to the east, we didn’t actually get to see the sun, but that’s fine – I still made an offering of sherry to the Sun. At the moment of sunrise, my husband played Thus Spoke Zarathustra on his phone, which I’ve always found a perfect piece for representing the power and majesty of the dawn – but there was something quite comical about playing it when we couldn’t actually see the sun and it made us laugh!

We spent the rest of the day getting ready for my parents’ arrival, as I’d booked for us to all go for the annual carol concert at Dode Church, where we were married and handfasted. After enjoying some mulled wine, roast chestnuts and other snacks, we all went up to Dode.

The church had been especially decorated for Christmas, with boughs of evergreen and holly hanging here and there – including a huge arrangement above the altar with mistletoe hanging at the bottom. At the beginning, the church’s owner Doug explained the history of the church and the ancient village it once served, including their tragic demise through the Black Death. In memory of the people of Dode, the very first carol was dedicated to them and the electric lights in the church were dimmed, leaving only the flickering candle light. The carol chosen for this was “Silent Night,” the first verse of which (“Sleep in Heavenly peace“) was incredibly poignant when thinking of the people who used to live there. This was followed by a very lively and suitably medieval-sounding rendition of Gaudete, sung by a small a cappella choir (their only accompaniment was the occasional beat on the bodhran). The audience could then join in for the next three carols, which were Away In a Manger, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear and Hark the Herald Angels Sing. This was followed by a haunting solo performance of Little Road to Bethlehem by a very young, very talented singer. After this, the choir sung one of my favourite carols – the medieval Coventry Carol. It was so beautiful and moving that I was almost in tears. We then all sung The Holly and the Ivy and O Come All Ye Faithful, and finally the choir sang a really fun round of We Wish You A Merry Christmas. Right at the end, delicious mulled wine and mince pies were served, and we gave donations to the Children With Cancer charity.

This probably sounds like quite a Christian way to spend a Pagan celebration, but I really don’t see it any conflict with this at all. For one thing, Dode is not a consecrated church and it is in fact built on an ancient Pagan mound. This, in addition to the standing stones outside and the handfastings that Doug himself performs there, makes it a very Pagan-friendly place. I would even say that it’s one of the key places of Pagan “pilgrimage” in Kent. For another, my family and I really love carol singing – it probably comes from being ex-Catholics! Singing well-known songs about love and light with other people is a wonderful tradition that I’m not going to give up any time soon. Finally, I think the themes of many carols are very Pagan anyway, and it doesn’t take much imagination to interpret references to the baby Jesus as references to the rebirth of the sun. And songs such as “The Holly and the Ivy” are very Pagan anyway.

And the magic didn’t end when we returned. We heard the foxes making a lot of noise outside our house – perhaps their equivalent of carols to sing in the solstice! And then, my husband swore he saw a white fox. Anyone who knows anything at all about Shinto will know that the white fox is a very auspicious sign, especially for followers of Inari – perhaps the most auspicious sign of all. I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t see it myself, but I’m really glad that my husband saw it; I really hope it means good things are headed his way! I made some offerings to Inari-sama at my outside altar, including some festive chestnuts and a clementine, and thanked her for a wonderful solstice and for letting my husband see the white fox. All the time I was making my prayers, I could hear the foxes calling (although I didn’t see them).

Everything today, from watching sunrise with my husband to singing carols at the place where we were married, made this Yule a really, really special and memorable one. I feel somewhat sad that it’s all over now – but I still have Christmas and New Year to look forward to!

Some more photos from Dode:

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Yule Moot 2014 with Medway Pagans

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Tonight was a particularly special moot with Medway Pagans – a Yule ritual followed by traditional Christmas dinner. This is an annual event for Medway Pagans, but for the first time it was held at the social club where we meet rather than a restaurant.

The moot began with a ritual by one of Medway Pagans’ founders, who also happens to be one of my oldest friends (she also wrote our handfasting ritual). It’s the first time I’ve seen her perform a ritual and as always it was great – both serene and energising at the same time. She follows a particularly Wiccan-oriented path, and this showed in her ritual, which included casting a circle with an athame. That’s one thing I love about Medway Pagans – anyone can choose to lead a Sabbat ritual which leads to a lot of variation and personalisation. In keeping with Yule, she served spiced cider and chocolate yule log for the simple feast, which went down really well – although I regretted taking such a big slice of yule log once I saw the size of the dishes served at our three-course Yule meal!

One other thing that was a little different to other Medway Pagan rituals I’ve been to was we had some Pagan-friendly Christmas music playing in the background throughout the evening, including the ritual – I think it really added to the atmosphere and perhaps I’ll try the same thing when I come to lead my first ritual (Lammas).

ChiastoliteThe ritual was followed by the full Christmas dinner, including turkey, beef, sprouts, roast potatoes, mince pies, Christmas pudding – you name it! It was really, really delicious but so generous that we all struggled to finish it! We also did Secret Santa (the present my husband and I got was perfect because it was two bangles with pentagrams on them – his and hers!), pulled crackers and got merry and silly.

Right at the end, one of our members brought out some crystals that she sells, and I decided to buy a Chiastolite, a mineral I’ve never seen before – it has a distinct, natural cross pattern in the centre which I found fascinating.

It was a lot of fun and a fantastic way of celebrating the rebirth of the sun at the solstice.

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