The Powamu Festival is the mid-winter ceremony and also called the Bean Planting Festival. It is observed in late January or early February. The celebration lasts 8 days and is mainly celebrated by the Hopi Indians in Arizona.
The Hopis call their ancestral spirits, Katchinas. They believe that for 6 months of the year, these spirits leave their mountain homes and visit the tribe. When they do this, they bring along with them good health to the Hopi and rain for their crops. The Powamu Festival celebrates the spirits return, just like the Niman Katchina ceremony in July celebrates their departure.
The preparations for the ceremony include repainting of the masks that will be worn by those Hopi who impersonate the Katchinas. On the third day, young men bring baskets of wet sand that they leave near the entrance to the kiva, the ceremonial meeting room (see more about this on Wuwuchim page). A hot fire also burns in every kiva of very Hopi village the entire 8 days of the Powamu Festival. Blankets are also stretched across the opening so that the atmosphere inside is similar to a hothouse.
Each man who enters the kiva during this period carries a basket (or bowl) of sand into it. He also plants a handful of beans, which sprout really fast due to all the heat and humidity inside the kiva.
Why bean sprouts? The Hopi believe that bean sprouts represent fertility. Because the Hopi rely strongly on the Katchinas to bring rain (and other good weather conditions) essential to the growth of their crops, bean sprouts also symbolize the approaching spring too.
The Powamu comes to it’s conclusion with a dance that takes place in the nine kivas that dot the northeastern Arizona mesa. The bodies of the dancers are painted red and white and they wear squash blossoms in their hair. These are really yucca fibers twisted into the shape of a squash blossom. They also wear white kilts and sashes, plus leggings with a fringe of shells tied down the side.
The dance takes place inside the hot kiva and is done in two lines. When the dance is over, the dancers then leave for the next village’s kiva, and another group arrives. So, by the time the night is over, each group will have danced at all of the nine kivas.
Then, the Katchinas arrive the next morning wear masks and painted bodies. They bring dolls and rattles for the girls; and, bow and arrows for the boys. Both of the boys and girls get the green bean sprouts that have been growing in the hot kivas.
Clowns run around making jokes, tripping each other and performing pantomines for everyone’s pleasure and fun. The conclusion of the Powamu ends with a feast in which bean sprouts are the main ingredient.
From this time until their departure in July, the Katchinas appear regularly in masked ceremonies performed in the Hopi villages.
The men who impersonate the Katchinas wear masks which vary from year to year. A few of the masks will, however, remain the same. Before the dance, the masks are repainted and refurbished. They are made to fit closely over the head, hiding it totally. There is also a ruff of feathers, fur or spruce at the neck. The face on the mask usually resembles a bird, a beast, a monster or a man or a combination of all of these.
Those who wear the Katchina masks usually also carry an object associated with the being they are suppose to represent (i.e. bow and arrow, a yucca whip or feathers.)
The female Katchinas (who are not really women but are impersonated by the men) wear wigs or long hair styled in flat swirls over the ears known as squash blossoms. This hair style represents virginity.
The Soyokmana is a witch-like creature that carries a crook and a bloody knife. She goes along with the Katchinas as they go from Hopi village to another visiting their kivas. This group also goes from house to house demanding food, receiving gifts and presenting bean sprouts.
When the food they are offered does not meet their requirements, the Katchinas get upset and make hooting and whistling noises and refuse to leave until they have been properly fed! (This sort of reminds me of trick or treating on Halloween.) Sometimes that mean ol’ Soyokamana will use her crook to hook a child around the neck and hold him or her there, screaming in terror. Parents tell their children that this is a punishment for being naughty.
The Flogging Ceremony
Up until a Hopi child is 9 or 10, they believe that the Katchinas are superhuman. So when Hopi children, who have been seeing the Katchinas at many ceremonial dances grow up, they are told that the real Katchinas no longer visit the earth, but are merely impersonated by men wearing masks.
The price for this sudden wisdom is to participate in a ritual flogging or whipping ceremony. Now, the children are NEVER struck hard enough to cause serious injury or pain! This ritual is not intended to be cruel. In fact, sometimes a child who is really frightened, isn’t flogged at all but has a yucca whip whirled over his or her head. Occasionally, an adult will be flogged too, which is believed to promote healing.
For four successive mornings, the child who has been flogged is taken to a special place on the mesa where he or she can make an offering at a shrine and casts meal towards the sun. During the first 3 days of this 4 day period, the child is not allowed to eat salt or meat. But, on the fourth day, these rules are lifted. And, from this time on, the child is now allowed to look at the Katchinas without their masks and at other sacred objects in the kiva without incurring any punishment.
“Welcome everything! Welcome all alike what has been, and what never was, and what we hope may be, to your shelter underneath the holly, to your places around the Christmas fire, where what is sits.”
The wassail—a centuries old tradition from Great Britain—is a joy-filled party celebrating the Winter Solstice, Christmastime and happy tidings. Indeed, many of the traditions of this likeable event are the originators of well-known seasonal classics (like caroling, for one).
The word wassail itself comes from the old Norse “ves heill,” which literally means “be healthy.” It is a toast of goodwill and is at the heart of what wassailing is all about.
These days a wassail is a party, but, in centuries past wassailing mainly involved people singing carols from door-to-door, such as “Here We Come a Wassailing” or “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Sound familiar? The carolers would carry a bowl of wassail, which was a hot mulled wine or some kind of warm, apple-based beverage. Often people floated a piece of toasted bread on top of the steaming wassail, which was the origin of our modern-day expression “I would like to propose a toast.”
When carolers entered a home they would sing, share the wassail and receive eats and drinks themselves (such as plum pudding or shepherd’s pie), at which time toasts for a merry Christmas and happy tidings for a new year would be exchanged by all.
One legend about how Wassailing was created, says that a beautiful Saxon maiden named Rowena presented Prince Vortigen with a bowl of wine while toasting him with the words ‘waes hael‘. Over the centuries, a great deal of ceremony developed around the custom of drinking wassail. The bowl was carried into a room with a great fanfare, a traditional carol about the drink was sung, and finally, the steaming hot beverage was served.
Today, wassails are still held in homes or as public celebrations in many countries throughout the world, such as Great Britain, Canada and the U.S. The celebrations can be as simple as gathering some friends for hot cider to more elaborate celebrations involving the production of short plays (called mummer plays) or caroling through apple orchards.
To host your own wassail:
- Invite friends and family to share the occasion.
- Dress up the house for a festive holiday occasion.
- Serve a warm beverage, such as spiced apple cider, mulled wine or the like, from a bowl. This is a must! Otherwise, it’s not really a wassail.
- Serve food that’s warm and hearty, like beef pot pie or warm potato wedges with bacon, cheese and sour cream toppings. Christmas pudding or any kind of spice cake or pound cake should do nicely for dessert.
- Play festive Christmas music in the background. (Or, better yet, sing along with carols if so inclined.)
- Partake in games that involve teams of players, like charades, Cranium, Pictionary or Taboo.
The object is simply to have a good time and share the joy of the season!
One of the most popular Wassailing Carols:
A Wassail Bowl
Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a-wassailing,
So fair to be seen:
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too,
And God bless you and send you,
A happy New Year,
And God send you,
A happy new year.
Here is a simple wassail ceremony.
- Heat a large container of ale or beer – about 3 or 4 pints.
- Add 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup mixed spices (cinnamon sticks and whole cloves are also excellent)
- Cut up 2 or 3 small sweet apples and add those.
- Add 1 1/4 cup of pineapple juice and the same of orange.
- Squeeze 2 lemons into the brew.
Place over a slow flame; then, before it begins to boil, take off the heat and whip up some cream. Let this float on top of the brew like foam. Put into a suitably large bowl (the more ornate the better).
Toast several slices of bread, if you have fruit cake you can use pieces of that instead.
Now, with a few friends, go out to the tree or trees (see note below).
Dip pieces of toasted bread into the brew and place in the branches of the tree. Hang pieces of bread and cake from the higher twigs to encourage robins (guardian spirits of the trees). Bend the lower branches down and dip their ends in the brew.
Wet the roots liberally with the brew. Pass the rest around and when everyone is thoroughly warmed up, sing a wassailing song. Lift your glasses to the tree and shout “Huzzah!” three times as loudly as you can.
These don’t have to be apple trees, since any tree will benefit from a well-intentioned blessing, but it is traditional to wassail fruit-bearing trees. You can wassail the trees in your yard, near your home, or trees in some previously selected area.
The Sun will “die” at midnight on December 21, but don’t panic, it will “rebirth” on midnight December 24. This occurs at the beginning of Winter every year for the past 4.6 billion years. It is called the Winter Solstice, “sun stood still”, and is considered the shortest day in the year in terms of hours of sunlight.
It is a three-day period when the hours of daylight are at its shortest and the hours of night (darkness) are at its longest. Noticeably, the sun progressively sets earlier each evening after June 22 (The Summer Solstice – longest hours of sunlight) and night fall comes the earliest on December 21. Hence daylight savings time put our clock one hour back to make up for the shorter hours of day light.
Needless to say, the Sun is vital to our life here on earth and is one of the most important star in our world. It is the nearest star to Earth and is believed to be formed 4.6 billion years ago. It is the most important source of energy for life on Earth and its diameter is about 109 times that of Earth, with mass about 330,000 times that of Earth. The sun accounts for about 99.86% of the total mass of the Solar System and is so large that about 1,300,000 planet Earths can fit inside of it.
Worthy of Worshiping?
Well, our ancestors did just that more than 9000 years ago and it is still being done today. The ancients selected December 21, the Winter Solstice as the ideal time to invoke the sun. Maybe if you were living in the north pole and had long, dark harsh winters to deal with you might want to invoke the sun too.
In the solar myth, the death of the “old sun” occurs as the length of daylight decreases and becomes its lowest at the Winter Solstice which begins on the midnight of December 21 (early morning December 22) and ends on Midnight December 24 (early morning December 25). The sun stop moving south on December 22, it is then at its lowest point in the Northern Hemisphere, residing in the vicinity of the Southern Cross. It stays at this lowest point for three days (December 22, 23, 24 appearing to not moving south or north and was considered “dead”).
It “returns to life” at midnight on December 24/ early morning December 25, when it begins its northern journey again and the hours of sunlight start to lengthen. Therefore, the ancients said that the SUN was born on December 25. As a result, festivals and feasts were done to honor Sol or Mithra.
Interestingly, on December 24, Sirius (star in the east and brightest star in the night sky) aligns with the three brightest Orion belt stars called the Three Kings, (Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka) and on December 25, these all point to the location where the sun will rise on earth that day. In essence, the three kings follow the star in the east to find the sunrise (birth of the sun).
Solar deities and Sun worship can be found throughout most of recorded history in various forms, including:
- Ra ~ Egypt,
- Mithra ~ Persia,
- Apollo ~ Rome
- Surya ~ India
- Amaterasu ~ Japan
- Sol ~ Germanic
- Tonatiuh ~ Aztec
- Jesus ~ Christianity
Birthday of the SUN or the SON?
As a Baptist, I grew up with the belief that December 25 is the birthdate of Jesus Christ and as such we worship and acknowledge it as Christmas. Indeed, Christmas is big— very big. The entire Island of Jamaica comes to a virtual standstill. Schools and colleges are closed; businesses shut down to give their employees time off; many families plan trips and get-togethers; Church attendance increase; and gifts are given by even those who were scrooge all year long. Maybe you recall, the Christmas Carol that even erroneously say “ Long time ago in Bethlehem, so the Holy Bible said, Mary’s boy child Jesus Christ, was born on Christmas Day”
However, recall all these activities were already being done in Rome, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Egypt to acknowledge and worship the birth day of Sol Invicta (the Unconquered Sun) up to 4000 years before Jesus Christ was born. It then begs the question, whose birthday are we celebrating on December 25? Does Jesus the SON share the birthday with the SUN?
How did the birth of the Sun get changed?
According to scriptures, Jesus Christ was whipped, spat upon, publicly dishonored then killed by the Church (Caiaphas the high priest) and the State (Pilate the Roman governor). After Jesus’s death, his followers had to go “underground” as they too were meeting the same or worse fate than Christ. These “Followers of Christ” (not Christians as Christianity wasn’t start as yet) were stripped and flogged with whips, stoned to death, and persecuted.
Yet, despite the persecution, the “Followers of Jesus” went underground and their church started to flourish and soon became a major concern to the Roman government. They were blamed for spreading “mischief” that Jesus Christ was king and lord, and was crucified to save our souls. Followers of Christ were also accused of destabilizing the economy and threatening civil war.
To stop the possibility of civil war and at the same time keep the existing pagan occult worshipers, Constantine, in AD 326 at the Council of Nicaea, “married” Christ like sentiments (name and life story) with that of Rome’s mysticism and called it Christianity. This new “Christianity” became the official religion of Rome and the SUN was replaced by the SON with Isis and Osiris became Mary and Jesus. December 25 was then decreed as Jesus birthday with the Spring Equinox full moon in March/April designated as his death day.
In short, today’s Christianity is an unholy marriage of Roman Idolatry and Christ sentiments designed by Constantine to maintain religious and political if not economical order and harmony in the empire.
Sol Invictus (Unconquered Sun) is a very important star in our solar system without a doubt. As the main source of energy, we can understand the need to recognize it and maybe even glorify its daily presence in our lives. Many people deliberately and some unwittingly worship and glorify the SUN between December 21 – 25 to show appreciation.
If you are interested, a Ritual to Bring The Sun can be found in the Book of Shadows, and a number of invocations, prayers, and poetry specifically dedicated to the Sun can be found at Widdershins.
Honoring The Sun Every Day
One really great way to honor the Sun (and yourself) is with a series of body positions called Sun Salutations. An excellent time to begin this ritual is on the morning of the Winter Solstice just as the sun is rising, (facing east). If a sunrise Sun Salutation isn’t possible, but you want to include this in your morning routine, pick a time before breakfast, and that will be fine.
The Sun Salutation, (Surya Namaskar), is a series of 12 yoga postures performed in a single, graceful flow. Each movement is coordinated with the breath. Inhale as you extend or stretch, and exhale as you fold or contract. The Sun Salutation builds strength and increases flexibility. Different styles of yoga perform the Sun Salutation with their own variations. However, the flow presented below covers core steps used in most styles.
For the series below, a single round consists of two complete sequences: one for the right side of the body and the other for the left.
Even on days when you think you have no time for yoga, try and do at least one or two rounds of the Sun Salutation. You’ll feel the difference.
Begin by standing in Mountain pose, feet about hip width apart, hands either by your sides or in prayer position. Take several deep breaths.
2. Hands up:
On your next inhale, in one sweeping movement, raise your arms up overhead and gently arch back as far as feels comfortable and safe.
3. Head to knees:
As you exhale, bend forward, bending the knees if necessary, and bring your hands to rest beside your feet.
Inhale and step the right leg back.
Exhale and step the left leg back into plank position. Hold the position and inhale.
Exhale and lower yourself as if coming down from a pushup. Only your hands and feet should touch the floor.
7. Upward Dog
Inhale and stretch forward and up, bending at the waist. Use your arms to lift your torso, but only bend back as far as feels comfortable and safe. Lift your legs up so that only the tops of your feet and your hands touch the floor. It’s okay to keep your arms bent at the elbow.
8. Downward dog
Exhale, lift from the hips and push back and up.
Inhale and step the right foot forward.
10. Head to knees
Exhale, bring the left foot forward and step into head-to-knee position.
11. Hands up
Inhale and rise slowly while keeping arms extended .
Exhale, and in a slow, sweeping motion, lower your arms to the sides. End by bringing your hands up into prayer position. Repeat the sequence, stepping with the left leg.
Put it all together, and it looks like this:
If the stick figures are not quite “doing” it for you, here’s a video:
- One practice consists of lighting and burning a Yule Log.
If you choose to burn one, select a proper log of oak or pine. Carve (with your Bolline) or chalk upon it a figure of the Sun (a rayed disc) or the Horned God (a horned circle). Set it alight in the fireplace at dusk, on Yule. This is a graphic representation of the rebirth of the God within the sacred fire of the Mother Goddess.
As the log burns, visualize the Sun shining within it and think of the coming warmer days. Traditionally, a portion of the Yule Log is saved to be used in lighting next year’s log. This piece is kept throughout the year to protect the home.
- The second type of Yule Log is not burned up, but rather holds three candles for burning.
Find a suitable log of oak or pine and flatten one side of it so that it will lay flat. Drill three holes in the side that is up, the correct size for holding three taper candles. The candles should be red, green and white (to represent the season), or green, gold and black (to represent the Sun God), or white, red and black (to represent the Great Goddess).
You can further decorate your Yule Log however you choose to – using holly, mistletoe, red ribbons and bows, or whatever you prefer.
Source: Citadel of the Dragons
Winter Solstice has been celebrated in cultures the world over for thousands of years. This start of the solar year is a celebration of Light and the rebirth of the Sun. In old Europe, it was known as Yule, from the Norse, Jul, meaning wheel.
Today, many people in Western-based cultures refer to this holiday as “Christmas.” Yet a look into its origins of Christmas reveals its Pagan roots.
Emperor Aurelian established December 25 as the birthday of the “Invincible Sun” in the third century as part of the Roman Winter Solstice celebrations. Shortly thereafter, in 273, the Christian church selected this day to represent the birthday of Jesus, and by 336, this Roman solar feast day was Christianized. January 6, celebrated as Epiphany in Christendom and linked with the visit of the Magi, was originally an Egyptian date for the Winter Solstice.
Most of the customs, lore, symbols, and rituals associated with “Christmas” actually are linked to Winter Solstice celebrations of ancient Pagan cultures. While Christian mythology is interwoven with contemporary observances of this holiday time, its Pagan nature is still strong and apparent.
Pagans today can readily re-Paganize Christmastime and the secular New Year by giving a Pagan spiritual focus to existing holiday customs and by creating new traditions that draw on ancient ways. Here are some ways to do this: Celebrate Yule with a series of rituals, feasts, and other activities.
In most ancient cultures, the celebration lasted more than a day. The ancient Roman Saturnalia festival sometimes went on for a week. Have Winter Solstice Eve and Day be the central focus for your household, and conceptualize other holiday festivities, including New Year’s office parties and Christmas visits with Christian relatives, as part of your Solstice celebration. By adopting this perspective, Pagan parents can help their children develop an understanding of the multicultural and interfaith aspects of this holiday time and view “Christmas” as just another form of Solstice.
Have gift exchanges and feasts over the course of several days and nights as was done of old. Party hearty on New Year’s Eve not just to welcome in the new calendar year, but also to welcome the new solar year.
Adorn the home with sacred herbs and colors. Decorate your home in Druidic holiday colors red, green, and white. Place holly, ivy, evergreen boughs, and pine cones around your home, especially in areas where socializing takes place.
Hang a sprig of mistletoe above a major threshold and leave it there until next Yule as a charm for good luck throughout the year. Have family/household members join together to make or purchase an evergreen wreath. Include holiday herbs in it and then place it on your front door to symbolize the continuity of life and the wheel of the year. If you choose to have a living or a harvested evergreen tree as part of your holiday decorations, call it a Solstice tree and decorate it with Pagan symbols.
Convey love to family, friends, and associates. At the heart of Saturnalia was the custom of family and friends feasting together and exchanging presents. Continue this custom by visiting, entertaining, giving gifts, and sending greetings by mail and/or phone. Consider those who are and/or have been important in your life and share appreciation.
Reclaim Santa Claus as a Pagan Godform. Today’s Santa is a folk figure with multicultural roots. He embodies characteristics of:
- Saturn (Roman agricultural god)
- Cronos (Greek god, also known as Father Time)
- Holly King (Celtic god of the dying year)
- Father Ice/Grandfather Frost (Russian winter god)
- Thor (Norse sky god who rides the sky in a chariot drawn by goats)
- Odin/Wotan (Scandinavian/Teutonic All-Father who rides the sky on an eight-legged horse)
- Frey (Norse fertility god)
- Tomte (a Norse Land Spirit known for giving gifts to children at this time of year)
Santa’s reindeer can be viewed as forms of Herne, the Celtic Horned God. Decorate your home with Santa images that reflect His Pagan heritage.
Honor the Goddess as Great Mother. Place Pagan Mother Goddess images around your home. You may also want to include one with a Sun child, such as Isis with Horus. Pagan Goddess forms traditionally linked with this time of year include:
- Tonantzin (Native Mexican corn mother)
- Holda (Teutonic earth goddess of good fortune)
- Bona Dea (Roman women’s goddess of abundance and prophecy)
- Ops (Roman goddess of plenty)
- Au Set/Isis (Egyptian/multicultural All Goddess whose worship continued in Christian times under the name Mary)
- Lucina/St. Lucy (Roman/Swedish goddess/saint of light)
- Befana (Italian Witch who gives gifts to children at this season)
Honor the new solar year with light. Do a Solstice Eve ritual in which you meditate in darkness and then welcome the birth of the sun by lighting candles and singing chants and Pagan carols.
If you have a indoor fireplace or an outdoor fire circle, burn an oak log as a Yule log and save a bit to start next year’s fire. Decorate the inside and/or outside of your home with electric colored lights. Because of the popularity of five pointed stars as holiday symbols, this is a good time to display a pentagram of blue or white lights.
Contribute to the manifestation of more wellness on Planet Earth. Donate food and clothing to poor in your area. Volunteer time at a social service agency. Put up bird feeders and keep them filled throughout the winter to supplement the diets of wild birds. Donate funds and items to non-profit groups, such as Pagan/Wiccan churches and environmental organizations. Meditate for world peace. Work magic for a healthier planet. Make a pledge to do some form of good works in the new solar year.
by Selena Fox
The Winter Solstice or Yule is one of the Lesser Wiccan Sabbats, and it is also the shortest day of the year, and hence – the longest night. This usually takes place on December 20th or 21st, although it does sometimes occur on the 22nd or 23rd (check your calendar as it changes from year to year).
Other than the most common name of Yule, various other names for the Winter Solstice include:
- Yuletide (the Teutonic version)
- Alban Arthan (Caledonii Tradition, or the Druids)
- Feill Fionnain (Pecti-Wita Tradition, which falls on December 22nd).
Yuletide lasts from December 20th through December 31st. It begins on “Mother Night” and ends twelve days later, on “Yule Night”, hence the “Twelve Days of Christmas” tradition. Alban Arthan, unlike all the others, is not considered a fire festival.
Some other names for this Sabbat that are used less commonly are: Sun Return, Pagan New Year, Saturnalia (Roman), Great Day of the Cauldron, and Festival of Sol.
Yule is a time of the Goddess of the Cold Darkness and the birth of the Divine Child, the reborn Sun God. It is a time of renewal and rebirth during Winter, and the turning of the Earth force tides. A time when the waxing Sun overcomes the waning Sun. In some traditions, this is symbolized by the struggle between the Oak King and the Holly King.
The Holly King, represents the Death aspect of the God at this time of year; and the Oak King, represents the opposite aspect of Rebirth (these roles are reversed at Midsummer). This can be likened to the Divine Child’s birth. The myth of the Holly King/Oak King probably originated from the Druids to whom these two trees were highly sacred. The Oak King (God of the Waxing Year) kills the Holly King (God of the Waning Year) at Yule (the Winter Solstice). The Oak King then reigns supreme until Litha (the Summer Solstice) when the two battle again, this time with the Holly King victorious.
Examples of the Holly King’s image can be seen in our modern Santa Claus. He dons a sprig of holly in his hat, wears red clothing, and drives a team of eight (total number of Solar Sabbats) reindeer, an animal sacred to the Celtic Gods (deer). Mistletoe and holly came into modern Christmas celebrations through the memorializing of this battle. The holly with berries are hung in honor of the Holly King and mistletoe in honor of the Oak King. Although the Holly King and Oak King are mortal enemies at the two Solstices – Yule and Litha – it should be remembered that they are actually two sides of one whole, and neither would exist without the other.
Since this is a Solar Festival, it is celebrated by fire and the use of many candles orthe Yule Log. The colors of the season – red and green – are of original Pagan descent. Symbols representing Yule include an eight-spoked wheel symbol, evergreens, wreaths, holly, mistletoe, Yule Trees (very similar to the familiar “Christmas Trees”), or a small potted tree, and Yule Logs.
The act of decorating the Yule Tree, wreaths of holly, and the exchange of gifts are also Pagan derivatives. The Yule Tree can be a living, potted tree which can later be planted in the ground, a cut one, or even an artificial one. The choice is yours.
Appropriate Wiccan decorations range from strings of dried rosebuds, cinnamon sticks, popcorn or cranberries for garlands to bags of fragrant spices hung from boughs. Quartz crystals can be wrapped with shiny wire and suspended from sturdy branches to resemble icicles. Apples, oranges, lemons, nuts of all kinds and cookies hanging from boughs and branches are strikingly beautiful; and can be real or artificial, depending on your taste. These natural decorations were customary in ancient times. The reindeer stag is also a reminder of the Horned God. You will find that many traditional Christmas decorations have some type of Pagan ancestry or significance that can be added to your Yule holiday.
Deities to honor at this time of year include all Newborn Gods and Sun Gods, and all Mother Goddesses and Triple Goddesses. Appropriate Yule Gods include Apollo (Greek), Ra, Osiris, Horus, (all three are Egyptian), Lugh (Irish-Celtic), Odin (Norse), Father Sun (Native American), and Jesus (Christian-Gnostic), to name a few. Goddesses might include the Morrigan, Brigit (both Celtic), Isis (Egyptian), Demeter, Gaea, Pandora, Selene, and Artemis (all five are Greek), Juno and Diana (both Roman), Astarte (Middle Eastern), Spinning Woman (Native American) and the Virgin Mary (Christian-Gnostic).
Ritually, you may want to light fires within the Circle (in the cauldron, for instance), light candles and carry them around the Circle or bring the Yule log into the Circle and include it in your ceremony. Bayberry candles can be burned to ensure prosperity, growth and happiness throughout the following year. These can be inscribed with runes for health and money, or whatever is desired before lighting. They shall be lit at sunset and allowed to burn until they go out by themselves. An old Germanic poem says “A bayberry candle burned to the socket brings food to the larder and gold to the pocket.”
Spellwork for balance, beauty, peace, and harmony are great to perform at this time of the Pagan year. Love spells and spells to increase happiness are also appropriate. Key actions to remember for Yule are introspection and meditation.
The most common colors used at this Sabbat are red and green, but gold and white are also quite appropriate. Stones to be used at this celebration include bloodstones, rubies, and garnets. Animals associated with the Yule Sabbat are stags, squirrels, wrens and robins. Mythical creatures associated with Yule are the Phoenix, and trolls. Herbs and plants that can be used include holly, mistletoe, evergreens, poinsettias, bay, pine, ginger, valerian, and myrrh.
The foods of Yule include nuts, fruits such as apples and pears, cookies and cakes of caraway soaked in cider, and (for non-vegetarians) pork are all traditional fare. Fine drinks for the Yule celebration or meals include Wassail (a hot drink made from wine, beer or cider, spices, sugar, and usually baked apples—served in a large bowl), lamb’s wool (ale mixed with sugar, nutmeg and the pulp of roasted apples), hibiscus or ginger tea, and apple cider.
Source: Citadel of The Dragons
The winter solstice (or hibernal solstice), also known as midwinter, is an astronomical phenomenon marking the day with the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year. In the Northern Hemisphere this is the December solstice and in the Southern Hemisphere this is the June solstice.
The Winter Solstice has been celebrated for millennia by cultures and religions all over the world. Many modern pagan religions are descended in spirit from the ancient pre-Christian religions of Europe and the British Isles, and honor the divine as manifest in nature, the turning of the seasons, and the powerfully cyclical nature of life.
Worldwide, interpretation of the event has varied across cultures, but many have held a recognition of rebirth, involving holidays, festivals, gatherings, rituals or other celebrations around that time.
Most pagan religions are polytheistic, honoring both male and female deities, which are seen by some as two aspects of one non-gendered god, by others as two separate by complementing beings, and by others as entire pantheons of gods and goddesses.
It is common for the male god(s) to be represented in the sun, the stars, in summer grain, and in the wild animals and places of the earth. The stag is a powerful representation of the male god, who is often called “the horned god.”
The Goddess is most often represented in the earth as a planet, the moon, the oceans, and in the domestic animals and the cultivated areas of the earth.
In many pagan traditions the Winter Solstice symbolizes the rebirth of the sun god from his mother, the earth goddess. The Winter Solstice is only one of eight seasonal holidays celebrated by modern pagans.
The solstice may have been a special moment of the annual cycle for some cultures even during neolithic times. Astronomical events were often used to guide activities such as the mating of animals, the sowing of crops and the monitoring of winter reserves of food.
Many cultural mythologies and traditions are derived from this. This is attested by physical remains in the layouts of late Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeological sites, such as Stonehenge in England and Newgrange in Ireland.
The primary axes of both of these monuments seem to have been carefully aligned on a sight-line pointing to the winter solstice sunrise (Newgrange) and the winter solstice sunset (Stonehenge). It is significant that at Stonehenge the Great Trilithon was oriented outwards from the middle of the monument, i.e. its smooth flat face was turned towards the midwinter Sun.
The winter solstice was immensely important because the people were economically dependent on monitoring the progress of the seasons. Starvation was common during the first months of the winter, January to April (northern hemisphere) or July to October (southern hemisphere), also known as “the famine months”.
In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began. Most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter, so it was almost the only time of year when a plentiful supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking at this time.
The concentration of the observances were not always on the day commencing at midnight or at dawn, but at the beginning of the pagan day, which in many cultures fell on the previous eve. Because the event was seen as the reversal of the Sun’s ebbing presence in the sky, concepts of the birth or rebirth of sun gods have been common and, in cultures which used cyclic calendars based on the winter solstice, the “year as reborn” was celebrated with reference to life-death-rebirth deities or “new beginnings” such as Hogmanay’s redding, a New Year cleaning tradition. Also “reversal” is yet another frequent theme, as in Saturnalia’s slave and master reversals.
A Winter Solstice reading:
This is the night of the Solstice, the longest night of the year. Now darkness triumphs, yet gives way and changes into light. The breath of Nature is suspended: all waits while within the Cauldron, the Dark King is transformed into the infant light. We watch for the coming of Dawn, when the great Mother again gives birth to the Divine child Sun, who is bringer of hope and the promise of summer. This is the stillness behind motion, when time itself stops; the center, which is also the circumference of all. We are awake in the Night. We turn the Wheel to bring the Light. We call the sun from the womb of night.
Celebrating the Winter Solstice
At the Winter Solstice we celebrate by bringing warmth, light and cheerfulness into this dark time of the year. Holidays such as this have their origins as “holy days”. They are the way human beings mark the sacred times in the yearly cycle of life.
On this shortest day of the year, the sun is at its lowest and weakest, a pivot point from which the light will grow stronger and brighter. This is the pivot point of the year. The Romans called it Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.
A simple way to celebrate this day is with a small candle lighting ceremony. The purpose being to celebrate this time of renewal in our lives, to give thanksgiving for the past and the present and to offer a blessing for the year to come.
- How to:
Create a small sacred space. Decorate it in a way that feels cheerful, warm, and bright. In the center place a white candle. As the sun sets on this day, light the candle, and say a few words about bringing the light forth in your life, in the lives of your family and loved ones in the coming year. Either allow the candle to burn out of it’s own accord, or relight it every evening until Jan 1st.
From Wikipedia and other sources
The Dōngzhì Festival or Winter Solstice Festival is one of the most important festivals celebrated by the Chinese and other East Asians during the Dōngzhì solar term (winter solstice) on or around December 22 when sunshine is weakest and daylight shortest.
The origins of this festival can be traced back to the yin and yang philosophy of balance and harmony in the cosmos. After this celebration, there will be days with longer daylight hours and therefore an increase in positive energy flowing in. The philosophical significance of this is symbolized by the I Ching hexagram fù (復, “Returning”).
To really get a feel for the Dōngzhì Festival, you have to imagine hard, rural living during a gray Han Dynasty winter more than 2,000 years ago.
Now picture a family meal at a table set with hearty, warming foods, raising the hopes for spring’s arrival. That’s the spirit of the Dōngzhì Festival.
The Dōngzhì Festival marries the winter solstice with nature’s harmonious balance of yin and yang energy. From this point forward, dongzhi (i.e. the extreme of winter) and the negative yin qualities of darkness and cold give way to the positive yang qualities of light and warmth. In other words, take heart — spring will come.
Traditionally, the Dōngzhì Festival was a day to regroup with a family get together before tackling the last leg of winter. Today, with survival less of a daily concern and no time off granted, the Dōngzhì Festival is celebrated mostly with a family meal full of warm, hearty foods. One activity that occurs during these get togethers (especially in the southern parts of China and in Chinese communities overseas) is the making and eating of tangyuan, or balls of glutinous rice, which symbolize reunion.
Tangyuan are made of glutinous rice flour and sometimes brightly colored. Each family member receives at least one large tangyuan in addition to several small ones. The flour balls may be plain or stuffed. They are cooked in a sweet soup or savory broth with both the ball and the soup/broth served in one bowl. It is also often served with a mildly alcoholic unfiltered rice wine containing whole grains of glutinous rice (and often also Sweet Osmanthus flowers), called jiuniang.
- Here’s a recipe for Glutinous Rice Balls
In northern China, people typically eat dumplings on Dōngzhì. It is said to have originated from Zhang Zhongjing in the Han Dynasty. On one cold winter day, he saw the poor suffering from chilblains on their ears. Feeling sympathetic, he ordered his apprentices to make dumplings with lamb and other ingredients, and distribute them among the poor to keep them warm, to keep their ears from getting chilblains.
Since the dumplings were shaped like ears, Zhang named the dish “qùhán jiāoěr tāng” (祛寒嬌耳湯) or dumpling soup that expels the cold. From that time on, it has been a tradition to eat dumplings on the day of Dōngzhì.
- Here’s a recipe for Lamb Dumplings
Old traditions also require people with the same surname or from the same clan to gather at their ancestral temples to worship on this day. There is always a grand reunion dinner following the sacrificial ceremony.
The festive food is also a reminder that we are now a year older and should behave better in the coming year. Even today, many Chinese around the world, especially the elderly, still insist that one is “a year older” right after the Dōngzhì celebration instead of waiting for the Chinese New Year.
To Taiwanese people, the festival in winter also plays a very important role. It is also a tradition for Taiwanese to eat tangyuan on this day. They also use the festive food as an offering dish to worship the ancestors.
In an interesting twist, in accordance with ancient Taiwanese history, many people take some of the tangyuan that have been used as offerings and stick them on the back of the door or on windows and tables and chairs. These “empowered” tangyuan supposedly serve as protective talismans to keep evil spirits from coming close to children.
In addition to following some of the customs practiced in China, the people of Taiwan have their own unique custom of offering nine-layer cakes as a ceremonial sacrifice to worship their ancestors.
- Here’s a recipe for Nine Layer Cake
These cakes are made using glutinous rice flour in the shape of a chicken, duck, tortoise, pig, cow or sheep, and then steamed in different layers of a pot. These animals all signify auspiciousness in Chinese tradition.
Another interesting custom in Taiwan is that many people take invigorating tonic foods during this particular winter festival. To the Taiwanese, winter is a time when most physical activities should be limited and you should eat well to nourish your body. This practice follows the habits shown by many animals which follow the law of nature and hibernate throughout winter months to rejuvenate and to preserve life. In order to fight cold temperatures, it is necessary to eat more fatty and meaty foods during winter when your body can better absorb the rich and nutritional foods at this time due to a slower metabolic rate.
Since Dōngzhì is the “Extreme of Winter”, Taiwanese regard it as the best time of the year to take tonic foods. Some of the most widely popular winter tonic foods enjoyed by Taiwanese to fight cold and strengthen the body’s resistance are mutton hot pot and ginger duck hot pot. Other foods like chicken, pork and abalone are also common materials used in making tonic foods with nurturing herbs such as ginseng, deer horn and the fungus cordyceps.
In northern China, people eat lamb dumplings for the Dōngzhì Festival, a tribute to the Han Dynasty physician, Zhang Zhongjing, who served this warming food to poor farmers suffering from frostbite during one particularly cold winter.
Celebrating the Dōngzhì Festival is all about understanding the simple enjoyment of a warm, fortifying meal on a cold winter night in ancient China. It’s that same feeling you had as a child when you came in from a day of playing in the snow to a cup of hot cocoa or a bowl of steaming soup.
Against that backdrop, this lamb dumpling recipe is the perfect match. The rustic taste of lamb, combined with a black vinegar and chili dipping sauce, gives these dumplings a distinctly northern Chinese flavor. A perfect meal to serve during the depths of winter.
In contrast to traditional pork dumplings, which can be fried as potstickers, these lamb dumplings are either steamed or boiled in thin gow gee dumpling wrappers. The boiled dumplings are soft and slippery, while the steamed dumplings are more elastic, but both versions produce a satisfying broth that makes the dumplings feel like xiao long bao.
If your Chinese market is in a predominantly Cantonese neighborhood, you may find that it doesn’t carry lamb. In that case, a halal market will probably be your next best bet. Make sure to pick a relatively fatty ground lamb mix, so that your dumplings produce a rich broth.
Lamb Dumplings Recipe
- 10 ounces Chinese cabbage
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 4 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine
- 4 tablespoons dark soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon ginger
- 4 green onions
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 80 gow gee dumpling wrappers
1. Finely mince the cabbage in a food processor. Place in a large bowl, sprinkle with the salt and set aside for 10 minutes.
2. Add the lamb, ginger, green onion, soy sauce, rice wine and cumin to the food processor. Pulse 5 times until the ingredients are combined well. Set aside.
3. Place the cabbage on a kitchen cloth, twist the top and squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Add the dry cabbage to your pork mixture and combine in the food processor with another 5 pulses.
4. Spoon 1 rounded teaspoon of the filling mixture in the center of each dumpling wrapper. To wrap a dumpling, dab water along the inside edge of the wrapper, fold in half to form a semicircle enclosing the filling, then seal the edges together to stick. Finally, fold 5-6 small pleats around the top edge of the dumpling. Repeat until all of your dumplings are done.
5. Separate the dumplings you’ll need for your meal and then freeze the rest in a heavy plastic bag for later.
6. There are two easy ways to cook dumplings.
– To boil: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 15 dumplings to the pot and boil for 9 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Remove the dumplings from the heat and drain, repeating with any remaining dumplings.
– To steam: Place a bamboo steamer in a large pot or wok and heat water to a boil. Place 15 dumplings in a single layer in the bamboo steamer, cover and steam for 9 minutes. Remove the dumplings from the heat.
7. Serve immediately with chili sauce, black vinegar or soy sauce for dipping.
Makes: 70-80 Dumplings | Prep Time: 1 Hour | Cook Time: 10 Minutes
Source: Chinese American Family
Wassailing means “to wish health to” one’s apple trees, in the hope that they will bear well. In addition, drums, bells, whistles etc. were used either to scare off evil spirits, or to wake the tree up; a libation of cider or ale was poured over the roots, and bread that had soaked in the ‘wassailing’ bowl was placed in the branches – an offering back to the tree.
Recipes for wassail are numerous and varied. Some call for the use of apple cider, some for wine. The basic idea is that you are making a hot spiced drink and serving it in a bowl amidst love and laughter. Here is a simple recipe that calls for cranberry and orange juice. Feel free to experiment and substitute.
- 4 cups cranberry juice
- 1/2 cup grenadine
- 2 cups orange juice
- 1/2 cup rum (optional)
- Sugar or honey – to taste
Put everything into a large soup or stock pot and bring to a low simmer. If you added honey or sugar, mix gently until it dissolves. Lower the heat and very low simmer the mixture for 2 hours before serving. Keep it on low or use a crockpot on low if serving over hours. The longer you heat, the more infused the flavors will be.
Orange slices or orange wedges studded with cloves, cinnamon sticks, and cranberries can be floated in the pot and simmered along with the rest of the ingredients.
When you are ready to serve your Christmas Wassail, just ladle into your favorite mug and enjoy. This delicious and warm drink is a holiday treat! Garnish with a cinnamon stick if you like.
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