~More about the Seasons~
Winter is coming, the last harvests have been brought in, the herd culled and the cattle fattened. The days are getting shorter, the light more slanted, and the nights longer and cooler. Autumn leaves blow through the air and colors of gold, orange and brown fill your vision. A chill breeze blows away the warmth of the sun on your skin, a foreshadowing of the cold weather about to come. Everywhere Nature and her children are preparing for winter.
The Celts called it Samhain, which means "summer's end", according to their ancient two-fold division of the year, when summer ran from Beltane to Samhain and winter ran from Samhain to Beltane. This the most important and celebrated holiday out of the 8 Sabbats for most Pagans. A time when the God (Sun) dies and the Goddess (Earth) waits for his birth again at Yule, forever continuing the Wheel of the Year.
The word "Samhain" is Irish Gaelic for "summer's end". The standard Irish pronounciation is "sow-en" with the "ow" like in "cow". Other pronounciations that follow with the many Gaelic dialects include "sow-een", "shahvin", "sowin (with "oe" like in "glow"). The Scottish Gaelic spelling is "Samhuin" or "Samhuinn". There is no linguistic foundation for speaking this word "samhane" the way it might look if it were English. When in doubt, just say "All Hallows Eve" or even "Hallowe'en".
Also considered the New Year for most Pagans, this is the time of the year that we reflect on the past year and look to the future. We realize that all of us must allow death to be a part of our lives on this day, whether that death be of a physical nature, a specific train of thought, or even an emotion, habit, or issue that needs to be put to rest. We go through death and rebirth throughout our lives... it is called change. Samhain is a time for celebration of these changes. A time to celebrate the new year to come and to look forward to the birth of the God (the Sun). But it is also a time of reflection to remember the ones recently departed.
On this day, many Pagans remember loved ones and ancestors who have passed on to Summerland, preparing for their rebirth into their next life. They also bid farewell ti the God (Sun) as he prepares for his rebirth to the Goddess at Yule.
Some traditions on this day include: leaving a plate of food outside at night for the souls of the dead, burying apples in the earth to feed those who have passed on in their journey, and/or placing a candle in the window to guide the souls of those passed on to the place where they can continue on to the Divine or rebirth.
Seasonal items decorate the altar. Grains, gourds and dried flowers are appropriate. Some extras you may want to lay out like apples, tarot cards, runes, hazel nuts, divination wands and corn bread or a pommegranate in place of crescent cakes. Some place a yellow candle with a sun painted on it on their altar on in one of the windows. This represents the dying God. The altar cloth traditionally is black and the altar candles should be red and black.
The Celts traditionally carvd turnips and gourds for Samhain. As Europe colonized the "New World", Irish emigrants in the mid 1800s began usuing pumpkins instead. Partly because they were easier to carve. Any of these foods can still be used for Samhain celebrations.
Ritual traditions on Samhain include cleansing and renewing the protective energies of your household, rites for breaking of bad habits and divination.
Traditional Samhain Materials
Herbs and Spices
|Almond||Apple Leaf||Bay Leaf||Calendula|
|Hazelnut||Hemlock Cones||Mandrake Root||Mullien Seeds|
|Mushrooms||Nettle||Passion Flower||Pine Needles|
Stones, Metals and Crystals
Samhain Oil and Incense
In a clean metal bowl mix the olive oil, sea salt and mandrake root. Mix thoroughly with a woodden spoon. Transfer the mixture to a clean sterilised jar. Using a dropper, add the essential oils. Swirl the essential oils into the base oil/salt/mandrake mixture, don't stir. Gently rotate the oil clockwise. Store the oil away from heat, light and moisture in an airtight glass bottle.
2 drops Cinnamon Oil
Place ingrediants in a bowl only to be used for magical purposes. The Cinnamon Oil is a resin used to bond the ingredients and retain scent. Burn in a censor (special bowl made for burning incense without setting your house on fire) on an instant light charcoal bricquette.
Recipies of traditional Samhain foods
Mulled Cider with Spices
4 to 5 cups Apple Cider
2 sticks Cinnamon
3 to 4 Cloves
In a large saucepan heat cider, but do not boil. Serve in a large cauldron.
2 cups pumpkin, canned or cooked
3 2/3 cups flour
1 cup melted butter or margarine, lightly salted
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup Brown Sugar
3/4 cup water
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. Cinnamon
1 tsp. Nutmeg
1 tsp. Ginger
1 cup Pecans (Walnuts may be used), finely ground
2 tsp. baking soda
Blend pumpkin, butter, water, and eggs until mixed. Add flour, sugar, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon and baking soda. Then add nuts. Form loaf in greased and floured loaf pans. Bake at 350° F for one hour or until top is golden brown.
A Samhain ritual
Cast the sacred circle. Invoke the God and the Goddess. After this is done, light the God candle. Say:
"On this night when the dead once more walk freely among the living, we pass into darkness and do so willingly, for we know that it is simply the turning of the wheel. We give thanks to the God and the Goddess for the bounty that They have provided us over the summer."
"On this night, the Lord of the Hunt, the Lord of the Sun passes away from us. We realize, however, that it is simply the cycle of life, and we wait for that time when the Sun will once more be born of the Moon. As this candle represents the Lord of the sun, so does its blowing out represent the passing of the Lord of the Sun."
Having said this, extinguish the God candle with a candle sniffer or your fingers. DO NOT BLOW THE CANDLE OUT. This candle is not be lit again until Yule Now is the time to invoke the Goddess by saying:
"Goddess of the stars and of the waning moon, Goddess of magic and wisdom, whisper in my ear whatever you may and trust that the knowledge will be wisely used. Lend your power to my spells and rituals and trust that they will result in no harm to any of your creatures, great or small."
Now is the time for any magic or seasonal activities which you had planned to perform this evening. Any magic, and things such as drumming and chanting, carving apples or pumpkins, divination with the Tarot, runes, wands, hazelnuts, or a pendulum, or scrying in fire, smoke or water. After any such business is done with, hold the simple feast. Then you may banish the sacred circle. Take the offering dish outside, and bury the offerings in the earth. Remember to leave a plate of food outside for wandering spirits.
Mistletoe, holly and pine branches hang from the walls, their scent filling the air. A roaring fire burns in the hearth and the golden glow warms everything in the room. Your soul feels as light as the snow falling gently outside.
Yule is the Winter Solstice and as such has been the time of holiday celebrations for many cultures and religions throughout history. For many Pagans it is the time of the dying of the Holly king and the rise of the Oak King, a solar festival representing the turning of the Sun back towards the south and the return of life, light and warmth to the Earth.
Though most of our Christian friends do not know this or choose to ignore it, the holiday of Christmas has always been more Pagan than Christian, with its associations of Nordic divination, Celtic fertility rites, and Roman Mithraism. That is why many "purist" Christians abhorred it, why the Puritans refused to acknowledge it, much less celebrate it (to them, no day of the year could be more holy than the Sabbath), and why in early America it was even made ILLEGAL in Boston! Those who were not fans of Christmas did not like it because the holiday was already too closely associated with the birth of older Pagan gods and heroes. Not to mention that many of them had a narrative of birth, death, and resurrection that was uncomfortably close to that of Jesus. To make matters worse, many of them pre-dated the Christian Savior.
The Christian version of Yule did not spread to Ireland until the late fifth century; in England, Switzerland, and Austria until the seventh; in Germany until the eighth; and in the Slavic lands until the ninth and tenth. Not that these countries lacked their own mid-winter celebrations of Yuletide. Long before the world had heard of Jesus, Pagans had been observing the season by bringing in the Yule log, wishing on it, and lighting it from the remains of last year's log. Riddles were posed and answered, magic and rituals were practiced, wild boars (the traditional Christmas ham) were sacrificed and consumed along with large quantities of liquor, corn dollies were carried from house to house while carolling, fertility rites were practiced (girls standing under a sprig of mistletoe were subject to a bit more than a kiss), and divinations were cast for the coming Spring. Many of these Pagan customs, in an appropriately watered-down form, have entered the mainstream of Christian celebration, though most celebrants do not realize (or do not mention it, if they do) their origins.
Much of traditional Yule folklore somes from the Medieval Ages: that a person born on Christmas Day can see the Little People, that a cricket on the hearth brings good luck, that if one opens all the doors of the house at midnight all the evil spirits will depart, that you will have one lucky month for each Christmas pudding.
Ultimately, of course, the holiday is rooted deeply in the cycle of the year. It is the Winter Solstice that is being celebrated, seed-time of the year, the longest night and shortest day. It is the birthday of the new Sun King, the Son of God -- by whatever name you choose to call him. For Wiccans, on this darkest of nights the Goddess becomes the Great Mother and once again gives birth. So on this "dark night of our souls", there springs the new spark of hope, the Sacred Fire, the Light of the World, the Coel Coeth.
For modern Witches, Yule (from Anglo Saxon "Yula", meaning "wheel" of the year) is usually celebrated on the actual Winter Solstice, which may vary by a few days, though it usually occurs on or around December 21th. It is a lesser Sabbat or Lower Holiday in the modern Pagan calendar, one of the four quarter-days of the year, but a very important one. Pagan customs are still enthusiastically followed. Yule is celebrated with many beautiful things. A tree may be brought inside and decorated, mistletoe hung, and yule log made of Ash or Birch placed on the hearth. Predominate colors are the traditional rich reds, greens and browns of nature.
Once, the Yule log had been the center of the Yule celebration. It was lighted on the eve of the solstice (it should light on the first try) and must be kept burning for twelve hours, for good luck. It should be made of ash, but birch can also be used. Later, the Yule log was replaced by the Yule tree but, instead of burning it, burning candles were placed on it. There are some arguments as to the origin of the Yule Log, but the custom can demonstrably be traced back through the Roman Saturnalia all the way to ancient Egypt. Needless to say, if you use a Yule Tree it should be cut down rather than purchased and should be disposed of by burning, the proper way to dispatch any sacred object.
Along with the evergreen, the holly and the ivy and the mistletoe were important plants of the season, all symbolizing fertility and everlasting life. Mistletoe was especially venerated by the Celtic Druids, who according to legend cut it with a golden sickle on the sixth night of the moon, and believed it to be an aphrodisiac. (Magically -- not medicinally! It's highly toxic!) But aphrodisiacs must have been the smallest part of the Yuletide menu in ancient times, as contemporary reports indicate that the tables fairly creaked under the strain of every type of good food.
The most popular Yuletide drink was the ancient English, the custom of "wassailing" It is based on the tradition of friends gathering in a circle, whereupon the host drinks to the health of all present. He sips from a glass of hot punch or spiced ale, then passes the glass. A special bowl was used as the vessel. As each friend raises the vessel, before sipping he or she proclaims the Anglo-Saxon toast "Wass hael!" meaning "be whole" or "be well." Although many versions of the actual drink exist, the most common contain symbolic Yule ingredients: apples, representing fertility and health; spices, signifying riches and variety; eggs, a symbol of life and rebirth; as well as wine and brandy. I have included two recipies of Wassail below.
Despite the fact that Yule is celebrated during winter, it is still essentially a solar festival, so foods that are round, golden or hot like the sun, are appropriate. Since most of the usual Christmas activities were "borrowed" from Pagans, tradtional Christmas foods are fine for Yule as well. Cookies are appropriate, as is anything sweet, the idea being to ensure sweetness for the new year. The old ones didn't have sugar, but used honey as a sweetener. (Culinary note: when using honey, baking soda is needed to work with the acidity of the honey. This causes the rising action). Eggnog, mulled wine, and cranberry juice are traditional (See a simple recipie for mulled wine below). Oranges or lemons stuck with cloves in various designes are a nice food-table decoration. Plum pudding is another traditional dish. Roasting chestnuts at Christmas comes from a pagan Germanic custom which traveled to England, where it is still popular today. In England, chestnuts roasting on Yule hearth fires were used to divine information about the New Year. Depending on which region of England you lived in, you would know a fixed set of rules about interpreting how your chestnuts popped and danced. While these rules could vary greatly, in general it can be said that lots of movement and noise was fortuitous, while nuts that were still or quiet were not.
Not everyone has a fireplace to burn a Yule Log, and during the last century there has been a new traditional of "Yule Log" where a small log is drilled with holes for candles and decorated with pine, holly, fir, and other decorative plants. To make your own Yule Log, get a length of a natural log with the bark left on. Traditional logs or ash or, more commonly, birch. The log is then split or flattened on one side to keep it from rolling. Once the log is secure and steady, drill two or three holes along its top as candle holders. Just prior to preparing your altar for your Sabbat celebration, add your red and white or red white and green candles, and adorn the log with fresh sacred greens, holly, fir, pine, and yew as you see fit.
Wreaths and evergreen trees may decorate the home. Extra tools on or around your altar will include a decorative yule log (a small ash or birch log drilled with holes for candles), a small evergreen tree, a wreath representing both the wheel of the year and the Goddess, and the God candle that you used in the Samhain ritual. The Altar can be decorated with a variety of evergreens, and the Altar candles traditionally are red and green (what else!). The color of the Altar cloth should be green.
Traditional Yule Materials
Herbs and Spices
|Periwinkle||Pine Needles||Pine Cones||Sage|
**Don't eat this, it is toxic!
Stones, Metals and Crystals
Yule Oil and Incense
Yule Anointing Oil
1 dram Pine oil
1 tsp. broken pieces of Ginger Root
1 dram Cinnamon oil
3 heaping tsp. coarse sea salt
1 dram Olive Oil
In a clean metal bowl, mix the olive oil, sea salt, and ginger root. Mix thouroghly with a wooden spoon. Transfer the mixture to a clean sterilised jar. Using a dropper, add the essential oils. Swirl the essential oils into the base oil/salt/ginger mixture, don't stir. Gently rotate the oil clockwise. Store the oil away from heat, light and moisture in an airtight glass bottle.
Pine Needles or resin
2 drops Cinnamon Oil
Place ingredients in a bowl only to be used for magical purposes. The Cinnamon Oil is a resin used to bond the ingredients and retain scent. Burn in a censor (special bowl made for burning incense without setting your house on fire) on an instant light charcoal bricquette.
Recipies of traditional Yule foods
2 Quarts apple juice
2 1/4 cups Pineapple juice
2 cups Orange juice
1 cup Lemon juice
1/2 cup Sugar
1 (3-inch) stick cinnamon
1 teaspoon Whole cloves
Combine all ingredients in a Dutch oven; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes. Uncover and simmer an additional 20 minutes. Strain and discard cinnamon and cloves. Serve hot. Yield: 3 quarts.
1 Dozen apples; baked
1 cup Water
4 cups Sugar
1 Tablespoon Freshly grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons Ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon Ground mace
6 Whole cloves
6 Allspice berries
1 Stick cinnamon
1 Dozen eggs, separated
4 Bottles sherry or Madeira wine
2 cups Brandy
The beverage is served hot, so plan on a heatproof punchbowl. This makes enough for a crowd. Just how large a crowd depends on your group's taste for rich, spicy wine drinks. Figure on at least 16-18 servings.
Cook's notes: This also can be made with a combination of beer and wine, preferably sherry, with roughly 4 parts beer to one part sherry. The resulting flavor is authentic to the Colonial period, but far less familiar to contemporary palates.
Prepare the punch: Combine water, sugar, and spices in a large stainless steel, enamel or glass saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and boil for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks until light in color. In separate pans, bring the wine (and beer, if used) and the brandy almost to the boiling point. Fold the whites into the yolks, using a large heatproof bowl. Strain the sugar and spice mixture into the eggs, combining quickly. Incorporate the hot wine with the spice and egg mixture, beginning slowly and stirring briskly with each addition. Toward the end of this process, add the brandy. Now, just before serving and while the mixture is still foaming, add the baked apples.
Presentation: Serve in heatproof cups or punch glasses. Guests are welcome to take part or all of an apple.
1 bottle of wine
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
Add nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon sticks to the wine and heat over a low flame until warmed. The spices may be added and soaked overnight in the refrigerator before heating to add more flavor.
1 Tablespoon Sugar
Shaved ice (1/2 glass)
1 medium Egg
Whiskey (or Rum)
1/2 cup Milk or Half and Half
Measure one wineglass of whiskey or rum, add other ingredients (use whole milk if using milk), shake thoroughly and strain (you may use a blender... I prefer to as the mixture comes out really rich and frothy). Grate a little nutmeg on top and serve.
A sample Yule ritual
Cast the sacred circle. Invoke the God and the Goddess. After this is done, light the God candle you saved from Samhain (if you are using a Yule Log and fresh candles, you would light the red candle). Say:
"On this night when the Sun is born again, we pass from the darkness into light and do so willingly, for we know that it is simply the turning of the wheel. We give thanks to the God and the Goddess for keeping us safe during this passage of the Season of Darkness".
"On this night, the Lord of the Hunt, the Lord of the Sun is born unto us once more and we give thanks. As this candle represents the Lord of the Sun, so does its new flame represent the birth of the Lord of the Sun."
Light the Goddess candle (if you are using a Yule Log this would be a white or green candle). Now is the time to invoke the the Goddess by saying:
"Goddess of the stars and of the new moon, Goddess of death and birth, we thank you for your Son, and for the many blessings and gifts you have given us. Trust that these gifts will be honored and wisely used. Lend your power to your Son and Lord, so that he may grow and warm all your creation."
Now is the time for any magic or seasonal activities which you had planned to perform this evening. Any magic, and things such as singing and chanting, gazing upon the past, divination with the Tarot, runes, wands, hazelnuts, chestnuts, or a pendulum, or scrying in water or mirrors. After any such business is done with, hold the simple feast. Then you may banish the sacred circle. Take the offering dish outside, and leave the offerings for Winter's children (many birds and small creatures will appreciate this!).
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