When Darkness Falls: Cooking and Heating in Winter as Our Forebears Did

When Darkness Falls: Cooking and Heating in Winter as Our Forebears Did

by Catherine Harper

As I write this, we are in the midst of the false spring that is so often January’s mercurial gift to the Pacific Northwest coast. Around the borders of the garden daffodil bulbs are sending up small green teeth. The days are sunny and mild, and my over-wintering broccoli has started to form heads. Is it just coincidence that just as the season tries to so mislead us the seed catalogs begin to arrive? The sunset through the trees beyond my study window has painted the sky the color of salmon, and it is not yet wholly dark, though it would have been at this time only a few weeks before. It’s an easy time to think of Imbolc ahead.

Imbolc is a celebration of first stirrings, new beginnings, gradual lengthening of days and return of the light. In this green country by the sea, where winter’s sleep is never much more than a nap, it might almost be redundant, the transition from grey, rain and green to more of the same with swelling buds. We prune the apple orchards and light a candle (the more faithfully because Imbolc is also my brother’s birthday). It is a restless season, a gradually accelerating rising toward the lighter portion of the year, and as such it can be a difficult time for reflection. And yet reflection sometimes finds us, though we did not look for it.

Recently, our house was without power for several days, and many of our plans were put on hold for that stretch. I was given ample opportunity to think of the passing of the darkest time — even as winter is still with us — and time to think of the small ways in which the light returns to us. Now, we are well set up for such occurrences, and it is not uncommon for us to heat the house and cook our dinner with the wood-burning brick oven. Similarly, we often eat by candlelight. But to fire the oven every day, banking the coals each night and then stirring them to light the fire the next morning, is something else, as it is to read and work out and clean the garage only by the light of candles and oil lamps or the short hours of daylight. What has been at most ritual, and at least conceit, becomes both drudgery and discipline.

By the third day, the eyestrain from the dimmer light even of many candles was feeling ingrained. I had learned to take a hot water bottle to bed with me every night because, while the oven could heat most of the house, the master bedroom is too far, and the bed itself bitterly cold when I first entered it. We swept and washed dishes as much as possible while we still had daylight to see our work by, and brought in wood before going to bed so that it would be there to start the morning fire. Beyond the work itself, which wasn’t excessive, the routine was exhausting — some combination of the cold and the dark and the tedium of normally simple tasks leaving me stumbling with fatigue each night. And yet, in its way, it was deeply satisfying.

In my magical work in and beyond the kitchen, much of what I do is creating a web of connections. I buy the food that is in season to make another link between myself and the turning of the year. I buy from local farmers to strengthen my connection to the land, and from people I know to strengthen my connection with the community. But we all live in and amongst many such webs, if not all of them so deliberately chosen. The pieces of our world — every aspect of our lives — is vastly interdependent, and the electrical networks are one such tangible example of the ways in which we are connected.

If there is something to be learned from building and choosing to put our energy into certain connections and so reinforce them, so is there something very basic and primal about stepping aside from some of the default connections in our lives. The break from my routine, the rhythm of tending the house and heating and lighting it by our own labors, became an opportunity to step back and consider the interconnections of our lives and the routines we had taken for granted. And, of course, a chance to consider a little the lives we might be living had we been given fewer technological blessings. I think for those who are plunged into darkness less frequently by the vagaries of the weather and the electric companies, spending the occasional stretch of time without power, perhaps the length of a meal, can still be a useful exercise.

It is generally assumed that those who are in the magickal community are well equipped with candles, but our uses of them do not necessarily emphasize the efficiency of lighting, so here are a few suggestions:

Most people know that a candle backed by a mirror or other reflector will shed more light. A candle near a white wall will also reflect its light better than one near a dark surface.

Candles much more than two inches in diameter will tend to use up the wax at the center of the candle without melting the wax on the outside, so gradually the wick and flame will drop down below the level of the outer rim of wax. This is pretty and atmospheric, but does not provide especially efficient light. On the other hand, candles of much less than one inch in diameter will burn down quite quickly, which can be useful in spell work, but is annoying for lighting purposes.

Most grocery stores carry large boxes (usually of 72 candles) of Shabbos candles in their Kosher food section. These are plain white four-inch candles that are usually quite cheap, and they are less likely to be sold out during power outages.

I have often seen candle jars used in outdoor rituals, but seldom seen them used indoors in the manner in which we employ them. These are versatile lanterns that can be comfortably carried or set down, provide light in all directions and are fairly kid and cat safe because they can be tipped over without ill effect. To make one, wash and remove the label from a large spaghetti sauce jar or other large glass jar. (Hot water will soften the glue that holds on the label.) Find two candles that are not taller than the jar. Light one candle, pour a few drops of its hot wax into the jar and then quickly stick the bottom of the other candle to the jar bottom with the hot wax. The jar, being glass, allows light to shine all around, and is far enough from the flame that it doesn’t get hot enough to burn your hands when carried.

Oil lamps are a convenient light source, but only the lamps with properly ventilated chimneys are able to provide especially bright light. In my experience the lamps burn best when the wick is at least occasionally trimmed, and the end of the wick is roughened or frayed a bit by rubbing a knife-edge across it. Oil lamps also provide much better light when their reservoirs are full than when they are near empty.

Cooking

I should have known when we bought a house already equipped with a fireplace, woodstove and the built-in barbeque that was later converted into my brick oven that we lived in an area where power supply could be a bit uncertain. Instead, to my surprise, six weeks later we were treated to three days in the dark with a woodstove I hadn’t entirely made friends with and a foot of icy slush on the roads. But the corollary to our frequent outages is that we are well set up to deal with them, with wood stove and brick ovens, lamps, sconces and chandeliers. Most houses, and apartments even more so, are not so well prepared.

Now, I assume people who already have woodstoves, brick ovens, grills, barbeques, masonry cookers and other such relatively expensive fixtures are already fairly well acquainted with their use, but a few tips anyway: If you haven’t cooked over your woodstove, it’s good to keep in mind that most of them that are not built specifically for cooking will provide only the equivalent of low heat from a standard burner unless you fire them very hot. You’ll have better luck simmering a stew than frying an egg on them, and you might want to put a pot of water on top right off so you don’t have to wait later on for it to warm. Barbeques and grills can be used year round in our mild climate, but they should be used outside if you are fond of breathing. (Though one can often use a hibachi or other small grill in one’s fireplace, assuming that the fireplace is large enough to accommodate it and that the draw is strong enough.)

Luckily, the lack of such amenities doesn’t put you out of the running. If you would like to cook over flame, don’t have wood-burning appliances and don’t want to invest in expensive equipment, there are a number of low-cost options. The simplest is the tried-and-true can of Sterno or similar canned heat product. These are readily available at grocery stores and fairly safe for indoor use, unlike most camping stoves, which need a lot of ventilation and should only be used outside. For a few bucks more you can buy a collapsible Sterno “stove” from your local army surplus or camping supplies store, which will shelter the flame and support a cooking pot.

The collapsible Sterno “stoves” or other similar trivets can also be used above tea lights (which are good for warming tinned soup, if less good for more serious cooking, though you can do a bit when you use more than one at a time), alcohol burners or other simple flames. We have been using our fondue burner, which is essentially a small adjustable alcohol burner with a heavy iron trivet, as a general-purpose stove, and it boils water quite readily. Fondue burners can be found at culinary stores, and other types of alcohol burners can be purchased through chemistry supply companies.

Most of these improvised burners will not give you as evenly distributed heat as will most stoves, so you must either use them with thick-bottomed pots that distribute heat well on their own or make soups, sauces and other largely liquid things that will not mind the uneven heat so much. Another good standby is couscous. You can add one part couscous to two parts boiling water and then cover it and let it cook away from the flame entirely (this also makes for fairly fuel-efficient food, which is why couscous is a backpacking favorite).

If you are fortunate enough to have a fireplace, more options are available to you (though if you have attempted to cook over a fireplace without appropriate equipment you already know that other than hotdogs and marshmallows, your options can be rather limited). An open fire is romantic, but to cook over it effectively requires some preparation. First of all, for most things it is much more effective to cook over hot coals than open flame. So you’re often best off building a fairly large, hot fire and letting it burn down before you attempt to cook over it. (For a similar effect you can use charcoal briquettes in your fireplace or add them to your wood fire.)

Next, of course, you need some way of supporting your food over the fire. A spit can be improvised, but is often fairly difficult to manage, especially in modern fireplaces. For the least expensive route, one can rely on the camper’s favorite of wrapping food in tinfoil and setting it among the coals and ashes (not directly in the hottest part of the fire) to cook. “Hobo stew” is a combination of meat and vegetables cooked by this method, a bit of a chancy proposition, but fun, simple, and potentially tasty. Or, most camping supplies stores sell inexpensive lightweight collapsible grills that can fit in your fireplace. These can hold pots and pans as well as grill meat and vegetables.

Of course, if you want to get at all serious about cooking in your fireplace, you should at least look at what is often considered the most flexible of fireside cooking tools, the Dutch oven. It has been claimed, and to a great extent demonstrated, that pretty much any dish from the Western European tradition, and a great many others from elsewhere, can be made in a Dutch oven. The Dutch oven is a heavy cast iron pot with feet that will hold it above burning coals and a rimmed lid that will allow you to place additional coals on top of it. They come in a variety of sizes, and can be used to make anything from wedding cakes to stews to omlettes. Dutch oven cooking is a subject one could write a book about, and indeed many people have.

In the end, there is the eating. Almost by definition it is a dinner by candlelight, but it need not be a formal one. We hand out one bowl, spoon, and fork apiece, because bowls are harder to spill food from and more amenable to being held in one’s lap while you sit in front of the fire or curl up with a blanket in the living room. Fewer dishes are a blessing when light and hot water are limited, too. Like the food we make camping, a meal cooked at home over fire is fully realized in its simplicity. Even tinned soup and crackers becomes delicious as our labors give us a more intimate connection to the food and its preparation. Fire, food and hunger are primal things.

A Poem for Yule

Yule Comments & Graphics
A Poem for Yule

by Elspeth Sapphire

I hear the wind howling
The ice has entered my soul
The cold seems endless
The darkness black as coal.

Yet a spark of something
Shines bright through the night
Could it be the dawning
Of approaching light?

For it’s always coldest
In the hours before dawn
Darkness is its deepest,
Facing fears we’ve drawn

How can loneliness dwell
With loved ones nearby?
Why the tiny doubts
Filling me with their cries?

So I turn my face away
Forget the winter’s chill
Celebrate Sun’s return
As my spirit thrills.

~Magickal Graphics~

Midwinter Night’s Eve: Yule by Mike Nichols

To be it wouldn’t be a Sabbat without an article from Mike Nichols. He is absolutely, fabulous Pagan writer. I hope you enjoy this article as much as I do.

 

Midwinter Night’s Eve: Yule
by Mike Nichols

Our Christian friends are often quite surprised at how enthusiastically we Pagans  celebrate the ‘Christmas’ season.  Even though we prefer to use the word ‘Yule’, and our  celebrations may peak a few days before the 25th, we nonetheless follow many of the  traditional customs of the season: decorated trees, carolling, presents, Yule logs, and  mistletoe.  We might even go so far as putting up a ‘Nativity set’, though for us the three  central characters are likely to be interpreted as Mother Nature, Father Time, and the Baby  Sun-God.  None of this will come as a surprise to anyone who knows the true history of the  holiday, of course.

In fact, if truth be known, the holiday of Christmas has always been more Pagan than  Christian, with it’s associations of Nordic divination, Celtic fertility rites, and Roman  Mithraism.  That is why both Martin Luther and John Calvin 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 it was even made illegal in Boston!  The holiday  was  already too closely associated with the birth of older Pagan gods and heroes.  And many of  them (like Oedipus, Theseus, Hercules, Perseus, Jason, Dionysus, Apollo, Mithra, Horus and  even Arthur) possessed a narrative of birth, death, and resurrection that was uncomfortably  close to that of Jesus. And to make matters worse, many of them pre-dated the Christian  Savior.

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.  On this darkest of nights, the Goddess becomes the Great Mother  and once again gives birth.  And it makes perfect poetic sense that on the longest night of  the winter, ‘the dark night of our souls’, there springs the new spark of hope, the Sacred  Fire, the Light of the World, the Coel Coeth.

That is why Pagans have as much right to claim this holiday as Christians.  Perhaps even  more so, as the Christians were rather late in laying claim to it, and tried more than once  to reject it.  There had been a tradition in the West that Mary bore the child Jesus on the  twenty-fifth day, but no one could seem to decide on the month. Finally, in 320 C.E., the  Catholic Fathers in Rome decided to make it December, in an effort to co-opt the Mithraic  celebration of the Romans and the Yule celebrations of the Celts and Saxons.

There was never much pretense that the date they finally chose was historically  accurate.  Shepherds just don’t ‘tend their flocks by night’ in the high pastures in the  dead of winter!  But if one wishes to use the New Testament as historical evidence, this  reference may point to sometime in the spring as the time of Jesus’s birth.  This is  because the lambing season occurs in the spring and that is the only time when shepherds  are likely to ‘watch their flocks by night’ — to make sure the lambing goes well.  Knowing  this, the Eastern half of the Church continued to reject December 25, preferring a ‘movable  date’ fixed by their astrologers according to the moon.

Thus, despite its shaky start (for over three centuries, no one knew when Jesus was  supposed to have been born!), December 25 finally began to catch on.  By 529, it was a  civic holiday, and all work or public business (except that of cooks, bakers, or any that  contributed to the delight of the holiday) was prohibited by the Emperor Justinian.  In  563, the Council of Braga forbade fasting on Christmas Day, and four years later the  Council of Tours proclaimed the twelve days from December 25 to Epiphany as a sacred,  festive season.  This last point is perhaps the hardest to impress upon the modern reader,  who is lucky to get a single day off work.  Christmas, in the Middle Ages, was not a  single day, but rather a period of twelve days, from December 25 to January 6.  The Twelve  Days of  Christmas, in fact.  It is certainly lamentable that the modern world has abandoned this  approach, along with the popular Twelfth Night celebrations.

Of course, the Christian version of the holiday spread to many countries no faster than  Christianity itself, which means that ‘Christmas’ wasn’t celebrated in 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 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.

For modern Witches, Yule (from the 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 21st.  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.   This year (1988) it occurs on December 21st at 9:28 am CST.  Pagan customs are still  enthusiastically followed. Once, the Yule log had been the center of the 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.  Later, the Yule log  was replaced by the Yule tree but, instead of burning it, burning candles were placed on  it.  In Christianity, Protestants might claim that Martin Luther invented the custom, and  Catholics might grant St. Boniface the honor, but the custom can demonstrably be traced  back through the Roman Saturnalia all the way to ancient Egypt.  Needless to say, such a  tree 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 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.  And drink!  The most popular of which was the ‘wassail cup’  deriving its name from the Anglo-Saxon term ‘waes hael’ (be whole or hale).

Medieval Christmas folklore seems endless: that animals will all kneel down as the Holy  Night arrives, that bees hum the ‘100th psalm’ on Christmas Eve, that a windy Christmas  will bring good luck, 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 you sample, that the tree must be taken down by Twelfth Night or bad luck  is sure to follow, that ‘if Christmas on a Sunday be, a windy winter we shall see’, that  ‘hours of sun on Christmas Day, so many frosts in the month of May’, that one can use the  Twelve Days of Christmas to predict the weather for each of the twelve months of the coming  year, and so on.

Remembering that most Christmas customs are ultimately based upon older Pagan customs,  it only remains for modern Pagans to reclaim their lost traditions.  In doing so, we can  share many common customs with our Christian friends, albeit with a slightly different  interpretation.  And thus we all share in the beauty of this most magical of seasons, when  the Mother Goddess once again gives birth to the baby Sun-God and sets the wheel in motion  again.  To conclude with a long-overdue paraphrase, ‘Goddess bless us, every one!’

The Yule Tree (Lore, Decorating/Consecrating & Correspondences)

Yule Comments & Graphics
THE YULE TREEThe Celtic Druids venerated evergreen trees as manifestations of deity and as symbols of the universe. To the Celts, these trees were sacred because they did not die from year to year like deciduous trees. Therefore they represented the eternal aspect of the Goddess who also never dies. Their greenery was symbolic of the hope for the sun’s return.

The Druids decorated the evergreen trees at Yule with all the images of the things they wished the waxing year to bring. Fruits for a successful harvest, love charms for happiness, nuts for fertility, and coins for wealth adorned the trees. These were forerunners to many of the images on today’s Christmas trees. Candles were the forerunners of today’s electric tree lights.

In Scandinavia, Yule trees were brought inside to provide a warm and festive place for tree elementals who inhabited the woodland. This was also a good way to coax the native faery folk to participate in Solstice rituals. Some believed the Saxons were the first to place candles in the tree.

Gradually sacred tree imagery was absorbed and minimalized by the Christian church–but it was never able to destroy trees’ resonance within our collective unconscious completely. We realize when we plant a tree we are encouraging the Earth to breathe. And when we decorate our evergreen trees at Yule, we are making a symbol of our dream world with the objects we hang upon it. Perhaps a chain or garland, reflecting the linking of all together on Earth. Lights–for the light of human consciousness, animal figures who serve as our totems, fruits and colors that nourish and give beauty to our world, gold and silver for prosperity, treats and nuts that blend sweet and bitter–just as in real life. The trees we decorate now with symbols of our perfect worlds actually animate what we esteem and what we hope for in the coming year; as from this night, the light returns, reborn.

Decorating the Tree

It’s best to use a live tree, but if you can’t, you can perform an outdoor ritual thanking a tree, making sure to leave it a gift when you’re finished (either some herbs or food for the animals and birds). Start a seedling for a new tree to be planted at Beltane.

If apartment rules or other conditions prevent you from using a live tree indoors, be sure to bring live evergreen garlands or wreaths into the house as decorations.

* String popcorn and cranberries and hang them on the Yule tree or an outdoor tree for birds.

* Decorate pine cones with glue and glitter as symbols of the faeries and place them in the Yule tree.

* Glue the caps onto acorns and attach with a red string to hang on the Yule tree.

* Hang little bells on the Yule tree to call the spirits and faeries.

* Hang robin and wren ornaments on the tree. The robin is the animal equivalent of the Oak King, the wren of the Holly King. Each Yule and Midsummer they play out the same battle as the two kings.

* Hang 6-spoked snowflakes on the branches of the tree. The Witches Rune, or Hagalaz, has 6 spokes.

* Hang sun, moon, star, Holly King, faery, or fruit decorations.

* String electric lights on your tree to encourage the return of the Sun.

Consecrating the Tree

Consecrate the Yule tree by sprinkling it with salted water, passing the smoke of incense (bayberry, pine, spruce, pine, spice, cedar, or cinnamon)through the branches, and walking around the tree with a lighted candle saying:

By fire and water, air and earth,   I consecrate this tree of rebirth.

Correspondences

EVERGREENS

Symbolizing: Continuity of Life, Protection, Prosperity
Types: Pine, Fir, Cedar, Juniper, other evergreens
Forms: boughs, wreaths, garlands, trees
Divinities: Green Goddesses & Gods; Hertha; Cybele, Attis, Dionysius (Pine); Woodland Spirits
Traditions: Roman, Celtic, Teutonic, Christian

OAK

Symbolizing: New Solar Year; Waxing Sun; Endurance, Strength, Triumph, Protection, Good Luck
Forms: Yule log, acorns, wood for sacred fires
Divinities: Oak King; Oak Spirit; Sky Gods including Thor, Jupiter, Zeus
Traditions: Teutonic, Celtic, Christian

SACRED TREES OF WINTER SOLSTICE from the Celtic Tree Calendar

Yew: Last Day of Solar Year; Death.
Silver Fir: Winter Solstice Day; Birth.
Birch: Month following Winter Solstice; Beginnings.

written by Selena Fox

Correspondences for Sacred Plants of the Winter Solstice

Sacred plants of the Winter Solstice

by Selena Fox

HOLLY

Symbolizing: Old Solar Year; Waning Sun; Protection; Good Luck

Forms: boughs over portals, wreaths

Divinities: Holly King; Old Nick; Saturn; Bacchus; Wood Spirits; Holly Boys

Traditions: Roman, Celtic, English, Christian

 

 

MISTLETOE

Symbolizing: Peace, Prosperity, Healing, Wellness, Fertility, Rest, Protection

Forms: boughs, amulet sprigs above doorways, kissing balls

Divinities: Oak Spirit; Frigga and Balder

Traditions: Celtic, Teutonic

 

 

IVY

Symbolizing: Fidelity, Protection, Healing, Marriage, Victory, Honor, Good Luck

Forms: crowns, wreaths, garlands

Divinities: Dionysius; Bacchus; Great Goddess; Ivy Girls

Traditions: Greek, Roman, English, Christian

 

 

FRANKINCENSE

Symbolizing: Sun, Purification, Consecration, Protection, Spiritual Illumination

Forms: incense, oils

Divinities: Sun Gods, Ra at Dawn, Bel

Traditions: Babalyonian, Assyrian, Egyptian, Jewish, Greek, Roman, Christian

 

 

MYRRH

Symbolizing: Healing, Death and Afterlife, Purification, Inner Peace

Forms: incense, oils

Divinities: Isis, Ra at Midday

Traditions: Egyptian, Jewish, Christian

 

 

WHEAT

Symbolizing: Sustenance, Abundance, Fertility, Good Luck

Forms: grain, straw figures and symbols, cookies, cakes, breads

Divinities: Earth Goddesses; Saturn & Ops; Goat Spirit; Fairy Folk

Traditions: Roman, Celtic, Scots, Teutonic, Sweedish, Christian

Glory to The Newborn King


Yule Comments & Graphics

Glory to The Newborn King

(Tune: Hark the Herald Angels Sing)

Brothers, sisters, come and sing
Glory to the new-born king!
Gardens peaceful, forests wild
Celebrate the Winter Child!
Now the time of glowing starts!
Joyful hands and joyful hearts!
Cheer the Yule log as it burns!
For once again, the Sun returns!
Brothers, sisters, come and sing!
Glory to the new-born King!

Brothers, sisters, singing come
Glory to the new-born Sun
Through the wind and dark of night
Celebrate the coming light.
Suns glad rays through fear’s cold burns
Life through death the Wheels now turns
Gather round Yule log and tree
Celebrate Life’s mystery
Brothers, sisters, singing come
Glory to the new-born Sun.

Yule – Winter Solstice

Yule Comments & Graphics

Yule – Winter Solstice

After Samhain and Beltane, Yule is the most important feast. Elaborate rites are performed to insure the rebirth of the Sun. It is the greatest crisis of the year, and before the commercial value of sentimentality was discovered, popular customs reflected a wide contrast of the dark and eerie against joyful music and glittering lights.

Samhain to Yule is a season of preparation. A fast is not exactly enjoined, but it is as good a time as any to lose a little weight, because you’ll surely gain it back during Yule. It is a time for serious introspection and spiritual discipline. Perform your devotions and meditations regularly. Just before Yule, thoroughly clean your home.

The celebration begins on Yule Eve with religious rites. Yule Day is for family observances of a cheerful, social nature, with a feast, perhaps in the evening, unless there is a ball or theater event. The next day is a peculiar time. It is the day left over in the old Pagan calendar of thirteen 28-day months. It belongs to no month and no year; truly a “time that is not time”. (On a leap year there are two of these intercalary days.) what is done on the third day, then, hasn’t really happened, or doesn’t count. It gives us a perfect opportunity to step outside our usual roles and experiment, even if we look foolish. No one is allowed to hold it against us. No commitments can be made of this day; they will not be binding.

The next day is the New Year from a solar point of view.

The season of Yule runs till the Eve of Oimelc, so for Pagans there is no post- Xmas letdown. You can have Yule parties every weekend till February. When your evergreen decorations dry up, you can renew them. But by Oimelc, every trace of the Yule greens must be out of the house. It is pleasant to burn them in your fireplace.

The Birthday of the Light

The Birthday of the Light

On the Christmas morning comics page
Two people slogging through the crowds of shoppers
pause to ask one another
“Isn’t this all supposed to be somebody’s birthday?”

Yes, it is.
This is the birthday of the Light.

Different people see the Light differently;
To many the Light is a babe in a manger,
A child destined to grow into a great teacher and healer,
Bringing the light of love to a world lost in darkness.

To others the light is the light of freedom,
Seen in the miracle of a lamp burning
Far longer than its meager supply of oil should have lasted
After the conquerors were driven from the Temple.

And still others celebrate winter sunlight
Bringing the primise of springtime
And reminding us to look at endings
As opportunities for new beginnings.

But even though we see the light differently
And hold different days in this season sacred to it,
Let us all look into the light together
To see opportunities for new beginnings
For a world of freedom and healing and love.

Thomas G. Digby

The Yule Log

The Yule Log
by Lila

The tradition of the Yule logs dates back millennia. The origin of the word Yule seems to originate from the Anglo Saxon word for sun and light. People used to burn a yule log on the Winter Solstice in December. The Winter Solstice is the day of the year with the shortest amount of daylight. Yule is celebrated by fire, which provides a dual role of warmth and keeping evil spirits away. Many people thought that evil spirits were more likely to wander the earth on the longest night of the year. All night bonfires and hearth fires kept evil at bay and provided gathering places for folks to share feasts and stories.

Winter Solstice marks the sun’s victory over darkness; the days would now grow longer. The cinders from the burnt log were thought to protect homes from lightning and the evil powers of the devil. The ashes were also sprinkled on the surrounding fields to ensure good luck for the coming year’s harvest. The largest remaining part of the log was kept safe to kindle next year’s fire.

The Yule log has waned in popularity with the advent of electric heaters and wood stoves. With no access to a hearth, fireplace or fire pit, modern folks are losing a sacred tradition. Today, we may still partake of the Yule Log tradition by creating a smaller version as a table ornament, embellished with greenery and candles, or the popular Yule log cake. As we eat a slice, we can imagine taking in the protective properties of the log.

Many enjoy the practice of lighting the Yule Log. If you choose to burn one, select a log and carve 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.

Whether you are burning a log or creating a centrepiece, different woods may be used to produce different effects:
Aspen: invokes understanding of the grand design
Birch: signifies new beginnings
Holly: inspires visions and reveals past lives
Oak: brings healing, strength, and wisdom, symbol of the Oak king, the New year
Pine: signifies prosperity and growth
Willow: invokes the Goddess to achieve desires
Decorate your log with the any of the following items:
bright green needles of fir represents the birth of the new year
dark green needles of yew represent death of the waning year
vines of ivy or birch branches represent the Goddess
sprigs of holly with red berries represent the Holly king of the dying year
As you light the Yule log chant the following:

As the yule log is kindled
so is the new year begun
as it has been down through the ages
an unending cycle of birth, death, and rebirth
every ending is a new beginning
May the Yule log burn
May all good enter here
May there be wheat for bread
and vats full of wine
(or may we never hunger may we never thirst)

When the log has almost completely burned, collect a small piece of the Yule log (dip in a bucket of water to ensure it is completely out) wrap carefully and keep somewhere in the home for safety and protection.

collect some of the cold ashes and store in a glass bottle. The ash can be used for spells of protection and amulets. The remainder of the Yule ash can be scattered over fields or gardens to ensure fertility in the spring.

Pauline Campanelli; Wheel of the Year

Lila is an initiate in The Sacred Three Goddess school. She lives on a mountain in beautiful British Columbia with her husband, four cats, two ferrets and other varied critters of nature. She spends her time communing with the Faerie folk and long walks by the river.

Invoking the Holly King

Greenman Comments & Graphics=

Today we do bid Hail to our beloved Holly King
With these ancient carols, we do again sing
He who is called Father Christmas is returning yet again
As the Solstice’s longest night has finally begun
We await you, Santa Claus, Lord of Winter
To honor you on this day that you always were
Saint Nicholas, patron of children on Gaia’s sphere
This invocation, we pray you do hear
Come bless us, upon this season of the Yuletide
Great Holly King as you fly upon your sleigh ride
Whether your gifts to us be physical or spiritual
We know that they will always be most magical
Grateful, because we know your blessings’ great worth
We offer a blessing of our own — Peace on Earth!

by Ginger Strivelli

Gypsy Magic