Welcome, Darkest Night

Welcome, Darkest Night

by Janice Van Cleve

 

I love this season of growing dark. The night starts earlier to cast its blanket of quiet and peace upon the land and calls me to wrap up what I am doing. Early darkness coaxes me to sit down to supper at six o’clock instead of nine, so I can digest properly before I go to sleep.  Longer nights delay the prodding light of morning, so I can grab a few more winks. It encourages me to work more efficiently with the daylight that I do have. The dark time of the year is a healthy time for me.

It is a healthy time for plants and animals as well. Perennials focus on building up their root systems during the dark time, and annuals spread their seeds. Leaves fall to the ground to be leached and composted into next year ‘s soil. Animals feast on the yield of crops and orchards and store up surplus to see them through the winter and spring. In the dark time, all nature refocuses on renewing itself, sloughing off that which is no longer necessary and nurturing the best for the new year.

For northern tribes who lived where night falls longest and deepest, the dark time of the year was a time of great creativity. Bards honed their songs and added new verses for the entertainment and education of their audiences. Farmers turned to woodworking to fashion furniture or to decorate the interiors of their homes. Tradespeople made cloth, tools, jewelry, clothes and other goods to sell the merchants when they returned in the spring. Cooks became more and more inventive as the darkness lingered and the variety in the larder grew more limited. Even today, most school and university classes are scheduled for the winter months. In the business world, new product releases from software to movies to automobiles are debuted during this time.

In short, the dark time of the year is a busy, industrious and very creative time for nature and for human activity. So why in modern society does it get such a bad rap? The ancients certainly figured out that spring followed winter every year, and they used their skills to create solstice calculators like Stonehenge to predict how much more winter they had left. Were they really immobilized in fear of the dark, waiting for solstice to give them hope of spring? Or, on the other hand, did they grumble at solstice that they only had a few more months to play, eat, sing and finish their carvings before they had to get back out and work the farm again? Ancient peoples, after all, did not create surpluses for profit or a year-round global economy. They simply raised enough to sustain themselves so they could devote their time to crafts and play.

Perhaps it was the new religion of Christianity that tried to separate light from dark, exalting the former and disparaging the latter. Perhaps it was Christians’ idea to create fear of the dark so they could make light seem like a sort of salvation. However, nature doesn’t seem to need saving from anything, except from human greed. Nature goes on, year after year, with summer and winter alternating appropriate to the latitude. Nature values the dark time as much as the light and uses both to its advantage. The dark time is healthy and wholesome. It is as necessary for life as rain and sun, decay and bacteria.

And so it is appropriate that our pagan new year starts with Samhain, the beginning of the darkest time of the year. We rest before we work. We focus inwardly before we focus on the wider world. We sleep, we feast, we meditate, and we renew ourselves so that when spring’s light returns and calls us to next year’s work we can respond with new health and strength. These are gifts of the dark time. We are fortunate to have them!

Calendar of the Sun for June 22

22 Lithemonath

LITHA – SUMMER SOLSTICE

Colors: Yellow and gold
Element: Fire
Altar: Upon cloth of yellow and gold light eight yellow candles, incense of cedar and bay, many yellow flowers, a golden chalice of mead, another of citrus fruit juice, and as many figures of the sun as you can find or make. A great sun on a pole should be brought in procession, and one man should stand before the altar with it, and read the call and response.
Offerings: Open the House to others to share the ritual, or take it elsewhere. Like all the great high holidays, this ritual should be shared with the greater community.
Daily Meal: Yellow and orange food of any kind.

(Four who have been chosen to do the work of the ritual come forward and cast the quarters.)

North Caller: All hail the Standing Stone of the North,
Guardian of the Earth!
Whose name is the Great Bear,
Whose name is Midnight Star,
Whose name is Sleep of Winter
Whose name is Constancy.

West Caller: All hail the Standing Stone of the West,
Guardian of the Waters!
Whose name is the Salmon of Knowledge,
Whose name is Edge of Twilight
Whose name is Autumn Rain
Whose name is Yielding.

South Caller: All hail the Standing Stone of the South,
Guardian of the Fire!
Whose name is the Coiled Dragon,
Whose name is High Noon
Whose name is Summer Solstice,
Whose name is Fervor.

East Caller: All hail the Standing Stone of the East,
Guardian of the Air!
Whose name is Hawk in Flight,
Whose name is Light of Dawn,
Whose name is Equinox,
Whose name is Wanderer.

One steps forward and pours a libation of mead onto the ground, and says:

Accept this offering, O sun above us, whose golden rays pour down and give us Life, and yet can give Death if we do not take care. Teach us to glory in your generosity and yet respect your power. Do not desert us, but burn forever in our souls.

Call and Response:
All Hail the longest day!
We have slept away the shortest night,
We have watched the wheel turn
From early darkness to early light.
All hail the highest moment of the year!
Come forth Sun and shine upon us!
Let nothing cloud your brilliance!
Let nothing cloud your light!
Let all your veils of rain be cast away!
Come forth and give us life, O Sun!
We stand where our ancestors stood,
We hail you on the day they hailed you,
We follow in their footsteps!
Hail Apollo of the golden chariot,
Hail Lugh Sun-Face of many talents,
Hail Ra who battles serpents each night,
Hail Amaterasu Omikami, mother of emperors!
Take joy in the morning rays!
Take joy in the noon heat!
Take joy in the sunset colors!
Take joy! Take joy! Take joy!

(One steps forward and says:)

Never forget that we live because our world, our green Gaea, is the right distance away from the Sun’s power. Further away and we would be robbed of its lifegiving rays; further in and we would be burned to death by them. Never forget that life depends on the right amount of closeness and distance. Ponder this as you go your ways, and remember it every time you look up at the Sun above you.

(Another steps forward and says:)

For this is the time of the Sun’s highest glory, and like Him, we will fade and decline, and then be reborn new. For this is the way of the Universe: unending cycles within cycles. Rather than praying for an end to things, see it rather as a source of comfort that all dies and is reborn, and so nothing truly dies forever, and so nothing ever truly ends.

Song: Oak and Ash and Thorn

[Pagan Book of Hours]

The Hedge Witch’s Home (Or A Guide to Practical Paganism)

The Hedge Witch’s Home (Or A Guide to Practical Paganism)

Author: Aethelbera

For most of us Pagans, the altar can be seen as a spiritual or peaceful refuge in our own special corner away from the mundane and away from the rest of the world. For others of us, we may prefer to meditate and still others would like nothing more than a peaceful walk in a forest. But our homes can be places of spiritual refuge as well, from the front door to the bedroom at the furthest end of the house. In fact, the home should be a refuge, a Pagan one. It goes without saying that most of us want to feel Pagan and live Pagan but for some of us this can be difficult.

Some of us live in must urban settings or very small dwellings with little room. Maybe you’re renting an apartment with strict rules such as no holes in the walls. But it’s anything but hopeless. We can “Pagan” up our houses in the simplest of ways. It is possible even if we live in tiny, cramped apartments or dorm rooms where lighting candles and incense isn’t practical and is prohibited by post-secondary institutions.

Kitchen Witches make much use of their kitchens. Their altars are their counters and their ritual tools are the big wooden spoons and saucepans by the stove. Green Witches have their gardens and hedge witches have the tinted jars of sundry herbs lined upon the shelves.

There are a few simple steps a Pagan can take to make their home really their home. Setting up a modest altar in a preferred room is one way, perhaps with a smudge stick or perhaps with images of ancestors lining the edges. This is really very simple, a nicely framed picture of Grandma and Grandpa on a side table will most surely do! My altar has a calendar set up neatly on the left side. You can decorate your altar according to your path’s holidays and decorate your house with seasonal sprigs or seasonal emblems.

One can also make use of many readily available herbs to feel close to nature such as creating sachets, herbal rinses, soaps, incenses, teas or any variety of delicious culinary dishes. I have only a few words of advice and those are: DO NOT OVERPICK. And be sure to pick ethically as many plants are endangered or becoming endangered just as animals do. And do not pick anything out in the wild without thoroughly making sure you know what it is and use it to the best of its abilities If you can’t be sure, leave it or consult someone who knows. That being said, the practical Pagan may want to get rosehips from the roses in his garden and they appear when the blooms die for any number of practical purposes from teas to desserts.

These and many other herbs can also be found at a local loose-leaf teashop, or if you’re lucky enough, your local herb shop or Pagan shop. There are many practical ways to utilize these small charms as well. A kitchen Witch might go to the supermarket and buy some thyme or ginger to cook with and saturate it with his or her witchy knack for cooking. If you live in the city, and want to feel more “naturey”, set up a windowsill spice garden and be sure to get a few potted plants.

When friends come over, the hedge Witch can brew a mean tea from those same rosehips, which are high in vitamin C and thus helpful with colds. If you’re looking for a sleeping potion and warm milk just isn’t doing the trick, try some chamomile. As a mild sedative, it does wonders to help you, or your active children get to sleep.

To make your home feel like being home and feel more Pagan, you could tie an herb sachet by the bathtub and the scent will be released with the steam. You could collect your favorite Pagan authors and place them on a bookshelf in the living room. You could keep a diary, dream journal or recipe book by your bed stand.

For the more spiritual, you could buy a nice broom and decorate it to your tastes and use cleaning the home as a ritual or if you’re Heathen, place a blót horn or ancestor image on the mantel. Mine is only big enough for a single shot so if you’re space is cramped you can still aim small. You do not have to feel like you are trapped in a cramped, mundane and utterly unPagan apartment.

You can imbue almost anything with a spiritual significance. Even if you are a teenager in a strict nonPagan home you can try your hand at cooking or placing a broom in your room to clean with and of course you can buy little figurines for your bedroom that have special significance to you.

Last but not least, you could try your creative hand and add a very personal element. If you can write, write a prayer for your bedroom wall. If you can paint, paint an image of your patron God. If you can carve, carve an image of your totem. If you can work with wood, well, you get the idea.

It is very easy to be the Practical Pagan without cheapening the experience or overdoing it dramatically. After all, no one really need a big witch hat and a cast iron cauldron sitting dead centre in the front foyer for all to see to have a Pagan home and neither do you need to set up a mini Stonehenge in the backyard (a small altar by a tree or birdfeeder may do just fine) .

If space is an issue, aim small. If disapproving eyes are an issue, aim for subtle and above all, aim for modest and something which will complement your personality!

Make your home really feel like yours and let it be inspired by your Pagan path.

Happy (Pagan) interior decorating!



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