Tag: pagan celebration

Dec 21

Why This Winter Wimp Celebrates the Solstice

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the winter solstice! You know what that means, right??? The downward, darkward slide we’ve been experiencing is about to begin ratcheting uphill again, minute by minute, towards the light.

Image via pixabay/PublicDomainPictures

Granted, the cold, dreary, loooong march of winter is just getting underway, but the darkness is gathering its skirts and trotting on out. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t have anything against darkness, in general. In fact, I love the night. …Except, to me, the winter’s bleak nighttime hours simply can’t compare to those of spring, filled with the restless chirps of peepers… or the drowsy rise and fall of cicada song on warm summer nights. Personally? I see it as a quality over quantity thing.

I’m pretty sure the ancient Celts agreed, too. At the winter solstice, they marked the rebirth of the sun by celebrating Yule (originally called Alban Arthuan or “Light of Arthur”— as in the king). It was a big deal, Yule; it predates Christianity and is one of the oldest winter celebrations of them all.

Image via pixabay/tarotize

For the Celts, Yule was all about light and life.

Ceremonial fires were lit to celebrate the sun’s turning point. A Yule log was burnt to bring good luck and drive back the darkness of midwinter. It was kindled from the remains of the previous year’s log and allowed to glow and smolder for twelve whole days, owing to the Celtic belief that the sun stood still for a dozen days at solstice-time.

Evergreens, plants which lived while others died back, were used to decorate the interiors and exteriors of homes. Holly and ivy were believed to keep dark energy at bay, while giving nature spirits a safe haven to retreat to inside the home. Mistletoe was carefully harvested from oak trees by Druid priests and used to ward off dark spirits and promote fertility. Some believe the ancient Celts decorated trees with stars and suns and moons to honor their gods, and offered gifts to show gratitude for their blessings.

Image via Unsplash/tookapic

Just as these and other ancient practices have persisted into modern tradition, so should the power of the solstice. Yes, we have many more days of cold ahead and, no, I’m still no fan of winter—save for the beauty of the snow, the fun of sledding, and the roaring-fire-wrapped-up-in-coziness factor. Regardless, the winter solstice, for me, is wholly and thoroughly and utterly deserving of celebration.

Why?

Simple: it reminds me of the value of hope.

Every year, without fail, the winter solstice teaches this single, all-important lesson: even at the end of the longest night, light returns.

Image via Unsplash/Aaron Burden

Happy Solstice to you and yours! I sincerely hope you make the best of the light.

Oct 30

A Celebration of Samhain

My first introduction to Samhain (pronounced SAH-win or SOW-in) came through, of all things, a Danzig song called Soul on Fire.  This, despite the Celtic blood flowing through my veins. I can’t quote the song (copyright laws), but if you’re so inclined, you can check out the lyrics or give the song itself a listen. (Yup, it’s a little dark.) For what it’s worth, back when I listened to Glenn Danzig’s music (including the Misfits–who I still kind of ♥), I had burgundy-colored hair and wore Doc Martens with baby doll dresses. Altogether, a sign of the times (or at least of my times) in the nineties.

My introduction to Samhain might have occurred in a dark sort of context, but the ancient Celtic celebration was about a different kind of darkness. The Celts recognized two seasons: summer and winter; Samhain marked the turn from summer’s light and warmth to the chill and darkness of winter.

Ruins, Ireland. Image via Unsplash/PublicDomainPictures

Samhain was, for the Celts, the beginning of a new year. It was honored accordingly, with celebrations and feasts. Monuments also captured the sunrise on Samhain, which was situated halfway between the autumnal equinox and winter solstice. Since the ancient Celts counted nights, rather than days, the celebration of Samhain traditionally began at sundown on October 31st and carried into November 1st.

Image via Unsplash/freestocks.org

Samhain not only shares a date with Halloween, but many of its traditions also live on in the modern-day holiday. Likewise, it bears a strong resemblance to the Mexican Dia de los Muertos.

It was believed that the veil thinned between the living and the dead during Samhain, a time when plants died back and animals retreated to their dens. Spirits would walk the earth, visiting loved ones or, in the case of evil spirits, spreading harm. People refrained from going out at night, or would go out only in disguise, hoping to conceal their identity from darker energies. They might place a candle in a window to welcome back loved ones who had passed, or carve a face into a turnip (the precursor to today’s jack-o-lantern) to ward off negative spirits. The dearly departed were invited to attend the feasts of Samhain, while offerings were left for nature spirits, in hopes of receiving blessings in return.

Image via wikicommons, unable to find original attribution

Samhain was (and is) a celebration of contrasts.

People lit communal bonfires (*originally called bonefires, with bones from feasts added as offerings), to bring light even as the sun began its fading. The gathering of crops and slaughtering of livestock meant sustaining human life over the long winter. Plants were dying, but seeds could be sown in the yet-unfrozen ground. Dormant fields would be fed with the remains of unharvested crops and with the ashes of bonfires. It was a waning time, a time of rest in preparation for future growth.

Image via Unsplash/StockSnap

There’s no denying that Samhain is a time of great transition. Like the ancient Celts, modern humans can use it as an opportunity to look behind us–even as we prepare to turn forward.

Samhain can help us remember and honor lost loved ones; it  can help us reflect upon our hard work and remind us to reap what we have sown. This is a time when we can reaffirm bonds among family and friends as life draws in from outdoors. It can help us lay the groundwork for creative pursuits and other activities.

Samhain marks a time for us to rest and recharge. We can plant the seeds of future growth, and prepare for those first steps that will lead us to a wide open run, come spring.

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Sources and recommended reading:

http://www.newgrange.com/samhain.htm

https://wicca.com/celtic/akasha/samhainlore.htm

https://www.circlesanctuary.org/index.php/celebrating-the-seasons/celebrating-samhain