Friday, December 17, 2010

du jour: Saturnalia

Today marks the Roman festival of Saturnalia.  Originally celebrated on a single day, then three, then a week, this period of revelry is said to have inspired the modern day carnivales.  Key to the festivities was the switching of roles between servant and master.  As with many originally pagan feasts and celebrations, the custom trickled down and was adapted by Christianity into Misrule.

Saturn's Greek counterpart is Cronus (Kronos), of course, and the significance of His/Their mythos is great.  I would love to write more about this at the moment, but cannot - Chronos ("Father Time") is not on my side this morning (Who, incidentally, is a different deity that Cronus; it's somewhat confusing, but clear once one researches the mythology).  However, for now, I post the links to Wikipedia and encourge taking a look:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tea, anyone?

I was talking about this photo with a friend yesterday, and I just had to post it.We had tea with two other witches yesterday afternoon, and we laughed about this on the way home.  Hysterical.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Abundance and Gratitude

This was my Tarot draw today:  The Empress from the Robin Wood Tarot.  I don't usually share my Tarot draws, but today I feel particularly joyful.  She rarely appears for me, so I know it's an important sign when she arrives.  I drew this early this morning after I awoke, and I didn't realize (though I should have) how significant a draw this card would be for the day.  

They always are significant, without a doubt.  We just sometimes don't realize the importance or personal meaning at the time.  Sometimes I go back weeks, even months, later to consult my Tarot record and say to myself, "oh, NOW that makes sense!"  But I digress...

Today I had one of the most enjoyable afternoons I can remember for a while, sharing ideas and tea with new friends; filling a space in my life that has needed to be occupied for a long time.  It was wonderful and joyous.  

I also am grateful for the increasing number of followers that I have here. Last year, when I began this blog I was in a very bad place, and as a result I felt as if my ideas were just going out into the ether and disappearing.  Now, I'm making new, online acquaintances; sharing thoughts, perspectives and jokes, and mutual admiration and edification.  It's good for the soul, as I'm sure you'll agree.  Thanks to each of you who are out there, reading these ramblings.

The Empress portends abundance, fertility, the blessings of the earth and nature.  She is a woman of authority and compassion, spinning the thread of life with a contented, knowing smile.  

What have your experiences been with The Empress, if you have a daily Tarot practice?  What message, or feelings, or energy do you perceive from this card?  I would love to hear from you.

Thanks again for stopping by my little strand of the web.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Yuletide Altar

I finally got it up and running.  Thankfully.

There's a lesson to be learned this evening for me, however.  I was somewhat rushing to get this done - clipping the holly (it's really pyracanthas) and the ivy, cleaning the room, getting all the candles ready - and I was really scattered when I began my ritual.  Not good.

I spilled bayberry oil, which proceeded to soak a spot as big as an orange THROUGH both cloths and to the wood below.  Essential oils eat right through varnish, so I had to rush to get everything - yes everything - off, clean the spot, and then put everything back.  I finished as well as I could, and left feeling a bit deflated.

Lesson for me - don't rush.  I should have taken a big breath after assembling everything, rather than pushing forward and trying to be in a relaxed, spiritual mindset when I wasn't ready.  

Hopefully the Powers That Be will appreciate the effort, if not exactly the execution.

du jour: The Feast of Santa Lucia

I am passionate about the holidays, both here in the United States and internationally.  I find it extremely interesting to learn about festivals in other cultures and explore the myths, legends, and traditions that led to them.  The comparisons around this particular holiday season are most exciting because so many customs are borrowed and shared among different countries and faiths, and many of the customs originate in paganism.

Saint Lucy (Santa Lucia, 283-304) was certainly not pagan; in fact, she was persecuted because she refused to marry a pagan in an arranged marriage. It seems that she wanted to remain a virgin, gave instruction for her dowry to be given to the poor, and when her betrothed caught wind of all this (and heard the erroneous news from a gossiping nurse that Lucy had found a better man), the spurned Groom-to-be ran to the governor of Sicily and revealed that Lucy was a Christian.  At that time, being a Christian was a no-no.

Rather like being a pagan is now...sigh...but I digress...

So, since Lucy wanted to remain a virgin, was a Christian, and didn't want to marry, as her punishment the governor ordered her to burn a sacrifice to the Emperor.  She refused, of course, and was then sentenced to a brothel, to be repeatedly defiled.  That's when things became interesting.

The soldiers tried to carry her off to the whore-house, but she became incredibly heavy and they were unable to budge her, regardless of how many men tried. They even resorted to a team of oxen, but to no avail.

She was then stabbed in the throat to stop the constant denouncement of her captors, but that didn't work either.  She neither died, nor stopped speaking. Burning didn't work either.

In medieval times, around the 15th Century, another torture was added to her martyrdom legend.  In some tales the guards gouged out her eyes with a fork; in others, she gouged out her own after they were admired by her pagan bridegroom.  Regardless of how she actually lost her eyes, this is the reason that St. Lucy (whose name, incidentally, contains the Latin root lux, meaning "light") became the patron saint of the blind.  In many artistic depictions of St. Lucy, she can be seen carrying a platter holding her eyeballs.  After her martyrdom, she was rewarded with new and improved eyes by God.

Now, I know all you gentle readers are asking yourself, "How does this have anything to do with the holidays?" 

Saint Lucy is one of the few saints celebrated by Scandinavian Lutherans, who take part in Saint Lucy's Day celebrations on December 13th, and they retain many elements of Germanic paganism.   It is mainly celebrated in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries, but festivities also take place in Italy, Malta, a few eastern European countries, and even here in the US in states with large Scandinavian/Scandinavian ancestry populations.

In traditional celebrations, St. Lucy is portrayed by a young woman with lights and sweets, usually wearing a crown of candles.  Others process behind her, usually, each holding a single candle.  Wearing a white robe and red sash, the candles represent both the light renewed (sound familiar?) and the fire that failed to burn Lucy at her execution.

Celebrations are held on December 13th because this day was commonly thought to be the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice, until the late 19th century.  The light of Santa Lucia is thought to help people survive the long winter that is only halfway over, in a part of the world that is at its darkest during this season.

But that's not all!  This is directly from Wikipedia:

The pre-Christian holiday of Yule, or jól, was the most important holiday in Scandinavia and Northern Europe. Originally the observance of the winter solstice, and the rebirth of the sun, it brought about many practices that remain in the Advent and Christmas celebrations today. The Yule season was a time for feasting, drinking, gift-giving, and gatherings, but also the season of awareness and fear of the forces of the dark.

Lussinatta, the Lussi Night, was December 13.  Then Lussi, a female being with evil traits, like a female demon or witch, was riding through the air with her followers, called Lussiferda.  This itself might be an echo of the myth of the Wild Hunt, called Oskoreia in Scandinavia, found across Northern, Western, and Central Europe.

Between Lussi Night and Yule, trolls and evil spirits, in some accounts also the spirits of the dead, were thought to be active outside. It was particularly dangerous to be out during Lussi Night. Children who had done mischief had to take special care, since Lussi could come down through the chimney and take them away, and certain tasks of work in the preparation for Yule had to be finished, or else the Lussi would come to punish the household. The tradition of Lussevaka – to stay awake through the Lussinatt to guard oneself and the household against evil, has found a modern form through throwing parties until daybreak. Another company of spirits might come riding through the night around Yule itself, journeying through the air, over land and water.

It is tempting to look at Father Christmas’ journey with his reindeer as a commercial relic inspired by this superstition.
So there you have it - the synthesis of a Christian martyr, a Scandinavian witch, the observance of the Solstice, and the cross-cultural struggle between the darkness and the light (with a dash of Santa Claus and flying reindeer for good measure) all wrapped up the nice, shiny package of a modern day festival.  

Holidays aren't ever as simple as they seem, and - to me - the complexities make them all the more rich and wonderful.