Posts Tagged ‘pagan’

Why isn’t Christmas on the solstice?

2009/12/20

Some people are aware that Christmas is the de-secularized version of the Yule celebration of ancient times, which is a celebration of the Winter Solstice.  But the Winter Solstice happens anywhere between the 20th and the 23rd of December, and Christmas is on the 25th.  Why isn’t Christmas celebrated on the solstice?

In ancient times, when the Yule was THE celebration of the whole year in terms of scope and duration, people did not take things for granted, because that was tempting the gods to do their worst.  So, every year, the shadow cast by a stone was measured, during the days close to the solstice.  Every day, the shadow would be longer, until one day, there was no difference.  Was this the solstice?  Or was it just a taunt from one of the gods?  The next day, the shadow might be the same again.  Finally, the shadow would change, growing a tiny bit shorter.  Only then did the celebration begin, only then did people feel relief.

December 25 is the first day of every year that on can be sure to see the shadow cast by the Sun at noon get shorter.  December 25 was the first day that people could be sure that the Sun was going to return to the Northern sky, bringing warmth and life back to the world.  Even though Winter was just beginning, it was a time of merriment and feasting, because Summer would come again.  The Yule Tide celebration began with a vigil, held overnight from sunset to sunrise, to attend the Sun in its rebirth, after its journey through the land of the Dead.  Revitalized, renewed, it began the new year.

The celebration of the Yule was long because travel was difficult, and there was little else to do.  People would allow their hearth to go cold, take their animals, and travel to another dwelling, where they would spend days sharing in the abundance brought by the slaughter of an animal.  After a time, they might travel to another dwelling, and again feast.  Then, they would turn for home, to relight their own hearth, and prepare for the slaughter of one of their own animals.  Thus, the celebration of the Yule often extended into February, as the days grew steadily longer, even though Winter’s grip seemed unbreakable.

The Christian church encountered the Yule when it moved out of the Mediterranean area into the lands to the north.  Both the Byzantine and the Rome branches absorbed the pagan Yule Tide holiday into their calendar, testimony to the widespread observance of this ancient tradition.  Because it was an affront to the leaders of the Christian religion that people would celebrate the Yule and not celebrate Easter,  it was decided to bring the Yule into the Christian religion, by calling it the birthday of Jesus Christ.  Just as was the Sun reborn every year, the pagans could celebrate the birth of the Christian savior at the same time.

This is why Christmas isn’t on the Solstice, even though it is descended from a celebration of the Solstice.

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Candy, costumes, ghosts, and goblins

2009/10/09

The stores are bulging with candy to hand out on the upcoming pagan celebration at the end of the month.  This is probably the weirdest, most convoluted, mixed-up celebration in America, a day when we send our children out to do the exact opposite of what we normally tell them, a day when we want to be haunted, a day that everyone seems inclined to recognize.  What is this ‘all hallowed saints day eve’ celebration, any way?

Halloween, or All Hallowed Saints Day Eve, is the residue of one of the most spiritual of the ancient celebrations, or sabbats, on the witchcraft calendar.  As with other pagan holidays, what we know today is the Christian church’s attempt to bring the ancient celebration into the religious framework of the  church.  Christmas is another one, and some calendars still mark Candlemas on February 2nd.  These are celebrations which pre-date Christianity by thousands of years, and which are deeply ingrained in the psyche of people of Western European descent.

On the Wheel of the Year, early November is a time when Death is recognized and celebrated.  This sounds strange to us today, because Death has been ignored, hidden, and denied for most of modern history, but to ancient peoples, Death was as immediate, everyday, and essential as Life.  Without Death, Life cannot continue, for Life feeds on Death, and Death makes room for new Life.  Death was viewed as a doorway into another realm, not as an ending.  Death was not associated with any kind of judgment, nor with reward or punishment.  When people died, they became part of a spiritual realm, still able to influence the realm of the living, but removed from it.

Because the dead were considered to be still aware of the living, and able to influence events in the realm of the living, the living recognized the dead, venerated them, worshiped them.  The dead were remembered by the living, through rituals, story telling, the passing on of family heirlooms and treasures.  Because Death is all around us during the late Autumn, that was the time to remember and to cherish the dead.  It was commonly believed that the veil, or curtain, between the realm of the dead and the realm of the living was partially pulled back during that time, as the Life Force ebbed from the land.

Even today, the Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico, a deeply ritualistic, formalized remembering of the ancestors.  In spite of the Christian church insisting that there was NO spirit realm, that the dead were unaware of the passage of time between their death and the Day of Judgment, many peoples in Western and Northern Europe clung to their ancient customs, afraid of offending their forebears by ignoring them.  This was the most spiritual time of the year, when many people experienced communion with dead persons, or at least, felt the presence of loved ones who had passed on.

In order for the Christian church to bring a celebration into the church, it had to designate a reason for it, a justification for the celebration.  With the Yule Tide, it was the fiction that Christ had been born on the day of the celebration of the return of the Sun, just after the Winter Solstice.  With the celebration in witchcraft of those who had passed on, an aspect of Life that we call Death, a catchall was created.  The holy day of November first is the celebration of the lives of any person who was considered a saint, even if they had never been sanctified by the church.  This all-inclusive category allowed family members to venerate loved ones, under the pretense that the loved one was ‘as a saint.’

That is the reason for the holy day, or holiday.  That is why ghosts are a part of the celebration.  But the spin that the Christian church put on the whole affair had nothing to do with the original celebration, or sabbat, and does not reflect its intent.  It was probably one of the most peaceful, loving, contemplative sabbats, of the eight on the Wheel.  People were already conserving their resources, knowing that there were many months to go before food would be easily found, and the weather often was cold and bleak.  Harvest celebrations, themselves a recognition of the importance of Death in life, had been held just a few weeks before, so people were not anxious to see each other, as they would be by the time of the Yule.  There was no evil associated with this time, no fear of the unknown.  We have created those things in modern times, perhaps out of our frustration at not being able to observe what was probably one of the oldest annual celebrations on the Wheel of the Year.

You can keep Christmas, I’ll celebrate the Yule!

2008/12/02

Many folks don’t realize this, but Christmas is a distorted echo of an ancient pagan, or witchcraft, celebration of the Winter Solstice.  The Yule, or YuleTide, was begun on or about December 25th, which is the first day that it is always possible, no matter which day the solstice falls upon, to measure the shortening of a shadow cast at noon.  The celebration lasted weeks, or even months, as the primitive people of Western Europe gathered together to face their greatest enemy, the winter.  The evergreen tree was a symbol of Life carrying on through the Death of winter.  Candles were symbols of the Sun, which made life possible.

In a time when nothing was taken for granted, and gods peopled the heavens and earth, the idea that the Sun could just keep going South was not uncommon.  To believe that the world could end up in eternal night gave great cause for celebration when it was determined that the Sun was coming back.  Because people had lots of spare time during the months of Autumn, they could make handycrafts, which they shared with each other when they gathered for YuleTide.  An animal would be slaughtered, the thinning of the stock to ensure that some survived the winter, and a feast would be held.

Thus, the traditions of the Yule have been passed down, but the celebration has been distorted by Greed.  In order to get people out shopping, buying the things that they can no longer make, decorations go up early, special occasions are held, and people are encouraged to spend money on their loved ones.  A countdown to the day is held, and the anticipation builds, aided by commercials.  When the day finally arrives, it is a let down.  Soon, people are unhappy with the whole thing, and decide to take down the festive lights.

Killing a tree every year was never part of the Yule celebration, only decorating one outdoors.  For one thing, there was no room in the huts that families shared for a tree, and the idea of killing an evergreen at that time of year was like heresy.  Gift giving was not a given, (ha ha) but no one was expecting anything.  An article that someone has worked on for hours has that persons energy in it, and it has power emotionally.  Simply handing out gifts would have diminished the impact that gifts had, I believe.

because the celebration of the Yule was so deeply ingrained in the native population of Western Europe, the Christian church gave up trying to stop the celebration, and incorporated it into the Christian calander.  Because the populous believed that the Sun was reborn at the solstice, the church held that the Son was born at that time.  (This in spite of it being generally believed by scholars at the time that Christ was born during the Spring or Summer.)  The emphasis was placed on the religious meaning of the Christian celebration, and the Yule was not mentioned.

To me, Christmas has come to represent the worst of American culture, with Greed being the major offender, followed by Materialism.  People have been lead to believe that the celebration goes on before the fact, not after, so that they will buy more.  I embrace the Yule, because it does not have the materialistic trappings, and it spans the time when it is first noticeable that the days are getting longer.  That is the promise of another Spring, and Life returning.  That, to me, is the Reason For The Season.