*Feel free to highlight, copy and print for your own book of shadows.
WICCAN SABBATS - NORTHERN HEMISPHERE
(CANDLEMAS) FEB 1 - 2
Imbolc is the time of initiation, the time of beginning. We look forward to spring and summer, preparing for the activities done in the warm time of year. We order seeds from catalogs and make vacation plans. Imbolc is a time for weather magic and divination, as evident in the tradition of "Groundhog Day".
The Goddess at Imbolc
At this time of year, the Goddess is the teacher, the midwife, the foster mother. I see Her as Brighid, the Irish Goddess of the holy well and the sacred flame. (Her name can also be spelled Bridgid,Brigid, Bridhde, Bride, or Brigit.)
All life depends on water. Water that comes from the earth in springs and wells is especially precious. Since the Goddess is the living earth, wells and springs are her lifeblood. We drink from pure sources and feel refreshed.
Fire is energy, warmth, the spark of life itself. Fire keeps us warm, and cooks our food. Just as the returning warmth of the sun and the spring rains awaken (heal) the earth, causing it to give forth life once again, the influence of the Goddess heals us, inspires us, awakens the creativity within us. She is the Goddess of Poetry.
The God at Imbolc
In Irish mythology, Brighid was the daughter of the Daghda (DYE-dah or DOW-dah), meaning "The Good God".
Daghda is the God of abundance, food, and plenty. He is seen as a giant, a big man who carries a big club, which stands for both life and death. Shaped like the new shoots pushing out of the earth, it can also hit you over the head and kill you! The Daghda reminds us that life and death are always linked.
The Daghda is the powerful life of the earth itself that begins to reawaken under the rays of the growing sun. The giant figure of the Daghda reminds us that the earth is bigger and more powerful than we are.
Just as Brighid is the Goddess of the Poetry, the God as this time of year is also the Poet, whose words of power can bring healing or change the future, the guardian of secret knowledge.
A bowl of water is a necessity for your Imbolc altar. I collect rain water during the year, that I bless and use as holy water in my rituals. I save some of each of these collections, and put all the collected waters in my cauldron at Imbolc. Collecting samplings of water from places visited would also be most appropriate.
Also on the altar: Many, MANY candles! But, please, PLEASE be careful! Never leave your candles burning unsupervised, especially when small children or pets are around.
Also, a Brighid's Cross (woven from wheat) and pictures or symbols of fire and water.
The Colors of Imbolc
The traditional colors of Imbolc are white, red, and black (the colors of the Triple Goddess) Pink and silver make nice accents.
Incense, Herbs and Woods
Not only are fiery scents appropriate, but smells associated with cleansing and healing.
Dragon's blood, frankincense, mugwort and red sandalwood are appropriate as incenses.
Herbs include lavender, heather, sage and lemon.
For your Imbolc fire, Birch wood has a strong association with Brighid. Brambles, blackberries and willow are also appropriate.
Imbolc is the time for Spring cleaning. It is time to clear out the dust and cobwebs and prepare our homes, and ourselves, for the activity and growth that come during the spring season. This will take several days. I allow about a week, ending with the final ritual on the day of Imbolc.
Cleanse your Home
First, physically. Use vinegar and mugwort to was your windows and mirrors. Sweep down cobwebs and dust under books. Throw away all prosperity and protections charms that are dusty and old. Dust and polish all wooden hex signs, witch bottles and other ritual objects.
Next, psychically. Light a smudge stick (sage and lavender) and let the smoke reach every corner of your house. Blow the smoke behind doors, under furniture, even down drains! Open the windows and wave the smoke outside, taking the negative energy with it. Next, sprinkle holy (blessed) water around, followed by salt. Anoint wooden, bone and antler ritual items with appropriate oils.
Take a ritual bath. Fill the tub with lavender salts or oils. Soak for as long as you like, allowing all negative energy soak away. Scrub your nails, your hair, every place you can think of. As the water drains from the tub, visualize it carrying away all the negativity from you, leaving you fresh and clean, psychically as well as physically.
The Final Ritual
Cast a circle in your ritual space. Use Lavender oils or buds to create scent, filling the room. Think about the areas of your life that you would want to be more calm, peaceful. Ask the Goddess for ideas to create that peace.
Add frankincense and Dragon's Blood to the scents, again filling the room. Think about what you want to strengthen in your life. Ask for ideas to create that.
Decide what you can do to create peace and strength in your life and create a plan whereby you can do this without stress.
Thank the Goddess for her presence and inspiration. Share a cup of ginger tea and a piece of cinnamon toast with Her. Close the circle
(Spring Equinox) MARCH 20 - 22
is the celebration of the Spring (Vernal) Equinox when day and night balance. Astronomically, the sun crosses the celestial equator at this time. Held in late March, the actual date can vary from year-to-year as with the Autumnal Equinox and the two Solstices. The Vernal Equinox usually falls on March 20 or 21. Always check your almanac for your time zone.
Called Ostara after the Saxon Goddess Eostre, this is a time of renewal, regeneration and resurrection as the Earth wakes from her long slumber. This is the time of planting, children, and young animals.
It is the fertility of the Earth that we celebrate, and we symbolize this new life springing from sun and soil with eggs, chicks, lambs, and rabbits (all symbols of the Great Mother).
Ostara promises freedom form the dreariness of winters, it heralds the return of hope and dreams. With the days lengthening, we fill our lungs with fresh air and drink the pungent cleansing teas that clear our bodies from the heavy foods of winter
The Goddess at Ostara
Eostre is the Goddess of dawn and new beginnings. Her name is similar to the word for the Christian Easter, because that holiday took its name from the ancient Pagan Goddess of Spring and rebirth. Another name in the same family is Ishtar, the Babylonian Goddess of the forming and evening stars. Eostre's sacred animal is the rabbit or hare. Rabbits bear young in the springs, and have come to represent fertility and abundance. Hares, which are bigger and wilder than rabbits, have long been identified with magic, the springs, and the mysteries. Hares are associated with the moon - the ancients saw the "rabbit in the moon", today known as the "man in the moon".
The other Goddess we associates with the Spring Equinox is Kore or Persephone, daughter of Demeter, the Greek Goddess of grain and growing things. In the Spring, Persephone comes back from the Underworld to be reunited with her mother. A part of the Goddess that has been sleeping all winter reawakens with the warming of the ground of springs. She who has been mother, midwife, and teacher through the winter now welcomes back her own daughter-self, the Maiden of Springs. At this time of balance the Goddess is Mother and Daughter both.
The God at Ostara
The God of Springs is the young God, playful and joyful, the trickster. He is the spirit of everything that is joyful, light, and changeable. Born at Winter Solstice, nurtured at Imbolc, now he's like a young and mischievous child, still wild and new. He is raw, creative energy that has not yet been harnessed, tamed, civilized. He sees with clear eyes and does not hesitate to announce that the emperor is naked. He deflates the pompous and laughs at self-importance.
The trickster is an important spirit power in many earth-based cultures. To many of the Native American tribes, he is Coyote. To the First Nations of the Northwest Coast, he is Raven, who creates the world. In parts of West Africa, he is Elegba, the small child-God who as a point of light constantly runs circles around the universe. To early African-Americans, he is Brer Rabbit, who tricks his way out of trouble.
In European earth-based traditions, he is the Fool of the Tarot, who leaps blithely off a cliff as he follows a butterfly, yet always lands on his feet, because he takes himself lightly. He is spirit taking the plunge into matter, idea manifesting as form. He is Robin Goodfellow, shape shifter and wood sprite, child of the Faery King. He comes to us in the springs when all of nature is shifting and changing: seeds poking out sprouts, butterflies emerging from cocoons, tadpoles growing legs and turning into frogs.
We celebrate him on the Spring Equinox, but of course, his proper holiday comes shortly after, on April Fool's Day. In his honor, we play tricks on one another.
The altar for springs includes -- what else?-- images of rabbits and birds, eggs of all sorts, nests, flowers, and living plants.
If you like to keep your altar up for a long time, blow your eggs after you've colored them. Take a small branch from a tree and hang the eggs from it. Start some seeds, to be planted out in the garden, and let your seed trays become the basis for your altar. Water them every day, talk to them, and watch them grow.
The Colors of Ostara
All pastels are appropriate for Ostara -- especially the greens, yellows, and pinks. White makes a nice accent, but seems too sparse for an altar cloth representing the season of growth and fertility.
Incense, Herbs and Woods
Violet, honeysuckle, narcissus, and lemon make good incenses for Ostara -- the scents should be clear and light, floral and evocative, but not overwhelming or intoxicating.
Herbs associated with springs include meadowsweet, cleavers, clover, lemongrass, spearmint and catnip.
If you want to use wood in your spells and rituals, ash has a strong ling with the equinox due to its connection with the macrocosm-microcosm concept in the Celtic ogham runes - the balance of light and dark... as above, so below.
What better day to decorate for the springs season than with the flowers that blossom at this time? They are abundant and beautiful. Daffodils, jonquils, tulips, narcissus, violets and crocus and snowdrops - fill the house with their color after you've finished your spring cleaning.
Take regular walks around your neighborhood, looking and listening for signs of spring: the fattening leaf buds on trees, the first flowers of spring, the first Robin. Think about the Earth's movement toward greater light and less darkness.
(MAY DAY) APRIL 30th - MAY 1
Beltane is the Spring holiday of the Goddess. Halfway around the year from Samhain, when we honor our beloved dead, Beltane is the festival that celebrates all of the living world: plants, animals, and human beings. On both occasions, the veil between the worlds is said to be thin, and is no more unusual to see the fairies near Beltane, than it is to see the spirits of the dead at Samhain. Beltane is a time of Faerie Magic and the Queen of faeries is represented by the Queen of the May. Along with her consort, she rules over the festivities and serves as representative of the Goddess.
In most temperate climates, flowers are now in bloom, trees are in blossom or in full leaf, and gardens are beginning to grow. All of the hibernating animals are fully awake. The birds have nested and settled down to raise their brood.
Beltane is the Holiday of fertility. For Pagans, one of the great gifts of the Goddess is the power of the earth to grow wonderful flowers and fruits and all the things we eat. We are thankful fu the fertility of the earth, and our job is to keep the land and the soil healthy, to protect the animals and plants and trees so that fertility can continue. The earth is a living being, and all of her creatures are part of her body. Each has a place, a purpose, a special part in the great dance of life.
On Beltane, we also celebrate all the different kinds of human fertility and creativity. We give thanks for the power women and men have to make babies, to bring new people into the world. But people can create in other ways as well. When we paint pictures, make up songs, tell new stories, plant a garden, or cook a dinner, we take part in the fertility of the Goddess.
Beltane is also the time when we celebrate the joys of being alive. We give thanks for all the different kinds of pleasure our bodies give us, for without our bodies we couldn't see, hear, touch, taste, smell, run, dance, jump, sing, dance, or swim. Adults celebrate sexual pleasure at Beltane. For Pagans, the good, loving feelings that people can give each other with their bodies are special gifts of the Goddess. When we give each other love and pleasure, the whole earth is pleased.
But sexual pleasure, like anything of power, must come at the right time and in the right way, when we have grown ready for it. Children's bodies are constantly growing and changing and they need time to get to know them to enjoy the things they are able to do as they mature. So, Beltane is a good time for children to celebrate all the things they can do that they couldn't do before, and to run, jump, play games, climb trees, dance, turn somersaults and cartwheels or do anything that makes them glad they have a body.
Of course, bodies are different. People come in all shapes and sizes and colors. Not everyone can leap or dance, walk, see or hear. Beltane is also a time to admit that sometimes our bodies let us down. We get sick or hurt. Sometimes we well sad and angry about the things we cannot do.
Pagans believe that, just as the different plants and animals each have a special purpose in the web of life, so do the different kinds of people. That's why we should never mock people because of how they look or what they can or cannot do. People who cannot walk or see or hear or who have some other difference, have been given a special challenge in this life by the Goddess. Many things may be harder for them, but other things may be easier. And the harder the challenges we face, the more we can grow in our inner power.
In ancient times Bel-fires were lit on hilltops to celebrate the return of life and fertility to the world. Jumping over the fire could ensure safe delivery of a pregnant woman, spring spouses to young people, grant traveling a safe journey, ensure health, and bring about conception for a barren woman.
Beltane is a time of chaos, of the wild energy and passion found in the Greenwood. Be careful when you walk abroad on Beltane night - you never know when you're going to encounter.
The Goddess at Beltane
We have known the Goddess as Mother and as Daughter. At Beltane, She becomes the Lover of all living things. We could call her by some of the ancient names of the Love Goddess: Aphrodite, Astarte, Flora, Maia, Oshun. Many circles especially like to call her Queen Maeve, the Faery Queen, who comes riding forth from the Otherworld, the realm of dreams, imagination, spirits, and visions, to teach us how to move between the worlds.
In Irish mythology, Maeve was a fierce and beautiful Goddess, who honored her husband, Aillil, because he was generous, brave, and not jealous. She was associated with the sacred hare, which brings both magic and inspiration.
The God at Beltane
At Beltane the God is the Green Man, God of all growing things. He too is the lover of all that lives, the protector of the wild things and the guardian of the forest. Often he is depicted as a leafy face peering out from the branches and foliage. He even appears in many old Christian churches, carved on pillars or decorating the altar screen.
One of the Green Man's ancient names was Robin Hood, the huntsman who lives under the Greenwood Tree. You may be familiar with the stories of Robin Hood, bud did you know that he took his name from our ancient Pagan God? Robin Hood means "Rob in the Hood" - the hood worn by the Good People, the Faeries. He dressed in green and lived in the wilderness with his companions, who protected the poor and taught some hard lessons to the selfish and greedy.
The altar for Beltane can be a simple arrangement of flowers in bloom at this time. May baskets can be made of paper strips or created from existing baskets. Branches of Hawthorne (the May tree) or oak leaves and branches (sacred to Robin Hood) can form a green background. You might also want to include pictures of the Fair Folk. And be sure to set out a bowl of milk or cream for them at night. Don't worry if the cat drinks it - she's probably a Faery in disguise!
The Colors of Beltane
Bright colors abound at this time of year. Some especially connect the colors of purple and green with Beltane - the deep plum of grape wine, the peridot and hunter greens of the forest - and the gold of the sun shining through the trees are natural choices for Beltane
Incense, Herbs and Woods
Incenses used for Beltane should be intoxicating, heady, and erotic. Rose, jasmine, ylang ylang, peach, musk, and vanilla are all appropriate.
If you want to use herbs to make an incense or spell powder to throw on the fire, woodruff, fern, rose, chamomile, wormwood, and galangal are good choices.
Often you will read about the nine sacred woods used in kindling the balefire. Obviously, the trees should all have strong connections to magick, but substitutions can be made depending on where you live.
Oak would be the first choice, the backbone of the fire, so to speak. To that add eight other types of wood. Any and all of these are acceptable: apple, Hawthorne, birch, elder, ash, thorn (blackthorn), grape vine, rowan (mountain ash), holly, willow, cedar, yew and hemlock.
(Summer Solstice) June 20 - 21
Litha is the season of expansion, when the crops burgeon forth. We forget winters cares and spend our days basking under the brilliant light. The Summer Solstice brings us the longest day of the year - the zenith of the Sun King, and also His death as the Holly King dethrones him and takes reign over the now waning year. From now until Yule, the light will fade into darkness.
This is the time of lovers and gardeners. The rutting fervor of Beltane has deepened into the passionate eroticism that grows when partners become familiar with one anothers rhythms and moods. It is the love between those committed by heart as well as body. It is also the love of parents for their children (be they two- or four-legged!). Everywhere we look, ripeness spills out from field and forest.
Litha is the height of the Divine Marriage, then the Oak King falls, His vigor and prime giving way to the sagacity of the Holly King, even as the Goddess prepares Herself for harvest and Cronehood
The Goddess at Litha
At the Summer Solstice, the Goddess is the Generous Mother, Freya, Flora, Habondia, she who gives life and fruitfulness to all her children. Everything in nature is generous - otherwise we could not live. The apple tree makes hundreds of apples every year, when only one seed in one apple would be enough to reproduce the tree. Bees make honey so that the hive can survive the winter, but they keep on working all summer long, storing enough to share. Life could exist without climbing roses, striped butterflies, songbirds, raspberries, or wildflowers, but the Goddess keeps making new forms of beauty for us to enjoy.
The Goddess at Summer Solstice gives us not just what we need, but extra. We can feel close to her by being generous, giving more than were asked to give, and doing more than just our fair share. That way, we make abundance for all.
The rose is the Goddesss symbol at this time of year. Roses bloom abundantly in June, and we can take joy in their sweet scent and the lovely colors of their petals.
The God at Litha
All through the first half of the year, since his birth at the Winter Solstice, the God has been growing into this life in the visible, tangible world. Now, at the Summer Solstice, he transforms. The daylight is longest and strongest at this time, but now the power of night must begin to grow again. Everything and everyone who fulfills their purpose must change. The God dies in this world in order to be born into the Otherworld. Before, he was awake in this world and asleep in the Dreamworld. Now he becomes the Dreamer, asleep in this world but awake in the world of dreams and visions, the seed of what will come to be in this world. He becomes the Messenger, carrying our hopes and prayers to the spirit realms.
The God is also the partner of the Goddess, bringing abundance to all of nature. He is Lugh, the Sun God, and he is the ancient power of life who was known simply as the Good God, Keeper of the Crops, provider for his people.
At the Summer Solstice, the family altar can be covered with flowers, especially roses. On or around the altar, you might also place things you have completed and let go of, or are trying to let go of. Add any fist fruits of the season and, of course, images of the sun, sunflowers, and other symbols of the holiday.
You might have a special section on the altar for things to give away. Take one thing off your won altar and bring it to the family altar, or find something special to contribute. Let the things stay during the holiday season to soak up blessings, then give them away before Lughnasadh rolls around!
The Colors of Litha
Gold and green are two of the most Prevalent colors of this time of year. Not only do they represent the sun and the verdant forest, but they represent the colors of Faerie Fire Magic. Other color accents include sea green and red (especially when red roses are added to the altar).
Incense, Herbs and Woods
Incense should be full and robust - rose, violet, fir, and cedar are good. Tangerine, frankincense, and frangipani also work.
If you want to work with herbs at this time, St. Johns wort is one of the most popular associated with Litha. Also connected with the holiday: basil, parsley, mint, thyme, violet, dragons blood, fern, vervain, and lavender.
Woods of Midsummer include oak, fir, mistletoe, and holly.
Instead of nine sacred woods being used, these are kindled of oak and fir. The midsummer fires were used much like the balefires, to hex the cattle for health and safety, to drive away baneful influences and they also represented the power of the sun at its zenith.
Aug 1 - 2
Lugnasadh (pronounced Loo'-na-sah) is the Celtic festival dedicated to the God Lugh, the Long Handed, who is associated with light and fire. he festival is also considered to be the first harvest, the harvest of the grain, and is linked to the God (or Spirit) of the Corn. Summer is at it height, but already the days are growing shorter and we know that autumn is on its way.
This is the season to think about our hopes and fears. We hope that we will be able to pick and eat all the things we worked so hard to grow - but a lot could still happen, storms, drought.
To harvest we must cut down the plants we have tended so carefully. We mourn and grieve for the spirit of the grain. We honor them because they give us life.
The Goddess at Lammas
This is the season that the Goddess becomes the Mother of the Harvest. She is strong, her face dark from the sun and wind. he carries a scythe and a basket of fruits, vegetables and ears of corn. She knows that in order to eat bread we must cut the grain. In fact, is we didn't cut it, it would die anyway, for that is the only way next year's grain can grow.
We can call on the Harvest Mother when we have difficult decisions to make or hard tasks to perform. We must face our fears of failing, of losing the harvest, or making mistakes. She gives us the strength to do what must be done, to tell the truth, even when it hurts, and to say no to things that are not right.
She loves us, her children, and her gifts are food, abundance, and plenty. Everything we need to live and grow.
She is hope as well as fear. When there is something special we hope for, we can ask her help. But, remember, she expects us to work for what we want! We honor the Harvest Mother whenever we don't take the easy way out, when we do what is right, when we face fear and continue on ahead, when we work hard and wait patiently for rewards.
The God at Lammas
The God of this season is Lugh (Loo). He is also called Samildanach - the Many Skilled. He is the God of all the arts and skills. At this time of year, when we can feel the sun begin to wane and the days grow shorter we say the God is already halfway into the Otherworld. He is in the realm where ideas are born, where dreams and inspiration come from Spirit and be brought into our world of day and night by our work, our skill and our art. In his honor, games in champions would test their skills and strength were held by the ancients.
Lugh is also a sun God. He is called Lugh of the Long Hand or Long Arm - the long rays of the sun as it sinks lower in the sky at this time of year. He is always reaching out to us with warmth and comfort. We can feel close to the God at this season by practicing our skills, making art, playing music.
The Altar should have on it some of the first fruits, grains, and Vegetables that are now ripening. You can add things that represent your skills: a book, a drawing, even a hammer! Bread you have baked in the figure of the Sun or a man (to represent the God) could also be used for the Simple Feast during ritual. Corn Dollies, symbolic of the Goddess, are appropriate as well.
One section of the altar can represent your hopes. Look for pictures in magazines and make a hope card.
Another section of the altar can be for your fears. Draw pictures of them, fold them up, and, as part of your ritual, burn the pictures and release your fears.
Have you and/or your ancestors been part of a struggle for justice? What struggles going on in the world right now could use some help from Lugh's spear? Put something on the altar to represent those struggles.
The Colors of Lammas
Although we still see green, for the fields and trees have reached their full spectrum of foliage, the focus is in the yellows and golds of the corn, and the black of the Dark Mother. Bone and Tan accent this holiday nicely.
Incense, Herbs and Woods
Incenses for Lugnasadh include frankincense, sandalwood, copal and heather.
A wide variety of herbs are associates with this time of year including: Dill, Yarrow, Sunflowers, Rye, Oats, Corn and Wheat (of course!), Hazelnuts and Acorns (be careful! These are poisonous unless properly leached of their toxins. I would advise using them for decorative purposes, rather than ground in an incense)
Woods connected with this Sabbat include Grape Vine, Hazel and Oak.
(Autumn Equinox) SEP 22 - 23
The Fall Equinox, is our harvest celebration. As during the Spring Equinox is is a time of balance between dark and light. But now, we are moving from light to darkness, from warmth to cold. We gather the harvest of summer and prepare for the winter ahead.
The Goddess at Mabon
At Mabon, The Mother of the Harvest becomes the Old One, the wise grandmother who teaches us to rest after our labors.
In ancient Greece, the Goddess of the season was both Demeter, who can be generous with her gifts, or hold them back as she mourns for her daughter, and Persephone, who goes into the underworld to return again.
In the British Isles, the ancient name for the Goddess of this time was Modron, which simply means "Mother". Sometimes she was pictured as a trio of women, each seated on a throne. Together, they were called the Mothers. They were responsible for abundance and sustaining the life of the people In the Celtic myths, is is Modron's son who is stolen away into the Underworld.
Whenever we feed the hungry, we honor the Mothers.
The God at Mabon
This Holiday takes its name from the God Mabon. He was called "Mabon, son of Modron," which means "Son, Son of the Mother." He is such an ancient God that most of the stories about him have been lost. All we know is that he was stolen away from his mother when he was only three nights old and imprisoned until he was rescued by King Arthur's companions.
Because Mabon knows what it is like to be imprisoned, he is also the God of freedom. He frees animals from their cages and loosens the bonds of all those unjustly imprisoned. He protects all things wild and free.
His totem animals are the owl, blackbird, stag, eagle and salmon.
We honor Mabon when we protect the wild things, animals and when we work for freedom for all people.
The Mabon altar is simple. Make an arrangement of some of the things harvested that will keep for a few weeks: winter squash, dried corn, herbs, pumpkins. If you haven't harvested anything yourself, this is a good time to go to a farmers' market or a pick-your-own farm and choose what you want on the altar.
Autumn leaves, a bouquet of late-blooming flowers, picture or figurines of animals are good additions, as well.
If you know any stories of people who have been imprisoned for their beliefs, their religion or race, you can put their pictures on the altar.
The Colors of Mabon
The colors of Mabon are vivid and brilliant. Just look at the burst of color in the forests with autumn leaves in red, bronze, orange, yellow and rust! Even the night sky glows a deep indigo and the stars shine clear thru the colder sky.
Incense, Herbs and Woods
Nutmeg, cloves, SPICE are the scents of Mabon, along with Sandalwood and myrrh. Heather, pine and cedar also make good choices.
Herbs commonly associated with Mabon are: mace, cinnamon, cloves, cypress, juniper, oakmoss, marigold, ivy and sage.
Build your fires with pine, apple, and oak. Make your wands from hazel at this time of year.
(Oct 31 - Nov. 1)
Known to most as "Halloween: Samhain is the time that the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead is the thinnest. In ancient times it was believed that this is the time that our ancestors would return to visit us, to give help and advice. People set out lights in hollowed-out turnips to guide the spirits of the dead (the fore-runners of the modern Jack-o-lanterns) and put out food as an offering (which evolved to the modern tradition of "trick-or-treating").
Pagans are not afraid of the spirits of the dead. They are our friends and family. They are our ancestors who gave us life. We call them our "beloved dead". Death is a natural part of life, in fact, a gift of the Goddess. If nobody died, there would be no room for new things to be born, not change or growth.
Nobody really knows what happens when they die. Most Pagans believe that our spirits live on in one way or another while our bodies return to the elements and sustain other lives. There are many beautiful names for the place where our spirits go: Summerland (the place that is always summer and never winter), Tir n'a Nob (The Irish "Land of the Youth" where spirits grow younger and younger until they are young enough to be reborn) , Avalon (the Isle of Apples, where the dead wander in the orchards of the Goddess, where the trees bear fruit and flowers at the same time), and Heaven (where streets are paved with gold, and the spirits are transformed into angles and spend eternity in the presence of God). However we imagine this place, it is a place of peace and rest where we stay for a time until we are ready to be reborn again, perhaps as an animal or a tree or as another person. In each life we learn new lessons, so our spirits are always growing wiser.
Samhain is also our New Year's Day. It may seem strange to have a new year begin in the fall, when the days are growing shorter and colder. But death and birth are two sides of the same coin. It is the time of death and the time of new beginnings, when we think about hope and change and what the next year will bring.
The Goddess at Samhain
The aspect of the Goddess at Samhain is the Crone. The Crone is the Old one, who teaches us wisdom and helps us let go when we need to change and grow. Growing older means losing something as well as gaining something. The Crone teaches us that letting go is a natural part of life.
When we let go, we make space for something new, just as when a person dies, they make room for another person to be born. When we let go of the old year, let it die, we make room for the new year to be born.
The time between Samhain and Winter Solstice (Yule) is the waiting time, like when a babe is in the womb, not yet ready to be born. We don't yet know what the new year will bring, but we can dream, and imagine, and plan!
We can feel close to the Crone at this time of year by spending some time with an older person. Visit your grandparents, or an elderly neighbor, who can tell you stories about their life. Knit or Crochet blankets to donate to a retirement home at Yule.
The God at Samhain
The aspect of the God at Samhain is the Horned God, the stag whose antler are fully developed. In ancient times, people depended on hunting for their food. The Horned God was the God of the hunt, and he represents the animal that gives its life so we can be fed.
Today, most of us buy our meat at the store, and some of us are vegetarians. But even the vegetables and grains were once alive. The Horned God reminds us that our lives are gifts given to us by other living beings. Because all food is a gift of a life, it is sacred. We treat food with respect.
We feel close to the Horned God by stopping for a moment before eating, to thank the plants and animals that have given their lives to be our food. We also say thanks for the work of all those who grew and harvested that food.
In our family, we take the opportunity of the Thanksgiving holiday (which does fall during the Samhain season!) to honor the Horned God, to give thanks for the "harvest" of the past year.
The Altar at Samhain can be covered with a black or orange cloth. Upon it, pictures of our beloved dead and things that remind us of them are very appropriate. Symbols of the season, such as pumpkins, pomegranates, gourds, Indian corn and fallen leaves make wonderful and beautiful decorations.
The Colors of Samhain
Orange and Black are the most commonly thought of colors associated with Samhain. But, also consider the other colors of autumn: Rust, Bronze, Red and Yellow of the leaves, the Brown of the Earth, and the grey-green of dying moss.
Incense, Herbs and Woods
Gum mastic, Copal and Myrrh creates an Other-worldly atmosphere when burnt. Heather and Clove also add to the ambiance.
Herbs for this Sabbat should include wormwood and Mugwort. Wash your scrying mirror or crystal ball with and infusion of these herbs. A tea of Chamomile and Valerian can produce a drowsy, trance-like state. Rosemary is used for remembrance, so is perfect for Samhain.
Your bonfire, whether it be outside or in your fireplace, should be of Hazel, Hemlock and/or Apple wood. Inscribe runes of divination on the pieces of wood before placing them in the fire, then watch the flames for symbols and omens.
Contacting the Dead
Most Pagans consider contacting the dead a risky proposal, at best. We do so only when absolutely necessary. Contacting the dead can be disruptive to your psyche. While some spirits involve themselves in our world as guides and mentors, others remain connected in more negative ways. Spirits need to be free to move on and we can best help them by leaving them alone. Death is a transition, signaling movement from one realm to another, and it's risky, and rude, to disturb them.
Samhain is one of the few exceptions to this rule, but even at this time, we do not hold seances or call up spirits who do not want to be disturbed. During this time we invite those whom we wish to remember to be part of our celebrations IF they choose to join us, but we never coerce.
The three days surrounding Samhain are the most potent times of the year for divination and scrying. Since the veil between worlds is thinnest, we can see easily into the realms of spirit and faerie.
(Winter Solstice) Dec 21 - 23
The celebration of Midwinter. The Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year, when the Sun King is re-born to light the world, to free it from the chilling grip of winter.
Traditionally a time of getting together, parties and festivities. In the past, villages and towns were often cut off from one another, going through the harsh part of winter alone. Yule was the hope which people hung on to, the hope for the return of warm weather and planting seasons. When Yule arrived, with it was cause for celebration, the source of life was re-emerging from darkness
The Goddess at Yule
At Winter Solstice, the Goddess is seen as the Mother. The Dark Mother, Mother Night, Mother Winter. Just as death is followed by re-birth, the Crone Goddess of Samhain becomes the Mother who gives birth to the Sun.
The Dark Mother is the giver of gifts and the teacher of lessons. She gives her gifts and her love freely to her children, without limitations. We don't have to earn them. We don't have to "deserve" them. We simply receive them. We are worthy because we are.
The God at Yule
The gifts of the Mother are brought by the God, the Bring of Gifts. He is the one who carries them into the world to be used and enjoyed.
Old and tired by the longest night, the God goes to sleep in the arms of the Goddess and is re-born at dawn as the Sun, and fresh possibilities are re-born in us all.
He brings all of your hopes and wishes and dreams for the coming year with him. From him we learn to rest and be renewed when we are tired, and to trust, especially when life seems hard, that change will come.
The Altar at Yule centers around the Sun. A yellow candle, a picture, or a figurine can be used to represent the Sun. I like to use a white Altar covering, representing the snow covering the sleeping earth. Pine Cones and nuts represent the sleeping earth A Yule log, made from last year's tree, with a hole whittled in it holds the yellow candle representing the sun.
The Colors of Yule
Red and Green are traditional colors this time of year. White, gold (for the Sun King, and silver (for the Holly King) are also appropriate.
Incense, Herbs and Woods
Bayberry, cinnamon, frankincense, are the traditional Yule scents, as well as spruce or pine.
Write wishes on bay leaves then throw them into the Yule fire. Holly invokes the powers of protection and good fortune.
Birch, Pine and Ash make up the Yule fire, inviting protection and prosperity for t he coming year.
Traditionally, Yule is associated with the longest night of the year, the hope of return of the sun and light, rebirth. In you meditations, you may want to think about how you might like to invite light, hope, and energy back into the world and your life.