A check into history as to the origins of Christmas reveals its Pagan roots. Emperor Aurelian established December 25 as the birthday of the “Invincible Sun” in the third century as part of the Roman Winter Solstice celebrations. Shortly thereafter, in 273, the Christian church selected this day to represent the birthday of Jesus, and by 336, this Roman solar feast day was Christianized. January 6, celebrated as Epiphany in Christendom and linked with the visit of the Magi, was originally an Egyptian date for the Winter Solstice. I’ve heard both arguments as to the choosing of December 25 to celebrate Christ’s birth. One negative: it was the Church’s way of Christianizing the Pagan holiday to make it its own, giving them control over conquered cultures. The other positive: the Church wanted to effectively demonstrate its sincerity it meant no harm to conquered cultures; absorbing current practices to ensure it wouldn’t completely erase their histories.
Boring technical stuff first. Speculation as to whether the birth of Christ should belong to Yule or Spring Equinox probably stems from a number of cultures that considered Spring Equinox the beginning of the year. The classical Greeks invented the still-used system of numbering the degrees of the zodiac of signs according to the beginning of the seasons, and decided that the fiducial (the point accepted as a fixed basis of reference or comparison) of that zodiac should be O ̊ Aries on March 21, Spring Equinox. In the ancient Roman calendar March was the first month, still reflected by the numerical names for some of the months; September (7), October (8), November (9), December (10). January 1st was officially adopted as the beginning of the year in 153 BC to coincide with the date of entry into office of the Roman consuls. But it wasn’t until sometime after the adoption of the Gregorian calendar that the church settled on January 1st to be the beginning of the year. It seems I remember reading it wasn’t until the mid-eighteenth century that January 1 superseded the Annunciation (March 25) as the beginning of the church year in England. Hopefully Rita Bay, being the fantastic historian she is, may be able to help! She’s also featuring multicultural holiday posts all this month at www.RitaBay.com .
Debates aside, after a number of emails asking how Winter Solstice is celebrated, I’m going to try to recreate one here.
To start, Yule (Winter Solstice) is connected with Rebirth, a celebration of New Beginnings. It occurs when the Sun enters O ̊ of Capricorn, usually December 21, but occurring on December 22 this year.
A festive occasion, at this ritual there are always a few guests, some of whom are not Pagan. This Sabbat, more than any other, is an ideal “bridge” ritual since the basic symbolism of Yule and Christmas are so similar. The symbolism works, and it makes a valid point of universality.
The altar displays all necessary magickal tools: athame, sword, chalice, bells, besom, candles, mortar and pestle, charcoal brazier and incense, God article and Goddess article, salt, and water. It’s centered by a Yule log decorated with evergreens and three candles: one white for the Maiden, one red for the Mother, and one black for the Crone. Around the rim of the altar is a holly wreath (which can be a hula hoop covered with silk holly and glitter). This will be lifted up later in the ritual for participants to step through.
Whether conducted in daylight, or at night under the stars, with participants in full Wiccan attire this ritual carries visual and auditory impact. If you’re ever invited, I would urge you to attend!)
Greetings and Centering begin the ritual, with red-garbed High Priestess (HPS) and High Priest (HP) (in black) greeting each other as usual. The HP then greets the black-garbed Crone (wise woman, and usually longest practicing among the group, representing the ending solar year) and white-garbed Maiden (younger member, usually recently ordained into the order, representing the new solar year). HP then withdraws to the edge of the circle, to lead the group in a centering meditation. Guests may be invited to pray according to their belief as energy is centered from the Cosmos (heavens) above and the Earth below.
HPS is dressed in red as Mother, Maiden in white, and Crone in black. The three cast Circle according to the following sequence, and it’s a beautiful and moving ritual involving the use of magickal tools and appropriate words:
Sweeping on three levels with twig besom: Maiden
Cleansing the circle: Maiden—earth and water: Crone—fire and air.
Banishing pentagrams: HPS
Defining circle on three levels with sword: Crone
Invoking Spirit with wand: HPS
At that point Consecration begins. Words appropriate to the ritual are spoken by the HPS, always with the entreaty to “allow no evil in, allow no evil out”. Upon completion Passing the Kiss is done HPS to Maiden to Crone to circle.
A calling of the Watchtowers –representing one of the four elements—now begins, a spoken ritual called by individual members stationed at a distance, and requesting the presence of the element and its protection during the ceremony. The echoes build awareness, energy, focus and power. Corresponding colored lights are lit and raised by each with their calls.
East is the first to call, Air, a yellow light.
South is next, Fire, a red light.
West is next, Water, a blue light.
North is next, Earth, a green light.
(Anyone wanting the actual words, feel free to email me. They’re beautiful in their Charge.)
Then Invocation of the Goddess, is performed by HPS, Maiden and Crone, and finished by HPS/Mother.
Invocation of the God follows immediately, by HPS. HP, standing in the East, holds an unlighted gold candle toward the altar to light it from the white candle held forward by HPS. Words appropriate to the ritual are called between HP & Maiden, HP & Crone, HPS/Mother & HP and ending with HPS/Mother. The Crone directs people to move doesil ( pronounced jestle: clockwise) around the circle toward the East. As each participant passes to the west of the altar, the Crone passes the holly wreath over him/her. Maiden helps each one step out, and hands them a small white candle. As each person passes the HP they are to light their candle from the God candle. Usually the third verse of Silent Night/Solstice Night is sung, followed by Joy to the World for the procession.
After all are again standing in a circle, still holding their lit white candles and ringing the consecrated circle in light, HP brings his candle to the altar, and greets the three ladies.
All four touch chalice and athame, as they speak the traditional affirmation of life, a beautiful rhyming ode. Then all sing Deck the Halls while blessed cakes are passed until everyone has some. Use the traditional words here—they are Pagan!
When there are non-Pagans or even cowans as guests, instead of the usual sharing, the HP and HPS will open the circle with athame and sword, in preparation to carry out the old tradition by burning the Yule log in the fireplace (or bonfire), inviting all others to bring their candles too. HPS hails the Watchtowers in turn, who offer thanks to their aspects, Hail them, offer farewell and Blessed Be. Each extinguishes his light upon conclusion.
The ceremony closes with the HPS calling: The circle is open but unbroken.
The HP then calls: Let us carry it with us in spirit as we proceed to the Yule fire.
At the fireplace (or bonfire) everyone places their small candles around the Yule log as it burns. Gifts are exchanged, blessed wine and cakes are shared and enjoyed, and end with “merry meet.”
This was a rather clinical rendition, but I have faith in you. Y’all are writers. I know you can paint the stars pricking the indigo velvet of the night sky. Work in the cries of owls and other night birds, disturbed by the rising energy. Recreate the cadence of droning chant and sharp rung bell. The rattle of the twig besom as it sweeps away negativity. Droplets of water falling to earth like sparkling pieces of shattered crystal, blessing the perimeter of the Circle. The spill of salt along measured steps, a protection against evil. The intermittent glint of flame and moonlight along the polished length of the sword wielded by the Crone. A raised hand extending from crimson fabric, a smooth, slender length of birch topped by a single crystal gripped tight while Invoking spirit.
Weave in the way the wind pushes against you in a startling gust, swirling hems and fluttering cowled hoods around uplifted faces just as the East Watchtower cries out for Air’s presence. The way the bonfire leap highs, red and blue flames writhing amid a burst of sparks, candle flames guttering then flaring the exact moment the South Watchtower invokes his spirit aspect, Fire.
You can describe finale, the mystic swirling shift of robes as participants’ feet move in dancing unison until they’ve encircled consecrated space, flickering white candles held before them.
Who knows, this ritual may be the conclusion you’ve been looking for to end a story you’ve already written. Or it may be the beginning of a new one; a story sparked to life and carrying as much promise as the rebirth of the Sun.
Good writing everyone! Enjoy the days (and nights) preceding the upcoming Holidays!
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Filed under: Phantasy Friday, Uncategorized | Tagged: altar, athame, besom, blessed cakes, blessed wine, casting circle, chalice, Christmas, Crone, Emperor Aurelian, Epiphany, Great Rite, hally wreath, Maiden, Mother, pagan, Sabbat, Watchtowers, wiccan celebrations, Winter Solstice, Yule | 5 Comments »