The December installment of ‘A Year And A Day’ on Pagan Pages Ezine is out!
Check out my post about Daily Wiccan Practices!
Yuletide, Winter Solstice, Midwinter, Winter Rite, Festival of Sol Invictus/Mithras, Saturnalia (Roman), Cuidle, Alban Arthan, Gŵyl Galan Gaeaf, Meán Geimhridh (Welsh)
December 21, 2013 (Northern Hemisphere)
Quarter Festival, Solstice, Lesser Sabbat
The winter solstice, or Yule, marks the shortest day of the year. From this point on, days continue to grow longer until Midsummer (Litha), therefore Yule celebrates the return of the sun, and light’s triumph over dark. Yule is also thought of as the time when the Goddess gives birth to her son, the God of Light, and the Oak King defeats the Holly King in the battle of the seasons.
Other Yuletide festivals include Saturnalia (Roman), Mummurs Day (Celtic), Meán Geimhridh, Alban Arthan (Welsh), and Hogmanay (Scotland). It is thought that Christmas takes its origins from these ancient pagan festivals. Even the date of December 25 coincides with the festival days of the ancient Persian God Mithras and the Roman God Sol Invictus.
Yule is a time for celebrations, feasting, lighting bonfires and candles (to celebrate the return of the sun’s light), evergreens, wreaths, holly, mistletoe, Yule trees, Yule Logs, and cups of wassail for good cheer. It is a good time to work on introspection, balance, peace, love and harmony. Yule represents new beginnings, rebirth and renewal, and hope for the future.
© A Year And A Day (2013)
Third/Last Harvest, Blood Harvest, Halloween, Old Hallowmas, All Hallows Eve, All Saint’s Eve, Witch’s New Year, Feast/Day of the Dead, Ancestor Night, Feast of Spirits, Feast of Apples, Festival of Pomona, Samonios, Samana, Shadowfest (Strega), Nos Galan/Calan Gaeaf (Welsh), Vetrablot/Winternight (Norse)
Cross-quarter Fire Festival, Greater Sabbat
Samhain (SOW-in), also known as the Witch’s New Year, is one of the most important Wiccan sabbats. It marks the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter. It is thought that the veil between the worlds is thinnest at this time, therefore Samhain is a good opportunity to honour our ancestors and celebrate the cycle of death and rebirth.
Families would light candles in their windows and set a place at their tables for deceased ancestors as it was thought that they would return at Samhain. However some spirits were not welcome, leading to people to try to hide their identity by wearing masks and costumes.
It is a time to honour goddesses of the Underworld, including Hecate, Hel, the Morrigan, Cerridwen, and Persephone. Symbols of Samhain include carved pumpkins and gourds, pomegranates, apples, food offerings, faeries, balefires, masks, besoms, cauldrons, divination, and the waning moon.
© A Year And A Day (2013)
The Underworld, also known as the Otherworld or Netherworld, is featured in most mythologies around the world. It is a realm of the dead, where the souls of the recently departed go in their afterlife. Many versions of the Underworld are seen as places of abundance and joy, and reward for good work during their mortal life.
World mythologies call the Underworld by several names:
Celtic – Annwn, Mag Mell, Tír na nÓg, Hy-Brasil, Ablach, Sídhe mounds
Norse – Hel, Niflheim, Valhalla, Gimlé, Vingólf
Greek – Hades, Elysium, Tartarus, Asphodel
Roman – Inferno, Avernus, Orcus/Hades, Pluto
Egyptian – Aaru, Duat, Neter-khertet, Amenti
Christian – Heaven, Hell
In the Celtic world, the Underworld was known by many names. The Welsh concept of the Underworld was known as Annwn, a world of delights and eternal youth ruled by Arawn/Gwyn ap Nudd. In Irish mythology, Mag Mell (‘delightful plain’), was a place of pleasure thought to be a mythical island far off the west coast of Ireland or a kingdom beneath the ocean (similar to the realms of Hy-Brasil or Emain Ablach).
Tír na nÓg (‘land of youth’) or Tir Tairngire (‘land of promise’) is another Irish concept of the Underworld, an earthly paradise of supernatural beings and a few lucky mortals who were invited to stay. Similar to Mag Mell and Hy-Brasil, Tír na nÓg was seen as a place far to the west of Ireland, on the edges of the map, which could only be reached by an arduous journey or by a special invitation. Famous residents of Tír na nÓg was the mortal Oisín who was brought by Niamh of the Golden Hair (Niamh Chinn Óir), as well as one of the places settled by the Tuatha Dé Danann after being banished from Ireland.
Another concept of the Underworld comes from the sídhe, or faery people, of Ireland. It is thought that when the Milesians (Celts) invaded Ireland, they banished the Tuatha Dé Danann who then took refuse in the sídhe mounds. These mounds can still be seen today in the form of barrows or hollow hills (cnocs) which are inhabited by faery rulers such as Knockma, Finvarra, or Ainé.
The concept of the Underworld in Norse Mythology is related to the World Tree, Yggdrasil (Germanic Irminsul). It was thought that brave warriors would be chosen by the Valkyries to travel to Asgard to join Odin in Valhalla or Freyja in Fólkvangr.
The base of Yggdrasil is the home of the Underworld realms of Hel/Helheimr and Niflheim/Niflheimr. Hel was the Land of the Dead, ruled by the goddess Hel, daughter of Loki. When humans were not accepted to Valhalla or Fólkvangr, they went to Hel’s hall Elivdnir. Niflheim was a place of Ice and Fog, the lowest of the nine realms, and has been associated with the region of Hel.
There was also Gimlé/Gimli, a beautiful place where survivors of Ragnarök (the end of the world) were thought to live. Also described as the golden roof of a building in Asgard where righteous men go when they die, similar to Vingólf, one of the buildings of the gods.
In Greek Mythology, upon death the soul was separated from the corpse and transported to the entrance of Hades. Hades was either at the outer bounds of the ocean or beneath the depths or at the ends of the earth.
Tartarus was similar to Hades in that is was far beneath the earth, and was the place where Zeus cast the Titans after defeated them, along with his father Kronos who became king of Tartarus. The Fields of Punishment was where those who wreaked havoc on earth or committed crimes against the gods were banished. The Fields of Asphodel was where ordinary souls who did not commit crimes nor achieve any greatness would inhabit.
The Elysian Fields, or Elysium, was where the souls of those who especially distinguished went after death, particularly those who were associated with the gods or performed exceptional feats. While in Elysium, the soul had a choice to either stay or be reborn. If the soul achieved Elysium three times, they were sent to the Isles of the Blessed to achieve eternal paradise.
Also in Greek mythology, there were five rivers that flowed in both the real world and the Underworld. The River Styx was the most prominent Underworld river, also known as the ‘river of hatred’, and was thought to circle the Underworld seven times.
© A Year And A Day (2013)
Thor is the Norse god of thunder, also associated with oak trees, strength, protection and fertility. ‘Thor’ comes from the Germanic word for ‘thunder’, thus he is associated with thunder, lightning and storms. He is often viewed as a fierce warrior with red hair, a red beard, and eyes like lightning. He is likened to the Greek hero Heracles through his strength and skill in battle, as well as the Roman god Jupiter and Teutonic god Donar.
Thor was the son of Odin through the jötunn (giant) Jord, however his mother was also thought to be the earth goddess Fjörgyn. He was married to fertility goddess Sif, whose long golden hair was cut by the trickster god Loki. Thor’s mistress was the giant Járnsaxa (“iron cutlass”), which whom he had sons Magni and Modi, and daughter Thrud.
Thor’s home was Bilskinir, located in the region of Asgard called Thrudheim / Thrudvangar (“place of might”).
It was thought that Thor rode through the heavens on his chariot pulled by two goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr, which was responsible for the sound of thunder during a storm. The lightning bolts, called Thorsviggar, were produced when Thor threw his large hammer Mjölnir. Thor also wore a belt of strength named Megingjardir, iron gloves named Járngreipr, and carried the staff Gríðarvölr.
Thor was responsible for the protection of mankind as well as protecting the Aesir gods from the frost giants. He was involved in several fierce battles, especially with his greatest enemy, the Midgard serpent named Jörmungandr. On the day of Ragnarök, the end of the world, Thor will finally defeat his enemy, however later die from its poison.
Thor is very popular in Germanic and Norse mythology, and his hammer was seen as a symbol of defiance of the Christianization of Scandinavia. He was worshipped especially in Uppsala, where his father Odin can be seen standing at his right side. Some suggest that Thor surpassed Odin in popularity due to the fact that worship of Thor did not require human sacrifice.
The day Thursday bears his name (“Thor’s day”), just as Týr/Tiu was the namesake of Tuesday, Odin/Woden was the namesake of Wednesday, and Frejya (or Frigg, according to some sources) was the namesake of Friday.
© A Year And A Day (2013)