The Importance Of Following Tradition

Our lands were once rich in customs and rites that were bound up with the changing seasons of the year and the rhythm of life itself. Isolated tribes sprung forth from the camp fires and eventually formed close knit communities that shared the same values, traditions and outlook on life. Their art, literature, music and heritage was something they held dear and protecting these was paramount to their legacy. By doing this they created a never ending line of ancestors that rooted them to a place of origin. They all knew who they were and where they came from and they were extremely proud of that.

The quickening tempo of progress, however, brought with it industrialisation and little by little the roots of each community began to erode and all the memories of our heritage and traditions with it. It was the church as well, in its attempt to stamp out pagan customs, that was also responsible for the decline in ancient traditions. Christian churches were built over pagan temples, altars replaced pagan idols and Christian feast days were celebrated at around the same time as earlier pagan festivals. Gradually, although never entirely, the old Gods were overthrown and an underground resistance appeared. The old ways were practised behind closed doors and our pagan ancestors did the best they could to pass on their ancient knowledge to the next generation.

Today we live in a society that encourages individualism and rejects collectivism. Many people listlessly roam from one thing to another, searching for something meaningful and familiar to feed their souls. They don’t know exactly what this is so they buy themselves useless gadgets and fashions, they over indulge and spend hours on social media, regurgitating other people’s opinions so they feel like they fit in. But those feelings of emptiness and yearning never truly go away and they ignore the truth that they are in fact homesick. They are actually missing their ancestral home. By separating themselves from their past and their heritage they have now become uprooted.

Marcus Garvey once said,” A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”

In this day and age it is more important than ever to look back and reconnect the broken line between us and our ancestors. Once we lose our rich traditions and customs we become lost. We lose sight of our north star and can no longer see the path that our ancestors were walking. If we don’t know where we come from then how can we know where we are headed and if our customs and folklore all die out then we lose the colourful diversity that makes up our heritage.

Psychologists have proven that having an intimate knowledge of our family roots and the history of our people are extremely important if we are to be well adjusted and self confident individuals. Understanding our past and knowing that we are a part of something much larger than ourselves fills us with pride and purpose. Traditions and rituals are part of our human story and provide us with an identity and a sense of place in the world. By sharing and experiencing these with others who have the same values and goals, we create a collective identity which in turn shapes our work ethic, our sense of community, our personal responsibility, our morals, empathy and how we respect one another. They also create strong role models and instil in us a sense of belonging. Traditions therefore have an extremely powerful way of replacing unhealthy and unnatural habits and mindsets that many young people possess today.

Thankfully, there are still many of us who hold our heritage dear and have a desire to preserve the practices of our ancestors and in doing so we stop them from disappearing altogether. By coaxing these ancestral memories back to life we are giving them a new sense of purpose so we can safe guard them for future generations. It is such a beautiful thing to be able to live and breathe our traditions and not have them stuffed behind glass cabinets in museums or hidden among the pages of musty books, to only have historians and other academics enjoy them.

There are many customs and traditions that we can effortlessly incorporate into our daily lives and we don’t even have to look too far into the past to find them. If you have young children, for example, you can sing them nursery rhymes or read them classic children’s literature such as Aesop’s Fables, Grimms Fairy Tales or Asbjornssen and Moe’s Norwegian Folktales. Your local library is the best place to find books on local myths, legends, customs and folklore. At the moment I am reading British Calendar Customs by A.R Wright from my library and I am saddened to see how many traditions have actually been lost to us.

You can research traditional recipes and crafts that you might want to try.  How many people do you know who knit or make their own clothes, who can work with wood or play an instrument? These are small yet significant things that can all become a part of your own traditions and by sharing them with family and friends you will bring generations closer together as well. The older members of our community have much to teach us too.

If you have trouble finding information about your ancestors’ traditions, then please don’t worry. You can actually start creating new ones that can become a part of your own family traditions. Think about what kinds of rights of passage, holidays and milestones you can celebrate together as well as perhaps smaller daily, weekly and monthly traditions and rituals as well. But the easiest way of all is to get yourself outside, in nature and in the fresh air, no matter what the weather. Just get away from electronics and go out and explore your local landscape and its history. This will then lead you to meeting other people in your community and in time perhaps revive local customs together.

The key to tradition is repetition; day in and day out; year in and year out. By practising traditions and customs you are doing something that is expected and familiar. If you keep doing something different then it won’t. Seek out your own heritage and be curious; your ancestors are waiting.

Now I have only just given a few suggestions on how you can breathe new life into our ancient traditions. If you have any ideas too then please share as I would love to hear them.

Brightest blessings,

Hazel

xxx

 

 

Autumnal Rites

In some parts of northern Europe the month of September was once called ‘Halegmonath’ which means Holy Month in Anglo-Saxon and ‘Haustmandur’ which means Autumn month in old Norse. Bede who was a Christian scholar wrote in his manuscript entitled  ‘The Reckoning of Time’ that “in the ninth month in the year there are thirty days. The month is called in Latin September and in our language Holy Month, because our ancestors, when they were heathen, sacrificed to their idols in the month”. Sadly, he doesn’t say why September was a holy month, nor what kind of ritual sacrifices took place. However, we can presume that these sacred rites were sacrifices to the gods and that they were a private affair taking place in the home, rather than part of a wider community.

The months of Halegmonath and Winterfylleth (October) were a time of winter preparation for our northern ancestors. The growing season was short and by the end of August, the crops would have been harvested and stored safely away; including winter feed for their animals. Apples were harvested as well as other fruit and berries were preserved in skyr so that people did not succumb to what they called the winter sickness.

Bede refered to the following month of November as Blodmonath (blood month) and explained that the Angles (from modern day Denmark and Germany) ritually sacrificed their cattle and made offerings to their gods. It is most probable that the animals that were slaughtered were those that were unlikely to survive the Winter, allowing families to have enough fodder to feed their remaining animals.

The ancient Heathens only recognised two seasons; Winter and Summer. They did not celebrate the Autumn Equinox nor Samhain, so it was their location and climate that dictated when they celebrated harvest festivals, which for them could take place at any time during September and October.

Today’s Heathens, however, who follow Asatru do celebrate an Autumn Equinox festival called ‘Winter Finding’ and in the Urglaawe tradition (Deitch Pennsylvania German Heathenry) their festival is called ‘Erntfescht’. There are other modern Heathens that celebrate’ Haustablot’, which means ‘Autumn Sacrifice’ or ‘Fallfest’. These festivals are all in sync with mainstream pagan celebrations of Mabon.

Winter Nights (Vetrnaetr), not to be confused with ‘Winter Finding’, was a three day festival that is mentioned in several of the Sagas (the Icelandic Sagas are a collection of Medieval stories about Iceland and the families that lived there). Vetrnaetr marked the end of the Summer and the beginning of the Winter in the old Norse calendar. Because this calendar was a lunar one it has been calculated that Winter Nights would have taken place around the middle of October. Yule is also mentioned as lasting three nights and Nils Lithberg from the Northern Museum of Stockholm believed that these transitional periods took place during the time when the moon was full and at its brightest. This is a very interesting theory, especially for those of us who work with lunar energy.

Winter Nights would have consisted of a ritual sacrifice (blot) of an animal along with other offerings such as mead, ale, food and personal belongings. These ritual gifts were offered up to the gods, ancestors and spirits in gratitude for the harvest and for protection throughout the coming Winter months. Snorrri Sturluson, the Icelandic poet, historian and politician, describes a blot in his Saga of Hakon the Good. In it he explains that livestock were killed in a ritual manner and their blood sprinkled over idols of the gods as well as the people who were present. The meat was first cooked over a fire that ran along the centre of the feasting hall before being blessed by the chieftain hosting the feast. The meat was then shared among the guests who toasted to the ancestors and to the Gods Odin, Njordur and Freyr with ale that was in a horn and had also been blessed. Blood was then sprinkled over the walls to infuse power into the building as well as avert bad luck. It is possible that the blood stains were used for divination and prophesy telling.

Farmers in the Trondheim district in Norway were known to hold great feasts at the beginning of Winter. Toasts were made to both tribes of the Norse Gods; the Aesir for victory and the Vanir for fertility, prosperity and peace. Cattle and horses were slaughtered and their blood was used to redden idols of the gods. More horses were sacrificed than any other animal, as they were seen as representing great power and virility.

Recent archaeological evidence found in Iceland suggests that cattle were slaughtered by simultaneously striking the animal between the eyes while beheading it with a two handed axe (this would have created a fountain of blood). The animal heads were then displayed outside. It was believed that performing such sacrifices would appease the gods who would then look upon the people more favourably.

Like many old Norse festivals , there was not only one way to celebrate. Each household would have celebrated their own way, including what gods and beings were honoured. The sagas do, however, mention that the disir, the elves, Odinn and Freyr were honoured in the Autumn; perhaps singularly or all together.

In Egil’s Saga, Egil and Ovir are refused ale when they visit a man named Bard because it was being saved for the Disablot. A Disablot was a ritual sacrifice and feast that was enjoyed at this time of year to honour and thank the female spirits of the disir for the harvest. Some of the disir were female ancestors that protected their family lines and others were guardian spirits of the land. The guardian spirits of the land (land wights or landvaettir) were believed to bring good fortune and protect children and animals. Snorri Sturlusson, interestingly enough, calls the Goddesses Freya ‘Vanadis’ (Dis of the Vanir) and Skadi as ‘Ondurdis’ (Snowshoe Dis). In old Norse literature ‘dis’ is the general term for ‘goddess’ or could even simply mean ‘woman’, especially in old Norse poetry. Disablot, which was held in a disarsair (hall of the dis), is mentioned in several sagas. In ‘Flateyjarbok’, guests at a Disablot are told not to go outside, ‘because great harm will come about’. Here the disir are portrayed as being dangerous. Also included within the disir are the norns who were the goddesses of fate.

Offerings that were left on hills, at waterfalls, woods, groves and standing stones would have been made to the landvaettir for protection and fertility as well as good harvests. These spirits were peaceful and extremely offended by violence on their land . Confusingly, there isn’t a distinct difference between the disir and other spirits such as the fylgjur, the hamingjur and the land wights. Even the valkyries are referred to as ‘Odin’s disir’.

There are many stories within the sagas that tell of volvas communicating with spirits such as the fylgur and the disir. Volr in old Norse means staff or wand, so a volva was a staff or wand carrying woman. These seeresses would travel throughout the Winter to different feasts foretelling people’s fates over the coming months. Nothing is known of the magic that was practiced by these women, but in the saga of Erik the Red, there is a very detailed description of the clothes worn by the volva in the story. It is also said that she sat on a raised seat; perhaps so she could see more clearly into the other realms while communicating with the spirits.

In the ‘Book of Settlements’, an Icelandic manuscript from the early Middle Ages, it is said, ‘that Winter Ingolfr held a great sacrifice to discover what the future had in store for him.’ So it seems that it was a time not only for honouring and sacrificing, but for asking for spiritual guidance in return. A gift for a gift.

Before continuing, I just wanted to explain what fylgyur are. A fylgja is a spirit that accompanies a person from their birth to their death. The name can also mean afterbirth. Fylgjur normally appear as animals and reflect the personality of the person. For instance, a strong leader may have a boar as a fylgjur and a cunning man a fox. These guardian spirits are mostly seen at the moment of a person’s death, by someone else who is there at the time. Sometimes they can appear as an omen of impending death. The hamingjur were a similar type of guardian spirit.

In pre-Christian Sweden there was once a harvest rite called Alfablot; which was a sacrificial rite for the elves. Elves were seen as more powerful during the dark half of the year and offerings of ale and meat were made to them to keep the peace. Offerings were believed to make them stronger and more able to help with life the fertility of the earth as well as with healing. In Kormaks saga a volva helps the loser of a dual to spill the blood of a bull on a hill where elves lived, so that they could feast upon the meat and encourage the man’s healing. The ancestral fathers were thought to live among the Elves in mounds or within mountains and the elves were possibly perceived as male ancestors. Pagans would sit on these burial mounds or on the sacred hills and mountains where the dead were thought to live, meditating until a message was received.

In 1018, Sigvatr Pordarson, a Christian poet of king Olaf of Norway was sent on a diplomatic mission to Sweden. Most of Sweden at this time was still pagan. It was Autumn time and Sigvatr and his companions were searching for a place to rest, but at each farmstead they arrived at they were all sharply turned away. At one of the farms, they came across a woman who told them to go away and said to Sigvatr, “Don’t go further inside unlucky man! We are afraid of Odin´s wrath; we are pagans!” Then, she chased them away. This refusal to be hospitable to travellers was unthinkable in Norse culture , so this behaviour underlines the great importance of Alfablot. This was a sacred time with only family members attending who were really only wanting to honour their dead in private. This holy rite took place between the end of October and the beginning of November.

The elves connection to the harvest naturally links them to the God Freyr who is the ruler of Alfheim, the land of the elves. Snorri describes Freyr as the most glorious among the Aesir. ‘He rules rain and sunshine and by this he rules the harvests of the Earth. He is good to invoke for the purpose of a good harvest and peace. He also rules the welfare among people.

Freyr was the God most associated with fertility and sexuality and  represents the essence of masculine power. Horse races and fighting took place during harvest celebrations and the horse was a sacred animal to Freyr. In the Volsa Pattr from the Flateybok, a medieval Icelandic manuscript consisting of mainly sagas about the old Norse kings, an Autumn ritual is described. At a Norwegian farm the phallus of a horse was preserved in onions and herbs and every evening the mother of the household would unwrap it from its cloth and prayed to it, before handing the phallus over to the other family members who did the same. This took place throughout the Autumn. On hearing of this worship, king Olaf II of Norway, wanted to convert them to Christianity. The king went to the farm and sat with them watching  as the woman came out with the phallus and placed it on her husband’s lap saying, “May the giantess Mornir accept this holy object”. Everyone in the room repeated this apart from the king who began preaching about Christianity. After this they all became Christian.

This post has been the most difficult for me to research so far and has been such a real labour of love. There was a mountain worth of information to go through, but I am ever so grateful to have spent all this time on the subject, because it has really opened my eyes to what it means to call oneself a Heathen.

I would like to apologise for the Anglicisation of some of the old Norse names; I unfortunately type with a British keyboard. I will follow this extremely educational article with one of my more personal ones, inspired by my research on Autumnal rites. I have already began writing so it shouldn’t be too long before it is up on the blog.

If you know of any folklore or traditions linked to Autumn from Denmark, Germany, Sweden or Norway then please let me know on the Wytch Hazel Cottage Facebook or Instagram page.

Many blessings,

Hazel

xxx

 

 

The Origins of Freyfaxi

Over the past twelve months I have vigorously researched and studied the eight celebrations that make up the pagan Wheel of the Year and now that I have come full circle, my path is taking me in a completely different direction. So to mark this new change I have decided to walk through the next twelve months looking at the changing seasons from a Heathen perspective, starting with Freyfaxi.

Frefaxi is the modern name given to the festival that falls at the beginning of the first harvest in northern Europe. The timing of this harvest varied for our ancestors depending on the different climates of each region, but it would have been sometime during the month of August.

Sadly, the ancient Norse name for this festival has long been lost, but we do understand enough to know that it was very much like Lughnasadh, Lammas and Hlaefmaesse. It was a time of gratitude and prayer for the harvest of the current year and the harvest of the year to follow.

At this time the Autumn winds brought the Vikings back to their homelands from their Summer raids abroad. Swapping their swords for scythes they would help their families harvest the crops and store them safely away for the colder months ahead.

Just like in Britain, the month of August was a time of fairs, however, the sport of horse fighting was not. It is believed by some that horse fighting was most likely some kind of ancient ritual that was seen as a sport as well. Horse fighting and what it entails can be found in several of the Sagas. Many carvings have been found in northern Europe depicting horse fighting scenes, with some of them showing sun like wheels as well. So quite possibly these fights symbolised the battle between life and death. The life giving harvest at its own expense.

The Icelandic Sagas as well as other old sources depict horses as extremely sacred creatures who were connected to the Norse gods. Even as far back as the Bronze Age, a prized horse’s behaviour was observed in a divinatory manner.

The origin of the name Freyfaxi comes from Hrafnkel’s Saga. In this saga Freyfaxi is a beautiful horse owned by a Freysgodi (a man dedicated to the fertility god Freyr). Freyfaxi can be broken down into two parts. Frey is the horse’s connection to the god Freyr and faxi means “eye catching mane”. The saga is a tragic story of oaths and how they should never be taken lightly. There is also mention of another horse called Freyfaxi in Vatnsdaela’s Saga.

There is clear evidence of a horse cult to Freyr having  existed in Norway (Thrandheim) in the tenth century and settlers in Iceland would have taken their faith with them too.

The Haggeby Stone discovered in Sweden is a rock carving that shows horses fighting and dates from 5th century C.E (image via odinsvolk.ca)

Other gods and goddesses that are honoured at harvest time are Sif, an earth goddess with long golden hair who has it cut off by the god Loki; a tale symbolising the harvest of the crops. Thor who brings rain and sun to the crops as well as protecting them from hail and lastly Nerthus, another earth goddess.

The Landvaettir, who are the guardian spirits of the land are also honoured at this time of year.

I hope you enjoyed this and that your interest will take you on to do your own research especially by reading the Icelandic Sagas.

Brightest blessings,

Hazel

xxx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Lughnasadh

Lughnasadh is the celebration of Summer’s End and the harvesting of our efforts both on a physical level as well as a mental and emotional one. As the sun’s brightness continues to fade,  we are invited to celebrate our accomplishments so far, before going within to reflect and assess what this means and to ask ourselves where we go from here. We all have an opportunity to learn from our mistakes and to grow from them, preparing ourselves for the darker half of the year. So like the god of the harvest, ask yourself what sacrifices can you make now that will benefit you later on? And in what ways can you celebrate this turning point in your life?

This is a time to remember all of those people who are less fortunate than ourselves and to share our time or money with them. Baking a cake and gifting it to an elderly neighbour or offering to do some shopping for them are just two easy things we can do. Donating food to a food bank is also a great way to encourage the flow of abundance which is one of the core messages of Lughnasadh.

Gratitude is the other key message of Lughnasadh. We can show our gratitude by honouring our ancestors with offerings and remembrance. It is important to reflect on their hardships and sacrifices, especially at this time of year, which for their community was a matter of life or death; a concept that is impossible for us to grasp in this day and age of convenience.

Being mindful of where our food comes from and how it is grown and harvested helps us to seek out more ethical and natural choices when it comes to our grocery shopping and to appreciate the earth’s cycles that produce it for us.

To show our appreciation for our living kin, a family gathering could be organised or if this isn’t possible then a simple phone call to let someone you love know that you are thinking of them.

Baking your own bread, cakes or biscuits is wonderful to do no matter what time of year it is, but especially at Lughnasadh when you can offer up your hard work to deity, the land and to the creatures who live there. To make your baked goods even more special decorate them with sigils and herbs.

Go outside and enjoy the shift in the seasons. The mornings and evenings are cooler now, but there are still plenty more days of sunshine and listening to crickets.

Now is the time to gather seeds for next year’s planting. You could even make your own rattle with the larger seeds that you can then use for cleansing your home, your aura or use in ritual.

Start harvesting and drying herbs as well so that you will have what you need to make your own smudge sticks, skincare treatments, spells and remedies.

Crafting corn dollies is an ancient tradition that our ancestors did to honour the harvest. These are straightforward to make even without corn husks. You can use stalks of grass, twine, ribbon and flowers instead. There are many tutorials online that will inspire you.

And lastly how about finding a recipe for making your own cordial or lemonade? Perfect for that weekend family gathering.

Please share any ideas that you have for celebrating Lughnasadh. Do you have any plans yet? For me, gratitude will definitely be the centre point of my ritual this year. Even when things are tough, just remembering the smallest of blessings and being grateful for them can only allow us to receive the abundance that we deserve.

Brightest blessings,

Hazel

xxx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Origins of Lughnasadh

Lughnasadh is the Irish festival that celebrates the beginning of the first harvest and honours the Celtic sun god Lugh, as well as his foster mother Tailtiu, who is an earth goddess. The word Lughnasadh is a combination of the name Lugh and the word nasadh meaning assembly. Its older Gaelic name is Bron Trogain which means sacrifice of the earth.  In Wales the day is known as Calan  Awst which originally was a Latin name. This festival is usually celebrated on 1st August and also goes by the name of Lammas which derives from the Anglo-Saxon hlaef mass, meaning loaf mass.

Some Pagans believe that the goddess is heavily pregnant at this time and that the bountiful mother mourns the death of the god as he sacrifices himself to the earth, with the cutting of the corn and in its place poppies grow symbolising his blood. The goddess knows that she will not be mourning him for long, for at Yule he will be reborn from her womb and the cycle will begin again.

Very similar to the Roman god Mercury, Lugh was known as a god of skill and craftsmanship. He was known as the many skilled god because he had countless abilities including healing, warfare, prophecy, music and poetry. One story tells that when Lugh realises that he is being refused entry to Tara he begins reeling off all of the great things that he can do, but to no avail.  The guard at the gates continues refusing him entry by saying, ” We’ve got someone here who can already do that”. Finally, an unwavering Lugh asks,” But do you have someone here that can do all of these things?”

According to Irish myth Lugh was the grandson of a Fomorian called Balor of the Evil Eye. The Fomorians were a terrible race of people that were enemies of the Tuatha de Danann. Balor was told a prophecy that he would one day be killed by his grandson. On hearing this he imprisoned his daughter Eithne inside a cave on Tory Island so that she could never have children.

However, Cian, a young man from the Tuatha de Danann who wanted Balor dead, managed to track down Eithne and he seduced her. When Cian was found out he was murdered and later when Eithne gave birth to three boys they were all thrown into the sea. Lugh was the only child to survive having been saved by a blacksmith who brought him up as his own son.

Many years later Lugh turned up at the court of Nuadhu, the king of the Tuatha de Danann. The king was so impressed with Lugh’s many skills that he abdicated, offering up his throne to Lugh, who then went into the battle of Moytura with his men and indeed killed Balor. This victory secured the country of Ireland ensuring its peace and prosperity.

The Book of Invasions, which chronicles the early history of Ireland tells us that Lugh became associated with the harvest after he had held a funeral feast and athletic games in honour of his foster mother Tailtiu.

Tailtiu, who’s name probably comes from Talantiu meaning “the great one of the earth”, once lived on the magical hill of Tara and was the daughter of a man called Firbolg the king of the Great Plain. She was said to have died of exhaustion after having cleared the forest of Breg so that her people could grow food and avoid starvation. It took her a whole month to create the plain of Oenach Taillten. It is believed that Tailltiu may have been an earth goddess who represented the harvest and the earth’s bounties.

The funeral games in her honour were called the Oenach Tailten and took place at Tailtin in what is now County Meath Ireland.  It is said that Tailtiu asked Lugh to hold these games every harvest so that each home would forever have corn and milk. These Olympic style games lasted several days and would have consisted of trading, marriage arrangements and contract signing. Trial marriages were also conducted here whereby young couples would join hands through a hole in a wooden door. These Teltown marriages that enacted the marriage of Lugh to the goddess Eire, after whom Ireland is named, would last a year and a day. After this time they could go on to marry or else go their separate ways with no further consequences. These customs stopped in the 12th century at the time of the Norman conquest.

The Celts being more than just one people had many gods and goddesses and most of them were attached to local landmarks. However, Lugh is one of the exceptions because he was honoured over a much wider area of Europe. There have been innumerable inscriptions and statues dedicated to Lugh found even as far away as Spain and Julius Caesar remarked how important this god was to the Celts. There was also a Lugus god cult in Lyon France (Lugundum) and the Welsh god Llew Llaw Gyffes is thought to be connected to Lugh, as well as there being a link to the Arthurian knight Sir Lancelot. There are other towns linked to Lugh also; Carlisle (Lugabalium) on the Scottish border and Leiden in the Netherlands.

In British folklore there exists a man called John Barleycorn, a figure that symbolises the harvest of the barley as well as the whiskey and beer that is made from it. In Robert Burns traditional folk song,  John Barleycorn is described as having to suffer many kinds of indignities which correspond with the agricultural cycle of planting, growing and harvesting.

There were many customs throughout Europe around the harvesting of the crops. The first sheaf of wheat would be ceremoniously cut at dawn, winnowed, ground into flour and baked into the harvest bread which was then gratefully shared within the community. The last sheaf was also ceremoniously cut and often made into a corn dolly dressed in ribbons and cloth and was carried into the village as the focal point of the harvest supper. If the harvest had been a success then the corn dolly was made into the image of a maiden, but if the harvest had been bad then the corn dolly resembled a cailleach.

In some parts of Europe it was tradition to weave the last sheaf into a large corn mother with a corn baby inside her that represented the next harvest.

Sometimes the last sheaf would be placed above the hearth of the home, placed in a tree trunk or mixed with the grain for the following year’s planting. In some way it found itself returned to the earth so that the fertile spirit of the harvest god could live on.

Once the harvest had been stored away safely then the festivities could begin. A bull was sacrificed, circle dancing was performed and people feasted. Much of this took place on top of hills. Tributes were also brought to the king such as venison, fish and fruit.

A tradition of Lughnasadh that still survives today across Britain and Ireland is the wake fair, although it has sadly lost its original meaning of mourning the death of the sun. The most well known is the Puck Fair which is held every year in early august in Killorglin, County Kerry. The fair has been traced back to the 16th century, but it is believed to have origins that go further back still. At the beginning of this three day festival a goat is brought  into the town and is crowned “king”, while a local girl is crowned “queen”. The festival includes traditional music and dancing, a parade, arts and crafts workshops, a horse and cattle fair and a market. Young men and women from Irish traveller families also get a chance to come together.

I cannot believe that I have now come full circle with the origins of the wheel of the year, having begun writing these posts last September. I will continue writing these types of posts, but for the foreseeable future I will be specifically concentrating on Norse traditions.

If you know of any traditions or folklore surrounding Lughnasadh then I would love to hear about them,

Brightest Blessings,

Hazel

xxx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jumping off the Spiritual Bus (and why I am no longer eclectic)

For many people who break away from Christianity, the realisation that the world is their oyster sinks in pretty quickly. I was no different and the feeling of euphoria was incredible, albeit overwhelming. Feeling like a child in a sweet shop I travelled around the world picking a little something from every belief system I wanted and began tailor making my own spirituality.

At times I must admit this did leave a bitter taste in my mouth. The words “cultural appropriation” cropped up now and again, but I drowned them out with the excuse that I was a universal spirit, a part of the diversity that is life. I believed that just because I wasn’t a Native American or Tibetan Monk in this life time, didn’t mean that I wasn’t one in a previous life time.  We were all part of the same spiritual soul family.

And this is how my life went on with me jumping off the spiritual bus, doing my shopping and then getting back on again, to only get off at the next stop a little further down the road.

At the beginning of this year, however, the unease of mixing different spiritual beliefs within my practice came back in full force. An understanding hit me; I was lost because I had cut myself off from my own ancestral roots. I was caught in the shining lights of exotic lands. I thought I believed that I was honouring my ancestors, but how could I be if I was off walking the Medicine Wheel?  Where did I belong? Where was my spiritual and ancestral home? There was just too much vying for my attention and it was making it extremely difficult for me to cultivate a deep and meaningful spiritual practice.

Today I see this as a growing trend, not only in spiritual circles, but across the board. We seem to be a society intent on being all inclusive, one people, one world, but in doing so we are losing little by little our own heritage, culture, traditions and identity. The older I get the more I have become to realise that I should be proud of where I come from and that it is my duty to preserve my ancestral roots in this life so that my descendants can be proud of where they come from too.

We have already lost so much of our own heritage that when I see book titles such as, “Australian Druidry” or “Zen Druidry”, I just want to cry. We already know next to nothing about the ancient Druids’ and Celts’ beliefs and practices so why destroy what we do know by mixing and diluting it with another belief system?

So this is why I no longer wish to feel like a wanderer or be eclectic in my spirituality. I want to simply settle down and accept that I am not a part of other cultures, whom I have a deep respect for, but I am a part of my own. The blood of my ancestors runs through my veins and there is no need for me to look elsewhere for spiritual guidance. My European ancestors have such deep roots that span millennia and miles that I have all that I need right under my feet. The Celts, the Romans, the Norse, the Anglo-Saxons. the Slavs, the list goes on. I don’t need to look for answers in other cultures that I have absolutely nothing in common with and I no longer want to take for granted what I have right under my own nose.

But what if I feel really drawn to another spirituality that isn’t part of my own heritage you may ask?

I suggest that you really question why it is that you feel this way; spend time looking at your reasons and see if you can find similarities within your own ethnic traditions. For example, each ancient culture has its own names for their gods and goddesses, but the archetypes are the same across the world. So let’s imagine that you feel drawn to Enumclaw the Cherokee god of lightning, but you are European and not Native American. Research the mythology of European thunder/lightning  gods such as Thor ( Norse), Perun (Slavic) or Zeus (Greek), there are obviously many more.

The same goes for practices such as meditation or yoga; again each culture has its own way of doing this. How about researching Norse Shamanism or Runic Yoga as a start?

Taking a DNA test is a fantastic way for you to begin researching your pre-Christian ancestors and their traditions. My own results have shed light on why I have felt drawn to certain places and people and I have spent a lot of time with each of my ancestral branches. However, I keep being drawn back to my Scandinavian roots and since I now have a flourishing relationship with the Goddess Skadi, I have decided this is where I really want to be.

As for yourself, at least consider your own ethnic traditions first before deciding to go down a foreign spiritual path.

I do not regret having been eclectic and I am truly grateful for everything that this path has gifted me, but I believe that invariably we all one day feel a stronger pull to what is inherently in our blood and bones.

So do you follow wholly a spiritual path once walked by your ancestors? Or are your beliefs more eclectic? I would love to hear about your spiritual journey and the reasons behind your own choices.

Brightest blessings,

Hazel

xxx

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Healing Energies of Seashells

Since the beginning of humankind, man has experienced first hand the healing power of the earth and its potential to transform our mind, body and spirit. Most of us are well aware of how we can heal our ailing bodies through the use of herbs, trees, flowers, organic food and even crystals. But have you ever thought about the healing potential that radiates from seashells?

The human body is made up of 70% water and surprisingly enough this is the same percentage that covers the Earth’s surface too. Our ancestors felt this connection; they embraced it and so can we.

Seashells and other gifts from the Earths’ watery womb have played an important part in our human story. These flawless creations would be foraged by our ancestors and used for adornment, currency,  dying cloth, cooking utensils, ceremonial tools and sacred objects as well as a food source.

Water purifies everything it touches and shows us how we can flow around life’s obstacles, instead of attempting to crash head on into them. With stillness and patience we can eventually find ourselves walking upon new sun drenched shores. We become cleansed, nourished and liberated. Water also symbolises abundance because from it all things can grow.

The ocean’s healing energies are deeply ingrained in seashells which makes them the perfect tools for transformation and body sacredness. Using seashells in your holistic practice can ease tension, stress and even pain. Through my own practice I have found that their energies are much softer than crystals, but are just as effective nonetheless.

Hinged shells such as scallops and mussels have beautiful patterns within them that radiate outwards. These shells are ideal to use when you wish to increase the flow of energy within your body as well as for balancing it. Place these shells on or around your body as you are lying down, with the widest part of the shell pointing towards your feet. This allows any stagnant energy to flow easily out of your body.

Spiral shells such as conch, cowries, whelks and abalone are ideal for more precise healing and work in a similar way as a quartz crystal point would. Hold the shell over the point of the body that you wish to heal and rotate the shell anti-clockwise for no more than five minutes to create change. If you follow this with a different spiral shell in a clockwise motion then an increase of positive energy will occur. All shells can be cleansed in water and sea salt. You can also leave them to charge under a full moon as you would with crystals, as the bond between the ocean and the moon is so strong.

The wonderful thing about using seashells for healing is that all you need is your intuition and nothing else. There is no chance of you doing anything wrong.  To get started you could place shells on your chakra points (on their own or with crystals). Scallops and limpets lie nicely on knees and shoulders and on the third eye if you have a headache. Holding a cowrie shell in each hand is extremely relaxing and you could have a go at using a slightly larger one for massage. And lastly, another thing I love doing is placing shells within my crystal grids; my intentions flowing between healing and abundance.

Finding your own seashells will make your healing even more attuned to your body.

Do you use seashells in your healing or spiritual practice? If you do I would love to hear about it.

Brightest blessings,

Hazel xxx

 

 

 

 

 

Origins of the Summer Solstice

The Summer Solstice marks the longest day and the shortest night of the year. The sun reaches its highest point in the sky as we enjoy over sixteen hours of daylight. The term solstice comes from the Latin word solstitium, with sol meaning “the sun” and sistere meaning “to make stand.” Today the term solstice is used to describe the exact moment when the sun reaches its northernmost point ( around 21 June) or its southernmost point (around 21 December) from the earth’s equator.

Summer Solstice celebrations have their roots deeply imbedded in Neolithic times and both tombs and circles were built in alignment with the rising and setting sun at this time of year. The Druids of the Iron Age called this day Alban Heruin meaning “the light of the shore” and it is also referred to as Midsummer or Litha, an Anglo Saxon word meaning calm and gentle. Probably referencing the beautiful Summer weather.

Some Pagans believe that the Goddess is heavily pregnant at this time and that the God is at the height of his virility. They form the perfect union surrounded by a bountiful earth awash with colour and scent.

Traditionally, people would stay up all night on Midsummer’s Eve so that they could welcome the rising sun. Bonfires were lit on top of hills and the wood they chose to burn was often oak. They danced around the flames, sang, cut divining rods and leapt over the fires and burning embers. These ritualistic fires were lit to invoke good luck, fertility, purity and protection from disease and evil spirits for example.

It was common for courting couples to hold hands and jump over the embers of the Litha fire three times to ensure a long and happy marriage, health, prosperity and many children. Young men jumped over them to prove their courage and strength and young women jumped over the cooling embers to attract a husband and to help with their fertility.

The charred embers possessed protective powers and were made into charms to protect against things such as injuries and were commonly scattered in fields and orchards to protect and encourage abundant crops.

Cattle were guided through the embers too while their backs were singed with a burning hazel twig. Burning gorse or furze was carried around the cattle to bless them and protect them from misfortune.

People would also scatter the embers around their homes for protection, as well as placing them in the hearth. Some people even  lit hazel sticks from the bonfire and raced one another back home; the first one to get there would be blessed with prosperity for the coming year.

In Ireland the oldest woman in the community would circle the fire reciting prayers of protection and houses were decorated with birch, fennel, St John’s Wort and white lillies.

The Celts depicted the sun as a spoked wheel and would bind wooden cart wheels with straw, set them on fire and then roll them down the side of a steep hill. For them this symbolized the turning of the year. It was believed that if the wheel was still alight at the bottom of the hill then a good harvest would follow.

The full moon of June is traditionally called the Honey Moon named after the mead drink that is readily available at this time of year. This was often part of hand fasting ceremonies performed on the Summer Solstice. Mead was regarded as the divine solar drink which was believed to contain magickal and life restoring properties.

Mistletoe was revered by the Druids and was regarded as particularly potent when it grew on an oak tree. Although we associate mistletoe with the Winter Solstice, it was often gathered ceremoniously at Midsummer when it was considered to be at the height of its power. The cuttings would have then been made into protective amulets. Their festivities and rituals would not have taken place at Stonehenge as many people are led to believe. There is no historical evidence that Druids had a connection with Stonehenge, however, modern day Druids still gather at the megalithic stone circle for the Solstices and Equinoxes.

Tree worship has always played an important role in the Midsummer festivities and trees that were found near wells and springs were often decorated with torn pieces of cloth that were soaked in the healing waters. It was believed that when the pieces of cloth disintegrated completely then the malady that they represented was cured.

In some areas of Ancient Greece the Summer Solstice was seen as the first day of the year and a festival called Cronia was held at this time in honour of the agricultural God Cronus . During these wild celebrations, slaves were allowed to swap places with their masters and were treated as equals. The Summer Solstice also counted down the four weeks before the start of the Olympic Games.

In the days leading up to the Summer Solstice, the Romans celebrated the festival of Vestalia (the public hearth).  It was a festival that honoured the Goddess Vesta which included her shrine being ritually cleansed. This was the only time of year that married women were permitted entrance into the sacred temple of the Vestal Virgins to make an offering to the Goddess.

Midsummer was an extremely important time for the Vikings who would already be taking advantage of the milder calmer weather going off in search of land and wealth. For the ancient Norse who stayed behind they would be gathering to discuss legal matters and resolving disputes. Scandinavian and Germanic tribes would also have built huge bonfires and visited healing springs.

If you know of any European traditions or folklore associated with the Summer Solstice then I would love you to share them.

Summer Blessings,

Hazel

xxx

 

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Celebrating the Summer Solstice

The Summer Solstice is a day of celebration as well as deep introspection. Not only do we rejoice in the sun’s power at its peak, but we also come to the realization that the days from now on will be growing shorter as the harvest approaches with haste.

To mark this special occasion here are some ways that you can celebrate, give thanks and bring your desires to life by channelling the sun’s potent energies.

Sun sensitive paper is a fantastic way to decorate your book of shadows or green witch journal. It is so easy to use and it is a fun activity for children to do as well. All you need to do is place leaves, flowers, or any other object on the special paper and then leave it outside in the sun. The paper will change colour around the objects leaving a beautiful print. Just follow the instructions and make sure you do this on a sunny day.

With the abundance of flowers and grasses at the moment now is the perfect time to experiment with natural dyes to use on handmade paper, fabric and for creating inks.

Floating little paper boats down a river or stream and writing your wishes or blessings on them is a magical thing to do.

Find a farm where you can pick your own fruit and vegetables. I love picking strawberries, but be careful though just in case they decide to weigh you before you go in and when you come out 😉

You are never too old to make daisy chains.

Flower garlands are easy to make and you can find everything that you need around you. Leaves, flowers, willow, Virginia creeper and herbs can all be used.

How about harvesting and drying your own herbs? Paper bags are perfect for this if you don’t have the space to hang them to dry. There is plenty of information out there to guide you.

Once your herbs are dry you could create your own potpourri or lavender bags and perhaps you could also add them to candles, soaps and bath bombs as well. Some essential oils that have a Summer vibe about them are lavender, orange and vervain.

Faeries and other land wights always appreciate a little gift and this is their favourite time of year. Offerings of fruit, nuts, flowers, honey and milk are all welcome.  Perhaps you could craft faery doors and faery houses out of wooden lolly sticks.

Kite flying is a lovely way to send your petitions up into the sky.

If you can get yourself to the coast then beach combing is a perfect way to gather materials for some beach art. Sea glass, pebbles, shells, seaweed and driftwood can all be used to make mobiles, wind chimes, land art, mosiacs and jewellery. Shells can be used to decorate a multitude of items including, mirrors, frames, wreaths and flower pots. And remember, if you see any rubbish on the beach and it is safe to do so, pick it up and throw it away properly. We all need to do our bit for Mama.

Your altar can now be transformed into a sun shrine, covered with symbols of fire and light with shades of gold, yellow and bronze.

Quench your thirst by making your own fresh lemonade, elderflower cordial or follow the many different recipes you can find that use dandelions.

For those of us who are unable to greet the solstice sun at dawn, then leaving a battery operated tea light candle on an east facing windowsill is the next best thing. Then in the evening when you bid the sun farewell at sunset, you can switch it off.

Treat your garden to a new edition; a pond. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; a washing up bowl, a baby’s old bath or even a large plastic box that is placed in a hole in the ground with some aquatic plants and a sloping edge made of pebbles or stones. Again you can find plenty of tutorials and advice on the internet or your local library. Mother Nature will thank you for it.

Is there a sad looking area near you that could do with a pick me up? Guerilla gardening is becoming more and more popular now and can really make a difference to people’s lives. It needn’t cost much and with a group of friends would take no time to do.

Have fun creating your own land art using leaves, flowers, pebbles, rocks, branches and even crystals to make anything from beautiful mandalas to 3D sculptures.

And last but not least your Solstice ritual. Let it be about celebrating your accomplishments so far this year, gratitude and self healing. Weather permitting I’ll be outside enjoying my ritual at midday.

If you have any cool ideas that I haven’t mention then please don’t hesitate to share them.

Summer Blessings to you all.

Hazel

xxx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Beltane

The spirit of Mother Nature and the cycle of her seasons are an inspiration to me and the vibrant and dynamic festival of Beltane is my favourite spoke of the Wheel of the Year.  The transition from Spring to Summer is a magickal time and here are just a handful of ideas  to help you celebrate with me.

Pine cones not only make fantastic fire starters, but they are also a wonderful way to transport your intentions to the Divine. On small pieces of paper write down your dreams, wishes and healing prayers. Roll them up tightly and tuck them into the sides of your pine cones. Then all you need to do is throw them onto your bonfire and allow your petitions to float up to the sky.

For those of you who are not able to have a bonfire then this next idea is a lovely way to help you manifest your dreams with a little help from Beltane’s fertile energies. Something I love to do is to light a piece of paper with my wishes written on it and then as it burns I let the ashes fall onto a little flower pot filled with soil. After this I meditate while holding a seed, letting all my feelings and emotions fuelled by my desires flow into it. I then plant the seed into the soil. For me this symbolises myself and the Divine Earth merging our energies together. And as the seed grows so do my dreams. You could perform this ritual on a new moon as well. At the last new moon I planted a sunflower seed.

Something else you might like to do is to tie strips of cloth or ribbon to a branch of your favourite tree. You could use different colours to represent different wishes. Green for prosperity and yellow for joy for example.  Afterwards don’t forget to give the tree a hug of gratitude and feel your wish come true. When you have finished leave a little eco friendly offering for the tree.

A sweet decorative idea for an outside altar this Beltane are mossy balls. To start with take a large piece of moss and lay it moss side down. Place a polystyrene ball on top and then carefully wrap the moss around the ball securing it with moss clips that you need to push down as far as they will go. Spray them now and again with water so as to keep them moist.

And lastly how about some childhood classics like making daisy chains, flower crowns, leafy Green Man masks and friendship bracelets.

Brightest Beltane Blessings,

Hazel

xxx

 

 

 

 

 

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