Page 3 of 4

The Origins Of Beltane

The festival of Beltane is celebrated from dusk on 30th April to sunset on 1st May. It is a fertility festival that celebrates love, life and the union of the masculine and feminine. In the ancient past, young men and women would spend the night in the woods re-enacting the blessed union of the God and Goddess so that the fertility of the land was ensured. This act was known as “going a Maying” and any children that were conceived during these Green Marriages were known as “merry begots” and were seen as a blessing from the Divine.

The name Beltane originates from the Irish Gaelic Bealtain. There are many more variants of this name which I list at the end of this post. It is believed to be linked to the Celtic sun God Bel. In England Beltane was only celebrated in Cumbria and the far South West.

May Day is the beginning of the Merry Month when people wore green to honour the abundant life that surrounded them. Many villages would elect a young girl to be their May Queen (symbolising the Goddess) and she would lead a procession through the local community while songs were sung and her consort would have been a young man who was called Jack in the Green, the May Groom or the May King (symbolising the God).

After extinguishing their hearth fires, people would climb to the hilltops and light two fires. Cattle would be driven between them to cleanse the animals as well as to ensure their fertility. Afterwards the cattle were put out into the fields.

It was also traditional for newly wed couples to jump over the fire to attract good luck and conceive healthy children. Others would jump over the fire to attract a partner into their lives and for some it would ensure them safety on their travels. The fire would also ensure the safe delivery of a pregnant woman’s baby.

The young couples that took part in the Green Marriages would, the following morning, lay flowers underneath the Maypole and on the doorsteps of those who were unable to join in with the bonfire festivities.

The symbol of the Maypole represents the male phallus that is thrust into the earth, while the ribbons that are wrapped around it represent the wrapping around of the womb. While dancing around the Maypole, the men go anti clockwise, symbolising  death and the sacrifice of the God and the women go clockwise symbolising life and the abundant Goddess.

At this time of year people would visit sacred wells, drink their healing waters and decorate them with greenery and offerings. They would also dip torn pieces of cloth into the water and hang them on nearby tree branches for healing prayers. They believed that when the cloth completely rotted away the illness would leave the person’s body.

On the Isle of Man it was customary for the youngest member of the household to go and pick primrose flowers and throw them at the front door.

Young men would go May Birching, placing Mountain Ash and Hawthorn branches on girls’ doors that they loved. Sadly if you were a girl that a boy didn’t love , you might have woken up to find thorns on your doorstep instead.

Crop fertility was extremely important to our ancestors as it was a matter of life and death and some women would ride brooms hobbyhorse style across the fields to ensure the crops success during fertility rites, as well as have menstruating women dance naked in newly sown fields.

The 180 foot Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset England is believed to be a Celtic hill carving where couples used to lay on his 8 foot penis in the belief that this would help them conceive a child. Some historians believe that this act was part of a Celtic fertility rite because the sun is directly in line with the figure at this time of year.

With the arrival of Christianity the month of May became Mary’s month and the wild and fertile goddess was transformed into the pure and chaste virgin.

Beltane like Samhain is a time when the veil between the two worlds is at its thinnest and it is said that the fae folk are able to show us glimpses into their world. However, mortals beware, because if the Queen of the Fae rides past you on her pure white horse while you are sitting under a Hawthorn tree then you must close your eyes and turn your head away, for she can lure you away for seven long years.

It was said that Faery children were often substituted for human children and were called “May Changelings”. To protect their home from faeries on May Eve, people would place Rowan branches around the doors and windows. Bannock cakes and left over food were then left outside for the fae in the hope of winning their favour.

For the rest of Europe the month of May was dedicated to many different Goddesses and festivals.

The Greeks celebrated Plynteria a festival that honoured the Goddess Athena. The festival included the ritual cleansing and dressing of her statues, which was only carried out by women. Feasting and prayers in the Panthenon also took place.

The Romans celebrated a festival called Lemuralia (9th, 11th and 13th May) where they would cleanse their homes of ghosts and appease the wandering spirits of the unburied dead. It originated from Romulus calming the restless ghost of his murdered brother Remus. It was customary to walk barefoot and throw beans over the shoulder. Pots and pans were banged on while they chanted,”Ghosts of my fathers and ancestors be gone”, nine times. It was therefore unlucky to get married during May which made June very popular for marriages. The full moon in June was sometimes called the Honey Moon due to its colour and the name has stuck ever since for weddings.

On 1st May, the Romans would also honour their house Gods and on 2nd May it was the fire festival of Bona Dea, the good Goddess. She is a Roman fertility goddess who was especially worshipped by women. She presided over women’s fertility and virginity. She is the daughter of the God Faunus and she  was often called Fauna. She had a temple on the Aventine Hill, but her secret rites on 4th December, were not held there, but in the house of a Roman magistrate. Only women were admitted and even representations of men and beasts were removed. At these secret meetings it was forbidden to speak the words ‘wine’ and ‘myrtle’ because Faunus had once made her drunk and beaten her with a myrtle stick. Her festival was observed on 1st May. No men were allowed to be here either.

She was also a healing goddess and the sick were tended in her temple garden with medicinal herbs. Bona Dea was portrayed sitting on a throne, holding a cornucopia. The snake is her attribute, a symbol of healing and consecrated snakes were kept in her temple at Rome. Her image was often found on coins.

Floralia was a flower festival which lasted three days, where the Romans would wear flowers in their hair and singing, dancing and plays took place. On the last day animals were let loose in the Circus Maximus and beans were thrown on the ground to ensure fertility.

Thargelia was a time of release and purification, of reconciliation and balance. On the island of Delos, Latona the goddess of motherhood and her children Apollo the God of light, medicine and poetry and Diana the Goddess of the hunt, the moon and women were honoured with offerings of the first fruits. It was a festival of prophecy, music, medicine and poetry. A young person whose parents were both alive was chosen to carry an olive branch entwined with white and purple wool and decorated with figs and a goblet of wine to the temple of Apollo. The branch was left there until the following Thargelia. Diana’s days were 6th-7th May and Apollo’s were 24th-25th.

The Anglo-Saxons called this time of year Thrimilci, the ‘three-milk month’ because this was the first time after the long cold Winter that the cows could be milked three times a day. It was a celebration of having a full larder and the end of having to ration food supplies.

Warlpurgis Night was a Germanic holiday and here is a really interesting article about it.

Pagan Holidays: Walpurgis Night and how a British lady went from Catholic saint, to Germanic goddess, to witch and gave us a second Halloween

Some Norwegians on 6th May honour Eyvind Kelda, a Norwegian martyr who was tortured and drowned on the orders of King Olaf Tryggvason for refusing to convert to Christianity.

I think I have covered most of the customs of ancient Europe, but if you know of any folklore or customs attaining to Beltane that I haven’t mentioned then I would love to hear them, so please share.

Brightest Blessings,

Hazel

xxx

 

Scottish Gaelic-Bealtuinn

Manx-Boaldyn

Brittany- Kala Hanv

Cornwall-Cala Me

Wales-Calan Mai or Dydd Calen Cyntefrm

Isle of Man-Shenn Do Boaldyn

And other names are May Eve, May Day, Beltaine, Belltaine, Beltain, Beltine and Cetshaman (Kentu Saminos meaning the first of Summer)

 

 

 

 

 

Mercury Retrograde – A Self Fulfilling Prophecy?

It is barely a week now that Mercury has been in retrograde and social media is drowning in information on how to survive this cosmic event that will unleash havoc and chaos over the next three weeks.

So what exactly is Mercury in retrograde and why does it scare people to the point that they blame every single thing that goes wrong in their lives on a planet that is 48 million miles away?

The planets do not move in perfect circles around the sun and from our view point on Earth they sometimes look like they stop in their tracks and then move backwards. This is called retrograde motion. It is just like when you are overtaking a slower car which is still moving forwards, but appears to be falling back. So you could say that this is an optical illusion. But no planet actually slows down, stops or changes direction.

Mercury is not the only planet that goes retrograde, but somehow over recent years it has unfortunately earned the worst reputation out of them all. Some people believe that when a planet is in retrograde everything goes out of sync, affecting all the areas that the planet normally governs, so in Mercury’s case that would be commerce, travel, communication and information. And because  Mercury is the closest planet to the sun and has an orbit of only 88 days, we are overtaken by it three to four times a year. Which means three to four times a year we have Mercury in retrograde.

If people get the idea in their heads that something bad is going to happen then this is more than enough to actually make something bad happen. It is a self fulfilling prophecy. If we actively look for something to go wrong then we will absolutely find it. Mercury in retrograde is an easy excuse to blame our woes on. Your doctor’s appointment was cancelled? Must be Mercury in retrograde! Your train was late? Mercury in retrograde!  This planet is a  scapegoat if you will and Mercury’s influence is vastly overestimated by people; even astrologers. How can an optical illusion have this much control over someone? It’s because they allow it to.

You do not need protecting from a planet in retrograde and please do not be scared by all these posts on social media declaring things like. “Do not travel, do not purchase a computer, do not buy a car or sign important documents.” This is scaremongering.

When a planet is in retrograde especially when it is in your birth chart it is a chance to go within, to meditate or journal, to think about lessons you can learn from and to cultivate self love and patience. Be mindful of self talk and how you interact with others. Your mindset is your most powerful tool. We cannot always have control over what happens to us, but we can control how we perceive it. Remember, don’t react, just act.

Brightest blessings,

Hazel xxx

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating The Spring Equinox

The month of March is truly a time of transition. It is a time of the fierce tug of war between the harsh grip of winter that on some days refuses to let go and on other days spring’s soft tentative sun rays that slowly but surely break through our grey skies. Here in the south of England it is still cold and drizzly, however, the tree blossoms, flowers and birds remind me that spring is finally winning the battle. So to bring a little joy and anticipation of warmer and brighter days to come, here are a few lovely ways that you can celebrate the arrival of spring and Ostara.

Creating sacred space outside is a wonderful way to honour and soak up the energies of this time of year. After tidying up your garden you could perhaps decorate a little corner with handcrafted items such as mobiles, painted flower pots, prayer flags, wind chimes or even an altar or shrine on which you could leave offerings of shells, flowers or pebbles. These gifts can be left not only for a deity, but also for the land spirits that dwell here. Please don’t feel left out if you live in an apartment, just bring a little nature inside. Windowsills, shelves and kitchen counter tops can all be brightened up with plants, flowers and herbs.

This is an obvious one I know, but decorating blown eggs is an inexpensive and fun way to celebrate the spring equinox. These can be hung with colourful ribbons from windows or even from tree twigs that are placed in a vase. Experiment too with natural dyes like beetroot, dandelion flowers or onion skin. There are plenty of tutorials on Pinterest to help you with this.

Continuing with egg shells, a cute way of using broken egg shells is to put a little compost into half of one and then plant a bulb or some watercress seeds inside of it.

What better way is there to honour the Earth than to pick up litter from parks or beaches? This allows Mother Nature to clear her lungs and breath anew.

You can continue with the spring cleaning and decluttering that you perhaps started  at Imbolc. Let go of everything that is holding you back from being happy, be it on a physical, emotional, mental or spiritual level. Clean with natural products including essential oils and even salt, all blessed with your own positive intentions. See if there are ways too that you can reduce your use of plastic and begin replacing it with paper, bamboo, wood and metal.

Once your space is clean, a Spring Home Blessing can be performed by walking around each room (not forgetting those pesky corners) with a smoking herb bundle, ringing a bell or even carefully flicking salt water. You could say a few words yourself perhaps like,”I bless and protect this space with the love and light of the Goddess.” It doesn’t need to be a grand occasion, just something small and simple, but it will really improve the flow of energy around your home.

Now that you have a clean fresh space, how about drawing your attention to yourself. A spring detox tonic that I use and love is simply made with a weed that you can find close to home which is called cleavers. I place a tendril of the sticky plant in a glass bottle of cold fresh water and I let it steep over night. In the morning I strain it then drink as is. If you wanted to you could add a splash of lemon to it, as it does have a particular taste.

Another detox drink is nettle tea which can be made by simply adding two cups of water to a cup of young nettle leaves and allowing the water to almost boil then leaving it to simmer for a couple minutes. Once it has been strained and slightly cooled the tea is ready to drink. Nettles are high in calcium. iron, silica and potassium and are perfect for when you are feeling run down and in need of a toxin flush. The best time to pick the young leaves are when the nettle are in flower, which is now.

Now that we are on the tipping point of the lighter half of the year, use the waxing solar energies in a manifesting ritual that will give your goals and projects a well deserved boost.

You could perhaps make your own Equinox water by filling a glass bowl with spring water and leaving it outside from dawn to midday on the day of the equinox. This can be used in your home blessing, your Equinox ritual or even to water your plants with.

A ritual for the passing of the dark half of the year can be performed on the Equinox using a white candle to represent the light half of the year and a black candle for the dark half.

This is the perfect time to do prosperity seed spells because you can use the energy of the germinating seed to fuel a goal of yours that you are wishing to achieve. All you need to do is plant your dream, written on a piece of paper, with some compost and a seed and the dream will grow along with the plant.

There’s still just enough time to get those bird boxes up. These are a great way to not only give birds a helping hand, but they can also be very decorative and brighten up your outdoor space. Insect hotels can be built easily and inexpensively as well, creating a wonderful haven for wildlife.

Are you lacking drive? Then why don’t you try meditating on the symbol of the lunar hare. This is a fabulous way to not only connect with your inner creativity, but also to ignite your fertile passion for life.

The easiest one of all is of course getting yourself outside, to the park, beach, forest or even an ancient site if you can. Just feeling the breeze and sun on your face, even if it is only for 5 minutes can do a magnitude of good for you on so many levels.

I would love to hear how you celebrate this time of year. Also if you would like to ask me any questions about what I have written or anything about living a holistic and earth inspired life then don’t hesitate to contact me; I would be more than happy to answer your questions.

Brightest Blessings,

Hazel

xxx

 

How I Start My Day The Spiritual Way

For many years while my children were growing up, my morning routine usually consisted of me falling out of bed on auto pilot, making sure everyone was ready for work, college or home schooling and then trying to survive the day by getting through teaching, chores and random activities my brain decided were a good idea to do at the time. Before I knew it I was collapsing back into bed and bracing myself for another crazy day that would begin again the following morning.

I know that I am not the only one that this has happened to. We are all susceptible to losing ourselves in the doing, in the busyness of life. We somehow disconnect ourselves from what is truly meaningful and important to us and there is an emptiness inside of us that cannot be sated by the physical world alone.

And it was with this realization which slowly began to dawn on me that I knew in my soul that if I didn’t change now, then my life would stay exactly the same. It was time to put myself first. I was undernourished physically, mentally and spiritually and because of this I was not only depriving myself, but I was also depriving all of those that I cared about. I needed a structure that would not only support me, but would motivate me as well.

One of the things that lifestyle experts and successful people all have in common is their morning routine. It sets them up for the day and makes them more productive and happy. The concept of a morning routine or ritual sounded like it was definitely worth a try and after months of tweaking my own I have finally found something that works for me.  I can honestly say that it has definitely made a huge difference to how my day unfolds and it has not only become the foundation of my general well being (or should I say sanity), but also my spirituality.

I have found that by committing myself to having sacred time first thing in the morning has helped me to have a deeper connection with Deity, my family and the world around me. I am more focused, I am getting more done and I am flowing more easily with life’s rhythms instead of trying unsuccessfully to swim up stream.

I must admit that it isn’t always easy and each time I fall off the wagon I just get back on again. With having been very poorly with four different viruses since last August, I try not to beat myself up if I miss a morning. I listen to my own rhythms and allow my body to lead the way. But when I don’t miss my morning practice then it is extremely gratifying.

Now that my children are much older I do admit that it is much easier to set aside time for me in the morning. However, if you yourself have very young children then please do not feel disheartened. Instead of trying to fit in all of your sacred time in the morning why not spread it out throughout your day. Just 5 minutes here and there can make all the difference. You can absolutely find three minutes to meditate. That is how I started and now I am meditating for 10 minutes a day.

This is what my morning routine looks like for the moment. I am not always able to do this exactly because I live with three other people in a small cottage, but I do my best.

The first thing I do when I wake up is stretch, getting all of those kinks and knots out of my body. I start by rolling my head slowly in a circular movement, then I work my way down through my shoulders, arms, waist, legs and down to the feet. It’s basically a gentler version of a warm up you would normally do before an exercise session. Whilst I am stretching I think about what I am grateful for which always helps to put things into perspective.I always do my best to focus on what I have rather than what I don’t have.

And before I forget, first and foremost don’t have any technology, no television, no phone and no internet, for at least the first hour. I only go on my phone to check the exact position of the moon and that is it. Otherwise you get sucked into a black hole of epic time wasting.

Now that the cold season is here I drink a mug of Pukka’s Elderberry and Echinacea tea. While the tea is steeping I open the kitchen door and take several deep breaths, embracing the new day. There are days though when it smells like poop. Not one of the perks of living in the country. My tea mug is red, a colour I use to fire me up and ground me.

Since I have been following the moon’s journey across the sky I have noticed its subtle energy shifts and have been surprised to see how its different phases explain how I feel and how others act as well. I use the free Sky Map app which shows the exact position of the  moon in real time  as I now use Side Real astrology and not Tropical. This morning I see that the moon is in Aries (Real Time), so I grab my journal and quickly read my notes about Aries. It is a day of action, spontaneity and enthusiasm. I can work with that. I also jot down the weather, the temperature, the moon and sun’s rising and setting times and also their astrological positions in my green journal. This helps me to be more in tune with and more aware of the changing world around me.

Every morning I draw either an oracle or tarot card which is my divine message for the day. The message usually says something like, “Get your butt into gear”. Well, I can’t argue with that!

This is the time when I get a little reading in which is either ancient history or spirituality themed (I save fiction for the evening). The last thing I do before having breakfast and getting ready is to do some yoga, then I sit by my altar where I say my devotionals. I spend a moment in prayer with my ancestors too; finishing with a meditation. I know that this does sound a lot, but I make sure I’m up by 6am so I don’t have to rush. This is the only time in the day that I know I will have any degree of control over.

While I am having breakfast, which is usually a bowl of organic oats with almond milk, I look through what I need to do that day. I also keep my goals in view because if not I get distracted by all sorts of shiny things. Not good.

I truly believe that there is a link between how we take care of ourselves and the health of our relationship with our spirituality. A morning ritual can help balance our mental, physical and spiritual self which in turn will strengthen the connection we have with the world around us and with the Divine. Remember, if you don’t use it, you lose it.

I would love to hear whether you have any rituals that you do in the morning.

Brightest Blessings

Hazel

xxx

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Yule

robin-in-winter-871298746681il6If like me you are a solitary pagan and wish to celebrate Yule in a meaningful way, then here are a few simple ideas that will help make your day both memorable and sacred.

An obvious one to start with is the Yule tree. Our ancestors originally decorated trees that surrounded their homes, but with the arrival of Christianity, fearing persecution, they began bringing their Yule trees inside to decorate instead. As for decorating the tree, the sky is the limit. I personally love the rustic look, so I make garlands out of popcorn and cranberries and hang up bells, stars and little wooden toys.

The Yule wreath is a symbol of the wheel of life and with a willow frame can be decorated with evergreens that can be found in your garden, local park or woodland. Just be mindful of how you are gathering your materials and please ask the tree you cut any foliage from permission to do so, as trees have a deep rooted wisdom and soul that needs to be respected.

A Yule log can be any small log that you find, however our ancestors used oak logs. Again these can be decorated with evergreens, such as mistletoe, holly and ivy. I have a previous post all about the origins of the Yule log.

Feeding wildlife can be done at any time of year, but especially now when the ground is frozen. It is easy enough to find information about which birds like which foods and where is the best place to leave it. Remember to be patient: it can take up to three to four weeks before birds become aware and even comfortable about feeding from your bird table or feeding station. Also don’t forget to leave water out and make sure to refresh it every day when it freezes over.

Donating food to food banks and other charities or toys to under privileged children is a wonderful thing to do to celebrate this time of year.

Placing an artificial candle in a window on the eve of Yule and leaving it there throughout the night is a lovely way of welcoming the return of the sun. These candles are extremely easy to find and do look very realistic.

As this is a time of introspection, how about making your own little book of reflections? You can decorate it with drawings or stickers and then you can write down your thoughts and feelings about the past year. You could if you wanted to, throw this book onto an open fire, to symbolically release all that has happened during these past twelve months so you can then embrace the new.

Walking the labyrinth, be it a life size version or a print off the internet that you walk with just your finger, is another way of releasing all that has stopped serving you this year. I have done this walking meditation a few times now and it really does work. You will feel so much lighter afterwards. I have talked about how you can do this on my Facebook page, but if you cannot find that post then it is straightforward enough to find instructions on how to do this online.

Decluttering and deep cleaning is a fantastic way to prepare for your Yule festivities. I have a great tip to share with you that will help you decide what to keep and what to give away. Pick up an item, for example a dress and ask yourself, “If I had the money and I saw this in a shop today, would I buy it?” If the answer is no, then you know what to do. This trick works every time and for me when it comes to books, I only keep those that I know I will enjoy reading again.

Baking and cooking need no further explanation, other than perhaps offering up some biscuits or cake that you have made yourself to the God and Goddess. I am sure that would be greatly appreciated and of course not forgetting to include your ancestors too. If you are someone who connects to the spirits of the land then leaving them a similar gift underneath your favourite tree wouldn’t go amiss either.

If you are able to, then is there some place near you where you could watch the solstice sun rise? Even looking out of an East facing window as the sun rises can be a powerful moment of gratitude.

A simple idea for a centre piece to your solstice ritual could be a spiral made up of crystals, pebbles or glass beads with a candle in the middle. The spiral is the oldest symbol known to be used in spiritual practice and represents the Goddess as well as being the sacred symbol that reminds us of our ever evolving path in life. At the Winter solstice many pagans recognize the important role of the Goddess as she gives birth to the God at Yule. During this stage of the wheel of the year the Goddess is both the Crone and the Mother.

A Danish tradition you might like to try is putting an almond in rice pudding and the person who eats it will have good like for the coming year.

When it comes to following a nature based path, then less is definitely more. Do your best to keep things simple with perhaps a small ritual, some crafting, prayer and a short meditation. I know it can be hard, but try and keep away from the commercialization that is rife at this time of year which always ends up making people feel inadequate and hollow inside.

So there you have it, just a few suggestions on how you can celebrate Yule this year. Please go ahead and share any activity ideas or traditions that you have for Yule. I would love to hear about them.

Many blessings of light and love to you all this Yule,

Take care of yourselves and until next time.

Hazel

xxx

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tradition Of Wassailing

Wassailing has been associated with Yuletide for hundreds of years. The word wassail comes from the Anglo Saxon “waes hael” meaning to be of good health. This old custom took place at the beginning of the New Year when good wishes could be passed between family and friends.

Wassail is an ale which is seasoned with spices and honey and was served in huge bowls made of pewter or silver with perhaps an egg or two. The huge bowl was passed around with the greeting of “wassail” and was often taken around to other people’s homes as well. This has now become the tradition of carol singing. Often the lord of the manor would shout “waes hael” and the assembled crowd would reply “drinc hael” meaning drink and be healthy. He would then give food and drink to them in exchange for their blessings and good will. ” Love and joy come to you and to your wassail too. And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year”.

Apple Tree Wassails are songs that were sung to the health of the apple trees. In some places this tradition took place on Christmas Eve and in others it was on twelfth night ( 6th January or 17th January before the calendar changed in England in 1752). For others, New Year’s Day morning had young boys “Apple Howling”, where they would beat the trees with willow sticks and sing rhymes.

It was tradition to sprinkle wassail ale around the base of the apple trees and to pour it on the roots of the biggest and best tree, as well as to dress it with ribbon or strips of cloth. Pieces of toast soaked in ale were also placed in between the tree’s branches.

The villagers would then gather around the orchard, banging on pots and pans, making a tremendous noise to wake up the spirit of the trees and to frighten away the bad spirits.

Wassail songs were sung or chanted as a blessing to bring a good apple harvest the following Autumn. Part of the labourers’ wages would have been paid in ale, so the owner of the orchard needed healthy abundant apple crops to attract good workers.

 

“Apple tree, apple tree we all come to wassail thee,
Bear this year and next year to bloom and blow,
Hat fulls, cap fulls, three cornered sacks fills…”

 

In parts of the UK there are still places that practice wassailing, so keep your eyes open for these and join in the fun. If not you could perhaps buy a small fruit tree and adapt this tradition to suit you.

 

Many Blessings,

Hazel

xxx

 

 

The Origins Of Ivy

Ivy is a climbing vine that attaches itself to stone, brick and other surfaces, as well as to trees that are dead or living. It climbs by way of small tendrils that grow from the vine. The vine itself can become large and each tendril can send out another branch. It does not take very long for ivy to completely grow up a wall and cover it. Although it is not likely to damage a brick wall, it can become invasive. Ivy leaves are heart shaped and usually have three-lobes. The leaves are shiny and can be green with white or cream accents. Unlike other plants, ivy flowers in the Autumn and sets seeds in the Spring.

Ivy has a fascinating history full of tradition and folklore and like holly and mistletoe stays green throughout the year. This fact led to some believing it had magical and protective qualities and was therefore used to decorate homes during the Winter months. It has also become a symbol of eternal life because it is often found growing on dead or decaying trees, as well as being found growing over headstones in cemeteries. However, at the same time because it is often found in cemeteries it was also viewed as a symbol of death. It used to be said that if ivy was found growing abundantly on a young girl’s grave it meant that she had died of a broken heart.

In other traditions, ivy was a symbol of marriage, fidelity, luck and love. This was perhaps due to its tendency to bind. Brides and grooms in Greece wore crowns of ivy as a symbol of fidelity.

Some versions of the medieval legend of Tristan and Isolde, refer to ivy’s ability to bind. Tristan was a Cornish knight and Isolde was an Irish princess. Tristan went to Ireland to bring back Isolde as a bride for King Mark. However, Tristan and Isolde fell in love before they reached Cornwall after drinking a love potion.

In ancient Rome, ivy was associated with Bacchus (known as Dionysus in Greek mythology), the God of wine and revelry. It was said that a handful of bruised ivy leaves steeped in wine would make it less intoxicating to the drinker, but at the same time more potent! For this reason, taverns used to display an ivy bush over their door as a sign that they were serving the best brew.

The Greeks and Romans held the plant in high esteem as it was seen as a protection against evil and Roman poets were crowned with a wreath of ivy so they could think more clearly and creatively. Perhaps it was the Druids who influenced the Romans, as they too wore crowns of ivy for clarity of thought. Virgil spoke of the gold ivy that had yellow berries, but sadly this ivy is now extinct.

Women would carry ivy with them to promote fertility and wands were decorated with ivy or made from ivy wood for use in spells and fertility ceremonies.
Ivy was also used in love divination especially at Samhain, as this following verse shows:
 

The Origins Of Holly

Holly has been traditionally connected to this time of year for thousands of years. Like mistletoe and Yule logs, its origins can be traced back to northern Europe and was of great importance to our ancestors. Its leaves are dark shiny green with sharp jagged edges and was worn by the druids in ceremonial head wear when they went into the forest to collect mistletoe. While other plants wilt and die in Winter, holly remains vibrant and strong; its bright red berries glistening in the harsh cold landscape. These red berries were associated with sacred blood; immortal and strong.

Druids regarded holly as a symbol of fertility and eternal life and was thought to have magical powers. In Druid lore, cutting down a holly tree would bring bad luck, but hanging holly sprigs up in the home was believed to bring good luck and protection. Holly was also thought to protect homes against lightning strikes.

The holly tree is one of the trees that can be found in the Ogham (pronounced oh-am), an ancient script that can be found on standing stones in Ireland and Wales. Our ancestors respected and revered trees, looking for guidance from these wise beings of Mother Earth and her cycle of life death and rebirth. Similar to runes, the Ogham can be engraved onto wooden sticks and used in divination and magick. In the Ogham the holly symbolises protection, balance and compassion.

The Ogham letter for holly is Tinne and this word means fire. Holly has been associated with fire for many hundreds of years and was used in fires that were burned during the Winter Solstice. Charcoal made from holly was seen as extremely potent and smiths used it for making swords. Smiths were seen as almost godlike with their powers of transformation, creating weapons and tools from molten metal. The use of holly during this process made the act even more magickal.

The Celtic Tree Calendar is a much more recent addition to Celtic Spirituality. Based on thirteen lunar divisions, each tree rules over the same number of days every year, much like astrology. Holly rules the days from 8th July – 4th August. If you were born during this time then you are thought to take on the characteristics of this tree.

Holly was also offered up to the Roman God Saturn during the festival of Saturnalia. It was said that the holly was the sacred plant of Saturn and was therefore  highly valued by the Romans. It was also seen as an extremely symbolic gift to offer a person.

In the north of Britain young women who wanted to know who their future husbands would be, would place three sprigs of smooth holly leaves wrapped in a cloth tied with nine knots under their pillows at night. They would hopefully see him in their dreams.

If you wore a sprig of holly then you would be protected from the faeries and a holly wreath on the door would certainly make sure nothing evil would pass the threshold.

In Scotland, it was said that holly was both feminine and masculine. Smooth leaves were feminine and the prickly ones were masculine. The type of leaves that were brought into the home at Yule indicated whether it would be the husband or the wife of the household that would govern over the coming year.

Throughout Europe holly was used to ward off evil spirits and was seen as a protective barrier, especially during Yule when the veil between the two worlds is at its thinnest. So it would be hung over doorways and windows to stop wandering bad spirits from entering the home.

I really enjoyed researching these customs and traditions. If you know of any old tales about the holly tree then please share. I would love to hear about them.

Many blessings,

Hazel

xxx

 

 

 

 

Mistletoe

illustration_viscum_album0Kissing under the mistletoe is an age old Christmas tradition, but have you ever actually asked yourself why we do it? Thinking about it, it all seems very strange, but there is much more to this Yuletide plant than meets the eye.

The mistletoe of northern Europe can definitely be called the original mistletoe. Viscum Album is the mistletoe that can be found in all of our ancient European traditions and legends.

The familiar white berried plant is parasitic and relies on its tree host to survive, taking the tree’s own water and nutrients. Being a parasite, mistletoe can seriously damage the tree, but fortunately this is not a problem if only one or two branches are covered. However, if it does establish itself on every branch, then it is not good news. The tree will not be able to have enough foliage of its own, nor water and nutrients and will eventually die. Thankfully, mistletoe can be managed properly if it is pruned.

The use of mistletoe in herbal remedies has its roots in prehistory.  According to Pliny the Elder, the Druids of Britain used to harvest mistletoe from their sacred oaks to use in rituals and medicine.  It is very rare for mistletoe to grow on an oak tree.

A special ceremony would take place a few days after the Winter Solstice once the Druids had prepared for their sacrificial feast. Under the chosen oak, they would bring two white bulls whose horns had never been bound. A Druid dressed in a white robe would then climb the oak and with a golden sickle cut the mistletoe, which they caught in a white cloak. It was important to them that the mistletoe did not touch the ground and become contaminated. The Druids divided up the boughs into sprigs and distributed them among the people, believing that the mistletoe would protect them from fire and storms as well as evil spirits. It’s never been clear exactly how they used mistletoe in their herbal cures– but it has had a reputation ever since as a “Heal All” and can be used to enhance fertility, cure nervous disorders and relieve high blood pressure. (Please consult a qualified herbalist first before using any herbal remedy).

The earliest archaeological evidence of mistletoe is from the Lindow Man; a bog body found preserved in Cheshire England from the time of the Roman occupation. Analysis of his stomach contents revealed a few grains of mistletoe pollen and this has been interpreted as evidence that he drank some sort of mistletoe drink before his death. Some suggest the mistletoe remains are proof that he was perhaps a Druid or even a sacrificial victim of the Druids, as mistletoe is poisonous in large amounts. So was he taking it as a herbal medicine or was he poisoned?

Mistletoe was so sacred in the eyes of the Celts that even enemies who happened to meet beneath a mistletoe in the forest would lay down their arms and exchange a friendly greeting; keeping the truce until the following day. From this ancient custom came the practice of hanging mistletoe over a doorway as a token of good will and peace to all who entered. By the 18th century in Britain, this evolved into the kissing tradition we have today. At this time, it became popular to create a ball of mistletoe that would be hung as a Christmas decoration. If a couple was found standing under the mistletoe, they had to kiss if the mistletoe ball still had berries. For each kiss, one berry would be taken from the ball. Once all the berries were gone, all the “luck” in love and marriage was considered to be drained out of the mistletoe and it was now bad luck to kiss beneath it.

According to Norse legend, when the Goddess Frigg and her son Baldur both had dreams concerning his death, Frigg made all of the things on Earth, both living and dead, take an oath to never harm Baldur. All took an oath not to harm Baldur except the mistletoe, who Frigga considered far too young. Read the rest of this story here on one of my favourite Norse mythology pages.

The Death of Baldur

The last fact about mistletoe that I am going to mention is that it was banned from being used in church decorations when Christianity took root in northern Europe because it was part of Pagan tradition. This ban is still widely observed today.

If you know any mistletoe stories then I would love to hear them.

My mini Yule series continues tomorrow.

Brightest Blessings,

Hazel

xxx

 

 

 

The Origins Of The Yule Log

logs-backgroundThe Yule log was originally set alight in honour of the Norse God Thor; the God of strength, courage, might and of course lightning. Usually cut from an oak tree or sometimes ash, the log was burnt in sympathetic magic to encourage the return of the sun.

The log would have been lit with a remaining piece of the Yule log from the previous year,  symbolising the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. Sprigs of holly were thrown onto the burning wood to encourage a year of good fortune, health and protection. The log was not left to burn completely, however, because the remaining pieces were crafted into sacred charms which would keep the wearer safe over the coming year.

In some parts of Scotland a similar tradition was observed, but instead of a log, a figure of an old woman was carved from an old tree trunk. The Cailleach Nolliach which means Old Winter’s Wife was brought into the house and laid onto a burning fire. The household would then gather and watch the figure be consumed by the flames. The Cailleach did not represent new life, she represented death. To avoid death and misfortune the carving was burnt to ashes.

Traditionally, those who followed the Norse tradition of Heathenry brought in the Yule log on Mother’s night (20th December). Before the log entered the longhouse, a procession took place with the decorated tree trunk decked out in ribbons and greenery and carried through the village. This was seen as a joyous occasion. After being lit, the huge tree trunk was expected to burn for twelve nights. Their homes were long houses, so this would not have been a problem. The log was seen as sacred and no one was allowed to walk barefoot near it or even squint!

In Yorkshire, England, it was customary for children to beg and sing from house to house as the Yule log was carried in. This tradition was called Mumping or Gooding.

Nowadays sadly, the only Yule logs we really see are chocolate ones found in the frozen section of the supermarket, but we can change this and start our own Yuletide tradition. For those of you who do not have an open fire or even a fire pit outside why not buy or make candle holders out of small branches and logs. Pinterest has many examples of Yule log candle holders. Eitherwise, another idea could be to actually buy a chocolate Yule log and put birthday candles in it. Blow them out and make a wish.

More Yuletide traditions tomorrow.

Brightest Blessings,

Hazel

xxx

 

« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2018 Wytch Hazel Cottage

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑