Mystery of Stonehenge points to the heavens
No one's really sure how long ago humans recognized the winter solstice and began heralding it as a turning point -- the day that marks the return of the sun. One delightful little book written in 1948, 4,000 Years of Christmas, puts its theory right up in the title. The Mesopotamians were first, it claims, with a 12-day festival of renewal, designed to help the god Marduk tame the monsters of chaos for one more year.
A family fertility ritual from Romania.
You may have heard of apple wassailing, the medieval winter festival custom of blessing the apple trees with songs, dances, decorations and a drink of cider to ensure their fertility. Here's another, more obscure tradition that most certainly predates Christmas, and was probably once a solstice ritual, because it is so linked to the themes of nature's rebirth and fertility. In Romania, there's a traditional Christmas confection called a turta. It is made of many layers of pastry dough, filled with melted sugar or honey, ground walnuts, or hemp seed.
In this tradition, with the making of the cake families enact a lovely little ceremony to assure the fruitfulness of their orchard come spring. When the wife is in the midst of kneading the dough, she follows her husband into the wintry garden. The man goes from barren tree to tree, threatening to cut each one down. Each time, the wife urges that he spare the tree by saying:
"Oh no, I am sure that this tree will be as heavy with fruit next spring as my fingers are with dough this day."
In many cultures, customs practiced at Christmas go back to pre-Christian times. Many involve divination--foretelling the future at a magic time: the season turning of solstice.
In Russia, there's a Christmas divination that involves candles. A girl would sit in a darkened room, with two lighted candles and two mirrors, pointed so that one reflects the candlelight into the other. The viewer would seek the seventh reflection, then look until her future would be seen.
The early Germans built a stone altar to Hertha, or Bertha, goddess of domesticity and the home, during winter solstice. With a fire of fir boughs stoked on the altar, Hertha was able to descend through the smoke and guide those who were wise in Saga lore to foretell the fortunes of those at the feast.
In Spain, there's an old custom that is a holdover from Roman days. The urn of fate is a large bowl containing slips of paper on which are written all the names of those at a family get-togehter. The slips of paper are drawn out two at a time. Those whose names are so joined are to be devoted friends for the year. Apparently, there's often a little finagling to help matchmaking along, as well.
In Scandinavia, some families place all their shoes together, as this will cause them to live in harmony throughout the year.
And in many, many cultures, it's considered bad luck for a fire or a candle to go out on Christmas Day. So keep those candles burning!
source: Ancient Origins of Solstice
Winter Solstice Ritual
On the Summer Solstice, greet the dawn by lighting a lantern just before sunrise, from an East facing hill or plain. Spend the day in the open air and then say farewell to the Sun on a West facing slope, lighting your lantern once more to give the sun power even as it descends.
Cast golden flowers or herbs into the air from a hill, a handful at a time, making empowerments for courage and achievement to the winds. Where they land and take root represents in the old traditions places of buried treasure or in this case symbolises new or buried talents you can develop to realise your hidden potential.
Make your Solstice water, the most potent Sun water of the year, leaving water in a gold coloured dish surrounded by golden-coloured flowers from dusk on the Solstice Eve until Noon on the Longest Day. This is especially healing and empowering and you can keep it in clear glass or gold coloured bottles to drink or add to bath water to give you energy and confidence.
Make a small sun wheel garden, either indoors or out using the flowering herbs of Midsummer vervain and St John’s Wort, Sun herbs such as frankincense, juniper, rosemary and saffron and all yellow or golden flowers, arrange them in the form of a wheel and fill in the centre with tiny golden crystals or glass nuggets. You can breathe in the golden light from your living sun wheel.
Light sun oils, frankincense, juniper, rosemary, orange or benzoin or burn them as incense to bring the sun power into your home or workplace.
source; Cassandra Eason
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Long before there was Christmas, Hanukkah or even New Year’s Day, there was Winter Solstice, the first day of winter and the shortest day of the year. On this date, the Sun in its apparent passage east to west across the sky has gone from being nearly overhead in the hot summer to shifting downward a little more each day until its path was as low along the horizon as it could go.
At that winter moment, so dark and cold, the ever consistent Sun seemed to halt in its path, rising and setting in the same spot for three days in a row before shifting directions and heading north again. Winter Solstice is the middle day; the word solstice means "Sun stands still."
Cast into the darkness of the longest night of the year, people chose this date to gather, forming a circle to affirm the continual cycle of life and burning a Yule Log to evoke the increasing light. Thousands of years later, now in the urban city rather than the wilderness, we still feel a need to observe the Solstice in a way that connects us with our roots as human beings and celebrates the Earth and our shared bonds.
Baba Yaga is a Slavic Crone of ancient Russia and the Baltic Regions, where the Goddess Culture for thousands of years in the region known as Old Europe. Baba Yaga is often seen as the gruesome Witch, who has a reputation of scaring forest dwellers and eat children for trespassing. Her house, like any good place of worship is said to move on it's own. Her lawn is covered in skulls and these were all who did not approach her with proper respect.
Baba Yaga is a Goddess of Life, Death, and ultimately Rebirth, as she tested those who came to here. As a harvest Goddess, she plants us, raises us, cuts us down, stores us through the winter's night, and finally replants us. She represents that which is feared and that which we fear.
Thinking on the Goddess Baba Yaga, remember what we fear will kill us if we turn our backs to it. It is better to face our fears no matter how gruesome, then to find our energy scattered and unable to return. Goddess of death and regeneration. Baba Yaga can appear as either an old crone or a beautiful young woman.
Baba Yaga lives in darkness and eats people, but she has the gift of prophecy as well. "Grandmother Bony-shanks". A terrifying Witch who flew through the air in a mortar using the pestle as a rudder and sweeping away her tracks with a broom. She lived in a revolving house which stood on chicken legs. Her fence was made of human bones and was topped with skulls. The keyhole was a mouth filled with sharp teeth. She would aid those who were strong and pure of heart and eat those who were not. She is seen as a Goddess of death and initiation. Goddess of death and regeneration.
While she is commonly known as Baba Yaga, she has been known in the past by several other names: Baba Jaga, Jaga, Jaga-Baba, Jaginavna, and Egibinicha. "Baba" means "grandmother" or "wise old woman." Jaga or Yaga is believed to mean "horror", "wrath", "snake", "evil woman", or "witch".
Baba Yaga's name shows duality. She is at once the old hag and monster and also the giver of good fortune. This duality reminds me of the two-faced Roman god Janus who represents past and future. Baba Yaga is the giver of gifts or adulthood and also the giver of death.
On the eves of pagan holydays the spirit hosts set out for high mountaintops or other sacred places. At these animist sanctuaries the witches would dance, play music and games, feast and celebrate their mysteries. The divine "Mistress of the Night" would preside over the gathering, giving cures and revealing the future. Often she would miraculously revive the animals the witches were feasting on. The goddesses, their flight on the pagan festivals, even their destinations, all are closely interwoven in popular tradition with witches and faeries. more
Ancient beliefs included a calendar of rituals honoring agricultural and human life cycles. Winter celebrations included mummers, revelers in animal masks, ritual transvestitism, and noisy antics. Late winter featured festive sledding as a courtship and fertility ritual. With spring came dances and the decoration of birch trees. The summer solstice was greeted with bonfires, baths, and immolation of straw and flax effigies. Varied ceremonies cycled throughout the year: certain days to sing special songs, brew beer, initiate spinning, embroider, and so on. The festivals are documented, but imperfectly understood. They continued throughout the period, especially in rural areas, despite protests and attempts at suppression by the church. In short, in Russia as elswhere, conversion was a long, gradual process and many of Russia's neighbors, including the Finns, Lithuanians, Kumans, and Turks remained pagan for centuries thereafter.
Writers from 1300 to 1500 report that people still left out food and drink offerings to the Old Goddess. It was customary on the winter holiday to bake a braided loaf, the Hollenzopf, "Hölle's braid," as an offering to the Mother of the Dead. [Gimbutas, Lang, 320] This bread was probably preserved for use in blessing and curative rituals during the coming year, as was the French custom with faery loaves. The same observances were recorded of Perchta in southern Germany. In the mid-1300s, Martin of Amberg wrote that people left meat and drink standing for Percht with the iron nose. Medieval documents refer to the Winter Holiday as perchtentag or perhtennaht ("bright-day," or "-night"). A manuscript of 1302 uses the expression "till the eighth day after the Perht's day." [Grimm, 279-81]
Pagan New Year begins at the night of 22 of December. After this date people are making kolyadas during two weeks. Kolyada is a treaty between people and Gods, which is concluded for a year. Kolyada is a spirit of the winter solstice. Before New Year Great Gods leave people and Morena becomes the most powerful goddess. In every dwelling people give them special food. All landlords try their best to please kolyadas, because they want to have a happy year. Girls practice fortune-telling this time.
"During the Christmas-tide period Novgorodian Slavs greeted so-called Kolyada, the celebration of a new-born Sun. On the night of Kolyada people organized bonfires, did special folk dancing, sang traditional and holiday songs, slip down snowslopes in trays, on sledges, skates and kruzhalo. Young people dressed up new clothes used to gather in houses on klatches, danced, listened Christmas folk-tales, set riddles to each other and tried to read their future with the help of different divinations. But most of all they liked to disguise themselves. Evenings and nights mummers visited houses and wished good luck to hosts."
The Russian witch grannies called Baba Yaga also had iron teeth or noses. They flew in their mortars and drove with the pestles, or rode on the backs of wild pigs. Byelorussians said that Baba Yaga went about with the witch sisterhood on Kupalo, Midsummer's Eve. They gathered herbs and made magical fires, in accord with international pagan custom. [Hubbs, 77, 252]
Prepare a feast, form a sisterhood and make gifts for Baba for Solstice. Check here for more ideas about how to celebrate Solstice with Baba.