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Wheel Of The Year

Yule-The Winter Solstice

(Originally appearing in The Lightnetwork.)

“The king is dead. Long live the king,” is the teaching of the Winter Solstice. The masculine force, the God, in pagan religions like Wicca, goes through a continual cycle of death, rebirth and transformation. Many believe Wicca and witchcraft focus solely on Goddesses, and some traditions do, but most honor both the feminine and masculine, the Goddess and the God. As the wheel of the year turns, the God changes with the Goddess. His many faces are expressed as lord of the forest, grain, Sun and Underworld. Holidays like the Winter Solstice, also called Yule, celebrate this transformation. The Winter Solstice is the birth of the God.

On the preceding holidays we celebrate the death of the Harvest God and his journey to the Underworld. But now the light is ready to be born from the darkness. The Winter Solstice is the shortest day and longest night of the year. Hard to believe this holiday is a celebration of light, but it is the triumph of light over darkness. The event is marked by the Sun moving from the sign of Sagittarius to Capricorn. Capricorn is the sign of the father figure, respect and honor. The God needs this strength and respect for his road is a hard one, like ours, a continual journey of birth, life, death and rebirth. This time is well noted for the birth of the divine child in many cultures, including Christianity. From this day until the Summer Solstice, the days will get longer. The waxing Sun is the new-born God, given new life by the Goddess as the Cosmic Mother. He slowly grows with the light of the Sun. In the waning half of the year he takes on his darker aspects.
Yule is the celebration of life, even when things seem their darkest. To us, even though we know the light is growing, the coming winter months seem to bring only more darkness and despair. Many people go into a winter depression due to lack of light. But the solstice is all about keeping the light in your heart. We celebrate the rebirth of the God, and at this time go through our own dark underworld initiation, figuratively and literally, following the example of the God. As we celebrate his rebirth, we are also celebrating our own transformation.

Many are familiar with pagan rituals used to “draw down the Moon” to connect with the Goddess. Less popular, but as important are rituals to draw down the Sun. The solstices and equinoxes, the solar holidays, are excellent times to draw down the Sun God energy. They aid in our own transformation through the year. This ritual can be added to any holiday celebration you have planned. Many astrological calendars tell you the exact time the Sun moves into Capricorn, if you want to plan your ritual then. Traditionally, you can celebrate the solstice as early as three days prior or three days after the actual day, so choose the time right for you.

Decorate your ritual space with the colors of the Sun: gold, yellow, orange and white. Light as many candles of these colors as you can, all with the intention of solar light. If you have a Yule Log, gather around its fire. Pine, oak, holly and mistletoe are other traditional decorations. Then invoke the God and Goddess, asking them to be present with you as you participate in turning the seasons. Feel your home filled with the warm, comforting light. Visualize the Sun above you, imagining there is no roof between you, or if you are hardy enough to battle the cold, go outside. The perfect orb of golden light is above you, hovering silently. The rays of light surround you, bathing your in a warm glow. Imagine the young god, a small child of light in the Sun. Welcome the new God into life. Incense like Frankincense can be burned as an offering and tribute.

Feel a beam of pure light descend from the Sun down through your crown until it reaches your heart. Hold the image of the young God in your heart, filled with love and golden light. Feel your entire being fill with love and solar energy. Feel your own love of creation within you. If you have a personal empowering intention at this time, like holding a brighter perspective in the coming months, tell it to the God and Goddess. Then visualize the remaining energy moving down your spine, through your legs and deep into the Earth below you. For a moment, the beam of light connects the Earth and Sun like mother and child. Thank the God and Goddess, now filled with light to brave the winter months. The young lord helped your own rebirth as you helped turn the wheel of the year.

Imbolc

(Originally appearing in The Lightnetwork)

The Goddess starts stirring from her underworld slumber on the Feast of Imbolc, February Second. Imbolc means “in milk” or perhaps “yew’s milk” for it is the time of year when the animal mothers are lactating, preparing to nourish their children. The Goddess is going through a similar process. This holiday is the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox. At the solstice, the Great Mother gives birth to the new God, the child of light. She returns to bring the spring at the Equinox. But on Imbolc she is resting from her labors. The festival is to gently awaken the Mother and continue the celebration of light started with the birth of the God. Those who honor the Earth believe it is our duty and privilege to help the Goddess and God turn the Wheel of the Year, and shift from season to season.

In the February chill, the promise of spring is near, but it must be welcomed. The frost fairies are right outside our door, so we focus on the home and family, our true warmth. The light must be welcomed into our homes and hearts. The Celtic goddess Brid (pronounced Breed) is particularly honored on this day. Brid later became known as Bridget and finally St. Bridget by the Christian converts in Ireland. She is a powerful triple goddess, associated with creative inspiration as a patron for poets and bards. She is also a goddess of healing and smithwork, but most importantly, Brid is a goddess of light. On Imbolc many candles are lit in her honor, and crowns of candles were worn in days of old. I don’t suggest wearing a lit crown of candles now, but you can always make one and keep it on your altar, reminiscent of the Christian Advent Wreath from the prior holiday season. The light of the candles is to bring the blessings of Brid. She blesses homes and families, bringing healing and warmth for the last weeks of winter. Crosses, wreathes and dolls were woven out of stalks of corn and other grains, making charms to bless and protect young children. Candles became so integral on this day it became known as Candlemas in some lands.
The candlelight serves to wake the Great Goddess from her underworld slumber. The more light she feels and sees, the closer she feels spring is. Imbolc rituals help wake her. Like all the fire festivals, it is a time for purification and cleansing, and may be a more apt time to clean and reorganize your home. Spring-cleaning may have started closer to Imbolc to prepare the home for the Goddess’ blessings and protection.

At every celebration in the wheel I like to feel the energy of the day. It can be done through reflection, meditation, ritual or intention. This is a little ritual to welcome the light into your heart and home. You can do it by yourself or with others. Just follow the intent in it. Imagine and allow.
Start by lighting a candle. Light as many as you want, it is, after all, the festival of lights. Call out to the Goddess of Light, or whatever form of divinity is acceptable to you, and ask her to be with you as you light the candles. Take a few quiet moments to be thankful for the past season, and affirm your readiness to turn towards the light of spring. Feel the light above your head. Visualize a ball of white light above you, or it may take form as a ring of smaller lights, like the flames on a crown of candles. Feel the lights descend, as if you are wearing the crown of the light. It opens up your crown chakra, at the top of your head. The warm light slowly descends down through the head, through the throat and into the heart. With each beat the light expands until your are filled with it. The light surrounds you. Then visualize the light expanding in love throughout your home, filling each room. It purifies and cleansing your home. It brings the blessing of the Goddess of Light into your home.

Thank the powers who have joined you and feel the light contract back into your heart. From there it floats gently down through your body, your legs and feet and into the ground. It falls like a feather through the Earth to wake the Goddess deep within the land. Say any final blessings and continue to celebrate with your family and friends. Happy Imbolc.

Ostara –The Spring Equinox

(Originally appearing in The Lightnetwork)

Resurrection. Resurrection is a powerful word, and a common theme among many of the world’s religions. Ancient Osiris, the Egyptian god, was killed twice by his brother and resurrected by his wife, the goddess Isis. Dionysus, the Greek God of Wine, Poetry, Madness and Love, was reborn from his father’s thigh after his pregnant mother’s fiery death. The most famous resurrection of all is probably of Jesus Christ, on what is now called Easter. Three days after his death he rose again and ascended into the heavens. Rising from the dead symbolizes spiritual life everlasting through the many planes of existence.

Death is a transition, not an end and this everlasting life is first and perhaps best displayed in our lives every year through the resurrection of the land around us as the Earth Goddess rises. Springtime is when the seemingly dead and fallow land is rained upon with the waters of life and pushed forth new life, in the form of the first buds and flowers of spring. The promise of returned life, renewed life, is kept with the turning of the wheel of the year and passing of what modern pagans and witches call Ostara. Ostara is the day of equal light and dark, the spring equinox, when the Sun enters the sign of Aries and initiates the new life force rising from the land. The equinox falls sometime around March 19 through the 22. Consult an almanac or astrological calendar.

Ostara is named after a Teutonic goddess of land. She is very similar to our image of Mother Nature or Mother Earth, Gaia from the Greeks, who is embodied by the land and flowers. Like the goddess Persephone, this maiden mother rises up from the dark cold underworld and ushers in the blooming time. When modern pagans combined the Teutonic solar holidays with the Celtic fire festivals into the modern day Wheel of the Year, the spring equinox kept Ostara’s name.
The goddess Ostara was originally not only an Earth goddess, but also one of seeds and eggs, another life giving vessel. Ancient and modern pagans would decorate eggs with bright colors and bless the seeds and gardens for the coming harvest, to yield the blessings of the Earth. Notice for this holiday, early Christian religions fused the concept of Easter with the celebrations of Ostara. Both are times of yearly, eternal resurrections, promising life. Both now are associated with decorating eggs. Many pagan holidays were mated with Christian celebrations in an effort to convert the people of the old faith.

As we ask for so many blessings from the Earth, the goddess and gods and the universe, regardless of your faith, many modern pagans take the wheel of the year holidays to give back the blessings and energy to the Earth and give thanks in our celebrations. Here is a simple ritual you can do for Ostara to help send healing blessings to the Earth Mother.

Colored eggs were originally forms of magic. Some were used as charms to keep the forces of harm from destroying the world. Others were made for protection and prosperity. If you normally color Ostara or Easter eggs for yourself or with your children, this can be part of your usual fair.
Take one egg for this ritual. This egg will be a charm for healing the Earth. Color it any healing color you wish. I like greens, reds, orange and yellow. It can be multicolored if you are skilled with your food coloring. Once the base color is on, draw with a marker or paint onto the egg a symbol for healing. Good goddess symbols are crescent moons or spirals. You could draw the circle with a cross through it, the astrological symbol of the Earth, or if you are really ambitious, draw the earth with blue waters and rocky continents and circle it with more healing color. Whatever images that speak to you in the words of healing, use them on the egg. As you create it, you are filling it with your healing energies and intent.

Once done, sit and meditate with the egg. Envision the resurrection of the land and what this healing means to you, the gifts of another spring. Think about healing the Earth of all the damage humankind has done. Visualize it all healed and clean. Then bury the egg in the Earth. It can be in your garden, back yard, park or out in the woods. Send that healing energy into the world.
Remember all rituals should be backed up with real work actions. Recycle, conserve and do what you can to heal the Earth physically too. Have a wonderful Ostara!

Beltane

(Appearing in both the Lightnetwork and The Second Road)

In the original Celtic pagan calendar, there were only two seasons, winter and summer. Only two holidays marked the shift between the growing and dying seasons, Beltane in the spring and Samhain in the fall. Both are fire festivals, times of purification and transformation. Later the two other fire festivals were added, the winter holiday of Imbolc and Lammas summer festival. The Germanic and Norse celebrations of the Summer and Winter Solstices and Vernal and Autumnal Equinoxes were combined with four Celtic fire festivals, which fell between the solar holidays, creating the eight-spoked Wheel of the Year modern pagans use.
Beltane still marks the growing season. Although it is preceded by the Earth goddess’ reawakening at the Vernal Equinox, Beltane marks an important passage in the relationship between the Goddess and God. The God is personified with the Sun and growing light in winter months, but soon is embodied by the new vegetation growing upon the Goddess. The masculine force is the seed of creation, the lord of nature, forests and animals, like the horned gods Cerrnunos from the Celtic tradition and the Greek satyr Pan. The Goddess is the fertile land, the womb in which all life grows. As the young God matures from child to young adult, he takes his place as the lover and mate of the Goddess. He is the virile, masculine force of nature, helping the goddess bloom life across the land. Beltane rituals reflect this, being passionate through dance, song and feasting. The May Pole tradition, a symbol of the God, originates from this pagan holiday. May Day, or May 1st, has now become the fixed holiday of Beltane, but ancient pagan festivals lasted for days.
The word “Beltane” has been translated by some to mean “the fire of Bel”. Bel is a young god of light and fire in the Celtic tradition, who might have been the precursor to the Greco-Roman Apollo. Large fires of sacred wood were lit by the ancient people, and they walked the herds between the fires for purification, burning away the last vestige of winter chill or sickness. Modern day pagans continue purification rites, often walking between ceremonial fires or ceremonial washings for purification.
Celebrate Beltane this year with your own rite of purification, welcoming the new growth of your life. You can incorporate your own ritual into a larger gathering, or keep it simple and private. First start thinking about what needs purification in your life. Do you have a lingering winter cough? Are you holding onto any unwanted feelings and thoughts? Do you feel the need to wipe the slate clean and give yourself a fresh start for the spring? All these things can be solved with a Beltane ritual. Write a list of all the things you want purified.
Start with two flameproof containers, usually metal. Witches in my tradition use cauldrons, but if you do not have a cauldron or two handy, you can use metal pots you don’t mind scorching, or even tin cans. If you want a more elaborate fire, you can gather some dry wood and place them in the containers. Birch, oak, ash and willow are favorites in pagan ritual. Place the fireproof containers far enough apart that you can walk between them easily. Beltane rituals are best done outdoors.

Quiet your mind and feel the growing land around you. Feel connected to the Goddess and the God. Silently invoke their aid in your purification. Ask for purification from all the things on your list. Read your list and release them. Rip the list in two and place half in each metal container. Light fires in each and walk through the fires in the same direction several times. With each pass, release what does not serve your highest good. When done, make sure the ashes are completely extinguished. Bury them with a blessing for the Earth. For those squeamish around fire, you can change the ritual, symbolically bathing your hands and feet for purification, and then submerging your list in the water until the paper falls apart. As always, change rituals to make them yours. They must have meaning for you to be effective. Enjoy the growing season and the blessings of Beltane.

Litha –Midsummer’s Eve- The Summer Solstice 

(Originally appearing in The Lightnetwork.)

The pagan festival of Litha has many names. Some call it Midsummer, and those with an eye toward the sky know it as the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. This solstice marks the peak of the solar year. From this moment on, the days will get a little shorter. The remaining light grows more precious. Like many holidays from the Wheel of the Year, Litha contains both light and dark aspects in its celebration. Its true meaning depends on different traditions, myths and personal beliefs. The truth lies on both sides.

On the bright side, this is the day the young and earthy God assumes his responsibility of the land. Midsummer is the coronation of his solar aspect and power, his responsibility as consort to the Earth Goddess. It is a time of celebration and joy, the marriage of the God to the Goddess. They are at the peak of their power. Bounty is afoot. The Earth blooms in celebration of the renewal of their vows. The month of June is named in honor of the Roman goddess of marriage, Juno.
On the darker side, Litha is when the dual nature of the God battles. The God force is divided between the young, bright new God, in many traditions the Oak King, with the older, darker God, the Holly King. The two battle valiantly and the Holly King now defeats the Oak, ushering in the waning season, bringing the darkness, decay and cold. The Oak King assumes the honor and responsibility as consort to the Goddess. In essence, the same God is only changing roles. As the Goddess wears many faces, maiden, mother and crone, the God does as well, one of light and one of darkness. The days now grow shorter. On Litha, the Sun enters the astrological sign of Cancer. Cancer is the sign of the crab, but it is also the sign of the dark devouring mother, the dark Goddess, taking the defeated, and some say slain king, into her arms to the Underworld to await rebirth. Others see the sacrifice and death of the God in the first harvest, on Lammas in August. Six months from Litha, at the Winter solstice, the two battle again, with the Oak King as the foregone winner being the reborn Oak King.

Celebrations of Litha are akin to images from Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream. It is a time when day and night, the physical and spiritual, seem to blend together. The boundaries become blurry on this magical night when anything can happen. Otherworldly visitors, the faery folk, are appeased with offerings of milk and honey to prevent too much mischief. The passing of the young God is honored as the dark God assumes the throne. Herbs are gathered at the peak of solar power, particularly magical herbs like Vervain. Magical charms for health and success are consecrated in the Sun’s light. It is a time to store this precious power while at the peak, before the winter months start to encroach. Some focus on the marriage aspect of the God, with celebration, feasting, dancing and singing, much like a pagan hand fasting/wedding celebration.
Have your own Litha celebration. Work your own solar magic. Do as your spirit beckons. If you choose to honor the bright aspects of Midsummer, start your ritual during the day. If you work with the darker aspects, pick the twilight time. I usually choose to honor both, and do a day celebration, and more intimate, private evening meditation. While out in the Sun, honor and acknowledge its life giving power, banishing the winter and bringing the growing season. Draw down the Sun’s energy. Feel your body absorb and store the solar rays to keep you bright, healthy and vital in the coming months. Bring the solar energy into your jewelry, crystals and ritual tools. Pick and charge your magical herbs. At night, reflect on the dark mother as she embraces the solar god. In your mind’s eye, travel with them to the Underworld. Feel the powers start their retreat beneath the Earth once again. Honor them and thank them in your Midsummer ceremony.

Lammas 

(Originally appearing in The Lightnetwork.)

Lammas is the first of the harvest festivals in the pagan tradition. On this day, August 1st by the modern calendar, the first grain is harvest. The grain is a symbol of the God’s life. The God of pagan religions has many faces and many roles to play. As the Goddess can be seen as triple, Maiden, Mother and Crone, the God has many aspects. At times he is the young god of the Sun and light, a god of nature, wild things, the harvest and the underworld. The defeated God of light from our Midsummer’s celebration is sacrificed for the good of his people on Lammas, to give his followers life through the harvest. The God returns to the underworld for the waning half of the year to rest and regenerate. He will return as the child of the Sun, born again on the Winter Solstice. Many cultures have this resurrected god archetype as a part of their faith. The god lives, dies and returns again. Osiris, Dionysus, Bacchus, and Tammuz are only a few. Some would see Jesus of the Christian faith as a very similar figure. In the Celtic traditions, from which much of Wicca is based, there is Lugh.

Lugh is the sun and grain god often called upon at this time of year. In Wales his name is Lleu Llaw Gyffes, meaning “bright one of the skillful hand.” In the Celtic tribes, knowledge and skill were prized above all, and Lugh was very talented in many arts. He is one of the Tuatha De Dana, the race of gods from the British Isles. They are the children of Danu, the great creatrix Goddess of Celtica. The king of the Tuatha, Nuada, would not admit Lugh to his feast if he did not demonstrate skill. Lugh listed his skills as a warrior, poet, musician, sorcerer, smith and physician. The king was not impressed until Lugh defeated his best chest player. From that point on, Lugh was honored by Nuada and the Tuatha as a sage. He successfully led them in battle against their enemies, Balar of the Evil Eye and his people, the Fomorians.

In Ireland, Lammas was often called Lughnassadh, the feast of Lugh. Lughnassadh means the “funeral games of Lugh” although technically it was not his own funeral, but that of his mother. At the time funerals were not a time of mourning and sadness, but a place to celebrate the memory of the deceased. His mother was honored with a festival of games and entertainment. Later, as Lugh was more strongly associated with the Sun and Harvest, as a shining one, the name implied his cycle of death and resurrection.
At Lammas festivals, the first grain is usually cut and offered to the divine. Modern and ancient pagans alike would create corn dollies, figures made from grains, corn and straw, and burn the effigy, both as an offering, and as a ritual to speed the good God of the Harvest off to his underworld retreat. Cakes are baked using the first grains and offered during a ritual. Games are often played, some in the old traditions of warrior skills, to recreate the festival celebration of this death. Those with bardic skill would retell the tales of Lugh and the Tuatha. It is a time for feasting in every sense of the word.
This year call upon Lugh in your own remembrance of Lammas. The ritual can be as simple or as elaborate as you would like. Even though most of us modern folk do not make our living farming and gardening, take a few moments to remember the harvest. We all depend on the harvest, regardless if it is on our land or somewhere else in the world. In our day of the global market, importing produce from around the world, there is always a harvest going on. This is the day to remember that and give thanks for those who do make their living off the land.
Take a small offering. It can be from your garden, pantry or refrigerator. Anything grown in the Earth will do. Wheat, oats and corn are traditional, but use what you have on hand. Use what means something to you. It can even be a sprig from your favorite bush or tree outside. Take this offering and go outside, under the light of the Sun on Lammas, or the eve of the holiday. Many traditions celebrate ritual on the eve, and the festival during the day. Give thanks to the powers of the land and the sacrificed god, Lugh or whatever being resonates with you. Simply thank the Gods. Give your offering back to these powers. Give your thoughts and intentions of life back to the lands around you. You can bury or burn your offering, or simply leave it out for those of the animal kingdom to take. Take a few moments to meditate on the meaning of Lammas and conclude your ceremony.

Autumn Equinox: Mabon Wine Feast
(Originally appearing in The Lightnetwork.)
Mabon is the celebration of the fruit harvest. Sometimes it’s called the wine harvest, because the grapes are gathered and made into the sweet intoxicating elixir. Wine fared well in the ancient worlds, not only as a beverage but often as a sacramental drink. Libations of wine were poured on the Earth as offering to the gods and goddesses, faeries and spirits. The festival of Mabon is named after a divine child in the Celtic myths, the young son Mabon. His mother Modron lost him to the darkness of the underworld for a time. The festival remembering her search is on the Autumnal Equinox, a time of equal light and darkness. The Mabon Celebration is a time between two worlds, honoring the light and the dark, the upper worlds and underworlds.
Another divine child worshiped widely by modern pagans is Dionysus. Dionysus is the “Horned God” and “Savior”, called Bacchus and Liber by the Romans. He is the “twice born” having died and been resurrected, similar to other divine child and savior gods. Some legends say his father Zeus saved him from death when his mother Semele passed on, placing the unborn child in his thigh to grow to maturity. Orphic legends say he is the son of Zeus and Persephone, born as a child of the sky and underworld. In this story he was killed by the Titans and dismembered. They proceeded to roast and eat his remains. Zeus stopped them and had Apollo bury what was left of his body at the temple of Delphi. There Dionysus rises from the dead during the winter months when the Sun god Apollo has left the temple.
This god is the eternal youth, a handsome young man and the patron of pleasure, ecstasy, theatre, music, compassion, nature, regeneration, sex and wine. Woodland creatures, satyrs, centaurs and wild woman followed him. The satyr god Pan was his companion. Through his celebrations, Dionysus releases inhibitions. Some rituals were orgiastic, often violent. The wild woman, the Maenads or Bacchantes, would tear apart animals or even men with their bear hands, similar to their god’s own death. But he preached compassion, emotion and tolerance before ascending as one of the twelve Olympians. Both light and darkness are celebrated in his worship.
Modern pagan can choose to honor Dionysus at the wine feast of Mabon. Prepare for you ritual with a bottle of wine, several if you have a large group. Red is more visceral, like the sacrificed blood, but if you prefer white, then use it. Each is the fruit of the vine. You will also need bread, the bigger the loaf, the better. Vines, grapes, grape leaves and other fruit make an excellent adornment to the altar. When casting a magic circle, call upon four gods who have helped Dionysus in each quarter with the appropriate element.
“In the North, I call upon the element of Earth and the good god Pan to stand with us.
In the East, I call upon the element of Fire as the rising Sun and ask Apollo to join us.
In the South, I call upon the element of Air and the good father Zeus to protect us.
In the West, I call the element of Water and the dark goddess Persephone to watch over us.
I call upon Dionysus, Bacchus and Liber, in all their forms, to join us to be honored in the celebration of the wine feast.”
For the Great Rite, witches usually celebrate the union of the Goddess and God, but in this ritual, we are celebrating the division of light and dark, life and death. All come from one source. Bless the bread and wine, to imbue the god’s essence in them. Take the bread and gather everyone around. Savagely tear the bread apart, like the body of Dionysus, as each participant rips off their share. Get into the trance-like spirit of the ritual. Then pass the chalice of wine around, each having their fill. The celebration can continue in the true spirit of Dionysus, with wild dancing, music, rattles, tambourines, more feasting, drinking, lovemaking and pleasure.
At the conclusion of the circle, thank all the gods who have joined you and release the elements. Take any of the remaining fruit, bread or wine and leave it to the Earth, as am offering and libation to Dionysus.

Samhain 

(Originally appearing in The Lightnetwork.)

Samhain (pronounced Sow-wen or Sow-ween) is the New Year’s celebration of the pagan traditions. Samhain is a celebration of death bringing new life, drawn from the Celtic traditions of Europe. It is one of the four fire festivals, or holidays between the solar holidays of the equinoxes and solstices. Fire festivals are usually associated with purification. The purification on this day was to prepare for the coming winter.

Traditionally, it’s the time of the meat harvest, when the herd is slaughtered for food in the winter months. Such a harvest is probably why the holiday is associated with death and the afterlife. On this day, the veils between the worlds of the living and dead are said to be the thinnest. From fear of this belief, we have the corruption of this holiday and birth of Halloween. The reason why children dress up in scary costumes was to scare away any ghosts and goblins who passed through the veil between worlds and now walked with the living. Glowing jack o’lanterns played the same role.

Unlike modern society today, the powers of the dead and the underworld were respected, not feared in Celtic society. The holiday relates to the image of the Good God, slain with the grain harvest, Lammas, descending into the underworld on the Equinox, to rest and await resurrection on the Winter Solstice. The mythic image of the God Dagda, the embodiment of life, and the Morrigu, the triple goddess, a force of death and the underworld, mating in a river, a crossroads, on Samhain, bridges the gap between the worlds of life and death. Samhain is a time to honor the family who has gone on to the next life before you. If you pay homage to your ancestors, they will honor you. Many feel their own spirit guides and guardians are deceased relatives watching over them. Altars and offerings of food were placed out for the dead or other beings, like the faery folk and little people, to keep peace and good will towards these other worldly visitors. These practices are similar to rituals done in Central and South America for their own festivals of the dead.

The fearful element was later emphasized by the conquering Holy Roman Empire, trying to discourage pagans from their beliefs and holidays. But the sway of the old ways was too strong, and eventually it was turned into a children’s holiday, without the religious overtones. To take the power away from this holiday, it was turned into something not taken seriously. Those who held onto the old ways, like the witches, wise women and healers, became part of the cartoon imagery, with pointed hats and green faces.

I enjoyed Halloween as a child. I think most do. So I am not telling people to stop celebrating traditions they enjoy, but I am hoping to make people aware of where these traditions originate, and what the significance was and still is, to those reclaiming the old ways. I would love to know that children dressing up would know why they were dressing up, beyond the temptation of free candy. Samhain is one of the most misunderstood pagan holidays and this time of year is great to educate others on views that seem alien to most. My family has always held open Samhain rituals, to invite friends to see what witches really do on Samhain.

Samhain is the day to remember your own mortality, and the gift our life is. Regardless of your own personal traditions, or typical trick or treating, take a few moments this Samhain to remember your loved ones. Set up a special place, in your home or outside. Set up an altar and remember your ancestors. Leave out mementos or small photos of them. Light and candle and say your own special prayer of thanks and remembrance. Leave out food, perhaps their favorite treats. Remember your good times together. Climb the family tree and honor those in the next world. You can find yourself healing hurt feelings and saying things left unsaid, and soon, you could have a better relationship with your ancestor spirits then you did when they were alive. Love moves beyond worlds, and passing freely through them. Use this love as your bond to the past, and ultimately, to your own future.
The Gift of Shadow by Christopher Penczak
Samhain is a celebration of death bringing new life. On this day, the veils between the worlds of the living and dead are thinnest. Traditionally, it’s the time of the meat harvest, when the herd is slaughtered for food in the winter months. What better time of year to give yourself the gift of shadow.

We each have a shadow, a dark side to the light. Part of us is hidden below the surface when the rest of us face the world. We are all a synthesis of light and dark. Some deny it, and lock that part away completely. Others let it out sparingly, and have a difficult relationship with shadow. It may manifest as their repressed emotions. They don’t understand the shadow’s function and desire. Some embrace it and lose control, relinquishing their own judgement. The shadow may give voice to all the urges they’ve had but never dreamed of acting upon. The wise ones, in my opinion, make friends with the shadow self.

Darkness has gotten a bad rap, being equated and confused with evil. At times darkness can be cruel, but darkness is the touch of the star filled sky, the womb of Mother Earth, the healing water of the underworld, filled with regeneration for the weary soul. It is a natural part of the universe. Many benevolent goddesses and gods exist in the dark worlds. Macha, Dagda, Rhiannon, Pywll, Persephone, Hecate, Vulcan and Osiris bring great teaching, but at times the lessons can be difficult.

In your healing journey through the darkness, you release your fears of death and mortality, and of living life to the fullest. Life can often be the scarier alternative to death. The darkness forces you into the places where you hide from yourself. Walking through the gates of darkness opens all the unloved soul shards, filled with fear, anger and unhappiness. These unwanted emotions are sometimes necessary for the journey. Desiring not to experience them, many travelers equate these feelings with the darkness, and fail to see the potential for healing. Your shadow wants only to be loved and recognized as part of you.

Part of the shamanic initiation is coming to terms with the darkness to travel freely between the

middle world, Earth, the lower world and the sky realms. Shamans often have journeys in the darkness where they die and are resurrected with new abilities and insights. We all have dark nights of the soul, private, personal initiation often having nothing overtly mystical about them. We may fall into the pits of despair and finally realize we are the only ones with the power to get out. But these experiences transform us as people. These initiations, mystical and mundane cannot be forced. They all happen when the time is right. You can, however, start the process by working with your shadow spirit and your light spirit together.

By acknowledging your shadow, you start building the friendship with it. Potential volatile situations become diffused because you are honoring your hidden side. You honor your anger and fear. They have a purpose. You have a right to feel it. But it does not have a right to control your life. If you acknowledge it, you honor it, and can let it pass, like other thoughts and feelings. If you ignore it or cram it away in the back of your mind, you hold on to it. The unwanted emotions held back fester and brood. They can manifest as unhappiness, the inability to change, spiritual sickness or actual physical illness.

Find a quiet place to meditate. Choose someplace you will not be disturbed. Leave all other concerns behind. This is time for you and only you, but you may want to have a friend on hand to guide you through this exercise and be there for support. Close your eyes and relax you mind, body and spirit. Count from thirteen to one backward. You are now in a meditative state. Ask that all you do be for your highest good. Imagine a sphere of protection around you made from multicolored light. Ask for any guides or guardians in harmony with your intentions to join now.
Imagine a big mirror before you, the size of a door. The reflective surface could even be a pool of liquid or a windowpane of glass. The surface is all cloudy. No reflection is cast. The longer you look into it, the clearer it becomes. There is an image behind the mist. It is becoming more and more visible. Soon the mirror becomes perfectly clear, and in it is your shadow self, your dark reflection, looking back at you. Look carefully at it. It may be just a shadow, or it may be a fully formed being, similar to you. Greet your shadow. Tell it you wish to make friends. Do not feel fear, it cannot hurt you. If you are comfortable, invite the shadow out of the mirror and into your world. It will step through. Ask the shadow any questions you have. Ask it how it feels and how you can honor it better. I’m sure it will tell you something. Go with the first impressions you get from it.

When you are finished with your shadow spirit, thank it. It will return to the mirror and the mirror will dissolve away. You may contact it in a similar manner anytime you like. Other rituals can help you integrate it. Count up from your meditation. When you have difficult emotions, feel them, honor them and let them go as they pass through you. You always have a right to feel the way you do. Your friend is there for support. Take it. And you can always ask the shadow how you may honor it.

Take some time near the season of darkness to do this meditation. For the pagan new year, give yourself the gift of shadow.

Yule – Cycles and Celebrations

(Originally appearing in The Lightnetwork.)

The Wheel of the Year is a spiritual path of celebration, acknowledging and honoring the cycles of nature. By moving with the natural tides of life, one sees the wonderful patterns, the complexity and simplicity of life all around us. This is the heart of spiritual paths that honor the Earth as a loving, creative force. The Earth is seen as Goddess, constant yet ever changing. The sun and vegetation are seen as the God, continually dying and resurrecting. The divine as masculine and feminine, physical and spiritual are honored during the Wheel of the Year.

In such traditions, we move with the land around us. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice, or Yule, marks the rebirth and growth of the sun, offering us light and hope in the dark winter. Imbolc, Feb 2nd, is a time of preparation and cleansing, blessing homes and children to ride out the last of the dark months before spring. It is also called Candlemas because candles are lit to brighten the way. The Spring Equinox is named after the Teutonic goddess Ostare, who rises like the Greek Persephone out of the underworld, ushering in the growing season and new life. On Mayday, or Beltane, we celebrate the love of the young God and Goddess through frivolity, song and dance, particularly around the May Pole. Midsummer’s, or the Summer Solstice, marks the waning half of the year. The Vegetation and Solar God is defeated by his dark half. His death is celebrated on Aug. 1, on Lammas, with the cutting of grains for the first harvest. The fruit harvest is on the Autumnal Equinox, named after the Celtic god Mabon who loses himself in the underworld. The last of the eight festivals of the wheel is Samhain.

The Celtic New Year falls on October 31st, Samhain. It is both a beginning and an end. Samhain is a festival of death, but a celebration of death honoring the ancestors who have passed on to the next world. The gates between worlds are open, allowing communication and blessings to pass through. Samhain also celebrates the new life, new beginnings. The energy of Samhain is transformation. Like in the Tarot, death simply means change. When a door closes, another opens. Samhain leads us back again to Yule, and the rebirth of the God as the Sun.

Our lives go through similar cycles. We are born, grow, celebrate, live life, slow down and end one existence, to enter another. In most ancient pagan cultures, endings, separation and death were not seen as something bad in and of itself. Endings are a natural part of life, to be honored and accepted. As we end the Wheel of the Year column, and the Lightnetwork, we are not mourning something terrible, though we shall all miss it. We are celebrating a new door opening. We fondly remember our times together, and look forward to when we meet again. Thank you all for walking this road with me. Blessed be ­ Christopher