Love, life and new beginnings

The love affairs that drive our myths are powerful, epic connections that create wonder and chaos in equal measure. I’d never thought my own life would contain anything that momentous. A quite sort of love, a house, a child – I didn’t aspire to much. 

Love found me. Impossible and irresistible all at once. I fell in love with the gorgeous artwork and inspiration of a man I had never met in person. Divided by the Atlantic, and with me already married to someone else, it didn’t seem like a feeling I could pursue. But we kept talking, sharing work and ideas, very carefully not courting each other. We created huge stories, and there is a strange magic in that kind of shared creativity. There were all kinds of complications along the way, other people who passed through both our lives, times when we drifted away from each other a little, but we held those threads of connection.

Then, in the summer of 2009 Tom asked me if I would consider going to America for a Cthullhu convention some time, to promote the work. I didn’t even have a passport, and had never been out of the UK. But I thought about it. We thought about it together, and we dared to consider the consequences of being in the same space. After that, there was no going back. I crossed the Atlantic and we had a week together. It took us slightly over a year from there to jump through all the hoops. A year full of dramatic changes and challenges, that tested us both – for me, it meant going far beyond where I imagined my limits would be in terms of what I could feel and endure. Webcams kept us just on the right side of sanity, but to see and not be able to touch… to only have words to offer through those hard times. A friend of mine died, and those thousands of miles of distance were cruel indeed, needing to be held. But we survived, and stayed true to each other. We jumped though the legal and paperwork hoops and slightly over a year after our first meeting in person, Tom arrived in the UK. On Wednesday the 29th of December, we married.

No one in their right mind would volunteer to suffer. But at the same time, the trials we face teach us and make us stronger. In ease, we seldom find the true value of things. After all that we’ve been through already, I will never doubt the strength or sincerity of this relationship. We have been tested, and in proving true to each other, have gained far more than I can put into words.

I’ve seen, this last year, how others have responded to our story. The support from friends, family and wider community has been tremendous. Folk all over the world who know us only through our work and online presence have been there to cheer us on. There is magic in this, a sense of wonder and connection that ripples out in all kinds of ways. To those of you who have supported us with your words, actions and thoughts, we are both profoundly thankful.

I feel I have been given an opportunity here, unlike anything else in my life. Tom and I have managed to do a great deal working across the Atlantic, but being together, the possibilities are huge. This is not the end of a romance story, it is (I promise you) the beginning of something even more epic.

Care and Respect

Relationship is not a status update on facebook. It’s not a thing we make once, and can then take for granted. Whether we’re thinking in terms of inter-human relationships, our connections with places, creatures or groups, relationship is something we do, moment to moment. It’s not enough just to label it and assume it will conform to that shape.

Good relationship, as best I can make out, is shaped by two things – care, and respect. Everything that happens within a good relationship is underpinned by these two concepts, or comes as an expression of them. How we express care and respect defines our relationships. There are many different way of manifesting these critical sentiments – with words, actions, in tone of voice, in body language… we can speak of care and respect with our whole selves, or we can fall short. If we lose tempers, shout, blame, use, force, deride or otherwise put down, we are failing. Once we go down that route with a connection, it ceases to be good and honourable relationship. Once mistakes are made, it’s not easy to rectify them – not impossible, but that calls for courage and a willingness to relinquish pride.

One of the features of bad relationship, so far as I have seen, is that a person who is not demonstrating care and respect will always have justification for doing so. If you find yourself in this situation, look hard at your reasons and at yourself. What do you want to achieve? If the answer is anything other than equitable relationship, then there are serious questions of honour to consider. If the relationship is broken such that care and respect for the other are beyond you, is revenge or point scoring appropriate? It can be appealing, but this is not a response that encourages peace or brings honour.

If a relationship is broken beyond any scope for care and respect, the honourable thing to do is acknowledge it as such and move away. If a person behaves with carelessness, malice or disrespect such that holding a peaceable line of care and respect becomes impossible, moving away is essential. Some people mistake peacefulness for weakness, and service for willing slavery. No matter what the named relationship, we do not owe care and respect where none is given in return.

No relationship runs smoothly all the time. We all have our moments. However, a relationship underpinned by care and respect will endure, even if those in it flail and struggle. Where care and respect are absent, there is no true relationship. There may be the illusion of connection, there may be some possessive word to hold people in place, but there is no real relationship. There may be use, convenience, power trip and trophyism, but there is nothing honourable.

If what you see does not look like care and respect, then it probably isn’t. Speak clearly about the ways in which you need to be treated to feel cared for and respected – we’re all different and it’s always worth having a go. Care should always be on the terms of the person receiving it. If it is in any way unwelcome, forced, or wrongly shaped, then no matter what the professed intent it is not true care, and not true relationship.

When these two essential things are present in a relationship, there is strength, scope for profound trust, plenty of room for love to flourish and for all involved to benefit in many ways. We are nourished by such relationships. We grow in them, find joy and security as a consequence of them. They are one of the greatest blessings available to a person – to all people. Manifesting care and respect in all things takes effort and attention. It will often call on us for generosity, patience, kindness, understanding, willingness to listen, empathy, but we will find those returned to us as we come to need them ourselves. Consciously building honourable relationship with others is an act of beauty and spirit.

Keep the home fires burning!

Central heating means that you can go out of a cold winter’s night and come home to a warm house. Hurrah for human innovation and technology… And for most people the central heating can be topped up with gas or electric heaters. Instant warmth! In the past rich people had servants who, when you get down to it, could be used much like the central heating – you go out, you come home to a nice fire. Although some of those huge houses must have been cold and draughty, and I can’t imagine that castles were warm.

Then there were all of our poorer ancestors. Most of us won’t come from wealthy, aristocratic stock. Our forebears will have lived a lot closer to the soil. And the fire. While there’s nothing more cheery than a fire in the hearth, they’re very different to live with. If you go out for the day, the fire does not light itself for nightfall. If you’re very clever at setting it up, it might stay in and a bit warm for as much as 12 hours, enough to stop your house from freezing, but not enough to keep you comfortable if the temperature drops below zero. (I write from experience).

When all you have for heating and cooking is the fire, then keeping it going becomes essential to survival in winter. This also means that you can’t all decide to go out for the night. Rolling back from the pub at midnight to a frozen home, ice inside the windows and a bed that will make you yelp from the cold (because no fire means no warming pan in the bed, no hot water bottle…) is no kind of fun. The man of the house might head out, but the odds were a woman would stay home, look after the children and keep the fire in, historically speaking.

Using electricity or gas to heat a house means not really seeing how much energy you use. Not until the bill arrives, which can be a shock. Heat happens by magic, and until we have to pay for it, it’s easy not to envisage that as resources used. Burning wood and coal is a much more immediate experience. You rapidly develop a keen sense of how much it takes to keep you warm. Once the snow and ice settle in, you aren’t going to be able to fell more trees, and most of them won’t burn green anyway. Anyone who has tried foraging sticks for the fire will know how much work it takes to bring home enough wood for a few hours. Sticks burn fast. Rotten sticks don’t burn well. Foraging in freezing conditions is hard. Snow-covered wood rapidly becomes wet and reluctant to burn wood.

Now add into the mix single glazing, no cavity wall insulation, no loft insulation, windows and doors made of wood that might not keep the drafts out, and the implications of winter for our ancestors, even relatively recent ones, start to become more apparent. To be warm at the touch of a button is a luxury they could not have dreamed of.

One day, the supply of natural gas will run out. We are pushing the limits of electricity supplies in the UK and sometimes this results in power cuts. Do we want more nuclear power stations? The fossil fuel burning stations are going to run out of supplies too, eventually. Can we really do it all on renewable energy supplies? Most modern homes don’t have fireplaces in them. How would you cook if the power went off for a few days? How would you keep warm? We’re so used to the comforts of modern life, most of us, that we take them for granted and imagine they will always be there. How would we cope if obliged to live as our ancestors did? How many of us even know how to do that? And what is the likelihood that we might be going to have to learn, if we can’t better manage our energy consumption, as a species.

Ogham: A – Ailm: Scots Pine

Ailm

Ailm’s day is 25 Dec: Sun-Return – the day the sun begins to move again after the Midwinter standstill/solstice

  • Winter Solstice is 21st December, the 3-day standstill is 22/23/24 December
  • Sun-Return is the day the sun begins to move again after the 3-day standstill of the Winter Solstice; i.e. 25th December.

This is an important turnaround in the year. We go from the days getting darker and darker, there being less light every day up to the solstice, the 21st December, to the changeover. From the 25th December there is gradually more and more light each day up until the summer solstice when it turns around and after 25th June there is less and less light each day until Midwinter.

  • Midwinter is about the rebirth of the sun.
  • Midsummer is about the death of the sun.

Ailm is about birth. It’s watchwords  are “I am the womb of every holt”.

Womb is a word to take into your sit-with. What is the womb? What does it do? Think about how the spark of life enters the womb, fertilises the seed, how the seed grows within the darkness to finally birth out into the light. All of these things are what Ailm is about – in every sense, plant, planet, star, animal, human, building, country, nation, idea, book, painting, cooking, each journey you make in the everyday world, everything … yes, everything, goes through this cycle. Ailm holds this energy for the Earth and all her creatures, including us.

Scots Pine

In Britain, this principle is often held by the Scots Pine, an ancient tree that is about breaking up land so that it becomes earth and soil that will support growing things. When you understand the principles that Ailm holds and guards for us all you can ask to be shown the wood – in your land – that will be right for the spirit-house of Ailm where you live. This is about working with the land where you live, not trying to force the land into working in a way some human has written about and, as such, has become “gospel”. We all need to learn to change ourselves to fit with the world rather than trying to make the world fit with our wants.

Scots pine has a long and rich history in mythology. In The Golden Bough, James Frazer relates various stories involving pine trees from classical mythology, which may or may not have been Scots pines, such as how the ancient Egyptians buried an image of the god Osiris in the hollowed-out centre of a pine tree. He writes that “it is hard to imagine how the conception of a tree as tenanted by a personal being could be more plainly expressed.” As a symbol of royalty the pine was associated with the Greek goddess Pitthea, and also with the Dionysus/Bacchus mythology surrounding the vine and wine making, probably as a fertility symbol. Worshippers of Dionysus often carried a pine-cone-tipped wand as a fertility symbol and the image of the pine cone has also been found on ancient amulets as a symbol of fertility. For the Romans the pine was an object of worship during the spring equinox festival of Cybele and Attis. As an evergreen tree the pine would also have symbolised immortality.

The Scots pine groves or ‘shaman forests’ scattered over the dry grasslands of eastern Siberia were considered sacred by the Buriats, a Mongolian people living around the southern end of Lake Baikal. These groves were to be approached and entered in silence and reverence, respectful of the gods and spirits of the wood.

Closer to home, Druids used to light large bonfires of Scots pine at the winter solstice to celebrate the passing of the seasons and to draw back the sun. Glades of Scots pines were also decorated with lights and shiny objects, the tree covered in stars being a representation of the Divine Light. It is easy to see how these rituals have given rise to the latter day Yule log and Christmas tree customs.

In the old Gaelic alphabet, where each letter is denoted by a tree whose name starts with the letter, the Scots pine is not listed under its Gaelic name of Guibhas but rather under P for Peith, which is the alternative Gaelic for the tree. Guibhas (pronounced goo-ass) crops up in several place names in Scotland both in its native Gaelic, such as Allt na Ghuibhas in Wester Ross and Glac a Ghuibas by Ardgower, ‘Pine Stream’ and ‘Pine Hollow’ respectively, and as Anglicised derivations such as Dalguise and Kingussie; Goose Island, Lough Derg, may originally have been Isle of Pines, not geese.

Note  … I use the Guelder rose for Peith but am very content with it being Scots Pine.

Scottish folklore surrounding the Scots pine seems to be fairly sparse. This may be due to the sort of uses to which Scots pine was put, mainly as a building material. In the days of wooden boats and ships several of the products of the tree proved useful in shipbuilding. The high resin content of the sap of the pine means that the wood is slow to decay. The tall, straight, flexible trunks proved to be ideal for masts and spars (witness Beinn nan Sparra, Hill of Spars, in Glen Affric), and the wood was also used for the planking, and sealed with pitch made from the resin (which was also used to seal the beer casks!). In fact there used to be a ‘superstition’ about not felling the pine trees for shipbuilding during the waning of the moon, as the tidal influence of the moon was said to affect the resin content of the wood; and indeed botanists now recognise the complexities of sapflow in plants which are to some extent affected by the gravitational influences of the moon’s cycles.

Hugh Fife, in his book Warriors and Guardians – native highland trees, suggests that as much plant folklore stems from the uses and influences of the plant on people’s everyday lives, and that as the uses of Scots pine were mainly on a larger, industrial scale, less lore about the pine has evolved or persisted, ie no rituals for annual harvesting, coppicing, medicinal/herbal uses and the like. There are nevertheless some medicinal uses derived from the pine: the resin and needles of the pine have been used, particularly as an inhalant, to treat respiratory problems and as an expectorant, and also have antiseptic and disinfectant qualities. The Bach Flower Remedies recommend pine to treat despondency, despair and self-condemnation.

A persistent theme in the folklore of Scots pine is their use as markers in the landscape. In the Highlands there is a recurrent theme that they were used to mark burial places of warriors, heroes and chieftains.

In areas further south where the sight of Scots pine may have been more unusual and their use would have stood out more, they can be seen to mark ancient cairns, trackways and crossroads. In England they were commonly used to mark not only the drove roads themselves, but also the perimeters of meadows on which passing drovers and their herds could spend the night. There is also the possibly more fanciful suggestion that Scots pines were planted in England by Jacobite farmers or sympathisers.

This relates them strongly to Elen of the Ways, and to her sister the Apple Woman and Washer at the Ford (Morgan). Elen is the lady of the roads and tracks. Morgan is the Lady of the crossroads, the Greek goddess, Hecaté, is similar to Morgan.

What does Ailm mean? Here are some words for you to sit-with and ponder on to help open up your mind and intuition to what Ailm is about, what it does, what its job is.

Birth, nativity, beginning, origin, dawn, start, founding, opening, foundation, creation, initiation, begin

You can see that both the words this month are about similar things – beginnings of various sorts. And both trees are  initiators of change, they break up concrete and stone and rock, they help make the stone into soil that will support new growing things.

Take all these ideas, concepts, together and feel your way into them. Feel into the similarities … and the differences. Both differences and similarities are important. The words are not all the same. The concepts that each of the spirits hold are not the same, you cannot interchange one with the other … but they support each other, they work together. This is important! It is how the world works J.

Humans tend to work from a competitive basis, against each other, against anything they perceive to be in their way. Working with the rest of the world is not something most humans have even contemplated yet, let alone had a go at living! You have the opportunity to begin working this way for yourself … as you begin the course.

Sit-with the words. What pictures come into your mind from them? Take them into your journey as foci, guiding and directing you towards finding the spirit.

Elen Sentier

behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …

 

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Light Returning

We’re a few days after the winter solstice now, and the days are getting longer. It’s not yet at any level I can perceive, but I know it’s happening. We move from the darkness towards the light. Outside the window, the snow lies thick, and the temperature barely gets above freezing, but the year has turned and the spring will eventually come.

The cycle of the seasons teaches us that change is the only constant. There are dark times and light times, all things pass, and all things come again. Mediaeval Europeans believed in the wheel of fate, the inevitable turn from good to bad, and back again. To me that seems a tad simplistic. Different people get radically different experiences. For some the balance towards wellness, or woe, is dramatic. But most of us can expect a bit of both.

In harder times, during dark nights of the soul it is difficult to keep believing that things will change. I hit one of those last week, with yet another thing going wrong, and wondering how I had dared to imagine that anything could ever go right for me. Despair begets despair. Equally, during the wild highs, only the most pessimistic will anticipate some plummet into gloom. But we can’t stay in wild states of ecstasy all the time – we’d go mad, or burn out. The comedown can feel like everything falling apart even when it isn’t. The seasons of our lives bring change just as surely as the cycle of the sun will.

There are few things that can be improved by pretending they aren’t happening. Fighting against the fact of a process is pointless, and it’s easy to spend a lot of time trying to resist the inevitable. With all due reference to death, taxes and aging. I can’t fight the winter – it’s happening out there, it won’t go away if I pretend it isn’t. Engaging with the realities equips me to cope better. I’ve yet to find something that isn’t true of. Engage with the reality, know that the reality will change, because everything does. Know that you will probably change with it, or because of it. These are not things to struggle with. Life is happier if you co-operate with your own existence a bit.

The light returns, a few extra minutes a day. It’s such a small difference that only the most attentive will spot it as a daily occurrence, but in a week or two it’ll be more apparent. Life changes from day to day in the same small increments, and with sudden bursts of drama. Nothing changes. Everything changes, and round we go again. I aspire at the very least to make new and interesting mistakes rather than tired, old ones. I aim to find myself in new places, caught out by things I’ve not seen before. It’s all too easy to get into cycles of the same things, but where would be the fun in that? At least let me learn enough from my mistakes not to repeat them.

Father Christmas ???

Arthur Rackham’s Father Chritmas

One of the big things in the western world at this season of Sun-Return is Father Christmas, aka Santa Claus which is derived from St Nicholas.

An advertising campaign by the Coca Cola Company in the 1930s made our current image of Father Christmas almost universal although it was fairly ubiquitous by the late 19th Century. With an expansion of global exploration in Victorian times, travellers returned home from visiting the Sami of Lapland with the story of flying reindeer, spread the tale all over central Europe. We had long forgotten our own British traditions and no longer did reindeer roam the land as they had. They are back again though now.

As is the wont of Christianity, our pagan customs have pragmatically been adapted and integrated into their Christmas traditions and so hidden from their true origins and meanings.

The Pagan Shaman

Father Christmas is an ancient pagan figure, coming from the shaman who is also the gift-bringer for the season of Sun-Return … the time of the solstice when the sun appears to stand still for 3 days and then move on again. What happens is that the sun, for the three days, appears to rise at the same point on the horizon for the 22nd, 23rd, and 24th of December and then, on the 25th, appears to move on to the next place on the horizon. Our ancestors, all over the world, observed this, along with the fact that from the solstice on the days again begin to get lighter heralding the spring. They rightly celebrated this season, as we still do. It’s good to know the origins of the celebration which are as old as humankind, perhaps some 600,000 years.

Father Christmas is special to many folk, especially children. The traditions which he is about come largely from the European shamans and wise-folk. For instance …

In the Nordic tradition, the red-and-white dressed Father Christmas is a knowing-one shaman-figure carrying Wotan’s energy. The word shaman – from the Turkic word šamán, also used in the wider Turko-Mongol and Tungusic cultures in ancient Siberia – mean “one who knows”. I use it because it’s currently reasonably well understood all around the world. One of the words for it in my own Celtic tradition is Awenydd, but that is very unknown to most so I tend to stick with shaman.

The red-white-black costume of Father Christmas goes way back in the Celtic tradition to the triplicity represented by the 3 Cups …

  • The Red cup of Lordship
  • The White cup of Fostering
  • The Black cup of Self-Forgetfulness (i.e. ego-restraint)

Fly Agaric

Fly Agaric

It also relates to the fly agaric mushroom, Amanita muscaria. This is “fairy mushroom” we all know from many beautiful drawings and paintings, the characteristic red mushroom with its white dots. It is a vision and dream-making mushroom but needs to be eaten very carefully and the best way to take it is one which probably turns the stomachs of many modern folk. You watch the reindeer eat the mushroom and then collect their pee … then you drink reindeer pee! The reindeer changes the constitution of the mushroom so that it is no longer so poisonous but still retains it’s magical, journeying qualities.

Siberian Reindeer have a particuar prediliction for the fungi in question and can behave very odl under their influence. The Sami actually feed the reindeer the mushrooms, then collect the Reindeer’s urine as this not only contains the full hallucinogenic strength of the Fly Agaric but much of the mushroom’s toxicity is removed by the Reindeer’s digestive processes.

So there is one connection between Father Christmas and the reindeer … and flying.

Most shamans of the Northern Hemisphere ate it ritually. Its shamanic use can be traced to the Lapps, the Siberian nomadic peoples (Samojeden, Ostjaken, Tungusen, and Jakuten), and the North American Indians. In many mythologies, storm and thunderstorm gods are associated with the fly agaric mushroom. The thunder and lightning can be how it appears as you begin a fly agaric journey through the spirit worlds.

The Germanic thunder and fertility god, Donar or Thor, drives his goat cart through the air, bringing thunder and lightning as he throws his hammer in the clouds. Thunderstones (meteorites) fall to earth where they inseminate the ground and make mushrooms grow, especially fly agarics.

The fly agaric journey is one ecstasy, knowing and knowledge. The Nordic tradition says the fly agaric mushroom grows where Wotan rides on his horse through the clouds with other members of the wild hunt, at the time of the winter solstice. Wherever the froth of Wotan’s horse fell to the ground, the ground would become “pregnant” and nine months later would sprout fly agaric mushrooms, at the time of the autumn equinox. The story sometimes says that the fly agaric mushrooms grow from a mixture of the blood (red) and froth (white) of Wotan’s white horse. The wild hunt is drawn to the mushroom, calmed and put in a good mood with incense. Wherever it finds nourishment, the wild hunt becomes guardian of house and farm. For us in the Celtic tradition this is Gwyn ap Nudd and his white fairy hounds with their red eyes and ears. He rides at solstice, through to 12th Night – The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper is wonderful story that tells of this ride and what it’s about.

Reindeer in snow

Reindeer, Sleighs, and Shamans

The idea of a great variety of reindeer sleighs flying through the air at Christmastime is common, carrying a laughing, red-and-white Father Christmas in the sleigh with his sack, his rod, and the presents. Every year this ancient shaman comes to Earth in his reindeer sleigh and lands on numerous roofs to descend down chimneys. Where does this come from?

Father Christmas is a pagan shaman from the distant European past – and the current pagan present. British. Gaelic, European and Siberian mythology all have a “heavenly wild hunt”. The Siberian ones are the most quoted now because we seem to have forgotten or mislaid our own ancient shamanic traditions. The Siberian shamans ride on reindeer sleighs through the air, up to the clouds. The world tree is their goal; this is where the magic reindeer are. The Siberian Tschutschuken say that the moon is a man on a sleigh that is pulled by two reindeer to Earth and can fly back up to the Upperworld like the modern Father Christmas figure. The Celtic tradition also revolves around the world tree, the source of wisdom.

The association of reindeer and shamanism is seen in the caves of the Ardèche, where wall paintings of reindeer, some thirty thousand years old, show our connection. As early as the Old Stone Age, reindeer were sunk in moors as sacrificial offerings – for example, in the Hamburg steppe of Meiendorf and Stellmoor and in Magdalénien (Pohlhausen 1953). This is the ritual context of cultic poles or stakes crowned with anthropomorphic mushrooms with dwarf caps. Sometimes, even reindeer skulls were placed on top of such sacrificial stakes. These often-neglected details show our association of reindeer with the mushrooms.

Yurt burried in snow

Down the Chimney …

Many shamanic peoples are nomads and live in portable homes such as yurts supported by a large beam of wood which stretches up to the smoke hole. At the Midwinter Festival, the Shaman wanting to enter a yurt buried in the snow would find the smoke-hole the only way in!

Siberian yurts have a roof supported by a birch pole with a smoke hole at the top. At the midwinter festivals of annual renewal, the shaman gathers the fly agaric from under sacred trees. Whilst harvesting the toadstools, she or he wears a costume of red and white fur-trimmed coat with long black boots – so carrying the colours of all three cups.  This costume is very like the modern day Santa Claus. She or he then enters the yurt through the smoke hole, carrying a sack full of dried fly agaric, and descends the birch pole to the floor. Once inside, the shaman performs ceremonies and shares out the toadstool’s gifts with those gathered inside. After the ceremony is over the shaman leaves up the pole and back through the smoke hole.

St Nicholas

Saint Nicholas is a legendary figure who supposedly lived during the 4th Century and known as the patron saint of children. He is said to brings presents on the eve of his feast day, 6th December – somewhat earlier than the solstice!

Most religious historians now agree that St Nicholas never actually existed, but was instead a Christianized amalgam of the historical bishops, Nicholas of Myra (4th Century) and Nicholas of Sion (d. 564) together with a number of pagan gods including the Teutonic god, Hold Nickar. Legend tells that Hold Nickar galloped through the sky during the winter solstice, granting favours to his worshippers below.

St Nicholas is associated with a number of miracles and stories to do with giving presents which integrate him into the legend of Santa Claus:

Green Man

Green Man – Lord of the Forest

Bringing the forest into the home – like many of Christmas traditions – has its roots in the days when we all were pagans. At the solstice it’s traditional to bring armfuls of greenery into the home; put fir trees in a bucket and decorate them with baubles; hang holly and ivy over mantelpieces and picture frames, and mistletoe over doorways.

Note again that triplicity of colours – red holly berries, black ivy berries and white mistletoe, carrying the energy of the 3 Cups in a different way but always reminding us of our tradition, symbols of eternal life and renewal.

Holly Man

Dr Brian Bates, senior lecturer in psychology and director of the shaman research programme at Sussex University (author of the Way of Wyrd), said: “In the early tribal cultures of Europe there were huge midwinter parties, involving an entire tribal group, with a shaman taking centre stage wearing a crown of holly and ivy, representing the eternal life of ‘evergreen’ nature.” The Druids gathered mistletoe and hung it in their homes because of its miraculous powers. Even carol singing had its precursors in shamanic festivals. If you listen to the words and stories of the old carols you see the old myths carried forward in them. A myth is not a made up story, by the way, but a word for “belief system”. En-chanting, singing up the gods and goddess, is as hold as human voices. Older perhaps, I’m thinking of wolves howling here but some of you may find that too much to handle.

However, you celebrate the solstice do think of the ancient ways of humanity, where we have all come from. The old ways that celebrate the realities of the turning Earth, the patterns and rhythms of the Sun which enables Life, the seasons that give us food, beauty, challenge and delight. Whatever modern religion you currently profess, spend a moment with the Old Ones, who are the ancestors of us all. That way, we really do bring love and peace and understanding across the whole world.

Elen Sentier

behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …

 

Wye’s Women Elen’s Books Rainbow Warriors

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Festive traditions

While there are plenty of ‘regular’ ways of doing the festive period, there’s no reason why we can’t invent new traditions. Here’s a few I especially like.

The Christmas Eve muster. This was a feature of my teenage, and hosted by a friend, who would round up lots of people for a big present exchange. A good evening with friends, a dash of alcohol, plenty of chocolate and much merriment, to be followed by walking home late at night. Being teens, gifts were far more about cunning and insight than about spending lots of money, and I loved that about it. 

The Christmas Pie. I grew up vegetarian, back when that wasn’t at all fashionable. “But what do you have on Christmas day?” was a question that came up a lot. My Gran used to make a huge mushroom pie, thick crust, lots of egg, lots of mushrooms… being around while she made it was part of childhood Christmas. This year, having reverted to being vegetarian, I’m making the huge festive eggpie. It’s not the same as hers. I can imagine her at my shoulder saying things like “well, I’d never have put that in it!” I also love the Christmas puddings – made mine back in November. Great Grandmother apparently used to boil hers in the copper boiler used for doing the washing!

The Boxing Day walk. Which should for best effect involve a pub and a pint of beer. With all the snow this year, it promises to be much fun indeed.

There’s no need to conform to any of the ‘normal’ ways of doing this… no need to eat large amounts of dead creature if that doesn’t appeal to you, no need to be drunk, or eat yourself sick. There’s no reason to spend the day flopped in front of the television, or to shop yourself into near insolvency. Christmas is a good excuse to spend time with people you like, doing things you enjoy. It’s also a time that brings tensions to the fore, digs up old grief and can bring out the absolute worst in people. We can choose what we do to each other at this time of year, as at all others.

In the past, Christmas has been a time of stress, anxiety and misery for me. This is the first one in a long time that I’ve actively looked forward to.