Blessed and Happy Yuletide 2021 and Winter Solstice

By Isabella @TheWandCarver

Instagram:  @thewandcarver

Ah, the dark half of the year is slowly ending and what better way to celebrate than Yule? Yes, we still have some dark weeks ahead but only about half what we began with on Samhain… now if we watch carefully, we shall notice that the days get ever so slightly longer each week once we peak on the 21st of December, the first day of Yule [Auld English, ġēol] and the day of Winter Solstice, our longest night of the year.

What would our ancestors have been doing this night? That entirely depends on which ancestors. Our most recent ones [the last 500 years’ worth] would likely be ignoring Yule mostly [whilst not bearing in mind most of their Christmas ‘traditions’ were born from Pagan Yule] instead speaking of Christmas food, going to church, planning festivities to welcome again the birth of the Christ child. Yule is very much a celebration of birth as well – the rebirth of light and sunshine. Jesus is often called “the Light and the Way” by Christians. These two concepts go hand in hand this time of year yet separately.

But what would our ancestors be doing this night 500+ years ago? In England and surrounding countries, many families, Christian or Pagan, would be dragging in a great Yule log to burn in their largest fireplace – Christians were very much a part of this holdover tradition from their Pagan pasts.

The Yule Log – originally a Scottish tradition from the Norsemen

There may have been weddings planned at this time. Another long-held but eventually dissolved practise was that of handfasting by the Catholic church.  Along with the formal Christian wedding ceremony there was also a handfasting, from the Old Norse handfesta meaning “to strike a bargain by joining hands” between the wedded couple. This presumably was dissolved after all the Saxon-Dane conflict was eventually resolved in England. 

Much decoration was done in homes all over the British Isles and Germany [and likely everywhere].  We can thank the Germanic people, the Saxons, for introducing us to the joys of decorating and feasting during Yule.  Long before the Danes decided to embark upon our shores, the Saxons came and apart from some fighting now and then, they taught us so much regarding this lovely Sabbat.  This is not to mean we did not already have traditions, but we did learn more. I mean, nobody knew Yule like the Saxons! When they fully embraced Christianity, they fully embraced Christmas like no other, as well. We would likely have never had Christmas trees had it not been for the Germanic people.

Twelve days of….

This is where all the fun happened No matter if you lived in  500 AD or 1500 AD, or even later, the 12 days of Yule or Christmas were the best! Some early Pagan countries only celebrated Yule for three days or “until the ale ran out” according to the Norse text, Heimskringla. Still, a good time was had by all, unless, of course, you were one of those being sacrificed.  A lot of that went on in Pagan culture, however, the eating, drinking, and making merry went on with the living. Luckily, more animals were sacrificed than people and the slaughtered animals fed the community; of course, plates full were left for the gods as well.

Medieval style hanging holly, ivy and mistletoe decoration

No work was allowed during the 12 days of Yule or Christmas.  In the run up to the Yule celebrations, now beginning on roughly the 21st of December and the Christmas celebrations on the 25th, the men and women of a village worked tirelessly to prepare. Women made candles, took inventory of how much grain they could use from their stores for pastries, loaves of bread and pies. They made extra ale and often the menfolk were made use of decorating the homes.  Especially when the huge double ring bedecked with ribbons, holly, ivy, and mistletoe needed to be hung from the centre of the ceiling in the main room. Baking and preparing food began well ahead to ensure everything was ready.  And, of course, the men of each household, brought much joy to their families by dragging home the huge Yule log for the fire which was to hopefully last 12 nights.  These activities were generally the same for both Pagan and Christians alike. The biggest difference being that the Pagans got a four day head start and their Twelfth Night ended on around the 31st of December or 1 January. I should say nearly every year as the calendars were not always in congruence with each other in olden days.  The Christian Twelfth Night is always on 6th January.

How will you spend your 12 days?

Are you the one who is lucky enough to live where you can drag a huge Yule log home to burn for twelve nights? Or perhaps you enjoy baking bread and brewing ale…I hope that everyone will be able to spend their Yule or Christmas in a traditional way as much as possible. Mostly, I hope you can spend it with family – safely. Almost everywhere has spent at least one Yule or Christmas in lockdown. But that was before vaccines.  Now that we have them, although not perfect, I hope you will join me in getting yours soon. 

Tudor style breads and pies

My daughters and I wish you the blessing of light and a very happy Yule. To our Christian friends, we wish you a very Happy Christmas.  To all, we wish a gloriously Happy New Year and to Scotland, Happy Hogmanay 2022! And, as always, warmest blessings to all whom this way wander x

See you next year!

The Sweetest of Woods: Scots Pine

Originally posted on 05/12/2017 via speakingofwitchwands.net

By Isabella @TheWandCarver

Instagram: @thewandcarver

Scots Pines Buttersmere Valley Cumbria
Scots Pine, Buttermere Valley, Cumbria, Courtesy of Alamy

The Scots Pine…this time of year many think of it first as the go-to live tree of choice for Christmas. Little do they know what a piece of history they are bringing into their homes. Scots Pine is believed to have been around since dinosaurs roamed the earth, some 300 million years ago, and it is known as “The Pioneer Tree”. Records indicate that it was, along with Birch and Willow, one of the first trees to grow in Ireland since the last Ice Age, and is the only Pine tree native to that country.

The largest trees we see commonly grow to around 65 feet or 20 metres high, but old specimens may be much taller. They can, if allowed, live for up to 350 years. Because of their great height, the trunks of the Scots Pine made reliable masts for ships and they were also used as “waymarkers” at crossroads and ancient cairns. They would stand for many generations, kindly marking the way for travellers.

Alim highlighted

We consider the Scots Pine as an Ogham tree, although the author, Robert Graves calls the Silver Fir “Ailm” however, the Silver Fir, unlike the Scots Pine, is not native to the British Isles. Pine is documented in medieval Irish law [source: Bretha Comaithchesa – Neighbourhood Law – 8th century] as one of the seven ‘Airig Fedo – the Nobles of the Wood’ – listed for their usefulness. Ailm is the Ogham Letter A and 22nd December, the second day of Winter Solstice, and the beginning of the new year. Its associated festival is Yule – 21st – 22nd December by many writings, however –

There is a period of time between the 21st of December and the 24th of December when the Sun stops, or stands still, until the 25th of December. Most things you read about the date for Pine is confusingly wrong – and I’ve gotten it wrong before myself – but the true Sun return begins on the 25th of December, and the days start getting “longer”. The Sun shines for a little longer each day, rather than less as it has done. In truth, the Yew tree represents the Winter Solstice, 21st December, it is the “death” of the old year, the ending of the dark, the end of “shorter” days. The Pine is the “birth” of the new year, a bringer of light. It is also associated with the Winter Solstice, 21st/22nd of December, however, I think it would be better to have it represent the 25h of December in the true role the Pine plays like the one who brings back the Sun. You will find many conflicts if you find yourself studying trees, particularly as a Druid, and you will find so many conflicting dates. Just remember that, nothing is set in stone, and that Yew and Pine play twin roles in the Winter Solstice but very fraternally – not at all alike!

Medicinal Uses:

People used to inhale the steam from boiling Pine needles as a remedy for stuffy noses and cold congestion. Infusions of Pine bark and needles were used as an antiseptic for wounds. Pine resin was made into a balm for dry, parched lips.

Magickal:

Incense made with pine needles, resin or oil will purify a space and banish any negativity that’s lurking there. The same can be achieved by burning pine logs on an open fire or dropping in a handful of pine needles or cones. Pine needles can be interwoven with sage or other smudging vegetation such as Cedar for smudging sticks. Use any part of the pine in workings for fertility. Use a wand made from its wood if a new life is hoped for as it will attract positive energies and transfer them to the worker. Should a shower of snow accidentally fall onto you from the branch of a pine tree, a great blessing will occur. Originally in Scandinavia and Germany, it was thought to bring prosperity into the home by decorating with boughs of evergreens. Since, it has become a standard in many homes in Britain, America, Canada, and other countries.

Correspondences:

Attributes: abundance, fertility, good fortune, healing, health, immortality, love, prosperity, protection, purification, and regeneration

Element: Air, Fire

Ruling Planet: Mars

Zodiac: Cancer, Capricorn

Gender: Masculine

Diety: Dionysus, Bacchus, Attis, Cybele, Aphrodite, Artemis, Diana, Ishtar, Isis, Mithra, Pan, Vulcan

Gemstones: Black Opal, Onyx

Colour: Black

Energy: Masculine and Feminine

Celestial bodies: Jupiter, Mars

Other names: Balm of Gilead, the sweetest of woods

“The pine tree seems to listen, the fir tree to wait: and both without impatience: they give no thought to the little people beneath them devoured by their impatience and their curiosity.”

from “”Der Wanderer und sein Schatten – The Wanderer and His Shadow 1880” Friedrich Nietzsche

Many thanks for reading and warmest blessings to all whom this way wander x

Sources:
Druidry.org

Whispers from the Woods. By Sandra Kynes