Today is Mid winters day or the Winter Solstice.
History and cultural significance
The solstice itself may have been a special moment of the annual cycle of the year even during neolithic times. Astronomical events, which during ancient times controlled the mating of animals, sowing of crops and metering of winter reserves between harvests, show how various cultural mythologies and traditions have arisen. This is attested by physical remains in the layouts of late Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeological sites, such as Stonehenge in Britain and Newgrange in Ireland. The primary axes of both of these monuments seem to have been carefully aligned on a sight-line pointing to the winter solstice sunrise (Newgrange) and the winter solstice sunset (Stonehenge). Significant in respect of Stonehenge is the fact that the Great Trilithon was erected outwards from the centre of the monument, i.e., its smooth flat face was turned towards the midwinter Sun.
The winter solstice may have been immensely important because communities were not certain of living through the winter, and had to be prepared during the previous nine months. Starvation was common during the first months of the winter, January to April (northern hemisphere) or July to October (southern hemisphere), also known as “the famine months”. In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began. Most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter, so it was almost the only time of year when a supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking at this time. The concentration of the observances were not always on the day commencing at midnight or at dawn, but the beginning of the pre-Romanized day, which falls on the previous eve.
Since the event is seen as the reversal of the Sun’s ebbing presence in the sky, concepts of the birth or rebirth of sun gods have been common and, in cultures using winter solstice based cyclic calendars, the year as reborn has been celebrated with regard to life-death-rebirth deities or new beginnings such as Hogmanay’s redding, a New Year cleaning tradition. Also reversal is yet another usual theme as in Saturnalia’s slave and master reversals.
CAILLEACH BHEUR : The Celtic Goddess of winter
CAILLEACH BHEUR : Scottish, Irish, Manx, Great Goddess in her Destroyer aspect; called “Veiled One”. Another name is Scota, from which Scotland comes. In parts of Britain she is the Goddess of Winter. She was an ancient Goddess of the pre-Celtic peoples of Ireland. She controlled the seasons and the weather; and was the goddess of earth and sky, moon and sun.
Saturn (Roman): Every December, the Romans threw a week-long celebration of debauchery and fun, called Saturnalia in honor of their agricultural god, Saturn. Roles were reversed, and slaves became the masters, at least temporarily. This is where the tradition of the Lord of Misrule originated
Alcyone (Greek): Alcyone is the Kingfisher goddess. She nests every winter for two weeks, and while she does, the wild seas become calm and peaceful.
Ameratasu (Japan): In feudal Japan, worshipers celebrated the return of Ameratasu, the sun goddess, who slept in a cold, remote cave. When the other gods woke her with a loud celebration, she looked out of the cave and saw an image of herself in a mirror. The other gods convinced her to emerge from her seclusion and return sunlight to the universe.
Baldur (Norse): Baldur is associated with the legend of the mistletoe. His mother, Frigga, honored Baldur and asked all of nature to promise not to harm him. Unfortunately, in her haste, Frigga overlooked the mistletoe plant, so Loki – the resident trickster – took advantage of the opportunity and fooled Baldur’s blind twin, Hodr, into killing him with a spear made of mistletoe. Baldur was later restored to life.
Bona Dea (Roman): This fertility goddess was worshiped in a secret temple on the Aventine hill in Rome, and only women were permitted to attend her rites. Her annual festival was held early in December.
Demeter (Greek): Through her daughter, Persephone, Demeter is linked strongly to the changing of the seasons and is often connected to the image of the Dark Mother in winter. When Persephone was abducted by Hades, Demeter’s grief caused the earth to die for six months, until her daughter’s return.
Dionysus (Greek): A festival called Brumalia was held every December in honor of Dionysus and his fermented grape wine. The event proved so popular that the Romans adopted it as well in their celebrations of Bacchus.
Holly King (British/Celtic): The Holly King is a figure found in British tales and folklore. He is similar to the Green Man, the archetype of the forest. In modern Pagan religion, the Holly King battles the Oak King for supremacy throughout the year. At the winter solstice, the Holly King is defeated.
Horus (Egyptian): Horus was one of the solar deities of the ancient Egyptians. He rose and set every day, and is often associated with Nut, the sky god. Horus later became connected with another sun god, Ra.
La Befana (Italian): This character from Italian folklore is similar to St. Nicholas, in that she flies around delivering candy to well-behaved children in early January. She is depicted as an old woman on a broomstick, wearing a black shawl.
Lord of Misrule (British): The custom of appointing a Lord of Misrule to preside over winter holiday festivities actually has its roots in antiquity, during the Roman week of Saturnalia.
Mithras (Roman): Mithras was celebrated as part of a mystery religion in ancient Rome. He was a god of the sun, who was born around the time of the winter solstice and then experienced a resurrection around the spring equinox.
Odin (Norse): In some legends, Odin bestowed gifts at Yuletide upon his people, riding a magical flying horse across the sky. This legend may have combined with that of St. Nicholas to create the modern Santa Claus.
A few months back I visited Rome for a few days, I love this great city with its amazing history and people. My favourite place during this trip was the Pantheon, at some point very soon I want to post about this building in more detail, here however I want to strip this post down to the basic feelings I had on walking into this amazing space for the very first time in my life.
I am a big fan of word lists to describe personal experiences, so here goes !
The Pantheon in single words
Hight, awe, time, history, wonder, stone, granite, amazing, structure, art, architecture, human, achievement, skill, maths, space, understanding, power, time, mankind, Greek, Roman, temple, dome, circular, movement, light, time, space, years, moments, minutes, seconds, months, people, tourists, floor, roof, Walls, shapes, colour, openings, doors, markers, movement, sun, light, periods, soul, spirit, gods, existence,art, achievement, understanding, civilisation, Pantheon, Rome, Italy, life, death, memories, people, remembered, empires, lost, evolution, movement, time, love, life, people, seasons, legacy, alive, yesterday, today.
The Pantheon, Rome, a visit in space and time.
Gorse flowers in the Irish Landscape
Gorse is very common here in county Kilkenny but this does not make it any less loved by many, as it flowers in springtime. Many of the hills sides and woodland areas come to life with their yellow flowers.
Gorse, also known as furze, is a sweet scented, yellow flowered, spiny evergreen shrub that flowers all year round.
In fact, there are several species of gorse that flower at different times of the year making it a much-loved plant for the bees and giving it the appearance of being in bloom all year long. There is an old saying that goes, “When the gorse is out of bloom, kissing is out of season.”
Gorse is often associated with love and fertility. It was for this reason that a sprig of gorse was traditionally added to a bride’s bouquet and gorse torches were ritually burned around livestock to protect against sterility. However, one should never give gorse flowers to another as a gift for it is unlucky for both the giver and receiver.
Gorse wood was used as very effective tinder. It has a high oil content which means it burns at a similar high temperature to charcoal. The ashes of the burnt gorse were high in alkali and used to make soap when mixed with animal fat.
Onn, meaning gorse, is the 17th letter of the ogham alphabet. It equates to the English letter O.
In Celtic tradition, gorse was one of the sacred woods burned on the Beltane bonfires, probably the one that got them started. It was a shrub associated with the spring equinox and the Celtic god of light, Lugh, doubtlessly because of its ever blooming vibrant yellow flowers.
In Brittany, the Celtic summer festival of Lughnastdagh, named after the god, was known as the Festival of Golden Gorse.
Flowers used in wine and whiskey
The flowers have a distinct vanilla-coconut aroma and are edible with an almond-like taste. They can be eaten raw on salads or pickled like capers. They have also been used to make wine and to add colour and flavour to Irish whiskey. However, consuming the flowers in great numbers can cause an upset stomach due to the alkalis they contain.
The prickly nature of gorse gave it a protective reputation, specifically around livestock. As well as providing an effective hedgerow, gorse made an acceptable flea repellent and the plant was often milled to make animal fodder.
Gorse in Irish Culture
Gorse is the 15th letter of the Gaelic tree alphabet, representing O. Its old Gaelic name was Onn, and in modern Gaelic it is conasg. It’s a prickly shrub, which can almost always be found in flower somewhere, all twelve months of the year, and this means it has many positive connotations in folklore.
Snippets of lore
Here are the titbits of fact and folklore about pine tweeted by @cybercrofter on 15 December 2011.
Gorse is the 14th letter of the Gaelic tree alphabet, for O – in old Gaelic it was onn or oir (gold). In Modern Gaelic it’s conasg.
Conasg (Gaelic for gorse) means prickly or armed, appropriately enough as it’s the spiniest plant around.
As gorse’s branches, twigs and leaves are all spiny, which reduces water loss, it can survive extreme exposure to wind and salt.
Other regional names for gorse are whin or furze. In latin, it’s Ulex europaeus.
Here’s a lovely short Harry Rutherford poem about gorse. http://heracliteanfire.net/2009/01/26/poem/
Gorse bears yellow flowers all year round, and as they say, ‘When gorse is in bloom, kissing is in season.’
Gorse is a symbol of the sun god Lugh, as it carries a spark of sun all year.
Bees love gorse and it’s a good source of food for them on warm winter days and in early spring.
In late spring, gorse flowers smell of coconut and vanilla.
Here’s a poem from me, The Gorse is out behind Glencanisp. Audio too. http://www.pankmagazine.com/the-gorse-is-out-behind-glencanisp/
A decoction of gorse flowers counters jaundice.
Gorse seed pods explode in hot sun.
Gorse fixes nitrogen due to symbiosis with a bacterium in the roots.
Horses that eat gorse don’t catch colds (but presumably end up with perforated gums…)
The fierce fire of furze is ideal for baking.
Gorse boughs were used for creel-making. Ouch.
Gorse is a good windbreak and a gorse bush is the best place to dry washing – it naturally pins it in place.
A bundle of gorse is excellent for sweeping chimneys.
Here’s a recipe for gorse flower wine. http://www.celtnet.org.uk/recipes/brewing/fetch-recipe.php?rid=gorse-flower-wine
Gorse flowers give yellow and green dyes.
Gorse bark gives a dark green dye. Add a bucket of urine and wait 3 hours.
Yellowed gorse, a poem by Fay Slimm http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/yellowed-gorse/
A missing home gorse poem, by Francis Duggan http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/i-d-love-to-see-the-gorse-in-bloom/
Gorse lifts the spirits of the downhearted, and restores faith.
Festival of the Golden Gorse is celebrated on 1 August (Lughnasa).
Gorse protects against witches.
Gorse’s magic is good for bringing a piece of work, a project, a relationship or a troublesome thing to a complete and final end.
Gorse symbolises joy.
Remember the nitrogen-fixing? Grow gorse for 7 years and the ground will be excellent for corn.
In 1778 a gorse crushing mill was set up in Perth. One acre of crushed gorse bushes will keep 6 horses in fodder for 4 months.
Bring gorse into the house in May to ‘bring in the summer’.
Giving someone gorse flowers is unlucky, for both giver and receiver. Best keep them for yourself!
The first Morning of April 2016 has started here in Ireland with our usual spring rains
So time for a small poem to welcome it home once again ……
On your morning walk
let the rain kiss you on your face
let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops,
Let the rain sing you a new song
just like the returning birds of springtime,
On this morning walk along the rivers bank
the rain makes waves upon the rivers flow
the rain dances on its surface,
If there are any Gods then they are in the rain
this rain that brings new life
a fresh start
this April rain.
Easter in Ireland is clearly these days viewed as a religious time in the sense of modern Christianity, however Easter or Ēostre, as a festival has been celebrated for many thousands of years before our current state accepted beliefs….
During last weekend we visited the hill of Tara one of Europe’s and Ireland’s oldest pagan monuments, It was a great time of the year to visit as the air was full of springtime with a feeling that summer was only just around the corner,warm days and long evenings. This is the exact feeling that surrounds the beliefs of the people who made this place so Sacred to their Pagan beliefs in the elements of nature and the seasons. I am never sure if these belief’s can fully be called a religion in modern terms, feeling that they were more a philosophy towards the world that they lived in and cared for very much!
here is a little about the long history of the hill of Tara:
Teamhair is the ancient name given the Hill of Tara. One of the most religious and revered sites in all of Ireland, it was from this hill that the Ard Rí, the High Kings of Ireland, ruled the land. The place was sometimes called Druim Caín (the beautiful ridge) or Druim na Descan (the ridge of the outlook). When walking the path that leads to the top of the hill today, one can easily appreciate why. The long gradual slope eventually flattens at the top for an amazing view of the broad plains in the Boyne and Blackwater valleys below. All that remains of the complex is a series of grass-covered mounds and earthworks that say little about the 5,000 years of habitation this hill has seen.
Most historians, including Biblical scholars, agree that Easter was originally a pagan festival. According to the New Unger’s Bible Dictionary says: “The word Easter is of Saxon origin, Eastra, the goddess of spring, in whose honour sacrifices were offered about Passover time each year. By the eighth century Anglo–Saxons had adopted the name to designate the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.” However, even among those who maintain that Easter has pagan roots, there is some disagreement over which pagan tradition the festival emerged from. Here we will explore some of those perspectives.
Resurrection as a symbol of rebirth
One theory that has been put forward is that the Easter story of crucifixion and resurrection is symbolic of rebirth and renewal and retells the cycle of the seasons, the death and return of the sun.
Hill of Tara Gallery
Believe… – Poem by Steven Piz.
I believe in a lot
I believe in music
I believe in writing
I believe in listing
I believe in mankind
I believe in work
I believe in love
I believe in laughing
I believe in paradise
I believe in safety
I believe in light
I believe in entertainment
I believe in history
I believe in time
I believe in survival
I believe in change
I believe in luck
What do you believe in?
To tell the truth…
Are any of us promised tomorrow
Live your life as if the last.
The darkness of forever
a mantle that shrouds the earth
timeless stars cascade the bejeweled heavens
The silent stillness of all time
pervades the night sky
The light bringer in his infinite vigil
stands alone a silent sentry
lighting his planets one by one
Two lovers sleep in the blessed stillness
in cushions of clouds below the moon,
His starlight falls upon them
like a sweet gentle rain
Bestowing upon them
the gifts of his purest light
from the farthest
reaches of his universe.
On the earth below
lovers woo and maidens dream
as they have always been
bathing in its magical mist
The light bringer watches them
he sees the lovers share a kiss
believing they would capture each fleeting moment
preserve it forever in their memories
But their time was as a grain of sand
the deserts of time belong to him
Water, giver of life
Water, is a great necessity, without it nothing can live. Only earth and water can bring forth a living soul. Such is the greatness of water that spiritual regeneration cannot be done without it.
Thales of Miletus concluded that water was the beginning of all things and the first of all elements and most potent because of its mastery over the rest. Pliny said “Water swallow up the earth, extinguishes the flame, ascends on high, and by stretching forth as clouds challenges the heavens for their own, and the same falling down, becomes the cause of all things that grow in the earth.
Water is a cleansing, healing, psychic, and loving element. It is the feeling of friendship and love that pours over us when we are with our family, friends and loved ones. When we swim it is water that supports us, when we are thirsty, it is water the quenches our thirst, another manifestation of this element is the rainstorms that drench us, or the dew formed on plants after the sun has set.
The power of the energy of Water, can be felt by tasting pure spring water, moving you hand through a stream, lake, pool, or bowl full of water. You can feel its cool liquidity; it’s soft and loving touch, this motion and fluidity is the quality of Air within Water. This Water energy is also contained within ourselves, our bodies being mostly composed of Water.
As well as being vital for life, within the energy of this element is contained the essence of love. Love is the underlying reason for all magic. Water is love.
Water is a feminine element, it also the element of emotion and subconscious, of purification, intuition, mysteries of the self, compassion and family. It is psychic ability; water can be used as a means of scrying or as an object for meditation. Water is important in spells and rituals of friendship, marriage, happiness, fertility, healing, pleasure, psychic abilities and spells involving mirrors.
The element of Water and the pagan Irish Goddess : Boann and the Irish God : Nechtan
eltic (Irish) Goddess of the River Boyne and mother of Angus Mac Og by the Dagda. She was the wife of Nechtan, a god of the water. Likewise, Boann was herself a water-goddess, and one of her myths concerns the water. According to legend, there was a sacred well (Sidhe Nechtan) that contained the source of knowledge. All were forbidden to approach this well, with the exception of the god Nechtan (as was noted, Boann’s husband) and his servants. Boann ignored the warnings, and strode up to the sacred well, thus violating the sanctity of the area. For this act, she was punished, and the waters of the defiled well swelled and were transformed into a raging river, a river that pursued her. In some versions, she was drowned; while in others, she managed to outrun the currents. In either case, this water became the river that was known henceforth as the Boyne, and Boann thereafter became the presiding deity.
Another aspect of the myth of Boann is that she bore Angus. She and the All father of the Tuatha De Danaan, the Dagda, engaged in an illicit affair that resulted in the birth of this god of love. However, since both Boann and the Dagdha wished to keep their rendezvous a secret, they used their divine powers to cause the nine month gestation period to last but a single day – or so it seemed, for the sun was frozen in the sky for those nine months, never setting and never rising. On this magical day, Angus emerged into the world. She held the powers of healing. Variants: Boannan, Boyne.
Ref : Pagan elements of Water