Image courtesy of Joyti Ishaya.
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BOOK EXCERPT- December 2017
Taken from The Magical Year, published in paperback by Watkins
by Danu Forest
As the nights grow longer and all of nature seems to sleep, the rebirth of the sun draws near. The Winter Solstice, in the northern hemisphere at least, is a time of crackling fires, faery lights in the trees and deep, silent rest. A season for feasting, gathering and celebrating with family and friends as a way of bringing the light back into our lives at this darkest time of the year. Eating delicious seasonal local produce, sharing our abundance with others, and following traditions, binds us closer to our environment and community and brings the sacred as well as the sensual into our everyday lives in a meaningful way.
Tending the green spirit
The ancient tradition of bringing an evergreen tree into the house at the Winter Solstice transcends national customs. It harks back to our pagan past, when evergreen boughs were considered to be embodiments of the spirit of life and were brought inside to ensure its survival through the winter months.
If you bring an evergreen into your home to encourage cheer and fertility over the season, consider choosing one that is still living. If it is a cut tree, placing it in a stand with a water reservoir or in a bucket of wet sand will preserve its life force for longer. As you decorate the tree, place each object on it with a blessing. Giving thanks for the tree’s sacrifice, talk to it as an honoured guest and a symbol of the Holly King or Green Man. When the season has passed, cut a piece of the trunk and wrap it up to burn as next year’s Yule log, forging a link between the spirits of the wild and the celebrations of one year and the next.
A holly wreath is a powerful, traditional charm that can protect your home from winter storms and bad luck as well as being a festive decoration. Wreaths can be made either by using a traditional florist’s hoop stuffed with moss, or a sponge oasis, or they can be bound alone in a hoop. The plants you use can add extra magic and spiritual significance. Heather looks good and, like ivy, is sacred to several Celtic goddesses, and holly is, of course, sacred to the Holly King himself.
When you have made the wreath, hold it up toward the sun and ask that it be blessed and charged with protection for the home and all those within it. This is old magic. Use your own words, as they come from your heart and express your true intentions; or you can try this simple prayer:
‘Lord of the winter sun, empower this, your charm, and grant this home and all those within it your protection and blessing over this sacred time. So may it be!’
Hang the wreath on the front door, or use it as a decoration around a solstice candle in a place of honour, such as in the centrepiece for a table or over the fireplace. Other pieces of holly can also be blessed and charged in the same way and placed over doors and windows.
The practice of blessing each other and the spirits of the orchards with homemade spiced cider or ale, together with songs and merriment, goes back to Anglo-Saxon times. Wassailing, as it is known, now usually takes place on Twelfth Night (6 January) in the northern hemisphere, but it used to be practised at Yule, Imbolc and other seasonal feast times, too. In your modern Winter Solstice celebration, you might want to revive this tradition as a way of gathering with friends, family and community to appreciate the gifts of nature.
Make your offering to the spirit of the orchard – sometimes known as the Apple Man or Avalloch – by pouring a cup of warmed cider and placing a piece of toast at the roots of an apple tree or any other fruit-bearing tree. Take your time and do this reverentially, being truly present as you thank the trees for their gifts of fruit over the summer and ask that they continue in their generosity in the coming year. Say these words:
‘I thank you, Spirit of the Apple Tree, for all your gifts, this year and the next! Blessed be!’
This recipe is really easy to make and perfect for wassailing. For a non-alcoholic drink, replace the cider with apple juice.
You will need
3 apples, grated
6 cups cider or apple juice
⅓ cup brown sugar
½ tsp whole nutmeg, grated
¼ tsp ground cloves
3 tsp dried cinnamon stick, grated
2 tsp fresh ginger root, grated
Place the apples in a large pan and cover with the cider, then cook for about 5 minutes or until the fruit is soft.
Add the sugar and spices and gently simmer for 20 minutes to 1 hour, depending on your taste.
Pour into a large cup or bowl to be shared around, while offering the blessing ‘waes hael’ (‘good health’).
Yule log magic
The Yule log is a wonderful ancient tradition found all across Europe and can truly help us to keep in mind the cyclical nature of the seasons and maintain our hopes and spirits from one year to the next. The log is a special piece of wood – a root or part of the evergreen tree brought in during the Yule holidays that you burn with a special prayer or wish. A solstice fire is the perfect place to burn a traditional Yule log.
Write down your wishes for the following year on small pieces of paper, along with a list of the things you are grateful for, and tie them to the log with red ribbon. When your solstice fire is going well, add the log to the flames so that the flames transform your wishes and ascend to the spirit realms upon the smoke. Keep a small piece of the log to use as kindling for next year’s Winter Solstice fire to maintain a cycle of magical intent from year to year, as well as to align your sacred actions to the ever-turning cycle of the sun itself.
In celebrating the Winter Solstice we nourish our spiritual lives and create new ways of encountering the world around us, as well as enhancing the sense of renewal that this season offers in preparation for the first green shoots of the coming new year. Blessed be!
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Danu Forest has been a practicing druid witch and Celtic shaman for over twenty years, has been teaching Celtic shamanism and witchcraft for over a decade, and runs a shamanic consultation and healing practice. She is the author of Nature Spirits: wyrd lore and wild fey magic (Wooden Books), The Druid Shaman (Moon Books) and Celtic Tree Magic (Llewellyn), creates and teaches email correspondence courses, writes a "Danu's Cauldron" blog for witchesandpagans.com. For more information, see www.danuforest.co.uk