Spirit of Yule © Anne StokesBrightener of Darkness, hail!
Keeper of Clearness, Opener of the Depths.
Gifts of plenty are arising,
Winter wonders, white snows’ fall.
Joyful be the heart within us,
Open wide the guesting door,
Wisdom waken in abundance,
Warm our beings to the core.
~ Celtic Devotional: Daily Prayers and Blessings
, by Caitlín Matthews

Ring the bells of joy and blessings! Throw open the Gates of Dawn ~ the Light is born!

Let us gather as our ancestors of old did, to celebrate one of the happiest days in the Pagan calendar!

We stand in the doorway of new beginnings, the moment of Promise, fulfilled.

Winter Solstice, which is also known as Yule, Yule Night or Julblot, Winter Rite, Midwinter, and the Druids’ Alban Arthan, marks the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, after which time the days will begin to grow longer and the hours of darkness decrease.

The precise moment of the 2014 Solstice arrives today, December 21 at 6:03 pm, Eastern Standard Time.

On this day, the Sun enters Capricorn and Winter begins as the Sun reaches the 270° point on the zodiac wheel, and begins the return towards the 0° point, which will be reached at Spring Equinox.

Meantime, our friends in the Southern Hemisphere are today celebrating their Summer Solstice, which opens their days of  Summertime. After today, the daylight below the equator begins to diminish.

We are all getting a double-dose of intensity, as it is also New Moon, and Uranus stations direct. My friend Lynn Hayes has lots of wisdom about this very magical Solstice New Moon.

Most Ancient of Holy Days

This is possibly the most universal and oldest known holy day of all humanity, based on written records of 4,000 year old Mesopotamian rites performed to celebrate the end of the darkening. There are many ancient structures around the world that were designed to mark the Sun’s placement on this day.Solstice at Newgrange

For instance, Newgrange, a beautiful Neolithic site in Ireland, is a huge circular stone structure, estimated to be 5,200 years old. It is centuries older than Stonehenge, and older than the Egyptian pyramids.

It was built to receive a shaft of sunlight deep into its central chamber at dawn on Winter Solstice. Around 235,000 people visit Newgrange and its neighboring passage graves at Knowth and Dowth each year.

Hundreds of other prehistoric structures throughout the world are oriented to the solstices and the equinoxes. The field of archaeoastronomy studies such sacred sites in the Americas, Asia, Indonesia, and the Middle East.

Recent research into the medieval Great Zimbabwe in sub-Saharan Africa (also known as the “African Stonehenge”) indicates a similar purpose. In North America, one of the most famous such sites is the Sun Dagger of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, built a thousand years ago by the Chacoans, ancestors of the Pueblo people.

Some even speculate that Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, was also originally a Solstice festival. Yule (which means “wheel”) and the Roman Saturnalia definitely were. And Christmas still is!

The Winter Solstice Sabbat is joyfully celebrated by Pagans and Witches throughout the world, as well as rural and indigenous peoples who pay attention to the rhythms of the seasons. On this longest night of the year, we celebrate the rebirth of the divine Sun Child, the Oak King, the Giver of Life.

Starting today, the Yule season begins, and for the next 12 (or so) days, all are called to shift from the mundane world, and move into a time of soul-deep joy: giving, kindness, and wonder.

Our Solstice Sun Wheel Prayer Circle

Tonight, we complete our advent magical working, unless you are also counting down to Christmas.

If you are including Solstice and Christmas together, you will light the fifth candle tonight, then again on Christmas Eve (or Christmas morning, if you’d rather).

If you are counting down to Christmas only, this is the night of your fourth candle lighting, which in many traditions represents the Angel Candle, or else may simply be for Love. You’ll light the final, fifth candle, which many consider the Christ Candle, on Christmas.

Solstice Sun Wheel

The Solstice Fifth Candle

Since Solstice this year falls conveniently on a Sunday and at 6:03pm (Eastern time), the ideal time for your fifth candle lighting is, as usual, sunset.

Gather, with love, all who are near you, embodied, or perhaps not, for this is a magical time when the veil between the worlds is very thin. Sense the gathering, too, of all who are participating tonight, from every continent (except Antarctica).

Call once more to the Guardians and Elements of East/Air, South/Fire, West/Water, and North/Earth. Or if you have assigned other meanings for the four peripheral candles, of course, invoke those energies as you light them.

As the shadow of twilight falls across the turning Earth, see in your heart how our wreath candles come twinkling alive. From the Southern Hemisphere, where our companions are welcoming Summer, to the coldest edges of the North lands, know and feel how, one flame at a time, each woman, man, and family — each and every heart — is blazing up with our light and love.

And by the way —

I want to particularly thank the many souls in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil and other South American countries who have notified me that you, too, have been joining our spell-prayer. You have been lighting candles each week on your Summer Solstice wreaths. I love how you have held the kindling spark of Summer’s promise for us. A thousand thank yous!

Finally, the time has come to light the center candle, which would be for Spirit, the Aether, the Cauldron, or Mystery. Or you may wish it to simply represent Rebirth, Joy, or Hope.

Kindle the Center’s flame and call upon all your Divine Ones, the most holy Ones to whom you are devoted. Speak of your heart’s greatest wish and know that at this magical time, it is done.

As our Solstice Sun Wheel intention has said, we are the bright beacons of grace and radiance so needed in this world. We are the gift and the givers, offering tender care for the unaware and lost.Yule Green Man

See the blazing Yule before us,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Strike the harp and join the chorus.

Sing. Pour libations. Chant. Dance. Ring Bells. Feast. Make merry and rejoice!

We have united together across the worlds, with one another, and with Love Herself.

Thank you to one and all who have shared your magic, good energy, and loving prayers to our rite this year, our tenth anniversary, and the biggest year yet.

When you are ready to release your sacred Circle of light, do so.

Gaia and child

Brothers, sisters, come and sing
Glory to the new-born King!
Gardens peaceful, forests wild
Celebrate the Winter Child!

Now the time of growing starts!
Joyful hands and joyful hearts!
Cheer the Yule log as it burns!
Once again, the Sun returns.

This threshold pause as the Sun comes to a stop is such a holy time of power. This is the emptiness, the space between breaths, where Magic happens.

Enter this dark Mystery with your shining hearts. No matter what this Winter and the future may hold in store, the promise of rebirth is fulfilled. Our flame shall burn brightly and hope is reborn. The Divine Birth has come.

May the Lord and the Lady bring you brightest blessings.

Blessed be!Winter Solstice Blessings

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This Is Mother Night – May You Be Blessed

by Beth on December 20, 2014

The Fool, from Tarot of the Crone by Ellen Lorenzi-Prince with her kind permission

The Fool, from Tarot of the Crone by Ellen Lorenzi-Prince, with her kind permission

Deepest Dark Blessings to you and yours!
It is the Eve of the Winter Solstice.
This is the great celebration of Mother Night.

As far as we know, our ancestors did not have atomic clocks or satellites to help them dissect Time to the nanosecond. Instead, they had to figure by their keen observation, by dead reckoning, by the plants and animals, by the stars, Moon, and planets.

And that is why they named this time “Solstice,” because it comes from the Latin “solstitium,” which is a combination of the word sol, which means “sun” and -stitium, “a stoppage.”

For several days, it now appears that the sun’s arc from sunrise to sunset is unchanged. The long, steady darkening that our Old Ones watched, ever since mid-June, appears now to pause… and then.. one day, the sun will rise a little more to the north east, and the day is a little longer. And so the days can be seen to lengthen, and all can know that even now as we enter the doorway to Winter, Spring is a certainty.

But not yet.

Tonight we enter the pause that is at the heart of this time out of time.

To observe this with ritual and ceremony, I’m loving the beautiful contemplative practice my friend, the brilliant Carolyn Cushing, has been weaving and sharing for the descent into the velvet black night of the year. As she notes, it is folly to fight against the dark, for it is in the release and surrender that we often find the richest treasures of our lives.

This is the threshold when it might seem that the Sun will be snuffed out completely. This is when we make sure to give due honor to the dark heart of the year, although it may be uncomfortable and even test our courage.

Who Calls from This Dark?

Mother Night is observed in honor of the Dark Goddess, who holds us at our beginnings and our endings. She may be Frigga, Freya, Holle, Hecate, the Crone, or nameless. Also known as Mōdraniht, this night is Her doorway, after which the days of Yule can begin.

As historian Carolyn Emerick has explained in her fascinating two-part article, “The Lost Female Figures of Christmas,” our Americanized secular culture has obscured the importance of women’s stories and roles in our Yuletide legends.

In the old countries, this was not the case. The Germanic holidays honored female ancestors at Yule, the pre-Christian Northern European cultures placed enormous importance on the women’s gifts of magic and wisdom, and there are still traces of female Christmas figures with ancient Pagan roots to be found across Europe.

Sadly, with the aggressive conquest of Christianity over the old folk religions, many of these Goddesses of Winter were twisted into demonic monsters, similarly to how other misogynist attitudes of the Church took hold.

But we know better.

And, I would argue, our world is out of balance in direct proportion to the distortions, fears, and rejection of the Feminine Divine, especially in Her less comfortable aspect as Dark Crone.

Let the Darkness Fall

It is unnatural for our modern culture to have so much fear and denial of the dark. The night is our teacher, our healer, and it is absolutely necessary if we are to know peace. It brings the stillness in which the seed may gestate. It is the womb from which the Child of Promise will emerge.

In the words of one beautiful Heathen rite (source via the anonymous labyrinth of the web):

Well have we worked this year, and now our work is wrought. So Perchte sees my full spindle; my house is swept, my candles lit. There shall be no more spinning these days; the loom lies still, the distaffs do not turn while the wih-nights last.

These Yule nights are a time for the mind and body to rest, while the soul reaches out to the Gods.

These twelve nights represent the coming year. It is a time set aside from the old year and the new, and a time when the greatest wyrds are turned. Perchtenlauf and the Wild Hunt ride during this time.

And the walls between the worlds are thinned; the Gods’ might is at its peak, the wights and the dead walk freely among the living. Let us remember them on this Mother Night.

This is also a night for honoring the Sidhe, toasting and giving thanks:

Hail the holy Elves, Shining of the harrow,
Whole Ye hold the Hearth,
Mighty elders of old. Turn our minds toward you!

This pause between the Dark and the return of the Light is an ephemeral moment, full of magic.

Let the Darkness Fill

This year’s Solstice is the darkest, most juicy with potential that I have seen in a long, long time. Not only has the Sun reached its briefest daily visit in the Northern Hemisphere — in some places, never rising at all.  Lady Luna, too, has gone dark, with New Moon and Solstice falling on the same day.

Tonight, give yourself time to allow the delicious dark to fill your awareness. Be with it, patiently listening, without fear, without the need to distract yourself.

Notice how calm, how deep, how quiet it can be. What gifts await your notice?

This night can be a balm for the sometimes too hard-shiny-bright intensity that shuns this time of year’s truest gift: the reminder of our own mortality, and the deep surrender of all things, even the Earth Herself, to times of darkness.YinYangsky

Within the heart of the dark, like the circle of light within the dark half of the Yin in the Tai-Chi symbol, is the divine promise of the golden child who is the rebirth.

Tomorrow, in honor of that promise, at the moment of Solstice (6:03pm, Eastern, or at sunset wherever you are), we will light the fifth and final candle in our Solstice Sunwheel. (If you are counting down only to Christmas, you’ll be lighting candle Four). I’ll post more about all that tomorrow.

But not yet.

Not before we descend into the dark, dark Mystery of Mother Night.

May She bless you well.

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The Final Gaia Friday: Ian Somerhalder Speaks for the Coral Reefs

December 19, 2014

Every week since before Samhain, I have been sharing a video from the Conservation International’s “Nature Is Speaking” series, and calling it Gaia Friday. Today, we conclude with Ian Somerhalder speaking on behalf of the imperiled coral reefs. It’s an especially gorgeous video, so I hope that you’ll go to full screen (click the arrows […]

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Wordless Wednesday – Anticipation

December 17, 2014
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Tarot Card for the Winter Solstice, Dec. 15-21, 2014: The Queen of Wands

December 15, 2014

Within the blessed apple lies The promise of the Queen! For from this pentacle shall rise The orchards fresh and green. The Earth shall blossom once again The air be sweet and clean! O, tidings of comfort and joy! Comfort and joy! O, tidings of comfort and joy! ~ attributed to the Greenwood Singers, Green […]

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