Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Blessing the New Year, under the holly bough

I know some pagans consider Samhain the "Celtic New Year." I have never understood this. I always thought it was someone's idea of how to make life as a modern witch even more "authentic" by co-opting or creatively adjusting actual history and folklore to suit their own preferences. And if one were to choose a pagan holiday other than, say, Yule, to celebrate the new year, what more "witchy" one than Samhain? In any case, I'd love to know if there is any any sort of historical, cultural or folkloric basis for this belief. Any historians of our fair spiritual path out there who know the answer? (Maybe a perusal of one of Hutton's volumes is in order).

My own coven celebrates a Rite of the New Year, but we also have the welcoming of the new year "built in" to our Yule festival rite. There is a poem by Charles Mackay, collected by our heirophant and ritual author, which suits our purpose, and it is spoken three times through as everyone, singly or with a chosen partner, walks beneath a holly bough suspended from the ceiling in the center of the circle. It is a renewal of the trust and strength of our relationships with others, a reminder to forgive others, to stop dwelling on misfortune and move forward with hope. It seems especially pertinent this year for me.

Ye who have scorn'd each other
Or injured friend or brother,
In this fast fading year;
Ye who, by word or deed,
Hath made a kind heart bleed,
Come gather here.
Let sinn'd against and sinning,
Forget their strife's beginning;
Be links no longer broken,
Be sweet forgiveness spoken,
Under the holly bough.

Ye who have lov'd each other,
Sister and friend and brother,
In this fast fading year:
Mother, and sire, and child,
Young man and maiden mild,
Come gather here;
And let your hearts grow fonder,
As memory shall ponder
Each past unbroken vow.
Old loves and younger wooing,
Are sweet in the renewing,
Under the holly bough.

Ye who have nourished sadness,
Estranged from hope and gladness,
In this fast fading year.
Ye with o'er-burdened mind
Made aliens from your kind,
Come gather here.

Let not the useless sorrow
Pursue you night and morrow,
If e'er you hoped—hope now—
Take heart: uncloud your faces,
And join in our embraces
Under the holly bough.

May your new year bring hope, prosperity and peace.

(Here is a link to a gorgeous image from Flickr user Brenda Anderson, who entitled the photo "Apple Holly" for its resemblance to holly berries.)


Chas S. Clifton said...

The usual explanation is that the eight-festival calendar was created by Ross Nichols, head of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, who passed it along to his friend and fellow sunbather Gerald Gardner some time in the 1940s.

Peg said...

Yes, I had some vague recollection that this happened around that time. Hutton has been lecturing on the witches' festival year recently, and I just got a copy of the article in Folklore but haven;t had time to read it yet...It's not so much the eight festival calendar that vexes me as the specific appellation of "Celtic New Year" at Samhain.