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.)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Winter

Winter Uplands

The frost that stings like fire upon my cheek,
The loneliness of this forsaken ground,
The long white drift upon whose powdered peak
I sit in the great silence as one bound;
The rippled sheet of snow where the wind blew
Across the open fields for miles ahead;
The far-off city towered and roofed in blue
A tender line upon the western red;
The stars that singly, then in flocks appear,
Like jets of silver from the violet dome,
So wonderful, so many and so near,
And then the golden moon to light me home--
The crunching snowshoes and the stinging air,
And silence, frost, and beauty everywhere.

~ Archibald Lampman

(photo from user "Muffet" on Flickr.)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Yule!

Bright blessings of the returning sun to all! May the solstice sun warm you through the ice, snow and wind, and bring you light in the darkness.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Christmas Carol

I simply never get sick of this story. This season so far I have seen the version starring George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge (and Edward Woodward as the Ghost of Christmas resent!), and now am watching Patrick Stewart as Scrooge and Richard E. Grant as Bob Cratchit.

But my all time favorite version? Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol! The animated musical version. It's simply wonderful.

It just occurred to me: with all the wonderful actors who have played this role over the years, is it similar to King Lear for actors of a certain age? You haven't really had a proper acting career until you've played the Scrooge?

I also appreciate the pagan sensibility that the Ghost of Christmas Present has; he's a merry, Father Christmas type of figure, holly in his beard, furs twinkling with snow, and lives (literally) in the moment. Woodward is especially wonderful in this part, and they make him appear about eight feet tall!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Lots of 23 news this week...

This week's news headlines with the number 23 in them:

Ferry Accident Kills 23 in the Phillippines

23 Pirates Captured in Somalia

And in sports: a guy with the number 23 on his jersey and an exciting game that had 23 in the score, and another, and one event with 23 Saves! (I don't know what sport either of these is and the articles did not say).

Monday, December 8, 2008

Winterfest, Indian Ladders Farm

After a last-minute suggestion while we were chatting on Facebook, my pal Kate agreed to come to Indian Ladders Farm for their winter activity day. Most of the fun was indoors (music, Santa, cookie decorating and crafts) but I wanted to go on the orchard walk with the owner, Peter Ten Eyck. We got a late start and got a we bit lost at first, but we arrived just in time for the walk! (It had started late, lucky for us).

It was very cold; and some of the folks who started out on the walk turned back before it was over (a group of developmentally-disabled adults and their helpers--I salute them for being troupers, it was freezing and windy in the valley!). Ten Eyck told us all about the place, where he'd lived his entire 70 years. With humor and old-school wisdom, he talked about the property's glacier-formed rocks, its trees and most of all its history as former pasture land (some of the parcels, divided by rock walls, had hills and valleys forty feet high!), and its past orchard lives growing pears and plums and heirloom apples. Much of the former pasture land had been planted with pines, and some of it has been reclaimed by florabunda roses and other thorny shrubs.

One old orchard planted in the 1970s with heirloom trees was being "brought back" and Ten Eyck listed the varieties: Snow, Spitzenberg,Old Smokehouse, Sheepnose, Chenango Strawberry. I asked about when they might start to blossom so I could come photograph them. He described the time when the shad trees bloom in spring in the forest : "first there's nothing then suddenly there are white blossoms everywhere; the apple blossoms appear about a week later." The timing can vary each year depending on weather.

After a brisk and invigorating walk, we returned by way of the barn and saw some goats and sheep in the yard. There was also a huge Highland cow named Rosie (I thought it was male at first since it had huge horns), looking like a huge stuffed animal, regarding us from under its shaggy forelock. Ten Eyck called it a "Yuppie cow" bought a few years ago by his daughter and son-in-law.The furry animals looked as if the cold didn't bother them at all.

We had hot cider and delicious homemade Knudsen caramels in the cafe, then bought some goodies to bring home (I got a few apples, some peach preserves, cheddar cheese and a half dozen fresh cider doughnuts. A wonderful way to greet the coming winter and bid farewell to the season of harvest. The farm store is open through Christmas so I hope to get out there one more time, as I forgot to bring my camera! But Kate took some great photos on her cell phone!

Apple photos (A Chenango Strawberry above a Spitzenberg) from Apple Journal and Trees of Antiquity.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Amsterdam to become less fun, more safe?

This article from BBC news discusses the plan to close down many brothels and coffee shops in Amsterdam, to try and drive out organized crime from the city center.

I had never realized this was a problem there; Holland has always seemed to be relatively crime-free to me. I only got to spend a few hours in Ametsrdam, during the day and on a cold autumn day. I'd love to go back some day. What a beautiful city!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Welcome December!

the new orchard image for the blog this week is by photographer J. Scott Bovitz.