In honor of the 12 Nights of Yule (Ærre-Giuli, Hrutmanudhr, Jól, Jul, Yuletide, Capricorn!), we at Spirit Nest present you with some fun Wicca tidbits, to make your spirits bright, in preparation for what is essentially the first Sabbath of the year! Merry Be!
Old English geol, geola "Christmas Day, Christmastide," from Old Norse jol (plural), a heathen feast, later taken over by Christianity, of unknown origin.
The Old English (Anglian) cognate giuli was the Anglo-Saxons' name for a two-month midwinter season corresponding to Roman December and January, a time of important feasts but not itself a festival. After conversion to Christianity it narrowed to mean "the 12-day feast of the Nativity" (which began Dec. 25), but was replaced by Christmas by 11c., except in the northeast (areas of Danish settlement), where it remained the usual word.
Revived 19c. by writers to mean "the Christmas of 'Merrie England.' " First direct reference to the Yule log is 17c. According to some sources, Old Norse jol was borrowed into Old French as jolif, hence Modern French joli "pretty, nice," originally "festive."
Please share your personal Yuletide celebrations with us as we join together in the following songs, rituals, and stories from our sisters and brothers; distant to close relatives: mothers, daughters, and sons around the world.
There seem to be a hundred origins of the word Yule, according to the writers on popular antiquities. The most ingenious is that of Bryant, who derives the Feast Juul or Yule from a Hebrew word: Lile, Night. Lile, he adds, is formed from a verb signifying to howl, because at that time, i.e., at night, the beasts of the forest go about howling for their prey. "In the Northern counties, nothing is more common than to call that melancholy barking dogs oft make in the night Yowling, and which they think generally happens when someone is dying in the neighbourhood."
Christmas Day, in the primitive Church, was always observed as the Sabbath day, and like that, preceded by an Eve, or Vigil. Hence our present Christmas Eve.
On the night of this eve our ancestors were wont to light up candles of an uncommon size, called Christmas candles, and lay a log of wood upon the fire, called a Yule-clog, or Christmas-block, to illuminate the house, and, as it were, to turn night into day. This custom is in some measure still kept in the North of England.
The following occurs in Herrick's Hesoerides:--
"Come bring with a noise,
My merry, merrie boys,
The Christmass Log to the firing:
While my good Dame she
Bids ye all be free,
And drink to your heart's desiring.
"With the last year's Brand
Light the new Block and,
For good successe in his spending,
On your psaltries play,
That sweet luck may
Come while the Log is teending.
"Drink now the strong beere,
Cut the white loaf here,
The while the meat is a-shredding
For the rare mince-pie,
And the plums stand by
To fill the paste that's a-kneading."
Christmas, says Blount, was called the Feast of Lights in the Western or Latin Church, because they used many lights or candles at the feast; or rather because Christ, the light of all lights, that true light, then came into the world. Hence the Christmas candle, and what was, perhaps, only a succedaneum, the Yule-block, or clog, before candles were in general use. Thus a large coal is often set apart at present, in the North, for the same purpose, i.e., to make a great light on Yule or Christmas Eve. Lights, indeed, seem to have been used upon all festive occasions, e.g., our illuminations and fireworks, on the news of victories.
Yep, for parallel latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun will make its lazy way to the shortest day/longest night of the year, marking the beginning of winter! Woot! This year it takes place December 21 at 11:28 EST, right after the new Moon in Sagittarius and on the cusp of Capricorn. It's a time to step into a slower order of our everyday actions and feel the solidity in our bones; Saturn rules Capricorn and the skeletal structure.
If we take this literally then it's a good time to up your calcium and vitamin D intake, plus drink plenty of warm root-vegetable soups and teas, and Wassail! (See recipe below.) On the metaphysical side to things, we want to keep in mind not to let our inhibitions take over, lest we hibernate like the bear… harrumph.
This 6-month pinhole photo was taken by Ian Hennes "from solstice to solstice, in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada. We are one of the sunniest cities in Canada, and this shows it nicely." Thanks Ian. It's a great example of the restrictive quality that winter brings, and I'd love to hear how Australians experience the energies at the beginning of their summer!
I don't know about you, but it inspires me to get my light rituals going! Such a sacred part of the year.
One ritual that we did in my home when I was a kid was keeping the last bits of the Yule Log in a special bag and use it to light the one for the following year. It's such a special feeling for a child to be a part of practical magic, knowing that the mysteriously powerful Yule Log ash is kept safe, to carry on its flame a whole year later!
The High Priestess says:
"This is the night of the solstice, the longest night of the year. Now darkness triumphs; and yet, gives way and changes into light. The breath of nature is suspended: all waits while within the Cauldron, the Dark King is transformed into the Infant Light. We watch for the coming of dawn, when the Great Mother again gives birth to the Divine Child Sun, who is bringer of hope and the promise of summer. This is the stillness behind motion, when time itself stops; the center is also the circumference of all. We are awake in the night. We turn the Wheel to bring the light. We call the sun from the womb of night. Blessed Be!"
Winter solstice is a festival celebrating the rebirth of the solar year, the beginning of winter, and the return of lengthening daylight. Since ancient times, it has been a time of peace and renewal. Many of the Customs associated with Christmas have their roots in Pagan celebrations of winter solstice in ancient Rome (Saturnalia) and Scandinavia (Yule). Wiccans and other pagans today include these old customs as part of their own celebrations, including exchanging gifts, decorating homes with wreaths and evergreens, feasting with family and friends, the kindling of lights, and the burning of the Yule Log, traditionally of oak. Imbolc is also known as Imbolg, Oilnec, Candlemas, and Brighid's Day. It includes the lighting of candles and the honoring of Brighid, Celtic Triple Goddess of inspiration, smithcraft, and healing. In the past, milk became associated with this holiday because it coincided with the time of lactation of ewes. Imbolc is a time for looking for the first signs of spring, including the reappearance of creatures after winter rest or hibernation. In America the spring prognostication roots of this Pagan holiday survive in the secular folk holiday of Groundhog's Day.
Check out those sigils, eh? We give thanks to The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic for this poster, and placing charms before, during, and after writing this piece, I perfectly loved coming across the "Abra, Cabra et Cadabra" quote at the bottom—whatever could it mean? Ha!
I chose the poster for the wreath, anyone have an idea what the paper and rope are for? Let us know!
To offset any sigil magic seeping through from that goat's foot, we present next door to it: An example of the famous bellarmine type jars and bottles much beloved by witches for use as spirit houses and hexing bottles. The bottle was wax-sealed and the items within had been set in a dry hide, that is no liquid within the bottle. The items extracted can be seen in the glass covered box alongside. From the evidence to hand everything indicates that whereas the bottle is of considerable age, its filling and its concealment would have taken place between 1895 and 1912. Later they were often used for general protection, rather than to retaliate against a specific curse. Cornwall Record Office has an interesting document from the 18th century—written by a wise woman or cunning man—that describes how to make a witch bottle, explaining that then 'no enemy will have power over you.'
Wooden Witch Boxes were also used. One found in London had been built into a fireplace in place of a brick in the 18th century, and contained bones from a sheep or goat, a pig and a goose. (Source: 'Tracks Through Time', Museum of London Archaeology, 2009.)
Light is a perfect note on which to end this article about the darkest time of year, and how our duty as light-bringers comes naturally, as we live with our rhythms through the seasons. Candles, incense, hearts, pipes & fires… whatever your desires, shine bright and stay warm! Aw, just cuddle everyone you meet; most people like it ;)
From all of us at Witches Nest, may you never hide your light; we need it and love your shining!
We leave you with the warmest of Yuletide wishes and a sweet recipe for Wassail. Merry hugs, and see you in the New Year! Stay safe... in love.
Traditional Wassail Recipe
Last we share a little on wassailing, a tradition from Victorian times that was akin to caroling. Ancient wassailing comprised making wassail; drinking copious amounts of it, mainly to stay *warm*; then a group of wassailers go out singing and drinking wassail from house to house and "wassail" the fruit trees with songs and shouts and general hoopla, to encourage a good crop from the orchards in the following year.
Image form pinterest.co.uk
To get your Wassailing going on, you will need:
6 small apples
1 1/2 quarts ale or hard cider
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Preheat your oven to 120 degrees F. Core the apples and then place them on a lightly greased baking tray. The apples will swell slightly as they bake, so space them a couple inches apart from each other. Bake the apples for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, put 1 cup of the ale (or cider) and all of the sugar in a tall pan. Warm this over low heat, stirring continuously to dissolve the sugar.
After the sugar has dissolved, add the grated nutmeg and ginger. Continue to simmer, stirring as you slowly add the remaining ale or cider. After the apples are done baking, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool for 10 to 12 minutes. Then cut each apple in half and scoop out the baked “flesh” into a bowl. Discard the skins. (Ideally these apple skins should go into your compost!) Using a fork or potato masher, mash the apples until they are smooth.
Slowly add the smooth, mashed apples to the warm ale or cider, mixing them in vigorously with a whisk. Continue to warm the wassail over very low heat for about half an hour. Whisk again just before serving.
For those of you cooking without booze, substitute with non-carbonated apple cider, yum! You can serve wassail hot or cold, though it is traditionally served hot.
 Albertsson, Alaric. To Walk a Pagan Path: Practical Spirituality for Every Day. Llewellyn Publishing (2013).
Written by Sherrill Layton of Studio iO Metaphysics a media ecologist in love with stars and decent brews—coffee, potions, words, storms—the recipe does not matter, the decency does.
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Welcome to our collective favourite season, witchy folk! Perhaps that’s a generalization, but the Autumnal vibes are an absolute mood in the spiritual community, and for so many reasons. This season we have two Sabbats to celebrate; the first of those is Mabon, otherwise known as the Autumn Equinox, and the hemispherical counterpart to Ostara, in which we celebrate the Spring Equinox.
Not only is Autumn the season of flavoured lattes and pumpkins, it is the season of the colours of the Earth – oranges and reds and browns, greens and glorious yellows. We have beautiful harvest vegetables and burgeoning berries; a veritable feast of offerings from our beautiful Mother Earth to celebrate.
For Mabon, we focus on the beginning of the end of the harvest season and the descent into wintery darkness. Spiritually, we are reaching the closing-down portion of the year – as the days get shorter and the evenings are longer, we assess the outcomes of our labour (physical, financial, emotional, spiritual) across the past twelve months. Summer is celebration, and Autumn is when we reap what we’ve sown. So, as we draw towards the end of this summertime haze and commence the darkening and hibernation periods, we’re beginning to wind down business and take stock of what we’ve achieved.
Seasonal altars are a great way to focus our attentions and intentions towards that for which we are grateful, and the things that we want to manifest in our lives. Not only does the season dictate our physical activities, it also directs our spiritual lives, and the altar is the witch’s way of centring that energy.
With so much to love and celebrate about Autumn, let’s take a look at some traditional (and not-so-traditional) items to feature on our altars during this time.