The Contemporary New England Witch

The Contemporary New England Witch
Ms Faith

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Winter Solstice

 Evening Greetings,

It occurred to me last night that we have danced around the winter solstice subject in relation to Christmas, Yule and many seasonal decorations, traditions and treats.  Yet, I don't believe we've talked in depth about the solstice itself. Have I? Maybe a bit, but let's talk about it a little bit more.

The winter solstice as I mentioned briefly in last night's discussion about the ritual for the winter solstice, is the day with the shortest daylight hours and the most hours of dark all year.  Naturally a cold time, but over millennium mankind has attributed many legends, lore and beliefs to this time.

Ancient man would notice the Sun growing dimmer and farther away. The earth grew colder until even though you could still see the Sun itself,  it did nothing to alleviate the bitter cold.  It seemed as if it had abandoned mankind and the earth, and many ancient legends speak of this struggle between the light of summer and the dark of winter. Such as the legend of the Holly and Oak kings, the legend of Persephone and Demeter to name but a couple.  We'll discuss these legends in detail during the next few discussions. 

This was a time long past, where mankind followed the Wheel of the Year.  We spoke about the Wheel of the Year earlier this fall. Please refer to my discussion dated October 21, 2010 titled "Predicting winter, Halloween and the Celtic Wheel of the Year".  The Wheel of the Year was an agricultural calendar the ancients followed to follow the course of the Sun as it makes it's way across the sky and metaphorically across the lives of the people. 

The winter solstice was celebrated it seems, more to appease the nature gods and spirits, so that the winter would release its cold grip on the earth allowing the sun and warmth to return.  The winter solstice more so than any of the other holidays seems more of a forced celebration to placate the gods and ensure survival rather than the jubilant celebrations of spring and summer where it is warmer and easier to believe life will go on.

So mankind built great blazing bon-fires, a sympathetic magick where as high and huge as the flames can be made, so will the Sun be attracted back to such a spectacle of light and heat, a flavor of the ancient occult saying 'like attracts like'.  Many fire rituals surround the winter solstice, a strong show that the ancients knew how absolutely vital fire and the benefits of fire meant to their survival.

Many of the foods would also be heavily laden with alcoholic spirits during these ancient times, as much for the preservation aspect of the alcohol mixed in with the foodstuffs, but also for the warmth and fire the spirits would put in the blood.  There are still recipes for the Yuletide Christmas season today that employ this most ancient of flavorings. From the rum spiked egg nogs, to the plum Christmas puddings soaked in brandy, the hot toddies and Christmas punches, to many sweets, desserts and chocolates being filled with sweet liquors. Magickally today alcohol retains its attributes from the element of fire, to bring about change, heat, passion, courage and strength.

It is also from the winter months the ancients developed a strong belief in reincarnation.  For did they not see everything die, all around them every fall and winter,  only for everything to be re-born,  brought back to life the next spring?  This likens to their understanding that the creator was a female. A Goddess, simply because the female of all species gives birth. They understood the world and their purpose in it, by what they saw in the world around them.

A Mother Goddess as well as reincarnation were not stretches of the intellectual mind-set of ancient man, but in truth are extremes for our modern mind-set, given our understanding of the world around us. These beliefs are not learned from our experiences in the world around us, but taught to us as a theology from birth. We are raised in a society that is predominantly patriarchal, with the belief that God is a he, and that reincarnation, although believed in by many, is still an edge concept for the mainstream.

As a witch I personally find comfort in what I learn from Mother Nature or Goddess if you will. What I see perpetuated in the world around me, every year, every season in New England, I know to be my truth.  Yes, we have our winters only to be reborn in the spring.  Sometimes it feels like that, doesn't it?

Because it is so cold, I thought I'd throw a fun historical story your way, one that I personally found delightful! Well, while researching those crafty Victorians whom we can credit with just about all of our typical Christmas decorations and customs nowadays, I came across the Victorian era New England concept of 'bundling'.

But first let me say that in the United States, technically our era was the 'Gilded Age', which coincided with the British 'Victorian Era', but I use the term Victorian because it really has influenced how we refer to a certain time, as well as fashion, culture and practices, which most people recognize.  So ardent students of history, please forgive my choice of artistic license.

Back to bundling! What fun!!  Well, in the 1800's it was customary for a boy or young man to court the young lady he was interested in by coming to visit on Saturday nights. He would be invited to dinner and with the entire family in residence be seated as far away from his intended as possible. They were allowed in the same room together though, although heavily supervised.  If they were close enough to speak it was common for other conversation to quiet so all could hear what the young couple was saying to one another. Not a lot of privacy eh?

 A 'speaking tube' was employed at times where the couple could communicate with each other in a crowded room more privately. Speaking tubes, a forerunner of the telephone and phonograph had been used primarily on ships for intra-ship communication and were becoming quite popular  in fine homes and offices throughout the 19th century. They were a long tube or hose in some cases, with a whistle at one end. One person would blow and the whistle would ring, then the other person (on the whistle side) would put the tube to their ear and the 'blower' would speak. The conversation could occur on both sides of the tube and was one of  the only means of privacy available, well until we come to bundling.  That adds an entirely new element to the story.

Then later in the evening the young man was expected to make his way home, and many times the young man could live a few farms away which could in reality, be several miles away! This was acceptable in the spring, summer and fall months, but in the winter the people of this time looked at things more practically than morally it seems.  The practice of bundling was introduced where the young man would sleep over in the young lady's bed! 


In the same bed you say? Yes! They would accomplish this by the girls parents 'bundling quilts and blankets around the girl and even tying rope around her legs. Some ingenious parents would place sleigh bells on the bed, or construct boards to separate the couple,  well .  .  . you can imagine why!     Yep, I'm having a hard time believing it worked, but apparently it was a common occurrence.  I bet early spring weddings were popular also!

I know, my eyebrow raised also when I first read this!  The parents knew the reality of a person, regardless of how fit, freezing to death walking home several miles during a winter night in New England. Seriously, today we bundle up, move briskly from heated conveyances, to heated homes to heated stores, restaurants, shoppes and workplaces.   Even those who play outdoor winter sports are bundled up and working aerobically for shorter periods of time than walking home over the course of hours.  Freezing to death was a reality and the young women's parents, hoping to marry off their daughters, found it more prudent for the young man to stay the night. 

Yes, the winter solstice with its shorter days and longer, colder nights have affected us for centuries and will continue to do so.  So bundle up tight, grab a hot cup of coffee, grab a candy cane to stir it with and enjoy the rest of your evening.

Peace and Happiness

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© 2010 Enchantments, LLC Portions of this blog posting may include materials from my book “Enchantments School for the Magickal Arts First Year Magickal Studies.” For more information, see www.enchantmentsschool.com or go to the title of tonight's discussion and click, it will link you to my school's website. 

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