Traditions

SAMHAIN

Dia de los Meurtos
by Nick Sagala, Art by Ungala
Dia de los Muertos—the Day of the Dead--is a holiday dear to the heart and soul of every Mexican that loves his ancestors. The Santa Muerte is the goddess connected to Dia de los Muertos. She pre-dates Christianity in that part of the world, and the Mexican people knew her as MICTECACIHUATL, Lady of the Land of the Dead. She was believed to be a protector of souls residing in the dark underworld, and she is depicted as a woman in a skull mask and traditional dress decorated with flags which were put upon corpses prepared for cremation.

Originally, this holiday fell at the end of of July and the beginning of August, and was dedicated to children and the dead. But when Spanish priests came to Mexico, the date was moved so that it coincided with All Hallows Eve, a Christian holiday. Nevertheless, Dia de los Muertos retains its ancient roots honoring the Lady of the Land of the Dead. You can celebrate Dia de los Muertos by making an Ancestral Altar. It will help you establish a real connection not only with your ancestors but, with the whole spiritual world. Once you make an altar to your ancestors, it will become like an antenna for other spirits who will take notice that you venerate and wish to work with them.

Making an ancestral altar is a simple. The first thing you will have to do is find some pictures of your deceased relatives with whom you have positive connections; aunts, uncles, grand parents or great grand parents. Although the best place for you to have an ancestral altar is your living room since the idea is for you to include your ancestors in your daily life, a closet in a separate room from your bedroom is also a good place to create your ancestor shrine.

Wash down the table top to purify it (white vinegar is good), then place a white table cloth on the altar top. Put a religious symbol at the back of the ancestral altar. This will be guided by the faith that your muertos (deceased relatives) practiced. Arrange the pictures on the altar with a clear glass of water for each relative and a vase to put an offering of fresh flowers. You will also need a white ceramic or glass plate and bowl to make food offerings. The plate and bowl do not always have to be on the altar (but keep them in a separate place from your regular eating plates and bowls). What will always be on the altar are the pictures, the clear glasses of water and the vase. You can also have a picture of La Santa Muerte on your altar, and a crystal skull to store the positive energies that grow from your prayer sessions and communication with the dead. The skull will give you strength in times of stress and great need.

Change the water weekly as well as any flowers that you have placed on the altar. Traditional flowers for the muertos are marigold (flor de muerto) chrysanthemum, jasmine flowers (for the spirit of death) and calla lily flowers. Try to designate one day of the week to devote to maintaining your altar--this way you always pray to your ancestors at least once every week. 

Approach the altar, knock three times, and tell them who you are. Offer them the fresh water and say a prayer on their behalf, ask to bless them and help them grow in spirit. Talk to them for a while, tell them how you miss them, and have not forgotten them. Ask your ancestors for their blessing in your daily life ask them to help you have good health, love, and prosperity. Then light a white candle for them dressed with blessing oil if you have it and leave it there to burn for them, offering your muertos the light, heat, and energy of the candle. Prayers to the muertos should come from heart. If they were Catholic or Christian you can say a Christian prayer for them. To close the ceremony, clap three times.

As you develop a stronger connection with your muertos, you can start to give them food offerings, such as bread, fruits and candies. Never salt the food that you offer the dead as it makes it nearly impossible for the ancestors to draw energy from the food offerings. Try to offer foods that you knew they favored in life—this will make them happy. You may find that as you develop this positive relationship with your ancestors, they will help you in your life. Look for signs that they are with you!

Dia de los Muertos is more than just one day—it lasts from October 31st to November 2nd, and you can keep your ancestor altar up all year round. On November 2nd, the last day of the festival, give each of your muertos a calaveras de azucar--a sugar skull with his or her name on it. Take it to the cemetery if you can. It is customary to take a bite from each skull so a part of your muertos lives on through you!




MABON

Mabon Magic
by Adrienne Wesner, Harvest of Hope by Sue Miller
The wheel of the year turns, and for a moment the world is balanced. The sun has reached the equator and light dances with darkness equally across Mother Earth. Mabon is how we celebrate this wonderful dance. You may hear the words “Fall is in the air.” Sitting in the sunshine, a cool breeze may brush by you reminding you that cooler days are just ahead. Colorful leaves dance in the trees and fall like rain on the street and in yards. Animals hurry and scurry to fill theirs dens and birds fly south high in the sky. Harvests of corn and apples are brought to the barns, and farmers spend days making cider and apple butter. Family fireplaces are stocked with wood.

This is a time of great celebration. Many of us dread the coming cold. Mabon reminds us to be thankful because it is the high point of the main harvest season. A good harvest means lots of great food to eat right through Winter.

Mabon around the World. People celebrate the Autumnal Equinox in different ways. The Chinese bake special birthday cakes because they believe the moon’s birthday falls around Mabon. These cakes are baked with flour from harvested rice. They also believe flowers fall from the sky on this night, and anyone who sees them will be blessed with great abundance.



Long before the Pilgrims came to America, Native Americans honored the harvest with thanksgiving festivals. The Iroquois people held a Corn Dance each Fall. This was how they gave thanks for the ripened grain. Songs, dances and drumming were all part of the celebration. Naturally, food played an important part as well, including corn.

The ancient Greeks believed Persephone, goddess of Spring returned to the Underworld in the Autumn. Her mother Demeter missed her so much that she would not eat, or sleep, or tend to the earth. Her great sorrow is said to cause Winter. Some pagans tell how the Sun God travels down through the Underworld, only to be reborn at Yule.

Celtic tales tell of Mabon, stolen from his mother by Modred and rescued three years later by King Arthur. He is the power in the darkness, the Lord of the Otherworld and guardian of the harvest and fertility. Mabon represents innocence as a baby, strength as a young man and the sacrificed God when elderly. 

However you celebrate the coming of Fall, whether you run through leaves, help bring in the harvest, or just enjoy the changing colors, remember the Lord and Lady and give thanks for all the blessings you receive. 

Gods of the Universe, I know what you are telling me, 
Today the Earth prepares for a great change. 
Light and Dark are for a moment balanced 
As we slip into the night of the year. 
Thank you for the wonderful dreams we will share.

 

LAMMAS

Lammas: Not a Time To "Loaf" Around!
by Katharine Clark, Art by Robin Ator
Depending on your family’s tradition, Lughnasad (pronounced “loo-na-sa") is celebrated on August 1st or 2nd. It marks the end of the major fruit harvest and the beginning of the ripening of the grain crops--wheat, barley, oats and maize. (In Ireland and the British Isles, wheat is called “corn”, while American corn is called “maze”). At the start of August (now only a few days away!), with one harvest done and the next not yet begun, there was time (in the ancient world) to set up markets, make deals for the sale of the crops to come, arrange marriages, resolve problems and debts in council, and to enjoy games and competitions.

In the spiritual world, it was a time to celebrate Lugh, the Celtic sun god. It is important to remember that there is a little goddess celebration in the God Season (which runs from Samhain to Spring Equinox – with Imbolc in the middle honoring Brigit), and a little god celebration in the Goddess Season (from Beltain to Mabon). Some believe that Lughnasad honors the “death” of Lugh, because the sun has begun its journey towards winter and shorter days. However, Lughnasad actually celebrates the death of Lugh’s foster mother Taillte, and all games, gatherings and fairs were dedicated to her.

The other name for Lughnasad is Lammas. This comes from the words “loaf mass.” In Pagan times, folks would gather a small amount of green (un-ripened) wheat, thresh it, and bake it into a small loaf of bread. Each person attending the ritual meal would consume a tiny part. It was barely edible, but by willingly taking a nibble of this awful bread, the individual was showing the gods that he or she had faith in them, and trusted that they would bless the fields and the coming harvest.


When Christianity came to Europe and the Celtic lands, the people would not give up their cherished tradition. Like so many other Pagan practices, it was adopted by the church. The loaves that were baked from the green wheat were now brought to the Christian altar and blessed during a special “loaf mass.” They were consumed at a family meal later.

The health of the crops, the land and the people were thought to be bounded together. There was a countrywide truce at Lughnasad, so folks traveling to one of the major fairs – such as the one at Telltown – could get there without fear of being attacked along the way by feuding tribes. Once there, however, they could “battle” each other in feats of strength, agility, and speed. The champion, or winning team, would bring strength to their district and land. Even the fairies of the rival districts were thought to do battle, the looser returning home to find blight on their potato crop.

Horses and cattle were forced to swim across rivers and lakes because it was believed to remove negative magic and illness. Women wove wheat stalks and heads into crowns and wore them in order to share in the fertility of the fields, and offerings were given to the gods by throwing them into running water (such as rivers).

So, this Lughnasad, celebrate the sun and its beneficial effects on our food and our lives. Eat healthy, play games in the fresh air, and send your energies to the surrounding gardens and fields. Be strong, and remember: Fall and winter are just around the corner.

 


LAMMAS

Fire Up The Old Traditions!
by Katharine Clark, Photos by Akuppa John Wigham via Flickr Creative Commons

So, it's the Eve of May and you and your family and coven are outside at last, gathered around a long pole (possibly the trunk of your last Yule tree), bedecked with red and white ribbon streamers. Mom or Dad turns on the portable CD player and Jethro Tull’s “Cup of Wonder” booms out across the lawn. People grab a streamer and start to dance--red to the left, white to the right--weaving in and out of each others way until they wind up in a tight tangled web smack up against the pole. The ribbons are tied off, everyone steps back to admire the lopsided pattern snaking downward, and then you all head to the kitchen for some cake and mint tea.

Thus ends another Beltane rite for many folks in many traditions. My group and I have even done this at public rituals. However, the “maypole” that so many Wiccans dance around this night has little to do with the old Celtic celebration. I know for some of us, it has come to mean more than just a stick in the sand, or the flower garden, or the coven grounds, but it is a far cry from the actual observance of Beltane in Celtic countries.


Beltane comes from the Irish “Bel tene” or “Bel’s fire” (Bel being a form of the sun god), and fire figures strongly in the Celtic celebration of the day. This was the time when all the fires were quenched in village and home. The Druids (an ancient pagan order of priests) would light a “need” fire (a large bonfire composed of seven sacred woods including the oak so revered by the Druidic order) in a central place, and runners would carry torches from it to the community bonfires prepared in advance. It was from the community fire that individuals could take embers to re-light their own hearths. In this way, all fires were part of the main, sacred fire.


In many cases, when the community fire died down and the flames were low enough, people would leap over them in order to be purified of illness and negativity. Often there would be a second fire set nearby, and the cattle could be driven between the two in order to assure their summer health--this was the time where they would then be taken from the barns and holding pens and returned to the pastures. Their continued well-being had to be safe guarded. If there wasn’t a second fire, some of their blood or pieces of hair could be thrown on the flames of the community fire.


So, how do you take these ancient practices and make them part of your celebration? You should never light candles or fires without the permission and/or assistance of an adult. However, it's OK to use symbolic fire in your Beltane ritual. Many craft stores now sell battery operated “tea lights”. They last for hours, are inexpensive, and very available. The “flame” they produce looks amazingly like a small fire. If these are not available, look to your Yule/Christmas/Winter Solstice decorations in the attic. Maybe your folks use electric or battery operated candlesticks for their windows. Two of these would work just fine. If all else fails, create your own flames by cutting them from yellow, red and orange construction paper or cellophane, and place them in vases or flower pots.

When you're ready, sit between your two ‘fires” and close your eyes. Breathe deeply and try to image the warmth that would come from genuine fires bathing your skin and seeping deep within you. Take your time and try to picture the flames as they dance and bend in the evening breeze. Then, imagine the fires dying down to ember, taking with them any illness, discomfort or upsetting thoughts you may have. Once you feel the coolness return to your skin, open your eyes. You can even “bless” your pets by carrying them between the “fires” while wishing them long and healthy lives. If they can walk between the “fires” on their own, all the better! (This would not work, however, with either tropical fish or many, many cats!)

At this point you may be asking yourself, “so our maypole isn’t a part of Beltane?” Well, not by tradition, no. It does have roots in Germanic paganism, and it is a fertility symbol. There are various forms in England, Germany, Austria, Sweden and the like, and there are a variety of dances performed near and around it, depending where you are. But as a focus of May Day celebrations in the Craft and in Pagan ritual, it is rather a newcomer. However, the one thing that is constant about the Old Ways is that they evolve. If the maypole is a welcomed part of your family’s or coven’s ritual, enjoy it and dance your heart out! When the dancing is done, however, give a thought to the “fires” of Beltane.



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