Yule – the Winter Solstice

festival-of-yule

There are 8 basic mystical festivals that have been celebrated around the world for thousands of years. The names and specific dates may be modified in different cultures, and some of the rituals associated with them may differ – but the underlying theme stays the same.

In the Northern Hemisphere they are:

The Winter Solstice or Yule in December – symbolizing the triumph of the light and the birth of the divine

Imbolc or Candlemas, which occurs about 6 weeks after the Solstice – symbolizing change and setting new goals

The Spring Equinox or Ostara in March – symbolizing re-birth and renewal

Beltane or May Day, which occurs about 6 weeks after the Equinox – symbolizing spiritual union and fertility

The Summer Solstice or Lithia in June – symbolizing the light of consciousness and spiritual awakening

Lammas or Lughnasadh, which occurs 6 weeks after the Solstice – symbolizing the harvest and first fruits

The Autumn Equinox or Mabon in September – symbolizing balance and transformation

And Samhain or Halloween, which occurs about 6 weeks after the Equinox – symbolizing the final harvest and remembrance of things past

This year Yule is on December 21st.

HappySolstice

I love the Winter Solstice. The image of the Light being re-born and conquering the forces of Darkness is beautiful and inspiring. The Winter Solstice has influenced the lives of many people over the centuries, particularly through art, literature, mythology and religion.

Many of the customs associated with the Winter Solstice (and therefore with other midwinter festivals such as St Lucy’s Day, Saturnalia, Hanukkah, New Years and Twelfth Night) derive from stories of a mighty battle between the dark and the light, which is won, naturally, by the light. Other traditions record this as the time a savior (the Sun-Child) is born to a virgin mother.

In Ancient Rome the winter solstice festival Saturnalia began on December 17 and lasted for seven days. It was held to honor Saturn, the father of the gods, a gloomy old fellow who carried a sickle like the figures of Death and who ate his own children rather than let them surpass him. For new life to flourish, for the sun to rise again, it is necessary to vanquish this old man. Therefore, the feasting and merriment of the winter season are religiously mandated in order to combat the forces of gloom. The festival was characterized by the suspension of discipline and reversal of the usual order. Grudges and quarrels were forgotten while businesses, courts and schools were closed. Wars were interrupted or postponed and slaves were served by their masters. Masquerades often occurred during this time.

saturnalia

It was traditional to offer gifts of imitation fruit (a symbol of fertility), dolls (symbolic of the custom of human sacrifice), and candles (reminiscent of the bonfires traditionally associated with pagan solstice celebrations). A mock king was chosen, usually from a group of slaves or criminals, and although he was permitted to behave in an unrestrained manner for seven days of the festival, he was usually killed at the end.

The day following the Saturnalia, was the Juvenilia, a holiday in honor of children who were entertained, feasted and given good luck talismans.  After vanquishing the Old King, it was time to celebrate the new in the form of children, the New Year’s Baby, or the Son of Man. The celebration of the birth of Christ fit in very well with this concept as He is seen as the New King, the Light of the World who brings Illumination to all.

The Birth of the Sun

In modern times Christians all over the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas. However, Christ’s birthday was not celebrated on December 25th until the 4th century. Before then, December 25th was best known as the birthday of the Persian hero and sun-god, Mithra. The myth tells that he sprang up full-grown from a rock, armed with a knife and carrying a torch. Shepherds watched his miraculous appearance and hurried to greet him with the first fruits of their flocks and their harvests. The cult of Mithra spread all over the Roman Empire. In 274 AD, the Roman emperor Valerian declared December 25th the Birthday of Sol Invictus, the Unconquerable Sun. Thus, in the Roman world there were 3 important holidays focused around the Winter Solstice – Saturnalia, the Birth of Mithras and the Birth of the Sun. When Christianity rose to dominance, the festival of Christ’s birthday moved to this time to offset the pagan influence. Now, as the birth of Christ is seen as the time the true Light came into the world, the celebration fits well with the basic theme of the season.
mithras

Festival of Lights
The return of the light is the most prominent feature of most winter festivals. In Sweden on St. Lucy’s Day, young girls don white dresses and a wreath of candles and awaken their families with cakes and song. Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is celebrated by lighting candles over a span of eight days. The Christian custom of the Advent wreath, with its four candles, one lit each of the Sundays before Christmas, is another way of re-kindling the light.

 'Festival of Lights'

The Christmas candle, a large candle of red or some other bright color decorated with holly or other evergreens, was at one time a popular custom throughout Great Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia. One person, usually the eldest or the head of the household, is designated as the light bringer. She lights the candle for the first time on Christmas Eve before the festive supper and during each of the remaining evenings of the Twelve Days of Christmas. The candle sheds a blessing on the household and so is protected from accidental quenching. It had protective or fertilizing powers and was kept as a charm. In Denmark, during a lightning storm, the remnant would be brought out and lit to protect the household.

Christmas is also referred to as Yule, which may have derived from the Norse word jól, referring to the pre-Christian winter solstice festival when ancient believers celebrated the rebirth of the Sun God and days with more light. This took place annually around the time of the December solstice and lasted for 12 days. Fires were lit to symbolize the heat, light and life-giving properties of the returning sun. A Yule or Juul log was brought in to the house with great ceremony on the eve of Solstice and burned on the hearth in honor of the Scandinavian god Thor. It is important that the Yule log be the biggest and greenest log available since the Solstice festivities will last only as long as the Yule log burns. Usually it is decorated with holly and ivy and other evergreens of the season. Some people prefer to use the Yule log as a decoration and place candles on it instead, thus transforming it into a candelabra like the menorah or the kinara of Kwanza. A piece of the log was kept as both a token of good luck and as kindling for the following year’s log.

yule

In England, Germany, France and other European countries, the Yule log was burned until nothing but ash remained. The ashes were then collected and either strewn on the fields as fertilizer every night until Twelfth Night or kept as a charm or as medicine. French peasants believed that if the ashes were kept under the bed, they would protect the house against thunder and lightning (just like the Christmas candle in Denmark, perhaps harkening back to Thor the god of thunder).

yule tide

The Solstice Evergreen
Another ancient winter custom is decorating with greens. The Romans decorated with rosemary, bay, laurel, holly, ivy and mistletoe. The holly and ivy were also both important midwinter plants in Great Britain and Ireland,

The Christmas tree is of more recent origin, perhaps only going back to the 15th century German custom of hanging apples on a fir tree as a prop for the miracle play performed on Christmas Eve depicting Adam and Eve being driven out of Paradise.

Other Cultures and Modern Day Celebrations

In Poland the ancient December solstice observance prior to Christianity involved people showing forgiveness and sharing food. It was a tradition that can still be seen in what is known as Gody. In the northwestern corner of Pakistan, a festival called Chaomos, takes place among the Kalasha or Kalash Kafir people. It lasts for at least seven days, including the day of the December solstice. It involves ritual baths as part of a purification process, as well as singing and chanting, a torchlight procession, dancing, bonfires and festive eating.

Many Christians celebrate St Thomas’ Day in honor of St Thomas the Apostle on December 21. In Guatemala on this day, Mayan Indians honor the sun god they worshipped long before they became Christians with a dangerous ritual known as the polo voladore, or “flying pole dance”. Three men climb on top of a 50-foot pole. As one of them beats a drum and plays a flute, the other two men wind a rope attached to the pole around one foot and jump. If they land on their feet, it is believed that the sun god will be pleased and that the days will start getting longer.

pole dancers

The ancient Incas celebrated a special festival to honor the sun god at the time of the December solstice. In the 16th century ceremonies were banned by the Roman Catholics in their bid to convert the Inca people to Christianity. A local group of Quecia Indians in Cusco, Peru, revived the festival in the 1950s. It is now a major festival that begins in Cusco and proceeds to an ancient amphitheater a few miles away.

Celebrating the Solstice
During the Winter Solstice, you should enjoy yourself as much as possible. This will help bring Light back into the world. Different traditions mention feasting, gambling, playing pranks, giving gifts, visiting, drinking, dressing up, fornicating, putting on plays and staying up all night. During the dark of winter, invoke all the forces of pleasure and love which make life worth living. Fill your home with lights and sparkling ornaments. But don’t forget about the darkness – that’s important too. Honour the Dark before calling in the Light. Perhaps you could do an “energy fast.” For the whole day, keep all lights and electrical appliances off. Think about your life and the darkness around you. Release your resentments and regrets into the darkness, knowing they will be transformed. Write about them in your journal or write them on slips of paper which you can burn in your Yule fire. Use your holiday cards to make amends to people you’ve hurt or neglected. Then, when you light your candles and your fire, do so with the intention of bringing the True Light into the world. What ways can you think of in which you can help make the world lighter? How can you bring light into the lives of those around you? Think about this and make a conscious effort to increase the amount of light you create.

This is a good time to sing a sun song, like “Here Comes the Sun,” or “You Are My Sunshine.” Pass around a glass of wine or juice and toast the sun. The sun-child is the child of promise. Everyone can talk about a promise they see in the future.

blessed_yule_1

The Winter Solstice represents the birth of light, life and love into the world: Not only the world outside but the world within you as well. If you choose to, you can make this one of the most mystical nights of the year by accepting and honouring the Light and proclaiming your own intention to contribute to Illuminating the world.

Happy Solstice!

Winter Solstice edited

 

Refugees

Cyprus-map

When I was a kid, my father thought it would be a good idea for us to visit his homeland of Cyprus. There was some political uncertainties being discussed in the news at the time, but there did not appear to be any real concerns. We took a lovely cruise from mainland Greece to Cyprus across the Aegean and Mediterranean seas and spent a day or two in the city of Larnaca.

larnaca_4

Then it happened. Turkey invaded Cyprus and the U.S. put up a blockade preventing Greece from sending support troops to the island. We should have evacuated at once, but my father didn’t want to abandon his country. Instead we fled up the mountains to the little village in which my father was born.

village

As a child it was a thrilling adventure. But I could tell the adults were fearful and sad. Still we made the best of it. Other relatives from the cities also fled to the villages. There were plenty of young people to talk to. At night we would stand on the edge of the road and look down at the cities below and watch as bombs fell on them. Scary – but in a weird way lovely as well.

cyprus newspaper

 

bombings

In time hordes of city dwellers made their way up the mountain roads, mainly on foot, bringing with them only the possessions they could carry in their arms. Refugees.

cyprus 1

The native villagers accommodated them as best they could with the understanding, I suppose, that the refugees would be moving on as soon as possible looking for their own families and friends in other villages. It was not a situation anyone liked, but there was nothing that could be done about it. The strangers couldn’t be abandoned. They needed help.

cyprus 2

As I watched one clutch of families that had sheltered with us for the night move off to join the long train of people seeking more lasting safety, I noticed one man’s face. He appeared to have been a proud man, perhaps someone of means back in the city. But now he was just one member of the desperate population escaping the violence below. He looked angry and ashamed at the same time; resentful but resigned to his fate. This was the face of someone who, through no fault of his own, had lost his old life yet retained defiant hope that the future would be better.

cyprus 3

I’ll never forget the face of that man. I see it sometimes in news clips of the new batch of refugees leaving the violent past and moving with some flicker of hope toward a calmer future.

keep-calm-and-welcome-the-refugees

 

Pain vs. Suffering

Pain is inevitable

 

Many people today teach suffering: how to live with it, how to work through it, even how to benefit from it. But I teach ENLIGHTENMENT – with Enlightenment there is no suffering.

I know pain is inevitable. There will always be painful experiences in life – physical, emotional and spiritual. Pain really can’t be avoided. Suffering, however, is a matter of choice. Suffering is not the same as pain. Suffering is the result of holding onto the hurt long after the source has withdrawn.  It occurs in response to thoughts such as: “Why me?!” “It isn’t fair!” “This is horrible!” “I can’t stand it!”

Whereas pain is an experience, suffering is a perception

Viktor-Frankl-quote

 

 

Pain is a signal that healing is required. Suffering is a result of repeated failure to act on that signal. That physical healing can relieve pain is obvious – but we forget that spiritual and emotional healing is also required. It is this type of healing that stops pain from turning into suffering.

Those who suffer have gotten into the habit of numbing or avoiding (through blame, resentment, anger, addictions, or compulsions), the pain-signals that would otherwise motivate the healing, repairing, or improving process.

It takes mindfulness and emotional reconditioning to break habits.

Is this easy? Of course not. However, it is absolutely possible. By adjusting our thinking, and how we think about our thinking, we can change our emotional responses, the extent to which we suffer (or not), our level of tension and stress, and in turn, our experience of pain.

helen keller quote

 

  1. Don’t embellish your story.

    Something hurt you in the past – a moment ago, a year ago, a life time ago. When you recount the incident, leave out the unnecessary drama about how the event “ruined” you. Give yourself the freedom to move on.

    A regular meditation practice can help you with this.

  1. Learn to embrace change and uncertainty.

    We live life in a series of moments. Instead of resisting the changes we face, choose to make the present moment more acceptable than the last. And remember the next moment could be completely different again.

  1. Smile, even if you don’t feel it inside.

    We have more power to change our mood than we realize. By creating a sort of positive feedback loop through smiling we can make a big difference in overcoming our own suffering rather than being entrenched in it.

 

Thich Nhat Hanh quote

 

  1. Break out of your usual routine.

    Sometimes suffering comes about because we’ve ground ourselves down into a rut. We obsess over our loss and can’t seem to think of anything else. At times like these, it helps to give our psyche and soul  a jump-start by doing something we wouldn’t normally do.

  1. Help ease someone else’s suffering.

    When we experience pain, it’s easy to isolate ourselves and believe that no one has it worse than we do.

    While whatever pain you are experiencing is unique to you, it helps to remember that all human beings share the capacity for joy and suffering. Having contact with someone else that is also having a difficult time and offering them simple kindness can be a great antidote to our own suffering.

  1. Remember your basic goodness.

    No matter how chaotic or negative the circumstances of our life, there is a ground of basic goodness in ourselves and in the universe that we can count on.

 

Rinpoche quote

 

 

When you are in the midst of deep pain, practice these points. They can help to remind you that in a multitude of ways, the universe is supporting you. And remember that while there is self-generated suffering, there is also self-generated happiness. Choose to be happy!

 

quote-when-we-wake-up-from-our-confused-state-of-mind-that-is-enlightenment-dzogchen-ponlop-rinpoche-61-86-18

 

Responsibility

pampered cat

Sometimes I want to be like a beloved house cat – very important but with little to do.

I get tired of responsibility – especially self-imposed responsibility. When you’re a mystic you have the challenge of contributing to the spiritual evolution of the planet. This can be done in a multitude of ways – from committing to a regular meditation schedule up to being an outspoken, life-risking activist for social change and everything in between. It is not an easy challenge to accept.

The benefits associated with materialistic challenges are usually quite clear: money, power, fame, and the like. But mystical benefits are hidden – sometimes even from the person receiving them. Part of the challenge is not even looking for results or effects from your actions. The mystic merely assumes responsibility for carrying out certain activities for the good of all with no thought of reward.

Rembrandt The Philosopher in Meditation

This is maybe the most difficult aspect of the process – not thinking of rewards. When you do something with the expectation of receiving something in return you are participating in a contract. But for the mystic there is no contract – except perhaps in the same sense that breathing involves some form of contract. Our breathing accomplishes a lot of things in the world that we never pay attention to – releasing needed carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, for example – the least of which is keeping us alive. The responsibility associated with mystical work is similar to the responsibility of breathing – it maintains the functioning and growth of the whole organism whether we understand the process or not.

process

It would be nice to sit around and be pampered all day but that is not the fate of the mystic. The responsibility is ongoing and the rewards are uncertain. Yet, there is no other life I would choose – though it would be nice to be cosseted and praised sometime, for no reason in particular.

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Choices

vegetarian

I’ve always been a mystical, spiritual person with a deep respect for all life forms. However, meat eating  seemed like such a natural and integrated function of society that I never really considered giving it up – at least not while I lived a work-a-day urban lifestyle. Wasn’t it true that our ancestors in the ice age had to eat meat to survive? And wasn’t it true, as scientists tell us, that meat eating contributed to, if not actually caused, our brain’s dramatic growth, thus making us a dominant life form? Other animals eat meat and humans are just animals so why shouldn’t we eat meat as well? And then there is the fact that plants are living things too – so why would it be ok to kill and eat plants but not to kill and eat animals?

 

vegan_21

There are a lot of interesting questions that can be raised around this subject – I admit, however, that I didn’t really think too much about them. I just did what everyone else did around me. Meat eating was, and is, a highly convenient way of life. Meat is available everywhere and society strongly encourages its consumption.

As I grew older, I became aware of certain health concerns around meat consumption – mostly related to the various additives, hormones, steroids and whatever else was used to turn animals into efficiently processed food products. And I found that there had always been health concerns associated with excessive red meat consumption. So I cut out red meat and most pork products and stuck to only lean chicken and turkey breast. I’m not convinced my health measurably improved with these choices.

 

ive-cut-down-on-red-meat

Over time, however, I became aware of a much more serious issue – the “factory farm industry.” I watched several videos that exposed the rampant abuses of these food production businesses. Seeing the way animals were treated in the name of profit margins deeply upset me, and I determined that I would not support these industries at all. That’s what finally made me decide to change my diet.

 

ff2

I didn’t become a vegetarian for the sake of my health, but for the sake of the health of the cows, pigs, chickens and other animals horrible abused by the State sanctioned factory farm industry.

At first I was somewhat ok with people who raised food in what might be termed a more humane manner – and even with some hunters who actually ate what they killed. I thought at least in these circumstances the animals had a bit of a normal life before meeting a swift death. But I have come to realize now that there really isn’t any right or humane way to kill something that doesn’t want to die. And animals, like people, don’t want to die.

 

no right way

It’s safe to say, I think, that people online are not living in the ice age or in a nation that is so desperate for food that almost anything is consumable. We are living in the 21st century, in a fat, rich nation. We have choices. Humans are probably omnivores, meaning we can eat a lot of different things. And as omnivores eating meat is not an obligation it is a choice. For myself I choose to refrain from eating animals and animal products out of regard for their suffering. It’s a matter of compassion. This choice works well for me based on my observations of the world, but also with my long established mystical and spiritual sensibilities.

What you choose is up to you.

 

what to eat

 

compassion

Mabon – the Autumn Equinox

 

 

 

Happy-Mabon-Autumn-Equinox1

There are 8 basic mystical festivals that have been celebrated around the world for thousands of years. The names and specific dates may be modified in different cultures, and some of the rituals associated with them may differ – but the underlying theme stays the same.

In the Northern Hemisphere they are:

The Spring Equinox or Ostara in March – symbolizing re-birth and renewal

Beltane or May Day, which occurs about 6 weeks after the Spring Equinox – symbolizing spiritual union and fertility

The Summer Solstice or Litha in June – symbolizing the light of consciousness and spiritual awakening

Lammas or Lughnasadh, which occurs 6 weeks after the Summer Solstice – symbolizing the harvest and first fruits

The Autumn Equinox or Mabon in September – symbolizing balance and transformation

Samhain or Halloween, which occurs about 6 weeks after the Autumn Equinox – symbolizing the final harvest and remembrance of things past

The Winter Solstice or Yule in December – symbolizing the triumph of the light and the birth of the divine

And Imbolc or Candlemas, which occurs about 6 weeks after the Winter Solstice – symbolizing change and setting new goals

This year Mabon – the Autumn Equinox falls on September 23, 2015

The shorter days are bringing cooler weather. A chill is in the air. In many fashionable cities, people have stopped wearing white. Creatures of the wild are putting on their winter coats. The harvest is winding down. All around us, trees and plants are ending this year’s cycle of growth. Perhaps they are responding with glorious autumn leaves, or a last burst of bloom before winter comes.

In current mystical traditions, the time of the Autumn Equinox is known as Mabon, after a character from Welsh mythology. At this time the fields are nearly empty, because the crops have been plucked and stored for the coming winter. Mabon is the second of three harvest festivals, and it is when we take a few moments to honor the changing seasons, and celebrate the second harvest. For many spiritual traditions it is a time of giving thanks for the things we have, whether it is abundant crops or other blessings.

mabon harvest

 

 

Depending on your individual spiritual path, there are many different ways you can celebrate Mabon, but typically the focus is on either the second harvest aspect, or the balance between light and dark. This is, after all, the time when there is an equal amount of day and night. While we celebrate the gifts of the earth, we also accept that the soil is dying. We have food to eat, but the crops are brown and going dormant.

Technically, an equinox is an astronomical point and, due to the fact that the earth wobbles on its axis slightly, the date may vary by a few days depending on the year. The fall equinox occurs when the sun crosses the equator on its apparent journey southward, and we experience a day and a night that are of equal or near equal duration. Up until Mabon, the hours of daylight have been greater than the hours from dusk to dawn. But from now on, the reverse holds true.

Mabon marks the mid-point of the harvest season and for the moment nature is in balance. It is a time to reap what you have sown and give thanks for the harvest and the bounty the Earth provides. It is a time for finishing up old projects and plans and planting the seeds for new enterprises or a change in lifestyle. This is a time of celebration and balance. We look back over the past year and over the course of our lives and make plans for the future. We should embrace our past successes, thank the people who helped us and seek to bring ourselves into balance and harmony with life and nature.

 

mabon-bounty

People have celebrated harvest festivals for millennia, all around the world.

  • In ancient Greece, Oschophoria was a festival held in the fall to celebrate the harvesting of grapes for wine. Greece also has what is perhaps the best known of all the seasonal mythologies. It is the story of Demeter and Persephone. Demeter was a goddess of grain and of the harvest in ancient Greece. Her daughter, Persephone, caught the eye of Hades, god of the underworld. When Hades abducted Persephone and took her back to the underworld, Demeter’s grief caused the crops on earth to die and go dormant. The other gods pleaded for Persephone’s return so that the world would be restored. Hades relented but demanded that if Persephone had eaten anything during her captivity she would have to return to the underworld for part of the year. By the time Demeter finally recovered her daughter poor Persephone had eaten some pomegranate seeds, and so was doomed to spend part of the year in the underworld. The time she is in the underworld is a sad time for Demeter and she lets the earth die a little bringing on autumn and winter. But when Persephone returns to her mother, life also returns to the world. Winter fades and spring appears.
  • In some Germanic countries, people worried about the fate of their grain harvest. If there was a great deal of wind during the harvesting season, it could be because Odin wanted a share of the crop. To keep him happy, a few spare sacks of flour were emptied into the wind.
  • In the 1700’s, the Bavarians came up with Oktoberfest, which actually begins in the last week of September, and it was a time of great feasting and merriment, still in existence today.
  • China’s Mid-Autumn festival is celebrated on the night of the Harvest Moon, and is a festival of honoring family unity. In China, the moon’s birthday falls around the time of the autumn equinox. Special holiday birthday cakes are baked with flour from harvested rice, and families gather together to honor the moon. It is believed that flowers will fall from the sky on the night of the moon’s birthday, and those who saw them fall would be blessed with great abundance.
  • For contemporary Druids, this a time of balance between the light and the dark. Many Nordic pagan groups honor the fall equinox as Winter Nights, a festival sacred to the god Freyr.

mabon festival

  • For most Wiccans and Neo-Pagans, this is a time of community and kinship. It’s not uncommon to find a Pagan Pride Day celebration tied in with Mabon. Organizers of these events often include a food drive as part of the festivities, to celebrate the bounty of the harvest and to share with the less fortunate.

 

mabon pagan

  • Many English counties still observe Michaelmas, which is the feast of St. Michael, on September 29. Customs included the preparation of a meal of goose which had been fed on the stubble of the fields following the harvest (called a stubble-goose). There was also a tradition of preparing special larger-than-usual loaves of bread, and St. Michael’s bannocks, which was a special kind of oatcake.
  • Long before the Pilgrims arrived in the New World, the Native peoples of North America celebrated the harvest with thanksgiving festivals in the autumn. This typically included lots of meat and grains to eat. Games and activities were held, and it was also useful as a time of matchmaking between neighboring villages.

mabon-thanksgiving

  • The Iroquois people celebrated a Corn Dance each fall. This was a way to give thanks for the ripening of the grain — songs, dances and drumming were part of the celebration. Naturally, food played an important part as well, including corn bread and soup.

Nearly all of the myths and legends popular at this time of the year focus on the themes of life, death, and rebirth. Not much of a surprise, when you consider that this is the time at which the earth begins to die before winter sets in!

ob_3097b8_mabon2015

Some symbols of Mabon include:

  • Mid-autumn vegetables, like squashes and gourds
  • Apples and anything made from them, such as cider or pies
  • Seeds, nuts and seed pods
  • Baskets, symbolizing the gathering of crops
  • Sickles and scythes
  • Grapes, vines, wine

You can use any of these to decorate your home or your altar at Mabon.

The harvest is a time of thanks, and also a time of balance — after all, there are equal hours of daylight and darkness. While we celebrate the gifts of the earth, we also accept that the soil is dying. We have food to eat, but the crops are brown and going dormant. Warmth is behind us, cold lies ahead.

Early agricultural societies understood the importance of hospitality — it was crucial to develop a relationship with your neighbors, because they might be the ones to help you when your family ran out of food. Many people, particularly in rural villages, celebrated the harvest with great deals of feasting, drinking, and eating. Celebrate Mabon yourself with a feast — and the bigger, the better!

If you choose to celebrate Mabon, give thanks for the things you have, and take time to reflect on the balance within your own life, honoring both the darkness and the light. Invite your friends and family over for a feast, and count the blessings that you have among kin and community.

 

mabon22

Someday

lion-and-lamb-lie-down-together1

I was chatting with some associates about the crazy weather fluctuations and one of them said, “If it gets any colder I’ll have to start wearing my furs.”

I said, “Yeah, that’s ok. I have a can of spray paint here – I can decorate them for you.”

She gave me a weird look and then said, “Oh yeah, you’re one of those people who care about animals. Well tonight I’ll have myself a big steak with bacon strips and smile as I think of you eating your bowl of lettuce”

I said, “Yeah, that’s ok.”

Trapped-animal

Earlier that day I was on the subway and there was a little baby in a carriage on the train. He seemed happy and comfortable just staring at everyone around him. Then the train jolted and I guess his carriage strap dug into him a bit. He started crying. His mother shushed him gently and tickled him a bit and he stopped for a second but then the train jolted again and he started wailing and would not be comforted.

baby-crying

I admit it was annoying hearing him cry. But, you know, he was just a little tyke stuck in a very stressful and confusing situation with limited responses available to him.

Telepathically I said to him, “yeah, that’s ok, little guy, it’ll get better. I’m sure you’ll figure out what’s really going on in the world … someday.”

enlightenment

United With Pride

love not gender

In a long-sought victory for the gay rights movement, the Supreme Court of the United States of America ruled by a 5-to-4 vote on Friday June 26, 2015 that the U.S. Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage.

Last month voters in Ireland overwhelmingly chose to change their nation’s constitution, becoming the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage through a popular vote.

On July 20, 2005, Canada became the fourth country in the world, and the first country outside Europe, to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide with the enactment of the Civil Marriage Act which provided a gender-neutral marriage definition.

Other countries throughout the world have also made changes to their laws and constitutions to accept same sex marriage.

Last year at this time the 10-day World Pride festival was in full swing in Toronto – the first time this international event was ever  held in North America.  Celebrations of this kind around the world honour the history, courage, diversity and future of gay communities everywhere – but also strongly emphasize the importance of human rights concerns of all kinds. We all need to thoughtfully consider what it means to live safe, free and joyful lives without fear of persecution or censure.

Human Rights

Things have certainly changed in the world since the days of the Stonewall riots of June 28, 1969 – the spark that ignited the whole Gay Rights / Gay Pride movement – but the changes have not been nearly as great as they could have been. Although there is now more sexual openness and equality for most people, violence and oppression still exist – and not just in far-flung “backward” parts of the world – right here in cities like Toronto. Despite the annual parades and marches violence is still a daily factor in many people’s lives. It still requires a great deal of courage to declare yourself openly lesbian, gay,  bisexual, transgender, intersex, two-spirits, queer, asexual or anything else that might conflict with 17th century Puritan sexual morality.

Back in the summer of 1971 – totally oblivious to the New York riots of 1969 and totally unaware of the mass protests that were to come following the Toronto bathhouse raids of 1981 – I lived in a section of Toronto not particularly known for its tolerance or acceptance of alternative life-styles. It was a violent community filled with underemployed people – some desperate to escape their circumstances but many resolved to remain forever in the under belly of society.  Known as Corktown, Cabbagetown or Regent Park, in those days the neighbourhood was a place where the “respectable folk” of Toronto wouldn’t be caught dead, unless they had “shady business” to do. Of course there were a lot of nice people living in Regent Park – hardworking, honest people just hoping for a break in their lives – people that watched out for each other and the neighbourhood kids. And yet there really were nasty people around that it was best to stay away from.

Regent_Park_map

map_cabbagetown

Aside from individual nasty people, there were whole streets and blocks kids were warned to avoid for various reasons. And we whispered to each other about what might be going on in those areas. For example, Toronto’s “Red Light District” was within Cabbagetown’s borders – just along Dundas Street between Sherbourne and Jarvis.  And there were notorious pick up joints and criminal hangouts like Spot One, Norm’s Open Kitchen and the New Service Tea Room. But the worst place of all, we were told, was the St. Charles Tavern at Yonge and Wellesley.

St. Charles Tavern with its famous clock tower
St. Charles Tavern with its famous clock tower
The Tavern is closed but the tower still remains
The Tavern is closed but the tower still remains

If a kid was dumb enough to walk past that place alone, even in broad daylight, the story was that he might be snatched off the street, dragged into the back room and have all sorts of unspeakable things done to him by sexual deviants and perverts.

None of this was true, of course. I walked past that particular building hundreds of times on my way to movie theatres or record stores  and never even knew the place was notorious. I never connected the actual building with the scare stories told about it – I mean, I was a kid and hardly knew the name of the street I was on half the time 🙂

Anyway, the St. Charles was probably the best known gay bar in Canada at the time. It was frequently raided by the police because in those days there were all sorts of possible crimes connected with homosexuality. Strange as it might seem today it was, at that time, against the law for a man to wear women’s clothing, so the police could just stop a man in the street on suspicion and search him. If he was found to be wearing women’s underwear, or something other than white cotton boxer shorts, he could be arrested or just plain beaten up.

Regent Park tough guys might also hang around these places with the intention of passing the time by beating up a few “queers” or “faggots.” And the police were never too concerned about investigating such crimes. As I said, it was not a section of Toronto particularly known for its tolerance or acceptance of alternative life-styles.

I lived on the southern border of Regent Park around Queen Street east of Parliament – and all these “no go zones” were more west of Parliament and north of Queen – far from my everyday stomping grounds. But that didn’t matter to the haters and fear mongers.  The patrons of places like the St. Charles Tavern, just by existing, were a psychological threat even to the low lives of Regent Park.

There were, of course, cases in which a certain type of person might wander into Regent Park with immoral intentions. Perhaps they thought the people in my community were easy prey. I, myself, was confronted several times by deviant individuals and literally had to run away screaming for help. And perhaps some were that particular sort that actually wanted to be beaten up. In Regent Park they got their wish and these people did not make return appearances and certainly did not live in the community.

Now, I’m describing all this because there was a particular young man who did live in the neighbourhood and who used to ride his bicycle along Queen Street towards Parliament.  There was no doubt in the mind of anyone who saw him that he was heading for one of those well-known dens of iniquity. How did we know? First, he was a thin, haughty looking youth, who proudly rode his bike down the centre of the street with his head held high and had rainbow tassels streaming off his handle bars. The rainbow was not yet recognized as the symbol of gay pride but even then we knew what it meant. Boys DID NOT decorate their bikes with frilly tassels. And if that wasn’t enough, he wore puffy sleeved, brightly coloured shirts with a long lavender scarf around his neck that fluttered out behind him in the wind. Probably emulating Quentin Crisp.

CrispLifestyle

As far as I know, he was never accused of doing anything other than being “queer.” He never tried to hurt anybody. Kids weren’t afraid of him. But his appearance and mannerism was enough to make him the subject of scorn.

Rainbow_flag_breeze

Now, people said things as he rode by as you might imagine. He was laughed at and openly mocked; an easy target for the most childish of insults. Yet, what stands out most for me was the way he held his head up: proud and defiant. Sometimes I would see him riding by with black eyes and bruised face; sometimes with bandages. As I said this was not a tolerant neighbourhood. And seeing his bruises, some people mocked him even more as if he somehow deserved to be beaten. Sometimes people claimed to know the guys who beat him up and would smile as they spoke of it.

I don’t know who that young man was. I don’t know his name. I don’t know what happened to him. He rode his bike along Queen Street all that summer: rainbow tassels streaming off his handlebars and his lavender scarf blowing in the wind. He rode with his head held high, seemingly indifferent to the abuses hurled at him and the violence he endured. Was he brave? Was he courageous? Or was he just stupid? I don’t know.

More than 40 years later I still remember that man and wonder what his life was like. And I think about all the other men and women of that time who chose to be defiant and stand up for the simple right to be themselves. They were not deviants, perverts or sexual predators – they were just people with different desires. It takes courage to stand up for your sexual preferences today but it must have taken ferocious bravery to do so back then. Imagine what it would be like to have your whole life be a protest against intolerance. More than just marching in a parade once a year or waving a rainbow flag – it was living in constant rebellion. Imagine a world where you could be beaten up for wearing a puffy shirt or even killed for holding hands with someone of the same sex. Not in some far off Middle Eastern country where we think all intolerance now resides – but right here at home – places like Rome, Jerusalem, London, Toronto, Madrid – these are cities where World Pride has been held and will be held in the future – the intolerance and hatred that man felt in 1971 still exists in all those cities and in other cities around the world. And the courage it took for that man to ride his bike with its rainbow tassels is still needed today.

Pride Weekend starts with the Gay community where perhaps courage and organized protest is still needed most. But it extends to all people who wish to express themselves freely, creatively, artistically, romantically and joyfully but cannot because of the fear, ignorance and intolerance of the dominant forces of a community.  Is it possible for people to live safe, free and joyful lives without fear of persecution or censure? I hope so. But we must all stand together – men and women; gay and straight; rich and poor – we must declare loudly and openly that the peaceful pursuit of love and fellowship is the right of all human beings in all nations at all times.

we all belong

 

Litha – the Summer Solstice

Blessed_Litha_To_Everyone

 

There are 8 basic mystical festivals that have been celebrated around the world for thousands of years. The names and specific dates may be modified in different cultures, and some of the rituals associated with them may differ – but the underlying theme stays the same.

They are:

The Spring Equinox or Ostara in March – symbolizing re-birth and renewal

Beltaine or May Day, which occurs about 6 weeks after the Equinox – symbolizing spiritual union and fertility

The Summer Solstice or Litha in June – symbolizing the light of consciousness and spiritual awakening

Lammas or Lughnasadh, which occurs 6 weeks after the Solstice – symbolizing the harvest and first fruits

The Autumn Equinox or Mabon in September – symbolizing balance and transformation

Samhain or Halloween, which occurs about 6 weeks after the Equinox – symbolizing the final harvest and remembrance of things past

The Winter Solstice or Yule in December – symbolizing the triumph of the light and the birth of the divine

And Imbolc or Candlemas, which occurs about 6 weeks after the Solstice – symbolizing change and setting new goals

This year Litha , the Summer Solstice is on June 21st.

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Nearly every agricultural society has marked the high point of summer in some way, shape or form. On this date the sun reaches its zenith in the sky. It is the longest day of the year, and the point at which the sun seems to just hang there without moving – in fact, the word “solstice” is from the Latin word solstitium, which literally translates to “sun stands still.”

There are numerous deities from around the world connected with the sun and therefore honored on this day. Some of them associated with this day include:

  • Amaterasu (Shinto): A solar goddess – sister of the moon and the storm god of Japan. She is known as the goddess “from which all light comes” and is much loved by her worshippers.

Amaterasu

  • Aten (Egypt): This god was at one point an aspect of Ra, but rather than being depicted as an anthropomorphic being (like most of the other ancient Egyptian gods), Aten was represented by the disc of the sun, with rays of light emanating outward.
    aten
  • Horus (Egyptian): Another Egyptian solar deity, he was the child of Isis and Osiris and is often conceived of as a savior god who brings light to the soul.
    Horus-1-
  • Apollo (Greek): The son of Zeus, King of the gods, by Leto, a mortal woman, Apollo was a multi-faceted god. In addition to being the god of the sun, he also presided over music, medicine and healing. He replaced the older god Helios, the titan that drove the sun chariot across the sky. As worship of him spread throughout the Roman Empire into the British Isles, he took on many of the aspects of the Celtic deities, and was seen as a god of the sun and of healing.
    apollo
  • Huitzilopochtli (Aztec): This warrior god of the ancient Aztecs was a sun god and the patron of the city of Tenochtitlan. He battled with Nanahuatzin, an earlier solar god. Huitzilopochtli fought against darkness, and required his worshipers to make regular sacrifices to ensure the sun’s survival over the next fifty-two years, which is a significant number in Mesoamerican myths.

Huitzilopochtli

  • Sulis Minerva (Celtic, Roman): When the Romans occupied the British Isles, they took the aspects of the Celtic sun goddess, Sulis, and blended her with their own goddess of wisdom, Minerva. The resulting combination was Sulis Minerva, who watched over the hot springs and sacred waters in the town of Bath.
    sulis_1a
  • Sunna or Sol (Germanic): Little is known about this Norse goddess of the sun, but she appears in the poetic eddas as the sister of the moon god.

Sunna

Notice that in Greco-Roman and Egyptian myths the sun is male and the moon is female, but in many other cultures the sun is a feminine power.

Depending on your individual spiritual path, there are many different ways you can celebrate Litha, but the focus is nearly always on celebrating the power of the sun – the symbol of the light of consciousness and spiritual awakening. Consider the sun at the height of its power, with all the Light and Energy of the cosmos flowing through it onto the people of Earth and use that power to help you achieve your destiny.

Joyously take stock of your life and seek fulfillment – realigning with your goals and purpose.

Consider getting a new job if you aren’t satisfied with your current one, or taking some training courses to help you overcome any obstacles that keep you from doing what you truly want to do.

Upgrade your wardrobe, hairstyle or general appearance, and review your overall levels of fitness and health. You could also consider ways by which you can make others healthy – Perhaps get involved with the healing arts, or even with the ecology movement to help heal the world.

Consider spending summer solstice away from home. Visit Britain’s Stonehenge,

stonehenge solstice

the Egyptian and Mexican pyramids or even the growing New Age community in Sedona, Arizona. These places, along with many others, have wonderful Summer Solstice festivals to take part in.

SONY DSC
SONY DSC

Throw a party with a bonfire. A bonfire is part of the tradition of the summer solstice. Fire has always been a source of protection for human beings, scaring off the creatures of the night, both ordinary and magical. Nowadays you can reinvent the bonfire as a great reason to hold a summer solstice party with friends. In England, rural villagers built a big bonfire on Midsummer’s Eve. This was called “setting the watch,” and it was known that the fire would keep evil spirits out of the town. Some farmers would light a fire on their land, and people would wander about, holding torches and lanterns, from one bonfire to another. If you jumped over a bonfire — presumably without lighting your pants on fire — you were guaranteed to have good luck for the coming year.

Bonfire

Sunwheels were also used to celebrate Midsummer in some early Pagan cultures. A wheel — or sometimes a really big ball of straw — was lit on fire and rolled down a hill into a river. The burned remnants were taken to the local temple and put on display. In Wales, it was believed that if the fire went out before the wheel hit the water, a good crop was guaranteed for the season. Residents of some areas of Ireland say that if you have something you wish to happen, you “give it to the pebble.” Carry a stone in your hand as you circle the Litha bonfire, and whisper your request to the stone — “heal my mother” or “help me be more courageous”, for example. After your third turn around the fire, toss the stone into the flames.

BurningWheel3in

If these suggestions are too adventurous or time consuming for you, you can always just sit outside and read a book -this is a simple but still highly appropriate way to get connected with the sun and nature.

The important thing is to mark this day in some special way. Honor and appreciate the Sun for the all the blessings it bestows on the Earth and think past the mere physical body out in space to the spiritual aspects it represents. Take time to immerse yourself in the true Light, Life and Love of the Universe.

phoenixsummsolstice