traditions

A Very Happy Easter! #Easter #Eostre #Pagan

One of the things I most enjoy is finding out what lies behind many traditional celebrations. Whenever I’ve done this I’ve learned that what I thought I knew, what I was told at school, and by my parents, is usually wrong.

Since we moved to Wales, I’ve become very interested in Paganism, and the role of nature in many belief systems. We’re lucky enough to live somewhere that is truly magical, and it’s impossible to think that that there isn’t something spiritual about the natural world.

CENARTH FALLS

And it is paganism, and old beliefs that I often find are at the heart of mainstream celebrations today.

Easter is no exception. Easter falls in Spring – a time of renewal and rebirth, a time when we finally get some sunshine and warmth, and the countryside is awash with golden daffodils. It’s a time of hope, and optimism, and is full of promise of long, warm days to come (even here in Wales!).

The date on which we celebrate Easter each year is also governed by those old beliefs. Very old beliefs, in fact. Easter Day is set by the lunisolar calendar, which was created in Mesopotamia around 3000 BC. It falls on the Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox.

And the word ‘Easter’ itseLf has nothing to do with Christianity. Most European countries believe the word derives from the Hebrew word ‘Pesach’ – or Passover, the Jewish holiday. In English-speaking countries and Germany, however, it has been argued that the word is derived from the name of a Pagan springtime goddess – Ēostre.

Ēostre is the Germanic goddess of dawn. She was traditionally celebrated with festivals celebrating fertility, renewal and rebirth. The goddess is often depicted with hares or actually with the head and shoulders of a hare – which leads us to the rather strange Easter bunny!

The hare brings us back to the importance of the moon to the date of Easter. Hares, like the moon, were though to die and be reborn every day, making the hare a symbol of immortality, new life, and rebirth.

Of course, the egg is a symbol of new life, fertility and creation, which probably led to the inclusion of coloured eggs in the celebrations (they weren’t always made of chocolate!). Hares are my favourite animal (after dogs!), and the house is full of them (not real ones, of course, pictures, paintings and ornaments, even a teapot!). They’re beautiful, almost other-worldly, and I love too the story around the beautiful harebell flower – that witches turn into hares and hide amongst these gorgeous blooms.

As a child I was convinced that hot cross buns were a symbol of the crucifixion, which always struck me as a bit morbid, and a bit inappropriate, to be honest. In fact, the cross on the bun originated with the Ancient Egyptians, to create four sections, representing the four phases of the moon or the four seasons, depending on the festival being celebrated. Later, Greeks and Romans offered sweetened rolls to Eos, goddess of the morning and to Ēostre. Here, the cross represented the horns of a sacrificial ox.

So how is it that we now associate all these things with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus?
Following the rise of Christianity, many new feast days and celebrations were attached to the previous Pagan festivals. And as the older religions were ‘discouraged’ the new festivals took over.

I think I’ll feel a bit more comfortable eating my hot cross bun this morning thinking about the moon and the individual beauty that each season brings! And there will, of course, be lots of chocolate eggs!

However you’re celebrating, have a wonderful Easter weekend!

A Traditional Welsh Christmas #ChristmasTradition #Christmas #Wales

Beautiful Cenarth in the snow

This will be our third Christmas in Wales, and while COVID means that things aren’t quite how we expected them to be, one of the things we love about living in our small Welsh village is the real sense of community, especially at this time of year. Sadly, the beautiful candlelit Christmas Eve carol service in the local church, St LLawddog’s, has had to be cancelled again this year, but hopefully, in years to come, we’ll get to enjoy some of these fascinating traditional Welsh Christmas and New Year traditions.

Noson Gyflaith (Toffee Evening)

In some parts of north Wales, families would invite friends to their homes, in turn, to spend an evening eating, playing games, storytelling – and making toffee.

The ingredients were boiled, and when at the right temperature were poured onto a stone slate, or even the hearth stone. Then members of the gathering would cover their hands in butter and ‘pull’ the warm toffee, twisting it until it became golden yellow in colour. 

Plygain

Christmas for many in Wales meant getting up extremely early for the traditional plygain service at the parish church. Plygain was held variously between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. and many would stay up all night to await the service, filling their time with  decorating their house with holly and mistletoe, singing and dancing, or playing in the streets. There would then be a candle or torch lit procession to the church for the service.

Mari Lwyd

Mari Lwyd translates as the grey mare and is a Pagan tradition carried out in parts of Wales either around Christmas or in the New Year. 

The Mari Lwyd is a horse’s skull, decorated with ribbons and bells, carried around on a pole by a participant hidden in a cloak. Flanked by traditionally-dressed attendants, the Mari Lwyd then goes from house to house. At each house, they try to gain entrance by reciting a series of verses, to which the householder responds with their own verses in a bid to outwit the Mari Lwyd. Once the ‘battle’ is over, the party goes into the house to eat and drink – this brings good luck to the householder –  and then moves on to the next house.

The Nos Galan Road Races

In a rather healthier way to spend New Year’s Eve than drinking too much, up to 2000 runners gather in the afternoon in the Welsh Valley’s town of Mountain Ash to commemorate Guto Nyth Brân, who lived in the village of Llwyncelyn in the early 1700s. According to legend, he was such a fast runner that he could run to Pontypridd and back – a distance of seven miles – before his mother’s kettle had boiled.

This tradition was begun by local runner Bernard Baldwin in 1958. It starts with a church service at Llanwynno, where a wreath is laid on Brân’s grave, and a torch is lit. Races are then run in the town. These used to go on until midnight, when the New Year was welcomed in.

Calennig on New Year’s Day

“Dydd calan yw hi heddiw, Rwy’n dyfod ar eich traws I ‘mofyn am y geiniog, Neu grwst, a bara a chaws. O dewch i’r drws yn siriol Heb newid dim o’ch gwedd; Cyn daw dydd calan eto Bydd llawer yn y bedd.”

“Today is the start of the New Year, and I have come to you to ask for coins, or a crust, and bread and cheese. O come to the door cheerfully without changing your appearance; Before the next arrival of the new year many will be dead.”

This rather pessimistic New Year’s greeting is part of the traditional of calennig. Children, dressed in their best clothes, would visit relatives before midday, carrying skewered apples or oranges stuck with fruit and raisins. They would sing or recite rhymes in exchange for to gifts (cakes sweets, money, bread and cheese,  for example) for the New Year.

While Christmas may again not be what we expected, we are grateful that we are well, and safe and that we are able to spend the time together, with our two children. This year has been a difficult one for so many people, and the bad news sometimes feels relentless. So I hope you all have peaceful, safe, restful holidays with your loved ones, and that if you can’t be with family or friends, that you find a way to spend the season that brings you joy and contentment. 

WINTER SOLSTICE CELEBRATIONS #WINTERSOLSTICE #WINTER

There’s something about a cold day in December, the sky growing dark, the fire lit, candles glowing, a glass of red wine and a good book. Christmas is approaching and it’s already the shortest day. I’ve always been fascinated at the old traditions and history of the seasons and festivals, particularly those destroyed by conventional religion. And the Winter Solstice has something really magical about it.

The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year – the day that has the shortest periods of daylight. It’s always been a cause for celebration because it means that we’ve reached a turning point – that the days will slowly get longer and we’re on our way to spring (even if it doesn’t feel like it). Our ancestors always knew how to throw a celebration and the winter solstice was a great excuse. There are some fascinating traditions associated with the point of midwinter and many of them have been stolen to become part of Christmas. It’s wonderful that some traditions have been revived and some new ones are beginning.

Of course, COVID means that these celebrations will most likely not take place this year, unless on a smaller scale, but hopefully they will mark the end of a painful time for many and herald in the hope of new beginnings.

Burning the Clocks – Brighton, England

burning the clocks

A relatively new tradition, this began in 1993, but has its roots in the idea of lengthening days and shortening nights.

A procession of lanterns and costumes, all bearing a clock face, makes its way through the streets and down to the seafront. Here, the paper and willow lantern are burnt – the lantern makers make wishes, voice their hopes and fears, and pass them into the lanterns before they are placed into the fire.

Newgrange Gathering, Boyne Valley, Ireland

Newgrange is a 5200-year-old passage tomb built by stone age farmers. Above the entrance is an opening, On mornings around the winter solstice, a beam of light penetrates the opening and travels up the passage, illuminating it and the chamber. As the sun rises, the whole chamber lights up dramatically.

Stonehenge Gathering, Wiltshire, England

stonehenge-view-of-stone-circle-looking-south-west-along-axis-web

Druids and pagans gather at Stonehenge for both the summer and winter solstices. At the summer solstice, the sun rises behind the Heel Stone. At winter solstice, the sun would have set between the narrow gap of the uprights of the tallest trilithon, which is no longer standing. The sun was so important to our ancestors, providing warmth, allowing crops to grow. They must have had such fear and respect for the earth, the sun, the moon and the power of nature, something we sadly lack.

Montol Festival, Cornwall, England

montol2

The Montol Festival in Penzance is a revival of many of the traditional Cornish Midwinter customs. There is Guise dancing, (from ‘disguise’ – dancers hide their identity so they can get up to mischief!) the Cornish candle dance, and performances of Guiser plays.

Midwinter, while sometimes viewed as dark and depressing, can be a really magical time. So much of our history and heritage is in the traditions that pre-date religion. While there’s a lot of noise around the fears that Christmas is being overly secularised, it’s worth bearing in mind that winter has long been a time of festivals and traditions since long before Christmas. So here’s wishing you a happy, healthy Winter Solstice – and let’s look forward to the lengthening days ahead.

#Friday the 13th – Thirteen Tales and Superstitions #Friday13th

A updated post from a previous Friday the 13th, back in 2013.

friday 13th

 

So it’s Friday the 13th again and many of the more superstitious among us will have greeted the day with trepidation. and with the way the world is going at the moment, that might well feel understandable! But why is the day considered to be unlucky, and is there any truth behind the fears placed on this date? Here are thirteen things you might not have known.

1) Friday has long been thought of as an unlucky day (despite that often gleeful refrain ‘Thank God it’s Friday).  In pagan Rome it was traditionally the day on which executions were carried out – and of course Jesus was crucified on Good Friday. There are lots of stories behind the evil of poor old number thirteen – more of which later. So putting the two together gives us this most unlucky date.

2) Some people are so superstitious and so terrified of the day that they actually have a phobia. If you are affected you can proudly tell people that you are suffering from Paraskevidekatriaphobics – that’s if you can pronounce it, of course.

3) Friday the 13th is not traditionally considered unlucky in Spanish speaking countries or in Greece. Rather, Tuesday the 13th is a bad day…

4) …and in Italy, you should be very afraid of Friday the 17th. In fact, when it was shown in Italy, the film Shriek if you know what I did last Friday the 13th was called Shriek – Do you have something to do on Friday the 17th (not a very catchy title, to be honest).

shriek

5) So why does thirteen have such a bad reputation? It seems this comes from an amalgamation of myths and legends. In the Christian faith, thirteen people sat down to the Last Supper, and one was a betrayer. This could have led to a belief in the number signifying bad luck.

6) Prior to this though, the ancient Vikings have their own version of the Last Supper. Twelve gods were apparently invited to a banquet at Valhalla. The evil god Loki wasn’t invited but he turned up anyway, bringing the number of guests to thirteen. Loki then persuaded the god of winter, Hod, to attack Balder the Good, who was well-liked by the other gods. Hod threw a rod of mistletoe at Balder and killed him – hence the idea that thirteen guests is bad luck.

7) Witches also come into the picture (obviously). The Norse goddess of marriage derives from a deity worshipped on the sixth day of the week (Friday). This goddess was known as either Frigg or Freya, hence Friday. Friday was considered a lucky day, especially to get married – however, with the advent of Christianity, the goddess was recast as a witch and she and her day took on a darker and wholly unwarranted association (she even had a cat). One legend has Freya herself joining a gathering of twelve witches at their Sabbat – bringing the number to 13. Since then a proper coven traditionally should have 13 members.

freya8) If you still persist in being scared of a date, then 2020 gives you twice the reason to worry – there is another Friday the 13th coming in November.

9) There’ll only be one next year though – in August.

10) Despite the fact that the connotations of the day are based on twisted tales, myths and superstition, a survey by the Daily Mirror found that three-quarters of people claimed to have experienced bad luck on this date…

11)… and 34% said that if they had the choice they would prefer to spend the day hiding under the duvet!

12) The makers of the hugely successful ‘Friday the Thirteenth’ film franchise probably have no superstitions about the day though. In fact I’m sure they adore it. According to ‘The Numbers’, the twelve movies have grossed more than $460,000,000 worldwide.

film

13) And if you make it through today unscathed – don’t get too complacent. If you’re still around in 2029, then hiding under the bed rather than the duvet might be the best place. Apparently that’s when the asteroid ‘99942 Apophis’ will come closer to the Earth than the orbits of communication satellites. When? On Friday the 13th, of course!

happy

http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/franchise/Friday-the-13th

http://www.ibtimes.com/friday-13th-13-freaky-trivia-facts-myths-about-unlucky-day-december-2013-1506880

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/fear-friday-13th-friggatriskaidekaphobia-third-2918470

Winter Solstice Celebrations #wintersolstice #winter

winter-solstice-celebrations

There’s something about a cold day in December, the sky growing dark, the fire lit, candles glowing, a glass of red wine and a good book. Christmas is approaching and it’s already the shortest day. I’ve always been fascinated at the old traditions and history of the seasons and festivals, particularly those destroyed by religion. And the Winter Solstice has something really magical about it.

The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year – the day that has the shortest periods of daylight. It’s always been a cause for celebration because it means that we’ve reached a turning point – that the days will slowly get longer and we’re on our way to spring (even if it doesn’t feel like it). Our ancestors always knew how to throw a celebration and the winter solstice was a great excuse. There are some fascinating traditions associated with the point of midwinter and many of them have been stolen to become part of Christmas. It’s wonderful that some traditions have been revived and some new ones are beginning.

Burning the Clocks – Brighton, England

burning the clocks

A relatively new tradition, this began in 1993, but has its roots in the idea of lengthening days and shortening nights.

A procession of lanterns and costumes, all bearing a clock face, makes its way through the streets and down to the seafront. Here, the paper and willow lantern are burnt – the lantern makers make wishes, voice their hopes and fears, and pass them into the lanterns before they are placed into the fire.

Newgrange Gathering, Boyne Valley, Ireland

Winter-solstice-at-Newgra-008

Newgrange is a 5200-year-old passage tomb built by stone age farmers. Above the entrance is an opening, On mornings around the winter solstice, a beam of light penetrates the opening and travels up the passage, illuminating it and the chamber. As the sun rises, the whole chamber lights up dramatically.

Stonehenge Gathering, Wiltshire, England

stonehenge-view-of-stone-circle-looking-south-west-along-axis-web

Druids and pagans gather at Stonehenge for both the summer and winter solstices. At the summer solstice, the sun rises behind the Heel Stone. At winter solstice, the sun would have set between the narrow gap of the uprights of the tallest trilithon, which is no longer standing. The sun was so important to our ancestors, providing warmth, allowing crops to grow. They must have had such fear and respect for the earth, the sun, the moon and the power of nature, something we sadly lack.

Montol Festival, Cornwall, England

montol2

The Montol Festival in Penzance is a revival of many of the traditional Cornish Midwinter customs. There is Guise dancing, (from ‘disguise’ – dancers hide their identity so they can get up to mischief!) the Cornish candle dance, and performances of Guiser plays.

Midwinter, while sometimes viewed as dark and depressing, can be a really magical time. So much of our history and heritage is in the traditions that pre-date religion. While there’s a lot of noise around the fears that Christmas is being overly secularised, it’s worth bearing in mind that winter has long been a time of festivals and traditions since long before Christmas. So here’s wishing you a happy, healthy Winter Solstice – and let’s look forward to the lengthening days ahead.

happy solsice

Autumn Superstitions #wwwblogs #superstitions

autumn

Autumn seems to have well and truly arrived. The heating’s on, I’ve dug out my slippers and the countdown to that day has begun.

Autumn is a beautiful season – and one that is full of old traditions and beliefs. This is a post from a couple of years ago celebrating some weird and wonderful autumn superstitions.

Even the most sceptical among us might qualm when it comes to walking under a ladder, or find ourselves saluting when we see a single magpie (that’s me!); superstitions that have been around for hundreds of years still seem to have a hold in these more rational times.

Many superstitions arose in a past where life was governed by the weather and the seasons, so it’s no surprise that there are plenty of customs and beliefs associated with autumn. People needed to find security in the unknown, to feel that they had a handle on what might happen. And autumn was a scary time. The harvest was crucial – would there be enough to keep everyone going over the winter months? And what would those winter months be like? Many superstitions were focused on what the winter would bring. And many have their roots in common sense (but certainly not all of them!).

fruits

For example, it was believed that if fruits were plentiful the coming winter would be mild. This makes sense; as the fruits would need warmth to ripen, meaning that the autumn was probably mild, so therefore the winter could possibly be mild too. This is possibly the reasoning behind another belief – that if ducks leave it until late autumn to fly south, then winter will arrive late.

onions

It’s worth knowing your onions too – a thin skin means a mild winter, but if the skin is thick winter will be cold.

If you want to know when the worst of winter will be, then go and look for some caterpillars. If you find lots of caterpillars that are dark brown in the middle but yellow at each end, then the middle of winter will be cold. However, if there are lots of them, of any colour, then the whole winter will be cold.

caterpillar

Not sure what sort of winter this one signifies!

You could always slaughter a hog. Apparently if you do this and can identify its spleen, then if the spleen lies towards its head, winter will be mild (as a vegetarian, I’ll think I’ll pass on that one).

By now you could be completely confused. But you might also be wondering about next summer already. Will it be good here at home or should I book somewhere in the sun? Wait a few weeks until the end of autumn, then dig up the garden. You’ll need to dig deep. If worms are found deep down in the earth, then next summer will be cold.

So what then if the winter is going to be bad? You could always ward off colds beforehand. If you catch a falling leaf in autumn, then you’ll be free of colds all year. And there’s an added bonus; every leaf you catch means a lucky month the following year.

autumn leaf

Of course one thing our ancestors were scared of was death – they understood it even less than we did. So superstitions and predictions offered some comfort and some idea of control over the future. A primrose growing in your yard in autumn was a signifier of death. And if a cherry tree bloomed in autumn, then that meant death not only for a person, but for the tree too. In the West of Scotland, a white rose blooming in autumn was another sign of an impending death; however, the blooming of a red rose meant an early marriage.

I, of course, believe in none of these. Though that won’t stop me trying to catch a leaf when I’m walking the dog later. I’ve felt like I’ve been coming down with a cold these last few days and you never know, a falling leaf might be just what I need.

 

‘Stiff’ by Mary Roach #BookReview #ThrowbackThursday

Renee at It’s Book Talk began this meme to share old favourites and recommendations, and I discovered it through Between the Lines.

stiff

Waterstones   Amazon.co.uk

What happens to your body after you have died? Fertilizer? Crash Test Dummy? Human Dumpling? Ballistics Practise?

Life after death is not as simple as it looks. Mary Roach’s Stiff lifts the lid off what happens to our bodies once we have died. Bold, original and with a delightful eye for detail, Roach tells us everything we wanted to know about this new frontier in medical science.

Interweaving present-day explorations with a history of past attempts to study what it means to be human Stiff is a deliciously dark investigations for readers of popular science as well as fans of the macabre

I have a bit of a fascination with death but I’m not a morbid person. I just feel that it’s a normal part of life (after all, it happens to everyone) that we tend to ignore, or hide away, or pretend doesn’t happen. We don’t want to know the details, the realities. And I think that this reluctance to recognise death and its processes, the rituals around it, have made us less connected to it, and, in turn, more fearful.  We’ve made death something secret, unknown. This book lifts the lid on death, detailing practically everything that could happen to you once you’re dead, including unusual after-life occupations such as being a crash test dummy, becoming part of an exhibition, helping surgeons learn their art, helping scientists understand decomposition or, if you go the more traditional route, what happens in a cremation or what happens once you’ve been buried.

It sounds morbid, but it isn’t. Roach’s writing is funny, respectful, warm and informative. I don’t believe in a god, or a heaven or an afterlife – I’m very happy with this one, thank you very much. There’s nothing once you’re gone and it seems a terrible shame to me that bodies that could do so much good and help so much are literally allowed to go to waste. I’ve always made my feelings known to my family – researchers can have as much of me as they want. I don’t want a funeral or a grave that my children feel indebted to visit when I’m not even there and all they’re doing is making a crematorium owner very rich. How much better will it be if my no longer needed remains help find a cure for a disease, or help investigators to improve safety in transport. And what’s left I’d be happy to have made into compost (you can have this done you know!). Roach’s book details all of these options and more, with warmth and honesty.

For a book about death, it was weirdly uplifting, and life-affirming. All we have is the here and now, and death is a part of life. We are so uniformed; we make death into something horrific and other. But as Roach so clearly and entertainingly shows, it’s part of being human and it’s something we should know more about.

4.5 out of 5

Happy Lupercalia! #valentinesday

Lupercalia heart

Happy Valentine’s Day! Here is my annual Valentine’s Day post about the real ideas behind the celebration.

Yes, I know it’s Valentine’s Day and lots of you will be receiving bouquets of roses and planning romantic dinners (not me- my husband knows I have no time for the gross commercialism that is Valentine’s Day and is under pain of divorce not to buy me flowers – and I mean it), however, it would seem that Valentine’s Day has always had a lot more to it than hearts and flowers. In fact, it originates from an ancient pagan ritual that was celebrated for years before anyone had heard of Valentine.

In Rome, many centuries ago, the festival of Lupercalia was celebrated from the 13th to the 15th of February. On the 14th of February, a day devoted to Juno, queen of the gods and patron of marriage, young women would place their names on slips of paper put into jars. The young men would pick out a name and the two would spend Lupercalia together.

Lupercalia itself was a strange festival. It was held in honour of the gods Lupercus and Faunus and the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. The ritual began at the cave where Lupa the wolf was reputed to have suckled Romulus and Remus. A goat (fertility) and a dog (protection) would be sacrificed, and the goat flayed. Men would then run through the streets whipping women and crops with this flayed hide, in a bid to encourage fertility and to ease pain in any future childbirth. Not quite as romantic as a candlelit dinner, but this was ancient Rome.

lupercalia

So how did this rather wild sounding festival become the St Valentine’s Day of today? The rise of Christianity saw Pope Gelasius officially condemn the pagan festival, banning it at the end of the fifth Century. He declared that 14th February be St Valentine’s day. Although no-one really knows who this Valentine was, he is possibly an amalgamation of two different men. During the reign of Emperor Claudius, it was decreed that all marriages be stopped. A priest called Valentine was imprisoned for continuing to perform marriage ceremonies. In the 3rd Century A.D. another Valentine was imprisoned for helping Christians. He allegedly fell in love with the daughter of his jailer and cured her of blindness. This good deed did him no good whatsoever, as he was executed on 14th February 289 A.D. These two Valentines may be the ones at the heart of Valentine’s Day (sorry!).

Even the tradition of young women placing their names into a jar to be picked by a man was incorporated into this new celebration – with one rather huge difference. The girl’s names were replaced by those of saints; each man vowing to emulate the life of the saint whose name he picked for the coming year. Not quite as romantic as the original really.

So, like many other feast days and holidays, Valentine’s Day has its roots in something far from saintly. Still, whether you object to the commercialism or not, it’s as good a day as any other to tell someone you love them!

Valentines