A Beltane Tale (Part One)

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On Beltane eve Marion goes to bed early. She places sprigs of heather and mint  beneath her pillow. Her room in the priory is sparse, with a lone straw bed and one window where the beloved moon shines its silver light.  Marion, an orphan, has been raised here by the good Prioress. She has been well  cared for. But she longs for more, she longs to be free of the confines of the walls, the trap she never asked for.

If Marion wakes in this night surely it will be the fairies come to take her away to their underground home. Each year she prays for this; each year it does not happen.

On Beltane morning she rises at dawn. She goes with the other girls to the gardens  where they collect hawthorne and wild flowers. They weave  garlands to wear on their heads.   They return to the village where the men have built a maypole. Large and mighty, the pole towers, decorated with ribbons, every color of the rainbow. At noontide the matrons serve a great feast; mutton, spring greens, porridge and violet cakes.

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There is a legend that on Beltane the Green Man comes to the forest to claim his lover, the May Queen.  She is wife of the Winter King, and he is lack to give her up. But the Green Man persists and eventually wins the lady. The Winter King is defeated until Samhain when all things of summer will die.  The mummers in the town square reenact the story and Marion watches as the lovely May Queen is taken by the Green Man.  He sweeps her in his strong arms, her long hair cascading against his bare chest. Marion is jealous. When will such a love come for her? Surely now she is of age, having reached her eighteenth name day.  The Green Man and his lady then retire to the forest, for nuptials of their own.

There is dancing. The revelers braid strands of the maypole together and step to the music. Lass, lad. Lass, lad.   Even the Sheriff and the Friar and Prioress join in.   Great fires are lit as the sun sets low. Those brave of heart and long of leg dare jump over the Beltane fires. Not Marion, for she has been raised to be cautious.

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After the maypole dancing, when the embers of the fire grow low, many a couple traverse to the wood. There, they too will bless the land in their own way, making it fertile for the summer.  Although Marion has no man to claim as her own, she follows.   Alan of Dale and his girl Eleanor hide in the bushes, as do Will Scarlet and Lucy Sprint.  Marion knows what they do and she dares not look. Instead, alone she walks deeper into the forest, her flickering rushlight guiding her way. Orion’s constellation twinkles above her.  It is then she comes upon the ring of mushrooms.

Oh, she knows the legend well.  Were she to stand in the middle of that circle for long enough — so goes the tale — the fae folk will come for her.  And never will she see the mortal world again.  She has been warned, all her life she has been warned of this.  And yet, it is what she has longed for.  But is this tale true?

Marion stands, still as rock till the sky swirls purple around her. And then, like a fall down a well, a sweep of wind and soft landing, she is there, in the underworld.   They surround her, these peculiar people, bent of ear and wide of eye.  It is then Marion sees him, a man in green robes with a hood. He is handsome. Dark eyed  with thick hair that brushes his shoulders.  “Milady,” he bows, “I am called Robin, and your escort I shall be.”

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What follows is much merry making and drinking of elder flower wine.  The fairies play fiddles, music loud and jaunty. There is Dancing. Dancing in a circle, faster, much faster than ever at the maypole in the village.  And Robin. He takes Marion’s hand, spins her in a reel and she twirls beneath his arm.  Then he leads her away to a place of seclusion, a place in the meadow where the ground around is soft.  There, he removes her kirtle and skivvies  and she lies mother-naked before him.

He plays her body like a harp, plucking its strings and secret places, a thousand butterflies released as his seed spills inside her.  One time is not enough to satisfy either of them and they repeat the act, again and again until at last they fall to each other’s arms exhausted.

Oh, how she loves him! Truly and deeply. She loves him as she has loved  the moon and her dreams, for he is the forest itself. He is animal and outlaw, dangerous and forbidden. He is all of life and all she desires.

Finally the sky splinters pink daybreak and the sun peeks its gold rays.  She sleeps in Robin’s arms.

In the morning of May 2nd  she awakens in her priory bed. The sprigs of heather and mint still reside beneath her pillow. But there is more. A lone lock of hair, and a note stitched on a green cambric swatch. “To my May Queen ,” it reads. “From Robin, with love.”

She sighs.

It will be a long wait until the next Beltane.

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Want to read more Marion?  Continued here: A Beltane Tale: Part Two

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Twelfth Night (or What You Will)

 

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January 6th is a holiday that marks the end of the twelve days of Christmas. It is also known in the Christian church as Feast of the Three Kings, Feast of the Magi, or Epiphany.  This is the day when it was believed  the three wise men arrived in Bethlehem  to give gifts to the Christ child, thus beginning a tradition of gift giving at Christmas. Seems pretty sacred and special, right?

Well, our medieval counterparts  did not have much reverence about it.   In Medieval and Tudor England, Twelfth Night was a night for the biggest, wildest party EVER!  Everything was reversed on Twelfth Night.  Traditions and formalities went out the window.  Craziness and frivolity were acceptable behavior.  The Lord of Misrule came to rule.

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Servants became masters and masters became servants.  Kings became peasants and peasants became kings.   Everything was put into a chaotic frenzy, accompanied by much drinking, dancing and general goofiness.  Sounds like a good time, eh?  It reminds me of what modern day folk do on New Year’s Eve, which just goes to show, we are never far from our ancestors.

Shakespeare never missed  a good commercial opportunity.

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He knew this time of revelry could and should  be celebrated with plays!   He went to work on an awesome comedy called ‘Twelfth Night’.   Continue reading

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Here Comes The Sun!  Wishing You a Blessed Yule.

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The winter solstice of 2015 will occur in the United States on December 21 at 11:48 pm, Eastern Time. This is a cause for celebration!  It means the return of light, longer days, more sunshine, and relief for those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Plus, you get to enjoy all the lovely, fantastic light displays which I hope are gracing your neighborhood and your home!

What exactly is the winter solstice?  It marks the longest night, and the shortest day of the year.  In scientific terms this means the earth is now angled at the farthest point away from the sun. (To clarify, I am speaking of the northern hemisphere. The southern hemisphere now celebrates the summer solstice, exactly the opposite.  All the Aussies down under have been enjoying summer as we in the north have been shriveling away. Now we switch!)  The northern hemisphere will gradually move closer and closer towards the sun as the year goes on.

In Pagan terms, the winter solstice is called Feast of Yule, and is part of the calendar of eight that divides the wheel of the year.  This is, in effect, the Pagan New Year.  Yule was a big deal among our ancestors. They worshipped the sun.  Of course they did!  What else can give such enormous sustenance of life?  When the sun began gradually disappearing in the autumn, our ancestors panicked.  The sun was their livelihood and surely they would die without it.   However, careful observation taught them; the sun started its decline with the summer solstice in June, and by mid December it was at its weakest.  Ancient Pagans learned to trust and rely on its return.   Some archeologists  believe that structures like Stonehenge were built as temples and designed to catch specific angles of sun light.

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The original name of Yule was ‘Juul’, so-named by the pre-Christian Scandinavians.  The Scandinavians, as you can imagine, had many reasons to celebrate the return of the sun, living in 24 hour winter darkness as they did.   The Scandinavian winter solstice was celebrated by lighting great bonfires, which symbolized the sun and called for its return.  There was a custom of cutting a huge log from the forest which was brought to the hearth to honor the Norse god Thor. The Juul or Yule log was then burned for 12 days.  In medieval times Christians began celebrating the 12 days of Christmas, which is really a remnant of this Norse custom. (More on that later.)

In  Celtic tradition, it is believed that the Oak King or the Green Man is reborn to  replace the Holly King as ruler of the forest.

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The Oak King and the Holly King are thought to be dual aspects of the Horned God, each aspect ruling for ½ of the year. The young Oak King, as new ruler, will warm the earth as the days grow longer.   Astrologically, December 21st marks the beginning of the month of Capricorn, the Goat, also a representation of the Horned God.  ‘Saturnalia’ was another ancient Pagan festival celebrated at this time. The sign of Capricorn is ruled by the planet Saturn.

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In Greek mythology, the Horned God can be represented as Dionysius, Pan and Robin Goodfellow. (Or anyone who happens to have hoofs!)  And yes, in case you are noticing a pattern here — horns, hoofs — the goat was given a bad reputation.   Completely undeserved!

The ancient Celts also celebrated Yule by lighting bonfires. Apples and other fruits were made into ‘wassail’, a hot punch seasoned with cloves. The tradition of ‘wassailing’ meant going from house to house and singing songs for the neighbors.  Your pay was then a refill of punch.  This eventually morphed into the tradition of Christmas caroling.

The Celts decorated their homes with evergreen, holly, ivy and mistletoe. Evergreen, which never died, was a symbol of immortality.  Holly, ivy and mistletoe were symbols of fertility.  In the 19th century, Victorians began the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe.

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This, of course,  is ironic, because the Victorians were known for their chastity.  Just goes to show you – everything is the opposite of what it appears to be 🙂

Yule, like many other Pagan holidays, was assimilated into Christian culture.  It is interesting how this happened.  In case you don’t know I will explain it: Sometime around the 4th century, Emperor Constantine, who basically ruled the world, decided to convert the Roman Empire (which was then all of Europe and the U.K.)  to Christianity.  The Christian Church decided to conveniently place the birth of Christ on December 25th, a few days after the beginning of Yule.  That way, they did not upset the apple cart too much.  People were already celebrating.

I have heard many modern-day bible scholars insist that NO WAY  was Jesus born in December!  They apparently have scientific methods of calculating this.  I have been told that proof is the fact that shepherds were out and about on the night of Christ’s birth, and shepherds cannot be out and about in December.  Way too cold.   However, December 25th was the day Constantine chose, and so it was.  After all, he was the Emperor!  Who could argue?

I should note –  Pagans celebrated the return/ rebirth of the SUN – whereas the Christians began celebrating the birth of the SON  (Jesus Christ, son of god.)  See what they did there?  Clever.  English and many Germanic languages have this similarity.

Medieval and Renaissance Europeans also celebrated the twelve days of Christmas.  This was an exchange of gifts which began on December  26th and ended on January 6th (which was also called Twelfth Night. Yes, yes! Shakespeare wrote a play called Twelfth Night, but that is another topic for another blog!)   Thus, the original Pagan custom of burning the Yule log for twelve days became the Christian custom of the twelve days of Christmas.

Sometime in the 18th century, they published a song about the Twelve Days of Christmas, something involving a partridge in a pair tree, etc…  You may have heard it.

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The 6th of January, or Twelfth Night, became known as the Feast of Three Kings. It was believed that it was on this day the Magi  first arrived to visit the Christ child.  (Which, some bible scholars argue, was actually impossible, because Jesus was not born in December.)

Other celebrations occurring at this time of year include Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.   In Judaic tradition, Hanukkah commemorates the re-dedication of the Temple.  It is also a festival of light, which involves daily lighting the eight candle Menorah.  Kwanzaa is a pan-African festival which celebrates family and community. During Kwanzaa’s seven day duration, the seven candle ‘kinara’ is lit.  Iranians celebrate the ancient Yalda, or  Shab-e Chelleh (‘night of forty’ the ‘longest and darkest night of the year’.)  Families gather together to eat traditional foods, stay up past midnight and read poetry.

No matter which holiday you celebrate, the return of the sun is a sacred time of year.

What can you do to celebrate Yule in modern times?  If you do not have a fireplace for a Yule log, try burning some  incense. Pine or cedar would be great.   Use scented candles, colored red and green.  Cinnamon will make your home smell delicious! Give gifts of apples and oranges, which symbolize the sun.  Hang sprigs of mistletoe and holly berry, boughs of evergreen or a wreath, which represents the circle of life.  If you cannot get to Stonehenge, create your own stone circle. Use colorful stones; green aventurine for prosperity, red carnelian for health, and quartz crystals to magnify your power and desires!

Meditate with music.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbltFs7G8UQ

If you are really ambitious, try your hand at a traditional wassail punch.

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Whatever you do,  enjoy this winter season, and Blessed Be!

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