Walpurgisnacht

 

Baptism 2

“The gift of flight will come at Walpurgisnacht,” Granny Magda tells me.  “We will  travel airborne upon our besoms to the Brocken.  You will then learn of your blessings, all the goddess has deemed to give you.”

“What will they be, my blessings?” I ask impatiently.  I have waited all of my sixteen years for this nacht, for the firefest of summer. It will be the first time I go to the mountaintop. The first time I, as a daughter of Hekate will become a coven member and know my true and unique power.

“Hush child,” Magda orders. “Speak of them no more! What is yours is already yours.”  She puts a hand to my cheek and smiles through crinkled eyes. “Trust me. The gifts will come.”

The month of April rolls by with its rain and wind, daffodils and tulips blooming in our meadow. On my calendar parchment I count the days, marking them off with a charcoal crayon. The time cannot go quick enough.

Two days before Walpurgis,  Peter the goat boy appears at our door. He brings me a bouquet of wildflowers, colored blooms that float like a sparkled rainbow from his hands. “For you Kathe,” he says, “In honor of your special nacht which is soon to come.”

Peter! He is an annoyance, always milling around me, nosing in my business, cheating me at games and sport!  He has been my chief nemesis for years. And now he brings flowers? An offering of peace, just as I am soon to come into my powers?  Reluctantly I accept, but only out of politeness. “What do you know of it?” I snap.

“Peter knows plenty,” Granny Magda shouts from the kitchen. “You’d be wise to listen to him.”

Never do I have a moment’s privacy in this cottage! Granny Magda is always hovering over me, like a bee to a honeyflower. She now takes Peter’s flowers and places them in a vase.

“Have a seat boy,” she nods to Peter. “I trust you will stay for supper?”

Peter shakes his head. “The invitation is most kind Frau Magda, but I cannot. I am just returning from the mountain, my goat herd outside. I fear they are most cumbersome, and I only stopped to give Kathe the flowers and wish her well.”

“Nonsense!” Magda has already placed a root stew on the table and set a trencher for him.  She glances out the window, waves a hand at the goats who then stand still as statues.

goats

“The animals will keep,” she says. “Kathe, fetch the ale for our guest.”

Taking a ladle to the pail I serve up three helpings of ale. Peter nods. “Most gracious.”

We bless our food, toast good health and begin eating. I sit next to Peter. His clothes are soiled and he smells of his goats. He also smells of the meadow, of earth and something more. What is it?  A sly masculinity, a scent lacking in Magda and myself. Despite my annoyance I scoot closer to him.

“Your comment, Granny,” I say later as we eat dessert, a cake with fresh berries I gathered from our orchard. “You say I must listen to Peter. Why is this?” Peter stops mid bite, red berries making a stain on his lips. His eyes, blue as the river, pop wide.

“Do not ask foolish questions, child.” Magda says. “Now Peter,” she looks out the window and waves her hands at the goats who instantly begin bleating. “I wager your goats need milking. Be off with you afore the late sun sinks on its horizon! Auf Wiedersehen.”

Peter stands and bows before us. “I thank you for the victuals, my lady.” He takes Magda’s old withered hand and kisses it. He then turns to me. “And you Kathe, I trust I will see more of you in the near future.” With awkwardness he grabs my hand and kisses it as well. I catch his eye, nod and curtsey before he exits.

I have known Peter all my life, since I came to live with Granny Magda as a two year old orphan.  We played together, leap frogging in the meadow, tumbling down the rolling hills. It was he who taught me to catch fish in the river, he who taught me to shoot a crossbow. He who, in his boyhood always shot more bullseyes than I.  But Peter is no longer a boy.

Through the window I watch as he rounds his goats, whistles to his collie dog. He has grown tall, his shoulders broad. His lanky frame casts a long shadow across the cobbled road.  As he walks away I notice his swaggering hips, his bowed legs.

“How old do you suppose Peter now is?” I ask.

“Two winters past you child.” Granny Magda puts a hand to my head and unwinds my tight braids.  “Come the Yule last he reached his eighteenth name day.”

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“He has quick grown to a man.” I glance one last time before he turns into the forest, his goats following in a gray blur.

Ja child, that he has.” She tilts her head.  “And your thoughts of this?”

“I have no thoughts, it is mere curiosity!” I hiss. Granny smiles.

Finally Walpurgisnacht arrives. I stand naked in the meadow with the other women. Magda rubs my body with unctions, a rich combination of oils and nectars that will, coupled with my own magic, give me the ability to fly.

When the sun sets we mount our besoms. Soon the wind begins to blow and we rise, steady in the air, a team of thirteen, Hekate’s witches, gliding through the sky with the skill of crows.  Higher and higher we rise. Soon we are bobbing amongst stars, drifting under the light of the moon.

On the mountaintop we land near the Bergwasser, a crystal stream that flows, now icebroken with the onset of summer.

“Your baptism will be tonight, Kathe,” Granny Magda tells me.

I have never before met the high priestess who now stands before me, clad in robes of black. “I am Lucinda,” she says.  Taking my hand she guides me down the stone steps into the water. She lifts her wand, a branch of heavy oak inlaid with rich jewels, rubies and sapphires.

“Kathe,”  Lucinda begins. “I baptize thee, in the name of the Mother, the Crone and the Holy Maiden. You, a daughter of the line of Hekate, now come full of age,  are on this evening of Walpurgisnacht to enter into our coven.”

The Walpurgis Night Alexandra Nedzvetskaya

With that she pushes me underwater. The stream is cool on my head. Opening my eyes I see an array of fish before me, yellow as lemons in the blue water. I watch as they dart and bolt, thinking of this baptism, this instant I have waited for my whole life. What is to happen? The water is a silent chamber around me.

When I can hold my breath no longer I ascend. Gasping, I lie in the grass. Magda clothes me in a white robe.

“The ability to breathe underwater,” Madga smiles, “was not your gift.”

What will it be? What will it be?

“Time will tell, my girl,” Lucinda says.  “Before rise of the May day sun you shall know it.” Lucinda’s gift is surely the reading of minds. Granny Magda’s is the taming of animals. And mine? The suspense haunts me.

Lucinda reads from the Book of Freya. She lights a great bonfire. Together we chant and dance around it. Holding hands we skip in unison.  Even Granny Magda, now well beyond her dancing years, kicks her heels like a young maiden.

baptism 3

In the distance I hear a drumbeat. Approaching over the hills I see them, the tribe of Pan. They are thirteen men, goatskins over their thighs, naked from the waist up. On their heads they wear crowns of horns and masks of feathers and fur.

The balefire rages and the drums beat.  Magda leans and whispers in my ear, “Granddaughter. You are ready. You will bleed to bless the earth which has blessed you. Only through this can you find your womanhood.”

One of the thirteen men then approaches me, takes my hand and joins in the dance. All is a blur of color and sound, the dance faster and faster. Soon I am on the grass, flat on my back, the tribesman atop me.

I am not the only one. Other women have been taken as well. All around me the couples are a whirl of flesh, thighs upon thighs, breath heavy, hair streaming. Wails, screams and moans fill the night air,  voices desperate and satisfied.

Magda had said I am ready, but am I? My heart pounds, my whole body pulsed to the music. I am frightened but then the tribesman pulls me closer, his face next to mine.  His scent is of goats but also of the earth and our meadow, a musk that lures me like subtle perfume, releasing a passion I did not know I possessed.  Although he wears a mask I recognize his eyes, blue as the river.  His look is the question and I nod my answer: Yes.

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His mouth is firm on my lips, his tongue sweet, his thighs braced against me. My secrets are wet as the mountain stream that baptized me and in an instant he is inside me. It hurts but only for a moment until my hips synch in rhythm with his. My body quivers and I hear him breathe my name, feel his spill within me.

Before rise of the sun we anoint ourselves with unction again, then mount our besoms. The men disappear into the mountains as we fly away.

It is finished.

Walpurgisnacht

In the weeks after Walpurgisnacht we live quietly. I am changed but still the same, although Magda no longer hovers over me, no longer calls me ‘child’. All is well until the day the constables come, riding up our path upon their sleek stallions. They dismount and look suspiciously about the cottage.  One knocks on our door, holding a warrant for our arrest.

“Which warrant and how so?” I demand. “Arrested for what?”

“For witchcraft Fraulien,” the constable says. His face is like a hard brick, impenetrable, a moving mouth with two tiny slits of eyes.

“We have done nothing wrong!” I shout.

“You both have been seen cavorting in the meadow, spreading yourselves with evil unctions and potions, then taking flight to the sky on your brooms.”

“And who has been harmed by it?” I scream.  My head is burning.

“All are harmed by it! All good honest folk. You women, by your madness and your lasciviousness, violate the very decency of mankind!”

I attempt to protest but a hand slaps my mouth. Just then another constable grabs Magda and binds her wrists. I charge at him, but the next constable overpowers me, this one tall as a tower and twice as strong. He pulls me away, knotting my arms.

“My Granny is frail,” I scream again. “She does you no harm! What satisfaction do you get to badger an old woman?”

“Hold your tongue Fraulien, lest I gag your foul mouth,” the third constable orders. I fight with all my strength but in the end they win. Granny Magda and I are put onto a rickety old cart and brought south to the village of Stuttgart.

We are thrown in a slimy, rat infested dungeon where we live in squalor for weeks. Our food is gruel and brackish water, the meals so meager I fear Granny Magda will perish.  Others join us, country women and bumpkins, some midwives, some herbalists, all innocent of the crimes they are accused. Yet when we are taken to trial the jury declares us guilty before we are given a chance to speak.

We are sentenced to be burned at the stake. “Consumed by the hell fire from whence ye came,” the judge declares.

Like cattle we are led to the pyres. A hooded executioner binds our bodies to the stakes and the fires are lit.   I hear the crowd around us yell, “Brennen die Hexen! Burn the witches!”

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Granny Magda gives me a look, hopeful in her sunken eyes. I nod. Just as the flames begin to creep around us I shout:

 “As the powers within me rise, so this man-made fire now dies!”

The flames sputter and vanish as if drenched by a thousand buckets. I watch as the crowd of people turn pale with horror.  “Relight the flame!” someone yells. “They must be burned! These witches must die!”

“Brennen die Hexen!” the crowd chants again. “Burn the witches!”

The executioner moves to relight the flames, but the embers are cold. He tries again and again, adding more wood, more torches, but the fire only sparkles and dies.  He then stares at me, eyes wide. He crosses himself and moves away as if I am carrying the plague. “Hexe!” he whispers.

“You can relight the flames all you want and they will never grow,” I say calmly.  I then begin to laugh, loud and haughty, my voice echoing on the wind. The crowd stares at me as if I were a madwoman.

“There will be no burnings today,” I say richly.

One by one they turn away in fear. Women lift their skirts, scurrying away and men run fast as their boots will carry them.

Just then I see his body in the crowd, the lanky frame and broad shoulders. Peter approaches, pulls a knife from his pocket and slices the ropes that bind me. He then rescues Magda and the other women.

“You should not have allowed it to go so far,” he says quietly.

“O, but it was well worth it!  Just to see the looks on their faces,” I answer brightly. “You must admit it was a picture.” I run a finger across his cheek.

“That it was, wife.” He smiles.  “As long as no harm comes to the child.” He lays a hand on my belly.

“The child is fine,” I assure my husband.  “Her gift from Hekate will be the same as mine. She too will have the ability to control fire, and she too will never be burned at the stake.”

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** NOTE: The real witch persecutions and Burning Times occurred in Europe during  1450-1700.  Historians estimate that over 100,000 accused witches, both men and women were killed during this time. The majority of burnings took place in Germany, in some cases wiping out entire populations of women in small Medieval towns.

The real Brocken is the highest point of the Harz Mountain range in northern Germany. The Brothers Grimm spent a good deal of time in the small villages at the foothills of the mountains collecting tales of local folklore.  From these tales came stories such as Rapunzel,  Hansel and Gretel and Rumpelstiltskin.

Walpurgisnacht (pronounced :Vol-POOR- gus-nokt)  is celebrated on April 30. Witches then gather in the Brocken and other sacred places to conduct rituals of spring.

 

 

Happy Imbolc

 

february-flowers

Although they are still mired in winter snow, the flowers long to speak out. As Imbolc dawns, they tilt their heads forward, eager to spread their scent across the land.  The goddess Brigid blesses all and leads us to the purity of spring.  As winter slowly breaks, Brigid will be reunited with her lover the Sun King.

Imbolc

‘Lara’s Theme’ from the movie ‘Dr. Zhivago’ seems to me the perfect song for Imbolc. Lovers Yuri and Lara are separated in the frigid winter of the Russian revolution. Much like Brigid and the Sun King, they wait for a time they will be reunited. Yuri, who is a poet as well as a doctor, writes this letter to Lara:

“Somewhere. my love, there will be songs to sing. Although the snow covers the hope of spring. Someday, we’ll meet again my love. Someday, whenever the spring breaks through. You’ll come to me, out of the long ago. Warm as the wind, soft as the kiss of snow.”

Based on the 1957 novel by  Boris Pasternak,  ‘Dr. Zhivago’ was made into a movie in 1965. It starred Omar Sharif and Julie Christie. If you have not yet seen this gem, I highly recommend it! It is the very embodiment of love, longing and political servitude.  (Not to mention waiting for the spring thaw!)

zhivago

The song is performed here by Andre Rieu. Hope you like it!  Have a magical Imbolc.

 

 

 

Autumn Equinox

 

tree-pd

Equal parts dark and light, equal parts day and night. As the                                                          sun wanes in the North                                                                                                                              so do we.  The long

but

necessary

sleep jumps from the tilt of the sky.

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Crops harvest, land                                                                                                                                      rests, hot beat                                                                                                                                                of summer gone. Painted now                                                                                                                 in cool splashes. Citrine

amber, scarlet.  Rich jewels  to                                                                                                           ripen                                                                                                                                                          and brighten

the oncoming night.

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Have a Blessed Mabon.

autumn-equinox-blessing-pd

 

 

 

 

 

A Wish at Midsummer

 

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

 

First I bake a cake. Dedicate it to Aine

and in its  candle flame I wish

to wander woods

chance and dance the wild

faerie luck.  Make mischief with Puck.

puck 2

 

Gold sun gaze on this longest

of days.  Be forever now, scry the sky

live out loud and grab

a handful of the nearest

cloud.

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Have a blessed Summer Solstice! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Love Breathe Dream

 

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The moon is new, the month is June                                                                                              Dark skies and an embryo of all possibilities.                                                                                        Gemini reigns, twins of truth and duality.

 

June is music, days lengthen, a slip of lithe light as Litha                                                                 approaches.                                                                                                                                                   A time for dizzy romance,  the dance                                                                                                       a deep                                                                                                                                                         abundant plunge                                                                                                                                         into summer.

Love

Breathe

Dream

midsummer goddess

Yuletide

Here Comes The Sun!  Wishing You a Blessed Yule.

solstice 8

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.

solstice 6

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWuI6LK0tss

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

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