Tuesday, 16 December 2014

On The Yule Tree and her Greenery;


The peoples mid winter celebrations of life with evergreen plants is an ancient tradition in which folk decorate their homes with winter greenery and berries.
As an evergreen of protection, Holly's spiky bristles repel unwanted spirits. Holly, sacred to Holle, the Germanic underworld goddess, symbolizes everlasting life, goodwill and potent life energy. Its red berries represent feminine blood. Together, mistletoe and holly represent the Sacred Marriage at this time of year with the mid winter Solstice, the re-birth of the Sun.


The Winter Solstice, also known as Yule, is in terms of sunlight the shortest day in the year and the longest night (December 22/23). Religious ceremonies are held att this time in honour of the return of the Sun which at the Winter Solstice begins to regain its power and to ascend on the horizon. Bonfires are lit in the fields and crops and trees are 'wassailed' with carols sung to wish them good healthas they are toasted with cups of spiced cider. Apples and oranges which represent the sun, are laid in baskets of evergreen boughs, to be shared with friends and neighbours.

The ancient Celts believed that the first humans were descended from trees and as such trees were highly revered by them, particularly the mighty Oak tree.
Evergreens were also sacred to the Celts, because they did not 'die' they thereby represented the eternal aspect of the goddess. Their greenery was also symbolic of the hope for the suns return and with it the life abundant of all growing things. At Winter Solstice they therfore decorated their trees with images of the things they wished for the waxing year to bring them - fruits for a successful harvest, charms for love, nuts for fertility and coins for wealth...
 

At this time, the Earth spirits are at rest, preparing for the hard work ahead, of replenishing the Earth with new life in the coming spring and naturally, celebrations are held in honor of these worthy spirits.

In Scandinavia, Yule trees were first brought into homes, decorated with bells, candles and ribbons to attract these spirits, to provide shelter through the winter. Bread, fruit and nuts were hung from the branches to provide food for them in the trees.


The evergreen tree has also been long associated with gift giving as citizens of ancient Rome celebrated the 'Saturnalia', a week long December festival honoring the God Saturnus, by exchanging gifts attached to evergreen branches.

In an old Norse tradition, the evergreens were burned to encourage the return of the Sun. A direct descendant of this practice still carried out today is the burning of the Yule log. The ceremonial Yule log, ideally of Ash - from the Norse world tree Yggdrassil, is the highlight of the Solstice festival. In accordance with tradition the Yule log must either be harvested from the householder's land or given as a gift, but never be bought. Once dragged into the fireplace it is decorated with seasonal greenery, blessed with cider or ale and set ablaze by a piece of last years log which has been kept for just this purpose. The log will then burn through the night, smolder for 12 days and will be ceremonially extinguished. The Yule log's role is one of bringing prosperity and protection from evil, as a magical protective amulet - by keeping the remnant of the log all the year long the protection of warmth and light will remain throughout the year.


Putting the Solstice sun and sacred trees together we have the waxing and the waning of the sun ritualized therough the death and rebirth (resurrection) of the trees and their respective Kings of their seasons.

The hanging of robin and wren ornaments on the Yule tree commemorates these deeper meanings as the robin is the animal equivalent of the Oak King, the wren of the Holly King. Each Yule and Midsummer they play out the same battle as the two kings battle for the season.The robin - ie Oak King, symbolically kills the wren to signify the return of light - the end of the reign of the Holly King presiding over the darker part of the year. A contemporary reminder of this is the tradition of the wren boys, celebrated on 26 December (also St. Stephen's Day). The tradition consists of 'hunting' a fake wren and putting it on top of a decorated pole. Then the crowds of mummers or strawboys celebrate by dressing up in masks, straw suits and colourful motley clothing and, accompanied by traditional ceilidh bands, parade through the towns and villages.

Strong opposition to Christmas trees by Puritan settlers kept the Christmas tree tradition out of America until the nineteenth century, when German settlers bringing their own seasonal celebrations popularized the tradition.


Gradually the sacred tree and its traditions have been absorbed, its meanings minimalized by the pervasive christian and ensuing materialistic culture. But our collective unconscious naturally returns to the deeper significance of the evergreen tree and its promise of life renewed as we decorate our Yule Trees.


In practicing this ritual of dressing the Yule Tree/Christmas Tree, we are celebrating the turning of the great wheel of the year, the return of the sun at midwinters solstice time, our thanks for the forces of nature that bless us and our joy at the life it brings to us all.


Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Yuletide Carols & Wassailing ~

Forest Carols by Brenda Lyons 2012.

Celebrate the Midwinter season with Yuletide Carols gathered by Leigh Ann. 

Download your Homebrewed Book Of Pagan Carols here;


Side 1:
Soul cake, White Mare, Welcome Winter ,All and Some, The Boar's Head, Carol, Deck the Halls, Gloucester Wassail, Gods Rest Ye Merry Paganfolk, Gower Wassail, Green Grow'th the Holly, Hail Holy Light.

Side 2:
Sir Cernunnos, The Holly and The Ivy, In Praise of Yule, Somerset Wassail, Yorkshire Wassail, The Yule Log, Yuletide Carol, The Fire Festivals.


The tradition of singing of carols can be traced back to the pagan festivals before the advent of Christianity. The word carol is derived from the Greek word 'choraulein' which meant a dance accompanied by the playing of flutes. Such dancing—usually done in ring form—was very popular in ancient times among the Greek and Roman people. The Romans brought the custom and its name to Britain.

In medieval England 'carol' meant a ring-dance accompanied by singing. The dancers would form a circle and, joining their hands, walk in rhythmic dance-step while keeping the form of the circle (as our children still do in their "ring-around-a-rosy" game). Chaucer describes such a ring-dance in his Romaunt of the Rose (lines 798-804), using the word "carol" for the dance itself. He pictures himself approaching a group of dancing young ladies, and one of them "ful curteisly" calls him:

    "What do ye there, beau sire?" quod she;
    "Come neer, and if it lyke yow
    To dauncen, daunceth with us now."
    And I, withoute tarying,
    Wente into the caroling.

Gradually the meaning of "carol" changed, and the word was applied to the song itself. In an English-Latin vocabulary of 1440 a synonym for carol would be "song, psalmodium."

As carols were already an established custom, early Christians made the shrewd decision to integrate Christian songs into the tradition rather than ban the singing. Before singing christian carols in public became popular, there were official carolers called 'waits'. Waits were people sanctioned by the local officials to sing carols on Christmas Eve and collect money for the poor.

There was a short interruption in 1647, when the puritans come to power after the English Civil War. The puritans, under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell, disapproved of the celebration of Christmas. There was even a fine of up to five shillings for anyone caught singing Christmas carols. When King Charles II came back to the throne in 1660, the public singing of Christmas carols was permitted again.



The singing tradition known as Wassailing falls into two distinct categories: The House-Visiting wassail and the Orchard-Visiting wassail.
The House-Visiting wassail, caroling by another name, is the practice of people going door-to-door singing Christmas carols.It was a chance for peasants to get some much needed charity from their feudal lords. This singing for money developed in a custom involving traveling musicians who would visit wealthy homes, singing in the hope of receiving money food or gifts in return.
Connections with Anglo-Saxon traditions establish that the word Wassail comes from the Anglo-Saxon toast Wæs þu hæl, meaning "be thou hale"  i.e., "be in good health". Thus Wassailing likely predates the Norman conquest in 1066.

The Orchard-Visiting wassail refers to the ancient custom of visiting orchards in cider-producing regions of England, reciting incantations and singing to the trees to promote a good harvest for the coming year.

“Wassaile the trees that they may beare
You many a plum and many a pear
For more or less fruits they will bring
As you do give them wassailing.”



















Thursday, 27 November 2014

Floki In the Temple




I am a harmonious one, a clear singer seeing,
I am the greeness of the growing earth, blue depth of sky, a spirit with the freeing,
I am a wielder of the words that beget worlds, a dancing that is advancing, a myth for the time being,
I am the unseen, a serpent of the air, a dragon distributing keys to the temples of meaning,
I am the birds and the soul of the bees, ever sacred trees, paths to the stars and beyond all of these,
I am the speaker concealed in the heart and I am to be found before riddle of minds start.





c.Celestial Elf 2014


Monday, 13 October 2014

The Claife Crier:




I make animations to reveal the light behind all things, I re-present legends and myths which have often been missunderstood as fearful when in fact they are tales of delight that lead us out of our worldly constraints into a greater reality. My new poem and film, a ghost story from Windemere in the Lake District, is such a tale transformed.....


A monk from Furness Abbey thought, to save fallen women, but fell -
He followed back to her Claife Heights home, 
because he loved her, so well.

On western shore near Windemere, she abjured his advances, ailing -
Unrequited and blighted night and day he fell about, 
keening and railing.

Soon he died of broken heart - and of his own endlessness of wailing.
But his ghost remained, as if detained, his tragedy proclaiming!


As time rolls by, with it many years fly -
The monks story quite grew into legend.
As the ferrymen tell, after nightime has fell,
His howling from Far Sawey sends a supernatural spell.

Hailed the monk
'' Ferryman, Ferryman, Ferry me hither,
For Loves sake Ferryman, can you come no quicker?!!''

At the Ferry Nab the ferrymen gab and frowning as one, 
would not take the fare - ever!
For they knew full well, it was the ghostly monk burdened with care
so - they did beware.

But along came a boatman, new young and keen,
To him the old legend his common sense demean!

Cried out the cold crier
''Ferryman, Ferryman, Ferryman, Fly!
Ferryman save me, lest heart broken I die!''

Uptook himself the boatman and hied himself hither,
With a glint in his eye to collect the gold giver.

And the night was dark, and the winds were strong, 
as the new recruit ferryman rowed fiercely along -
But he did not return till the following day, if you listen carefully 
you will hear what he had to say...

''Over lake, over wave, over fell, marsh and brier,
Quick as horse, faster than fire,
Mayhap a rook or babbling brook,
I chased before morning along pathways forsook!''

Stark raving-mad, or so it would seem,
The young returned ferryman with staring eyes appears 
lost in a dream.

''Audacious, outrageous, unspeakably spoken,
before a thought, word or deed, but with laughter as token,
through hither, through thither, through widdershins and beyonder,
It cannot be so, yet cannot assunder!'

Ranting-delerious, as if witless, and yet....
Something he says, I cannot forget!

''By sunshine, by moonbeam, by starlight and shinning!!
Possibly near and possibly farling...
could it be real, or implausibly vague?
Undoubted a riddle, a vision arcane!''


Methinks the young boatman some secrtes did see,
Of the love lorn monk from the twelfth century -
His account although rambling, incoherant and wild,
Reveals thatalong Lakeside strange magic was styled.


The ghost, I reveal, was meerely a shade,
A sad memory left behind - in love's grief it was made.
For the young boatman has described in no uncertain detail,
That Robin Goodfellow himself has taken the old monk through the veil!

Ponder then, if as you live you do wonder -
Where do they go - those whom love takes assunder.
And though shadows may fall and shades reach very tall,
Beyond every kind of knowing, 
to the green of the growing 
we are all in thrall.

c.Celestial Elf 2014.

A Ghostly Tale of the Lake District, rewritten.



Original poem written and narrated by Celestial Elf, adapted from a Lake District legend.


The ghost was formerly a monk in Medieval times from Furness Abbey, his mission had been the rescue of a fallen women. He however fell completely in love with one such woman, whose rejection sent him madly crying his anguish on the heights of Claife, until he died of a broken heart and his ghost has haunted the region ever since.

Whilst the local ferrymen knew not to collect his fare across the lake after dark, many years later a new ferryman with little belief in the old legends mistook his cry for a call, and he went out for the fare. When he returned however, his hair had turned white, he never spoke again and died soon after. In the original story, soon after this a priest came and contained the ghostly presence to a cavern where he still may be.

In my adaptation of this tale I have allowed for the young ferryman to rant and rave about what he saw, which had clearly unsettled him, as any experience with the supernatural is likely to do to most folks. Here, the ghost remains, but he is meerely a shadow cast by the grief that killed the monk. I have introduced 'Robin Goodfellow' to explain how despite its ghostly origins this is nevertheless a love story. The monk's spirit has infact been taken away to realms beyond the real, love is a magical story after all...

Photograph; Windemere co Andy Naler.

About Furness Abbey

Furness Abbey, or St. Mary of Furness is a former monastery located in the northern outskirts of Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, founded in 1123 by Stephen, Count of Boulogne for the Order of Savigny. Located in the 'Vale of Nightshade', south of Dalton-in-Furness, Furness Abbey was once the second wealthiest and most powerful Cistercian monastery in the country.
The monks of the abbey were large landowners, and the most powerful body in what was then a remote border territory. In particular, they were heavily influential on the Isle of Man.

Being about 70 miles down the coast from Scotland, the monks occasionally found themselves in between the regularly warring Scots and English. When Robert the Bruce invaded England, the abbot paid to lodge and support him, rather than risk losing the wealth and power of the abbey.
The Abbey was disestablished and destroyed in 1537 during the English Reformation under the order of Henry VIII.


Ghosts At The Abbey

There are many stories and sightings claiming that Furness Abbey is haunted, with three main ghosts;
Firstly, one of the monks that was brutally murdered in the Reformation is said to be seen climbing one of the staircases in the Abbey. The figure appears to be leaning on the banister as being pulled up the stairs. 
Another sighting is that of a squire's daughter and her partner. These figures were known for attempting to repair the Abbey ruins after the Reformation, one day her partner took a journey out to sea from which he never returned. It is thought that the girl went back to the Abbey every day until her death to take in the site she and her partner once loved, the track she walked is today still known as "My Lady's Walk." There have also been many sightings of a White Lady, although it is unknown whether the White lady and the ghost of the squire's daughter are the same person or not. 

Possibly the most famous ghost of Furness Abbey is a headless monk on horseback, who rides underneath the sandstone arch near the Abbey Tavern, this death of this individual is also likely to be attributed to the Reformation.




Of “Robin Goodfellow”

Robin Goodfellow” or Puck as he has been known since medieval times, is one of the most popular characters in English and Celtic folklore, being a faerie, elf or hobgoblin  famous for shape-shifting and misleading travellers, but also known to sometimes be a helpful domestic sprite. ( More about Puck through the Ages here ).

Puck's euphemistic 'disguised' name is "Robin Goodfellow" or Hobgoblin, in which "Hob" may substitute for "Rob" or simply refer to the "Goblin of the Hearth" the Hob. The earliest reference to Robin Goodfellow as such is from 1531. However, after Meyerbeer's successful opera Robert le Diable (1831), neo-medievalists and occultists began to apply the name of Robin Goodfellow to the (christian) Devil, with appropriately extravagant imagery. Puritans, like Robert Burton, felt fairies were devils, including "Hobgoblins, & Robin Goodfellows". In his Anatomy of Melancholy , Burton writes "Terrestrial devils, are those Lares, Genii , Faunes, Satyrs, Wood-nymphs, Foliots, Fairies, Robin Goodfellowes , Trulli, etc. which as they are most conversant with men, so they do them most harme." (Quoted in A Dictionary of Fairies by Katharine Briggs, p.53)


Robin Goodfellow's Dream of Fairyland · John Franklin
 
Aside from William Shakespeare's famous use of Robin Goodfellow in his play A Midsummer Night's Dream, many other writers have referred to him as well, including Ben Jonson in his 1612 masque Love Restored which is a 'vindication of love from wealth - a defense of the court revels against the strictures of the puritan city.'.  Jonson describes Puck/Robin Goodfellow as the emissary of Oberon, the Fairy King of the Night, inspiring night-terrors in old women but also carding their wool while they sleep, leading travelers astray, taking the shape of animals, blowing out the candles to kiss the girls in the darkness, twitching off their bedclothes, or making them fall out of bed on the cold floor, tattling secrets, and changing babes in cradles with elflings. All his work is done by moonlight, and his mocking, echoing laugh is "Ho ho ho!" 

Ever mysterious, both young and old - sometimes male, sometimes female, with his capricious wit, magical fancy and fun-loving spirit, he plays with mortals as if they were mere puppets. Yet at the end of Shakespeares's Midsummmer Nights Dream (in the epilogue), Puck's speech explaining his actions compares the audience to the lovers whom in the play did awaken from the mad happenings of the fairy world as if from a dream; 

“If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended:
That you have but slumbered here,
While these visions did appear;
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend.
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I’m an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ’scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call:
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.”

(W.Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act IV, scene II).  

Puck's quote above is perfect as an allegory of this mortal coil. As in Jonson's play, Shakespeare and others have taken pains to make clear that whilst Robin Goodfellow is indeed mischevious and mercurial, an embodiment of the power of magic, he also represents the difficulties of love which elevate our human selves beyond the mundane of our mortal lives. In our love then, were we said to die to our old life and discover another, we might apprehend the worlds where magical beings reside, such as Puck perhaps, to join with them in a dance of the mysterium ad infinitum. 

In this vein I found the spirit of Robin Goodfellow to be dancing through the Claife Crier ghost story which although tragic, is afterall still a love story of sorts. Puck has whispered in my ear, that despite appearances to the contrary, those whom love has led awry will never be abandoned in their ardour. Though the object of their affections may turn aside, if love is true, they will indeed be spirited away - to awaken in a higher realm where their heart has led them. 
For any who are curious to learn more about the ways of the fay, the enchanted realms and how to apprehend them, I can do no better than to highly recommend
The Faery Faith: An Integration of Science with Spirit.

 
Fear not mortal folk, your human heart cannot betray you, 
but by beinge truye will lead you through,
Another world awaits you.

~ Bernard Sleigh ~ The Horns of Elfland Faintly Blowing ~ 1900 ~

From Puck, Good Luck ~