Saturday, November 19, 2011

To All Things a Season

Christina, Lori ...

I have not forgotten our discussion the other evening.  In my research to give you both more information on yule log, the tree of fire, the burning tree, the burning bush and other monickers it's known by, I came across this.

It is an incredible piece of writing and speaks to my spirit.  As you both know, I have no issue with whatever faith a person resonates with, as long as two things are present -- 1) there is no hate/bullying expression involved and 2) I am not proselytized to.  This piece, Pagan-centric, meets my criterion in spades; and I feel comfortable sharing it.  It is as valid for one form of faith as it is another.  And as I am not a faith-believer, it is also valid for those of us who are not faith inclined, in my unhumble opinion.

From my point of view, it moves well beyond an exposition on mid-winter celebration; it gives, if you look deep enough, illustration of how people can transform the world -- yet, you know me ... that's one of my goals, so I'll find ways and means for it in any circumstance I come across.

I'm putting this up for you, here, because the original source of the writing is no longer available on the net.  It was passed on by someone with the handle of "BB Sage" and originally written by two people with the handles of "Cerridwen" and "Summer".

Let me know your thoughts, when we re-convene after the creative writing class hiatus for the thanks-giving holiday, eh?  Or not, as you see fit.  :)

And just so the two of you know, I give thanks this month for having been introduced to the two of you; which has resulted in my delight to see you on every occasion we meet.  May I continue to learn from and have the pleasure of your presence in my circles of life.

Now ... onto the quoted writing:

To all things a Season
by Cerridwen and Summer
"The children were nestled all snug in their beds While visions of sugarplums danced in their heads."

What wonderful images those words evoke! Memories of a magical time of the year when we would go to pageants, sing, drink eggnog, hot chocolate or cider, receive wonderful presents and await the coming of Santa Claus. The scent of the evergreen tree, the smell of warm apples and cinnamon, pumpkin and nutmeg from the pies baked for the coming feast. All these fragrances still evoke that most magical holiday -- MidWinter, Yule, Christmas.

Now as I raise my own children, I search for customs and traditions to make every Yule as special as the holidays of my youth. My earliest exposure to these traditions were from within the dominant religious paradigm, yet as I began my journey in Earth-centered spirituality, my explorations revealed that my favorite traditions had deep roots in older traditions. Most of the things that I loved were originally Pagan! The stories I now share with my children offer depth and meaning to my earlier celebrations.

Far from giving up Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, Sinter Klaas and Father Christmas -- I add them all to my Holy Days. They have been with us since the beginning, and the various names add diversity to this holiday season. The Lord of the Forest is the God of the Sun, and Consort of the Goddess. He was transformed to fit in with the Celts, the Romans, the Norse, the Christians, but under His facade he is still Herne the Hunter, Pan, and the ancient shamans. As the season progresses, I seek out activities and stories about all the timeless traditions and gods of this season to share with my children.

From the Lord of the Forest, to the forest itself, decorating the tree is one of the most common traditions of Yuletide. As a child, I was fascinated to learn that even though the Japanese do not have the same beliefs or gods, they were delighted by our use of the tree and adopted it.

The evergreen tree is one of the most enduring symbols of the Yule season. It is the Tree of Life, Yggdrasil, the World Tree. Its origins are as ancient as Santa's and represents myths from many cultures -- the Tree of Fire and Knowledge. To share this tradition we include trees into our homes during Yule in a variety of ways.

You might recommend children do some research at the library, or online. If they are too young, bring it down to their level. Children believe in magick instinctively, so there is no reason to avoid jolly old elves or magically talking animals. Fantasy delights the young of any age. Talk about the different beliefs which surround woods, trees and forest denizens. Then, go shopping, select the perfect tree — artificial or live. Artificial trees are more expensive, but offer the chance to reuse them year after year. For some, nothing will do except the smell of a live evergreen (of course, the needles go with that as well). Decorate your tree with shining lights to celebrate the return of the gift of fire to the gods. Perhaps you can find hand puppets of the animals mentioned in different myths, small fairies to hang from the branches. Each ornament can be the seed of its own story. Chains of popcorn, berries and nuts make a beautiful alternative to plastic and glass and are easily strung by children of many ages. Incorporate nature onto your tree with bird's nests and pinecones nestled among its branches. Talk about the Lord of the Forest, or animals. How would they decorate a tree? Paper snowflakes are another simple yet lovely craft.

Take time to talk about Yule across the centuries. Thanks to the persistence of folklore, traces of Herne/Pan worship and of the Old Religion still exist today in Santa Claus and many other traditions.

From Holland comes Sinterklaas and his Dark Helper, a captive, chained figure dressed in animal skins and who carried a besom or stick and the bag.

Here we can talk about balance, light and dark, and explore the history and mythology of brooms. The dark was a powerful time of life and death, Winter was responsible for the demise of entire villages.

But without dark and cold, seeds won't germinate and grow in the Spring.

We might want to introduce our children to light and dark in a celebrational ritual. Control is a large part of children's fear of the dark. Let the children blow out and relight solstice candles to celebrate the return of the seasonal brightness. Mention how shiny things are attractive because they reflect and share light. Have the kids pick out ornaments and point out other bright and reflective items. Bringing children an understanding of the foundations of our holiday traditions will add a richness lacking in simple observance of tradition. We want to create spiritual choices and decisions. To do that we must offer our children information suited to the level and needs. Don't be too shy about detail, if their little eyes glaze over, move on. If they ask questions, you're right in the slot.

Piggy banks are linked to Yule. Each Fall the herds were culled. It was incredibly important to determine how much of the herd could survive to spring, how much feed was available, and how much of the herd must be butchered now, so that the meat would sustain the village through the long Winter. There were no Safeways, the herds were necessary to the survival of our ancestors. So, over time the importance of the pig became part of our children's culture and the general mythology. While younger children might not be ready for the realities of eating meat and the dance of life, they will surprise you at how readily they incorporate the concepts. It is important to structure your delivery to the needs of each child and how they might take this discussion. If it is too much, move on to other lighter subjects. Sacrifice and deprivation are tough subjects at any age.

So the Piggy Bank can be a rather charming custom to share with your children. Rather than emphasizing the slightly grim reality, focus on the wisdom of planning ahead, of saving for times of need. Each Yule or MidWinter buy a family bank. The pig is traditional, but concept can extend to any type of collection item/jar. Throughout the year the individual, or the family, will watch carefully as they make their plans. The pig is filled all year long with coins, and then, at Yule, the "sacrifice" is performed; the bank is opened or broken and the abundance of the year is enjoyed. This is another area to be careful of. If the child creates a goal, but has no control over how `abundance' is collected, conflict can arise. A family goal, and family contributions with acknowledgement for each contribution can weave powerful ties.

It can be a powerful symbol to create a bank that has to be broken. I made one at the local ceramic shop. Simply do not cut a hole for a stopper, and you have a `real' savings bank.

What lessons can you draw for your children? What lessons did they draw for themselves? Can you somehow connect the sacrifice of the bank with other sacred gifts that people offer their families and community?

As we wander the mall to spend the gifts of our Piggy Bank, we will see all manner of symbols in the decorations hung and displayed. The crèche is an image of the Mother Goddess and the Sun reborn. Pagan children sometimes feel isolated from their counterparts who have other belief systems. Show the similarities in the various belief systems and offer your child the chance to express themselves. What do they believe? It is amazing what children pick up over time. We are simply unaware of the conclusions they have drawn from the information they have collected. Little pitchers have big ears, and their entire existence is designed to collect and organize information about themselves, their tribe, their family and their place in it. Now is a great time to listen.

Santa Claus shows up on his Throne in the mall in the now traditional red suit. In times past Sinterklaas (or Saint Nicholas) was known as a Catholic bishop, complete with cloak, mitre, and staff. He rode though the skies on a white horse, followed by his Dark Helper. This custom may be drawn from the pagan god Wodan, who was also a bearded, white-haired old man, dressed in a hat and cloak, carried a staff or spear, and rode a holy white horse.

Sinterklaas brings gifts to good children, while bad children are harassed by the Dark Helper, who brandishes a broom-like rod and threatens to take the naughty ones into the sack he carries. Bad children are not carried off if they promise to mend their ways.

Then, Sinterklaas distributes toys and gifts to all who have been good. Children leave offerings for the saint's horse in either a shoe or a stocking.

Older children might look for a book that talks about the history behind hanging stockings. These appear in many different cultural myths. Today socks are easily come by. In times past one's shirt might be willed from Father to Son. This leads me to believe that such things were incredibly valued, and that they indeed last much longer than they do today! If you are handy with a needle, perhaps you can make some.

Perhaps you could weave in a time to donate gifts or crafts to others, to offer an awareness of the broader community and needs. I once decided to give my toys to the Red Cross. It occurred to me that children may be given blankets, water and food following a natural disaster, but the comfort of a toy to hold on to, to talk to, could be even more important in recovery. Following my example, a young child also decided to give her toys away. I was 26, she was 6. Her generosity was unexpected. By exploring and offering our children opportunities to be generous, we are often amazed at their lack of ownership, their willingness to share. If you decide to offer your children the chance to be generous, don't curtail their choices by denying them the gifting of toys that cost you money. Eliminate any unsuitable choices before the choosing begins. That way the $100 talking stuffed bear doesn't go on the list and cause you heartache.

When did gifts become part of the holiday season? Tradition used to indicate it was unlucky to give things away over the MidWinter season, perhaps because goods were so hard to come by. How has time changed our concerns and focus for the Winter? Talk to children about gifts and giving. Their answers can be enlightening.

Another Holiday joy is candles. The Yule tree was burned at Solstice, decorated with candles, and the evening itself was lit by candles and oil lamps.

Our children have never seen a time when a simple flick of a switch would not bring instant light. Cultures have a variety of mythology commemorating the coming of fire to man; fire, lightning, sexuality and fertility have long been connected with each other and with snake symbolism. Perhaps you can initiate a discussion on all these subjects. Now is a great time to talk, to tell stories, to explore the stories and reality going on inside kids heads.

If your children aren't old enough to light candles, why not make some? Small kids can pick colors, or scents and candle kits are available at most hobby stores. Make candles on Solstice, Yule eve, or Christmas, and light them on the lengthening day to help the sun extend His visit. Find some books on the sun, or on candles.

And lastly, the feast. The sense of smell is the most evocative of all our senses when it comes to memory. Create a work of art in your holidays, and you will have lasting memories of that holiday through incense, candles, baked goods and spices. Evergreen boughs can be had now at the tree stands. Let the youngest ones pick them out, the older kids can help carry and the teens can display evergreen branches throughout the home. Let the smallest children hang at least one unbreakable bauble from the lower branches of the tree. They will carry the memory throughout their lives. If you choose a special ornament, tell them the mythology and meaning of it. It is not only pretty, it is a strand in the web of life.

These days it is easy to be too busy to weave children into our holiday activities. We are trying to offer a perfect traditional celebration in spite of the fact we are so incredibly busy with work, family, chores and other obligations.

Slow down. Take the time to share your religious and spiritual path with your children at this time of year. When we don't take the time to include our children in holiday preparations, we begin their definition as excluded, apart. Bring children into ritual, let them share in some small way the celebrations of the Gods. Beat a drum, light a candle, sing. It is a time of celebration and children need to be with adults. Through this they will learn what it is that they seek to become.

Let a three year-old choose the perfect pine bough. Even if it is the ugliest one you've ever seen, it shines for them.

Let the six year-old help cook. Yep, you'll have to watch and it will slow things down. But this holiday is for them, and we will find ourselves re-energized through their joy and delight.

Yule is nigh. What better way to celebrate than to include those who have just begun their journey?

Happy Holidays!

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