For most of us pagans in the Northern Hemisphere this is the season of Yule and the Yule celebration. For me, because of the time and training the I recevied in South America it's also the time when I celebrate Inti Raymi (Quchua: Fesitval of the Sun).
Inti Raymi in Bolivia and Peru is the winter solstice. It is celebrated on June 24 of each year in Tawatinsuyo (The Four Corners of the Earth, the Quechua name for the Inka empire). Obviously it's winter in June in the Southern Hemisphere but here where I live its wintern now so I celebrate Inti Raymi six month later when the winter solstice arrives here in the North.
As in all ancient cultures the day when the sun was at it lowest in the sky, seemingly fartherest away from the earth, and when the day was the shortest a celebration was held to call the sun back. A day to also celebrate the beginning of the rebirth of the sun. According to tradition, Sapa Pachakutiq Inka Yupanki (1) created the Inti Raymi to celebrate the new year in the Andes of the Southern Hemisphere. The ceremony was also said to indicate the mythical origin of the Incas. It lasted for nine days and was filled with colorful dances and processions, as well as animal sacrifices to thank Pachamama (Mother Earth) and to ensure a good cropping season. The first Inti Raymi was celebrated in 1412 and the last Inti Raymi with the Inca Emperor's presence was carried out in 1535, after it was banned by the Spanish/Catholics.
I celebrated this morning by getting up before sunrise and greeting the sun at sunrise with a tune on my Andean flute. We lit a fire that we will keep burning all day long and at sunrise we will gather together to dance around the fire, honor gifts to Inti Tayta (Father Sun) by burning small gift bundles in the fire, offer a libation to Pachamana and then end by honoring each other and with the giving of gifts.
May your new year be full of peace and joy!
(1) Sapa (Quechua: The Only One ), Pachakutiq (Quechua: He Who Overcomes Space and Time) and Yupanki (Quechua: with honor) Sapa Inca Pachacuti was the 9th Sapa Inca and the one who turned the Kingdom of Cusco into the Inca Empire, Tawatinsuyo.
Have a Very Merry Pagan Yule! The Buddhist monk Ajahn Chah of the Thai Forest Tradition said, “Anything that inspires us to see what is true and do what is good is proper practice.” For me Yule/Christmas falls into the category of things that are good and inspiring and thus proper.
A colleague at the university commented to me last week that Christmas must be a pretty non-eventful holiday for me, a pagan. I replied, "Of course not! Yule is the time of year when I get to show special appreciation to those that I love the most." However, his question got me thinking about how I could best celebrate Yule. Here is my short list:
May your Yule be filled with joy, love and compassion. Peace,
Do you have a favorite time of year? Some revel in the first buds of Spring or the long, hot days of summer. I have always been partial to Fall. As a child (and this may seem strange to you) I always looked forward to the start of the new school year. Back then most schools started in September after Labor Day. Growing up in the Eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado the days were cool and nippy, leaves were changing, and on some mornings you could feel winter in the air. I loved those mornings. Maybe that's why I associate new beginnings with Fall and why I look forward to September every year.
I know that some see leafless trees, their branches like skeleton fingers pointing skyward, as the dying of nature. I see it as the time of slumber, the time of deep dreams, before rebirth. I find beauty the Fall and beauty in death. I find excitement in Fall and the possibilities that it brings.
The path of the modern Druid is all about building connections and relationships with each other and with the world. As we learn to connect with nature we become one with the ebb and flow of the seasons and the weather, with the rhythm of nature.
Today, for example, we have 30 mile per hour winds blowing from the Northwest and I can feel already that tonight will be cold. Leaves were dancing on the street as I walked my son to his bus stop at 7:00 a.m. He is in middle school and doesn't need the companionship or supervision but I enjoy the walk and our conversation (connection and relationship building time). I pulled the collar of my jacket up against the wind after he left on the bus. As I crossed the street to head back home I stuck my arms out and started to spin around with the leaves . . . that is until I noticed a parent driving his son to the grade school down the street. He had to stop, I was sort of in the way, and gave this old man a quizzical look. I smiled and waved to him as I moved across the street into a yard where I could continue my leaf dance. I felt joyously connect to the wind, to the leaves, to the cold bearing down from the North and to my son as he drove away in the school bus.
As modern Druids our connections and our relationships cause us to take responsibility for ourselves and others. Don't constrain "others" in your mind to include only humans. Others should include all beings and the earth too is alive and is one of the many others. As we do that we strive to gain a greater understanding of our place in the Community of the All and what we are doing (and should be doing) in this life. We are all ultimately alone, especially in death, but we are never isolated. The others are always there.
Alban Arthan, Light of Winter in Welsh, cometh on December 21 this year at 5:44 A. M. for me in Central Virginia (1). Winter Soltice, our modern and much less poetic name for the shortest day of the year, is arguably one of the oldest festivals celebrated by humankind and probably one of the two most important, the other being Summer Soltice (Alban Hefin). It doesn't seem all that important to us today because we know that the cycle of the year will continue and that the days will shortly begin to lengthen once again. Our science has eliminated the mystery and fear that accompanied the shortest day of the year, and joy the followed when days started to once again lengthen.
I invite you put yourself in the place of a person in an ancient Celtic community, one who wasn't sure that the sun would once again return higher and higher in the sky. What if, after Alban Arthan, the days continuted to get shorter until eventually we descended into perpetual cold and darkness. How would you "celebrate" the longest night of the year? How would you celebrate the sunrise when you saw that the course of the sun had changed direction and that the sun was rising a little bit earlier and a little bit higher into the sky?
You might try to visit Newgrange. Newgrange (Brú na Bhoinne) is a Neolithic passage tomb and temple structure in the valley of the Boyne River in Ireland. Its estimated to have been constructed about 5,200 years ago making it oldeer than the Pyramids of Gizeh and Stonehenge. Newgrange is aligned so that the entrance faces the winter solstice sunrise. When the Sun reaches the correct position over the horizon its rays shine through a roof box or window and snake down a 57 foot-long passage. When the rays of the sun have traveled the entire length of the passage they illuminate a three-fold spiral carved into a large stone. The movement of the rays of the sun from the roof box window to the spiral takes about 15 minutes. This alignment has been esoterically interpreted as the insertion of a ray of light by the Sun God into the womb of Mother Earth bringing about the creation of new life in spring.
Our celebration of Yule centers around the lighting of the Yule log. We place a log in the center our our fireplace. According to tradition the log must come from one's own land or be a gift, and it must not be purchased. We harvest the log from a dead fall in the forest that is our back yard. The log is ignited with the remaining piece of last year's Yule log. Thus the light is passed on from one year to another. Rather than ignite a large fire we try to keep the Yule log smoldering slowly for the next 12 days (which means we take turns adding our breath to the fire from time-to-time before it is extinguished. The ashes are stowed away so that when Spring returns we can mix them with the seeds that we are going to plant. This symbolically distributes the the power of the Sun over our garden. Of course we keep the last bit of the log so that it can be used the next year to ignite the new log.
As you may know from my old blogs, I start every day with a shamanic invocation. Part of that invocation is to thank Father Sky (Inititayta) and Mother Earth (pachamama) for their gifts and support and to call their energy into my day. Alban Arthan is a good time to reflect more on the meaning of the Sun in your life. Not only does the Sun sustain life on Mother Earth by providing heat and light, it marks that passage of time, and sybolically it is a symbol of steadfastness. Although its position in the sky changes it has risen every day of my life and yours. It is always there giving its gifts.
May we too be steadfast like the Sun.
Peace my friends and Happy Yule,
Notes: Timeanddate.com has a nice Soltice calculator. You can find it here.
I have a compass, you probably do too. I carry it with me when I go for walks in the forest just in case I decide to perform a ritual and want to orient to the cardinal directions. It's not a fancy compass and it looks pretty much like the one that I used when I was a Boy Scout in the 1960s. I take it out, set it down on a flat surface and let the needle settle down. Within seconds it is pointing North, not true North, but magnetic North. I can rotate the bezel if I want to make a minor adjustment. Magnetic North is about 9 degrees West of true North where I live (1) so I align the "N" on the bezel with the compass needle and then rotate the bezel nine degrees to the East (clockwise) and now "N" points to true North. Why care about a difference of 9 degrees? When using a topographic map then I need to orient the map to true North, not magnetic North. If I plot a path on a map that is not correctly oriented then I'll end up somewhere other than my destination.
Life is sort of like that too. We plot our path through life but if we don't know where the True North of Our Hearts lie then we are likely to meander through life and never really follow the path that we had plotted. The spiritual path that we follow helps us find the True North of Our Hearts and align our path in the world with the direction that our heart is pointing.
Do you ever feel like you are always walking into the wind or trying to paddle or swim up stream, against the current. That's usually a pretty good indicator that the path you are on is not aligned to the direction indicated by the True North of Your Heart.
My compass always points to magnetic North. Our hearts always point in the direction of the True North of our souls. When I'm out hiking and discover that I'm headed in the wrong direction it's not because my compass lied to me about the direction of magnetic North . . . I failed to align and follow. The same is true with my life. When my life feels like it is out of kilter it's not because my heart decided that North was no longer North, it's because I lost my way and got off the path. We all need to take time once in a while to settle down, see what direction our heart is pointing, compare it to the path that we are on, and then make the necessary course corrections so that we follow True North of Our Hearts.
May you stay on on your path . . .
(1) Here is a link to a declination calculator.
Everything is sacred, every tree, every valley, every plant, every rock, and yes, you and I. It is easy for those of us on an earth-based spiritual path to see nature as sacred. It is much harder for some of us to remember that we too are part of nature and that we too are sacred. We were born with the spark of divinity within us or, as Buddhist teach, we all have Buddha nature within us, we just need to polish away the tarnish that has been deposited by culture and society to see our true, inner nature.
What do I mean when I write that everything is sacred or that everything has a spark of divinity within? To me that means that we all are connected to the divine, however you chose to define it. However, if you accept the premise that everything is sacred then why don't we always act as if it were true? Why to we collectively fight, war, argue . . . ?
I was born, like many or most of you, into a strict christian home. I grew up under the blight of "original sin" with all the guilt and feelings of unworthiness that follows the classification of "born of sin". I left the religion of my ancestors about 40 years ago and have never looked back. I still honor my ancestors and give thanks to them for all that they did. However my path is different. You are reading this so I expect that your path is different too.
We are, unfortunately, in the minority. It's no wonder that homo sapiens are a violent lot. That is how we have been aculturated and trained. If someone grows up being taught that he or she is a sinner then how would you expect them to act? Probably not like a saint. As you move around today I invite you to look into the eyes of every person that you see and ask yourself if they look like they have recongnized the spark of divinity within or if they are laboring under the delusion of original sin, unworthiness, and guilt. I did this yesterday and saw way too many sad, tired, and lonely eyes.
Some have asked me if we have the spark of divinity within us then why do we call upon the gods and the goddesses. That's easy. I have a spark within me, a little ember. When I call upon the gods and the goddesses they come carrying flaming torches, sometimes a bonfire. What happens when you blow on a glowing ember? It springs to life. What happens when a little flame is drawn closer to a raging fire? It intensifies and grows. That's why I call upon the gods and the goddesses, in this dark world my little ember needs all the energy and support that it can get.
To be "enlightened" means to have light within. Nourish your light, make it grow in the darkenss. Buddhists have named our world samsara, a world of aimless drifting, wandering and mundane existence. Be a light in samsara, nourish the divinity within you so that it will shine for others.
Find peace and joy my friends . . .
PS Thanks for reading. I know that I haven't been bloging very consistently. This seems to happen every year once classes start and I get busy with students and committee assignments. I will try to honor your time by posting more frequently. Thank you again.
I'm Dr. Dave, an eclectic shaman. I lived and worked in Bolivia and Peru for over six years, where I and was trained by Andean Shamans, and today practice eclectic shamanism.