Yule - The Winter Solstice

By Erin Coats
on December 15, 2016

               Almost everyone celebrates something near the Winter Solstice.  We spend time with family and friends and embrace a tradition of gift giving and charity, good food and cheer.  We pause to appreciate the abundance and blessings in our lives, those self-made and those given to us by others.  We spend time reflecting on the past year and reviewing things we may want to add, subtract, or change.  And we make resolutions to ourselves, our loved ones, and the world that we may become stronger, wiser, or better ourselves in some other fashion.  While some of us thrive in the colder months, many people slow down and move inward both physically and mentally at this time of year.  Many of our activities move indoors with a focus on hearth and home. 

                Yule marks the longest night of the year and is a celebration of the return of the light.  While we still have a few long, dark months ahead of us, we rejoice in the knowledge that the days will grow longer from this point onward.  In the Wiccan Wheel of the Year, the Goddess gives birth to her child / consort at Yule before retiring to the Underworld until Imbolc.  The God Child strengthens and grows with the return of the sun as the days grow longer.  Some traditions tell the tale of the Oak and Holly King.  The kings do battle at the summer and winter solstices, the victor reigning until the next melee.  The Holly King rules from Litha to Yule where he will be defeated and the Oak King takes over.  While we celebrate the rebirth of the sun and the God as we look forward to a brighter, warmer time, we also embrace this peaceful period in the cycle and acknowledge the value of a much needed rest to bolster ourselves for the coming year.

                Though the stories and some of the traditions of Yule may be modern, it stems from a much older holiday.  The Scandinavians slaughtered their cattle in December so they would not have to be fed during the cold months.  They celebrated the winter solstice with a feast of fresh meat and spirits.  They are responsible for the tradition of the Yule log which was burned in honor of the returning sun (History of Christmas).

                Some scholars have suggested that the ancient Roman holiday of Saturnalia was the precursor to the Christian Christmas.  It originated as a holy day to honor the agricultural god Saturn.  The day was marked with a sacrifice to Saturn in his holy temple and followed by a ceremony in which the leather bindings on his feet were removed as a symbolic act of liberation.  Everyone celebrated with a grand feast.  The social order was inverted on this day with slaves being served by their masters and children left to run the household.  Public gambling was allowed, wine flowed freely, and all work was halted.  Gift giving was a common practice with candles being the most common present, a symbol of the growing sun (Grout, James).

                Yalda (meaning birth) is the ancient Persian holiday observed by the Iranians on the winter solstice.  The Persians believed the on the longest night of the year evil forces went to battle with the Lord of Wisdom, Ahura Mazda who would be victorious by the coming morn.  Celebrants stay up late into the night, snack on “dried nuts, watermelon and pomegranate” and read classic poetry and mythology (Mirrazavi, Firouzeh).

                The Hopi Indians celebrate the winter solstice as the Soyal Ceremony (meaning “Establishing Life Anew for All the World.”)  The Hopi use prayer, song, dance, and ritual to ceremonially turn “the sun back toward its summer path”.  The Kachinas (guardian spirits of the Hopi) come down from the mountain to dance with the people and are said to leave gifts for the children (Eidt, Jack).

                Many cultures, both past and present, acknowledge and celebrate the winter solstice with its promise of light and warmth.  We can look to the past when beginning our own Yule traditions by honoring the growing sun in whatever form best fits your own beliefs.  Provide a bit of warmth and cheer for those who may be feeling down at this time of year.  Share the joy of the season with friends and family or help a stranger in need.  Pick a Yule log to dry for next year, or burn a candle on your altar in honor of the Sun God or as a form of sympathetic magick.  Do an early spring cleaning to rid yourself of the old before embarking on a new year.  Burn a petition spell during the waning moon to release unwanted patterns or behaviors or burn one during the waxing moon to draw what you desire.  And above all, enjoy and embrace the winter solstice in all its quiet solitude as we move toward the abundance of spring.

                 The Muses wish you and yours a joyous and blessed winter solstice!

               -----

Eidt, Jack. “Soyal Ceremony: Hopi Kachinas Dance at Winter Solstice”. WILDERUTOPIA.  22 December 2011.  Accessed 14 December 2016. http://www.wilderutopia.com/traditions/soyal-ceremony-hopi-kachinas-dance-at-winter-solstice/

Grout, James.  “Saturnalia”. Encyclopaedia Romana.  Accessed 14 December 2016.  http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/calendar/saturnalia.html

“History of Christmas”. History.com. A + E Networks. 2009.  Accessed 14 December 2016.  http://www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas

Mirrazavi, Firouzeh. “Celebrating Yalda Night”. Iran Review.  19, December 2015.  Accessed 14 December 2016. http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Celebrating_Yalda_2.htm

Yule Altar Sweepstakes !

By Erin Coats
on December 11, 2016

Yule Altar Sweepstakes !

The Muses are hosting another altar sweepstakes! Just register for an account on https://theeccentricmuse.com and email a photo of your Yule altar to inspired@theeccentricmuse.com for a random chance to win this pentacle amulet! Be sure to include all the required information in your submission to be qualified! Please send your entries in by December 24, 2016 to be included. The drawing will be held on December 26!

All entries must include:

  • your legal first and last name, plus the name you'd like to have used if you are a winner
  • a valid email address
  • home address
  • phone number,
  • a statement indicating you either DO or DO NOT grant The Eccentric Muse permission to reproduce your entry photograph on its website and social media accounts, including but not limited to Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

Full list of sweepstakes rules, terms, and conditions.

The Four Hallows of Witchcraft - Water and the Cup of Compassion

By Erin Coats
on December 11, 2016

The Four Hallows of Witchcraft - Water and the Cup of Compassion

     We place a cup in the west quadrant of our altar to represent the element of water.  The chalice is used to store and direct water energy.  Water changes shape and form as it moves to fit and fill the container.  Water magick employs the same practice by aiding a transformation in shape, moving things along, or helping them flow more freely.  If air is the mind, than water is the heart.  Like water, our emotions are fluid and inconstant.  They drift this way and that, affected by environmental changes from within or without.  Disturb the surface of a lake and that change will reverberate throughout the system before settling back into its normal state.  When our feelings are disturbed it can be perceived with our entire bodies, whether that disturbance is affirming or unfavorable.  All forms of love belong to the realm of water, but its highest form, that of unconditional love and compassion are the most elusive and sought out.  The chalice represents the womb of the goddess and the well of creation. The cup is employed in the Great Rite, a symbolic act of divine copulation and creation involving the joining of the god (blade) with the goddess (chalice).  Water is also associated with the shifting energies of the astral plane, the realm of the dead, psychic abilities, dream work, and healing.

     The most popular witch’s tool associated with water is the chalice.  A traditional chalice is made of silver or is silver plated and is symbolic of the Moon Goddess.  My first chalice, made of pewter, served its purpose without issue.  Chalices and goblets come in a variety of materials including glass, stone, and stainless steel and can be ornate or of simple design.  Though the drinking horn is often associated with male energy, it can also be used in place of the chalice.  The Egyptian Hathor and Hindu Kamadhenu are bovine goddesses often depicted with horns.

Small Stainless Steel Blessed Be Chalice     The Tuatha Dé Danann’s Cauldron of Dagda is said to be never-ending.  It refills itself constantly, an eternal source of abundance and nourishment.  We seek the Cup of Compassion for our own divine nourishment.  We claim and drink from the cup to heal our emotional wounds by finding common ground and understanding with those around us.  Perfect love does not mean we strive to like everyone we meet.  It does not mean we aren’t allowed to disagree with someone.  Perfect love is the recognition of the divine in every living being.  We search, claim, and drink from our Cup of Compassion through careful introspection and work in our craft and we place our Cup of Compassion in the west of our altar to store and direct energy and as a reminder to be empathetic to another’s feelings or situation, while also allowing ourselves to maintain a healthy distance.

The Four Hallows of Witchcraft – Fire and the Spear of Victory

By Erin Coats
on December 08, 2016

The Four Hallows of Witchcraft – Fire and the Spear of Victory

 


Rosewood Twisted Copper Wand             We place a wand in the south quadrant of our altar to represent the element of fire, though some witches reverse the tools associated with the fire and air and place it in the east.  Fire is energy and represents the transition that takes place between a resource or talent as it is being transformed into action.  Fire is will and passion and without those things, we are only fuel with no flame.  Where we put our passion and willpower varies from one person to another – throwing our enthusiasm toward a job, hobby, or our craft.  When immersing ourselves in that particular activity, we burn our hottest and shine our brightest.  A witch uses a fire tool to drive and direct will.  If we are not passionate enough or lack the will to control ourselves, our actions and words, then we will fail in our magick and in all other aspects of our lives.  In this sense, fire is an animating force and some would also connect it with life force and spirit.

                There are two tools a witch commonly uses in association with fire, the wand or the staff.  A pointed finger can do the same job in a pinch.  An acceptable length of a wand is typically measured as the distance between your middle finger and elbow.  Wands are made from all manner of materials including wood, metal, and glass and are adorned with crystals, stones, runes, and feathers.  The material used in the makeup of the wand and it’s décor tend to have a specific focus and can help magnify any work you do in that corresponding area in the same manner other magickal correspondences work.  While wands are commonly used for circle casting and generalized energy directing or charging, they can also be utilized for healing.  The wand is used for more precise work while the staff is considered stronger, but less precise.

                When seeking the Spear of Victory, we must find our True Will.  The Tuatha Dé Danann’s Spear of Lug(h) was said to be such a powerful weapon that no battle could be won against it and no man could stand against the one wielding it.  The spear ends in a point.  It is a focused weapon, wielded with single-minded ambition.  To hit your target you must be precise with your aim.  When we work our magick, we must be direct with our intentions and focus our will on that single outcome.  To decipher and follow one’s True Will and obtain the Spear of Victory, we must be just as focused and adamant.  We search, claim, and wield our Spear of Victory through careful introspection and work in our craft and we place our Spear of Victory in the south of our altar not only to store and direct energy, but as a reminder that we cannot be victorious lest we apply ourselves and direct our will toward our goals.

Rosewood Snake Wand

 

The Four Hallows of Witchcraft – Air & the Sword of Truth

By Erin Coats
on December 05, 2016

The Four Hallows of Witchcraft – Air & the Sword of Truth

     We place a blade in the east quadrant of our altar to represent the element of air.  Some witch’s use a wand as their air element tool with the blade being placed in the south, and my own tradition, that of the Temple of Witchcraft, places fire instead of air in the east quadrant.  Correspondences will differ between traditions and from witch to witch.  The blade in this instance is symbolic of the mind and communication.  Like the sky, our minds can be calm and tranquil at times while being cloudy at others.  When we seek to learn and expand our knowledge, we connect and engage with the realm of air. Knowledge is mobile like the wind; it blows from one person to another.  The learning process should not become stagnant, but be a continuous journey.  When we speak of intellect, we say things like, “She’s sharp”, or “She’s a dull one”, as one might refer to a blade.  The element of air is used in communication as the use of breath and vibration through speech.  We listen through vibrations in the air as well.  Consider the delivery of quick and precise communication, we “cut to the chase” or “come to the point”, both are references to sharp, pointy objects.  Someone with a quick wit may be said to have a “sharp tongue” and we may say that his words have “cut” or “stabbed” us.  We work with the blade to store and focus air energy and we work with the element of air for clarity and understanding on all levels.  Most witches do not use their ritual knife for cutting physical objects, but reserve it for energetic cutting like releasing bindings or cutting a doorway in the ritual circle.  Physical cutting, herb harvesting, or carving is sometimes done with the white handled, curved blade of a boline.  I personally have no qualms about using my athame for cutting, though I do have a smaller knife I use for carving candles.  Some witches use the blade in focusing energy to cast the circle and the blade is also used in rituals to channel energy.  When Drawing Down the Moon, one pulls goddess energy from the moon into the blade and then into themselves.  The blade is also used in the Great Rite to join the creative god energy (the blade) with that of the goddess (the chalice) in a ritualized dramatization of divine intercourse.

Wire Wrapped Athame w/ Pentacle Sheath

     The most common blades used on a witch’s altar are the athame (a black handled double edged dagger) or a sword.  Both tools are used for storing and directing energy.  The black handled blade is the traditional tool, black to absorb energy and double edged as a reminder that the use of one’s power or knowledge can cut both ways.  I know a number of witches that simply work with a dagger they find appealing or a small blade that called to them in some other fashion.  The athame is small and precise while the sword may be considered stronger, but with less precision.  

     The quest for your Sword of Truth will lead you on a winding path of personal exploration and understanding.  The Tuatha Dé Danann’s Claíomh Solais or Blade of Light was said to belong to their first King, Nuada.  Legend states that much like absolute truth, no one was able to escape the sword once it was unsheathed.  The blade is symbolic of the divine truth – not that personal truth we hold about our political views, personal preferences, or social expectations, but the eternal and universal truth about the whole of life and creation.  We know that truth can be both subjective and absolute.  We have our own personal truths which may not be the same as those of our neighbors, friends, or family, but there also exists absolute truths that stand the test of time and even the fiercest investigations.  We work to keep our egos in check and to distinguish the subjective from the absolute.  When we are unable to recognize our own personal truths from absolute, we become closed minded and fanatical by attempting to force our beliefs on others or alienating people whose beliefs differ from our own.  We search, claim, and wield our Sword of Truth through careful introspection and work in our craft and we place our Sword of Truth in the east on our altar as a reminder to always seek knowledge and truth. 

The Four Hallows of Witchcraft – Earth & the Stone of Sovereignty

By Erin Coats
on December 02, 2016
2 comments

The Four Hallows of Witchcraft – Earth & the Stone of Sovereignty

The Four Hallows of Witchcraft – Earth & the Stone of Sovereignty

                We place a stone or crystal in the north quadrant of our altar to represent the element of earth.  This is symbolic of the tangible manifestation of all elemental energy and the physical results of our work.  The stone is used to store and focus earth energy; to keep us grounded in the middle world and on task and to aid us in manifestation in all areas of our lives.  It is a sturdy foundation, one
born of endurance and strength.  Though some would associate strength with the willfulness and passion of the element of fire, I feel it also belongs to the earth when examining the timelessness and immovability of a mountain.  Earth magick centers around our own physical manifestations, that of ourselves and our home:  our health, the roof over our heads, the food upon our tables, and the amenities and luxuries we splurge on to bring us joy and comfort.

Lily's Stone of Sovereignty

                There are a few other items commonly found on a witch’s altar as a vessel and conduit for earth energy.  A bowl of dirt, salt, or sand can easily suffice, though the later doesn’t work for me after having considered the instability of shifting sands.

                Each of the suits in a tarot deck has a corresponding element with coins, disks, or pentacles being linked with the element of earth and dealing with financial matters, material possessions, and practical concerns.  Some witches may work with a special coin and others with a pentacle or paten.  When studying the pentacle, we learn that each of the points themselves are associated with an element and is therefore representative of all the elements.  For this reason I do not use a pentacle as my symbol for earth.

                My studies with The Temple of Witchcraft have brought deeper meaning of the elements, their lessons, and corresponding tools.  The Tuatha Dé Danann’s Stone of Fal (also called the Stone of Destiny) was a magickal stone that cried out when the rightful king stood upon it.  Some sources state that the stone had regenerative powers and the ability to bless the king with a long reign.  A king is master and ruler, sovereign of himself and his people.  An important and necessary part of a witch’s evolution is the mastery and sovereignty of self.  We work to ensure that we are not giving our power away to others, that we are in charge of our lives and are taking responsibility for our actions and manifestations.  We search, claim, and stand upon our Stone of Sovereignty through careful introspection and work in our craft and we place our Stone of Sovereignty in the north of our altar not only to store and direct energy, but as a reminder of that personal power or as a call to action if we feel we’ve lost our ground.

 

The Four Hallows of Witchcraft – An Introduction

By Erin Coats
on November 30, 2016

The Four Hallows of Witchcraft – An Introduction

What are the four hallows?  What are they used for and what do they represent? 

                The four hallows (also known as jewels or treasures) come to us from Celtic mythology.  It is said that the Tuatha Dé Danann, an ancient race of gods founded by the goddesses Danu, brought the four hallows with them when they traveled from their homeland in the west to settle in Ireland.  Each of the treasures was brought from a different island: the Stone of Fál from Falias, Núadu’s Sword from Findias, the Spear of Lug from Gorias, and the Cauldron of the Dagda from Murias.  Each hallow had a special property and could be linked to an element, much the same as the four hallows of a witch’s altar.

                The witch’s altar is where we make our sacred space.  This is where we work our magick, the launching pad for our petitions to the universe.  We can use a variety of tools to aid us in the process, items to help build energy or direct the flow, supplies to stack the deck in our favor.  There are four main tools on a witch’s altar, used to store and direct energy:

  • Earth - The stone, coin, soil, salt, shield, or paten / pentacle.
  • Air / Fire - The athame or sword.
  • Fire / Air - The wand or staff.
  • Water - The chalice or cauldron.

              Over the next week or so we will be reviewing each of the hallows and explaining their correspondences, symbolism, and use.

Samhain

By Erin Coats
on October 29, 2016

                Samhain is probably the most popular and beloved of the witch’s Sabbats.  There’s just something about this time of year - that brisk snap in the air, the riot of color in the trees, the fresh scent of pumpkin pie and apple cider, and even the campy scarecrow and cotton cobwebs decorating your neighbor’s front porch.  I’ve heard it over and over again from countless witches that this is the best time of year to stock up on home décor – from skull themed party trays to ceramic witches with pointed hats; we love our Halloween themed goodies.  But peel away the endless bags of candy and this year’s most popular costume and what do we have left?  What were we celebrating before it became so commercialized?

The History of Halloween

                We find the roots of Halloween or All Hallows Eve in the Celtic Samhain (pronounced sow-in), meaning “summer’s end”.  This was the Celtic New Year, the end of summer and the growing season and the beginning of the cold, dark winter.  Ancient man could not rely on central heating and there was no quick run to the supermarket if the larder ran empty.  The winter months were a frightening time and it comes as no surprise that the Celts would associate this time of year with death.

                The Celtic peoples believed that the veil between the world of the living and the dead was at its thinnest during Samhain.  This allowed for the spirits of the deceased to cross over into the land of the living.  These spirits were believed to be both benevolent and malevolent.  The helpful spirits were said to aid in fortune telling and divination for the coming year while the baleful ghosts were wont to destroy crops and play pranks on the living.  A huge bonfire was erected by the Druids to make crop and animal sacrifices to appease the gods.  The people dressed in animal’s skins and masks so as not to be recognized by the malicious ghosts.  Bowls of food were placed outside the home to appease the spirits and keep them outside the home or to quell their wrath.  A plate of food was also left on the table for any benevolent ancestor who may wish to stop by.  Candles were also lit in the windowsills to help guide lost loved ones home.  “When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which [were] extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter…By the 9th century the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands, where it gradually blended with and supplanted the older Celtic rites” (“History”).

                All Martyrs Feast was originally celebrated on May 13th, but was later moved to November 1st with recognition for the saints as an addition.  The Catholic Church named November 2nd All Soul’s Day (also referred to as All-hallows or All-hallowmas) to honor all dead in 1000 A.D.  The previous night falling upon the date that was once Samhain was then called All-hallows Eve and eventually Halloween.  This is one example of many in which people believe the church was attempting to replace an older observance with a church sanctioned one.  All-hallows was celebrated much the same as its predecessor was “with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels and devils (“History”).  Trick or treating (or as it was called then, going a-souling) was probably born from the old practice of gifting “soul cakes” to the poor in exchange for prayers for the souls of the families dead.  The poorer families in the neighborhoods traveled door to door begging for food, money, or ale and the church encouraged more well-to-do families to gift the cakes.

                While Halloween wasn’t terribly popular with the original Protestant settlers in America, it did make its way to Maryland and throughout the southern colonies.  The traditional European celebrations mixed and mingled with those of the American Indians to solidify something more closely resembling our current Halloween activities.  They told ghost stories and read fortunes, sang and danced and celebrated the harvest.

                With the Irish potato famine of 1846 a new wave of immigrants flooded the states bringing their own traditions and the face of Halloween changed yet again with people dressing in costume and going door to door asking for money or food.  Young women used mirrors, apple peels, and string to divine for their future husbands.  In the late 1800’s there was a movement to remove anything scary or spooky from the holiday and make it more family oriented and by the 1950’s with the baby boom, Halloween transformed once more, becoming the beloved children’s holiday we are most familiar with.

Ancestor Veneration Around the World

                In connection with the Catholic holiday of All Soul’s Day, the people of Mexico celebrate Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead.  At midnight on October 31st the gates between the heavens and earth open and the spirits of the deceased children come through to be reunited with their families.  The adults are allowed to join the party on the next night.  In preparation for the return of the spirits, beautiful altars called ofrendas are erected and decorated with marigolds and cocks comb, sugar skulls and decorative skeletons.  Offerings are added to the altar in the form of foods, especially fruits and Day of the Dead bread called pan de muerto.  The adults get cigarettes and liquor while the children get toys and candy.  “They believe that happy spirits will provide protection, good luck and wisdom to their families” (Villalba).  Families move the celebration to the graveyard on November 2nd to clean the graves, play cards, talk, and even picnic.

                There are several Chinese celebrations that include ancestor veneration.  Qingming (also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day or Ancestor’s Day) is observed on the 15th day after the spring equinox.  Participants visit the graves of their ancestors to offer prayer, clean up plots, and leave gifts of food, wine, or other small items like chopsticks and joss paper (representing money).  There is a practice of leaving willow branches on gates which is said to ward off evil spirits.  Qingming is also celebrated with spring outings and kite flying (Wu).

                The Daoist, Taoist, and Buddhist celebration of the Hungry Ghost Festival is observed on the 15th night of the 7th month (falling in July or August).  In fact, the entire month is called Hungry Ghost Month.  It is believed that after the ghosts have wandered about for several weeks, they’ve probably gotten pretty hungry.   Participants must perform rituals to protect themselves from malevolent spirits or to appease their deceased ancestors.  These rituals include food preparation, the burning of incense, and the display of family tablets.  Offerings are left for the dead in the form of ritually prepared foods, incense, and paper-mache replicas of fine items such as cars, clothing, or other luxury goods.  It is not uncommon for participants to stand before the family tablets and report good and bad deeds to receive a blessing or a punishment.  A full plate of food is left at the dinner table for ancestors to dine.  Ancestor veneration is also practiced on Double Ninth Day, though the date isn’t specifically set aside for that.  Falling on the ninth day of the ninth month, the day is considered to have too much yang and not enough yin energy and is therefore out of balance and a dangerous day.  The rituals performed during this day are meant to protect the observer and paying homage to one’s ancestors with various gifts and offerings is meant to protect that ancestor in the afterlife (Stanton).

                Japanese Buddhists have a similar celebration in mid-August called Obon in veneration of their deceased ancestors.  To appease the spirits observers add fruits and vegetables, flower arrangements, and chochin lanterns to their altars.  On the first day of the celebration, families gather at the graves of their ancestors and light the chochin lanterns to guide spirits home.  A similar practice is observed in other regions with families lighting fires near the entrance of their homes.  A floating lantern is lit and sailed down a river to send the spirits off again.

Modern Practices

                But how do witches celebrate Samhain, now?  Probably in several different ways.  I can share with you how my group does it.  We gather for a full witch’s circle and call the ancestors in to take part in the ritual.  We place a picture or a symbol of the deceased upon a special altar prepared specifically for that day and speak their names aloud.  We dance, we sing, we set aside time to meditate and commune, to ask questions and make peace.  It is a time of laughter and tears, of sweet memories and regrets.  We honor the tradition of divination by doing a working in circle and offering services afterwards and we always end the night with a huge feast for ourselves and in honor of our dead.

          Tradition is important, whether you decide to celebrate the commercial side of Halloween with bowls of candy and frightening, sexy, or fun costumes, or embrace the older traditions and honor your ancestors.  Some of us may do a little of both!  But whatever you do, make sure you don’t sit it out on the couch!

 -----

 “History of Halloween”.  History.com.  A + E Networks, 2009.  21, Oct. 2016.  http://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween

Mishima, Shizuko.  “Japan's Obon Festival: Everything You Need to Know”.  About Travel.  18, Aug. 2016.  29, Oct. 2016.   http://gojapan.about.com/cs/japanesefestivals/a/obonfestival.htm

Stanton, Andrea L.  Cultural Sociology of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa: An Encyclopedia.  SAGE, 5, Jan. 2012.

Wu, Annie.  “Hungry Ghost Festival”.  China Highlights.  8, Aug. 2016.  29, Oct. 2016.  http://www.chinahighlights.com/festivals/hungry-ghost-festival.htm

Wu, Annie.  “Qingming Festival”.  China Highlights.  8, Aug. 2016.  29, Oct. 2016.  https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/08/

Villalba, Angela.  “Day of the Dead & the Sugar Skull Tradition”.  Mexican Sugar Skull.  Reign Trading Co, n.d.  21, Oct. 2016.

Samhain Altar Sweepstakes

By Erin Coats
on October 14, 2016

Samhain Altar Sweepstakes

The Muses are hosting another altar sweepstakes! Just register for an account on https://theeccentricmuse.com and email a photo of your Samhain altar to inspired@theeccentricmuse.com for a random chance to win this amazing altar cloth made the Muse's own Lauragreen! Be sure to include all the required information in your submission to be qualified! Please send your entries in by October 31, 2016 to be included. The drawing will be held on November 2!

All entries must include:

  • your legal first and last name, plus the name you'd like to have used if you are a winner
  • a valid email address
  • home address
  • phone number,
  • a statement indicating you either DO or DO NOT grant The Eccentric Muse permission to reproduce your entry photograph on its website and social media accounts, including but not limited to Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

Full list of sweepstakes rules, terms, and conditions.

Mabon, the Autumn Equinox

By Erin Coats
on September 11, 2016

     Mabon is the second harvest festival of the season and falls on the Autumn Equinox.  It is often referred to as the Pagan Thanksgiving and the Druids call it Alban Elfed.  It is a time of balance, the second festival of the year in which we have equal day and night (the first being Ostara, the Spring Equinox).  The most popular theme celebrated during Mabon is that of the harvest.  We are grateful for the earth’s bounty, that which will sustain us through the cold, dark winter.  Though we as individuals are no longer so strongly tied with the earth’s agricultural cycles, we take this time to consider and enjoy the fruits of our own labors before continuing with our preparations for the dark months looming ahead.   As a sign of gratitude for our abundance, we often use this time to give back to the earth and her people.  It is not uncommon to participate in canned food drives or to give time to community through volunteer work with soup kitchens or other charities. 

     Though the themes and general celebrations behind Mabon are timeless, the holiday itself is a relatively new construct.  Gerald Gardner and Ross Nichols are given credit for the formulation of the neo-pagan Wheel of the Year (Duir), but Aiden Kelly was the one to give Mabon its name.  With the four fire festivals being derived from Celtic holidays (Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain), Kelly attempted to balance the festivals by giving the equinoxes and solstices Saxon names.  Unfortunately, Kelly was unable to find a Saxon holiday to match that of the Autumn Equinox.  Though the Eleusinian Mysteries were a suitable match, their Greek origins were too far off base for his liking.  Instead, Kelly returned to the Celtic theme and adopted the story of Mabon ap Modron (Son of the Mother), because the tale was similarly themed to that of Demeter and her lost child, Kore (Rajchel).

     Why were the Eleusinian Mysteries a good fit?  It is said that the Greater Eleusinian Mysteries were held in September.  Though the actual celebrations remain a mystery to us, one can imagine the wheel of life and death in our seasons came into play during these rites.  Demeter was the Greek goddess of nature and it was said that anything that bloomed or grew from the earth was under her control.  She had a daughter named Kore who was kidnapped by Hades and taken to his domain in the underworld.  The nature goddess searched far and wide for her daughter before coming to rest beside a well in Eleusis.  She disguised herself as an old woman and became the nursemaid to the Queen’s son.  Each night, Demeter would place the child in the fireplace, a ritual that would was to make him immortal.  The Queen, of course, was not terribly understanding upon catching the nursemaid in the act.  Demeter cast off her disguise, revealing her true self.  She demanded a temple be erected in her honor and in return, she would teach the prince the art of agriculture.  While all of this took place, the goddess still mourned for the loss of her daughter and the crops withered and died and the people starved and the gods were not paid tribute.  Zeus was less than thrilled by all of this and persuaded Hades to release the girl.  But Hades was a tricksey fellow and he managed to get Kore to eat a few pomegranate seeds during her stay.  And we should all know by now that if one eats anything in the underworld, one is doomed to stay in the underworld.  But the girl had only eaten a few seeds, so it turned out she only had to stay part of the year with Hades and was able to return to her mother for the rest of the year.  Kore emerged from the Underworld as Persephone, Queen of the Dead.  While she was topside with Demeter, the world grew and bloomed.  When she returned to Hades in the Underworld, the plants withered and died.  And thus the story of the harvest (Mark).

     The Chinese and Vietnamese celebrate the Moon Festival, also referred to as the Mid-Autumn Festival, “on the 15th day of the 8th Chinese lunar month every year” (“Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival 2016”), which places it pretty close to the equinox.  This celebration revolves around family reunions with a heavy focus on moon worship.  In Chinese mythology we find the story of Lady Chang’e and Hou Yi.  Hou Yi was a hero to his people. He climbed Mount Kunlun to shoot 9 of the 10 suns from the sky.  They’d been scorching the earth and causing a terrible drought.  This made him famous and many people requested Hou Yi as a teacher for his valor and skill.  One day, Hou Yi returned to the mountain to meet with friends and there he met the Queen of Heaven.  The Queen gave him a magical elixir that would make Hou Yi immortal.  But Hou Yi would not become immortal without his beautiful wife, the Lady Chang’e.  So he gave the elixir to her so that she might put it away for safe keeping.  Sometime after that, Hou Yi and his friends set out on a hunting trip, but the treacherous Peng Meng feigned an illness and did not join the rest of the party.  Peng Meng had learned of the elixir and went to the Hou Yi’s house and confronted Lady Chang’e.  Knowing she was unable to fight off Peng Meng, the lady drank the elixir herself and jumped into the sky to escape her attacker.  Wanting to be near her husband, Lady Chang’e took refuge on the Moon, still visible from the earth.  When Hou Yi came home that night and heard of what happened, he rushed back outside to find that the moon shone very brightly and he could just make out the figure of his beloved.  He ordered his servants to put out an altar with incense, fruits, and moon cakes, which were said to be Chang’es favorite food.  When the town’s people heard the news that the good lady Chang’e had flown to the moon and become a goddess, they too set out tables with incense, fruits, and moon cakes.  The Chinese have celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival with family reunions, moon gazing, paper lanterns, and feasts ever since (“Middle Autumn Festival”).

     Japanese Buddhists celebrate Higan-e during the spring and autumn equinoxes.  With these days being a balance of light and dark, “signifying the inseparability of darkness (ying) and light (yang), as well as the oneness of good and evil” it is believed this day holds greater power “for accumulating benefits and amassing virtue in the lives of the believer and the deceased”.  Higan means "arriving on the other shore”.  Buddhists believe we live in a world of suffering and to reach Nirvana or “the other shore” is the only true escape from that suffering.  To attain enlightenment one must follow the six paramitas – “almsgiving, keeping the precepts, forbearance, assiduousness, meditation and the obtaining of wisdom” (“Memorial Service During the Equinox - Higan-e”).  During the Higan-e Ceremony Buddhists makes offerings to the Gohonzon (a physical representation of the fundamental law that permeates all life (“The Gohonzon”), establish memorial tablets called tobas for ancestors as well as perform memorial services for those ancestors (“Memorial Service During the Equinox - Higan-e”).

     We find some common themes when we look to the various celebrations around the world – the harvest and our appreciation of it, and family and reverence for the dead.  There’s a large body of culture to draw from when planning your own fall equinox activities.  Plan a feast and spend time with your family, give thanks to the gods for their bounty, volunteer to help others, or just take a drive and enjoy those beautiful fall colors.

 ***

“Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival 2016”.  ChinaTravel.com.  Web.  11, September 2016.  http://www.chinatravel.com/focus/mid-autumn-festival/

Duir, Alexa.  “The Eightfold Wheel of the Year”.  Manygods.org.uk.  2003.  Web.  7, September 2016.  http://www.manygods.org.uk/articles/festivals/wheel.shtml

“The Gohonzon”.  Soka Gakkai International.  2015.  Web.  11, September 2016.  http://www.sgi.org/about-us/gohonzon.html

Mark, Joshua.  “The Eleusinian Mysteries: The Rites of Demeter”.  Ancient History Encyclopedia.  2009.  Web.   11, September 2016.  http://www.ancient.eu/article/32/

“Memorial Service During the Equinox - Higan-e”.  Nichiren Shoshu Myoshinji Temple.  March 2016.  Web.  11, September, 2016.  http://www.nichirenshoshumyoshinji.org/ceremonies/higane.php

Rajchel, Diana.  Mabon: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for the Autumn Equinox.  Llewellyn.  2015.

Raynor.  “Middle Autumn Festival”. ChinaTravel.com.  April 2016.  Web.  11, September 2016.  http://www.chinatravel.com/facts/middle-autumn-festival.htm#1