The Ancient History and Living Mystery of Wassailing ~

Crook Morris & Friends Wassailing The Damson Tree 2015 ~

On the bitter cold and frost of a January morning, small groups of people muffled against the chill, proceeded up the country lanes of Lyth valley into the damson orchard. Some in silence, others with as much noise as they could muster, to chase away the evil spirits. One carried the three handled Wassailing bowl filled with a steaming brew of mulled beer or cider, the steam mingling with the cloudy breath of the participants. Carols were sung, the tree and orchard blessed……..

This is the traditional folk custom of Wassailing fruit trees – a ceremony intended to begin the process of waking the fruit trees from their winter slumber and the first fertility festival of the folk calendar. The word wassail derives from the Old English / Anglo Saxon words wæs (þu) hæl which means variously ‘be healthy’ or ‘be whole’ – both of which meanings survive in the modern English phrase ‘hale and hearty’. Thus Wassailing likely predates the Norman conquest in 1066. This is a traditional ceremony which seeks to start off the first stirrings of life in the land and to help it emerge from winter and to ensure that the next season’s crop of fruit, especially apples and pears, will be bountiful.

The most common date for this custom to take place is the eve of Twelfth Night or Old Christmas Eve, ie 5th January, just at the end of the midwinter period when the Wild Hunt rides and chaos traditionally rules as the otherworldly horde broke through into human realms. In some cases, however the ceremony takes places a little later on 17th January, depending on whether the celebrants prefer to follow the old or new calendar. This first fertility ceremony of the year marks a return to human ‘normality’ after the dark and dangerous days of midwinter –  The ceremony takes place a couple of weeks before Imbolc, the festival which for modern pagans is generally as being the first fertility festival of the year.

The singing of carols at the Wassail can be traced back to the pagan tradition of carol singing from 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, 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. 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 came 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.

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.

Wassail, oh wassail all over the town
The cup it is white, the ale it is brown
The cup it is made of the good ashen tree
And so is the beer of the best barley  

There appear to have been other British customs involving the Wassail bowl including carrying the bowl of hot spiced ale or cider from door to door in a community by a group of young people. Householders who were visited were expected to give a little money to the wassailers who either then gave the donor a drink from the bowl or drank to the health of the donor and his family and household. In other cases, the Wassailers engaged in a series of challenges or riddles with the householder and sought to gain entry to the house by wit or persuasion. If they succeeded then they were given food and money.

The Orchard-Wassail is the ancient custom of visiting orchards in England, reciting incantations and singing carols to the trees to promote a good harvest for the coming year.

The ceremony generally begins with the tree, usually the oldest and most venerable tree in an orchard, being serenaded with traditional “wake up” type of chants, rhymes  and sung carols, alternating with speeches by the group’s leader in praise of the tree, its fruitfulness in previous years and exhorting it to do even better in 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.

The custom may include the tree or trees being beaten about the trunk with the sticks. This is believed to begin the process of awakening the tree and starting the sap flowing up the trunk. It is accompanied by much shouting and the making of as much noise as possible, and shotguns are sometimes fired up into the branches. Again, this is believed to assist the tree in awakening from its winter sleep as well as frightening away any evil spirits which might be lurking in the branches.

Finally pieces of toasted bread soaked in the prepared drink are thrust up into forks in the branches or hollows in the tree and left there as offerings, whether to the tree or to the robins. The remainder of the drink is generally sloshed around and over the trunk of the tree, though in some places part of it may also be ceremonially drunk by the participants.

Wren Day, a related tradition, may also be carried out at this Wassail ceremony, although it was traditionaly celebrated on 26 December, St. Stephen’s Day. The wren traditionally symbolised winter and the robin summer. The tradition consists of “hunting” a fake wren, and putting it on top of a decorated pole or in a garlanded box to symbolise the death of winter and then taken from door to door. The crowds of mummers or strawboys celebrate the wren (pr wran) by dressing up in masks, straw suits and colourful motley clothing and, accompanied by traditional céilí music bands, parade through the towns and villages. These crowds are sometimes called wrenboys.

At each house this song was sung an the occupants asked to pay to see the dead wren with the words “Please to see the King.”

Here I am happy to say a symbolic wren was used and inplace of killing the good folk bowed to wish  the Wren King well in his passing.

From Somerset comes a most powerful rhyme for calling blessings down on beasts and crops:

Good luck to the hoof and horn
Good luck to the flock and fleece
Good luck to the growers of corn
With blessings of plenty and peace.


Freedom of Speech vs Religion

Freedom of Speech vs Religion

At 11:28 a.m.  7 January 2015, the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo tweeted a cartoon of ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. ‘Best wishes and good health’ the caption read. Minutes after the tweet was published, three armed and masked gunmen stormed the paper’s offices and opened fire, killing ten of its staff and two police officers.

For centuries freedom of speech and religion have experienced conflict, free speech often trampled in the name of protecting religious sensibilities, whether through self-censorship or legislation that censors.
Whilst history also offers many examples of religious freedom being repressed, both free expression and religious freedom need protection from those who would meddle with them, the rule of law in a democratic pluralistic society.
Over 200 years ago, the United States’ founding fathers grouped together freedom of worship and freedom of speech. The US Constitution’s First Amendment, adopted in 1791, made sure that the Congress couldn’t pass laws establishing religions or prohibiting their free exercise, or abridging freedom of speech, press and assembly.
More recently, both religion and free expression were offered protection by The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights which outlines an individual’s right to “freedom of thought, conscience, and religion” and the freedom to change religion or beliefs. “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Clearly, sporadically explosive conflicts arrise when words or images offensive to believers of one faith or another spark a violent response. In todays modern, superconnected and hyper-fast world, means a video uploaded in California can lead to riots, in Cairo for example, within minutes of release..
Before the web, British-Indian writer Salman Rushdie’s ‘blasphemous’ 1988 novel ‘The Satanic Verses’ sparked protests and earned its author a death sentence from Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, who called upon Muslims to assassinate the novelist, his publishers, and anyone else associated with the book. The Japanese translator of the Satanic Verses was killed, and Rushdie’s Norwegian publisher was shot and wounded, leading some to think twice about publishing works potentially ‘offensive to Islam’.
These fears were renewed after the 2005 decision of Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten to publish caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, which were protested about in riots worldwide, largely initiated as a result of agitation by Danish clerics.
The Jewel of Medina, a historical novel about the life of Muhammad’s wife Aisha was due to be published by Random House in the US in 2008, but it was pulled when an academic warned the publishers of a possible violent backlash to the novel. After the UK-based publisher Gibson Square decided to take on the novel, Islamic extremists attempted to firebomb the home of the company’s chief executive. More recently, ex-Muslim and author of The Young Atheist’s Handbook Alom Shaha wrote that initially, staff at Biteback publishing had reservations about releasing his book in the UK. Upon being presented with the book, one staff member’s reaction was, “we can’t publish this, we’ll get firebombed”.
Protecting religious sensitivities at price of free expression;
In 2007, the UK introduced the offence of ‘incitement to religious hatred’ which was made more wide-ranging by covering not just Christianity but all religions.
One of the most pernicious means by which restrictions on free speech have grown tighter has been through the use of incitement laws, both incitement to hatred and incitement to violence and murder. In some cases, as in the outlawing of incitement to religious hatred through the Racial and Religious Hatred Act, the law is being used to censor genuine debate. In other cases, incitement law is being used to shut down protest, as in the convictions of Muslim protestors Mizanur Rahman and Umran Javed for inciting racial hatred and ‘soliciting murder’ during a rally in London against the publications of the Danish Muhammed cartoons. Over the past decade, the government has used the law both to expand the notion of ‘hatred’ and broaden the meaning of ‘incitement’. Much of what is deemed ‘hatred’ today is in fact the giving of offence.
BUT should’t the giving of offence (and essentially the right to be dissagreed with) be viewed as a normal and acceptable part of plural and deocratic society?
Crushing religious freedom?
Other European countries have had their own free speech versus religion battle when a push towards bans on the veil or niqab began, infringing on choices of Muslim women. France’s controversial ban on the niqab went into effect last year. Offenders must pay a 150 € fine or take French citizenship classes. There have been similar discussions in the Netherlands, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Belgium. Such bans are not restricted to Europe — in 2010 Syria banned face veils from university campuses. From 1998 – 2010, Turkey banned headscarves from university campuses. In fact, Turkey has a much wider ban on headscarves in public buildings, a ban the government faces difficulties overturning though it would like to. Just as troubling — countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia have strict dress codes for women that visitors must comply with as well.
Both enforced secularism and enforced religiosity constitute a form of censorship; the key word being ‘enforced’ as opposed to ‘free’. Whether it is tackling enforced religion, religious offence, hatred and incitement to violence, or enforced secularism, only a constructive approach to free speech can genuinely guarantee freedom of conscience and belief, whether in one god, many or none.
My thanks to ‘Index – the Voice of Free Expression’ source for this article.
  à bientôt

An Imaginative biography, in the third person, past tense.

An Imaginative biography, in the third person, past tense.

Into a diverse lineage of iconoclasts and free thinkers, Celestial Elf was born in this life at-least, on the island of Jersey just off western France, apparently under the protectorate of the United Kingdom for reasons best known to Her Royal Majesty’s Cartographers and historians of Empire.

Elf’s father – a human man with powerful nature-al leanings, had held a post in the Merchant Navy and was therefore seldom seen by his family other than by written word in his fantastic letters from the frozen polar wastes or further afield, however his passion for a drink of hot seal fat or lumpy lard soup was not met with a warm welcome. He was nevertheless a remarkable wood carver, a prodigious poet and a speculative philosopher. Elf’s mother, also human but with a potency of spirit seldom seen this side of the beyond,  had a proclivity for romantic painting, classical music and psychology which she practiced on her clients over a number of years. She also had a great love of both travelling and esoteric spirituality, which were fulfilled in her great voyage to an ashram in India where she spent a number of years in meditation.

Amongst the other characters peopling his restless imagination, Elf’s great great grandfather was, in one timeline, a renowned Russian gentleman and author whose criticism of the orthodox religion of his day and liberal views, saw him dismissed from the Ministry of Education, which paradoxically freed him to persue his literary career. Elf’s great great grandmother, by contrast, was a Mongolian ‘princess’ (although I have my doubts), renowned for her excellent boots and for smoking her pipe as she rode bareback across the Russian Steepes – maybe that was just another of the many tales he had been told to as a child when the days were dark and the nights were longer.

Dakinis by by Soyolmaa Davaakhuu – Ulaan Bataar

Growing up in Englands rural idylls, Elf developed a love of country ways through his adventures in the farms, forests and fells, as well as from tales that sometimes crept and sometimes burst out of dusty old tomes overflowing with medieval Giants, Roman ghosts at ancient wells and the casting of somewhat supernatural spells. He learned to ride both cattle and horseback, to tickle trout from the river, to avoid adders, ensnare lizards (without their tales dropping off !!), to capture frogs for frog races and to dance through fields of burning stubble – all very serious undertakings.

He also attended schools in such locations until he was seventeen, after which a one year spell at Art College, followed by a Degree in Arts and Humanities under the honourable Master Griffin, concluded his formal education.

In the formless fullness of time and of the time between time and indeed IN both the beyond and the after time, he married the delightful daughter of a chief engineer from Cumbria, with whom he had care of two children – the marriage happy and lasting. Elf and Elfwife continued to travel throughout England, from the undiscovered South to the unimaginable North and all the postindustrio-wilder lands between.

These voyages disclosed diverse dialects and timeworn traditions which in their lively execution provoked much admiration and provided even more inspiration.


After his afforementioned natural schooling (as well as attendance at the day centres for human offspring), Elf had followed a chequered profession as a merchant, culminating in the wine trade where he became a manager in some capacity, until ensuing but unrelated health issues made their objections inescapable. He conjectured that his health downturn followed the accident at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station which released deadly radioactive particles into the atmosphere, many of which traveled into Western Europe – but what can be done.

Subsequently he developed an ideal of social commitment and contributed as much time as energy allowed to the Celestial Advisory Board. Always a voracious reader of both books as well as natures omens of stars and winds, rivers and reeds, birds and bees and many more than these – Elf took the opportunity of reduced health to continue his self-education. Increasingly these studies, along with field observations, developed into an awareness of natures very fine balance and the tragic consequences of destroying the environments ecosystems to feed business’ extrodinary ethic of perpetual growth from finite resources.

Laurie Lipton – Splendor Solis -The Black Sun

Although Elf had always had a powerful interest in the alternately grotesque and bizarre turns of human knowledge – of comparative theology, psychology and existential philosophy, he was less ‘spiritual’ and more folkloric than many of his contemporaries, preferring the axiom ‘To live at all is miracle enough’. As such he was happy to be considered a Heathen or Pagan, because in these traditions he found a more direct engagement with the forces of life and the beyond of life. Elf’s poetry and animations therefore intended to convey a deep compassion for the natural world, its symbiotic communitarian structure and the rich tapestry of drama enacted through its ever turning cycles, the great wheel of life.

Thus was born the beginning…..

Floki In the Temple

Floki In the Temple

On the mystery of Spiritual Awareness ~

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

Narrated in the voice of ‘Floki’, this animated poem descibes the perspective of being in tune with the inner self of thought and memory, balanced with the outer self of nature and cosmos. Acting then as a spiritual compass or sun stone, it is a poetic device by which to orient to the divinity within and as such serves as a very powerful blessing.

In the television series Vikings, Floki
Is a boat builder and incorrigible trickster, who also happens to be Ragnar Lothbrok‘s eccentric and closest friend. Committed to helping Ragnar sail west, he secretly designs and builds a new generation of Viking longboats for their voyage across the ocean westward.

He also does seem to embody many characteristics of his nearly namesake Loki.
While treated as a nominal member of the Aesir tribe of gods in the Eddas and Sagas, Loki occupies a highly ambivalent and ultimately solitary position amongst the gods, giants, and the other classes of invisible beings that populate the traditional spirituality of the Norse and other Germanic peoples.

Our Floki character appears to be based on  
Hrafna-Flóki Vilgerðarson…

Flóki Vilgerðarson
9thC Common Era, was the first Norseman to deliberately sail to Iceland. His story is documented in the Landnámabók manuscript. He heard good news of a new land to the west, then known as Garðarshólmi.
He wanted to settle in this new land and so he took his family and livestock with him.
From Western Norway he set sail to the Shetland Islands where it is said his daughter drowned. He continued his journey and landed in the Faroe Islands where another of his daughters was wed. There he took three ravens to help him find his way to Iceland, and thus, he was nicknamed Raven-Floki (Norse and Icelandic; Hrafna-Flóki) and he is commonly remembered by that name.

Three Ravens Print by Dona Reed

Loki and moral ambiguity;
Loki, famously ambivalent, is perhaps best known for his malevolent role in The Death of Baldur.
We may wonder why the Scandinavians had such an apparently wicked god in their mythology at all?
Loki features so prominently in the tales of Norse mythology because these tales explore the inner meanings of the physical realm that we still inhabit.  In earlier times the Northern peoples did not share the conceptions of  absolute moral ‘good’ or ‘evil’ that have been employed to various ends since the rise of christian dominated societies. Some values and actions were appropriate for some people and situations; others were inappropriate for those same people and situations but might be appropriate for other people and other situations.

This was not however the dangerous free-for-all of moral relativism that it sounds. In traditional Germanic society, a person who occupied a particular social role and was a devotee of that role’s corresponding god or goddess could rightly be held to the standard of conduct appropriate for that role and its divinity. Thus, while most Viking Age men were held to the standards of honor and manliness exemplified by such figures as Tyr, Thor, or Freyr, for example, not everyone was necessarily held to these standards.
Devotees of Odin, for example, followed a path of ecstatic and creative self-actualization that often seemed fickle, ruthless, irresponsible, and even shameful by the standards of, say, a man of Thor.

Thus Loki cannot fairly be considered an example of moral ‘evil’. Instead, he’s an example of one of the countless, often opposing and contradictory principles and meanings of which life consists. Wether they accept it or not, many people appear to share the flexible and self interested mindset as exemplified by Loki. It is inevitable however that in an informed and conscious Pantheisitic, animistic,perspective which accepts both light and dark as parts of a unified whole, even (f)Loki’s irreverence itself is a spiritual perspective and ultimately worthy of respect.

Grateful thanks to my source for this research;
Dan McCoy – Norse Mythology for Smart People./Loki
 Ásáheil og Vána!
May the Blessing of Aesir and Vanir
Ever Be With You!




The Thirteen days of Midwinter Solstice

The Thirteen days of Midwinter Solstice

Yule has its roots in the old-Nordic word ‘iul’ or the Anglo-Saxon ‘hweol’, both meaning ‘wheel’, which points to the ever turning year and natures cycle of life, death and rebirth.
The lunar calendar, which has a powerful influence over the growing things upon the Earth, leaves about 12 days left over each year, the thirteenth day signifies the start of the new cycle. So the twelve nights of Yule were considered neither part of the old year, nor part of the new year.  These days being outside of the year establish a liminal time when the veil between the worlds is thin, a time when the gods walk the earth and people may see the elves or other spirits that live around us.

Yule begins on Mother Night or ‘Módraniht’ (December 20th) and ends 12 days later on ‘Yule Night’ (1st January) also known as Twelfth Night. Most pre-Christian mystery cults celebrated the Mother Goddess and mothers everywhere as creatrixes of all life. On Mother night, the longest night of the year, we make a feast to honor the protective feminine ancestors that watch over us. Nature is now sleeping and the newborn Solstice Sun is the gift of the Mother Goddess to the world which then prepares for the bright and warmth of the coming spring, the next step in the great circle dance of life. At the culmination of this time we celebrate the beginning of the new year.

Fire festivals, celebrating the rebirth of the Sun, held on the Winter’s Solstice can be found throughout the ancient world. The Roman festival of Saturnalia was held on the winter solstice, boughs of evergreen trees and bushes would decorate the house, gifts where exchanged and normal business was suspended. The Persian Mithraists held December 25th as sacred to the birth of their Sun God, Mithras, and celebrated it as a victory of light over darkness. In Sweden, December 13th was sacred to the Goddess Lucina, Shining One, and was a celebration of the return of the light. On Yule itself, around the 21st, bonfires were lit to honour Odin and Thor.

Adapting the lovely pealing quality of the pagan carol The 13 Days of Solstice by Pashta MaryMoon with its lines culminating each verse in an accrued repetition of the gifts given, I have followed an old tradition in rewriting this song to be both shorter – easier to manage, and to contain a seed of inspirational meaning for those with enquiring minds to follow.
Note the thirteen days in the title and verses rather than the twelve days of the more widely known christian carol, this is because although there are twelve solar months in a year there are thirteen lunar months and it is these that govern the pagan year as they hold sway over nature itself..


The Thirteen Days of Midwinter Solstice

On the first day of Solstice the Goddess sent to me
The Wiccan Rede of ‘Harm Ye None’…
Who hears my carol and takes it away,
On Mother’s Night will be a cherished one.

On the second day of Solstice the Goddess gave to me,
God and Goddess Blessings….
Who hears my carol and takes it away,
On Winter Solstice will in joy be dressing.

On the third day of Solstice the Goddess revealed to me
The Eternal Three Fold Law…
Who hears my carol and takes it away,
Their Courage – worthy and free.

On the fourth day of Solstice the Goddess showed to me
The Four Directions called….
Who hears my carol and takes it away,
In Truth will be enthralled.

On the fifth day of Solstice the Goddess gifted me,
The Five Pointed Pentagram…
Who hears my carol and takes it away,
Natures Honor will convey.

On the sixth day of Solstice the Goddess gave to me
Six rays of Sunlight…
Who hears my carol and takes it away,
In Fidelity will be bright.

On the seventh day of Solstice the Goddess explained to me
Seven Secrets of the Septagram…
Who hears my carol and takes it away,
Hospitality to thee the Elves will pay.

On the eigth day of Solstice the Goddess showed to me,
The Eight Sacred Sabbats…
Who hears my carol and takes it away,
With Discipline will turn the seasons wheel.

On the ninth day of Solstice the Goddess heaped on me,
Nine Noble Virtues….
Who hears my carol and takes it away,
By Industriousness will be worthy and free.

On the tenth day of Solstice the Goddess saw in me
Ten Transformations…
Who hears my carol and takes it away,
By Self-Reliance will show the way.

On the eleventh day of Solstice the Goddess illumined me,
With Eleven Runes of Power…
Who hears my carol and takes it away,
In Perseverance  across three realms will flower.

On the twelfth day of Solstice the Goddess conveyed to me
Twelve Heavenly signs..
Who hears my carol and takes it away,
On Twelfth Night will understand the star’s designs.

On the thirteenth day of Solstice the Goddess granted me
Thirteen Full Moons Shinning…
Who hears my carol and takes it away,
Radiant and Luminous will be they.

c. Celestial Elf 2014.

In ancient times, calendars were more widely acknowledged as a link between the Divine universe and humankind, as sacred tools providing instructions for when to plant, hunt or migrate between cold and warm climates. In terms of the lunar or solar calendars, as is well known, the phases of the moon and thus the lunar calendar has a significant bearing on the growth of plants, the tides of the oceans and the turning of the seasons, thus the pagan use of the lunar calendar reflects the pagan involvement with nature itself.
Although Spring will not arrive for many weeks yet, with the new Sun in the sky and days growing longer once again,  assured of its arrival we celebrate to give thanks for the safe passage throught the darker, leaner times and with hope for the warmth and new life to come..

To the eternal Goddess then and to the ever changing God, 

to Nature herself,
& to You the inimitable reader,
Happy Yuletide & Waes Hael!

On The Yule Tree and her Greenery;

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.

The Claife Crier:

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
Serena Roney-Dougal 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.

From Puck, Good Luck ~


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