Archive for December, 2009

Father Christmas & The Shamanta Clause…

The appearance of Father Christmas dates back at least as far as the 17th century in Britain,
pictures of him from that era portray him as a jolly, bearded man dressed in a long, green cloak.
He typified the spirit of good cheer at Christmas, as the “Ghost of Christmas Present“, in Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol, where he takes a miserly Scrooge on an emotionally re-energizing expedition through London on Christmas morning, his goodwill overflowing all around.

In 1931 however, the Coca Cola company redressed this classic figure with the Red Robes of Santa Claus,
co-opting him in promotional service of their product.
Subsequently in his examinations of cultural iconography, the renowned anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss wrote in his analysis of Father Christmas:
“Father Christmas is dressed in scarlet: he is a king. His white beard, his furs and his boots, the sleigh in which he travels evoke winter. He is called “Father” and he is an old man, thus he incarnates the benevolent form of the authority of the ancients.”

Thus we see the Father Christmas tradition although diverted to secular ends, still embodies deeper cultural values…..

* * * *

Whilst Father Christmas has become the most beloved of Christmas symbols and traditions,
his origins are not clear….

*

On Father Christmas’ ‘Christian’ Origins;

The Catholic Saint Nicholas Myra is one of the key inspirations for ‘Santa Claus’.
He was a 4thC Greek Christian bishop of Myra, Byzantine in Turkey, famous for his generous gifts to the poor.
His cult spread quickly and he became the patron saint of many groups, including judges, criminals, merchants, sailors, travelers, the poor, & children.
According to St. Nicholas historian, Charles W. Jones,
“. . . the cult of St. Nicholas was, before the Reformation, the most intensive of any nonbiblical saint in Christendom. . . there were 2,137 ecclesiastical dedications [churches] to Nicholas in France, Germany, and the Low Countries alone before the year 1500.”
(Jones, Charles. W. “Knickerbocker Santa Claus.” The New-York Historical Society Quarterly, October 1954, Volume XXXVIII Number Four, p.357)

Saint Nicholas is also the most revered saint in Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church’ christianized replacement of the native people’s local Shaman….

In The Netherlands and Belgium, Saint Nicolas is aided by helpers commonly known as Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) in Dutch or “Père Fouettard” in French, or in Switzerland, the Krampus, a scary demon who would just as easily take people away to punish them with a birch stick beating, as give a gift to reward their good year.

The European Father Christmas became more world widespread In 1626 when a ship with settlers from the Netherlands arrived in America bearing these traditions of the Dutch “Sinter Claes,” or Saint Nickolas the patron saint of sailors, and their custom of celebrating the Winter Solstice….

. . . .

Whilst Father Christmas has become a secular representation of Christmas, a number of primarily Protestant fundamentalist Christian churches object to the materialist focus that his gift giving brings to this holiday.
This condemnation of Christmas originated with some 16th C Protestant groups, and was prevalent among the Puritans of 17th C England & America who banned the holiday as either Pagan (which means ‘of nature’) or Roman Catholic.
Christmas was made legal again with the Restoration of 1660, despite Puritan opposition in New England USA which persisted for almost two centuries….

* * * *

But Who Is Father Christmas Really?….

Whilst most religious historians agree that St Nicholas as Santa Claus did not actually exist as a real person,
during the Christianization of Northern Europe local traditions were incorporated into the new Christian holidays to make them more acceptable to the new converts, & thus Santa Claus was created, a Christianized version of earlier Pagan gods.
In support of this view, nearly all Santa researchers agree that many aspects of Santa derive from The Norse mythology.

Mythologist Helene Adeline Guerber suggests the Northern traditions indicate Santa as the Norse god Thor;
Thor was the god of the peasants and the common people, represented as an elderly man, jovial and friendly, with a long white beard. His element was the fire, his color red.
The rumble and roar of thunder were said to be caused by the rolling of his chariot …drawn by two white goats (called Cracker and Gnasher).
He was fighting the giants of ice and snow, and thus became the Yule-god.
He was said to live in the “Northland” where he had his palace among icebergs.
By our pagan forefathers he was considered as the cheerful and friendly god…
The fireplace in every home was especially sacred to him, and he was said to come down through the chimney into his element, the fire.
(Guerber, H.A. Myths of Northern Lands. New York: American Book Company, 1895, p. 61)

It is also worth mentioning that Thor’s helpers were elves and like Santa’s elves, Thor’s elves were skilled craftsman.
It was the elves who created Thor’s magic hammer.

Contrastingly,
Two books from Iceland, the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier sources,
and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th C,
describe Odin as riding an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir (Santa originally had eight reindeers, Rudolph was nine) that could leap great distances, giving rise to comparisons to Santa Claus’s reindeer.
Tradition has it that Odin led the souls of the dead on a furious cross-country ride during the twelve ‘bad’ days between Christmas and Epiphany (January 6).
The resulting gale carried along the seeds of the produce of the fields, stimulating fertility.
The apples, nuts, and other autumn produce given around St. Nicholas Day were symbols of fertility and by giving the Gods these symbolic presents during the cold, dark winter days would result in increased fertility for man, animal, and soil.

Odin was also accompanied by his servant, Eckhard, the forerunner of Black Peter, who carried a rod.
As recently as the Middle Ages, it was the popular belief that certain trees and plants could render humans fertile and that merely striking a woman with a branch of such a tree could make her pregnant.

* * * *

Of Santa’s Shamanic Sources…

Religious historians & astrologists appear to have combined forces to consider the matter of Father Christmas incredible voyage outside of time…
Santa’s magical journey on his sleigh around the whole planet in a single night, is apparently developed from the ‘heavenly chariot’ used by many Gods from whom Santa and other shamanic figures are descended.
The chariot of Odin, Thor and even the Egyptian god Osiris is now known as the star constellation the Big Dipper, which circles around the North Star in a 24-hour period… thus the flight of the stars portrayed the flight of the God(s), and in turn of Santa Claus.

The Shamanic Flight of the Mushroom….

The Shaman, who was the highly regarded healer, seer, herbalist and counselor of his people, employed trance like states induced by repetitive drumming, and plants with psychotropic qualities to further their altered perceptions of reality beyond the physical constraints of normal reality in the earth plane.

These vision quests were serious undertakings embarked on with ritual and purpose to discover the causes of illness, or to reveal the best courses of action for the community to pursue over any given matter, and often involved communing with deceased, and Otherworldy Spirits or Gods.

Specifically the Northern Shamen are reputed to have eaten Amanita Mushrooms, more commonly known as Fly Agaric, the Red/White spotted poisonous Magical Mushroom of many fairy-stories and folk legends.
Entering into Mushroom induced trance and riding the regular beat of their drum, these Shamen ‘climbed’ up the world tree to commune with the spirits & return with gifts , not toys, but messages for individuals and the tribe, concerning the year to come, their hunts and harvests, the fate of their world.

* * * *

Of Father Christmas Elven Affiliations…

St. Nicholas is not only assisted by elves, but is possibly an Elf himself if an authors license is to be believed…
In the Famous Poem written by Clement Clark Moore, ‘The Night Before Christmas’ – The author calls Santa a ‘ Jolly Old Elf’.

Yet, Clark Moore’s theory is supported by later academic research into the Nordic Mythologies..
“… Saint Nicholas was an absorbed pagan deity. Our modern version of this personage is an amalagation of many old personifications of a very old elf. Yes, elf. In ancient times, it was believed that an elf came and delivered gifts to those who left him porridge. Indeed, the popular figure of Santa Claus actually owes more to the god Odin than he does the Christian saint called Nicholas. He dresses in red, a colour symbolic of the Teutonic Alfs, or elves. He has one eye with which he can give knowledge with a single wink. He has a long white beard and hails from the ancient lands of the frozen north…”
(Santa Claus, the Yule Elf, and Odi by Kimberly Moore)

Elven or otherwise, the mysterious nature of Father Christmas draws on many sources but resonates with a timeless quality outside of them all.

* * * *

On The Meaning Of It All…..

Some psychologists suggest ‘Cognitive Dissonance’ which occurs when children are encouraged to believe in the existence of Santa Claus, only to have their parents reveal the ‘lie’ when they are older….
Yet such parents, perhaps victims of church led re-assignations of cultural meanings, are mistaken, as much psychological and spiritual truth does reside in these deep rooted mytho-historic traditions.
By better understanding such Nature-Al truths, we may better understand our modern world, and its relationship to the greater panorama of Nature’s endless cycles and within that our own bright season of life.

The true spirit of Father Christmas then, lies not in the fraught or hopeful exchange of gifts or toys,
but in celebrating our gifts from Divine Nature:The gifts, of perception and awareness, that allow us to witness the beauty of this life and its many wonders, of seeing the solstice sun, or hearing joy in the voices of our children and friends, of love…..

So when the jolly Shaman gifts you with his blessings this year,
remember that the Nature which expresses itself in endless galaxies of light and wonder, also celebrates its existence through you, that is his real gift…..

* * * *

A Visit From St. Nicholas/’Twas the Night Before Christmas

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

(by Clement Clarke Moore)

HoHoHo!

On The Mysterious Matter of Mistletoe..

On The Mysterious Matter of Mistletoe;

According to the Ancient Druid traditions, Mistletoe was the most sacred of all plants.

Allegedly from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘Misteltan’ (Tan = twig) & the German Mistel (Mist = dung)…
This is not so awful as at first may seem, because to the Ancient Nature based traditions, excretion & birth were considered almost synonymous in the cycle of life.
Alternately the name Mistletoe may have derived from the Celtic ‘Mil’ioc’, meaning ‘All-Heal‘.

As Mistletoe grew from the Sky on the limbs of the Holy Oak tree (the Oak tree was believed to be a doorway between the worlds), its leaves green throughout winter representing the fertility of the Earth Goddess, its white berries the seed of the Forest God, the Celts believed that Mistletoe held the soul of the Holy Oak & therefore embodied its Sacred fertility.

Because Mistletoe is botanically unique in the Northern Hemisphere (the only highly-evolved flowering plant that is parasitic/roots into trees), it was considered to have miraculous properties that could cure illnesses, antidote poisons, ensure fertility and protect against witchcraft.
{{Modern Herbalists today use European Mistletoe to strengthen the heart and reduce blood pressure, & to relieve pain from headaches caused by high blood pressure. The powdered leaves have also been used in careful treatment of epilepsy.}}

Mistletoe was used by the Druids in a ceremony held five days after the New Moon following the Winter Solstice;
The Druids would cut Mistletoe from the Sacred Oak tree with a magical golden sickle or Bolline representing the life giving Sun.
The branches had to be caught by maidens, on white cloaks, before they touched the ground, otherwise they would discharge their magical energies into the earth.
The Druids then divided the branches into bunches and gave them to the people, calling it All-Heal, and the people hung them over their doorways as a protection, and as a sign of peace and goodwill.

* * * * * * * *

The Norse Traditions explain the meaning of Mistletoe through the story of Balder, son of Frigga, Goddess of love & life.
Balder, called the well-beloved & Holy one, is the ‘God of Goodness’ and represents the spring Sun in Norse tradition (& hence the Sun God).

Frigga, worried on hearing Balder’s prophetic dream that he would be killed, had the four elements, Fire, Water, Air, & Earth, promise that they would not harm her son.
However, Loki (the mischievous God of Fire, who was jealous of Balder), found the only thing that could break
this promise, Mistletoe, because as it grows ‘from the sky’ it was not bound to any of the four realms.
He made an arrow from its wood & gave it to Hoder (the blind god of darkness & ignorance) while the other gods were playfully hurling their weapons against the invulnerable Sun God Balder.
Hoder shot his arrow at Balder’s heart, and he fell dead, thus Hoder fulfilled Loki’s jealous plan, the mind darkened by ignorance accomplished what nothing else could, the death of the God of light.

Balder then traveled to Hel, The Queen of the realm of the Dead.
Whilst Odin, father of the Gods, pleaded with Hel for Balder’s return
(Hel agreed on condition that all living things weep for Balder’s return)
Frigga implored all beings to mourn the Sun God’s death & her tears of grief became the mistletoe’s white berries.

This account may be the origin of Kissing under the Mistletoe,..
As Balder is restored to life, Frigga is so grateful that she reverses the poisonous reputation of the Mistletoe,
making it a symbol of love and promising a kiss to all who pass under it as a pledge of friendship and goodwill.

Symbolically, the Nordic Story of Balder & the Mistletoe, portrays the cycle of life, death & rebirth of nature.
As The Sun God dies with every nightfall, & rises again each New Morning;
Also, He dies With every Winter Solstice, to return Each New Year bringing Light & Life.

* * * * * * * * * *

Mistletoe is still forbidden in most Christian churches because of its Pagan associations;
Although the holiday at Christmas time has always predated Christianity with it’s traditions of Nordic paganism, Celtic fertility rites, and Roman Mithraism, many such earlier Gods ( including Theseus, Perseus, Dionysus, Apollo ) present a mythologic account of the divinities birth, death, and resurrection that was uncomfortably close to the story of Jesus..
Both Martin Luther and John Calvin abhorred Mistletoe for these reasons, & the Puritans refused to acknowledge it.

* * * * * * * * * *

Evidence of Mistletoe’s use in Ancient Britain has been recorded in the following extract from the Roman natural historian Pliny the Elder‘s accounts of his reconnaissance of Britain, on the subject of a Druidic ritual:

The Druids…hold nothing more sacred than the Mistletoe and the tree that bears it, as long as that tree be an Oak….
Mistletoe is very rarely encountered; but when they do find some, they gather it in a solemn ritual….
After preparing for a sacrifice and a feast under the Oak, they hail the Mistletoe as a Cure-All and bring two white bulls there, whose horns have never been bound before.
A priest dressed in a white robe climbs the oak and with a golden sickle cuts the Mistletoe, which is caught in a white cloak….
They believe that a potion prepared from Mistletoe will make sterile animals fertile, and that the plant is an antidote for any poison. ”

(Natural History, XVI, 249-251).

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Holding an influential role across cultures and over time,
The enduring fascination with the magical properties of Misteltoe are further evidenced in two significant books of the Western Literary canon…

In Virgil’s ‘Aeneid
(the most famous book in classical Latin & one of the most famous poems of all time),
The Roman hero, Aeneas, finds the ‘Golden Bough’ on a sacred tree in the grove dedicated to the Goddess Diana,
The prophetess Sibyl instructed Aeneas to pick this Magical Bough ‘from which shone a flickering gleam of gold.
As in the woods in the cold winter the mistletoe … which puts out seed foreign to its tree … stays green with fresh leaves and twines its yellow fruit about the boles…’ before his descent into the Underworld.
Sibyl knew that, with the aid of such magic, Aeneas would be able to undertake his perilous adventure safely.
(‘Aeneid’ VI, 204-209).

Much later in the 20th C, the Very Title of Sir James G. Frazer’s comparative study of mythology and religion,
The Golden Bough‘ (1922), derives from this scene in Virgil’s Aeneid.
According to Frazer, Mistletoe could become a “Golden Bough” because when they die and wither, Mistletoe plants acquire a golden hue.
Naturally enough, as his subject matter explored the roots and meanings behind Religion & Magic, the apparently Alchemical and Transformative powers of the Mistletoe directly referenced the cathartic insights that his study would make available to his readership, & was therefore a good choice.

The ‘Goldenness’ of the Mistletoe was further influenced by the European folklore that Mistletoe plants were thought to have come to earth as lightning strikes a tree in a blaze of Gold and as the agent of life thus linked to the divine creative force, which is a suitably portentous birth for a plant whose home is half way between the heavens and the earth.

Glad tidings for Yule! (mid-winter Solstice 21st December)

In Ancient Northern Europe the mid-winter Solstice (between 20th/23rd of December) was called ‘Earth Mother‘s Night’, and as the shortest day of the year it effectively represents the turning point of the season.

The Romans called this Sostice the Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.
The Roman midwinter festival of Saturnalia (17-25 December) celebrated Saturnus (god of fertility, harvest and time) & his wife Ops (Mother Earth). Whilst Temples and homes were decorated with stars and suns and evergreens symbolizing life’s continuity, Processions of people with masked or blackened faces symbolizing the dark of winter danced through the streets, which has survived in the custom of ‘Mummer’s Plays‘.
Masters also feasted with their slaves and a ‘King’ was appointed from their number to take charge of the revels
giving rise to the ‘Lord of Misrule‘ of medieval Christmas festivities, which tradition survived into the 17th Century.”

In Northern Europe the winter festival was the Yule (Juul).
As the people thought the Sun stood still for twelve days in the midwinter, plunging Mother Earth and all her growing things into the dark, coldness of death, It was thought that spring could not come without their celebration of midwinter.
During this time the Druids began the tradition of burning the Yule Log to conquer the darkness and to evoke the return of the Sun for the new year, the Suns divine male energy was needed to return and quicken the Earths sacred female energy for the Rebirth of spring.
A Yule Tree was also illuminated with candles, to further this effort to attract the Sun.
Therefore ‘Yule’ is the midwinter festival of light, as the length of daylight progressively increases after the winter solstice.

Along with the Evergreen, the Holly and the Ivy and the Mistletoe are important plants of this season, symbolizing fertility & everlasting life.
Mistletoe, also known as The Golden Bough (& called Allheal, used in folk medicine to cure many ills) was held sacred by the Druids and Norse people, who cut it with a golden sickle (symbolic of the Sun) on the sixth night of the moon.
Both Druids and Romans hung sprigs of mistletoe in their homes and places of celebration to bring good fortune and peace & the Scandinavians would halt and call Truce in battle if they came across mistletoe in their Forests.
In addition, its fertility endowing powers have by tradition created its modern role as a symbol of love (a man should pick a berry when he kisses a woman beneath the mistletoe, when the last berry is gone there should be no more kissing!).

The myth of the Holly King/Oak King probably originated from the Druids to whom these two trees were highly sacred.
The Oak King (Lord of the Waxing Year) kills the Holly King (Lord of the Waning Year) at Yule (Winter Solstice).
The Oak King then reigns until Litha (Summer Solstice) when the two fight again and the Holly King is victorious.
The Holly King is still seen in some representations of the modern Santa Claus.”

The Nordic Yule began in the evening of winter solstice 20th-23rd December, with the sacrifice of a wild pig (boar) to Mother Earth.
This gave strength to Mother Earth (Freja), so that she could give birth to her Son (Balder) on 24th of December who represented both the next generation and most imporatntly, light ie the New Sun (which was also echoed in the Rebirth of the Persian Sun God Mithrais {as well as the Greek Apollo} on 25th December, a significant date later co-opted by the Christian Church…)
The ham as the Yule dish is particularly significant because in ancient times the pig was considered a holy animal and personification of Mother Earth, symbolizing her fertility.
Thus the Yule ham is Mother Earth herself.

Regarding such Sacrifices in these Ancient traditions;
As they held that Divinity was inherent in all creatures as an expression of the God’s powers within nature,
so the most powerful of these rituals was when a God was sacrificed to share their divine energy.
Those who ate of such sacrificial feasts received a part of the Deities divine power,
just as the death of one creature gives life to others.
For the ancient people such traditions were completely normal as they ‘sacrificed’ the seed in spring to earth, where it ‘died’, & later rose again to give life to many new seeds which in turn would both feed many people and beget many more new seeds.
(These principles are similar in theme to the Christian atonement sacrifice of Christ, the ritual of Eucharist and the Ascension)

Be that as it may,
I share with you now Bright Yule Blessings:

Yule Blessings.

Blessings to you from the Earth Mother.
She is the Moon.
She watches over all of us by.
The light that she casts over the blessed earth.
Walk her night lit path
And happiness you will find at every turn.
Blessed be!

Blessings to you from the Sky Father.
He is the Sun. He holds us up
And brings us strength. Carry his sword
To cleave the evil from your path
And you will be unmolested.
Blessed Be!

Blessings to you from the Great Spirit.
It binds us all together:
Man to womyn; beast to beast; all.
We are it and it is us.
Blessed Be!

May you have a wonderful Holiday.
The time has come for the sun to be reborn
He lies in his Mother’s womb waiting…
Awaiting his reappearance on this plane.
Let us all rejoice in his rebirth and ours.
Blessed Be!

(by yusef)

Merry Solstice, er…Happy Yule…

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