Podcast 38 – Yuletide Cheer! 2011

-SHOWNOTES FOR EPISODE 38

Summary
This is our annual holiday special, featuring music, poetry, stories, and recipes! Here’s wishing you all the best for your holiday season and a happy new year to come!

Play:
Download: New World Witchery – Episode 38

-Sources-
Stories & Poetry:
A Baker’s Dozen,” by Charles M. Skinner
Minstrels,” by William Wordsworth
Mistletoe,” by Walter de la Mare
When the Snow is on the Ground,” by Mother Goose
Old Santeclaus,” by Clement Clark Moore
A Florida Christmas Folktale,” by S.E. Schlosser
Ceremonies for Christmas,” by Robert Herrick
Noel,” by Anne Porter

Recipes:
Wassail, from Laine
Jode Kayer (Jewish Cookies), from Cory’s family cookbook
Danish Vanilla Rings, from Cory’s family cookbook

Don’t forget to follow us at Twitter!

Promos & Music
All songs used with permission/license, from Magnatune and MusicAlley, except as noted.

Playlist:
1. Down in Yon Forest – Lydia McCauley
2. In the Bleak Midwinter – Fugli
3. O Holy Night – The New Autonomous Folksingers
4. O Come, O Come Emmanuel – Cat Jonkhe (sp?)
5. Round About our Coal Fire – Shira Kammen
6. Ma Navu – Kitka
7. Schedrick (Ukranian Bell Carol) – Kitka
8. We Three Kings – Jennifer Avalon
9. The Wassail Song (Yorkshire Wassail) – Jim Goodrich
10. Somerset Wassail – Pagan Carolers
11. Apple Tree Wassail – Shira Kammen
12. Bring Us in Good Ale – Lydia McCauley
13. Hark the Herald Angels Sing – Mano Reza
14. Jolly Old St. Nicholas – Selena Matthews
15. The Friendly Beasts – Gary
16. Patapan – Fugli
17. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – Chances End
18. Fum Fum Fum – Fugli
19. Cutty Wren – Shira Kammen
20. Silent Night/Stille Nacht – Karmyn Tyler
21. Da Day Dawn – Samantha Gillogly*

Underscoring music is “We Three Kings,” by Two Harps, from MusicAlley.
*Used by permission of the artist.

Blog Post 111 – The Meaning of Christmas?

Hi everyone,

This is just a short post today looking at a recent discussion from the BBC:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/news/2010/12/101223_christmas_meaning_nh_sl.shtml

In this broadcast (which I heard via Oraia Sphinx, many thanks to her), the origins and meaning of Christmas are discussed by Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association (aka. The AFA—an evangelical group which leads many initiatives to instill religiously conservative values into Americans) and Professor of Pagan History/well-respected author Ronald Hutton of Bristol University.  While it’s not really fair to pit a scholar and historian against a spokesperson, the overall conversation is interesting, if a bit charged at times.  I’m not posting it to stir up controversy (though I suspect it may do so), but more because I thought it was interesting, and because I always enjoy hearing Hutton speak on history and theology.  Also, Fischer makes an interesting point for those of us who are American witches—can we celebrate “Christmas” without making it (at least primarily) a religious observance?  And do we need to?  Is our country so deeply tied to its Christian roots that we acknowledge Christianity by acts as mundane as writing a check with an “A.D.” date on it?  Or, as Hutton proposes, is America a collection of pocket communities each defining their own values based on their cultural, ethnic, and social histories?  Food for thought.

There’s a rather neat musical montage in the piece, too, which outlines the different angles from which Christmas (and the winter holidays in general) can be viewed.  Religious, Hopeful, Commercial, or Sad, there does seem to be a universal draw to set aside this time of year, whatever feelings it inspires.

So what about you?  Do you have a “reason for the season” that you’d like to share?  What does Christmas mean to you?

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 110 – The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

“ ‘I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come?’ said Scrooge.
The Spirit answered not, but pointed onward with its hand.
‘You are about to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us,’ Scrooge pursued. ‘Is that so, Spirit?’
The upper portion of the garment was contracted for an instant in its folds, as if the Spirit had inclined its head. That was the only answer he received.”
(from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol)

To mark Christmas Eve—which is probably my favorite winter holiday, simply because it’s the one I’ve always celebrated and the one I’ve always found most magical—I thought today I’d put up a few of the many fortune-telling techniques employed at this time.  While many of these are not specifically New World, they are often quite ethnically linked and so are found in a variety of ethnic communities both in the “Old Country” and the New.

Polish Customs
(you can read more about these customs here)

  • Girls who grind poppy seeds on Christmas Eve can expect a swift marriage
  • After dinner on Christmas Eve, a girl will leave the house and listen for a dog bark.  Wherever it comes from is the direction from which her future husband will arrive.
  • A maiden could go down to the river on Christmas Eve and dip her hand in the water, pulling out the first object she touched.  Wood meant her future husband might be a carpenter, leather a cobbler, iron a blacksmith, etc.
  • Straws could be placed under the tablecloth at dinner, then pulled by guests to foretell the future.  A green straw meant marriage, a yellow straw meant spinsterhood, a short straw meant an early grave.

Czech Customs
(you can read more about these customs here)

  • Every member of the family lays some bread on the floor, after which the dog is called in.  Whose bread the dog eats will go on a journey in the next year (or in some variations, be dead by that time).
  • Melted lead is dropped into cool water, and the shapes are used to interpret the future.  For example a sheep-shaped piece might indicate a future job in agriculture, or perhaps peace and rest in the near future.  I’ve heard of tin being substituted, and I imagine candle wax would be a reasonable replacement, too, if you lack the means to melt metal in your home.
  • Lighted candles could be placed in walnut shells, then floated in the bathtub.  Whoever had the shell which went the farthest would be making a long and important journey soon.
  • After dinner, guests take an apple and cut it crosswise.  If it reveals a star-shape, good fortune awaits the subject.  If it shows a cross, illness or death is coming.
  • Walnuts can also be cracked to reveal the future.  A kernel that is big and sweet reveals happiness and prosperity, while a shriveled or bitter kernel foretells sorrow or sickness.

Irish Customs
(you can read more about these customs here, here and here)

  • A sheep’s shoulder-blade could be “read” to indicate the future.  After the lamb was eaten at Christmas dinner, its shoulder would be scraped clean without using iron (preferably by the teeth or a wooden implement), and the spots left at the thinnest parts of the blade would show shapes to the reader indicating the future.
  • In a very grave ceremony, a round cake would be baked (sometimes of ashes or even cow dung) and a candle would be placed in it for each member of the family.  The order in which the candles burned out indicated the order in which family members would die.
  • The neighing of horses on Christmas Eve indicated whether there would be peace or war in the coming year.
  • A girl going to a well just before midnight on Christmas Eve could see her future spouse in the calm waters.
  • A girl could knock at a hen-house door on this night, and if the cock crowed, she would soon marry.  If not, she would remain celibate.

British Customs
(you can read more about these customs here and here)

  • Whoever lit the new Yule log with a piece of the previous year’s Yule log would have good fortune all year.  This concept was immortalized in verse by Robert Herrick’s poem, “The Yule Log.”
  • The plow was to be brought in and kept under the table all through the twelve days of Christmas in order to ensure good luck.  If you had a plow, that is.
  • A girl could place a sprig of hawthorn in a glass of water and if it sprouted on Christmas Eve, she would be sure to soon marry.

Italian Customs
(you can read more about these customs here, here, and here)

  • Each member of the family puts a heap of flour on the table and leaves the room.  The head of the family then comes in and stashes different presents or charms in the flour piles, and the family returns to find their fortune for the year based on the charm they received.
  • If Christmas Eve is moonlit, there will be bad fruit in the coming year.
  • A man in costume standing on the church steps can watch for those who attempt to enter the church on Christmas Eve but find themselves unable to do so.  The man then identifies those who did not make it into the church as witches.
  • Those born on Christmas Eve are thought to become either werewolves or witches, depending on their gender.
  • Anyone who invokes the Devil before a mirror on Christmas Eve may become a witch (not really divination, but I thought it was interesting anyway!).

If you have Christmas Eve fortune-telling or divination customs, we’d love to hear them!  I know this barely scratches the surface of all the various cultures which partake in a little bit of magic on Christmas Eve, but I must stop here.  I still have a few presents to wrap, and I think I may need to track down some lead, a plow, and maybe a mirror.
Have the very best of holidays, everyone!  Thank you all so much for reading, and all my wintry blessings go out to our readers!  May the light find you, wherever you are.

-Cory

Blog Post 109 – Holidays in the Mountains

Hi there, everyone!

Today, I’m going to be sharing a little bit of holiday lore from the mountains, both the Ozarks and the Appalachians (to those readers wondering when I’ll start including the Rockies, I promise I’ll get there one day!  I’m just woefully ignorant of the traditions from that area).  There are a number of pieces of folklore associated with the winter holidays in the mountains.  Often, storytelling and family visits were the primary entertainment in the financially poor but folklore-and-culturally-rich mountains once the cold weather set in.  Christmas was not always celebrated, especially during the early years of settling, largely because many Protestants settling in the Appalachians viewed the holiday with suspicion and regarded it as a Catholic celebration.  One source records that the penalty for observing Christmas during the Puritan era was a “fine of five shillings” (WG&S, p.28).  Over time, however, as more people of mixed backgrounds settled the area, Christmas became a social holiday.  Patrick Gainer records that holidays in the mountains included:

  • Fireworks and noisemaking
  • Very little decorating prior to the widespread introduction of electricity (most homes didn’t have a Christmas tree)
  • School Christmas parties
  • Costumed visits to friends and neighbors (called “Belsnickling”—more on that in a minute)
  • Toys for children, though almost entirely homemade ones

Belsnickling

The tradition of Belsnickling is particularly interesting.  It seems to be a mumming tradition in the vein of similar British activities, but is really practiced by only the Germanic settlers in the Appalachians.  It relates to the Belsnickle (whose name may come from pelz Nicholas, or “furry Nick”), a devilish traveling companion to good St. Nick during his holiday visits who would punish the wicked children in the same way that the saint rewarded the good ones.  In some variations, it was not St. Nick who traveled with Belsnickle, but Kriss Kringle (likely a derivation from the Germanic kriskindl, or “Christ-child”).   Gerald Milnes describes the practice thusly:

“To people in the Potomac Highlands, belsnickling is the action of going from house to house in masquerade, with residents guessing the belsnicklers’ identities…Sometimes treats were offered to the belsnicklers, and sometimes belsnicklers offered treats to the household” (SC&W, p.186)

Milnes also offers a variety of pranks and tricks related to this practice:

  • Candy would be thrown on the floor, and when children dove for it, they would have their fingers switched by the belsnicklers
  • Bands of belsnicklers would wander through the countryside hooting and yelling all through the night
  • People in costume would tap on the windows of houses and scare the children inside
  • Firecrackers would be lit and thrown into people’s homes

He also relates this practice back to something deeply witchy—the Wild Hunt:

“Belsnickling and similar activities, as group practices, have obscure beginnings, but they may well go back to the old Teutonic concept of the wild hunt.  In Scandinavian and German versions of this myth, a huntsman with dogs, accompanied by spirits, hunts the wild woman.  In some versions, the huntsman, a lost soul, leads a band of wild spirits to overrun farms at Christmas time (the winter solstice)” (SC&W, p. 186).

Christmas Dinner in the Mountains

Of course, no Christmas would be complete without a feast in modern minds, but the table offerings were not quite the same for every family.  Often, up in the mountains in the early-to-midwinter, the meal would consist on the wild meat that was available rather than anything domestically raised.  In Foxfire 12, informant John Huron describes a most particular holiday meal:

“Groundhogs aren’t bad eatin’ either if you cook them right…baked and layered with onions and sweet potatoes.  That was what Charlie’s daughter, Margaret, would fix him for Christmas dinner every year.  They invited me and my wife, Sandy, and my son, Jay, over for Christmas dinner one time, and that’s what we had.  A groundhog is a lot cleaner animal than a chicken.  When you get right down to it, a chicken is a nasty critter” (FF12, p.248)

Signs and Omens on Christmas

There are a number of superstitions which have sprung up around the holiday season, too.  Often, weather and luck are intimately tied to Christmas, though sometimes the date shifts a little between December 25th (“New” Christmas) and January 6th (“Old” Christmas).  Some of the signs and omens from the Appalachians and Ozarks include:

  • It will be a fruitful year if the eaves of the house drip on Christmas (SC&W)
  • Children born on Christmas Day can understand the speech of animals (WG&S and OM&F)
  • Being the first to say “Christmas Gift” to another on Christmas Day yielded good luck (WG&S)
  • On Christmas Eve at midnight, all farm animals will bow down and speak to acknowledge Christ’s birth (SC&W and OM&F)
  • Those with the “second sight” make predictions most accurately on Christmas Eve (IaGaM)
  • “A green Christmas makes a fat graveyard” – warm weather at Christmas will lead to many deaths over the coming year (OM&F)
  • On Old Christmas, the sun actually rises twice instead of just once (OM&F)
  • Bees buzz so loudly on Old Christmas they can be heard for miles away (OM&F)
  • Elderberries always sprout on Old Christmas, no matter what the weather (OM&F)

Even with its rather slow, Puritanical start, Christmas in the mountains has become one of the most magically charged times of the year.  From eating groundhogs to playing rowdy pranks to witnessing the miraculous behavior of animals, this is certainly one of the most interesting times of the year.  And, in my humble opinion, one of the most magical.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Podcast 22 – Yuletide Cheer!

Summary

Happy Yule!  Today we have our favorite carols, poems, recipes, and even a little lore for the winter holidays.  Have a blessed and happy holiday season!

Play:


Download:  New World Witchery – Episode 22

-Sources-
A Visit from St. Nicholas,” attributed to Clement Clark Moore, but likely written by Henry Livingston, Jr.
The Oxen,” by Thomas Hardy.

Recipes for Tom & Jerrys, Reindeer Food, and Gingerbread cookies.

Holiday animal lore can be found here.

Promos & Music
Nearly every song can be found on CDBaby.com or iTunes.  Below I’ve attempted to link directly to the artist pages where possible.

  1. I Saw Three Ships – West of Eden
  2. Gods Rest Ye Merry Paganfolk – The Pagan Carolers
  3. Hark the Herald Angels Sing – Doug Smith
  4. Wren in the Furze – Shira Kammen
  5. Silver Bells – Steve Martin & Paul Simon (Live recording from SNL)
  6. A Soalin’/Soul Cake – Pagan Carolers
  7. Holly & The Ivy – Howl-O
  8. Good King Wenceslas – The Trail Band
  9. Cherry Tree Carol – Rose & Thistle Band
  10. Bring the Torch Jeanette Isabella – Trifolkal
  11. Boars Head Carol – Pagan Carolers
  12. Come Landlord Fill the Flowing Bowl – The Limeybirds
  13. Gloucester Wassail – Pagan Carolers
  14. Carol of the Bells – Ross Moore
  15. Stille Nacht/Silent Night – Katie McMahon
  16. Snowbird – Maidens Three
  17. Da Day Dawn – Samantha Gillogly
  18. O Tannenbaum – Antique Music Box Christmas Collection
  19. O Holy Night – Indigo Girls
  20. This Endris Night – Heather Dale
  21. Go Tell It On the Mountain – Easy Anthems
  22. Patapan – Bittersweet & Briers
  23. Welcome Yule – Renaissance Revelers
  24. Little Drummer Boy – Men of Worth
  25. Angels We Have Heard on High – Skye Pixton
  26. Auld Lang Syne – Marc Gunn

Holiday wishes from (in no particular order) Saturn Darkhope, Oraia Sphinx, Scarlet at LPV, Gillian the Iron Powaqa, Rianna Stone the Pagan Homesteader, & Kathleen at Borealis Meditation.

Blog Post 107 – More Winter Lore

Greetings everyone!

I’m putting the rest of my series on Magic Books in the American Colonies on hold, temporarily.  Partly this is because I’ve decided to get working on the Resources page I have been planning to do for a while, which means that even if the posts themselves are weeks or months apart, they will be easy to read in succession because of their indexing on that page.  But mostly it’s because I’m in a holiday mood, and that means I really want to write about winter lore.

Let me start by sharing some of the links and information I missed in our show notes from the contest entries our listeners submitted.  For example, Kathleen of Borealis Meditation sent me a lovely batch of pictures featuring the fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium) from her lore submission:

In case you haven’t heard the related yuletide tale on the show, the folk wisdom goes that these shrubs, which grow after a wildfire has spread through a landscape, bloom from the bottom up.  They also go to seed from the bottom up, turning into “fluff” as they go.  When the fluff hits the top of the stalks, the first snow will fall, so the story says.

I also failed to put a link to listener and blogger Nathalie’s “24 Posts to Christmas.”  If you remember, Nathalie shared the lore about the Kuppelchen, a type of house-spirit responsible for taking care of a household and which often appears in families where magical folk are present.  In addition to this great bit of lore, Nathalie gives lots of holiday tidbits, tales, and recipes, including one for Grog—a very warming and bracing adult beverage for those cold winter days.  She also talks about things like Christmas Markets, St. Nicholas, and lead casting (which we also mentioned on the show, I think).

December is full of magical holidays, not just the mid-to-late month festivities that everyone knows about.  I’d like to throw two Catholic holidays out there (don’t worry, there won’t be any dogma, just a few of the more magical traditions associated with them).

First, there’s St. Nicholas’s Day, which is December 6th.   The night beforehand, children leave out their shoes near the door or fireplace, and in the morning, find them full of toys, candy, nuts, and fruit.  This custom, which seems to be Northern European in origin, is one I grew up with in my house.  St. Nicholas is also usually accompanied by a darker traveling companion, too, such as Ruprecht, Belsnickel, or Krampus.  This “anti-Santa” leaves punishments for naughty children, but can also be fairly benign and simply serve to balance out the whole “jolly old elf” side of the season.  I remember seeing lots of people dressed as either an angel or a devil on St. Nicholas’s Day while living in Prague, so the tradition of masking also ties into this holiday.  There is also an Appalachian tradition called “Belsnicking” which involves making masked visits to one’s neighbors during the holiday season (you can find a lot about that in Gerald Milne’s Signs, Cures, & Witchery).

One thing I really wanted to mention, but for some reason didn’t, was St. Lucy (or Santa Lucia).  Lucy (whose name is deeply connected to the Latin “luce” or “light”) was a saint who tore out her own eyes as a demonstration of fidelity to her faith.  It’s a pretty gruesome thought, and much Christian art depicts this saint as carrying her own eyes on a silver platter.  Not exactly the type of story we think of while baking gingerbread men, right?  But St. Lucy’s Day, which falls on December 13th, is incredibly popular in Scandinavian countries.  Rather than focusing on the awful self-blinding, instead little girls wear crowns of candles and evergreens on their heads as they perform holiday parades dressed in all white gowns.  The girls then hand out sweets like gingerbread (pepparkakor) and chocolate to the people they pass, all the while, singing carols.  There’s a special type of pastry, the St. Lucia Bun, which is also made on this holiday.  In Italy, children leave out coffee or chocolate for Lucia, as well as bread and grain for her donkey.

There are still so many wonderful holiday traditions, customs, and magics out there to mention, but I’ll pause here for today.  I hope you’re enjoying the spirit of the season!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Podcast 21 – Winter Lore

-SHOWNOTES FOR EPISODE 21-

Summary

In this episode, we share some of the winter lore we received in our recent contest.  We look at the various wonderful traditions from around the continent (and the world), and share some of our own holiday practices.  Plus, we have a special guest!  We also discuss reclaiming the holiday season, and we have the winners of our contest!  Thank you to all who contributed!

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery – Episode 21
-Sources-
Most of our lore comes from either us or our listeners this time around. But if you’re looking for some good books on holiday customs and traditions, I can recommend:
All Around the Year, by Jack Santino
The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas, by Caitlin & John Matthews
The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales from Around the World for the Winter Solstice, by Carolyn M. Edwards
Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, by Ronald Hutton
Pagan Christmas: The Plants, Spirits, and Rituals at the Origins of Yuletide, by Christian Ratsch
Promos & Music
Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.
Promo 1 – Borealis Meditations
Promo 2 – Forest Grove Botanica
Promo 3 – Appalachian Witch Doctor Tales

Quick Update – Holiday Lore Contest Reminder

Hello everybody!

This is just a quick reminder that we’ve got our Winter Lore Contest on right now, but time is running out to get your entry in.  We’re looking for information centered around the winter holidays, specifically local or family:

  • Practices
  • Customs
  • Traditions
  • Songs
  • Recipes
  • Stories
  • Crafts

Please make sure you tell us what area you are from (generally), and if you would like us to use your name on the blog/podcast.

You have until midnight (Central Time) on Monday, December 6th to submit your lore via blog comment or email, so don’t delay!  You can still get an additional entry if you tweet, blog, or otherwise spread the word about the contest and send us the link.

The prizes are:
Two Runner-up Prizes – Signed copy of Judika Illes’ latest book, The Weiser Field Guide to Witches

One Grand Prize – A Compass & Key Hoodoo Starter Kit, with a selection of oils, botanicals, curios, and other products for budding rootworkers.

We’ve gotten a number of excellent entries, but we still would love to get some more, so please submit before time runs out!

Thanks for reading (and sharing)!

-Cory