Tag Archives: winter

Day 7: Holidays

Slowly but surely we’re chugging along with the 30 days of Paganism meme, and this is one of my favorite topics to talk about!!

I love personal calendars, especially when you start seeing how they evolve according to one’s environment and home culture. Mine is no exception, as it’s a blend of Pagan and Catholic traditions from the ancestral lands carried into the US. Due to my currently solitary nature, continuous research, and the fact that changes in life are prone to happening, my calendar is tentative rather than being hard and fast (despite having specific dates listed), and is not entirely religious in nature.

Winter

wordpress winter

  • Feast of the Dead (October 31-November 2)
    • A mixture of US Halloween festivities and the more solemn ancestor worship of European All Soul’s Day, where ghosts and spirits are awoken and the ancestors return. The growing season has officially ended.
    • Honors: Ancestors
  • Harvest Celebrations (Late November)
    • These are usually several family-oriented days (including US Thanksgiving) that center around gratitude for the last of the harvest. Usually by this point all the native plant species have gone dormant for the winter, and the migratory birds have past. Deer hunting season traditionally occurs this time as well.
    • Honors: Nagy Boldogasszony
  • Krampus Night/St. Nick’s Day (December 5-6)
    • A fun little Christmas holiday where the kids leave out their clean shoes in anticipation of some goodies from St. Nick. A holdover from family traditions.
  • Green Sunday (1st week of December)
  • Copper Sunday (2nd week of December)
  • Silver Sunday (3rd week of December)
  • Gold Sunday (4th week of December)
    • These Sundays are a holdover from Advent, as mini-celebrations in anticipation of Karascunt and the Rough Nights. Due to the names I also use the days to reference a corresponding Magyar deity (Copper – Hadúr, Silver – Szélkirály, Gold – Napkirály)
  • Karascunt (December 21/22)
    • Winter Solstice festival full of fire, drink, and merryment to celebrate Csodaszarvas carrying the Sun over the river to begin the year anew and overcome the darkness. First day of the Rough Nights. Spinning stops by this night.
    • Honors: Csodaszarvas
  • Bertchten Day (January 5-6)
    • This day ends the Rough Nights and the new year begins. The sun finally overcame the darkness and the light continues to grow in strength. Spinning chores resume. Also known as Twelfth Night (evening of Jan. 5)
    • Honors: Fra Berta/Lutzl (though she is also associated with all 12 of the Rough Nights)
  • Day of the Bear (February 2)
    • Midwinter celebration in anticipation of the season’s end. The Bear awakes and bring with it the first hints of life and hope in a time where patience and food stores are wearing thin. “Spring cleaning” and purification processes occurs at this time. Winter expulsion begins.
    • Honors: Szélkirály
  • Zöldágjárás (usually mid-late March)
    • First hints of life appears in the trees and shrubs, and the initial bits of greenery is brought inside to continue the purification process. Boughs of greenery are formed into arches and wreathes for women and children to dance under, and boys splash water on girls (purity and fertility rite, most likely). Birds are migrating back at this time.
  • Fruit-grafting day (March 25)
    • Fruiting tree branches that are starting to bud are grafted and hopefully successful. Several traditions regarding death and fertility surround this day as it is also the Catholic holiday of Mary’s conception of Jesus.
    • Honors: Nagy Boldogasszony
  • Walpurgis Night (April 30)
    • Winter expulsion ends, compelling the ghosts and ancestors back to sleep. Most migratory birds have returned and begun their breeding season.

Summer

wordpress summer

  • May Day (May 1)
    • Summer begins. The fields and markets are readied for the growing season.
  • May Crowning (May, usually mid-to-late May)
    • Fields are cleared and sown, and seedlings transplanted, as the risk of frost is gone by this time. First harvest occurs around this time (depending on what plants are growing). Leaves have returned to the trees. Flowers are offered to the Queen of May by young girls.
    • Honors: Nagy Boldogasszony
  • Szentiván-éj (June 24)
    • A summer solstice celebration of fire, successful crop growth, and remembering the ancestors. Peak growth and first major harvests are occurring around this time. Apples are served to the fire and to the graves.
    • Honors: Csodaszarvas
  • Goldenrod Days (late September-early October)
    • A completely made-up period surrounding the autumn equinox to mark Summer drawing to a close. The Goldenrod flowers are in their full, yellow bloom, as if they absorbed part of the sun and took away some of its vigor. Apples are harvested at this time, and the birds are undergoing their fall migration.
    • Honors: Volos/Zomok

*Deities and their associations here will be discussed further in later posts of this meme. Some associations are traditional, some are not. Those with / between two names refer to the same being.

**The inconsistency of the names is due to some English counterparts being too vague to be a useful label, so the source culture’s holiday words are used instead to refer to their specific traditions that I observe (i.e. “Karascunt” in place of “Winter Solstice”). Exception being Zöldágjárás since there is no English counterpart in existence.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Festivals Rituals Holidays

The Longest Night

Oh wondrous headed doe, with horns of a thousand branches and knobs
Thousand branches and knobs and of a thousand bright candles
Amongst its horns it carries the light of the blessed sun
On it’s forehead there is a star, on it’s chest the moon
And it starts along the banks of the shining heavenly Danube
That it may be the messenger of heaven and bringer of news
About our creator and caring god

-Hungarian Christmas ballad

Today is the day Csodaszarvas carries the sun over the river to begin the year anew. Happy Solstice everyone!

Leave a comment

Filed under Festivals Rituals Holidays

Honoring the Doe in the Hunt

Hunor and Magor hunting the White Stag, one of the more familiar Hungarian stories that has been told in a variety of ways over time. Art (c) Gyula László

So I’ve been thinking about hunting, particularly deer hunting, after experiencing the excitement around opener this previous November. I grew up near Chicago, so while hunting does occur there, it’s smaller and gets obscured by lots of other events in the same area. Where I’m at now in Wisconsin is more rural, so lots of things are different for me (and yet, a lot isn’t so different).

Opener refers to the opening of the deer hunting season that has become probably the biggest event next to football games. People go to bed early and wake up at an ungodly hour to bundle up and drive to hunting grounds all over the state, but especially the north. Once they get there they usually sit on their asses in the freezing cold hoping to get aim at a beautiful buck (but a doe is not safe from hunters either). Thanksgiving is especially enjoyed, as the hunters can come home to a glorious feast and pass out, even if they didn’t get anything that day.

Now let me clarify that this only refers to a season using firearms. Full deer hunting encompasses multiple seasons throughout fall and winter, with the differences being weapons (firearm vs archery), deer classification (antler presence and form, age, sex), and in my region’s case, managing Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). On top of that, different states can have different regulations, and even individual counties can pass further regulations depending on the human population sizes (obviously not gonna be hunting in a large city like Chicago, but surrounding areas are fine, and more urbanized areas prefer archery to firearms).

Pretty complicated, right? Don’t worry, there’s more! Deer hunting (in Wisconsin at least) is a major political issue at the state-level. If a candidate for office even thinks about making the slightest restriction to accessing deer then they’ve already lost. It’s that big of a deal to people, causing a constant avalanche of hate directed towards people who try to manage deer herds, primarily the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Which is hilarious because the white-tail deer are not supposed to be here; there are more deer in Wisconsin than ever. While it’s wonderful that the deer bounced back from an endangered status last century, the sad fact is that they are constantly starving now. This drives them to strip bare native trees and saplings, ultimately destroying the understory of the threatened northern forests. These forests are where we get our maple syrup and logging from, but short of getting rid of most of the deer (along with buckthorns, earthworms, and all the other invasive species, both native and exotic), they’re pretty much dead forests in many places. They just don’t know they’re dead yet.

You may be wondering by now why I am explaining all of this to you. As you might remember from other posts, I honor a manifestation of a deer deity called Csodaszarvas (“Miraculous deer”, the term “szarvas” refers to both sexes, though I refer only to the female use due to the primary art/literature depictions). This carries through a fondness that I have for real-life deer of my region, the White-tailed deer, and the constant balancing act of life vs. death. Cultures all over the world have numerous, seemingly contradictory rules for treatment of deity-associated animals. You don’t hunt the animal, you do hunt it but only in a certain way, you can eat the flesh if it died on its own, or you don’t touch it under any circumstances.

What is my rule? I’m not sure. I have some basic ideas (no killing of albino or leucistic individuals, respect all animals in life and death by not torturing them, no trophies), but not a complete structure. There is no traditional rule available to me because I’m essentially reconstructing a new tradition out of remnants of my heritage, so I have to decide on my own. My meals are mostly vegetarian for monetary purposes (eggs are cheaper and quicker to eat) but I have eaten venison and concluded that it’s delicious. Given how deer (and other cervids) have been important sources of food for people throughout time, particularly in the winter, I’ve suspected that the recognition of deer and deer-like deities across cultures are because of their great importance as game. Food is central to any culture, so by proxy the deer are central as well.

In addition, there are now environmental concerns for many deer-heavy locations like the ones described earlier. Usually there are multiple predators, but now only humans remain. On one hand I find the idea of being in such a position of power, like a steward or a ruler, both offensive and full of hubris on part of us humans. We should no more be a steward than a beaver or a butterfly. But on the other hand, there’s really no choice if we want to maintain what we have left. We just can’t seem to agree on how to best do it (coupled with the fact that some people simply don’t WANT to do it). Stepping in as a predator for certain species seems to be the only choice left, otherwise they continue to starve to death en masse, taking many other species down with them.

It is also not universally clear on how the rules came about. There are some stories that depict the god themselves saying “don’t eat this!”, but the rest of them it’s a custom without a source. I suspect that hints (perhaps not so subtle ones) were given along the way when people ate a particular animal, resulting in bad luck for those who ate them. Given how often deer is eaten as a central part of a diet (particularly for winter diets when food is more scarce), and that I’ve experienced no bad luck or negative feelings since eating venison myself, I feel that eating deer flesh is not taboo for Csodaszarvas. The taboo, if one exists, would likely be for the treatment of the animal. Figuring out the particulars (aside from my basic respect for death in all animals) is something that will have to happen in the future, when I take up hunting for myself. I trust Csodaszarvas to guide me through her wishes when that happens.

Funny how this post was started at the very first of November, but didn’t finish until now, on Candlemas eve. Perhaps there’s some deeper meaning to it, but I’m sure the reality is that I just get lazier in winter.

Leave a comment

Filed under Festivals Rituals Holidays, Reflections

Book Review: Phantom Armies of the Night by Claude Lecouteux

I reviewed this book as a guest reviewer for my good friend Lupa at her blog, Pagan Book Reviews, so instead of copying everything over to here, I would appreciate if you could go to her place instead to see what I think.

I’m happy to say that the book echoed most of my ideas regarding the Wild Hunt and similar themes, and I found a few interesting tidbits for my own practice. The main one was the mention of Lutzl, a “form” of Berchta that is found specifically in Burgenland, which is the region in Austria that is a known origin for my family. The best known one, actually, since records with my great-great-grandparent’s names are in Burgenland’s online resources.

“Burgenland, Austria, Lutzl (Lucy) passed at this time. She was the woman of the solstice, who roamed with veiled face. She was also armed with a kitchen spoon that she used to beat people in their houses and a knife for opening their bellies. Clad in black and white she was accompanied by monstrous figures and her trajectory was a quest in which she begged for the deceased foodstuffs, the “bread of all souls” p. 198

Given that my UPG associates a lamp and the moon with Berchta, the name “Luztl” (referring to light) fits well, and probably has associations with St. Lucia’s day, another day with many similar figures roaming throughout Europe.

There is also mention of another figure, of Alpine origin, that is apparently the demonic ancestor of the PETA organization.

“Kasermandl (Alps) a kind of demon that took possession of chalets after the livestock had been taken down to the lower valleys for the winter and that often bore the features of dead cowherds who were condemned to return, because they abused the livestock in their keeping.” p. 198

I found that interesting, since the demon isn’t so much a demon as it is a reinforcer of morals. In this case, it seems like the cultures in the Alps valued their animals and those who took care of them. I wish we had Kasermandl’s for today’s factory farms, but that’s a separate issue which is outside the scope of this blog.

6 Comments

Filed under Books and Source Material

The Returning Sun

Welcome back dear Lady. Image (C) Garcia Foto (Erik Garcia)

This time of year (late January, early February) is usually the peak of Winter in my location. Those two months is when we tend to get the bulk of snowfall and the coldest temperatures. Of course, climate change has disrupted that pattern lately, but there is still some snowing and cold temperatures for now, thankfully (both are necessary for proper water levels and plant growth later in the year; an improper winter means a bad harvest).

This is also time time of year when the days noticeably get a bit longer, especially at sunset. While it may be common to celebrate the Sun’s return at the Winter Solstice for some, this felt strange to me. We know now through technology what the days’ lengths are right down to the seconds and so can calculate exactly which day starts the Sun’s waxing period. But you don’t “see” it, or feel it. A couple of seconds of extra daylight doesn’t seem to make a difference to humans, environmentally speaking, so I generally fail to see the point of celebrating that on the Winter Solstice. I have always preferred to read signals from the land rather than using astronomical patterns, and the return of the Sun is no exception.

In keeping with both my heritage and the land, my preferred day for this celebration is February 2nd. Called by many names in various religions, this day has a common association with light (candles, fire, lightening), hope (that the groundhog/badger/bear do not foretell a long winter), and renewal (purification of Mary, creating new fires, taking down Christmas decorations, the coming burst of life from the snow). It is also interesting to note that in both the Old High German calendar and the Ho-Chunk moon calender, the month that roughly corresponds to today’s February has associations with bears. According to one source (that’s sadly without citations, but I’m going to look into it further) Feb. 2nd is the “Day of the Bear” in places such as the Alps. Given that I recently became interested in the Eurasian bear cults, I find the timing of all this to be intriguing.

There is also the association with the Deer cult in various Eurasian sources. Not of this particular day, but of the Sun’s movement across the sky. It has been noted in Scytho-Siberian sources that the Deer cults and the Deer goddess (occasionally god) carried the Sun in her antlers, which is also attested in a Hungarian song (link is cached version because sadly the original site is unavailable). Due to the Doe’s importance in my own life, I personally find it appropriate to honor her on this day as well.

For now I keep the name Candlemas due to its familiarity. I’m slowly developing a holiday system as I go this year, allowing it to evolve organically with both research and real-time environmental changes, so my celebration of Candlemas will be simple this year. Candles and pancakes in honor of the Sun, with some deep cleaning of the apartment to promote a sense of renewal. I have already taken down my Christmas tree and other holiday decorations in preparation for that. It’s said in places like Poland that keeping such decorations up past Feb. 2nd is bad luck, and I certainly don’t want to put that thought to the test. Plus, as much as I like my tree, it was starting to get in the way.

Black-capped Chickadee, an animal that displays much energy and endurance through these cold winters. Photo (C) levahnbros.wordpress.com

This time of year is also associated with efforts to get “rid” of winter, understandable from an agricultural perspective. Food stores would be getting lean and game animals may be scarce, desiring a return of Spring as quickly as possible to start sowing seeds. While processions have occurred as early as November in Central Europe, many of them start gaining traction in February when Carnival season is at its peak. One of my earliest blog posts here references those processions. As a day of longing for the coming Spring, I find Candlemas to be appropriate for starting the “settling down” of winter activities and the start of preparing for the Summer. The “end” of that preparation period would be in late April, with Totaustragen repelling off the last of Winter, death, and disease, and the planting of seeds outdoors in early May.

~~~~~~~

References*

School of the Seasons: February. http://www.schooloftheseasons.com/febdays1.html#grdhog (a nice collection of cross-cultural holiday traditions for February)

*the other references are linked in post as underlined content

5 Comments

Filed under Festivals Rituals Holidays

Killing Winter to Bring Back Summer

Alright, back on to Spring traditions!
Remember that post I made about Pre-Lent Costumes? I mentioned how the costumes, in some areas at least, were meant to scare off the spirits of Winter. There’s also quite a bit of fertility symbolism that went along with all the festivities. There is a sort of continuation of those themes in a ritual that is rather common across Europe: The Expulsion of Death and Winter.

Basically, an effigy of some sort, usually made out of straw, fir, or some other available material, is taken through or out of a village in a procession, and then destroyed. Afterward, a figure (human, tree, or otherwise) clad in some sort of greenery is welcomed in the village and celebrations ensue. This sometimes occurs on or around Mid-Lent, usually the 4th Sunday in Lent (Which is actually the week of this post’s date for 2011). This does not seem to be an uncommon practice, as many folklorists and anthropologists have noted parallels across Europe; even going as far as India with the drowning of a Kali effigy in March.

Winteraustreiben in Germany with Winter as the large blue puppet, and Summer following behind as the golden puppet (c) Katrin von Meer

However, I’m going to focus mainly on some of the German and Slavic names and customs here. In German, the festival is called Todaustragen, or Todaustreiben (from the words for “death” and “to carry out” or “to drive out”), with a few areas using the name Winteraustreiben and Sommereinholen (“Summer” and “catch up”). Similar rituals done in other countries have their own names, but I’ll mainly use the term “winter expulsion” for easy conversation.

In some German-speaking parts, winter expulsion involves creating a straw monster or being which is then driven out by being beaten and/or burned. With regard to the burning of the effigy, Mircea Elidae saw a “fertilizing power of Death-a power attached to all the symbols of vegetation and to the ashes of the wood burnt during all the various festivals of the regeneration of nature and the beginning of the New Year” (Flaherty 1992). He was referring to a practice seen in Austria during his time, where the effigy had a funeral pyre and people gathered around to grab bits of it. Also found in Austria are the Perchten, or followers of Perchta, who carry bells apparently as another tool to drive out Winter and Death. There are several interpretations of the effigy and none are totally agreed upon: Vegetation being, Death, Winter, or even the Bubonic Plague (which would still be Death, but Christian in origin instead of the commonly assumed heathen origins). The gender of the effigy seems to be male in German parts of Central Europe, which makes sense since Death is also considered to be male (der Tod).

In contrast, Slavic cultures such as those in Poland, Slovakia, and Czech Republic have a female effigy burned or drowned. She goes by the name Marzanna, Morena, and variations thereof. She is considered to be a remnant of a goddess of Death from pre-Christian times as well as a witch, so the female form makes sense if this is true. Other than that though, the steps for her expulsion is similar to German cultures. She’s taken out in a procession and then destroyed.

The Procession of Marzanna in Poland just before drowning

I can’t help but think of the witch scene in Monty Python: The Holy Grail whenever seeing Marzanna processions 🙂

In Hungary there does not seem to be as much fanfare for winter expulsion as in other places. The busos mentioned in the Costumes post linked earlier is suggested to be Hungary’s version of winter expulsion. There is a practice that links to the second half of the expulsion though, which is the welcoming of Summer to replace Winter. It is called Zöldágjárás, where they bring in green boughs through the village. To me it almost looks like Palm Sunday, so I wonder if this is really a remnant from pagan times or if it’s a variation on a Christian holiday.

School children going under the green boughs

Another, older image of Zöldágjárás

Judging from the images though, it seems that Hungary is already warm enough this time of year to start celebrating the arrival of Spring and Summer. Perhaps winter expulsion is simply not necessary at the same time and is better suited to the time of the busojaras earlier in the year.

Back to German-speaking cultures, once Winter/Death is driven out, a man dressed in vegetation and green colors walks into the village with much celebration. This is the personification of Summer, of new growth and good times to come. There is also records of a play that occurs to depict the fight between Winter and Summer (with Summer ultimately winning), called der Kampf swischen Sommer und Winter, which usually occurs during the winter expulsion.

There is a mention of March being the time of the new year in both Roman and Slavic lands until recently, which coincides with winter expulsion. In that context, it seems that driving away Winter is also driving away the old year, which makes sense. Summer in general seems to have a sense of “new-ness” with the arrival of fresh vegetation.

Looking out my window, I feel an urge to have a bit of winter expulsion myself. Only now are some of the trees starting to wake up and show their flowers, with small shoots in the grass here and there. Much of the world is still gray and wet; some chunks of old snow still scattered about even. We don’t really have a spring here in Chicago, it’s more like a month where the weather can’t seem to make up its mind. The idea of a war between Summer and Winter fits perfectly here, as we can get snowfall one day, and temperatures warm enough for shorts the next. Even gardening books say we have a risk of frost until early to mid-May.

Course, once Summer actually gets here in all its humid, blazing glory, people will start wishing for Winter again. It’s how it goes every year.

~~~~~~~

References

Flaherty, Robert Pearson. “Todaustragen”: The Ritual Expulsion of Death at Mid-Lent: History and Scholarship. Folklore, Vol. 103(1), pgs. 40-55

(In German) Brief Explanation of Pertchen’s Role in Winter Expulsion: http://www.tomig.at/245/was-hat-es-eigentlich-auf-sich-mit-den-perchten/

Esbenshade, Richard S. Cultures of the World: Hungary. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=4QYidGdtpBkC&pg=PA118&lpg=PA118&dq=winter+expulsion+in+hungary&source=bl&ots=tmIwzSwPoI&sig=VyDUoziQiJByohp6hle747uGVJY&hl=en&ei=1MOYTbCGBcmY0QGQiNH7Cw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CCoQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=winter%20expulsion%20in%20hungary&f=false

Sinking of Marzanna: Pagan Traditions of Spring                                                 http://culture.polishsite.us/articles/art297fr.htm

Photos of Winteraustreiben, (c) Katrin von Meer                                   http://www.flickr.com/photos/35525979@N06/5509422479/in/photostream/

Kerenyi, G. I. (1962). The Melody Core of Ushering In Summer in Transdanubia (Hungary). Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, first page used-> http://www.jstor.org/pss/901641

Leave a comment

Filed under Festivals Rituals Holidays