Saturday, December 29, 2007

Traditional Recipe and other matters

Sorry to learn of your friend, but supposedly s/he is in a better place. Thinking of the world in its present state, that doesn't sound too bad.
You know, don't you, that Sainte-Yvonne is adamant : "Death" is actually graduation but the fact must be suppressed to keep the marks terrified.

Get well! ... or else.

Pagan Temple
That's quite an alignment. Our friendly astrologer Zorian says that 1968 was a cumulative year; that the heavens realigned themselves in 65/66/67. Now we've told you more than we understand.
Don't worry about the recipe being too late. It's better if kept over for a year.

And to all,
Keep fresh batteries in your bullshit detector at all times.

- - - - - - - - -
Here is Granny Frith's recipe for Solstice Pudding/Cake. Let's get down and traditional.
She made hers early in the year and put them on a quiet, cool shelf, visiting them only monthly to pour a little rum into them.

4 oz pitted prunes
12 oz currants (or equivalent weight in extra raisins)
12 oz golden raisins (sultanas)
24 oz dark raisins
3 cups flour
4 oz canned crushed sweetened pineapple
6 oz maraschino cherries cut in quarters, plus their liquid
1/2 level tsp salt
16 oz white breadcrumbs
16 oz lard or (more traditional) fine-chopped suet
16 oz dark brown sugar
4 oz ground almonds
grated rind of 4 lemons
2 tsp nutmeg
10 large eggs
Pinch of ground clove
2 oz dark rum plus or minus
Note - Using a food grinder makes much of this easier.

Chop prunes and half the raisins with breadcrumbs (2 - 3 batches).
Beat eggs.
Put everything (yes, all of it) into a large bowl. We use a scrubbed kitchen sink. Mix thoroughly with washed hands. (This is traditional; let the kids help here.)
Add enough rum to moisten everything--though sparingly, mind you.
Place in two buttered 8-inch bowls (we use stainless steel).
Cover each bowl with heavyweight aluminum foil. Tie down with twine, forming a lifting handle with the twine. Cut a small slot in the center of the foil.
Traditional - Steam 8 hours in a double boiler or bain-marie (this from the days of coal and wood stoves)
Modern - Pressure cook at high pressure on a rack in cooker with plenty of water for 2 hours. (repeat : plenty of water)
While cake is still in bowl, hide a dozen 25c coins (quarters) in the top. Turn it out onto a fireproof plate. Pour a little rum over it. Place a sprig of holly in the top. In a darkened dining room, serve it flaming with white rum sauce on the side. If you get a coin in your serving, that's good luck and wealth for the post-Solstice year. Mind your teeth; it's not wonderful to break a tooth on your coin.
Refrigerate any leftovers. Cut and eat as you would Christmas cake.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

How Christmas Became Christmas

Here is an interesting snippet of history with roots extending all the way back to ancient Egypt.
The earliest original Egyptian calendar consisted of 12 months of 30 days each. Apocryphally it is said that after some major disaster (unspecified) the Egyptians figured that the annual inundation of the Nile was moving through their calendar, creeping up by an average of five days each year. So they added to their calendar five extra days (epagomenes) that "the gods have given us"--bonus days, if you will, that became the Roman Saturnalia. A time for joyous celebration and the giving of gifts, the festival eventually ran from December 17 to December 24. One of the final days of this intercalary holiday was the Day of Misrule, when slaves were served by their masters; in the military context, officers waited on privates.
Later, the Caesars being what they were, Julius extended his namesake month by a day to guarantee his own eternal life; ol' Augustus was not to be outdone and mimicked Julie.
Then finally Augustus added a further day every four years, to make up essentially the calendar we have today, which actually dates from 25 BCE. Of course Pope Gregory played with the days of the months and altogether screwed them up pretty horribly in an attempt to get rid of the extra five days of "heathenish" festivities. The Saturnalia was noted for its parties and its gift-giving practices, but the early church vigorously stamped all that out as well.
An even more drastic reform was the French Revolutionary calendar, instituted in 1793. It decreed the Egyptian 30-day months, each with three ten-day weeks. Every single day in that calendar's year had its own specific individual name, keyed to nature and to agriculture. It restored the five "extra" days and the festivals associated with them, including the Lord of Misrule. At the same time the French invented the 10-hour "day" with 100 minutes in each hour and 100 seconds in each minute.
All this was much too pagan for the Catholic church. After the Concordat of 1801, France was required to revert to the old Gregorian calendar. But ...

Back to Christmas
In 354 CE Pope Liberius added Christmas-as-nativity to the Catholic church calendar. He chose December 25 as a day to become holy after the blowout of Saturnalia. In Rome it had been the day of the sun god Sol Invictus anyway; thus the church tied itself into the Roman system. It did again what it has always done, taking over an old festival, plagiarizing and renaming it to sanitize it and make it worthy.
Only with the Reformation did Protestants rid the church of all that Catholic stuff and gift-giving. So the nativity was abolished in Scotland in 1563 and in England in 1640. Only in the 19th century in New York did some of the celebration come back and St. Nicholas, patron saint of New York, became the patron saint of Christmas.
In "History of New York" Washington Irving described how Sinterklaes rode through the sky behind a horse and wagon to deliver presents to children. Around 1821 the horse and wagon gave way to reindeer and a sleigh. In 1823 Charles Clement Moore wrote his famous "A Visit from St. Nicholas"; it was he who named the reindeer and made them eight in number. Still the nativity had not come back.
In 1860 President Ulysses S. Grant signed into law a bill making Christmas a civil holiday; there was still no mention of the nativity, or for that matter of creches.
In the 1860s cartoonist Thomas Nast set the modern image of Santa Claus. The color red became standard only when Coca-Cola used that Nast image and dressed Santa in an outfit of Coca-Cola red.
Every time we ourselves look at a creche now, we think of the tales of the goats used in live nativity scenes : The goat that ate Baby Jesus. The goats that refused to stop copulating on the Night. The goats that made rather a mess of the straw. We retain these images to lighten our personal atmosphere and to neutralize some of the sanctimonious gasping piety.
Of course only two of the "gospels" mention the nativity; so really it's a 50-50 chance that you've been a good Christian or a bad Christian by believing in the nativity. Since we're pagan/Wiccans, we don't have to worry about that aspect.
So we hope you had a wonderful Saturnalia. Of course we don't know whether the goats prefer Pampers or Huggies. What would Baby Jesus have worn? Does anybody else smell incipient schism here? There's hope.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Happy Solstice to One and All

Gavin writes: I wonder how many of you still do the traditional things. What do I mean? Here are a couple of examples. Blowing out the candles on the banquet table and then relighting them. Or igniting the good rum that you've poured over the "Christmas" pudding, now to be borne into the darkened dining room. These are only two small ways to remember and honor the original, and only valid, reason for the festival--the return of the Sun. Even a solar deity needs a little help and encouragement from time to time, and the newly reborn Sun is no exception.
The steamed Christmas pudding is probably a no-no in every single one of today's diet regimens; but still, once a year, why not? The one we eat has usually been kept back for a year on a quiet shelf in the fridge, in a timeless tradition kept by the Frost (or should I say Frith?) family. Mrs. Frith, Gavin's maternal grandmother, was a cordon bleu chef in a time before women could officially gain that title.
In this season of benevolence and maxed-out credit cards, be kind to people.
BB Gavin and Yvonne

PS If you'd like the recipe for that Frith pudding, request it and I'll post it on this site. Meanwhile, join us now for a rousing chorus:
Mithras loves me! Sun-God bright,
Lighting up the darkest night.
There's no question He can't answer.
Just be careful of skin cancer.
Yes, Mithras loves me (3 times)
A sunbeam told me so.
- - - - - - - - -
Pagan Temple, thanks for the information re conjunctions. Oops! In listing world-shaking events of 1968, we omitted the deaths of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King and the birth of St. Monty T. Keep us straight, boys and girls.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Formative Year

In a single year
* Protesters disrupted the presidential nominating convention in Chicago.
* Women picketed the Miss America pageant to protest the oppression of women, burning their bras and parading a ewe adorned with tinsel, glitter, and tulle.
* Governor George Wallace split the southern vote on a segregationist ticket, and Richard Nixon entered the White House.
* The Church of All Worlds was founded in St. Louis Mo.
* This same year we founded the Church and School of Wicca and announced its existence in ads.
There was no discernible astrological alignment, so what happened? Anyone got a clue?

Okay, gentle visitors to this blog : We'll keep "Wicca". How about "101 Wicca" for the clowns and cape-swishers and hoodoo fantasists? Then using a grading leading to "501 Wicca" for those who are dedicated (committed)? -- which, by the way, we are sure Greenleaf is.
Shadowhawk, all our wishes and healing energy to your mother.
Blessed be all. GY

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Is "Wicca" Meaningless?

About six months ago we addressed quite a large group. We asked how many considered themselves to be Wiccans. About 75 percent put their hands up. Then we went into more individual beliefs; here there was scant agreement on anything. About 50 percent of those who identified themselves as Wiccans went along with the Wiccan Rede,
If it harm none, do what you will.
When we asked whether Wicca was a religion of Nature, a lesser percentage agreed. Was it a natural spirituality, as contrasted with a religion? Was the Ultimate Deity a goddess? Could a Christian be a Wiccan? In fact, how many actually used Christian god-esses as their personal pantheon? Surprisingly (to us), more than 10 percent agreed, that that was in fact what they did. A couple of bold souls said they were eclectic and didn't follow any orthodox or conventional path, nor address any named deity. Yes, we think that's a dark-night symptom.
This whole thing was a sad disappointment to us. When we first started using "Wicca" in 1968 to name the spiritual path on which we were then embarking, we defined a clear spiritual and mundane path--or so we thought. It was a surprise to us when so many usurped the word Wicca and used it to describe their own path whether or not that path resembled in any way the one we had articulated.
Seax Wicca may have been the next clearly defined Wiccan path. When Gardnerian Witchcraft and Alexandrian Witchcraft became Gardnerian Wicca and Alexandrian Wicca in 1974, they had no clearly defined spiritual path--magic, yes; rote ritual, yes; spirituality, questionable--because most of them had broken away from their original roots.
There's a stage young people go through, sensing somehow, "Not this!" or "Anything but this!" Many such breakaways eventually find an alternative way; some do not. Remember St. Jimmy Buffett's song about Domino College?
Make your parents hate you! Be a big disgrace.
Go to Domino College and fall flat on your face!
It's that feeling : Spook the family. "I'm not like you people--thank God!"
So what is a Wiccan? Let's look at an interesting definition, for which we are indebted to the Unitarian Universalist Association.*
We ... covenant to afffirm and promote :
The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations;
Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our (covens);
A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our (covens) and in society at large;
The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

For us Celtic Wiccans who believe in the Web of the Wyrd, this feels like a good start. Certainly few would quibble with its ideas. Do we believe in democracy within our coven groups? Quite frankly, we're confused and don't know. Practices should vary from group to group, of course. But do we have any common ground? There is an old Sufi saying,**
There are people who have religion and do not think;
There are people who think and do not practice a religion.
We like to think that people on the Wiccan path can have a religion and can think--both. Perhaps that is what separates us from the marching morons who don't think about anything but being in with their peer group and warding off the random blows of a hateful deity while hell awaits.
So tell us, please, what you think. Is "Wicca" an overworked noun that has lost its meaning? Should it be dumped in favor of a more accurate label for whatever we're all doing? Or can we resurrect it and find even a few universal concepts with which we all are comfortable?
Yes, we are old fogies, but we ain't set in our ways. If we wanted to complain about the negative changes we see, we could go on ad infinitum.
If you smell something scorching, somebody's thinking.
Blessed be those who seek. Gavin and Yvonne

* Singing the Living Tradition
** The Mathnawi, 1466 CE

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Looking Backward

Okay, our visitors have gone, and it's time to get serious again about doing the blog. Yesterday it snowed heavily here, so that's yet more grounds to stay home and work at the computer. The sunlit snow makes the river valley and the mountains look even more beautiful than they did a month ago when the trees were turning color.
The snow brought back memories of other snows in other places : As a kid making my own sled in England, the trick was to use coppiced saplings for the runners, steaming them to shape. It was considered not cricket to have an adult help you with making your sled. Then we would all race them down a local hill. Many of them collapsed ... but it was all in good fun, and the winner got to light the bonfire at next year's Guy Fawkes celebration on November 5. The only thing comparable is the construction and racing of soapbox cars, with lots of adult involvement (legally or illegally) and large cash prizes.
More recently in Germany I remember giving the driver of the horse-drawn sidewalk plow a bottle of beer for his work. I wonder whether they're still using horse-drawn plows for snowy sidewalks over there in Munich. It's easy to look back and forget the bad and remember the good; but I have to say a lot of the good was really good.
It seems to me that the Kennedy assassination marked a turning point in the history of this nation. Before that, we had hope for the future; we had a vision and optimism. Today most people are only existing, feeling that the best they can hope for is that the future won't bite them in the ass.
A West African word, sankofa, means
"It isn't forbidden to go back and fetch what you forgot"
with a symbol of a bird looking over its shoulder. It is often interpreted as a call for African people to look back to their roots. Similarly, the Bolivian government of Evo Morales has a motto:
"Moving forward by looking back".
Have we forgotten in Wicca how great the early days were? How informed we were, and how deep the arguments over theology really went? --Yet the disputers could still circle amiably together. People of different traditions enjoyed one another's company. And we all had a vision. Today we can only shed a tear for that vision that we've lost.
Can we as Wiccans do less than go back and fetch what we've forgotten? Are there better ways to move forward than by looking back? When people arbitrarily change such things as the Charge of the Goddess to make it more correct politically, when they change rituals so that they are shorter or held on a more convenient night, do they not realize that they are destroying that which in the past was as beautiful as sunlit new snow on mountainsides?
Blessed be. Gavin and Yvonne