In the Pagan ‘Wheel of the Year’ the Festival of Yule is celebrated at a variety of times. Most Pagans observe either the calendar date of the 21st December or the actual day of the astronomical Solstice which, this year, is the 22 of December at 5:30 am GMT. Some other groups celebrate on the December full moon, which was on the 10th of December or, more appropriately, the new moon on the 24th of the month at 18:07 GMT.. Some traditional Craft groups follow the old Julian calendar, acknowledge the astronomical event, and celebrate on the 1st of January – thus combining two celebrations in one. In some parts of the world this is particularly useful, especially where Paganism is banned on pain of, well, pain and imprisonment really.
Most of the ceremonies and rituals revolve around the rebirth of the sun on the shortest day of the Northern hemisphere. In traditional British Craft there is the traditional battle between the Holly and Oak Kings, which the Oak King wins. Other systems have other mythologies surrounding this time of the year but they all relate to the promise oflengthening days and the return of spring and new life. The interesting thing is what happens after the main ritual is over, and before the cakes and ale which grounds the remaining spiritual and psychobiological energy.
This is the time that coven members work on their energy, psychic, and supersensory skills. This is also done at the lunar Esbats and other festivals but at the points of the Equinoxes, and particularly the Solstices, the tides or seasonal energies are very strong. This means the training and skills that the coven or solitary practitioner works on are given an extra power boost. By matching the training to the time of year the invoked energies are used to maximum benefit.
In tune with the return of light candle magick is a particular favourite amongst many covens at this time. Causing the flame to change shape, colour, or even go out, by using concentration is a good way to build a connection with the Fire element and its’ Salamander elementals. This is a good way to discover if visualization, feeling, or verbal methods work best for you.
One person may find that by visualizing the candle burning brighter it does, but the next person can do the same thing until Beltane with no discernable effect. However, if that person softly chants “Higher, brighter, stronger” with intent then the candle flame may suddenly expand as though someone had turned on the gas! Having gained some control in raising the flame, then the game is to lower it by similar techniques.
Working with the fire element in this way is useful both in understanding how focussed thought can influence events and also how to compose spells and rituals in tune with how their psyche functions best. It is also a way of becoming aware of the fire Elementals and how to work with them both to cast a more effective circle, and to start to become conscious of the Elemental energies behind many natural phenomena. Other times of the year, and other Festivals, are better suited to attuning to different Elements and Elementals
Fire is also symbolic of intuition, and dowsing and mind reading techniques are also popular practices at this Festival. One popular one is to place AA batteries in cylindrical cases, or just wrapped up so you can’t tell the different terminals. The person doing the dowsing has to decide which terminal is uppermost when they are stood on end. Either a pendulum or dowsing rods are used and the aim of the game is to be able to tell- from the movement of the pendulum or the convergence/divergence of the rods- if the upper ends are positive or negative. This is then checked when all the batteries have been dowsed.
For new coven members, or those who are still unsure of the reality of interacting with spiritual or psychic forces, ‘bridging techniques’ are used. Also known as ‘springboard techniques’ or ‘muscle reading’ these skills refine the sensitivity of the person practicing them through physical feedback. One if the favourite techniques is to use nine of the Major Arcana Tarot cards laid out on a table top in a three by three square with about four inches between each card. A person sits in front of the cards and concentrates on one of them without telling anyone which card they are thinking of.
The person doing the reading then takes the seated persons right wrist with their right hand if they are right handed, left if they are sinistral. Usually the grip is light, with the thumb on the same side as the persons thumb and the fingers on the other side curling under the wrist to take most of the weight of the arm. The fingers of the other hand are slipped lightly under the gripped hand and allows the fingertips of the supported hand to rest lightly on the ‘readers’ own finger tips.
Then the seated person is asked to concentrate on their chosen card while the ‘reader’ moves their hand over the square of cards. All the seated person is allowed to do as his hand is moved across the cards is to concentrate on the direction the person holding their hand has to move it to locate the card. “Go on”, Go Back”, “Up”, or “Down”, are the only things they are allowed to think as their hand is held above each of the cards that is not the one they are concentrating on. When the correct card is reached then they must think “Stop”. The person doing the reading usually finds that as they guide the seated persons hand over the cards it is easer to move it towards the card of their choice than away from it. When the hand is held above the chosen card it will be harder to move it in any direction suggesting that this is the card the person whose wrist is being held is concentrating on. Other exercises can be developed from this one as the persons skill and sensitivity increase.
Usually the games/training last about forty minutes to an hour depending on how everyone is feeling. They usually come to an end with some tradition such as a game of “Snapdragon” where raisins or currants are placed in a shallow saucer or bowl and warm brandy is poured on and then set alight. The aim of the game is to pick as many of the dried fruits out of the flames as possible and eat them in a given time – usually about a minute.
This game is best played on a clear hard surface, usually stone or a metal tray, as it can be very messy. Naturally, it is very important that the usual fire safety precautions are observed. Then come the cakes and ale to ‘ground’ everyone and the coven go their separate ways until the next meeting.