November Rites touches on some of the traditions or folklore surrounding November in parts of Britain.
Listen carefully, dearest listener. The nights are becoming darker and the night creatures are out to play. Make haste and enjoy a warm drink and a cosy setting whilst you listen to this, our latest episode.
November rites – heksecast
Focusing on aspects of folklore and traditions from November, this episode gives a short summary of some of the oldest folk traditions in Britain at this time of year.
Featuring the song Down By The Greenwood Side by The Hare and the Moon. Big thanks once again to Grey Malkin for allowing your music to be featured in Heksecast!
This year, the spring equinox for the northern hemisphere falls on Friday 20th March. Although this is a part of the modern witches’ calendar compared to the ancient path, it is still something that many of us celebrate. It marks a turning of the so-called wheel of the year and adds a split to the year that can be viewed as magical.
Equinoxes and solstices are seen by the modern pagans as a very special time of year. The balance between light and dark are seen as especially sacred as well as the changing of the seasons around these dates.
The spring equinox is usually associated with the christian festival of Easter. Many assume that easter is from Ishtar – but it’s really, really not. There is an article talking about that, and you can find that by clicking here.
Pagans also think in the modern times that the name easter actually originates from Ostara, a Germanic goddess that was mentioned by Bede in the work ‘The Reckoning of Time’ or, originally, ‘De ratione temporum’. However, this work by Bede is the only piece of literature to mention Ostara and it is extremely odd that in modern times this supposed goddess would come to so much notoriety.
This is the original (translated) passage from chapter 15 of The Reckoning of Time by Bede:
15. The English Months In olden time the English people — for it did not seem fitting to me that I should speak of other people’s observance of the year and yet be silent about my own nation’s — calculated their months according to the course of the moon. Hence, after the manner of the Greeks and the Romans (the months) take their name from the Moon, for the Moon is called mona and the month monath.
The first month, which the Latins call January, is Giuli; February is called Solmonath; March Hrethmonath; April, Eosturmonath; May, Thrimilchi; June, Litha; July, also Litha; August, Weodmonath; September, Halegmonath; October, Winterfilleth; November, Blodmonath; December, Giuli, the same name by which January is called. …
Nor is it irrelevant if we take the time to translate the names of the other months. … Hrethmonath is named for their goddess Hretha, to whom they sacrificed at this time. Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance. Thrimilchi was so called because in that month the cattle were milked three times a day…”
The Reckoning of Time – Bede. 8th Century
So, as stated in the passage above (which I found here) it mentions that the celebration was only previously celebrated in her name. Of course, it may well be that this was actually the pre-christian era name for the time period which is referred to as easter. Anglo-Saxons are said to have been converted to christianity in the 7th century by the missionaries sent from Rome. It does seem odd that there is just one mention of her anywhere – compared to other gods and goddesses who have a multitude of stories and legends about them. It could be that it’s simply a word used to illustrate the awakening of spring. It could be an ancient goddess that has long been forgotten – many of the rivers have goddesses associated with them and not many modern people know the names.
So, whether or not there is a goddess called Ostara or Eostre, the spring equinox is an actual astrological event that happens every year around the same time. As the earth does its wonderful season-thing, the places we live in undergo their own changes. It’s why the seasons are different in the northern and southern hemispheres and why we have longer or shorter days, depending on the time of year.
Around the time of the spring equinox, the plants are starting to sprout and trees are getting their first blossom of the year. The birds start singing again, and if it has snowed, generally there will be a lot less of it from this time forward. Again, this depends on where you live – as if you are very far north, you may still experience snowfall as you are closer to the Arctic circle. As it is here in Northern Europe in more recent years, it just means things are a lot less brown and muddy and start turning a bit more green as time goes on. A bit further north there tends to be snow, but the last few years has just been a lot of rain.
Easter is also something that has become more of an ingrained cultural phenomenon like christmas, rather than specifically a time for the rebirth of the christian saviour in Europe. I know more people nowadays who celebrate both christmas and easter as a time to feast with family and enjoy the seasonal delights. Christmas is a way of getting through the long winter, just as easter is a way to celebrate the coming of spring and warmer weather. It is one of those interesting turns of events, as the original beginning of these festivals was rooted in paganism and associated with family, friends, feasting and festivity. Christianity brought along with it the advent of sin and being loyal to a higher power, but that part has faded out as the grip of christianity on Europe has loosened.
You will still find people who are ‘fair-weather’ christians – they go to church for the big holidays, but seem to ‘forget’ the rest of the year. You will also find people who are devout and follow the celebrations to the letter. However, for the most part, people just associate the times of year with good times and memory-making and leave it at that.
So how does one go about celebrating the spring equinox? What better way than preparing a fresh seasonal feast? Or, if that is not your thing, people may also choose to bake a loaf of bread for the occasion and use it for offerings to the local spirits and also for their family/friends.
Decorating your altar (if you have one) with light spring colours is also a good way to celebrate. This time of year is usually associated with the more pastel shades of purple, green and yellow, but you can choose whatever colours you most associate with this time. There is no hard and fast rule for celebrating, you can choose to do what you want to do. If you would rather celebrate at home with a book, go for it. If you are choosing to celebrate with your family, friends or coven/pagan group, have a fantastic time.
It’s a great time of year to think about a refreshing ritual. Sowing the seeds to be reaped later along the line. Follow along with the seasonal flow if that’s your thing and see what the plants and nature is doing along the way. Spring is seen as a season of regrowth and rebirth (perhaps that’s why they placed the christian story at this time of year) and is a great time to look at the coming year’s goals.
There is a rather pressing matter at the moment of the virus that is sweeping the globe – so celebrating alone or with your closest family may be the best idea. Take all the guidelines into consideration when planning your celebrations.
Above all, be safe, have fun and hail the gods. You got this!
Imbolc is celebrated as marking the beginning of spring; the flowers have started to bloom, there is growth in the earth, everything is becoming that bit greener and moving away from winter. There is still a chance of frost- you’ll get that through until around Beltane, but you can start to grow seedlings and plants indoors or in other heated areas like greenhouses, ready to be moved out when the weather is warmer.
It is also a good time to look at your own life and see what areas you can improve upon in the coming year. Many people may like to do a divinatory exercise at this time of year to make sure they are on the right track. Some people like to carry out divination before an event, others may like to look at things from an afterwards perspective.
If winter can be seen as the time when everything is underground, ready to be awakened, Imbolc is that awakening- the energy of expectancy is all around- for the summer to come, to be out of the darker, winter times, for the onset of spring and the return of flowers and life.
Many people choose this period to clear out the old and bring in the new- a spring clean if you will. It’s a good time to set plans in motion, to start giving an idea or venture form, rather than just keeping them as ideas. Spring cleaning can also occur within as well as around the home and garden. Long, dark nights of winter can leave people feeling a little bit down, so it’s a great time to start cleaning out all of those feelings, throw open the windows to allow in the warmer spring air and make yourself and your family feel better.
Many traditions have a life force and a life-giver. Many will look to a more serpentine deity or being as holding power within. If you look around in the world, the main source of health and wellbeing is seen through healthcare and medicine. The symbol within healthcare that looks like a snake, or more specifically a serpent, is called The Rod of Asclepius. Asclepius is from ancient Greek beliefs and is the god of medicine and healing. He is usually symbolised by the staff with a serpent coiled around it. This is seen as the most universal symbol of medicine and healthcare the world over.
It is said that this serpentine life force reawakens from slumber in the springtime, as the snake has been sleeping through the winter. It is a time of rest for all things, and it is only once the serpent reawakens that the witch can begin to draw energy and work more with the land than when the world was slumbering. It is a tradition in some branches of witchcraft (not Wicca) to awaken the red serpent from its slumber and bring life back into the world.
Around this time of year, it was traditional to give offerings to the holy wells and springs around the countryside. There are many wells and springs around even today, however, they are not venerated nearly as much as they once were. They would be decorated for Candlemass. It is also said that witches of old (again, not Wiccans, that is a much newer religion that what we are talking of here) would lead in a silent procession in the dead of night to a local well or spring. There would be one person leading with a candle, and the witches would set gentle fires and warm the serpent back up out of its slumber. This ritual would usually be followed by dancing and music, and may, therefore, move to a more apt spot in the countryside. More traditions relating to the time of Candlemass can be found in a great book by Gemma Gary called Traditional Witchcraft – A Cornish Book of Ways.
If you feel more renewed and healthy once spring starts blooming, this is likely why.
A lot of the symbols found in nature can be attributed to the Goddess Brigid (who became a saint when Christianity took over) such as:
The snowdrop- such a delicate flower, yet it can break through the hard soil in order to bloom. The snowdrop is a certain sign that spring is coming along.
The flame is a representation too, as Imbolc is seen as one of the fire festivals. It can also represent creativity and the flame in the hearth fire.
The Brigid’s cross is a representation of the fire wheel for Brigid. This symbol was found at the hearths of homes throughout Ireland and beyond to symbolise Imbolc and Brigid.
Colours which can be associated with Imbolc are silver and white for purity and green for the very first burst of life in an otherwise barren landscape.