Old Teen Essays
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Article ID: 4492
Age Group: Adult
Posted: December 4th. 2000
Listening To The Woods
White Birch has always been our wood of choice for the Yule Log. Throughout the now almost fifty years, Wren can't remember any other tree being given that particular role of honor in her family. Whether it was actually regarded as a magickal 'tradition' in her house or it was simply that the stark white bark offset the cherry red candles and deep green holly so well, we really don't know. Perhaps it was just a New England thing. New Englanders are quite proud of their magnificent white birch trees and rightfully so.
Yule Logs are 'traditionally' of oak, which makes perfect sense as the Log was meant to burn all day and oak is a dense and slow-burning wood. Birch, on the other hand, when thoroughly dry, ignites and goes up the chimney quite quickly. Upon musing before the fire on one Solstice Eve, Wren divined that the birch Yule Log could be perceived as 'igniting the passions' of the other woods now happily crackling in the hearth. As the birch is known as a tree sacred to the various great Goddesses, this revelation proved a quite personally satisfying reason to continue to use birch wood for the Yule Log. It is amazing what one can discover while gazing into a fire. Probably one of the reasons why our Ancestors spent so much time doing so.
"One more reason Birch is nice, the Rune for Birch is Beorc meaning Birth. I usually hand out Birch papers to my Yule guests and encourage them to write what they wish to birth on the Solstice, or what they want to bring into the light. Then we toss them into the Yule fire. It's nice". (from kari 12/4)
Photo credit: This image to your right is of the y2001 Unity calendar (Website: http://www.earthcentered.com/m)
"Celtic Britain and Gaelic Europe used a large tree or log to fit into their hearths. They anointed it with salt, holly, wine and evergreens. Then it was lit and young girls or a mother kept the remnants to light the next year's log. Some put it to one side of the hearth, burning it for days, even the whole year. The ashes were highly prized - apparent protection against evil and lightning. Birch, oak, willow and holly woods were most often used," according to The History of the Yule Log. Instructions on how to make a Yule Log can give one the general idea for a functional gift to prepare for yourself or as a present. Country Pagans can do their city-dwelling cousins a big favor by sending them a Yule Log as a special treat. The municipal 'powers that be' really do not appreciate urban Pagans cutting limbs off the trees in the city parks and we doubt any 'religious freedom defense' would sway them to look at it any other way!
Each wood has its own voice. Anyone who had the good fortune of growing up in a household where most of the wintertide activities centered about a big cast iron kitchen or parlor stove knows exactly what we mean. The evergreens, such as pine, hemlock and spruce, (Not good for the chimneys, by the way, but a nice treat to be used once in a while for the scent) sputter and spit. They seem prone to over-dramatize each woody sentence with a punctuation mark made up of orange sparks. Maples burn cleanly and seem pretty even-tempered as they crackle softly away. Elms burn hot and long. Anyone who has had the 'opportunity' to split elm wood knows that particular tree is rather perverse and makes you work hard to earn every moment of golden-russet tinged warmth. Birches seem light and merry, even self-sacrificing. The oaks and beeches are filled with warmth just waiting to be released. They give up their secrets in soft whispers and sighs. Cherry and apple are the desert woods with mouth-watering scents and branch-licking flames of blue, green and yellow. Listening to the woods speak, one can hear the spirits of the land talk of the times long gone by and perhaps of things yet to come as well. And why not? The magickal lore surrounding the various trees is well known to Pagans. And as one writer puts it, "He (or she) who delights in tending fire knows that the glow of the hearth also fosters a glow in the heart." (Haydn S. Pearson, Country Flavor Cookbook)
Deck The Halls With Witches' Ladders...
A Witch's Ladder makes a great homemade and inexpensive surprise present for the Pagans on your gift list. Traditionally made with three cords of different colors and braided together, the feathers of nine separate species of birds are then added, each tied on while chanting an appropriate charming rhyme. The completed Ladder is then hung from the highest point in the home for good luck. Instead of feathers (most wild bird feathers are illegal to use in the U.S. except by special permit), modern Pagans often scour the flea markets and antique marts for old charm bracelets. Then nine (or more) charms holding special significance to the maker or recipient are sewn onto the cords. Small bells, seashells, twigs from the nine sacred woods or little herb bags can also be used. It's a fun project for children- played out as a scavenger hunt- as any age child can help the grown-up 'Crafties" to find those special items. The older Pagan teens can make a Ladder (Probably of the "Keep Out!" variety!) for their own rooms. Witches' Ladders make great presents for handfastings, wiccanings and initiation events as well as providing an excellent elementary "Witchcraft 101" lesson for those Teachers guiding newcomers in the elements of magickal practice and spellwork. You can make up a kit with all the ingredients for those who always prefer to do their own magick, thank you very much!
We are always surprised to see many Pagan homes with lots of dreamcatchers and pentacles, but no Witches' Ladders. But then again, while some sources say that the Ladder should be placed in a spot where you can see it every day, others (like us) may be more traditional and keep theirs hidden in a secret spot. House protection magick was very much a part of Folk Magic in Britain and elsewhere. Witches' Ladders can be a nice alternative to some of the more unsavory forms often found in the excavations of old buildings. As with all magickal items, when it comes time to retire or replace them, it is wise to burn them, bury them or throw them into deep running water. Burning the old Witches' Ladder at Yule, Samhain or on a day dedicated to your patron God/Goddess-after making a new one, of course-might make a nice coven or family ritual that can be handed down through the generations. If you like to time your rituals to moon phases and seasonal changes, the new Unity 2001 calendar can certainly help you do so (see stunning image at top right). And it's another beautiful and easy to ship gift item as well! Ask St Nick, Old Nick or Good Old Thor to put one in your stocking. (And are we the only ones threatening to fill the Yule socks of 'bad' little Pagan girls and boys with discarded ballot chads instead of coal this year?)
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