Meanings: return of the sunlight, first of the spring festivals
Imbolc signifies the beginning of lactation in sheep and thus the first fresh nourishing milk after a long dark winter. Imbolc is also translated as “in the belly” (since now the ewes turn pregnant) or alternatively as “allround ablution”, denoting perhaps a great baptism rital. The feast day of Imbolc is rooted in agricultural traditions of Ireland. In the Mediterraneans this time of the year was associated with the Lupercalia in ancient Rome and with Candlemass since the rise of Christianity.
The Romans named the month Februarium, from Latin februum, which means “purification” (the English word fever also refers to this). The Roman Februa was a purification ritual held on February 15 = the full moon in the old Roman lunar calendar.
Other names of February include the Old English Solmonath= “mud month” and Kale-monath – named for cabbage. The February full moon is also called Snow Moon, Storm Moon and Hunger Moon.
Even though the sun is gaining strength and the first signs of spring are emerging, winter is still reigning. The month of February is therefore a month of divination and preparation. In some regions, such as the South of Germany, Austria and Switzerland the female Perchta and her hosts are still roaming about, which is reflected in the Perchtenlauf traditions in these areas, where people dressed in goat fur and wearing scary beastial or demonic masks walk around villages with rods, bells and drum beating.
Similar traditions that fall into February are Carneval and Fastnacht. The custom of wearing costumes, drinking strong beer and acting lascivious goes back to Roman times. It was condemned by the Christian church. But not even the Nazis could ban the tradition. According to Christian lore, Fastnacht is the last night before Aschermittwoch, which marks the beginning of the Lenten season (Fastenzeit). However, according to Wolf Dieter Storl the term Fastnacht originally had nothing to do with what today is understood by “fasten” (fasting) but comes actually from high German faseln (middle German vaselen), meaning to “thrive” and to “fertilize” (the earth).
oracles and pronouncing wishes
honoring the goddess in her Maiden aspect
ablution, cleansing, purification, initiation and fertility rituals
blessing and lighting candles (especially white and green candles)
planting first seeds (e.g. pre-culturing vegetables and herbs)
drinking and offering milk
crafting / blessing “Brigid’s Crosses” and grain dolls
burning previously crafted straw figures, e.g. from previous summer
binding vices, mental problems, sickness or enemies via sympathetic magic unto straw bundles and burning them ritually
forecasting weather, celebrating groundhog Day
dressing up for Fastnacht, Carneval etc.
Colors: white + green, also yellow and purple
Tools: grain figures, Brigid’s crosses, ribbons, candles, stones, evergreen wreaths or smudge herb bundles, sun discs, chalice, cauldron, matches
Symbols: birch, primrose (=keys to heaven), snowdrops, violets, bear, white cow, ewe, amethyst
Deities: Brigid as Maiden riding on a bear or white cow, Februa (Roman goddess), Mary as Maiden, Perchta, Frau Holle
Beginning of this year I started a journey with a goddess I had always known from legend and fairy tales but never actually approached ritually. A simple request, whether my Rauhnächte incense could also be used for honoring her, lead me to change my perspective. Eventually I spent the whole year researching and gathering herbs that connect to her essence and bring out her different light and dark aspects to finally compose an incense which evokes the obscure deity in her wholeness.
Lacking any image representing her I also designed a new sigil for her, who…
resides on a white mountain top, at the depth of a well, in the clouds or in hell
is the goddess of spinning and weaving, winter and death, childbirth and vegetation
contains the souls of the unborn and stillborn in her well, grants fertility and receives the souls of the dying
governs legions of elves and gnomes, presides over witchcraft and the sending of nightmares
sends snow and hail, rain and frost over the land and leads the wild hunt
visits earth during the twelve coldest nights, blesses the diligent and punishes the indolent
appears as a beautiful virgin of the dawn, fertile mother of man at day, devil’s sorcerous grandmother at night
is the companion of the green-man during spring and summer and the spouse of Wode, the hunter, during the dark half of the year
She is known as Percht(a), Berchta and Bertha in upper Germany (who may have Celtic roots), Holle or Holda, holde Frau, Frau Venus in Middle Germany, Frau Herke/Harke or Gercke, Frau Gode/Gaude, in lower Germany, Murawa (a night demon in Saxony) and Spillaholle in Silesia. All these names are present throughout different parts of Germany and are expressions of an older omnipotent goddess.
In Bohemia she is also simply known as Frau Holle, a small and ugly old woman, who carries a batch of stinging nettles. During the twelve cold nights of winter (twelve yule nights) she visits earth and looks into the homes, to see, if the spinners have finished their work or are still spinning. The latter she punishes by beating them with the nettles. But those who have finished their spinning are blessed with a single nettle twig left in the home that protects the house from misfortune for the whole coming year.
A Silesian rhyme about the Spillaholle goes:
Spinnt, Kinderlein, spinnt, Die Spillalutsche kommt; Sie guckt zu allen Löchlein rein, Ob das Strähnlein wird bald fertig sein.
Spin, little children, spin, The Spillalutsche comes; She peeks through all the little gaps, If the little strand will be finished soon.
Spillaholle occurs as an especially cruel and mean version of Frau Holle, since she kills the children, that she has caught spinning at night. She also scares people to death. She is accompanied by wood sprites, a tomcat and a goat.
November was once known as Windmond, Wintermonat and Nebelung. It is the darkest month, hostile and chaotic. It brings storms, disorder and weird dreams. It is the month of the ‘wild hunt’, the Cailleach, Holle, Persephone, Hecate, Brimo and other gods and goddesses of winter and death.
It is raining and snowing and the earth is being saturated with water. The cold grayness is lit up by bright saffron blossoms, colorful tree branches and berries. Wild cherry trees color their crowns red; what looks like a fiery shield or warning sign is actually an invisibility shield against herbivores. By dropping their leaves the trees now ultimately strike their solar sails. Simultaneously the fallen leaves re-assemble to form a protective and nurturing blanket on the ground, for myriads of organisms to spend the winter underneath. Here the magic happens that alchemists seek to master. All of nature’s actions are inherently logical and perfectly adjusted.
November also brings weird dreams, messages of wyrd – the weaveress, who spins, weaves and cuts the thread that forms the fabric of a person’s fate or destiny. Noteworthy, is wyrd not only the base word for modern English weird. Today the word weird denounces something supernatural, uncanny or unexpected. But wyrd is also connected to the German werden = to become, Wort = word as well as Wurz = a herb. Originally these terms, to become and to grow (as a plant) and the concept of wyrd (fate) may have been closely linked. Indeed, the wort cunner uses herbs to change a person’s destiny. The shaman or healer uses herbs to drive out sickness and avert death, which increase in the absence of day light.
The weaveress is present in many different pantheons. Sometimes she is part of a triad of goddesses of fate such as the Norse Norns, the Greek Morai and Roman Parcea. Other times she is an ancient mother goddess presiding over the souls of the unborn and the work of women, especially spinning and weaving. Germanic tribes knew her as Holle/Holda, today also identified with Perchta. Slavic peoples knew her as Mokosh or Zorya.
Frau Holle is envisioned to guard a deep well or pool from which she releases the souls of children to be born and into which she receives again the souls of the stillborn. She guards the cycle of life and death, birth and rebirth. Likewise she judges the work of man, blesses those, who finish their tasks in time and punishes those who are late or lazy. In the short month of November we are reminded that the year is in its final quarter and that we too must come to a close with our projects and rituals, but also, that we must take care of ourselves.
November rituals: healing and cleansing rituals, start a dream journal, honor god(desse)s of death and winter, process seeds and herbs gathered earlier, plant bulbs and fruit trees, burn incense for protection and oneiromancy
I went herb gathering on this beautiful warm September morning, as the sun shone bright on the green meadows and trees. Nature is noticeably on the verge of the vegetation period and gives everything before autumn kicks in. Red rosehips and hawthorn berries are ripe, the Cornelian cherries are already bleting. The herbs are now full with aromatic oils and active substances. Hence the last weeks of summer are the best time for gathering herbs.
The tradition of gathering herb bundles and having them blessed by the goddess Frigg/Freya has been adopted into Christian faith. The Virgin Mary is prayed to for blessing the gathered herbs, which are called Kräuterbuschen in German.
The best places for gathering herbs are those that are untouched by humans and their pets; in other words, which are free from pesticides, street dust and pet excrements. If you live in an urban area, it may be diffcult to find such places, the least frequented not seldom being the graveyards. Hence, asking permission from the spiritus loci – in this case the dead and their guardian – is often the best and only option if you want to gather healthy plants. When paying the spirits, avoid leaving unnatural or decomposable offerings. It is much more important that you act respectful and do not disturb the place more than is necessary in order to gather what you need.
September Kräuterbuschen: hawthorn, mugwort, rosehips, yarrow, ribwort, nettle seeds, daisy
Whom to thank?!
When spiritual practice turns into tradition and tradition turns into dogma, gestures become hollow and the forms loose their essence. Hence there always comes a point, when its time to question one’s practice and reconnect to the source. This is when the mind should turn silent and silence and awe are the best means of thanking ‘the spirits’. Contemplation and reconnecting to forms is to follow.
When this point is reached in one’s spiritual practice, it may also be a good time to contemplate the nature of one’s guardian angel.
According to Wikipedia, a guardian angel is a type of angel that is assigned to protect and guide a particular person, group or nation. The belief is that guardian angels serve to protect whichever person God assigns them to. In some faiths, a single person has several guardian angels. In Christianity the guardian angels have their own theology. In modern times the concept of the Holy Guardian Angel, as developed in the order of the Golden Dawn, and which was based on Marther’s translation of the 15th century book The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage by German cabbalist Abraham of Worms, was complemented and popularized by Aleister Crowley. However, the guardian angel already played a major role in ancient Judaism and likewise existed patroni and tutalary beings throughout antiquity. According to the Hebrew bible, angels have been assigned to protect nations. E.g. the archangel Michael is the patron saint of Isreal, but he also became the patron of many Christianized countries.
The favorite deity worshipped by Germanic tribes was Donnar/Thor. His holy places were subsequently transformed into sites dedicated to St. Michael, who became the patron Saint of Germany. On a lower level, this is also reflected in the saint’s personification as Deutscher Michel. The name originates from Hebrew Mi kamocha elohim, which means something like “who is like you, god”. Michael hence embodies the effort to be like god. When the divine order was challenged by Lucifer (the light bearer) and Samyaza (master of weaponry), it was archangel Michael that lead the heavenly hosts and cast the rebelling angels out of heaven and into hell. Michael thus silenced the rebellion in heaven and re-established the heavenly order, while Lucifer (in some sources also Belial) continues to challenge this same order. Michael and Lucifer are arch-enemies, or less dramatically put, dual fighting principles. While Michael protects the divine light, Lucifer aims to bring it to the people. Without judging their respective positions and relevance, St. Michael hence serves as the patron of military and police in many countries and is often featured in heraldry. His feast day is 29 September. On this day begins the accademic new year and it is the time when articificial illumination starts. (Read more about this feast day in my next post.)
An interesting idea concerning the guardian angel appears in Rabbinic literature:
Rashi on Daniel 10:7 “Our Sages of blessed memory said that although a person does not see something of which he is terrified, his guardian angel, who is in heaven, does see it; therefore, he becomes terrified.“
In other words, it is due to the impulse of the guardian angel, who warns us, that we experience emotions such as fear and anxiety in the face of danger, which in turn are physical mechanisms that protect us from harm. In modern physiology this role would be taken by hormones and the influence of micro-organisms in- and outside of our body. Noteworthy, the guardian angel does not simply remove harm from the person but rather confronts and guides the person in dealing with it. So here we have a concept, in which the guardian angel is not simply a benevolent being but it induces fear/negative emotions in its assigned human.
An example for a guardian angel in Rabbinic literature is Lailah, from Hebrew Laylāh, meaning: “night”, associated with the night, as well as conception and pregnancy. Lailah serves as a guardian angel throughout a person’s life and at death, leads the soul into the afterlife (see). Lailah presents a drop of semen to god, who then decides its fate, however, not its character. Hence the decision for good or bad is left to the person’s free will, only the outward conditions are preset.
If one was to seek polar opposites, then Lilith, as a night demon and waster of semen, would be the counterpart to Lailah. Yet in truth, they are rather two sides of the same coin. In ancient Germanic faith, both roles would be taken by Hulda/Frau Holle/Percht, who guards the souls of the unborn children, as well as receives the souls of the dead and both occurs as a benevolent goddess to the diligent as well as as a terrifying monster to the indolent.
Conclusion: it can be exciting and fascinating to explore and look for forms and names for one’s personal guardian angel. There are guardian angels for the nations and systems we belong to (or rebel against), common or mutual guardian angels residing over our time on earth and beyond, as well as individual guardian angels, which may have special names and embodiments and characters. They may be simply there for us, when needed, or challenge us. Their mutual core is though, that they are assigned and not chosen. However their nature maybe transformable and they can be addressed, similar to how we can employ a natal chart and extract the best from it.
Around the 1st of August, the first harvest of the year is celebrated, and it is the best time for gathering fragrant and medicinal herbs since now they are rich in aromatic oils! It is also the time when the bilwis – originally benevolent priests guarding the fields, later envisioned as corn demons with sickles on their feet – cut the first corn. Common festivals held during this time are Lughnasadh or Lammas, which celebrate the ripening of the corn and the baking of the bread from the first harvest. Traditionally, this first bread is offered to the spirits, and likewise, corn dolls are crafted and offered. Altars are decorated in flaming red, orange, and golden yellow colors. Most emblematic of this time are the sunflower, the lion and the cornucopia. But all the herbs and fruits that are ripe during this time of the year can be used to decorate the home and honor the spirits.
It is a time for celebrating Lugh, the Celtic god of craftsmanship and weaponry. Lughnasadh is translated as the ‘killing of Lugh’ in old Irish language, which is an allegory for the end of summer. Wolf Dieter Storl identifies the Celtic Lugh as a god of fire, who imbues medicinal herbs with power and associates him with the Germanic Loki (Lodur), the trickster and fire god. On the same first day of August, the torch bearing bringer of light, Lucifer was banished from heaven. It is hence believed that persons born on the 1st of August would become a witch and a ghost-seer.
My personal incense for celebrating the fire of August:
black, golden and / or white copal
coriander seed (ground)
nutmeg (a pinch)
palo santo or sandalwood
red carnation or red rose flower petals
Aside from the witches’ Wheel of the Year festivals, there are other feasts taking place in August. Romans celebrated the Nemoralia, a festival sacred to DianaNemorensis. Interestingly, the Romans would pay tribute to Diana by honoring the dogs of the hunt and polishing the spears, meaning no hunting or fighting would take place during this time. Instead, the dogs were cared for and adorned, and slaves, warriors, and hunters were granted a time of rest and nurture. Torches were carried to the grove of Diana in Nemi, which offered a refuge for slaves during the hottest time of the year. At the center of her grove stood an oak tree, which was guarded by a priest titled rex nemorensis, who himself was an escaped slave. This priest had to defend the tree and his own life against other slaves, until the next slave would take his place by killing him and breaking a branch from the tree. This unusual ritual seems to have pre-Roman roots.
Diana is identified with the Greek Artemis and also bears references to the Greek Hecate.
My suggestion for a Nemoralia incense:
sandarac or pine resin
Similar to the motive of Lugh as a god of fire, weaponry and craftmanship, the Romans celebrated one of their oldest deities, the fire god Vulcan, around the 23rd of August. Vulcan was worshipped and appeased during the August heat as to be protected from (wild) fires and especially to protect the granaries from fire. During the Vulcanalia, bonfires were lit and grain offerings were thrown into the flames. After the Great Fire of Rome, the worship of Vulcan only increased, and the offerings now also included red bulls. Noteworthy, Pliny the Younger documented the outbreak of the Vesuvius in Pompei only one day following the Vulcanalia festival.
Shortly before the middle of August is also the time of the Perseid meteor shower, during which the trinity of heaven, earth, and the underworld was celebrated in antiquity. Another ancient goddess revered during this time was Hecate, who governed these three realms. The herbs that are especially sacred to her include monkshood, henbane, wormwood, asphodel, mandrake, pomegranate and the saffron crocus.
Incense for Hecate:
myrrh (soaked in red vine and honey)
orris or mandrake root
In August, we also honor the mother goddesses per se.
On the 15th of August, Christians celebrate the Assumption of Mary. Along with it, various herb blessing traditions once sacred to Freya have been adopted and converted into the Maria-Kräuterweihe. Herbs that are traditionally part of the Mariä Kräuterbuschen:
mullein (at the center)
St. John’s wort
The blessed herbs were then given into the food of sick animals, hung in the home and barn, or thrown into the fire for protection from thunder and lightning. The time spanning from the 15th of August to the 8th of September (Nativity of Mary) is also known as Frauen-Dreißiger. The entire time is considered auspicious for the gathering of medicinal herbs.
Likewise, the Germanic Holle/Holda/Dame Hulda, in her role as the ancient mother goddess of neolithic origin, can be honored and asked for maternal blessings during the August full moon. Especially sacred to Holda is the Elder tree, which is now full of ripe fruits.
In Argentina, Paraguay and Southern Brazil the 15th of August (or alternatively the 13th of August) is dedicated to a folk saint, which is not accepted by the Catholic church: devotees of San la Muerte praise the Saint of Death with offerings of flowers, candles, liquor, tobaccco, money, food offerings such as pork and sweets and coffee. My favorite incense for San la Muerte is similar to the August fire blend Iisted above.
Finally, in Japan, the festival of the Dead, called Obon, is celebrated around the middle of August. A key symbol for this liminal time is the cherry blossom, also known as sakura. According to Japanese folklore, the souls of fallen kamikaze fighters (revered heroes) are symbolized by falling sakura petals.
My personal ‘Sakura’ blend for contacting the dead in dream:
silver colored frankincense
Conclusion: the feasts of August both venerate the light and fire of life, the culmination of summer, the bountyful harvest, the vegetation and mother goddesses, as well as the sickle, death himself and the dead. Do you know more feasts of August? Please write in the comments!