Episode 3 of The Autumn Witch Podcast – The Old Pagan Tradition of Wassailing.
Now if you’ve listened to my waffle before, you’ll probably know that I don’t prevaricate. But I can get lost round the houses trying to pre-explain what I mean.
And this time will be no different.
So before we get started with Wassail firstly let me tell you about the date.
Wassail generally takes place on the 12th night, which is the 5th of January. Except it isn’t.
As a pagan celebration, the 12th night is 12 days after Yule, which is the Winter Solstice – which puts the 12th night around the 3rd of January.
Except for traditionalists, that’s not right either…
Because in 1752 here in Britain we switched to the Gregorian Calendar (so named for Pope Gregory the 13th) from the Julian Calendar – introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC – and the very, VERY short story is; we lost 11 days, that caused quite a stir, but it brought us in line with most of Europe. And as a time went by, most of the world.
Now only a handful of countries are left on their own timeframe – Afghanistan, Iran, Ethiopia and Nepal.
But what it means for traditionalists, is that ‘the 12th night,’ in the pre-christian calendar falls on the 17th of January….
So make of that what you will. I have thoughts on rigidly sticking to dates, but i’ll talk about that at the end – or you’ll never get to hear about wassail.
Wassailing is an old pagan rite of visiting orchards and blessing the apple and pear trees for a good harvest.
Wassailing has been documented since 1752 – but any celebration, dance, and joyous activity was strictly prohibited under Cromwell’s rule of Britain and Ireland in the mid 1600’s. Pagan festivities were severally punished, so there is a break in the history keeping of the old traditions, and after cromwell’s death there was a resurgence of the the old traditions – Wassailing being one of them.
Wassailing or howling varies across the counties, and is still practiced here, especially in the West Country – the old tradition was revellers would gather, with pots and pans, making all kinds of noise – or a hullabaloo and visit the orchard. They would visit at night, carrying lit torches and weave between the trees, scaring away bad spirits.
The orchard owner, being so grateful, would reward them with warmed spiced cider, from a wooden, polished communal bowl – known as the wassail cup.
The revellers would drink, and wish the orchard a bountiful harvest, and share a drink from the wassail cup, pouring it onto the roots of the trees as an offering.
The other form of wassailing was to do this loud and noisy routine but knock doors instead – wassail is thought to be a mix of the old english word ‘was hal,’ – which is ‘good health’ – but this tradition has evolved over the centuries to what you would now recognise as carolling.
So this coming Sunday is the 17th of January, which in the old calendar is the 12th night after the solstice. A time when the revelry of the season comes to an end and we look to the coming year – are trusting of good crops, and hopeful that the final months of winter aren’t too harsh.
And we can adapt this practice for our own personal path too – using cider, beer or tea – trees like them all, and pour it into the roots – into the earth and give thanks. And if you’re neighbours aren’t too close bang or clap and drive that old tired energy away.
That’s what revelry does – it lifts us up.
I think we are living in a time when it feels like life is happening to us, we have no control, not even over the small daily actions. And my practice allows me to actively do something about my feelings of frustration, sadness and overwhelm. So i thought i’d share this as maybe this is something you’d like to have go at.
But as is my way, i also want to get my disclaimer in – i’m not a stickler for celebrating everything at the right time. As a history grad, i think sharing the information about how and when we changed calendars gives detail to wassailing that highlights the potential for fluidity in when we celebrate things.
To my way of thinking, it’s not when we celebrate – it’s not even how, the point is that we make some time in our lives to remember the old ways, and adjust ourselves to some of the kinder slower ways of the past. But also to adapt and modernise old traditions in a way that they will continue to evolve and grow with us as times change.
And this is something I harp on about – and I will doubtlessly talk about it in the future when I cover the sabbats. So apologies –
But it isn’t the fact that we celebrate on a specific day, and it isn’t the act of celebrating that makes something reverent.
Our soul, our essence – the thing that makes us who were are, coupled with our sentient thoughts – somewhere in the mix of those two things coming together to focus on something specific – that is where magic comes from. That’s were power and manifestation comes from.
That completely focused period of time, when we stop, take a breath, and consciously push energy into the world, is what gives any act the fuel to get it off the starting blocks. And this goes the same for honouring and celebrating the sabbats.
Of course there is joy and excitement in planning a beautiful celebration. And a group of people combining their energy is a fabulous and wonderful way to connect, and the power absolutely feels amplified. But there is also wonder and strength behind a quiet mind, who manages nothing more than a deep breath of air on a chill night.
`And that’s my disclaimer – your path is fluid, that’s the beauty of it. You’re not curtailed.
Now then, i’ve got a couple of topics i’d like to talk about in the coming weeks on the Pod.
The first one is overwhelm – I don’t think there is any difference if you have come from a religious or faith based upbringing, or whether you have come from an upbringing with no influence of religion or faith.
When you are looking at Paganism in any form, it is easy to get lost in the feeling that you don’t know enough – that you might do something wrong or you’re not doing something right. And it’s really easy to let those feelings of overwhelm and anxiety scupper you. The concept that you need to know everything right away, can literally stop you moving forward. So next week we’re going to be talking about how to manage those feelings, and how to simplify how much you feel like you should study, and learn and how much money you should be parting with – cos as you can imagine i have huge – HUGE – opinions on spiritual gatekeepers who will take money to validate themselves. The idea of coming to paganism because you feel called to it, should be a joyous process – it should feel like a homecoming, and if you’re are constantly berating yourself with all that you’re not doing, you’re not gonna get that joy.
Which will leave you feeling like you have homework constantly hanging over your head, and really, you know thats a writer’s guilt trip, as well I know.
So that’s coming up.
And the next one is Falling through he gaps of maiden mother and crone. I was talking about different things on YouTube recently about my own path, and feelings of empty nest syndrome i suppose. And a lovely viewer left some thoughts in the comments about how she is struggling with where she fits too.
And the three aspects of maiden mother and crone are the foundational archetypes of paganism and witchery ~ but that doesn’t mean we always neatly fit into those moulds. So i’m going to be chatting about how we look at those rolls, and how they convert to the masculine, and what happens when we feel like we used to be one, but we’re not quite the other yet.
Take care all, and Bright Blessings.