Holidays, India

Goddesses, Mothers, Gods, and Kings of Winter Solstice

The winter solstice translates to, “the sun stands still;” it is the longest night of the year. From this point forward, the light returns as days grow longer into Spring. Learning about ancient beliefs and archetypes makes me feel more connected to the season, and it can help us understand where some of our long-standing traditions come from. Did you ever wonder why we kiss under the mistletoe or why there are twelve days of Christmas? The answers are in our ties to ancient Roman, Greek, Celtic, and Norse mythology.

Setting the stage – Yule and the Winter Solstice

Yule descends from the Old English word geól and may refer to Christmas Day or Christmas tide. It is also connected to the Norse word jól, a heathen fast lasting twelve days, while Odin and his ghostly hunters swept through the dark forest. Since the mid-1800s, the word is widely used as an informal term for all Christmas festivities meaning joy or jolly.

The Romans recognized Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, the Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun, the Solar God Mithras. In the 4th century, the Church, in an attempt to promote Christianity, substituted the birth of the sun with the birth of the son. Some believe this to be the reason that we celebrate the birth of Jesus in December, even though he was more likely born in the Spring.

Goddesses, Mothers, Kings, and Gods of Winter Solstice

The solstice is a very maternal time of year, referred to as “The Mother Night” in some cultures. Women are often credited with the birth and death of the sun, the changing of the seasons, and the balance of life itself. Men are shown as heroes, battling adversity or ensuring that proper cycles continue, so life can be sustained. They sometimes represent the sun itself.

Celtic Goddess Cailleach

Cailleach translates to “the veiled one.” She is the crone, the old one, the Queen of Winter. She is part of the triple goddess symbol of the child, the maiden and the crone. The maiden, Brighid, rules from Beltane in the Spring, until Samhain in the Fall, but Cailleach rules the Winter months.

There was a tradition in Ireland and Scotland, where farmers competed to bring in their crops. The first farmer to harvest his fields would create a corn dolly to represent Cailleach, and he would toss it into the unharvested field of another farmer. As each farmer finished, the dolly would be found and passed along, until the last farmer to finish the harvest would have to look after Cailleach for the Winter. The dolly would be burned on Beltane to release the Crone and welcome the Maiden. It was a heated competition, no one wanted to get stuck with the Crone in their home for the Winter.

Greek Goddess Demeter

Demeter is the goddess of agriculture, fertility, and sacred law. She presides over the cycle of life and death. She is a mother goddess. Her daughter, Persephone, is abducted by Hades and tricked into staying in the underworld with him for six months out of the year. Demeter’s grief causes the earth to die for those months until Persephone returns in the Spring. She controls the balance of the harvest, which was the source of life for people at the time.

Norse Goddess Frigg and God Beltur

Frigg is the Norse Goddess of Winter. It is believed that on the longest night of the year, she labored the birth of the sun into the world. This was called “The Mother Night.” Frigg is Odin’s wife, also associated with marriage and fertility. Friday is named after Frigg. She gave birth to two sons, Beltur, and his blind twin Holdr.

Frigg asked all of nature not to harm her sons, but in her haste, she forgot about mistletoe. Loki, a trickster God, fooled Holdr into shooting Baldur with a spear made from mistletoe. He was later brought back to life, and Frigg was so delighted that she declared mistletoe as a symbol of love and vowed to kiss anyone beneath it. It is poisonous though, so don’t let anyone eat it!

The Oak King and the Holly King

In Celtic tradition, the day of the Winter solstice is the day when the Oak King wins the battle against the Holly King. It is the battle of light and dark, of life and death, of Winter and Summer. And cycle that must continue for life to endure. The Oak King will win and the nights will grow shorter until the Summer Solstice when the Holly Kings wins his battle and brings us back to Winter. People would burn fires through the night and sing at dawn to midwife the birth of the sun and celebrate the victory of the Oak King.

Greek God Apollo

In the 10th century BCE, the Roman Emperor Augustus installed Apollo as the reigning version of the solar god. Games and festivities were held in his honor around the winter solstice. He was later superseded by the Persian deity Mithras. Mithras’ birthday just so happened to be December 25th, but scholars seem to agree that there is no connection to Christianity and the cult of Mithras.

Saturnalia and a personal reflection

Another connection to winter gods is the Roman festival Saturnalia, in honor of the agricultural god Saturn, from December 17-23. It was a time of feasting, gift-giving, offering sacrifices, and a special dinner where masters served their slaves.

In late December and early January of this year, I was at the Temple of Shani Shingnapur in Maharashtra, India. The entire village is dedicated to the Hindu God of Saturn. They go to temple and make offerings every day. No one in the village locks the doors on their homes because they trust that they are protected and no one will do each other harm.

The village was humble, and the people were so friendly. I had the best cup of chai of the entire trip and I picked up an ornament there, which I was excited to place on my Yule altar this season. The extra excitement is over the rare conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn today (12/21/20201) as I write this on the Winter solstice. Check out my astrologer friend, Carter’s blog about this! Learn more about the Christmas Star.

My year started and ended with Saturn, the sun, incredible magic, new experiences, and new friends. I am filled with gratitude.

I hope this brief introduction to some archetypes associated with this time of year inspires you to learn more! If you feel drawn to any of these characters, I encourage you to research them and honor them with your yule decorations. This is a good time to clean and organize, to reflect and learn lessons from the past year, and to envision your new future. As the sun is reborn, you can start fresh too. Blessed be!

If you like learning about folklore and magic, sign up for my newsletter for more blogs and workshops!

Sources

Books

Moura, Ann. Grimoire for the Green Witch: a Complete Book of Shadows. Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd, 2018.

Pesznecker, Susan. Yule: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for the Winter Solstice. Llewellyn Publications, 2015. 

Websites

https://www.britannica.com

https://www.learnreligions.com

India

What’s all the hype about meditation?

Meditating is probably the number one thing I recommend to my clients. Meditation can be used for grounding, stress relief, for sleep, and for peace. An old zen saying goes, “everyone should meditate for ten minutes a day, unless you are too busy. Then you should meditate for an hour a day.” But lets get real here, sitting cross legged on the floor is not the best method for everyone. I hated the idea of meditating everyday, until I realized that there are hundreds of ways to meditate.

Anytime that you work to clear your mind, you are meditating. Focusing on the breath, relaxing the mind, quieting the voices – its all part of programming your own mindset. You can meditate while walking, while washing dishes, or listening to music. My favorite form of meditation is yoga and dance. Moving meditation can help you get in the zone mentally.

Movement was a big key to unlocking my own meditation practice. I spent a week in Vermont at a reclaiming Witch Camp last summer, and I took a workshop on meditation. We meditated in the forest for about three hours per day, learning different methods of meditation. My favorite is what I call, “mindful meandering.” Dropping into your belly, taking on a doe-eyed stare, and just wondering around the woods. Its amazing how much you can learn from nature. I was quite taken with the mushrooms, fungi and mitochondria at work in the forest; breaking down the old and fertilizing the new.

On a yoga retreat in India, I really ignited my love for movement as a part of meditation and spirituality, through my yoga practice. I’ve invested so much into my yoga practice this year, as my daily meditation break.

Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are a million ways to kneel and kiss the ground. ~Rumi

The Science of Meditation

One of the most interesting studies on meditation in the last few years, carried out at Yale University, found that mindfulness meditation decreases activity in the default mode network (DMN), the brain network responsible for mind-wandering and self-referential thoughts – a.k.a., “monkey mind.” The DMN is “on” or active when we’re not thinking about anything in particular, when our minds are just wandering from thought to thought. Since mind-wandering is typically associated with being less happy, ruminating, and worrying about the past and future, it’s the goal for many people to dial it down.

In 2011, a team at Harvard found that mindfulness meditation can actually change the structure of the brain. A program of yoga and meditation called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was found to increase cortical thickness in the hippocampus, which governs learning and memory, and in certain areas of the brain that play roles in emotion regulation and self-referential processing. There were also decreases in brain cell volume in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress – and these changes matched the participants’ self-reports of their stress levels, indicating that meditation not only changes the brain, but it changes our subjective perception and feelings as well. 

Meditation is great for kids as well as adults! Children benefit in all the ways that adults do, if not more. A school in San Francisco introduced meditation to their students, and saw a lift in attendance and over all grade point average (source). Meditation has been proven to improve attention, focus, memory, and resilience to stress and other negative emotions.

Mindfulness Resources

Here are some of my favorite tools, whether you are starting a new meditation practice or diversifying your current routine. You can find free meditations on youtube and wherever you find your podcasts.

Focus Five cards from SERP Institute

A series of meditations that can be done in under five minutes. The cards can be downloaded for free. They are meant for kids to lead meditations in the classroom, but they are classic strateiges that work great for adults, too!

Insight Timer

A free app with guided meditations, music and a timer that will gently wake you from a meditative state with a gong or a bell sound.

Deepak Chopra

Offers a number of free guided meditations on his Youtube channel.

Yoga with Adrienne

She spins together yoga with soulful talks and meditations. You can choose videos based on mood or theme.

Do you want one-on-one coaching?

If you want to start a daily meditation practice, become more mindful and boost your happiness levels, consider signing up for my three month coaching program. We will use science to idenify your happiness areas that need improvement, and cultivate tools and resources around a mindfulness practice. I can incopororate tarot, astrology, reiki and guided meditation as part of your program.

The experince is individualized and focused on you and your unique path to your higher self. If you’re ready to level up in your vibrational awareness – contact me! I’m here to hold space for your growth and transformation.

India

Ganesh: remover of obstacles

Ganesh (also Ganesha or Ganapati) is a very important God in the Hindu Religion. He is the patron of intellectuals, students and authors, as well as travelers, bankers, and anyone starting a new project or adventure. You can ask Ganesh to remove obstacles on your path that are not serving your highest good.

Gansh with Shiva and Parvati

There are many different stories about Ganesh, here is a little taste of what I’ve learned. We will start with the God Shiva, and his wife, the Goddess Parvati. Shiva had a devoted follower, a bull called Nandi. When Parvati went to take a bath one day, she asked Nandi to guard the door and not to let anyone in, especially her husband Shiva, who had a habit of barging in on her.

But, when Shiva came to call, Nandi let him right in because he was so devoted to Shiva. Parvati wanted a companion that was loyal to her above Shiva, so she decided to make one. While bathing, she used tumeric to clean her skin. She used the tumeric paste from her body to mold a baby boy, and she breathed life into the boy. She had the boy stand guard for her. When Shiva returned home for the day, he was surprised to find a boy he never met before, claiming to be Parvati’s son and refusing to let him in! He gets pretty upset about this, and he cuts the boy’s head off.

Well, Parvati was pretty outraged when she found out, and she cried to Shiva, demanding he make this right. Shiva basically replaces the head with an elephant’s head and breathes life into the boy again. There’s a bit more to it than that, but you get the idea.

You’ll see Ganesh depicted with one broken tusk, and there are many stories as to how his tusk was damaged. Some say it was cut off when Shiva chopped off the elephant head. Another says he broke it off himself to use it as a writing instrument. He has a fondness for sweets; he’s often shown using his trunk to eat a hand full of modak, creamy sweet dumplings. This is why he has a bit of a belly.

Ganesh is very special. He has dominion over all classes of beings, ranging from insects, animals and humans to the subtle and celestial beings. During my tour of India, our teacher led us in a Ganesh gayatri mantra every morning on the bus. I pictured Ganesh’s big trunk moving traffic and obstacles out of our path as we drove along.

Ganesh Gayatri

Here’s a good rendition of the mantra on youtube!

It goes:

  • Om Ekdantaya Vidmahe
  • Vakratundaya Dheemahi
  • Tanno Dantih Prachodayat

It means:

  • We pray to the one with the single-tusked elephant tooth who is omnipresent. 
  • We meditate upon and pray for greater intellect to the Lord with the curved, elephant-shaped trunk. 
  • We bow before the one with the single-tusked elephant tooth to illuminate our minds with wisdom.

Traveling through India, Ganesh is everywhere you look! I picked up a small trinket of his to put on the dashboard of my car, so he can clear my way as I drive around little Rhode Island. If you want to learn more about Ganesh, I shared some sources below that you can check out. May Ganesh bring you inner peace and wisdom!

Sources:

Encyclopedia Britannica: Ganesha

Ancient History Encyclopedia: Ganesha

India Today: 4 Stories About Lord Ganesha you Probably Didn’t Know

Lord Ganesha: his birth story, symbolism meaning and practice

Amma: Lord Ganesha: his birth story, symbolism meaning and practice

Ganesh Gayatri Mantra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dkVlpm1mKFI

India

The light on the meaning of inner wisdom

 

Sant Dnyaneshwar
source: hindupedia.com

Sant Dnyaneshwar was a philosopher and an influential poet who is considered the greatest Saint of the Bhakti movement in Maharashtra, India. He wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita in Marati, the vernacular language of the common people. At this time during the 13th century, religious scripts were written more formally in sanskrit. Dnyaneshwar’s teachings were lyrical poems that were easy to recite and sing. The lessons were easier to remember. This is why he is often described as, “the light on the meaning of inner wisdom.”

His work, Dnyaneshwari, gave simple lessons for everyday life and did not discriminate against wealth or caste. Some say his poems are more like lullabies. He was devoted to Lord Vitthal, a Hindu deity. He wrote with an emphasis on yoga, a belief in the oneness of Vishnu and Shiva, and non-dualistic Advaita Vedanta philosophy. 

At this time in history, yoga was more about mediation than the movements we know today. Dnyaneshwar gave us one of the first written accounts of proper yoga practice. A yogi has to be disciplined and  hold the mind in a place of solitude. You must practice having a controlled mind. He writes, “make the mind one-pointed.” Let go of expectations. Give the body a clean area and a firm seat. It’s also important to have good posture; a proper mudra.

Advaita Vedanta is a philosophy or a spiritual pathway more so than a religion, based on the idea that the self is the same as the highest metaphysical reality. You can strive for spiritual liberation through knowledge in this life.

At the young age of twenty one, having completed his life’s work, he took samadhi, eternal mediation. He closed himself off from the world and meditated for hundreds of years. It is said that 400 years later, a saint as visited by Dnyashwar in a dream, saying that something was bothering him. The saint broke into his tomb to find a tree root growing through his neck. According to the story, his body was not breathing but it was still warm to the touch.

There is so much more to the story of Dnyaneshwar, and I’m afraid this is an oversimplification. If you want to learn more about Dnyashwar, his work is available in English and here is a link to a biography.

On my tour of Maharashtra, we stopped at a Temple of Dnyaneshwar on our route from Shirdi to Arangabad. A peaceful and serene place. Removing my shoes on the dusty earth, I left them behind as I climbed the steps into the cool tiled temple floor in a large room with peach walls.

I received darshan, a view of the holy image of the deity in the temple, bowing with respect. I was blessed with ashes on the third eye, the eye of wisdom, my forehead. In front of me were two young girls dressed in gorgeous sarees, and making offerings. I was grateful for the opportunity to follow their lead.

 

Through the back of the temple was a great bronzed statue of Dnyashwar reciting his teachings, and his scribe writing down his words. 

Later in the trip, we visited another Dnyaneshwar site, Dnyaneshwar Maharaj Samadhi Mandir in Alandi, a  holy place near Pune.

 

I dipped my feet in the blessed waters of the Indrayani river. This beloved river is associated with Dnyaneshwar and Sant Tukaram who might be getting his own blog post in the future. 

I dipped my malas in the water for good luck. I noticed a woman behind me, preparing flesh flower offerings and I purchased one from her. Marigolds and herbs placed in a tin foil dish. A wad of cotton is burning in the middle.

I set an intention and pushed it into the water, but it didn’t move very far. Some young boys swimming in the river pushed it into the current for me, and I watched it drift away until I couldn’t make it out on the horizon any longer. The flame among the flowers was still burning like a light on my own inner wisdom.

India

Radiant Knowledge: Yoga in India

Come on a spiritual journey with me.

I just got home from an adventure in Maharashtra, India that has inspired me to commit to two very simple New Year Resolutions. 

  1. More Yoga
  2. More Writing

What better place to start than sharing some lessons and experiences from beautiful India? Come along with me. I’m not going to give you a chronological retelling of the trip. Instead I’d just like to document some pretty cool stuff in any old way that seems right. I’ve neglected my blog for far too long.

Let’s visit the Kaivalyadhama Yoga Institute, the first Yoga College in the world. They conduct scientific research; they have wellness centers and classes, including online classes.

It was founded by Swami Kuvalayananda, a scholar who was an advocate for the scientific study of Hatha yoga. He was lead by his teacher, Paramahamsa Madhavdasji, who “blessed Kuvalayananda with insights into advanced yogic discipline.” Even though Kuvalayananda was spiritual and a bit idealistic, he was also a rational person; he became dedicated to studying the science behind yoga. In his lifetime, he met the Dalai Lama and Gandhi. 

Swami Kuvalayananda
“I have brought up this institute out of nothing. If it goes to nothing, I do not mind, ​but Yoga should not be diluted.” ~Swami Kuvalayananda

The Yoga Institute is peaceful and humble, with some very special details, like the three headed cobra fountain sitting in the main square. We got to take a Hatha Yoga class inside one of the classrooms. Along the room were enclosed shelves with handwritten yoga manuscripts. I imagined I was gazing at the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, I had just learned about a 15th century handwritten yoga manual written in Sanskrit. The text was a compilation of even older handwritten texts that were likely disintegrating. Our guide Hareesh explained that these texts were written on biodegradable materials and were often lost or eaten by insects. So, scholars would rewrite the texts, sometimes compiling a few into one, and sometimes making mistakes or omitting important parts.

We settled on to our mats for a relaxing yoga class. Hatha Yoga highly influenced the type of yoga that we are familiar with in the US. It is a set of asanas, or poses that are strung together into a flow with the breath. In Indian culture, yoga is much more. It integrates ethics, ayurvedic diet, pranayama (breathing exercises), and meditation for the health of the spiritual and physical body.

The class starts with a mantra, which is like a prayer:

Om Saha Nau-Avatu | Saha Nau Bhunaktu |

Saha Viiryam Karavaavahai | Tejasvi Nau-Adhiitam-Astu Maa Vidvissaavahai |

Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||

Sanskrit:

ॐ सह नाववतु । सह नौ भुनक्तु ।

सह वीर्यं करवावहै । तेजस्वि नावधीतमस्तु मा विद्विषावहै ।

ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥

Literal translation:

Aum! 

May we (both) be protected; may we (both) be nourished;

May we work together with great energy, May our knowledge be radiant;

May there be no differences or disputes between us

Om, peace (inside), peace (around), peace (between)

Source

How profound, and how simple. After class we got a walking tour of the campus, which is more like an oasis of exotic plants and serene vibes. We also enjoyed a healthy, traditional Indian lunch. 

If you want to learn more about Kuvalayananda and Hatha yoga, there is alot of information on their website.

May your knowledge be radiant!