Lammas: welcoming the harvest

We are in the middle of the dog days of summer, when the gardens are full of beautiful flowers, the fields are full of grain, and the harvest is approaching. The hot days of August are upon us, much of the earth is dry and parched, but we know that the bright reds and yellows of the harvest season are just around the corner. Corn has been planted, tended, harvested and consumed for millennia, and so it’s no wonder that there are myths about the magical properties of this grain.…

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22nd February: the Roman Festival of Caristia.

The Caristia, also called Cara Cognatio, was one of several days in February that Ancient Romans honored family or ancestors. It followed the Parentalia, nine days of remembrance which began on February 13 and concluded with the Feralia on February 21. If for the Parentalia families visited the tombs of their ancestors and shared cake and wine both in the form of offerings and as a meal among themselves, the Feralia was a more somber occasion, a public festival of sacrifices and offerings to the Manes, the spirits of the…

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February 15: The Roman Festival of Lupercalia

Lupercalia was one of the most ancient of the Roman holidays, one of the feriae listed on ancient calendars from even before the time Julius Caesar reformed the calendar. It was held each year in Rome on this day, February 15. Although Valentine’s Day shares its name with a (well, one of many) martyred Christian saint, some historians believe the holiday is actually an offshoot of Lupercalia. Unlike our modern Valentine’s Day, however, Lupercalia was a bloody, violent and sexually-charged celebration filled with animal sacrifice, random matchmaking and coupling in…

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February 2: Candlemas, feast of purification

Candlemas, also known as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ, the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or the Feast of the Holy Encounter, is a very old holiday with a Christian-Pagan history commemorating the presentation of Jesus at the Temple (based upon the account of the presentation of Jesus in Luke 2:22–40). According to Leviticus 12, the third book of the Old Testament, a woman was to be purified by presenting a lamb as a burnt offering, and either a young pigeon or dove…

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Imbolc: the ancient Celtic festival of February

Imbolc is a holiday with a variety of names, depending on which culture and location you’re looking at. For istance, in the Irish Gaelic, it’s called Oimelc, which translates literally to “ewe’s milk”. Not by chance, the earliest mentions of Imbolc in Irish literature date back to the 10th century, with poetry from that time who related the holiday to ewe’s milk, as implication of purification. It’s been speculated that this stems from the breeding cycle of sheep and the beginning of lactation, and the holiday was traditionally aligned with…

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Februalia: a time of purification

The ancient Romans had a festival for nearly everything and, if you were a god, you got your own holiday. February was dedicated to Februus, for whom the month is named, and it was the time in which Rome was purified by making offerings and sacrifices to the gods of the dead. The Februalia (January 30–February 2) was a month-long period of sacrifice and atonement, involving offerings to the gods, prayer, and sacrifices. In short, If you were a wealthy Roman who didn’t have to go out and work, you…

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The Carmentalia

The name “Carmentalia” indicates the festivals in honor of Carmenta and her nymphs, the Camene, called Antevorta and Postvorta, in reference to their ability to see the past and the future. Carmenta, who in ancient Rome had her temple atop the Capitoline Hill, was the goddess of everything that comes to light and therefore also of children who are born, for this reason she was considered the protector of childbirth. Her feasts were held from 12 to 15 January, linked not only to gestation, but also to rural worship and…

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January 11: Iuturnalia in honor of Juturna, goddess of the springs

The 11th January is the day in honor of Juturna, born as a nymph of the sources and later became a true goddess of the springs, ponds and streams. On this day the Vestals drew water from her sacred spring which they would then use in lustration rituals. In honor of the nymph, wreaths of flowers were thrown into the springs and fountains, whose waters were considered sacred. According to Plutarch and Gellius, her name derived from the verb “iuvare” (to benefit), because pure waters are beneficial for human beings.…

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January 9 | The Agonalia or Festival to Janus

An Agonalia was an obscure archaic religious observance celebrated in ancient Rome several times a year, in honor of various divinities. Its institution, like that of other religious rites and ceremonies, was attributed to Numa Pompilius, the semi-legendary second king of Rome. Ancient calendars indicate that it was celebrated regularly on January 9, May 21, and December 11. Some thought the Romans had a god named not by chance “Agonius”, who might then have been the god of the Colline part of the city. January 9 was the Agonalia or…

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January 2: Berchtoldstag

In some areas of Switzerland and Liechtenstein, Berchtold Day, or locally Berchtoldstag, is celebrated on this day, January 2. The name of the Alemannic tradition does not refer to a Saint (there is no St. Berchtold) but is derived from the verb berchten, meaning “to walk around, asking for food”, which we find throughout Europe in the period from the day of the Dead to the Epiphany, even if there are various theories concerning the holiday’s name. Blessed Berchtold of Engelberg Abbey, for istance, died circa 2 November 1197, and…

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Io, Saturnalia!

Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, whatever your holiday, most of the December holiday traditions that we celebrate today can be traced back to the Ancient Roman holiday of Saturnalia (with a healthy dose of inspiration from the Vikings). From tree decorations, wreaths, ornaments, boughs of holly, carolling, gift-giving, and even gingerbread men, most of what we identify as Christmas has roots going back thousands of years. When it comes to celebrations, parties, and downright debauchery, probably no one beats the folks of ancient Rome. And, in this period, around the time of…

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1# The myths and legends behind Christmas

Christmas is usually considered a Christian festival, but it’s probably the most syncretized holiday on the calendar. The Puritans banned it in England during Cromwell’s dictatorship, from 1647 to 1660, but also in Boston from 1659 to 1681. The Puritans recognized (albeit sourly) that Christmas was about as Christian as a pentacle. This is one major reason why the Christmas season is so long, as it incorporates traditions that go back centuries before Christ. In fact, Christmas wasn’t even incorporated into Christianity until nearly four centuries after Christ’s death and,…

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Mabon (?) and the Autumn Equinox

Not everyone knows that the Wheel of the Year is a set of eight seasonal celebrations spaced approximately 6-7 weeks apart through the year, which mark a combination of Solstices, Equinoxes and old British Agricultural festivals. The Autumn Equinox is one of these festivals, celebrated in the Northern Hemisphere somewhere around the 21st of September, and around March 21 below the equator. This festival is usually understood to mark a time of balance and reflection and a time when light and dark are equal in measure in the day (which…

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Harvest Moon: September’s Full Moon

September is the month of the Harvest Moon, sometimes also referred to as the Wine Moon or the Singing Moon. This is the time of year when the last of the crops are being gathered from the fields and stored for the winter. It can occur in either September or October, depending on how the lunar cycle lines up with the Gregorian calendar. There’s a chill in the air, the earth is slowly beginning its winter rest as the sun pulls away from us, and It’s the season when is…

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The witches of Benevento and their walnut tree Sabbats

We are in Italy. When the Romans conquered the area in the 3rd century B.C. they changed its original name Maleventum (meaning “bad event”) into Beneventum (“good event”) but, name apart, it was a place of crossroads. The city stood in fact where the Appian Way forked and the Sabato and Calore rivers came together and, interestingly, crossroads (in italian “crocevia”) were the special domain of the goddess Trivia, protector of witches, with word Tri-via that means “three roads”. The legend of the witches of Benevento dates back to the…

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The fascinating story of Nocino, the witches’ liqueur.

Patron saints. Every Italian town has one and a local public holiday for celebrating their heavenly protector. In some italian regions, San Giovanni Battista or John the Baptist, is venerated with evening bonfires or fireworks and the night between 23 and 24 June, is also linked to the preparation of a culinary specialty handed down from ancient times: the harvesting of green walnuts to make the liqueur nocino. Many families still preserve the “secret family recipe” of nocino, a liqueur made from green walnuts, often enriched with those particular herbs…

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Holy Well of St. Madron – Cornwall

Cornish culture is legendary and mystery awaits around every corner in its land. Despite holy wells are water sources with specifically Christian associations, identified from as early as the 6th century AD, and the custom of venerating springs and wells as sacred sites have characterised pre-Christian religions in Britain, it is clear that some originated as earlier sacred sites. The cult of holy wells continued throughout the medieval period. Its condemnation at the time of the Reformation, around 1540, ended new foundations but local reverence and folklore customs at existing…

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The ancient pagan origins of Easter

Easter: a secular culture celebrates the spring equinox, whilst religious culture celebrates the resurrection. In religious (and obvious) terms, Easter is a holiday celebrated by millions of people around the world, with more or less curious traditions, who honor the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, described in the New Testament and occurred three days after his crucifixion at Calvary. But it is also, in different cultures, the day that children wait for the Easter bunny to arrive and a day to eat more or less delicious chocolate eggs. The…

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The White Spring: a dark Victorian well house now plays host to mystical waters and pagan shrines.

We are in England. It is one of the greatest mysteries of Avalon, the legendary island featured in the Arthurian legend, that two different healing springs, one touched red with iron, the other white with calcite, should rise within a few feet of each other from the caverns beneath Glastonbury Tor, and both have healing in their flow. The quaint sculpted gardens of the Chalice Well surround Glastonbury’s most famous natural water source, the Red Spring, so called for the iron oxide it deposits in its basin. But just opposite…

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