Advent of Hope

I remember as a kid we had a hanging advent calendar in the shape of Santa, and beginning on December 1st, each day I would move a little plush mouse through all the numbered pockets leading up to the one marked 25. It was something I always got excited about and wouldn’t let anyone else move the mouse except me. Most kids anticipate the gifts of Christmas above all, and I won’t deny that the presents excited me, but I would remember the feeling of Christmas more than anything, and it was that feeling that I anticipated the most. I’m the type that usually enjoys the journey as much as the destination, and I thrive on anticipation.

Christmas is a sacred holiday that is bright and joyous, but also at times mysterious and deserving of deep respect. I feel this darker tone originates from the feeling of desperation that many of our pagan ancestors felt during the shortest days of the year. The “advent” season for them was the hope of the returning sun, and I would imagine this time was spent in reverence and devotion to some form of personified deity representing the sun. In a culture that lived so closely with the land, that didn’t have the resources we have today to preserve food through the winter or cultivate food in harsh conditions, the returning sun was a literal salvation from death.

I am so grateful to be living in this age of technology, because our lives have been made so much easier. But I can’t forget the significance of what this time of year meant to my ancestors, and what it means to me today. I think of the darkest moments of my life, when it felt like all hope was lost, when I was starving for nourishment, when it felt like my heart was freezing out in the cold. It’s in those moments of darkness that hope is all we have to hold on to. Hope of that guiding light to show us the way out, and to warm our hearts after being left out in the cold. This is what advent means to me. Even if life is going great, this season is about hope and welcoming the return of love, compassion, and protection from the darkness. This is why we celebrate the divine birth and the coming of the “Sun” of God. Whether you see it as the birth of Jesus, the coming of Santa Claus, or even the birth of Horus. These are all symbols on the surface, but in our hearts it means so much more. So to anyone reading this, what are you hoping for this advent season?

Spend this time in reverence of whatever divine power you acknowledge, and appreciate the blessings that are all around. Share those blessings with others when you can, spreading joy to others who may be hoping for more. This advent season, I will prepare and welcome the returning God as he is born anew from the womb of the Goddess, and with it the returning life energy that sustains us all. It doesn’t matter how you celebrate, even if you don’t believe in anything, but hold on to hope. That is what keeps us moving forward into the new year, and paves the way for greater things to come.

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Tis The Season

Feeling overwhelmed once again by anticipation for the Christmas season, I’ve been compelled to share a few thoughts on why I love this time of year. The concept of the year being a wheel that turns, with each cycle of the sun returning us to the same point as the year before, is a popular way of viewing the seasons. And yes, the same patterns generally occur each year, but on a personal level I’ve noticed that as the years pass I’m never in the same place I was the previous year spiritually. There’s always a change in belief, or more like an evolution that I sense within, that allows me to experience the returning cycle as something a little more deep and complex than I knew before. This has been occurring with most holidays throughout the year, but I feel it strongest at Christmas. Maybe it’s the fusion of Christian/Pagan traditions or because of my strong Christian background, or possibly both of these reasons, but Christmas has turned into something much more than words can express. The sound of jingle bells or a glimpse of a Christmas tree brings up a surge of emotion that puts the biggest smile on my face and often a tear trickling out of my eyes.

I’ve tried to understand this on an intellectual level, but I don’t think I’m meant to understand it, just feel it. Pagans celebrate the rebirth of the sun and the renewal of the year through the returning sunlight, and Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, as a promise of love and redemption from a hostile world. On the surface, it’s obvious to see the parallels, but I find too often that people get stuck on trying to debate the “meaning of Christmas” and totally miss the synchronous energy that flows through all of the traditions and stories that rise around this ancient celebration. I have found that by diving deeper into Christmas, and erasing the dividing lines set by religion there’s a great transforming power that comes forth. This, I feel, is what causes the reactions I have to the symbols and traditions of Christmas. I’ve been able to strip away the dogma and experience the raw energy that these symbols represent, and it truly is powerful. I respect everyone for their beliefs and I would never try to discount somebody’s religion by picking it apart for them, but for my personal spirituality, this is the only way I can see the world. I am a student of the occult, and this requires an open view of what lies below the surface, an exploration of symbolism and what that means for me personally.

Spirit of Christmas

greenredLast night I decided it was time to start putting up decorations for the holidays, and now I’m sitting here going through my iTunes library, putting together my favorite holiday songs for the season. As I go through and listen to a lot of the classics and some more recent songs, I can’t help but get wrapped up in the spirit of the season. Cascada has a new song called “Somewhere At Christmas Time,” and the simple yet beautiful lyrics bring to mind the images we’re all familiar with. In my mind I travel back through the story many of us have learned from the time we were young, of that little child in a manger on a starry winter night. I’m not here to debate the historical accuracy of anything, because that’s beside the point, but I do want to discuss this magical spirit filled with hope and wonder that affects the world during this special time of year. Regardless of what you believe, whether you call it Yule or Christmas, or if you choose not to believe in anything at all, there is something undeniable that happens this time of year that we all feel in our hearts. It’s a lifting, a peace, a joy, a sense of happiness and celebration. I listen to these songs and relive the memories of being with family, of waking up on Christmas morning to find gifts under the tree; the smell of turkey in the oven and the glow of twinkling lights everywhere.

santaFrom the time I was born, I was taught the story of baby Jesus, and how he was born in the manger outside the inn. I could visualize the angels filling the sky with song, and the wise men travelling on camels following that bright shining star. I’m more educated now and I understand that much of the Bible is basically a mythology, but I have also learned that “myth” doesn’t mean not real. Since discovering paganism and reading the fantastical myths that many of us adopt as a religious backdrop, I look at the big picture and how these myths are real when we believe them in our hearts. I no longer follow Christianity as a religion, but do I have to be an Egyptian to believe in the myths of Osiris, or a Roman to honor Jupiter? The Christmas story is one of joy, hope, and the redeeming savior coming into the world, and to me that is what Christmas will always be about. Now as a pagan I can also celebrate the redeeming sun coming to save us from the darkness of winter, and the Horned One ruling over the harsh landscape during this time of year. I know there are many pagans who, like a light switch, just automatically try to do away with all things Christmas to replace it with Yule once they convert, but really, what is the difference? I used to be that type of person, but this year I embrace it all. I want to listen to “O Holy Night” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” and celebrate the birth of the newborn king. There’s no other way to describe this season other than pure magic. It’s probably the only time of year that collectively we join together in love and good cheer, to just celebrate. It goes deeper than what religion we follow, what gods we honor, or whether we call it Yule or Christmas. As we enter into this joyous season, my hope is that others can see through these walls we put up between each other; that we allow each of our celebrations to color the world just as the lights on the tree come together under that beautiful twinkling star. So no matter what holidays you’ll be celebrating in the coming weeks… remember to just believe.