The Magic of Bread and Leavening

bread dough

A Basic Sourdough on the Rise

I love making food from scratch when I can, because by allowing yourself to be involved from as early as possible, you have that much more time to imbue it with your energy and intentions.

I’ll go over the history of bread and leavening agents a bit, then talk about making a sourdough starter.  I love using sourdough leavening because it is so straightforward to start all by yourself.  You don’t need to buy a premade starter or know somebody.  Because you name it, and feed it regularly to maintain it, it kind of develops its own self and energy.

History First!

There are no bread recipes from ancient times or the middle ages, because bread making was so common you may as well have been writing down how to boil potatoes.  They only bothered to record what they thought was complicated or special. The earliest clear instructions were written by the French in the sixteenth century. So what we know is gathered from a mix of written snippets and archaeological evidence. 

We know that bread-making was tremendously varied in the use of ingredients, using all kinds of available grains, seeds, nuts, and produce. The oldest remains come from flatbread unearthed in the Black Desert in Jordon from around 12000 BCE.  There have also been grinding stones with grain remnants from 30000 BCE found in Australia and Europe, which suggests bread making.

Cultivated yeast is a modern invention, and has only been around for about 150 years, so all forms of Medieval yeast bread used one of two agents:  Barm, or Sourdough. Both use a bacterial culture called Lactobacillus in combination with microorganisms and yeast to create the rise we love in our bread.

Barm is the skimmed foam off the top of freshly made fermented liquids such as wine (must) or beer, and can be used to start the next batch of alcohol.  Countries with a larger brewing industry use more Barm for their bread, like England.

The relationship between brewers and bakers has been a close one for thousands of years, connected by the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a precursor to the commercially available baker’s and brewer’s yeasts of today.  In bread, it is sweet and rises quickly. 

Sourdough is made with wild yeasts, and the flavor is much stronger and more sour, with a slower rise.  100% rye flour breads must use sourdough, as there isn’t enough gluten content for cultivated yeast or Barm to function properly.

Forms of sourdough are known to have been baked as early as 3700 BCE in Switzerland, but has likely been around since the cultivation of grains in the Fertile Crescent several thousands of years prior.  It has traditionally been utilized more heavily in wine-drinking countries like France. 

Families tend to their Sourdough Leavens (the fermented slurry of water and flour) and portion them out to their children when they move out on their own, and to friends as gifts.  Some claim a long heritage for their particular Leaven and have their own rules and ingredients. Amish Friendship Bread, for example, is a form of sourdough Leaven that uses milk and sugar (for medieval reenactment purposes, sugar was not available in the middle ages).

How To Make Your Own Sourdough Leaven:

Sourdough is begun fairly simply with a starter known as a Leaven, which is a mixture of distilled water and flour (more on flour later) left to ferment and daily ‘fed’ more water and flour.  A more liquid Leaven results in a more sour flavor than a stiffer Leaven. A balanced mix would be about 4 oz of each.

This is placed in a glass or food safe plastic bowl that allows room for expanding (up to three times is usually safe).  It is given a breathable lid of cheesecloth, fabric, or a paper towel and held in place with a rubber band. It should be placed where the temperature is fairly consistent, and ideally between about 71°-86°F. For me, that is my Hestia altar in the summer, and in the winter it is kept inside the oven, the heat off, with just the light on. I also have to lay something lightly over the top to shade it from the oven light, or it gets this skin on top that has to be removed.

After a day or two, bubbles will be seen on the surface of the Leaven. It will start to get that classic yeasty, sour scent. When it’s at full rise, the scent is sweeter.  Learn those smells, because its how you will be able to tell if it’s healthy later.  You can even taste it if you want, some bakers do.


Bubble, bubble…

Every day while you are building it up, up to half the Leaven will be discarded (this is to maintain slow growth rather than ending up with way too much Leaven than can be used or stored), and another 4 oz each of water and flour is mixed in.  Some people swear on sticking to a careful schedule of feeding at the same time of day, while others are more lax, but missing a day altogether can result in an imbalance in the micro culture. On the 4th and 5th days, you can even double the feedings to every 12 hours when it is at its lowest point.

The Leaven culture that is being fostered here is a delicate one.  The symbiotic relationship between the wild yeasts and Lactobacillus relies on both being strong enough to edge out other microorganisms that constantly threaten to take over, including molds.

The kind of flour used does matter.  Organic, unbleached, unbromated flour contains more microorganisms than more processed flour.  Bran-containing flour has the highest amount of them, as well as a wider variety of minerals. As long as it is a grain-based flour, it can be used.  If you care about having ‘local’ microorganisms, then use locally sourced flour. 

Extra microorganisms can be ‘seeded’ by use of various fruits and vegetables, such as soaking unwashed organic grapes for the culture on their skins, or using the water from boiling potatoes for the additional starch.  This is not a necessary step but something that can be experimented with to see if it affects the rise or flavor, which is a debated topic.

wild yeast

Teeny Tiny Civilizations

The starter is usually ready to be baked with five days after it has begun bubbling.  Some days it will expand a great deal and it is perfectly alright to move it to larger containers when needed.  Once it has reached this point, it can be kept in the fridge and fed only once a week or so, and can even go months if necessary if you take time to revive it before using it. 

Set it out and feed it the day before you plan to bake with it.  It should rise up well overnight, otherwise you need to feed it and try again the next day, as it may have gone dormant. 

There are many sourdough bread recipes available utilizing a wide variety of grain flours and techniques, and I’ll be posting some now and again, like this Multigrain Sourdough Bread.  As sourdough Leaven is a slow riser, many of them take up to a full day before it is ready for the oven and may involve a specific schedule of kneading/folding and resting.  It takes planning, attention, and patience, for a delicious flavorful reward.

The History of Tarot


By Lori Nicole Evans

Updated 8/16/2019

Free for use in educational and not-for-profit endeavors.


The first known deck of playing cards came from the 800’s in China, for something that was called the ‘Leaf Game.’ Other forms were called ‘Money Cards’ and were often used in gambling. Card games didn’t become popular until woodblock printing technology made them easier to obtain. Before then, it was mostly a leisure activity for the wealthy. Europe didn’t see playing cards until the 14th century, and these decks were called trionfi, and later as tarocchi or tarock. The original purpose of these decks were to play the games that may have come from Egypt, who had been playing with cards since the 11th century.

4-suited decks like the modern playing cards were first seen in 1365 in Southern Europe. All decks of cards were hand painted, so they are thought to have been very rare until the invention of the printing press in the mid-1400s. Although a Dominican preacher spoke against the evil inherent in cards in a sermon in the 15th century (chiefly owing to their use in gambling), no routine condemnations of Tarot were found during its early history.

There are claims that Tarot, as a method of divination (sometimes referred to as “The Game of Man” or more formally as Taromancy), has ties to ancient Egypt, the Kabbalah, Indian Tantra, the I-Ching, among many others, though no documented evidence of such origins or of the usage of Tarot for divination are scholarly proven before the 18th century. They weren’t widely used for divination at all until 1750, first in Italy. However, the designers of Tarot decks pulled from all of these sources.


The ‘Sola Busca Tarot’ is the earliest known example of a 78-card Tarot card deck. It is the first known tarot deck to be structured this way, with 56 cards in the four standard suits (Minor Arcana, as called by occultists) and 22 trump or Major Arcana cards. Most contemporary occult tarot decks emulate this structure. It was created by an unknown artist and engraved onto metal in the late 15th century.


The French ‘Tarot of Marseilles’ is considered the basis for the design of all future Tarot decks. It is a collective name referring to a variety of closely related designs that were being made in the city of Marseilles in the south of France, a city that was a center of playing card manufacturing. Controversial images such as La Papesse have spawned controversies from the Renaissance to the present because of its portrayal of a female pope. There is no solid historical evidence of a female pope, but this card may be based around the mythical Pope Joan, who was said to have reigned for a few years in the mid-800’s.


The French occultist Etteilla was the first to issue a revised Tarot deck specifically designed for occult purposes around 1789, publishing his ideas on the correspondences between Tarot, astrology, and the four classical elements and four humors. In keeping with the misplaced belief of the time that such cards were derived from the ‘Book of Thoth,’ a term for many ancient Egyptian texts supposed to have been written by Thoth, the Egyptian god of writing and knowledge. Etteilla’s Tarot deck contained themes related to ancient Egypt. He wrote the first book on the methods of divination using Tarot.


The ‘Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot’ deck, the first ever in English, was originally published in 1910 by the William Rider & Son Company (who had published Bram Stroker’s ‘Dracula’) when Western interest in all things occult was verging on mania. It is one of the most popular Tarot decks in use for divination in the English-speaking world and is largely the reason any of us know about Tarot today.


Drawn by Pamela Colman Smith, British-born visual artist who studied art in New York City and lived in Jamaica, from the instructions of Andrew Edward Waite, American-born Christian occult scholar and writer living in London. We refer to this deck as the ‘Rider Tarot’, the ‘Rider-Waite Tarot,’ and ‘Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot.’ It’s all the same deck. Smith did not benefit monetarily from her artwork nor the deck’s popularity, so adding her name has been a posthumous way of acknowledging her contribution.

Waite and Smith knew one another from past experience with the Hermetic Society of the Golden Dawn, the first western Occultist organization of its kind to admit women. This secret society was founded in London in 1888 by Freemasons Dr. William Wynn Westcott and Samuel Liddell and was devoted to the study and practice of the occult, metaphysics, alchemy, geomancy, astrology, scrying, astral travel, and paranormal activities. It had absorbed much of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia and Order of the Golden and Rosy Cross traditions, and was one of the largest single influences on 20th-century Western occultism, such as Wicca and Thelema.

Other members included Bram Stoker, William Butler Yeats, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Aleister Crowley, who considered Waite his arch nemesis. Crowley referred to him as the villainous “Arthwate” in his novel ‘Moonchild’ and referred to him as “Dead Waite” in his magazine ‘Equinox.’ Supposedly, even H.P. Lovecraft based the villainous wizard in his short story “The Thing on the Doorstep,” called Ephraim Waite, on Waite.


As a note, Crowley even designed his own Tarot as part of his Thelema philosophy, the ‘Thoth Tarot,’ published much later in 1969 after his death, based on plans and artwork made during the 1930s and 1940s with Lady Frieda Harris. He changed many names, symbols and Hebrew letter associations from Waite’s version, like ‘Strength’ became ‘Lust’ and ‘Justice’ became ‘Adjustment.’ He wrote ‘The Book of Thoth‘ as an accompaniment.

It is suspected that Waite was disliked because he was highly pragmatic for an occultist, and favored mysticism over practical magic. He was not a trained scholar and his writing was dry, yet he advanced quickly within the Golden Dawn despite Crowley believing that Waite simply did not understand the nature of magic.


The art that purports to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural.
The practice of using charms, spells, or rituals to attempt to produce supernatural effects or control events in nature.


A spiritual discipline aiming at union with the divine through deep meditation or trancelike contemplation.
Any belief in the existence of realities beyond perceptual or intellectual apprehension but central to being and directly accessible by intuition.

The schism between mysticism and magic was one of a myriad of reasons the Golden Dawn fell apart by 1899.

The Western, English-speaking world largely owes our knowledge of Tarot in any form to Waite, who dedicated his life to collecting the liturgies, rites and ceremonial words of many secret societies. He probably joined more secret societies than anyone else before or since: on the 4th of March, 1903, he wrote in his diary: “If my receptions go on at this rate, I look shortly to be the most initiated man in Europe.” In 1902 alone, he joined at least nine different secret societies: the Holy Royal Arch, the Knights Templar, the Knights of Malta, the Swedenborgian Rite, the Mark Degree, the Red Cross of Constantine, the Secret Monitor, the Ancient and Accepted Rite, and the Early Grand Scottish Rite.

Waite was a collector, an organizer, and had a keen sense of patterns. He believed that all the knowledge of occultism came from a hidden, original practice of Christianity from before the Bible was written. When the Golden Dawn split up due to constant power struggles, Waite founded the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, which was supposed to be Christian and mystical, rather than pagan and magical, and it combined elements from Masonic, Kabbalistic, Alchemical, and Tarotic tradition in its rituals.

When designing his own tarot to go along with a book he was writing on Tarot divination (‘The Pictorial Key to the Tarot’), Waite did extensive research on the history, interpretations, and traditions behind all the symbols he included. The subtext of the book was “Being Fragments of a Secret Tradition under the Veil of Divination.” This suggests, again, that Waite’s interest was in the esoteric liturgy and power words, and he used Tarot as a means of connecting them all.

The structure of his deck is very similar to Etteilla’s: 4 suits, Major and Minor Arcana, with influences from astrology and the four elements. Despite being a Christian, Waite actually toned down the Christian imagery in his cards from predecessors. The Pope became the Hierophant, the Papess became the Empress. He had both the Major and Minor Arcana cards illustrated, which previous Tarot decks did not do,as he wanted to appeal to the art world.


Much of the philosophy and symbols in the cards came directly from the writings of Éliphas Lévi, a socialist French occult author and ceremonial magician, and one of the key founders of Western magic. His highly independent magical teachings were free from obvious fanaticisms: he had nothing to sell, and did not pretend to be the initiate of some ancient or fictitious secret society. He incorporated the Tarot into his magical system, and as a result the Tarot has been an important part of the paraphernalia of Western magicians. He had a deep impact on the magic of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and Crowley. He was also the first to declare that a pentagram or five-pointed star with one point down and two points up represents evil, while a pentagram with one point up and two points down represents good. Lévi’s ideas also influenced Helena Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society.


American Paul Foster Case began his studies of Tarot at the age of 16 in 1900, when visiting occultist Claude Bragdon asked him if he knew what the origin of playing cards were. After finding the connection to Tarot in his father’s library, he was hooked. He also tried practicing Pranayama Yoga through what written instructions he could find, and the experience left him with the strong belief that occult knowledge should only be studied under informed guidance.


Case founded the Builders of the Adytum (B.O.T.A.) in 1939, which was dedicated to spreading the knowledge of the Western Mysteries across the world in the form of supervised correspondence courses. He had begun writing this curriculum back in 1922, called ‘The Ageless Wisdom.’

The Tarot,’ published in 1947, was his magnum opus of nearly 50 years of intense study of the Qabalah/Kabbalah, the Tree of Life, Gematria, Sound and Color, Alchemy, and Astrology. It was written as a guide to the hidden symbols within B.O.T.A.’s own variation of the ‘Rider-Waite-Smith’ deck. Their black and white deck is designed to be colored by the owner, so that each deck takes on their own personality and power.


B.O.T.A.’s Tarot,’ designed by Case and drawn by artist Jessie Burns Parke, corrects what Case believed were mistakes or blinds on Waite’s part. He wanted the cards to be a more comprehensive book of wisdom, and included some symbols that were otherwise considered too advanced for the uninitiated.


Case also published for the first time the Hebrew letter associations of the Golden Dawn, and the Tarot Tableau, a layout of the Major Arcana that showcases their connections and dissimilarities.


Swiss Psychologist Carl Jung, well known for his work on analytical psychology, took his own views to the study of Tarot. Jung, though largely a skeptic and a believer in synchronicities (the concept that all events, however meaningful and unexpected, are coincidences), had an interest in the paranormal and occult. He even studied alchemy, which he saw as a metaphor for psychological and personal growth.

In 1933, Jung gave a lecture on active imagination, in which he spoke about Tarot. He said “they are psychological images, symbols with which one plays, as the unconscious seems to play with its contents. They combine in certain ways, and the different combinations correspond to the playful development of events in the history of mankind. […] Those are sort of archetypal ideas, of a differentiated nature, which mingle with the ordinary constituents of the flow of the unconscious, and therefore it is applicable for an intuitive method that has the purpose of understanding the flow of life, possibly even predicting future events, at all events lending itself to the reading of the conditions of the present moment.”

Essentially, he felt that the symbols of the cards related to all humanity in a deeply psychological way, and so could be used to access the subconscious. Once one understood the present moment, then predicting the future was a clear logical jump.

Though he did not start learning to read Tarot until the 1950s and did not go far, his own deck preference was Grimaud’s ‘Ancien Tarot de Marseille,’ a precise reproduction of the historic ‘Tarot de Marseilles’ created in 1760 by Nicholas Conver. He felt its alchemical symbology resonated best with him.

Near the end of his life, Jung wondered how it might be possible to distinguish true paranormal events with synchromatic ones. This particular conundrum continues today, as no undeniable test has ever been designed.


Nowadays, Tarot has many thousands of different forms and functions. Decks are designed for artistic purposes, intuitive reading, decision-making, fortune telling, personal growth and inspiration, motivation, meditation, to connect with a particular energy or deity, and as part of a game. Writers may use it for ideas for their characters are going through, or what may happen next in the plot. An artist could use it to gain inspiration for their next piece or uncover the reason behind a creative block. Tarot can be used in spells and will manifestation.

The possibilities are endless and entirely at the whim of the user. Tarot is a tool, and in your hands for your use.


Spelled Shortbread Cookies

cookies prep

Cookie Prep from December 2017

My latest baking obsession has been cookies.  Most especially, shortbread cookies!  A fan of persnickety recipes (for some reason), I love the delicacy of shortbread.  It’s actually a very simple recipe, it only requires some patience.  What’s especially nice about this simple treat is how easy it is to add spells and magical ingredients.

Shortbread dates back to at least the 12th century, originating as leftover yeast bread roll dough, sweetened and spiced, that was twice-baked to a hard round.  Eventually, butter replaced the yeast, and the first published recipe for the kind of cookie we’re used to was in 1736 in ‘Mrs. McLintock’s Receipts for Cookery and Pastry-Work.’  This recipe likely used oat flour and was more biscuit-like than we’re used to.

Queen Mary of Scots is credited with refining and popularizing shortbread, adding caraway seeds for flavor.

Now the basic modern shortbread recipe is pretty simple.  Butter, sugar, and flour.  My favorite recipe uses confectioners’ (powdered) sugar, a bit of vanilla extract, and some salt if you are using unsalted butter.

Check out the recipe here

shortbread cookies simple

Now what about making spelled cookies?

Note:  Something I like to do when I am making magical food is to light a candle during the whole process.  It sets up a sacred space for myself.  I usually use a simple, unscented white jar candle that will last a long time.  When I am not actively working on the food, like if the cookie dough is chilling overnight, I will snuff it out, but re-light it whenever I’m back to it.

Now, then.  The really important part here is to consider both your intention as well as taste.  Shortbread is a light flavor with a tender bite, so do not overwhelm it with a variety of new ingredients.

Here are some flavor options that would be popular.  Use culinary grade herbs/spices, and DO NOT use essential oils.  If using flavor extracts, make sure they are pure and actually contain the natural ingredient.

  • Almond – Loving, Boosts Fertility, Good Luck, Beauty, and Overcoming Addictions.
  • Caraway – Loving, Protecting, Sensuality, and giving Peace of Mind.
  • Cinnamon – Prosperity, Success, Strength, and Healing.
  • Cranberry – Loving, Passionate, Healing, Positive Energy, Courage, and Will to Action.
  • Ginger – Energizing and Passionate.
  • Lavender – Healing, Purifying, Loving, and Boosts Fertility.  Lavender is a strong flavor so use sparingly, and sprinkle some on top.
  • Lemon – Purifying, Loving, and can turn away the Evil Eye or unfriendly spells.  Adding juice would add too much liquid to the recipe, so instead, use the zest of the rind.
  • Nutmeg – Healing, Good Luck, and Clairvoyance.
  • Orange – Inspiring, Courage, Loving, Strengthening, and Healing.
  • Rose – Happiness, Loving, Protection, and Good Luck.
  • Rosemary – Remembrance, Purifying, and Healing.
  • Vanilla – Soothing, Empowering, Loving, and Good Luck.

So for a good combination example, the spice trio of ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg would be especially Healing, strengthened by the ginger.

An example of one using fruit would be these Cranberry Orange Shortbread cookies.  This combo with the almond extract is great for enhancing loving relationships, passion and courage in all endeavors, and healing.


On top of adding herbs, spices, or fruit, you can also boost your intentions with the right shapes or indented marks.  Again, intent is what matters here.  If you are creating a protection spell, then choose a design that makes you think of that.  It could be simple – circle-shaped, because the shield you are building is an orb.  Maybe you are wanting to share love and affection, so a heart shape is classic.  A solid, rectangular brick shape might be perfect for a grounding cookie after a ritual.  You could also carefully draw sigils or runes on the precut dough after it’s been placed on the cookie sheet.

There are many excellent sigil-makers on the internet if you want something custom to your needs.  Otherwise there are many premade sigils and bind-runes to be found.  The more information you can find on a symbol before using it, the better.  If you can see why each mark was made, you can feel more confident in using it for your spell.

An example of nicely defined and explained bind-runes is here

Video on making your own bind rune:

bind runes video

One guide to designing your own sigils:


There are excellent cookie-cutter makers on Etsy if you want to have one made with your design, if you plan on making them regularly (or for something special).

If you don’t want to mark the cookies directly, you can write it out on a small bit of paper and let it burn in the oven, or over the stove by your candle, while the cookies bake.

Now once those cookies are just barely done and not browned, and set out to cool off the baking sheet, you can add your own energy and blessing.  Here, again, it is up to you to determine what feels correct for the situation.  There are so many prayers for blessing food out there, from a wide variety of Neo Pagan methods to traditional Christian to any culture you are from.  You can use visualization techniques to draw in energy into the cookies, and create a protective shield around them.

Even how to you present your cookies can work into the spell.  Wrapping them in certain colors, including some special flowers, or a written note or poem.  It’s the whole package, and you can go as elaborate as feel correct to you.

Here is one of the cookie packages I made for last year’s holiday season to give out to neighbors.  I wanted something homey and comfortable, not too showy.  Also made sure to include all ingredients in my note.  Hope to see what you create!

cookie box 2017

The History of Yule and the Wild Hunt


Not the Christmas Grandma remembers

Written by Lori Evans December 2017, updated December 2019.

A number of events are connected to the Yuletide season and the Jul/Yule Feast: the Winter Solstice (the longest night of the year, referred to as the “Tekufat Tevet” in the Talmud, and in the Northern Hemisphere is on December 20 or 21), the Roman Saturnalia, and of course, Christmas. Many other cultures have also recognized the winter solstice and celebrate it in their own way, such as the Dōngzhì Festival in China.

Yuletide specifically comes from the Germanic people of Northern Europe. It was a celebration during the Wild Hunt, a period lasting from mid-November to early January (a time of storms and unpredictable weather), when it was believed that the fae, supernatural beings, and even the dead, would come out in great numbers to parade in hunting parties through the woods or across the sky. There are variations of the Wild Hunt all throughout Europe, with different deities and deceased local historical figures of note as the leaders of the party. Some of the more recognizable of those would be Odin, Wodun, Fionn mac Cumhaill, King Arthur, and the Devil.

Modern Wicca tends to attribute leadership of the hunt to the Greek goddess Hecate, patron of crossroads, ghosts, sorcery, entrances, and a whole lot else. She is a protective goddess, one that could bestow blessings on the family house that worshiped her, or give solemn guidance to those facing difficult decisions.

Midwinter was very much a serious time, when the world was getting dangerous and the gods and the undead (Draugr) were about. In Old Norse, one name for the gods was “Yule-Beings.” The most important business deals and marriages were brokered, and it was an auspicious time for oaths.

Throughout Europe, evergreens were hung over doors and windows, as their greenery in a time of bleak cold was believed to ward off negative energies and illness. Greenery was even important to the Ancient Egyptians, who used green palms during this time when their sun god Ra was just starting to recover from his annual illness. Evergreens represented the sun god Baldor to the Scandinavians, and Saturn to the Romans.

We have our good friends the Brothers Grimm, Jacob Ludwig Karl and Wilhelm Carl, German folklorists and philologists, to thank for much of what we understand about the old winter traditions, from their research and complications published in the 1810’s. They supposed that before Christianity, the Wild Hunt was when these otherworldly beings would come and bring good tidings and fortune to the people of Earth, but after Christianity was introduced, the tales about it turned it into a darker, more devilish phenomenon. Even glimpsing this darker version of the gathering was a portend of doom, war, and death.

So let’s stick with the original idea, which is still full of notable trickery. In Germany, for example, if one came across the Wilde Jagd, if you weren’t immediately snatched up or killed, you had a few options. Opposing the hunters would mean death, but if you helped the hunt along, you would be rewarded – yet can we ever trust a gift of the fae? If they gave you a portion of the hunt, it would invariably be cursed and you’d be stuck with it forever till you managed to find someone capable of removing the bane. So you should ask for salt, which the retinue cannot supply, and this forces them to take it back. The wisest choice seems to be standing and just waiting for them to pass.

There are many new ideas for ways to celebrate the Wild Hunt, including races through the woods at night. Most of us are more likely to focus on the Yule Feast itself, which is a three day celebration starting on the Winter Solstice. From this, we eventually, though Christianization, get our modern Christmas.

Modern Christmas doesn’t look very much like Odin’s Yule, which was a time of increased supernatural activity and when the dead were close to the living. All sorts of domesticated animals would be slaughtered, the sacrificial blood spread over the altars and worshipers, and the meats cooked and devoured, along with great quantities of ale. Toasts would be made to the gods Odin, Freyr, and Njörðr (the dearly departed), and in general for prosperity and good harvests. There was usually gift-giving, but it was usually of practical items, like lamps and wax apples to keep out the dark.

A large log would be burned constantly through the night, later symbolically represented by a more manageably sized and decorated Yule Log (and then later by fancifully decorate cakes), or as in Germany, by bringing in a small tree to decorate (Tannenbaum). Supposedly, 16th-century Protestant reformer Martin Luther was the first to put candles on the tree, having been inspired by seeing the stars through the trees outside.

We take further traditions from the Roman Saturnalia, a seven day festival to the sun and agricultural god Saturn. This time of merrymaking and gift-giving even included special privileges for slaves, and the opportunity to enjoy otherwise forbidden activities such as gambling. When Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, much of this was subdued.

In modern times, we recognize Yule as the period of twelve days after the Winter Solstice. Neopaganism usually celebrates with a meal, gift-giving, and an overnight vigil. While old-school traditional meats such as boar and goat are rarely used, you can see resemblances in the Christmas ham or beef roast.

Christmas celebrations were seen as largely pagan in nature, for a time that Puritans believed was sacred and serious. In 1659 in Massachusetts in America, it was illegal to mark the occasion with anything other than a church service. It took the wildly popular and fashionable Queen Victoria in the late 1840’s to change the minds of America, ushering in Christmas trees and festive decorations.

Some people still hand make their tree ornaments, sometimes from all natural materials, like dried fruit, wood, flour, and clay. They may make spiced, hot drinks, and wassail (going around the neighborhood with their drinks and singing carols).

This is a period for happiness as well as reflection, a time to come together, and plan ahead. It is an excellent time to begin new ongoing projects, like journaling, keeping a calendar, or making a time capsule for next year.


Written by Lori Evans December 2017, updated December 2019.