Tag Archives: Holidays

Harvest Dollies for Modern Pagans

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Historically, grain dollies were made from the last sheaf harvested, and either left in the field or placed wherever grains were stored. It was often tied or plaited to be roughly human shaped, but in some places shaped like an animal. It was representative of the Spirit of the Harvest, or the Corn Mother. In Ireland, the grain harvest is associated with Lughnasadh. But the god Lugh is not a grain god or earth god. He’s not John Barleycorn (who is English, and more about the production of beer). Lugh isn’t a sun god either, but I’ll get to that later.

The grain dolly from the previous harvest would be ploughed into the first furrow of the new season in the spring, or else otherwise destroyed in some way to release the spirit of the previous year’s grain. Another tradition, the one that most Pagans follow (and I don’t know the origin), states that it is to be kept to insure a bountiful crop through the next harvest season and burned around the time that a new one is made from the last sheaf.

Since Neopagans have three harvest holidays (Lughnasadh, Autumn Equinox, and Samhain) in the widely observed “wheel of the year”, there is some debate over which holiday to burn a grain dolly. I would think the answer would be to make it close to one’s local grain harvest date. Arkansas grows soft red winter wheat as a commercial crop. Harvest begins in May and ends as late as the first week of July. So, for our locality, if you want to burn your grain dolly at the end of harvest, it makes sense to do so at Lughnasadh, rather than at any of the later harvest holidays. That, and because it’s the harvest holiday that has a strong grain theme.

Note that I’m calling them grain dollies instead of the more traditional “corn dolly”. This is because Americans have confused traditional use of the word corn to exclusively mean maize. To the Europeans, corn meant grain. Corn dollies were not corn husk dolls. They didn’t have maize back then. Corn dollies were made of whatever grain various European cultures predominantly ate, like wheat or oats.

But we do live in the modern western world, and many would say that we need to adapt traditions to where we are and the way we live now. Americans in general do eat a lot of corn, both as a vegetable and as a grain, and as a sweetener (although Arkansas doesn’t grow much maize commercially). Corn husk dolls are easier to make than wheat dolls, which is probably a big part of why most American Pagans make corn husk dolls instead of the more traditional grain dollies for harvest holidays. The materials are also easier to find. Not many people grow wheat in their backyard garden but plenty grow corn, or could get corn in the husk at any farmer’s market or grocery store. Maize harvest starts mid August in Arkansas and can last late into September or even October, so it would make sense to burn your cornhusk harvest dolls at the Autumnal Equinox or Samhain if you are so inclined.

Unless you are a farmer or a gardener who grows grains, your harvest doll is purely symbolic anyway, not made from the last sheaf of anything, but symbolic of the harvest for you personally. So make it of whatever materials represent the harvest for you (you’ll notice that one of the dollies in the picture below is make of both cornhusks and wheat), and burn or bury it at whichever of the harvest (or spring) High Days that you feel drawn to do so.

Harvest Dollies | Ozark Pagan Mamma

Solstice Sun Shirt

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All you need to make this festive sunny attire is a sun-colored shirt (perhaps one you’ve tie-dyed in light sunny colors), contact paper, scissors, an iron, a piece of cardboard the width of your shirt, and fabric crayons.

Prewash the t-shirt and iron out any wrinkles, if necessary. Insert the cardboard inside the shirt to give you a hard surface to work on. See my tutorial for making tissue paper sun faces, and use that method to cut out a design with the contact paper, keeping the design simple.

Next comes the tricky part– peel off the back of the contact paper and lay your resulting sticky stencil on the front of the shirt. Use your fabric crayons to color in the features of the sun face and other details, and along the edges, fading as you go out from your design. For best results, use colors that contrast the colors of your shirt, so the design will show up. When finished coloring, peel off the stencil. Follow the directions that came with your fabric crayons for setting your design permanently into the fabric.

Solstice Sun Shirt

For more Summer Solstice fun, see Kids’ Activities for Midsummer / Summer Solstice.

offerings

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In ADF Druidry, giving offering is a big component of our rituals. In this very tangible way we establish and maintain a give and take relationship with the Three Kindreds (collectively; the deities, ancestors and nature spirits). It is spiritual hospitality. It is ghosti, the Proto-Indo-European word from which we get the English words guest and host.

offerings of oats, cornmeal, and seeds

In our protogrove, we like to include a time for “group offerings” in every ritual. This is a time for folks (anyone who wants to, that is), to come up the the altar, one at a time, and place their own offerings into the offering bowl (or fire, if we’re outside). They can say something if they like, but that’s optional. They can use the basic offerings we provide (which is usually oats, cornmeal, and birdseed), or bring their own biodegradable/burnable offering.

When creating a personalized offering, there are so many options. There are several things you will want to keep in mind, however. First of all, your offering needs to be of natural materials that will degrade and not pollute the environment. How will you deliver (disperse) your offering? Fresh green offerings such as herbs and flowers will degrade quickly, but other food offerings may need to be finely crumbled. If an offering can’t be crumbled into tiny pieces, it will need to be either buried or burned. If your ritual is taking place on your own land, it may not be so important to you that the offering return quickly to the natural elements. However, it has been my experience that burning is preferable as a quick and satisfying mode of delivery in a ritual setting. The following are a few ideas are for burnable offerings…

offering cakes
An offering cake can be made of any kind of of bread or biscuit dough, or even salt dough. (Although salt dough is not edible, the salt in it is an excellent offering, and salt dough can be a bit easier to shape into creative forms than other doughs, making it an offering of art rather than food.)

spiced salt dough offering cakes
To personalize an offering cake, mix items into the batter before baking (or in the case of salt dough, drying), such as herbs, flavorings or spices associated with the holiday you are celebrating or spirit/deity you are honoring. A biscuit shaped circle is a classic shape for an offering cake, but you can make them in any shape. Try using cookie cutters, molds, stamps, or shaping with your hands. You can shape the cakes into a symbol associated with the deity/spirit/occasion you are honoring. The tops can be decorated with diluted food coloring or garnished with herbs or flowers.

offering bundles
One way to make several small offerings at once is to use an offering bundle. Place items inside a scrap of natural fabric (a seven inch square seems to work well). Gather up the edges, and tie off the end with a string or cord. You could also use a large pliable leaf or piece of brown paper and fold your bundle. Some ideas for items to place in the bundle are: a written prayer or devotional poem, herbs, flowers, dried fruit/nuts, grains, and loose incense.

offering bundle

Another option for an offering bundle is to skip the container and just tie items on a stick (this will however limit what can be used to what will stay tied on) . You may even want to carve runes or symbols onto the stick itself, and anoint the entire bundle with an appropriate tincture or oil.

offering stick

The 12th Night of Yule

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The twelfth night of Yule is sacred to all of the Gods and Goddesses especially the Æsir & Dísir. It’s time to gather together and have a feast of pork or ham, and break out the mead or make wassail.

It’s a time of beginnings and endings. The kids read “The Creation of the World” from D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths and receive marzipan pigs for luck in the new year.

Frey Odin and Thor

For those who are so inclined, it is a time for making oaths, swearing with one’s hand over a boar’s head, ceremonial hammer, or oath ring. This tradition is far from mandatory, and I mostly steer clear of making oaths myself. It is better to make no oaths, rather than ones you may not be able to keep. I find it better to simply reflect on the past year and think of what I might do in the next, and keep my own counsel.

Seldom do those who are silent make mistakes.
-Hávamál

This is the last night of burning candles on you Yule log. If you are lucky enough to have a traditional large Yule log in a wood burning fireplace, save a coal or small portion of this year’s log to light next year’s Yule log. If using candle, you can have a similar tradition of saving a short length of candle from this year to light the next.

We have a good feast, praise all the gods, and ring in the new year at midnight. The chiming of the bells clears away any negative and stagnant energies, making way for the new.

Oath Night

The 10th Night of Yule

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The tenth night of Yule is sacred to Sunna and the Ancestors. By now, if you have done rituals for every night, you have celebrated fully indeed! If so, you could give yourself a break and just do a low-key “no-ritual” plan that follows the basic theme of the night, with altar decorating and a special meal. If however, you are up for a more elaborate ritual, check out the Sunna Ritual for Yule over on the Northern Tradition Paganism website.

“The sun, the sister
of the moon, from the south
Her right hand cast
over heaven’s rim;
No knowledge she had
where her home should be,
The moon knew not
what might was his,
The stars knew not
where their stations were.”
– The Poetic Edda, Völuspá.

Making paper sun crafts or sun plaque and sun candles are a pleasant way to entertain the kids on this evening. Also, get out the salt dough skulls or Ancestor yarn dolls made at Samhain to place upon the altar.

Sunna and the Ancestors

One of my favorite Yule songs, which is very appropriate for tonight’s theme, is Sun Queen by Silver on the Tree. The song Morning Glory, by the same artist is beautiful and follows the sun goddess theme as well. Might as well listen to the entire Celtic-themed Morning Glory album; there are certainly enough commonalities between the Celtic and Norse. Many of the songs have a lovely repetitive mantra quality.

And let us not forget the Ancestors! Raise a glass to them, offer them remembrances and prayers, sweets of the season, and put a few bright candles or holiday lights on the family Ancestor altar.

May Sunna light our path, and the Ancestors watch over us in the year ahead.

10th night of Yule

The 9th Night of Yule

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The ninth night of Yule is sacred to Odin. A good way to commemorate the day is by reading and contemplating the Hávamál. Children can learn about the Allfather through books like D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths or Gods & Heroes from Viking Mythology by Brian Branston. One of the names of Odin is Jólfaðr – “Yule Father”. Many people believe that Odin was the prototype for the modern Santa.

Our small ritual feast includes Rinderrouladen and other favorites. Toasts and libations are made, poems read, and songs played. A great resource for the poems and songs, of course, is the Odin’s Gift website, but for just listening, or Odin’s night “ambiance”, there’s music by Hymir’s Kettle, Carved in Stone, and Wadruna.

Odin's Night

This is an excellent night for studying the runes and divining omens for the year ahead. There’s a nice introduction to the runes for kids in How to Be a Viking by Ari Berk.

9th night of Yule

The 7th Night of Yule

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The seventh night of Yule is sacred to Thor. We have a simple ritual feast in his honor and thank him for protecting us all year long. Prayers, readings or toasts my be spoken in his honor and libations made. I find my inspiration for this from the Odin’s Gift website, which has many songs about him as well.

Thor's Night

Later, we may read stories about Thor from The Adventures of Thor the Thunder God by Lise Lunge-Larsen, and perhaps make a craft stick Mjölnir or try making a straw Yule goat, symbolic of the goats that pull Thor’s chariot.

This is the ideal time to bless a ceremonial hammer, if you have one, or bless family members’ Mjölnir pendants. Acorns are given to each family member to carry in their pockets for luck, for the mighty oak is Thor’s sacred tree. An acorn necklace makes an inconspicuous and inexpensive devotional pendant for a child to wear any time.

7th night of Yule