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Yule is the celebration of the winter solstice and has been celebrated for thousands of years. The winter solstice this year is on the 21st December.

For 6 days at this time of year the sun appears to stand still on the horizon. It was a time of uncertainty and mystery as the ancients wondered if indeed the sun would return. When it did return, year after year, festivals grew up in just about every place and culture.

The ancients realised that the solstice was the longest night of the year. It was a time of celebration and rejoicing in the knowledge that soon the warm days of spring would return, and the dormant earth would come back to life.

Greenery such as holly, pine and laurel were used to decorate homes. Because they are evergreen it was thought that they had power over death and destruction.

Mistletoe was held as being sacred. It was hung over doorways as it was believed that it would bring fertility and abundance.

The yule log was usually oak. Traditionally it was burned continuously for 12 days. A bit of the wood would be kept for kindling next years fire and the ashes would be spread on the ground and used as a fertiliser.

A HAPPY YULE TO EVERYONE.


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Samhain is a mystical festival rooted in ancient Gaelic tradition. Samhain is a Gaelic word which means (literally) “summers end”. The ancient celts divided the year into only two seasons. Samhain is pronounced a little differently in different countries, so it is “sow-in” in ireland, “saveen” in Scotland and “sow-een” in Wales. It is definitely  not pronounced “sam-hane” as it is by many in the USA.

It is an ancient festival with celebrations keyed to the end of the harvest, the shortening days and the coming of winter. Since ancient times in the Celtic culture, October 31st. has also been celebrated as a feast for the dead and also the day that marked the New Year.

This time of year marked the beginning of the cold, lean months to come; the flocks were brought down from the hills to live in sheds until spring. Some animals would be slaughtered and the meat preserved to provide food for the winter. All the harvest was gathered in; barley, oats, wheat turnips, apples etc. From November the Faeries would blast every growing thing with their breath, blighting anything that remained.

In addition to the agricultural significance, the ancient Celts also saw Samhain as a very spiritual time. October 31st. is exactly between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice, and was considered a very potent time for magic and communion with the spirits.

The “veil between the worlds” of the living and the dead was said to be at it’s thinnest on this day; so the dead were invited to return to feast with their loved ones; welcomed in from the cold, much the same as the animals were brought inside.

The name Hallowe’en is derived from “all hallows eve”. When Christianity arrived in Celtic countries the church discouraged the fortune-telling, magic and communing with the dead as “evil”. A day of celebration of all the Saints of the Church, on November 1st. was created in the hope of displacing the old “pagan” customs. The celebration was called All Saints day, and the night before it came to be called All Hallows Eve, or Hallowe’en.

Many ancient festivals included bonfires, and Samhain was no exception. At Samhain a “new” fire was kindled for the New Year and brought into the house for good luck. The flickering candles inside hollowed out Turnips (or Pumpkins) were also thought to help the spirits who were abroad that night to find their way.

“Trick or Treat” ….. going from door to door for money, sweets or food has evolved in the USA. It is a more recent development and may have evolved from a number of traditions.

Because this was the beginning of the New Year, divination, or foretelling the future, and looking toward the coming year became part of the practice. Many of our hallowe’en traditions, such as bobbing for Apples, were originally part of the foretelling of the future. baking cakes containing “lucky tokens” also originated at this time, and is now used in some areas at the new year on January 1st.

Some of the things that were done to foretell the future included:-

Girls would place Hazel nuts along the fire-grate, each one to signify one of her suitors. She would then divine her future husband by chanting, “If you love me pop and fly, if you hate me burn and die”.

Several divinations used the Apple, the most popular Samhain fruit. “The Apple and the mirror”. Before midnight sit in front of a mirror in a room lit onlt by one candle or the moon. Go into the silence and ask your question. Cut the Apple into nine pieces. With your back to the mirror eat eight pieces then throw the ninth over your left shoulder. Turn your head to look over the same shoulder. You will see an image or symbol in the mirror that will give you your answer. (When you look in the mirror let your focus go “soft” and allow the patterns made by the candlelight, moonlight and shadows to suggest forms , symbols and other dreamlike images that speak to your intuition).

goodweek24

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I have said previously that north Wales has wonderful scenery. It’s not all about the mountains of Snowdonia, in fact Snowdonia is not all mountains anyway. I thought I’d put together a few images to show just how varied the scenery is in this part of the world.

To start, here is the Conwy valley, looking down from the hills above Trefriw towards Conwy, Llandudno and the sea.

The Conwy valley looking towards the coast. June 2008

The Conwy valley looking towards the coast. June 2008

The first bridge over Afon Conwy, just below it's source. Aug 2008

The first bridge over Afon Conwy, just below it's source. Aug 2008

May 14 2008, Canada geese nr the source of Afon Conwy

Canada geese near the source of Afon Conwy. May 2008.

North Wales has a great coastline, and the small island of Anglesey has great beaches along with wild, rocky cliffs.

The cliffs around Porth Dafarch. June 2008.

The cliffs around Porth Dafarch. June 2008.

The beach and dunes at Lligwy bay. May 2008.

The beach and dunes at Lligwy bay. May 2008.

The little sheltered beach at Porth Dafarch. June 2008.

The little sheltered beach at Porth Dafarch. June 2008.

The sweeping Celmyn bay. June 2009.

The sweeping Celmyn bay. June 2009.

And so back to the mainland.

The crags at the head of Cwm Eigiau rise to over 600m. June 2008

The crags at the head of Cwm Eigiau rise to over 600m. June 2008

Afon Lledr at Dolwyddelan.  May 2008.

Afon Lledr at Dolwyddelan. May 2008.

Snowdon range from below Moel Lechwedd-gwyn. May 2008

Snowdon range from below Moel Lechwedd-gwyn. May 2008

Bala steam railway runs alongside Llyn Tegid. July 2009

Bala steam railway runs alongside Llyn Tegid. July 2009

Llyn Tegid with Bala in the background. 2 Aug 09

Llyn Tegid with Bala in the background. 2 Aug 09

Speaking of Bala…….the national eisteddfod is being held there this week. I went to have a look round on Sunday and spent over 6 hours there. What a great day out it is. Here are a few images.

The pavilion (pafiliwn). Also known as the big pink tent. 2 Aug 09.

The pavilion (pafiliwn). Also known as the big pink tent. 2 Aug 09.

The big pink tent can be seen from all over the site. 2 Aug 09

The big pink tent can be seen from all over the site. 2 Aug 09

A bland playing on stage 1. 2 Aug 09

A band playing on stage 1. 2 Aug 09

A harp workshop getting under way on stage 2. 2 Aug 09

A harp workshop getting under way on stage 2. 2 Aug 09

Maes C is the centre of attraction for younger people. 2 Aug 09

Maes C is the centre of attraction for younger people. 2 Aug 09

The Bards circle (Cylch yr Orsedd) is used for some performances. 2 Aug 09.

The Bards circle (Cylch yr Orsedd) is used for some performances. 2 Aug 09.

The choir of Ysgol y Gader on stage 2. 2 Aug 09

The choir of Ysgol y Gader on stage 2. 2 Aug 09

The bar and food areas get pretty busy. 2 Aug 09

The bar and food areas get pretty busy. 2 Aug 09

A budding harpist attends a workshop. 2 Aug 09

A budding harpist attends a workshop. 2 Aug 09

Pupils of Ysgol y Gader on stage 2. 2 Aug 09

Pupils of Ysgol y Gader on stage 2. 2 Aug 09

A choir on stage in the pavilion. 2 Aug 09

A choir on stage in the pavilion. 2 Aug 09

This was just one of many choirs. They gave a great rendition of Wimoweh (The lion sleeps tonight), in Welsh of course.

Even if you don’t speak Welsh it’s worth visiting, it’s a great day out, particularly if you get good weather. More details can be found at:  http://www.eisteddfod.org.uk/english/

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