Yuletide entertainments

A friend on Facebook just asked what films people recommend to get in the mood for Yuletide.

Here are a few that I have watched or listened to and really enjoyed over the years.

Mabinogi (2002)

This is not specifically a Yule tale, but it is a wonderful piece of animation, and a great retelling of some of the key stories of the Mabinogion. It’s also available as a graphic novel. It’s not available for sale, but someone has uploaded it to YouTube.

Solstice, by Alison McLeay (1985)

This was a radio play first broadcast in 1985. It’s a wonderful evocation of the idea of Father Christmas as the ancient shaman of Yule. It may not be 100% historically accurate, but it is beautifully written and performed. There’s more about it in this article, a transcript, and a link to the audio.

The Red and the White of the Solstice Fire

Gawain and the Green Knight (1991)

Live-action made-for-TV movie from 1991. It may be dated but it is fairly true to the story as I recall, and I very much enjoyed it. You can get it on Amazon.

Gawain and the Green Knight (2002)

There was a beautiful animated version televised in 2002. It was like watching moving stained glass, and it had beautiful music. Sadly, it is not currently available. But it is on Youtube!

The Box of Delights (1984)

Adapted from the novel by John Masefield, this was a delightful children’s drama with a magician, Herne the Hunter, a scary villain, and a threatening snow-storm. Available on DVD.

The Gift of Naughtiness

My Yule short story from a couple of years ago, on elves, Krampus, and Father Christmas. One of my regular readers was going to turn it into an audio production, but I don’t know if that happened.

A Merry Mumming Morris Christmas, by LumiereCDN (2013)

A great video of various Yuletide mummers’ plays and morris dancing.

Thanks to Nigel for asking the question that prompted me to write this post. Thanks to Nick for introducing me to Solstice and Box of  Delights. And thanks to Adam and Jane for introducing me to the 1991 version of Gawain and the Green Knight.

Check out Nigel’s books on traditional witchcraft, 
The Devil’s Plantation; East Anglian Lore, Witchcraft and Folk-Magic and Treading the Mill.

Snow. Photo by Foundry. Public Domain [CC0]

Snow. Photo by Foundry. Public Domain [CC0]

Feel free to post your own recommendations in the comments.


Spiritual nourishment

Spiritual and religious experiences can vary, as William James described more than a century ago. He described how different types of people get spiritual nourishment from different styles of religious practice, and in the process probably contributed to an increase in tolerance of religious diversity.

When examining our own spiritual experiences, or seeking out spiritual experiences, I find it helpful to identify experiences that are nourishing in the long-term, rather than just providing a temporary high.

I liken it to the difference between regular nourishing food that keeps you on an even steady energy level (low glycaemic index) and the sort of food that gives you a sugar rush or energy spike (high glycaemic index) which then results in an energy trough the next day.

Level of glucose in the blood after eating high GI food versus low GI food.

Level of glucose in the blood after eating high GI food versus low GI food. Source: Lemon Grad

Spiritual experiences are similar. They can be like a huge sugar rush, or they can be more nourishing over a longer term. Porridge is better than high-sugar breakfast cereal.

I’m not advising you to avoid intense experiences, but I would advise you not to actively seek them out. Let them happen when they happen, and always remember to ground yourself after ritual. In my experience, it is best to create a safe space where you can have these experiences and be looked after. For example, in a properly-run sweat lodge, the person who is leading the ceremony maintains an awareness of the state of mind of all the participants, and if there is anyone who shows signs of distress, it is the leader’s job to assist them, usually by suggesting that they take a break outside. In Wicca, it is the job of the coven leaders to make sure that everyone in the circle feels safe and protected. That’s why we cast circles and call quarters. We sometimes do have intense spiritual experiences in a Wiccan circle, but they happen in a safe space created by the circle, the quarters, and being with people you trust (that’s the ideal, anyway). These types of experiences are part of an ongoing sense of connection with the divine, the universe, and Nature, rather than isolated outliers.

The thing about seeking out high-intensity spiritual experiences (rather than being open to grace or serendipity) is that they become addictive, and people often look for ever more intense highs. That’s not balanced or sustainable. High-intensity spiritual experiences become a kind of drug.

Some spiritual experiences provide a temporary high, followed by a feeling of burn-out or lowness the next day, as ordinary reality comes crashing back in. These experiences are not helpful, in my opinion.

Many people have experienced a sudden moment of connection to all that is, which often involves a sense that everything is illuminated from within. There’s an excellent description of one of these moments in Oliver Postgate‘s autobiography, Seeing Things. I have had this experience myself, whilst walking on the Pennine Way in 2007. The thing is that while these moments are beautiful and illuminating and full of grace, they are not an everyday state of consciousness, and one might have difficulty functioning normally if one was in such an illuminated state all the time. I once forgot to ground myself after a ritual, and parked my car in a stupid place, where it got broken into; it is difficult to live on these rarefied heights all the time.

That is why religion provides a context, a sense of belonging, and a set of routine spiritual practices, to provide adherents with regular nourishment, rather than intense “sugar rush” experiences. The word religion is derived from Latin religio, meaning ‘to reconnect’, which implies to me a regular and nourishing practice of re-connecting with Nature, the community, the Divine.

A basket of vegetables

Eat up your greens, they’re good for you – and low GI. (Source: Pexels.com, CC0 Public Domain)

Thanks to Bob for telling me about how sweat-lodges work.

“Strange Magic – Essex Witches #1” by Syd Moore -odd but fun

An interesting-sounding book, reviewed by Mike Finn.

Mike Finn's Fiction

32073145In “Strange Magic” Rosie Strange inherits the Essex Witch Musem from her estranged grandfather and finds herself pulled into skullduggery involving violent occult practitioners, a race against time to save a young boy’s life and a gruesome treasure hunt.

This is light, fast, often funny read that draws much of its humour and most of its originality from the fact that Rosie Strange is an Essex Girl from generations of Essex Girls.

Essex Girls were invented in the UK in the 1980s, a decade when much humour on television was thinly disguised misogyny and racism presented with an “only joking, luv” passive aggressive veneer. The basic premise was that Essex girls where dumb, blonde, working class and promiscuous eand therefore deserved be treated with disdain and abuse in the name of wholesome fun. This stereotype and even some of the alleged jokes survive to the present day.

Syd Moore, gives…

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Witchcraft Traditions

When Gerald Gardner coined the term “the Wica” (originally spelt with one c), he seems to have intended it to refer to any and all witches. Subsequently, the term has come to be used by some people to mean only witches initiated into Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca, and has been used by others to mean anybody who identifies as Wiccan, and a whole spectrum of meanings in between those two terms. This can make it confusing for people to understand what is meant by any individual using the term Wicca.

[Estimated reading time: 10 minutes. Contains 2020 words]

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Connecting with place

One of the key elements of Pagan thought is connecting with the Earth, Nature, and/or the land. As a general thing, Wiccans seem to focus more on Nature, Druids seem to focus more on the Earth, and Heathens seem to focus more on the land. however, there are always individual exceptions to these generalities. I have always felt very attached to the land around me, especially hills and ranges of hills.

The Pagan revival began, in part, because people felt alienated from Nature by the Industrial Revolution and living in cities.

Looking at other indigenous spiritualities and religions around the world, we can see that connection to the land and Nature is extremely important to them. This connection includes awareness of ecosystems, bio-regions, animals, plants, seasonal changes, rivers, rocks, and trees.

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Review: Casting a Queer Circle

Thista Minai (2017), Casting a Queer Circle: Non-Binary Witchcraft. Hubbardston, MA: Asphodel Press.

Aimed at everyone who finds that binary and heterocentric approaches to witchcraft do not fit actual lived reality, this book is an outstanding guide to crafting an inclusive, non-binary approach to ritual. It contains a complete system of magic, ritual, symbolism, festivals, and ritual roles, all designed to be inclusive, safe, creative, and genuinely transformative.

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Statement on racism and bigotry

Dowsing for Divinity completely rejects racism, fascism, Nazism, white supremacism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, ageism, ableism, body-shaming, and all forms of bigotry.

Inclusive Pagans celebrate life and love in all its beauty and diversity, and seek to protect and preserve the Earth and Nature, and to cultivate virtues of compassion and respect for all life.

For this reason, following the recent events in Charlottesville, USA, we utterly condemn the ideology and actions of the white supremacists and Neo-Nazis who have caused such suffering there.