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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in folk traditions
Edible Luck: German Traditional Foods for the New Year

As with any holiday celebration, food plays an important role in New Year's Eve and Day traditions around the world. Many people eat pomegranates, that sacred fruit of Persephone associated with rebirth. In Spain, since the turn of the 20th century, it's been the tradition to eat twelve grapes -- one for each month of the coming year and for each toll of the midnight bell. In Charleston, SC (and across the American South), hoppin' john is considered good luck -- the beans symbolize coins -- a tradition originating in African American culture. While waiting for the New Year's ball to drop, my family has always shared a platter of crackers, summer sausage and ham, and a variety of cheeses with champagne for the adults and sparkling grape juice for the kids (we always called it Kinderwein, thanks to our time living in Germany and our partially German American roots).

In addition to pork and ham, Germans also make and eat Glückschwein, marzipan confections in the shape of pigs. The Germanic veneration of pigs goes back a long way to pre-Christian times. Remember that boars are associated with Freyr and Freya -- the golden-bristled Gullinbursti and the disguised lover Hildisvini, respectively. That tradition continues today -- pigs are lucky animals in German culture, symbolizing wealth and health. The term Glückschwein means just that: "lucky pig."

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Tyger
    Tyger says #
    I grew up in Switzerland. On New Year's Eve at the dinner-and-dance clubs, they used to bring a baby pig at midnight and let every
  • The Cunning Wife
    The Cunning Wife says #
    Thanks for sharing these traditions! I remember the pigs with clover from parts of Germany, too. The piglet tradition is new to me
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    Greens were supposed to represent folding money, but dad would always turn the heat up to high and scorch them. The kitchen stank
  • The Cunning Wife
    The Cunning Wife says #
    Sounds like you're from the Carolinas! I love those food traditions. Thanks for sharing!
Liquid Glow: A Brief History and Myths Surrounding Mulled Wine

Mulled wine is a staple beverage throughout Europe during the winter season. I remember Christmas shopping in Wϋrzburg as a kid and passing by vendors selling the beverage, the blend of cinnamon, cloves, orange peel, and other spices wafting through the crisp, cold air.

Mulled wine has a long history, dating back to at least as far as the 2nd or 3rd century BCE, when the Greeks and Romans would boil wine, then add honey and spices to the concentrated beverage. They called it by a variety of names, including mulsum, rapa, carenum, and defrutum (Fosbroke).

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Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs
Peas, Collards, and Prosperity Magic

All across the South on New Year’s Day, people from all walks of life and all faiths will dine on collard greens and black-eyed peas to bring them luck in the coming year. How can such simple fare be equated with fortune? I was always told that the greens represent currency, and the peas represent coins. Serve it up with some cornbread, and you’ve got some gold represented on your plate, too. 

This traditional New Year’s meal goes back far enough that it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when and why it started. All we really know for sure is that eating black-eyed peas with rice is African in origin and spread throughout the South from the Carolinas. How peas and collards became equated with abundance may forever be a mystery. 

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Ancestors at the Hearth: Hallowe’en Edition

I love the word Hallowe’en. It conjures all the warmth and mystery that I associate with the middle of the harvest season, and having celebrated it secularly throughout my life doesn’t diminish my now more spiritual experience of the holiday; instead, it accentuates it. Maybe it’s just me, but I find so much satisfaction in deepening my experience of the familiar, seeing beneath the surface of what is already around me. Making Hallowe’en sacred to me as a pagan is a rewarding experience.

While Hallowe’en, or All Hallows Eve, is a later, Christian term denoting a holiday that stems from the more ancient Samhain, it can still be relevant to pagans. After all, to “hallow” means to sanctify or venerate – to recognize something as sacred or worthy of veneration — which is what many of us do during this time. We pay homage to the dead: family members, beloved dead, cultural and/or spiritual ancestors, and sometimes even the dead with whom we have little to no emotional connection but who have walked the same earth.

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Broom Lore for Walpurgisnacht and Other Holidays

Every year in late April, I thoroughly clean my back porch for the first time since the descent into winter. Over the winter and early spring, things tend to collect -- dust, dead bugs, spider webs, tree pollen from early spring. The latter (especially from the pines that surround my house) makes it futile to do this any earlier because all of my hard work -- sweeping, hosing it down, vacuuming, and mopping -- would be nulled a few days later by a thick film of yellow powder. But by mid-spring, everything seems to calm down enough to make the deep cleaning worthwhile, which ends up putting this ritual right before Walpurgisnacht and May Day, which I celebrate to honor my German and Scandinavian roots. I won't go into the history of Walpurgisnacht here because it's already covered on a wealth of websites and books; I'd rather focus on one household tool that has a significant place in the lore of this holiday (especially to me personally): the broom.

Brooms are often featured in many spring holidays. At Easter in Sweden and Finland, the festivities take on a more Halloween- or Carnivale-esque character than in other places, and little girls dress up as Easter witches, wearing kerchiefs on their heads and carrying small brooms in their hands. On Walpurgisnacht, a Wild Hunt of witches and specters rides across the night sky to hold their revels on the Brocken. It's common knowledge that the broom as a flying implement is a development of the magic worker's staff. For hundreds of years, it has served as a symbol of feminine power masked as a common, humble household tool.

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A couple weekends ago I went to Paganicon 2017 in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. There were all kinds of amazing workshops, rituals and conversations with great people that I had which I will discuss in following posts. At the final panel discussion was about making space in the broader culture, which is especially important as many religious and other types of minorities are currently experiencing a resurgence of fear and pressure to choose blending into the background or being more assertive about who we are. One assumption that kept being made is one I want to challenge. The idea that Pagan conventions, festivals or other places in which we are more open, such as Burning Man, Renaissance festivals and so forth are not "the real world" that other people who don't get what it is that we are doing are mundanes, Muggles, cowans or whatever term. Now I understand that has a spiritual side to this, particularly with rituals in which sacred space is created, we are going into a gathering in which somewhat different social norms apply. However when we reinforce this dichotomy, we erase and negate our own experiences and identities as Pagans, Witches, polytheists and esoteric practitioners in the rest of lives. We may purify ourselves, put on special clothing or jewelry in preparation for holidays, prayers or ritual or set aside a piece of furniture, room, or even a building for spiritual use. We may not be as visible in our day to day lives as distinct minorities. But we are still Pagans the rest of the time. I know for myself, it's difficult to remember not so much due to the influence of Christianity per se, but consumerism and alienation of overall society. Conversely, around people sincerely practiced their religions, and folk customs I feel much more at home. This is one reason I feel much more comfortable in the very multicultural, multi-religious neighborhoods in which I live and work, in spite of many comments I get from others about how "scary" they perceive these places to be. I think their ignorant comments are much scarier. And yet I refuse to be intimidated. The ancestor shrines in Korean, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants remind me of how around much of the world, and most of human history animism is the rule, not the exception. In the very Mexican-American neighborhood in which I work, the Virgin of Guadalupe can be found everywhere from ornaments on cars to arm tattoos and yes, shrines in businesses and yards. While many of these neighbors identify as Buddhist or Catholic, or even secular rather than Pagan, I can see those commonalities. In small Midwestern towns you may hear tales in Lutheran church basements of nisse, tomten and trolls and in suburban malls teens spread rumors and Internet legends that are as recycled as many of the Hollywood movies that they come to watch!  My favorite way to discover "suspiciously pagan" things is from both atheists and conservative Christians complaining about superstitious things members of their flock do. It's like the modern version of learning about folk customs from missionary accounts.

 

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An Open Letter to the City of Philadelphia and the Mummers

 

(Author’s note: For those of you unfamiliar with this particular Philadelphia tradition, you can find information about it here: http://www.phillymummers.com). Because mumming is a tradition that arose out of European Pagan folk practices beginning with the Swedes and Finns who first settled in the area, I felt an especial need to address this years’ parade.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham says #
    Thank you for this column - 2015 was indeed been a year of seeing the realities of homophobia, transphobia, racism, and misogyny -
  • Helena
    Helena says #
    Oh I sure hope so!

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