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Internet Book of Shadows, (Various Authors), [1999], at

 Traditional Aboriginal myth, which was printed in Web of Wyrd #10
 Back in the Dreamtime, Gidja the Moon lived by the river with the
 Bullanji people. They made fun of him, because he was round and fat,
 with little stringy legs and arms. Gidja loved Yalma, the Evening Star,
 but she laughed at him too. So Gidja made a magic circle of stones, and
 at dusk every night, sat in his circle and sang of his love for Yalma.
 He made so many songs! So, Yalma agreed to marry him and the Bullanji
 people held corroboree for them. Now Yalma had a baby daughter - Lilga,
 the Morning Star. Lilga would go hunting with her father, Gidja. One
 day, while gathering honey, a limb fell off a tree and crushed Lilga, so
 she died. This was the first time that anyone had ever died. Poor Gidja
 mourned his daughter, but the Bullanji people were afraid, and blamed
 Gidja for bringing death to the world. When Gidja carried his little
 Morning Star in her coffin over the river, some men cut the ropes
 holding the bridge, and he fell into the river. The coffin drifted out
 to sea, and today, you can still see little Morning Star shining out at
 sea.  Gidja climed out of the river, and made a fire. He carried a
 bright burning brand from the fire, and walked through the forest. The
 people saw him and were afraid. The they saw it was Gidja, and were
 angry. They tried to kill him, but couldn't, so they picked him up and
 threw him up into the sky. As he rose up, he cursed the people, and said
 they would all die, and remain dead. But he, and the grass, would die,
 and would come back to new life.  And so it is. Gidja grows fatter and
 fatter, and then fades away like a little old man. Lilga though, shines
 brightly. Just like he said, Gidja comes back to life. At dusk on the
 third day after he dies, you can see him again, floating like a baby's
 cradle, waiting to start again.
                            Christmas Customs 
                             by Rick Hayward
 Now  that  Christmas  is  fast approaching and the year has once
 more come full circle, most of us will soon be busy adorning the
 house  with  brightly  coloured decorations, a Christmas tree and
 all the other paraphernalia that goes to create a festive atmosphere.
 Holly and mistletoe will almost certainly  be  included  in  our
 decorations as  evergreens  have been used in the winter festivities
 from  very  ancient  times  and definitely long before Christianity
 appeared on the scene.
 What Christians celebrate as the birthday  of  Christ  is  really
 something that was superimposed on  to  a  much  earlier  pagan
 festival--that which celebrated the Winter Solstice or the time when
 the Sun reaches its lowest point south  and  is    reborn  at  the
 beginning  of  a  new  cycle  of seasons.
 In  Northern  Europe  and Scandinavia it was noted by the early
 Christian scholar, Bede, that the heathens began the year on
 December 25th which they called Mother's Night in honour of the
 great  Earth  Mother.  Their celebrations were held in order to
 ensure  fertility and  abundance during the coming year, and these
 included much feasting, burning of lamps, lighting of great fires (the
 Yule fires) and exchanges of gifts.
 The Romans, too,  held their great celebrations--Saturnalia--
 from December 17th to 25th and it was the latter date which they
 honoured as the birthday of the Unconquered Sun. The Saturnalia
 was characterised by much merry-making,  sometimes  going  to
 riotous extremes, with masters and slaves  temporarily  exchanging
 roles. The use of evergreens to decorate the streets and houses
 was also very much in evidence at this great winter festival.
 That we now celebrate the birth of Christ at the same time is largely
 due to the early Church Fathers who found it was much easier to
 win converts to the faith by makng Christ's birthday coincide with an
 already  long established  pagan festival. In fact, it wasn't until the
 4th century that Pope Julius I finally established the 25th as the
 official birthday of Christ; earlier Christians differed widely as to
 this date-- some choosing September 29th, while others held that January
 6th or March 29th were the correct dates.
 As we have seen, the pagan element in Christmas lives on in the
 festival at the Winter Solstice. But these elements are also very much
 alive in our use of evergreens as decorations at this time of year.
 Like most evergreens, the holly and mistletoe have long been held
 to  symbolise  eternal  life, regeneration and rebirth.
 Holly, with its bright red berries and dark spiky foliage, has been
 revered from ancient times as a symbol of life everlasting. It was
 associated  with  strength  and masculinity and was considered
 useful in the treatment of various ailments which were seen to lower
 the vital spirits.
 In old England, a decoction of holly leaves was considered a cure
 for worms; but most of all this prickly evergreen was looked upon
 as a luck bringer--particularly in rural areas where a bunch of holly
 hung in the cow shed or stable was thought to favour the animals if
 placed there on Christmas Eve.  Many people used to take a piece of
 holly from the church decorations at Christmas as a charm against bad
 luck in the coming year. Holly was also considered a very protective
 tree which, if planted outside the house,  was  believed  to  avert
 lightning, fire and the evil spells of witches.
 An old holly spell describes how to know one's future spouse. At
 midnight on a Friday, nine holly leaves must be plucked and tied
 with nine knots in a three-cornered cloth. This is then placed under the
 pillow and,  provided  silence  is observed from the time of plucking
 until dawn the next day, your future spouse will come to you in your
 In certain areas of Wales, it was thought extremely unlucky to bring
 holly  into  the  house  before December 24th and if you did so
 there would be family quarrels and domestic upheavals. You would
 also be inviting disaster if you burned green holly or squashed the
 red berries.
 Turning  now to mistletoe,  it seems that this is by far the most
 mystical of the plants associated with Christmas and has, from very
 ancient times,  been treated as magical  or sacred.  It is often
 included  in  modern  Christmas decorations simply for the fun of
 kissing beneath it and, though this seems to be a peculiarly English
 custom, it probably harks back to the mistletoe's association with
 The real reason why mistletoe is now associated with Christmas is
 very  much  a  carry-over  from ancient practices, when it was
 considered as somehow belonging to the gods. The Roman historian,
 Pliny, gives an early account of how the  Druids would  hold a  very
 solemn ceremony at the Winter Solstice when the mistletoe had to
 be gathered, for the Druids looked upon this unusual plant, which has
 no roots in the earth, as being of divine  origin  or  produced  by
 lightning. Mistletoe which grew on the oak was considered especially
 potent in magical virtues, for it was the oak that the Druids held as
 sacred to the gods.
 At  the Winter  Solstice,  the Druids would lead a procession into
 the forest and, on finding the sacred plant growing on an oak, the
 chief priest, dressed all in white, would climb the tree and cut the
 mistletoe with a knife or sickle made of gold. The mistletoe was
 not allowed to touch the ground and was therefore caught in a white
 linen cloth.
 On securing the sacred mistletoe, the Druids would then carry it to
 their temple where it would be laid beneath the altar stone for three
 days. Early on the fourth day, which would correspond to our
 Christmas Day, it was taken out, chopped into pieces and handed
 out among the worshippers. The berries were used by the priests to
 heal various diseases.
 Mistletoe was considered something of a universal panacea, as can
 be gleaned from the ancient celtic word for it--uile, which literally
 translated  means  'all-healer'.  A widespread  belief  was  that
 mistletoe could cure anything from headaches to epilepsy; and indeed
 modern research has shown that the drug guipsine which is used in
 the treatment of nervous illnesses and high blood pressure is con-
 tained in mistletoe.
 Until quite recently the rural folk of  Sweden  and  Switzerland
 believed that the mistletoe could only be picked at certain times and
 in a special way if its full potency as healer and protector was to be
 secured. The Sun must be in Sagittarius (close to the Winter
 Solstice) and the Moon must be on the wane and, following ancient
 practices, the mistletoe must not be just picked but shot or knocked
 down and caught before reaching the ground.
 Not only was mistletoe looked upon as a healer of all ills, but if
 hung  around  the  house  was believed  to  protect  the  home
 against fire and other hazards. As the mistletoe was supposed to have
 been produced by lightning, it had the power to protect the home
 against thunder bolts by a kind of sympathetic magic.
 Of great importance, however, was the power of mistletoe to protect 
 against witchcraft  and sorcery. This is evident in an old superstition
 which holds that a sprig of mistletoe placed beneath the pillow will
 avert nightmares (once considered to be the product of evil demons).
 In the north of England, it used to be the practice of farmers to give
 mistletoe to the first cow that calved after New Year's Day. This was
 believed to ensure health to the stock  and  a  good  milk  yield
 throughout the year. Underlying this old belief is the fear of witches
 or mischievous fairy folk who could play havoc with dairy produce, so
 here  mistletoe  was  used  as a counter magic    against such evil
 influences.  In  Sweden,  too,  a bunch of this magical plant hung
 from the living room ceiling or in the stable or cow-shed was thought
 to render trolls powerless to work mischief.
 With such a tremendous array of myth, magic and folklore associated with
 it, reaching far back into the pagan past, it is understandable that 
 even  today  this  favourite Christmas plant is forbidden in many
 churches. Yet even the holly and the ivy, much celebrated in a popular
 carol of that title, were once revered as sacred and magical by our
 pre-Christian ancestors.
 In view of what has been said, one could speculate that even if
 Christianity had never emerged it is more than likely that we would
 still be getting  ready for the late-December festivities,  putting up
 decorations,  including holly and mistletoe, in order to celebrate the
 rebirth of the Sun, the great giver and sustainer of all earthly life.

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