November in the Wheel of the Year Part 3: The Transition into Winter - By Lucya Starza
Late November sees autumn’s end. At the start of the month where I live, in England, there were still some leaves on the trees although many were shades of red, brown and gold. By the end of the month, following winds and rain, the oak and ash and thorn stand stark and bare. But although the nights are long and dark, we start to prepare for the midwinter festivals.
Rich plum puddings are traditionally made about five weeks before Yuletide then allowed to mature. In England, since the 18th century, this was done on last Sunday before Advent – or Stir Up Sunday. If you’re a pagan who feasts at the Winter Solstice rather than on December 25, you might want to make a pudding even earlier. Although Stir Up Sunday is ostensibly Christian, its traditions are pure folk magic. Everyone in the household is supposed to stir the mixture and make a wish. Customarily the stirring goes from east to west, because that was the direction the three magi travelled after reading the stars to learn of the birth of an important child. If you don’t like reference to Bible stories, you could move the spoon clockwise for luck. Silver charms can be put in the pudding: a coin for wealth is the most common, but you could add a thimble for thrift, an anchor charm for safety, a ring for romance – or whatever’s meaningful for your family. Make sure it’s silver though or it could spoil the pudding.
The commercialism of the modern festive season, and the fact that it seems to start so early, comes in for criticism. Many don’t want to even think about Yuletide until December. That’s completely understandable, especially with ethical concerns about excess waste. However, our Roman ancestors also saw their winter festival extending into November. Brumalia was an Ancient Roman festival a bit similar to modern Christmas. It involved feasting, drinking and making merry in honour of Saturn, God of plenty, renewal and time; and Ceres, Goddess of agriculture. Bacchus the wine God was also honoured. The holiday started earlier and earlier over the years. By the Byzantine era, it began on November 24 and continued until Saturnalia, which I’ll be blogging about more in December.
November Nature Walks and Herbal Magic
The best way to escape the commercialism of the shops is to go for a walk in nature. To me, being pagan is as much about appreciating the changings seasons as it is about doing magic or performing rituals. Even when trees are bare of leaves, there’s stark beauty to be seen. You can study the bark and branches of the trees – and find fallen sticks to take home and carve into wands. Grass and fallen leaves sparkle in the morning frost and crunch underfoot. The early sunset skies can look as though they are aflame with red, orange and dusky pink. It seems hard not to believe that the world and the heavens are full of magic when you see sights like these at an autumn twilight. Then purple shadows lengthen with the night, and lights twinkle in welcoming windows as you head home to warmth indoors.
Nature also still provides food to forage. Rosehips ripen for picking after the first frosts. Collect ones that are red and soft but not shrivelled, leaving some for wild birds. Rosehip tea has long been thought to have health benefits, being high in vitamin C. It can also be drunk before scrying as it’s said to aid psychic powers. Magically, rose hips – like roses – are associated with love too. For a winter love potion, try adding a dash of rosehip syrup to a glass of sparkling wine to share with your beloved. You could also make bottles of rosehip syrup to give as gifts. Mind you, when I was a kid I was more interested in the fact that the fibres inside rosehips made a very effective itching powder. Do be careful if you cut hips open and don’t get the fibres on your bare skin. You might want to wear rubber gloves to handle them.
Onions are another traditional remedy to help ward off common winter sniffles, according to folklore. They also feature in weather lore. A proverb goes:
Onion skins very thin
Mild winter coming in;
Onion skins thick and tough
Coming winter cold and rough.
A Swedish weather proverb states that if the last day of November is slushy, the ground will be frozen by Christmas.
This is part of a series of posts I’m writing for the Moon Books Blog on the theme of the Wheel of the Year. They will be compiled and edited into a book: Pagan Portals – Wheel of the Year. Other books by Lucya Starza in the Pagan Portals series include Candle Magic, Guided Visualisations, Poppets and Magical Dolls, and Scrying. Lucya edited the community book Every Day Magic – A Pagan Book of Days.
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