Merry Witchmas: Paganism, witchcraft and the holidays

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Dec 19, 2018, 3:00 PM EST

Every year, millions of people all across the world celebrate Christmas, and it is easily one of the most popular holidays. For many people, the history of Christmas is directly associated with the birth of Christ, and that’s as far back as it goes. Yet many of the traditions practiced during Christmas time have origins dating back much further than the beginnings of Christianity.

Christmas And Astrology

In nearly all religions, there are celebrations for the changing of the seasons. Most people’s inner clocks are set to a cycle that has its base in the physical effect the change of the seasons has on human bodies. We observe the winter as our time for slowing down, feasting, taking stock, spending time with family, and worshipping our deities of choice when applicable. This is no coincidence — indeed, it is consistent across many cultures, and as much as it relies upon the traditions of human civilization, it relies also upon the stars in the sky.


While meteorologists consider December 1 to be the first day of winter, for most everyone else it’s December 21. This is the shortest day and longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, and it marks the first day of Winter Solstice, which lasts until the 25th. Solstice is celebrated in various ways across most religions. Early Europeans celebrated it as the rebirth of the sun and the return to longer days, while German pagans had Yule and what amounted to their own Santa in Odin, who brought good for some and to others ill, but who bore more than a striking resemblance to one Mister Claus.

The death of Christ and the 3 days it takes him to rise again are considered astrologically significant, as are the 3 days leading into Christmas. In the words of occultist Eunique Divination, “The most important aspect of Christmas would be the 22nd to the 25th, which is pretty much how the Christians think. The sun is at its lowest point and then it comes up… it takes 3 days to come back up, and it comes back up on the 25th. So, a lot of Christianity is sun worship, and that’s what that comes from.”

As far as why it’s important to acknowledge winter and celebrate its coming, winter will almost invariably slow your body down as we all fall into the natural dormancy of the season and try to rest in preparation for the more chaotic spring. “Celebration of winter,” Divination explained, “if you’re into tarot, it’s the death card. Things are dying and decaying. Things are dormant, and as far as spirituality is concerned, it’s a time to reflect, it’s a time to go in, and do some inner work. Transformation... things were alive, now animals are sleeping and hibernating, everybody’s inside… it’s an end to a cycle. People kind of want things to stay the same, but things don’t stay the same. Even within the seasons, things change.”

Saturnalia’s Influence On Christmas

Many people associate Christmas with the birth of Christ for perhaps obvious reasons, but the history Christmas celebration certainly predates the birth of Christ. Previous observances of the solstice that inspired Christmas include the Roman Saturnalia. Lasting from the 17th to the 23rd of December and celebrating the agricultural god Saturn, gift giving was an essential staple of Saturnalia. It was likewise a celebration of light, later known as the Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun in reference to Sol Invictus, another sun-based deity.

During Saturnalia, wreaths were used to symbolize never-ending life. It’s difficult to tell exactly where the idea of keeping trees came from, but it’s obvious that the modern day invention of the Christmas tree in Renaissance-era Germany was hardly the beginning of the custom, which is believed to date at least as far back as ancient Egypt. The reformer Martin Luther is believed to have been the first to add candles to the Christmas tree, which is terrifying to even consider in a time with no fire extinguishers or smoke alarms, but regardless was the beginning of the contemporary Christmas lights. Likewise, however, the celebration of light and the use of candles is common across religions.


Christmas Replaces Saturnalia

It’s difficult to know when exactly Christians began celebrating Christmas, but the first recorded instance of the holiday was by 4th Century Roman Christians. They are generally known to be the first to celebrate Christmas specifically on the 25th of December, as well. Christians had been persecuted and killed in Rome until under Constantine Christianity was legalized. This was also around the time of the first known use of the word pagan, which was apparently appointed to Romans practicing polytheism by Christians as a derogatory term, and was ultimately used to villainize a large portion of the Roman population as Christianity became the dominant religion.

Parallels can also be drawn between the Persian sun god Mithra and Jesus. Mithra’s birthday was also believed to be December 25th. Other similarities prevail between them, such as their mutual status as a patient and benevolent protector of life. Mithraism was its own practice, and the worship of Mithra was prevalent during the rise of Christianity although it would ultimately become more obscure over time.

Much like the tree, there is no tracing the origins of Solstice based songs, but Christmas hymns are known to date back as early as the first Christmas celebrations. Carols that are well-known to us today are Latin songs that were popularized in the sixteenth century in a music book called Piae Cantiones, but the true origins of the songs are unknown, and many of them are believed to be much older than suspected. Later, in the 19th and 20th centuries, the popularity of mass-produced Christmas music books led to a resurgence of interest in caroling, and the tradition bloomed anew.

Whatever your feelings on Christmas, there’s no denying the obvious human need to acknowledge the shift from autumn to winter and our anticipation for spring. In fact, the distance our present practices put between the holiday and its ancient origins may indicate a deeper societal problem. When asked what people get wrong about the holidays and their history and even debt to pagan rituals, Eunique Divination replied, “There’s still a lot of people that are just kind of stuck in their ways and don’t want to look into anything. It’s labeled blasphemous. I’ve had people call me a devil-worshipper, and I’m like, wait a minute… all I’m doing is worshipping seasons! That’s the biggest misconception, them not understanding the symbolism of things, but then again this is esoteric or occult information which pretty much means only a certain number of people will understand.”

Visit Eunique Divination’s shop - this article benefited greatly from the interview with her and she is an insightful source for all your occult-based needs, from tarot to astrology and beyond.

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