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Guest blogger: Leisl Leighton

13 May 2018

Pagan/Wiccan festivals

I have always been fascinated with modern religious holidays, like Christmas and Easter, and how they got to be the way they are. Why on earth do we decorate a pine tree to celebrate the birth of Christ? Why is Christmas in December when historians know Christ was born in the Spring, not in Winter? And why would we have a rabbit leaving eggs to celebrate a man’s death? As I got older, I discovered the reason was because many of our own holidays actually borrow elements from other religious pantheons, most particularly from pagan festivals that are now celebrated by Wiccans and Witches.

These bits of knowledge I accumulated over the years kept plaguing me, begging to be included in a story of some sort. I didn’t really have anything I could weave them into in any significant way until I started writing the Pack Bound Series, and then they just made their own way in and wove themselves into the world and history and the magical elements I was creating in such a way they became essential to the plot.

The first book, Pack Bound, starts just before Samhain, and the last book finishes on Samhain a year later. The other books are placed around major pagan and Wiccan festivals—Moon Bound occurs around Yule and Shifter Bound around Ostara in between, each festival being an important part of the build of magic, the bonds between the Weres and Shifters and Witches and the essence of each festival being an integral part of the main characters’ personal journeys. You will need to read the books to see how I have woven these festivals into the structure of my novels, but I thought it would be a bit of fun just to share with you what I learned about those major festivals to give you a head start on figuring out why I included them—and find them so fascinating.

First up, is Samhain which is part of Pack Bound (book 1) and Wolf Bound (book 4). A bastardised version of ‘All Hallow’s Eve’ or All Saints Day, it was a reference to the eve of Samhain, a sabbat festival, considered to be one of the four Great Sabbats. It’s a time to celebrate the lives of those who have passed on. It is often considered a festival of darkness, balanced at the opposite point of the Wheel of the Year by Beltane, which is the festival of light and fertility. Wiccans believe that at Samhain, the veil between this world and the afterlife is at its thinnest, making it easier to communicate with the departed, the strongest time at midnight on Samhain Eve. It became tradition during the middle ages for people to go ‘mumming’ or ‘a-souling’ on the night before Samhain. They’d dress up and pretend to be spirits of the departed, roaming from door to door offering prayers for the dead. They were offered sweet cakes and fruits in exchange for this ‘mumming’. Of course, in modern times, candy companies and costume makers jumped on this tradition (after trying to start up their own ‘Sweets Day’ in the USA earlier in the month but failing to get traction) and the homemade treats and costumes became horror dress ups for candy. Trick or Treat anyone? This is of course what we know as Halloween.

In Moon Bound, Midwinter, or Yule is at the centre of the magical plot. Yule takes place on 21–23 December. Marking the last month of the old year and the first month of the new (from the lunar calendar), Yule was a time of sacrifices, feasting and gift giving in the northern hemisphere. People decorated their homes with ever-greenery—holly, ivy, mistletoe, yew, pine—often featuring red winter berries. (Sound familiar? The only thing missing is a jolly fat white-bearded man wearing a red and white outfit—thanks Coca Cola!) Yule was a very important festival, a turning point of the yearly cycle, a reversal of the sun’s ebbing presence in the sky, symbolising the rebirth of the solar god and presaging the return of the fertile season. Historians posit that the Christians appropriated this holiday for their own due to similar themes of birth and hope they wished to focus on (not to mention supplementing the Roman holiday of Saturnalia, which occurred around the same time and was a regular orgy of food, drink and flesh and a completely different story for another blog!)

Shifter Bound takes the festival of Ostara as its centre point. Easter takes much of what it is from the Pagan festival of Ostara or Oestra (sounds a lot like Easter, right?) Ostara is the Vernal Equinox running from 19–22 March. It gains its name from the fertility goddess, Ostara, the Eastern Star. The festival itself inaugurates the new year on the Zodiacal calendar and is the point at which the day becomes longer than the night in the northern hemisphere. It is a time of rebirth—hence why it celebrates the goddess of fertility! Given eggs are a symbol of fertility, it became the custom to decorate them in celebration and as a kind of hopeful prayer for the new year. That’s why we give eggs at Easter time—although the chocolate thing is an entirely modern twist that most of us find indulgent yumminess. In regards to the bunny rabbit who delivers eggs (something we all know rabbits don’t do), the Goddess Ostara is associated with fecund symbols, most especially the hare (we all know the phrase ‘going at it like rabbits’) and the egg. So, this is why we have a rabbit delivering eggs. Cool hey?

I love the histories of these ancient festivals, the rich traditions that are still payed homage to by thriving Wiccan communities across the world, and I really enjoyed weaving them into my stories. Using the mythology and religious symbolism behind these festivals, the ties to the power of the earth, to rebirth, to changes, death and the power beyond the veil, I endeavoured to create a greater sense of history in my world of Witches, Were and Shifters and think they also increase the tension as we count down to those times of the year when the lunar cycle brings more power to the those who know how to use it.

I hope the thread of ancient mystery mixed with my own imagination helps to bring my Pack Bound world to life for readers as much as they have for me.

Buy links for the Pack Bound series:

Pack Bound: Pack Bound series, book 1
iBooksBooktopiaKoboGoogleNook, Amazon AU, Amazon UKAmazon US

Moon Bound: Pack Bound series, book 2
Amazon AU, Amazon UK, Amazon US, iBooks, Google Play, KoboNook, Booktopia

Shifter Bound: Pack Bound series, book 3
Amazon AU, Amazon UK, Amazon US, iBooks, Google Play, KoboNook, Booktopia

Wolf Bound: Pack Bound series, book 4 (to be released on 20 May 2018)
Amazon AU, Amazon UK, Amazon US, iBooks, Google Play, KoboNook, Booktopia


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