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Made legal in 1951, witchcraft has a long and complicated history that ranges from the patriarchal deeming of subversive women as committing a crime punishable by death; to the fool proof Halloween character that musters up images of pointy hats, broomsticks and cobwebs; to the contemporary practise of Gardnerian Wicca, who’s witchcraft centres around the practise of magic, worship of Goddesses and other Deities; and respecting nature’s cycles. In the Northern Hemisphere the Winter Solstice falls around the 21st of December every year, as one of eight annual Wiccan rituals. Most people know this as the shortest day of the year. For Witches, it is a celebration of the rebirth of the sun, and a shift away from darkness, symbolising new life and revitalisation in the barren cold of Winter. Also known in Wicca circles as one of eight ‘Sabbats’ that revolve around the stages of the sun over the course of the year and respected as lynchpins for Wiccan spirituality. Swept with a broom, and blessed with the four elements – air, fire, water and earth – a consecrated circle is drawn on the ground within which the ritual will take place. Most Witches seek a natural environment, unscathed by man-built structures: a beach, the forest or mountainous area could be a perfect location – Witches want to feel close and connected with the Earth in its most natural and untainted form whilst they celebrate. Spiritual practises leading up to the Winter Solstice include those that erase the emotional and physical baggage accumulated over the course of the past year.
These practises aren’t necessarily associated with Witchcraft but are more focused around a personal feeling of connection with the Earth’s cycles and their symbolism on a personal level. Some of the Wiccan traditions that characterise the celebration also include inviting symbolic plants into the home. Ivy represents the continuous cycle of life, mistletoe to represent fertility, and evergreen to serve as a reminder of the perseverance of greenery and life even in the depths of a dark winter, as well as holly to symbolise protection bringing an air of safety and comfort to the home. Some Wiccans also ‘smudge’ their homes. This refers to the use of herbal incense to cleanse and refresh a living space, to aid with the spiritual sense of re-birth that comes with the Solstice. Sage, mistletoe or pine incense are amongst those used: the stick is lit and its scented smoke is physically carried around the entrances and window frames in the home. Other traditions on this Sabbat include lighting candles or bonfires as a figurative evocation of light in the dark, as with the sun in the dark winter. Some share cake and drinks, and decorate evergreen Yule trees.
Others bathe, consume warm drinks and write down intentions for the new cycle of life into which they are about to emerge. Winter Solstice can be celebrated regardless of faith or spiritualities, as simply a means of acknowledging a sense of connection with natural cycles, as a physical and figurative shift takes place in the solar system, as well as within oneself. When was there a better excuse to cleanse your environment and experience a revived sense of self? Synchronising somewhat of an individual fresh start with the emergence of the sun’s new cycle of light could be beneficial mentally for anyone: Witch or no Witch – negative energies expelled, and a spiritual re-birth are not restricted sacred practises.