Wicca, Witchcraft and Paganism, for the Novice to the Crone
Some of the ornaments that go on this very special Yule tree are family heirlooms
One of our favorite activities is one most of us can adapt to our own circumstances. It can be done inside or out, depending on where you have the most room. First, find some plastic or foam ornaments; the kind wrapped with colorful threads will probably end up doubling as cat toys. (We’ll talk about when to use these later.) Then, get an extra Yule tree. It can be real or artificial. Set it up outside or in a spare room, and during your Yule celebration, open that space to your guests and let them decorate a tree!
We’re fortunate to have a “temple room” that is closed to the rest of the house most of the time; we put up an extra tree back there, and after the Yule ritual, we open that room and bring out a box or two of unbreakable ornaments for our guests—some years including children as young as 3 or 4 years old—to hang on the tree.
Most years, we put a few strings of lights on the tree first, weaving them among the branches close to the trunk. That takes quite some time, and the lights are breakable, so we don’t let our guests worry that they or their children will wreck a string or hurt themselves.
Some of the ornaments that go on this very special Yule tree are family heirlooms—paper and cloth ornaments our son, the Explorer, or his friends made years ago. But most of them are red and green and purple balls, the kinds you can get pretty inexpensively at any craft store, and at many department and drugstores. We’ve got a few shiny plastic lemons, limes, apples, and oranges, too, and those are just as much fun to hang. Best of all, if you drop them, they just bounce and roll across the floor. You hear the occasional “oops!” but never any hushed or worried “uh-ohs.”
The thread-wrapped balls make wonderful bases for more elaborate ornaments that even young children can make if they have careful adult supervision. At a craft store, buy long pins (with round ends in bright or pearly colors, not the craft pins with T-shaped ends). If you’re working with young children, be sure that they don’t hurt themselves on the pins. You will know whether your own children can heed a warning, or need more hands-on supervision. Use the pins to attatch pony beads or other beads you’ve collected, or take apart a bead chain for a supply of decorations. You can also cut out the rosettes on paper doilies (gold or white or silver; even red if you remember to stock up around Valentine’s Day) to affix to the ornaments.Narrow strips of ribbon or lace are also appropriate, and you’ll find other things that look right to use, too, if you browse your sewing room or the craft store shelves. Don’t forget the craft glue!
You need to allow at least an hour for a “decoration decorating” project, and you should have enough materials on hand for each person to make at least two ornaments. Having some very narrow ribbon, or some slender cord, or even some lengths of yarn on hand for hanging the ornaments is a good idea, too. The only trouble is that most people will want to take their handmade ornaments home instead of leaving them on your tree!
Decorations can be made by hand from natural materials, too: Pine cones with glue lined on their edges and sprinkled with glitter are very nice, for instance. You can wire all sorts of dried materials to wreath forms; if you don’t use all the cinnamon sticks in the festive drink, they’re lovely on a wreath! You can even make the wreaths yourself if you’re thinking far enough ahead and shape Summer’s pruning leftovers.
We have a sumac that puts out suckers from its trunk, and most years I wait until there are five or six, and then make a wreath that’s easy to shape while the clippings are green, and dry by Lammas or Mabon. If there’s more humidity where you live, it could take them longer to dry, but if you don’t plan on using them till the following Winter, they’ll be ready.
Decorations made from natural objects can look nice on your altar, too, though in this context, for most of us, size does matter. The altar table I use outside is 18 inches in diameter, made from one of those three-legged decorator tables you can get at craft stores and bed and bath supply shops, and it’s really too small to put much more than the usual gear on it.
But the altar we use indoors is bigger, and has a second shelf, too, where we put the bits and pieces we plan to use in any spells we might be casting; the oil and extra incense goes on the bottom shelf, too. We have some cloths that hang down far enough to conceal whatever’s on the shelf, but we rarely use them because the altar itself is so nice.
It was handmade for us by a British Traditional Priest who happens also to be a good—and talented—friend, Rick Johnson. We have room for decorations on this altar because we don’t have to put a pentagram on it—one’s inlaid!
We vary our altar decorations every year, because every year is different: Our moods are different, we may have new guests or be missing some usual ones, and every year we have new ideas and unique opportunities. But among the decorations from which we can choose are small antlers (two or three of them, not sets but singles, found in the woods and given to us by a former covener), pine cones we’ve collected and saved from nearly two decades of camping trips, a horned crown, upright stones, carved stones, garlands, silk holly leaves (some years we find and buy real holly, but it’s not easy to come by here in the desert), interestingly shaped branches, also collected on camping trips, and variously shaped candles or candle holders we’ve found at thrift shops.
My cats (bless them!) found their way onto a shelf they shouldn’t have and knocked my favorite chalice (a Third Degree gift) to the tile floor—even if we finish gluing it back together, it’ll never hold Ale again—so we’ve had to use other chalices. Not having the one we used since the coven’s formation has been a disappointment, of course, but it’s also opened up other possibilities. Sometimes we used Canyondancer’s chalice; sometimes we used a lovely green pressed-glass one, decorated with Oak leaves. Perfect for Yule!
This Informative “Wicca How-To,” plus much more, can be found in:
Unique among books about the Wiccan Sabbats, Celebrating the Seasons of Life: Samhain to Ostara takes a different approach to explaining the holidays by taking an in-depth look at half of the Wheel of the Year. Rather than dissecting each holiday, Ashleen's goal is to take a broader look at them, explaining how and why we celebrate each, along with how the celebration of one leads to the next.
The first of two new titles from Ashleen offers a vision of the holidays we celebrate from October to March. This book covers each holiday by first giving us its history and original customs, then explaining its place in modern life. Stories are shared for each Sabbat to reconnect us with our lore and bring new meaning to current practice. Ashleen includes ideas for rituals that are ideal for practicing solitaries, covens, or Wiccan families, with special sections on what children of various ages are ready to learn about these holidays.
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