Sacred tidings and traditions to shape the holy round.
New Year Rituals and Visitations
"(Have you) done in your home what certain women have the custom of doing at certain periods of the year: you set a table in your home and placed upon it the food and drink you have prepared, three plates, and three knives to offer refreshment, if they came, to those three sisters who are ceaselessly perpetuated by an ancient foolishness that calls them the Fates (53)." --from a penitential circa 800 CE 1
The aperture of the New Year held more liminal potential. Situated at the center of the Christmas season--which lasts until Epiphany, January 6th--we have in record a host of traditions and observances to bless, protect, divine and welcome in the New Year.
In my study of ancestral lifeways I have found great comfort in the repetition of cycle--similar rites at the turning times of the year, a return to the sacred in every holy season. One of the thing I've learned is that in most traditional knowledge, ritual and ceremony is about restoring balance and affirming the human place in the fabric of life. In a time where we have become increasingly divested from our connection to the earth and to each other, these regenerative acts from folklore and history can weave a reclaiming of our sense of belonging. And, if we hold the both-ness of belief--a way to remind the world of our love, presence and care.
All of the illustrations in this post are of the Norns or Nornir. These Three Sacred Ladies are often seen as the spinners or weavers of fate. May the wyrd--the web of life--be woven with balance at the heart.
The Three Sacred Ladies, The Sisters of Fate and a New Year Feast
They are both single and multiple, sometimes one, sometimes three, sometimes nine, known as the Norns, Ur∂, Ver∂andi and Skuld, Morrigan, Bendith Y Mamau (Blessing of the Mothers in Welsh), Weirdsystirs (Wyrd Sisters in Scotland) in the North, also "fateful sisters," "fate goddesses," the Matres, the Matronae, Parcae, fairies, witches, weirds, dry-susters (Three Sisters in Dutch), De Drie Gezusters (three sisters in Flemish). In Slavic and Baltic cultures they are the Laimes in the Baltic, Sister Goddesses both one and three named Laima, Dekla and Karta, Rodjenice ("birth giving women" in Czech and Slovak), Sudjenice ("judging women" in Czech and Slovak), Narecznice ("name giving women" in Polish), with other names both local and vast that mean establishing, participation, luck.
They are sometimes divine, and sometimes female ancestors. They have a specific function of protection for women in life's various stages, but especially during birth. Their role is also in blessing and determining the fate of a newly born child. Sometimes they wear black, sometimes white. They appear at the holy days, they carve runes, make marks of protection, and--almost universally in what I have found of European culture--they spin and weave.
This season I learned that one of the New Year Eve traditions is a table ceremony for the Three Sisters or Fates.
Offerings to them include porridge, bread, salt, wine, beer, honey, a table set with white linen, a candle and three plates and knives so they may eat. The doors and windows are to be left open, so they may travel unencumbered, and the dishes of food must be uncovered, the beverages poured out or uncorked.
On the morning of the New Year, the feast may be shared with the family and good wishes made all around.
In the last Olden Practice post I explored the echoed tradition of Perchtanicht on New Year's Eve, where a feast is laid for Frau Perchta as she travels from house to house. And in the Samhain post I shared about the Dziady feast of the ancestors in Slavic tradition, where the dead are welcomed home--doors and windows open, candles lit, food and drink at the table.
The feasting of the Fates, Fairies, Three Sisters or Sacred Ancestors is central to the turning time, an essential part of exchange, blessing and protection, gratitude and hope, and a reinforcement of the balance between their world and ours in folk tradition.
Intentions and Folk Practice for the New Year
Like all sacred days, the New Year is a liminal time, a place for adjustment. There are many traditional folk practices in my lineages for the new year:
"On New Year’s night, as in many other cross quarter days, the fire in the house is not allowed to go out. Candles are lit everywhere as a preventative and women use the night fire to bake their bread. This keeps away evil from the subsequent year. The wind is used to divine the year ahead:
“South wind, heat and produce
North wind, cold and tempest
West wind, fish and milk
East wind, fruit on the trees.”
On New Year’s Day the first offering is a dram of whiskey and spoonful of half-boiled sowens for luck (sowens is a porridge made from the inner husks of oats, soaked and fermented). Nothing could be given away or taken out of the house, not even the ashes of the fire.
New Year’s Day is a day for saining, clearing the home, barn and animals with smoke (juniper is mentioned), silvered water, saliva menstrum or wine and decorating the house with holly and mountain ash to keep away evil.
The first Monday after New Year’s Day is called Handsel Monday, a day of divination, whose name comes from sainnseal, a present given in the hand to every visitor of the house this day.”2
All of these symbolic acts reflect intention. The root of the word intention means “to stretch,” so when we craft intentions, we might gather from folk practice that we are seeking a combination of symbolic actions that stretch our worldly relationships and create supports for our visions to become tangible, real.
Intention focuses our thoughts and anneals them with action. So the ordinary may become extraordinary, traditional works or actions are infused with power and meaning. Intention is also the potency of ceremony. “Anything done with intention is ritual,” meaning we can bring power and purpose to even the most humble and repeated parts of our lives simply by transforming the intention behind those actions. Intention is creativity, the potential to change circumstance, thought and deed.
How is this different from a New Year Resolution? Resolutions are also ancient. Some sources believe resolutions began (or at least were historically recorded) 4000 years ago.3
Like many ancient practices we are left with a hollow shape of what they might have been. The word resolve comes from roots meaning, “loosen, untie, come apart,”4 which feels less like what we wish resolutions to accomplish.
Changing what we call our intentions for the New Year is powerful in itself. But how do we craft intentions that are productive?
First, it is helpful to remember that intentions are not goals. They are practices, formulae, meaning they need to be repeatable and achievable. The end game of an intention might be a goal, but the goal does not come first. Creating an intention with a bite-sized practice that can begin immediately and be repeated consistently is the key to a successful intention. For example, if my goal is to become physically stronger in the new year, my New Year Intention would be to start weight bearing exercises for ten minutes a day — that’s something I can begin while waiting for the ball to drop, and the action on the intention is the magic. Combine focused intention with action and achievement is inevitable.
The second key to crafting powerful New Year Intentions is to know that intentions are adaptable. If the intention is not working for you, you can change it. Goals might succeed or fail, but intentions simply change. This has been helpful for many of my students in allowing a flexible and responsive relationship to intentions, and a dynamic vision of what successful intentions can be.
A New Year Ritual for Intentions:
In this New Year Eve (or really any eve — flexible and adaptable as we are) find three seeds (dry beans work well)
a cup or small pot of soil (or a plot outside if your climate allows)
a glass of water
a pen and some paper
Develop three New Year Intentions using the considerations above — something immediately actionable that stretches you, perhaps in the service of a larger goal, something that may be adapted as your year progresses.
Using your own ritual practice, create a sacred space. Bless the soil, the water and the seeds. Make three holes in the soil. Write your intentions on small pieces of paper and scroll them up so they can be planted in the soil beneath the seeds. As you plant your intentions, envision yourself taking action for each one. Place a seed atop each intention and cover them both with soil. Pour a little water over the top and if you are indoors, find a window that gets good sun to place your intentions by. Give thanks and open your sacred space.
Be patient and persistent in visiting your intention seeds, providing them with all they might need to grow. Use this same method for actioning your intentions, let the seeds be a metaphor for your work.
Sometimes the seeds we plant grow, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes we need to plant many seeds before even one will take root. This is a natural process, not one of discouragement but one of discernment and direction. As the poet Muriel Rukeyser says, “Not all things are blessed/but the seeds of all things are blessed/the blessing is in the seed.”
Here’s to a reclaiming of the sacred in our lives at each moment, with action and intention.
With love to any feasts you may create, and your New Year Intentions.
From Christian Mythology by Phillippe Walter
Paraphrased from The Gaelic Otherworld by John Gregorson Campbell, a compendium of two books written in 1900, edited with contemporary commentary by Ronald Black.
Resolve, online etymological dictionary: https://www.etymonline.com/word/resolution