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Celebrating Yule with Tradition & Ritual

December 2, 2022

Hands of Change will be celebrating Yule with a full moon Yule ritual and feast in honor of Lugh and Arianrhod on Friday, Dec. 9, 2022 at 7 p.m. in Old Bridge, NJ.

Yule, or Winter Solstice, marks the shortest day and longest night of the year. Pagan cultures across the world celebrated this fire festival with myth and magic. Learn about ancient traditions that are still kept today, as well as some that have been lost over time. Find out what significance our ancestors gave to the Yule log, decorating trees, and exchanging gifts. A Yule ritual will directly follow the class.

Yule/Winter Solstice is celebrated around December 20-23. Yule is the first of eight solar holidays, called the Wheel of the Year, celebrated by our ancestors. The origin of the word “Yule” is Norse and means “wheel” or “turning time.” It was first celebrated 12,000 years ago.

In the Wiccan faith, it is the time when the Goddess gives birth to the Divine Child Sun, who brings hope and promise of the summer to come. It’s the shortest day and longest night of the year. The sun god Mithras, who appears in Greek, Roman, Persian, and Egyptian mythology, was born in a barn to a virgin mother, was the Sun personified, was the child of the God of all Gods, and his followers pray for his return which will herald new life and life eternal for humankind.

Christians adopted this solar holiday as the birth time for Christ though the actual time of his birth is unknown, though it was originally celebrated in August. You can see how the story of Christ reflects both the Wiccan and Mithras myths. Christians often adopted pagan customs and holidays when trying to convert them. It was easier for pagans to accept Christianity if they didn’t have to give up their own traditions and celebrations. Also, if pagan holidays became Christianized, pagans would have to be in church on their holy days rather than frolicking in the woods and fields. On the Roman or Julian calendar, winter solstice fell on December 25.

In Ireland, people leave lights burning all through the house to honor the Virgin Goddess who gives birth to the God. The word “virgin” at one time meant a woman who was a complete entity unto herself. Roman priestesses, called Vestal Virgins, didn’t take husbands but could take lovers and were not bound by secular law. When you pass houses here in New Jersey, where every window is lit by a candle, this is the custom that is being followed.

On the Gregorian calendar, we are about to enter a new year (the Wiccan New Year is at Halloween). One of the predominant figures at the new year is Father Time. The Roman festival of Saturnalia took place around now and was dedicated to the Lord of Time, Saturn. It was a time of role reversal. Slaves were served a meal by their master. Romans bathed with gold coins to absorb their energies so they might be more prosperous during the coming year (similar to the Jewish custom of giving gold coins as gifts at Chanukah/the Festival of Lights).

Do you all know the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas”? The Norse celebrated a 12-night-long festival at this time. The first night is called Mother Night. Norse pagans sit up until dawn and await the rising and rebirth of their sun goddess Freya. They used bells to herald the rising of the sun after the longest night of the year. For the Norse, it is a night when the veil between the world grows thin. The Norse Goddess Holde, guardian of the spirit world, opens her doors at Yule to all sincere seekers.

Egyptians celebrate the rebirth of their sun god, Ra, and commemorate the creation of the universe. Rain on solstice eve was a special blessing from Ra, whose tears could quench the parched desert. Yule marked the time of the beginning of Egypt’s short rainy season. Perhaps this is the origin of our prayers for snow on Christmas eve.

In Sweden young women wear wreaths lighted by candles on their heads. Native Americans of the Southwest celebrate “Soyalanwul,” which means to bring new life to the world. Their ritual aided the sun’s birth with a birthing ritual consisting of having one person, masked as the Sun God, crawl through the legs of the tribe’s women.

Celebrate Ishtarfest With Us!

October 7, 2022

This is the 7th consecutive year that Hands of Change has offered a festival celebrating Sumerian mythology, religion and culture. What we seek to do with Ishtarfest is to help bring back the worship of the elder gods in modern day Paganism.

Greek thought can be directly traced to Mesopotamian/Sumerian societies. Both Hesiod and Homer relied extensively on Sumerian sources for their writings, and strong similarities exist between the two culture’s mythologies. These works were central to the development of Greek thought, which influenced European and American structural and cultural development.

The influence of the Mesopotamian city of Uruk reached as far as Egypt, where similarities can be seen between Sumerian and Egyptian artwork, as well as between their pantheons.

Growing up in our culture with Greek and Egyptian mythology taught in our classrooms, modern Paganism has taken on the flavor of those and more Celtic influences. We believe that it’s time to trace our roots back even farther to the Fertile Crescent to learn about the birth of pagan civilization and its influence on our world today.

The history of the festival, which has already occurred 7 times in this century, is as follows:

2003 – Shapatu of Ishtar, Two Nights in Babylon

2016 – Ishtarfest, featuring the play The Shapatu of Ishtar

2017 – Ishtarfest’s Sumerfaire, A Sumerian Renaissance Faire

2018 – Ishtarfest, Journey Through The Goddess (centering on the Goddess Chant – Isis, Astarte, Diana, Hecate, Demeter, Kali, Inanna)

2019 – Ishtarfest, to the Kur and Back (Sweat lodges and descent ritual)

2020 – Virtual Ishtarfest: 5th Annual Ishtarfest Coming to You in Your Living Room

2021 – Virtual Ishtarfest: Regeneration

2022 – Hybrid Ishtarfest, Ascent from the Kur

As we move into our festival, we encourage you to find out more about the links between more modern pagan cultures and the inspiration that they derived from Sumerian religion and mythology. Our presenters will shed light on why Mesopotamia has relevance for Paganism today.

In person, we plan to have 7 offerings (classes, rituals, or activities), one for each gate offered in ascending order as we Rise throughout our in-person festival day in Old Bridge, NJ on Saturday, Oct. 22. Each gate activity is being associated with one of the 7 chakras, starting with the root. All those who attend in person are invited to also participate in the virtual parts of the festival on Friday Oct. 21 and Sunday Oct. 23. Local priest/esses and even a local author will be inspiring and guiding your rise from the Underworld.

We are very honored to have some amazing speakers from all over the world this year in our virtual component of the festival:

Ed Vanderjagt of Temple of Enki and Temple of Sumer will be entertaining us with season-appropriate spooky Mesopotamian lore. Take a look at some of the demons and mythological creatures that you might not be aware of in Demons and Monsters, Both Good and Ill. Also, The Journey of the Ancestor Spirits will cover the Sumerian/ Mesopotamian concept of the soul and cover the soul’s descent into the underworld.

Hercules Invictus of Heraklidae (The Tribe of Hercules: Olympian Shamanism, Heroic Path) will trace the hero Hercules through Ancient Near Eastern, Egyptian, Indian and other Herculeses. Has this hero survived and is he active in our modern era? This workshop explores these and many other Herculean questions!

Rev. Kae of Hearth Element will be presenting on Tiamat, The Mother of Life. Weaving the story of her own awakening to Tiamat with the Sumerian-Mesopotamian Creation Myth and how culturally universal is the symbology of that story. Her presentation will include sound healing and guided meditation.

Lindsey River, a writer and poet from the UK, will share Ishtar’s Queer Servants – discussion and sharing of her research in the British Library’s collection about sex and gender variance and possible practices in the Inanna/Ishtar temples and their activities.

Shu Yap, an astrologer in Central Victoria, Australia will share The Venus Cycle: Sacred Whispers of Inanna. The weekend of Ishtarfest falls in a particularly auspicious time for the planet Venus, the morning and evening star known as Inanna or Ishtar. Prepare yourself for the sacred journey of Ishtarfest with Shu’s wisdom.

Steff V Scott of the Temple of Inanna in Scotland will be presenting “In Search of Eostre (Easter is ALL about Ishtar).” If you think Inanna is just an ancient Middle Eastern goddess, you’ll be fascinated to learn how she made it into Germanic tradition. She is indeed well-traveled!

These speakers and others will begin to unravel the mysteries that Mesopotamia beckons us as modern-day pagans to learn.

Tickets available here: https://sites.google.com/view/ishtarfest/

Happy Birthday to Us – 25 years of magick!

September 17, 2022

I can’t believe it’s been 25 years! When D Blaze Johnson, C Lynn Carr, Maeve, and I first hatched the idea of starting a Wiccan coven in central New Jersey, after meeting for full moons in Conny Jasper‘s Milltown witchy store Salamander and Maggie’s land in Piscataway, the landscape of the pagan community was so different! Not the least of which was getting the word out– by flyer, pagan stores, and eventually Witchvox.

There were a few groups operating in northern Jersey — the Morristown women’s circle out of the Unitarian church, a Cristo Pagan group, and Green Man Grove, a druid group in New Brunswick. We had so much energy back then that we were hosting over 20 rituals a year plus monthly classes. At one point we had 23 members and our monthly public full moon rituals were drawing 50 people.

Memory: Hands of Change Retreat, Kateri Environmental Center

One of the things I’ve always loved about the New Jersey pagan community is how close and supportive it is. I love how we’ve come together every year for pagan picnics and festivals, like Pagan Pride, MPA Beltane, Caduceus and others. We even had an Ishtarfest back in 2003!

I’m also really proud that everyone pictured in this photo from over ten years ago is still a member of Hands of Change.

I hope to see some of you today at our 25th birthday celebration, psychic fair, and Mabon ritual on our covenstead in Old Bridge. Here’s to another 25 years of sharing magick in community!

Lammas and the Circle of Life

August 11, 2022

The word Lammas derives from the Old English phrase hlaf-maesse, which translates to loaf mass

In honor of the harvest festival, we will be breaking bread together, taking stock of the last two years, and making wishes for the time to come.

The full moon is today. As we go forward into the month, at the time of the waning moon, we release what is no longer needed. We also celebrate what we have in the full light of our lunar sister.

We call on the energies of Lugh, the Celtic craftsman god, whose name is part of the alternate name for this holiday, Lughnasadh, and Arianrhod, who is the Celtic goddess of the moon.

By celebrating Lammas as a harvest holiday, we honor our ancestors and the hard work they must have had to do in order to survive. This is a good time to give thanks for the abundance we have in our lives, and to be grateful for the food on our tables. Lammas is a time of transformation, of rebirth and new beginnings.

We also remember at the time of bounty those times of scarcity. Lammas is a time when the grain is sacrificed in order that the community may live through another cold season. The root of the word sacrifice is the same as the word sacred, and we honor the grain king that dies and is born again in the next turn of the wheel. We say that the forms pass, but the circle of life remains.

Unity at Imbolc

February 9, 2022

At our Imbolc ritual, we invited the goddesses Calleach and Brigid to join us and offer their words of wisdom. We drew the Lovers tarot card. Here are some thoughts from our inspired ritual team on this card and its significance at this time:


The Consummation of the alchemical marriage – {indicated by the Red Lion and the White Eagle} – requires a death of sorts – a Dissolution. 

‘SOLVE ET COAGULA’ means to separate and to join together.   The sword separates, and yet two dissolve and recombine to form a sweet elixir.  This implies a death of the ego on the path across the Abyss from Binah {the Great Mother} to Tiphareth {The Son/Sun}.  Binah compels form. And in a sense, the reintegration of forms requires a choice:  A union, creating something new.  In the card, the sword symbol is present in the form of the sword in the stone of legend. Here, the stone takes the form of the Egg of Creation – The Heart Girt with a Serpent.  The sword in the stone is also a symbol of the cleaving and then union of the male with the female – the black and the white – the active and the passive – projective and receptive.

In the legends the sword can only be removed by the true sovereign. But in those very same stories that sovereign ideal was sacrificed on the altar of creation; and pulling that sword from the stone was an act of choice.  There is a choice to be made.  Pull the sword from the stone and make the sacrifice of one option, as when one door opens and another closes.

The choice should be made with devotion and avowal.  OPEN YOURSELF to second sight; the choice is yours.  Through that choice, we will attain UNION from that which has divided us.

Our vast universe consists of billions of stars, planets, humans, animals, countless creatures all of whom work together in one way or another to keep the world going. There is only one thing that is needed to make it work…UNITY. 

UNITY does not just mean being the same, having the same ideas or thoughts or agreeing all the time. For there to be true UNITY in any group or gathering or even family we need to equally share the give and take. Like the universe, there are too many individual beings for everyone to feel the same, think the same, believe the same things yet here we are, together, UNITED for one specific purpose.

After the long hiatus due to COVID-19, something many of us may still be affected by, we are now able to finally start coming together, UNITING us together for a common goal. Just as the sword divided the stone, social issues and a pandemic have divided us. It is now up to us to come together, like a wound closing once the blade is removed, and UNITE ourselves with the beauty and love that we all have in us. Making that choice to be one with each other, and one with Universe.

Charge of the Sky Goddess at Yule

December 21, 2021

Welcome, my children, each of you a glittering star, each of you the potential of the first moment of creation, each of you the dance of the sky and earth. We stand here together to welcome the Sun’s rebirth.

When you were first formed, you were one cell and you expanded from there, just like the Universe has expanded from one single explosion. That moment of joining of your mother and father’s cells was your own big bang, and from there you have become a universe of 30 trillion cells.

Altar & photo by Carol Boyer

So powerful you are, loved by a star, deeply connected to all that is, through the center of your head. Your pineal gland, a pine cone of Truth, is where Light illumines the illusion of the physical world and, glittering, shows you my face wherever your glance lands.

Find me here among the stars and in the center of your own mind. Look for me with your inner light, and I will appear in the deepness of the night. I am a star to guide your way. I am the warmth and joy in your heart that keeps you through the winter until Ra shows his true form at the height of summer. I am the abiding peace of the winter, when life stills and breathes, till it is born again.

It all lies inside your brain but outside your mind, where you may awake inside the dream, dance between the realms, and transcend all limitations.

Hear the Words of the Goddess at Samhain

November 8, 2021

The chill in the air feels like death, the time when the wheel turns, and the leaves fall. The whole world is going inside, going to sleep, waiting, waiting. The hustle bustle of the busy summer shimmers behind us, as we step bravely into the cold months, taking stock, letting slip away what is no longer needed, filling our larders with food to keep us going through the long winter months.

What you have been through was needed, was a tempering in my fire. You have only done what you had to do. Here you rest in the tapestry of life, seeing only the squares behind and guessing at the threads of what is to come. Prepare yourself now, for what is to come will be a surprise unimagined by you, a whole new way that you hadn’t expected but that you may embrace.

Drop the burdens now that you have carried, seeing the flaws in the world. There are no flaws, only facets of a gem that shifts and twists in your hand, catching the light. This is the mystery that you may have learned: all flaws are illusion, and there is only Love. Fear is illusion; sickness is illusion; time is illusion, albeit a persistent one. You have come here to rest in comfort at my hearth, warm and full of food and my love for you. Feel it now as you go forward, and be brave. I only ask that you slaughter what will keep you from thriving in the coming year.

Blessed Mabon!

September 20, 2021

Charge of the Light God, Belenus:

In the summer, I ride my chariot across the sky, heating the waters and blessing the fields. In the winter, you can find my light within, shining just as brilliantly as at mid-summer. This is one purpose of the colder months – to remember your inner Light. It is easy to forget during the bustle of summer activity, that truly your inner world creates your outer reality. Turn up the light now and see the world with fresh eyes.

Become aware of your southern neighbors in far off places such as Australia, South Africa, Indonesia and Brazil. They are stepping into the sunlight of springtime as you become aware of your own source of inner energy. They hold the sunlight for you as you hold the hearth flame for them in a continuous, interconnected dance. Whenever you feel your light dim this season, you may borrow a little sunlight from them, just as you offer it in your turn.

Altar and photo by Carol Boyer

You have sown the seeds of your harvest this past season. I watch over you with love as you enjoy the bounty you require and deserve. Be you purified by the Light today at the time of equal days and nights. Store up what you need today to carry you through the longer nights ahead. And know that in the darkest days there is always the promise of more light to come.

Today we will find what we need and turn up the flame in our hearts and souls to carry us through the coming months. Whatever is happening in the world of form outside you, know this: I promise to always shine on you and in you. You can always find me no matter how dark the world may seem. I have always been with you.

The Goddess Selene Speaks

June 30, 2021

Behold the glowing Light, the sun at its height, the moon shining at night!

Here we are at Midsummer, gathered in our true form as energy, where you are closest to my own nature. The bright Light is you and you are it, electrons on the screen in front of you.

The sun plays tricks and stops with you, right now before it dives head first into darkness, inch by inch and day by day. Today is as much the day of Holy Dark as it is of Holy Light, which are forever in a dance with one another.

Litha 2021 Altar Designed and Photographed by Carol Boyer

The dance of green earth and night sky: the sun in its Chariot rides the glistening blue air in its daily travels and sinks below the horizon, not to disappear but so that you may experience His reflection in the moon’s mirrored surface.

The shadows cast by brightness are another kind of light, the illumination of the soul in its journey to perfection. The lessons this season are of the celestial bodies and the light they cast, you a brief speck in the oceans of their time, the vast expanse of their Universe.

And yet you matter in this instant as much as the Sun and Stars, fulfilling your purpose in your short human years as they do in their long epochs. For in your hands and heart the Light joyfully plays upon the strings of Planet Earth. And the shadows of your days flicker like candle flames, warming the empty cold expanse of outer space. Things so little and yet with such depth.

The stars are radiant specks to you, far away. So you are to us, radiant specks of indistinguishable time, forever part and parcel of the Universe outside of time where We live. As above, so below. As within, so without. As the future, so the past. A perfect reflection of indirect Light, the cascading God Force that enlivens every molecule of Creation. Not one atom is amiss, not one choice or action is wrong, but all part of the tapestry that always has been, is and always will be. For us, existing in one breath, the inhale and exhale, that encompasses the totality of all that ever will be.

From this long perspective, you commune with us today. Rest in knowing that all desires are truly met, all thought already reality. Step back from your human perspective and join the dance of the Cosmos in playful spirit and with open heart.

A Short Meditation in Honor of the Summer Solstice

June 22, 2021

I can’t help but associate Summer Solstice with freedom. This was the time of year when we stopped going to school and had a summer stretching ahead of us to do whatever we wanted. Even though many of us now work year round, there’s something delicious and open about the summer — wearing less clothing, being outside more, buying fruits and vegetables from farm stands.

This is the time of year that active, dynamic energy is at its peak, and the sun the strongest in the sky. It’s a great opportunity for us to feel powerful like the sun, allowing our rays to penetrate deeply into everything we do. Every time the sun is out, let it be a reminder of your own power and reach, of how your presence on this planet is an integral part of creation.

In the story of the Wheel of the Year, the God and Goddess are married and sitting on their thrones, surveying their domain. Take a moment to consider your domain and how you rule it. Sit peacefully for a moment and enjoy the world you have created for yourself. Let gratitude fill you.

If you’re looking around and not liking what you see, know this. Just as you created this life for yourself, you have the power to change it, to make different decisions, to choose again. The sun’s lesson at this time of year is that you are NOT stuck. Like the sun, you are all powerful.

This year summer solstice also falls on the full moon, a little extra light to clear our paths. The moon is like a mirror, reflecting the sun’s rays and illuminating what might have been lost in the dark. Now you can see clearly what might have been hidden previously. What do you see now, in the soft light of the moon’s glow?

If you enjoyed this introspection, please join us for our Litha ritual on Sunday, June 27 at 4 p.m. EST in virtual sacred space. Information on how to attend will be posted in our Facebook group, Meetup and emailed to our mailing list. You can join those through the links at the bottom right of our website, www.handsofchange.org.

Bright blessings!