Sunday, December 29, 2013

HOLiDAY TiDiNGS Poems and Rituals for the New Year

Ring Out, Wild Bells

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be. 

     Alfred Lord Tennyson


Iroquois warriors

Stirring the Ashes, Iroquois New Year Ritual

Stirring the ashes is a symbolic act of gratitude to "The Creator." As the ashes are being stirred, the Iroquois ask their Creator that the New Year bring a fresh renewal and fertility to the Earth. Traditionally, ashes symbolize the Earth, representing the connection of all living things that spawn from, thrive off of, and eventually return to.

Usually following the Stirring of the Ashes, the Iroquois partake in what is known as the "Tobacco Invocation." This ritual involves the sprinkling of tobacco on the burning embers that are left over from the Stirring of the Ashes. The Iroquois believe that the tobacco smoke symbolically rises to the heavens and represents a message of thanksgiving to their Creator.

Sometimes, the Iroquois are called "The Tobacco People" or the "Tobacco Nation" due to their use of extensive use of tobacco. The name "Iroquois" even has roots in tobacco; the word "ierokwa," where the name Iroquois is derived, means "they who use tobacco."

Iroquois council

Merlin Myers, a professor of anthropology, described the stirring of the ashes ceremony as having an element of cleansing for the individual—a renewal of life and burning of past wrongs.

(Merlin Myers was a professor of Anthropology at Brigham Young University when I was a student there in the 1970s. He had lived with the Iroquois in eastern Canada.)

The Ceremony of Stirring the Ashes at the New Year
From “League of the Ho-dé-no-sau-nee Or Iroquois” (1922)

At this time was performed the ceremony of stirring the ashes upon the hearth…. 

Iroquois traditional clothing
The keepers of the faith assumed the costume of warriors, plumed and painted, in which attire they visited every family three times, in the morning, at noon, and in the evening. Taking in their hands wooden blades or shovels, they entered the lodge and saluted the family. One of them then stirred the ashes, and having taken up a quantity upon the blade of the shovel, and sprinkled them upon the hearth, he thus addressed the inmates, as they were in the act of falling: “I thank the Great Spirit that he has spared your lives again to witness this New Year’s celebration.” Then repeating the process with another shovel full of ashes, he continued: “I thank the Great Spirit that he has spared my life, again to be an actor in this ceremony.  And now I do this to please the Great Spirit.”  The two then united in a thanksgiving song prepared for the occasion, upon the conclusion of which they took their departure.

     Lewis Henry Morgan, Herbert Marshall Lloyd

From "The Thanksgivings"

We who are here present thank the Great Spirit that we are here to praise Him.

We thank Him that He has created men and women, and ordered that these beings shall always be living to multiply the earth.

We thank Him for making the earth and giving these beings its products to live on.

We thank Him for the water that comes out of the earth and runs for our lands.

We thank Him for all the animals on the earth.

We thank Him for certain timbers that grow and have fluids coming from them for us all.

We thank Him for the branches of the trees that grow shadows for our shelter.

We thank Him for the beings that come from the west, the thunder and lightning that water the earth.

We thank Him for the light which we call our oldest brother, the sun that works for our good.

We thank Him for all the fruits that grow on the trees and vines.

We thank Him for his goodness in making the forests, and thank all its trees.

We thank Him for the darkness that gives us rest, and for the kind Being of the darkness that gives us light, the moon.

We thank Him for the bright spots in the skies that give us signs, the stars.

     Translated from a traditional Iroquois song by Harriet Maxwell Converse (1908)


Song for New Year’s Eve
Stay yet, my friends, a moment stay— 
Stay till the good old year, 
So long companion of our way, 
Shakes hands, and leaves us here. 
Oh stay, oh stay, 
One little hour, and then away.

The year, whose hopes were high and strong, 
Has now no hopes to wake; 
Yet one hour more of jest and song 
For his familiar sake. 
Oh stay, oh stay, 
One mirthful hour, and then away. 

The kindly year, his liberal hands 
Have lavished all his store. 
And shall we turn from where he stands, 
Because he gives no more? 
Oh stay, oh stay, 
One grateful hour, and then away. 

Days brightly came and calmly went, 
While yet he was our guest; 
How cheerfully the week was spent! 
How sweet the seventh day's rest! 
Oh stay, oh stay, 
One golden hour, and then away. 

Dear friends were with us, some who sleep 
Beneath the coffin-lid: 
What pleasant memories we keep 
Of all they said and did! 
Oh stay, oh stay, 
One tender hour, and then away. 

Even while we sing, he smiles his last, 
And leaves our sphere behind. 
The good old year is with the past; 
Oh be the new as kind! 
Oh stay, oh stay, 
One parting strain, and then away. 

     William Cullen Bryant

The Year

What can be said in New Year rhymes,
That's not been said a thousand times?

The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.

We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.

We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.

We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our brides, we sheet our dead.

We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that's the burden of the year.

     Ella Wheeler Wilcox


Stirring the Ashes, Iroquois New Year Ritual
from this web site: