Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Green Pickle in the Tree

Those who are paid by corporations and businesses to find new ways to part the consumer from his or her hard-won cash always are alert for the possibility of introducing new traditions at Christmas and every other holiday. I was a little skeptical of 'The Pickle in the Tree' tradition originally and felt that it probably was one of those bogus creations of a creative advertising mind. Now, however, I realise that it stems from one of the most ancient traditions of the Winter Season, predating Christianity.

With the acceptance of Paganism as a 'religion' in our time, many ancient traditions and beliefs have resurfaced, often in new guises. The Pickle in the Christmas Tree is one of those.

The religion of the Mother Goddess Cybele and her lover and son, Attis, has at its very centre the Pine Tree. Attis castrated himself beneath a Pine Tree and his spirit entered into the Pine, which then became his symbol. The myths relating to this are complex and obscure, but the essential rites of Attis are very similar to the traditions of the Christmas Tree. A Pine Tree was cut down and borne into a cave or dwelling, wrapped in wool (swaddling clothes) and decorated with violets, symbol of Attis' blood. The image of the god was nailed to the centre of the trunk of the Tree. After three days, the God rose from the Dead and was proclaimed arisen.

There is a myth connected with the Egyptian God Osiris that has at its centre an Evergreen Tree of Lebanon. Osiris was murdered by his brother Set. Set persuaded his brother Osiris to lay down in a coffin and then slammed the lid shut, tossing it into the river.

The coffin drifted to the land of Lebanon where it became enclosed in the centre of a Tree. The Tree was cut and used as a pillar in the King's Great Hall. Here the Goddess Isis found it and returned with it to Egypt. Set found the coffin, however and recognising the God within it, cut the body into fourteen pieces and flung them into the Nile. The Goddess Isis managed to find every piece except that of his manhood which had been consumed by fish. She therefore fashioned his manhood of wood.

There is a ceremony of Osiris described by Firmicus Maternus that resembles the festival of Attis. Each year, a pine tree was cut down, the centre hollowed out and from the wood of the centre, an image of Osiris was made, which then was buried as a corpse in the hollow trunk.

Now consider the green glass Pickle ornament which is, according to tradition, hidden in the Christmas Tree. The children hunt for the Pickle and he/she who finds it will have good fortune for the year and a special gift from Father Christmas. It is not difficult to see in the Pickle a symbol of the manhood of the God Attis or the God Osiris!

I therefore determined to adopt this ancient tradition and to obtain a glass Pickle ornament for my own Christmas Tree. A few years ago, the green Glass Pickle Ornaments were sold in every shop, it seemed, but believing it to be nothing more than a silly fad, I disdained them. Now that I wanted a Pickle Ornament, I could not find one...

Ultimately I was able to find them online, but nowhere else. The prices varied wildly but I finally found a set of a dozen Pickles from a merchant that cost the same as a single Pickle Ornament from other merchants. One of these delicate 'members' now is hanging close to the centre of the trunk of my Christmas Tree. According to tradition, the glass Pickle is the last ornament to be placed on the Tree. Although I did not obtain my Pickles until today, the one that is on my Tree now WAS the last Ornament to be placed!

Many aspects of this tradition reveal its origins. In ancient civilisations that practiced mummification, the organs often were pickled and placed in special receptacles apart from the body. The symbol of the pickled Cucumber therefore represents the preserved manhood of the God. The colour Green is the colour of Life and the colour of an evergreen Tree. The very shape of the Pickle is that of the God's manhood. Many people would be appalled by the true significance of the Pickle ornament but I daresay others who share my interest in ancient traditions and potent magic will rush out to obtain their own Pickle Ornaments!

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