Happy Winter Solstice!
From the Grove of Earth Rising’s Yule ritual:
The Wheel turns. Now we’re at the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year. At sunset on this day, the dark half of the year relinquishes to the light half. At sunrise tomorrow, the Holly King is overtaken as the Oak King, the Sun King, the Giver of Life is born and spreads warmth over the Mother Earth, preparing her to bloom in spring.
I’ve been a practicing Wiccan/Pagan since my teens. Even before I knew there was a previous system of belief that once existed, I honored Nature, the seasons and all life. I’ve taught Wicca classes and celebrated the eight Sabbats regularly. In teaching, I realized that many are still alienated by the words “Wicca”, “Pagan” and “witch”. The latter was so bastardized during the rise of organized religion, it’s come to mean something completely different today than it did in the Old Days.
While celebrating Yule was lost to us for many centuries, it has had a resurgence with the growth of the Wiccan/Pagan beliefs and practices in recent years as more and more people remember, through intuition, previous lives when they were in the Craft. Rituals and beliefs from that time which might seem foreign are actually the basis for many traditions today.
Meanwhile, the acknowledgment of the Winter Solstice has been around since humans began studying the stars. Even before celebrations grew around agricultural rhythms, the two solstices and two equinoxes of the year were honored world-round because of their consistency. They were used to mark the ending and beginning of seasons, giving the Circle of Life a recognizable rhythm.
Some things to know about Yule:
- In the Old Days, Yule was a time when Nature Sprites were invited to come in and join the celebration. This was done by bringing a live tree into the home for them to live in to take rest and warmth during the winter cold.
- The Celtic Druids regarded mistletoe as sacred. Druid priests cut it from the tree on which it grew with a golden sickle and called it “All-Heal” as it was used medicinally for a variety of ailments from epilepsy to cancer.
- The tree that hosted mistletoe was marked as particularly sacred. The most powerful mistletoe grew on the most sacred Oak, as it was believed that the mistletoe took on the properties of its host tree.
- To hang it over a doorway or in a room was to offer goodwill to visitors. Kissing under the mistletoe was a pledge of friendship.
- “Wassail” is an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning “be of good health” or “wish good health to”. The custom of Wassailing, or as we know it now, Caroling, used to be that the tenants of a master’s property sang at his doorstep at Yule to promote good health to him and his family, because if they were of good health, the property and the tenant’s lives were better. And they usually got fed really well after the singing.
- Wassailing originally came from the Druids who, in their custom of singing and chanting to their sacred Trees, would pour a cup of specially brewed libation on the tree to wish it good health.
So tonight, if you are able, share a drink with a tree in your yard or area for all it gives, even if it’s just acknowledged for its shade.
Yule was also a time to honor accomplishments of the year past. So on this night, take a moment to close your eyes and concentrate on three accomplishments you’ve achieved during the year. Remember with all your senses. Then speak them aloud so you can hear what you’ve done and be proud and satisfied with your actions. Or if you care to do this with friends, take turns relating your accomplishment to each other.
And, if you’re of a mind, do this short guided meditation to help take you back to a time when we were all more connected with the Earth and her rhythms, to remind your soul of this time of appreciation and of ending and beginning. Read it into a recorder then play it back, or have someone read it to you so you can get the full impact.
Take a moment to imagine being back in a time before light bulbs, before central heating, before any kind of modern technology. In your mind’s eye, see the world around you. You’re outside on your farm. It’s dark, right now, the dark before dawn. And cold. The wind is strong and its chill cuts through your clothes. It’s sharp, clear scent almost freezes your nostrils as you breathe in. You can see your breath as you exhale. Feel the peace.
You stand at the edge of your field. It’s barren; the rowed mounds of earth hard and frozen, perhaps covered in snow. At the edge of your vast fields are woods, stripped of leaves. You can barely see the woods as the Moon is just a slip and provides no light at all. The candle you hold is the brightest light in the night.
You wait. You’ve come out of your warm bed, checked on the animals in the barn – they’re all huddled together and cozy in the straw. And you’ve come to stand at the edge of your field to appreciate the darkness that gives rest and rejuvenation, waiting for the Sun.
The sky lightens – the time of promise before actual dawn. You can feel the new day, the new half-year of light approaching. You’re still cold but the light brings companionship and warmth and new life. Without the strength of the returning Sun, your crops won’t grow, you and your animals won’t have food. So watching the light approach is like watching life return.
And suddenly, the first rays of the new Sun jump on the horizon and flood the land with light, with hope, with warmth. And you know, deep inside, you’re safe for another year. Open your eyes and welcome the light!
I offer this with love and gratitude…