Three Days after Solstice

Even though I didn’t celebrate Yule the way I wanted and had envisioned, I still enjoyed the moment as it passed.

I have a clear memory of a conversation I had with my mother, though whether I was 11 or 12 at the time isn’t certain. What I do remember is telling her that when I became an adult, I would be celebrating Christmas as an expression of joy in winter: that I would be rejoicing in the change of seasons, in the beauty of winter, because that was the value I saw in the holiday.

I still see that.

And that is what I have been doing. I’ve been listening to traditional Christmas carols — the songs about sleigh rides, snow, evergreens, mistletoe. None of the winter elements of the holiday have much to do with the birthplace of Christ in Bethlehem. But they have everything to do with Saturnalia, with Yule, with the time of the year when Persephone has descended to the underworld and life sleeps. When the snow comes, and the days shorten, we have two choices, as I see it: we can run away and hide from it, OR we can embrace it.

This year, I have chosen to embrace the cold. I’m doing much better at taking my children outside to play and slide and make snow angels. I’m lighting candles, and enjoying the peace of the dark nights. I’m taking my dog for walks in the winter night, admiring the lights on neighbourhood houses.

All of the colour, the glowing, the giving and receiving of gifts — it speaks to me of balance. When the world grows dark and cold, we join together (whenever we can) to reflect on our blessings and share our abundance, so everyone has enough to get through. There is so much symbolism in gift-giving, in the plump energy of Santa Claus. We party, and feast, and decorate, keeping our spirits going.

So, as a Pagan and a Wiccan, and a witch, this season has a lot of meaning for me. It goes deeper than the label. I may not have done the ritual I wanted to perform for Yule, but already, three days later, I can feel how the wheel of life has turned. It’s an intangible sensation in the air, in the body, in the sunshine. We’ve passed the test of the dark and the sunlight is slowly returning. When my children and my husband open their gifts tomorrow morning, and I receive their tokens of love, we’ll be completing our own ritual, celebrating our beliefs in each other, and in the potential of humanity to overcome all that is cold, dead, and wrong in the world.

On the practical side, until then, I will be cleaning and getting the children to help me with that, until their father comes home and our fun activities can begin.

I hope that, whatever you believe, you are with family and friends this week, or next. That you are safe, happy, healthy, have enough to eat, clean water, warmth, and love with you.

BB

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Echoes of Bacchanalia: Witchy Reflections on a Hallowe’en Pub

Our small town had its annual Hallowe’en Pub (sponsored by the Rotary Club) last night, and I went for the first time, with two girlfriends. We’ve lived here for twelve years, and I’d never gone before although I’d wanted to.

I had a great time, of course. It was fun seeing everyone dressed up, relaxing, dancing and joking and in a general celebration. It was wonderful to go in costume and dance with my friends. Some faces were so obscured by makeup or covered by mask that I couldn’t be sure who I was seeing, unless I asked.

It occurred to me, halfway through the evening, what an ancient ritual this was — this custom of fancy-dress and masquerade in the dying days of autumn. There was no orgiastic frenzy, and no use of mind-altering chemicals other than those found in legal alcoholic drinks, but the spirit and purpose were there for any who chose to look closely.

I watched the hot young (and matured) things in their body-baring store-bought or homemade costumes, gossiped with my friends about how this time of year always seems to be an excuse for girls to be slutty (my own costume was hardly modest, but as I was playing on puns to mock 50 Shades of Grey, I figured I was allowed the use of leggings and a bustier — with a shirt underneath đŸ˜‰

I thought to myself, from an anthropological standpoint, and a biological one, it’s a good season for young fertile women to seek mates. I felt like I was observing a ritual of preening, an invitation for admiration — if only for self-admiration — and why not? If you have a great body, be proud of it. (That includes curves, by the way.) Choosing an affecting costume to feel funny, sexy, pretty, adventurous, it’s a release from the stresses of the wrap-up of summer. We’re going to be bundling up for winter soon, covering our lovely legs, waists, and cleavages with woollens and fleeces. Celebrating in the ancient way, with music and dancing and revelry, it’s both a farewell to summer and an act of defiance against the dark and cold of the coming winter.

I watched men of all varieties in their own mock-ups of ideal body forms, with foam muscles if they didn’t have their own to strut, listening to their banter and laughing at their ludicrous and lurid pantomiming… Sex was not quite in the air, but there were echoes of it. Or maybe I just hadn’t had enough to drink. In a college cafeteria, when everyone knows everyone even in masks, there is still a need to take a little care in the small town in which everyone talks. But behind a mask, the eyes are a little freer to admire, and the body feels less inhibited in its movement. A man whose body has gone to seed with maturity can pretend, just for the night, that he’s got the six-pack and biceps that society admires, and we all go along with the image because it’s permitted on Hallowe’en.

Again, this suspension of disbelief — this theatre in which everyone is a participant and an observer at the same time — is a necessary part of the celebration of the fall of the year. Pagans believe that the year turns in a wheel, and the ancient Celts followed a calendar which saw Samhain as the final month. That makes sense to me. We dance, we drink, we cavort, we laugh, we raise our fists against the end of life and toast the memories of those recently or long passed away, in preparation for a time of sleeping and winter chores. The new year doesn’t have to begin right away — there must be a space of wait, until Yule when the longest night of the year passes and the days begin to grow a little brighter. More celebrating.

I think that rituals like Hallowe’en fancy dress / costume parties, trick-or-treating, scary decorations, pumpkin carving, etc., are all symbolic of our resistance to the call of Death. Humans, for the most part, desperately cling to life or resolve to find death of our own choosing when the time comes — we don’t want to be told what to do or when to go. So at the end of October (in the Western calendar), we fight back against the dying light and browning world by surrounding ourselves with colours of red passion and orange warmth, rescinding the dark’s power by reclaiming all the shades of night, lighting candles and bonfires to keep the memory of the sun’s warmth alive through its absence. We are performing a wake for the death of summer. We are reminding ourselves that just because our landscape is coming under the rule of winter, we continue to live.

Last night’s Hallowe’en Pub was nearly as pagan as a secular activity can get… Except there were no symbols of fire. I would not expect candles in an indoor facility, but without even battery-operated votives, jack o’lanterns, torches, or what -have-you, I couldn’t help but think that it felt somewhat incomplete.

I’ve heard the arguments about the commercialization of the holiday. I know that people grumble about the cost of parceling out junk candy to kids in costumes that aren’t fit to wear more than once. But I view it from a Wiccan Witch’s perspective: Hallowe’en represents the sharing of abundance at the closing of the year. It represents acknowledging our fears and our dreams, learning about our imaginations and about boundaries… Going to a party based on celebration of the dead, the scary, heroes and monsters, harvest bounty — it’s an essential and empowering element of the human experience.

So to me, the Hallowe’en Pub was in a way, on some level, a religious experience. I walked home under a full moon, appreciating my life, feeling the energy I’d experienced, knowing that the party was still in full swing, and that the energy would continue to surge into the night.

There is a meaning to everything.

50 Shades of Grey

I love my puns!