Tag Archives: midwinter

Midwinter Solstice 2017- Lessons from the dark

I was going to put the ‘Yule’ chapter of my Wheel of the Year series as this festival’s entry, but it needs one hell of a re-write and, quite frankly, I’m not in the mood to rewrite pages of material.

Thursday marked the Winter Solstice and it was a dark, damp cloudy day. I was inspired! I wrote a piece for all my friends in Facebook land, I like to spread hope where I can.

Light, dark, balance is what counts. Lean too much towards the former and we see everything with rose-tinted glasses. There is no wrong in the world. Ignorance is bliss. Lean too much towards the latter and, well, there is everything wrong with the world.

I managed to get out of the house to take a walk in Highfields Park, just outside of Beeston, Notts. Although by the time I got there, the sun had already set and dusk would soon give way to night. This reminded me of the Owl card that I had drawn at the beginning of 2017. The concept of ‘Owl Time‘ was not lost on me.

Realising I was rushing through. I stopped and took in 9 deep breaths and closing my eyes. After that, I heard the sound of something in the lake. I turned and found a whole group of ducks swimming by the side of the man in the wheelchair being pushed by another. The ducks recognised him and were expecting to be fed…. their disappointment was evident when they started waddling along the embankment and quacking amongst themselves. A black bird with a white bill and stripe on its forehead ‘Pinged’ at the ducks. The scene was reminiscent of a uniformed official trying to keep order of loud football fans and the fans ignoring him as they pass him by.

Later, as I walked, it was getting darker but I could see to my right two white specks moving uphill. Two hares making their way. Do hares hibernate? I didn’t think so.

I went onto the small island where, surrounded by six tall Yew trees, I performed my ‘Five Senses Meditation’. By now it was dark and yet through the clouds, I could see cracks of a lighter sky. Night had not yet fallen.

Going to the lakeside, I made sure I wasn’t giving a false impression to the ducks (no snacks from this two-legged who didn’t think to bring munchies for the birds), bent down toward the water and held my right hand over the surface. Here, I gave my respects to the Lady of the Lake. When I was done, my hand was warm. And it was time to go home to perform my Ovate ceremony to greet the Solstice.

On my way home, I could see a clearing in the clouds getting larger until I reached my front door and the clearing revealed the sky as a teal-greeny-blue, right on the clock as the Solstice begun.

I came away from the park with these two lessons:

The importance of stillness.

There is always life, both in winter and the dark.

And as I was performing my personal ceremony, I was taken by Awen as I said out aloud and made the following observations :

In the dark, there is rest.

In the dark, there is the hidden.

In the dark, there is fear.

With fear, you can either run, do nothing, or take a stand.

Sometimes we must run, there is nothing wrong with a tactical retreat to fight another day. Sometimes we can do nothing but let the threat pass over. But there comes a time when we cannot run and we cannot do nothing and we must make a stand.

I said out aloud my fear and decided to take it on with the lesson I have gained from this year: Nothing is Accomplished Without Action. It was then the candle was lit.

Sure enough, the day after the Solstice was bright, the sky was clear and the sun shone with brilliance.

Merry Yuletide, one and all!

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Mischief and Misrule

Ah yes, here we are!
That time of year where (for the fortunate) family gather together to exchange gifts and share in feasting and drinking.

For some this is a time of family, for quite a lot it is the celebration of a certain individual who was said to be born at this time.

For the Pagan community it is a time where friends and family gather, the feasting still takes place (not to mention the usual tired arguments about Christmas vs. Yuletide); although quite a few of these are celebrating either the Winter Solstice, the birth of Mithras or even Modranacht.  Or even none of the above.

In British folk tradition, there is the concept of Misrule at Yuletide.  Folklore says there are spirits roaming about and causing trouble during the Twelve Days.  Even the early Church had Fool Bishops ruling the land for one day in Christmas.
By Yuletide I don’t just mean the Pagan observances of the Midwinter Solstice.
Yuletide, in its classical sense, meant any of the celebrations or observances taking place from the beginning of Martinmas (11th November) to Candlemas, the 1st February.  Chances are this was an effort by the Church to allow the populous to keep their original winter customs spanning from Samhain to Midwinter then to Imbolc.

And during this time a lot of the folk customs, though having possibly Pagan origins were in fact practiced by people who were Christian.  Here’s a few:

*The Old Oss (Horse)

Old Horse
The Black Pig Border Morris version of ‘Old Oss’ http://www.blackpigborder.co.uk/home.htm

And its variations have the comedic if sad sacrifice of a horse that has gone past its prime.  It can be traced back to medieval times where the in the 7th Century, Theodore of Tarsus once declared:

If any of one on the Kalends of January walks as a stag or as a little old woman, that is to say if they change themselves into the likeness of wild animals, or clothe themselves in the skins of cattle and wear the heads of beasts, they shall do penance for three years: for this is devilish.” (David Clarke, Strange South Yorkshire: Myth and Magic in the valley of the Don, Sigma Press, Cheshire, 1994, p.77).

Pixyled writes more about the Owd Loss here: http://traditionalcustomsandceremonies.wordpress.com/2013/12/31/custom-revived-poor-owd-oss/ he is also the photographer of the image I used, thanks Pixy!

*The Mummers Play

Doctor
The Black Pigs performing the ‘Selston Mummers Play’ for the W.I. 2012.

And even the Plough Plays have the theme of good overcoming evil (white knight vs black knight) only for good to get a grilling from evils mother.  Think of it as an ancestor to the Pantomime.

*Morris Dancing

Black Pig Border Morris at the Galleries of Justice, Nottingham, 2013.
Black Pig Border Morris at the Galleries of Justice, Nottingham, 2013.

Has as many variations as it does origins although Border Morris (sticks, painted faces) began as a winter time activity.

What they all share (despite being resurrected into the public consciousness by Cecil Sharp) is that they all contain an element of mischief and chaos.  Border Morris has lots of shouting and hollering as well as the black face said to scare away evil spirits (another aspect of Yuletide, now only enacted with traditions like opening all windows and doors at New Year’s in order to release all the present year’s bad luck.  Be sure to close them gently… lest you run the risk of trapping any passing spirits in your home!).  The Old Oss involves dressing up as a beast, something banned around the 7th century, obviously our ancestors didn’t care for it and carried on, ban be damned!  The Mummers and Plough plays are bawdy comedy stories involving men dressed as women, quack doctors with ridiculous cures for death.  Usually the character of Beelzebub turns up at the end to take money from anyone to give them a reason to buy beer.

These were originally done throughout Winter, but it was Cecil Sharp who brought them back for Boxing Day.

Practical jokes on our neighbours were also popular… possibly a reason why there is the practice of putting coins into the Christmas pudding, which then became a sort of divination.

I’m normally playing St. George or the Doctor characters in the Mummers Plays I’m involved with, so this years Solstice was the first for a while where I’ll not be in costume.

However, to keep within the spirit of Misrule, I’d like to leave this little bit of writing to give an image in your mind:

The children gaped on in horror as they looked at Father Christmas laying flaccid on the now snapped Christmas tree.  He reeked of sherry and his beard was soaked in mince pie vomit, the stench of which crept along as he breathed heavily.
  “Are- are you alright, Father Christmas?” Tommy asked warily.
Father Christmas rolled his bloodshot eyes at young Tommy and tried to pull at his magic bin liner, not quite managing to reach it.
Cynthia slowly walked forward to the magic bin liner and passed it gently to the exhausted man. 
  “Giveitfugginhere!” Father Christmas mumbled, grasping the black polythene in his trembling hand.  He quickly thrust one gloved hand inside and pulled out…. a fist. Which slowly revealed one digit facing the two children, before he collapsed and fell asleep.
  Cynthia walked back to Tommy shaking her head.
  Tommy hugged his little sister and told her  “Never mind, we’ll make him some coffee and phone Mrs. Christmas.
  The little girl looked up with a hopeful glint in her eyes. “Yes! And maybe next year someone else will have to be the last house on Christmas Eve…”

Mischief managed!