16th December 1987
Dear Tessa and Glyn,
It is almost time for the Festival of Yule, the winter solstice — magical remaking, recreating time, the birth of life and light. Between Samhain and Yule, the Lord of Night has ruled and been our guide through the realm of shadows. And the Goddess, as the Crone, the Old Wisewoman, offered us wisdom and dreams. In the unblossoming, ethereal landscapes, she has shown the enchantment of this season. The year died at Samhain and the time since has been spent withdrawn in the mist and shadows of winter. We now prepare ourselves and our home for the Festival of Yule, for rebirth.
The metaphor is clear. While we are withdrawn, in death or in the inturned burrowing of the winter season, inner realms expand. The richness of imagination, astral worlds and dream states, where the seeds of the next phase are to be found, are lit for us; they bring illumination and restoration. All this is symbolized by the glamour of Yuletide traditions and decorations, which predate Christmas, but have been preserved as what are now thought of as Christmas customs. The candles, holly, mistletoe, Yule logs and feasting all come from a much older tradition than that of the celebration of Jesus’ birth, and show both the richness of inner worlds and also the passage back into life; active, manifest life.
This day is the Sun’s ’birthday’. The longest night of all the year will pass and at dawn, when the Sun next rises, the year will have turned once again towards longer days. It is this we celebrate, the passage back into light from the darkest point, for this means continuing life, a new cycle.
Yule is about the rebirth of the Sun and all of nature, therefore of the new year. There is much plantlore associated with it. Holly represents the old Lord of the Waning Year, the Dark King who, at Yule, is transformed into the Infant Light. The Yule log, being of oak, is sacred to the newborn Lord of the Waxing Year, as is the robin redbreast. Mistletoe, which is sacred to the Sun, is used as Yuletide decoration by Pagan and Christian alike. It invokes fertility, and the healing powers of summer sunshine.
A witch would therefore decorate the home with holly, mistletoe and other decorations and have a ’Christmas tree’ like anyone else, but with a different understanding of why we do these things. (The Christmas tree, as we know it, is a relatively modern tradition in Britain, dating from the last century. But sacred trees hung with offerings are as old as mythology.)
Then there is the tradition of gift-giving. It is represented in the Christian story by the three wise men, gift bringers. In northern folk tradition there is Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas (Old Nik?) with his reindeer, sacred to the Horned God. All children start out in life with a certain inheritance, their range of gifts. Now we are all newborn, in beginning a new year. And this is the real reason why we all give and receive presents at Yuletide. For the same reason, we cover the tree in lights and decorations, heaping the presents round it, acknowledging the gifts the Mother and Father of All Life will bring to us. And we honour the Goddess by placing, right up at the top of the tree, the traditional fairy (representing the Goddess herself) or else a five-pointed star representing nature magic.
And what of the celebration of the girl child’s birth. Why does the Goddess only ever give birth to a baby boy? She doesn’t, of course. But in the rebirth of our Craft, true understanding of the year’s unfolding is still developing, still being found out anew. One thing that is still unrecovered is the yearly celebration of a daughter’s birth, the Goddess bringing forth her own self. For at each year’s inception, not only the Sun God but also Mother Nature is reborn. She comes to us later, at Candlemas, as a young girl. She then represents not only the spring flowers of the Earth, but the feminine aspect of the Sun and the Maid aspect of the Triple Goddess of the Moon: the springtime solar and lunar Goddess Bride. Girls have mothers too.
The celebration of her birth has been swept away in the long patriarchal years. Certainly, there are Pagan traditions involving a daughter’s birth, not least the Italian witchcraft legend of the conception and birth of Aradia. And there are precedents for celebrating the girl child’s birth at Imbolg, as ’baby Bride’. But to me, that confuses the theme of her presence as maid. At Yule, however, her birth is sometimes celebrated as twin to her solar brother. And I have heard the hint of a heretical Christian legend that Bride was born as twin sister to Jesus, at the winter solstice. Bride is, of course, a Pagan Goddess predating Jesus by a very long time. Nevertheless, the legend appeals to me, for it strikes some chord. Can we now celebrate the daughter’s birth at Yule, without obscuring the clarity of the Rite of the Returning Sun? Yes, I think we can.
After invoking the Goddess and God, a solitary witch might go deosil to the west quarter, and then anoint him or herself with water on the forehead, where the ’third eye’ is said to be, the mystic centre of all psychic perception, inner seeing. You should then go to the cauldron at the centre, and sit down. Remain quiet for a while, and sense the darkness and silence all around you, the cold night outside.
Say, On the longest night, all nature sleeps. Coldness and stillness like death grip the Earth. There is a reign of darkness. There is a pause, a hovering between life and death, a suspension. But the world is ever dreamt awake, year by year. Silver vision be granted to me, in this darkness. I share in the work of Mother Goddess and dream the future into being. (Glyn, you should change the last line of this invocation, saying, Silver vision be granted to me now, in this darkness, that seeing the dreams of the Mother Goddess for life on Earth, I may celebrate and dance them into being.)
Close your eyes and go into trance, repeating to yourself,
For as the world is dreamt awake,
from year to year and age to age,
and the Sun shall come up early,
may silver vision be granted to me,
in this darkness.
Repeat this until the pictures begin to form. See the world as it could be if peace and harmony were restored everywhere; if the Goddess were honoured and if the Horned God once again sang aloud in joy and freedom, while all life danced. See how the world could be, as the Sun rises, a faint gleam at first. Then imagine rays of sunlight over the land, revealing Earth in unspoilt beauty. What is this world like? How do the people live? What is their relationship with the other life forms? What is valued now? See the art and hear poems and music. See the expression of love. Then see if you have a part to play in creating this world. Dream yourself acting or invoking for change. See the results.
Now rise and stand with your back to the altar, saying,
I dance for birth, for the returning Sun
and for the Earth in dawn beauty.
Now the womb of night gives birth to life and light
and all shall be renewed. It begins here, now.
Womb of the night brings forth new life and light.
Repeat the last line, as you dance deosil, building power and energy. Direct this into your cauldron. Inside, there should be an unlit candle and some clippings of fir. The fir twigs are then taken out and arranged around the cauldron in a circle. Say these words:
The circle of life is unbroken in the Triple Goddess. In her, life is renewed and so light shall return. For the Great Mother gives birth to the Son and Daughter, now, in a timeless moment. Sun child and daughter of the Earth are seen, as worlds are recreated. Hail to the Sabbat of Yule!
Light the candle, saying, May the morning be greeted with joy. For behold! The newborn Sun shall arise.
Take your wand and pass it through the candle flame. Go deosil around the circle, waving it at each quarter, with the invocation, Peace on Earth. Life and light to all.
Return your wand to the altar. Then go to the east, with a bell. Say, The cry of the newborn Daughter of the Earth is heard in all the worlds. Now celebration bring renewal, a new order, in her name. Blessed be!
Ring the bell at each quarter. Hear it echoing on the inner planes, as well as travelling to the four quarters of the Earth, on the four winds. Replace the bell upon the altar.
Next fill your chalice with honey water, or with wine flavoured with honey. Hold it up before you, and say:
I share in the renewal of all life.
With all creatures, I am cherished
by the Mother Goddess.
May I grow in—[for example, love and wisdom].
Pagan child of the Sun and Moon.
I am reborn in freedom.
I am nourished in sweetness.
Drink from the chalice. As you do so, meditate upon the theme of development, the nurturing of gifts, abilities. There will be some Yuletide gift from the Goddess and God to help you on your way. Close your eyes as you sit silently beside the cauldron. See the Mother and the Father of All Life. Picture them coming towards you, in the dark, snowy night. You are in a forest, with stars shining above you between bare branches of trees. You meet the Lord and Lady in a small clearing. Held towards you is the gift, or gifts. You may see something clearly recognizable and know at once what it is. Or the gift could be represented symbolically. Perhaps it is something abstract. If you do not know the meaning, ask for understanding. Receive the gift with thanks. This will come to you later on in the year. Now open your eyes slowly. End with a communion.
That is a winter solstice rite. Be merry and wise and be renewed.
Well, I have now introduced you to the meaning of all eight Sabbats and of the Moon celebrations. In neither case is there any linear progression, but a circle. Our understanding of either sequence can change, collectively or individually. And relationships between the two, between the Sun cycle and the Moon cycle on Earth, are still too little understood and must be felt for, intuited.
There is nothing final in this version which I have given you in my letters. It is simply what Cole and I have been doing this year. Next year, we may have changed, may be celebrating in other ways or with other emphases. In the Mother realm, things shift shape.
One more letter will follow.