- a collection of essays on Neodruidic Studies
- a journal of Post-Reconstructionist Neopaganism

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Old Man at the Years End

Could any night be New Year's Eve?

Well, come to think of it it, the year could be defined as coming to an end upon any of the 365 days in its duration, right? The citing of New Years Eve as December 31st is actually an arbitrary choice and has no technical connection to the natural structure of the year. 

The ancient Romans changed the end and the beginning of the year several times in their history. JANVS, the Roman lord of thresholds, is the "Janu" in January, proclaiming it as the threshold of the year. Yet, when we remember that the "sept" in September is "seven", and the "oct" in October is "eight" and count backward, we see at another time they had the year beginning in March, around the Vernal Equinox. This later system didn't simply disappear a thousand years ago. As recently as the 1700's the year was being marked as beginning on March 25th, even being observed as such in the calendar of Britain's early American colonies. 

Nonetheless, once it's become entrenched by decades of conditioning, the arbitrary nature of our conception of New Years' becomes totally irrelevant to each of us. It's no small matter freeing ourselves from it. We are deeply conditioned to see the Yule and the end of December as the year's end, yet dynamically speaking, the symbolism would be compelling even if we were not already conditioned to see it that way. Yuletide, with its Solstice waiting at the midnight-pit of the year and New Years' Eve nearly a dozen days still afterward always wins-out. Somehow it just "makes sense" (makes sense: causes sensation: engenders the feeling...).

For all of our good intentions as serious Celtophiles,

I still believe it's just too difficult for most of us to recalibrate our internal calendars to make the Samhain-as-Celtic-New-Years truism (1.) actually "work" emotionally. In seeking to reconcile the overwhelmingly "authentic" feel which Yule and New-Years creates at the year's end with the similarly familiar "fit" of Samhain as the feast of the death of the agrarian year, some time ago I began to articulate a pattern of myth and image I believe we don't need to 'enforce' upon ourselves artificially. Rather, we can easily begin to discover that its componentry is already built-into us and, as Westerners, we've actually been celebrating it all along. 

If you simply give up trying to make Samhain represent a "beginning" and let the agrarian year end there, the grey twilight of November stands before us as the desolate Wasteland, the Wandering Place located between the cycles of life where eventually we will find our way from the exit of one year to the entrance of the next. We journey from November's gray into the blackness of December and arrive at the year's underworld, the very pit of the year, eventually to emerge on it's far side, with the spark of hope for the Sun's triumphant return.

- 1-
As we approach that darkest pit, that Midnight of the Year, the archetypal content our culture has invested in the season becomes phenomenally dense and mythic themes seem to condense out of the air all around us. It seems we find, quite palpably, that someone has arrived to walk with us; to guide us, protect us and perhaps to instruct us…

Silently, He arrives, striding up to our side 
and leads us into that dark, twelvefold corridor... 

As is the case with subtle forms of perception,

As the time draws near, his shadowy form returns to us from untold Yuletides gone by. We find that his robes continually shift and flicker through several different styles and his face is like an ever changing mask that cycles through a series of transformations, some familiar, some less so.

He is at first dark and robust and perhaps even somewhat threatening. Ruddy, almost black of face and momentarily we even glimpse a set of black horns sprouting out of his wild mop of curly black hair, he seems like half man, half beast. It seems that he is returning to this time and place as a judge or a punisher,(2.) at least, in some way, there's a cosmic score to be settled here.
He stands before us as the Challenger at the Threshold of the Mysteries to come...

As we thread our way through the next series of midnights, we see him change further. The black horns spread out to become more like the rack of a stag; he becomes an expression of the images of the old European horned lord of the underworld (3.) and, like his classical counterparts, we see him couched in the splendid wealth of the World Below. Glittering golden torcs dangle from his antlers and, squatting with legs crossed, he pours out a great Sack of Plenty from which cascades a torrent of gold and treasure.
Surely this is the great benefactor,  
the Giver of Gifts at the midnight of the year... 
We remember then how, two thousand years ago, Julius Caesar spoke of the Druids' teachings that
the sacred cycles start in the dark because we are 
all descended from Him…  
the Underworld Father.


At length, we see him clearly again, one last time as he passes out through the Gates of Janvs. Perhaps most clearly of all we see him now, robed all in white, he is bent, aged and feeble and we catch the glint of the scythe slung wearily over his shoulder as he hobbles through. Watching him intently, we almost don't notice the golden Child of Promise passing in as our Old Man of the Year closes out the sacred cycle on the last of the magical twelve nights (4.) that began on Modranecht, the Mothers Night, the night before the Solstice of Yule.
©2001 / 2010 Earrach / Sassafras

O' - Father Yule returns with presents
as the moment nears,

The Golden Child of Promise
in the darkest hour appears,

The Old Man totters out the great
Threshold between the Years!

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy,
- comfort and joy,

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy!
©1996/2000 Earrach

Remember the  REAL 

"REASON for the SEASON"...

 (( 23.4 degrees !! ))

Keep the YULE in YULETIDE...

and the SOL in SOLSTICE !

(1.) “Celtic New Year The common assumption that Samhain (All Saints/All Souls) was the Celtic New Year is completely unsupported by historical research. Per the British historian Ronald Hutton in his
Stations of the Sun (Oxford, 1997), there are no citations to be found of anyone referring to Samhain as the start of the Celtic New Year any earlier than the 18th century of the Common Era.
(2.) The Black Devil/Yuletide Punisher: Known in Germany and Austria as Krampus or Svarte Pietr, in Switzerland as Schmutzli, this switch-brandishing companion or servant of Santa / Father Christmas is well attested in the lore of the last two centuries (at least) and is still very popular across the Continent to this day.
(3.) Cernunnos, the “Horned-One” Now being reappraised by modern scholars, this ancient Gaulish-Celtic god is not really thought to be the lord of nature / lord of the woods as he is being described on the Internet or popular media on the Celts. It is now thought that he was their lord of the underworld, or the gates thereto. A god of liminality or in-betweens, Cernunnos was depicted in his most famous Romano-Celtic portrayals as emptying-out a huge sack of plenty, his antlers hung with golden torcs, the Celtic hallmarks of value and worthiness. On the pediment above him we see a rat, standard Roman sign signifying his association wiht the underworld. Another Dis Pater link is the sack of plenty he empties out recall Hades/Pluto's epithet "The Wealthy One"...
(4.) Twelve Nights? - If we go with the Venerable Bede's assertion (de Temporum Ratione, 8th century) that the old Yuletide began on the night before the night of the Winter Solstice, on a great celebration called by the Anglo Saxons "the Mothers Night", we can count twelve nights, starting with that feast and ending on our own New Years Eve. Count them! Are these the true "Twelve Nights" later adapted and moved by the Christians? This pattern certainly fits and feels more appropriate to the Yule in relation to our modern calendar, with night number twelve falling at New Years, does it not? - E.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What I Believe at Yuletide

"Bah, humbug?"   
  Why... no, not at all....

I refuse to become embittered and cynical about Christmas and the Yule. Too much real joy reaches out from the season, offering its blessings to anyone who will let it in. No single religion truly lays claim to the happiness and healing this annual celebration brings; the very acknowledgment made by Christians admonishing the culture at large to "Keep the Christ in Christmas," serves as a reminder that Yuletide was once full of love and joy without the help of Christianity, and would still be so in a moment, if Christianity somehow magically vanished. 

If Jehovah finally gave in to the prayers of his cruel Witnesses and suddenly revoked the license for celebrating the Nativity of his "son" in late December: "Poof!" - Little would be changed. We would still be crazed with love and anxiety, shopping for gifts to exchange with those dear to us. We'd still deck the halls with boughs and wreaths of evergreen and sprigs of mistletoe. We'd still lovingly erect and decorate our Yule trees with lights and tinsel. We'd still find carols and holiday music to sing, ancient and new. Stories would still be conjured for our children of the Old Man of the Yule who brings presents after midnight at this, the midnight of the year. 

I believe it tragic that millions in our culture grow up deeply conflicted by the presence of this grand celebration, feeling that they are somehow shut out and denied its blessings due to the faith of their fathers as non-Christians. Tragic yes, and even more so because of how unnecessary it is to see it that way. You see, Christians, whether they'd admit it or not, celebrate two great festivals concurrently: Christmas and the Yuletide. Yuletide is simply everything that is left once you lift the Bethlehem/Holy Family motif out of Christmas... and that which is left happens to be quite a large part of what gives the season its appeal. 

I believe that "Christmas" should belong to the Christians and I rejoice with them in their happiness, except where that happiness provides a surer foundation for self-righteousness and contempt for those who do not see the world as they do. Yuletide? 
Yuletide belongs to everyone, regardless of their religion,  
and it's up to each one of us to reconcile our personal beliefs with the great realm of Yuletide possibilities to make the season not just a happy one but a holy one too. 

I bid you all a joyous and blessed Yuletide, however you celebrate it. I write these words in love and in the hope that little offense be taken by them, but rather, that someone, somewhere may be inspired to act upon them, thereby passing on this small light in the Dark of the Year. Our dreams we take with us to the grave, it is our deeds which survive us.
- Earrach © 2000, 2010