Mother Wit for Yule
I have a quote button on my office bulletin board that says:
“I am the Mother of All Things and All Things should wear a sweater”
Good advice, that. I keep it there to remind me that the Mother Goddess I know is warm hearted, nurturing and very, very practical. Like all good mothers she gently reminds me what is important and what isn’t. I need those reminders on a regular basis and never more so than at Yule.
Don’t get me wrong; I love this time of year. I love the change in the air and in the earth. I love watching the migration of birds and making the wonderful foods that come with cold weather. But I also dread this time of year because with it comes a secular horror I refer to as “Xmas”. (1)
Xmas, the cause of so much winter discontent, is the reason I used to overspend, overeat, and overwork myself in a flurry of Martha Stewart-like activity. But no matter what I did, I could never do enough, buy enough, bake enough or decorate enough to make myself happy.
Xmas stress and the unreal expectations that come with it added to the seasonal depression I already feel this time of year from lack of sunlight. This is not a good time for me to wander through crowds of grumpy, discourteous human beings. Don’t even get me started on the music.
Xmas, I noticed, isn’t just bad for me alone, it is also very bad for the planet. Think of all those landfills packed with wrapping papers, plastic cartons, tinsel and the other non-biodegradable remains of the season. Bah! I said, “down and double down with Xmas”.
So I opted out. I called friends to see how they felt about it. “Would you mind not exchanging gifts this year?” I asked. Every one of them said “No, not at all” in what I can only describe as relieved tones. I now keep a loving, gift giving circle that consists of those people with whom I share special ties. Within that circle of friends and family the adults agreed to keep their gift buying below a certain price, thus making the holiday easier on all of us. I still go a little wild when it comes to giving gifts to my friend’s children but I also take them on walks in the woods, teach them to bake cookies or have them over for a movie night. I’ve found that their parents appreciate having some time off and I get to play Aunt as much as I like.
I was much happier in winter after that, but I still felt something was missing in my life. Then I started on a Pagan path and discovered Yule & Solstice. It is here that I find the joy and meaning in winter.
Yule and Solstice are holidays in tune with our own rhythms. The energy of Gaia becomes dormant, yet remains vital. So too, does my spirit. In my tradition, this is a time for reflection. The animals follow their instincts and take to their dens and shelters. We humans also need a bit of rest and quiet. For me, that is the peaceful meaning of Yule. Add to that the beauty and hope of Solstice; a time of dark, cold reality made easier by the hope we hold of a warmer, more prosperous future. Keeping watch at Solstice links us to our friends in the present day and to our Pagan ancestors long since past.
I began to take back the things of the past many seasons ago. That tree for one thing, that World Tree, that’s mine. And those bright, hopeful candles are mine again, as well. This is a festival of light, after all. That circle called a wreath is mine, so too, the holly bush. Before I became Pagan, I was always drawn to pictures of a stag standing alone in snow. I’d see this design in different forms over the years and it always spoke to me. Now I know why. And look at that old Shaman dressed in furs. He’s mine now, too. He was lost for a time, selling sodas if you can believe it, but he’s back again where he belongs. He still brings gifts, but the gifts he offers are very different than the ones I’d known before.
Yule is also a time for good company and feasting. For our ancestors this was the time when the Harvest was in and the clan gathered to celebrate. Whatever they had gathered or grown that year is all they had to live on until spring. There’s hope in that and terror, too. They knew to watch warily for the winter storms and to fear the floods and freezing temperatures that followed. No merchant ships could bring in supplies in such weather and the game they had hunted so easily in summer was now scarce. This is the time when Death stalked the weak, the sick, the very young and the very old. For that reason this was a time to gather together with friends around the fire. You and I take pleasure in celebrating with our friends and family. For us, such gatherings make for a pleasant diversion. For them it was a matter of survival. “Send out the call to feast”, they said, “and gather the Clan. For we need to know who to count on in the dark days ahead and who will need our support.”
Gifts were exchanged during this season for a variety of reasons. The most important one of all was to strengthen the bonds of family and tribe. Only the very rich could afford to be frivolous in this regard. The rest of us needed and exchanged useful items like needles and cloth, knives and arrows, food, pots or clothing. These things didn’t sit on a shelf, unused, unwanted and gathering dust. They were thoughtfully given and gratefully received because they were needed. Gifts in those days were serious business.
Shamans used this time to meditate and to gather strength and spirit for the long, dark months ahead. I find that I also need to be alone. Sometimes I feel sad, and no wonder; it’s a dark time of the year in more ways than one. Yule invites us to listen to that still, small voice inside ourselves. Go back into the cave for a while and come out again in spring. Change comes in this way. So does renewal.
I want that renewal. In order to get it, I have to avoid the temptation to turn Yule into a Pagan form of Xmas. For if I am not careful, I will get caught up in another round of gift giving, partying and pressure. Some Pagans I know feel pressured to buy Yule gifts for every Pagan friend, Circle member and teacher. If you look at the amount of money and time they spend on Yule and add that to their Xmas obligations, then our splendid holiday could easily become a burden instead of a blessing.
I realize that merchants have to make a living. How could I not? I make my own living that way. But I wouldn’t want anyone to buy things from me that don’t enrich their life or bring them joy. Gifts are for me, as they were for my ancestors, a serious business. This makes me uniquely qualified to offer absolution to any Pagan who needs it and so I will: Trust your instincts here and use your head, as well as your heart. Buy what and as you like but not so much that you suffer next year. None of your friends and family members will be better off if you do that. We are a kind of tribe. Let’s think like one. The good of one of us is the good of all.
Now some of the Pagans I know make or bake every single one of their Yule gifts. I admire their skill and the effort this takes. But as much as I love the crafty part of The Craft, I’ve found that for me, personally, making all my gifts takes up too much of my free time. I’ve learned over the years to carefully preserve some time at Yule to be my loved ones. I am even more jealous of the time I need for myself. I’d make a pretty poor Priestess, otherwise.
The social and sacred rounds pose a challenge for me, as well. I could exhaust myself by attending every Pagan ritual, concert, drumming circle and party or I could go the other way and worry that I’m not doing enough. Some of these “How To” Pagan manuals make it look like everyone else but me is out there having a magical time of it. As I said, I could go down either path but then I might forget that an obsession with people and things was never good for my spirit in the first place. I want my practice to make me more centered and more whole, not more fractured and stressed.
And so I keep that quote button on my bulletin board. It reminds me that the Great Mother encourages me to stay warm, healthy and balanced. She would like me to laugh a bit more and to enjoy time with my friends and she also wants me to spend some time just gazing into the fire. These are the gifts she put into the Shaman’s bag. Like I said, she’s very practical.
Take care of yourselves this season.
Blessed Yule to you and yours,