me, Mavis

I knit. I garden. I co-manage an eclectic shop. I sometimes work in real estate. I sometimes swing a hammer. I always volunteer in my community. I live in an old house with my nice family of one husband and three beastly cats. I have great friends. These are the things that matter to me, Mavis.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Winter Solstice/Yule Customs

The Solstice is here! Today is the shortest day of the year; tonight the longest night of the year.

Just as the Swedes celebrated last week by welcoming Santa Lucia to bring light into the darkness, other traditions similarly celebrate the return of light over darkness at this midpoint in the natural world cycle.

We have joined in to celebrate in an impromptu fashion for several years, using some of the common themes. For instance, I have gathered Holly branches this afternoon. Evergreens were thought to have power over death because they remain green through the killing winter. Evergreens have the tenacity to urge the coming of the Sun. Candles are incorporated to chase away the darkness and cold and encourage the Sun to return. Our evening will center around the reading of "The Yule Faeries," a charming story that I will share with you at the end of this message. I was given a version of this story many years ago, and frankly, I can't remember from whom. I have changed it a bit here and there, and hope to illustrate it at some point.

This year we will add the tradition of a sun colored orange. I learned just this morning of a terrific new simple Yule ritual! On Winter Solstice, you can pass around an orange. Each person peels off a portion of the rind while thinking about one thing in their lives they would like to "peel away" and discard. After each person has been passed the orange, and it is fully peeled, the orange is passed around again. This time, each person eats a section while thinking about one new wish or intention for the new year.

Whatever you do to celebrate this day, may it be peaceful and joyous!


The Yule Faeries

A group of little Faeries huddled in their home deep under the roots of a giant oak tree. They were safe and snug in their tiny underground cave lined with dandelion fluff, bird feathers, and dried moss, while outside the wind blew cold and the snow fell softly down to cover the ground.

“I saw the Sun King today,” said Rose quietly. “He looked so old and tired as he walked off through the forest. What is wrong with him?” Daffodil looked sadly at Rose. “The Great Oak said he is dying” she said. “Dying? Oh, what will we do now?” said little Meadow Grass as she started to cry. “If the Sun King dies, our little plant friends will not grow. The birds will not come and sing again. Everything will be winter forever!”

Lilac, Dandelion and Elder Blossom tried to comfort their friends, but they were all sad. As they huddled together, there was a knock on the tiny door. “Open up, Faeries,” called out a loud voice. ”Why are you hiding inside instead of joining us in our Solstice Celebration?” Rose opened the door and the little gnome, Brown Knobby pushed inside, shaking the glistening snowflakes off his brown coat and hat. “We are too sad to celebrate,” Daffodil said wiping her eyes, “The Sun King is dying, haven’t you heard?” Brown Knobby’s round dark eyes sparkled with laughter. “Why, He is already dead, you silly Faeries. Now hurry or we’ll be late for the celebration!”

Elder Blossom stamped her little foot and frowned at the gnome. “How can you be happy and laughing” she said, “If the Sun King IS dead, it will be winter always. We will never see the spring again!” Brown Knobby grabbed Dandelion by the hand and pulled her to her feet. “Silly little child-Faeries” he said, “There is a secret to the Winter Solstice. Don’t you want to know what it is?” The Faeries looked at him in surprise. “Secret?” they all said. “What secret? We are only new little Faeries. We have never been to a Solstice celebration before.”

Brown Knobby laughed as he danced and jigged around the room. “Come and see! Come and see! Get your capes and come with me! Hurry, hurry, don’t be slow! To the Sacred Oak Grove through the snow!” With that, he danced out of the door and disappeared into the cold, snowy night.

“What did that gnome mean?” Rose asked as she gathered up her cloak made of dried rose petals held together with cobwebs and lined with goose down. Meadow Grass pulled on her hat saying, “I don’t know, but the Lady lives in the Sacred Grove,” “Perhaps if we go to see the Goddess, she can explain what Brown Knobby was talking about.”

So, the Faeries left their snug little home and trudged off through the snow toward the Sacred Oak Grove. The forest was dark with only the light of the Moon shining down through the thick fir branches and bare limbs of maple and hawthorn. It was very difficult going for the Faeries as they were very, very tiny. As they waded along, shivering in the cold wind, they met a fox. “Where are you going Faeries?” the fox asked. “To the Sacred Grove,” they answered, huffing with near exhaustion. “Climb on my back,” said the fox, “and I will take you there swiftly. I’m headed to the Solstice Celebration as well.” The fox knelt down so the Faeries could climb up, then he raced off through the dark.

“Listen!” Lilac said as they neared the grove of sacred trees. “Someone is singing happy songs. A lot of someones.” The beautiful music carried over the cold, still, moonlit air. It was the most beautiful music the Faeries had ever heard. The fox carried them right to the edge of the stone altar in the center of the grove, and then knelt down so they could slide off his back.

“Look!” said Elder Blossom as their eyes opened wide with wonder. “There is the Maiden! and the Mother! and the Old Wise One! and many other Little People!” Lilac looked around at all those gathered there. “They are all smiling and happy,” she said. “All the animals are here too,” whispered Dandelion. “Why are they all looking at the Mother?”

The Faeries moved closer to the three Ladies seated on the altar stone. The Mother held a bundle close in her arms, smiling down at it. The Maiden reached down and took the Faeries gently in her hands. She lifted them close to the Mother so they could see what she held.

“A Baby!” cried the Faeries. “A new little Baby! Look how he glows!” they said. The Maiden smiled down at them. “He is the newborn Sun King.” The Faeries were greatly confused. “But Brown Knobby and the Great Old Oak said the Sun King was dead,” the Faeries answered. The Old Wise One touched the baby’s cheek with her wrinkled hand before answering, “That, little ones, IS the secret of the Winter Solstice! Every year the Sun King must come to the Sacred Grove during the darkest days of winter where he dies. I take his spirit to the Mother who gives him new life again. Indeed,” she said, “this is the way for all creatures, not just the Sun King.”

The Faeries looked with wonder at the baby Sun King nestled in the arms of the Mother. “Do you mean everything lives and dies and lives again, Old Wise One?” “Oh yes little ones,” she answered, “there is never an end to life. This is the great mystical secret of the Winter Solstice.”

The Faeries laughed because they were so happy. “I think the little Sun King should have gifts,” said Rose. “I will show him where the wild roses bloom in the early summer.” “And I will teach him to call the birds and listen to the songs of the wind,” exclaimed Dandelion. The Mother smiled as she looked down at the Faeries. “When he is older and stronger” she said, “then the flowers will bloom at his touch; the birds will return to sing their songs, and the air will be warm from his breath. The winter will be gone for a time as the Sun King will run and play with you in the forest.”

The little Faeries sang to the Baby Sun King songs of the coming spring, the sweet-smelling flowers, the bumbling bees, and all the secrets of the forest. And all the creatures within the Sacred Grove sang with them. Later, the fox took the Faeries back to their snug little home under the roots of the giant oak where they dreamed wonderful dreams, waiting for the warmth of spring and the fun they would have with the little Sun King.

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