He leads us up to the foot of the hill,
but there we stop: not yet for us
to take those final steps.
Where the sun stands still
on earth’s high curve, a woman rises:
bright black splayed on red.
In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.
Emma Wilkinson, 12 years old, awoke that night aware that someone she did not know stood over her bed.
In the heartbeat moment before she opened her eyes, she found that she knew several other things as well.
That her family, including her sister in bed next to her, all slept quite peacefully.
That she herself felt no fear.
She opened her eyes. The banked fire had burned down to coals, but Emma could see the girl quite plainly. She wore white buckskins and a buffalo robe; her face was strange, but the eyes Emma knew.
Old holidays die hard.
Throughout the Persian-speaking world—Iran, Afghanistan, Kurdistan—the Winter Solstice is a widely-celebrated, if secular, holiday. (For Zoroastrians, of course, it retains its religious character.) In Farsi, it's called Yalda, a word which may or may not be related to the Semitic root YLD, “to give birth.”
It's customary to stay up all night, to see the year's longest night through from beginning to end. People pass the long candle-lit hours, as one would expect, telling stories, singing songs, and eating. In Iran, the tradition is to serve 13 different fresh fruits—pomegranates, melons, cucumbers—one for each moon of the coming year.
One of the things that strikes me about pagan holidays is the way that they're all implicated in one another. Yule doesn't just sit enshrined in its own golden halo at the end of the year, touching nothing else. As both the end and the beginning of the solar year—and indeed, the whole of the coming year in microcosm—it reaches back to the previous growing season and harvest, and forward to the coming ones. They say that the Yule you keep affects the year ahead. That's why it's so important to eat rich and ample food during all Thirteen Days. The Devil promised a would-be witch in hunger-stricken 17th century Lowland Scotland, “Thou shalt eat every day as [well as] if it were Yule.”
A few years back a neighbor popped in for some reason or other during the Yuledays. “Beautiful tree,” she remarked. “Not the least bit Christmas-y.”
Well, no. It's covered with blown-glass fruits and vegetables. Every ornament's a prayer.
Darksome night and shining steel...
My friend Doc once said to me, somewhat wistfully, “Someday we'll have our sacred dances again.”
Well, here's one we'll be doing at this coming summer's Grand Sabbat, along with (among others) the Mill, the Horned Serpent, and the Back-to-Back. Check it out: Rattlejag Morris' The Witch Reel.
So the Mother comes to the birthing-stool. Painted with white clay patterns of birth, she waits.
Around her the animals gather in silent expectation. They say that at midnight on Midwinter's Eve, they will speak. They wait.
They say that at midnight on Midwinter's Eve, the trees will burst into blossom. They wait.