Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

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.

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What Do You Call the Eve of Yule?

 Who's that rattling

pots in the kitchen?

Hey! Hey! It's Yule!

(Latvian)

 

Because the old Northwest Europeans counted the (24-hour) day as beginning at sunset, the eves of holidays take on major significance, and often have names of their own.

So what do you call the Eve of Yule?

Leaving aside the colorless "Solstice Eve," among the Names of Lore in modern English, there are three major options.

Mother Night. Probably the most mythological of the three names. Old English Módraniht (MOE-dra-nicht [ch as in Bach]) literally means “Night of Mothers,” but this doesn't translate well into Modern; to the American ear “Mothers' Night” sounds like what comes after Mother's Day. (My friend and colleague Sparky T. Rabbit used to joke about “Mother Night and Baby Day.”)

To the Anglo-Saxons, the Mothers were apparently powerful beings—goddesses or wights—to whom it was customary to offer at Yule. They may or may not have been equivalent to the Norse dísir, who also received offerings (and, in fact, still do) at this time of year.

Likewise, there may or may not have been three of Them; certainly the Matres or Matronae—always depicted in threes in Germano-Roman art—were widely worshiped among Germanic-speakers on the Continent.

Usually I use this term when speaking with fellow insiders. For elegance and mystery, you can hardly match it. This is, after all, the night that gives birth to the rest of the year.

Yule Eve. Also the Eve of Yule, Yule E'en, and Yule Even. Myself, I don't use this one, or its variants, very often. “Yule Eve” has too staccato a sound to my ear, like a bark. “Eve of Yule” seems pretentious, Yule E'en (or Yule'en) affected. (It might make a good name for a girl fortunate enough to be born then, though.) “Yule Even” sounds like the beginning of a sentence: “You'll even....”

Still—with the possible exception of the fourth variant—this one at least has the advantage of being relatively transparent in meaning.

And sometimes that's a good thing.

Midwinter's Eve. I have to admit, this one's my favorite.

“Midwinter” is an ancient (2300+ years) synonym for Yule. Odd as it may seem to us moderns, for whom winter is only just beginning at the time we call Midwinter, the Early Germanic year had only two seasons, winter and summer (originally the “windy” and “sunny” seasons respectively), which started at the evendays (equinoxes) and reached their climax at the sunsteads (solstices): hence the name.

Also, Midwinter's pairs nicely with its twin festival, Midsummer's, the other hinge of the old Germanic year.

Well, a good Yule to you and yours—by whatever name you call it.

 

Hey, look: Yule's back,

Yule, Yule today:

iron wheels, silken lash,

Yule, Yule today.


(Latvian)

 

 

 

 

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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.

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