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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The Long Farewell

Around here there's a social institution known as the Minnesota Long Goodbye, a fixture of local Politeness culture. “Well, guess we'll be heading out,” you say. But you can't leave yet; that would imply that you aren't enjoying the company, and are eager to go. 5 minutes later, you stand up. 5 minutes after that you put on your coat. Another 5, and you go to the door. Leaning against the door-jamb, you talk for yet another 5. Then you actually leave.

Yule is like that. This year the last of the Thirteen Nights was January 2; the Merry Monarch of Misrule (in her Steampunk crown) presided over one final debauch, and we sang the old Yule songs for the last time this season. Time to head on out, I guess.

But Yule itself has yet to come down. The tree and other appurtenances generally go up in mid-December and linger until mid-January or so: about a month, a twelving of the year. (By long-standing household tradition, our tree finally comes down on King Day: no work, no school.) Here in the Northlands, Yule ushers in the coldest, most housebound time of the year: “As the days grow longer, the cold grows stronger” goes the saying. (Variant: “As the day lengthens, the cold strengthens.”) On the couch the other night, I closed the novel I'd just finished reading, turned off the light, and laid back in quiet appreciation of the Yule Tree's ongoing beauty and magic: a fountain of light in the heart of darkest winter.

January is a long leave-taking. It's the same in Scandinavia and the northerly parts of Britain. Yule is gone, but lingers on, until some time that local tradition specifies as yet another leave-taking from the year's greatest feasting: Twenty-Sixth Night (2 x 13) (this year, Thursday January 15th), Knut's (or Eldbjørg's) Day (January 17), Thirty-Ninth Night (3 x 13), Up-Helly-Aa (“holiday all up”) (last Tuesday in January).

Then comes the first cleaning of pre-spring. Yule has to be entirely down and put away by February Eve, sure: it's bad luck if it isn't. Time to sweep up the last of the needles from the tree, clean out the hearth, lay the fire, and polish up the candle crown.

But not quite yet. The love-making over, we lay back in the after-luster and savor.

Time to be heading on out, yes.

But maybe not just yet.

Bold Yuletide is past,

Thirteenth Night is the last:

so we bid you adieu,

great joy to the New.

Photo: Wren Swart






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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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