The first frosts came around the second week of November, heralding the arrival of winter. Hallows came and went, the wild hunt tore through the skies, tearing limb from tree and stripping the last of the leaves.
Since then, Winter has well and truly knocked summer off its lofty perch. It’s been freezing cold here in Kent, pretty unusual for early winter and it seemed to come all of a sudden… although winter always seem to come too soon. Whilst I am not a fan of early starts and dark mornings, I always look forward to those bright frosty days where the world seems to sparkle, to long nights in front of a cosy fire, hot comforting food, mulled wine and hot toddies.
Typically at this time of year attention shifts from the exuberance of outdoors, to the subtle magic of the hearth and ritually speaking, the weeks surrounding Christmas and new year are always busy. The festivities begin when we decorate the house the weekend before Christmas. We always have a real Christmas tree, and every available space in the house is decked with Holly, Ivy, Bay, Pine and Mistletoe. Music plays, wine is mulled and mince pies consumed as clouds of incense waft through the branches of our regal tree, an offering for its sacrifice.
With the house finally full of Yuletide cheer, attention turns to Mother’s night on the 20thDecember. Mothers night originates from the Saxon Modranicht which marked the commencement of the Yuletide celebrations. In Scandinavia, it was known as Disablot, festival of The Disir.
Initially all I knew about the Disir was that they are a group of female spirits. Research suggested that they are known across many cultures, have been called many names and regardless of context (Roman, Germanic etc etc) their function is strikingly similar, their main premise is to watch over, protect and bless the family to whom they are aligned.
The Disir made themselves known as I got deeper into my family tree research several years ago. I was raised in a predominantly female household and my closest kin were aunts and grandmothers…strong women, adaptable, courageous. The more I delved into the family tree the more I wanted to know about these women, who they were, what they did, the stories and secrets they had to tell…perhaps the Disir heard my call. I have come to see the Disir as embodying the collective wisdom of my distaff line. The Disir are the storytellers and record keepers, they are as nurturing and gentle as the loving mare and as fierce and terrifying as the she-wolf. As midwives, they assist the movement of souls, ideas, prayers and magic into life, and perhaps even into death.
The hearth fire is not lit on the 20th but instead laid with offerings of cake, bread, fruit, wine, spirits, milk, nuts, sweets and seasonal greenery from the garden. Prayers and petitions are put before the Disir, a single red candle is lit and incense burnt throughout the night.
Yule itself begins with the cleaning and relighting of the fire. All offerings to the Disir are taken and buried. The fire is swept out, and ceremonially washed with water from the local spring. A new fire is built, featuring the biggest log we can find which I carve with a particularly pertinent image, it’s never the same every year, and this is supplemented with Pine cones and kindling gathered from the wild in honour of my ancestors (walking a mile in their shoes so to speak). All lights in the house are turned off, the fire is kindled using a remnant from last year’s Yule fire. How well the fire gets going, how it burns and so on are all omens for the coming year, the yule log itself burns to bring prosperity and banish darkness. It’s the best of all winter fires, this years roared into life, a burned so hot and bright I was, for a moment, a little concerned. The fires burn for the 12 nights following and of course a small piece kept for starting next year’s.
I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions, I take oaths and promises very seriously… so instead I like to think of them as goals for the year ahead, the seeds which will be sown at Candlemas. I have a few simple yet meaningful intentions for 2018. The first being to only consume Fruit and Vegetables which I have grown, with a garden and an allotment this is totally do-able, it will be challenging but it means we eat healthily and my connection with the earth and seasons made all the stronger for it. I also want to spend more time with my dear playing cards, they are one of my favourite methods of divination, but I want to get better acquainted with them (I suspect there may be ‘other’ uses beyond fortune telling!). Lastly and most importantly I want to make space for magic to happen…Ok, OK I know that sounds a bit airy fairy but I mean it. The more we advance along our paths, the easier it is to get bogged down in complexity, and complexity often yields disproportionately little reward or return on investment. This year has been tough, especially the latter half and I miss the simple side of the craft, I want to embrace more spontaneity…just sitting quietly beneath the moon or upon the land, of finding a small object in nature and turning into something else, of spending 10 minutes morning and night to reflect on the day…getting back to basics, appreciating the magic that is happening every day right under my nose…re-enchantment if you will!
So not much really…
With new year out the way, and blood alcohol levels returning to normal its then time to think about 12th Night. I take 12th night to be the 12th night from Yule…not Christmas. This is just what sits better with me, I go back to regular 9-5 life on or around the 13th day after Yule so it makes better sense. 12th night is probably just as big as Yule and Christmas itself (only we kinda do it in reverse) We take all the Christmas and Yule decorations down and the house is put back to ‘normal’. I always make a huge Game Pie for 12th night supper which we eat with the last of the festive booze and Christmas pudding or the last mine pies for dessert (its unlucky to have mince pies left over after 12th night you know!). Among the abandon that is the last hurrah of the festive season I found time to settle down for the annual Tarot spread (and by annual, I mean it’s to look at the year ahead). Having spent all that time lazing in front of cozy fires pondering on the possibilities of 2018 and thinking about my goals for the next 12 months I like to look ahead for potential challenges, prudent times to act and anything else which ‘they’ recommend I work on additionally…the theme for this year is very much getting the self in order for some changes coming my way!
Happy New year Everyone!