Monday, 1 January 2018
YULETIDE & THE CLOSING OF 2017
As I write this post, at the end of the year 2017 and looking forward to a new year of 2018. I can reflect upon the past twelve months and say honestly, that 2017 has been an improvement over 2016. My health has held firm for most of the year and I have enjoyed several trips. Many of my adventures will feature in blog posts of their own. I have given presentations, I have visited friends but not as many as I should have. I have once again seen my name in print.
As the Yuletide of 2017 approached, I took the week of the Winter Solstice as my annual leave. This is me and my own enjoying the Pagan equivalent of a ‘Christmas week,’ with all the expected trappings of the season. It has been as it is for all of us, a busy time. It has been as it is for some of us, an enjoyable time.
My seasonal decorations were up at the beginning of the month, as I favour early December by personal choice. I do not specifically keep to the traditional Feast of Saint Nicholas for doing so, as it is a variable date dependent on church and country. A feast day that is observed on the 6th of December in the majority of Western countries, is the 5th in the Netherlands and the 19th in most in Eastern countries.
I disapprove of seasonal decorations before the beginning of December, I consider this to be far too early. November in my opinion, should be over but my decorations do remain in place until the first week of January.
So in that first week of December I brought down from my store, a specially made horseshoe topped pole, complete with a spike for the candle. This is a unique item commissioned by me and made to my own design. This pole or stang, like the traditional Christmas tree represents the World Tree, the spine and Axis Mundi. The candle mounted atop, when lit representing the returning sun of the Winter Solstice. Presents are wrapped and placed beneath, dripping wax merely adding to the effect. A few pine cones are placed around the gifts to add to the decorative state, although these do not stay in place long. My cats Isis and Tanith, rearrange them to their own taste. The finishing touch is to hang some fresh holly.
Early in the month I received a surprise gift from an anonymous benefactor. It did not take very long to identify the person behind this gift and the gift itself is certainly appreciated. A charming country scenes Advent Calendar depicting the now rare red squirrel.
Our ‘Hearthmoot’ at our designated public house was small, intimate and very lively. Two new faces braved the inclement weather on Tuesday the 19th of December to join us and to enjoy the excellent atmosphere of the hostelry. The food, the beer and the company was most enjoyable.
Wednesday the 20th of December and the eve of the Solstice, saw the Hearth of the Turning Wheel meet for our Yuletide observance. This was a deliberate choice of Mother's Night and at that meeting, we welcomed a new guest to the Outer Court. Here it is perhaps wise to explain the terminology used.
The Hearth of the Turning Wheel (HTW) exists in the real world as a working group, created, founded and maintained, to observe the common festivals of the Wheel. This is the common eight based upon the template created by Gardner and Nichols in the early nineteen fifties. We are aware obviously, that there are alternative ritual calendars. Admitted members of the Hearth, that is to say founders and our initiated members, are designated members of the Inner Court. From time to time we invite guests to attend a ritual and on attendance they become members of the Outer Court, an honourary position.
The symbol of the Inner Court is the white rose of York, the symbol of the outer is the red rose of Lancaster. These two roses when combined to form the Tudor rose, become one of the collective symbols of the Hearth of the Turning Wheel as a whole. The rose is a common occult and craft motif. The use of the rose and the associated symbolism by the Hearth of the Turning Wheel, is in no manner unique. It is a shared virtue.
Besides these two official divisions, there is a third unofficial grouping. On Facebook there exists a group called Friends of the Hearth of the Turning Wheel (FotHTW). Membership of this group is open to both courts, retired members and persons with an interest in our philosophy. The FotHTW also serves a method of communication with our supporters and persons representing groups that may share a similar outlook or perspective. Persons requesting membership of the FotHTW are naturally vetted and the ‘Hearthmoots’ often serve as a meeting point with enquirers.
The ritual of the 20th of December was well attended and required as our tradition now dictates, that all attending bring a small gift. This is for our version of a Secret Santa, which is in our case more usually referred to as a Secret Odin or Hogfather. Each wrapped gift should be identified by a label with the name of the giver. The names of those attending are at a particular point in the ritual, drawn from a bag or cauldron, the gifts are then exchanged based on the names drawn.
In this ritual we incorporated a brief mummer’s play based upon the story of Gawain and the Green Knight. The gifts in his keeping being distributed after his decapitation and resurrection. This of course required a degree of pantomime acting on the part of the Defender of the Hearth and the use of his own axe. At this time of year it is our wish to incorporate an element of fun and games into our activities, complete with the seasonal exchange of gifts.
Thursday the 21st of December and the actual Solstice Day, was spent in the Peak District with family. We began our day with an early start and an enjoyable trip to Arbor Low. This is a major and significant henge monument in North West Derbyshire; large and unusual in that the remaining stones are reclining.
The thick fog across the moor prevented us from sighting the dawn but it did not detract from the moment of actually being there at the henge. It was clear from our approach that visibility was limited, the massive bank slowly emerging from the mist as we climbed from the farm. It was atmospheric, hauntingly mysterious and captivating.
Approaching the break in the bank that forms the entrance, I decided for reasons unknown to walk the outer bank; rather than enter straightaway. I turned to my right and climbed the bank to walk the circumference widdershins. I spoke briefly to a few of those walking the henge and I had the pleasure of bumping into an old friend. I was recognised by some from my visit last year, I was not wearing my cloak this year but I did carry the same horn.
Returning to my starting point after walking the outer circumference, I entered the henge proper and walked the inner edge of the ditch deosil. This creates a figure of eight turned upon itself, an action I have previous performed at other henges.
Eventually joining my group at the central stone we held a very simple rite of communion, with apple juice for the children and mead for the grown-ups. We shared our poetry, our drink and our biscuits with a couple (a mother and her son) who had wondered over towards us. It was a gesture of goodwill in keeping with the season.
Leaving Arbor Low we repeated our journey of last year, heading for Bakewell to enjoy a traditional Derbyshire breakfast at Ye Old Bakewell Pudding Shop and Restaurant. Here Derbyshire oatcakes and fried eggs were followed by a Bakewell pudding, complete with custard and cream.
After a brief rest in the early afternoon, we travelled to the National Trust property of Kedleston Park. This is a historic building and picturesque park lying only a few miles outside of Derby. Here with candle lit lanterns, we joined a surprisingly large number of people on the dusk walk through the wooded walks. The sunset was visible as we set off but soon we were in total darkness, catching only the sound of roosting crows and nearby pheasants as we progressed. It was another atmospheric experience.
We had therefore, been out from sunrise to sunset on Solstice Day. We had over the course of more than one day, recognised, observed and marked this moment of change and the season of goodwill. From our social event, our ritual and our ‘pilgrimage’ to the Peak District, we had experienced our moment, our times of company and our period of solitude.
These are all moments of appreciation and spiritual refreshment. We did not see the sunrise but to be there at the moment, to witness Arbor Low cloaked in fog; gave us another perspective and added another dimension to our Solstice. To experience total darkness in a woodland after sunset, reminds us that away from our comfortable homes, it is nature that holds us and can hide us in a different cloak. The Yuletide remains captivating and mysterious, the experience of sunrise and sunset on a solstice can be a haunting one and a memorable one.
The Hearth Yuletide and the Midwinter Solstice 2016
Dolmen Grove Chronicles Yule 2017