Where do we go from here?
Friday, January 15, 2010
Well, the wheel of the year turns on towards spring, and I have to admit the winter holidays are really over and turn myself toward the task of taking down our decorations. This year, for the first time in at least twenty, we had a festive Yule tree, which because of our young cat, Sadie, we set up out in the front portal. We could see it through the big living room window, and enjoy it every time we came in or out of the house. Having it in the house would have been just too much for all of us, she would have had everything on the floor repeatedly all through the holidays. We chose a fairly small piñon pine, New Mexico's state tree, fresh from the hills around Taos, and had a wonderful time pulling out our ornaments and lights and putting them on our little tree. Because the tree was out in the cold air, there has been no drying out and dropping of needles; and it's still as fresh as when it started. After we take it down, it will become first a bird feeder, then mulch for the gardens.
The adornment I am most loathe to remove is the wreathe on the front door, pictured above. It's wound with a string of battery-operated tiny blue lights, and is such an upliftingly cheerful symbol of the wheel of life, the circle of the year, the cycles of nature. I often wonder how many people know how connected to our pagan origins the celebrated decor of contemporary Christmas
actually is? The greenery, the lights, including candles, ornaments, yule logs, all a faint remembrance of honoring of the sol invicta, the return of light, the hope of life continuing, the return of spring, the planting of a new year's crop, the turning of the wheel.
Before AOL trashed its Journals component, I wrote there in a journal I called "The Windmills of My Mind." I moved its contents over to Blogger when the Journals were closed out, but no longer show it as a public blog. I wrote several entries there on the ancient celebration of the Winter Solstice, including this one, from five years ago, on the evergreen wreath. I think it bears reposting here today, as I contemplate taking down our wreath, and moving on into the new year in both my heart and my actual life:
WILL THE CIRCLE BE UNBROKEN ?
The wheel of the year has almost fully turned, and once again we approach the Solstice. Last year I wrote on the ancient traditions of Solstice through history, and all over the world. Now that my year has slowed down, and I have some time to think and write, I will return to this wonderful and rich treasury of lore. This time I want to focus on some of the themes and decorations still common at the winter holidays, show how they have come down through the ages from times and places when Nature was still recognized as a force and an influence upon our lives. Solstice of course celebrates the turning of the year, the return of the sun; the promise of light, warmth, life, overcoming darkness, cold and death.
Because I just unpacked and hung on our front door a lovely handmade wreath sent by a friend in Maine, I want to start with just that, the making and decorating of our homes with wreaths of evergreens. The wreath itself is in the shape of the oldest of symbols, the circle. A symbol to be found in every culture on the globe, from ancient times to the present. A symbol representing so many things, all of them related: the cycles of life, eternity, the goddess herself, death and rebirth, the moon, the sun. So, we make a circle to symbolize the rebirth of the year, the return of the sun, the unbroken cycle of life. We make it with evergreen boughs, branches from the trees that hold the promise of renewal in the depths of Winter. For our early ancestors the existence of plants that did not wither and die, drop their leaves and appear dead, with the onset of the long dark days of winter, served as a metaphor for the undying deities of the natural world. In nature religions every one of our familiar green branches has a meaning, a symbolism: pine, fir, cedar, juniper, all symbolize continuity of life, protection and prosperity. Holly symbolizes many things, among them the old solar year, protection and good luck.
So – don’t put up those plastic wreaths this year. Take your children, go out into the real world, cut boughs and branches of the evergreens that grow in your area (you can’t hurt them, the more you prune the more they grow), form them into the shapeof the wheel of the year. Place them on your doors, your walls, your altars, to celebrate the continuation of life, to ask for protection and prosperity. The colors red, green and white are the Druidic holiday colors – so, put holly berries and ribbons on that wreath, ask the Great Mother to help us through another turning of the wheel.
I would be remiss not to mention how the wreath has also transformed into a Christian symbol over the ages, through the lovely ceremony of the Advent wreath. Advent is the liturgical season of preparation for the birth of Christ, and here the wreath is a symbol of God, the eternal, and of eternal life in God. Four candles are placed on the wreath, three rose colored, one purple. The wreath usually has a place of honor at the middle of the family table, and one candle is lit each Sunday evening during Advent. We did this all through my Catholic childhood. I have to say that making and lighting the Advent wreath is one of my fondest holiday memories.