Midwinter – Saturday, December 21, 2019

“The winter solstice celebrates the longest hours of darkness or the rebirth of the sun and is believed to hold a powerful energy for regeneration, renewal and self-reflection. In Pagan times the winter solstice was referred to as Yule and was a celebration of the Goddess (Moon) energy.”

In a society where fresh produce is available at almost any time of the year the significance of the “famine months” (January to April in the Northern Hemisphere) is pretty much lost. Nor can I say I know many who are committed openly to Celtic customs surrounding the Yule lore and traditions or Wiccan (witchcraft) and Pagan communities:

Bonfires were lit in the fields, and crops and trees were “wassailed” with toasts of spiced cider.  Children were escorted from house to house with gifts of clove spiked apples and oranges which were laid in baskets of evergreen boughs and wheat stalks dusted with flour. The apples and oranges represented the sun.  The boughs were symbolic of immortality (evergreens were sacred to the Celts because they did not “die” thereby representing the eternal aspect of the Divine). The wheat stalks portrayed the harvest, and the flour was accomplishment of triumph, light, and life. Holly and ivy not only decorated the outside, but also the inside of homes, in hopes Nature Sprites would come and join the celebration. A sprig of Holly was kept near the door all year long as a constant invitation for good fortune to visit the residents. Mistletoe was also hung as decoration.  It represented the seed of the Divine, and at Midwinter, the Druids would travel deep into the forest to harvest it.

The ceremonial Yule log was the highlight of the Solstice festival. In accordance to tradition, the log must either have been harvested from the householder’s land, or given as a gift… it must never have been bought. Once dragged into the house and placed in the fireplace it was decorated in seasonal greenery, doused with cider or ale, and dusted with flour before set ablaze by a piece of last years log, (held onto for just this purpose). The log would burn throughout the night, then smolder for 12 days after before being ceremonially put out. Ash is the traditional wood of the Yule log. It is the sacred world tree of the Teutons, known as Yggdrasil. An herb of the Sun, Ash brings light into the hearth at the Solstice.

As usual my personal focus tends more towards the philosophic which in my particular case is brooding at its worst and musing at its best. My genetic dedication to employment only of what is at hand (such as I do when playing the pianoforte “by ear”) leads me to ramble more theoretically than scholarly upon whatever happens to capture my introspection at the moment. I confess for example that presently I am inclined to the nautical undercurrent of my prevailing circumstances. This is naturally so because we are surrounded on every side by the sea or some manifestation of it. It is impossible to escape the numerous references to coastal living, whether simply the names of the places (a variety of sailing metaphors or geographic terms peculiar to seaside residence), the perpetual sight of sailing boats and yachts, the turquoise waters, retail outlets catering to water vehicles and sports or merely the evident sea-level existence and inescapable acquaintance with the imagined damage of hurricanes.

My preference is the translation of these numerous nautical images to those associated especially with schooners and the open sea. This proclivity amuses me because my late father was a pilot by profession and I often imagine how he must have viewed the horizon not – as I do – by looking straight ahead upon the tumultuous face of the vast frothing sea but rather by regarding the clear heavens and the separations between the billowing white clouds. He at least fulfilled his dreams and ambitions by soaring into the open skies. My sailing curriculum is shamefully limited for one who professes an undying interest in the subject. Apart from an inboard yacht and ocean liners my only recognizable exploration of sailing was a skiff in the Baltic Sea when I was about 20 years old and later upon a catamaran in Key West (a voyage more memorable for its nauseous interlude – no doubt a reflection of my previous midnight prowling along Duval Street – than its glassy overview of the underlying coral reef).

Nonetheless like most armchair philosophers I am fully capable of projecting the analogies to the literary forum with which I am patently more familiar. The idea for example of heading directly out to sea is one in this instance which captures my fancy. Given my equal submission to the fleetingness of life the conception affords an uplifting and moderately adventurous symbol.