Welcome Yule! The Winter Solstice. The Time of Inbetweening.
by Ted Enik, co-author with Beth Roth of Wee Witches — a playful and richly symbolic introduction to the world of Wicca and the magic of Nature.
A Very Jolly Holiday to You!
Some say “Jól” is Viking for “wheel.” Early calendars used a wheel to mark when the holiday rolled around. And the ye Olde English word “jolly” also comes from “Jól.” A Jolly Holiday!
Solstice is Latin for “Sun (sol) Stands Still (sistere),” and is both the shortest day and longest night of the year. At Yule, a scary and wondrous thing happens: It stays so dark for so long it seems like the Sun might never come back! But it’s just how our planet spins: The Sun seems to freeze in place for a few days, then “he changes his mind” and little-by-little the days grow longer again.
It’s a moment of purest dark and newest light, a time of perfect Inbetweeness.
From the great dark belly of Mother Night, sunlight is born. As it’s been for a bazillion years, at Yule the Goddess gives birth to the new Sun God.
Picture a person practicing Witchcraft. You probably instantly thought of a woman (maybe old and ugly, but hopefully not) tossing yucky things into a bubbling cauldron. But it’s only fairly recently that “The Craft” was considered a female-only thing. Very early on, “witch” was actually a verb; it was something one does, not who one is.
We now know that the terrible Witch Trials in Europe and Colonial America were, for the most part, the way some powerful men (politicians, judges, priests) held on to their power. They thought Eve started all the problems for humanity, and so were generally suspicious of women and girls. As mothers and family healers, females were typically more in touch with Nature’s ways than men, and so were said to “believe” in something other than the one, all-powerful father God.
In the 1960s, some gals fighting for equal rights created women-only safe spaces wherein males couldn’t try to take charge. This naturally led to female-only Covens (a group of practicing Witches), many of which still exist to this day. But, from ancient times till now, Witchcraft has always welcomed both women and girls, and men and boys.
“Wizard” or “Witch?” Which is it? We can trace the word “Wizard” to the 14th Century. But Language Scholars suggest that its meaning may echo even further back to a term of respect for someone who has lived a long and full life. We still use the word “wizened” to describe the wrinkled face of the elderly.
The two terms begin to overlap when we talk about those early scientists, the Alchemists: Those early students of nature who searched for the “soul” or spiritual essence in all things. Practicing the limited “science” of their time, they saw the natural world as a tool to help transform or change the behavior of objects, animals, or people. A very Witch-like thing to do!
Let’s talk a little more about darkness and dawn, and mothers and sons—and suns. At Yule, as you now know, the Mother Goddess brings forth the Child Sun; the hope and promise of returning summer.
The role of the Goddess and that of God-the-Father is not the same. Instead of being the sole creator of the universe, the Goddess IS the universe, and all aspects of the natural world: she embodies the planets, the weather, and the elements, as well as plants and animals and humans. And as such, the Goddess possesses a male side as well.
The figure of the Goddess allows girls to see themselves, and the way their bodies work, as pretty magical. But the Goddess is also important to boys. Every male who’s had a typical upbringing forms a strong connection to his mother, and so carries a deep feminine stamp with him for a lifetime. The Goddess does not reject men and boys; they are part of her, as an expecting mother carries a male child.
There is also a Male, or God Energy, which celebrates masculine qualities that everyone can express: courage, sharp thinking, heart, and nerve to name an easy few. We all have these two sides, a doubleness and Inbetweeness. Most major religions have a God-the-Father in charge, but with Witchcraft or Wicca, the Goddess and the God are partners. Equals.
At Yule, it’s fun to discover that the partner God, the Sun reborn, is sometimes strongly linked to forests and seasonal evergreenery.
The ancients believed that bringing Holly, Ivy, Mistletoe, and Pine Branches into the home over winter would make sure that the crops grew again come spring.
Holly is the most Inbetweenest of the bunch: It stays green year-round while most other plants die off. Holly also produces berries despite blizzards and the “Brrrr.”
Mistletoe actually lives in the Inbetween; it appears to grow without vines or roots high up in oak trees, midway between the heavens and earth. Tricky plant, it secretly sends roots into the branch where it perches, sipping from the oak to stay alive.
Both Mistletoe and Holly, green among dead leaves, bright on the year’s darkest day, stand for the Goddess, and the God, and the re-birth of the Sun.
Down through spiraling time, Witchcraft and other Pagan beliefs have always embraced females and males, the full blending of genders. Balance is everywhere: daylight and darkness, fire and water, summer and winter, sun and moon, and most meaningfully, the Goddess and the God. Duality, the middle-ground, the Inbetweeness—it’s all around us. Men and women can look to both Gods and Goddesses for inspiration and guidance and in doing so practice a mutual respect for all people.