Yule – Element of Earth

There is a lovely phrase that I have incorporated in my devotions: that the divine is the “source and ground” of all that is. I think Yule and the season of the Element of Earth are the perfect time to contemplate this perspective, the importance of the ground itself.

In Wicca, our practice of grounding and centering acknowledges and makes use of our intimate connection with the earth as an aspect of the divine. The metaphor of grounding draws partially on an image of electricity, in terms of grounding as removing excessive energy, but much more often the imagery used in actual visualizations is that of living things, plants or trees, making grounding more of an exchange, a chance to both release what is no longer needed and an opportunity to draw in the nutrients that are needed to refresh your own organism.

This is the sense in which I understand the idea of “source and ground,” meaning that the Earth, the planet, is the source of our physical being, and it is what we ground into throughout our lives, and it is what our physical parts return to when our lives are ended. Thus the Element of Earth, although it is the most stable and least active of all Elements, is perhaps the mother of all the Elements, as the planet is the embodiment of our experiences of all of them together.

In Wicca, when we cast circles, we start from the north, the direction of Earth, and we return there to complete the circle. Many Wiccans place their altars facing north, seeing it as appropriate because that is the direction of darkness and mystery, and thus our altars face into the mysteries, the unseen, the place of starlight vision that we need to see beyond (or within) the everyday realities around us. And although we speak to the East first when calling the Elements, we end with the North, always returning to our ground, our source of being in this embodied existence.

As I wrote in the Story of Sif, even the wonders that we know of come from the ground, ultimately, because this is a physical existence, where the physical defines and, yes, delimits the possible. It is up to us to discover and enjoy the wonders possible within those limits. Wicca is not a religion that seeks transcendence or escape from reality above all other things; there is no liberation from the physical world within Wicca, nor a promise of escape into a better, easier paradigm. Instead there is the promise of the transcendent that emerges within the world as we discover it to be, and especially within the world as we can shape it to be more full of love, more full of beauty, and more full of meaning.

In Tarot, the Element of Earth is represented in the suit of coins, also called disks or pentacles in some decks. This suit has to do with the physical, and yes, it has to do with money, and all the things related to money, especially work and possessions. But I don’t think the Tarot has to represent or assume a capitalist relationship with the world; I think it can represent these things as simply energy embodied, and thus it can represent a relationship of love and of exchange, the natural give and take, within the context of that love.

May this Yule be a time for you and yours to connect to your source and ground and face the return of the light refreshed.

Yule – Sustaining Rebirth

I am continuing to republish a series of essays originally written in 2011.

Six months ago, I told a story of Litha being destruction averted, because although it is easy to associate warmth with the very energy of life, it is important that we not be overwhelmed by it. [1] Yule, by contrast, is a celebration of life being created anew, and created again, even in the midst of cold and darkness. It is a time when re-creation leads, appropriately, to recreation.

People in temperate climates have a long, long history of celebrating the days when the sun seems to stand still, halting its northward journey and then turning southward again, promising longer days and an end to winter, even if it is a long way off. [2] Midwinter solstice heralds a fresh start, and the promise of the whole world coming back to life – not miraculously restored after just a few days, but gradually reborn through the more mundane magic of germination and gestation.

Of course, this isn’t the only time of year we talk about new life coming into being, but it is one of the most poignant and symbolic times. I’ve seen so many rituals, both at Yule and other holidays, that speak to people’s desire for rebirth in their everyday lives. It’s easy to want a fresh start, a sudden and dramatic change – just like magic! – which will remove our obstacles and change our bad habits in one fell swoop. It’s easy to create a ritual that panders to the most unexamined form of this yearning for a quick fix, to assure people that if they simply want it hard enough, or light enough candles, it will happen. Worst of all, it’s too easy to let this devolve into the idea that the universe is a vast wish-granting machine, and that if you don’t get what you want, either someone is out to get you or it’s all your fault. A similar idea is at work in the secular custom of New Year’s resolutions, and they are famously ineffective.

The natural world doesn’t work that way. The sun doesn’t suddenly spring back to its position at the height of summer – and it’s a good thing, too, because that kind of transformation without transition would be incredibly traumatic. This is true for humans, too. Sudden changes and fresh starts do occur, but they’re not always something to be yearned for, and they’re seldom as easy as we would like to imagine. More often, rebirth is not an instantaneous process. Usually it arises not just from our wishing but from our working. New life and ways of life usually require that we make choices day after day, again and again, choosing anew and working in support of that choice.

We experience this in our relationships, too; they have to be nurtured on a regular basis. A marriage vow, for example, isn’t something that magically forges a lasting, loving relationship between two people. It’s choosing to live out that vow, again and again, choosing to love, to forgive, to be patient, that keeps the relationship alive, helps it be reborn day by day. It’s not that every single choice, or word, or action has to be perfect, but that enough of them are good enough to tip the balance. It’s not the making of the vow but the keeping of it that provides the warmth of love in the heart of the family, just as it’s not the single moment of Yule but the gradual lengthening of days that warms the world for springtime.

This kind of gradual progress can be frustrating. The day after Yule isn’t noticeably longer, and it’s going to go on being cold for quite a while. In the face of that, it’s important to celebrate the magical moments, like the days when the very sun stands still and then changes course. But often, our culture puts too much weight on the single moments, with unrealistic expectations leading to inevitable disappointments: the big dinner must be a time of jollity and familial love, the long-awaited present must be perfectly surprising and satisfying all at once, and so on.

Instead of trying to force Yule, or New Year’s, or any other single moment, to give me instantaneous transformation, I try to follow the Sun’s pattern. On this shortest day, I take time to pause, to stand still and just be present. Then, when I want to renew or re-create my life in some way, I do it gradually, gently, a little at a time. That kind of sustained rebirth, a daily, incremental newness of life, has a name: growth. Growth, and the precious knowledge that it continues, even in the cold and dark of winter, is what I celebrate in this season.

[1] At this time, the Northern Hemisphere is approaching the winter solstice, while the Southern Hemisphere is approaching Litha, or summer solstice.
[2] Solstice comes from the roots “sol,” meaning sun, and “sistere,” meaning to come to a stop. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=solstice

Blessed Yule!

The sun returns! Blessed be!

May he bring you what you need, as well as what you want, with the waxing of the light.

To celebrate, I have a small poem in the Winter Solstice issue of Eternal Haunted Summer.

Also, happy new b’ak’tun:

Pedro Celestino Yac Noj, a Mayan sage, burned seeds and fruits to mark the end of the old calender at a ceremony in Cuba. He said: “The 21st is for giving thanks and gratitude and the 22nd welcomes the new cycle, a new dawn.”

That quote was the only part worth reading about yet another article on the world ending, which it hasn’t. I’m just providing the link because citing sources is a habit.

Yule blessings!

The sun came up! The spring will return! Here’s wishing you and yours light and love for the coming year.

I’m working on emerging from the past few weeks’ hibernation, which was caused by an unfortunate combination of illness and ongoing family situation that required significant amounts of time and energy.

In the meantime, I wrote about Yule and sustaining rebirth over at the Slacktiverse. Enjoy! Waes hail!

Positive Reinforcement for Religious Tolerance

I stopped by PetSmart today to pick up more food for my cats. On my way in, I was pleased to note that the decoration on the doors said not only “Merry Christmas” and “Feliz Navidad,” but also “Happy Hannukah,” “Merry Kwanzaa,” and “Happy Holidays.” As I was checking out, I asked the cashier to tell the manager that I appreciated their display of religious tolerance. The cashier actually called the manager over so I could tell him myself.

I would encourage others to do the same thing if they find retailers, restaurants, or service providers who acknowledge that not everyone celebrates Christmas in the middle of the winter. Conservative Christians have been putting a lot of pressure on retailers to use Christmas and only Christmas as the term for winter holidays. The least that we can do is congratulate those who don’t cave to such pressure. The conservative Christian campaign relies on shame and fear – organizations threaten retailers that if they are tolerant, they’ll go on a “naughty” list and Christians will avoid their business. Let’s oppose that intolerance, shame, and fear with the feelings and actions that really ought to be associated with this holiday season: feelings of tolerance, compassion, and gratitude.

I specifically said that I knew the “Christmas only” pressure existed, and I was glad to find PetSmart not giving in. You might want to say something like, “It makes me feel more comfortable,” or “more welcome in your place of business.” Let’s show the retailers that the people actually shopping there do care about religious tolerance and are willing to appreciate and reward it.