Video Description: Join me as I speak to One World Spiritual Center about the traditional Wiccan/neopagan mythology of Yule, and the heart gifts that we receive from the rituals and activities we enjoy at this special time of year.
Lots of times, we have a tendency to think of spirituality as something that we’re bringing into us, some high ideal, or something apart from the physical world, as if the physical world is something to transcend. But I don’t see it that way at all.
My deepest and best spiritual living is in the world, being in the world and part of all that is in this plane of existence, fully and consciously participating, instead of separating myself or holding myself apart. This is different from any of the other teachings I have learned in my life which tell me that I should be seeking enlightenment so that I can rise above this world “spiritually”.
I see nature as divine in and of itself; and the spiritual experience is to be had in the physical world.
That’s my perspective. It may not work for you. It might work for some of you. I don’t know. But that’s what I can share as my experience.
So what does this have to do with Yule?
Yule is a celebration of the return of the sun.
The sun coming back was sacred to the tribal peoples. They needed their crops, they needed their livestock fed, they needed to survive the winter. From that perspective, it isn’t difficult to understand why the return of the sun would be revered as a sacred time of year. You would celebrate because you know what is coming. Solstice night marks the beginning of a welcome and much-needed shift back to slowly lengthening days, warmer sun, the beginning of new life coming again in the fields and waters and animals, which will, in essence, save you from the elements and perhaps even starvation.
But there’s a whole other layer on top of that.
The physical return of the sun is the “necessity” layer. But in the physical world, there’s another layer once you get past the need to survive. There’s also the layer of being present here, now, in this present moment.
You hear about that all the time, “The Power of Now” and mindfulness.
It’s no different in paganism or neo-paganism, Wicca, etc. An integral part of my “witchy ways” is that I am focused on being in the body in this place and time, and that is my spiritual experience in the world.
For me, it’s not pondering how many hands have touched the food I am eating or the clothes I am wearing. That kind of thinking is a very cerebral exercise. For me, spirituality isn’t much about being cerebral. Rather, a large part of my spirituality is about the more mundane and primal activities, and paying attention to my body, my feelings, my senses, my actions… all the things that make me fully present and active in my life. And that kind of physical world awareness and presence is very much what Cernunnos is about.
Who is Cernunnos?
I hope I mentioned, Cernunnos is the horned God whose birth is celebrated at Yule. He is directly linked to the birth (or rebirth) of the sun in the physical world, and is the son of the Goddess born at Winter Solstice. He symbolizes vitality, growth, the hunt, action.
*Note: I have always seen Cernunnos shown in art as a man-beast of The Wild Hunt at a time of the year when the sun has been strong and the forest is thriving. But as mentioned above, he is also the “sun” and “son” that is born to the Goddess on Winter Solstice. Like most things in Paganism which revolve around the wheel of the year, he then grows and thrives through the summer, and declines in the fall, only to be reborn again each year at the following Winter Solstice.
So, when we are celebrating Yule, and embracing the promise of the return of the physical sun and mythological son of the Goddess, Cernunnos, we are also celebrating a return to vitality and action. We are moving from dark back into light. We are also transitioning from a period of cocooning and reflection, introspection, and gathering around the home and hearth, back into a forward movement of projection, creation, growth and vigor.
We can take action again. We can be present in the physical world. We can manifest, not only by thinking, seeing and envisioning things, but actually working toward those things in the real, physical world.
That’s one of the key elements that I see both in stoicism and in nature-based spirituality. Stoicism and neopaganism both put feet to the high ideals that we hold spiritually. They include taking action, making steps and being present in the world in a physical way as intrinsic to the spiritual process and experience, or philosophy, that we practice. It is the practices, not just the thinking, that leads us to the embodiment of our highest ideals for ourselves and our lives.
So, let’s look at Yule from the perspective of promise in the physical world.
We already said Yule is the celebration of the promise of the sun. We know the sun is going to come back. We can’t see it yet, because we’re celebrating at night — the longest night of the year — and the sun hasn’t risen yet for its triumphant return marking the beginning of the dark’s decline; but we know it’s going to come. That is the promise of the earth (and the Goddess) to us, and that’s what we’re celebrating at Yule. In this longest night, we’re celebrating the morning coming and the return of light.
I want to share this poem by Patti Wigington. It’s about Yule, and you’ll see it’s about the physical aspects of Yule, but there’s an extra element at the end. Let’s listen.
The Wheel has turned once more, andPatti Wigington
the earth has gone to sleep.
The leaves are gone, the crops have returned to the ground.
On this darkest of nights, we celebrate the light.
Tomorrow, the sun will return,
its journey continuing as it always does.
Welcome back, warmth.
Welcome back, light.
Welcome back, life.
Shadows go away, darkness is no more,
as the light of the sun comes back to us.
Warm the earth.
Warm the ground.
Warm the sky.
Warm our hearts.
Welcome back, sun.
What did you notice?
The poet begins with the physical world and the shift from dark to light. But at the end, the one line, “Warm our hearts,” makes clear there is much more that is significant about Yule, as well, and that is found when we move our attention from the physical gifts of Yule to the intangible gifts of heart-centered living.
There is some magick that happens during Yule and it’s contagious.
For me, while there is definitely something poetic and profound in pondering the mystery of the Universe on these dark cold nights. There is an equal and complimentary gift in the change of our hearts that happens at this time of year.
We play joyful music that speaks of giving, love and playfulness, the beauty of snow falling or enjoying a warm and cozy fire with loved ones. People are kinder. They’re more open. They’re giving. You can almost feel it in the air.
If you look for that warmth, you will find it.
And that’s what I love about the Wyrd Sisters’ Solstice Carol. (Here’s my rendition. Enjoy! ❤️🎵) It says ‘the long night draws near, but all who need comfort are welcome by here’. Then it goes on to talk about ‘the sick and the poor, the hungry, the lost, all are our children, no matter the cost’.
It’s about taking care. It’s about connecting.
These are the intangible gifts of Yule, the things that we can’t put our hands on, but we feel most strongly. These are the things that make a difference in our world, in our lives and the lives of others. For me, this is the spiritual aspect of Yule, more than any symbology.
Here’s another poem that I wanted to share. This as a Celtic-inspired Yule blessing, again by Patti Wigington.
“The food is put away for the winter,
the crops are set aside to feed us,
the cattle are come down from their fields,
and the sheep are in from the pasture.
The land is cold, the sea is stormy, the sky is gray.
The nights are dark, but we have our family,
kin and clan around the hearth,
staying warm in the midst of darkness,
our spirit and love a flame,
a beacon burning brightly
in the night.”
And again, where does that poem go? Straight to the heart.
For me, that’s what being “witchy” is.
I would consider myself a hearth witch, which you could shortcut and just say “heart witch”, in my opinion, because being a hearth witch is all about creating a sacred space in your home. It’s about cooking with loving care. It’s about being mindful of the energy you imbue into everything you create. It’s about honoring yourself, your family and your space. It’s about focusing on what brings you a feeling of community and care and warmth and sacredness.
That is spirituality for me, and yet, all of those things I just mentioned are physical tasks. They’re things that you do — being present and active in the physical world. But it’s also about the energy that you put into your work as you do it, and the intention that you’re setting in your space.
So while the physical gifts of Yule and the return of the sun are wonderful and a welcome relief for many, the intangible gifts are those that speak to my heart.
Here are 3 heart gifts you can focus on to expand the magick of your holiday
When we feel connected in a good way, our energy expands. We smile, we laugh, we enjoy life.
If you have friends and family who are open to celebrating Yule with you in a way that is mutually agreeable, terrific! But even if there are differences in faith and tradition around the holiday there are still some great secular rituals that can be embraced for time spent together in a good way.
So what is a ritual?
A ritual is anything that you do essentially the same way on a regular basis and that holds some personal significance to us. For some people that might be the sacred morning cup of coffee, a morning meditation, or even a Wednesday night family dinner.
It doesn’t have to be faith based, and it doesn’t have to be fancy, either.
Gift giving at birthdays and winter holiday is a ritual. Feasting together is a ritual. Church is a ritual for some people, or my family used to get together at least once a year for sugar on snow and slides of my grandfather’s vacation. (The sugar on snow was great; the slides were boring! 😮 Don’t tell him.)
Whatever your rituals, take advantage of the ones share with others, and truly connect instead of just going through the motions. Be clear on your intention before you participate. What would the best possible outcome be? Set your intention to have a good time and then show up fully. Pay attention. Be mindful of the opportunity you have. If given the opportunity, really listen to the stories being told and share from the heart.
At the spiritual center where I am the Music Director, they talk about ‘God is in the space between us, in our relations’, and I have to agree. While I might not choose to call it God, our connections are an important part of our spirituality. The energy between us has its own magick, and it is important that we tend to it as such, with careful consideration.
We also have an opportunity to connect with the earth and the animals.
Have you ever fed the local wildlife in your yard (or on your porch even, if you live in an apartment)? It sounds silly, but there is something magical about just putting out some cracked corn and watching the animals come and eat the corn. Even if you don’t see them eating, when you come back the next day and see they accepted your offering (it’s gone!), it feels good. And that too is something that you can do as a ritual each winter or spring, whatever makes sense where you live.
When I was a child, my grandfather used to put out cracked corn for the bunnies and the deer, maybe some nuts sometimes for the squirrels, and birdseed and corn for the birds. And if a cardinal came, that was a very big deal, because up north, cardinals are not common like they are in the southeastern United States. And it would fill our hearts with joy and awe to see the little animals coming and eating what we had put out for them.
It seems so simplistic, but there really is something magical and special about feeding the animals (preferably something healthy for them). If you’ve never done it, you should try it at least once. It might be harder if you live in the city, or in a dense suburb, but where we live, we have deer everywhere. So we’re going to try and find some cracked corn and rekindle that ritual that I had as a child. Look how long it’s stuck with me — many, many, many decades — and it’s still an important part of who I am. So that shows you the power of ritual and connection.
We can also connect with the earth through wreaths and Yule trees, for example, both of which are evergreen, which is a symbol that life continues even in the dark season. We also often have a tree lighting or bonfire, which connects us both to earth/nature and each other.
So far we’ve talked about wreathes and tree decorating, story telling and family meals. Perhaps you’ve noticed that all of these things also touch on the gift of creativity.
At Yule, we have the opportunity to explore our creative side in many ways. We can make a wreath or create gifts for our family and friends. It could be bath salts, or body scrub. Or it could be cooking or baking homemade goodies. I know at least one of my friends baked piles and piles of sweet treats with her mom this year. That can be sacred time if you are mindful and intentional, and you make it so.
And then, to top it off, you’re giving them away. You’ve made these gifts from your heart with love and now you are freely giving them away to people that you care about. How is that not a spiritual experience? Sometimes, we forget that spirituality is in, or can be in, all of these moments if we’re present and mindful.
So we make these gifts… Spoiler alert! I’m going to make some granola. I love making granola! It’s delicious! So I’m going to make that one of our items in our goodie boxes that Paul and I are making for gifts this year. We’re not doing anything extravagant, but what we’re putting together will be done with love and intention; and that’s what magick is all about (and manifesting too!).
For me, that’s what spirituality is about: making even everyday tasks sacred — chop wood, carry water. Right?
And that’s also what being a hearth witch is about. It’s about creating that sacred space, and connection, and opening your creativity.
If you’re decorating a tree with your family or friends, remember the purpose. You’re connecting. And even if you’re decorating alone, you are creating a space that makes you feel a certain way every time you look at it. Whether that feeling is peace or love or joy, whatever it is, you are creating a sacred space and a sacred presence.
Another popular ritual at this time of year is caroling or wassailing. People come together and sing. That’s both creative and connecting. You get together and laugh and have fun. And if you go door to door and sing for others, you are also giving at the same time. You are (hopefully) brightening someone’s evening.
Which leads me to the last heart gift I want to mention…
Yule brings gratitude, or at least it does for me. I am much more aware during this time of year, of the crisp cold beauty of nature, the warm and cozy home that Paul and I have created together, the opportunity to spend time with my son, the energy, warmth and joy that we put into making our gift baskets, and the blessing that we are able to make those little gifts for our family and friends.
There’s so much to be grateful for, but sadly, we often forget this and take the natural world, our relations, our bodies, and our gifts for granted. Perhaps we’ve never known life without them. They are just part of existence, and we never give them a second thought. But if we treat our every day experiences differently, and we look at them as sacred, then that’s what they become, and that’s also the energy they will return to us as well. And when we can remember that, we can be grateful for all of these simple gifts that life has to offer us.
As with anything, Yule is what you make of it.
In my opinion, what’s important is not whether you believe in a baby Jesus, or the birth of the horned God to the Goddess, or simply the return of the physical sun. What’s important is the magick that happens at this time of year — in your life, in your relations, in your experience of the physical world — and the spiritual gifts that can be found in everyday moments. What’s important is how we treat ourselves, how we treat the planet, and how we treat others.
In closing, I’d like to share this Yule poem by Susan Cooper.
“So the shortest day came
and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries
of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
to drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
to keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us—listen!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day.
As promise wakens in the sleeping land;
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends, and hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year, and every year.”
From our home to yours, we send you blessings of love, peace, joy, warmth, gratitude and cheer this holiday season. Blessed be.