Winter Solstice is marked by the sun crossing the 45th parallel in the Southern Hemisphere. It is the longest night and shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere. Astrologically, the sun is moving into the zodiacal sign of Capricorn, the Sea-Goat. Since the sun is responsible for the nourishing of all life on this planet, it is easy to see why historically and presently, the Winter Solstice continues to be an important time.
In the past the return of the sun was celebrated five days after the actual Winter Solstice. It was by then that they could see that the gradual increase in the lighted time of the day was more obvious. The Return of the Sun was then felt to be certain.
Nowadays, many alternative groups create their own rituals to fit this special festival time. For many groups, the major focus for their Yule ritual is the Return of the Light, the shared creation of a Sacred Space for having successfully walked through the darkest part of the year. It is a time for the gathering together of family, clan and community to share with one another gifts, food and companionship.
The early Christian Church became well aware of the importance of the Yuletide season as one of the strongest walls of resistance to church doctrine. Hence, it appropriated much of the symbolism and subject matter of this festival belonging to the country people (or "pagani" as the Romans called them), including the fundamental element of the "birth of the Son (Sun)", into its seasonal ritual and church calendar.
Yule, the festival marking the "Return of the Light" and the rebirth/renewal of the Wheel of the Year was too ingrained a tradition for people who lived in the cold northern hemisphere to trade for church doctrines of a God and Son of God who seemed often vague, intangible and impersonal.
Those of us who are interested in personally experiencing our spiritual and metaphysical realities and who are exploring alternative spiritual paths want to participate first hand in our encounters with God/Goddess energies. We each one are priestess and priest, with no intermediary between ourselves and Divine Energy. We are interested in a tangible, sensory/sensual experience of the Wheel of the Year and Mother Earth, Mother Nature. Those of us who choose to take part in this Earth-based religion find immense and heart-felt satisfaction in directly working with the seasonal energies at each of the Quarters, marked by the Sun (solstices and equinoxes) and the Cross-Quarters, marked by the Moon.
The group I participate in, Ravens Moon, chooses to connect with some of the Celtic deities and to the lunar-related Cross-Quarter celebrations: Imbolc (or Candlemas, February 2nd), Beltane (or May Day, May 1st), Lughnasad (or Lammas, August 1st), and Samhain (or All Hallows, October 31st).
We of Ravens Moon actively choose improvisation as a tool in our rituals to generate as real a connection as possible to the seasonal energies of the Wheel of the Year. Our motto is "Plan to Improvise."
At Yule, we pay attention to this time when we become more aware of the interplay between Darkness and Light. Ravens Moon dedicates Yule to the Celtic deity Herne, Whom we acknowledge as the "Holly King," and Who offers us insights into the forces of Dark and Light.
Ravens Moon recognizes Light and Dark, Masculine and Feminine, as two equal energies, each a balance of the other. We do not judge Light as "good" or Dark as "bad"; we see the dance of Light and Darkness as the driving force for the Wheel of the Year. Darkness has within it its own light. Darkness symbolizes the Feminine principle which magnetizes and receives energy to it. I could also describe the Yuletide time of Darkness as a time for rest and renewal, a time for us to receive information we can use to begin our next cycle of waxing Light. The Light has within it its own dark. Without the dark, there would be no Shadow to add depth to what we see and know.
Many of us remember Carl Jung's concept of the "Shadow" as a very powerful part of our psyches. Jung has written that if we ignore or deny our Shadow, it will show up at the most inopportune times, and sabotage our best efforts.
The Light symbolizes the Masculine principle which takes action on what the Feminine has received. The waxing of the Light makes way for us to create our lives anew.
Yule is the time when we share together as a community. Yule is the time when we join together to share with each other our appreciation of what the Earth has given us throughout the year. Yule is the time when we come together in our Circle to tune into the energies of Dark and Light, to balance the powers around us here on Earth, and feel the energy of the Earth Herself. It is a time when we learn how to receive as well as to give. For although it has been said that "it is more blessed to give than receive," I believe that we must also learn how to be open to receiving.
One way I open to receive is to first ask my question and then center myself by breathing in deeply, feeling the breath-energy all the way to my feet. Next, I listen carefully with all of my senses, physical and psychic, for the answer. I trust and I know from experience that I will receive an answer.
Another method is the Native American Medicine Wheel, as described by cultural anthropologist, Angeles Arrien. The Wheel process begins as I first "show up" and take a stand in the North. Secondly, I "tell the truth," my truth without blame or judgment in the East. Thirdly, I "pay attention" to what has heart and meaning in the South. And then, I "let go of outcome, and I am open to it" in the West, where I am ready to receive. This careful awareness, being open to receive, for me means to be aware of the birds, plants, animals, clouds in the sky, songs on the radio, in short everything around me. As I pay attention, I can see and know God/Goddess is active in my whole life. I experience my life as Sacred. When I receive a gift, the most gracious, real and simple thing I can do is to say "Thank You." The act of accepting the gift is a vital part of the Sacred Partnership between Giver and Receiver. We participate in the giving and receiving of energy between ourselves and God/Goddess. As we open to receive we can accept not only from the physical realm: gifts, food and companionship, we also expand to receive the bounty and support of God/Goddess/All-That-Is. In our receiving, we open our hearts to this abundant God/Goddess energy, and thereby heal our spirits. We reconnect to our Higher Selves, the higher, finer energies that are around us all the time. As we awaken to Yuletide, we renew our connection to our God-Source, and we renew our awareness of God/Goddess present in everything.
Yule is a good time for us to become aware of and begin to choose our spiritual families. As astrologer Robert "Buz" Myers has noted, we have been a part of our biological families who were our caretakers. We can join our spiritual families and create for ourselves our own clans, our own communities, and support systems, having a common spiritual relationship.
I invite you to join with your chosen families this Yuletide to create together a new song for the Light of Yule. You can create your Sacred Space for this season, this place, this moment. You can dance a dance to feel the Wheel of the Year. You can lie on Mother Earth and heal Her as you heal yourselves. I invite you to create for yourselves a Yule ritual which has heart and meaning for you. You create the energy to honor your connection to your God-Source within.
We can all share the Light of Yule, our Light, with our spiritual families. We can hold hands together and usher in this renewal of our energy, a celebration of our rebirth and the reawakening of the Light, our Light, the God/Goddess Light.