The Long Night

“Arianrhod” by Emily Brunner

Underneath your Christmas trees, eggnog and fat jolly guys in red suits lie the roots of one of the more significant Pagan festivals of the year. Winter Solstice, The Long Night, or (from the Norse “Jul”) Yule—which means “Wheel.”

Caer Arianrhod, also known as the constellation Corona Borealis

We see this echoed in the Welsh myth of Caer Arianrhod, the castle of stars in the sky that never sets. This is a time when many Witches gather with family and friends to eat good food and drink wassail and say goodbye and hello to the sun as it hits its low point in the sky.

The phenomenon of the waning light of the sun is central to the Yule holiday. Each day, as the sun rises on the Eastern horizon, it moves a couple degrees north or south. For us here in the Northern Hemisphere, the closer to Summer Solstice we are, the further north the sun will rise and set. The closer to Winter Solstice, the further south it rises and sets. Interestingly, at the Summer and Winter Solstices, the Sun will rise and set at the same place in the sky three days in a row, and possibly this is where religions received the inspiration of the “3 days and nights” element that many deities have to pass through.

Earthenware Wassailling Bowl. This one is from England and amazingly is dated by the creator, Dec 14th, 1682.

A lot can happen in three days. For Pagans, this was the annual “reset button” for the sun, whose power was seen to wax and wane throughout the year. At Winter Solstice, the Sun was thought to “die,” only to be “resurrected” three days later. This death and resurrection imagery is found in belief systems from all over the world, and throughout time. And even though ancient people ultimately came to understand the Sun would come back, it was still a scary reality to watch the earth shut down, to witness the light grow dim.

VIntage Krampus postcard. Note the Kali/Gorgon-esque tongue.

Many cultures saw this as the face of primordial chaos asserting its influence, wiping away all the order humans had delicately put into place. In Rome, people celebrated Saturnalia as a way to appease The Lord of Misrule. In Central Europe, we see Krampus as the face of mayhem. For Ancient Egyptians, Set kills his life-giving brother Osiris. Amaterasu, the Japanese Sun Goddess, retreats into a cave after an argument with her brother. The world is plunged into darkness and evil spirits run amok.

An 1857 CE print by Utagawa Toyokuni III showing the sun goddess Amaterasu, the most important deity of the Japanese Shinto religion. Here she emerges from self-exile in a cave.

The Triple Goddess, usually depicted as the loving, generous Mother Earth brimming with fertility, became the barren Crone Cailleach, silver hair streaming, picking off the sick and the weak members of the village. The game of bobbing for apples was initially a form of divination to forecast your fate for the coming year. Would you be lucky enough to make it through the season?

Blue Spruce, Picea Pungens

However, chaos and death are obviously not the only elements of Yule. Most plants died, but the evergreens—pine, spruce, fir, juniper—lived through the cold, and became symbols of ancestor wisdom, loyalty, and shelter. A log of this wood—the Yule Log—would be burned through the three days the sun was checked out—with a small piece saved to light the fire the following year.

As for old St. Nick, he’s more of an amalgamation of a few holy rollers. One was Odin, who was, according to A Witches Bible Compleat, sometimes called “Nik.” Another was a Witch Goddess named Befana, who would ride around on a broomstick, dropping presents for children down chimneys. And the third part of St. Nick may, in fact, actually come from Siberian and Finnish shamans who venerated the red and white amanita mushroom and relied on reindeer to help find them.

Vintage St. Nik & Krampus card

Take this quiet moment to shed old forms, gain wisdom from the experiences of the past year, take a small rest in the dark, and the witness the rebirth of the Light, the Divine Spark, while you restore your energy and begin the long trek into the coming year.

Boswellia Sacra, AKA Frankincense tree

Plant Helpers:
All Evergreens, Cinnamon, Frankincense, Myrrh

Stone helpers:

Turquoise, Blue Topaz, Blue Zircon, Tanzanite, Garnet

In the modern era, Witches also work with Silver Sheen Obsidian, Iolite, Herkimer Diamond

Themes for Meditation
Light is overcoming the Darkness. What is the light you shine in the World?
Traditions all over the world consider this a sacred time of year. What does it mean to you?
Looking back on all you have lost and gained in the last year, what Deep Wisdom have you gained, and how do you plan to use it going forward?

Witch’s Work:

Rebirth, Transformation, Ancestors, Enlightenment, Wisdom, and the birth, rebirth, or return of Solar and Light Deities.

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