Yuletide Reflections

My internet connection has finally cooperated enough to allow me to write this on New Year’s Eve, where I still feel like I am in a bit of a nadir period with the seasons. I am growing into the opinion that shortly after the Winter Solstice is kind of a dumb spot to put the start of a calendar year, and this is something I’ve kind of explored in the worldbuilding for my still-in-progress sci-fi novel: the alien culture in question reckons every year by the rising of their two suns, an annual phenomenon with deep religious and cultural significance.

I’ve heard arguments for other dates, too: Samhain, as the start of the “dark” portion of the year, is popular among many Wiccan and Pagan groups. Jason Mankey makes a good case for Yule/Winter Solstice as “witch’s new year”, what with the rebirth of the Sun and suchlike. (This idea is also reflected above, albeit as something of a coincidence or synchronicity.) In Kemetic traditions, Wep Ronpet (the Opening of the Year) coincides with the heliacal rising of Sirius, which is usually in early August where I am but changes based on location. So really, a year can be reckoned just about any which way one feels like.

And the interesting thing about this year is I’m a little less about all that light symbolism when it comes to the solstice. Sure, I was hyped, and I got to have a neat ritual even if keeping it going for any length of time was a little difficult (and I will happily joke with others about shoving a sequoia through my front door over a twelve-day period. If you know you know). But there’s an energy to this time of year that I first noticed a while back: I don’t really feel like doing anything. In the words of a meme going around, why do I have to work instead of curling up in my den with enough food and hibernating until Optimal Foraging Conditions? An opossum wouldn’t put up with this.

My sense of activity and being-outside-ness will not return until around March, I reckon. I enjoy winter, I do, but I dislike being out in the cold and at risk of freezing to death. So I stay indoors as much as possible, with my books and my writing projects (yes, more than one), feeling that vague sense of biting cold deep within my bones.

And the other thing I’ve noticed is that spirits have been fairly active this year. Generally they are more active than they have been in decades past, or the conditioning designed to make us not notice is breaking down (or both), and also generally, they have historically been more active at this time of year than in other parts of the year (although the Good People have been known to move about on Beltane/May Eve, as well). But the past couple years I have been incapable of not noticing what’s going on. Several weeks back I was overpowered with the feeling of it, and have since been haunted by the feeling that something is coming and I must make ready. Shades of this feeling pass over me every time I pull into work, to remind me, I suppose, to have my emergency magical/mundane supplies on hand. (After all, my brain goes, this could be the day.)

I received a new deck of playing cards as part of the Doctor Who advent calendar I purchased, and I have been pulling at least one card each day (or rather, each day I remember to do so) in an effort to get to know the deck as a divinatory aid. Many of my notes on systems for reading them have fallen flat, and I’ve been largely forced to rely on analogies to Doctor Who episodes and situations, as well as “vibes” or impressions. Today was the 8 of Clubs and the Missy Joker (the latter asking if there were, indeed, spirits in this Chili’s tonight, and based on Missy’s primary or earliest scheme, I gathered the answer would be yes). Based chiefly on context and the way the suits were assigned by the deck makers (such that Clubs = monsters/aliens), I got an impression tonight would be quite busy. Not that this matters to anyone but myself, but I think it’s relevant to the point at hand: spirits are moving, often in groups this time of year. Usually the answer is to lock up properly and not venture outside unless absolutely necessary (i.e. I have to go to work at stupid-o’-clock in the morning). And if you hear unusual noises, don’t get too curious. It’s probably an animal anyway. Animals make plenty of weird noises.

(Side bar on that last point, a customer at my job at place discussed his second home, where he went for the most recent snowstorm we had, and among other things, he said “Be careful what you wish for” and that there were mountain lions up the wazoo in the area. “Kitty City” he called it. Tracks, a neighbor got a good photo, and a pit full of various bits of meat from various animals. He was wise enough to not linger to long at this pit, and I wouldn’t either. The wildlife is becoming more active and this is worrisome.)

Interestingly, spoons have been hard to come by when it comes to traditional Christmasy activities like watching festive movies, decking the halls, and baking more cookies than I could feasibly eat as a single individual. I’m not sure if it’s me being exhausted by “traditional” Christmas overall, or if it’s connected to the increased activity and my overall pull toward a “darker” holiday (and, I gather, the increasing popularity of Yule Goats), or both, or something else entirely, or a combination. But the image of Christmas being pushed (as it always has been) is increasingly not lining up with what I feel to be happening around this time of year. It does seem, though, that Christmas imagery is slowly changing to reflect the overall seasonal vibe (the aforementioned Yule Goat, straw goats both large and small that are ubiquitous in Sweden, as well as an increased popularity of figures like Krampus over the past several years).

And who knows, it could also be part of the overall anti-consumerism push among us young people out to kill all the industries because we don’t have the resources to keep up with the Joneses and are sick of hearing that we have to on principle.

Yuletide Vandalism 2021, pt. 2

In the early hours of Friday morning (Sweden time), the Gavle Goat was set ablaze. This marks its first defeat in five years following the institution of 24-hour scrutiny. Many of my pagan friends recognize the value in setting the goat ablaze, regardless of legality, and I think many of them recognize the same forces I do: misrule and a pull toward some modernized form of ancient ritual.

Coupled with other reports of recent holiday vandalism, and the overall sense of an increased presence of the gods and spirits in the “ordinary” or mundane world, I think this theory is pretty plausible.

Yuletide Vandalism 2021

I learned (after an impromptu visit from my mother) that the Fox News Christmas Tree (not the Rockefeller one, the one in front of the Fox Station) has been set on fire this morning. The tree is artificial, so this isn’t a Christmas Vacation situation where a loss of tree water can lead to an accident that results in the festive blaze. The person responsible has been arrested, but the motive is unclear as of just a few hours ago.

When searching up that story to get details (I googled “new york christmas tree vandalism”), I turned up another story from two days ago where another tree, in Chicago’s Washington Park, was also set ablaze by vandals, and had to be replaced.

(Update on the Gavle Goat: It is still standing. Although December is young.)

Someone asked “Why our community? Why our Christmas tree?” with regard to the attack on the Washington Park tree (which is the third in a row in its three-year history; that tree is not lucky). Now, call me insane, but if you’ve been on this blog a bit you probably suspect that I suspect the tides are influencing certain people toward vandalism of Christmas symbols not necessarily as a cruel or petty act of violence but as a form of sacrifice to the old gods. The fact that these acts are not state-sanctioned sacrifices, or even recognized as sacrifices, influences public perception of them, but I think from the perception of the forces influencing and encouraging this behavior, this is about as close as they think they’re going to get.

Christmas Carols

I like Christmas carols.

It sounds like a weird thing for a pagan to say, and I kind of agree. I don’t subscribe to Christianity, why do I like its seasonal music so much?

I assume a big part of the situation is that I grew up with some of these songs. They fall into a wider “canon” of stuff that was in the air about this time as I was growing up, alongside secular hits like “Frosty the Snowman”, “Deck the Halls”, “White Christmas”, and so on. And I’m sure a fair few of us can list at least ten Christmas songs we heard and liked growing up with little effort. So the more religious songs that were absolutely everywhere (your “Silent Night”s and “O Come All Ye Faithful”s and such) got ingrained into my soul and, hear me out, I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing. I don’t follow Christ, sure, but almost all these songs are about hope, joy, good news, and so on, which are shockingly apt seasonal themes for the Winter solstice (which is more or less a season in its own right, the way it’s celebrated in wider culture).

And maybe that latter bit explains my positive reaction to newer carols I’ve discovered (“Wexford Carol”, which is difficult to find anywhere let alone routinely, and “Mary’s Little Boy Child”). I have a more mixed opinion of “Mary, Did You Know” and “O Come Emmanuel” (the latter for that whole “bind all peoples in one heart and mind” business). But on the whole, when I find myself discovering new Christmas music, I am pleasantly surprised.

I’m not sure if this is a latent Christianity thing or a response to the lack of pagan hymns (a subject I am looking into thanks to a project for a community I’m involved in) and the general Christian overculture. It could be a combination of both, although I was never raised in the faith. (Mommie Dearest should have tried, since she turned out disappointed that I disagreed with her on certain theological fundamentals. Perhaps she believes the Word of God is written on my heart or something like that….) It could be nostalgia, even. Pure and simple longing for a seemingly easier past where the world seemed figured out and the future assured.

In any case, this may be my one Yule-tide based idiosyncrasy (or at least, the one that bugs me a little bit). I may never find an answer to it, and that’s probably OK.

The War On Christmas (Sadly, not an actual war)

This year, the War On Christmas began in October, shortly before Halloween when President Biden was declared the Grinch, best I can tell for trying to be reasonable about the fact that there’s a global pandemic still around.

The War on Christmas is not a new obsession of the Right. Bill O’Reilly pushed it from 2005 until he was fired for sexual misconduct in 2017 (looooots of sexual misconduct). Before that it was the product of anti-semitic conspiracy theories pushed by the likes of the John Birch Society. Evidently Jews were pushing a secular, multi-cultural agenda for decades. Now, some War on Christmas proponents (by which I mean Dennis Prager) will point out that Jewish people wrote the most famous Christmas songs in the American Christmas canon, including White Christmas, Happy Holiday, and others. So this means Jews have not been pushing a secular, multi-cultural agenda. Or something.

In its modern form, the War on Christmas is a lot of screeching from the right, Fox News, and so on, about how “the left” or in some cases “the radical left” or “the Marxists” or “the Communist socialist system of Islam” (yes, someone actually said this) are out to remove Christian traditions like Christmas from the American public consciousness in order to push an agenda of gay marriage, abolition of the nuclear family, and reproductive rights for women. Ahh yes, all the evils presented in Pandora’s Box, finally unleashed.

Now, if you’ve been paying any kind of attention to this debate at all in the past decade or so, you might be thinking, “I thought a ton of Christmas traditions had nothing to do with Jesus!” (Unless you’re Kirk Cameron, who has somehow managed to pretend everything from Christmas trees to Christmas ham is linked back to the Bible in some way, shape, or form.) You’d be correct. Many customs are secular or pagan in origin, and one can strip all “Christian” elements out of Christmas without missing very much. Many of the things the War on Christmas people claim “the left” is “cancelling” are also secular in origin, for example Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (evidently), “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, and Santa Claus (specifically the white version). There’s your standard “we can’t put nativity scenes on public government property!” complaints here as well, and that’s a matter of the separation of church and state. The current stance of the government, last I checked, appears to be that if you stick up a Nativity at the courthouse you have to also put up other appropriate display items from other traditions. Of course, this has not been a problem where I’m from. The courthouse here had inflatables of snowmen and Santa last year, as well as the standard lights on the large pine trees out front, and the only house I know of with a big ol’ wooden cross out front is also the biggest exterior display in town.

However, following the screeching about the War on Christmas is my favorite unorthodox Yuletide custom, possibly excepting the sadistic tracking of the Gavle Goat’s survival or lack thereof. My favorite Christmas movies as a child were the likes of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation so perhaps the signs were there from the beginning. The screeching hits the same beats year in and year out, especially when a Democrat is president. It’s like your holiday playlist, except it’s deranged raving about how the phrase “Merry Christmas” is banned and the word “Snowmen” is cancelled in favor of “snow people”. There’s always defiant declarations that “Real Christians/Americans will be celebrating CHRISTMAS this year and there’s not a damn thing the globalists can do about it!” Perhaps I’m strange for delighting so in watching people tilt at windmills. But I suppose finding it funny takes less mental energy than trying to explain to these people why and how they are wrong.

Samhain 2021

I discovered on 10-27 that the Gavle Goat, a perennial favorite target of Yuletide vandals, has survived 2020, as I had predicted. (I have been researching and preparing mentally for Yule 2021, for which I have big plans I may discuss at a later point.) Now I wonder if the Goat will survive Yule 2021, after four consecutive years of survival, or if the impulse will overtake someone and they will set fire to the straw figure once more (or at least, make an attempt).

I bring this up primarily as an update to a previous post, and a prediction for the future (in a sense). But I’m also doing it because in my mind, it is only the beginning of the most haunted, spiritually active time of the year. Last year I felt it to some degree or another until around May 1, but it peaked in December and January. The spirits will be out and about for a while, and I think many of the oldest ones are a bit slow to change with the human calendar. (In The Krampus and the Old, Dark Christmas, Ridenour postulates that some customs were shifted around in accordance with various factors, from the Catholic liturgical calendar to the state visits of important people. Generally, he suspects, some things moved “up” or earlier in time from older observances. This dovetails neatly with the theory that older wassailing traditions (and drunken carousing) have influenced Halloween trick-or-treating (and drunken carousing), and Christmas spirits and ghost stories being mostly abandoned in America in favor of Halloween spirits and ghost stories. Though that one is in part due to the Puritans banning Christmas altogether because it was too Pagan and too fun.)

That coupled with the general ramping up of spiritual and Otherworldly activity that everyone and their dog has noticed by this point, means I think we’re going to be seeing quite a haunted yuletide (see also When Divination Hands It To You).

I recognize there are a lot of mundane reasons that drive someone to vandalism of Christmas or other property: boredom, drunkenness, doing it because they can, seeing if they can get away with it, any combination thereof. But, I have been nurturing a theory that something else is also stirring this on, encouraging it. A potential candidate? Of course, I can’t be 100% certain of these things, especially these things, and I won’t say there’s one single answer to everything all the time, but I think there’s something here worth looking into.

Santa Claus

So I stumbled into a huge collection of articles about “The Santa Lie” (i.e. parents telling their children that Santa Claus literally exists and is capable of a host of magical feats, and the realization or learning of the truth of the matter having a host of consequences such as eroding trust in their parents and possibly threatening their religious beliefs). Listen, there are a host of controversies about Christmas, especially this year (every jackass on Twitter is commenting about how “communist regulations” are “canceling family” or whatever). This is “tame” by comparison.

But I really think it’s a matter of worldview. I hold a view of the world that accommodates magical, spiritual beings. I wouldn’t be running this blog if I didn’t. In my brain, Santa can be literally real, but not a physical entity. (As to the point on how some kids who learn Santa isn’t real begin doubting God or gods, well, it’s the same sort of thing. I don’t take the gods to be physically real in the same sense as this laptop, for example.)

John Beckett talks a lot about materialism as a worldview and why he disagrees with it, and I think this is an instance of that. People tend to believe that because Santa Claus is not a physical reality with a literal workshop at the North Pole and elves (helpful or otherwise), then he simply flat out doesn’t exist. They believe this about God, as if there must be physical and indisputable proof of a divine entity for that entity to be taken as “real”. (I’m using the words “physical” and “real” a lot in this post, so apologies if they stop seeming like proper words by the end.) However, as anyone who has had a mystical experience and touched the numinous can tell you, this isn’t necessarily the case. Andred is real because I have experienced Her, many times. She has yet to make a physical appearance in the mortal plane, but is that really a necessary thing?

We know there’s no workshop at the North Pole these days. We’ve taken satellite photos, explored up there, there are probably scientific expeditions going on considering the looming threat of global warming and glacial melt.

To pull another example, we have yet to find any evidence of alien life, despite all the UFO sightings and allegations of cover up and secret bases and so on and so forth. A diligent researcher can probably explain almost all sightings, given enough time and resources. But that is different from spiritual beings (including gods), who have been defined for ages as belonging to an otherworld or otherwise separate place distinct from the human world (but anchored in it somehow). They are distinct and separate from humanity, even if they can or could once “walk amongst us”.

Aliens are not gods, despite what Ancient Aliens may have its viewers believe. (I could go on a huge tear about how that show tries to shove spirituality into a materialistic framework if I could be assed to watch it again.) Physically separate, yes, but in a different way. Aliens are always assumed to be physical entities, that we can touch and interact with.

And some people think Santa Claus or Jesus or Ra or Andred must be physical entities that people can touch and talk to face-to-face, or the people who claim to believe in them (at least the gods on this list) must be hallucinating, delusional, or lying. I would not (intentionally) lie about my experiences of Andred, when it was She who taught me Her name in the first place. So I’m of the opinion that there is a third option.

Perhaps, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He lives in the Otherworld, where time moves differently than it does here, and in general none of the usual rules apply. Do not forget your offerings on Christmas Eve.

(Although in my reading a point was brought up to nix the Naughty/Nice list dichotomy and instead teach kids that Santa loves us all regardless of behavior, and leave the coal at the door.)

Yuletide Vandalism and Misrule

The Gavlebocken, or Gavle Goat, has been erected in Gavle, Sweden, since 1966, and in its life, its incarnations have been destroyed or damaged 37 times. Some consider it fitting that the Goat has been burned down (the most common method of destruction, given as the thing is made of straw) each year, as a sort of ritual sacrifice of the Goat to the old gods. Those in this school of thought would consider it fascinating that the Goat survived 2019, and a superstitious sort might attribute the year 2020 to that fact.

People are being discouraged from publicly visiting the Goat because of the pandemic, so it is likely to survive 2020, as well, although some enterprising sort might burn the thing down out of spite, or through some form of divine inspiration.

That isn’t the only form of Yule-related vandalism, although these days vandalism and general mayhem are relegated to New Year’s Eve and Halloween, parties at the former and things like toilet-papering houses at the former (Oct. 30 is called Mischief Night for a reason). There is also a living tradition of the theft of little baby Jesuses from Nativity scenes on public and private property. (There is a related custom of lifting garden gnomes and taking them on trips, but that is not strictly Yule-related.)

This year I have been feeling the undercurrent of older, wilder Yuletide customs and beliefs and the thinning of the veil between the spirit world and the physical world, more so than in past years. Christmas is lights and trees and carols, yes, but also ancient spirits and spiritual phenomena (such as the Wild Hunt, which some customs hold as most active around this time of year). I’ve been hearing the call of the spirits this year, and I think there’s something to the odd bits of Yuletide vandalism. I’m not the only one to feel the subtler energies this time of year that Victorians and Christians and other sorts tried to bury.

The term “misrule” originally applied to a complete social reversal, as occurred at Saturnalia when slaves were served by their masters, men dressed as women and vice versa. The custom, as customs are wont to do, evolved over time to arguably include wassailing, the practice of going door to door, singing and performing in exchange for gifts, food, and drink. The thing is, some people are rowdy drunks. Threats of vandalism began to enter the picture (although I wonder whether or not they were always there, under the surface), especially with the rise of the middle class and nouveaux riche, and the practice “fell out of favor” (this is how it is commonly described). It was replaced with the more benign caroling, going door to door singing Christmas carols just to do so.

But this doesn’t stop people from getting rowdy. Some of those instincts get shunted off to other holidays, as mentioned. However, some of them get funneled into acts like burning down the Gavle Goat, or stealing your neighbor’s or the town’s baby Jesus for a lark.

Perhaps it all speaks to something older “than us or God” (to quote a favorite “not quite Christmas-y” song). Perhaps the energies of the season, the energies of the Otherworld, are moving through arsonists to enact ancient rites. I wouldn’t know, of course, but there might be something to it. Something has been moving about in the physical for quite some time as many writers have attested, and this year it hit me personally quite hard.

What else was I gonna think about in 2020?

The Dark Half of the Year

Traditionally, the dark half of the year begins at or around Samhain and ends at or around Beltane. These are the two points where “the veil between the worlds” is at its thinnest and spirits can be reached. People have argued for years that this veil has been shredded or at least exceptionally porous lately, more so than it has been in the past.

I don’t know about any of that, but I do know that this year, I’ve been highly sensitive to the porousness of the physical world. It started, to me, somewhere two weeks before Samhain. I know that I was gradually being consumed by thoughts of ghosts and spirits. And then, three days before Halloween, I saw a black dog running across the street, in direct line of sight from where I work. I’m unsure if this was a sign, but it felt like enough of a thing for me to take notice.

I’m not sure what it meant.

Then there’s the persistent quest this year for something to Yule and Christmas that isn’t the usual cheery nonsense. Something deeper and scarier. This is the realm of Krampus, Berchta/Perchta, the Wild Hunt (in all of its forms), and, believe it or not, A Christmas Carol. This is the world of blizzards and bitter cold and the struggle for survival and the impulse to huddle together with loved ones (note: the key phrase is “loved ones”, and there are people I am biologically close to that I do not love). Part of me craves that atmosphere, as though the blizzard will contain the numinous.

Based on all the folklore, I think I’m on the right track with that one.

I’m Still Confused by the Buttwipe

What a lovely month it’s shaped up to be. Coronavirus has swept the globe, going from a faint abstraction a month ago to literally the next county over as of last week. If you aren’t under a shelter-in-place order, all the public spaces are closed, which is basically the same. Gloves, masks, hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes, Lysol spray. It’s. Everywhere.

And people did as people do: panic, and behave strangely (the hoarding of toilet paper, of all things), or pretend it’s all a government hoax caused by the Democrats because “they couldn’t impeach Trump” (even though last I checked that was held up due to the fact that Republicans refused to cooperate with Democrats under any circumstances but the ones that would allow them to throw out the evidence).

We’re still out of toilet paper, by the way. Distilleries are making hand sanitizer. People I work with are still trying to downplay the very serious pandemic going on all around us. One day I was deeply overcome with anxiety over the whole situation. Ever since, I’ve put more feeling into appealing to the Gods for health.

Thankfully, I haven’t had a crisis of faith yet. Those all seemed to happen before I knew who the Gods were, the ones I’m specifically talking to and praying to right now, and who are also making sure I eat something resembling health food every morning. I’m not sure if They saw all this coming, or if this is part of everything else which is going on, between the election (#hidinbiden) and the environment and who knows what else. Perhaps They did, and They know that small routines are good for times like these. Where would I be otherwise?

But, I don’t think about it tremendously much. I try not to panic. I avoid the news. I wait it out. I read other things, on other topics. I’ve been keeping myself sane for the most part. And, I’ve noticed very little change in my actual habits. I’m an introvert, after all. It just feels weird that the rest of the world is with me on that. (And, in the mean time, my Christmas decorations are still up, and a little off-season Holly Jolly never killed anyone, far as we know.)