The ADF Yule Ritual I attended this past weekend was the second High Holiday ritual I’ve recognized, publicly. The celebration was informal – more communal than liturgical – and it left me longing a bit for the smell of incense and the dim, candle-lit ambiance of Samhain.
Yule does not invite the same somber, solemn tone that one might find at a festival honoring those who’ve passed, but it is High Day where we recognize the annual point of greatest darkness. For me, the rebirth of the Sun is only relevant when I am encouraged to rest with the darkness; to genuinely remember and honor the darkness. There is cause for celebration because we are in the act of surviving the long, cold Winter.
There was a moment during the Yule ritual where this type of remembrance became manifest. A participant in the ritual, holding up the horn of mead, payed her respects to (and I’m paraphrasing) “a really awful year”. I heard these words, and my heart ripped open. Her darkest day was felt, and through the very act of raising the horn in a toast she was calling for the light to return, to bring renewal and rebirth to a weary soul.
I don’t wish to sound dire or morose. I’m not suggesting that Yule be akin to group therapy, or that we all must poster our ritual space with signs of our pain and suffering in order to be joyous. I’m simply seeking a balance of light and dark, and sometimes that balance falls more on the dark side.
When I was a child, and very much surrounded by and nurtured in the Christian tradition, I did not understand why there was such an urgent need for a Savior. Sin, a cornerstone of the faith, was more than my little kid mind could grasp. Now, I’m less a little kid, and sin is still problematic. The concept does not really belong in the Pagan paradigm, but I’m reminded of it as I think about this idea of acknowledging the dark as we await the coming of the Sun.
Perhaps there is a parallel.
Our darkness – the pain and suffering we experience, the regret we feel over poorly made choices – it is real. We may not see it as a result of some original mistake by our mythic “first parents” – that myth may mean nothing to us. But, all people, regardless of creed or tradition, are subject to the darkness.
We are all in need of the Sun to return.
3 responses to “High Days: Reflections on Yule”
Well met, Teo!
If I may, being one who was strongly a part of the Christian faith, I can understand your sentiment regarding "sin" and "darkness." However, I want to share with you an insight that I had not too long ago. For me, the idea of "sin," of doing something that goes against my integrity, is not an act of evil anymore than taking a short cut that ends out taking longer than following the directions. Every decision we make, whether it turns out to be a good or a bad idea, is ours to own, to be proud of or to learn from as it effects our daily lives and our development as individuals. Darkness is not wrongness or evil. It is a time of reflection, a time when all thoughts are turned inward and downward, toward those times gone by, those things we've done, etc, so that we may revisit them with our more mature sense of vision and see what new lessons and insights we may draw from them. Darkness is not a bad thing. It's just a reminder that sometimes, looking back will help you figure out what steps to take as you move forward.
Thank you so much for sharing this insight.
I didn’t realize until reading your comment, and then re-reading my post, that I’d made such a strong connection between darkness and, as you put it, wrongness or evil. I hadn’t indented to come off so moralistic. I was trying to find a connection between what seem to be two very different paradigms (Christian and Neo-Pagan) but I’m not sure that I was successful at doing so. Ecumenical dialogue was always very important to me, and there’s a good bit of inner-ecumenical work going on with me now as I engage with ADF Druidry.
You’ve given me plenty to think about – thank you! Your voice is always welcome here!
This was inspiring. It reminded me of the beauty I've felt even while in pain. For me, that's one of the essential differences between Paganism and Christianity (which I was also raised in) – Paganism embraces life as a whole, as a balancing act, as a journey that almost needs the dark to teach us about the light, whereas my childhood religion viewed things as either good or evil, and life was to be endured.