The Yule Log Ritual
The burning of the Yule Log on the Winter Solstice is a tradition of northern Europe, perhaps originating in Norway. There are many versions of this tradition and they always include finding a log, decorating it, attaching wishes/desires to it and burning it on the day of the Winter Solstice, usually at sunset. I have a preference regarding rituals involving desire: if it´s something I want to come to fruition, I bury the item that symbolizes the desire to plant it in the earth, or float it on the river. If it´s something I want to eliminate permanently I burn it and sometimes I might scatter or bury the ashes too.
There are many opinions on what makes a ritual and I offer mine here, to provide context as to why we are performing this particular ritual in our clan, this year. I reject the sociological distinction between the sacred and the profane as a product of, and a justification for, religion. Pre-religion, no such ´dichotomy` existed – all existence was sacred. However, it was also accepted that existence included visible and invisible realms, in dynamic relationship with each other. All archaic indigenous cultures recognized hierarchies across both realms and described Supernatural elements in various ways. For my own, practical purposes, I regard the Supernatural as a collection of non-carbon based living principles or entities, that form part of the web of life; some have higher-level organizing functions and others, not so much. A mundane act, such as decorating and burning a log, is elevated to a ritual act when it is performed with the intention to interact with the Supernatural in some way. Anyone can do it and make it stick.
In modern times, the winter solstice is generally viewed as the beginning of winter, which is another mark of our separation from the cycles of nature. The darkest part of the year is from Samhain to the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Thereafter, the days grow longer, initially by only a few minutes in each 24 hour period, imperceptible to our human senses, but providing essential information to plants and other life-forms as they stir to life. We only begin to notice the change in light around mid-January, which brings us to the edge of spring on the 1st February. (Spring equinox being the mid-point of spring.) To our ancestors, the winter solstice marks the return of the sun, literally, which they would have celebrated in various ways, most of which have now been co-opted by organized religion and long forgotten. The seasons and cycles remain and acknowledging them, however you choose, still brings you into closer interaction with Nature and Supernature.
In performing rituals grounded in Nature and the cycles of the seasons you enliven dormant genetic patterns and express them in a fresh way, waking up ancestral memories to bring forth lost wisdom. We had a little taster of this as we discussed our ´Rich-Yule logs`, Dean said: Oh, good to know we`re going to burn them on our fire, so I won`t make mine 15M long. An innocent throwaway comment, or the echo of ancestral voices? According to some sources the tradition began in Norway, where Dean´s maternal grandparents were from, where winter solstice was celebrated with a giant log being hoisted onto a great fire in the village.
Our ancestors celebrated the return of the sun at the winter solstice and they used their imagination to project characters onto the Supernatural powers they observed and their narrative drive to create the stories of their lives. Bereft of this interaction, the sun still rises, the days lengthen, but without the charge of experience the life force is weakened and winter sleeps through spring.
This year at dawn on the day of the summer solstice, we scattered my parents ashes around Mother Pine in the woods here. It was a simple and beautiful ceremony, with Dean, my brother and his wife and two young sons. This completion stage of mourning for me began on the Day of the Dead, when the cemeteries here throng with people visiting their deceased relatives with flowers and special cream cakes, known as ´nun’s farts`. My father would have laughed heartily at the idea of us eating nun’s farts on his grave, but as none were available here, we just followed the local custom in our own way and had a drink with them and Mother Pine and the denizens of the woods.
There is no grief or sadness in this stage of mourning – more of a kind of loving formality to it. My parents and all my ancestors rest in a state of non-living coherence and I feel their attentiveness. They bring gifts of insight and guidance, as well as memories that are not my own. Yet, I felt strangely unsettled, like the pull of the mercurial glue between the worlds tugging on my mind. I wanted to give something in return. I want to honour their lives and their deaths and recognize the sacrifices made by all my ancestors, willingly or not. I realized that this is a requirement for the completion of mourning.
But, what can you give to the dead?
The Death of Sacrifice
The answer came, quite literally in a flash, as we were walking the dogs just after sunrise on the last day of the Snaketamer shift. It was grey and raining – it’s rained every day this month, which is quite unusual. Suddenly, as we walked into an open field the sun burst through the clouds and trees, low on the horizon lighting up the landscape for just a few seconds before disappearing. It sounds kind of dramatic, but in that moment I knew that the best gift I could offer them was the Ritual Death of Sacrifice.
The idea that you must sacrifice something important to you, even your life, to a higher authority, in order to get something you already have, has been around for a long time. It might have originated in the myths of the dismembering of a primordial being to create the universe, which could have been a genuine gift, offered without expectation of anything in return. But that was not how the priests interpreted it. The word ‘sacrifice’ comes from two Latin roots, sacer, meaning ‘sacred’, and facere, meaning ‘to make’ or ‘to do’. So sacrifice would mean, ‘to make sacred’ which was job security for the priests.
Sacrifice has gone mainstream since ´Jesus gave his life for our sins.` Sacrifice is now an every day expectation; ´You can’t make it without sacrifice,` or ‘ It has to hurt to work.` I’m sure you are well aware that the sacrifice of adults, children and animals is as alive today as it was in the ancient world, especially as it’s openly flaunted.
Sacrifice works as a twisted threesome between the sacrificial victim, the sacrificer and the higher power that must be appeased. Those who commit or order the sacrifice, are compelled to appease the Supernatural entity because they have convinced themselves that ´it` is the source of their power. In other words, they have made their survival dependent upon the notion of sacrifice and these rituals of appeasement.
That begs the question: what does it take to slay the egregore of sacrifice?
I´m opting for the tried and tested methods of fire and famine, boosted by the three Supernatural weapons that can only be wielded by the Luminous Child: playfulness, gratitude and innocence.
Fire is obvious, you burn the log, rich with symbolism. Famine means starving the beast, burning away all memory of sacrifice from your mind and never letting those thoughts back in. The only way I can do this is to make it into a game. It also requires authentic, heartfelt gratitude for the death force, to free it from the grip of the egregore.
Freedom of Death
In our modern society, death receives only the briefest of nods in plastic funeral parlours and sterile crematoriums. His contribution to life is unacknowledged. He is trapped in an artificial limbo, force-fed on unripe and unwilling victims, unable to fulfil his destiny in turning the wheel of life. With a full belly and no welcome from the living, death is a poor ally, yet without death these parasites and predators would live forever. Even death needs a bit of guidance in these dark days.
As I was contemplating the freedom of death, my friend GreenVVood sent me his astrology reading for this month:
“Intensity and a deep connection to the D-Force (Death Force) are hallmarks of the constellation of the Scorpion. When referring to the D-Force however, many can become intimidated as they take death literally. The D-Force provides the opportunity for constant transformation, dying to the rigidity of who we were, or of whom others think we are, which of course leads to the inevitable rebirthing process of who we are as timeless beings of infinite awareness. In many shamanic cultures, rites are performed to initiate individuals into different phases of power in one´s life. In order to fully enact these rites of transformation, one must die to who one was before the rite was performed. Living a life of many deaths is extremely empowering and essential for any individual attempting to attain the Great Work.
With the Moon conjunct the Sun in the head of the Scorpion, the venom and transformational potency of this moment asks us intimately: do we have the courage to relinquish and die to what impedes us from truly being? Can we be authentically genuine expressions of individuated genius, birthing continuously in all moments? Do we have the courage and vulnerability to be truly ourselves, dying continuously in all ways that inhibit us from expressing this was of life?”
This is the time to welcome death to the party, to reconnect him with the fire of life and free him from the bondage of sacrificial rites. You really do need a personal relationship with death if you want to recommend your enemies to him, he´s not on WhatsApp. Not only that, but you might also want him to show up promptly, to ease the suffering of a loved one when they are ready to move on. And then there is your own completion and final transition. I’ve been making my acquaintance with death and when I’m ready I’d like to sit under a tree and invite him to wrap me in his black feathered cloak of eternal compassion and return me to the womb of the Great Mother.
The Rich-Yule Death of Sacrifice
At sunset on the winter solstice this year, our clan will perform the Rich-Yule Death of Sacrifice. For us it will be a 21 day ritual, but it does not need to take that long. Tomorrow, on the 1st December, each of us will find a log in the woods and decorate it richly and beautifully, but not with anything precious. As the days descend into mid-winter we will contemplate what we have willingly sacrificed in our lives, or been forced or duped into sacrificing and write it on a piece of paper and pin it to the log.
The sacrifice must have been personal, although you might not have viewed it that way at the time – you might not even have been aware of it, especially if it happened to you as a child. Childhood vaccines and circumcision are examples of how health and emotional well-being of children are sacrificed to the medical authorities, henchmen of the demiurge. Dean was lied to by doctors and bullied into sacrificing a parotid gland and his sense of taste to the medical mafia, supposedly for his health. I sacrificed my intuition and direct connection to the Supernatural in my 20s, when I decided to become a lawyer, so that I could ´fit in` and be ´successful.` These are just a few examples.
The yule log, carefully selected, lovingly adorned and covered in sacrifices becomes a substitute for the egregore of sacrifice we will burn it to ash and scatter it to the winds.
With thanks to Hecate.