Thinking on the Meaning of Yule
I’m sitting here preparing to give the third of the four initiations my particular tradition (or denomination) might bestow. All day, I have been engaged in sacred things: cleaning shrines, preparing offerings, preparing our ritual room, laying out garb, putting together the herbs for a cleansing bath, reviewing initiatory protocols and the like. It is a good day, the night before Modranacht, where the Mighty Mothers, the Goddesses and Disir of our tradition are honored. It is two days before our Yule rite proper.
I’m sitting here, waiting for the initiate to finish her preparations, sitting with a heating blanket tucked around my back and hips – damp, cold weather makes all my old injuries ache ferociously—and as I’m doing so, I had an epiphany about this liturgical period. Our rite today honors the three creator Gods: Oðinn, Hoenir, and Loður, Who crafted the worlds, set the architecture of creation into motion, and carefully shaped and gifted the first humans Ask and Embla. Oðinn gave soul on the current of His breath; Hoenir gave sense and cognition; and Loður bestowed the gift of our sensorium, the running of our blood, and the grace of our complexions in all their glorious variety. We are infused with God-stuff: Their blessings and the ability to come into conscious awarness of the Holy Powers, and through devotion to draw closer to Them, to parse the divisions between our world and that moment of goodness, tearing down that self-imposed wall in our souls and again letting the synergy of THEM and Their will rush like life-giving waters over the desert plain of our world. They are artists these Gods, and I do not believe that the creation of humanity was thoughtlessly done. They shaped and blessed us carefully, and then moved amongst us, sent Their children amongst us too in order that we might learn how to live rightly and well.
Yule is a time where we can center again on those blessings, on that moment of creation. Sunna and Her retinue carry us into this interstitial period where the Wild Hunt rides and Odin, Perchta, and Their retinue hold sway, blanketing the worlds in Their wild and sometimes terrifying presence. We are reminded of our place in the cosmic hierarchy, of the numinous terror and ecstasy our Gods can bring, and of the great unknowability of our Gods, for They are vast and deep and beyond the masks They sometimes wear for our benefit, eternally unfolding in Their power.
Agriculturally, at the most prosaic level (nothing wrong with this – no agriculture = no food. No food = starvation, famine, and death. Agriculture and farmers are worth respecting!) Yule is a time where we look to the return of the Sun. As the longest night of the year, this is the time after which, even though winter might be hard, the days slowly grow longer and eventually the land, after its winter rest, becomes ready to receive plough and seed once more. It‘s a time of hope and celebration. We celebrate our good stewardship of our land, home, and household resources knowing that we will make it through the winter; and we look forward to the return of the sun and the fertility of the earth in the spring. On a deeper, more esoteric level, this is a time where Oðinn’s presence permeates everything. It is a time to contemplate His mysteries, His sacrifice, and the mysteries of the Gods and Goddesses that ride with the Hunt, as well as the Hunt itself, the eternal cycle of predator-prey, destruction-creation, terror-beauty-ecstasy-mystery and all the many lessons these fierce Gods have to teach. Why does the Hunt ride, and what is it doing in the architecture of creation? Why must it ride (because this is not about us. We are small in the scheme of the worlds, but about something bigger and more important, about cycles that we can barely grasp, about driving out pollution, about restoration, and about remembering the moment where ice and fire danced their terrible and violent dance. But, over and above that, it is a time to remember the means of our creation, and to reify it with the rituals that we do. One time Three Gods worked Their will upon matter and Being. Being transformed to becoming, and from that raw and primal bounty, worlds were made. They continue to be so, as creation continues ever and always to unfold. It is always happening. The Gods are always creating, always poised at the moment of the slaughter of Ymir and the distribution of His divinity.
These Gods took the body of their eldest ancestor and under the gaze of the watchful moon, pierced Ymir’s heart, hacked up his limbs, plucked out his bones and worked that divine matter into the fabric of that which They created. They infused the worlds They brought into being, with the bloody primordial ooze and viscera of divinity, of that which cannot die as we define death, of that which is ever transforming and unfolding, and that transformative power is the promise of our own ongoing creation.
Yule and the fires we light, signify the moment three Gods rose up out of the great labor-lurch of the Gap and spewed forth in will and holy fury, the actualization of the material abundance Auðumla guards. Let us remember and carry forth the knowledge of Their blessings and know that we too are part of that ongoing, unfolding promise of Their action of creation.
Now I need to get myself back in gear as the rite is about to begin.