celtic tradition

Wyrd Winters

December, 2015

Winter

And so we flip to the opposite side of the wheel. In the northern hemisphere, the winter solstice (on or around 21st December) is sometimes also referred to as Yule, which has Germanic and Norse origins and has sort of been absorbed into modern Paganism as part of the “wheel of the year”, although it has its own rich history and is celebrated worldwide in a myriad of different ways.

My most precious memories of the winter solstice all seem to be of going to a specific lakeside on the longest night. I remember it always feels later in the day than it is, because despite it only being early evening it is already pitch black, and once you move away from the roads there is only a little ambient light, depending on the weather and the moon. One year, the black, velvet sky was perfectly clear, and the moon was completely full. The lake was frozen from one bank to the other, and glittered preciously in the cold blue light from above. Bare trees stretched their limbs in a perfect frame for this scene. There was no wind, and it seemed as if the world had been frozen into a perfect postcard simply entitled “winter”. There were several of us together that year, and after our ritual celebrations we acted like children, walking out onto the ice and daring each other to go out a bit further, and pondering the strange shapes frozen within. It was simply a joyous time. Another year in exactly the same place, the same group of us finished our celebrations, only to have a thick fog follow us all the way out to the path where we left the site. That was spooky, but exhilarating. We truly felt that whatever was abroad that night had said thanks, but it’s time for you lot to go now: my turn. We took the hint, I can tell you!

Another year we became a little lost in the dark, and weren’t sure quite how to find the spot we were looking for. We heard wings overhead, and followed the sound. When the sound stopped, we checked our position. Shining our torches about, we discovered we had been led to the spot we had been searching for. As soon as we were done, a wind whipped up then suddenly stilled. Twigs snapped as though something heavy footed were walking towards us, and the wings began flapping back the way we came. We moved fast to follow the sound, and though the night had been still before, as we moved away from the woods and down the path, with the lake to our side, a new wind whipped ripples up across the surface of the water, seemingly always one step behind us. Just like the year before, we left swiftly and didn’t look back. Both these latter experiences led us to believe we had witnessed an aspect of “The Wild Hunt”: the idea that gods and their entourage, or in Celtic tradition the Fae or aos sí, ride out in a mad cavalcade to hunt down the unwary who dare to be abroad during the darkest midnight. We spent the rest of those evenings snug and warm, drinking and feasting and appreciating good company. Although we had a wonderful time and felt blessed to have felt that presence so strongly, we would not have ventured back there for anything less than an emergency.

From A Modern Celt by Mabh Savage, available from Amazon and all good bookstores.