Paganism Close Under the Surface

In central and eastern Europe, and maybe elsewhere, there is a tradition to end a group hunt for deer, boar, and other animals with a ceremony. I have never seen the like in America, but then all my hunting has been with individualistic Westerners — which is not to say that sometimes informal rituals are not performed, but not with everyone lined up and flaming torches.1)Clifton’s Second Law of Religion: If there are no torchlight processions, it’s not a real religion.

The Baltic people were the last old Pagans in Europe, Christianized at sword point in the Middle Ages.2)The Last Pagans in Europe.”  Their Pagan reconstructions in the 1920s–1930s, such as Dievturiba in Latvia, assumed that folksongs etc. preserved the Old Religion, a common assumption among 20th-century Pagans. Maybe, maybe not — is every tree in a folksong really the World Tree in disguise? Certainly the new Paganisms, with their strong ethnic and nationalist components, have gained respectability quickly.3)Baltic Diaspora and the Rise of Neo-Paganism.”

The hunt in the video was a women’s hunt — in Latvia as here, more women are taking up hunting than did a generation or two ago. The description at the International Conference Women and Sustainable Hunting’s Facebook page reads,

At last in Latvia we now have a chance to make lady hunters more pro-active. And we had the chance to organise first ever in Latvia a driven hunt for ladies – ladies are shooting, guys are helping. Now we are in the process of creating our own Lady hunting club under Latvian Hunters’ Association.

Watch and you’ll see lots of tramping in the snowy woods, but right at the end — wow. That’s an altar, folks. Folk-memory or reconstruction, they are tapping into Old Stuff. I suspect that they know what they are doing.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Clifton’s Second Law of Religion: If there are no torchlight processions, it’s not a real religion.
2. The Last Pagans in Europe.”
3. Baltic Diaspora and the Rise of Neo-Paganism.”

The Eagles of Candlemas, continued

Diana Miller, director of the Raptor Center in Pueblo

Raptor center director Diana Miller with a female golden eagle.

The first part is here.

As I wrote earlier this week, M. and I celebrated Candlemas by going to Eagle Days down at the state park by Pueblo Reservoir.  (Chamber of Commerce types want you to say “Lake Pueblo.”)

Scheduling a festival around raptors is a little iffy; you can expect sandhill cranes, for instance, to show up on time for their festival, but eagles?

So the director of the local raptor-rehabilitation center and her volunteers always show up with plenty of “education birds,” those being birds whose injuries or some cases habituation to humans keeps them from being released into the wild.

M. and I are volunteers too, in that our work as “wildlife transporters” for Colorado Parks & Wildlife often means bringing in hawks, owls, and vultures to the center. Once in a while, we get to release one as our reward. (The survival rate for injured raptors, unfortunately, is not too high.)

We caught part of the U.S. Air Force Academy falconers’ demonstration, an Indian pow-wow dance group’s eagle dance, looked at the birds. We had seen one golden eagle on the drive to the lake, and Diana said a certain spot farther down the Arkansas River might have some bald eagles, but I had another plan that had worked before, which involved driving upstream, into the state wildlife area, and then hiking with spotting scope and tripod to an overlook.

There, at the edge of the ice (the lake being half-frozen), was a black dot, which at 20x quickly resolved into a bald eagle, just hanging out.

It was not my spirit bird, nor did it bring me a message. It was just an eagle doing eagle stuff, another inhabitant of the upper Arkansas River.

It’s funny how we have to have a special day, with costumes, handouts, museum exhibits, captive birds, pizza, and cookies just to celebrate letting the wild be wild (and the wheel of the year), but that is how we roll. And if it build connections, I am all for it.

I care less and less for fancy metaphysics, dazzling Neoplatonic pyramids, recycled Theosophy, and all of that. I like my Paganism close to the ground. I know that that puts me at odds with all the One God/One Prophet/One Book people out there as well, but I gave up on monotheism many decades ago because it never told me how to live alongside the eagle.

Core Books in Pagan Studies

I recently completed an article on contempoary Paganism for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion, so when it appears, I can at least say that I have been published by Oxford UP. Yay me. But is there still a market for academic encyclopedias in this day when undergrads must be taught how to use reference books? Someone must think so.

As to the article, instead of writing another “it all started with Gerald Gardner” article, I decided to give more space to (a) the Romantic movement and (b) the Latvian and Lithuanian reconstructionists of the 1920s and 1930s, that two-decade space when their nations escaped centuries of German and Russian colonization before being dumped in 1940 back into it—the Third Reich and then the USSR.

magical religionThe editors wanted a brief bibliography, of course, with primary and secondary sources, so I just went along my Pagan-studies bookshelves, grabbing this and that, including some titles that I think have always been under-appreciated.

Jim Lewis’s edited collection Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft was published twenty years ago, yet it is still relevant in the questions that it raises. Some of the chapters later turned into books, such as “Ritual Is My Chosen Art Form: The Creation of Ritual as Folk Art among Contemporary Pagans,” by Sabina Magliocco.researching paganisms

Likewise, the collection Researching Paganisms (2004) discussed issues of “religious ethnography” that every scholar of  religion should read, not just those studying some form of Paganism. From the description:

Should academic researchers “go native,” participating as “insiders” in engagements with the “supernatural,” experiencing altered states of of consciousness? How do academics negotiate the fluid boundaries between worlds and meanings which may change their own beliefs? Should their own experiences be part of academic reports? Researching Paganisms presents reflective and engaging accounts of issues in the academic study of religion confronted by anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists, historians and religious studies scholars?as researchers and as humans?as they study contemporary Pagan religions.

paganism readerHere is the rest of the bibliography. I do not claim that it is complete, but it is representative. For example, if you look into the The Paganism Reader, which Graham Harvey and I compiled, you will see material from ancient centuries up into the early twentieth, for example, so it covers a lot of ground. Pity it got such a boring cover.

Primary Sources

Buckland, Raymond. Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft. St. Paul: Llewellyn, 1986.

Clifton, Chas S., and Graham Harvey, eds. The Paganism Reader. London: Routledge, 2004.

Gardner, Gerald B. Witchcraft Today. London: Ryder and Co, 1954.

Graves, Robert. The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1948.

McNallen, Stephen A. Asatru: A Native European Spirituality. Nevada City, Calif.: Runestone Press, 2015.

Murray, Margaret. The God of the Witches. London: Sampson Low, 1931.

———. The Witch-Cult in Western Europe: A Study in Anthropology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1921.

Valiente, Doreen. The Rebirth of Witchcraft. London: Robert Hale, 1989.

Zell-Ravenheart, Oberon, ed. Green Egg Omelette: An Anthology of Art and Articles from the Legendary Pagan Journal. Franklin Lakes: New Page Books, 2009.

Further Reading

Aitamurto, Kaarina, and Scott Simpson, eds. Modern Pagan and Native Faith Movements in Central and Eastern Europe. Studies in Historical and Contemporary Paganism. Durham: Acumen, 2013.

Berger, Helen. A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999.

Berger, Helen, and Douglas Ezzy. Teenage Witches: Magical Youth and the Search for Self. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2007.

Blain, Jenny, Douglas Ezzy, and Graham Harvey, eds. Researching Paganisms. The Pagan Studies Series. Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press, 2004.

Clifton, Chas S. Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America. The Pagan Studies Series. Lanham, Md., Altamira Press, 2006.

Davy, Barbara Jane. Paganism, 3 vols. Critical Concepts in Religious Studies. London: Routledge, 2009.

Doyle White, Ethan. Wicca: History, Belief, and Community in Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2015.

Eller, Cynthia. Living in the Lap of the Goddess: The Feminist Spirituality Movement in America. Boston: Beacon Press, 1993.

Harvey, Graham. Animism. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.

Hutton, Ronald. Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.

———. The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

———. Witches, Druids and King Arthur. London: Hambledon and London, 2003.

Johnston, Hannah E., and Peg Aloi, eds. The New Generation Witches: Teenage Witchcraft in Contemporary Culture. Controversial New Religions. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007.

Lewis, James R., ed. Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.

Magliocco, Sabina. Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Myers, Brendan. The Earth, the Gods and the Soul: A History of Pagan Philosophy from the Iron Age to the 21st Century. Winchester: Moon Books, 2013.

Pike, Sarah M. Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community. Berkeley, University of California Press, 2001.

———. New Age and Neopagan Religions in America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

Rountree, Kathryn, ed. Contemporary Pagan and Native Faith Movements in Europe: Colonialist and Nationalist Impulses. New York: Berghahn, 2015.

———. Embracing the Witch and the Goddess: Feminist Ritual-Makers in New Zealand. London: Routledge, 2004.

Salomonsen, Jone. Enchanted Feminism: The Reclaiming Witches of San Francisco. London: Routledge, 2002.

Weston, Donna, and Andy Bennett. Pop Pagans: Paganism and Popular Music. Studies in Historical and Contemporary Paganism. Durham: Acumen, 2013.

Wise, Constance. Hidden Circles in the Web: Feminist Wicca, Occult Knowledge, and Process Thought. The Pagan Studies Series. Lanham, Md.: AltaMira Press, 2008.

York, Michael. Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion. New York: New York University Press, 2003.

The Eagles of Candlemas

pueblo eagle daysPaganism is not the religion of the polis, but the polis (loosely defined) can support your Paganism.

For the last two days, my Facebook feed has been filling up with people posting electronic clip art to the theme of “Happy Bridget / Imbolc / Candlemas.”

Me, I spent three hours today enjoying quality time with my snowblower, clearing out a foot of Happy Candlemas that fell in the past two days.  (That’s my long wooded driveway, plus the one up to the guest cabin, plus an elderly neighbor’s driveway, in time for him to drive off to lunch at the senior center — he does have a 4WD pickup.)

I normally think of Candlemas as an “inner” holiday, compared to Yule. It marks what is usually my most productive writing time of the year. But I also like the idea of tying the quarter and cross-quarter days to events that somehow connect to the natural world, like the Chile & Frijoles Festival at the autumn equinox or the Yule log hunt.

I brought up this topic a year ago, but I did not make a suggestion for Imbolc, which occurs at 9:30 a.m. GMT on the 4th of February this year (check your dates here.)

Yet it was looking me in the face — and I had attended before: Eagle Days, this coming weekend! Except that bird plays havoc with the traditional esoteric astrological arrangement: Beltane, 15° Taurus (St. Luke-bull); Lammas, 15° Leo (St. Mark-lion); Samhain, 15° Scorpio (St. John-eagle); Candlemas, 15° Aquarius (St. Matthew-man).

Well, you can’t have everything. I have a blog post planned about the silliness of trying to jam Paganish stuff into neat categorial schemes.

The old Jeep CJ-5 celebrates Candlemas.

The old Jeep CJ-5 celebrates Candlemas.

Here on the Eastern Slope of the Rocky Mountains, we say a verse that contains ancient wisdom:

Winter in the spring,
Summer in the fall,
Fall in the winter,
And no spring at all.

So by that bit of local knowledge, this is the beginning of snow season. I don’t know how you work a fire festival into that, except that it is nice to have the increasing sunshine to melt April blizzards. Maybe the fire is in the head.

Have the wintering bald eagles arrived at Pueblo Reservoir? I really should pack up the spotting scope and go see. Happy Candlemas, eagles.

Contemporary Pagan Studies 2016 Call for Papers

Here is our call for papers for the next annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion, which will be November 19-22, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas. For all the calls, go here, just in case you are interested in “Vatican II Studies.”

Statement of Purpose: 

The Contemporary Pagan Studies Group provides a place for scholars interested in pursuing studies in this newly developing and interdisciplinary field and puts them in direct communication with one another in the context of a professional meeting. New scholars are welcomed and supported, while existing scholars are challenged to improve their work and deepen the level of conversation. By liaising with other AAR Program Units, the Group creates opportunities to examine the place of Pagan religions both historically and within contemporary society and to examine how other religions may intersect with these dynamic and mutable religious communities.

Call for Papers: 

• Contemporary Paganisms are experiencing an internal conversation and debate about routinization, or the need to establish institutions and a degree of legitimate cultural and social integration beyond the structure of small groups and umbrella organizations. While many Pagans believe that these structures will provide the conditions for sustainability, others believe that institutionalization is contrary to the nature of Pagan practice. We seek papers which explore various facets of routinization in contemporary Paganisms. Topics can include the changing nature of Pagan leadership, support for or resistance to institution building, perceptions of standardization of Pagan religious culture through publishing, recording etc., and professionalization of leadership. Comparative perspectives are always encouraged.

• It could be argued that contemporary Paganisms are characterized by ideologies, theologies and aesthetics that critique the narrative of progress and modernity. As a result, Pagan religiosity frequently focuses on cultural reconstruction, metaphors of tribalism, a return to “nature”, and the use of imagined and idealized pasts to create alternatively modern futures. We are seeking papers that explore the ways in which tropes of antimodernism and primitivism inform the development of modern Paganisms. Topics can include ritual, aesthetics, rhetoric, politics and activism. We also welcome comparative approaches.

To encourage conversation during this session, we will be participating in the AAR Full Paper Submission system. Full drafts of all accepted papers must be posted online several weeks prior to the Annual Meeting, and will be accessible to AAR members only. Participants will then have the opportunity to read all selected papers prior to the session. Presenters will have ten minutes to summarize their argument, and the remainder of the session will be devoted to discussion and comments regarding the submitted papers.

For potential co-sponsorship by Contemporary Paganism Group and Religion and Sexuality Group: We welcome papers that critically engage the various ways in which transgender subjectivities, identities and practices challenge and destabilize perceptions of human and divine genders (especially in anthropomorphic traditions, but also including the Contemporary Pagan veneration of Goddess and God). Themes can include, but are not restricted to transgender and the ontological turn; transgender and new materialism; transgender and posthumanism. Papers can be focused around methodological, and/or empirical issues/approaches.

• There are a number of instances where the influence and exchange of belief and practice between Contemporary Paganisms and other religious groups has occurred. Examples include modern Celtic Christianity, ChristoPaganism, and the impact of Starhawk’s writings on Catholic theologian Rosemary Ruether. We invite papers that examine the complementarity and impact of modern Paganisms on other religions and that of other religions on Paganisms today. Topics might include hybridized ritual practice, environmentalism, theological exchanges and critiques, and the realities of living multiple religious identities.

Instructions on submitting proposals are here. The deadline is 5 p.m. EST, Tuesday, March 1, 2016.

Traditional Polytheism Helps the Economy

Or why Amazon is selling cow-dung cakes in India:

I learned that cow dung cakes can now be ordered on the Indian Amazon website. Out of curiosity, I ordered 6 pieces. It cost me 236 rupees, about $4. I called the local office of Amazon and spoke to Jaideep, who was very courteous and happy to answer my questions.

Read the rest.

Somewhere, Hermes is laughing at the mark-up on cow dung.

(Via Professor Althouse)

Singing about “The” Flood, in the Original Sumerian


For the back story on the video, go here: “‘The Flood’, A Haunting New Album Bringing Ancient Sumerian and Babylonian Language and Music Back to Life

Not all attempts to re-create old music work well. Some are of interest only to scholars. This one works, I think — see if you agree.

Massive 2015 Year-End Link Dump! Something for Everyone!

This is a Druid knife. It says so.

Some of the links that I saved that never turned into blog posts . . .

• The Internet loves quizes, so “What Kind of Witch Would You Be?” (answer: hearth witch). I always suspect that the answer is based on just one question, while the others are there just for fluff and decoration.

• I saved this link from the Forest Door blog because I liked this thought:

This is, indeed, one of the roots of many problems in modern polytheism – people being unwilling to wait and let things naturally evolve. My biggest concern here isn’t the specific examples of mis-assignment (though they do exist, and are indicative of a serious lack of understanding in some cases). It is the fact that these folks are sitting around trying to artificially assign gods to places and things as if it’s just a game, or at best an intellectual exercise.

Local cultus is the new kale.

Is a knife named for Druids meant for Druids? (Echoes of allegations of human sacrifice?) Just what does “Druid” mean here?

• I did like John Halstead’s post on “the tyranny of structurelessness.” See also “Reclaiming.” See also “The Theology of Consensus.”

• Turn off the computer and play a 1,600-year-old Viking war game.

• From last July, a Washington Post story on Asatruar in the Army.

A photography book of modern British folklore. Not an oxymoron.

• More photography: “Earth Magic – Photographer Rik Garrett Talks About Witchcraft.”

What if witches hadn’t changed that much since medieval times and were still fairly close to the popular imagery conveyed by their early enemies during the classical witchhunts?

• So you’re a Pagan? Here are ten ways to show respect for your elders. It’s the Pagan way.

• Philosophy should teach you how to live. “Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers.” Also, it’s Pagan.

• Reviewing a book on Greek and Roman animal sacrifice, which was, after all, the chief ritual back in the days when Paganism was the religion of the community.

• Was it the bells? Morris dancers attacked by dogs.

• Camille Paglia’s definition of “Pagan” is not mine, but she still kicks ass. Also, “Everything’s Awesome, and Camille Paglia Is Unhappy!”

• Embiggen thy word-hoard! Visit the Historical Thesaurus of Engish.

• But if you really want to go down the 15th-century rabbit hole, follow The Great Vowel Shift.

The New Yorker covers psychedelic therapy. To learn more, follow and donate to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. Also: “How Psychedelics Are Helping Cancer Patients Fend Off Despair.”

Looking good for an academic interview.

A review from last year of Season of the Witch: How the Occult Save Rock and Roll.

• From the Chronicle of Higher Education: “How to Be Intoxicated.” Not surprisingly, Dionyus figures in more than does binge-drinking.

• Apparently the Yakuza, the Nipponese Mob, planned to call off Halloween due to a gang war. So how did that work out?

The Complicated History of Santa Claus and American Christmas

Ah, Christmas traditions. So complicated, so misunderstood.

Take Santa Claus, American version. Not a survival of colonial New Amsterdam except in a literary sense, he was pretty well invented by the prolific writer Washington Irving in the early 19th century. And he was connected with Dec. 6th, St. Nicholas’ Day, not Christmas. Let history blogger Patrick Browne take it from here: “Santa Claus was Made by Washington Irving”:

The quote that forms the title of this article is taken from a paper by historian Charles W. Jones, “Knickerbocker Santa Claus,” published in the New York Historical Society Quarterly, in October 1954. Jones challenged the long-standing traditional view that Santa Claus owes his tremendous presence in our culture to Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam (New York). In fact, his research into early colonial New York newspapers, books, diaries and letters turned up no mention at all of St. Nicholas until the time of the Revolution. . . . .

So, by satirically inventing a false tradition of Dutch settlers venerating St. Nicholas, Irving inadvertently gave rise to a very real tradition of Americans venerating St. Nick. This was certainly not the last time in Irving’s career that he would invent folklore which he ascribed to old Dutch settlers.

In New England, meanwhile,  there had been a long tradition of non-Christmas revelry, based on the Puritans’ belief that traditional celebrations were impious:

For centuries, the holiday has served as a flashpoint between competing religious ideas. When the Puritans of New England famously made Christmas illegal during their first decades on this side of the Atlantic, it was not because they were killjoys—or at least, not only because they were killjoys. Christmas was an existential threat to orderly society, a shorthand for the spiritual risks they encountered every day in the New World. The era’s leading preacher, Cotton Mather, even continued to rail against the “heathen feast” after the laws prohibiting Christmas were repealed.

“Can you in your Conscience think, that our Holy Savior is honoured,” he wrote, “by Mad Mirth, by long Eating, by hard Drinking, by lewd Gaming, by rude Revelling; by a Mass fit for none but a Saturn, or a Bacchus, or the Night of a Mahometan Ramadam?”

From “Christmas’s War on America: The persistence and power of the December Holiday over Generations of Americans—Whether They Liked it or Not,” in The Atlantic.

Mather was born in Boston of English parents, who probably told him about the “traditional English Christmas” of the early 17th century. Think of Hallowe’en with an edge: seasonally unemployed young agricultural workers, as drunk as they can manage, working the Yuletide version of “trick or treat” on their better-off neighbors:  We will sing at your door, and if you don’t hand over some food and more ale, we might break something.
Or the urban version as it continued:

Rowdy men in colorful rags gather outside the city’s nicer homes, demanding to be let in. Some have disguised themselves with mock-fancy outfits that ridicule their less-than-willing hosts, while others have blackened their faces or dressed up as animals. If you try to keep them out, they will shatter your windows, break down your door, and help themselves to food and drink. If instead you grant the rabble access, your costumed guests will drink your best booze and demand a cash “tip” for slurring a noisy song at your family.

That comes from “Is Capitalism the Reason for the Season?” from B. K. Marcus, who is evidently shocked to discover that there are tensions and contradictions between the marketplace and the family gathered around the tree. He goes on:

In a commercial age, where mom and dad head off to separate jobs while the kids are sent to school, it means spending the holiday together in leisure, practicing a form of mutual generosity that is ritualized to obscure its capitalist origins.

He seems to think, however, that evil capitalist lever-pullers are obscuring this contradiction from us, whereas I think that everyone is aware of it and that people deal with it in their own ways, some by being self-consciously anti-commercial and others by just shrugging their shoulders. Yeah, presents and booze cost money. Even if you make your own, you still need to acquire the materials.

Irving had lived in England for a time, and he wrote of the Yuletide season,

Our thoughts are more concentrated; our friendly sympathies more aroused, we feel more sensibly the charm of each other’s society, and are brought more closely together by dependence on each other for enjoyment. Heart calleth unto heart; and we draw our pleasures from the deep wells of living kindness, which lie in the quiet recesses of our bosoms…Christmas is still a period of delightful excitement in England.

Back to Santa Claus — Isn’t that sequence familiar? Some genuine folk tradition exists but then dies out. A literary type revives it for his own purposes. It catches on to the point that its revived origins are forgotten and people run around talking about this “old tradition” that connects them with the past.

Apparently that is the recipe for success!

Invoking the Birds and Hunting in the Woods at Yule

Built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the lodge invokes both Heorot and a parish church.

Built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the mountain park lodge invokes both Heorot 1)Hrothgar’s famous mead hall in “Beowulf” and a parish church.

We Pagans may think that we “own” Hallowe’en, but we are own some ground at Christmas time — or Yuletide, if you prefer. Today M. and I drove 15 miles over twisty mountain gravel roads to a little town that celebrates a Yule log hunt.

This tradition dates to 1952, so it is about as old as Wicca. And it was passed on through a lineage: people here were given a splinter of another Colorado town’s Yule log in order to inaugurate their own. That town, in turn, received its splinter in 1933 from the Adirondacks resort town of Lake Placid, New York, where a Yule log ceremony was created afresh in 1911.

Recreating ancient tradition: it is all right out of Ronald Hutton’s Stations of the Sun.

A local Protestant minister, an old man with a booming preaching voice, invoked a father god whose radiance shines down. “Ave Sol Invictus,” I thought, considering that the minister stood in front of a wreath-decorated blazing fireplace, no Christian symbolism in sight.

Maybe this was his non-sectarian mode of public speaking, but he talked about this “sacred valley” and the “sacred season” and invoked the ancestors. I felt right at home.

And then our friend, the director of a nearby raptor rehabilitation center, brought in a peregrine falcon while her associate carried a barred owl — and they invoked the birds!

“Owl . . . give us your secret knowledge . . . .” and so on.

“This is getting better,” I thought.

And the little choir sang the Boar’s Head Carol while an admittedly faux boar’s head was carried through the hall. (Memories of my undergraduate years!)

Then we moved outside, and things became a little more primal. The huntsmen in their short green capes gathered around . . .

The huntsmen (green capes) address the crowd before a trumpet sounds the Call.

The huntsmen (green capes) address the crowd before a trumpet sounds the Call.

Is there something sinister about that rope?

Is there something sinister about that rope?

The hunt for the Yule log takes place in a mountain park; the huntsmen describe the general area, and then the crowd takes off.

“They haven’t found the log yet,” says a man into his cellphone half a mile from the lodge, while three boys of 14 years or so dispute with one another: “It was over here last year.” “No, it was across the road.”

“You guys don’t know it,” I think, “but you are making memories that very few of your contemporaries will share.”

The ancient sequence is repeated. People (kids in the lead) spread out into the woods.

Then there is yelling in the distance. It becomes more organized: a ritual cry.

And that is followed by the processing of the prize back to the lodge.

 

The hunters move out into the woods.

The hunters move out into the woods.

kids on log-sm

That rope? It pulls the Yule log, and the little kids ride.

sawing the log sm

The girl who found the log must suddenly master a whippy old-style crosscut saw as it is cut into two pieces: one to burn and one to save.

interviewing taylor sm

And she must pass another ordeal — an interview from a TV reporter. “How did it feel?”i

And there is more caroling, cookies and hot drinks, and a closing prayer which M. and I slipped away from, thinking of the miles of snowy road and the dog left at home.

It’s truly Yuletide now. And I am bringing down my own logs, but they are to be split and burned as winter closes in.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Hrothgar’s famous mead hall in “Beowulf”