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”

Caffeine and the Sun God

As a freezing fog swirls through the pines, I lift my coffee mug and think of the sun — and coffee!

solarroast

Solar Roast’s emblem.

Thursday was a much warmer day: M. and I went to Pueblo for supplies, and after a stop at Hercules Liquor for beer and wine, had a late breakfast at Solar Roast Coffee, whose emblem is Apollo Helios in his chariot.  (They use solar power for roasting the beans, an idea that started in western Oregon but did not stay there — not enough sunshine.)

A early-20th-century depiction of Daz Bog (Wikipedia).

And then at the grocery store I picked up a bag of Daz Bog coffee beans — another solar-connected deity. The gods and heroes are everywhere in the marketplace.

The Wikipedia article on caffeine says nothing about its divine patrons, but it seems obvious what is going on.

In his wonderful Pharmakodynamis, the section on Excitantia, Dale Pendell lists correspondences for caffeine — Planet: Sun, of course, and these, among others:

  • Realm of Pleasure: Brain
  • Rock: Granite
  • Season: Winter
  • Sign: Canis Major
  • God: Hermes
  • Goddess: Fortuna
  • Social Event: New Job

Outside, the fog is spitting graupel. Two wild turkey hens scratch under the bird feeder, looking for seeds that the little birds kicked down. Canis major is sleeping by the fire.

Russian Seasonal Dream Rituals

I missed Orthodox Christmas by  a day, but here is an article on Russian Pagan dream practice.

 Here I’ll try to give the “taste” of the authentic Russian tradition of dream work that has very deep roots in pre-Christian culture.  Mainly the Russian tradition tells about highly practical dream incubation and tuning.  The tuning rituals are connected to certain calendar dates and periods all over the year, days of the week, and time of the day.  There is also very rich practice of using ‘magic’ objects and creating special situations for powerful dream incubation. My experience in teaching dream work shows that three days intensive in the nature is not enough to try at least either summer, or winter rituals.

The Year the Calendars Ended

Was 1 January 2013 was some kind of unrecognized cultural watershed, like “The Year Frenchmen Stopped Wearing Berets” or something?

Image from the “Year and a Day” calendar.

I took my 2012 Reed College alumni association calendar off the wall and realized that I had nothing to replace it with — not one free calendar.

Not another from Reed, nor Trout Unlimited, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, nor any other organization. Maybe I have not been sending them enough money, preferring to donate to local and state-level causes this year. Or maybe this is some spin-off from the over-hyped 12-21-2012 apocalypse.

Despite all the electronic stuff, iCal and whatnot, I still like to be able to look up and see the month at a glance (What day is the 22nd?) without opening an app.

M. had picked up a free calendar at Natural Grocers down in Pueblo, but it hangs in the kitchen, where she can clip the monthly discount coupon.

So I am “buying Pagan,” ordering this year’s Gerald B. Gardner “Year and A Day” calendar, featuring historic photos of Craft figures and a list of Pagan festivals from different cultures in case you need an excuse to lift a glass in honor of Janus, Hathor, or the Vietnamese Parade of the Unicorns. (Parade of the unicorns?)

The Khan of the Winter

Siberianwinterking

The King of the Winter — Sakha Republic (NE Siberian) ritual costume.

This man is costumed as the King (or Khan or Bull) of the Winter, as envisioned in the Sakha Republic of northeastern Siberia.

Here is the translation of the page about him in the Turkish Wikipedia, with a link to the photograph.

The Turkic people of Sakha were originally followers of shamanic traditions before being converted to Orthodox Christianity, and some are going back.

There seems to be a suggestion in the Wikipedia text that the bull horns might have been originally mammoth tusks, which would make more sense for that part of the world.

The website English Russia has a selection of photos of winter life there as well. “Yakutia has turned cold into brand!”

The Maskers and the Money

Krampus parades, both from Austrian ski resort towns. To what extent they are underwritten by local tourism authorities I do not know. (Thanks to folk musician and writer Andy Letcher.)

When I was 16-17 years old, I lived part of each year in Mandeville, Jamaica, up in the hills, during breaks from school in the US.

One Christmas break I was getting a haircut at a second-floor establishment in the center of town when one of the staff glanced out a window and shouted, “John Canoe! John Canoe!”

Immediately everyone rushed to the windows and looked down on the street, where no more than half-a-dozen maskers were dancing down the street. Their appearance must not have been announced in advance, for no one seemed to be waiting to see them.

I wondered if I was seeing a dying tradition. Wikipedia says,

The parade and festivities probably arrived with African slaves. Although Jamaica is credited with the longest running tradition of Jonkanoo, today these mysterious bands with their gigantic costumes appear more as entertainment at cultural events than at random along the streets. Not as popular in the cities as it was 30 years ago, Jonkanoo is still a tradition in rural Jamaica.

This was certainly “at random along the streets.” There did not seem to be any organized civic or touristic organization behind it all. In a way, that was more cool.

When things get organized and promoted for touristic purposes, the rough edges are smoothed off. Watching the history of the May Day hobby horse processions in Padstow, Cornwall, you can see how the local antagonisms and occasional violence mixed in with the parade are pushed down as it becomes more of a tourist event.

Since these Krampus parades occur in ski resort towns, I wonder how much of them is controlled by the maskers themselves and  how much by the ski-tourism industry. Re-created or not, at least they speak to archaic understanding of the solstice season not just as fun and feasting but as cold, dark, hunger, and “cabin fever.”  Among other things.

Oh, Let’s Just Talk about the Weather

I think my brain has slowed down this week. At one point the temperature dipped to -20° F. (about -30° C), and I was completely preoccupied with trying to keep heat and water in both my house and the guest cabin.

There was one bad moment about ten o’clock at night a week ago when, due to a series of unfortunate events, a pipe did start leaking dramatically, spraying water into my basement.

I had to wade through the spray to shut off three valves, more or less by feel, and all I could think was, “I’m in a submarine movie.”

Life imitates art, as usual. Just as “myth” (the explanation) follows “ritual” (what you do).

And it’s snowing a lot. Earlier in the winter, this part of the Colorado foothills was short of snow. New York City had more snow than we did.

But we are catching up. I think we got November’s snow on Saturday night (a foot) and more is falling now. And it is normal for it to keep falling through April, when those New Yorkers will be looking at spring flowers.

The problem is that at some point (probably around 0° F.), I stop wanting to just hole up and work at my desk, instead starting to fret about what is going to break or freeze next. No fun.

Or I go to the hardware store looking for a machine to help me deal with it all.

Deep Snow, Deep Winter


I spent the last three days camping with friends up on the Arapaho National Forest.

I have done a little deep-winter camping before, but never before on skis with a sled.

I learned that my sleeping bag is not really warm enough for -18 F. (-27 C.) nights. Must remedy that.

Even after that short time, it is hard to make the transition back to the writing life. And things like Facebook–or even blogging–seem so trivial.

But I am developing some new blog posts, so check back after a couple of days.