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