Revisiting a Colorado Yule Log Hunt

The little southern Colorado town of Beulah has a traditional Yule log hunt that is almost as old as Wicca — it began in 1952.

M. and I attended with a friend and her young son in 2015, and I wrote a blog post about it, “Invoking the Birds and Hunting in the Woods at Yule,” with lots of photos.

Then I chanced across another set of older pix on Facebook at the Beulah Historical Society’s page. Here is one from 1954 and one from 1977. Those “huntsmen” from 1977 look like they are ready to get back to their moonshine stills, but I think a couple of them worked at the steel mill down in Pueblo, a city that is a sort of mash-up of Pittsburgh and Albuqueque, although much smaller than either of those. One’s surname is either Slovenian or Czech; I had a co-worker who might have been his relative.

The 1954 Yule Log (Beulah Historical Society)

The “huntsmen” of 1977 — they direct the Yule log hunt (Beulah Historical Society).

When I watch the hunt, I think of something that the English folkorist E. C. Cawte wrote back in the 1970s. He was directing a group of schoolboys in performing a “souling play,” a traditonal entertainment from the winter in which St. George slays someone — who does not stay slain.

Huntsmen of 2015.

“The boys found the play much easier to learn and perform than others they were given . . . and the Wild Horse seemed to know, without rehearsal, exactly what he was supposed to do.”[1]E. C. Cawte, Ritual Animal Disguise (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1978), 224.

The kids in Beulah know it too.

This year, of course, everything fun has been cancelled, but up in Beulah, they are planning for 2021. Covid-19 should not last as long as Oliver Cromwell.

Original Beulah Yule log blog post and photos here.

Notes

Notes
1 E. C. Cawte, Ritual Animal Disguise (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1978), 224.

The Ghosties Are Here Early

A ghostie joins La Catrina at the Hanging Tree Cafe.

I came down to Pueblo today and stopped for breakfast at the Hanging Tree Café, where it is already Halloween. And here I was getting geared up for the Chile & Frijoles Festival this weekend, which is my personal autumn equinox ritual. Time is out of joint! But at the Hanging Tree, La Catrina is always in the window. (I was complaining about this last year too, only this year I did Instagram it. It is what it is.)

A Proposal for Honoring the Spirit of the Poudre River

I had to follow Wind over Tide, “a folk band specializing in traditional music of the British Isles and Americas with special emphasis on tales of seafaring and adventure,” which was kind of a challenge.

The evening before I was scheduled to give the keynote address at the Fort Collins (Colorado) Pagan Pride Day on August 24th, M. and I were driving around the city, buying groceries for the camping trip we planned to take after the event, and sight-seeing a little bit.

The university town where I spent some of my teenage years has tripled in size. Yes, it’s weird seeing what was ag land turned into “technology parks” alternating with chain hotels and chain restaurants. And the drive up from the Denverplex was hellish.

Biologists studying the Poudre River above Fort Collins (Colorado Parks & Wildlife).

But one thing has changed for the better — the community’s relationship with the Cache la Poudre River, which leaves the mountains nearby and flows down through the city before continuing eastward across the High Plains.

My outdoorsy friends and I went rock-climbing at Horsetooth Reservoir, backpacking in the Rawah Wilderness, etc., and hunting wherever, but we ignored the Poudre River once it came out of the canyon and was no longer considered fishable. I don’t recall anyone canoeing it or anything like that. It was just a conduit to farms and towns further east.

In Fort Collins, a sign under a bridge shows the river’s flow in cubic feet per second.

Now the river has been dignified as the Cache la Poudre National Heritage Area. In the city, the change is huge. Suddenly it is a place that people want to visit for hiking, biking, kayaking, tubing, fishing, and so on. And at its nearest, it flows along edge of the downtown area, only three or four city blocks from the park where the festivities take place.

Where College Avenue, the main north-south commercial street, crosses the Poudre River.

So as I was standing there talking about nature religion and urban animism and such things, it hit me: the Pagan Pride Day ought to end with a procession to “honor the river.” (“Honoring” sounds suitably bland and inclusive, don’t you think?) Make up some wreaths of native flowers and grasses and toss them in with appropriate invocations. And of course there would be music.

I put that suggestion into my talk. Whether anyone takes me up on it remains to be seen. Meanwhile, I should be doing something like that for Hardscrabble Creek. Devotion begins at home.

Edited to add: See what they are doing at Twin Cities Pagan Pride!

Related posts:

What is Wrong with Large-Scale Ritual?

Large-Group Ritual: Magic, Worship, or “Just What We Do”? (with procession and midsummer wreath-tossing)

Can You Put Your Paganism in the Street?

These Heathens Reject “Garb”

Next comes shoe polish, gentlemen! (Photo from The Runestone).

I have heard complaints from some Heathen groups about too many people trying to copy the movie-Viking look of Ragnar Lothbrok, Brjorn Ironside, and the rest of the Vikings TV seriies.

Now Matthew D. Flavel, Alsherjargothi of the Asatru Folk Assembly, makes it official. No garb!

There was a period during the early days of modern Asatru where it was the norm for folks to wear Viking reenactment garb for events and rituals. There was an idea that by trying to recreate the look and feel of the Viking age, folks could better connect with our Gods and more “authentically” practice our religion. Perhaps that was a necessary stage in order to reject what folks were used to and embrace something that was very different. Perhaps folks felt better connected to an idealized time, a better time for our folk’s spirituality, by attempting to imitate the dress of that period. Happily, our religion has grown and developed over the last 50 years and, in the AFA, we no longer feel the need to reenact something dead, instead, we enact something living and vibrant in our own day and in our own real lives. Just as the Vikings did not dress up as cavemen in order to be more spiritual, we do not need to dress up as Vikings to be pious.

I was wondering about the appeal of “dressing like the ancestors” some years ago.

In the Wiccan world, I have gotten mixed messages over the years. There is the definite priestess-y fashion statement that involves auburn hair and flowing garments. I have no problem with that — in fact, I married one of them, although I have not seen M. in flowing garments for years. She turned out to be a boots-and-jeans type of gal, which is fine with me.

But against the Renn Faire Wicca stereotype, there was the Denver old-guard/Gard HP who told me during a festival around 1990 that “You can tell the elders. They’re the ones in blue jeans.” Of course, the old guard/Gard types don’t wear jeans in ritual, except maybe at mountain festivals.

So I have often wondered if “dressing like the ancestors” takes you out of the mundane world, but simultaneously if it is not also an obstacle.

Being a Solitary Pagan Does Not Mean that You Celebrate Alone

They’re putting on a Mabon festival, so why not go to it? (Photo: Colorado.com)

If you are in the Northern Hemisphere, the fall equinox (Mabon) is nearly upon us — 1:54 a.m. Universal (Greenwich) Time on Sunday the 23rd. For North Americans, that is Saturday evening.

What will you do if you are a solitary Pagan? At Under the Ancient Oaks, John Beckett suggests, for example, slicing open an apple and contemplating the pentagram concealed in its inner structure.

Which sounds very sensitive and contemplative  . . . and lonely and depressing.

John is a smart guy and a good writer, but there is another option. Now, like Samhain and Yule, is one time when the whole society is celebrating — or at enough of them that you can ride the energy that is out there in the polis.[1]A city-state, or a body of citizens. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polis.

Festivals! All around you are harvest festivals. I wrote once about attending the nearest winery festival — it was a good time.

I don’t see Mabon as a time for quiet contemplation. The season’s energy is “outer,” not “inner.” Eat, drink, and celebrate the turning of the Wheel!

Come Saturday, M. and I will be at the El Pueblo Museum farmers market, just below the bottom edge of the photo — and then we will have to visit some booths and listen to music. And buy some fire-roasted Pueblo chile peppers — that is a sacred obligation.

Maybe I can slice one open and contemplate it, before it it is chopped and tossed into the skillet.

Happy Mabon! (Or to the people that you meet, “Happy equinox!”)

Notes

Notes
1 A city-state, or a body of citizens. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polis.

Let’s Have More Writing about Pagan Experience

I used to complain about the dearth of American Pagan biography and autobiography. Michael Lloyd’s Bull of Heaven: The Mythic Life of Eddie Buczynski and the Rise of the New York Pagan and John Sulak’s The Wizard and the Witch: Seven Decades of Counterculture, Magick & Paganism made a big dent in that, but we could use more.

Meanwhile, we could use more nonfiction writing too!  Currently, much Pagan nonfiction comes in two flavors. First is the how-to-be-a-better-Pagan genre, which has kept Llewellyn in business all these years. I have done my part to contribute to it.

And there is the blogger-ish “Oh, look what a devoted devotional polytheist I am — I spent half a day assembling a playlist for my evening devotions. Here it is!”

What I want to see more of is just good writing on what it feels like to be Pagan. Hence I have come to admire Eric Scott’s writing, including his novella The Lives of the Apostates or this Wild Hunt column on a trance-possession ritual at a Pagan festival last May.

Afterwards, while talking about my friend’s difficulty coming down from the possession of the mask, the ritual’s high priest held mixture of concern and scientific questioning. The masks had been enchanted to deactivate upon removal, a sharp and seamless conclusion to the ritual, but Eris had still been laughing in my friend’s ears at the time she went to bed. The kill-switch had gone awry somehow; something must have been wrong with their masks.

Not “what should you do” but “what was it like?”

Heartland Festival Presentations, Take 2

Once again, I am packed, ready, and excited to be going to the Heartland Pagan Festival.  With any luck, that will be me stepping off the Southwest Chief in Lawrence, Kansas, on Friday morning. (Usually I snooze through Lawrence when traveling east and wake up for the long stop in Kansas City.)

This was all supposed to happen last year, and as I wrote then, the weather turned against me. I still feel sort of ashamed about aborting the trip — I could have maybe done one of my two presentations.

These are a “work in progress” discussion of the flying ointment project and the provocatively named “Nature Religion: You’re Doing It Wrong,” which is partly material from Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca And Paganism in America and partly some new stuff.

To me, this is more stressful than presenting at an academic conference, which shows what a recluse I have become. 🙂