After two years’ hiatus, the Yule Log was hunted again last Sunday in Beulah, Colorado, a small town in the foothills of the Wet Mountains. This hunt is a twentieth-century revival, passed (along with log splinters) from Lake Placid, New York to Palmer Lake, Colorado to Beulah, where the tradition was renewed in 1952. (Photos from 1954 and 1977 here.)
In the introductory program, inevitably, some local clergyman has to make the usual solsticial wordplay between Son and Sun.
That was subtly countered by my friend Diana, local resident and director of a raptor rehabiitation center, who steps up with a red-tailed hawk on her wrist and delivers an invcation that de-centers humankind in favor of wild animals. (As she did in previous years.)
After final instructions from the head huntsman (one of a dozen who serve as guides, referees, and whippers-in for the hunt) the hunters (mostly teens) scramble uphill into the wooded slopes of Pueblo Mountain Park.
Those of following the hunt stroll behind them, and all too soon, there is a shouting and and a trumpet blast from up the ridge.
But what is this sound? “Click click jingle jingle!”
It’s the Yule goats, harnessed to the log, instead of having it pulled down off the mountain only by the huntsmen and whoever else volunteers.
Pulled by goats. Hmm. How long before a Thor-figure joins the huntsmen?
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 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.”E. C. Cawte,Ritual AnimalDisguise (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.
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.
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.
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.
As a freezing fog swirls through the pines, I lift my coffee mug and think of the sun — and coffee!
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.)
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.
Was 1 January 2013 was some kind of unrecognized cultural watershed, like “The Year Frenchmen Stopped Wearing Berets” or something?
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?)