Winter. The name itself is magical, a word of power, strong syllables that snap like frozen twigs as we speak them. Though Yule is some days away, according to the Celtic calendar we entered the powerful season of Winter at Samhain's turning....
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In her memorable novel Reindeer Moon, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas tells a harrowing tale of a winter birth in Ice Age Siberia. As Yanan, seven winters old, is traveling with her family between winter lodges, her mother goes into labor. While the family makes camp, Yanan's mother goes off alone to find a suitable birthing-place. (Since predators are drawn to the smell of blood, to give birth in camp would endanger everyone.)
She finds herself a spruce with a good, strong trunk to brace her back against, low protecting branches, and ample duff to absorb the birth fluids. She builds a fire for what warmth and protection it can offer, crouches against the bole of the tree—squatting is the natural birthing-position for humans, with Earth herself helping to pull the baby from the womb—and prepares herself for a long night.
Thomas knows whereof she speaks. As a young woman in the 1950s, her anthropologist parents took her and her siblings to the Kalahari Desert to live with the !Kung, among the very last of Earth's hunter-gatherers. Her personal experience and careful observation of Bushman culture lend her stories of the Eurasian Ice Age a noteworthy sense of authenticity.
Though Terebus knew it was the time of his death, he gathered gifts of abundance to give each person. These were gifts that would help pass the cold season until he would return again: clay for making bowls, reeds for making baskets, glass and beads, paint and songs. Even knowing that he was to die, he pranced and tossed his horns, jingling the bells that had been tied there. When all the gifts were gone, he came and stood before Tellus, in her dark domain, mother of the soil who limits us all.
She spoke, “Terebus, we have spent and built, created and sold, grown and developed for a season. Now it is time to rest, to assess what we have done, to cherish what we have created, to enjoy the fruits of our labors.”...
The Yuletide is our greatest feasting of the year, comprehending (to various degrees) nearly two months of the year, and these are its parts: Fore-Yule, Yule, and Aer-Yule (which is to say, “After Yule”). As they did for the ancestors, the Thirteen Days (or Nights) themselves form the heart of the celebration, what poet Richard Crashaw called “Summer in Winter, Day in Night”; together they are said to constitute the entire year in microcosm.
Sunday after Thanksgiving
Mother Berhta Guerrilla Wassailers' Guild Rehearsal Supper