Winter Solstice/Yule


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Yucca: Welcome back to the Wonder Science-based Paganism. I'm one of your hosts Yucca.

Mark: The other one, Mark.

Yucca: And this week it's already the solstice. So we're going to be talking about the winter solstice. Yule lots of names for it, but it's that time of year.

Mark: Yes, so many celebrations happening and lots of traditions and rituals. And it's one of the in the year where the, the mainstream culture, the overculture actually really goes for some of the stuff that we as pagans are into in the way of rituals and traditions. And. Stuff that doesn't necessarily have a rational explanation, but it feels really good to do so you do it anyway. So we're going to talk about all that stuff. And here we go.

Yucca: Yeah. So first of all, this is a time that cultures all over the world in temperate latitudes have paid attention to it's something that we see in ancient sites. We see it reflected in many different religions and traditions today. It's just been a very important time because. The days have been getting shorter and shorter and shorter, and now it's turning around and it's like the light, like the sun is returning.

Mark: I mean, you can imagine that at a time when the technology available was with rocks and Mastodon, ivory, and bones and reindeer horn and you know, stuff like


Yucca: and moss.

Mark: right.

That seeing the power of the sun deplete and the days get shorter and shorter And shorter

Yucca: And lower and lower in the sky.

Mark: Right. It would be very alarming.

You know, the, the amount of time that you have available to hunt or, or search for food. Is steadily shrinking. And the time that you're exposed to predators that are nocturnal is steadily increasing. Meanwhile, the temperatures are dropping and so you've got to find fuel for fires and you know, this is.

This is something that was very much a matter of concern for ancient people. And we know this because even today persist amazing observatories that were built by ancient people both in the Americas and in Europe and in Africa That line up the sun with stone formations on the winter solstice day.

Some of the most famous ones are Stonehenge obviously, and then also the new Grange passage burial in Ireland. But there are lots of these these constructions there's one in Chaco canyon in the American Southwest. There's just a lot of them,

Yucca: Yeah. And even as. There were different kinds of cultures even, and perhaps even more for some of the agricultural cultures that are settled in one place. And they've spent all year preparing for this time. Now it's just a really, really important time in which this is what we've been getting ready for

now. And then the next few months of, of what were we working for all year and knowing,Humans We're good at to pick up patterns. Right. We know that that the days will get longer. Again, we know that this is a cyclical thing, but when you're in the moment, it's, it's very, I mean, that's, that's all there is. There's a now, right now and night is long at night is cold and.

You know, why wouldn't it be nice to be back in that sun and to be back with the warmth and back with the, the short nights and the long days. And, and that's what this solstice is, is bringing us back towards it's that turn in the year.

Mark: That's right. And that's why it's always associated with hope because the, the hope of the longer summer days. Inherent in the kernel of turning corner, the sun's starting to come back in, very, very faint sort of. Indications of that in the first few days after the solstice, but then it becomes more and more clear that the days are getting longer.

it will still be very cold and not really possible to do agriculture for a while, at least, you know, that you're headed towards days when it will be possible.

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: So something else that becomes very traditional at this time becomes eating everything that will spoil before it goes bad.

Yucca: Because

we have a lot of that right now. We've got a lot of winter squashes, even though we didn't grow many ourselves this year, but we've got a bunch that are sitting and I go and I touch the bottoms of the beach day and I go up, oh, we got to use this one up. This one's getting soft and mushy.

Mark: oh.

Yucca: Right.

Mark: So, and, and that's very deliberate because piling in a ton of count of calories when you're about to go into the coldest darkest time of the year not I'm sorry, not darkest, but just coldest time of the year is a very sensible survival strategy. You know, people that don't.

Have a good read on the food cycles of where they are living. Don't do well over winters. They really don't. Half of I was talking, I, I guess when we were around American Thanksgiving and. This is a particularly significant year because it's the 400 years since the supposed first Thanksgiving with the, the colonists in Massachusetts and I'm descended from several of those.

People who were there at that first event. the reason that they had those celebrations people don't generally talk about very much. The reason they had those celebrations was because before of them had died,

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: get through the winter because they didn't understand the landscape and they didn't understand how to plant to plant, how to live in that new environment we can see that the winter solstice becomes a really important marking point for the time of year people that are, you know, as we all do out of the soil.

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: Oh,

Yucca: And it's interesting today as we are in. On a societal level where this interesting place where we try and pretend like we're not part of everything else. We're not part of this world. Right. We've got our, our artificial lights and you know, who cares? The sun has gone down or rather we've turned away from the sun at this point, because while we just flip on a light switch, right, we've got the light here, we've got our refrigerators and all of our, you know, grocery stores that we go to.

We have been seeing over the past year that, you know, maybe that pulse system is not quite as stable as we might like to think that it is. But there's something that it seems like we're still really drawn back to anyways, even while we're trying to pretend that we're not part of nature, that we're not part of this.

And, and I think that pagans do that a lot less, but just talking about, you know, the overculture even the overculture it seems is just drawn to this particular time.

Mark: And to the very traditional of light, right? is the darkest time of the year. And so some of the oldest traditions have to do with putting a candle in the window, putting candles in trees, which is dangerous as hell, but people do it.

They would bring a tree into their house and then they would put candles in

Yucca: Yes. And often your house would be made from what as well.

Mark: Ymade from wood as well. Must have been really symbolically important to them because otherwise, why would they take that risk?

And we do that the same with, you know, Christmas lights now and you know, there to me, there's this sort of beautiful defiance. About those light displays at this time of year, that's just saying we will not have it dark.

We will not. We, we, we defy the darkness with the light that we can create and we will make it beautiful. And will cruise by our house and go, wow, look at that. It's so pretty. And. I just, I think that's a lovely thing. I think it's and it's, and it's a very primordial thing. It's it, it, I think it strikes a chord really deep in our human psyche.

Yucca: Hmm.

So let's start talking more about the. Our interpretations, right? We've been looking at kind of this broad scale of humans and over time, but within our own practices, within our own, you know, pagan practices and our own wheel of year for you, mark, what is, what is the winter solstice? How does that fit into your, your interpretation of the wheel?

Mark: Okay, that's great. there, there are basically two sort of. Metaphorical plans that I overlay onto the calendar year. And the first is the agricultural cycle, which is a very pagan thing to do. You know, you've got your planting in the spring and you've got your maintenance in the summer and your harvest in the fall.

And what that does is it makes. The, the returning of the sun at the solstice. The, the moment of the beginning of a new cycle. So everything is fallow. Everything is dormant. And now is the time when we start when we just hunker down, we're not worrying about food production right now because all the food production has been done.

And so now we're just trying to keep ourselves alive until we can start food production. again.

And that will be in the spring when birds are laying and so there eggs and there's some, you know, early herbs that we can eat and hunting is possible. You know, one of the things about about short er days is that Is that you don't have very long to go hunting.

Hunting is not a or gathering either. You know, those are not sort of quick processes. You, it takes a long time to go out and accumulate food. And if you don't have that, that time, then you're not really able to do much. And in some cases, the game that you might've been hunting is migrated away and the herbs are in the ground.

Cause they're not coming up yet. So, so this is the time when you just hunker down and you hang out with your friends and loved ones and just get through it. And this sort of kickoff of all of that is eating everything. That's going to go bad and loading up on calories as best you can. So as much in the way of sugar as you

can tolerate or get your hands on and celebrating.

The fact that you love one another and support one another. And that that's how survival works for humans as social animals. And that starts the beginning of the year with this dormant phase, which then moves into planning and then planting. And then. Caring and all that kind of stuff. So that's the agricultural cycle.

The other cycle is the cycle of a human life and metaphorically. I see the winter solstice as the equivalent of birth and infancy. you know, it's, it's the time of visioning, you know, before, before something, before you even plan something, before you start to figure out how to implement it and get resources together and all that stuff, you have to have a vision.

And so here in the darkness is a really good time to be doing visionary stuff. The dark is often associated with divination and with imagination. And so I see this as really being that kind of a time. How about you? I know that you have a kind of biological

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: on the stations of the year.

Yucca: so certainly the, the first part that you were talking about in terms of the agriculturally what's going on, will we tie into that as well? The birth for me, I don't really associate it with the birth the beginning. And partly that's it has to do with that. That doesn't necessarily match the, the fertility cycle for humans being someone who's kind of been tied into that, you know, I actually associate this time of year more with morning sickness.

Right. But this, we look at the wheel of the year. And we'll look at the different holidays and the different seasons as, and relate them to parts of our biosphere and parts of the ecosystem that we're really dependent upon. And this half of the year, we look at the forests and so the other half is the grasslands.

If we look at the terrestrial biomes, they're really dominated by two different kinds, which is. The forests and the grasslands, it's mostly the non brittle and the. And so this time we're really honoring the, the forest, especially those, you know, the conifers and the, the forest creatures around that.

And also the, the sudden our star, right? This is a really great, it's always around, but this is just like a good reminder of the, you know, as we were talking about two weeks ago with John last week star stuff, right? So this is a wonderful moment to be remembering that. Because when we are, when we're getting less exposure to something, it can help us remember how important it is.

What is the the absence or

Mark: oh, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Yucca: yes. Right. So it's kind of like that with, with the

Mark: I miss heat. Heat


Yucca: missed heat, sun and vitamin D. Oh, that makes my body feel so good. Where is it? Right.

So that's, that's really for us looking at and, and honoring that part of the, our biosphere and it works out very well with what's going on awith the overculture and Christmasristmas trees and, and,

it's, and for us we live in a very brown place anyways, but the only things that are green right now really are.

We've pinyon pine and Juniper, and that's it. we look out, that's the only green that we see and they have their very unique quality of green anyways, but there is no grasses that are green. There's no little, you know, herbs or any of that. It's just the trees. So yeah.

Mark: yeah.

So that that persistent quality of the evergreens is something that obviously was not lost on people going back thousands of years. The, the whole idea of evergreen trees, evergreen boughs plants that bear fruit at this time, like Holly and mistletoe and those kinds of things all end up kind of folded up into this winter solstice holiday. and I like to take as many of those traditions of those kinds of good feeling traditions into my practice as I can. I mean, we have a Yule tree. It's doesn't have an angel or a star on top of it. It's got the sun which is a star of course, but It's, symbolically it's designed differently.

Yucca: It's, you're not putting the star of Bethlehem up. You're putting, you're putting the sun.

Mark: Right. Different star.

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: Yeah.

And. I just find that a lot of what has come to be associated with this time of year is really lovely stuff. It's, it's getting together with people you love and it's exchanging gifts to show that you love them and it's singing and enjoying beautiful music and Of course the feasting and drinking and just having a wonderful time.

And we need more of that. Honestly. I

mean, the overculture is really impoverished in terms of its willingness to allow us to enjoy things. And it, it wouldn't hurt us to have one of these every six months, you know,

really wouldn't.

Yucca: we actually do that. We've we've for us in our, in our tradition, our family tradition, we've elevated the summer solstice to a similar level of you know activity. So because yeah, just that sense of, yeah, we need, you know, once a year is not enough.

Mark: Right, right. Yeah.

And what's interesting is that it doesn't, you don't have to go very far back in history to find that there were times when there were a lot more of these, there were the quarter festivals, some every three months, there was a week of not only eating and drinking and visiting with friends and not working and all that kind of stuff, which of course was a great relief to people that were, you know, working as serfs on somebody.

Land. But also it was the time when rents were paid and debts were collected and new contracts were entered into, so there was sort of a business aspect of it too. But like in which was right around the the audit autumnal Equinox was another such festival,

Yucca: What was that word?

Mark: Mikel, miss. So my St St. Michael.

Yucca: Oh, okay.

Mark: Yeah, so, and it was pronounced mikkelmas so yeah, it wasn't so long ago until the Protestant reformation, of course, which promptly banned Christmas and and everything else that was fun because it was pagan and frivolous. And unfortunately, even after the Protestant, reformation was over, we were still stuck with a lot of the damage that they had done. So, Speaking from a pagan perspective, we, we say as long as nobody's getting hurt, more fun as good.

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: And this is one of the one time of the year when people are really allowed to have fun.

Yucca: Yeah.

So we, you mentioned, you know, you really enjoy bringing in as many of those. Are there any particular traditions that you have. unique to your particular household or ritual group or something that you haven't seen done

very often, even within the larger pagan community.

Mark: No, I wouldn't say that what we do is all that original. What we do is we gather at one of our circle brother and sister's house. And after dark, we, we turn all the lights off in the house and we go outside and we hold our ritual and we sing songs around Around a cauldron, the sand in the bottom and a single little burning candle there until it gets really dark and cold.

And then when it's time and we're ready, we all take tapers and light them from that one little spark and then go

into the house. And there are candles set everywhere throughout the house, in every room. And so we go through and we light the candles and fill the house with light

for the bringing back.

And it's a simple ritual, but it's very beautiful. And it's, it's something I really look forward to every year. I'm doing that this afternoon.

Yucca: oh, wonderful. Yeah. So we're recording Saturday right

Mark: Saturday the 18th.

Yucca: yeah. Oh, that's lovely. That's coming up.

Mark: it is. Yes.


how about you? Are there particular things you do this time of year?

Yucca: Well, we do We do have a Mari Lwyd that we have in our house. And that we've done a sort of modified version. And, and some of you might've heard of this as the Welsh Christmas horse, but it, it is a very old tradition and probably has several different origins, but it was where. In the villages and there's been a resurgence this in, in recent years, but.

They would dress up a horses skull and they calling her gray, Mary, and someone would dress up as her with this horse skull and beautiful laces and really quite, quite a thing. And. Then they'd go from house to house and basically have a poetry battle with the owner of the house. And if you weren't, if you weren't able to defeat the Mari Lwyd they come into your house and they drink all your booze and make up.

Big ruckus and then go to the next house. And so it's something that is very, very old and there's lots of ideas of where it might've come from, but it's also something connected right now with kind of the, the Welsh pride and all of that. And we live in the states where we're probably, you know, one of maybe only a few hundred families in the whole country that actually speaks to in use as Welsh.

So we don't really have anyone to go knock down the doors of. Go into their house with a horses skull. So we just, we set one up each year. And I do not have a horse skull but I do have a deer skull and one day I will get a horse skull but for now we, we decorate up our deer skull and have that up and it's it has a delightful.

Little spookyness added to the to the fuel Christmasy time. And it's just, it's also a symbol of poetry and, and just that connection with our, with our heritage. And that's something that I haven't really seen anyone else do, but it's just a moment for us to connect with that part of our past.

Mark: That's wonderful. It reminds me very much of what the local Morris dancing team does here. We have a team, the AppleTree Morris, who are, are local to where I live and Morris dancing of course is a very, very old tradition from the Cotswolds in England. And it was probably practiced in a lot of other places as well, but it kind of died out.

And so it's these traditional English tunes and and dances. But one of the oldest and most traditional dances is the Abbott's Bromley horn dance in the village of Abbott's Bromley. They bring out these old giant reindeer horns. And they do this dance where the horns clack with one another, which is of course what male reindeer are doing right about now.

And those horn sets have been carbon dated at more than a thousand years old. So those dances have been going on for a long time. I mean, it's been a while since there've been reindeer in England.

Yucca: Yeah, I was going to ask about those reindeer you sure? But wow.

Mark: So there is a similar tradition that our morris team does, which is they hold a wassail in the, usually the first weekend in January. And the way the wassail sale works is it's prearranged with members of the team and other friends and fellows. You go to a house. They dance a couple of Morris dances in front, they sing the wassailing song and then they run into the house, eat and drink everything that isn't nailed down and then all pile into cars and go to the next house where they do it all.


Yucca: Good.

Mark: this takes all day and ends up at a very lovely party at the end where they serve traditional English wassail and. It's just, it's a really fun, lovely thing to do. and feels like a very old tradition.

Yucca: Beautiful. Yeah, it sounds like there's probably some connections between those.

Mark: Yeah.

I think so there, you know, I've actually started a blog posts that I haven't completed yet about what I call mendicant traditions, which are the sort of beggarly pagan traditions also Ling and Going house to house for soul cakes in around Halloween and the Mary Lloyd. I mean, there's, there's a lot of these sort of begging traditions and tons of waffling songs for exactly that purpose.

You know, God bless the master of this house in the mistress. Also. Meanwhile, give us some food and money and beer.

Yucca: Oh, yes.

Mark: so I think that's a very interesting thing and and a very, very old tradition and I like to see it propagated and, and continued. I love those old things.

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: So as your kids get older, you could theoretically do something similar. If you made arrangements with friends where I, and probably not under COVID. I mean, this is,

Yucca: Yes, this is but we're hoping as they get older, that will be less and less of an issue.

Mark: Right.

Yucca: fingers crossed that their entire childhood been during COVID, which has been

Mark: Yeah.

That's that's

Yucca: So, but they think it's normal. They think masks are totally normal, but yeah, as, as they get older, I think, I mean, we've already done. We do a lot of, of memorizing, which is something I didn't do as a child, but as an adult, I really love to be able to memorize things in that. Their father is into theater and, and all of that.

So he's really that, but doing poems and, and memorizing literature and things like that is just a I kind of having your, your poem offs,



Mark: Yeah. The way I, the way that I've heard that Mary Lloyd described is you you take a highly decorated horses, skull from door to door and have rap battles.

Yucca: That's yes. And extra points if you can do it in Welsh. So

Mark: I see.

Yucca: yes, there is some English, but it's, it's tolerated, but, but if you can do in Welsh, then, then you know, that's like automatically you get an extra five points there.

Mark: Got it.

Yucca: Right. And then of course we do presence as well. That kids are very into that for the adults.

We don't really bother that much. If we see something that someone wants that we think they'd like, then we get it for them. Whenever that is right. Oh, go. You'd like this book. Well, I'm going to get it for you now, even though it's October,

Mark: Yeah.

Yucca: but for kids, it's fun.

Mark: Yeah, I, I feel strongly about that. And I'm glad that you brought it up because I know that there are some people who are like, well, no, this present thing, it's all commercialism and it's terribly capitalistic and destructive and we're not going to do it. And I agree with all of those reasons. But it's cruel when you have little children who aren't going to understand that they see all of their peers getting presents and they don't,

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: it's just cruel and you don't have to go overboard with it, but it, in the, in the name of being kind and compassionate and, you know, not screwing up your kids any more than they necessarily need to be.

I think it's better. That we incorporate presence. We don't have children as the listeners know and so we don't do presence either, but we still do a tree and we put things underneath it that make us feel wealthy, make us feel blessed


Yucca: a lovely idea.

Mark: of our life.

Yucca: That's beautiful.

Mark: Yeah. Yeah. We really, we enjoy.

Right now there's a tin of labor Kuiken under there among other things because Nemiah made traditional German Christmas cookies,

ginger cookies. And they're so good.

Yucca: Yeah, there are so many sweets this time of year that, oh goodness. That maybe it is good that we only do this part one time of year,

Mark: yeah, maybe.



the summer solstice needs to be safe.

Yucca: That's an interesting, yeah, we've done. So we'll do we brought presence into the summer associates as well, so that it's kind of a, like, our goal has been to. To bring that fun part, but deemphasize that as it's not the only time of year that kids get presence,

right? So they get presents on their birthdays.

They get presents on Christmas, but it's not like there's not going to be, you know, 20 presents or something like that. Although Christmas, we do have to deal with. You know, grandmothers and whatnot, but

but you know, coming from the parents, it's like, okay, there's about, there's two gifts per kid.

Plus, you know, a couple of shared gifts between the kids. And then we do that during summer solstice and then we'll come back around in six months. We'll talk more about it, but we do decorations around the house and have it be a very kind of big deal as well. So, but it's got a very different feel.

It's like, the, to the times of year, just so in six months, it'll just feel so different to be outside, to be in the house. It just feels different.

Mark: Sure. Well, and you're in the Southwest too. So, I mean maybe the flavor scheme for the summer solstice could be more like she lays and, you know, savory salty things and.

Yucca: Although that really is our, is that is really our fault because when yeah. Oh, that that's what starts fall when you smell the green chili, roasting is

oh, right. And you drive by on the evening drive by on the road and people are out in front of the grocery stores and roasting it out. It's just, that is fall.

Oh, it's wonderful. But by summer solstice is when we're. That's the zucchini season. That's when the zucchinis are finally like here we are. So we do lots of honey around that time because we can celebrate the, you know, the arthropods and things like that. And as a family, we spend a lot of time outdoors, but this particular coming back to December, this is even though it's very chilly, this is just an amazing.

Night time of year there's meteor showers going on. And this year, right now, there's a really a special thing happening, which is the common Leonard. And so that's one that is not quite visible at the, by the human eye. It might be coming the next few days. We're not really sure. It probably is just outside of visibility.

So if you've got some binoculars, even like bird watching binoculars or basic telescope, it's really, really easy to find right now because it's right after sunset, wherever you live. If you look towards sunset there's Venus, that's lovely. There's Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter all lined up

Mark: Oh, in

Yucca: beautiful little blind, right.

And actually by the end of the month, we're going to get mercury as well and the evening sky, right in that nice lineup. But you look to Venus and then look right below it with your telescope and you'll see this gorgeous. And we've actually seen it the last couple of nights. It's beautiful. Green streak, which is a comment that is coming in.

It's about a kilometer across its nucleus. It's a decent sized CLA comment. That's just going to wrap around the sun and then off it'll go.

So anyways, that's happening. And then you can be out in the gym and it's, although the peak has passed for them. They're still going for the rest of the month and the earth SIDS.

So look the little dipper. So that's pretty easy to find because that's the north stars in Ursa minor, and there's a meteor shower that's happening right now. So pretty much, anytime you go out. You've got a good chance of seeing something beautiful in the night sky,

Mark: Yeah.

Yucca: something a little bit less than usual.

There's always beautiful things, but

Mark: Right,

Yucca: yeah.

Mark: yeah.

And then of course, here on earth, in terms of space stuff, the James Webb telescope is about to go up.

Yucca: Yes.

Mark: And it's finally going to go, and that is really pretty exciting because it should be, it should give us the ability to look back to the very origins of the universe,

the earliest stars,

Yucca: The earliest light. Yeah.

Mark: and that will, that will really be something

that will really expand our understanding of the nature of the unit.

Yucca: yeah. It's it's it's a much, much larger telescope than home. So in feet it's just about 21 foot primary mirror, but it looks an infrared. So we're looking really, really far back that allows us to look at cooler objects like planets. So we want to look at exoplanets planets around other stars.

They're going to be giving off infrared their way easier to see an infrared than trying to look in the glare of visible light, but also those early stars as the universe has been expanding, light gets stretched out. So it's being stretched. The farther part of wavelength is the redder and redder gets well.

It's been, the universe has been stretching for almost 14 billion years, so it's stretched out of visible light into infrared. And we just can't see that with any of our other

telescopes. So we had Switzer for a while, but that was a very comparatively, very small that wasn't even a meter primary mirror.

So this one is going to be. We're looking at a huge, huge mirror, the most complex telescope ever, ever built and hopefully launched. So that's supposed to launch on the 24th and it's scheduled for 7:20 AM Eastern. So that's a little bit early for those of us in the time zones over.

Yes. I'm setting my alarm though, to, to watch.

'cause it's been a long time coming and then we'll have to wait about six months before we start getting information back. But it's, it could be, it really could be opening a totally new chapter and astronomy, really. If there's, if everything works as planned, then it can

literally change our understanding of the universe.

And we just don't even know yet. So we get to spend a whole hour talking about James Webb, if you want. This is yeah.

Mark: But let's not

Yucca: Okay, I'll talk your ear off. After we, we hit the stop button.

Mark: Okay. The solstice is this amazing magic time. And it's been known to be an amazing magic time for a very long time. So it's easy for us to, especially because the over culture does the same thing. It's easy for us to sort of suspend all of our quotidian ordinary. Stuff. And to go into this kind of amazing holiday mode where, you know, you wear ugly sweaters and enjoy, you know, drink at times when you wouldn't ordinarily drink and

Yucca: Eat sugar cookies,

even when you don't normally eat cookies at all. Yeah.

Mark: Right. And go out of your way to let people that you love know that you love them. So it's, it's a,

it's a really special time and we hope that in your celebrations and rituals and gatherings and all that, that you have a very wonderful yule and winter solstice.

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