Wiccan Rede * Winter 1989 by Morgana Sythove
“Oh dear yes, December is still such a difficult month” said an older friend to me the other day. “Somehow, even after three years since my husband died, I can’t get in the mood for Christmas and al the festivities. It all reminds me of how much I miss him … “
No doubt many readers will recognise the above type of comment. Of all the annual festivals, Christmas is the most family oriented, and certainly ‘big business’ has made use of this fact in their portrayal of ‘cosy log fire’ scenes. Emotionally, Christmas is a light filled festival in the dark wintry months, and a period many of us look forward to as a welcome break after the somber evenings of Autumn. Although one could argue that Christmas has become over-commercialised, I believe there is a deeper need for a festival of light, even today, than most ‘modern’ people would imagine.
When we look at the Wiccan ‘Wheel of the Year’, it is important to look at not only individual festivals, but also their place and relationship on the Wheel. As life is an unfolding series of events, so too does the Wheel rotate, leaving its track. Future directions become past events and yet each year is unique – the track is never quite the same. There are events on life’s path which we welcome, and other events which we would rather miss, and even if they do occur we do as much as possible to cover up the track and try and forget it happened.
Some mistakes can of course be rectified, and past events and tracks can be modified, but on the whole major events such as birth and death leave an indelible mark, not only on the physical, but also on an astral level. Such events are in most cases forgotten: blown away on the winds of time. We, as human beings, who have the ability to recall past events, and have the power to visualise, are able to realise that we have ancestors, and that many ‘have gone before’. In a way our sense of memory enables us to crystallise the spirit of departed souls. Some of their deeds may have manifested in concrete objects, or have been recorded in books, scientific formulae, philosophic arguments etc., but their personality, their compassion or cruelty will be most strongly recorded in peoples memories. How famous, or infamous, a person has become in their lifetime, will be reflected in the strength of the image their soul has left on human memory. (Of course some people, often artists, become famous after their deaths, which would seem to bear out the idea that an artist – one who uses his creative energy to the full – is ‘born before his time’).
But whether we are famous or not, each person, singularly or collectively, leaves his mark on human evolution. We may find it difficult to find an affinity with the people of ancient Babylon (although some individuals may have no problems) but most of us should be able to feel a link with people in our own family, our own town/village, from say fifty years before our own birth.
At Hallowe’en Father Time bids us to say farewell to the fruits of the harvest. The moment has come when the Goddess too has to confront the God and accept limitations – she too must lay down her bright jewels and rich flowing gowns, and come to terms with the dark lonely reality of death. But in death there is a mystery which none of us can come to know, unless we are prepared to become the Hag – the Goddess of the Underworld, for as the Hag or the Wise Woman the Goddess can communicate with the God on his own terms. They become one, and the circle of physical manifestation is complete. The seed can now be reactivated – in death we see the reaffirmation of life – although the reactivation will not yet take place: that is the next stage. First there is a period of reconciliation; a gathering together of energy and a general stock taking.
In the human situation death means the passing over; the laying down of the physical body, the confrontation with past deeds, and a birth into the spiritual worlds. For those left behind the death of a loved one can mean a period of indescribable pain and grief. The emptiness one feels is unbearable, and will continue to feel unbearable unless we are able to fill the void and reconcile ourselves to the new phase which our loved one has enterd. It will also feel ’empty’ until we can find a way to ‘spiritualise’ the presence of our missed one. In a sense we have to work with the essence of that person – in other words: the seeds of their physical manifestation. For many people death comes at an unfortunate time. We often feel that ‘things were left undone’, ‘there were so many things that should have been said’, etc. Feelings of guilt can be enormous obstacles in coming to terms with what has happened.
For many of us death is the end. We can’t imagine a different reality to the one we know as the physical reality. And yet trusting a loved one to the arms of the Gods can bring a great deal of comfort, and we certainly don’t need to accept this fact in a passive way either.
Just as death on earth is a birth in the spiritual, so death in the spiritual is a birth on earth. When we decide to reincarnate, a part of us remains in the spiritual worlds – some occult theories call this part of us the ‘higher self’. Few of us however are aware of this higher self and many people live perfectly happy lives without ever knowing about it. And yet it is an integral part of our total self, and it is kept alive by those other higher selves who accompany us. Now if we accept that a sort of reciprocal situation exists on earth, then we begin to realise how important it is to try and crystallise the memory of ‘ones gone before’. It is not for nothing that in the Craft we learn that we shall return amongst those we love, because it is our loved ones who ‘guard’ our earthly connection. It is therefore the task (however difficult and physically painful it may be in a time of grief) of the ones ‘left behind’ to guard the seeds of one ‘gone before’. (The above idea is of course only a part of a vast subject – we shouldn’t forget that not all human beings have lead ‘good’ lives). Pictorially the seed of a loved one acts as a beacon, a point of light, and who knows: these beacons of light may well act as signal for reincarnating souls. After all, how do we choose our parents?
At the Hallowe’en ritual part of the festival is celebrated in complete darkness – it is reminiscent of the total darkness of the new moon, when the old Hag becomes the Virgin once more. It is a period of total transition, but also of confrontation, reconciliation, and ultimately rest. It is a period many people cannot ‘handle’ – we can no longer see our way home; the moonlight is not present. However, what emerges later is the fine, delicate crystal crescent of the waxing moon: the Goddess has returned in her new ‘body’.
Between Hallowe’en and Yule there is also a period of rest. The trees are bare, proudly showing us their fine structures. They too have laid down their summery gowns and harvest jewels. In the human situation we have remembered our loved ones and toasted their sojourn in the spiritual realms. The light of their memory is strong and yet we no longer mourn their passing – on the contrary, we begin to realise that older ancestors will be making their choice to return. Hesitantly perhaps, they are taking the first steps towards the earthly spheres. As they gather new material for their material body, they will be saying their farewells in the spiritual realms. Gradually their soul will enter the physical plane to find a brief resting place in the dark, warm womb of life. The God and Goddess are stirring once more: the period of at-one-ness is gradually giving way to the return of the sun; the promise of new life is being fulfilled.
The clans are gathering, the Yule Log is being hauled in, the young and the old welcome new life in their midst, and the Wheel of Life begins to turn faster as the Seed quickens in the womb. The Light has returned!
It will be a while before the physical birth will manifest (Imbolc) but for our ancestors the first phase of birth, conception, has taken place, at Yule.
Our ancestors intuitively knew the spiritual truth of ‘the returning light’, and the passage of the Wheel. Without this knowledge life would in effect be pointless – death would just be a logical end to life, and at the end would be nothing. That we still celebrate ancient festivals, even in a commercialised form, would seem to point out that somewhere in our memories we too as ‘modern people’ intuitively still recognise these ancient truths. Yule as a festival of light (yes, we do use a lot of candles at Yule!) reminds us of the continuum, the passage of life, birth – death – birth. It also reminds us of the need to keep the memory of loved ones a-live and a-light.
December may still be a difficult month for many, but it may help if we try to integrate the memory of a loved one into the festival preparation, rather than trying to forget them and consequently banish them from our Festival of Light. Only when we try to forget the warmth and joy of one passed away, do we deny them the opportunity to fill our hearts with the light of their memory.