Magic/Poetry: Light Into Darkness

I read variants of this every year.  I’ve anonymized the origin, because I want to make clear that I’m not picking on a specific Original Poster (OP).

Taking Christ out of Christmas?
Christmas is a pagan holiday that the Christians decided to hijack like everything else they can get their hands on and the bible doesn’t say when when Jesus was born so sit down with all that goodbye…

We all read variants on this every year.

But.

“Christmas” is the nickname for the “Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”   Calling it a pagan holiday is akin to saying that pagans stole Yule from Christians…

Because of course, pagans did no such thing. The word ‘pagan’ comes from Latin, meaning ‘country-bumpkin’ or something similar, and it’s the word that Christians used to describe the people who hadn’t converted to Christianity yet.   And ‘Yule’ of course is a Germanic word, the name of the winter celebrations of the ‘barbarians’ beyond the edges of the Roman Empire.  Maybe Neo-Pagans stole Yule from Christians… but that’s a different claim, and still totally irrelevant.

So the pagans didn’t have Yule stolen from them, because they didn’t celebrate it.  And you can argue about Christians stealing Saturnalia from the pagans, but

… HOW ABOUT NO?  How about, Not This Year.

The Graeco-Egyptians divided the astrological year into ten-day periods which are called (by the era of classical and medieval astrology) Decans of the Zodiac. They’re 10-day windows of insight into the experiences of life.  And the ten-day window that includes Yule, that includes Christmas, that includes Saturnalia and other festivals, is the festival of the Headless One, the first decan of Capricorn. Yes, the Headless One of the Stele of Jeu.

In other words, there’s at least a six thousand year history of treating the solstice as a time for celebrating the entry of Spirit into Matter — of the birth of children who are beautiful and wonderful, but nonetheless unaware of their spiritual origins and subject to pain and death.  Christmas is part of this ongoing tradition; I suppose you could say it was ‘stolen’ but maybe you could say ‘infiltration’ too — a critical and essential piece of spiritual wisdom, that like a resurgent meme keeps reinserting itself into every religious tradition it encounters: be nice to people at midwinter, be generous, celebrate with good food and drink, make your hearts and souls happy with the knowledge that Spirit Becomes Flesh! (as I found in Austin Coppock’s book about the Decans).

Like everyone else: pagan, Jew, Christian, Greek, Hindu, Shinto, Muslim, what have you.  We are all subject to pain and death.

The whole point of the midwinter festivals — of Germania, of Italia, of Urbis et Orbis — is to help remind us that even in a season of pain and death, we are also subject to joy, and transcendence. And there is in that, a kind of forgiveness, and a kind of hope.

How about we recognize, in this season of (Northern Hemisphere) darkness and weirdness and terror and cold (that here, at least hasn’t quite arrived), that hope and joy and forgiveness and transcendence are things that everyone can give, and that everyone can receive?  Are generosity, kindness, celebration, joy, good will, and welcome in such short supply that we cannot share them widely without begrudging them to anyone?

Cannot a king and an outlaw lift a cup together and cheer the coming of light into darkness?

Hymn for The Headless One

First Decan of Capricorn

Come, thou Headless One, with sight in thy feet!
Falling down to earth to redeem and rule:
food, sex and jollity — your time is sweet,
when the Sun sits, your guest, at joyous Yule!
You goad to movement, material force;
you’re spirit wrapped in terrestrial flesh,
as kingfisher birds chart their homeward flight,
or runners crossing the end of their course,
or seeds that open to make their roots mesh —
you bring down healing, relief and delight.

Jove-like, with your head tucked under one arm,
your bestial feet pull you toward bounty —
happy home, good food, and sexual charm,
and riches received from town and county.
The goad and sword in your hands show your role,
to push, to prod, to command and to fight —
to revel in life and to roughhouse in bed;
to shoulder in darkness, a red-hot coal
that kindles new flame and brings back the light:
Asclepius who heals even the dead.

By Asafetida’s pungent stenches
that drive off spirits and join us to earth,
help me walk in terrestrial trenches—
as Word was made Flesh, may I know rebirth,
a spirit of Earth with eyes in my feet
and subject to all earthly desires,
and empowered to connect with the land.
Life on Earth can be both bitter and sweet,
graced by gravity, and one with the stars —
help me enjoy these presents from your hand.

— Sarasota, FL, 12/22/2014
(revised Dec 2015)

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