Yuletide Eve

Tomorrow is Yule. We finally have everything together. I have accidentally baked five pies (I was trying to make 3), and we have two young rabbits in a marinade in the fridge. Two chickens have mostly defrosted in our sink and are ready to have citrus juice poured over them for tomorrow.

The portabello mushrooms have been selected, ready to receive their cashew and chickpea stuffing. Tomatoes have been purchased for the tops.

The sun breads have been baked. Two normal breads, one sweet. The chickens eggs have been stockpiled for the ‘nog. We drink raw eggnog on yule made with eggs from our chickens.

A crate of beer is sitting in the living room. An extra table has been brought in. The presents are wrapped and under the tree.

The most important part, the Yule log, is outside. It’s sitting, suspended off the ground so it stays dry, in the middle of a Goddess spiral. This year Dan will be joining me for my prayers, which will be a little odd. I’ve never had someone to pray with me before. I hope I can remember the lines properly.

At dawn we bless the log. The Yule log is an old tradition with a lot of variations. Many Wiccans for example rely more on the symobology of the log and often burn candles in a log that’s been decorated with objects from nature, or use it as a decoration rather than burn an actual log. One old Nordic variation on the tradition is to cut down the biggest tree in the forest, and burn the entire tree in a bonfire for 12 or 13 days and nights.

But the Yule log has some rules that go with it.

First, the log must be collected from your own or public land, or given freely from someone elses. You may not buy, trade or exchange work for your log. It must be obtained freely and without debt paid or unpaid.

Different kinds of wood have different kinds of symbology attached to them. Ash is considered an old wood, used for protection, strength, good health and visions for the future. That’s our log this year.
This Page has a pretty good list of sacred trees and their meanings. Here are two other links to more comprehensive lists. Some heathen faiths recognize many trees as having sacred properties, but some other only hold a few in esteem. We’re more inbetween.

The log should be blessed. I do this at dawn on the day of the Solstice (the 21st). First, there is a cleansing of the air of evil spirits by burning sacred herbs or incense. Usually this is sage. (This will be awkward because Dan is allergic. Because of this I have to give him permission to enter the circle after it’s cleansed.) We call on Gaia, mother earth, The Goddess, mother of all things, whatever incarnation of her that you prefer, as well as the four directions and their elements to bless our log and guard our circle. Then we make a statement of intention, why you’re there that day (to bless the yule log), what you hope the outcome will be (letting go of the old year, welcoming in a positive new year), and a humble request to the spirits that you choose to invoke that they help those things happen. Then we say prayers, asking specific spirits and ancestors to also bless our log. We reflect on the old year and let it be cleansed from us. then we close the circle. There are candles and incense involved as well.

The log (or candles on the log) need to be lit with the remnants of last year’s log (or candle) signifying the old year giving birth to the new year.

As the log burns, we make wishes for the new year by writing them on a scrap of paper and burning them over the flames. (People who celebrate with candles often burn the wishes in a small brass bowl after passing them through all three candle flames.) The wishes have their own sets of rules. They must be practical, not fantastic, in nature. (Wishing for a million dollars is not OK, but wishing for a new well-paying job would be.) They must not manipulate others. (Wishing that your boss would promote you would not be OK, but wishing to do well enough to earn the promotion yourself is.) They must be ethically sound (wishing harm on others is a big no-no) and positive (Wishing something to happen to you is better than wishing something wouldn’t happen). In general, making a thoughtful and ethical wish is the way to go. Also, spirits are NOT fond of being sucked up to, so if you are disingenuous to earn their favor it will backfire.  Only wish for well upon spirits or other people if you really, truly mean it. It’s OK to make a wish for yourself!

Then the log needs to be burned from night, through to dawn… Either by burning the actual log all night long or letting the candles burn all night. The longer it burns, the better. If it stays lit until dawn it’s considered a very good omen. (Or for all 13 days if you want to cut down a whole tree!)

The Yule Log ceremony is accompanied by all manor of frivolity, exchanging gifts, drinking, feasting, and friendship. Being generous to friends, family, and to the poor in exchange for good blessings and carols are BIG parts of the tradition. The goal is to make the day seem so festive that the sun longs to return to earth. We also decorate with lights, candles and suns, evergreens and other signs of life and light, to remind the sun of what the world looks like when the sun shines on our land.

I know that this holiday means a lot to me. It’s one little part of my heritage that I claim for myself. Yule is a pagan tradition, but a nearly identical celebration is held by the Native Americans as well. In our household when I was a kid we celebrated the quintessential American Christmas. While paganism wasn’t forbidden by any means, it wasn’t what we celebrated. We went to midnight mass, we had a nativity scene cobbled together from several sets, we hung tinsel and angels on the tree. Now that I live alone I absolutely revel in the opportunity to celebrate Yule every year. We go all out for it.

After Yule I go on vacation. I’m looking forward to burning this year away with our log and starting next year off with a fun, happy, relaxed mindset.

Happy Yule everyone! I hope your holidays are great and your plants and animals grow well for you this year! I’ll see you all in the new year!

Yuletide Greetings

Hello! With the advent of December (if you’ll excuse the pun) my mind starts planning out my annual winter celebrations. In our household we celebrate Yule, a pagan and Wiccan tradition and one of about a dozen major religious winter celebrations in the US.

Yule is a really fun holiday, that was subject to heavy Christianization into the celebration we know today as Christmas. Many of the traditions were lost in the process and are hard to understand.  A lot of the history of this celebration has been lost to the ages and is slowly being pieced back together.

Modern celebrations have a few big elements in common with historical accounts of the celebration. The first being the purpose of the Yule celebration. Yule celebrates the spiritual embodiment of the Sun. Yule takes place on the shortest night of the year, and is a celebration designed to be so festive, happy, joyous and bright that it reminds the Sun itself of how wonderful the earth is, and begins the cycle of days getting longer again. This deep connection to the sun is intrinsic to ancient pagan celebrations of Yule, regardless of the specific faith that was celebrating it. In those times, celebrations were shared across cultures and many sects celebrated the same holy days in similar ways, just worshiping different gods. Because of this, nearly every major religion has a winter festival of lights, and it was this celebration that layed the foundation for Christmas as we know it.
The other thing these modern celebrations have in common with ancient ones are many of the broader traditions and symbology for the celebration. Filling the home with lights (in those days, specifically it was candles), and bringing a tree indoors to decorate with candles was meant to make the world bright and inviting and also depict the sun. The exchange of gifts and a grand feast was meant to make the season joyous and festive. Decking halls with boughs of holly, mistletoe and pines were a reminder of the beautiful green growth of spring. Wassailing was singing door to door, which evolved into caroling, but also was an exchange of song and alcohol from the poor for gifts and food from the rich. Usually, the poor also offered blessings to the rich if they received their gifts, and curses if they didn’t. This history lives on in some Christmas carols, such as “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” and it’s references to carolers demanding a figgy pudding.

We celebrate Yule with these traditions in mind, and conveniently that’s pretty easy since most Christmas traditions are based off of old Germanic Yule traditions. We put up an evergreen tree (a fake one from my sister) and decorate it with baubles, ornaments, and lights. We hang wreaths of evergreens (Ok… They’re plastic too) over our bay windows, and put lights on the walls.
We also throw a big party on the 21st. This is my equivalent of Christmas, both eve and day, all wrapped into one. We invite a multitude of friends and family over to celebrate, 20 or so of our closest companions. At dawn I wake up to bless the Yule log (another old tradition we have a variation of) which is a massive chunk of wood. After that I spend the day prepping for the party. We enjoy a huge feast, an exchange of gifts, drinks, and a ceremony where we burn wishes for the new year over the blessed log in our fireplace, asking the spirits of the world to grant them to us.

Because of the nature of the celebration, it requires a lot of advance planning and a lot of resources. Like much of America these days, cash is in shorter supply than time, so we DIY many of our gifts. In the past we have given out trays of home-baked goods, home-made candies (including these really great caramels I made), some mushroom jars I made once, apple butter, etc.

Once again we will be giving out apple butter this year (we ended up making 3 gallons of it this year, after-all), but we’re adding some other home-made gifts to the list as well. This year we managed to make 13 half pints of home-made salsa, much of which will become gifts. There are other gifts we plant on making to give away that I will hopefully be detailing throughout the month.

We are also planning our feast and exploring options for our Yule dinner. This year we have two small(er) chickens we were planning on roasting, a pair of rabbits, and chickpea stuffed portabellas with pecans and carrots (for our vegetarian friends), roast veggies, stuffing, and deserts. But specifics are undetermined yet (beyond the vegetarian meal. We don’t eat holiday-worthy vegetarian meals often, so we pick recipes for that dish from the internet). Over the summer we made a Jamaican jerk chicken that was a big hit… Should we make that again? Should we go for something classic, loaded with sage and onions? Should we do a nice citrus pair of birds? Should the carrots be sweet or savory? The mashed potatoes plain and smooth, or lumpy and garlic filled like 2 Chainz famous mash? (We had those potatoes for Thanksgiving by the way, and they were excellent!)

There’s a lot of options but one things for certain, as the ability to leave the house recedes into freezing temperatures we’ll have more time to make those choices.

Do you have a favorite holiday dish? Share it with me! Yule is primarily about community and joy in literally dark times. I’d love to add a bit of your community and joy into mine!

Dirty Filthy Heathens

As a homesteader, I know I exist in a primarily christian conservative dominated field, and I am blessed enough to have a few people close in my life who are also Christians who respect that I simply am not. I follow an earth-based pagan faith that I don’t talk about a lot, celebrate old religious holidays based on the seasons, and try to live in harmony with the earth. I generally don’t talk about it much, as it’s my business and not something I want to press onto others.

But every once in a while I really, truly struggle with the willful ignorance of people with the privilege associated with mainstream Christianity when a simple, mild correction results in offense and insult.

Now I will preface this with the fact that I am biased. I grew up with a semi-catholic house, but we weren’t strict. When I was young I went to a Presbyterian church for years because I wanted to sing in the choir. My dad is very Christian and a student of many faiths, so it wasn’t that I had exclusively negative experiences, but they add up over time when you just don’t believe in that faith. For example; going to swimming lessons as a child and being told that you were going to hell by your peers for not going to church. Lectures from your older sister about how dragons and wizards were magic and the devil, and that magic is sinful. Inquiries from your friend’s family wondering why you stopped going to church. Comments from people about how they would pray for you to find god. People telling you that it’s just a “phase” or you are “lost” or just “don’t know any better”. Disgust, hate, fear, people shouting about how awful you are, how sinful you are… You behave differently… So you are simply a MONSTER.

This belittling attitude is especially prominent in homesteading where out of over 2 million farmers (defined as primary farm owner/operators), women account for only 14%, blacks account for only 30,000 farmers in the US. We don’t take religious data on farmers in the US, but in Canada nearly 40% of farmers were roman catholic and only 10% made up EVERY non christian religion, including Muslim and Judaism. There’s a strong possibility that those numbers would be even more skewed in the USA. Farming is NOT a very diverse field and bigotry runs amok.

There was even one point in my career, early on, with a somewhat respected farmer in a semi-distant community who wanted to purchase some rabbits from me. We discussed cages, nutrition, and ideal conditions for rabbits online for some time before he came out and bought some rabbits. Upon meeting me he was floored. He said because I sounded smart, was experienced and confident, and knew what I was doing that he had expected me to be an old white christian man. His words were along the lines of “I was expecting an old geezer sitting on his porch after church”. When he found out I was a young, pagan, woman all of my experience on everything was dismissed. Everything I said as advice he suddenly had to confirm with his “buddies” in the country. Eventually he posted a very offensive post against freedom of marriage online, and blocked me. He proclaimed that marriage was exclusive to Christianity and that nobody from other religions got married because he had never been to a wedding that didn’t say “under god” in the ceremony. I informed him that his scope was limited and he’d clearly never been to a non-christian wedding, as I had never been to a wedding where they DID say under god. This was enough for his to declare I was nothing but an ignorant christian hating child and tried to slander my name in homesteading circles. It didn’t spread far, but could have been much more serious.

It can make someone sensitive, and not everyone is just aggressive. There’s a lot of passive aggression as well, a lot of quiet distaste, frowns and whispers, and things not-quite said. We believe differently than you but we are still humans, and we experience these things. We get edgy. We get sensitive.

So in a discussion about nosy neighbors in small towns when you are a homesteader, someone complained that being nosy was “neighborly” and their cousin was very rude to people who presumed their religion. This was primarily experienced in having moved to a small town and being asked “what church do you go to?”. While this might seem innocuous to people with the privilege of a mainstream faith some of us have a history with the Christian faith that’s not so pretty. We’re never quite sure… Are you ignorantly trying to make friendly conversation, or do you really mean something along the lines of; “We didn’t see you at OUR church… But you DO go the church, right? You’re a Christian, right? You aren’t just skipping church like a dirty, filthy, heathen, right?”. Woe be unto you if you DO follow a heathen faith, as in my experience about half the time this will result in someone informing you that you are a horrible person for it.

Upon attempting to explain these things to this person, (an attempt to explain that the cousin may not see it as a friendly greeting, but rather a passive aggressive attack), I explained that many of us have experienced attacks from that situation, and people should try to be more sensitive to strangers because religion is personal. I hoped they would be a bit more forgiving towards their cousin as they’ve likely experienced suffering from it.

The result was not anything new. I totally expected it. Homesteading circles are primarily white Christians after all. But today it especially frustrated me.

Comments about how dare I say that, and about how I shouldn’t be posting such words (even though it was just a different perspective) because I was just being over sensitive. The comments continued about how people who thought that we were just petty and hated Christians, and how childish it was to feel offended by a “polite invite” to go to their church. How very WRONG I was for being upset by something legitimately upsetting and thoughtless.

Well, I hate to disappoint, but you are absolutely being offensive, and we have every right to protest it. Like asking a black mother with a light skinned child who they are babysitting for. It might be innocent on the surface, but that may very well be THEIR child, through birth or adoption. Or perhaps on a more aggressive example, the word “negro” means black in lots of languages. It’s just a word that means “black” which is not inherently offensive, but I dare you to tell me that calling someone with a dark skin tone “negro” isn’t offensive because of how it’s been used in the past.

For those of us who have actually, legitimately, suffered at the hands of Christianity with “innocent questions” like “what church do you go to”, we are absolutely getting ready for a fight when you ask us that because we have a history of that being nothing but a lead in to an attack. At the very least it’s a slight against the potential that we might not be christian… As in, of course you go to church and are christian, how odd or quaint to not! At the worst, it really is a lead in for an attack.

If someone tells you that something you do upsets them, and it’s not like they are asking you to do anything terribly special it seems reasonable to me to expect you to oblige, but almost to a man (or woman) people refuse, saying they are Christians, they are Americans, and they will behave how they want! How very christian of you to deliberately continue to do something that causes someone else pain, which would cause no expense to you to cease save for being a bit more thoughtful.

Please. We don’t ask you what coven you attend, we don’t ask you to celebrate our deities, we don’t tell you that you are bad people for your faith, we don’t wish you a “Happy Saturnalia”, we don’t proclaim that there is a war on our religion when we are denied religious liberties (even though we have more claim to it than anyone else, as there actually, realistically has been for hundreds of years), and you will not go to hell or be shunned from our community if you don’t follow our faith… We certainly won’t shout at you, insult you, disrespect you or even become violent just because you chose a different path. We just ask for basic, human respect and to put aside your willful ignorance for ten seconds just long enough to give us that respect, and that’s not really so much to ask.

If you’re a homesteader in a minority; I can only genuinely wish you good luck! The cards are stacked against you. You’re the REAL homesteader, you are breaking largely untrodden ground, and you have the biggest fight ahead of you. Don’t let other people make you think you can’t do it because of some twisted form of hate and bigotry. You go!