The year’s threshold

Flanders Moss NNR

The days are getting lighter. The winter solstice has passed – on the tower at Flanders Moss we saw the sun rise and set on the shortest day, though in typically uncooperative style it was grey from start to finish.

But yesterday, the day was a little longer – today, longer still – and on and on until midsummer, as the wheel of the year turns. Celebration of the solstice is one of the oldest winter festival traditions. In paganism, the time is known as ‘Yule’, which is supposed to have been derived from ‘houl’, or ‘wheel’.

Although largely displaced by Christianity, some still practice paganism, whilst some pagan traditions have been adopted as part of Christmas. Some of you may still burn a yule log at midwinter: This act was supposed to ward off evil spirits, defeat the darkness and bring luck for the year to come.

Back at base we lit a fire in our fire pit, reclaimed from an old washing machine drum as heating for our new, Covid-safe, outdoor meeting area. I’m not quite sure what any watching evil spirits might have made of it all.

Pagan or not, there’s something hopeful about the solstice and the returning of light. Yule is associated with rebirth and renewal – and, as we come to the end of a year which has been challenging for many, that is an encouraging thought.

A few final words, from the inimitable Margaret Atwood’s poem ‘Shapechangers in Winter’:

This is the solstice, the still point

of the sun, its cusp and midnight,

the year’s threshold

and unlocking, where the past

lets go of and becomes the future:

the place of caught beneath, the door

of a vanished house left ajar.

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