Resistance and Ritual
“I hope Brighid isn't angry at me,” I fret.
My husband smirks. “No, Brighid is laughing her ass off,” he replies.
It's Meán Geimhridh, and yet again I've swallowed my inherent dislike of snow and darkness to organize an appropriately solemn rite, one that has us pondering our blessings, rolling around on the metaphysical floor in abject gratitude and making fervent vows to repair the inherent brokenness of human culture. No sublimation of guilt there, no, not at all.
And the mishap happens, right on cue – just as it does virtually every midwinter, in one form or another.
This time, it's the mysterious chimney damper, which floods the entire house with woodsmoke. Then there was the year the candle flame shot up four inches high, refused to be doused and cracked the glass; I had to drown it in the sink after the rite. Then there was the time I set my sleeve on fire during the ceremony and a fellow priestess patted it out.
While I've had my share of ritual faux pas, I usually put on a meaningful ceremony for the Kindreds and the Druids in attendance. Meán Geimhridh, however, eludes me every year.
Oddly enough, it's the unsuccessful rituals that offer the deepest lessons. One-time failures can point to gaps in the planning process, the organizer's knowledge and skill, or the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Repeated failures, however, are signposts of another type, pointing the way to truths that the group or the individual priest or priestess refuse to face.
Repeated failures needn't involve an actual holy day, in the case of Meán Geimhridh, although that's fairly common. They can involve practices such as meditation, daily worship, even particular types of spellwork. Addressing the situation comes down to a few simple questions: What am I resisting, or refusing to see? What really turns me off, whether it's rational or not?
In my case, I've long had a marked resistance to the winter solstice. In part, it's the connection with what we know as Christmas traditions: gift-giving, greenery, silly music, feasting. The winter holiday is all shiny joy, something that I tend to interpret as shallow. Instead, I'm trying to steer us back into the darkness in all its Gothic glory and atone for the commercialism of the season. Coupled with that is a thirst for something ecstatic: drawing us outside the boundaries of our own beings, to drink at the well of cosmic truth.
No matter which way I slice it, Meán Geimhridh -- Yule, Winternights, whatever name you choose -- is as sweet as a slice of fruitcake, which makes perfect sense.
Merriment -- the gathering of loved ones, gifting, feasting, song -- truly is key to the meaning of solstice. In winter's depths, a community requires some levity to survive. Laughter lightens the darkest night. Companions warm the cold road. You don't survive the winter alone by denying loved ones, silliness, or cake in favor of a dour utilitarianism. By the same token, you can't just ecstatically trance the winter away; you need planning and grounding in the cold realities of the storehouse, whether that's finances in a down economy or the actual food in your root cellar.
Solstice is a dance between survival and celebration, seriousness and joy. After all the preparations for winter's rule, the balance starts to tip on the darkest night. Yes, the coldest months are ahead -- but so is the light.
Celebration is a kind of ecstasy -- the kind that draws you out of yourself, cracking a smile from ear to ear as a loved one rips through colored paper. Solstice is a liminal time when we forget our rules: the social rules of master and servant, the eggshell-walking boundaries of family life and power dynamics, the rules of diets and propriety. We act like children, rejoicing in food, fun, ridiculous songs.
Which is why Brighid laughs at me in this season and sets my sleeves on fire, “You're so damned serious. Lighten up!”