Yule Rite

Weary now the footsteps of the aged Sun and weary his way in the wintry sky. Gone now the glowing cheer he bore on high when, golden-haired, he strode the blue roads of his youth and trod the storm gods underfoot, his right hand high and holding spears of flashing flame and Summer blazing on his brow. Old he is now and his aged head he barely bore above the naked larch that starkly stands and dismal droops his branches to the alders and the hazel and the willows where the winding stream southernward carries her cold winter waters round the far fence of Rhaeadr's grass and rush. And often now at the end of a day he held his red cloak round about him as he strode in the foothills of the western sky.

People had been arriving during the day. There were Elen and Huw, Gwen and Owen from the next valley, Idris and Merian from the north; there were Joe and Kathy from farther away, and Coll came from farther yet with Liz and Judy. And Rhona had been busy from the morning with her gathering of things, and a wistful light there shone in her eyes and her hands were busy with a work of love. It was long ago in the May that Joe, bearing then as now the kachina of the Sun, had wrought his image in a waxen form, a small pale yellow candle, and gave it then to Rhona to cherish in the passing of the moons. No work of art it was if art were fine lines and tracery for of these there were none, as in an embryo there are none; but of love there was no lack and Rhona bore a full heart. And her breast flowed with love, even as the breast of Mabh, our beloved Earth and fount of all our gladness.

The big stone-walled room had been made ready and a bright fire burned in the great hearth and there was ivy in twining, trailing strands and streamers and the hardy holly with his round red berries and his sharp shining leaves that caught the fire glow and flickered in the yellow flames. And here, in this room, we would keep watch through the longest night, our beds to be lain on the floor round about. But one bed there was in special that waited not upon the fading light; for the westering star had come to his rest.

Rhona with her hands and the Earth's deep love had made a cradle; brown earth lay on the bottom and of wild apple was the wood; of moss she had made it, green-gathered from the glade and glistening damp and dark. And lichen too and liverwort she laid as a garland on the green. And there was holly at the head for an emblem of his brightness, and steams of ivy to bear it up at the foot of her bed where an arch she made of the willow wood to bend with a wandering wind.

And now was the day growing old and the Sun climbing down from the sky. We lit the great red candle that stood at the head of the bed and, while the Sun hung yet low in the evening sky we went out through the damp grass of Rhaeadr and into the field of Dwy Nant. Liz went first and she bore the elder wand; terrible she looked and her name was the Night and black was her doleful shroud. Then went another with a measured step and a gold crown upon his head and in his hand a gleaming spear; and he looked never back. And the third was black, as the night was black, and her name was the Night, even as the first was the Night; but she went erect as a Queen, with the gift of the Sun inside her, and she bore a wand of the wild apple. We went behind them and the path was from the east and then south of the ring till the Night of the empty hand was at the elder tree, and she turned about and the Skylord looked now upon the desolate face, into the cavens of emptiness, into the hollow eyes of dark despair. Dread were the hollow words of Maghu:

Yield, proud Pahh! Coarse is thy hair and grey.

Dark thy day. Yield! Thou art spent and old.

Thou art cold. Gone all they pomp and sway:

Drained away. Yield thee thy crown of gold!

Thou art old: cold: and thy tale is told.

Still he stood and his legs strayed not from the path. The Sun slipped low in the western sky and he laid his spear at her feet. Still he stood and he turned not his gaze from the empty Night. The Sun sank into the bosom of the Earth and he laid his crown at her feet. Still he stood in the shade of the Night: he stood and her spoke her true:>

I yield thee my crown and my bright golden spear.

I yield thee the round and I yield thee the year.

But yield I thee nought that falls not to my doom:

The child that I brought who stirs in the womb.

And as he laid his crown before the Night of the empty hand, the One of the pregnant womb did on her crown of darkness; black it was with gems of jet all gleaming of the night, and a Queen she stood in awe and magnificence, a Queen of the boundless dark. But the Sun turned not his gaze and looked ever to the fading west. So we joined our hands and we danced once round, and she stood now before him in all her dark splendour, and the wraith stood behind him. Dark were her eyes wherein was all softness and shadow, and she went down on her knee and her slender fingers bore up those ancient hands that had forged the days, and she kissed his aged lips. She took off an inner garment that was but loosely held and she bent again to her knee and wrapped his spear and his golden crown in her black drapery and bore them up in her arms. And away then, and he beside her, and we in their train, and the wraith in the footfalls that were not her own.

We came indoors hungry, and put the hunger to flight, and Liz now in her festive clothes again, and we talked, and some made cakes and other things for the morrow and some made music, and all made room for another meal at nine. But now the hour was drawing near and the dark Queen would have her rest, and we would keep watch during the long night. Our beds were laid about, and the fire burning brightly, and two seats by the fireside for the watchers. And we would watch in shifts of an hour and a half, a man and a woman together, except Idris who would grow to wield the golden spear, and his would be a half shift at the start, and a half again in the last watch, and this so that both watchers would not be together in the ebb tide of sleep.

The dark Queen looked ever more wistful and she put off her black crown and her royal robes and did on her nightgown, soft and warm, and brown as her own wild bosom. And she laid her to bed. Brown were the clothes that gave warmth to her body; brown was the pillow that gave rest to her head: brown as the Earth who bore our love this night. And over all was a cover of green. Sweet she lay and our love lay with her sweetness.

One leant over and spoke to her "Blessed be the fruit of thy womb," and kissed her on her lips, and I spoke to her "Blessed be the child that you bear, dear Mabh," and I pressed my lips to hers, and another said "My love be with you this night, dear Earth," and many were the words that bore our love 'ere we kissed those holy lips. And we sang her our love as the red candle burned and the firelight leapt from leaf to leaf:
Silent night; holy night;

All is dark; dim was the light.

Sweet lies the Mother and still lies the wild,

Wistfully longing to nurse her sweet child,

Stirring now in her womb;

Stirring his feet in her womb.

Quiet Earth; holy Earth;

Sweet she lies; sweet she'll give birth.

Then will the longest night be flown away

And will her loved one grow strong day by day,

Stirring now in her womb;

Stirring his feet in her womb.

Lovely Queen; holy Queen;

Lies she still, her cloak of green,

Sequinned all over with frost sparkling bright,

Peaceful and vast 'neath the silver starlight.

Stirs the child in her womb;

Stirs in the deep of her womb.

Peaceful she lies; holy she lies;

Dark the hills where her son will rise.

All of her heart she has giv'n to his birth.

All of our love we will give to the Earth,

All for the child in her womb;

All for he stirs in her womb.
Quiet she lay in the deep of her bed, and two tear drops stood on her eyelashes like dewdrops in the grass.

Idris took first watch with Merian and when half of Merian's watch was done I took the seat if Idris, and at middle watch for me Judy sat in the seat whereon Merian had kept watch, and at half again I roused Huw and took my rest, and so through the night. When I woke in the morning, no flames danced from the hearth, and only the great red candle burned, but low now at the head of the bed. Liz had kept last watch with Idris, and the Night of the empty hand had snuffed the fire and scattered the ash to the morning breeze and the cold damp Earth; and the sticks that Idris had laid to the days to come bore as yet no living flame. And a sparkle lay over the green of the bed, a loose woven drapery whose threads were few and picked out in sequins like a glistening frost. And outside too a frost lay sparkling on the grass.

She woke at half past seven; her eyes opened for an instant and she smiled, and her eyelids closed again for her time was not yet upon her. And we set no words to stand in her thoughts as she gathered the shadows of the night in the sweetness of her heart and gave love to the child in her womb.

A half hour she lay in her devotion and the stirrings came upon her. She rose from her bed and did on another gown over the brown she was wearing, and the other was of green as her wild gown of the rolling plains, and over that, the dappled frost to glint and sparkle. All dewy were her eyes as she moved to the door, and we went with her as she went through the white-speckled grass of the field, over the stream and into the field of Dwy Nant. Unhurried was her pace as she came through the apple trees out of the north and into the ring of stones, and we brought dry bracken with us in bundles to make her a bed, and she lay herself down and her eyes were on the hills that stand where the east marks ground with the south. Cold was the morning and a breeze stirred from the west, and we gathered to make a haven of warmth about her. Not for long she lay on her bracken bed and a joy stirred in her womb. Now she was squatting, and the bracken about her, and her skirts lifted to her knees, and a change there was in the clouds that stood on the hills. The lips of her cunt were parting and a shaft of light reached out of the Earth. Slowly, in the rhythm of the ages, she brought the Little One out of her beloved body; strong grew the light as he stood now on the hills and cast merry eyes on the sparkling frost. And Idris was away then at a travelling pace and we were all singing:

The holly and the ivy

When they are both full gown,

Of all the trees that are in the wood

The holly bears the crown.>

The rising of the Sun

And the running of the deer,

The twining of the ivy and the

Crying of the bright new year.>

The holly and the ivy

And the lying of the Earth,

The yielding of the blessed womb and

The giving of the birth.>

The rising of the Sun .........>

The holly and the ivy

And the glowing of the red,

The blazing of the berries and the

Shining of the golden head.>

The rising of the Sun .........>

The holly and the ivy

And the glowing of the green,

The warming of of our blessed Lady

And the flowing of the stream.>

The rising of the Sun .........>

The holly and the ivy,

All the red and all the green,

Great Father Sun and sweet Mother Earth,

Ever blessed King and Queen.>

The rising of the Sun

And the running of the deer,

The twining of the ivy and the

Crying of the bright new year.

She took the Little One up in her hands and the light of the risen Sun was sparkling in her eyes. Tenderly as she stood, she clasped her treasure to her breast and with a Queen's bearing and all the care of a mother's heart she was moving over the frosted field and into the house. As a jewel in her eyes was the tiny light as she held her precious handful over the flame of the old red candle, and as a jewel agleam in her heart as she set it now as a tiny glow amid the green in the cradle she had made. Tiny yet the little light amid the lichens and the liverwort: tiny yet among the mosses and the damp brown earth.

And she went to Idris, lying naked in her bed and she kissed his head that he would know ever right, and his mouth that he would speak ever true, his hands for the tasks of the year to come, and his back that he turn it not to the blow. "Pahh' I name thee, my Little One" she said and she brought him out of her bed and dressed him in the red robes of the Sun and she put the little light in his hand and a mother's blessing in his heart:

Straight willed shall be thy part;

Fell, deft shall be thy hand,

O heat of all my heart!

O Light of all my land!
He bore the flame to the hearth and set it to stand amid the sticks he had set and soon the flames went leaping and his fire was burning bright.

We held a small piece of bark, each one, in our hands and, one by one, we told of the deeds we would do in the year to come and the works we would accomplish lest we come at last empty-handed to the wraith of the Autumn shadows; and Idris pledged most of all for he set his feet now to the path that Joe had trod. The fragments of bark bore our pledges to the flames, and as they became one with the fire, we spoke as one voice together:
Let my will grow strong as the fiery King

Who shall stride in the blue roads above!

Let my heart belong where our friends shall spring

To the work of our Earth-mother's love!

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