The image is a photo of a piece of wood burning in a fire.

Yule (Winter Solstice) 2017

Every year for the last 15 years or so, my wife and I have hosted a Winter Solstice Gathering at our home. Each year, I write a little something, generally a story about our ancestor women and girls.

This year, I wrote with Norse stories in mind. If I were to call it Norse mythology, it might be fitting because before the supposed age of reason, myth = truth. In those days, children asked why questions all the time just like they do now and so some adult said, hey, yeah, why does the sun go from one side of the sky to the next? Why isn’t the moon always round and full? So they made up stories to explain truths. Now, myth is just some story that doesn’t hold any meaning for many people. What they fail to see is that myth wasn’t just story, it was truth. It held layers upon layers of meaning for people as they learned about themselves (Donkey would tell Shrek this much later on in human history – Shrek has layers like an onion or maybe a parfait. I mean, everybody loves parfait).

So here’s my story for Yule 2017 which I’ll share at our gathering.

It started, in one woman’s recollection, with a group of beings known as goddesses. They were always a bit too warm where they lived so a group of them moved to Scandinavia. These goddesses were pretty good at creating things and keeping them growing for they learned to do so from their Mother. You might have heard of her? Mother Earth is a name she goes by, though she has many names. That’s another story, not for this time.

There was also a group of beings known as gods, who strangely stood up to pee, who boasted that they’d made the world, totally against the laws of nature, completely out of whack with what their Mother (yep, same Mother Earth) had shown them. But those gods were like that, making up tales about how great they were. And they were creators, just like the goddesses, but they had a flaw which they focused on exclusively in those days – jealousy. They were jealous of the goddesses even though both had the power to create since they all learned from Mama Earth. This jealousy was quite a scandal – they were jealous of each other (who can boast the most outrageously?) and they were jealous of the goddesses and even of their own Mother. It got to a point where that’s all they thought themselves capable of – being jealous. And because that’s where they got stuck, they were frustrated and began to fight. The fighting soon became war and they discovered they were good at wars so they kept at it.

Meanwhile, the goddesses who had not forgotten their powers to create, kept working on what they were doing and pretty much ignored the fighting among the gods. Why get involved? They had to get bread on the table. Most of the beings on Earth were capable of taking care of themselves except humans. Bugs ate gunk, birds ate bugs, cats ate birds and so on. But humans needed some training. So the goddesses had to teach them how to grow plants from seeds, how to harvest what they grew, how to cook and how to keep seeds for the next season of growing. They even taught them how to compost, though that took a little while to catch on. The goddesses were pretty busy making sure that every being on Earth got what they needed.

For the goddesses, it was all about balance. Balance was the Wheel of Life. Balance was everything. Sure, there could be a little wobble but for the most part, everything needed to be in balance for life to be what it was. This also meant that not every being could stay alive forever – that to maintain balance with life, there had to be death. So there were times when some beings ate other beings, including humans. Beings died so others could be born and live. This was part of the balance.

As myth would have it, the Wheel of Life sat up in the high, high branches of a tree. Not just any tree, but the World Tree. It may be difficult to imagine a wheel up in a tree, but it’s there, balanced on the World Tree. The World Tree is so big that it can hold up all life, even life we can’t see; other beings we have yet to meet. At the roots of the World Tree is a Guardian. She’s making sure that if there’s a strong cosmic wind, it doesn’t knock over the World Tree. She takes the shape of a serpent because that’s the easiest shape to have if you need to wrap yourself around the roots of the biggest tree ever. The Guardian gets lonely because all the other beings are way up in the tree’s branches, though the goddesses come down to the root cellar on a regular basis and sit with her for awhile. One of the Guardian’s favorites is Persephone. You may have heard of her – when she was a teenager, she had a fight with her mom and ran away. Actually, she just went to the root cellar and hung out with the Guardian for awhile, just to make her mom miss her. Which Demeter did. But that’s another story for another time.

One time Persephone was going for some turnips in the root cellar when she decided to take some yummy snacks for the Guardian. They made a picnic of it and when they were finished, the Guardian told the goddess that she had a really scary dream last night. But it wasn’t all scary, would Persephone like to hear it? The goddess agreed as she poured herself another cup of tea.

It went something like this.

The Guardian could see above her how hard the goddesses worked. She saw the gods too, how busy they were in their own way – fighting and bragging and coveting. She heard the gods talking among themselves of a great battle which they called Ragnarok. According to the gods, this was going to be the best thing ever. There would be fighting of course, and allegiances formed and lost, and death. But this was not death to keep balance, but death out of jealousy. Remember at the beginning of the story when the gods forgot that they were creators and instead started fighting? For the gods, this was going to be like the World Series, the Superbowl and the World Cup all in one big fight. They could all get rings and belts and trophies, which made them enormously happy.

While they were planning this whole Ragnarok thing, one of the gods asked what about the goddesses? They decided that the goddesses, even though they were super-busy keeping everything in balance, would have to choose sides. They might die, true, and they wouldn’t like it, but hey, that’s what the gods decided and the goddesses had no say.

All this the Guardian told the goddess and though she was alarmed, she wasn’t frightened. She was angry. She told the other goddesses about what the Guardian had dreamed and they decided that it was a prophecy, and one that they would need to make sure did not come true. They wanted no part in death for sport. So they decided that for awhile they would need to go underground. Let the gods play out their little drama without them. But as caretakers of all the other beings, they needed to let them know and to offer sanctuary in whatever way they could. Some of the animals went underground too (they say that animals go extinct, but do they? Really?) as well as some of the other folk like faeries, elves, dwarves and the magical beasts.

The humans decided that they would take care of the Wheel of Life as best they could while the goddesses and other beings were in hiding. Though they did forget this for awhile, and the wobble of the Wheel got pretty intense in the 20th and 21st Centuries. But that’s another story for another time. The goddesses didn’t want to the humans to feel that they’d left them, so they disguised themselves as mortal women at times, just to let the humans know they weren’t abandoned. Have you heard of Queen Boudica, Mary (aka Our Lady of Lourdes), Joan of Ark, Eleanor Roosevelt, Wonder Woman, and Hillary Clinton? Yep, all goddesses in disguise. Then, with everyone safely in a hidden place, the goddesses waited.

Now. Here’s where we are today. Has Ragnarok started? Is it happening now? Is it over? Have the gods and the humans faithful to them, all died unnatural deaths? Perhaps not. Things are, by all accounts, still out of balance. We are surrounded by violence and death. But remember this – we humans are only living in a narrow piece of time. We think Ragnarok will be the end of the world, and perhaps it will be, but only the end of the old world. The Guardian has more story to tell.

When the goddesses hid themselves, they secreted the truths of Life so that they would not be used for more violence and war. They protect the animals and other beings and humans as best they can from their hiding place. But more than anything else, they protect the World Tree and the Guardian. They reach out to us in dreams. They give woman and girls the courage to face the terrors of the gods of war and the violence of men. They whisper in the ears of women and girls that they are creators, powerful and strong. The goddesses place dreams in the heads of men and boys reminding them that they have a choice – they can follow the lead of the women and girls, who are following the lead of the goddesses who are the caretakers. We are all born of the Mother, we all stand on the Wheel of Life that sits in the high branches of the World Tree, protected by the Guardian. We are all a part of it – the great story, the myth. And this truth, shall outlive Ragnarok.

Image credit: Barskefrancke. Public domain (CC 0) via Pixabay.