Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of Dec 17th - Dec 23rd, 2004

The Wild Winter Hunt

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      This week the rituals begin. Like a huge hour hand, heaven strikes the knell as Time assumes his seasonal seat. The Winter Solstice is Tuesday, Dec 21st at 7:41 AM EST, at which moment our golden orb leaves the pastures and fields of swift hoofed Sagittarius and enters the mountainous realm of the sure footed goat, Capricorn. On this day in his astronomical journey the Sun is as far south as it will travel. Then, pausing for a while to take a breath and adjust his equatorial belt, the Golden Chariot pauses on the same degree of latitude for three days. Some might say Apollo needed time to let his horses rest for the return journey to summer; but others would contend it was the Yule Elf and his magical goats Tannginost and Tanngrisnir who turn and draw this splendid fiery chariot through the sky.

      Many of the traditions of time tie the ends of their year together based on the motion of the Sun. The power and influence of the Sun are at a minima, his time in the sky most limited, the power of his light and heat most diminished. Many felt that this period represents the Sun in his infancy, when he was tender, young and vulnerable. The Winter Solstice and Christmas 'bookend' this three day period while the Sun stands still. Winter

      The Solstice marks the beginning of this 'stand,' while Christmas marks its end. The Sun begins his northern journey three days after arriving at this point; hence the name 'Solstice,' which means 'the Sun takes a stand.' The Yule Elf is a more northerly tradition, depicted either as Odin or Thor. Before being 'fattened' into a jolly old soul by Victorian England, this Yule Elf was thinner, leaner and sterner. He could be quite a terrifying figure, especially to rude or ill-willed folk. This forbidding Yule Father probably arose from even older legends of the Odensjakt or Wild Host who rode the stormy Winter skies during Yuletide, led by Odin as Oskoreidi.

The Wild Hunt       The Earth's magnetic currents run at the time of the traditional pagan holidays, when the 'little people' were said to be about. Most stories of the fairy troops are from May Day or Halloween, but there are also stories of Yuletide celebrations. Indeed, these spirits or 'currents' were included as part of the holiday blessing; an effort to generate peace and good will not only for each other, but for the earth as well. At Yule, these currents assumed a personality known as the 'Wild' or 'Furious Host' which were said to lead a fearsome hunt over the fields.

      There's a great deal of evidence that the pagans believed fertility and blessing were brought by the 'Furious Host'. The Yule Elf or Leader of the Host was known to give gold or other boons to those who were courteous or clever, but the greatest boon was that as these currents rode above the fields they ensured fertility and fruitful harvests. This fertility aspect of the Wild Hunt could be connected with the return of the dead to their earthly homes at Yule, for it was thought they brought blessings and bestowed them upon their kin. In these northern myths, each of the holidays were seen as times when the seams of creation were knit together; where beginning and end met, the realm of the living and the dead merged and the future could be seen in the present. This could be a blessing, or a curse. Our Elf has returned with the remaining kindling of last year's Yule log to start the fire of the wheel of life once again.

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