Winter Monsters

In central Europe, tonight is Krampusnacht, the night when the goat-demon Krampus, a terrifying figure, wanders abroad dragging his chains to whip misbehaving children with a bundle of birch twigs, stuff them in a sack and take them away (to hell, presumably, in the Christianized version of this probably pre-Christian tradition). 

You can’t escape Krampus if it is after you. The best you can do is offer it schnapps and hope that it will let you go.

Krampus has experienced a bit of a Renaissance in recent years, mostly as an amusing and quaint throwback. While small children may be frightened at Krampus parades, adults are all smiles. And displayed everywhere, of course, there is the ubiquitous St. Nicholas to make everything all right again when Krampus is gone.

But it was only a few centuries ago that the long nights of winter were full of monsters, and people ignored them at their peril. Cold, famine, disease, and the madness that can come from being locked indoors for months on end took their tolls in every community, every winter. Once harvests and livestock culls were complete, all one could do is watch the food stores dwindle and hope that spring would come in time. 

Meanwhile, out in the dark, still-wild forests, real-world monsters such as wolves roamed. Strange and uncanny things were rumored. Simply going into the woods to cut firewood during the daytime became a fearful task.

I like Krampus. I like the reminder that the Dark is filled with scary possibilities. I think we gather our loved ones near precisely because of the monsters that lurk at our doors at this time of year. 

May you and yours be safe, and warm, and well-fed at this time when darkness reigns and monsters are abroad. Happy Krampusnacht!


Yuletide: A Compendium

Over the years, I’ve posted quite a bit about my Atheopagan Yule traditions. I thought I’d pull links to them together here for easy reference.

Yule, overlapping so heavily with the Christian/secular holiday of Christmas, is a time when many of our Pagan traditions are widespread, and with many old threads of lore and practice layered over one another. Whether your household goes all out, with a tree and gifts and parties and the Holly King in his guise as Saint Nicholas, or simply lights candles to call back the light into the world, it is a time of both hope and fear, a time for reflection on what has gone before, a time for thinking about new projects and initiatives.

Personally, I like to do All The Things except buying and receiving gifts. The commercial consumption frenzy at this time of year really offends me (except for children, where I feel it is simply cruel to deny them what they see their peers experiencing every year), and I have enough stuff, so we dispense with that piece. But I like to drink the nog and mulled wine and seasonal ales, and erect and decorate a tree, and burn a Yule log with wishes for the new year, and eat too much and too well, and watch Hogfather, and sing carols (including the Atheopagan filks I’ve included in the hymnal) and listen to Renaissance Christmas music (This is my favorite album)…or jazz Christmas music…and visit with dear friends. And to tell ghost stories on Solstice night–an old tradition I hope will come back into fashion.

Plus, of course, a Yule ritual and feast thereafter.

So here are the various posts I’ve made on Yule practices, rituals and traditions over the years, with some Yuletide poetry as well. I hope they serve you in good stead and that yours is a warm, comfortable, joyous and love-filled Yuletide season.

An Atheopagan Life: November and December

What Shall We Give for Yule?

The Yule Log: a Winter Solstice Ritual

Mulled Wine: A Poem for the Yuletide Season

It Starts With Just One Thing

A Winter Spell

Atheopagan “Advent” Calendar: a fun project for the holidays

Themes for Atheopagan “Welcoming” Gatherings

This past weekend, a handful of us threw a successful Atheopagan gathering for the Harvest Sabbath.

Not everyone there was an Atheopagan. Not everyone there had even heard of Atheopaganism. But we ate and drank and socialized and circled together, and a good time was had by all.

And isn’t that the point?

Where I’m going with this is that wherever you live, there may not be self-identified Atheopagans to gather with. Not right away, at least. But there are people: folks who might very well enjoy a seasonal gathering with a theme, socializing and food, and a short acknowledgement of the meanings of the season in ritual form. Those folks may find, in time, that doing these Atheopagan rituals—perhaps even helping to design or officiate them— is something that interests them, and they may want to learn more.

So think about it: who might you invite to something like that? The gathering doesn’t have to be huge; even 6-8 people can have a great time together. You can start to pull together a working Atheopagan community simply by being hospitable and offering experiences that are connecting, meaningful and memorable.

Here are some suggested themes and activities for Atheopagan gatherings at various Sabbaths around the year*:

Yule (winter solstice): family and community, the return of the light, the longest night

Slogg (3rd Saturday in January): “second Christmas” party, community, getting through winter

Imbolc/Brighid/Riverain (~Feb. 1) : early spring, making Rain Babies,

High Spring(vernal equinox): dyeing eggs, playing childhood games, candy and desserts

May Day (~May 1) : playfulness, arrival of summer, Maypole, May wine.

Midsummer (summer solstice): the peak of the light, the longest day, evening gathering, outdoor games

Summer’s End (~Aug. 1): picnic or beach/river day, go berry-gathering, bake bread

Harvest (autumnal equinox): harvest feast, celebrate the year’s “harvest”, gratitude for abundance

Hallows (~Oct. 31/Nov. 1): Halloween, spooky fun, costumes, ancestors and remembering those who have died in the past year.

One reason we practice Atheopaganism is to connect with our fellow humans. Wherever you are, I hope you will reach out and extend invitations to friends to join you in simple celebration of seasons, rites of passage and the fact that we are alive.

May your gatherings be well-attended, fun, and rich with meaning!

*These are for the Northern Hemisphere; reverse the dates for Southern.