Yule is of course a joyous time for celebrating love and family and the return of the Sacred Sun. But it also marks the end of the cycle of the year and the beginning of a new, and it is this I’d like to address today.
I often talk about the “arc” of the year instead of the Wheel of the Year, because in my conceptualization of how a human life maps metaphorically onto the year’s cycle, there is an important segment–the period between Hallows and Yule–which we never experience at all, because they are the time of Decomposition and Recomposition. They are what happens after we die, and before we are born.
Pagans often talk about the “rebirth” of life*, but let’s face it: in reality, life is never reborn. New generations of life spring from the remnants of the old (and dormant creatures like deciduous trees and bears and so forth wake up in the Spring, but they were never dead to begin with), and that’s not the same thing. A new generation is new life, not life reborn.
So I think a lot about the sacred Mystery of this time of the year, when I mark the amazing process by which the formerly alive are disassembled into component molecules, and then taken up for reassembly into new life in the bodies of life already established. The bacteria and fungi and insects and echinoderms and so forth that facilitate this magical change are often ignored or slighted, but without them we could not possibly be here: their service has enabled our existence.
So I think of this time as the time of decay and pregnancy; of the dismantling of the old and, from its remains, composition of the new. Arguably the greatest and most magnificent of Life’s many astounding and magical tricks: literal transformation of the dead into life.
So yes, deck those halls and light that tree and burn that log and bake those goodies, and hold your loved ones in your heart even if you can’t hold them to you this year, but spare a thought to the sheer wonder that is the making of new life.
When the baby Sun is born on the solstice it reminds us: the new is coming. But it always comes composed of the old, laden with history and memory, burning all the more brightly for the merry journeys it has taken through cycles and cycles of living on this so-blessed, so-remarkable little planet Earth.
* Though I have always suspected that this word figures in Pagan songs so much simply because it rhymes with “Earth”.
Image: “Yule King” by Michael Kerbow