Gods of Midwinter

Historically, the days around this season’s solstice have hosted several religious festivities, celebrating the turning of the solar stage and/or deities associated with the sun, winter, and the agricultural cycle. The Christian god is only the latest great addition to the list, but others have been added in the last few decades by neo-pagan and polytheistic groups. Apart from Sol, which is an obvious deity for the season, I focus my midwinter celebrations on two gods: Saturn and Lord Ingui (aka Freyr).

Saturn’s feast is well know and traditionally spans from the 17th to the 23rd of December. Gift giving, wreaths, general revelry, and a healthy dose of mockery are the basic elements of Saturnalia. And except for the election of a mock king, something that requires a group of people, all of them are applicable or adaptable for a solitary like me. Gift giving is still part of modern Christmas celebrations, as are wreaths and other decorations; revelry may come in a more sober fashion, but dinner parties are also a current practice and one can make them as wild as possible. And in the past few years I’ve been adding a few things that have come to enrich my Saturnalia.

Besides a more traditional ceremony to Saturn in ritus Graecus, last year I also started setting up a statue of the god on the living room table. I crown it with a small wheat wreath, light a candle and maybe a portion of incense as a daily offering and, this year, decorate it with golden balls and pine twigs. But an older personal tradition implies baking walnut muffins and going door to door to give them to friends and relatives, usually at night so I can take a candle holder decorated with pine. It’s an expansion of the traditional gift giving and, this year, the candle I carried was lighted from the flame offered to Saturn, so as to bring the god’s blessing to my actions and honour Him thus. But the integration of this personal tradition in Saturnalia means that the festivity lasts one more day, until the 24th, which is what happened this year. As for mockery, I tend to translate that into comedy movies and a humorous tale which I then send to friends and family on the eve of the solstice.

The link of Lord Ingui with the season is less obvious, historically speaking. The boar might be the clearest connection, both in the reference to Yule sacrifices and in the description of Gullinbursti – Freyr’s shinning golden boar, who sheds light even in the darkest realms, which is significant when you put it in a midwinter context. Still, given Ingui’s solar qualities and my own devotion to Him, I’ve come to see the solstice as His birthday. Symbolically, it makes sense and it puts what little historical information there is in a greater scheme. The idea of a Vanic nativity scene has been growing in my mind, complete with golden boars and elves, plus sand and dirt, representing the Sea (Njord) and the Earth (Njorda or Njörun or Nerthus), who are Freyr’s parents. But I still haven’t used this idea and, currently, my celebration of Ingui’s birthday is marked by the decoration of His altar with natural pine, offerings on midwinter’s eve and sunrise, and a Swedish straw pig on the top of the Yule tree. And the celebration is suppose to last until end of December.

Next year’s might be different. Then again, it may be different in many ways, given the current economic crisis. But, if all goes well, 2012 should have a lot more boars (homemade, if necessary), maybe a Vanic nativity and a special birthday cake of some sort (perhaps pastry pig’s head).

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