Oh, my gosh, Quill, where have you been?
Please excuse my absence. I’m currently in the process of writing a Pagan novel! I dropped in to deliver a message of inspiration to those who may possibly be suffering this season.
Christmas. If you’re a Pagan, this word may conjure up a variety of images in your mind. For some, it will forever be the celebration of the birth of Jesus, a time-honored tradition passed down from generations of Christian ancestors. Some may associate Christmas with a more secular vision of an obese masculine figure clad in an obnoxious red suit, lording over reindeer and toy-making fae-folk (elves). Additionally, there appears to be those of us who are forward-thinking in the way of how we celebrate the holidays as Pagan folk. This concept of intentionally shaping the future and divorcing ourselves from the Christianized traditions doesn’t invalidate how others choose to celebrate the holiday, however, it does provide us with an option.
Yule is one of those rare Pagan sabbats which embodies the rebirth of the self through its historical preservation (THANK YOU, CHRISTIANITY!) and also through the modern vision of how we currently celebrate the Winter Solstice. In fact, the modern perception of Christmas borrows from many Pagan traditions around the world. How so? Let’s take a moment to remember the Romans! Yup, Rome, before introducing Monotheism in 380 AD, was a melting pot of Pagan traditions including Etruscan, Greek, and sometimes borrowing from the Kemetic (Ancient Egyptian Culture.) The Romans were progressive cultural appropriators, in other words, they relished borrowing traditions from those ancient religions they conquered or observed! The concept of do ut des “I give that you might give” was a phrase that formed the foundation of their spiritual culture. They based nothing on dogma or faith, spirituality was an intentional act of learning prayers, rituals, and other facets of traditions for the purpose of advancing one’s self in a social position, intellectually, or some other form of self-care.
The Romans of the Golden Age celebrated Saturnalia, an agricultural festival centered around the bounty of the harvest and the God Saturn (Greek equivalent of Khronia). High-ranking politicians and slaves alike engaged in the celebration of feasting, gift-giving, and other forms of deity veneration. They considered Lord Saturn to be “The Unconquerable King of the Sun” ruling over all the other Roman deities with an iron fist that mirrored the control of the current Emperor and Senate, ruling over the people of the vast Roman Empire. Gambling, gaily colored togas, and raucous behavior littered the atmosphere of the ancient Roman world during this time period, so much so that the Roman author Pliny supposedly built a sound-proof room to drown out the merriment and chaos running rampant in the streets! Phew! Those were wilder times, that’s for sure.
From the Romans, we also get an unlikely Yule-tide hero and perhaps one of my favorite figures from my Catholic upbringing. Wait, Quill, what are you saying? A cross-over between Catholicism and Paganism? Sure! Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce you to La Befana – an Italian folklore character who has some very ancient roots in Paganism!
On the first gander, La Befana is the tale of the Italian Christmas Witch who is visited by the Three Wise Men who are following the star which points the way to Bethlehem – the birthplace of Jesus Christ! This kindly old witch offers hospitality to these three strangers and listens to the tale of the savior being born in a manger. The three Wise Men ask the witch if she’d like to accompany them on their journey to meet the Christ child. Yeah, sure, let’s leave home and embark on a grueling journey with three people we’ve just met! It makes for an interesting story, however, because La Befana initially declined the invitation (Seriously, who wouldn’t?) and later changes her mind.
But Quill, what does this have to do with Paganism? Well, actually quite a bit, because, like most symbols in Christmas such as the “Christmas” tree (Roman Saturnalia Tree), Santa (Odin or Thor), eight tiny reindeer (the gift-giving Norse goat named Julbocken), and a staggering amount of other traditional icons, La Befana is one of those glorious characters from borrowed from OUR tradition.
For most Witches, names are a very important thing. La Befana’s name originates from the Greek word “Epifania” or translated into English as “epiphany.” Before the 13th century, when Monotheism began to overtake Paganism, La Befana was known to the Romans as the Goddess Strenia. Predating the Romans, the Greeks knew Her as Strenua, whose feast days ranged from January 1st-5th (NEW YEARS!) A Goddess of strength (as the Latin roots of the name suggest) emotional wellbeing, prosperity, and renewal, Strenia is a perfect deity to associate with the transcendent celebration of the Winter Solstice.
The question remains, what can this ancient, long-forgotten Goddess offer us in the present times? Strenia shines on Pagan folk who suffer on the holidays. That’s right, you’ve got a friend in this Yuletide Witch! Yule and Christmas alike are times of great pain for those who have lost loved ones or are displaced from their families. Some of us Pagan folk struggle with seasonal depression and other challenges brought on by isolation. That’s perfectly understandable. These holiday times can be depressing, however, just like Strenia, we can transform our perception of the holidays.
Like Lady Strenia, we can divorce ourselves from the Christianized definition of what the holidays are and reimagine a Yule surrounded by bright lights, smiling faces, and new traditions! Sure, there’s stuff we’ve lost along the way and that is painful. What do we have in the present?
- Are you alone? Come spend your Yule with us at Deeply Rooted! Our Church is full of folks who aren’t related, however, we’re a tribe! You don’t have to be a member to enjoy the fellowship of other Pagans. We welcome all! FREE HUGS FROM A UNICORN TO ALL THOSE WITHOUT ARMS TO HUG THEM!
- Are you missing family who have passed on? That’s completely understandable and a normal part of the process of grieving. There’s no set time-limit for healing. You could set up an ancestor altar for Yule! Why not? Cook a special meal for yourself and them, light some candles, and speak to the dead. Cry, scream, get it out! It’s healthy to let out such emotions! Samhain isn’t the only time to celebrate the deceased, for Pagans, ancestor veneration is a year-round celebration!
- Consider setting up an altar of gratitude. Presents are nice, however, have you taken stock of everything that you already have? The Universe adores gratitude and awards the intentional practice of being in the moment with much more than curiously wrapped boxes of regifted throwaways.
Consider having a long talk with the Goddess Strenia this Yule. She’s been waiting a long time to reach out to others who feel forgotten in the holidays. Whatever you do for Yule, you’re not alone! Transform a time of sad memories into a festival of lights. Surround yourself with what makes YOU happiest. If you can’t do it alone, join us! WE’VE GOT THIS TOGETHER! Yule @ Deeply Rooted starts on Friday, December 20th and lasts till Sunday, December 22nd!
By the way, I didn’t even begin to scratch the surface on Yuletide lore. I figured many other authors would be covering the same bits about Yule logs and such. If you’re still curious, feel free to reach out to me on Facebook! I’m happy to help! And as always, thank you for reading along! Blessed Be! )O( Shining Quill the Unicorn