THE MENDING OF THE PLEDGE
THE RITE OF SAMHAIN 1981
Tony: Preparations were brief. Bracken, cut earlier in the day, was brought in, red now as the winter hills, and Bob took off his clothes and wrapped himself in a dark brown rag, and on this were placed the withered fronds till he was clothed as the winter hills themselves. On his head he bore a set of antlers fashioned by his own hand of the elder tree, and woven in among the tines he bore a crown of hazel leaves, the last of the Summer, green and fading into Winter's yellow. To myself fell the part of the Frost Giant, but for now I wore an earth-brown garb. Pat was the wraith of the Winter, and she went first, and alone.
Bob: The carrying of the Horns and the bearing of the Darkness and Sorrow were already decided; Tony took on the Coldness and Ice. Pat went off to prepare, leaving the menfolk to warm their bones against the coldness to come. I stripped off and with the aid of Gordon prepared for the meeting to come and my muscles trembled in trepidation of that meeting. Darkness and Anguish left the house before us, and in time we followed. Tony attempted to light our way through the cold and the darkness but the light was snatched from him, and this several times. But in the end he prevailed against the Dark and out we went, wending our way down to the stream and the crossing.
Tony: It was the hour after midnight when Bob, Duncan, Gordon, Greg, Kevin and myself stepped out of the house into the dark. Once through the upper gateway and into Rhaeadr, Bob who bore the Summer as a withered crown upon his head, went in front and we went behind him as he trod the path through Rhaeadr down to the lower gate. Through the lower gate then, and we moved up the slope a little, but Bob, for his hour had come, went down the slope and into the mud, the stones, the water and the dark, and there in the stream where the cold water rushes over the shale, he found the Winter that he feared. And she would ask him had he a right to cross. That we knew, but only that, for in time gone by we had come to the stream in the dark tryst and found the wraith at her lonely labours by the cold wet stones. But none knew if he had a right, and we knew he would gain no crossing if he had not.
Bob: In the stream a dark shape awaited me and my soul was chilled, for the Old One straightend from her task of attempting to wash that fateful shroud, and my right to cross was challenged by that black form. I bowed my head and made answer from my soul.
Tony: What he answered the wraith I don't know, but it earned him his right, and for that we were right glad: glad for Bob because it told us his heart was true; and glad for the Goddess for we knew then that it was in truth that he was come to her. But the Old Wraith withheld his dying and used him as her ghostly messenger, and he came and took Kevin away with him, down into the dark water.....
Bob: I went back to the waiting warriors and I went up to Kevin and held out my hand, and thus he knew that his time had come, and so I led him down to the stream and to she who awaited him, standing by his side in the cold swirling water, listening to the stripping of his soul.
Kevin: I was shivering, yet I was not yet cold. The hollowness of the Cailleach was eating into me already. Then it was my turn and I went to the ford where stood the Shadow, washing the shrouds of the dead who are to be. I met her in her hollowness. And darkness and confusion took me.....
Tony: Kevin found himself in the cold rushing stream, his soul as naked as his body was clothed, and the empty form of the Cyhiraeth, in all her sorrow and her dread before him, and her words seeped down into the crevices of his soul. We waited, and the sky was overcast, and twice the aged face of the Moon looked down on us, briefly, through the tatters of the sky as we waited there in the cold for the summons that we knew would come. The ghostly messenger brought Kevin back, and one by one we went into the aweful emptiness, and as those who had gone before and those who will come after till Time himself grow old and die, there in her pity and her dread, I found what I had not sought to find, and I lost what I had not thought to lose; and all alone in that hole in the night, I bent before the Bean Nighe in the cold water, and I washed the shroud of the doomed.
Duncan: Standing before the stream, waiting with others for the call, I was cold despite the warm air. It felt as if the Earth had been healed of the wound Bob wrought, and the atmosphere was mild, a grey twilight. As I stood I had still no reason for coming, or to cross; all feelings had drained slowly away and I was left empty. I heard Bob satisfy the Hag and gain the right to cross, yet as Beirn came back to ferry us across one by one, I felt merely an echo of seven years past. At my turn I felt the futility of producing reasons for the Hag, as if anything had any meaning left then. I didn't care anymore; I'd lost the road to what for ..... and so took the road to the Hag.
Gordon: The Horned One came and looked at me; I swallowed compulsively, the gulp one takes before making the first step into the dark. Down to the stream he led me. The far bank was all in shadow yet a darker shadow stood only visible because of its darkness. Oh! My feet were sliding on the muddy bank, all I could do to keep my balance, no chance to check my forward slide and then I was in the water. Ah! My foot had stubbed against a stone; my mind tried to register the fact but then I looked up and saw the Shadow that was waiting and my mind forgot all about a stubbed toe as I saw those dark eyes set in an ashen face. What would I say when she asked my right to cross? I had carefully prepared my answer before coming. But what? The Hag spoke and she was not asking my right to cross. What? What did she ask? My mind reeled, I wasn't prepared, thoughts flashed through my mind. Better answer.' What was the answer? I didn't know, couldn't remember, I needed time to think but there was no time, the water was chilling, my foot felt sore, my friends were waiting, She was waiting and what would I answer? Hurry up said a voice in my head. Relax and think' said a second. Tell her anything' said a third. My lips told Her the truth and She sent me back.
I waited still on the near bank, till one by one my friends gained the far bank. There were only two of us left now, my pulse was racing, my head was in a sweat. Once more the Horned One came for me. Once more he led me and I followed in the path I must tread to reach the other side. Still the Shadow stood in my way; still I must pass Her. This time She asked the Question I expected. I was ready for that wasn't I? What was that carefully worked out reply? --- No! I couldn't remember it, my earlier fright had driven it away, what should I do, panic? No, not this time. Hush'. I looked at Her cold and dark and menacing. Aye, I looked at Her and gave my answer. But, more She asked. Could I give it? My words would falter now if I let them. Would I let them? I looked at Her again and answered, forcing my words to stand up straight; She let me pass. Hurriedly I scrambled up the other bank, hurriedly, away from the chill of Her presence to where my friends stood.
Bob: And thus it was with all the assembled warriors: one by one I took them before Her, some thrice, and all twice before they gained the right to cross. And when all was done as She bid me I stood again humbled before her and thus was allowed the crossing.
Tony: We stood at length, by whatever dark paths we have traversed, on the far bank of the stream in Dwy Nant, and the Horned One moved down the field by the hedge; and in the dark we followed the steps of departing Summer. Down between the birch trees and tufts of long grass, papery-leaved oaks and rushes we tramped, and at length the Horned One turned him to the west.
Bob: A weariness and weight of the dying year overtook me and thus bowed down I loped away, seeking a place to lie, once in a while to stop and scent the cold, crisp air for a dread lay upon me. Yet the air bore it not, for 'twas in the very core of my being. And lo! The Dread that was within stood without!
Tony: Weary the footsteps of the Summer and his eyes looked westward, to the dying fire, ever westward, to darkness and to Winter. And the Winter stood before him! And she bore the elder wand, and empty caverns were her eyes. And there, before that aweful emptiness, he cast his bracken from his body. Like a tree in a cruel wind, a plant in an icy blast he was before the Cailleach as he threw his bracken from his body frond by frond before her. With the elder wand she wrought till his body was as bare as the bare-scoured hills, and in the aweful onslaught of her dreaded runes of ruin, he took his antlered crown and cast it, in surrender, in the embers of the dying fire. And naked now as the day he was born he went to the Cailleach, but the Cailleach stood by the side of the path and he went by her, like a beast of the forest bent with age, westward and ever westward, till he came to a dark and hollow mound all covered with the bracken's withered fronds.
Bob: And thus did I come to my rest, burrowing down amid the bones and the dead twigs, leaves and bracken. And the low haunting strains of a lonely piper were borne faintly on the air and the keening of mourning warriors was added to the pipes until the air bore their lament away. Or was it my own drifting away that took it from me?
Tony: He lay as those in the graves of old, but the door of the barrow we left open that he might see the ways of the Winter. And we sang at his door for the Summer-gone-away:
" Heark to the sounds of a lonely piper,
Piping alone in the greenwood glade,
And the lonesome tune of days that were riper
Comes from the piper.
Heark to the pipe, to the swell and the fade. "
As the notes fell, sad, from Gordon's pipe, our sorrow flowed from our lips:
" Now in the mud lies the crown of hazel,
Willow and alder and oak and ash and oak.
And the hawthorn too, now far from the may spell, ...... "
And verse after verse the doleful words fell from our lips till the Night bore the sounds away. And she came like a shadow and stood in the entrance to the barrow, a bent and shrivelled wraith bowed down with sorrow, and all the pity in our hearts went out to her. With sadness and with mourning we sang her a love song, sweet with memories, but hope forlorn, and heavy with an aching sorrow for her going:
" Sad now thou lookest, O Queen of my heart.
Sad now I love thee; more sad do we part.
Gay was thy face when the wood sorrel shone,
Garlanded then with the blooms that are gone.
Fell blows the wind and his bite pains me sore.
Faded thy grey hair yet love I thee more.
Swift were thy footsteps that danced with the breeze;
Sweet was thy laughter that sang in the trees.
Weary, I watch thee more weary than me;
Withered I see thee. I weep, sad, for thee.
Dark are the night clouds; more dark is my drear.
Dear, thou art faded, and hadst all my cheer.
Sweet were thine apples, the green and the red;
Sworn was my love then. O Love, art thou fled?
Gone are thy graces and drear is thy plight;
Gloom is thy pathway; thy bed is the night.
E'en in thy fading, though gladness be rent,
Ere that thou fadest flows sweetly thy scent.
Would that I see thee as once that I saw;
Would that I hold thee as held I before.
N'er might it be, and so graceful thou wert!
Nought will I ask of thee; nought will I hurt.
Tears I will give thee for n'er they would stay,
Told for thy beauty now faded away.
Tenderly take I thy cold withered hand;
Tearfully walk o'er thy cold winter land.
Weep as I may for the sorrow I feel,
Weepest thou more, for the greater thy weal.
Aught that thou hadst then thou gav'st from thy breast,
All that was lovely, and now thou shalt rest.
Lie thee down weary, thy gown all of mud;
Leaf mould shall clothe thee 'neath dark bough and bud.
Ferns shall lie over and make thee a bed;
Fungus and field mouse shall lie at thy head.
Bramble and briar shall be to thy hand,
Bracken to warm thee and soft silver sand.
Seed pods I'll gather and set in thy hair,
Silver-grey lichen and moss green and fair.
Bank vole shall mourn thee and bird in the tree,
Barn owl and badger, bereft now of thee.
Wan, hollow-breasted, sweet waif of the storm,
Would I could hold thee, but hope lies forlorn.
Spent all thy laughter and sped all thy cheer,
Spilt where thou diest in the pit of the year.
Wrath shall the North-wind cry loud o'er thy head,
Rending the skies o'er thy cold, icy bed.
Snow and hail whirling and hard biting sleet
Stand o'er to guard thee, and sit at thy feet.
Bare-boned thou liest. What yet might'st thou bring?
Bent-backed in secret: the necklace of Spring!
Call I thy love-name, O Queen, blessed Earth.
Cold though thou liest yet, sweet thou'lt give birth. "
As our words drifted sadly away into the night, he Withered Wraith of the Winter turned her to her forsaker and in a voice made heavy with sorrow and hard with a bitter edge, she said: "Now I'll go and find me another Lover," and she left him all alone and went away into the dark.
Gordon: Cold were my thoughts as we sang our lament and cold was the heart of the Goddess. When the last words fell from our lips and the dark trudged into the dark, bent and failing, we moved closer to the fire, perhaps in the hope that its dying embers would in some way warm us after the chill of Her presence. It did not. Wait! What's that I see in the dark: movement, shadows moving, a dark one and a muddy brown; the dark one moves and flashes of white appear; what strange metamorphosis is this? Ouch! The wind blew the smoke of the dying fire in my eyes and I turned away, the acid smoke burning as my eyes, now full of tears, fought to wash it away. Recovering myself I looked back and now in place of the shadows two figures stood, dressed in white, with crowns that shone like ice.
Kevin: Eerily life kindled in her as she went from us, and how I know not, for my senses were dazed. From the bent wraith came the Ice Queen, dazzling and fey. And she had a lover and he the Snow King, the hard North Wind. From the earth she drew him; from the earth he arose. Their hands they linked and around they spun, and they weaved the Winter before our eyes.
Gordon: Wonderful was the spectacle as they began to dance, round and round, their footsteps seeming to cover the field with their presence. Closer they came and I peered to get a better view. It was then that I noticed my companions were running. Why, I thought; why run from such beauty? Then the chill struck me.....
Kevin: Then it was that the ice took our hearts and the panic our legs, and our legs ran, past sapling oaks through rushy clumps, through mud, through stream and through brambles and ever the panic was at our backs, and who knows what would take the hindmost were he caught; and I realised more than once that the hindmost was me!
Gordon: And I too was running, running from the cold of the icy King and Queen. Oh yes, their dance was beautiful. Oh yes, they meant no harm. But does the harvester mean harm to the field mouse? No, yet his harvesting destroys its home. Does the deer mean the tree harm when in winter it strips its bark? No, but harm it does, and did the Ice Queen and Jack Frost mean me harm as they danced their dance? No, but harm they might do if I shunned not their embrace. So run I did and run fast, careless of obstacles.
As I ran I could actually feel panic arise in me. I looked over my shoulder; they were gaining on me, unaware or unconcerned of my presence, gaining, getting closer. I ran faster, so fast, I was now overtaking the others. Relief swept me as I realised that I would gain the stream in time.
Gain the stream I did; in actual fact I ran right through it, such was my headlong flight. Not far to the house now, a fire and safety.....
O Horned One, thou art dead! And thy dead things lie over thee. Where now thy subtle cunning and thy vaunted strength, O Weary One that lie so still in the cold, cold Earth? Oh Fickle Summer! What little thou hast taken with thee in the dark, and littler yet thou hast left behind thee! Think me a Shadow, O Tattered One? A hollow wraith like thee? See! Away with the dark! Come cold! Come ice! See how I sparkle! I am beautiful, am I not? My limbs are lovely. See how the wind haunts my loveliness! And thou? Thou art a crumpled heap of ruin at my feet, dark and dank, and a home for crawling things! Look at me, O Fallen One! I have thy life in my hand, and thy will in my cold icy breath, and thy dreams in my ice-cold heart: fierce dreams, wild dreams, of love, and flight, and conquest, and wild roaring wind! Take my hand! Rise up, O Frozen One! Thou shalt be my Lover, and all these hills and the great black sky and all the horde of diamond lights shall be thine as they are mine! See how thou sparklest now, my Frosty Lord! Does it please thee? Come, O Lover! Feel the touch of my hands! Feel my arms! Are they not cold and hard to thy liking? Oh, thou art beautiful now, my Rugged One, and I'll dance with thee! And I long to hear thy wild roaring voice on the snow-clad hills! Come to me! Come! Let us dance!
A voice calling in the dark: a beautiful voice, all full of cold and crystals, and hard and clear. Have I been sleeping? Who laid this old brown rag upon me? Away dead leaves! How cold the air! Oh! My Lady! Thou art lovely! Cold thine eyes and beautiful, like stars on the winter hills, and the dress thou wearest adorns thy beauty like snow in the moonlight. For thee, O Ice Maiden, would I scatter all the snow of the Northern Lands about thy feet and o'er thy cold and lovely body. Fair thine arms, and I'll blow an ice-cold wind about thee, for I love thee for a Wild One, and I'll chase thee in the blizzard and I'll feast mine eyes on thy cold stark beauty in the frozen fall, and I'll take thee in mine arms where thine ice locks the frozen lake. Oh, the beauty of the ice crystals thou wearest at thy breast and drap'st about thy lovely neck! For thee, O Queen, O mistress of the white and frozen fields, I shall wear the snow-heaped crown of Winter; and a Winter I shall make with thee as will joy thine ice-cold heart! Cold thine arms and lovely, and hard thine icy hand! To the dance, O Maiden! Who runs before us? Away! Away! Come, my lovely Queen, and we'll make them lovely too: with cold, and wind in their hair, and all the loveliness of thine ice crystals in their eye-lashes, and I'll make them beautiful in a blanket of snow for thee. Come, my Lover! They run! They would play with us! Come, my Ice Queen! Call me by the name thou know'st runs fastest: North Wind I shall be for thee, O Queen of the Ice and the cold!
Kevin: We found a refuge and haven, and spilled into the house.....
Gordon: A chuckle rose on my lips as I got through the door, the chuckle that you give when you reach safety after scaring yourself in the dark; you laugh, you tell yourself, because you feel foolish at your fear, but really, I don't think that's the reason.
Bob: Once more was I myself, or sort of myself, lying there, burrowed there in the dark and warmth, and thus awhile I lay. Then came a feeling of lack of feeling for it felt as though my feet were gone and in order to find out if they were still there I got out of the warmth. They were there and they weren't, so to speak. On these feet that were and weren't there I made my way to the entrance and looked in the direction of the circle and saw that I had the field to myself and was now a little perplexed, and reasoned that perhaps I had been left awhile to my meditations. So in my ignorance I made my way to the house and found out that they were just coming to collect me.....
Tony: We were gathered indoors making ready for further events when, unexpectedly, the door opened and Bob appeared, and he should have been still in the barrow. It mattered little, except that he had had an unplanned and unintended treck, nearly naked, across the cold dark field. Had he waited, he would have been brought out of the barrow and taken to the dying fire; but now, instead, he would be brought out from the room and taken to where the embers glowed in the dark.
And she who came to take him was the Black Queen, and her gown was dark as the starless night, and her crown was black as the winter hills. Thirteen were the gleaming gems of jet that, set in her earthy crown, glinted in their darkness as she turned her head. Black she stood, and magnificent, gentle in her command and awesome, and she held her black-clothed arm out to Bob in invitation, and she bid him, "Come!" And he went out with her into the dark.
And when they were gone and a few minutes had gone after them, we followed in the way they had gone into the dark and the night. And we found them in the field by the dying fire: Bob and the Earth-mother together, and the night all around them, and the Black Queen was reading out from the papers in her hands the names of all those who had sworn for seven years to shun him, and as she read the name on each paper, she cast it into the fire, that the Old Sun, in his dying, take them all away with him. And the flames leapt from the dying embers as, one by one, the covenants were turned to ashes. And the Black Queen wrought till nought remained of all that had, for seven long years, stood between us. And when she had made nought of them, she went into the barrow and took Bob in with her.
Duncan, Gordon, Greg, Kevin and myself seated ourselves around the fire, and there was a sense of peace among us and of a deed accomplished: the forsaker had returned to the dark tryst; the Goddess, our beloved Mab and our Queen, was healed of her wound and the honour of her Court assured, and we felt, in a way, like warriors taking our rest. But what of Bob, we wondered? Two years ago he had admitted his wrong and pledged himself then to this tryst, thereafter to have nothing further to do, he said, with the Pagan Movement. And he had kept the tryst. He came with trepidation, but he came; and he came with sorrow in his heart for the Goddess. He feared the indictment before the rite, but he braved it and he came through. He feared the crossing at the ford, but he must have given the Bean Nighe what it was she must have of him, for he got his right to cross. And what now would become of him in the dark barrow with the Black Queen? The time passed as we sat by the embers, and then in the west we saw the Dark Lady come out of the barrow, her black-jewelled crown glinting in the dark, and with her, Bob. And he wore the red cloak.
Then were our hearts full of joy for this was a signal we well knew how to read: she had offered him rebirth from her womb at Yule, and by the sign of the red cloak we knew that he had accepted.
We took Bob with us into the barrow while our warriors by the dying embers took their rest, and he lay him down beneath the black, among the dry bleached bones and the elder twigs and old spent leaves and withered fronds, and like a husk he lay among the debris of our past: as a dead thing among the dead. And we loved the seed within the husk and took him to our heart. The husk was of the Winter, and the Spring was of my womb. I bent to the bed where in the darkness he lay and I drew away the Winter, the black of the long dark night. And the old spent leaves and the withered fronds and tangled twigs and the bleached white bones fell away, and I was brown beneath my Winter and a love stirred deep in my womb.
Bob: I was back in the warmth of the bed and curled up naked within it, and the Black Queen came to me in love and beauty and enfolded me in her arms, placing her lips to mine, and long and sweet was that kiss. And thus she took me to herself and spake words that after a brief reflection I could not naysay.
I took Bob in my arms, deep in the night, to the black of my bosom and I kissed him on the lips, and I spoke to him in the quiet of the dark and I said to him that it was in my own yuletide bed that now he lay, and if it was his wish I would give him life anew at Yule and he would rise as the risen Sun from my pregnant womb. And my words stirred the hope in his heart, and my love I wrapped all about him, and he said, when he had thought a moment, that that was his wish.
So I told him it was not a pledge we would take from him now, and if it chanced to happen that he couldn't come, we wouldn't hold it against him; but we would know his wish, and that wish, in love and in trust, we would grant him. And I told him too that Frank, whom we held in love, had asked while he was alive that choice of where to meet be his, and this wish too we now would grant him; and Bob said it was his wish to be here in these same fields for the rising of the reborn Sun. And I told him what my people had pledged: to help him, if he needed help, to bring him to the rite of Yule. And he said he would need no help. And he would come.
And my love went out to him as I drew from out the black draperies a fiery red cloak and fastened it, for a token and a power, upon his back. And I took him then from out the dark barrow that all my people know all my joy.
Tony: She brought him among us then, and as I took him in my arms, I spoke the words that were in my heart:
" Welcome back,
With all love
And all honour
To the Court of Mab! "
Bob: Joyous and full of love were the greetings that each gave and in turn my heart went out to each as we embraced. And thus bound in love for each other made our way to the stones, hand-in-hand the Black Queen and I, the warriors following, till all were assembled in the sacred circle, and there we danced a ring.
Tony: Two times round we danced for the two Moons there were between now and the newborn Sun. And then we were one, and each, as our hearts moved us, knelt and kissed the Earth, and we threw a kiss to the Moon.
Kevin: My feelings were of joy for Bob and for us all, for a job completed, but most of all for a Goddess healed of her wound, and for honour redeemed. With the others I welcomed Bob back and my heart was glad within me.
Greg: I was as glad for him as for the Sun new risen. We had been close on all the hours of darkness at this rite and one who was lost to us has now returned.
Bob: 'Twas no easy task to catch a night of magic the like of which I never thought to experience, and experiences there were a plenty. My love and thanks to all, be they Old Ones or mortal, for the weaving of the love and magic which enmeshed me that night.
THE RITE OF YULE
Sunset on 21 December Sunrise on 22 December
Pat, Bob, Greg, Gordon, Tony, Catherine, Dave
Tony: December had not yet counted on her other hand the waning days and the Ice Queen was exultant in her winter hills and the Snow King had clothed them all in white. And they came down from the hills and into the valleys and the fields. It was the eighth day of the month when first I went into Dwy Nant to see what time it would be when the aging Sun would lay him to his rest, and the snow lay deep in the field as I made my way to the ring of stones. And there I stood to the south of the ring as the great golden orb came down behind the trees. Golden he was then and at 3.55 he came down and lay with the Earth, and at 3.59 he was gone, all but for the wisps of his golden hair; and the colours grew deep in the sky. But there were days to go yet and lower yet he'd walk in the west and shorter yet the days he would forge as the shadow of the night grew longer day by day.
All that day the trees held the snow in the freezing air, and all night long, and all day again, and the air grew colder. Where the water flowed in pipes, the Ice Queen laid her cold, cold hands, and for two days the water stopped its flow and stood before her; but in the village she was sterner and her heart was harder and the local Council had to come out with water deliveries to the feeezing houses. The cold went down eleven degrees below freezing and all along the stream banks she danced in her frozen beauty.
Then came the Wind with a roaring voice and his back all heaped with snow and he took the Ice Queen in his rugged hands, and round and round in the hills and over the fields they whirled, and the midday sky was dark with the whirling snow. The blizzard laid the electricity poles down and for five days we were without electricity, and the driving snow came under the roof and into the house and we had snow for a blanket and a hot water bottle turning to ice.
Now in the Rite of the Dark Tryst we had invoked the Winter and I had danced with the Ice Queen and sworn her an icy love. And now, in darkness and in cold, it wasn't in my heart to deny her any of it. Cold it was, bitter cold, and the stars were diamonds in the cold black sky and the frost was all a sparkle in the banks and hedgerows and the Ice Queen was exultant. And the pale waning Moon cast a greenish light as she rose over the low hills of Blaenau and the snow fields were all aglow in greenish pools beneath the stars.
I was with the aged Sun again a few days before the end as he trod the path behind the ash trees and the alders that border the waun, and now it was 3.53 when he stood on the far hill, there for four minutes to linger, a mighty blood-red orb, before the Earth took him down into her bosom for the night.
I had already spoken my wish in Samhain, and our people had agreed, that I would bear the kachina of the Aged Sun in Yule, for it would be a fitting end to the work of the Bond of Honour, a labour that for so long I had borne and which now at last I could lay down. And in truth, I was one with the Old sun as the weeks went by to Yule and I felt a weariness as of a load carried too long and a need to lay me to rest. It was not a kachina I would seek to assume, for of seeking I had no need; for the Aged Sun and I were already one: for me, and for the Sun, the work was drawing to its end, and even as my footsteps took me back across the snow-laden field, my heart I had left with the sinking Sun.
But a few days remained yet. On Thursday I met Dave off the coach at Llanymddyfri in the freezing cold, and our dinner that evening was cooked over the open fire and eaten by candle light. Friday was a shopping day and some of the vegetables and fruit in the boot of the car were destroyed by the cold on the way home. But on this day the electricity was restored at last and Pat was able to begin the baking of the plum cake and the boiling of the Yuletide puddings, and I met Gordon and Catherine off the train. By Saturday the temperature had at last risen above freezing and Gordon and I were able to take down the bower that had served the Black Queen in the Rite of Samhain and which had since then become too frozen to the ground to move. I met Bob off the coach on Sunday in company with Gordon, and Greg arrived on Monday a few hours before the last setting of the Old Sun.
Bob: After a long coach ride through a countryside that lay under a white blanket of snow, on my arrival at Llandovery I was warmly greeted by Tony and Gordon, the warmth and spontaneity of this meeting alone making the journey worthwhile, and we were yet to do the rite! The car ride to Can y Lloer passed in amiable conversation on divers subjects. Despite being high up in the hills the outside temperature was quite mild, the surrounding countryside being fairly free of snow and ice. Thus we arrived to join Pat, Catherine and Dave. That Sunday evening passed with eating, going over the rite and the practice of the songs.
Tony: On the night before the shortest day I was at odds with Pat, and I awoke on the day of the rite of the Old Sun full of aches and pains and feeling empty and old. Alone in the field of Dwy Nant before the rite I trod a path from the ring of stones south-westward and came to a thicket of brambles and cut my way through it down to the far stream, for to the end of such a path as this would the Old Sun go. But what use is a clearing over stumps of brambles to one who will later walk it in bare feet? So I cut some short lengths from two old planks of wood and laid them at intervals through the thickest path, and the number of steps in that thicket was nine. And when I had done it I came back into the house among the people, shortly to clothe me in the colours of the Sun.
Gordon: There was much to do: holly and ivy to collect to decorate the house, bracken to find, and our sweet Earth Mother's bed to prepare with its bower of willow and its cave of grey all draped with lichen-green where she would lie through the longest night. We decorated the house with branches of holly, its green leaves glistening. Defiant of the cold and frost they still lived, just as the Old Sun still lived, though the Icy King and Queen had danced all through the land. And ivy we used to remind us of the sweet Earth as she lay under a blanket of snow and ice.
Bob: Thus the day passed and 'twas time to go out and bear witness to the departure of the Old Sun. Pat went upstairs to do her preparations and we readied our minds, and she went out first and alone. Tony made ready for his role, donning the splendour of the Sun and taking the long-shafted spear in his hand, and he led us out on the westering path, and thus at 3.48 and in single file we went, for at 3.53 by the ring of stones we would keep the tryst of the Setting Sun.
I set my feet for the last time on the way that shall take me to the shadow of the west. Sleet falls unabashed on the arm that bears the spear, so little now my heat, and glistening drops of water mock the fire that once had been. O Lady that I loved! Where now thy wild and wanton lust that once was all the laughter of the May? O Queen of the Harvest! Thou of the wide gren fields and the golden plains, whose breasts were full to overflowing and of aspect lovely 'neath my fiery spears, thou whose arms I filled with crimson and with gold, where now, that my fire is all but spent, hast thou hidden all thy beauty and thy bounty that thou wearest now thy withered aspect and thou art clothed in all thy winter drear? Yet methinks thou would'st have it so, for I'm old and bear a year of days as a burden on my back, and thou, O Ice Queen, with all thy snow about thy feet and draped upon thy bosom's cold, art young with an everlasting youth and a fierce cold love that I shall never know. But I see thee too as old, and all the ages in thy hand, and grey as the Thunder's Bride, and black as the longest Night.
Catherine: The ground was cold and hard. The ice beneath my bare feet served as a sharp reminder of the failing strength of the once mighty Sun. We walked on, eager to follow the figure which led us. He was clad in red and orange, bright and magnificent still, with his crown of gold and spear so straight and true. I thought that, from behind, his shoulders seemed to stoop a little, but then he was weary now; so hard had he toiled throughout the year to give us warmth and food.
Gordon: Golden was he who led us from the house to the field of Dwy Nant, golden, with his beard long with age and a spear sharp with knowledge and power; a crown he wore proudly as the circle of his will, unbreakable. There had been a partial thaw that day, maybe a last show of strength by the Sun before the dark of the longest night. Through the stream he led the way and we followed in his train. I was not sad to be here at his end but rather proud for he stood as a god will stand and now would go as the Sun will go, to rest at the end of his reign.
Greg: Snow and ice had held the land in a tight grip for many days before Yule this year, and now, come the solstice, snow fell again on the green fields of Dyfed. Beginning as sleet, it fell all about us.
Bob: But on we went, the fading splendour of the Old Sun leading us onwards.
Catherine: I caught sight of a dark figure ahead. The grey Shadow struck a far greater chill into me than ever the icy earth had done. I
faltered, unsure, but in front of me the Old Sun was striding on, never hesitating. His strength and his pride gave me courage and I followed with the others.
Gordon: A hundred yards away we saw the shadow, south and west of the circle of stones. Whether the Sun also saw her I do not know for his feet did not once falter on the path he trod, even though his doom was near. As he neared her, yet tall he stood, as tall as a summer still remembered. Withered, bent, she stood before him, as withered as the leaves of autumn, now turned to muddy slush and a hush seemed to fall over the earth as she spoke:
Yield, proud Pahh! Coarse is thy hair and grey.
Dark thy day. Yield! Thou art bent and old.
Thou art cold. Gone all thy pomp and sway;
Drained away. Yield thou thy crown of gold!
Thou art old: cold: and thy tale is told.
And slowly like a warrior laying down his arms, Pahh laid his spear at her feet, and the sky grew dim; and dimmer still as at her feet he laid his golden crown, like a king as he leaves his throne. Oh! but I was proud to be there to witness his words:
I yield thee my crown and my bright golden spear.
I yield thee the round and I yield thee the year.
But yield I thee nought that falls not to my doom:
The child that I wrought who stirs now in the womb.
Greg: He yielded .....
Catherine: But only that which was his to give .....
Gordon: Aye, but what was this? He had yielded to the Cailleach but now before him stood a Queen. Dark was her gown as if the Goddess had distilled the night, condensed it down and worn it as a robe about her. Thirteen dark jewels were set in her crown and our hearts leapt at the hope she bore in her womb.
Catherine: Her beauty filled my heart with tears. The hope and promise of life she held in her womb filled me with such joy!
Gordon: I could feel tears well up into my eyes as she knelt before him, tears of unbelievable joy at the beauty of the two gods as she kissed those hands which had moulded the Summer and as she kissed those lips which in his youth had shouted defiance at the Winter's power. The crown and spear she wrapped in her darkness; the Sun trudged off into the west.
A Withered Wraith thou wert athwart the path I trod, and beyond thee
... the Dark. O Spear, I laid thee at her feet, for no more would'st thou do in my hand. O Golden Crown, I laid thee before her, for no more would'st thou serve. A Wraith thou wert, O Shadow and, for I have spoken with thee, and heard thy hollow voice, and looked in the empty caverns of thine eyes, I go now as a Wraith like thee; for the hand that bore the spear is empty, and the head that bore the crown is bowed.
Catherine: We watched now as the Old Sun made his final journey and slowly vanished from sight. I felt stunned to see him go, but as the Queen of the Night beckoned us I was eager to follow her, pleased to keep her lovely gown from trailing in the mud, happy as she took us all back to the house and shelter.
Bob: My heart was filled with infinite sadness as I bore witness to his going. In a sad and sorrowful semicircle we stood. And we saw that in his going still remained his dignity ... until we saw him no more.
Greg: A feeling of loss there was, as I stood there, silently for a moment before turning to go with the others.
Gordon: The snow began to fall then as we walked back to the house.
Greg: Cold were the bare feet of worshippers on the settled sleet, but warm the hearth fire when we returned.
Tony: I went alone in the snowy field beneath the grey cloud-laden sky,
treading with a slow and measured tread the path of the Aged Sun. Across the cold icy grass and the scattered drifts of snow I went and into the south-west and down out of sight and into the mountain stream that drains the waun, and there in a thicket among the alders and the ash where the water swirled about my feet, I put off the colours of the Sun and changed into my own clothes. And then I felt cold, and the sleet was falling all around me.
Coming back across the deserted field I felt utterly alone and the sleet was heavy now and beating into my face and it seemed to me, in the depths of my soul, that the Sun had really gone and I was but an empty shell and the Ice Queen was Ruler in the Land. I felt it was hers now and no longer any business of mine, and her coldness was all around me and the wind and the sleet were beating hard against me and I had to struggle against them to regain the house. I was alone in the wilderness and the cold and the wind, but all around it was holy. It was as if I had surrendered to the Ice Queen. As the Sun, I could have no relationship with her, but neither had I any will to thwart her. I felt very small in the big white field with sleet in my face, and it seemed strangely uphill to get back to the house. I felt as though I no longer belonged, yet I was at peace in the aweful holiness.
Back in the house there were people, and kids making a noise and asking me questions and I felt violated. I was still with the God in holy sadness and surrender.
Bob: We passed the evening with eating and singing songs
Tony: And talking of the new year resolutions we would make
Gordon: And Pat worked with apple wood and willow, with mosses and lichen and liverworts to form a cradle for the New Sun. Love was in her eyes as she worked, and apple made the cradle strong, and willow made it supple, like a mother's love: and the mosses and the liverworts spoke of the green things and the lichens of her care through the Winter's dark and cold, welcoming the child with hope and love.
The big red candle burned and we took a last late meal and then prepared for our watch. The Queen rose up and setting by her crown of black and her robe wherein all shadows have their home, she put on her nightgown, soft and brown, and she was clothed in the dark brown earth; and earthen too the brown of her winter bed and grey her bower like a cave, and draped with the lichen's green. And we each in our turn came close to her as she lay, the Earth in Winter, and as we would kiss the Earth in Winter, we kissed her lips, and as we would speak to the Earth in Winter words of love, so we spoke to her in our love.
Bob: And we gave blessing to the fruit of her womb as we gently kissed her lips.
Gordon: As she lay there, blessed Earth, with gladness on her lips and dreams in her eyes, giving love to the child in her womb, we sang to her, softly, of the love and the joy in our hearts:
Silent night; holy night;
All is dark; dim was the light.
Sweet lies the Mother and still lies the wild,
Wistfully longing to nurse her sweet child,
Stirring now in her womb;
Stirring his feet in her womb.
Quiet Earth; holy Earth;
Sweet she lies; sweet she'll give birth.
Then will the longest night be flown away
And will her loved one grow strong day by day,
Stirring now in her womb;
Stirring his feet in her womb.
Lovely Queen; holy Queen;
Lies she still, her cloak of green,
Sequinned all over with frost sparkling bright,
Peaceful and vast 'neath the silver starlight.
Stirs the child in her womb;
Stirs in the deep of her womb.
Peaceful she lies; holy she lies;
Dark the hills where her son will rise.
All of her heart she had giv'n to his birth.
All of our love we will give to the Earth,
All for the child in her womb;
All for he stirs in her womb.
Bob: Sleep took her, and all but the watchers took to their beds, spaced round the bower. The watch of Catherine and myself was split so that we would take both the first and the last watch, and thus with Catherine clad in the green and myself in the red, we took our places, one to each side of the fire, whilst t'others settled down to sleep.
Tony: Bob roused me and I took his place at the red watch, and when Catherine's turn was done she hung her green cloak beside the fire as a token and took her rest, and when the clock told the end of my watch I roused Dave from his sleep and wrapped the red cloak about him and took my own rest. But I lay awake, restless, and the Goddess seemed wraithlike and unreal, as I felt wraithlike, spent, and empty. But why the restlessness? And then I remembered that in taking down the barrow of the Dark Queen in Samhain with Gordon yesterday, we had come across the old bleached bones and twigs and dead things that had lain on that grave in the night, lying just as they had fallen, preserved in the freezing cold. They would rot when the warm weather came, as discarded things must, but it seemed better to us then, for Bob, that we gather them together and let the last fire take them, and the last watch see them go. And now I realised that neither of us during the evening had thought to mention it, so I asked Dave for pencil and paper and wrote a message to be passed from watch to watch till Catherine in the end, and Bob by her, put them all in the embers of the dying fire. And then I went to sleep. But three hours' was all I had.
Something disturbed me. I heard Gordon waking Greg, and then as I was dropping off to sleep again a cloak brushed across my face and I woke up, alert. Sleepiness slowly returned, but then again the cloak brushed across my face and there seemed to be movement by my head. Then I realised that Greg was not sitting in the watcher's place at the side of the fire, but right in front of the fire, partly on Catherine and Gordon's bed and partly on my pillow, and the watcher's place was empty. That was why I couldn't sleep; Greg was jerking my pillow every time he moved and every time he put a log on the fire. But I was alert now. What was Greg doing in this place, and the watcher's place empty? Why was Greg, by no means a beginner, sitting here, on this night of all nights, intercepting the priestess and the fire? What of the symmetry of the red and the green? Should I tell him? But I was still, in my soul, the departed Sun. I had no will. I wished only for surrender and identity with the departed God. I desperately didn't want to instruct Greg and set myself up as instructor at this time. If I did, I would set myself apart from the God-who-is-gone. But if I didn't he would remain between the priestess and the flames to thwart the bond of Fire and Earth. How could Greg be so ignorant? And so thoughtless? I lay in turmoil, my soul with the God-who-is-gone, and my heart calling out in pain to my will, for the sake of the Goddess-and-the-God-who-is-to-be. I was torn apart inside me and I lay distraught. My will could not surrender, not even on this night of all nights after the labour of seven years. I could not rest with the God-who-is-gone. No. For the sake of the Goddess and for the sake of her Child, my will was caught on a barb of pain, and I took again the leader's role and spoke to Greg of what it was he was doing, and what it was that he was leaving undone. And Greg went then to the watcher's place. But the God had gone from me, for my will had caught in a thicket, and I was left all alone in the void. And I slept no more that night.
Bob: All too quickly it seemed Greg roused me for the second part of my watch and when I dressed he placed the red cloak round my shoulders and once again I settled by the fire to watch it out. In this, a little later, Catherine joined me, going to collect the old bleached bones and debris from Samhain to cast them on the fire to be consumed before it finally burned out.
Tony: But it wouldn't burn out. Greg who had caught my will in a snare in the still of the night so fed the fire that this vestige of the Old Sun could no more fade away than I could. And Bob's was the unlooked for task of carrying out the blazing logs and the glowing charcoal that another thrust upon him. And little time he had before the stirrings came upon the Goddess and her thoughts and all her heart were on the eastern hills.
O my Little One! Thou stirrest in excitement in my womb, and long I have loved thee through the darkening days. Thou stirrest and thy stirring is the joy of my heart. O sweet One! Feelest thou my rhythm? There! My loved One, it's for thee! And there! Does it call thee forth to see who loves thee? Time thou hast yet a little while to stretch thy feet and flex thy little arms in the dark of my womb and I love thy flexing, but more will I love thy golden face and thy gleaming yellow eye. Oh! There! My Love! The rhythm comes strong for thee! In the deep blue-green of the pines thou'lt see me clad. They bear the fire of thy father still as they'll bear the fire of thee. Oh I shall love thee, Little One, and I'll suckle thee at my breast, and soon wilt thou grow strong and the Storm Gods shall fly before thee, and all the bright greens of Summer I shall wear for thee. Oh! The rhythm, Sweet One! Would'st come and see the face that longs to see thee? Would'st come and see my hills and valleys, my lofty pines and my forests stark and brown? Oh come, O Little One, and see who loves thee!
Tony: She rose, and we went with her to her ring of stones, and bundles of bracken we took to make her a bed and the snow lay fresh and sparkling white upon the bosom of the Earth.
Catherine: Over the carpet of snow the Mother walked to reach her bed of
bracken. Lovely she looked in her gown of green, content, for the time had come for her son to be born. My mind was in turmoil, full of emotions - those a woman feels at every birth, joy, fear, envy, pride, and this was to be such a special birth. Tears there were as the stirrings began in sweet Mabh. The rhythm of birth, such a sweet song! Sweeter still the song of the child as the rhythm of breath begins .....
Oh! My Sweet One! My Bright-eyed! My Pride and Joy! Rise up and set thy little feet on my belly and let me see thy merry eyes asparkle! Oh, thou art lovely, Little One! O Bright-eyed! O Many-rayed! And thy golden face is all my love and joy! Shine, O Dazzling One, for thy Mother loves thee! Little hands - but oh, so strong! Grow, my Little One! Grow thy little hands! For I fain would put thy father's spear in hands full strong as thine!
Catherine: And there he was in her loving hands! the Little One wrought in the May, created in love and passion.
Gordon: Lovely was the look on the face of Mabh as she showed us all her beloved Child.
Catherine: Tall and mighty he would be and so proud in the year to come.
Greg: We sang her a song then, for the Sun's new rising, and a merry song it was:
The holly and the ivy
When they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood
The holly bears the crown.
The rising of the Sun
And the running of the deer,
The twining of the ivy and the
Crying of the bright new year.
The holly and the ivy
And the lying of the Earth,
The yielding of the blessed womb and
The giving of the birth.
The rising of the Sun .........
The holly and the ivy
And the glowing of the red,
The blazing of the berries and the
Shining of the golden head.
The rising of the Sun .........
The holly and the ivy
And the glowing of the green,
The warming of our blessed Lady
And the flowing of the stream.
The rising of the Sun .........
The holly and the ivy,
All the red and all the green,
Great Father Sun and sweet Mother Earth,
Ever blessed King and Queen.
The rising of the Sun
And the running of the deer,
The twining of the ivy and the
Crying of the bright new year.
Tony: And Bob was away, to the house, to the Yuletide bed of our Blessed Earth
Gordon: We linked hands and danced round Mother and Child. Sunwise were our steps and thirteen were the circuits and thirteen shall be the moons of his reign. Then we all with our arms round each other came together, pressing close to Mother and Child, giving them the warmth and love of our hearts as they would give their warmth and love in the year to come.
Tony: I knelt and kissed our beloved Earth, and so too did Gordon and Catherine and Dave and Greg; and I stood and raised my arms to the east, in salute to the Mighty Sun. And the Queen was joyed of her Child and went with him into the north, and we in their company, and we all came back into the house.
Gordon: The big red candle burned low now as Mabh held her Little One to it, but sure was the flame of the Little One which it kindled
Tony: And bright did the flame of the Little One shine in his cradle of apple and willow where his Mother set him down amid the mosses and the liverworts and the lichens, the green things and the wispy things of Winter that love the Little Child who peeps so shyly from the winter sky.
Bob: From out of the warmth and dark I arose to find myself in the bower of the Earth, and suffused it was with the essence of my Mother and into that I nestled, comfortable and warm again. And then it seemed that she was all around me once more, so slowly I opened my eyes. And there she was in all her dark and green splendour, standing over me, radiant in love. And in love she came to me, bending over me, and kisses sweet she gave with words of love and wisdom.
Tony: She kissed his head that he would know ever right, and his mouth that he would speak ever true. She kissed his hands for the work to come, and his back that he turn it not to the blow.
Bob: Then she bade me arise, placing on my shoulders the flaming-red cloak of splendour. Into my hands she placed the spark of the new flame:
Straight willed shall be thy part;
Fell, deft shall be thy hand,
O heat of all my heart!
O Light of all my land!
Tony: Such a tiny flame it was. He put the little white candle in the fireplace and built the twigs up to meet its tiny flame. Why wouldn't they catch light? Not quite close enough? Adjust the distance. A twig falls onto the flame. And the flame is gone! Alarm! Consternation! I hear someone exclaim "O-oh!" But no, there it is again, safe and sound, and relief sweeps away despair. Slowly, carefully, the twigs are brought together, and some bigger sticks of wood, and then the flames begin to crackle and the new fire comes to life, full of laughter, bright, vigorous. And, mysteriously, the picture card that was stood behind the old red candle, depicting the Old Setting Sun, falls from its place with a clatter! And what a merry blaze now the new fire is!
Bob: The fire flamed up and all gathered around as it gathered strength,flaming ever brighter. Each in turn took bark to the fire, speaking our heart to it and placing the bark in the flames, our wishes and all our resolves to be sealed in the pledge of fire. And these were the words of the seal:
Let my will grow strong as the Fiery King
Who shall stride in the blue roads above!
Let my heart belong where our friends shall spring
To the work of our Earth-mother's love!
Bob: And I went to each, embracing them, and wishing them "The blessing and warmth of the new Sun be on you in the coming year," and this blessing does the New Sun extend to all who share this rite of Yule through the reading of the foregoing account:
THE BLESSING AND WARMTH OF THE NEW SUN BE ON YOU ALL IN THE COMING YEAR