The Magick of Christmas: Renewal and the Aeon
As the Year darkens and grows cold, and as we fall into the depths of the oncoming Winter, we perceive a drop of bright energy in all the chilly gloom. The Winter Solstice season has traditionally been associated not with darkness and despair, but with hope, renewal and light. We feel a deep acceptance of limitation and loss that allows us to surrender into the dark, surrender ourselves and our dearest attachments of ego to the Source, in order that we may be renewed. This energy is manifest as the Solstice dawn lights up the depths of the barrow at New Grange and paints a piercing sliver of light known as the Sun Dagger on the stellar calendar at Chaco Canyon. These observances morphed into the ancient Roman celebrations of the Saturnalia and the Kalends, and found their most recent expression in the dozens of celebrations of the Christmas and New Year season. The Winter Solstice is as close to a global holiday as we Earthlings have, and these metaphors of renewal, rebirth and undying light persist through millennia.
I feel the relief and repose of the land as it goes fallow, of life turning itself gently inward against the cold. It’s reassuring, in its way. As I fall into the growing dark in the weeks after Samhain, I find myself craving sleep, craving tranquility, craving my meditation mat. I’ve brought my harvests in, I’ve fed and praised my ancestors, I’ve done my divinations — all that’s left to do is to drop into my tenderest places, and dream. It’s the time of deep mystery, of silence and stillness and of great joy blooming in the dark and cold.
Sadly, the beginning of Winter as it manifests in our culture and time most certainly does not support introspection or slowing down. The things I dislike about this season — the frenetic crush of activity, the pathological drive towards consumption, toxic family dynamics, the unnecessary glorification of Christian culture — are largely avoidable, so I consciously try to spend my energy wisely. But given the psychic overload of this time it’s no surprise to me that many people claim to despise the whole Christmas season. I certainly hated the whole Christmas season for many years. But I didn’t really want to hate it. I loved Christmas as a kid, and not just because of all the gifts. I wanted to reclaim the Winter Solstice for myself, to honor what I felt were the important lessons of this time. I had to rediscover the magic that I had resonated with so strongly as child.
My earliest memory of Christmas centers on the story of a magical quest. The story of the Nativity, as I learned it, was always couched in magical terms. The story began with the Magi king Melchior, noting the Star in the Eastern Sky, and obsessing over its meaning. I was fascinated by heavenly portents and the wise astrologer-king who alone could read the signs and felt compelled to follow them. I was thrilled by the perilous expedition to follow the Star, and moved by its surprising end: the birth of the Child of Grace in the humblest surroundings.
This is why there always seems to be magick afoot on Christmas Eve. When I stopped celebrating Christmas, I continued to feel that sense of wonder and expectation of joy. In tracing the pagan roots of Christmas traditions, one finds that the Nativity story is just the most recent iteration of this myth. In neo-pagan celebrations of Yule, this child of light may be evoked as Llew, Attis or Horus. This Child is the new Aeon coming about, the resolution of the Dyadic pair into something greater than the sum of its parts. This is the Mystery that the Magi were seeking. This is the promise of renewal that speaks to us from the dark.
Seen in this light, the Nativity myth takes on added depth. Christ’s parents symbolically occupy places on the Pillars of Severity and Mercy, but by moving towards the Middle Pillar they are able to give birth to a being who balances that polarity. Christ’s foster father, Joseph, descendant of the line of King David, is an exemplar of the Law as handed down by his forefathers, representing Logos (logic, law, the written word). As such, he stands firmly on the Pillar of Severity. According to the Law, he could demand that his bride-to-be be killed, since she is pregnant but not with his child. He is moved by compassion to spare her in defiance of the Law. Mary, on the other hand, has long been a symbol of the selfless devotion of motherhood, placing her on the Pillar of Mercy. Yet by embodying the Child’s physical being, she is also condemning what is mortal and human in him to torture and death. From her position on the Pillar of Mercy, and in contradiction of every maternal instinct, she offers her child to expiate the world’s sins. The resolution of these two opposites is the child Christ, who unites these principles and offers up a vision of a perfected Universe that neither paradigm could have predicted.
These potentials exist in every one of us, for all of us are seekers, all of us stand in our turns on the Pillars of Light and Dark, and all of us struggle to come to balance. We all spend time as logical beings trapped in our own histories, cultures and heritages. We are all beings of compassion who give of ourselves. And we are all Children of Light, emanations of the heart of flame that burns in the core of every star and in the soul of all who live. “Every man and every woman is a Star.” We as magicians are always seeking the Star which is our most perfected, essential self. We seek it as the only reliable guide to the Aeon, to the promise of a renewed World. This is the potential of which every Solstice season reminds us, and that we cannot help celebrating, in some small way.
©2009 by Leni Hester.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.
Leni Hester is a writer, ritualist, Witch and scholar. Her latest work is included in Women’s Voices in Magic from Megalithica Press (out November 30). Her work also appears in the anthologies Pop Culture Magick and Manifesting Prosperity from Megalithica Press, and in various pagan magazines including Sagewoman, NewWitch, Cup of Wonder, In a Witch Eye and Pangaia. She practices Transformational Magick and serves the Orisa near Denver, where she lives with her husband and two daughters.