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Barefoot on the Crooked Path: Yule

By Melinda McNutt, Seanchaidh

Yule or Winter Solstice: the shortest day/the longest night of the year usually arrives in our Northern Hemisphere December 21st or 22nd. Granny was clan matriarch. We’d gather around her hearth, light candles from the Yule log, feast, sing, tell stories, and hold vigil for Great Mother as she labored through the darkness. On Bay leaves we would write things we wanted to let go and things we wanted to see grow. We’d toss them into the fire, freeing us from things, thoughts and folks that did not cultivate the best in us. I would fall asleep at some point to be woken by Granny’s brass bell; she would lead us away from the warmth of the hearth out into the cold of the forest. Candlelight shadows danced around us as we navigated the narrow trail, through the woods to the edge of the field where the sky kissed the horizon. We would find each other and comfort there, wrapped in handmade quilts and blankets. Aunties poured mugs of hot cocoa and told tales of our births, lest we forget the pain we caused our mothers and the unconditional love that binds us all.  

We’d feel Great Mother’s womb rise and fall in rhythm with Uncle’s bodhrán drum. We were her supporters, her cheerleaders…her doulas. Down to the beach, marching in time with the heartbeat of the drum…to the ocean’s edge. Candles in the sand, beyond the reach of the waves, in silence we’d stand until the first jingles of the tambourines released us. We’d spin, face the East, the drum would speed, the tambourines would flash, our voices would raise…a symphony of emotions, pain, and promise! We’d continue until the light peeked through the trees.   

The path back to Granny’s was easier to navigate in the dawn, still it was unfamiliar and parts of it made my stomach tingle with fear…for no reason other than it was unknown and new. Years later I discovered that Gran led us out into the darkness via one path and home via another. It was done on purpose, to put us on a new path into the light and to leave the dark path behind.

It’s been a dark year in many ways and now more than ever, we must be the light in the darkness. We must find cause for laughter, love, and joy despite the bitter sweetness of an unfamiliar hearth or the strange distance you feel in a “Zoom Room” holiday. Band together in the cold and dark, provide help, nourishment, and shelter when you can. Learn to accept kindness from strangers and return it. Be the spirit of generosity when the climate is cruel and indifferent. Live in hope, in light and love.  

Yule says it’s not over even at the very moment when it appears to be. Carry the evergreen in your heart as you prepare to integrate the old with the new. Know that however bad it gets, seeds wait in the soil beneath our feet; the promises of new growth and re-birth. Let us take this season more deeply into us, as we will be needing Yule not only in December, but throughout the coming years. 

My Granny set my bare feet on the Cooked Path and her teachings root my steps today. In my culture, the Seanchaidh (seanchas), or storytellers, are regarded as the wise ones. In ancient times, it was the storytellers’ job to be the genealogical guardian, to keep the memory of long-dead ancestors fresh. Their role is to know the tales, poems, and history and to recite them. My Gran was a great Seanchaidh. I do not claim to be wise. However, I am proud to be like her, a storyteller, and I am honored to share time with you. Slán agus beannachtaí (goodbye and blessings).

Melinda McNutt

Melinda McNutt (McNaughton) is an artist and owner of Wicked Goods, peculiar oddities for the hearth and self located within Air and Fire, A Mystical Bazaar in Boulder Creek. 

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