Our Winter Solstice rite in its current incarnation took years to form, and I attribute that to the power of secular traditions at this time. How could we create a rite that was both true to our faith, and true to the spirit of this season shared among many? With thanks to Brian Walsh, I included the folktale version of the birth of Lugh, with Eithne kept in the tower of glass and his brothers cast into the sea to become seals. This became the primary focus of this rite. (Strangely, our Grove’s only rite focusing directly on the return of the Sun was a Norse rite from many years ago.)
But I always felt that the rite was ‘flat’, because it didn’t seem to embody those characteristics of this holiday season — holly and mistletoe, lights and shiny baubles, and that left me feeling awkward when I would go out and about in the world, as I felt that our rite was so far removed from everything else. Our paganism should respect and uphold the ancient ways, while being modern and relevant. We are of this world, the physical being as important as the spiritual.
Without cramming Lugh into baby Jesus’s manger, something that I feel happens frequently in re-paganizations of carols and all-inclusive explanations of what we do at this time, I needed to find some way to bring out the Christmassy parts of Solstice. So, when this story takes place, it was 2012, and I was sitting in the lunchroom at work, fretting over the Solstice rite. Kondratiev’s The Apple Branch tends to be my starting place for times when I feel I have no idea what I am doing. On this readthrough, I realised that the wren and the sun-sacrifice (“The newborn light must be given energy from a source similar to itself.” ) were what I was missing. In short, the wren is hunted and sacrificed so that newborn Lugh can benefit from its energy — a King benefitting from a King, as the wren is the King of All Birds.
I can’t take credit for the content of this rite — Brian and Alexei get that. But, what I feel is unique to our presentation is how I decided to convey all of this new information to the Grove. My Grove is very understanding when I come to them and explain that I’m absolutely convinced we need to do XYZ thing because of ABC reason, but I felt that the inclusion of a secondary myth, a wren hunt, and a birdcage and a star on a stick (adapted from the Ukrainian zvizda) was a bit overwhelming even for the most accepting friend. And also, how could I share this layered mythology with guests who come to our rite and don’t have any of its background?
I wrote the rite inspired by a children’s Christmas pageant, where a Child asks questions of a Narrator to direct the flow of the rite. The Narrator and her ritual team (welcomers of Eithne and Lugh, and one or two Bards), provide all of the information to the folk. There is an optional part in this rite for one person to hold the zvizda in silence at the altar, and watch the rite turn about them, as Eithne watches the world turn about her Pole Star tower. I’d like to experience that myself one day, but so far I’m always the Narrator. I also find it amusing that the Narrator always answers the Child’s questions except once — when Lugh is introduced, and that person interrupts the Narrator’s expected answer because they are so excited about Lugh.
And all of these additions worked. The rite is uplifting and seasonal and very pagan. This will be the third year that we perform this rite essentially as written. I do plan to rewrite a version the “King of All Birds” story so it is easier to read, with fewer birds. But for now, enjoy!