The time “between the years” is a mysterious one - quiet, still, but undeniably powerful. If we want to understand better what is happening with, in and around us during these gloomy winter nights, we should shine a light on forgotten rituals and stories that our ancestors have cultivated around this transitional time. Katharina guides as through an overview.
Celebrating the winter solstice
Originally, in European culture before Christianity, what we know as Christmas today was called the Yulfest. This was the celebration of the winter solstice: the longest night of the year, the lowest point of sunlight during the whole year, which simultaneously is also the day from which the days start to become longer again and thus the „rebirth“ of the Sun is celebrated. This festivity was a central celebration of the people of Europe and so it was appropriated by the Christian church, turning the rebirth of the sun into the birth of Christ.
Santa Claus - traveler between worlds
The Christmas tree was really the world tree yggdrasil and Santa Claus was actually the shamanic God Odin who travels through the other worlds with his chariot pulled by reindeers or white horses. He enters the house through the chimney which represents the gate to other realms, bringing „gifts“ from the dimensions he traveled. The red and white colors of „Santa Claus“ come from the association of Odin with the Amanita mushroom which people used to consume in the darkest night of the year, to „take flight“ and especially to connect with their ancestors and listen to their messages.
With the Yulfest the time of the 12 holy nights or in German „Rauhnächte“ start.
It is considered a time outside of time because it is the days in which the sun and moon calendar don’t add up, the portal that is the time difference between the Gregorian sun calendar (365 days) and the moon calendar (354 days) = 12 days.
A period of stillness
This was a period of laying down work to go inward, for reflecting and listening to the forces and ancestors beyond. All wheels were supposed to stand still, meaning no spinning, no weaving, no grinding of wheat. The house and the stall of the animals was smudged and cleared everyday and no laundry was to be hanged.
Blessings from our ancestors
Offerings laid out for the wild force of righteousness called “Perchta” or „Wilde Jagd“. She is a merciless form of the great goddess “Holle”, who came to execute the “Karma” of the people. Holle, Hella, Hel, Perchta - all these names of the same female ancient mother of life and death, go back etymologically to „bright, wrapped in the shine, covered in shine, holy, sacred“. Germans know her from the fairytale of „Frau Holle“, in which she welcomes the little girl „Goldmarie“ in her realm, who helps her to shake out the blankets, and the feathers that fall out land as snow on Earth. The fairytale tells the story of the soul that passes back to source where she is welcomed by the great mother, who she helps - meaning that our ancestors would still have an influence on our lives here on Earth, bringing (in the best case) blessings. Snow was seen as a blessing from the great mother, like it was literally raining light. Even from a scientific perspective that makes sense, as a thick „blanket“ of snow was necessary for a good development of the soil for the next round of Agriculture.
The understanding of the 12 holy nights as a time of „karmic“ resolve and the „making of fate“ was spread throughout all of Europe.
In Greece and south-east Europe during this time, two weeks after the winter solstice, leprechauns were known to saw and cut the root of the world tree and to come to the earth’s surface to cause havoc to humans.
In a lot of other places there exists a tradition that has different names but is mostly known as „the wild hunt“. In southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland is mostly associated with Holle/Hella/Perchta, who I already mentioned and who comes in her embodiment of the wild unpredictable aspect of nature. In the North it is more known as the wild hunt of Odin, in France the Maisnie Hellequin, in Welsh mythology Gwyn ap Nudd was depicted as a wild huntsman riding a demon horse who hunts souls at night along with a pack of 'dogs of hell’, In West Slavic Central Europe it is known as divoký hon or štvaní and in the Netherlands the Wild Hunt is known as the Buckriders (Dutch: Bokkenrijders).
On guard against wild forces
Generally, the wild hunt speaks to the ancestors, the souls which are lost, the uncontrollable wild & mysterious part of life, which would come around at this time of the year. In many places this was accompanied or acted out through actual processions in which people would put on the masks of monsters and walk through the villages, making lots of noise. This is an old pagan practice you can find almost anywhere in the world. And it’s common occurrence around Europe most likely speaks to a Indo-European root tradition around honoring death & the ancestors.
Glimpses into the future
Therefore in the Twelve holy nights ancestors and spirits were known to visit the physical world in this sacred window of spiritual insight, animals were said to speak and give guidance and it was necessary to keep the house tidy for no energies to get caught & cluttered in the portal between. The practice of divination is still to be found even today in the popular tradition of „lead pouring“ on New Year’s, where the results of the little lead figures will give insight about what is to come in the next year.
Pay attention to your dreams
Another aspect of the „Rauhnächte“ is that each night corresponds to a month in the next year and can give us insight into what is to come, when we pay attention to our dreams and to omens we notice within & without. Treating these energetic threads with awareness can also give us the opportunity to already influence that which is to come in a positive way while also coming to closure with what has been in the year which is ending.
The veils are especially thin around the transit between the years and it is such a beautiful practice to connect with our European ancestral magic and release the old year and welcome the new year in a good way.
From goddesses to kings
The twelve holy nights end with the day of the three holy kings, which actually has its roots in the pagan female trinity “Bethen” (the German word for „praying“ is „beten“): Barbara (Borbeth), Katharina (Wilbeth) & Margarethe (Ambeth). They are related to the Norns & other female trinities / forces which are the ones weaving the destiny and fate of the people. Katharina (Wilbeth) is the goddess of light, wisdom, the colour white, new beginnings, purity and the wheel (spinning the thread of life). She is also the moon goddess.
Margarethe (Ambeth) is the earth goddess herself, who takes the thread and creates actual life out of it. She is associated with the color red, the serpent / worm / dragon, life force, sexuality, birth and the symbol of the chalice. Barbara (Borbeth) is simultaneously the goddess associated with the sun and also Death. She takes the life again that her two sisters created, completing the cycle of life and death. She is associated with the tower, the path to the other world, she also preserves the seeds which are to bloom after the darkness, thus her color is black.
Again, their image was turned into a masculine version of the three holy kings, even using the same first letters of their names: Caspar, Balthasar & Melchior.
In any case, if we are aware of the original meaning of the symbologies we surround ourselves with or not - everybody feels that it is a special time of the year in which we like to come together in gratitude, abundance and reverence.
I wish you a peaceful & revealing time for you to pass through into the next year. May your prayers be heard, your family well, your home warm and your table be full.
With love, Katharina.
*About the author
Katharina Louise Meyer is an artist, storyteller and facilitator. She is offering a guided journey on the 12 holy nights among other offerings for reigniting ancestral rituals of europe. Find her work dedicated to ancestral remembrance and reconnection here:
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