Sunday, December 17, 2017

Yuletide Greetings

‘’Yuletide Greetings!” is the cheery message on one of my Christmas cards this year. Yuletide is a familiar term for this season, but where does the word actually come from? It seems that in Scandinavian lands ‘Jul’ or ‘Jule’ was, and still is, the term for the midwinter month, and there still exists the tradition of burning the Yule log on the hearth fire. 

But like the Christmas tree itself, many of these customs have been carried over from old pagan traditions. Even the very date of Christmas has nothing to do with the actual day of the birth of Jesus, but is believed to originally have been a celebration for the Sun God, perhaps to persuade that god to return to strength and brightness following the shortest and darkest days of the year.

It is a sad fact that when early Christianity was making inroads into Europe many pagan temples and sacred sites were destroyed by those zealously spreading the word of the new faith, and churches of the new religion were built upon the remaining foundations. So we have the buildings of one faith built upon the remains of the faiths which came before it, and new traditions and celebratory dates also were ‘built upon’ those of the previous faiths.

These layerings of traditions, dates and buildings tell us, not just what is, but what has been in our past. The ruins of the past are always to be glimpsed in the present. But what of the future? We cannot know what faiths and beliefs the future may hold, in a hundred, or even in a thousand years. Perhaps, like our own present, the distant future will contain the fragmented pieces of the beliefs which now dominate our world, which themselves have been replaced by other faiths which the unknown future holds. But what if we tread still further into the unknown? What if we reach out, not a mere millennium, but some five thousand years into our future?

Five thousand years ago the civilization of Sumer existed: a time as far into our past as we are imagining our hypothetical future. In that time there was no dominant male god. In that time there was a great goddess: Inanna. In that time the Supreme Deity was a ‘she’. Who would dare predict that in another five thousand years this will not happen again, and that ‘God the Father’ will belong among the ruins of a dim and distant past, which is our own time. Perhaps it will take far less time than another five millennia for this to happen, for these things do seem to happen in unpredictable cycles.

A tipping point is reached, and suddenly the landscape around us changes, and nothing is quite as we had known it. It is the landscape of faiths, of traditions, and we need to dig just a little way down to discover that our foundations are those of another faith entirely. Perhaps this is the time of the year to celebrate, not one faith in particular, but faith itself: a faith which renews itself through all the ages, finding new forms in its striving to bring a measure of trust and peace of heart. 

Painting Druids bringing the Mistletoe by Edward Atkinson Hornel

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