Brightest Blessings of the Solstice to you all.
I’ve always loved the Winter Solstice. I’ve always loved being cold, knowing I could rug up. I love the sound of rain on the metal roof, the freshness in the air, the greening of the hills and how the eucalyptus leaves get this different haze as the lighting changes. I love seeing the frost on the grass as I would drive to the spot for the year to watch the rising sun. Sitting in the car with the heater on high warming my drum, listening to a Solstice playlist, getting anxious and nervous and excited for the rising sun. Not caring about how cold it is as the sun begins to rise…
Then I lost 62kg/137lb and am prone to getting chills very easily!
As a Devotee of Herne the Hunter, I would always use this time to honour Him. As the Oak King within the Southern Hemisphere, the longest night is His “night before the beginning”. It’s the ending of the waning year, and now he arrives to lead us back into the Light with the first light of the waxing year. At Litha, I say farewell as he returns to the North.
As someone who’s begun running small public events, I had so many amazing plans for Yule and how we could come together as a community to celebrate.
And then COVID-19 happened. Our events got cancelled for the rest of the year, we all withdrew back into solitary practice, and those who feel comfortable celebrating through Zoom or Skype were able to connect with others through an online presence.
Many years ago Herne told me off for celebrating June 20-22 as His celebratory time. “When you travel to the north, you do not move your birthday to tie with the seasons,” He told me. Queen Elizabeth’s birthday isn’t the second Monday of June, either, I responded with a laugh. But the point was there. So I began celebrating just through watching the sun rise, excited for the waxing year.
This year has become the first year where I haven’t been able to watch the rising of the Solstice sun, as there was too much cloud cover here in the Riverina has we’ve had some amazing rain. It was the first year where I really felt as though Herne put his foot down about me honouring Him on this day. Not so much of an, “Enough!” but more, “I’ll let you in to a little secret.”
Since taking on the surname of Hunter, which I believe really cemented my devotion to Him in both our eyes (just in case the tattoos, jewelry, rituals weren’t enough), what he has taught me has become invaluable. The relationship I have with Him has become stronger, more beautiful and delicate than ever. And with this same breath, it’s become more exhausting as he’s removed my floaties and pushed me off the diving tower.
This year for Yule I gathered with some of my Clan for our second Burial.
A Shamanic Burial ritual celebrates death and rebirth. We honour and release the old us, versions of us, traits we no longer want (it’s all personal). We don a shroud before entering the grave, we release, we burn the shroud. We emerge from the grave anew, reborn, and honour who and what we’ve left behind.
Maybe it was because I was so ridiculously excited for this burial, maybe because of the burial date, but on my way to the ritual Herne refused to speak with me. He wouldn’t let me listen to His playlist, he wouldn’t let me converse with Him on the way. He didn’t want me to make the day about Him. Despite me needing to talk to Him, to ask His advice, to help me get into the mindset of what was about to happen… He made sure that I was alone this day because I needed to be.
I felt it. I felt incredibly alone. My fiancé couldn’t join for ritual as she had an early work start the next day. I’m amongst friends in a ritual setting for the first time in months, but I felt alone. Yule this year was for me, and He made sure of it. It’s all part of the growth, the trials he’s laid before me, understanding what it’s like to be His Devotee, His Apprentice.
My shroud was my beloved Robin Hoodie which I had lived in for so many years, a pair of size 26 trackies, and the broomstick that my ex-husband and I had jumped. Clothing that represented the old me, that no longer served me, that I could not part with at last year’s burial because they were still apart of me; the broom that I held onto until the divorce had been processed.
Within burial, I allowed an aspect of self that has always wanted to die… to die. She came to me with cuts up her arms, pleading for death. I fought it, I tried to tell her all the good that has come in the years since She was the main and prominent part of me. I told Her about how proud of Her I was, that I couldn’t exist as Rowan if it weren’t for the pain and suffering and tribulations that She managed to survive. But She didn’t want to hear it, She was tired, and She had had enough. So I told her to join Jennifer, our childhood best friend who went to the Summerlands many years ago. She laid down in the grave with me, and I sung to her as she bled out, becoming dust, becoming sand, becoming a memory.
I entered the grave with the mask of who I was. I left having shed my old skin, putting my old self to rest, and walked down to the River for my first Water Blessing. At the grave, match after match would not light. I grabbed the final remnant of my prior marriage ceremony, and utilised the group’s fire to set my shed skin alight.
On my drive home, Herne came to me. He took over Spotify with song after song, just like He used to do when I would walk through Hyde Park on my way to work in Sydney, talking to Him through my iPod. The road back to Wagga transformed and suddenly I was driving through Windsor Forest. White hare after white hare darted past me on the sides of the road, in the trees, as lightning crashed in the distance.
I was no longer alone. He sung to me as I had sung for Her. We sung of strength, of change, of release, of welcoming in the waxing year. After years of pleading for Him to allow me to join in, I partook in His Wild Hunt.
Today I am realizing the benefits of undertaking such an important ritual while in the depths of hormones. The crying has been constant which is the release I have been needing.
I am Rowan Hunter. Yule has become my holiday, a celebration of how far I’ve come. Herne will allow me to honour Him on this day, after I have honoured myself.