I shall not be able to post anything this coming Wednesday, owing to pressure of work. I hope to be able to post more material next Sunday, 7th December.
When I posted the Christmas Play last week I noted that it was headed with a ‘3’, and commented that pages 1 and 2 were lost. It turns out I was wrong: looking at a couple of pages headed ‘The Midwinter Festival of Yule’, I discovered that the second page was numbered ‘2’, and that the last paragraph mentions the Christmas play in a way that makes it clear that this short essay is intended as an introduction to it.
These sheets are a carbon copy. At one point a passage a couple of lines long has been overtyped on the master copy, and part of this cannot be deciphered.
As I said in my comments on the Christmas Play, I think this material shows Chalky at quite an early stage of working out his system.
The Midwinter Festival of Yule
J. G. Frazer in The Golden Bough notes the pagan origin of Christmas: “It was a custom of the heathen to celebrate on the 25th December the birthday of the sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day … Augustine exhorts his Christian brethren not to celebrate that solemn day like the heathen on account of the sun, but on account of him who made the sun.” (p. 472). Frazer argues (pp. 833 & 842) “If the heathen of ancient Europe celebrated, as we have good reason to believe, the season of Midsummer with a great festival of fire, of which the traces have survived in many places, it is natural to suppose that they should also have observed with similar rites the corresponding season of Midwinter; for Midsummer and Midwinter, the summer solstice and the winter solstice, are the two great turning points in the sun’s apparent course through the sky, and from the standpoint of primitive man nothing might seem more appropriate than to kindle fires on earth at the two moments when the fire and heat of the great luminary in heaven begin to wane or to wax … Indeed with respect to Midwinter celebration of Christmas we are left to conjecture; we know from the express testimony of the ancients that it was instituted by the church to supersede an old heathen festival of the birth of the sun, which was apparently conceived to be born again on the shortest day of the year, after which his light and heat were seen to grow till they attained their full maturity at Midsummer … In modern Christendom the ancient fire-festival of the winter solstice appears to survive, or to have survived down to recent years, in the old custom of the Yule log.”
But there are other elements to this pagan festival which are not fully drawn out by Frazer who mentions the general and widespread worship of the sacred oak but fails to pursue the question of why the Yule log is invariably oak.
I am starshine,
Child of night’s black fire
Owning a darkest royalty.
I am thorns,
Piercing at lovers
With stabbing points.
I am winter
Deep by the jowls
I am death
To all men who attend
© The Estate of Ronald M. White
Chalky seems to have winnowed his early papers fairly thoroughly, and not a lot has survived. I conclude therefore that what remains is material to which he attached some value. This ‘Christmas Play’ is a carbon copy on a single sheet headed ‘3.’. Sheets 1 and 2 have not turned up.
The use of the word ‘Christmas’ in place of ‘Yule’ indicates that this is a very early attempt by Chalky to devise a seasonal ritual. It is not known whether it was ever performed.
The words to the song ‘Lord of the Dance’ were written by Sydney Carter in 1963 to a traditional Shaker hymn tune. It became extremely popular quite quickly, and was widely used, for instance, in school assemblies. Chalky was fond of this hymn, and it was sung at his funeral in its original, Christian form.
A Christmas Play
Part One is solemn:
The oak king dressed in oak leaves is beaten with holly clubs. A branch is chopped down (the beheading) and carried to the fireplace which should have bright (paper) flames. A wren (Bran’s sparrow) flies out of the oak and hides in an ivy bush. A robin flies out of the holly tree and chases the wren.
The last line of this poem is inscribed on Chalky’s gravestone.
Last spring’s blackbird, mute now,
Walks November through the rusty garden.
He is dark as a mourner
Among a field of corpses (yellow parchments).
The architecture of the hollyhock
Churches the silence.
The parallels of flower beds
Are terminal wards.
The blackbird is an old verger
Hobbling beside the loving and the dead.
Rumours and visions dream new spring
Out of this time and to a different place.
© The Estate of Ronald M. White
This is the final part of the section on Yule in The New Pagans’ Handbook:
At the Time of the Promise a candle was lit as an earnest that the dark days would not reign for ever and that our part of the world would turn to increasing light. Also in that promise was implicit new life and peace. Our themes are therefore the old ones of Life, Light, Peace. This is symbolised by the three colours, Red, White, Blue, and the thumb and two first fingers raised in the so-called ‘Phrygian Blessing’, whose pagan origin has led to it not being used in some churches.
At Yuletide we celebrate the redemption of the Promise in the Birth of the Star Child. And that birth is symbol of a greater birth; the coming into being of the Universe itself. Yule is the festival of Creation, and our year begins here with its memories of a ‘Golden Age’ that maybe never was, but is a state to be striven for.
It is a festival of good cheer. This is not only true of good things to eat and drink but of good thoughts and joyful ones. There should be generosity both of pocket and more importantly soul; and our warm and cheerful considerations should extend beyond what is ours and kin to us to take in the bodily, spiritual and mental comfort of others.
As everyone knows the 25th is a family festival. We meet to celebrate the Star Child and pass the time in jollity, games and feasting. Presents are given. One of the simplest customs is that the youngest is the first to receive the bounty. Traditional games are played and special foods eaten. Arthur could be said to make a reappearance as Old Father Christmas, the spirit who was much celebrated in Old England before being subsumed into his Dutch/American counterpart, Santa Claus.
Despite the fun and games there is always a strong ritual element to Yule. Even the Yuletide Ghost Story is an acknowledgement that there is a place for the departed spirits beside our fires, and the still popular toast, ‘Absent friends’ brings a note of sadness in the memory, of past friends, and past Yuletides when they were there, for Yule looks backwards as well as forwards, again a reminder that our God has two aspects and is Janus faced. Joy and sorrow therefore mingle in the festivity and can give it the most poignant beauty.
If Yuletide has any duties they are to be sociable, hospitable and generous, both in pocket and, more importantly, in soul. It is too easy for cynics to talk about the secular Christmas, but surely its games, amusements, jollity, feasting, drinking and generosity are no subjects for disdain, rather the reverse. To set aside for a while our mundane cares and to make merry is a noble aim. To ease the hearts of others and spend the time in mirth and good-fellowship is ritual enough at this most magic season: and as we know this goes for Christians as well as pagans.
‘Old customs that good be let no man despise.’
Here is the first part of the section on Yule in The New Pagans’ Handbook:
These commence on the night of the 23rd/24th. Where possible, and weather permitting as it so often is, the celebrants can gather in the open around a holly tree. However, as is more likely, a spruce tree (Christmas Tree) will be the chosen symbol, a tradition imported into, England by the Prince Consort who brought the idea from Germany, where incidentally the peak of the celebrations was more often on the evening and night of the 24th.
The tree should be set up in the garden or the entrance to the dwelling. Red wine is poured into a libation bowl and each person present comes forward to pour a libation to the tree, sprinkling some of the wine over it. Each may say as much or as little as he or she pleases in the form of prayer. Candles should be set up in the form of a five pointed star, each of the celebrants taking it in turn to place a candle. A short prayer follows invoking the Goddess as Mother of all and particularly at this time as Mother of the Star Child and the Promise:
‘To the Great Goddess, mother and Maker of all things, we call for a light to lead us, that light of promise held in our hopes when we waited in the shadowed lands, on the plains of ashes and in the places of darkness. Bring us, we pray, once more that Light in our darkness to comfort us against cold death, to warm us with new life, new strength, and so to set the brilliance of new day and day-growth once again upon our lands. Bring us, we beg, Your Star Child and the Promise of the Sun.’
‘The Reading of the Festivals of the Year’ is a key section of The New Pagans’ Handbook. It is a liturgical text for the beginning of December, and also an exposition of the myth in relation to the main festivals of the year as Chalky, following pagan traditions, conceived these to be.
‘The Reading of the Festivals’, like other texts used by the Regency, underwent various revisions, and at least one older version has had some circulation. The text here represents Chalky’s final revisions, made when he prepared The New Pagans’ Handbook for publication in the mid-1980s.
At a very bleak time indeed, at the beginning of December, at the time the Christians have renamed Advent, the first of the rituals is held, and the simple account I have given of the Basic Myth is dressed out and the significance of the seasonal rituals explained. The ceremony, as befits the season, is of the barest. Either outdoors or in a darkened room the Festivals are read over and their story told. A single candle is used to provide the proverbial ‘light in our darkness’. The candle is called the Light of The Promise and at the end of the ceremony the candle stub is kept to light the Yuletide candles.
This ceremony is known as The Reading of the Festivals.
– from The Implements of Ritual
The Reading of the Festivals of the Year
The Reader speaks:
These are the Festivals of the Year read over every year at the Time of the Promise. And this promise I declare to you, which has always been given at this time upon the Dead of the Year.
Each part of the reading is preceded by a simple statement of the Divine Nature that those festivals iare held to honour.
These things are the promise of the Goddess to you all.
Hear these words on the nature of the Goddess and be encouraged because of them.
The Goddess personifies the Universe, its creation,
its being and its ending.
As such She is its totality, seen and unseen.
As such She embodies the Greater Mysteries.
As such She is the mind behind all minds and all making.
From Her all things come.
To Her all things return.
For us beneath Her visiting Moon
She can be worshipped as Triad;
Maiden, Mother, and Crone.
For She gives life, fosters it, takes it away.
And so that Moon is Her symbol:
At the new, the full, the old.
She governs the five phases of our lives:
She is Birth, Initiation, Consummation, Rest, Repose.
She is our beginning, our youth, our maturity;
She is our old age
And that inevitable end – our death.
Her Festivals are our calendar of life.
Coupled with our celebration of the Gods
They picture out the scenery of the year,
And stand as parable to our lives.
Because She is all things She is
The embodiment of our desires,
Whether of body or mind.
She is the everlasting song of our souls,
For everything is holy
And not apart from Her Divinity.
Also the Goddess has many names,
For all names are Her name.
(The candle is raised and lowered)
She is also the source of wisdom,
The protectress and guardian of the spirit,
The fount of beauty,
The inspiration of poets and artists,
The spirit of prophecy,
And mistress of all true knowledge.
She is the beginning and the end,
All births and deaths are Hers.
But above all
(The candle is raised and lowered)
True Thomas’s Charm
Through this time’s tempering, transformed,
In little wisdoms less,
In strength augmented,
And in courage — rarely exercised — grown apt;
Given no fear of fortune:
In Justice to myself released
From all temptations — powers — times,
Crowning the vine of joy
With greater mysteries,
(Achievement of enchantment understood),
Now I can pass the double axe of death,
And from the centre make approach
Upon the pattern of the swirling stars.
Apples are hard prizes
And come to heroes only,
Are awarded where
The unicorn lies down at last.
© The Estate of Ronald M. White