IN THE DEEP MIDWINTER . . .

In Britain, the ‘Lord of Misrule’ and in France the ‘Prince des Sots’, was an officer appointed by lot at Christmas to preside over the Feast of Fools. The Lord of Misrule was generally a peasant or sub-deacon appointed to be in charge of Christmas revelries, which often included drunkenness and wild partying, in the pagan tradition of Saturnalia. The Church held a similar festival involving a Boy Bishop. The celebration of the Feast of Fools was outlawed by the Council of Basel that sat from 1431,

(the Fool) Rise the sun, and run the deer
Winter’s Christmas King is here!
Master of the revels and ruler of the feast
He bids you turn the tables
From the greatest to the least!
To the Romans Saturnalia,
To the Norsemen’s feast of Yule
Where twelve days crack the calendar
and crown the King of Fools
He comes to banish winter and to summon up the sun
Drive out the dark! Ring in the new! Wassail him, every one!

(chorus) WASSAIL! WASSAIL!

(the Lord) Lord of Misrule they crown me here, welcome or welcome not
I’ve two heads yet to crown tonight from out this chosen lot!
Now who will rule this revel? Who will be our Solstice Queen
And who her winter consort, the Great King of the Bean?

Kolyada or koleda (Cyrillic: коляда, коледа, колада) is the original Slavic word for Christmas, still used in modern Belarusian (Каляды, Kalady, Kalyady), Bulgarian, Macedonian, Serbian (Коледа) and Slovak (Koleda). Some suppose the word was borrowed the word from the Latin calendae ; compare “Kalends”. Others believe it derived from Kolo, “wheel”. Another speculation is that it derived from the Bulgarian/Macedonian word “коля/колам” (kolia/kolam), which means “to rip, to kill (a man), to cut animal for eating”, or from the Serbian “коло, колодар” (kolo, kolodar). Some claim it was named after Kolyada, the Slavic god of winter. [wikipedia]

They come, the winter women, at harvest time
Turning the great Yule wheel, cross-quartered,
Down Persephone’s dark road
While the earth weeps a mother’s tears.

The Baba comes to the barn,
Corn Mother, Corn Maiden, Old Wife, Oatwife
Tossed high on the harvest, dancing, queening it she comes
The year’s last sheaf come home.

Creeping she comes, the Old Wife of the Celts,
Cailleach Bheur, hag goddess, crag goddess,
Leaping from the rocks to lock the Bride of spring away.

She whistles up her winter winds, that pack of dogs
That follow dark Frau Gaude on her icy rounds.
Keening she comes! You careless ones,
Who leave your doorways cracked ajar
Will hear her dogs’ keen whining at your hearth.

You lazy spinsters, mind your distaff’s full
And wind your spindles tidy by the fire
Lest Berchta send you plague or blind your eyes for spying.

Sweep your altar stone
And pile the green boughs high to call her forth
To tell your future in the flames where past and present mingle at your hearth.
Bright candle flames now wreath her, crowned in lingonberry,
Saint Lucia bringing light out of the heart of Northern darkness.

She brings you gifts of plenty, La Befana sweeping on her broom
Beware, and honor her! Lest your Epiphany be black as coal.

Black it was, in the beginning,
When the sun was on the far side of the world
And Spider Woman made the long journey with her pot of clay
To bring the sun back to the Cherokee.

Mary brought the Son, they say, the Prince of Peace —
For unto us a child is born! and the year begins anew.

Children carol for her, Kolyada, whiterobed in her snowy sleigh
In her deep Russian woods of frozen winter streams
where the winter nymphs, Rusalky, sing their secret solstice songs.

There in those winter woods was born the snegurochka, Snow Maiden,
Ancient spirit, daughter of spring and winter come to earth.

At Candlemas, cross-quarter time, the Old Hag springs again,
But this time Brigit’s cross wheels high above the door
And the frail Snow Maiden melts into her summer lover’s arms.

See where they come, the winter women, in the bleak midwinter night
To summon up the sun and bring us light.

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