The Buck in the Snow
White sky, over the hemlocks bowed with snow
Saw you not at the beginning of the evening the antlered buck
and his doe
Standing in the apple-orchard? I saw them. I saw them
Tails up, with long leaps lovely and slow,
Over the stone-wall into the wood of hemlocks bowed with snow.
Now lies he here, his wild blood scalding the snow.
How strange a thing is death, bringing to his knees, bringing
to his antlers
The buck in the snow.
How strange a thing, --- a mile away by now, it may be,
Under the heavy hemlocks that as the moments pass
Shift their loads a little, letting fall a feather of snow ---
Life, looking out attentive from the eyes of the doe.
Edna St. Vincent Millay ~ Winter Poems selected by Barbara Rogasky
Our ritual was very simple. The door to the Sanctuary is curtained off (the doors are glass and wood). As you enter, there is an altar with blessed salt and water to purify, center and ground oneself before you begin your journey into the dark. The chairs are set up in a spiral with the young God & Goddess, the High Priestess and those calling the quarters in the center with the altar. You begin be going through being drummed in by musicians and then you slowly walk to the center or until you find an open chair although for me it was the center since I was calling the East. Today was so busy for me because not only did I have dinner to prepare, a family to welcome and enjoy a visit with, the actual ritual itself but also the altar to set up. I prepared a very simple one.
There were actually two altars. One at the entrance set of up for cleansing and centering as one entered the sacred space. It held a small bowl of blessed salt, a gorgeous copper bowl of blessed water, a crystal star, evergreens and a candle. A greeter stood beside it to welcome you and dry your hands as you entered. The official altar is what I set up in the center. First was placed a white cloth (not seen in the photo), the dark green cloth with a discreet gold plaid & holly design, and then the white lace altar cloth. I use that on all of my altars and it's very special to me. Placed upon it were evergreens gathered by one of our group members, a white candle placed in a beautiful crystal flower shaped holder, a small glass figure, one of my chalices, and various other bits of flora. To me the glass figure represented the Mother and welcomed back the beginning of spring. It seemed to be a figure with an arm curling around and cradling a babe. The sparkle within heralded the forthcoming life of spring. At the end was a small copper dish of flowers with evergreens, mistletoe, a pine cone, and a small silver angel placed around it. There were two roses representing the God & Goddess. The green of the cloth and evergreens is the coming growing season, the red of the flowers to me is the blood from the birth of the Child and white is innocence and purity. Then again, on the flip side the white mistletoe berries always represented the God's sacred seed and holly represents the Goddess' sacred blood so it's all about fertility. There was also a potato placed by the High Priestess to represent the going into the dark, the waiting for just the right moment and then reemerging as something new. I wore a beautiful ankle length dark green wool dress and a simple gold stylized stag pin with enamel ribbons of red and gold around it's throat. It's the first time I ever wore it (I also managed to slop sauce from the cake I brough down the front of it but not noticed until after the ritual) and I thought I'd feel out of place since I wasn't sure what the other participants would be wearing. I needn't have worried. North was wearing a beautiful purple Renaissance dress that she was married in, South in a long black dress of the same style as mine and West in a long red skirt and a white blouse. The High Priestess was also beautiful in one of Holy Clothing's gorgeous dresses. The ritual itself wasn't very long. The corners were called, poems read, a few songs sung, cakes & ale, etc. At one point all lights, even the ones from the gigantic tree in the corner, were extinguished except for the lone spark on the altar. A song was sung by the High Priestess' daughter, a few passages were read and then the Young Goddess lit the first candle. From there candles were quickly lit, with the light spiraling out around the circle. That moment is always very beautiful and profound for me. After cakes and ale, and the releasing of the corners, hands were joined and then a seemingly complex circle was danced out of the spiral (taking everyone passed the altar) to the tune of Deck the Halls. Everyone enjoyed fellowship downstairs with cookies, cake, wine, etc. Although there were few children in attendance, my small nephew Jordan was one of them. Everyone enjoyed his antics as he ran around and her garnered several laughs as he would sneak a quick paw over the edge of the table and steal a cookie. The butter cake with the spiced apricot butter sauce I took disappeared very quickly so I think it's definitely a keeper and perhaps the start of a tradition.
Speaking of traditions, I'm wondering if I started another one as well. I thought it very nice that my family came down for a family meal on the Solstice and I'm thinking of doing that again next year. I'm very proud of myself. The meal came out very well, we had way too much food, and everything was pretty close to being on time. I wanted to eat by 4 and we were eating 10 minutes after. We had an awesome ham that had been prepared with honey and a wonderful Belgium fruit ale (the only beer that I actually like!), an apple & pear compote (that no one ate and made it's way to a neighbor), my mother's scalloped potato's, pureed vegge (apples, pears, celery knob, and sweet potato's), some of my FIL's wonderful wine , and sparkling cider. For dessert we had pumpkin pie, apple pie, fudge, sugar cookies the kids helped with, and my stollen.
I was gone preparing the altar when my oldest brother and his small family showed up (on time, I was impressed) and when I got back the kids were all quietly playing upstairs while my brother had commandeered our new lap top and his fiance fed their little one. My mother was late but no later then I expected. She arrived with my youngest brother Jason and the news that my father would not be in attendance because he was on his way to Wisconsin to see an ill family member. I was also dissapointed that my grandmother would be unable to attend. It is very probably that this would be her last Christmas and I wanted her to see the family together at least this once. However, she was in too much pain to travel. I also had hopes the the energy in the spiral of the ritual would be beneficial for her. My sister and her son were really late. We had all finished dinner (The adults at the big table with the kidlets at our large coffee table. The large table was resplendant with a borrowed plaid table cloth from my MIL and upon it was a small flower arrangement in a glass swan (ultimately to be dismantled for the altar), my holiday wine glasses never used before and the brand new fancy plates that Carey had insisted on buying. Even the coffee table looked nice with a holiday tablecloth and santa straws for the little buggers.) and were almost done opening presents when my sister Mary and her small son arrived.
We had received way too much from the local Christmas charity and we decided to do all of that tonight instead of waiting for Christmas. The little buggers had a blast opening stuff. They especially got way too much clothing and I set several outfits aside to be returned to the store. While I loved them and thought they were adorable, I saw no reason to keep un needed items, especially if they were too big. Kitty wound up with 3T stuff! I would have kept it for Deedee but she had received duplicate items. Sigh... Ah, well. Everyone loved the gift bags that I had made and I look forward to using them again next year.
I thought it very appropriate also that it decided to snow. While I was concerned that my mother would have to drive home in it, it was wonderful that within just a few short hours we went from bare soggy ground with isolated little piles of snow to over a foot deep!