Mexicans, religious or not, usually refer to the holiday season as Guadalupe-Reyes. It starts with the Virgin of Guadalupe Day December 12 and ends with Día de los Reyes Magos (biblical Magi) January 6. This often includes a feasting and drinking marathon. Therefore, Pagans and Witches usually celebrate the winter solstice before the exact solstice date because we are busy with family gatherings or we are on vacation.
Conjuring up my first Yule always puts a smile on my face; it was the first ritual I participated within a coven. I will never forget the High Priest opening the door, welcoming me with a warm smile, and the smell of pine, cinnamon, rosemary and myrrh in the house. Everyone greeted me with kind words, and I could finally understand what Merry Greet really meant.
At the same time, everyone therel had a curious face, wondering what this 16 year old boy was doing there. The High Priest would tell them: “Don’t judge young people because of their age, most of the time they are wiser than us.” I did not feel wise at all, though. On the contrary, I felt I knew nothing, and I wanted to learn it all and participate in anything I could within the ritual.
Since that night, I’ve always enjoyed talking about Yule to my friends and family.
The fact that some Mexicans celebrate the Winter Solstice using ancient Nordic European terms and symbols may be surprising for many. But although we are a religious minority, you can find quite a few Pagan groups celebrating Yule, or Jól in Mexico.
Cofradía Wicca Luna Azul, for example, celebrates Yule on the closest weekend to December 21. Alejandro Estanislao, High Priest of the Cofradía, says that one of his most important jobs is to raise the principal altar with the representation of the Sun Child as a central symbol. It stands for the rebirth of the Sun and the rebirth of light.
“[By] representing the rebirth of the Sun through the Child figure, we generate a type of commitment, a devotional work toward the energy of the Sun, of hope, of rebirth, dedicating a spiritual work, meditation, healing or service,” Estanislao explains.
“We also invoke the Winter Fairies for the work of wishes, and we also do a gift exchange. We ask the attendees to bring a symbolic gift related to magic and spirituality with the goal of sharing with others what they want for themselves, in other words, ‘offering to somebody else what they want the new cycle to bring to themselves.”
During this time of year, Estanislao also organizes a free public talk or conference to inform people about their tradition. The talk is usually called The Pagan Origin of Christmas.
“We talk about the original symbolism of Christmas, although it has been totally absorbed by Christianity, the symbolic part is actually related to Pagan traditions.” he explains.
For Círculo Ágora Meraki, the winter solstice is the obligatory celebration for its members, a chosen family made up of the sisters and brothers of the tradition.
“We celebrate the return of the Sun God into our life, therefore, for us, is the first light after a period of introspection, self-healing and acknowledgement of a whole wheel’s work on all levels: physical, emotional and spiritual,” explains Adartia-Monserrat Sánchez, Priestess of Círculo Ágora Meraki.
“The meaning can sound very simple ‘the promise of life and Gods come true’, this means that with the first light the wheel is awaken in my whole being and, in my heart, a new phase starting another degree on this everlasting spiral.”
Sánchez adds,“For this reason, is very important to me to celebrate the winter solstice with people related to my beliefs and thought, to accomplish a tuning and harmony suitable for a new year, that can allow me to visualize the appropriate work for me and for my brothers and sisters.”
An example of Nordic-themed winter solstice celebrations in Mexico come from Allthing Ásatrú México. As a Tribal Council, the group brings together several clans that celebrate together the last festival of the Sun Wheel. They consider Jól as the Mother Night of Winter. According to Hilðúlfr Úlfey, the Goði of Allthing Ásatrú México and of the Úlfey Ásatrú Norsk Séð México clan, this festival is a celebration characterized for showing unity and focusing on family.
Within the festival’s activities, there is the search for and a cutting of Jól’s log, which then should also burn during the coming days. Also, the clans cook meals together and prepare the Mjöd in advance for the final celebration.
“We integrate symbols that are typical of the Ancient Nordic Traditions, among them is Jól’s Goat, previously mentioned Jól’s Log with both, its arboreal and baking form, mistletoe plays an important role, since the largest growth of the plant, which also plays an important role on God Balder’s death, happens within these dates.” adds Úlfey.
For La Orden de los Hijos del Dragón the most important symbol of the seasonal celebration are the lights on the central altar, and taking the solstice festivity as a time of forgiveness and of fasting in our homes. It is time to share outwardly good will, and a time of maturity and love.
“The basic way of Yule is sharing the Sol Invictus festivity, we have a tradition that goes beyond a simple ritual… It is talked about us that we are traditional family Witchcraft, because we are and celebrate that way,” says Driel Molmont, leader and guardian of the Order.
“We never incorporate eclectic elements from Christianity to have something in common with the rest of the world. We take what our ancestors form the Mexican Revolution time worked. Occasionally, we give talks so people can live the solstice spirit as we feel it.”
Molmont continues on to say, “In a ceremonial manner, we also carry out the descent of Light, a ritual part of the fraternity and western mystery school we belong to. The symbolic work is forming the Triskele and its three worlds. In addition, we also give food and blankets to people that need them and I, personally, renovate my vows with my husband.”
Martha Aida Ochoa Díaz Barriga, High Priestess and founder of the The Witch’s Garden School and La Orden del Dragón Azul coven, discusses the meaning of cleansing the she relates to the solstice celebration. “…Just like the Sun has a wonderful cycle, we try to adjust to its times and forms. Therefore, the winter solstice has a meaning of binding and untying the loose ends that we left during the wheel.”
“We do what we consider the general cleaning, not only at home, but also in our lives,” she explains. “We consider the solstice as the liberation, because only with it the rebirth comes again. We leave spaces in our closets and homes empty, in order to be filled with what we wish and be renewed with the new wheel that starts spinning, with the sun that is reborn and that reminds us that light never abandons us.”
Ochoa also says, “The ritual that we do invites us to remember that the cold of the winter can be beautiful, because it requests us to look for the warmth of our loved ones. We honor the Goddess that is about to give birth to the God, we put the cauldron in the center of the altar and we decorate it with the flowers of the season, like the poinsettia. We also put inside the cauldron yellow candles representing the birth of the Sun within the Goddess’ womb.”
Although there is are prehispanic correspondences of the winter solstice celebration such as the Aztec festivity Panquetzaliztli that celebrates the birth of the sun god Huitzilopochtli, Pagans, Heathens, and modern Witches generally connect more with the European symbols and deities. However, some do include prehispanic symbols or tools in their rituals,
For example, Ochoa’s coven is not against the idea of integrating prehispanic symbols or activities. In fact, they study the pantheons of the Americas’ cultures.
“We regularly practice dances of invocation of the moon, the rain or the sun, if we remember that Wicca is returning to the ancient religion, ours is rich in our country, full go wisdom and magic,” she explains.
“The winter solstice is the birth if the sun Huitzilopochtli, and although we do not properly represent this deity on our altars, I think the symbology is the same, because in our prehispanic Mexico, the meaning of the rebirth of the Sun is very similar to the correspondences in Wicca. Integrating the forms and rituals to the experience of our coven works perfectly, we adequate to the core idea that affirms: where our intention is, also our power”.
Círculo Ágora Meraki also often uses prehispanic symbols in their rituals. Sanchez says, “One that we always use is the sahumerio (burning incense) or popochcomitl, it represents to us the element air that in essence joins the spirit.”
“The syncretism allows us to coexist with the traditions of our surroundings without any problems, since we do it with complete respect and love for our roots. We only invoke prehispanic deities or from any other origin if this is what the organizers of the celebration decide, but it usually varies a lot because the choice of the pantheon or tradition depends on what the group needs.”
The clans of Allthing Ásatrú México do focus on Nordic deities, but they also like expressing their gratitude to the Mexican ones.
“Within Jól’s celebrations, the integration of gods Aesir and Vanir, as well as the giants Jotnar and Thursar, is total. Although, there is a greater focus on winter deities, Skadi and Uller among them, and also the Hrymthursar, who are present during this time of year, remarks Úlfey.
“We only integrate gods form the Nordic/German tradition, without generating eclecticisms and syncretisms. We do not integrate into our celebrations deities from these lands, but we always dedicate them with the present for letting us celebrate, being respectful with the gods and guardians that govern the Mexican territory.”.
However, other Pagans and Witches, like Estanislao, prefer showing their respect to prehispanic symbols or deities by not to including them in their practices.
Estanislao explains, “We do not include any prehispanic deity or practice, or from any Mexican mother tradition, because in a way we try to respect this part. Although a few people that participate in the Cofradía practice some form of shamanism or a type of mexicanidad, we try keeping these practices at bay with respect.”
“Sincerely, I can tell you that I am not someone who knows a lot about prehispanic deities, and being the principal teaching figure in the Cofradía, the intellectual aspect within this spiritual aspect I provide is limited, not including them,” he says. “Though I think that the main reason we don´t include them is an act of respect to this spiritual line we increasingly have more close. If we want a prehispanic ritual it would be easier for us to approach a prehispanic group.”
Other groups like Molmont’s, on the other hand, don´t feel related to them.’ He notes: “Thinking of something prehispanic is like saying we have been conquered. We also not see the traditional ways of our people as something that incorporates into out rites.”
Besides celebrating with our spiritual groups, covens or clans, it is considered very important to spend time celebrating the holidays with our families and the way we share our beliefs with them can change from one individual to another.
Allthing Ásatrú México’s members usually talk to their families about their beliefs when attending their family celebrations. Úlfey says, “But we do not participate in the ecclesiastical rites they go to, respecting their beliefs just as they respect ours.”
Estanislao’s closest family circle is comprised of his parents and sister; they also practice in the same tradition. Therefore, they participate in the rituals. And when they gather with the rest of the family, the group does not get involved in any religious activity, and their family does not have any issues regarding their practices.
He says, “My grandmother has always been involved in traditions related to Witchcraft, and my family is used to it, and takes naturally to other practices that may be not common in other families.”
Meraki’s celebration with her nuclear family is totally focused on her beliefs. On December 21, they usually take part in a gift exchange, and a toast for all the received blessings and for the rebirth within themselves. They write letters about their plans for the new cycle, and then light them on fire in the cauldron. Finally, they head to the rooftop and release the ashes with their breath.
Later on the family has dinner and stays awake until the sun comes out with the idea of awakening the physical, mental, and emotional bodies at the same time as the light of the sun rises They usually have dinner with her extended family, telling stories around the bonfire. As Meraki reports, her extended family likes when she explains the tradition and will sometimes even ask her for a meditation or a magical working.
Ochoa’s family also respects her beliefs. She says, “…we always try opening a circle before having dinner and welcoming the Sun, despite our independent beliefs.”
“I also consider the Christmas celebration in my family is magical, even though it doesn’t have the ritual part with Wiccan symbology, the simple ritual of dinner, spending time together, having a great conversation, hugging are all apapacho (affectionate) to the heart and without doubt they remind us that together we are stronger, always in perfect love and perfect trust.”
“I believe that in my family we passed through the barrier of wanting to impose who is right about religious beliefs and lifestyles,” Ochoa says. “Instead I think we understand we are united by more profound things. We consider those things as the basis and our differences as a shape, so if the problem is a shape we can adapt that form.”
Twelve years had passed since my first Yule, and it will always have a special place in my memory, heart, and spiritual life. The winter solstice is my favorite celebration of the year because I believe we all share the anticipation in having expectations for the coming year, and we also share the feelings of both nostalgia and hope that arrive as soon as the nights start becoming colder and longer. Many of us joyfully celebrate with our blood families as well as our chosen families, and can do that no matter what our beliefs are and despite the naming or the origins to which we relate.