I think there are ways we remember in our bones the wisdom we’ve deliberately chosen to turn our backs on.
Every year, we’re told, “This is the most wonderful time of the year,” even as we’re surrounded by people who are struggling and depressed and lonely.
We didn’t used to think that this was an easy time. The light, when it comes, is shallow and passes quickly. The dark is long and lingers too far into the day. Shadows are thick. The dead haunt us, those we’ve loved and lost seem almost within reach, if only we could turn at just the right moment, reach out at the right time, there would be the familiar face, that warm smell, those comforting arms. Set the table just the way he used to like it. Make the roast just the way she did. Call them to mind in hopes of calling them forth.
Here is the empty seat for the child who never came. Set a plate for heartache and fill a glass of despair. Listen in vain for the whispered promise that will not come.
Pay no attention to the angry wind rushing around your house. The knock when no one is there. The three ghosts who will visit you before this night is over. The sound of every hurt and disappointment echoing in your heart.
When you were young, before you even had words, when you were afraid in the dark, you called out for your mother.
The solstice night, we told the Venerable Bede, was “modraniht, id est matrum noctem.” Mothers’ night. It is the night of the mothers.
Not just a night for honoring the woman who gave birth to us, because how many of us are painfully aware that that woman didn’t always have our best interests at heart, or even know what our best interests were?
But a night for honoring the most ancient mothers of our souls… It’s easy to believe in our tribal soul mothers. What more do you need to tell you that you had ancestors than that you exist? You are the proof.
Scattered throughout Europe are shrines to the matrons, usually depicted in groups of three. This idea of three women who are intimately interested in your fate must be an old one; we see it so wide-spread, from the Furies (Alecto, Megaera, Tisiphone) to the Fates (Clotho, Lachesis, Atropos) to the Norns (Urd, Verdandi, Skuld) and one we cannot quite let go of, as we’ve grouped the Biblical Marys into a trinity, and don’t we adore our fairy god mothers in Sleeping Beauty (Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather)?
There are monsters in the gloom, best driven away by warm candle light and being together with our families. We know that. In our bones we know that. Why else do we stick so many holidays centered around lights and food and family right here?
Because we know that this is when we need them.