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Midwinter's day is the shortest, darkest day of the year, and the long night which follows is the time when we are furthest from the sun. Ever since Samhain, the cold has been gathering, now the depths of Midwinter herald the start of the true bitter cold, with all trace of the past Autumn swept away, and naught but bitter winds and biting icy chill for the six long weeks until Imbolc. All of nature sleeps. In the more northern climes, snow and ice blanket the ground while the seeds of new life to come lie cold and dormant below the frozen ground.
Midwinter is a time for both feasting, and belt-tightening. On the one hand, the darkest night is upon us and once past the light will, slowly at first but with steadily increase, grow again into the promise of the new year. At the same time however, the bitterest chill and fiercest storms of the winter are still to come, we have all of January yet to pass before new life will truly return to the land. Nevertheless we should celebrate with wine, with feasting and with revelry, for tonight is the longest night and if we can come safely through it then we shall see the rebirth of the God in the rising sun, and know that life returns again even as we battle through the storms of Winter.
A Simple Midwinter Rite
Note, this is a simple outline suggestion. The wording of each of the actual invocations and chants is left entirly up to those performing the ritual - we would suggest you gather together in advance and work these out in a form that you find both meaningful and beautiful. Remember, this is the work of the Gods, so you should put both your head and your soul into it! Don't worry, though, if elaborate poetry or fancy phrasing is not your thing - a simple yet pure rite is every bit as beautiful as a complex and elaborate one requiring dozens of participants and a small orchestra for backing. It's also less likely to go wrong!
First, chose a place where you feel at home and won't be disturbed. While it is usual for neo-pagans to honour the gods outdoors, Midwinter, especilly in cold, rainswept, northern European climates, can render this an impossible challenge. There's nothing wrong with gathering indoors or under shelter to celebrate if the weather, or the cold, renders an outdoor location unusable. Not many people can focus on raising a circle while sitting in two inches of mud, or with bitter winds lashing an exposed hillside. Each participant should bring some food and drink, plus things like candles, incense, any ritual tools you want to use, etc. Traditionally, you should have some earth, or stone, for the North, incense for the East, a candle or small fire of twigs in a little pot for the South, and a bowl of water for the East..
Casting the Circle
Then, cast your circle. Invoke each of the quarters, North, East, South and West, all the while visualising the circle forming about you, creating a little bit of "sacred space" for you to work in.
Calling to the God and Goddess
Once the circle is complete, call to the God and Goddess to come and join you.
At this point, you've done the "basics", you've created your circle, and invoked the powers and gods, now you need to celebrate the actual festival itself. Midwinter is a time of fear, and also a time of great joy, and you should focus on the passing of the darkest night and be ready to welcome the rising light of the world at dawn. Life returns, no matter how dark the night...
The Simple Feast
Opening the Circle
Once feast is done, stand up and gather again, and then open the circle, blessing and thanking the God, Goddess, and the powers of the four elements for being there and helping.
On through the night!
As at Samhain, keeping a fire lit and burning through the long dark of Midwinter's Night is a good way to honour the returning life of the God and the returning Sun. Burn high and bright, your fire carries the hopes and fears of all for the coming year in its blazing heart.
All across the virgin snow
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