24 Nov 2012


Posted by Amanda Masters on 9:11:00 am

The First Song

taken from the CD 'This Winter's Night' by Mother Tongue.


Have you ever wondered why there's so much singing at Christmas? This is the story of the very first song. It's a true story just as all stories are, if you believe in them.


This story begins a long long time ago when Earth and Sun made the first beings. -- the very first plants and animals and people.


It was springtime and the Sun shone warm and bright from His high perch above, and Earth, proud mother that She was, held and fed Her newborns and relished them with tenderness and love.


It was a time of joy, it was a time of great delight. The Moon waxed and waned time and again in the night sky, and the children of the Earth grew well and strong through Summertime. They played and danced and Earth and Sun watched over them.


Then Autumn came, and the Earth began to sleep much longer every day. She grew tired and pale. She could no longer feed Her children and had no strength to make new life. High above the Sun grew more distant and took longer to return each morning. The nights grew longer and cold winds blew where none had blown before.


And then, one day, Earth went to sleep and never did wake up. She wrapped Herself in a blanket of snow and rested Her tired head on pillows of dried leaves and She did not wake up. Her children could do nothing to rouse Her from her slumber. They prodded Her, they called Her, but She would not awaken.


In the sky, the Sun was nowhere to be seen and the children of the Earth felt fear and also felt despair. This was the longest night that they had ever known.


"What shall become of us" they pondered. "Earth Mother sleeps, and Father Sun is oh so far away that we can barely see Him in the sky. He is much too far to hear our call. What shall we do?"


So they brought their questions and their fears to the Moon, the sister of the Sun, for they knew not where else to turn. She closed Her eyes and took a slow deep breath and looked within Herself and awoke thoughts that had never been awakened until then.


She opened Her soft eyes and said "When hope is lost, the best way to get it back is with a song. Climb you the tallest trees, the biggest hills and the mountains and yule a song to reach the Sun.


Now 'yule' is a word from one of the worlds oldest tongues. It is related to words like 'yell' or 'yodel' and it means 'to call out in song'.


But the first beings had never heard a song so once again they sought the Moon's advice. "How shall we yule?" they asked. "How shall we sing a song?"


"Take the best of what you have," she said, "the best of what you are. Take what you love; take what you cherish most. Take your joys, your dreams, your fondest hopes and weave them all together in a sound."


And so they did. They climbed atop the tallest trees, the mountains and the hills. They stood in all the places that would bring them closest to the Sun. They shut their eyes and thought and felt the best of thoughts and feelings and dreamt the finest dreams. And as they did their voices rang out and made a bridge of song across the sky to reach the distant Sun.


He heard, and turned, and smiled, and wrapped Himself in all His light and warmth and sped to where the yuling voices called. As He drew near the sleeping Earth did stir and dreamed a dream of Spring. And so the wheel of life made its first turn, and hope and joy prevailed. And ever since, that time of year has been called Yule in honour of the song.


But the first song did not end. It had such power, such allure that the first beings kept singing it throughout, and then the second beings born of the Earth took up the song, as did the third and so it ever since has gone, through years and years until this very day.


At times the song is very soft and scarcely can be heard above the din and clatter of our lives, but when Yule comes it rises and swells in memory of that night when the Sun heard, and light and life returned.


And so do we upon (this) that longest night gather with those we love and who love us and stand upon the body of slumbering Earth and light the log with last years and lift our voices soaring to the Sun and join the song that first was sung so very long ago.


We sing our thanks to those who went before and sing our fondest wish to those who come after. We bask in the returning light of re-awakened hope and welcome YULE.

An Ancient Story for Yule 

 by Sarah Head

The earth froze. Far away where ice had not yet grasped the air in its fiery breath, rain fell upon rivers so they swelled in darkness and burst their banks. Men and animals fled to high ground to escape the floods, but the hills were covered with snow. Sheep and oxen scraped in vain for frozen grass.

Pale light filled the sky and the men knew day had broken. They looked to the sky for signs of the dreadful conditions easing, but all they saw were black, hanging clouds above the hilltops that spoke of more snow and bitter weather.

Those who laughed and sang when the sun was high and warm grew silent. Harps were stilled. Those lucky enough to have shelter from the elements drew their furs around them and huddled together, only venturing into the icy wind when animals needed feeding or there was water to be drawn from the one well still unfrozen.

They tried not to think of the travellers, making their way along the Ridgeway track for the winter solstice. It was bleak along the top of the hills even on the mildest days, but now the beaten path would be hidden and treacherous under the snow. The old women shuddered and hushed children who were too young to hide their questions.

Would the sun rise again? This was the question on everyone's lips. Would the child of the Triple Goddess be born to bring life and hope to this ice bound world, or would winter hold sway for ever, snow and frost eking their way into carefully hoarded food until even the strongest perished alone under the shadow of the hills?

"Will the priestess come, Granda?" asked a small child. "You said she'd be here to celebrate Yule with us this year?"

"I don't know, little one." The old man shook his head and pulled back the wooden shutter to peer out into the flurries of white. "I don't think there's much hope. We'll just have to pray they found shelter somewhere before the storm struck."

The child seemed about to speak again, but he saw the fear on his grandfather's face and kept his peace, slipping his small hand inside the larger one for comfort and reassurance.

At least they still had food, although no-one felt like eating when they thought of the small party stuck somewhere along the ridge. They gathered around the fire and spoke in low voices, eating their stew quickly and seeking their beds, as if trying to escape from their fears in sleep.

Some time in the middle of the night, the boy awoke. Bright moonlight was shining on his face through a crack in the wattle. The wind had dropped and an eerie calm enveloped the round house, broken only by heavy snores of those still sleeping.

The boy got up and shook his grandfather. "We must go and find the priestess, Granda, or the sun won't rise in the morning."

The old man muttered in his sleep, but the boy persisted, bringing him his fur lined boots and his warmest cloak. Together they went out into the still white world, marvelling at the fullness of the moon shining as bright as day.

"This way." The boy tugged at the old man's arm, leading him down the hill and into a gully where an exposed rock lay half buried under the snow.

"How do you know?" the old man grumbled, but deep in his heart he'd heard the call as well, faint at first, but stronger as they neared the stones. There under the rock they found them, the small group of travellers huddled together for warmth and still alive. The priestess' eyes glittered with the power she had called to herself, but she greeted them with a smile and helped the others as they made their way slowly up to the roundhouse.

The priestess looked up to the sky and urged them to hurry, to wake everyone in the small community so the ritual was not delayed. Bleary eyed, men, women and children stumbled from their furs, holding birch torches in the snow as the priestess led them up to the burial mound at the top of the hill in a dance of welcome to the son of the Triple Goddess.

As they finished the dance and stood watching the moon fade in the darkness, the sky began to lighten above the hills. A sudden brightness shone from behind the highest peak. A beam of gold struck the huge capstan on the sacred stones, lighting the inner chamber for all to see. A great roar rose from the people as they greeted the sun returning to them for another year.

The roar masked groans from the priestess, caught in her own birth pangs, brought on by the journey and the hardship she had suffered. The women took her inside the birthing hut, tending her for many hours until another shout was heard and the healthy cry of a new born babe rang out for all to hear.

"You see, Granda, everything was all right," the boy said solemnly as they sipped a Yule cup together beside the fire. "The sun has returned and we have our own child from the Goddess to care for."

"Aye, lad." The old man's eyes misted over as he ruffled the boy's hair.

Once again, the Goddess shared her greatest gifts amongst them. Spring would come again to the land.

The Battle of the Kings 

by Sarah Head

It was well past noon when they noticed Ann's absence. Everyone was busy with preparation for the Yuletide feast.

The huge Yule log had been dragged in from woodland three fields away. Now it lay in the Great Hall hearth to be lit tonight from the remains of last year's ember which had been safely stored on a special shelf in the chimney. Every nook and cranny was decorated with garlands of holly and other evergreens. Sunlight pouring in through high windows shone on waxy green leaves making the dark red berries glisten.

Donald made his way through the mud to the warband's winter barracks next to the cattle sheds. He was sure he would find his sister treating the never-ending toll of cuts, bruises and hacking coughs brought on by the bitter weather and the need to search further afield for fresh fodder and fuel for both livestock and people. As the only remaining unmarried daughter of the chieftain, Ann was responsible for the health and welfare of their tribe now her mother slept with the ancestors.

Brian, the warband leader, was busy showing young lads from the settlement how to hack an enemy to death using a straw filled dummy. He wasn't happy to be disturbed.

“No, she isn't here." Brian grumbled at Donald. "Check with Michael, she was heading for the kitchens the last time I saw her."

Donald let flow a string of newly acquired curses, "She's not in the kitchens, she's not in the solar, she's not in the cellars and she's not down in the infirmary!" He was angry his younger sister was taking up so much of his time when he wanted to be making his own preparations for tonight's feast. "Dan says she's not been in the stables either."

Brian sheathed his sword and sighed. This wasn't the first time Ann had gone missing. As a child he was always retrieving her from various hiding places, but it was a long time since she'd disappeared without telling someone where she was going.

"It's not like Ann to go running off when there's things to do," Donald admitted, worry edging his words.

"Get on with your duties, lad," Brian told him, "She's not gone far in this weather. I'll find her" He pulled on his sheepskin boots and wrapped a great cloak of furs around his broad shoulders. The cloak was warn in places and spattered with mud from recent forays, but as he strode out into the yard, his long, bronze hair looked like a great ball of fire moving amongst the buildings.

He climbed up the watchtower, thinking he might see her if she'd made her way outside the settlement. His keen eyes gazed out over meadows and fields then he caught sight of something blue fluttering in the cruel wind by the wall on top of the far hill. The huge winter sun was just beginning to touch the horizon, bringing with it the longest night of the year. Brian had already seen the full moon risen high over the hills behind him, the pale silver circle foretelling the power of the Goddess in the night sky.

Brian left the settlement quickly, passing bondsmen feeding sheep in the near pasture and went up the hill to the high stone wall. On the other side was a ploughed field, dark brown clods stiff with frost. The wall was sheltered on his left by a patch of woodland. To his right stood a single line of fir trees, beyond which lay the small stone circle high on the cliffs overlooking the sea.

Ann was sitting on a flat stone on top of the stile, wrapped in her new blue cloak, watching the sunset. She seemed totally mesmerised by the scene, hardly noticing when Brian climbed up and sat beside her.

"You've set them all searching for you!"

Ann did not reply, but he caught sight of two fat tears trickling down her cheeks to join the dark stain on the collar of her cloak.

"What's wrong, lass?" His deep voice was gentle as he wiped away the tears.

"It's so beautiful," she whispered at last, "and it's leaving us!" Brian covered her small hand with his and felt how cold she was. He drew her towards him, wrapping his cloak around both of them.

"It will be back tomorrow," he soothed her. "Didn't we welcome the birth of the child this morning in the fougou beside the outer wall?"

Ann continued to stare at the setting sun. "I saw them fighting, Brian!" She shivered. "There was so much blood spilled. You wouldn't think an old man had so much blood in him!"

For a moment Brian wondered what she was talking about. There had been no battles on this land for several years now and certainly none where old men had fought and died. Then he realised what she had come here to see - the battle between the Holly King, God of the waning year and the victorious Oak King, who would rule over the waxing year and bring in summer.

Brian rubbed her cold arms and hands. "Come back, Annie, that's not a good vision for a feast day like this. We should be celebrating. They'll be lighting the Yule log soon and starting the feast."

"But the Oak King had to win," Ann might have been talking to herself, "otherwise the wheel won't turn and the sun will set and not rise again; but it was so hard, with the Mother here in her fullness, both of them wanted to stay with her! Who would have thought the old man would have fought so hard!"

Brian wrapped Ann up with his arms and held her tightly. The sky was crystal clear in the freezing air with hardly a wisp of cloud to reflect the pale pinks and blues around the sun.

Brian nestled her head against his shoulder and rocked her as he would have done a child. "He wasn't always an old man, love,"

"I know." Ann's voice was tinged with sadness, "How could he have grown so old over just half a turn of the wheel?

"All Gods can do as they wish," Brian told her gently, "It’s just an illusion for our eyes."

"But I was standing here watching them fight; they called me to witness! Others came too. They bore the body away and crowned the Oak King with his crown!"

"Others?" Brian wondered who else amongst their people might have been called to view such an ancient battle.

"Colin was here," Ann named a young man who was part of the warband, "but I didn't know any of the others."

"The king dies and is reborn again," Brian said, trying to find the words to bring his charge back from her terrible grief. "It’s the same every year."

"That doesn't make it any easier, knowing events will repeat themselves."

Ann gave a deep sigh and pointed towards the horizon, "Look, it's gone now!" and as he turned, the last reflected rays slid away leaving only the azure sky above.

Ann turned her attention once again to the ploughed field where she had watched the battle such a short time before. "We should mark the spot where he fell."

"How?" Brian squeezed her hand. "Plant a tree? Plant another stone?”

"I don't know. I've not been a witness before to such an event." She turned and searched his face, hoping to find a solution to her continuing confusion. "Father will be angry if we mark his ploughed land."

Brian cleared his throat, "Your father doesn't plough up here amongst the stone circle."

"They didn't fight amongst the stones, it was there in the field" She pointed to a spot about ten feet in front of them. "They came out of the wood; the other witnesses came with them and that's the way they went back, through the trees." She wriggled free from his hold and climbed down the other side of the stile into the field. Holding up her cloak and skirts, she began to search amongst the clods.

Brian followed her. "What are you looking for?"

"His blood!"

"But . . . Ann!"

"The night you were left for dead by the raiders and I found you, the soil was coated with your blood. It was sticky. I kept slipping in it."

Brian closed his eyes for a brief moment remembering that time so many years ago. Raiders from the sea had lured them into an ambush. A hastily thrown axe pierced his body armour and he’d been left for dead. Then it was Ann who’d come searching for him, insisting his broken body could be healed. It was months before he could fight again, but she’d saved his life.

"Yes," Brian agreed, "but I'm not a God."

"But I saw it! He bled! There were great gashes in his front!"

"He's a God, Ann!"

She looked at him, her eyes glittering, "I don't understand. What does the old man being a God have to do with him not leaving any blood? I saw it, I bore witness!"

Brian thought. "First of all, he's not really an old man, he's just . . . he's everywhere, not just here. You saw an image of him here and thousands of others saw him in other places."

Ann's expression was distraught, "I held his head in my arm as his spirit left. I wiped the blood from his face with my skirt. I wept for him!"

"Look at your skirt, lass."

Ann pointed to a small dark patch on the material. "It's still there, look! Do you still doubt me?"

Brian knelt down and inspected the dark stain. "It's dry, Annie, blood doesn't dry so quickly, even in this wind. I don't doubt you at all, lass. I'm sure you saw what you think you saw. You've been given a great gift by the Gods. However, the nature of what you saw is not of this world."

"It doesn't feel like you believe me," Ann retorted, "it feels like it used to be when I saw pictures in the fire and Mother beat me, or I saw faces in the water barrel and everyone laughed at me. I was so sure it was real but now I have no proof! How can I bear witness if I have no proof?"

Brian stood up and grasped her firmly by the shoulders, his sea-green eyes boring into hers. "I'm neither laughing at you nor beating you. You have proof for yourself, lass!"

"But isn't a witness supposed to tell other people?"

"Tell what you saw if you think it is necessary. You saw it; you experienced it, that should be enough. Those who want to believe will, those who don't won't, whether you have evidence or not."

Ann thought about this for a few moments then she said, "It's not up to us to give others faith, is it? They have to find it for themselves."


"So this was for me.

"It seems likely."

Ann digested this and then nodded, "For Colin, it was different and would be different. He hailed the new king and beat his drum and laughed and sang as he followed the procession down through the wood."

Brian nodded.

"So my grief at the old king's passing was my grief at a time of change."

"Or just your grief for the old king."

Ann looked at Brian and smiled for the first time. "I didn't want to let go but I had to." She ran her hand down the side of her skirt, "I was afraid of change, but it's all right, I understand that now. It took the Old King's blood to draw me out of myself, to grow."

"Yes, I see you do understand." Brian took her hand in his and squeezed it. Here was his Master’s daughter, his charge, a girl no longer, but a woman born to live her life as best she could.

"You have found the secret of Yuletide," he said as he wrapped his arms around her in a fond embrace. "You must let go of the past and reawaken the joys of hope and possibility,"

As he finished speaking and bent to kiss her cheek, a huge flock of birds rose from the field and circled above them, calling loudly as if in agreement.


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