13 Sacred Days & 12 Sacred Nights
The magickal – but also frightful season of deepest darkness starts in the Celtic tradition at Samhain and slightly earlier in the Nordic. During this supernatural season of Yuletide we walk between the worlds. The veil between the worlds is thin and all sorts of otherworldly beings roam the earth. The dead are allowed to return to earth and we may visit the Otherworld (careful!!). If we keep our senses sharp, we may encounter not only elves, trolls or ghosts, but also gods and goddesses.
Whereas the activities subside the closer we get to Yule / Winter Solstice, we may encounter many strange and wonderful beings again during the Twelve Nights of Solstice (Twelve Sacred Nights) or “Rauhnaechte” as we call them in German. Once more for the last time during this dark liminal season the activities of the otherworldly visitors increase.
The twelve nights, the “Twelve Sacred Nights of Yule” start with Mother's Night (December 24th) and are considered the “time between the years”, the difference of days between the lunar year and the solar year. As the old would end with Winter Solstice the New Year would only start at the end of the Rauhnaechte (January 6th). Truly a period that is timeless.
The sun seems to be standing still; time seems to be standing still. The old is not yet gone, the new is not yet strong enough. The powers that propel the Wheel of the Year are getting manifested here. All is hurled around. Chaos is ruling. The nights are longest, way north the polar nights are ruling with seemingly everlasting darkness. This is the wolf’s time mentioned in the Edda, a particularly wild and frightening time filled with mystery and powerful magick.
Particularly during this time many old customs are still observed in Central Europe: Animals are believed to be able to talk.
Once more Odhin / Wotan rides the storm winds with his army of the dead. Wildness is rampant during these days when the sun has turned but the increasing light is not yet visible. The air is filled with the barking of His hounds, the whinnying of the horses and the cries of the Valkyries. Work has to be stopped - justice may not be administered, water may not be taken from wells, grain may not be thrashed, the house may not be cleaned or swept nor may any baking be done. Food is laid out to appease the wild travelers and to keep harm away.
The festivities and terrors last until the days are once more noticeably longer (January 6th). Then the Wotan and his wild horde will travel back into the mountains until next fall.
Mother Holle, who traveled the land in her own Wild Hunt during the dark time between Samhain and Yule in her aspect of Hel (germ./nord. Goddess of the Underworld) and who as such carried the souls of the yet unborn children, now travels the land once more in her aspect of Frigg (germ./nord. Goddess of Motherhood and family).
During Her time no laundry may be washed, hung or ironed. Other than cleansing people, house and animals profusely with incense, cleaning is not allowed. Holle is a stern goddess who makes sure that we live and grow according to our destination. She checks that everything is kept well in order.
Even though She expects that us to work assiduously during the year, she now wants us to rest and contemplate on our destination and inner self. She makes sure that we keep to Her rules, distributing favours and punishment as She sees fit.
She appreciates small gifts and veneration though.
This quiet time of “stand still”, contemplation and divination ends on the 13th day (January 6th) with a wild celebration of Holle or Percht. After this She will return to her realm.
The nights are a magickal time for divination. The future of the coming months may be read, each month on the appropriate night. It is a mysterious time of listening to the whispers of the Runes and for dream working. Dreams are an ancient form of divination, of divining the divine will and receiving advice and guidance. Take your dream pillow and dream yourself into the coming year.
In this time when “the powers of light fight the powers of darkness” (myth of the Holly King & Oak King) we are sensitive and vulnerable as is the newborn light and need protection. We look back on the old and prepare for the new. We get together with neighbours and friends, cleanse our home spiritually and do our divinations for the coming year.