Santa Witch: Simple Rituals for a Family Yule
We Witches live in a land starved for magick. The unfortunate union of individualism, consumerism, and the energies of the 13th Moon- the annual, lunar void that tasks us with rest and reflection above all else- has given birth to the absolute antithesis of this yearly Witching Hour. The modern Santa Claus is capitalism’s loud-mouthed answer to this holy, fertile darkness when all of nature is bidding us to turn inward, to sink back into the primordial source of all things. Despite debatably admirable roots, today’s Santa Claus is a marketing tool embodied in a bright red, well-satiated, nocturnal gift-giver who, like many of our Wintertide traditions, has traveled ages from his solemn, Pagan origins.
Witches raising children are in a particularly unique and precarious position, in my experience. We recognize that this saintly patriarch of holiday consumption is, at best, a twisted fairy tale of minimal teaching value with pitifully few lessons to offer our precious babes, but we are also in love with his socially acceptable magick. While I’m not sure there is a need, I will distinguish here between Witches’ magick, the magick of our spellcraft, that cosmic life-force spark that emanates from and infuses all, and Santa’s magick, a quasi-deified sort of energy muddled in childhood self-centeredness and corporate greed but nonetheless a palpable force strengthened by the belief of the innocents. This bizarre creature, despite our society’s refusal to condone the intuitive, psychic, far-seeing ways of the Crone, has lived on inside our rituals and our stories. He has, against all odds and without any mention in any sacred religious text, survived our so-enlightened tendency to kill off all-things-mystical. Is his ruby armor against our skepticism forged, in part, by the mechanisms of capitalism? Of course. He is a living spell cast upon our children, and, while I could argue that parents are being complicit in a large-scale lie designed to sell all manner of pricey products the average family cannot afford, I will not.
Don’t judge me, but I fucking love Santa. Here’s why: As a mother of two of the most skeptical boys ever born, I am unwilling to dowse what little trust in the Mystery they have. My oldest son no longer believes in Santa Claus and my youngest is on the cusp of disbelief, but I do not feel I have doomed their faith in the unseen by perpetuating the myth these last 11 years. To the contrary, I think Santa has been the one, single meeting point between their childhood craving for the magickal and societal validation for that particular need, a need that, for all my Witchcraft, I cannot satisfy.
Were my boys casting circles before they were out of diapers? Yes, they were. Have they been burying their wishes and burning their obstacles for as long as they can remember? Yes, they have. Do I read their tarot cards regularly? Hell yes, I do. Have they talked with their friends about how many apples they buried for their dead ancestors on Halloween? No, they have not.
Depending on where they live, of course, many Pagan families practice in isolation, and many prefer it that way. For my family, Santa has been a valuable addition to our Yule traditions because he is childhood fantasy embodied in a tubby, hilariously dressed heathen-Sage who, because he is quite profitable, is a widely accepted aspect of the holiday season. My children did not have to hide their belief in Santa, and I was grateful for that. To my mind, he has little to nothing to do with Christ-mas, and I have done my best to teach my babes about the many Children of Light across multiple cultures that predate Christ. I’ve done my best to communicate my beliefs without forcing them upon their malleable minds, and, honestly, they have grown largely, though I do hope temporarily, apathetic to their mama’s peculiar ways.
At Yule, what I choose to focus on in my household is the beauty of the Solstice, the purity of the longest night, and the traditions of my ancestral Celtic and Scandinavian lineage. Importantly, I am not discussing any of this from a place of spiritual superiority, and I, like most mothers I think, am constantly questioning if I am doing the right thing, if I am harmfully indoctrinating my children despite my best efforts, or if I am somehow robbing them of their right to be “normal” in the name of my own authenticity. The Santa myth has worked in my house, and I’ve been grateful for his strange magick just as I’ve been grateful for my ability to supplement his myth with what, for me, is real and palpable. In the coming years when neither of my sons believes in the round, red man, though I am still signing their gift tags with his name, they will still have our other traditions to hold on to, to trust, to gift them with the whimsical, ritual container we all need at this time of year.
My most important rule for all holy-day family rituals is this: Be kind to yourself. If you miss this year, if you have to substitute a piece of rolled paper for the yule log or leave out some ingredient you decided was crucial last year, trust that your ritual is right and perfect just as it is. Ours is not a one-size-suits-all Craft, and it never has been. Make these rituals yours. Take Santa or leave him. Shrug and stir your cauldron when the neighbors raise their brows at you. There is no right way to Witch or mother, and we are all doing the best we can, one holy day at a time.
- Reclaim Prophecy: The Family Oracle
While there are a number of stories about the Shamanic roots of Santa Claus, my personal favorite is told by John Matthews in his book The Winter Solstice (The Theosophical Publishing House, 1998), a must-have for eclectic Witches raising open-minded children in amidst Christian social norms. The author speaks about Northern European Shamans who wore bells on their furry costumes and climbed trees on Solstice night in order to be gifted with annual prophecies for their communities: “These were not toys or perfume or watches, but messages concerning the year to come, or the turning of the seasons, or the fate of the world.”
On Solstice night, reclaim prophecy in your household by sitting by firelight and reading for one another. Use the oracle cards, the pendulums, or pyromancy. Your tool does not matter as much as the communal divination, the gathering around the candles or the hearth in order to speak of hopes and fears of the yet-to-come.
- Reclaim Reflection: The Solstice Journal
The Witch is tasked with reflection on the longest night, to consider without judgment the successes alongside the goals unmet. Solstice is a fertile time for taking stock without making the to-do list. Consider the relationship between the meanings of the word reflection, with the nature of any given memory shaped by our current psychic state. To reflect means “to bend back.” If we reflect on our joys and our woundings from the past year today, the glimpses that bubble to the surface will not match those that we might harvest tomorrow. Even still, there is much merit in Solstice reflection, particularly when it aligns with a cyclical view of time.
Reclaim reflection in the family by sitting together on Solstice night and revisiting those moments of abundance, celebration, and difficulty from the past year. Ask the more studious family member to be the scribe and make note of everyone’s reflection, then, next year if you feel called, begin the reflection by reading the previous year’s memories. Over time, take notice of the common themes in everyone’s most joyous or most stressful moments. What is reflected in the Solstice Journal over the years is the tapestry of the family soul, the weaving together of not only the adventures had and challenges overcome but the ways in which each family member recalls these moments; this is the true brilliance of Solstice reflection.
- Reclaim Root Rituals: Simple Nourishment
Winter is a season of roots, of resting in darkness, of nourishing our vessel in such a way that we might rise up from the Earth, on fire and poised for generative action once the Quickening comes in Spring. Root rituals are those that warm and feed, those quiet ceremonies that grace us with a subtle swelling at heart center. They do not smack us in the face with their hedonistic energy or bid us dance until we tire ourselves out. These rituals do not shake us. They hold us. They wrap us up in hand-knit blankets and hand us something hot to drink.
Reclaim a single, simple root ritual in your family. The logistics are up to you, but include some form of sustenance if you can. Bake together or brew together then rest. Stay awake until midnight by candlelight without screens, sipping away on a sweet drink or hand-painting cookies. Wake and watch the sunrise on the day after Solstice and celebrate the way, perhaps, your ancestors once did. Give a handmade gift to a stranger. Let it be easy just this once. Let it be primal and peaceful. For all their everyday distractions and hyper-speed schedules, it is this they will remember. This is where the mystical and practicality meet, and this is how their mature magick will become a conversation they are having with the world about their deep values, their core truths when all the red, bearded, pipe-smoking and saintly pomp and circumstance fall away.
All blessings be.