I was inspired to write this post by Yvonne Ryves who put up this excellent post – Madronicht: Celebrating the feminine – on her own blog.

Chittlehampton Yew TreeI was brought actively into the work of the Night of the Mothers when I attained my first blood-moon, in other words became physically capable of becoming a mother, but I was taken to the children’s part of the feast from a wee child. The villages where I grew up on the edges of Dartmoor and Exmoor still held the customs of the mothers on Midwinter’s Eve, just before the Standstill (the solstice) begins.

This picture is of the triple-stemmed yew tree in the churchyard. Many’s the time I climbed her on my way to and from school :-). There is an eye set in the central stem near the bottom which is very special, the Eye of the Lady we called it. For us she held the maiden-mother-crone energy of the triple goddess but this wasn’t Brighid (or Ffried as she’s known in the Brythonic tongue) but the all-mother and we knew her as Iwerydd. The vicar where I grew up near Exmoor was very happy for the customs to happen in the Lady Chapel in the church. He’d done lots of historical investigation of our unique “saint” and so knew that her name, Iwerydd (pronounced Urith), is the old name for the goddess and he gave her due respect. The church itself was built on the top of the hill, the holy place which had been sacred to her time out of mind.

Of course, not everyone in the village wanted to be involved with our celebrations. Some were devoutly Christian and held that we pagans were devil-worshipers but the vicar wouldn’t have that and found ways around the complications. Others just weren’t interested.

by Cheska Potter
by Cheska Potter

Girl-children before puberty were brought into the celebrations in the early evening, singing, feasting treats of homemade sweets and biscuits, and some games but were sent off to bed around 10 o’clock while the older girls and women able to bear children did the work. There was also always at least one crone – woman past the menopause, no longer able to bear children but now holding the wisdom – who took the role of all-mother. Cheska Potter’s lovely picture of Ceridwen reminds me so much of the crone-figure at these celebrations.

For us this night was preparation for the rebirth of the Sun, the real coming of the new year. Solstice means “standstill” because, for three days (22-24 Dec) the sun appears to rise in the same place on the horizon each day then, on 25th Dec, it moves on, appearing to rise a little further north of east. And so begins the lengthening of the days which brings spring and summer, the birthing of animals and the growth of plants, food, light and warmth that continues until Midsummer when the sun again stands still for three days before going into the downward spiral, the shortening of days and the deep inner work of the soil over the winter. We had another similar festival then to celebrate the dying and death that would result in the harvest.

Our Midwinter work was very much about the womb, the darkness in which life grows and from which all life is birthed. We had our songs and the words of the crone who took us down into the dark. The youngest and newest member of the Mothers – and one year this was me – would light the candle and wake us out of the dark with a simple chant-song as first light appeared. We were encouraged to sleep This yew tree not far from me here is the cauldron where I work – unfortunately alone most of the time – for the Night of the Mothers now through the night and to dream, the dreams were shared over the breakfast after our wake-up ritual and the breakfast was brought by the men :-).

Yew Tree Cauldron
Yew Tree Cauldron

This yew tree not far from me here is the cauldron where I work – unfortunately alone most of the time – for the Night of the Mothers now.She is huge and at least three people can climb inside her at the same time. It’s magic being in the womb of the mother, so many visions, insights and dreams come …

I think all the old ways have gone now from those villages and that makes me sad. They’re things we should remember and it would be good if they were still practised, maybe you can find ways to revive these old ways where you live. There’s no need to fuss over hunting up the old songs, just get into the spirit of what was done and for what purpose – the celebration of the rebirth of the Sun, the partner of the goddess, of the Earth, Iwerydd as we call her. And keep it simple. Use home-made, lovingly created food and drink, home-made candles are good too if possible and use a flint/steel striker to get the flame if you can rather than matches, it really does make a difference and is very easy to learn.

This yew tree not far from me here is the cauldron where I work – unfortunately alone most of the time – for the Night of the Mothers now

It’s well time our old ways came to light again … let’s do it *smile*