Yule has come to signify the Winter solstice for Neo-pagans. It is the time when the amount of daytime light is shortest and the night is longest. It also is a cusp time when the light starts to grow again and the dark begins to wane. The further north or south one goes from the equator the more pronounced the experience of this growing light and diminishing dark. I believe this phenomenon drew forth from the human unconscious certain archetypical religious ideas that became associated with the experiences and customs of peoples relative to the climate and geography they lived in.
The increasing light was part of the changing of seasons. The increasing light heralds always the coming of the season of spring. Spring was experienced as a new rebirth of vegetation. This rebirth of vegetation became a symbol that life does return after the “death” of winter. So the winter solstice came to be associated with the spark of Hope, the eternal promise kept that there is life in death and life will return after death just as surely the spring follows winter. In this way the increasing light of the winter solstice was an omen that spring will return.
Some of our ancestors pondered this omen in regards to human’s experience of birth, life and death. They saw that humans were creatures similar to other creatures and like them humans experienced the waxing, waning and the seasons of life. They also on rare occasions noted that some children were born or expressed physical characteristics, behaviors or memories reminiscent of kin who have died. Some of our ancestors saw this as another omen that some essence of the human being, we are in this life, survives the experience of death and is reborn. This constant essence was seen as the same as the essence of the stars, the light of the Deities living in the heavens. This eventually became known as the quintessence of the human soul.
This quintessence of the human soul is its dignity, Divinity and immortality. Various spiritual and religious myths have attempted to explain how this quintessence got into the blood of humans, or ensouled and the meaning of being reincarnated.
In the western tradition the quintessence is envisioned by some Gnostics as sparks or microcosmic stars, in the darkness, the ignorance, of humanity’s souls. Remembering ones quintessence was the beginning of the salvation of one’s soul. Indeed I believe Jesus was a witness to this idea for he is quoted to have said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God”. Here the idea is if one makes peace then this process will manifest the quintessence. So any man or woman may claim kinship with the Deities or the Divine if they become peacemakers.
This process of “making peace”, I believe, is expressed in Alchemy by the distillation process that changed “lead” into the “Gold”.
“The darkness has its parallel in the alchemical nigredo, which occurs after the coniunctio, when the female takes the male into herself. From the nigredo issues the stone, the symbol of the immortal self; moreover, its first appearance is likened to ‘ fish eyes’ (C.G. Jung, The Archetypes of the Unconscious pp.140)”.
These ‘fish eyes’ are
“scintilla, or soul spark, the innermost divine essence of man…symbols which just as well express a God image, namely the image of Deity unfolding in the world, in nature, and in man (C.G. Jung, The Archetypes of the Unconscious pp.389)”.
Jung named this quintessence, to which the sparks in the darkness, the scintilla and the image of Deity symbolically refer to, the Self. So as a Neo-pagan I see Jung’s process of individuation of the Self to be like the unconscious biological process that increasingly builds physical integrity and integration towards the completion of a fetus and the birth of a child. Only individuation is a Self-conscious process whose building up of psychological integrity and integration can lead to a completion symbolized as a Divine Child. This completion, I believe, is a Self-actualization of the quintessence, the Divinity of the human soul.
For me then each Yule, when the light is the smallest, I remember the myth of the microcosmic stars in the dark, the Divinity in all souls. I contemplate what needs to be done to increase my psychological integrity and integration and foster it in others… out with the old and in with the new. The celebration of Yule remembers the quintessence, the Divinity of the soul, the source of love from whence it came and the promise of rebirth, the psychological completion symbolized as a Divine Child. There is also a remembering that the psychological completion symbolized as a Divine Child is not one of perfection but of wholeness sufficient, like the birth of a child, for the next stage of growth. To remember this, is to open the gate to the rainbow bridge.