Our Last moot was at Dragon Hill, Uffington, a windy spot with a view of the both the white horse and the valley below. There is a patch of chalk, almost in the centre, where the grass hasn’t grown since St. George slaughtered a dragon there.
We were blessed with a chill breeze and a surprising lack of rain, and took some time (in between chatting) to offer some mead to our ancestors, and to offer stories, too, about our dead.
According to Bede, the pagan Anglo – Saxons divided the seasons into winter and summer, and marked the start of the dark tide of the year at October, at the full moon. When the mornings are grim, the nights get colder, and the summer veg has been harvested and the plants left to rot, it feels natural to tell ghost stories, get the Halloween decorations up, and start thinking about death.
This used to be a month for killing, the perfect time for people to slaughter the household pig. Even now, more elderly people pass away during the winter than in the summer. In November we remember those fallen in war. At Winternights, (or Winterfellyth,) most heathens give special honour to their ancestors.
The dead never truly go away; the universe is a closed system. All those atoms from everyone who’s ever died, they’re all still here, in the air and the earth and the water. The deeds of the dead are here too; in memories, stories, in the things they built and worked for.
In Norse Mythology, life is a mess of creation and destruction. Odin and his brothers began the world with an act of horrible murder, butchering the Jotun Ymir to make the Earth. The sun and the moon are chased by wolves, and will eventually be swallowed. Without death, destruction, chaos, the world would be unchanging, still, infertile, and really, really boring.
We shared mead, cake, and tales, with the dead in the land, those long forgotten, and some we still miss. Before too long, we’ll be the ancestors, and maybe the traditions of Winter’s beginning will still be here 🙂