The Mother Goddess at Midwinter

by JoHarrington

The Divine Mother holding Her baby is one of the world's oldest representations of the world in winter. This is the Goddess protecting the light and the warmth.

Long before the Germans began exporting their trees, or middle class Britons started writing their cards, there was the Nativity.

The name of the Holy Mother and Her savior Son changed with the centuries, but they were there when the last millennium was new. In the frozen heart of icy winter, when survival is at its most precarious, She performed a function of reassurance now; and hope for the future.

The Midwinter Mother Goddess is perhaps psychically the most important of them all.

Christmas Outdoor Nativity Set - Yard Nativity Scene

The Yule Mother Bears the Light in the Darkness

Outside all is dangerously frozen, but the essence of warmer days lie ahead. All that needs to happen now is for the Goddess to give birth to it.

The God will always be representative of the year as a whole.  He is born, flourishes, leaves his seed and dies during the course of the passing months.

So tied is He to the planting, growing and cutting of the harvest, that it can't be any other way.  Not unless humanity wants to give up on eating its crops.  But there comes a period in every year when little grows.  The soil hardens with frost, the sun is hidden behind snow-clouds and all vegetation has withdrawn its sap or withered away.

There is little sign in the depths of midwinter that the God will come again.  Or, to put it another way, it's only the anticipation and knowledge of seasonal cycles, which assure us that the days will grow warmer with sunlight.

For the ancient masses, living off their salted stores and huddled around winter hearths, that hope needed to be made tangible.

Is it little wonder then that the most enduring tales told around now concern that pregnant Mother Goddess?  She is the one carrying, then giving birth to the fertile God of the future.  She is the spark of summer in the depths of the chill.

She holds the Light in the Darkness.

Miniature Figurine of Isis Nursing Horus

Nativity as the Rebirth of a Fertile World

The God was killed; but now He's back. The Goddess carried His seed safely through the great freeze, now all can become warm again.

The story is always symbolic.  The previous world is turned upside down.  The present world contains some huge over-riding threat.

Autumn took the last crops from the ground.  The season now is barren.

For the Goddess Isis, the problem was Set.  He had caused His brother Osiris to be torn limb from limb and the pieces of Him were cast in the River Nile.  Isis had to collect them all together; reanimating the God, before She could even become impregnated with the Light.

For the Virgin Mary, the issue was more Earthly.  An invading Roman Empire had taken over everything.  The temples had become corrupt.  Freedom fighting and terrorism (two sides of the same coin) were making Her world a frightening place in which to be.  Then She became pregnant with the Light.

The tree sap is trapped down in the roots, to keep it warm underground. No leaves in the forest.  No buds in the hedgerows. No flowers in the meadows.

The Divine Mother isn't someone who can just walk into a nice, clean maternity room to deliver Her precious child.  She has to do it far from home, on the run or forced to migrate.  The tale takes Her into hidden places, where fertility and blossoming happens out of sight, borne almost literally in faith.

Isis creates a bed of foliage, in a papyrus thicket, in Khemmis.  In the earliest stories, Mary finds a nook at the back of a cave; in the later ones, it's inside a stable, behind an inn in Bethlehem.  Their babies are born without any fanfare from the ruling threat.  Hidden. Secretive.  Secluded.

But when the Light returns, as fragile as it is, all of nature rejoices. Whether it's stars in the sky; lambs carried in the arms of shepherds; birds in the thicket or something else, the nature world knows the change has come.

At Midwinter, the sun turns in Solstice. From this point on, though we may not discern it immediately, the days are growing longer.  The warmth is returning.

The Mother Goddess Protects and Tends the Light

A successful Solstice at Midwinter carries the certainty of Midsummer. We just have to get there first.

However, we're still not out of the woods yet (nor the thicket, nor the cave, nor the stable).  The sun may be returning, but we have to make it through the rest of winter.

If the drama of the birth wasn't enough, then the tales of these brave Holy Mothers goes on. 

Isis has to flee the murderous intent of Set.  Mary has to do likewise, as Herod begins his slaughter of the innocents.  They both behave as ordinary mothers would in such circumstances, protecting their young against a terrible danger.

But they are Holy Mothers.  Their task is much bigger than that.  It is to nurture the Light until He is old enough to take on His own mission.  The wisdom of Horus, the preaching of Jesus, elevate them both as the saviors of humankind.

When they are anointed (in Greek, that's Christ for both), then humanity is in the Light too.  Safe and warm, with crops in the fields and leaves on the trees.  All is well until our saviors are killed; then the cycle turns again.

I've focused here on two of the most famous Mother Goddesses in Midwinter, but the tale is repeated in many ways.  The birth legends of Attis, Dionysus, Mihr/Mithras/Mithra, Krishna and Zoroaster are amongst others which conform to the general outline. 

But we shouldn't read a great deal into this.  The Roman Empire swallowed up them all, then tinkered with details until they could easily run side by side.  Until finally, the conversion of Constantine pushed Christianity as the dominant force, laden with many compromises with other religions along the way.

Nevertheless, the Nativity is an old tale, which keeps on being told.  This Yule celebrate the Light, it's on its way back; and remember your nod towards the Divine Mother who ensured that the sun (aka son) could be reborn.

Yule is a time for family and friends, feasting, talking, relaxing and sharing. It is also an opportunity for self-reflection and repose.

Nativity Set Showing the Midwinter Mother and Her Divine Son

Updated: 04/16/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 12/11/2012

I'm only looking at this from a Wiccan perspective. To us, the God is all about either the Sun or the greenery (think Green Man). When it's Midwinter, the Goddess (Moon, but more specifically Earth here) holds that spark. It's an analogy of the light being hidden.

The whole 'sun' and 'son' play on words is certainly modern Wicca. It doesn't even work in Welsh, let alone non-British languages.

Sheri_Oz on 12/11/2012

I enjoyed reading this article but I had to wonder at the end - you put "sun" and "son" together. What I'm wondering is if there is a connection between those two words in other relevant languages.

JoHarrington on 12/10/2012

I'm glad that you find them so. There's so much tosh written about Wicca, that I'm making it a bit of a mission to lay things out pure and simple.

kate on 12/10/2012

i love these pagan articles, very clear and informative

JoHarrington on 12/10/2012

Thank you very much. :)

Ragtimelil on 12/10/2012

Very nice telling of the tale.

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