The Winter King and the Myth of America

The Winter King and the Myth of America December 19, 2016

There’s ice on the walk outside my home. There’s icy fear in my heart. The sun seems to pop up, shine dimly, and then fall below the horizon faster each day. I’m reaching for hope that drops beyond my grasp.  I worry a lot. I’ve noticed symptoms of depression in myself, and in people around me.

The short daylight and the fear and pain among my loved ones are adding layers of weight on my mind. So many of my friends have realistic fears about being able to survive, much less prosper, during the next four years. One must have food, shelter, and health before one can contribute your unique self to the world. I need them to survive.

I’m keenly aware of the responsibilities that come with my layers of relative privilege. I have responsibilities to the marginalized and historically oppressed. Not just responsibilities to interrupt bullying, to resist injustice and agitate for compassion, but responsibility to build bridges and to make connections with those who I have trouble feeling connected to. (There are ways to do this, mostly listening.)

My first impulse is to push away the people who don’t agree with me. I want to stay in my bubble. But the voice of the divine within reminds me… These folks are your family, and friends. They are members of the community. You need them to survive too. We need each other.

soapbubble with image of woman inside
Alysha Koby, 7/17/2011

It feels simpler to identify with the marginalized and oppressed. It feels easy to identify with the part of me that has (in the past,) experienced discrimination. It feels noble to identify with the part of me that has feared for my well-being because of who I am and who I love. It is far less comfortable to embrace my own privilege and the power that comes with that. Then the voice of the divine within reminds me: when I embrace the whole of who I am, flawed, morally suspect, embarrassing, and all, I’m tapping into power that I can use for good.

Getting In Touch With Your Roots

I’ve learned to embrace all of me in my Pagan practice. I am a Euro-American and for me that means I trace family lineage back to Scotland and England; back to the practices of the island people there. One of my favorite Pagan stories is set in prehistoric times in Scotland and England. I tell the story every Samhain, and it feels relevant now. It is about finding hope when the people are without hope. Michelle Obama recently spoke about this when she said, “We are feeling what not having hope feels like.”

In this time of short days and long darkness, here in the U.S. we await a transfer of power on the national and many state and local levels. In Pagan ritual the winter king (Holly King) is most powerful on the Winter Solstice. His power gives way to the summer king (Oak King) at the spring equinox. As king of evergreens, the winter king’s gift is hope during times of despair, and incubation of new birth during times of destruction.

Graphic courtesy SALEM’S MOON – MAGICK & MORE
Graphic courtesy SALEM’S MOON – MAGICK & MORE

There is a layer deeper than the Samhain story goes. The voters this year were motivated to pick their candidate and issues by many things, of course, but many made choices based on a sense of lost power, a sense of helplessness – the sort of helplessness that leads you to want to burn it all down because you have nothing left to lose.

Some might argue that many who voted in frustration have little to complain about, but human beings usually don’t make decisions based on dispassionate fact. We decide based on our story, our emotions, our experience. Whether this perception of helplessness and lost power were objectively true phenomena does not matter. When we are in the realm of myth and ritual, the story is giving us the truth. When we are in the realm of myth and ritual, the truth of the story is what creates our emotions and attitudes and what people base their decisions on.

So, we have something in common there. Our frustration with the government’s inability to serve us. Our frustration about not being heard. Our frustration with lack of change or too much change. Our frustration with the lack of opportunity to make our lives better. Our frustration with kids who move back in because they can’t make a living. And so many other frustrations are shared among Americans.

Whether our story is the one from the 50’s about working hard getting you a reliable job that allowed you to raise a family… or our story is the one about America becoming a country of freedom and justice for all, regardless of race, national origin, sex, or religion or background…. Those stories are not coming true and we feel something is foundationally wrong and needs to be fixed.

I know this because I have listened to my uncle rant his feelings about the government. I’ve listened to my friends share their fears about retirement. I’ve listened to my cousin express his distrust of all the candidates. I’ve listened to folks posting on Facebook.

We may not be able to agree on which politician (if any) can get us out of this frustrating mess, but we can probably agree that it is a mess. We can agree that the struggles we are feeling now feel like the time of the winter king: the painful, cold, struggle to survive, the lack of resources, lack of comfort, the depressing absence of light and hope, and the worry about the coming days.

What is going to get us out of this mess?

We are, if we can pull together. We have a winter to get through. It may be some time before the summer king rules again. And until that time, we need to help to feed one another, to build shelter for one another, to heal one another, to protect the vulnerable and bring the marginalized into the warmth of community. We know these things in our ancient memory.

2a5061fafbb65db644e5bc3038ed9304As we wait for the sun to return we need to be intolerant of actions that harm the community or anyone in it, active in finding new ways, and calling in those who are not aware of the work that needs to be done.

It is my responsibility to take my flawed, morally suspect, embarrassing self out of my bubble to listen, to reach out, and to connect with those who I can.

So… let’s show up together! I write this on the day that anti-apartheid activist Steven Biko would have been 70 years old, if he had not died in a jail cell in South Africa. Times have been darker and more desperate in other places. People have been more polarized and through hard work, resistance, agitation, coming together, forgiveness, and hope, a new story began to be written. Let us write this one together.

Ferron: “It Won’t Take Long”


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