It is the very dark of night when I type this first blog post here. While I am not keeping vigil for the rising of the sun, which I observed on Winter Solstice Eve into the next morning, thus celebrating the sun’s triumph over darkness, I am still processing thoughts from tonight’s ritual observance of Modranecht.
Mothers’ Night marks the beginning of the new year for those either reconstructing religious practices and customs of the Heathen period, or constructing a similar practice with heathen influence. While there are variations on how to celebrate this night, I honor my family’s Idisi, my mother and grandmother (both deceased), and the goddess, Frija.
In general, this is a night to honor the “spindle side” of the family, both alive and those who have gone into the mound. It is a perfect time to weave healing works and mend broken bonds between generations. Modranecht is an opportunity to lay down newer, positive layers into Wyrd’s Well, or as it is my personal custom to call it peotically during rituals or workings, The Great Well.
Most Heathens in the US observe Mothers’ Night on the Winter Solstice. However, I cannot ignore the fact that Bede wrote about the Anglo-Saxon celebration in The Reckoning of Time:
They began the year on the 8th kalends of January [25 December], when we celebrate the birth of the Lord. That very night, which we hold so sacred, they used to call by the heathen word, Modranecht, that is, “mother’s night”, because (we suspect) of the ceremonies they enacted all that night.
The night they held so sacred would be Christmas Eve. This is the night we have decided to celebrate Mothers’ Night in our household. While we also have customs for the Winter Solstice, this is outside of what might be considered our strictly Heathen practices. Careful readers may also notice that in the quoted passage above, the translation reads as “Mother’s Night” in the singular, where I refer elsewhere to the holy night as “Mothers’ Night”, plural. Kathleen Hebert points out in her book, Looking for the Lost Gods of England, that “Modra” is plural. It would be more accurate to translate this as “Mothers’ Night”, encompassing multiple mothers.
The evening began with a small procession into the study, which is where our holy items were arranged. On the weoh (altar) were spindles, images of my mother and my grandmother, goddess idols with amber beads lovingly draped, and other assorted ritual items. I cleared the space by burning a bundle of mugwort. Drumming, singing, and rocking back and forth, I sang to my Idisi, calling them, welcoming them to our Modranecht. This was repeated for what I call “Mothers in the Mound”, another poetic name I came up with for those mother figures of most recent generations who we knew in life, but who are now deceased. Finally, the process was repeated a third time for Frija.
In years past, I might have designed this ritual around Frige, but 2014 has been a year of changes. There was just a gut-level response that this Mothers’ Night I would honor Frija, which is perhaps not entirely such a dramatic shift. That discussion, however, is for another time.
The offering for this celebration was a homemade version of Irish cream liqueur. A blessing was spoken into the cup of Irish cream before it was taken outside and poured upon the ground near rose bushes planted in memory of my mom and grandmother. Normally, we use a horn as opposed to a cup, but Irish cream is thick, and this drink was really better off in a cup. We used a special ceramic goblet with runes that encircle the outer rim.
We then had a meal of bratwurst and sweet potato stew, with rice pudding for dessert (my grandmother’s recipe). Next came a multi-round symble. There were many memories revisited, both happy and some bittersweet. After the official activities as a family were concluded, I took a few private moments to take omens. While those details are of too private a nature to write about, in a general sense, 2015 should prove to be a pivotal year, with the need for swift decisions. And while that has me wondering if I can keep up with the pace, I still oathed to doing two things. The first was to put a course together discussing Anglo-Saxon herbalism and healing practices. The second is to learn to speak Old English. Both are things I have been putting off “until later”. No more.
And now, in the dark hours before the son comes up, I am thinking of a sweater I’m knitting for my son, and how this wool will keep him warm and safe from the cold and the wet. One day, it will be my name being hailed with a cup held high and my photo on the weoh. I hope that is not for many, many more years. Yet, there is comfort in the thoughts that I will be in good company and remaining close to my living loved ones.