Since I was a Boy Scout staring at the night sky, I have been interested in things astronomical. I have been listening to EarthSky for many years, initially on WUMB-FM, but now on podcast. I import its feed into my Tumblog. But with my yoga practice and exposure to the pagan community among my UU friends, I have been more attuned to cycles of the sun and moon. (What an arresting pleasure to see the latter’s slim crescent low in the sky above the faux Ionic columns of a municipal building on my morning walk today.) For the past several years, my favorite carol has been “The Holly and the Ivy.” I especially like the austerity of the instrumentation and the sweetness of the harmonies in version from the Mediæval Bæbes.
I have been feeling like the “old earth fragrance” of paganism still lives in that song.
The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown
Of all the trees that are in the wood
The holly bears the crown
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry [harp]
Sweet singing of the choir
Indeed, one source suggests that the holly and the ivy were considered symbolic of the qualities required to survive the winter.
The version we of the Holly and the Ivy that we are familiar with today was first published by Cecil Sharp. The Holly and the Ivy is thought to have Pagan origins and could therefore date back over 1000 years. It is most unusual for a carol like the Holly and the Ivy to have survived over the years especially during the stern protestant period of the 17th century. The Holly and the Ivy have always been taken indoors during the winter the hope being that the occupants would survive difficult conditions just like the hardy Holly and the Ivy. The colours of the Holly and Ivy, green and red are traditionally associated with Christmas. The author and composer of the Holly and the Ivy are unknown.
I can’t believe we are already opposite the other solstice, about which I also wrote. In contrast to that expansive time, may you take some opportunity away from busyness to turn inward, and plant seeds of meditation and intention in the fecund dark. For as nobly Celtic Loreena McKennitt, suggests in the artwork for her holiday collection, “A Midwinter’s Night Dream,”
As the wheel of days
turns into darkness,
it reveals the light and
hope of Spring
Update: Adding Spotify link to the Mediæval Bæbe’s version of “The Holly and the Ivy.”