While many people celebrate Christmas, some of us do not. For the small witch community within our also-small LGBQTIA community, here’s a list of ways to celebrate the Yule holiday, its magic, and your inner-witch while also embracing all the gay you’ve got.
“Ho, ho, ho!” is the moniker to which I answer on Grindr during the winter months (or here in Texas, winter days), in spite of the fact that I do not personally connect myself to Santa Claus or Christmas. At least, I do not feel connected to them. Though raised in a Southern Baptist home by my half-Mexican, half-white mother and her full-white, mildly-racist mother, I have chosen this year to forsake Christmas traditions in lieu of celebrations that align best with my true beliefs. As I mentioned back at Halloween in a separate piece, I am a practitioner of witchcraft, or, more specifically, brujeria. As not to delve too much into what I’ve already gone over in writing (you can read my witchy coming out here), my family (Jewish on one side, and Christian on the other) has a lot of customs that pertain to their respective religions; but it was my paternal grandmother whose Mexican magical customs I attuned myself to as a child. That being said, for me, witchcraft/brujeria is not a religious practice. Rather, like my writing or anything else I spend time studying and perfecting, it is a craft, even a lifestyle.
Witchcraft, as an umbrella term, is a very subjective and variable word, as it is much older than most modern religions and has roots in numerous cultures and backgrounds. Afro-Caribbean cultures practice their magics using various forms of Shamanism, Hoodoo, Obeah, Santeria, and more. Many of these practices are often also very religious in nature, having been diluted from the original African spirituality by way of Catholic intervention in their migrant nations such as Caribbean Islands and Mexico. Brujeria, in a lot of ways, is quite similar, with evocations of saints and religious spirits such as Santa Muerte and the Virgin Mother. But even beneath a subjective umbrella, brujeria is also quite variant from practitioner-to-practitioner, as it is usually held close to the chest amongst Latinx witches. The practice is generally taught within families, with spells and potions and rituals being passed down from parent-to-child throughout the generations.
Growing up without my father present in my life, a lot of what I learned about brujeria came second-hand, though I knew it was a significant part of my abuelita’s life. Over the years, many of those learnings have blended together with more Germanic practices and rituals, creating something of a Neo-Brujeria that I’ll someday be able to pass down to my own children, if they so wish to learn it. A part of those Germanic practices that I’ve adopted are the Witches’ Sabbaths, the eight holidays adopted and celebrated by most modern witches regardless of their religious or spiritual affiliations.
Today, witches around the world — brujas, Wiccans, Dianic witches, and more — will celebrate Yule, also referred to as Midwinter. Yule falls upon the Winter Solstice each year (typically on or around December 21st) and is noted as the shortest day of the calendar year, in which the sun is only present in the sky for about nine hours. It is a witch’s celebration of rebirth and light. It is a time to give up what is not serving you, what is negative, and what holds you back, and replace it with newness and light. Yule is — by some accounts, though not all — known as the Witches’ New Year, although many consider Samhain (Halloween) to be the Witches’ New Year. It is, in short, our version of Christmas, a celebration of rebirth and new beginnings, letting go of negativity and letting light and goodness enter our lives anew. Its origins date back pre-Christianity, and are often associated (in its beginnings) with the Norse god Odin, while it has been adopted and reformed throughout the ages all the way up into modern Gardnerian Wicca. As a nonreligious, secular witch, I won’t harp too much on the stories that accompany these versions of the Winter Solstice. Instead, I, a quasi-secular, solitary brujo, thought a lot about how Yule is celebrated around the world, even in brujeria, blended those ideas with being a queer person, and have compiled this short list of things that you can do to celebrate Yule if you’re new to the Craft and looking for a way to celebrate:
1. Begin the day by examining negative energies in your life that are not serving you.
I know, I know. What the fuck does that mean? It means that it’s time for you to start looking at your life as if it’s a closet you’re going to clean out. Take each item in it, one-by-one and make two piles. The first pile should be the things that make you feel joy and that don’t harm others; the second pile should be things that either make you miserable or melancholy and/or that can have harmful effects on those that you love.
So, say for instance you pull out of this metaphorical closet an ugly sweater — e.g. that one ex that sends you random, unevenly dispersed “You up?” texts in the middle of the night. Sure, the sex might be great; and the reminder of being with someone that you love may make you nostalgic and leave you longing for times of past. But let’s get real here, y’all: what does that occasional hook-up that leads to nothing substantial really give you? 15 seconds of ecstasy at climax? A feeling of emptiness when he/she/they doesn’t/don’t want to cuddle afterward and quickly ask you to leave? Herpes?! Take that ugly fucking sweater, toss it in the donation pile, and recycle that energy in the hopes that it will turn out to be positive for someone else.
Next you find a gorgeous, one-of-a-kind, Hermes scarf that you bought with a Christmas bonus you received after seeing The Devil Wears Prada in theaters for the first time back in the early 2000s. It was a pretty impulsive buy, but it was a great way to treat yo’self. Do you wear it often? No. In fact, hell no! Hermes is expensive af. But when you do wear it, maybe wrapped around your head on a warm summer day while out at the beach or around your neck in the cooler, autumn months (again, “or in Texas, autumn days”), you feel unique and like a stand-out that people are paying attention to. In this case, that scarf is … I don’t know … that special talent that not everyone knows you have like playing the piano or baking. You don’t do it often for everyone to see, but you’re good at it and it brings you joy when you get to share it with others. Put it in the keep pile.
Most important to remember here is that this is a great time of year to get yourself out of toxic situations. Bad relationships, shitty jobs, bad family traditions with your family. Put yourself at the forefront of your mind and heart (for once) and think about the good things you’d like to replace the bad with. Then take a sheet of paper, draw a line down the middle vertically, and on the left side, list the things you need to give up; on the right, list the things you could replace the negativity with to make yourself feel more whole and at-peace. Keep this list as it will come back up later.
A great way to rid some of this energy is one of the oldest and simplest of magics that witches have been doing for centuries. Take that broomstick you keep — preferably a ceremonial one, but a sweeping broom will do, too — and give your house a good sweep. Yes, yes, I know. This is work. Whatever. Get over it. You can’t start new intentions with messy old habits. But truly, it’s not about cleaning your house. Many witches for years have used the broom as a way of clearing out negative energy. Surprise, surprise, nonmagical people! We don’t fly around on them … often. As with the old practice, sweep your floors — specifically any in-betweens like doorways, staircases, halls, and window panes, from east to west — the direction of the ever-important-to-Yule sun — and clear out the bad mojo. You can insert an incantation or mantra to repeat as you do so. Something I learned from my familial magic was a little chant that went like this:
“de este a oeste, saco el mal de mi vida.”
Roughly translated it says, “From east to west, I remove the evil from my life.” An English incantation I read in an old grimoire once said something similar (in rhyme scheme, of course, because that’s what white people know how to do).
“i SWEEP THIS FLOOR
FROM EAST TO WEST,
AND CONJURE FORTH
WHAT SERVES ME BEST.
FROM EAST TO WEST
I RID EVIL AWAY,
ON THIS SUNLIGHT’S
Make it yours, or use one of those. The important part is that you are intent and focused upon the words you’re speaking.
Altars are often an important part of many spiritual and religious affiliations, and witchcraft — whether you’re a secularist like myself or you worships deities — is no exception. While not all witches have an at-home altar that stands intact on a permanent basis (I, for one, do not), creating one for special occasions doesn’t have to be so ritualistic as it may be decorative, festive, and even a little cathartic. If the Christians are going to put up nativity scenes at every street corner like Starbucks franchises, there’s no reason you can’t do this one little thing for yourself.
Altars very by practice of magic, and down from there, they even vary from witch-to-witch. Wiccans tend to have a very standard way for setting up their altars (though not all align this way) while brujeria sort of has taught me to light lots of candles everywhere and have a table you keep all your witch shit on. Many times, there are statues of the deities/saints/spirits/etc. standing atop the altars, along with protection herbs, basic tools used in most spells such as an athamé, candles, mirrors, pentacles, and more. Many witches will decorate their standard altars for the Sabbaths, while others will situate new ones in their homes that they can keep separate from those at which they perform spells.
Creating an altar for the Sabbath is simple, especially for Yule. As many Christian-Christmas traditions and decorations stem from those of old Paganism, it should come as no surprise that things like mistletoe, decorated trees, and even (wow, imagine this) yule logs were originally Germanic traditions created by pagans of old. Even the color schemes of Yule are pretty similar to Christmas colors: gold, red, green, silver, and white. Find some candles, hang a little mistletoe over your altar, add some gold and silver discs to represent the winter season, and find some candles of green, red, and white to accentuate and embolden your power. This will put you on the right track to getting your yuletide spellwork off on the right foot. But make sure to keep it kind of personal, if you’d like. Add ornaments that represent you to boughs of holly or keep small items you’ve received as holidays gifts on the table top. And, of course, make sure to add in some flare of your LGBTQ+ pride to the altar. A rainbow/trans/bi/et al flag in the corner will give it a little flare.
3. Embrace the celebration of light.
In most Yule mythologies, the holiday is all about rebirth — specifically that of the sun or associated deities. Today is a day for you to pull back the shades, open the blinds, and burn candles so that every part of your home is filled with light that can regenerate it with positive energy. And for our local readers, it’s a beautiful day outside. If you’re comfortable in cooler air, it may not hurt to open up the windows and doors for a bit so that fresh air can come into your home and breath out the nasty, negative energy. While you’re at it, take a single votive candle into each room of your house (specifically those that see the most activity) and let it burn in the room throughout the day and into the night. These candles will be cleansing and affirmative — two very important components to Yule.
When the night finally comes, and the sun begins to set, make sure that you’ve prepared one of the most important factors in your Midwinter celebration: the yule log. There are a lot of stories and tales behind the yule log. In many Spanish cultures, the yule log was/is a sort of proxy Santa Claus that begat gifts for children overnight while they slept. For witches, however, the yule log is ceremonial. Many witches from all paths believe that the yule log should be lit at sundown and should burn the following day in the fireplace. By doing so, the yule log wards off negative energies and spirits. Some cultures even believed that the yule log was even capable of warding off toothaches, misfortune, miscarriage, house fires (I would be wary of that last one), and other problems. Plus, it’s a really great way to stay warm and to keep your carbon footprint low for at least one night. The yule log should stay lit at all times; and if it is to go out, the witch should relight it as soon as possible. Many witches choose to tell ghost stories by their yule log fires or read tarot cards to absorb its power. When the sun has risen after the longest night of the year, keep a piece of it for next Midwinter and use it to light your new log.
4. Spend time with friends, family, and — that’s right — your sister witches.
Not all of us — as queer people nor as witches — always see eye-to-eye with our family and friends, especially when it comes to beliefs and holidays. That doesn’t mean we don’t love them; it just means we sometimes have to compartmentalize certain parts of our lives to solitude or like-minded people. Some are lucky enough to have relationships that are forged between two people who want to understand what makes the other tick. Whichever of those categories you may fall into, try to share your holiday spirit with some of the people you love. They don’t have to come over and read tarot cards with you by the yule log, but inviting them to a yuletide dinner to set your version of New Year’s Resolutions never hurt anyone. Use it as an opportunity to show those who may have preconceived ideas about witchcraft the goodness it is filled with and that it isn’t so different from the rituals they practice.
If you have friends that are also witches — whether they be solitary or a part of a coven — invite them to spend the holiday with you. Read tarot cards, dance to holiday music, make a meal together (more on this in a moment), and maybe even cast your Yule spell together as the sun sets (also more on this later). Even if you’re a solitary witch like myself, connecting with people who share similar beliefs and values every now and again — and in celebration, no less — can be a very empowering and heart-warming occasion. You don’t have to go stand out in the woods or to the beach and go full-on The Craft when you decide to gather together. It doesn’t have to remind you of church where someone is preaching about the birth of some baby messiah.
Just enjoy the company; laugh; eat; share your intentions for the new year to come. You’ll be surprised how much joy you get out of this — especially if everyone brings a little something of their own to the party. This is also extremely valuable to those LGBTQ+ people who don’t have families to spend the holidays with for whatever reason that may be. As many of us have been outcasted, shunned, rejected, turned away, or even who have no living relatives, creating a chosen family can be extremely fulfilling. And just like with a blood family, you don’t always have to like them or want to be around them. In fact, you shouldn’t always be around them, because absence will make your heart grow fonder of them, making occasions like Yule, Samhain, and the other Sabbaths more worthwhile.
Meals are important to any celebration — part of the reason the Jewish thing never quite panned out for me is because those people fast waaaaay too much. Like … haven’t our people been through enough suffering? Oy gevalt. Your Yule dinner — or Witchmas dinner, as I like to call it — doesn’t have to be a spectacle that includes a 20-pound turkey or a honey-glazed ham. It can be, if that’s what you want. But magic is all about what brings out our power, and our power comes from what nourishes our bodies and souls. So if you want to have eight kinds of mac ‘n cheese or an ice cream buffet, why in Hecate’s name shouldn’t you? Embrace your idea of goodness, not what is traditional or conventional, unless that’s what you enjoy. Likely — albeit along with some nasty right-wing commentary about walls and fake news — you’ll get this food in a few days if you have someone to spend Christmas with. Make this your holiday, and one that the people you share it with won’t forget. After all, it only comes once a year. Aside from that, as much as we may love to do spells to bring us some extra cash when we’re in a pinch or to protect us from our ex’s midnight booty call text messages or to find a good parking space, magic is inherently gifted to witches so that they can help others (or so I believe). Don’t let Yule take that away from you. Be with yourself, but also be there to share the literal magic of this holiday with the people you love. For me and About Magazine associate editor Jessica Olsen, that pretty much means Olive Garden and Starbucks.
5. Practice your most practical magic.
As the sun begins to set in the sky — no sooner, no later — grab that list you made in bullet point one and take yourself outside somewhere that you can be in your own head and heart and where you will not be bothered by any person or thing. Nature — to most witches — is a pivotal part of our practice. While I’m no green-thumbed, neo-pagan, hedgewitch, I do practice most of my spells outside where walls cannot confine me and where I’m most attuned to the elements. As Yule is a celebration of light and new beginnings, it is a day where pretty much no spell is off limits. If this be the day that you wish to forgo your old ways of hooking up on Grindr, Tinder, or FarmersOnly so that you can make room for a new path to meet someone with whom you can attain a substantial relationship that will bring you joy, delete those apps and set that intention. If this be the day that you wish to stop smoking cigarettes or snorting cocaine — two very real problems in our community, both of which I am guilty of — take those cigarettes and coke bags to the earth, empty the tobacco or cocaine into a fire — this can be your yule log or another representative flame — and rid yourself of them. Conduct your spell with a new, pure heart and with the strongest and most willful of intentions.
This is how I’ll be doing Yule. Once I’m outside with my list, I shall begin my spell (I won’t instruct you on the entire thing here, because I think researching and crafting ones own spells is a very important thing to learn; I will, however, give a rough outline of it as we go). I don’t bother myself with opening and closing “proper” circles as Wiccans do (by that I mean I don’t call in the Corners or deities often, but sometimes resolve a physical circle of salt or another important herbal component, say rose petals for a love spell or a chalk pentacle), but I do take protective measures with salt and smudging. From there I’ll begin by stating that with the setting sun I cast away the negative things I’ve listed in my life, continuing on with my incantation. Once the moon has risen and is just visible — as well as when it cannot be concealed by clouds long enough for me to finish — I will invite in the positive attributes I’ve listed from the moon’s power. With powdered holly leaves I’ve crushed myself poured in the center of the paper, I’ll twist the four corners of it together so that the holly does not scatter out beforehand, then release my list to the fire while finishing out my incantations/spellwork. Then, and only then, I’ll take the time to sit and meditate while the fire burns long enough to envision what it is I want before returning to my regular activities.
It’s a pretty simple spell, y’all. In fact, it’s a pretty simple holiday. Like all holidays, Yule — for witches or anyone else — is nothing more than what you make of it. If you believe it can empower you as a witch, it can. It’s up to you to tap into that power. But by all means, don’t let yourself lose sight of what’s important on this day. This isn’t the time to be hexing your exes or that bitchy, snot-nosed little gayby from the bar who keeps zeroing in on all the people flirting with you. It’s a time of self-reflection, self-healing, and elevating what makes you a powerful, badass, queer witch.
Bright Solstice, Witches.
Have some self-respect and wear something black. For Diana’s sake, we may be mostly good most of the time, but we’re still witches.