The Twelve Nights of Christmas – die zwölf rauen Nächte

Image 2The raw nights are the twelve nights of an older Christmas than the one people might remember today, pointing back to traditions and rituals even older. The modern annual ritual of shopping seems somewhat pale in comparison.

These December nights are the darkest nights in the year here up north. Just after winter solstice when the North pole is tilted 23,5 degrees away from the sun and all places with a latitude above 66,5 degrees North (Arctic Polar Circle) are in complete darkness, even in locations down at, let’s say, 54 degrees North, day light is scarce and valued. It was common knowledge to the old ones that they were at their weakest in this part of the reoccurring cycle of the year, prone to sudden grave illness and mental darkness. A dangerous time for the oldest and youngest of the communities, a common cold potentially turning to raging fevers and death within hours. Short the days and short a life!

Dating bad 4000 years, celebrations held during this time of year, lasting days, twelve days, ranged from drunkenness, carnival, debauchery to watchfulness, soberness and contemplation. How to address your own mortality or that of those dear to you, how to defend your mind against the equally luring and threatening  darkness, how to celebrate the return of the sun, how to trust the old covenant that there will indeed be another year? From Saturnalia to Christmas to northern pagan winter solstice traditions – the quest between forgetfulness to prayer to sober acceptance – cultures and people have proven to handle the same basic human fear very differently. But in the darkness up North, the projection of fearful images of the mind into the impenetrable darkness of the night has led to its own tradition of keeping the demons at bay. Making visible the creatures of darkness through watchful contemplation while guarding the night is a time tested way to navigate through the twelve days of the ascending sun light hours, defending what you love and believe in against the already receding tide of darkness.

This is what I have chosen to do for years now with the raw nights: defending what I believe in against the already receding tide of darkness by illustrating, making visible the creatures the darkness projects into the mind. The modern mind, as the Romanian philosopher and historian Mircea Eliade pointed out in his book “The Sacred and the Profane”, may be but a thin veil to the archaic mind that is still bound in fear and intuitive defenses against the danger lurking in the dark even if the dark may be no more than the fear of monsters hiding under the bed in a well tempered room today. But I feel that reenacting  the custom of the night watches by picking up pen and paper for 12 nights is more a sober and mindful transformation of old human knowledge into my own experience of time than a regression into the archaic mind.

I am looking forward to reading your comments!

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