Axis Mundi
The beginning of a circle is also its end. Not I, but the world says it: all is one. And yet everything comes in season.
- Heraklietos of Ephesos

Yule 2009 at Waterfall, Sydney

by Craig PhoenixWolf

The sky clouded over just before I reached Waterfall. I had been on the road since leaving Goulburn and was only minutes away from the site of my next adventure. I had not been to Waterfall before so the journey was both new and interesting; some spots making me wish I had a camera mounted on the car to take photos as I made the trip over the mountains to the coastal areas beyond. As I passed over the mountains, I wondered what it must have been like for those first explorers. Did they appreciate the wonder of the land around them, land I was driving past so fast there was barely time to take it in? Or were they weary and just anxious to be past and on to their destination? I am sure they could not help but pause to see the cliffs and falls I wished I could stop and take in. Green tree and stone from the Mothers earth. It seemed to contrast against the winter chill.

Back on the freeway life sped up again as I listened to Spiral Dance and looked for some indication my journey was nearing an end. Just before reaching the turn I hit a couple of patches of rain. Enough to make the road slippery and my windscreen hard to see out of. Well no magic needed there just hit the wiper button and my vision is restored just in time to realise I had gone too far in my travels and over shot the turn off. For those who have not been to the Waterfall site, the turn off is a concealed driveway off the freeway with no warning signs and a tiny little crumpled sign to announce it as a camp. It would seem I had a bit further to go and I turned around at Waterfall and headed back to the Princes Highway.

On my second pass, I almost over shot again, but found it and pulled onto the trail. The access to the site is a combination of tar, gravel, rock and mud with the occasional crossing of old railway track metal presumably to help with erosion or some other unfathomable reason to me at the time. The trail snakes its way down from the freeway to the camp grounds. I should also tell you had I decided a few years ago to make this trip a truck and crane would be needed as my car was lowered at that stage by its previous owner. I am glad I returned it to normal road height.

Camp Coutts is a scout camp and one that is undergoing some work at the moment so there were stone retaining walls being rebuilt. The buildings were for the most part brick and comfortable though given the weather a little colder than most of us would have liked. (Especially at 5am, though I jump ahead in my story.) As I looked to find my way around the site, I took in some of the scenes. Brick and stone blended with trees, grassed areas and the flowing waters that carved a path to the river at the bottom of the site.

I was greeted by a few familiar faces from other events including a couple of those who where organising the event. The organiser, Terry Selby and other members of Pagan Initiative had worked hard to pull this event together. Colleen Franks of Witchery Grub was catering it. If you had read my account of the Autumn Retreat in Katoomba you will recognise the name as the caterer who stuffed us silly. Well we did the stuffing but the food was so good there and no doubt here would be the same.

I was one of the first few guests to arrive.

Slowly people arrived. While they did food started cooking and organisers hurried about last minute preparations.

The opening ritual, taking an elemental theme, set the mood for the weekend as Pip of Ostarian Grove opened the weekend with a circle. Each person was asked to ball up their worries and stresses and to throw them into the air. The ritual was interrupted not by rain but an overhead plane heading off to destinations unknown. It wouldn't do after all to be throwing energy and problems at a plane flying past would it? I think not any way.

As night closed in and the temperature dropped we waited for the last of those coming to arrive. Seems some had more of an adventure getting there than I did arriving some three hours late after visiting Wollongong a couple of times. Friday night was capped off with a chance to talk and catch up and dine once more with friends. Many of those attending saw each other regularly but some of us lived far enough apart to make that impractical so it was great to hear their news and catch up on the events that had happened between this and the last time we all met.

The chill night air drove many to bed early including yours truly.

I mentioned the 5am chill before. That is how my Saturday began. I woke shivering despite the wool blanket and sleeping bag which I thought was rated for cold enough. I know better now. It was still dark and the room was full of the sounds of people sleeping in their bunks. I slipped out of bed and greeted the day. Soon it was light and in the kitchen french toast, pancakes and porridge cooked. Slowly the smell of food brought more and more from their beds.

While the kids were led upstairs to the hall for their crafts the adults set to making Yule Logs and Sachets. The logs were decorated with bows, ribbons, pine cones and all manner of colours. Each log had holes drilled into it to hold candles and would become a permanent addition to many of our Yule Altars. Then came Talisman Making. As I arrived I saw that musical instruments had been laid out for us. I decided to go back to my room quickly for something I had not yet used publicly. I recently bought a Native American Flute. For those unfamiliar with them they are a simple wood instrument that like a child's recorder has holes down the length. Their sound though is so much better and I wish my daughters' schools would use Native American Flutes instead of Recorders.

We began with some playing, chanting and movement to raise energy and while others drummed out a beat I followed on with my flute. I think everyone was pleased with the outcome and it certainly added a different feel to just drumming and the other percussion instruments. The next stage was us sewing and making our own bags. Some how we all got through it and I don't remember too many yelps from needle sticks. Filled with herbs the talisman bags were hung on a tree to be apart of the Yule decorations.

We broke for lunch and soon we all gathered about the dining hall.

After lunch was a workshop I did find fun, especially watching the kids; a treasure hunt, the clues given in the form of a story that was read with each stage a task to fulfil. It was great fun to see the kids racing about and finding things and decorating a sack for Yule Gifts, trees decorated and songs sung. All in good fun. There were surprises in store especially when the clues led us in search of Milk and Cookies. To the kitchens we went to find Colleen the Kitchen Goddess had a trick planned. On the bench, waiting for the kids, a pig's head. Some stopped stunned. Others shocked. The kids, amazed to see it sitting there as though it belonged there on the counter. What can I say but it was almost like someone should have yelled; "Trick or Treat."

For me one of the highlights was the Energetic Healing workshop. I was actually feeling the need for some healing, my back was playing up by then. It was interesting to learn some simple techniques that could be used to heal through energy cleansing and aura cleansing. If you can picture some 20 plus people all waving their hands in Harry Potter like style over each other as we manipulated the Prana Energy and worked to cleanse each others auras. I do remember quite clearly a yelp when the one working on my back was trying to draw out the pain in my back. As I heard his stunned cry I felt the twinge in my back that told me he had hit a really sore spot on me. It seemed that the dirty energy of my back had started to wrap around his hand as he tried to pull it free like the tentacle of some mythical beast.

Night started to fall and that meant the ritual was getting closer. People slowly disappeared and returned, some dressed in their finery, some in just street clothes. All were feeling happy to be there to celebrate Yule and share this weekend together. We gathered together outside the dining hall which has been the focal point for the weekend until now. As a group we walked up to the site they were going to use for the ritual.

Past the fire pit we went. In twos and ones we made our way to the clearing. Let me see if I can capture for you the feel of the place. Flat green grass. Surrounded by trees, monolithic stone outcropping and in the center a lone Christmas Tree decorated by the guests of the weekend. Opposite where we entered though was the focus of our vision as a white marquee catches the eye.

The marquee is lit with candles some at ground level, some about chest hight on iron candle holders. They surround a white lace covered table. But wait the table is not a table but a figure in deathly repose. Covered head to toe in the sheer material like Sleeping Beauty or Snow White in a deathly slumber. The figure being that of the Goddess who has gone to the Underworld out of grief for her lost God. The Goddess lay there as people approach to pay their respects for she is dead to them.

A call goes out for two to come forward. Holly Lord and Oak King. Step forward to do battle.

Two men stand forward but are as yet unidentified. First they must do battle to determine who is to be the fallen Holly Lord and who is to be the young Oak King and bring back the summer to the cold lands. The two are charged with selecting a team and in facing each other in battle along with their team to determine the winner.

"Little John", I hear and realize that it is I who is being called. I join one of the teams and slowly six a side is chosen to do battle but what is to be the form of combat?


Well that defines my role in this battle and I take the anchor man position at the end of our team of six. The battle commences with us holding our own even when the opposing numbers grow to an uneven and overwhelming number against our six. What we did not know is we were not just fighting overwhelming numbers but also a mischievous fairy who turned her skill at energy manipulation against us too so we were being faced with a no win situation. We held them basically still for a period before finally we conceded defeat. The roles decided and as we stepped back from battle the preparations began to crown the Holly Lord and Oak King.

Apart from during the Tug-O-War I was capturing images from the evening for prosperity. My camera snapping away at the events transpiring. I captured images of the ritual which I would not review until the next day. One or two showed the presence of Orbs including a couple of very bright ones. As the defeated Holly Lord was crowned I snapped a photos of him kneeling and accepting the symbols of his office. (I know I am jumping ahead in my story dear reader but I feel it is necessary to explain.) So imagine my surprise the next day to have captured on that clear night a spectral visitor of mist that hovered between my camera and the ceremony. It was in only one frame and though I took many that night one after the other did not show again on my camera or anyone else's cameras.

So back to the event at hand.

The Holly Lord and Oak King are crowned and the youthful King moves to the reposed Goddess and uncovers her shrouded face. With all the flair of Prince Charming he leans over her and gently kisses her. Everyone watches her closely and to the relief of all she stirs and rises. The Goddess has returned to us. The cycle begins again and the life of the world that lay in mourning begins anew.

Celebration as the reborn Maiden Goddess and her Youthful King lead the rest of us past the gates of the Underworld and back onto the Earth to celebrate life anew.

So to the hall we return. To feast and to join in as one to share a meal and a shared hope for a new and better year.

The meal finished it was time for the kiddies to hear a story and then off to bed. The adults talking into the night and even listening to a delightful tale of a Holistic Detective who never knows where he is going but always ends up where he needs to be. For those wanting to know more check out Douglas Adams Dirk Gently books. Yes he wrote The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy with that friendly cover with just two words. Don't Panic.

Sunday saw people rising slowly and in some cases reluctantly to face the bright morning. There was a chorus of "Where is Brendan?" from the kids. Brendan Hancock had his own little fan club after doing crafts and the treasure hunt with the kids. They were most relieved when Brendan finally made an appearance.

The more energetic after breakfast went on a bush walk while some of use enjoyed a more gentle meditation to wake and recharge and let go of the past. Before lunch some took a moment to make cupcakes before a visit from the Annual Gift Giving Man (okay political correctness just doesn't work does it!) The Holly King gave out to the kids some specially selected presents and then started giving out presents to the adults too. Most accepted their gifts in good cheer with a sit on the King's lap. There was one person however, who decided to show him some extra attention in the hope she might get more. It didn't work but led to a few moments of humour as he realised her intentions.

Some members of the "Teapot Pagans" with the Yule King

A quick lunch and it was time to clean up and get ready to close the weekend. Some enjoyed the sounds of the flute as they worked. As one person put it, the flutes haunting sound added to the charm of the site.

Brendan Hancock of Ostarian Grove closed the weekend with a wish we all take with us something of the magic of the site and the events and companionship of the weekend.

The ritual was followed by a couple of announcements. A round of thank you's and applause for Colleen and the catering staff. To the members of Pagan Initiative who worked hard as well as those guests that helped get things done through out the weekend. To Kylie Allerton and Pangenta's Cauldron for the main ritual. To Pippa and Brendan for the opening and closing rituals. Thank you too went to all for being apart of Yule and participating in the celebrations. Thank you also went to Uncle Festers who provided items for the weekend's gifts.

People were also invited to be apart of Beltane 09 held in Waterfall October 31st to November 2nd and to the Canberra Spring Gathering September 25th to 27th organised by the Teapot Pagans. Both events promise to be a joyous celebration of the changing seasons. For more information on Beltane contact Pagan Initiative via their web site and for information on the Spring Gathering contact the Teapot Pagans vie their site

Good byes said. Reluctantly I, like the others, left the site and made my way back to my car and up the trail to the freeway. Back to the familiar sound of the road under my tyres and the blur of this fast paced world rushing by.

So what do I get from the weekends? I get to feel a part of a community that all come together in celebration. I get to feel the happiness of comradeship as pagans come together. I come away learning something, either a new skill or understanding of the craft or of myself as a person. These weekends too are a reminder that we can be pagan all the time. We do not need to dress up and be performing to be pagans. It is who we are and who we sometimes suppress in our lives. I want to encourage you to take a part in a gathering or weekend. I promise you you will not regret it. Solitary or Coven, it matters not for everyone is welcome. Check out your local community. There are pagan groups running events across the country.

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