Book Review: Yule: A Celebration of Light & Warmth by Dorothy Morrison – 4/5

Yule: A Celebration of Light & Warmth by Dorothy Morrison

4/5 – You should be reading this [TCC review guide]

Warnings: Glossing over history, slight Christian passive-aggression, lots of world traditions shared without a mention of cultural appropriation but no cultural appropriation within the book itself.

This book was an extreme surprise for me. Save for the prettied up history and the rest of the warnings, it was actually a solid book. Full of DIYs, recipes, and spells, it’s a good addition to a magical household.

I picked this up in the holiday section of my public library (call # 394.268 Mor) along with another  pagan holiday book. The book was published in 2000 by Llewellyn. You can probably find this in any large bookstore, new age shop, Llewellyn themselves, or online such as Amazon.

Since I picked this book up in the library, I started reading it around Thanksgiving. In fact, as I baked pies and made offerings, I read this book. (Ah, the joys of blogging – you have to start your holiday posts so early!)

I knew I wanted to start this book before the other ones I borrowed largely because it had less pages and I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to like it. Dorothy Morrison doesn’t have a great grasp of actual history as far as I’ve heard. And that’s what the book opens with: history.

I’m grateful that the history section is only a few pages long. It, of course, glorifies the pagan holidays and makes the Christians sound like schemers. Now I’m not going to break down the history of the holidays here. There’s people who are far more dedicated than I am to that. I’ll just say this: the Christians weren’t really a unified front so they couldn’t uniformly decide anything. Just like the pagans weren’t a uniformed front. Many places freely allowed and welcome converstion and others didn’t. Everyone borrows from everyone because it was a meshing from cultures and traditions meaning that holidays were influenced by each other. Also, related themes (for example, Sun gods being worshiped in the dark of winter to bring back the sun and end winter) are fairly universal across the board within certain climates. Because, you know, that makes sense . There wasn’t really a purposeful stealing but a meshing of what people were already doing. There’s some excellent posts, articles, and papers about the subject you can google for if you’re interested but I don’t have the inclination to get into it here. Christian history was never my thing.

Anyway, the next chapter breaks down some specific things with the same kind of themes as above – puffing up pagan traditions and subtly being passive aggressive about Christian traditions.  (Because, clearly, those Christians can’t come up with anything without it being pagan too [sarcasm].) Things like elves, holly, and exchanging gifts are all give their own little blurbs of explanation.

Actually, that chapter is pretty interesting. I mentally thought of it as a sort-of wikipedia. It gave some basic overviews, symbolism, themes, and history of whatever but if you want details, you’ll have to go elsewhere. I did find that some of the conclusions where a bit forced. They make sense now but historically speaking there probably weren’t a whole lot of people counting the number of points on a snowflake and associating that with Persephone’s descent to the Underworld. Just saying.

Chapters three and four very briefly cover winter holidays and festivies around the world. The number of countries covered was around a dozen from Pakistan to Scotland or India and Venzeula. Nothing African, despite Egypt being claimed as the origin for winter sun worshiping. And I do mean very brief. Encyclopedia level brief. Pretty much what I expected. The Daily Event Calender chapter, much later on, goes into other world traditions but I heavily caution against picking whatever you like from the chapter. Remember cultural appropriation. Interesting to read but don’t steal other people’s traditions. Make your own or adopt open traditions.

I have one thing to say, really. I HATE the idea that pagan= all non-Abrahamic faiths. That may be the technical definition but it completely invalidates many religions. That’s a Westerner’s idea of religion and I HATE it with a passion. Don’t demean a religion like Hinduism or spiritual faith like Buddhism because it doesn’t have an Abrahamic origin. People of those faiths don’t consider themselves pagan so don’t call them them. Seriously. Stop. Use the actual name for their faithful.

Chapter five was my jam. I majored in folklore in college so you can probably see why a chapter dedicated to “omens, supersititions, and other magical goodies” would be right up my alley. It’s actually a pretty good list of superstitions. The trivia section in chapter six was interesting too. Might be something to use on relatives during the holidays to change uncomfortable subjects.

Finally, we get to the spells. Morrison starts it off right in my opinion by talking about cleaning while cleansing. Which is something I preach often. While I didn’t try any of the spells, I did give them a thorough look and they’re all sound.

There’s a lot of little DIYs with spells attached. I actually love this and wish I’d see more of it in books. There’s pages upon pages of all sorts of crafts for various things. If you’re decorating your home for the holidays, you’ll like this book. There’s even instructions for tree ornaments and gifts like pine cone starters and bath salts.

The Yule tree section was very interesting and it made me look at my holiday tree rites a bit differently. Worth the read, certainly. I even gave the recipe for Solar Candy a try (page 131) As said, the rest of the book is full of useful stuff – party planning idedas, holiday party games, recipes, and a whole bunch of good stuff. The chapters on personal traditions were interesting as well. I’m not a fan of adapting one religion’s songs and prayers to another’s but YMMV. The final words were about not doing everything by yourself. And I wholeheartedly follow that sentiment – ask for help and take things one step at a time.

Overall, I actually liked the book. The history, as always, left a bad taste in my mouth and the freely shared information about world culture but not a word of cultural appropriation makes me cringe. But! The author themselves didn’t specifically take anything from those closed traditions. It seemed mostly European traditions which she used herself.  The DIYs and recipes, make the book a good purchase for those practitioners that want to get a little more magical in the home. The book was a pleasant surprise and I’ll be looking to add it to my collection.