The wind howls around you, whipping up snow as you struggle through the woods. Your fingers are numb, your legs stiff, and the icy flakes sting your eyes further hampering your vision.
It is the longest and darkest night of the year, and you are facing it alone in a storm. Uncertain you can go another step, you fall to your knees and pray for light and warmth, things that seem only a faint memory.
When you open your eyes, a shape looms in the space between the trees. A massive man steps forward out of the storm. Frost encrusts his beard but his blue eyes study you keenly. He wears a fur-lined cloak. Upon his shoulder perches an ebony bird, still as stone in spite of the wind. As he steps closer, the weather calms around him until you stand in a circle of peace. Above the clouds part to reveal a sky spangled with more stars than you have ever seen, an expanse of twinkling lights, pristine and clear. Without a word, he motions for you to follow.
You scramble to your feet. The winds quiet to a gentle whisper as you let this stranger guide you through the trees beneath the stars. Warm light casts long shadows through the towering pines, and voices echo through the night. When the trees thin, you step out onto a clearing before a steep slope. Here a crowd has gathered around a roaring bonfire. Voices rise in song and laughter as men, women, and children dance in the light of the crackling blaze. Snow kicked up from the ground hisses into the fire, and the fragrance of dried moss mingles with the smoke.
In awe of this merry band, you stand at the edge, unsure they will welcome you, only to have a group of children rush in to pull you into the merriment. A great circle of boughs stands in the center of the clearing, evergreen and dripping with red berries.
As you watch, men with torches approach and set fire to the wheel. It ignites with a whoosh of flame and smoke. With a great push, the men roll the wheel towards the slope. The wreath of flame spins down the snowy hill, picking up speed and shooting of sparks. The crowd cheers, their songs and shouts turning to the return of the sun and the end of the long dark. Light and warmth will return and with it hope for all.
You hear a harsh cry, and the stranger’s black bird flutters to the ground before you. It cocks its head to one side, its glimmering eyes and shining feathers aglow in the firelight. In its beak it holds a spring of holly, leaves green, berries crimson, wrapped around a fine white candle. You stoop to take it from the bird, who flies across the crowd to where its master now waits. The man who saved you from the storm nods in silent greeting before the wind whirls up around him again.
The crowd disappears among the blinding snow, and you find yourself on your knees in the forest once more. Something has changed. You still clutch the candle, but more than that, your strength has returned. A magical warmth flows through you, and you know you can finish your journey and reach home. Home with its light and warmth, protection against the forces of winter. Home where a wreath of green boughs and red berries awaits you on the door.
Wheel of the Sun is part of Mythologie's Seasonal Ancient Yule Festival Collection.