In December the ancient Celts found themselves under the Elder Moon.
Known as Ruish (roo-esh) in Gaelic, the elder tree was known to protect against negative forces, including pests like fruit flies and mosquitos, and so elder was often hung from doorways or in kitchen windows throughout the year. It was also sought out as medicine for so many, and is said to have natural antiviral properties. The elder tree was one you sought when you needed help.
The elder tree is bruised easily, but also regrows quickly, which is why the ancients named this moon at this time of year for this tree. Everything feels fragile right now. But, as the Irish phrase goes, “Every beginning is weak” (bionn gach tosach lag). Fragility allows for birth.
December is about beginnings sprouting from endings. As we head closer and closer to the solstice, the days shorten almost to the point of non-existence (or, at least it feels like that). But the ancients believed that the sun that faded-but-never-abandoned them made a new covenant annually with the earth in these days.
When Christianity began to have an influence and decided to place the celebration of Jesus’ birth in this month at the time of the Yule celebrations, it made so much sense to the Celts that they didn’t bat an eye: a new covenant with the Son/sun was appropriate in these shadow days.
The ancient Celts felt that December was a time for wombing, anyway. The fields were fallow. The family tended to be physically lax but mentally focused. In December they did their “inner-work,” pondering how the shadows of their own being (as Jung would say) helped them live into their full selves.
We’d do well to follow that lead.
And we may find that, at the end of December, we, like the elder tree, find ourselves being birthed differently into a new year after doing the inner work under the Elder Moon.