The song is sort of like the Christmas version of Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall. Will it ever end? It goes on and on, repeating the lists of ducks and swans and rings and dancers and servants until you just want the song to be done already! And it’s always on, in a thousand versions, all during the holiday season. But does anyone really know much about the Twelve Days of Christmas?
Like so many of our modern syncretistic celebrations, the Twelve Days of Christmas is a mishmash that holds within it the tradition of Catholic and Orthodox days of feasting and/or fasting and pagan mysticism and revelling, in this case Yuletide and Saturnalia. Shakespeare used this period as the setting for his play Twelfth Night, in which people take on different identities, and things are never as they seem.
These are the High Holy Days, Time Between Time, another period in which to meditate on the coming of the Light. These are also the days of the Lord of Misrule, when a young person or a peasant would perform the duties of the Lord of the Castle for this season, usually ordering wild parties and feasting and dancing. The Fool is ascendant, and the King takes orders. Having just finished a study of King Lear, I am pondering the strange wisdom of the Fool these days, and the foolishness of kings. No, I’m not making a political jab here. This is more inward, more mystical. We each have our own Ego-Ruler who sits on a golden throne and arranges things as they ought to be in order to maintain meaning and order. We also have an inner Child-Fool, who wants to set things tumbling, to play, to shift the patterns of inner law and order.
Have you ever noticed how much our modern depiction of Santa’s elves and their hats resemble to old Medieval fools and their foolscape? I have a slowly-growing theory that the Fool/Clown is so crucial to our human sense of equilibrium, and that this ancient western Medieval character of the Fool so satisfyingly fulfilled that role, that we have maintained the Fool in the character of Santa’s elves.
The “elf” hat my brother gave me for Christmas twenty years ago would look perfectly reasonable on Lear’s Fool. And here’s another thing: One of our favorite family Christmas movies is Elf. What is Will Ferrell’s Buddy if not the quintessential Fool? He doesn’t fit in “polite” society. He doesn’t know how to behave. He’s embarrassing and childlike. And he’s the wisest person in the story. The father kept trying to order things in his fashion, kept trying to maintain meaning in the only way he knew how: making money and having corporate power creates a safe social order. But Buddy came into his realm and, in that utterly cringey moment, sang, “I love you, I love you, I love you!” And the world began to topple.
This is a season when we recognize that the social order is not cast in stone, that kings fall and fools rise. Buddy the Elf gets a cynical city to believe in Santa Claus. The Fool leads the mad King through the storm and the fens. And, in the story that Christians are celebrating, a tiny baby turns the world upside-down. The child of a poor and insignificant family on the far-flung edge of the empire comes to upset the social and religious order.
Jesus is the Fool. He wanders, he questions, he turns everything upside-down, he tells his listeners, over and over: “You have heard it said, but. . .” This Holy Fool disobeys the law and order that have been set up by the people in power to maintain the power structures. Perhaps some of the struggle that Christianity faces today is that we keep wanting to make him the King. We want the seeming sense of the powerful ruler, and we eschew the seeming foolishness of the Fool. But in truth, the Kings are all mad and the Fool has wisdom to offer, if only we will hear.
His mother knew, didn’t she, when she spoke her prophecy poem while he somersaulted in her womb. He fill the hungry with good things and send the rich empty away. He will cast down the rulers from their thrones and raise up the lowly. Amen, Hallelujah. Here comes the Holiest of Fools.
If we keep up the labyrinth metaphor, these are the days of the walk out of the labyrinth–having considered what we lay down and let go on the inward journey, we now look at what we pick up for the coming year. I use Twelvenight for dreamwork. It’s more live Sixteennight for me actually, because I start really paying attention at Solstice. I mine my dreams for words and images that will accompany me into the coming year. I let the Fool of my dream-brain inform the Queen of my waking brain, offering up seemingly disjointed and disconnected ideas and words and pictures to break down the logical-intellectual meanings my day-brain has created.
This year, the valerian in the medicine I took to fend off that cold seems to have kept me sleeping well for days after. I have been sleeping deeply and satisfyingly in the last couple of days. This means I am not remembering much in the way of dreams. But this morning I woke up with this somewhat grammatically-challenged phrase in my head: “There’s more than two ways to think about it.”
My day-brain is a little offended. Duh! I’ve done that one already. I’ve meditated on both/and as a solution to either/or thinking. I’ve read everything by Richard Rohr on non-dual thinking. This is one of my core concepts. But the Fool wants me to learn it again, so who I am to fight it? More than two ways. . .
1. Fools and foolishness
2. Wisdom from unexpected places
3. b n v <–Sachs wrote that when he walked across my keyboard. Yes, Fuzzy Friend, I am grateful, so grateful, for the cats and for kitty kisses.
5. Days warm enough for me to take a walk.
May we walk in Beauty!