This is the time of year we celebrate Yule. Also known as Christmas, Midwinter Festival, Winter Solstice, Wild Hunt, Modranicht or Saturnalia.
Essentially they are celebrated around the Solstice, marking the ending of one season and the beginning of another. Also the beginning of a new year coming for the harvest.
Although not certain the origins of the term “Yule” it may have meant, “feast of entreaty” or similar to “magic”. A root also in English for “Jolly”.
Several historic landmarks are a testament to the age of this Celebration. Newgrange Mound in Ireland is believed to be in exact astronomical position to the Solstice. This dates back to around the 3200 BC. Making it one of the oldest in the world. As well Stonehenge or Avesbury are also said to be associated with the Solstice.
This marks the festival of the Winter Solstice, which arrives this year on December 21st in North America. This is the time when the Sun reaches it's farthest destination south. It then resides in this position for 3 days where it will then begin it's journey towards the North on December 24th, 2015. In Latin the word Solstice means: Sol- Sun; Stice- Stoppage, Sun stopping. This marks the beginning of Winter in the Northern Hemisphere, but also a celebration of the returning of the light. It is the celebration of Summer in the southern hemisphere. This is the Shortest Day and the Longest Night or the Longest Day and the Shortest Night for the south.
The ancient people knew this phenomenon and celebrated this as a time of rebirth and renewal when the wheel would turn and we would move once again to the renewal of life. It was a time when the New Sun was born from the Mother. Yule was this celebration. The new birth of life.
In some cultures this Yule Celebration lasted 12 days from the 21st of December, known in the Celtic traditions as “Mother's Night”, ending on “Yule Night” which was January 1st. Today many of the world celebrates this as the 12 days of Christmas.
It was celebrated by many cultures in surprisingly similar fashion. Historically throughout many nations and customs had celebrations at this point in time. Heathens celebrated with huge gatherings, feasts, and drinking. I'm sure a little song or two. Various other cultures referred this as a time of Hunting. Wicca celebrated the season when a New Solstice Sun was born. Often called the Great Horned Hunter God. For the Celtic traditions it represented the turning of the Wheel of the year. There is an old Welsh legend about two Kings who fought for supremacy. The kings were known as the “Oak King” and the “Holly King”. Where during Yule the Holly King wins over from the Oak King rulership till the Summer Solstice. In some legends it's reversed. The Oak King is often referred to as the “Green Man”.
In the Irish legends the God Lugh is reborn. Whom marries his Goddess, whom is represented as the cycles of life. From Maiden, Mother and Crone.
Anglo-Saxons also believed the Wheel Turned. Significant points in the year marked these turns. They used the term “Iul” to mean “wheel”.
The Roman called this time of the year or celebration to be “Saturnalia” which is interesting since the Solstice marks the time of year when the Sun enters the zodiac sign of Capricorn, which is ruled by the planet Saturn. The Winter Solstice then enters the 00 degree mark of this Cardinal sign.
Persian Mithraists celebrated December 25th as a time when the Sun God was reborn. Known as Mithras, where the light began to take over the darkness. Once again lighting the world.
For many Pagan's this was a time of the birth of many of their Gods. Some examples are Apollo, Lugh, Mithra, Horus, Arthur, Hercules, Perseus, Dionysus, Oedipus, Theseus and Jesus according to the now Christian belief.
Some Goddesses celebrated or acknowledge at this time were; Aphrodite, Fortuna, Gaia, Hel, Holle, Idunn, Ishtar, Isis, Maat, and Tiamat.
Traditions run deep within this celebration. We continue many of these traditions today. Many sectors of belief, brought in the “Yule Log”. In some cases this “Log” would be burned for several days. The ashes were often kept for certain purposes like healing, charms or protection. In other cases it was a small Log which contained 3 candles, various winter greenery like evergreen, holly or mistletoe. Which also were lit and burned. Sometimes the candles were of a specific colour like red, white or green. Sometimes included blue and black, gold, silver, yellow and orange. Depending which area you were from.
Bonfires were often lit during this time. Holly was gathered and hung near the door, as well as Ivy, representing good fortune. Mistletoe, representing the divine. Various trees were used, from Palm in Egypt to Evergreen trees in Europe. Various trees like Oak and Ash were also recognized. Sometime decorated. Some pagan communities exchanged gifts amongst the children as well. There was much feasting on various foods, from boiled meat in Heathen time to turkey, pork, lamb. The delicacies of spiced cakes, ginger teas or apple cider. One of the favourite drinks was, Wassail used to toast. Meaning to be in good health or to be whole. Singing would commence with good wishes to all.
A Recipe for Wassail
3 Red Apples
3 oz Brown Sugar
2 pints brown Ale, Apple Cider
1/2 pint of dry sherry or dry white wine
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp of ginger strips or lemon peal.
Core and heat the apples with brown sugar and some of the Ale or Cider in an over for 30 minutes. Put in a large pan and add rest of spices and lemon peel, simmer on stove top for 5 minutes. Adding most of the alcohol at the last minute so it heats up but does not evaporate. Burgundy or Brandy can be substituted for the Ale or Sherry.
Herbs were also important from Frankincense or Myrrh for burning to Rosemary or Sage for Cooking. To Barbarry, blessed thistle, mistletoe and pine. They were all included in various celebrations. Drink a glass of Chamomile to ease your sleep or crack open a chestnut to snack on while listening to the warmth of the fire.
This is a time of purification, transformations, divination and renewal of the light. Seek spells in happiness, peace, harmony and love.
Today we practice and share many of these traditions throughout the world.
Many Blessings to All at this significant time of Year!
Complete Book of Correspondences; pg 401
The Winter Solstice; Lady SpringWolf
The Winter Solstice-Yule Lore; Akasha Ap Emrys
The Legend of the Holly King and the Oak King; Patti Wigington
Yule-Winter Solstice-The Wheel of the Year-The White Goddess;