9.5.13

Yule (December 21)

Yule usually falls somewhere between the 21st and 23rd of December. It is also knows as the Winter solstice; the day of the year when the night is the longest and the Sun is just beginning to regain its strength since from this day on, the day will begin to get longer. The name itself comes from the Norse word iul which mean wheel (as in the wheel of the year, life etc.).

In some traditions, this day signifies the death of the Sun God and the triumph of the Oak King over the Holly King (for more details on this story, you can have a look at my earlier post entitled "Wiccan Beliefs"). This wheel symbolizes the death and rebirth of the Sun God for what has an ending must have a beginning (at least in Paganism). The Goddess is at this point in her Crone phase, but her time will also come to be rejuvenated.

A Synthesis of Beliefs and Traditions

I would like to take a bit of my time to talk about other traditions and beliefs which have a few things to do with this celebration in order to make this Pagan festival a bit clearer to you non-Pagans out there :) and if you are, no harm from broadening your horizons a bit, right? So let's start.

The Holly King
The Oak King
The Christmas story of the birth of baby Jesus (who is often compared to the Sun) can be related to the story of the rebirth of the Sun God on Yule (what with the Sun beginning to regain its strength from this point onward). My goal isn't to demean any other faiths, but to simply emphasize the fact that traditions have always borrowed traditions and beliefs from one another since humanking has existed. This made them all, in a way, synthesized. Even other Sun gods (for example Mithra in Persian mythology) "take" this day for their date of birth. It wasn't until the year 273 AD that the Church took this date as the official date of birth for their savior. Mind you that Christianity wasn't even accepted (or legal) at this time. This happened in 313 AD with Constantine the Great's Edict of Milan. In order for Christians to assimilate into the Pagan society of that time, they took the same date as the Pagans did for their celebration so on this day, they celebrated their God while the Pagans celebrated their gods. If we decide to compare the Virgin Mary with the Goddess, we can see a few similarities here too. On this day, both of them give birth to the Sun God/bringer of Light/Savior or whatever you decide to call him. So slowly but surely, the cult of the Virgin Mary became popular (but don't comprehend the word "cult" as something bad but simply as a group of worshipers/followers of something). But, the worshiping of the Virgin Mary was only accepted in 431 AD with the First Council of Ephesus. She was then allowed to be praised and viewed as an important figure in the Catholic faith, but she still wasn't glorified as much as God was (not even closely). What happened was that she gained some godly characteristics and hence became slightly less humanized. 

Lovro Dobričević
(a Croatian painter),
St Nicholas, 1448
A few sentences ago, I mentioned the story of the Oak King and the Holly King. The Oak King symbolizes the God in the waning ("growing") part of the year, while the Holly King resembles him in the waxing part. Logically, with the triumph of the Oak King on Yule we are told a story that is actually an allegory for the waning year i.e. the triumph of light over darkness. The exact opposite happens in the Summer solstice when the Holly King wins the battle against the Oak King.

Now where does good old Santa Claus fit in here? This is a slightly more complex question which I will try to answer in a few lines. In Christianity, there was the belief that the presents on Christmas Eve were brought by St. Nicholas (this tradition survives even today) and that the baby Jesus brings them on Christmas day/after Christmas. This simply changed with time. Namely, the first depiction of St. Nicholas (which got "shortened" to Santa Claus) in the form of the Santa Claus we know today first came to exist in 1931. The person who ordered this depiction was no other than Coca Cola who dressed him in their signature colors (red and white). Until then, St Nicholas was depicted in a completely different way (as you can see by the pictures I put in this post). Though there were many other famous gift-bringers in other cultures too. Good examples would be Kristkindl in Germany (often depicted as a gnome of some sort, and when translated, it literally means baby Jesus), Pére Noël in France (translation: Father Christmas) and a slightly different example from Italy - the witch Befana. She would deliver presents to children on her broom and is obviously different from the previous examples. But at least she is proof that not all Witches are bad :D

Haddon Sundblom,
Santa Nicolas,
1931
You're surely familiar with the tradition of decorating the Christmas tree. This is a variation of the Pagan tradition of decorating the Yule log. This log was usually taken from an oak tree (a symbol of the triumph of the Oak King) and a part of this tradition still lives through a cake known as the Christmas/Yule log (at least in Croatia).

I think I've talked enough about other traditions, so let us return back to Paganism.

Let us return to the Goddess for a second and her aspects at this time. If we look at the Celtic tree calendar (which I talked about a bit in this post), we will notice that the Elder tree month lasts from November 25 until December 22, but also that December 23 doesn't fall under any category. This is because it is the so-called "plus one" (+1) day. To elaborate, this month is represented by the Elder tree, which is a symbol of the Goddess in her darker aspects. This plant has white flowers and dark red berries which reminds us of the combines symbols of purity (white, usually the color of female purity i.e. chastity) and menstrual blood (red, of course). December 22 is that day that signifies the death of the Goddess, or rather the God, but at this time, she mourns over him and starts to change (a symbolical death). The day after, December 23, is the day of her (and the God's) rebirth. This myth of the Goddess mourning over the God can also be found in Egyptian mythology when Isis mourns over Osiris after he is killed by his brother Seth (again, a myth in which darkness overcomes light, but light is born again and prevails). The story goes like this: after Seth kills Osiris, he scatters his body parts over the deserts so he can never be reassembled and thus reborn. Isis is the one who searches for these scattered body parts and, after finding them all, asks her sister Nephthys (also her dark side) for help with putting them together. They, of course, succeed in performing this task and banish Seth back to the Underworld...at least until next year hehe :) Connected to this story is the myth of Isis burying Osiris, which happens on December 21, but already on December 23, Isis gives birth to his son (also his reincarnation), Horus. Notice the similarities between the dates and importance of all these characters in various traditions.

I wouldn't like to go on too much longer, so here's a small table that might help you in creating your ritual since it somehow sums up all the important facts about Yule :)

Sabbat: Yule
Pronunciation: /'ju:l/
Date: December 21
Other names: Winter solstice, Yultide, Midwinter,
Christmas, Mother's night
Phase of the God: Dies (the Oak King)
Phase of the
Goddess:
Mourns the God
(the Crone)
Symbolism: Regeneration and rebirth during the
Winter months
Traditions:
Lighting a fire, the Yule log,
carrying candles around the circle
Symbols and
colors:
Red, green, white, silver, golden,
a log/small tree (in a pot), the wheel
Traditional food: Yule log, Christmas bread,
traditional gingerbread cookies,
"fritule", icicle cookies...
Traditional
incens:
Cedar, pine, rosemary

Of course, I could go on and on about this topic, but I think you feel the spirit of this festival like it or not so there isn't much point in endlessly talking about it :) Most of you probably decorate your own Christmas tree, the streets are probably decorated with Christmas lights...but when you look at all this, I just want you to remember that all of these traditions are intertwined some way or another. You will often hear Pagans saying that Christianity took this or that tradition from Paganism, but I don't see how this is in any way bad. And the end of the day, it's not important how we will celebrate a day/a certain God, but how we will celebrate this happy time of the year. If this isn't a happy time, then I don't know what is :) even though it may be dark by 4 p.m., the Sun will soon shine again and the God and Goddess be merry and in love before you know it. 

This is a time of giving...not only of physical gifts but also of emotional and spiritual ones. Remember the only rule of Wicca: harm none. This is the ideal time to apply this rule and think about its deeper meaning.

Since I talked about quite a few topics in this post and in the process managed to forget to mention something you find more interesting/important, feel free to ask questions or add what you feel necessary. If I'm able to answer, I will and I will always hear you out and add what you have to say to the post. 

For now, I wish you all a happy Yule!
Until next time. Yours,
Witch's Cat

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