13.12.14

Yule - the Celebration of the Sun's Rebirth

(c) Anne Stokes - Spirit of Yule
(The Holly King)
Two kings fight for dominance - the Holly King and the Oak King. But this is not any usual battle as they do not have an army and they fight knowing that everything in nature is cyclical, as is their reign. They have been rivals since the beginning of time, yet they know that this is how it must be. The Oak King rules during the summer half of the year (from the winter solstice to the summer solstice) and the Holly King during the winter half (from the summer solstice to the winter solstice). Hence the Holly King is known to all as the dark king, he who rules during the waning half of the year, he who brings dark nights and who is followed by the fading of the Sun.

On the day of the battle - Yule, the winter solstice - the two kings are aware of their roles in the birth-death-rebirth cycle. It is now the Oak King's turn to once more govern over nature. The Holly King draws back, as does the darkness which cloaked the earth. The time comes for the Sun to regain its strength, for the lengthening of the days and the fertilization of the land. Yet, at the same time, this means the end of the resting and nesting period for people because there are no fruits without labor.

This year, Pagans celebrate the winter solstice (the first day of winter) a.k.a. Yule on December 21. For us, this day represents an important transition in the cycle of life. The winter solstice is marked by the longest night and the shortest day of the year. However, for Pagans, this is not a reason to grieve but rather for celebration because from this day on, the days become longer and the nights shorter...the Sun begins to regain its strength - it is reborn. It is precisely on this basis that many see Yule as the beginning of the new year. In Paganism, the Sun is personified by the God, just as the Moon is mirrored in the image of the Goddess. Thus the God, as the Sun, is reborn on this date. If it were not so, the natural cycle could not carry on.

For Lughnasadh, the God sacrificed himself, gave his body to Mother Earth and in this manner enabled the yield of crops. On Mabon, his vital energy quickly ebbs and he dies on Samhain. After this, the Goddess mourns him in the aspect of the Crone but both the Goddess and God are reborn at Yule. The Goddess undergoes a magical transformation from Crone to Maiden and gives birth to the God so they may continue to turn the Wheel of the Year together.

It is interesting that the very name of this festival, Yule, comes from the Nordic word iul/hjól which means "wheel". Based on this, we may understand Yule as the first spoke on the Wheel of the Year. As with any beginning, the first turn of this wheel is always the hardest and always lasts the longest. Thus nature in its entirety remains sedate during this time of year and in this resting phase prepares itself for the work that has to be done with the coming of spring. She warms herself up for the oncoming turns of the wheel.

(c) Anne Stokes - Oak King
Still, humans are a part of nature as well so they too take a part in all of this. This winter period of resting gives people the necessary time to reflect on their past, on themselves and their surroundings. Yule is also a wonderful time for thinking about the future and setting goals (which are also known as New Year's resolutions during this time of year). Cleansing, be it physical, emotional or spiritual, also doesn't hurt because nobody wants to enter the new year with a burden, a head full of doubts and a messy house.

The only mess you may have to put up with is a bunch of pine needles on the floor. And yes, even Pagans can decorate the Christmas tree during Christmas time. Actually, Christmas and Yule have much more in common that you might expect. An in depth comparison would require looking into the pasts of these two holidays which most definitely were intertwined, but I will only mention a few common traditions and basic ideas here. What Christians call the Christmas tree, Pagans call the Yule tree. Sometimes a Yule log is used in stead of a tree, but they both represent the same idea really - eternity. Evergreen trees such as pine, or sometimes just the stronger trees (for example oak from which the Yule log is most often made) as symbols of everlasting life because they at least seemingly ever die. The pine tree remains green throughout the entire year and in this represents the prevalence of life over death. The oak tree can live up to a few hundred years and is well known for its hardness and the durability of its roots. It's no wonder that these trees and all those similar to them are taken as symbols of eternal life! A number of other evergreen and seasonal plants and fruits can also be used for decorations - holly, mistletoe (and other berries), pine cones, acorns and so on. All of these materials are used to make wreaths, table decorations, decorations for the Christmas/Yule tree or the home in general.

Another tradition that is dear to everyone in this time of year regardless of their spiritual/religious beliefs is staying home with loved ones, enjoying the warmth of the home, nice food, warn tea, or mulled wine. The atmosphere becomes all the nicer when the time comes for exchanging presents. Although this practice has been reduced to something merely material nowadays, the ancient Romans had a habit of giving candles to one another for this occasion. In the beginnings of this solar festival, presents didn't even exist, but were introduced as a symbol of caring and love, but also protection. The candle is a symbol of light which is also given to somebody in the very act of giving the candle. In this context, light has multiple meanings - banishing evil forces and protection from them (which is similar to the symbolism of bells which are yet another appropriate symbol of the season) as well as solar symbolism (by lighting candles, one represents the growth of the Sun's strength which occurs in this time of year and, according to some beliefs, the Sun is actually stimulated by this act). Perhaps this season is a good time to recall that the main point of presents aren't the gifts themselves and their material value, but rather the intention that goes with them.

With all of this  - loved ones, warmth, food, drinks, presents and so on - good fun is guaranteed! After all, Yule is one of the eight Pagan Sabbats and is therefore a cause for celebration. This month, we celebrate the return of the Sun and say welcome. It is only fitting that you too begin to emanate light and warmth and, with it, fill your own lives and the lives of your loved ones.

I wish you all a joyous and blessed Yule!

(c) Rick Landry - Winter Solstice Sunrise

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