As a Solstice, the celebration of Yule (pronounced – YEW-elle) the Sabbat embraced on December 21st; dates back to ancient Rome in 300 C.E. with a quote of “It is customary at this time, for pagans to celebrate the birth of the sun”. A time when the Oak King and Holly King battle for supremacy just as they do at Midsummer and the Oak King triumphs in his rebirth. Yule is when the dark half of the year relinquishes to the light half. Starting the next morning at sunrise, the sun climbs just a little higher and stays a little longer in the sky each day. Known as Solstice Night, or the longest night of the year, much celebration was to be had as the ancestors awaited the rebirth of the Oak King, the Sun King, the Giver of Life that warmed the frozen Earth and made her to bear forth from seeds protected through the fall and winter in her womb. Bonfires were lit in the fields, and crops and trees were “wassailed” with toasts of spiced cider.
The word “Yule” holds origins from a Scandinavian term meaning “wheel”. This is one reason it is associated with the Wheel of Life as it is the start of the wheel which comes around each winter. For pagans. Yule celebrations at the winter solstice predate the conversion to Christianity. It was, in pre-conversion times, the name of a feast celebrated by sacrifice on mid-winter night. Though there are numerous references to Yule in the Icelandic sagas, there are few accounts of how Yule was actually celebrated, beyond the fact that it was a time for feasting and sacrifice, often shown as the battle between the Holly King and the Oak King.
This was a time of honoring the sun for its return of the bounty and thankfulness for the bounty that is sustaining the family through the cold. Evergreens, such as holly, ivy, and mistletoe, were often used to decorate indoors during this season because they stay green throughout the season with a little care.
In days of old children were escorted from house to house with gifts of pomanders which were laid in baskets of evergreen boughs and wheat stalks. The pomanders represented the sun, the boughs were symbolic of immortality, and the wheat stalks portrayed the harvest. Holly, mistletoe, and ivy not only decorated the outside but also the inside of homes. It was to extend an invitation to Nature Sprites to come and join the celebration. A sprig of Holly was kept near the door all year long as a constant invitation for good fortune to pay a visit to the residents.
The ceremonial Yule log was the highlight of the festival and still is for the Silver Moon Crow Coven. In accordance with tradition, once the log was brought into the house and placed in the fireplace it was decorated in seasonal greenery, doused with cider or ale, and dusted with flour before set ablaze by a piece of last years log, (held onto for just this purpose). The log would burn throughout the night, then smolder for twelve days before being ceremonially put out.
Ash is the traditional wood of the Yule log. It is the sacred world tree of the Teutons, known as Yggdrasil. An herb of the Sun, Ash brings light into the hearth at the Solstice. A different type of Yule log, and perhaps one more suitable for modern practitioners would be the type that is used as a base to hold three candles. A small log of oak or pine.
The Yule celebrations have survived with gatherings that often involve a meal and gift giving. Further attempts at reconstruction of surviving accounts of historical celebrations are often made, a hallmark being variations of the traditional. However it has been pointed out that this is not really reconstruction as these traditions never died out – they have merely removed the superficial Christian elements from the celebrations.
Remembrance is often made to the origins of “Kissing under the Mistletoe” for its original Druid origins, kissing under the Mistletoe could bring “Peace and Goodwill” to warring tribes; or the sanctity of the ancient “Yule Log” and even more modern connections with Christmas Trees. Within the Silver Moon Crow Coven, we still enjoy decorating that much-abused evergreen with various odds and ends that bring joy to our families.
There are many traditions that may have followed us from these ancient festivities, some fun things to add to your celebrations would be of course Making Wreaths, Yule logs, decorating trees, hanging outdoor lights, gathering mistletoe, exchanging presents, and even wassail when appropriate. Out of respect for our diverse upbringing, we can’t abandon all the traditions that we loved while young but are happy to add to them and regard all as sacred.
The return of the Sun is commemorated and ancient mythologies are incorporated and revered. While we commemorate the death of the Holly King identified with the wren bird (symbolizing the old year and the shortened sun) at the hands of his son and successor, the robin redbreast Oak King, the new year and the new sun that begins to grow. Celebrating the rebirth of the Great God, who is viewed as the newborn solstice sun.