Yule / Winter Solstice December 21
At Samhain we honour, celebrate and welcome the descent into, and return of, the dark - the beginning of the New Year, acknowledging that all beginnings emerge from darkness. At the Winter Solstice we reach the depth of that darkness with the longest night of the year. Darkness has reached its peak.
"Now we start to wonder: will this continue? Will the Earth grow darker and colder as the Sun disappears into the south until only darkness is left? But at Yule a wonderful thing happens. The Sun stops its decline and for a few days it rises in about the same place. This is the crucial time, the cusp between events. The Sun stands still, and everyone waits for the turning.
In our heads we know the light will return. But in the darkness of Winter, can we be sure? do our hearts believe what our heads tell us? Will the light keep its promises? We all have moments of darkness, when we don't know how much deeper we will go before the light starts to return (or even if it will). The world has moments too; it understands us, and lives as we do.
The Sun does start moving north again and the light comes back. In the world, in our lives, the light comes back. "This is indeed something worth celebrating, and it has been celebrated throughout the Northern Hemisphere in remarkably similar ways." (quote from The Pagan Family by Ceisiwr Serith)
The Festival of Rebirth and The Return of the Sun
With the end of the longest night the dark is defeated with the Return of the Sun, the return of light, hope and promise. The Goddess gives birth to the Sun/Sun God. The Sun begins to wax and the days grow longer. All that is hidden will begin to emerge. This is the Sun's birthday! And it really is time to celebrate!
The Oak King and The Holly King
The Holly King rules over the dark part of the year from Midsummer to Yule, he is God of the Waning Year. At Yule, The Holly King surrenders his life to the young light Oak King, God of the Waxing Year and his twin, who rules over the light part of the year from Yule to Midsummer. Both rule for half of the year, both fight for the favour and love of the Goddess and both surrender their life force for the well-being of the land. In truth, they are one. (Merayllah Allwood)
Traditions of Yule
Yule, or Winter Solstice traditions are many and generous, and are shared not only with Christianity with the birthday of the Christ Child, but with many pre-Christian Pagan traditions and indeed more recent ones. It is difficult sometimes to identify their sources, but they are all very familiar in our Western culture even if we don't recognise the symbology behind them.
Evergreens represent everlasting life and were traditionally hung around doorways and windows. Each has a symbolism of its own.
Greatly revered by the Druids, this is the healer and protector. It is carefully cut to ensure it never touches the earth. It's magical properties are believed to be connected to the fact that it lives between the worlds, between sky/heaven and earth. The white berries of mistletoe represent the fertile white semen of the life-giving male. Which is where kissing under the mistletoe comes from!
Another evergreen of protection, holly's spiky bristles are believed to repel unwanted spirits. Newborn babies used to be sprinkled with 'holly water', water in which holly had been soaked, especially potent if left under a full moon overnight. Holly is sacred to Holle, the Germanic underworld goddess, and symbolizes everlasting life, goodwill and potent life energy. Its red berries represent feminine blood. Together, mistletoe and holly represent the Sacred Marriage at this time of year with the re-birth of the Sun/Son.
Evergreen symbol of immortality and resurrection, growing in a spiral reminding us of reincarnation and rebirth. Sacred to Osiris, where His death and resurrection was a central theme in Egyptian religion. Sacred also to Dionysys, god of vegetation, blossoming and the Return of Spring.
Tree of regeneration and rebirth as no other - it sends up new trees from its roots and grows to a very great age. It is deeply connected with the spirit realms and the ancestors. Often used as the central 'world tree' in ritual spaces and was often planted in graveyards. Very poisonous.
Its branches bring healing and joy to the home, burning it will purify.
The Kissing Bough
At Yuletide it has often been customary to make a decoration using two hoops, one thrust through the other, and bound with evergreens, holly and ivy, and rosy cheeked apples specially reserved for the occasion. Inside, dolls are hung, male and female, with other brightly coloured baubles. At the bottom of the decoration a bunch of mistletoe is carefully tied, and the whole tableau is suspended in the middle of the room, the centre of attention. Every berry on the mistletoe bears the promise of a kiss, and for every kiss given or taken a berry is removed. When all the berries are gone, the kissing has to stop! (Hedingham Fair)
It was traditional to make wreaths from evergreen - the Wheel of Life as evergreen. These were hung on doors or laid horizontally and decorated with candles - later becoming the Christian Advent Wreath
The Yule Tree
Introduced into modern times apparently by the German Prince Albert in Victorian times and we love it. In ancient Rome, pine trees were an essential part of Goddess groves. On the eve of the Midwinter Solstice, Roman priests would cut down a pine tree, decorate it and carry it ceremonially to the temple celebrations. People decked their homes with boughs of evergreen trees and bushes in pots. Pines and firs were cherished as a symbol of rebirth and life in the depth of winter. It was the festival of Saturnalia. Pagan families would bring a live tree into the home so the wood spirits would have a place to keep warm in the cold winter months - food and treats were hung on the branches for the spirits to eat.
This is the festival of light out of darkness and the tradition of lighting candles is ever popular. Red, green and the gold of the Returning Sun are the colours of Yule. Deck your home and altar with evergreens and candles.
This is THE Birthday of the Sun/Son! From ancient times the giving and exchanging of gifts has been a vibrant tradition of this festival.
Buttermilk Bread Charm for YuleYou will need:
3 mugs of strong white flour
500 ml of Buttermilk (available from the supermarket)
I teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda
Yule ribbon in red & green or gold
4 dessertspoons of honey
3 dessertspoons of golden syrup
4 dessertspoons of mixed peel
3/4 cup of mixed dried fruit
3 pieces of ginger, roughly chopped (the type you get in syrup)
chopped walnuts and rich brown sugar for sprinkling
Place the flours in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre. Sieve in the blended salt and soda and pour in the buttermilk. Mix well all the remaining ingredients with a wooden spoon until the dough feels springy. You can add some of the preserved ginger syrup for extra stickiness and zing) If it feels too sloppy just add a little more flour. Turn it onto a board and cover with a fine dusting of flour. Pat it with your hands until you have a round shape. Take a sharp knife and score lightly into eight sections, one for each festival. Brush with milk and sprinkle with nuts and sugar.
Place onto a greased baking tray and pop your buttermilk bread into a moderate oven for about 20-25 minutes. Keep an eye on it. When the bread is ready it will change colour and it will sound hollow when you tap the bottom. Cool completely on a wire rack. When it is cool, tie it with Yule ribbon.
Take time to concentrate on the bread you have created and turn the loaf three times saying "From the fields and through the stones, into fire, Yule Bread, as the Wheel turns may all be fed. Goddess Bless."
Now take your bread and share it with your family and friends and pass on the generous blessings of this festival of Rebirth! Eat it fresh, as soon as it is made if you can.
(Recipe donated by the Counter Enchantress and adapted by the Boss Lady with permission)
The Counter Enchantress is discovering that you can add almost anything appropriate to this simple bread recipe and it STILL WORKS beautifully. You can decide for yourself what the appropriate additions are for a particular festival, and just do it. There is much kitchen magic in working with one recipe through the Wheel of the Year just changing it a little as the wheel turns.....
One wooden spoon
Thin red and green, or gold ribbon
Take the spoon in your right hand and say 'Brightest blessings on this Yuletide Fare, give Love and Peace in equal share'. Tie the ribbon in a bow around the neck of the spoon and say 'with Yuletide Warmth my Hearth be blessed, That lifts the Heart of Kin and Guest'.
Take your charm and place it in a suitable place in your kitchen. This charm can be extended in many ways, for example by tying a pouch of cinnamon together with the ribbon. Brilliant small gift - and you can do it yourself!
The Spirit of Yule
Above all, Yuletide is a Celebration of the Return of the Light, the promise fulfilled of Light birthing out of Darkness.
It is a time to share Love and Celebrate with our community of Family and Friends.
And the Wheel Turns...
Winter Solstice Stonehenge © Mark Grant CC-BY-SA-3.0 Wikimedia Commons
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