Sunday, December 21, 2014, I attended my first group pagan/witch ritual in 10 years — 10 years exactly, in fact! The last group ritual I attended I actually hosted in my home for Yule 2004. It was a group of eclectic solitaries then, and now, I’ve had the pleasure and honor to participate in an equally eclectic, non-hierarchical, non-ego-driven ritual with a bunch of great people. I AM SO HAPPY to have met them! I will definitely be attending more rituals with these awesome pagan peeps.
Yule, a.k.a. Winter Solstice, is a time to be thankful and reflective. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, “Yule” comes from the Old Norse word jol and Old Anglo-Saxon jiuli (or giuli), which referred to a two-month season of celebrations during the wintertime. The Old French word “solstice” comes from two Latin words: sol, which means “sun”, and sistere, which means “to stand still”. The implication is that people once thought the sun stood still on the solstice(s) and/or that the spiritual advisors thought this was a time for the people to be still, to be reflective on such an auspicious heavenly event. As I observe Christians running around crazy and stressed out during this highly commercialized time of year, I sit back and laugh. I choose stillness and calm.
From the European pagan traditions, Yule/Winter Solstice is the time when the goddess (the earth) gives birth to the son (sun) — sound familiar? And with this return of the light to the world, the days become longer. As the sun god grows, he warms the earth goddess, who will birth the harvest and nourish the animals that will in turn nourish us. In the Spring, the son/sun god will be sacrificed and resurrected for the earth and the people. (Still sounding familiar?)
Also mixed in the traditions is the legend of the Holly King and the Oak King as they duke it out to see who will rule the next six months. The Oak King and the Holly King are male earth deities and represent a duality that governs the light half and the dark half of the year, respectively. For the Winter Solstice, the Oak King wins the battle as the days get longer because it will be the sacred oak trees (and other plants) coming back to life in the Spring. At Summer Solstice, the Holly King wins and reigns as the days get shorter through the harvest time of Autumn and into the cold months of winter.
Still other traditions have a fatherly winter spirit (adult male earth spirit) who helps the poor and gives gifts to children. Remember, back in the day, there was no grocery store or mall — whatever you had, you grew it or made it. Winter in northwestern Europe was difficult; both animals and people would die from the cold or lack of food, if not enough supplies had been prepared before the extreme cold set it.
This wintertime fatherly earth spirit of northwestern European paganism is rooted in pre-Christian British lore of the Holly King as well as the Norse god Odin/Wotan, who rode an eight-legged horse, and the Norse god Thor, who is associated with oak trees and flies through the sky on a chariot pulled by two goats (not eight reindeer … sorry, Rudolf). Other festivus influencers may be the Greek god Cronos, and even the pre-Christian Russian folkloric do-gooder Grandfather Frost. The church took the good deeds of the real St. Nicholas and combined them with the iconic Holly King/Odin/Grandfather Frost to create the “St. Nick” we now know as Santa Claus.
But Yuletide wasn’t all about men or kids. Pagans LOVE women and respect women. The Anglo-Saxon/Germanic celebration of Mōdraniht, “Mothers’ Night”, specifically honors mothers as well as any female ancestors who have crossed over. This takes place on what is now December 24th, according to the 8th-century historian Bede. After all, without woman, there is no human life. Without caring for the earth, there is no food, no clean water, no clean air. We must honor and take care of earth/goddess. It is all connected. We are all connected.
The photo above is the Yule fire from Sunday’s ritual. The log in the center is the official Yule log that was blessed on the altar, beautifully decorated and holding 3 candles. The warmth of the fire and the camaraderie of the fellow goddess/god-oriented pagan friends was simply perfect. I just wish I’d brought the fixin’s for s’mores.
I LOVE meeting with others and building our community, each sharing what we do and respecting that we’re different. I can’t wait for the next sun ritual — and maybe some Full Moon work, as well.
All hail the real reason for the season: nature-based pagan heathenry! :-)
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