Posts Tagged ‘Winter Solstice’

As Wiccans we celebrate The Wheel of Year. The Wheel of the Year consists of eight sabbats that are celebrated at the change of the seasons.  These Sabbats reflect the cycle of life. Birth, death and rebirth.

Mother Earth is alive and sentient, both in matter and consciousness.   She holds out her heart to us, inviting us to deepen our partnership.    We are of the Earth, not separate from her.   Tuning to her rhythms restores harmony and teaches us to embrace the ever-turning cycle of life and death.

We are entering the coldest part of the year and as Yule also known as the Winter Solstice is traditionally celebrated in winter, we in the Southern hemisphere  join in the festivities on the 21st of June. The people in Northern Hemisphere celebrate Yule in December and this festival was later absorbed into and aquated into the Christian festival Christmas . Yule and Christmas are not so very different. Both are celebrating the birth of the Sun/Son.

Perhaps one of the oldest of the festivals, dating from when early humans lit fires from Yule logs, and hung up evergreen boughs, decorated with torches or tallow tapers to lend power to the Sun. By these gestures it was hoped the sun would not die and that the greenery would return to the trees. In other lands, too, the Sun God, for example the Persian Mithras whose worship spread throughout the Roman Empire and Christ were mythologically if not historically born at this time.

At Yule we see the battle between the Holly King and the Oak King once again. The Oak King represents rebirth and rules the warm half of the year. We see the Oak/Sun King win the battle over the Holly/Winter King and take his crown as the ruling King, whereas at Litha, Midsummer the Holly/Winter King wins the battle over the Oak/Sun King.

At the darkest time, when the Earth seems bare and forlorn, we bring evergreens into our homes, the Yule tree, a symbol of life, health and vitality. We bring in holly for protection, ivy for the faithful promise that life endures and mistletoe for fertility. In the first days of winter, these remind us that Earth will be green again. We feast to lighten our hearts and share the fellowship of others to warm ourselves from within.

Yule is a time to delve deep within and find the vital inner spark which, re-energised, will keep our spirits and our physical energy going through the winter and bring back new ideas, projects and developments in our lives.

It is a time to let go of all fears, all doubts, all outworn ideas, all projects that are finished – anything in our lives that holds us away from the new beginnings that will lead to new growth. It is a time to let go of the past and walk toward the light. Some witches light a gold candle in the cauldron and jump the cauldron of rebirth making a wish for her to be a better person in the coming year. On this longest night, we renew and rebirth our bodies and spirit self. This is when we plant our seeds of change, whether it be truth, love and friendship. It is at this time that we make resolutions or promises to ourselves for the coming year.

The night of the Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year. Now darkness triumphs, and yet, gives way and changes into light. The breath of nature is suspended. All wait while within the cauldron, the Dark King is transformed into the infant light. We watch for the coming dawn, when the Great Mother gives birth to the divine Child the Sun King, who is the promise of the summer. We call the Sun from the womb of the night. Our Blessed Lady carries in her young womb – the womb which has birthed all things into being and again Our Lady turns the wheel once more.

At Yule we exchange gifts in honour of the Sun God, we celebrate love, strengthen bonds with family, togetherness and fellowship of friends and the accomplishments of the past year  and what better way to celebrate it than sitting  by a fire and burning of the of the Yule log.

Burning huge communal bonfires was another ancient Yule custom. Pagan folk would first se­lect trees that they considered to be sacred. Each household would cut down a sacred tree and add it to the communal fire. Some of the trees sacred to the ancient Europeans included birch, oak, holly, pine, and willow. Pagan folk believed that while the wood burned, it imparted some special or magickal influence.

The hearth fire replaced the customary outdoor bonfire over the course of time. Because of this change, pagan folks typically burned only a section of the tree – a Yule log – instead of the entire tree. New magickal traditions arose with this change. For example, pagan folk would first select a tree for logging on the land of the home where it would be burned. Like other magickal tools, the Yule log was not a thing to purchase. It could, perhaps, be a gift.

Families would cut Yule logs from the thickest parts of the tree. Sometimes huge roots or giant stumps found their way to the hearth. After cutting the log, the householder would then ceremonially drag it across his or her land for luck. Once the log made its way to the hearth, family members and neighbours might then decorate it with sprigs of holly, pine needles, and berries. The master of the house would sprinkle the log with oil, salt, and cider or wassail. A young girl would then ceremoni­ally kindle the log, and attendants would keep it burning over the course of twelve nights. In other accounts, the log was supposed to last for twelve hours; it was considered an evil omen if the log extinguished before the end of twelve hours.

A family would then, customarily, preserve a piece of the log from the fire. This piece of wood served as kindling for the next year’s Yule log. In the rural parts of Europe, a farmer might attach the piece of unburned Yule log to his plough to assure a bountiful harvest. The early Europeans also be­lieved that they could bless their crops by mixing the ash from the incinerated Yule log into the soil just before seeding. Pagan folk might also keep the ash in their homes as protection from lightning, malevolent forces, or from evil spirits.

Making wassail is a favourite Yuletide pagan cus­tom. This traditionally spiced ale (or mulled wine) filled with magickal solar herbs has its origins in Saxon history. The word “wassail” was a saluta­tion for the ancient Saxons. It literally meant “be in good health.” By the twelfth century, the Danes had introduced the term to the Britons as a drinking toast. As time went by, Britons used the word in reference to the drink in which the toast was offered. The magickal spices and herbs that infuse the wassail invoke the energies of the sun in anyone who drinks it.

Christmas Eve and Twelfth Night (another win­ter holiday) became the traditional times that cele­brants would drink wassail. One twelfth-night tra­dition involved invoking the gods to bless the apple trees that would bear the crop from which next year’s cider would be made. Ancient celebrants would invoke the solar deities by soaking small pieces of bread in cider and placing them around the apple trees. They would then sing special was­sailing songs that would encourage the tree to bear fruit.

Wassail, wassail, all over the town,
Our bowl it is white and our ale it is brown
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee.

A blessed Yule to everyone!!


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