As I sit in front of the fire watching the flames flicker and glow, I wish for those in the Southern Hemisphere a wondrous feast day. May it bring bright blessings and joy to all.
Also known as Jul, Yuletide, Feill Fionnain, Alban Arthan.
Deities: Frey, Nerthus, Woden, Herne, Oak King, Holly King, Sul, Amaterasu, Isis, Osiris, Apollo.
Colours: Red, green, silver, gold, white.
Incense: Pine, cedar, frankincense and myrrh, cinnamon, orange.
Traditional Motifs: Evergreens, mistletoe, ivy, snowflakes, yule log, gifts, bells, solar disks, candles.
Yule comes from a Nordic word “Iul” meaning “wheel” and is a turning point, a point of change, where the tides of the year turn and begin to flow in the opposite direction. It is the darkest time of the year, the time of the longest night, but there is the promise of the return of light. Holly and mistletoe are often thought of at this time as they symbolise fertility – the mistletoe berries are white, representing the semen of the Horned God, and the holly berries are blood red, symbolising both the menstrual blood of the Goddess.
Evergreen trees also represent youth and freshness, and are symbols of the promise of spring. A Yule custom, still practised at Christmas (the time of Yule in the Northern Hemisphere) is to dress an evergreen tree, and make offerings. Pagans honour the spirit of the tree, and what it represents. The tree may be decorated with appropriate offerings such as fruit, pine cones, jewellery, symbols of the sun, symbols of fertility, etc. The star is put on the top of the tree as a sign of hope, the Goddess rising as the Star of the Sea, such as Isis, Ishtar, Aphrodite.
The God represents the Sun who passed away at Samhain, and will now be reborn after this long night to bring warmth and fertility to the land. The night belongs to the Goddess, and is a night of waiting, through Her pregnancy, for the Child of Promise. The Goddess turns the Wheel of the Year to its starting point for the morning after the longest night, Pagans greet the new Sun and celebrate the waxing year. The rising Sun brings the promise of Spring. It is still along time before the Sun will be strong. The Sun is now the Child of Promise, the young hero God. It is a time of making wishes and hopes for the coming year, and of setting resolutions. From the darkness comes light.
A popular custom at this time is the burning of the Yule log where a portion is saved for protection of the home during the coming year. The log is often decorated with holly and evergreens to symbolise the intertwining of the God and Goddess who are reunited on this day. The traditional roast pig served with an apple in its mouth represents the Goddess in Her dark aspect of Cerridwen, Freya, Astarte or Demeter to whom the pig is a sacred animal. The apple is sacred for it contains life itself, the essence of being, the soul which can be passed from one body to the other when eaten, the Goddess magik of immortality.
SUMMER SOLSTICE (Litha)
And to everyone in the Northern Hemisphere, I wish you bright blessings at this time of year as the sun warms you with its golden light, may you play and frolic in the joy of its warmth.
Also known as Alban Hefin.
Deities: Apollo, Balder, Oak King, Holly King, Sul, Isis, Hestia.
Colours: Sea green, red, gold, brown.
Incense: Frangipani, violet, cedar, St John’s Wort, basil.
Traditional Motifs: Oak leaves, acorns, antlers, straw wheels, bees, honey, floating candles, cauldrons, marigolds, ivy.
At the Summer Solstice the sun is at its highest and brightest and the day is at its longest. The Lord of Light has fought the powers of darkness, and is triumphant, ensuring fertility in the land. But in so doing, He sows the seeds of His own death. The Wheel turns and the Goddess shows Her Death-in-Life aspect, the Earth is fertile and all is in bloom, the Goddess reaches out to the fertilising Sun God at the height of His Powers. The Goddess is now heavily pregnant just as the Earth is full and ready to share Her bounty. The Summer Solstice is a time of fulfilment of love. Flowers are in bloom everywhere, ready for pollination, fertilisation, yet once fertilised they die so that the seeds and fruits may develop. At the same time, summer fruits appear, for a short but delicious season.
Although the days begin to grow shorter after Litha, the time of greatest abundance is still to come. The promises of the Goddess and God are still to be fulfilled. This is a time of beauty, love, strength, energy, rejoicing in the warmth of the sun, and the promise of the fruitfulness to come. It seems a carefree time, yet the knowledge of life is the knowledge of death, and beauty is but transitory. Pagans celebrate life, and the triumph of light, but also acknowledge death.
In many British Pagan traditions, the tale of the Oak and Holly King, the light and dark lords, is told. The Oak King represents the waxing year, Mid Winter to Mid Summer, while the Holly King represents the waning year, Mid Summer to Mid Winter. They are both necessary because without decay and destruction no new growth can begin. Twice a year they meet each other and fight. At Yule it was the Oak King who won the battle. At the Summer Solstice, although light is at its strength, it also is the peak of the Oak King’s reign, he is conquered by his darker twin, the Holly King, and the inevitable journey towards the darkness and the depths begins.