Yule occurs on the Winter Solstice. This is the time of year when the sun is at its lowest point in the sky (Northern Hemisphere) and the Sun enters the sign of Capricorn. This usually happens between December 20th and December 23rd. Also known as: Alban Arthuan, the Winter Solstice marks the longest night of the year.
The word Solstice means “standing-still-sun” because the sun seems to stand still for this one day before the daylight begins to grow again. The sun will only rise higher and higher in the sky from this point onward. It is from this point that the days begin slowly to become longer and longer. The sun is at its most southeastern point over the Tropic of Capricorn in the northern hemisphere and has no apparent northward or southward motion. Since it appears that the sun’s light is growing as each day passes after this one, this holiday is celebrated as the birth of the sun.
The word Yule comes from the Old Norse “iul,” meaning wheel ,and refers to the ‘wheel of the year’, (or the idea of the year, seen as a wheel turning as the seasons change).
To our ancestors, the Sun was often identified with God, and the earth and moon with the Goddess. Since it was at this time that the daylight began to grow, our ancestors believed that this was the day the Goddess gave birth to the ‘sun-Son’. In the time of the ancient tribes this was a time of celebration, for it meant the turning point of winter and the eventual return of spring. Yule is the time when we honor the Goddess for giving birth to the sun once more. It is the time when the Oak King is victorious over the Holly King.
The Holly King represents death and darkness that has ruled since Samhain, and the Oak King represents rebirth and life. The waning (diminishing) sun is overtaken by the waxing (increasing) sun, thus the days become longer after the victory of the Oak King.
Yule is a time when we do Rituals and celebrate the increasing daylight, to renew, and to see the world through the eyes of a child. Spells done at Yule tend to raise our spirits, and bring harmony, peace, and joy. During Yule we see the wisdom of past experience begin to glimmer. The experiences we yielded over the harvest season of the times gone past begin to be reborn as wisdom, new light, to guide us further down the Paths we have chosen.
Because His birth heralds the days growing longer, the God represents hope in the coming cold of Winter and the promise that spring lies ahead. Since we are still in the coldest part of the year, with much cold and darkness still ahead of us, we should emulate the newly born baby. The baby Son draws close to his mother (the Goddess) at this time… we too must draw inward and be thankful for the family we have to help us through the hardships. This is also a time to delve into the depth of your mind and really look at yourself and see what you have learned in the past year.
Yule Traditions and Symbols
It is customary for Witches to decorate the Yule tree, and adorn the house with holly, ivy and pine. It is time when Father Winter, a white bearded chap dress in red, fur trimmed robes, arrives bearing gifts and exchange gifts.
This is the eve when the Yule log from the previous year is burned in the fire. Symbolic of the newborn sun, each year’s Yule log is of oak, charged in a Magic Circle and kept in sacred space the following Yule. This not only celebrates the oak and places it in a place of distinguished honor, but also ensures there will be fuel for the remainder of Winter.
Kissing Under The Mistletoe – Kissing under the mistletoe was first associated with the Greek celebration of Saturnalia and because it was believed to have the power of bestowing fertility, it became associated with marriage rites. In some parts of England, the Christmas mistletoe is burned on the Twelfth Night because it was believed that if it were not burned, all those who had kissed beneath it would never marry. And did you know that originally the custom was that a man should pluck one berry from the mistletoe each time he kisses a woman under the mistletoe, and when the last berry is gone, there should be no more kissing! (Information from Sara Williams)
Leaving Cookies for Santa – The ancient Celtic peoples left offerings of seeds, oats and oatcakes for the “wee people” and for the Gods or Goddesses of the different tribes. This practice evolved into the modern practice of leaving milk and cookies for Santa Claus.
Decorating The Yule Tree – In ancient times, the tree was decorated with symbols of the gifts the people wanted to receive from the Gods… Acorns, Oak Leaves, and Suns were representations of the Sun God. Birds and Bird Nests represented fertility as well as the return of the migrating flocks of birds in the Spring. Candles (and later, lights) were used to welcome back the Sun God and to encourage the sun to return. Crescent Moons and Silver Balls represented the Mother Goddess in her many forms Flowers, even the Poinsettia, represented the hope of the coming or Spring. Frogs, particularly Tree Frogs were for calling Spring back, since the call of the tree frog is one of the earliest signs of Spring. Fruit represented a bountiful harvest as well as the coming season of renewal and birth. Harps represented the continuity handed down by traveling Bards. Horns, drums and other musical instruments symbolized the ‘Blowing in the Yule’ and also represented the joyous music that welcomes the Sun God. Nuts represented a bountiful harvest. Toads, especially when hung upside down, were considered strong protection for the family.
Bells – Ancient Pagans rang bells during the Winter Solstice festivities to drive away demons that surfaced during the dark time of the year.* Also, the ringing of bells was thought to chase away the darkness so in some cultures, bells were rung in the morning as everyone rose to chase away the darkened days bring and heralding the warmer days.
Candles – Fires have been lit since ancient times to ward off the chill of Winter, chase away demons, and lure back the returning Sun (or son). * Candles were a useful way to have an ‘eternal’ flame while in the home. Also, many more candles could be lit than fires meaning more encouragement for the returning Sun.
Candy Cane – There is no denying that the Candy Cane has Christian roots… After all, an ingenious candy maker took an already existing candy – a straight white peppermint candy and bent the end of it to resemble a shepherd’s crook – since Jesus was the shepherd of men… or the letter “J”, for Jesus. He then placed a wide red stripe was to represent the blood Jesus shed on the cross, the three small red stripes were to represent his scourging, and the white of the cane was to represent the purity of Jesus and/or the forgiveness of sins his suffering bought for mankind.
However, Pagans have their own symbolism for the candy cane… The colors represent the God and Goddess (either as Red for the heat of the Sun and white for the coolness of the moon OR as Red for the blood shed by the mother while giving birth to the Sun God and white for the brightness of the Sun). The colors also represent the balance of the God and Goddess (or nature) since neither color is more prominent than the other color is. The peppermint is cool on the tongue (symbolizing the chill of winter), but has a bite to it, which is symbolic of the heat of the reborn Sun.
Elves – Elves first became associated with Yule because the ancients knew that the Spirits that created the Sun inhabited the land of Elves. By including elves in the Yule celebrations, the ancients believed they were assuring the elves assistance in the coercion of the Sun to return. Of course, since Father Christmas was patterned very closely after Odin, who was the King of the Elves, it makes sense that elves would be associated with him (and Christmas) also.
Evergreens – Evergreens were thought to have power over death because their green never faded. The evergreens were considered to be so powerful that they could defeat winter demons and hold back death and destruction. Because of their power and tenacity, evergreens were also believed to encourage the Sun’s return and were therefore placed around the home, both inside and out.
Gingerbread – Gingerbread was considered to be a specialty bread since ginger hadn’t ever been available until the Crusaders brought it back in the 11th century. There were strict laws regarding specialty breads in that time, so gingerbread was only allowed to be produced during Easter and Christmas. Since there was no Easter marketplace, it wasn’t long before gingerbread became associated with winter and Christmas.
Holly – The evergreen of the Holly leaves represents the hope of winter survival in celebrations of the winter solstice throughout the Old World. It is also, of course, representative of the Holly King (Father Christmas). The British consider the thorny-leafed holly to be male and the smooth-leafed holly to be female. Because of this, whichever variety is first brought into the home during the holidays determines which gender will lead the household during the coming year.
Mistletoe – The word ‘Mistletoe’ translates from its Anglo-Saxon origin into ‘dung-on-a-twig’. It came by this name because the ancient peoples observed that mistletoe would often appear on a branch or twig where birds had left droppings. (It was later discovered – in the sixteenth century – that the mistletoe seeds had been eaten by the birds and then sprouted after passing through the digestive tract and being deposited in the droppings). The mistletoe of the sacred oak was especially sacred to the ancient Celtic Druids and would be harvested on the sixth night of the moon with a golden sickle. Since it was gathered at Winter Solstice and it was seen as the ‘soul’ of the oak (and as a sexual symbol), the cutting of the mistletoe came to symbolize the defeat of the Oak King by the Holly King. It was hung from ceilings and place over doorways to ward off evil spirits (and to prevent witches from entering). (Information from Sara Williams)
Reindeer – Many people believe that reindeer are symbolic of the stags that drew Freya’s chariot. Of course, there is always the theory that there are 8 reindeer to represent the eight-legged steed of Odin (or the 8 Sabbats). Either way, it is easy to extrapolate that reindeer are a symbol of Cernunnos and that having horned creatures as a symbol of the day the Sun God is reborn is only fitting.
Santa Claus – Today’s Santa is a folk figure with multicultural roots. He embodies characteristics of Saturn (Roman agricultural god), Cronos (Greek god, also known as Father Time), the Holly King (Celtic god of the dying year), Father Ice/Grandfather Frost (Russian winter god), Thor (Norse sky god who rides the sky in a chariot drawn by goats), Odin/Wotan (Scandinavian/Teutonic All-Father who rides the sky on an eight-legged horse), Frey (Norse fertility god), and the Tomte (a Norse Land Spirit known for giving gifts to children at this time of year). Santa’s reindeer can be viewed as forms of Herne, the Celtic Horned God. Decorate your home with Santa images that reflect His Pagan heritage. Information from Selena Fox.
Tinsel – The tradition of placing tinsel on the tree comes from an old legend. Apparently, spiders were not allowed near the Yule tree – not even close enough to get a peek of it. Needless to say, this upset them greatly, so they complained. In some versions of the story they complain to the Christ-child, in others, they complain to the Goddess… either way, they were allowed admittance to the tree. Overjoyed by their victory, the spiders climbed around the tree, wrapping it in glistening webs. The Christ-child (or Goddess, depending on the story) was so delighted by their creativity that the webs were transformed into strands of silver (i.e. tinsel).
Tree – The custom of having a tree as a central focal piece in winter holiday celebrations can be traced back hundreds of centuries. The ancient Egyptians had a custom of bringing branches from palm trees into their homes on the shortest day of the year each December. The Chinese and Hebrews from ancient history had similar traditions, too.
Wassail – Wassail comes from the Old English words waes hael, which means “be well,” “be hale,” or “good health.” A strong, hot drink (usually a mixture of ale, honey, and spices) would be put in a large bowl, and the host would lift it and greet his companions with “waes hael,” to which they would reply “drinc hael,” which meant “drink and be well.” However, the ritual of ‘wassailing’ consisted of saluting the fruit trees and then sprinkling them with a bit of the wassail drink (which consisted of wine, ale, or cider with apples and eggs blended in)
Wreaths – The wreath’s circle symbolizes the wheel of the year and the completion of another cycle. Wreaths are hung as decoration and given as gifts to symbolize the infinity of goodwill, friendship, and joyfulness.
Yule Log – The custom of burning the Yule log began with the ancient Scandinavians who burned a huge log in honor of their god Thor once a year. For the Vikings, the yule log was an integral part of their celebration of the solstice, the julfest; on the log they would carve runes representing unwanted traits (such as ill fortune or poor honor) that they wanted the gods to take from them. Even as the Christian religion filtered into Scandinavia, the custom of the Yule log remained. The log was thought to bring blessings if it lasted 24 hours. It was also thought that the longer the Yule log burned the faster the Sun would come to warm the earth. Individuals would keep an unburned part of the log to light the next year’s Yule log. This unburned portion was also thought to bring good luck as well as protect the home from lightning and fire during the year.
Spell craft of Yule:
Spell craft performed for Yule should be for peace, harmony, love, and increased happiness.
Activities for Yule:
Caroling, wassailing , burning the Yule log, decorating the Yule tree, exchanging of presents, kissing under the mistletoe, feeding of animals and/or birds with grains and seeds
The God of Yule:
Frey – God, brother-consort of Freyja; son of Njord. “The Lord”, fertility and creativity God; “the Lover”; God of Yule. He is the god of wealth and peace and contentment. Blood was not allowed to be spilled through violence, nor where weapons or outlaws allowed on or in his holy places.
- Apollo, Brighid, Demeter, Diana, Divine Child, Gaea, Great Mother, Green Man, Isis, Lugh, Mabon, Oak King, Odin, Ra, The Horned One
- A simmering pot of wassail, Baskets of clove studded fruit, Christmas cactus, Evergreen boughs or wreaths, Gold pillar candles, Holly, Mistletoe hung in doorways, Poinsettias, Yule log, or small Yule log with 3 candles
Herbs of Yule:
- Mistletoe: Magical Uses – Use to combat despair, herb of protection, child theft by fairies, healing, hunting, conception, to bring beautiful dreams, unlock the secrets of immortality through dreams – used for wands and ritual items or placed around a ‘Hand of Glory’ to ward off thieves – to protect the bearer from werewolves.
- Holly: Symbolizing – Protection; Good Luck. Forms used include boughs over portals, wreaths
- More Herbs: Bayberry, blessed thistle, laurel, pine, sage, yellow cedar, Bayberry. Blessed thistle, Evergreen, Frankincense, Holly, Laurel, Mistletoe, Oak, Pine, Sage, Yellow cedar.
Foods of Yule:
- Cookies and caraway cakes soaked in cider, Eggnog, Fruits, Ginger tea, Nuts, Pork dishes, Spiced cider, Turkey, Wassail, or lamb’s wool (ale, sugar, nutmeg, roasted apples).
Incense of Yule:
- Bayberry, Cedar, Cinnamon, Pine,
Colors of Yule:
- Green, Red, White, Gold, Silver, Yellow, Orange
Stones of Yule:
- Diamonds, Rubies, Emeralds, Bloodstones, Garnets
Trees for Yule:
- Oak : Endurance, Strength, Triumph, Protection. Magical Uses – Abundance, fertility, longevity, protection, spiritual awareness while remaining fully rooted in the earth plane, it’s wood is used for staves and wands, use any parts for protective charms which bring healing. Acorns bring fertility and abundance. Plant in the dark of the moon to bring financial prosperity.
- Evergreens: Continuity of Life, Protection, Prosperity. Forms used include boughs, wreaths, garlands, trees.
- Yew : Last Day of Solar Year; Death
- Silver Fir: Winter Solstice Day; Birth.
- Birch: Month following Winter Solstice; Beginnings.
From: Mystic Moon Coven and other sources