Thursday, December 21, 2006

Pagan Roots of Yule

The following traditions are from Tink, a Wicca blogger pal.

Yule is celebrated on the 21st of december: today!

Yule is a turning point in nature: the shortest day and the longest night. After Yule the days become longer again.

At Yule we celebrate the return of the light. The God (the sun) is reborn. Fires and candles are lit to encourage the light to become stronger and stronger.

Yule means "wheel", which refers to the Wheel of the Year: the cycle of the 8 witches' sabbaths. The wheel starts at Yule.
Other names are: Midwinter, Winter Solstice, Winter Equinox, Alban Arthan, Finn’s Day, Joel.

The colours of Yule are: red (fire), green (nature), white (light), gold (God, sun), silver (Goddess).

The Yule tree is decorated with all natural material: fir cones, berries, straw figures, etc. In earlier times the tree was burnt as an offering to the Sun, the God. Now we put lights in the tree instead.

The Yule log is a large log of freshly cut wood (oak). Originally, the Yule Log was burned in honour of the gods and to bring good luck in the coming year. To help kindle the fire, holly was placed under the log. Guests would toss a sprig of holly into the fire to burn up the troubles of the past year and to keep their houses safe from burning down in the New Year. The ashes were scattered over the land to give them fertility for a good harvest. Each year a piece of the Yule Log was saved and used to start the fire for the next year's log. Pagans today use the Yule Log in a symbolic way to do the same.

Yule was a time to eat and drink all the remains of the harvest that were liable to decay. This feast was shared with the whole family. The rich often shared with the poor because there was enough for everyone.

The explanation of kissing under the mistletoe extends back into Norse mythology. The Norse god Balder was the best loved of all the gods. His mother was Frigga, goddess of love and beauty. She loved her son so much that she wanted to make sure no harm would come to him. So she went through the world, securing promises from everything that sprang from the four elements (fire, water, air, and earth) that they would not harm her beloved Balder. Leave it to Loki, a sly, evil spirit, to find the loophole. The loophole was mistletoe. He made an arrow from its wood. To make the prank even nastier, he took the arrow to Hoder, Balder's brother, who was blind. Guiding Holder's hand, Loki directed the arrow at Balder's heart, and he fell dead. Frigga's tears became the mistletoe's white berries. Balder is restored to life, and Frigga is so grateful that she reverses the reputation of the offending plant, making it a symbol of love and promising to bestow a kiss upon anyone who passes under it.

Yule is also a festival, not just a single holiday. The Yule season or Yuletide begins on the solstice, which is the Mother Night of Yule, and ends 12 nights later with Twelfth Night/New Years.

The Horned God is represented by a stag. That's where our present reindeers come from.
Drinking Wassail at Yule is an English custom from heathen times. 'Wassail' comes from the Anglo-Saxon Wes Hal, meaning "to your health". The beverage is made from ale, wine, and/or cider with fruits and spices added. Traditionally it was used in part as an offering to apple trees in thanks and for their continued fruitfulness. Bits of toast were floated in the wassail bowl, then placed in the branches of the tree, and libations poured over the roots. (This is the origin of our term "to toast" someone.)

Thanks Tink for such a cool list of things about some traditions that were passed on and blended and transformed but somehow they are a link to our older peoples.

p.s. I will add to Tinks excellent list that the fireplace has magic history as an icon of the winter festival in the home as a gate between heaven and the underworld. The yule log is from the earth, the hearth and ashes are connected and return to the ground, the underworld, and the flames and wood evaporates into the air, the heavens. As for the holiday tree...isn't it ironic that people always say they are afraid of the tree catching on fire from the lights, yet, in the past we lit the tree on fire on purpose!

9 comments:

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Pickled Olives said...

this was a truely cool lesson! Thanks for sharing. I never have been able to tie christ in to the tree thing. This makes a lot more sense! Whew.

word verification: elfpz (elf paws? really?)

mister anchovy said...

wow, you learn something every day...

* (asterisk) said...

Cool post, Candy. Thanks for the education.

Candy Minx said...

Heh heh...well I also just watched a show on pbs about the history of the Christmas tree.

The tradition is very old, things that stood out form the program were that in Egypt people took palm branches indoors because they were "evergreen" and they symbolized lifes triumphs over death.

In North American ancient beliefs trees house spirits. This is something I always felt about trees. In my eyes they all have personalities. Some of the grand trees, 800-1000 old on the west coast seem like huge spirits and energy to me.

Candles on the trees represent the stars.

American President Franklin Pierce brought the first Christmas tree into the White House in 1856.

Um, I deleted the first anonymous post on my blog. I had made a kind of pact with myself...hmm...that I wouldn't delete any comments on my blog, no matter how crazy there were...but the above deleted comment had a plot revelation in it!!! No way will I have a plot revealed on my blog without a spoiler ha ha.

But if anonymous comes by and sees that I deleted their comment, I also apologize because it was very very funny.( And it pertained to Red and *, so I got rid of it just in time.)

thehealingroom said...

As synchronicity would have it, Candy, we had our discussion group on the 21st and the topic was the Solstice. A participant read out almost exactly what Tink's research said. Pretty neat.
Also that Pagan means "the country folk".
I thought the Star on top of the Christmas tree could be tied in too, the sun is a star and the solstice is celebrateing the return of the sun!
After our meeting we walked down into the horse pasture where I have the standing stones and we lit candles and sang some cool stuff.

* (asterisk) said...

Phew, thanks for the deletion, Candy!

Gardenia said...

Good post! I knew some of this, but not nearly all.

Years ago as a new Christian, I struggled with the traditions we have adopted and even having a tree in the house. It was quite a struggle! Many of the "Christian" holidays were adopted and assimilated as conquerers came and went, simply because it was easier to "convert" folks if they were allowed to keep their old traditions. Many Christian holidays did become syncretic.

It is always a struggle for Christians in foreign cultures to decide what fits in with the guidelines of their religion and what violates a very important Biblical commandment, "Thou shall have no other Gods before Me." Yet, somehow I feel for most people, the idea of Christmas is a celebraion that Christ was born to earth, God in human form, and the Christian God is a god of Love, so He won't mind the celebrations so much as long as we remember Him. If we got too hung up on being purists, then we wouldn't be able to walk in the reality of this world - and be happy people anyway!

At my grandson's school, Kwanza was explained, (along with other religious holidays of this time of year) not as a religious celebration, but a cultural celebration! I was so impressed with the ritual and the principles, I wished I had an invitation to Kwanza this year!

We usually light Menorrah too to honor the Jewish holiday and the roots of Christianity.

Anyway, however You and Stagg are celebrating, please have the most wonderful of holidays.......!

Anonymous said...

Yes, Asterisk it was a close call...that deleted comment!

Gardenia, how fascinating to hear you were a "new Christian" that must be very unusual postion especially in North America...as so many people born in North America were raised Christian. I hope someday to hear the details of your experience. Interesting about the rule "Thou shall have no other Gods before me".

One of the main reasons that Christianity was so easily assimilated by Native Americans is because in North American Indian beliefs they believe in many gods...ploytheiism I think it might be called. So for peoples including Hindu religion and Budhhism...to adopt one more god is not a strange task. The more God the merrier...if there is Ganesh and Shiva, why not Jesus? If there is Coyote and Nanook, why not also Jesus?

As for "Thou shall have no other Gods before me....
I always thought that meant you should not elevate materialistic or superficial things and worship them before ones own spirit. To desire and worship money or cars or status is to put those above Gods.

Healing Room sounds like a lovely evening and gathering at your farm, how great to be able to go outside. I participated ina couple of Wicca celebrations of Solstices and it was not only super fun, it was very educational and fascinating what the different foods represented, the herbs candles etc. Seemed very practical rather than the stereotype of "flaky" that alternative religions often get labeled as. being.