Day 68: Yule

After nine days of study on Samhain, it is time to turn our mini wheel of the year to Yule.  Roderick begins his overview by again stating that Yule occurs when the sun enters Capricorn, which is usually between December 19th and the 23rd–though, to be frank, I can’t remember a year in my lifetime when it didn’t fall on the 21st or 22nd.  Roderick also notes that the etymology of “Yule” comes from the Norse workd “iul,” which means “wheel.”  The OED seems to support this, giving the Old Norse “jól” as a possible etymological root, but noting that it was used to refer  to “a heathen feast lasting 12 days.”

Wherever the name originally comes from (or whatever name one chooses to call it–winter solstice or Midwinter are other favorites), Yule is a holiday that welcomes the return of the sun.  Yule is the shortest day of the year–from here until the summer solstice, the daylight hours will become progressively longer.  Naturally, many different cultures over the ages have developed their own mythos surrounding the changing hours of daylight.  Wiccans, however, usually work with two different stories.

The first of these stories depicts the battle between the Holly and Oak Kings.  The Holly King is the Winter King, who represents the death principle.  He fights his brother, the life-principle Oak King, at the summer solstice and slays him.  He then rules the declining year until he and his brother battle again at Yule.  This time the Oak King wins, and he presides over the waxing year.  It is a fairly common thing for witches to reinact these battles at the solstices.  The second story tracks the “child-sun,” who is born of the “white lady” of winter.  The sun is reborn at the moment of greatest darkness, grows from his infancy, meets and loves the Goddess, impregnates her with himself, and dies and is reborn at Yule.

Roderick also notes that the evergreens used to decorate homes during the holiday season have their roots as pagan symbols of everlasting life, particularly apt as these plants appear to thrive during a time when all other plant life appears to have died.  After a large discussion of mistletoe, how the Druids harvested it, and how modern witches use it, Roderick offers two exercises.  One is spent answering questions, the other asks for an experiences.

Spend some time today journaling about your winter holiday memories.

  • When I was nine, my baby brother was born.  We spent that Christmas in Florida…and then spent every Christmas after that there.  It sort of ruined Christmas for me.  What I remember is being bundled up with a lot of sleeping bags and spending Christmas at my grandparent’s house in Pennsylvania.  My parents made our sleeping bags doubles and all us cousins crammed in and waited for Santa.  And between all of my family members, my grandparent’s living was absolutely filled with all sorts of gifts that magically appeared.  And none of us cousins were allowed to go into the living room until everyone woke up.  That’s mostly what I remember…the huge anticipation and the thrill of magic.  Of course, I also remember all the little rituals–baking cookies with Grandma, trimming the tree, trying to find the chirping bird…it was a good time.

What is it about the winter months that you enjoy?  What are your least favorite aspects of winter?

  • I love the intimacy.  You’re less likely to go and travel about or spend a lot of time outdoors, so you get well-acquainted with the people you live with.  You also get really productive with contemplative work, like reading.  My least favorite aspect of winter is driving in the snow.  It terrifies me.

As you contemplate your past memories about winter, what are the dominant feelings that emerge?

  • Coziness.  I’m drawn to the memories where I’m somehow “nested.”

How did you feel after reading about the historical roots of Yule? Was this information startling or disorienting?  Or did you find it settling and comforting?  Why?

  • I’m taking the “historical roots” with a grain of salt.  I’m learning the vital importance of being clear with your data, and I’m really not sure the history Roderick presents is entirely accurate.  Still, I liked the information.  Winter is a time to welcome the return of the life principle and to coax it into being.

Which of the old Yule customs have you observed in your lifetime?

  • I think what Roderick was getting at was “hey, all that tree-trimming was being pagan!”  I’ve trimmed a mean tree in my day, but I really think the religious Christmas is a Yule custom:  It’s welcoming the birth of a new, infant King.  In a way, it’s a bit like the second mythic theme.

Which of the holiday customs from your memory are the most powerful?

  • Definitely all the hoopla of preparing for Christmas.  Decking out the tree, making cookies, writing letters to Santa, buying/making presents…the whole nine yards.  Building that anticipation was delicious.

How might you incorporate or adapt some of your traditional winter holiday customs to your new Yule observances?

  • Good question.  To be honest, I view the holiday season as a largely secular thing now that I’m an adult, and I really can’t see my secular traditions changing all that much.  The formal Sabbat ritual seems like it fits in well with a lot of the secular traditions.  I’m not sure what I’d do if I had children–I have an impulse to do some of the more “Christmasy” things like ‘Santa’ on Yule, but that can cause some kids heads to explode.  I’m okay with celebrating both secular Christmas and Yule, I think.

Exercise:

Find time to sit in the sunlight today and feel its warmth against your skin.  If the weather does not permit this activity, start a hearth fire or light up a dozen candles and arrange them in a grouping on a table.  Close your eyes and feel the warm of the sun or the fire.  Imagine that you absorb the sun or fire’s warming energy with each inhaled breath.  Become one with the heat-energy.

When you have finished this exercise, journal about your experience and any energetic change you experienced.

Mmm…the nice thing about doing Yule exercises in May is that you can go out side and bask in the sun–absolutely soak up all of that returning sun energy for the first time.  Well, the first time comfortably, that is.

That being said, I did have to repeat this exercise.  The first time I tried it was just before dinner.  The sun was low, and I was only in the beam for about 15 minutes before it got lost behind a neighboring house and I got chilly.  Today, though, I went up on the roof of the house just after noon.  Big.  Bright.  Warm.  SUN.

I had some difficulty imagining that I was absorbing the sun’s energy until I visualized myself breathing the energy in and using it to open and stimulate each of my chakras.  That seemed to be the ticket–I gave the energy a purpose rather than having it fill me up and make me drowsy and drifty (hey, I’d just had a big lunch!)  Afterwards, I felt “charged,” and ready to take on the world.

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