Winter Solstice

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The shortest day of the year marks at the Winter Solstice, known to Wiccans as Yule (from the Norse Iul, meaning "wheel"). This is the time when the new Sun God is born to the Mother Goddess. It is one of the Lesser Sabbats of the year and falls at or about December 21.

The myth of the battle between the Holly King and the Oak King that occurs at the Winter Solstice and again at the Summer Solstice can be found throughout Europe. The Yule battle is won by the Oak King, who then rules as the days increase in length and the Wheel of the Year turns toward the summer. In the summer the Holly King wins. Remnants of this belief in the battle may be found in the traditional Yule Mummers play, performed across Britain and Europe (and now even in the United States) often in association with Morris dancing. In the play the light is represented by St. George and the darkness by a Turkish knight.

Part of the Pagan celebration is the gathering and displaying of evergreen boughs, showing the promise of new life in the coming spring. A Yule tree is erected in many areas to represent the phallus, or the spirit of fertility. From this came the Christian Christmas tree (gifts from the tree actually symbolize the semen springing from the phallus). Yule was established as the birth date of Mithra--with veneration for the sun--and was then adopted by the New Religion (within a few days) to mark the birth of the "Son" Jesus.

A Yule log is burned on the balefire at this time. Obtained from the land of the covenstead, the log is ceremoniously carried in and placed in the fireplace (or the balefire, if at the sabbat site) with just one end of the fire. Lit from the remnants of the previous year's Yule log, it is then inched forward as it burns. The end of a fresh Yule log from that fire is then saved and carefully kept until the following year and is used to start that year's fire. The Yule log supposedly protected the house from fire and lightning thoughout the year. The balefire itself was burned to give life to the sun on its journey. Ashes from the Yule fire were mixed with cow manure and sprinkled over the filds as a symbolic aid to fertility, insuring new life and a fertile spring.

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