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Yule: lore, traditions, and symbols

Yule Fire

Kindle the Christmas Brand and Then 

Till Sunset let it burn;

When quenched  then lay it up again, 

Till Christmas next return

Part must be kept where with to tend

The Christmas Log next year; 

And whether  ’tis safely kept the Fiend; 

Can do no mischief here-Unknown

With the holiday season coming up I have decided to write this weeks blog about yule traditions and symbols. I hope you enjoy learning about some of these things as much as I have. 

Bells are a thing that go back to the old time Pagans. Back in the early days it was said that ringing bells would drive away the evil spirits.  They also make a joyous sound and are good for making a positive vibration and they are still used today for this same purpose.  Candles were originated into the tradition because they melt winters chilly cold and they also make the sun want to shine.  Back in early Rome the candles were burned to chase away the dark winter demons and make the sun return to the dark, winter skies.  Christian people later used the candle to symbolize Christ, the light of the world, they still use this tradition today.  The candy cane is another tradition that has different meanings depending on which religion or culture that you are in.  Peppermint leaves and peppermint tea have been cornerstones of the Yule holiday for the pagan religion for a really long time. Once again with the coolness symbolizing the winter and its heat symbolizing the coming sun and an end to the cold, winter nights.  The actual candy cane itself was actually an American creation made by a christian, candy confectioner.  The white was for the virgin birth, the red for the Christs blood, the j shape was for Jesus and there ya go.  Carols were started by the Catholic church during the fourth century, they have continued for years and were very much religious until the 19th century.  The chimney story was one that began in England. The story back in England was that Santa had to go down the chimney and not be seen or no gifts would be left for anyone.  This was brought to America by the pilgrims. Santa has a much easier time in Germany and Scandinavia because he may go through the front door as he pleases.  The lights were begun for much the same reason as candles but they were considered a much safer alternative.  Decorating with evergreens goes back to the earliest winter festivals.  Because of the fact that the green never fades out of the branches and leaves they were thought to be powerful over death and destruction.  The last symbol I will go over will be the snowflake but feel free to leave a question in the comments section and we can talk about other symbols that you may want to know about.  The snowflake according to legend was formed from the tears of Demeter after Persephone went to the underworld.  The snowflakes are six sided and in numerology six is the number associated with affection.  The snowflake is a symbol used by pagans as one of Love.  

Next I will go over some superstitions and omens for Yule. As far as animals go legend says that they can speak on Christmas Eve. You may not listen for them though because the same legend says that it is unlucky if you hear them.  In some spots of Britain, if you feed a ivy leaves to your cows after milking but before noon on Christmas eve evil lurkers must steer clear of your heard for the next 12 months.  If the stars shine bright on Christmas eve, the hens will lay well for the coming year.  A custom that they use in Greece is burning of shoes that are old.  This will ward off bad fortune in the coming year.  Many people believe that ghosts refuse to come out of hiding on Christmas day, therefore if a baby is born on this day then it will be free forever of ghost troubles.  To ensure good health in the next year eat an apple on Christmas eve night.  In Germany there is a really neat custom, you make a ton of greasy pancakes and eat them. Make sure to leave a plate of pancakes for the Winter Hag. If you forget to leave the Hag her pancakes rumor has it that she gets very angry and will come and try to slice you open to get her pancakes from your belly. Well, that is the reason for them being greasy because the same story says that the grease will make her knife unable to get you because it will slide off and no matter how hard the Hag tries getting to you she won’t be able to.  After you eat your Christmas dinner, be sure to leave a loaf of bread on the kitchen table as this will ensure that you have plenty of food to eat in the coming year.  To keep the evil spirits from coming into the house keep the fireplaces lit as much as possible during the season.  Once you hang the mistletoe in your house it must stay for a year to make sure that good luck is granted to all living there.  When you place a new piece, be sure to burn the original.  Some weather symbols are summer harvest will be big if the sky is bright and clear on Christmas eve.  If snow doesn’t fall on Christmas this can cause easter to be cold.  A breezy Christmas day brings good luck and fortune for those that believe through the whole coming year.  

The Yule log.  The yule log should be a log of wood that was chosen the last winter solstice and left by the fire place to dry for the next year or wherever if you don’t have a fireplace.  It is fine if you haven’t picked one last winter solstice as you can still go find one now.  It is also cool if you don’t have a place to burn it.  It is easy to make the yule log.  You just need some red ribbon, a glue gun, and some pine cones or pieces of evergreen(holly, fir, or pine are all good).  Make an arrangement out of the materials that you like.  Use the red ribbon to tie around the middle of the log.  You can write messages of prosperity, etc., on the log.  When it is time that the log is lit you will chant something to honor the Oak and Holly Kings.  For extra luck you will burn the log for twelve nights after solstice.  After the twelfth day put some of the ashes of the log in a jar with a lid, these ashes are really powerful and will boost spell work in the next year for you.  Now if you can’t burn the log.  Find a smaller oak log and carve 12 holes in it  to represent the 12 months of the year.  The holes should be large enough for 12 little candles.  Decorate it as you would the bigger burning log.  Get a dish that can hold a burning paper, you are going to write wishes on the papers and one by one with your family or by yourself you will light the wishes and hopes for the coming year and place them in the bowl while chanting something like: “wish flame and flicker, burn and glow, fly straight into the cosmos so that you are granted to me now, as I will, so mote it be”  Do this for the first eleven days and eleven candles, but for the twelfth candle your wishes should be only for mother nature and the earth.  

Once again I had a great time learning and sharing about the Yule holiday this week and if you want to know anything else or share your own Yule traditions feel free to leave a note in the comment section of the blog below.  A highly recommended book on the Yule season and holiday is Yule: A season of Light and Warmth by Dorothy Morrison. Have a great holiday month and stay warm out there!

-Ian 

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2 thoughts on “Yule: lore, traditions, and symbols

  1. Yule is deeply rooted in the cycle of the year, it is the seed time of year, the longest night and the shortest day, where the Goddess once again becomes the Great Mother and gives birth to the new Sun King. In a poetic sense it is on this the longest night of the winter, ‘the dark night of our souls’, that there springs the new spark of hope, the Sacred Fire, the Light of the World, the Coel Coeth.

    Fire festivals, celebrating the rebirth of the Sun, held on the Winter’s Solstice can be found throughout the ancient world. The Roman festival of Saturnalia was held on the winter solstice, boughs of evergreen trees and bushes would decorate the house, gifts where exchanged and normal business was suspended. The Persian Mithraists held December 25th as sacred to the birth of their Sun God, Mithras, and celebrated it as a victory of light over darkness. In Sweden, December 13th was sacred to the Goddess Lucina, Shining One, and was a celebration of the return of the light. On Yule itself, around the 21st, bonfires were lit to honor Odin and Thor.

    The festival was already closely associated with the birth of older Pagan gods like Oedipus, Theseus, Hercules, Perseus, Jason, Dionysus, Apollo, Mithra, Horus and even Arthur with a cycle of birth, death and resurrection that is also very close to that of Jesus. It can hardly be a coincidence that the Christians, also used this time of year for the birth of Christ, mystically linking him with the Sun.

    That Yule is another fire festival, should come as no surprise, however unlike the more public outdoor festival of the summer solstice, Yule lends itself to a more private and domestic celebration. Yet like its midsummer counterpart, is strongly associated with fertility and the continuation of life. Here the Goddess is in her dark aspect, as ‘She Who Cuts The Thread’ or ‘Our Lady in Darkness’, calling back the Sun God. Yet, at the same time, she is in the process of giving birth to Son-Lover who will refertilise her and the earth, bringing back light and warmth to the world.

  2. Thank you for your amazing insite and addition to the blog! Such an awesome piece.

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