Celebrating the Return of the Sun!
Wishing You A Very Happy & Joyous Yule!
Ten Reasons to Enjoy The Winter Solstice
For some people, the winter solstice seems dark and gloomy. However, as Yule approaches, sometimes it helps to think of all the things we like about this time of year. Here are some things that we love about the winter holiday season!
The Return of the Sun
The days are going to start getting longer again. Aren’t you tired of it getting dark before you eat dinner? Of course you are. However, when the nights are long and the sun has gone down, there are plenty of ways for you and your family to get some quality time together. Build a fire, read some stories together, play board games, and hunker down for the chilly nights. Then at Yule, celebrate the return of the sun.
I don’t care what religion you follow, some of the classic holiday specials are magical for all of us. Personally, I still get a little lump in my throat when Linus puts his blanket over his head and tells the Peanuts Gang the story of the three wise men making their way to Bethlehem. Also worth watching: Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, A Christmas Story, and It’s a Wonderful Life.
Whether you’re Pagan, Christian, Jewish, or Other, there’s a ton of great stuff to listen to this time of year. Be sure to read our list of reader suggestions for some great Yule songs for Pagans – but don’t rule out the tunes of other religions as well. Handel’s Messiah is obviously Christian, and one of the most beautiful pieces ever written.
Who doesn’t love presents? If you don’t have a lot of money to spend, don’t worry about it. Give handmade gifts to your friends. Better yet, give presents to total strangers via different charity drives, such as the Toys for Tots project.
Feasting and Food
If you don’t bake, find a friend who does, and you may well find yourself gifted with some delicious goodies in December! It’s a good season for comfort foods, as well as cookies, cakes, breads and candy. Put your delicious creations in a decorative tin and give it as a gift to your favorite teacher, neighbor, or someone else who has made a difference in your life.
It’s cold outside, it’s probably raining or snowing, and there’s no way you want to get out from under that Snuggie. Don’t worry – this is the perfect season to start working on some of your favorite craft projects. Whether you’re a whiz at needlecrafts or a beginner to woodworking, any hands-on creations you can put together this time of year are good for the heart and soul. If you have time, put your energy to work making crafty gifts for friends.
There’s a reason we deck our halls with boughs of holly at Yule – it allows us to bring the outdoors inside to celebrate the season. Pine and holly boughs, Yule logs, snow globes, Santa figures, candles and woodland treats are all great ways to celebrate the solstice during the winter. Incorporate decorations from your Yule altar into the rest of your home.
There’s something magical about snow. While you might be sick of it by February, and willing to sell your soul for a day at the beach, the first time we see those fat fluffy flakes coming down, we all turn into seven-year-olds. Go outside and build a snowman, have a snowball fight, or make snow angels. It’s fun, and you can follow it up with a cup of hot cocoa by the fire.
Keeping Things Simple
Winter often reminds us that it’s the basics that count. Decompress a little and focus on inner growth – stop worrying about the material things, and instead spend time doing the things that make you happy. Reduce your seasonal stress, and you’ll have a lot more fun.
Friends and Family
Lots of us only see our extended family at the holidays. Make the best of it! Even if your family isn’t Pagan, try your best to spend time with them and celebrate the season.
Deities of the Winter Solstice
While it may be mostly Pagans who celebrate the Yule holiday today, nearly all cultures and faiths have held some sort of winter solstice celebration or festival. Because of the theme of endless birth, life, death, and rebirth, the time of the solstice is often associated with deity and other legendary figures. No matter which path you follow, chances are good that one of your gods or goddesses has a winter solstice connection.
Alcyone (Greek): Alcyone is the Kingfisher goddess. She nests every winter for two weeks, and while she does, the wild seas become calm and peaceful. Alcyone was one of the seven sisters of the Pleiades.
Ameratasu (Japan): In feudal Japan, worshipers celebrated the return of Ameratasu, the sun goddess, who slept in a cold, remote cave. When the the other gods woke her with a loud celebration, she looked out of the cave and saw an image of herself in a mirror. The other gods convinced her to emerge from her seclusion and return sunlight to the universe. According to Mark Cartwright at Ancient History Encyclopedia, “[S]he blocked herself in a cave following an argument with Susanoo when he surprised the goddess with a monstrous flayed horse when she was quietly weaving in her palace with her younger sister Waka-hiru-me. As a consequence of Amaterasu’s disappearance the world was cast in total darkness and evil spirits ran riot over the earth. The gods tried all manner of ways to persuade the peeved goddess to leave the cave. On the advice of Omohi-Kane, cocks were set outside the cave in the hope their crows would make the goddess think that dawn had come.”
Baldur (Norse): Baldur is associated with the legend of the mistletoe. His mother, Frigga, honored Baldur and asked all of nature to promise not to harm him. Unfortunately, in her haste, Frigga overlooked the mistletoe plant, so Loki – the resident trickster – took advantage of the opportunity and fooled Baldur’s blind twin, Hodr, into killing him with a spear made of mistletoe. Baldur was later restored to life.
Bona Dea (Roman): This fertility goddess was worshiped in a secret temple on the Aventine hill in Rome, and only women were permitted to attend her rites. Her annual festival was held early in December. High-ranking women would gather at the house of Rome’s most prominent magistrates, the Pontifex Maximus. While there, the magistrate’s wife led secret rituals at which men were forbidden. It was even prohibited to discuss men or anything masculine at the ritual.
Cailleach Bheur (Celtic): In Scotland, she is also called Beira, the Queen of Winter. She is the hag aspect of the Triple Goddess, and rules the dark days between Samhain and Beltaine. She appears in the late fall, as the earth is dying, and is known as a bringer of storms. She is typically portrayed as a one-eyed old woman with bad teeth and matted hair. Mythologist Joseph Campbell says that in Scotland, she is known as Cailleach Bheur, while along the Irish coast she appears as Cailleach Beare.
Demeter (Greek): Through her daughter, Persephone, Demeter is linked strongly to the changing of the seasons and is often connected to the image of the Dark Mother in winter. When Persephone was abducted by Hades, Demeter’s grief caused the earth to die for six months, until her daughter’s return.
Dionysus (Greek): A festival called Brumalia was held every December in honor of Dionysus and his fermented grape wine. The event proved so popular that the Romans adopted it as well in their celebrations of Bacchus.
Frau Holle (Norse): Frau Holle appears in many different forms in Scandinavian mythology and legend. She is associated with both the evergreen plants of the Yule season, and with snowfall, which is said to be Frau Holle shaking out her feathery mattresses.
Frigga (Norse): Frigga honored her son, Baldur, by asking all of nature not to harm him, but in her haste overlooked the mistletoe plant. Loki fooled Baldur’s blind twin, Hodr, into killing him with a spear made of mistletoe but Odin later restored him to life. As thanks, Frigga declared that mistletoe must be regarded as a plant of love, rather than death.
Hodr (Norse): Hodr, sometimes called Hod, was the twin brother of Baldur, and the Norse god of darkness and winter. He also happened to be blind, and appears a few times in the Norse Skaldic poetry. When he kills his brother, Hodr sets in motion the string of events leading to Ragnarok, the end of the world.
Holly King (British/Celtic): The Holly King is a figure found in British tales and folklore. He is similar to the Green Man, the archetype of the forest. In modern Pagan religion, the Holly King battles the Oak King for supremacy throughout the year. At the winter solstice, the Holly King is defeated.
Horus (Egyptian): Horus was one of the solar deities of the ancient Egyptians. He rose and set every day, and is often associated with Nut, the sky god. Horus later became connected with another sun god, Ra.
La Befana (Italian): This character from Italian folklore is similar to St. Nicholas, in that she flies around delivering candy to well-behaved children in early January. She is depicted as an old woman on a broomstick, wearing a black shawl.
Lord of Misrule (British): The custom of appointing a Lord of Misrule to preside over winter holiday festivities actually has its roots in antiquity, during the Roman week of Saturnalia. Typically, the Lord of Misrule was someone of a lower social status than the homeowner and his guests, which made it acceptable for them to poke fun at him during drunken revelries. In some parts of England, this custom overlapped with the Feast of Fools – with the Lord of Misrule being the Fool. There was often a great deal of feasting and drinking going on, and in many areas, there was a complete reversal of traditional social roles, albeit a temporary one.
Mithras (Roman): Mithras was celebrated as part of a mystery religion in ancient Rome. He was a god of the sun, who was born around the time of the winter solstice and then experienced a resurrection around the spring equinox.
Odin (Norse): In some legends, Odin bestowed gifts at Yuletide upon his people, riding a magical flying horse across the sky. This legend may have combined with that of St. Nicholas to create the modern Santa Claus.
Saturn (Roman): Every December, the Romans threw a week-long celebration of debauchery and fun, called Saturnalia in honor of their agricultural god, Saturn. Roles were reversed, and slaves became the masters, at least temporarily. This is where the tradition of the Lord of Misrule originated.
Spider Woman (Hopi): Soyal is the Hopi festival of the winter solstice. It honors the Spider Woman and the Hawk Maiden, and celebrates the sun’s victory over winter’s darkness.
Sacred Plants of the Winter Solstice
In most modern Pagan traditions, plants and their folklore are an integral part of belief and practice. In particular, many of the Sabbats are associated with the magical properties of different plants. Yule, the winter solstice, falls around December 20 – 22 in the northern hemisphere, and near June 20 – 22 if you live below the equator. Let’s take a look at Yule, and seven plants that often correspond with the season.
You know that big tree you just hauled in from the woods and decorated with lights and ornaments? That’s carrying on a time-honored tradition of bringing the outdoors indoors. Trees like pines, fir, juniper and cedar are all part of the evergreen family, and they’re typically associated with themes of protection and prosperity, as well as that of a continuation of life and renewal – after all, when all of the other trees have lost their leaves and gone dormant for winter, your evergreen family of trees will still be… well, green. If you don’t feel like bringing a full sized tree into your house, that’s okay. Consider utilizing fallen branches to make boughs and swags, or even your own wreath. The added bonus is that most evergreens smell amazing, so you’ll get the scents of the season as well as the look and feel.
In many European societies, the holly plant has become representative of the waning sun as the solstice approaches. Symbolizing the old solar year, holly is associated with the Holly King himself – a precursor to Santa Claus – who is conquered by the Oak King when Yule rolls around. In the pre-Christian British Isles, the holly was often associated with protection — planting a hedge around your home would keep malevolent spirits out, thanks in no small part to the sharp spikes on the leaves. The ancients used the wood of the holly in the construction of weapons, but also in protective magic. Hang a sprig of holly in your house to ensure good luck and safety to your family. Wear it as a charm, or make holly water (which you probably read as holy water!) by soaking leaves overnight in spring water under a full moon. Add holly branches to boughs, wreaths, and garlands, to bring the Yule season into your home.
Remember the old holiday song about the holly and the ivy? Both are an important part of the winter solstice season. Ivy often lives on after its host plant has died — a reminder to us that life goes on, in the endless cycle of life, death and rebirth. This is a good time do workings related to improving yourself, and placing a barricade between you and the things that are toxic to you. Ivy can be used in magic performed for healing, protection, cooperation, and to bind lovers together. In addition, ivy is associated with fidelity and loyalty – use it in your Yule decorations to represent the powerful bonds of family and friendship.
We’ve all heard of the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe – it’s associated with peacemaking and the end of discord, which is a perfect theme for the winter holidays. The Norsemen laid down their arms if they met beneath a growth of mistletoe — why not use it in a working to end strife and discontent in your life? You can place sprigs of mistletoe around your home and on tabletops in vases and bowls, or even make what’s called a “kissing ball” to hang in the doorway. Mistletoe is associated with several deities, including the Norse Frigga and Baldur, as well as connected to prosperity and fertility. Pliny wrote that Druid elders performed rituals in which they harvested mistletoe — a botanical parasite — from oak trees with golden sickles. It was collected under a waxing moon phase, and then fed to animals to guarantee their fertility. As part of the rite, a pair of white bulls was sacrificed, and if prayers were answered, prosperity would be visited upon the villages.
When a forested area burns, birch is often the first tree to grow back, and thus is associated with rebirth and regeneration. Workings using birch can add momentum and a bit of extra “oomph” to new endeavors. The birch is also associated with magic done for creativity and fertility, as well as healing and protection. It is the first month in the Celtic tree calendar, following the winter solstice. Use birch branches to craft your own besom for magical workings, and in spells and rituals related to enchantments, renewal, purification, fresh starts and new beginnings.
At the time of the winter solstice, the Oak King defeats the Holly King as we say goodbye to the old solar year. Oaks are a symbol of endurance and power, and although they’ve all dropped their leaves and acorns by the time Yule rolls in, they’re still hardy and strong. Associated with a number of deities – including the mighty Thor himself – the oak tree represents victory and triumph. Rulers often wore crowns of oak leaves, as a symbol of their connection to the divine. After all, if one were a living god, personification of the god on earth, one had to look the part. Roman generals were presented with oak crowns upon returning victorious from battle, and the oak leaf is still used as a symbol of leadership in the military today.
As the solar year draws to a close, the yew tree represents the final day. Following the winter solstice, the days will begin to grow long again, but for now, it’s the nights that seem endless. The yew is associated with immortality and longevity, and in many European societies was even seen as giving access to the world beyond our own. In some Wiccan traditions, yew is sacred to the crone aspect of the triple goddess, who makes her appearance in the darker half of the year. When it comes to the yew, the winter solstice is a good time to accept change for what it is — an asset — and stop seeing it as an obstacle. Don’t fear new things, choose to embrace them!
Magical Colors of the Yule Season
When it comes to doing Yuletime magic, there’s a lot to be said for color correspondences. Look around you, and think about the colors of the season. Some of the most traditional seasonal colors have their roots in age-old customs, and can be adapted to suit your magical needs.
Red: Shades of Prosperity and Passion
Red is the color of poinsettias, of holly berries, and even Santa Claus’ suit — but how can it be used magically during the season of Yule? Well, it all depends on how you see the symbolism of the color. In modern Pagan magical practice, red is often associated with passion and sexuality. However, for some people, red indicates prosperity. In China, for example, it is connected with good fortune – by painting your front door red, you’re practically guaranteed to have luck enter your home. In some Asian countries, red is the color of a bridal gown, unlike the traditional white that’s worn in many parts of the western world.
What about religious symbolism? In Christianity, red is often associated with the blood of Jesus Christ. There’s a story about in the Greek Orthodox religion that after Christ’s death on the cross, Mary Magdalene went to the emperor of Rome, and told him of Jesus’ resurrection. The emperor’s response was along the lines of “Oh, yeah, right, and those eggs over there are red, too.” Suddenly, the bowl of eggs turned red, and Mary Magdalene joyfully began preaching Christianity to the emperor. In addition to Jesus, red is often associated with some of the martyred saints in Catholicism. Interestingly, because of its connection with lust and sex and passion, some Christian groups see red as a color of sin and damnation.
In chakra work, red is connected with the root chakra, located at the base of the spine. Our Guide to Holistic Healing, Phylameana Iila Desy, says, “This chakra is the grounding force that allows us to connect to the earth energies and empower our beings.”
So, how can you incorporate the color red into your magical workings at Yule? Deck your halls with red ribbons and bows, hang garlands of holly with its bright red berries, or position a few pretty poinsettias* on your porch to invite prosperity and good fortune into your home. If you’ve got a tree set up, tie red bows on it, or hang red lights to bring a little bit of fiery passion into your life during the chilly months.
* It’s important to keep in mind that some plants can be deadly if ingested by children or pets. If you have small ones running around your home, keep the plants in a safe place where they can’t be nibbled on by anyone!
Green has been associated with the Yule season for many years, by many different cultures. This is a bit of a paradox, because typically, green is seen as a color of spring and new growth by people who live in areas that experience seasonal changes. However, the winter season has its own share of greenery.
There’s a wonderful legend of the winter solstice, about why evergreen trees remain green when everything else has died. The story goes that the sun decided to take a break from warming the earth, and so he went on a bit of a hiatus. Before he left, he told all the trees and plants not to worry, because he’d be back soon, when he felt rejuvenated. After the sun had been gone a while, the earth began to get chilly, and many of the trees wailed and moaned in fear that the sun would never return, crying that he had abandoned the earth. Some of them got so upset that they dropped their leaves on the ground. However, far up in the hills, above the snow line, the fir and the pine and the holly could see that the sun was indeed still out there, although he was far away.
They tried to reassure the other trees, who mostly just cried a lot and dropped more leaves. Eventually, the sun began to make his way back and the earth grew warmer. When he finally returned, he looked around and saw all the bare trees. The sun was disappointed at the lack of faith that the trees had shown, and reminded them that he had kept his promise to return. As a reward for believing in him, the sun told the fir, the pine and the holly that they would be permitted to keep their green needles and leaves all year long. However, all the other trees still shed their leaves each fall, as a reminder to them that the sun will be back again after the solstice.
During the Roman festival of Saturnalia, citizens decorated by hanging green branches in their homes. The ancient Egyptians used green date palm leaves and rushes in much the same way during the festival of Ra, the sun god — which certainly seems like a good case for decorating during the winter solstice!
Use green in magical workings related to prosperity and abundance — after all, it’s the color of money. You can hang evergreen boughs and holly branches around your house, or decorate a tree with green ribbons, to bring money into your home. As the tale of the sun and the trees shows, green is also the color of rebirth and renewal. If you’re thinking of conceiving a child or beginning new endeavors at Yule, hang greenery in your home — especially over your bed.
White: Purity and Light
If you live in an area that experiences seasonal change, chances are good you associate white with snow during the Yule season. And why not? The white stuff is everywhere during the chilly winter months!
White is the color of wedding dresses in many Western counties, but interestingly, in some parts of Asia it is associated with death and grieving. During the Elizabethan era, only the nobility in Britain was permitted to wear the color white — this is because it was far more expensive to produce white cloth, and only people who could afford servants to keep it clean were entitled to wear it. The white flower known as Edelweiss was a symbol of bravery and perseverance — it grows on high slopes above the tree line, so only a truly dedicated person could go pick an Edelweiss blossom.
Often, white is associated with goodness and light, while its opposite, black, is considered a color of “evil” and badness. Some scholars argue that the reason Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is white is to represent the inherent goodness of the whale, in contrast to the black-coat-wearing evil that is Captain Ahab. In Vodoun, and some other diasporic religions, many of the spirits, or loa, are represented by the color white.
White also associated with purity and truth in many Pagan magical practices. If you do any work with chakras, the crown chakra at the head is connected with the color white. Our About.com Guide to Holistic Healing, Phylameana lila Desy, says, “The crown chakra allows inner communications with our spiritual nature to take place. The opening in the crown chakra… serves as an entryway wherein the Universal Life Force can enter our bodies and be dispersed downward into the lower six chakras housed below it.”
If you’re using white in your magical workings at Yule, consider incorporating it into rituals that focus on purification, or your own spiritual development. Hang white snowflakes and stars around your home as a way of keeping the spiritual environment clean. Add plump white pillows filled with herbs to your couch, to create a quiet, sacred space for your meditation.
Gold is often associated with the season of Yule because it was one of the gifts brought by the Magi when they went to visit the newborn Jesus. Along with frankincense and myrrh, gold was a prized possession even then. It’s a color of prosperity and wealth. In Hinduism, gold is often a color connected with deity – in fact, you’ll find that many statues of Hindu gods are painted gold.
In Judaism, gold has some significance as well. The first Menorah was crafted from a single lump of gold by a craftsman named Bezalel. He was the same artist who built the Ark of the Covenant, which was also covered in gold.
Since winter solstice is the season of the sun, gold is often associated with solar power and energy. If your tradition honors the return of the sun, why not hang some gold suns around your house as a tribute? Use a gold candle to represent the sun during your Yule rituals.
Hang gold ribbons around your home to invite prosperity and wealth in for the coming year. Gold also offers a sense of revitalization — you just can’t help but feel good about things when you’re surrounded by the color gold. Use gold wires to create shapes for ornaments to hang on your holiday tree, such as pentacles, spirals, and other symbols. Decorate with these, and bring the power of the Divine into your home for Yule
3 parts frankincense
2 parts myrrh
1 part cassia
1 part mace
1/2 part clove buds
Directions:Thoroughly grind all the ingredients together in a mortar into very small parts. Place by teaspoonfuls on the smoking coals. A Christmas scent will follow very quickly!
Winter Solstice Oil
Need a special oil for your Yuletide rituals? Blend together this seasonal oil, which will carry the scents of Yule into your ceremonies!
Blend some Winter Solstice oil before beginning your Yule rituals.
1/8 Cup grapeseed oil or other base oil of your choice. Add the following:
4 drops pine oil
2 drops orange oil
2 drops cedar oil
2 drops juniper oil
2 – 3 small lumps of frankincense, finely ground
As you blend the oils, visualize your intent, and take in the aroma. Know that this oil is sacred and magical. Label, date, and store in a cool, dark place. Use during your Yule celebrations to anoint participants or tools.
Yule Prosperity Potpourri
3 cups water
4 tablespoons cardamom seeds
2 tablespoons whole cloves
3 cinnamon sticks
3 nutmeg berries
1 teaspoon ginger
Simmer ingredients together on a stovetop or in a potpourri pot.
Yule Goddess Ritual for Solitaries
Yule is the time of the Winter Solstice, and for many Pagans, it’s a time to say goodbye to the old, and welcome the new. As the sun returns to the earth, life begins once more. This ritual can be performed by a solitary practitioner, either male or female. It’s also easily adaptable to a small group of people.
Perform this ritual on the evening of the Winter Solstice. If you normally wear a ritual robe or ceremonial gown, do so — and feel free to embellish for the season!
Consider a crown of holly, a special Yule-themed robe, or adding holiday bling to your existing robe. Sparkly is good!
Decorate your altar with a Yule log or tree (although obviously the tree might have to go on the floor, rather than the altar itself), lots of seasonal symbolism, and candles — after all, Yule is a celebration of light.
PREPARING FOR RITUAL
You’ll also want to have some holiday incense on your altar. Frankincense, cinnamon, myrrh — all are appropriate to the season; don’t light it just yet, though. Finally, have two candles in seasonal colors.
If you normally cast a circle, do so now — but don’t worry, it’s not mandatory.
To begin the ritual, sit on the floor near your altar — don’t light the candles just yet. Take a few moments to remember what things must have been like for our ancestors at this time of year. The harvest had been brought in, and they knew that in a few months, their stockpiles of food would be running low.
It was the season of darkness and Death, the time when the earth went dormant once more, sleeping until the spring returned. It was cold, often brutally so, and a lack of preparation could sometimes mean certain death. The days were short, the nights were long, and it must have seemed as though spring would never return.
Our ancestors knew that despite the darkness of this night, soon the light would return to the earth, bringing with it life. This night, the Winter Solstice, welcomes back the Sun, the ultimate giver of light.
HONORING THE WINTER SOLSTICE
Light the first candle, and say:
Tonight is the night of the Solstice,
the longest night of the year.
As the Wheel turns once more, I know that
tomorrow, the Sun will begin its journey back to us.
With it, new life will begin,
a blessing from Earth to her children.
Light the second candle, and say:
It is the season of the winter goddess.
Tonight I celebrate the festival of the winter solstice,
the rebirth of the Sun, and the return of light to the Earth.
As the Wheel of the Year turns once more,
I honor the eternal cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth.
Light the remaining candles on the altar at this time, and if you have decorative holiday lighting, turn it on. Return to your place at the altar, and face the holiday tree or Yule log. Raise your arms up to the tree, and say:
Today I honor the god of the forest,
the King of nature, who rules the season.
I give my thanks to the beautiful goddess,
whose blessings bring new life to the earth.
This gift I offer you tonight,
sending my prayers to you upon the air.
Light your incense, and if you’d like to make an offering of food, bread, or something else, do so now. As the smoke of the incense rises to the night sky, meditate on what changes you’d like to see before the next Sabbat. Reflect upon the time of the season. Although winter is here, life lies dormant beneath the soil. What new things will you bring to fruition for yourself when the planting season returns? How will you change yourself, and maintain your spirit throughout the cold months? When you are ready, either end the rite, or continue on with additional rituals, such as Cakes and Ale or Drawing Down the Moon.
If you don’t have a ritual robe, you can take a cleansing bath before the rite, and then wear a simple cotton or other organic material. Another option would be to make a robe as a Yule gift to yourself!