Sixth High Holy Day Explanation – Yule

16 12 2013

Also known as Midwinter or the Winter Solstice, Yule has its roots in many cultures, including Roman Saturnalia, Christian Christmas and most importantly Scandinavian and Anglo Saxon Yule. It is the longest night and the day when the Sun is “reborn.” Since the summer, the days have been getting shorter and colder, but after Yule they begin to lengthen again as we approach spring. It is a time of light and hope in the depths of cold winter.

The first mention of a midwinter celebration is in the writings of a 4th century Christian who said that at this time pagans celebrated the birthday of the sun by kindling lights, giving presents, feasting and the closure of schools and shops. However this festival of Saturnalia only began in 274ad. By the 8th century there were 12 days of celebration at Christmas. There is little evidence of celebration in Ireland before the 12th century. However, Bede, writing in 730ad said that most important festival of the Anglo Saxons in England had been “Modranicht” or “Mothers Night” on 24th December. This was the night which opened the new year and “they kept watch during it with religious rites.” The word Yule came through Danish rule over England, however there is no mention of it in early Scandinavian literature. However, Snorri Sturluson says that there was a three day celebration at this time, including a sacrifice for a good crop. Historian Ronald Hutton says “the consensus between Bede and Snorri, that the winter solstice was a major feast of the ancient Scandinavian and Norse people’s, and opened their year, is still an impressive one.” There are many records from the 4th to 11th centuries of church leaders denouncing revelries, sorcery, divination, dressing in animal skins and feasting to excess at this time of the year. Across European society, it seems to have been a time for role reversal and the relaxation of norms. Hutton says that Welsh literature also shows good evidence for a midwinter “new year’s feast.” He further states that “it was the general custom in pagan Europe to decorate spaces with greenery and flowers at festivals, attested wherever records have survived.” These were often evergreens such as holly and ivy. Despite this, many of the traditional festivities we associate with Christmas now e.g. stockings, christmas cards, paper decorations and crackers either were invented in the 19th century or came over from Germany at that time. Other traditional Christmas festivities such as the Christmas Tree (in the Rhineland), Yule Log and Wassailing the orchards can be traced back to Tudor times but no further.

Norse reconstructionists celebrate Mothers Night (Modrinacht) as a time to honour the goddesses and ancestors. Twelve days of feasting follow with the burning of a yule log, meditating on the nine virtues, lighting candles, doing divinations and taking oaths on New Years Eve. Yule signified the height of the Wild Hunt, when a ghostly procession led by the god Odin marched across the night sky. In southwest England where I am from, this myth has evolved into a belief that it is hell hounds (known as Yeth or Wisht hounds) chasing sinners or the unbaptised. Similarly, myths surrounding Odin and Thor may have contributed to our modern Santa Claus. Yule is a time for honouring many of the Norse gods – Odin who leads the wild hunt, Thor for stopping the ice giants, Frey for prosperity, Sunna and Baldur for the Suns rebirth and the winter deities Ullr and Skadhi.

Modern Neopagans like Wiccans celebrate this day with the myth of the mother goddess who gives birth to the sun god, while Druids tell of a battle between the Oak King and the Holly King, in which the Oak King overcomes the Holly King on this day and rules until Midsummer.

It is traditional to celebrate Yule with gift giving, spending time with loved ones, decorating with evergreens, having a yule tree, drinking and feasting. Wassailing is another tradition and in medieval times, villagers in southwest England would go to orchards and wassail the apple trees to scare away evil spirits and ensure a good harvest in the Autumn. This year I intend to light a candle on each of the twelve nights, honour a norse deity and do a divination for each month of the coming year. I will also have a big feast, celebrate with friends, decorate the house, do an ADF ritual and go for a walk in nature to greet the sunrise in the Solstice morning.

ADF. Our Own Druidry: An introduction to Ár nDraíocht Féin and the Druid Path. Tucson: ADF Publishing, 2009.

Hutton, Ronald. The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Cunnigham, Scott. Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, Minnestota: Llewellyn Publications, 2003

Albertsson, Alaric. Travels through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagan. USA: Llewellyn Publications, 2009.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_Hunt

http://theasatrucommunity.org/holidays/yule/


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24 12 2013
psbey

Reblogged this on Lokeans! .

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