By LaVonne (LaVonne) on December 16, 2010

Winter was a scary time for our Northern European Pagan ancestors. Imagine for a moment what it would be like:


December 21, 2010



The Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year, when the Mother Goddess, heavy with child, labors until morning when she gives birth to the Sun Lord. As he grows stronger day by day, he will warm the Earth and bring back the budding bloom, the new seeds for future crops and warmth and joy to life again.


Winter was a scary time for our Northern European Pagan ancestors. Imagine for a moment what it would be like:
Harvest is over. Food stores are already beginning to run low and the land where you hunt and forage is barren. For quite some time, the nights have been growing longer and longer, and the days shorter and shorter. The air has grown colder and you know the earth will soon be blanketed in snow. Nights are now freezing, even indoors, and you long for the warmth of the sun. You know that in the weeks ahead, there is going to be little opportunity and need to go out of your small, cramped dwelling for long periods of time. Like every year, your family will spend the next few months huddled together, rationing food and firewood, praying that stores don't run out, praying that no one gets sick, so that you'll make it through the long, lonely, stretch of cold and darkness. You'll have little to do, except keep working for survival and wait.
Then comes the turning point-- the Solstice. It might be the longest night, but a seed of hope is planted. The sun will only get stronger, the daylight only get longer, from here on out. Yes, you might still have dark times ahead, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

So what do you do? You celebrate, of course. Use up the last of the perishables before they rot. Enjoy the company of your community before you retreat indoors Celebrate life with merriment to cheer yourselves up and comfort each other about the frightening period ahead of you and reassure each other that it will not last longer than it has to.

What a relief when the days begin to lengthen again!

Many of the ancient traditions surrounding Yuletide are concerned with coping with the darkness and the evils it was thought to harbor, and helping the return of light and warmth.

Evergreen Lore of Yule

Evergreens were cherished at this time of year as a natural symbol of rebirth and life amid winter whiteness. But holly was particularly prized to decorate doors, windows and fireplaces because of its prickliness -- to either ward off or snag and capture evil spirits before they could enter and harm a household.

And from the Celtic tradition comes mistletoe.  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 pair of white bulls was sacrificed and if prayers were answered, prosperity would be visited upon the villages.  

The great thing about mistletoe is that if you use it magically, you don't have to worry about taking it internal. Considering all of its wonderful magical properties, it can be used in many different ways.

  • Place leaves in a pouch for an ill person to carry on their person.
  • To draw love to you, hang mistletoe over your door.
  • Place leaves in a sachet for a woman having trouble conceiving.
  • 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 discord in your life?
  • Follow the ways of the Druids, and hang mistletoe to bring abundance your way.

Of course, there's the tree, so layered over with folklore and speculations about its origin that one could write an entire book about it. Indeed, someone already has. California writer Sheryl Ann Karas brings us The Solstice Evergreen, highly recommended. The Celtic Druids venerated evergreen trees as manifestations of deity and as symbols of the universe. To the Celts, these trees were sacred because they did not die from year to year like deciduous trees. Therefore they represented the eternal aspect of the Goddess who also never dies. Their greenery was symbolic of the hope for the sun's return.

The Druids decorated the evergreen trees at Yule with all the images of the things they wished the waxing year to bring. Fruits for a successful harvest, love charms for happiness, nuts for fertility, and coins for wealth adorned the trees. These were forerunners to many of the images on today's Christmas trees. Candles were the forerunners of today's electric tree lights.

In Scandinavia, Yule trees were brought inside to provide a warm and festive place for tree elementals that inhabited the woodland. This was also a good way to coax the native faery folk to participate in Solstice rituals. Some believed the Saxons were the first to place candles in the tree.

Gradually sacred tree imagery was absorbed and minimalized by the Christian church--but it was never able to destroy trees' resonance within our collective unconscious completely. We realize when we plant a tree we are encouraging the Earth to breathe. And when we decorate our evergreen trees at Yule, we are making a symbol of our dream world with the objects we hang upon it; perhaps a chain or garland reflecting the linking of all together on Earth. Lights--for the light of human consciousness, animal figures who serve as our totems, fruits and colors that nourish and give beauty to our world, gold and silver for prosperity, treats and nuts that blend sweet and bitter--just as in real life. The trees we decorate now with symbols of our perfect worlds actually animate what we esteem and what we hope for in the coming year; as from this night, the light returns, reborn.

 The ancient Romans and their festival of Saturnalia is one of the most well-documented celebrations of the Winter Solstice. This week-long bacchanal included exchanging of gifts, lots of food and wine, dancing and music. Slaves got the week off work, courts were closed, and all kinds of debauchery took place. This festival honored Saturn, of course, and he was an agricultural god. To keep him happy, fertility rituals took place under the mistletoe. Today, we don't quite go that far under our mistletoe (at least not usually) but it does explain where the kissing tradition comes from. 

And there's the famous Yule Log. A Yule log is a large wooden log which is burned in the hearth as a part of traditional Yule or Christmas celebrations in several European cultures. It can be a part of the Winter Solstice festival or the Twelve Days of Christmas, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or Twelfth Night. The Yule log is brought inside, lighted on the first try with splinters saved from the previous year's log, and must continue burning for twelve
hours for good luck.  It should be made of ash. 

And from time immemorial, Yule has been a time of peace and charity. In Norway, work had to be reduced to a minimum, and no wheels were to be turned, for that would show impatience with the great wheel in the sky, the sun. As part of this time-- called Julafred, or Peace of Christmas--neither bird, nor beast nor fish is trapped, shot or netted.

Symbolism of Yule:
Rebirth of the Sun, The longest night of the year, The Winter Solstice, Introspect, Planning for the Future.

Symbols of Yule:
Yule log, or small Yule log with 3 candles, evergreen boughs or wreaths, holly, mistletoe hung in doorways, gold pillar candles, baskets of clove studded fruit, a simmering pot of wassail, poinsettias, Christmas cactus.

Herbs of Yule:
Bayberry, blessed thistle, evergreen, frankincense holly, laurel, mistletoe, oak, pine, sage, yellow cedar.

Foods of Yule:
Cookies and caraway cakes soaked in cider, fruits, nuts, pork dishes, turkey, eggnog, ginger tea, spiced cider, wassail, or lamb's wool (ale, sugar, nutmeg, roasted apples).

Incense of Yule:
Pine, cedar, bayberry, cinnamon.

Colors of Yule:
Red, green, gold, white, silver, yellow, orange.

Stones of Yule:

Rubies, bloodstones, garnets, emeralds, diamonds.

Activities of Yule:
Caroling, wassailing the trees, burning the Yule log, decorating the Yule tree, exchanging of presents, kissing under the mistletoe, honoring Kris Kringle the Germanic Pagan God of Yule

Spellworkings of Yule:
Peace, harmony, love, and increased happiness.

Deities of Yule:
Goddesses-Brighid, Isis, Demeter, Gaea, Diana, The Great Mother. Gods-Apollo, Ra, Odin, Lugh, The Oak King, The Horned One, The Green Man, The Divine Child, Mabon.

There have been many and varied rituals and celebrations formed over the centuries in connection with these times of year.  I encourage you to either use a known ritual, or form your own traditions and ritual that is meaningful to you. There is no one tradition that is more holy, righteous, or "correct" than others.  Rituals are designed to pass on from one generation to the next the values and beliefs that are important to you. As such, you are entitled to celebrate that which brings you joy, happiness, and communicates a sense of hope and connection to the next generation.

It is my wish that this Yule bring you fond memories of times past, peoples who have gone on before you and new memories are forged. May the God of your understanding bless your New Year with Joy, Abundance, Prosperity, Love and New Beginnings.

In Perfect Love and Perfect Peace




Related articles:
winter solstice, Yule

About LaVonne
I am still learning who LaVonne/Dorothy is.

Statistically I am a 65 y/young mother of 3, grandmother of 9, and great-grandmother of 3. I am a High Priestess and founder of the College of the Boundless Truth, am an Ordained Minister and perform Handfastings, marriages during the Spring and Summer season. I am enjoying my Crone years.

« More articles

Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Happy First Day of Spring! dahlianut Dec 22, 2010 9:59 AM 8
Thanks Ridesredmule Dec 21, 2010 12:04 PM 5
Wonderful! threegardeners Dec 16, 2010 5:37 PM 0

The Cottage in the Thicket

This is a place for pagans of all paths and anyone else who wants to join in. Everyone is welcome here. Share your ideas or just share what you did today. C'mon in make yourself at home!

» Home
» Forums
» Articles

Cubit owner: Woodwife

Admin team:

» Contact the admins