Midwinter Night’s Eve: Yule by Mike Nichols

To be it wouldn’t be a Sabbat without an article from Mike Nichols. He is absolutely, fabulous Pagan writer. I hope you enjoy this article as much as I do.

 

Midwinter Night’s Eve: Yule
by Mike Nichols

Our Christian friends are often quite surprised at how enthusiastically we Pagans  celebrate the ‘Christmas’ season.  Even though we prefer to use the word ‘Yule’, and our  celebrations may peak a few days before the 25th, we nonetheless follow many of the  traditional customs of the season: decorated trees, carolling, presents, Yule logs, and  mistletoe.  We might even go so far as putting up a ‘Nativity set’, though for us the three  central characters are likely to be interpreted as Mother Nature, Father Time, and the Baby  Sun-God.  None of this will come as a surprise to anyone who knows the true history of the  holiday, of course.

In fact, if truth be known, the holiday of Christmas has always been more Pagan than  Christian, with it’s associations of Nordic divination, Celtic fertility rites, and Roman  Mithraism.  That is why both Martin Luther and John Calvin abhorred it, why the Puritans  refused to acknowledge it, much less celebrate it (to them, no day of the year could be  more holy than the Sabbath), and why it was even made illegal in Boston!  The holiday  was  already too closely associated with the birth of older Pagan gods and heroes.  And many of  them (like Oedipus, Theseus, Hercules, Perseus, Jason, Dionysus, Apollo, Mithra, Horus and  even Arthur) possessed a narrative of birth, death, and resurrection that was uncomfortably  close to that of Jesus. And to make matters worse, many of them pre-dated the Christian  Savior.

Ultimately, of course, the holiday is rooted deeply in the cycle of the year.  It is the  Winter Solstice that is being celebrated, seed-time of the year, the longest night and  shortest day.  It is the birthday of the new Sun King, the Son of God — by whatever name  you choose to call him.  On this darkest of nights, the Goddess becomes the Great Mother  and once again gives birth.  And it makes perfect poetic sense that on the longest night of  the winter, ‘the dark night of our souls’, there springs the new spark of hope, the Sacred  Fire, the Light of the World, the Coel Coeth.

That is why Pagans have as much right to claim this holiday as Christians.  Perhaps even  more so, as the Christians were rather late in laying claim to it, and tried more than once  to reject it.  There had been a tradition in the West that Mary bore the child Jesus on the  twenty-fifth day, but no one could seem to decide on the month. Finally, in 320 C.E., the  Catholic Fathers in Rome decided to make it December, in an effort to co-opt the Mithraic  celebration of the Romans and the Yule celebrations of the Celts and Saxons.

There was never much pretense that the date they finally chose was historically  accurate.  Shepherds just don’t ‘tend their flocks by night’ in the high pastures in the  dead of winter!  But if one wishes to use the New Testament as historical evidence, this  reference may point to sometime in the spring as the time of Jesus’s birth.  This is  because the lambing season occurs in the spring and that is the only time when shepherds  are likely to ‘watch their flocks by night’ — to make sure the lambing goes well.  Knowing  this, the Eastern half of the Church continued to reject December 25, preferring a ‘movable  date’ fixed by their astrologers according to the moon.

Thus, despite its shaky start (for over three centuries, no one knew when Jesus was  supposed to have been born!), December 25 finally began to catch on.  By 529, it was a  civic holiday, and all work or public business (except that of cooks, bakers, or any that  contributed to the delight of the holiday) was prohibited by the Emperor Justinian.  In  563, the Council of Braga forbade fasting on Christmas Day, and four years later the  Council of Tours proclaimed the twelve days from December 25 to Epiphany as a sacred,  festive season.  This last point is perhaps the hardest to impress upon the modern reader,  who is lucky to get a single day off work.  Christmas, in the Middle Ages, was not a  single day, but rather a period of twelve days, from December 25 to January 6.  The Twelve  Days of  Christmas, in fact.  It is certainly lamentable that the modern world has abandoned this  approach, along with the popular Twelfth Night celebrations.

Of course, the Christian version of the holiday spread to many countries no faster than  Christianity itself, which means that ‘Christmas’ wasn’t celebrated in Ireland until the  late fifth century; in England, Switzerland, and Austria until the seventh; in Germany  until the eighth; and in the Slavic lands until the ninth and tenth. Not that these  countries lacked their own mid-winter celebrations of Yuletide.  Long before the world had  heard of Jesus, Pagans had been observing the season by bringing in the Yule log, wishing  on it, and lighting it from the remains of last year’s log.  Riddles were posed and  answered, magic and rituals were practiced, wild boars were sacrificed and consumed along  with large quantities of liquor, corn dollies were carried from house to house while  carolling, fertility rites were practiced (girls standing under a sprig of mistletoe were  subject to a bit more than a kiss), and divinations were cast for the coming Spring.  Many  of these Pagan customs, in an appropriately watered-down form, have entered the mainstream  of Christian celebration, though most celebrants do not realize (or do not mention it, if  they do) their origins.

For modern Witches, Yule (from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Yula’, meaning ‘wheel’ of the year) is  usually celebrated on the actual Winter Solstice, which may vary by a few days, though it  usually occurs on or around December 21st.  It is a Lesser Sabbat or Lower Holiday in the  modern Pagan calendar, one of the four quarter-days of the year, but a very important one.   This year (1988) it occurs on December 21st at 9:28 am CST.  Pagan customs are still  enthusiastically followed. Once, the Yule log had been the center of the celebration.  It  was lighted on the eve of the solstice (it should light on the first try) and must be kept  burning for twelve hours, for good luck.  It should be made of ash.  Later, the Yule log  was replaced by the Yule tree but, instead of burning it, burning candles were placed on  it.  In Christianity, Protestants might claim that Martin Luther invented the custom, and  Catholics might grant St. Boniface the honor, but the custom can demonstrably be traced  back through the Roman Saturnalia all the way to ancient Egypt.  Needless to say, such a  tree should be cut down rather than purchased, and should be disposed of by burning, the  proper way to dispatch any sacred object.

Along with the evergreen, the holly and the ivy and the mistletoe were important plants  of the season, all symbolizing fertility and everlasting life.  Mistletoe was especially  venerated by the Celtic Druids, who cut it with a golden sickle on the sixth night of the  moon, and believed it to be an aphrodisiac.  (Magically — not medicinally!  It’s highly  toxic!)  But aphrodisiacs must have been the smallest part of the Yuletide menu in ancient  times, as contemporary reports indicate that the tables fairly creaked under the strain of  every type of good food.  And drink!  The most popular of which was the ‘wassail cup’  deriving its name from the Anglo-Saxon term ‘waes hael’ (be whole or hale).

Medieval Christmas folklore seems endless: that animals will all kneel down as the Holy  Night arrives, that bees hum the ‘100th psalm’ on Christmas Eve, that a windy Christmas  will bring good luck, that a person born on Christmas Day can see the Little People, that a  cricket on the hearth brings good luck, that if one opens all the doors of the house at  midnight all the evil spirits will depart, that you will have one lucky month for each  Christmas pudding you sample, that the tree must be taken down by Twelfth Night or bad luck  is sure to follow, that ‘if Christmas on a Sunday be, a windy winter we shall see’, that  ‘hours of sun on Christmas Day, so many frosts in the month of May’, that one can use the  Twelve Days of Christmas to predict the weather for each of the twelve months of the coming  year, and so on.

Remembering that most Christmas customs are ultimately based upon older Pagan customs,  it only remains for modern Pagans to reclaim their lost traditions.  In doing so, we can  share many common customs with our Christian friends, albeit with a slightly different  interpretation.  And thus we all share in the beauty of this most magical of seasons, when  the Mother Goddess once again gives birth to the baby Sun-God and sets the wheel in motion  again.  To conclude with a long-overdue paraphrase, ‘Goddess bless us, every one!’

Glory to The Newborn King


Yule Comments & Graphics

Glory to The Newborn King

(Tune: Hark the Herald Angels Sing)

Brothers, sisters, come and sing
Glory to the new-born king!
Gardens peaceful, forests wild
Celebrate the Winter Child!
Now the time of glowing starts!
Joyful hands and joyful hearts!
Cheer the Yule log as it burns!
For once again, the Sun returns!
Brothers, sisters, come and sing!
Glory to the new-born King!

Brothers, sisters, singing come
Glory to the new-born Sun
Through the wind and dark of night
Celebrate the coming light.
Suns glad rays through fear’s cold burns
Life through death the Wheels now turns
Gather round Yule log and tree
Celebrate Life’s mystery
Brothers, sisters, singing come
Glory to the new-born Sun.

The Yule Log

The Yule Log
by Lila

The tradition of the Yule logs dates back millennia. The origin of the word Yule seems to originate from the Anglo Saxon word for sun and light. People used to burn a yule log on the Winter Solstice in December. The Winter Solstice is the day of the year with the shortest amount of daylight. Yule is celebrated by fire, which provides a dual role of warmth and keeping evil spirits away. Many people thought that evil spirits were more likely to wander the earth on the longest night of the year. All night bonfires and hearth fires kept evil at bay and provided gathering places for folks to share feasts and stories.

Winter Solstice marks the sun’s victory over darkness; the days would now grow longer. The cinders from the burnt log were thought to protect homes from lightning and the evil powers of the devil. The ashes were also sprinkled on the surrounding fields to ensure good luck for the coming year’s harvest. The largest remaining part of the log was kept safe to kindle next year’s fire.

The Yule log has waned in popularity with the advent of electric heaters and wood stoves. With no access to a hearth, fireplace or fire pit, modern folks are losing a sacred tradition. Today, we may still partake of the Yule Log tradition by creating a smaller version as a table ornament, embellished with greenery and candles, or the popular Yule log cake. As we eat a slice, we can imagine taking in the protective properties of the log.

Many enjoy the practice of lighting the Yule Log. If you choose to burn one, select a log and carve or chalk upon it a figure of the Sun (a rayed disc) or the Horned God (a horned circle). Set it alight in the fireplace at dusk, on Yule. This is a graphic representation of the rebirth of the God within the sacred fire of the Mother Goddess. As the log burns, visualize the Sun shining within it and think of the coming warmer days. Traditionally, a portion of the Yule Log is saved to be used in lighting next year’s log. This piece is kept throughout the year to protect the home.

Whether you are burning a log or creating a centrepiece, different woods may be used to produce different effects:
Aspen: invokes understanding of the grand design
Birch: signifies new beginnings
Holly: inspires visions and reveals past lives
Oak: brings healing, strength, and wisdom, symbol of the Oak king, the New year
Pine: signifies prosperity and growth
Willow: invokes the Goddess to achieve desires
Decorate your log with the any of the following items:
bright green needles of fir represents the birth of the new year
dark green needles of yew represent death of the waning year
vines of ivy or birch branches represent the Goddess
sprigs of holly with red berries represent the Holly king of the dying year
As you light the Yule log chant the following:

As the yule log is kindled
so is the new year begun
as it has been down through the ages
an unending cycle of birth, death, and rebirth
every ending is a new beginning
May the Yule log burn
May all good enter here
May there be wheat for bread
and vats full of wine
(or may we never hunger may we never thirst)

When the log has almost completely burned, collect a small piece of the Yule log (dip in a bucket of water to ensure it is completely out) wrap carefully and keep somewhere in the home for safety and protection.

collect some of the cold ashes and store in a glass bottle. The ash can be used for spells of protection and amulets. The remainder of the Yule ash can be scattered over fields or gardens to ensure fertility in the spring.

Pauline Campanelli; Wheel of the Year

Lila is an initiate in The Sacred Three Goddess school. She lives on a mountain in beautiful British Columbia with her husband, four cats, two ferrets and other varied critters of nature. She spends her time communing with the Faerie folk and long walks by the river.

Quick Yule Project – Love & Protection Sachet


Witchy Comments & Graphics

Love & Protection Sachet

Fill a green or gold sachet with cinnamon to draw money and success or to use as a healing charm. Use a purple sachet with Cinnamon can help increase your magickal or psychic powers. Use a pink or red sachet w/cinnamon to draw love or white to insure protection.

MAKE A YULE LOG

MAKE A YULE LOG

To make a Yule Log, simply choose a dried piece of oak and decorate with burnable ribbons, evergreens, holly, and mistletoe. To make a Yule Log with candles (suitable for indoor observances when a fireplace is not available), you will need a round log at least thirteen inches long and five inches thick. Flatten the bottom of the log with a saw (preferably a power saw) by trimming off an inch or two so the log will sit without wobbling. Next determine where the three candle holes should be drilled along the top of the log. They should be evenly spaced. The size of the holes will be determined by the size candles you are using. Drill the holes 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch to accommodate the candles.

The log with candles may be painted or sprayed with varnish or shellac to keep it from drying out. When the varnish is dry, insert candles and decorate it with holly, evergreens, and mistletoe. Candles may be green, red, and silver or white to represent the Oak King, the Holly King, and the Goddess; or white, red, and black to represent the Triple Goddess.

Yule Log Magick

Yule Log Magick

The yule log is a remnant of the bonfires that the European pagans would set ablaze at the time of winter solstice. These bonfires symbolized the return of the Sun.

An oak log, plus a fireplace or bonfire area is needed for this form of celebration. The oak log should be very dry so that it will blaze well. On the night of Yule, carve a symbol of your hopes for the coming year into the log. Burn the log to release it’s power. It can be decorated with burnable red ribbons of natural fiber and dried holly leaves. In the fireplace or bonfire area, dried kindling should be set to facilitate the burning of the log.The Yule log can be made of any wood (Oak is traditional). Each releases its own kind of magick.

Ash –brings protection, prosperity, and health

Aspen– invokes understanding of the grand design

Birch– signifies new beginnings

Holly– inspires visions and reveals past lives

Oak– brings healing, strength, and wisdom

Pine– signifies prosperity and growth

Willow– invokes the Goddess to achieve desires

The burning of the Yule Log can easily become a family tradition. Begin by having parent(s) or some other family member describe the tradition of the Yule Log. The tale of the Oak King and Holly King from Celtic mythology can be shared as a story, or can be summarized with a statement that the Oak represents the waxing solar year, Winter Solstice to Summer Solstice, and the Holly represents the waning solar year, Summer Solstice to Winter Solstice.

Lights are extinguished as much as possible. The family is quiet together in the darkness. Family members quietly contemplate the change in the solar year. Each in her/his own way contemplates the past calendar year, the challenges as well as the good times.

Then the Yule Log fire is lit. As it begins to burn, each family member throws in one or more dried holly sprigs and says farewell to the old calendar year. Farewells can take the form of thanksgiving and appreciation and/or a banishment of old habits or personal pains.

Once the Yule Log itself starts blazing, then the facilitator invites family members to contemplate the year ahead and the power of possibilities. Each member then throws in an oak twig or acorn into the fire to represent the year ahead, and calls out a resolution and/or a hope.

Families using a Yule Log with candles each family member can write a bad habit and/or a wish for the upcoming year on a slip of paper and burn it in the candle flame.

When this process is done, the family sings a song together. The traditional carol, “Deck the Halls,” is good because it mentions the Solstice, the change in the solar year, and the Yule Log.

Let the Yule Log burn down to a few chunks of charred wood and ashes (or candles burn down). Following an ancient tradition, save remnants of the fire and use them to start the Yule Log fire the following year.

THE YULE LOG

THE YULE LOG

The Yule Log, an ancient symbol of the season, came to us from the Celts. The log, a phallic symbol, is usually cut from an Oak tree, symbolic of the god. The entire log was decorated with holly, mistletoe, and evergreens to represent the intertwining of the god and goddess who are reunited on this Sabbat. The log was burned in the hearth or fireplace. Modern pagans also have the option of using pieces of oak small enough to be burned in the cauldron.

In modern times, another tradition has emerged since not everyone has fireplaces. Three holes are bored in the top of the log for three candles, representing the goddess in her three aspects — maiden, mother, and crone. Normally these candles are white, red, and black in honor of this triple aspect. This log may be reused year after year, with the candles changed each year.

An ancient rhyme of unknown origin reflects the importance of the Yule Log on this Sabbat:

May the log burn,
May the wheel turn,
May evil spurn,
May the Sun return.

The ashes of the yule log or spent wax from candles are tied up in a cloth for the entire year as a charm for protection, fertility, strength, and health.

How to Make a Yule Log

How to Make a Yule Log

By , About.com Guide

 

As the Wheel of the Year turns once more, the days get shorter, the skies become gray, and it seems as though the sun is dying. In this time of darkness, we pause on the Solstice (usually around December 21st, although not always on the same date) and realize that something wonderful is happening.

On Yule, the sun stops its decline into the south. For a few days, it seems as though it’s rising in exactly the same place… and then the amazing, the wonderful, the miraculous happens. The light begins to return.

The sun begins its journey back to the north, and once again we are reminded that we have something worth celebrating.  In families of all different spiritual paths, the return of the light is celebrated, with Menorahs, Kwanzaa candles, bonfires, and brightly lit Christmas trees. On Yule, many Pagan and Wiccan families celebrate the return of the sun by adding light into their homes. One of our family’s favorite traditions – and one that children can do easily – is to make a Yule log for a family-sized celebration.

A holiday celebration that began in Norway, on the night of the winter solstice it was common to hoist a giant log onto the hearth to celebrate the return of the sun each year. The Norsemen believed that the sun was a giant wheel of fire which rolled away from the earth, and then began rolling back again on the winter solstice.

As Christianity spread through Europe, the tradition became part of Christmas Eve festivities. The father or master of the house would sprinkle the log with libations of mead, oil or salt. Once the log was burned in the hearth, the ashes were scattered about the house to protect the family within from hostile spirits.

Because each type of wood is associated with various magickal and spiritual properties, logs from different types of trees might be burned to get a variety of effects. Aspen is the wood of choice for spiritual understanding, while the mighty oak is symbolic of strength and wisdom. A family hoping for a year of prosperity might burn a log of pine, while a couple hoping to be blessed with fertility would drag a bough of birch to their hearth.

In our house, we usually make our Yule log out of pine, but you can make yours of any type of wood you choose. You can select one based on its magickal properties, or you can just use whatever’s handy. To make a basic Yule log, you will need the following:

  • A log about 14 – 18” long
  • Pinecones
  • Dried berries, such as cranberries
  • Cuttings of mistletoe, holly, pine needles, and ivy
  • Feathers and cinnamon sticks
  • Some festive ribbon – use paper or cloth ribbon, not the synthetic or wire-lined type
  • A hot glue gun

 

All of these – except for the ribbon and the hot glue gun — are things you and your children can gather outside.  You might wish to start collecting them earlier in the year, and saving them.  Encourage your children to only pick up items they find on the ground, and not to take any cuttings from live plants.

Begin by wrapping the log loosely with the ribbon. Leave enough space that you can insert your branches, cuttings and feathers under the ribbon. In our house, we place five feathers on our Yule log – one for each member of the family. Once you’ve gotten your branches and cuttings in place, begin gluing on the pinecones, cinnamon sticks and berries. Add as much or as little as you like. Remember to keep the hot glue gun away from small children.

Once you’ve decorated your Yule log, the question arises of what to do with it. For starters, use it as a centerpiece for your holiday table. A Yule log looks lovely on a table surrounded by candles and holiday greenery.

Another way to use your Yule log is to burn it as our ancestors did so many centuries ago. In our family, before we burn our log we each write down a wish on a piece of paper, and then insert it into the ribbons. It’s our wish for the upcoming year, and we keep it to ourselves in hopes that it will come true.

If you have a fireplace, you can certainly burn your Yule log in it, but we prefer to do ours outside. We have a fire pit in the back yard, and on the night of the winter solstice, we gather out there with blankets, mittens, and mugs full of warm drinks as we burn our log. While we watch the flames consume it, we discuss how thankful we are for the good things that have come our way this year, and how we hope for abundance, good health, and happiness in the next.

 

About.com Guide

 

Nine Sisters Chant

Nine Sisters Chant

 
To be recite nine times over a wound, tumor, or infection three times a day for twenty-one days (or less, should the wound close quickly). This Anglo-Saxon leechbook chant can also be used repetitively to remove evil from the home as the household is sprinkled with holy water and censed with a burning banishment herb, such as sage.
 
Nine were Noththe’s sisters.
Then the nine became eight
and the eight became seven
and the seven became six
and the six became five
and the five became four
and the four became three
and the three became two
and the two became one
and the one became none
 
Follow by drawing the equal-armed cross in the air and saying “It is so.”