Category: Yule

Celebrating Yule

robin-in-winter-871298746681il6If like me you are a solitary pagan and wish to celebrate Yule in a meaningful way, then here are a few simple ideas that will help make your day both memorable and sacred.

An obvious one to start with is the Yule tree. Our ancestors originally decorated trees that surrounded their homes, but with the arrival of Christianity, fearing persecution, they began bringing their Yule trees inside to decorate instead. As for decorating the tree, the sky is the limit. I personally love the rustic look, so I make garlands out of popcorn and cranberries and hang up bells, stars and little wooden toys.

The Yule wreath is a symbol of the wheel of life and with a willow frame can be decorated with evergreens that can be found in your garden, local park or woodland. Just be mindful of how you are gathering your materials and please ask the tree you cut any foliage from permission to do so, as trees have a deep rooted wisdom and soul that needs to be respected.

A Yule log can be any small log that you find, however our ancestors used oak logs. Again these can be decorated with evergreens, such as mistletoe, holly and ivy. I have a previous post all about the origins of the Yule log.

Feeding wildlife can be done at any time of year, but especially now when the ground is frozen. It is easy enough to find information about which birds like which foods and where is the best place to leave it. Remember to be patient: it can take up to three to four weeks before birds become aware and even comfortable about feeding from your bird table or feeding station. Also don’t forget to leave water out and make sure to refresh it every day when it freezes over.

Donating food to food banks and other charities or toys to under privileged children is a wonderful thing to do to celebrate this time of year.

Placing an artificial candle in a window on the eve of Yule and leaving it there throughout the night is a lovely way of welcoming the return of the sun. These candles are extremely easy to find and do look very realistic.

As this is a time of introspection, how about making your own little book of reflections? You can decorate it with drawings or stickers and then you can write down your thoughts and feelings about the past year. You could if you wanted to, throw this book onto an open fire, to symbolically release all that has happened during these past twelve months so you can then embrace the new.

Walking the labyrinth, be it a life size version or a print off the internet that you walk with just your finger, is another way of releasing all that has stopped serving you this year. I have done this walking meditation a few times now and it really does work. You will feel so much lighter afterwards. I have talked about how you can do this on my Facebook page, but if you cannot find that post then it is straightforward enough to find instructions on how to do this online.

Decluttering and deep cleaning is a fantastic way to prepare for your Yule festivities. I have a great tip to share with you that will help you decide what to keep and what to give away. Pick up an item, for example a dress and ask yourself, “If I had the money and I saw this in a shop today, would I buy it?” If the answer is no, then you know what to do. This trick works every time and for me when it comes to books, I only keep those that I know I will enjoy reading again.

Baking and cooking need no further explanation, other than perhaps offering up some biscuits or cake that you have made yourself to the God and Goddess. I am sure that would be greatly appreciated and of course not forgetting to include your ancestors too. If you are someone who connects to the spirits of the land then leaving them a similar gift underneath your favourite tree wouldn’t go amiss either.

If you are able to, then is there some place near you where you could watch the solstice sun rise? Even looking out of an East facing window as the sun rises can be a powerful moment of gratitude.

A simple idea for a centre piece to your solstice ritual could be a spiral made up of crystals, pebbles or glass beads with a candle in the middle. The spiral is the oldest symbol known to be used in spiritual practice and represents the Goddess as well as being the sacred symbol that reminds us of our ever evolving path in life. At the Winter solstice many pagans recognize the important role of the Goddess as she gives birth to the God at Yule. During this stage of the wheel of the year the Goddess is both the Crone and the Mother.

A Danish tradition you might like to try is putting an almond in rice pudding and the person who eats it will have good like for the coming year.

When it comes to following a nature based path, then less is definitely more. Do your best to keep things simple with perhaps a small ritual, some crafting, prayer and a short meditation. I know it can be hard, but try and keep away from the commercialization that is rife at this time of year which always ends up making people feel inadequate and hollow inside.

So there you have it, just a few suggestions on how you can celebrate Yule this year. Please go ahead and share any activity ideas or traditions that you have for Yule. I would love to hear about them.

Many blessings of light and love to you all this Yule,

Take care of yourselves and until next time.

Hazel

xxx

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tradition Of Wassailing

Wassailing has been associated with Yuletide for hundreds of years. The word wassail comes from the Anglo Saxon “waes hael” meaning to be of good health. This old custom took place at the beginning of the New Year when good wishes could be passed between family and friends.

Wassail is an ale which is seasoned with spices and honey and was served in huge bowls made of pewter or silver with perhaps an egg or two. The huge bowl was passed around with the greeting of “wassail” and was often taken around to other people’s homes as well. This has now become the tradition of carol singing. Often the lord of the manor would shout “waes hael” and the assembled crowd would reply “drinc hael” meaning drink and be healthy. He would then give food and drink to them in exchange for their blessings and good will. ” Love and joy come to you and to your wassail too. And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year”.

Apple Tree Wassails are songs that were sung to the health of the apple trees. In some places this tradition took place on Christmas Eve and in others it was on twelfth night ( 6th January or 17th January before the calendar changed in England in 1752). For others, New Year’s Day morning had young boys “Apple Howling”, where they would beat the trees with willow sticks and sing rhymes.

It was tradition to sprinkle wassail ale around the base of the apple trees and to pour it on the roots of the biggest and best tree, as well as to dress it with ribbon or strips of cloth. Pieces of toast soaked in ale were also placed in between the tree’s branches.

The villagers would then gather around the orchard, banging on pots and pans, making a tremendous noise to wake up the spirit of the trees and to frighten away the bad spirits.

Wassail songs were sung or chanted as a blessing to bring a good apple harvest the following Autumn. Part of the labourers’ wages would have been paid in ale, so the owner of the orchard needed healthy abundant apple crops to attract good workers.

 

“Apple tree, apple tree we all come to wassail thee,
Bear this year and next year to bloom and blow,
Hat fulls, cap fulls, three cornered sacks fills…”

 

In parts of the UK there are still places that practice wassailing, so keep your eyes open for these and join in the fun. If not you could perhaps buy a small fruit tree and adapt this tradition to suit you.

 

Many Blessings,

Hazel

xxx

 

 

The Origins Of Ivy

Ivy is a climbing vine that attaches itself to stone, brick and other surfaces, as well as to trees that are dead or living. It climbs by way of small tendrils that grow from the vine. The vine itself can become large and each tendril can send out another branch. It does not take very long for ivy to completely grow up a wall and cover it. Although it is not likely to damage a brick wall, it can become invasive. Ivy leaves are heart shaped and usually have three-lobes. The leaves are shiny and can be green with white or cream accents. Unlike other plants, ivy flowers in the Autumn and sets seeds in the Spring.

Ivy has a fascinating history full of tradition and folklore and like holly and mistletoe stays green throughout the year. This fact led to some believing it had magical and protective qualities and was therefore used to decorate homes during the Winter months. It has also become a symbol of eternal life because it is often found growing on dead or decaying trees, as well as being found growing over headstones in cemeteries. However, at the same time because it is often found in cemeteries it was also viewed as a symbol of death. It used to be said that if ivy was found growing abundantly on a young girl’s grave it meant that she had died of a broken heart.

In other traditions, ivy was a symbol of marriage, fidelity, luck and love. This was perhaps due to its tendency to bind. Brides and grooms in Greece wore crowns of ivy as a symbol of fidelity.

Some versions of the medieval legend of Tristan and Isolde, refer to ivy’s ability to bind. Tristan was a Cornish knight and Isolde was an Irish princess. Tristan went to Ireland to bring back Isolde as a bride for King Mark. However, Tristan and Isolde fell in love before they reached Cornwall after drinking a love potion.

In ancient Rome, ivy was associated with Bacchus (known as Dionysus in Greek mythology), the God of wine and revelry. It was said that a handful of bruised ivy leaves steeped in wine would make it less intoxicating to the drinker, but at the same time more potent! For this reason, taverns used to display an ivy bush over their door as a sign that they were serving the best brew.

The Greeks and Romans held the plant in high esteem as it was seen as a protection against evil and Roman poets were crowned with a wreath of ivy so they could think more clearly and creatively. Perhaps it was the Druids who influenced the Romans, as they too wore crowns of ivy for clarity of thought. Virgil spoke of the gold ivy that had yellow berries, but sadly this ivy is now extinct.

Women would carry ivy with them to promote fertility and wands were decorated with ivy or made from ivy wood for use in spells and fertility ceremonies.
Ivy was also used in love divination especially at Samhain, as this following verse shows:
 

The Origins Of Holly

Holly has been traditionally connected to this time of year for thousands of years. Like mistletoe and Yule logs, its origins can be traced back to northern Europe and was of great importance to our ancestors. Its leaves are dark shiny green with sharp jagged edges and was worn by the druids in ceremonial head wear when they went into the forest to collect mistletoe. While other plants wilt and die in Winter, holly remains vibrant and strong; its bright red berries glistening in the harsh cold landscape. These red berries were associated with sacred blood; immortal and strong.

Druids regarded holly as a symbol of fertility and eternal life and was thought to have magical powers. In Druid lore, cutting down a holly tree would bring bad luck, but hanging holly sprigs up in the home was believed to bring good luck and protection. Holly was also thought to protect homes against lightning strikes.

The holly tree is one of the trees that can be found in the Ogham (pronounced oh-am), an ancient script that can be found on standing stones in Ireland and Wales. Our ancestors respected and revered trees, looking for guidance from these wise beings of Mother Earth and her cycle of life death and rebirth. Similar to runes, the Ogham can be engraved onto wooden sticks and used in divination and magick. In the Ogham the holly symbolises protection, balance and compassion.

The Ogham letter for holly is Tinne and this word means fire. Holly has been associated with fire for many hundreds of years and was used in fires that were burned during the Winter Solstice. Charcoal made from holly was seen as extremely potent and smiths used it for making swords. Smiths were seen as almost godlike with their powers of transformation, creating weapons and tools from molten metal. The use of holly during this process made the act even more magickal.

The Celtic Tree Calendar is a much more recent addition to Celtic Spirituality. Based on thirteen lunar divisions, each tree rules over the same number of days every year, much like astrology. Holly rules the days from 8th July – 4th August. If you were born during this time then you are thought to take on the characteristics of this tree.

Holly was also offered up to the Roman God Saturn during the festival of Saturnalia. It was said that the holly was the sacred plant of Saturn and was therefore  highly valued by the Romans. It was also seen as an extremely symbolic gift to offer a person.

In the north of Britain young women who wanted to know who their future husbands would be, would place three sprigs of smooth holly leaves wrapped in a cloth tied with nine knots under their pillows at night. They would hopefully see him in their dreams.

If you wore a sprig of holly then you would be protected from the faeries and a holly wreath on the door would certainly make sure nothing evil would pass the threshold.

In Scotland, it was said that holly was both feminine and masculine. Smooth leaves were feminine and the prickly ones were masculine. The type of leaves that were brought into the home at Yule indicated whether it would be the husband or the wife of the household that would govern over the coming year.

Throughout Europe holly was used to ward off evil spirits and was seen as a protective barrier, especially during Yule when the veil between the two worlds is at its thinnest. So it would be hung over doorways and windows to stop wandering bad spirits from entering the home.

I really enjoyed researching these customs and traditions. If you know of any old tales about the holly tree then please share. I would love to hear about them.

Many blessings,

Hazel

xxx

 

 

 

 

The Origins Of Mistletoe

illustration_viscum_album0Kissing under the mistletoe is an age old Christmas tradition, but have you ever actually asked yourself why we do it? Thinking about it, it all seems very strange, but there is much more to this Yuletide plant than meets the eye.

The mistletoe of northern Europe can definitely be called the original mistletoe. Viscum Album is the mistletoe that can be found in all of our ancient European traditions and legends.

The familiar white berried plant is parasitic and relies on its tree host to survive, taking the tree’s own water and nutrients. Being a parasite, mistletoe can seriously damage the tree, but fortunately this is not a problem if only one or two branches are covered. However, if it does establish itself on every branch, then it is not good news. The tree will not be able to have enough foliage of its own, nor water and nutrients and will eventually die. Thankfully, mistletoe can be managed properly if it is pruned.

The use of mistletoe in herbal remedies has its roots in prehistory.  According to Pliny the Elder, the Druids of Britain used to harvest mistletoe from their sacred oaks to use in rituals and medicine.  It is very rare for mistletoe to grow on an oak tree.

A special ceremony would take place a few days after the Winter Solstice once the Druids had prepared for their sacrificial feast. Under the chosen oak, they would bring two white bulls whose horns had never been bound. A Druid dressed in a white robe would then climb the oak and with a golden sickle cut the mistletoe, which they caught in a white cloak. It was important to them that the mistletoe did not touch the ground and become contaminated. The Druids divided up the boughs into sprigs and distributed them among the people, believing that the mistletoe would protect them from fire and storms as well as evil spirits. It’s never been clear exactly how they used mistletoe in their herbal cures– but it has had a reputation ever since as a “Heal All” and can be used to enhance fertility, cure nervous disorders and relieve high blood pressure. (Please consult a qualified herbalist first before using any herbal remedy).

The earliest archaeological evidence of mistletoe is from the Lindow Man; a bog body found preserved in Cheshire England from the time of the Roman occupation. Analysis of his stomach contents revealed a few grains of mistletoe pollen and this has been interpreted as evidence that he drank some sort of mistletoe drink before his death. Some suggest the mistletoe remains are proof that he was perhaps a Druid or even a sacrificial victim of the Druids, as mistletoe is poisonous in large amounts. So was he taking it as a herbal medicine or was he poisoned?

Mistletoe was so sacred in the eyes of the Celts that even enemies who happened to meet beneath a mistletoe in the forest would lay down their arms and exchange a friendly greeting; keeping the truce until the following day. From this ancient custom came the practice of hanging mistletoe over a doorway as a token of good will and peace to all who entered. By the 18th century in Britain, this evolved into the kissing tradition we have today. At this time, it became popular to create a ball of mistletoe that would be hung as a Christmas decoration. If a couple was found standing under the mistletoe, they had to kiss if the mistletoe ball still had berries. For each kiss, one berry would be taken from the ball. Once all the berries were gone, all the “luck” in love and marriage was considered to be drained out of the mistletoe and it was now bad luck to kiss beneath it.

According to Norse legend, when the Goddess Frigg and her son Baldur both had dreams concerning his death, Frigg made all of the things on Earth, both living and dead, take an oath to never harm Baldur. All took an oath not to harm Baldur except the mistletoe, who Frigga considered far too young. Read the rest of this story here on one of my favourite Norse mythology pages.

The Death of Baldur

The last fact about mistletoe that I am going to mention is that it was banned from being used in church decorations when Christianity took root in northern Europe because it was part of Pagan tradition. This ban is still widely observed today.

If you know any mistletoe stories then I would love to hear them.

My mini Yule series continues tomorrow.

Brightest Blessings,

Hazel

xxx

 

 

 

The Origins Of The Yule Log

logs-backgroundThe Yule log was originally set alight in honour of the Norse God Thor; the God of strength, courage, might and of course lightning. Usually cut from an oak tree or sometimes ash, the log was burnt in sympathetic magic to encourage the return of the sun.

The log would have been lit with a remaining piece of the Yule log from the previous year,  symbolising the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. Sprigs of holly were thrown onto the burning wood to encourage a year of good fortune, health and protection. The log was not left to burn completely, however, because the remaining pieces were crafted into sacred charms which would keep the wearer safe over the coming year.

In some parts of Scotland a similar tradition was observed, but instead of a log, a figure of an old woman was carved from an old tree trunk. The Cailleach Nolliach which means Old Winter’s Wife was brought into the house and laid onto a burning fire. The household would then gather and watch the figure be consumed by the flames. The Cailleach did not represent new life, she represented death. To avoid death and misfortune the carving was burnt to ashes.

Traditionally, those who followed the Norse tradition of Heathenry brought in the Yule log on Mother’s night (20th December). Before the log entered the longhouse, a procession took place with the decorated tree trunk decked out in ribbons and greenery and carried through the village. This was seen as a joyous occasion. After being lit, the huge tree trunk was expected to burn for twelve nights. Their homes were long houses, so this would not have been a problem. The log was seen as sacred and no one was allowed to walk barefoot near it or even squint!

In Yorkshire, England, it was customary for children to beg and sing from house to house as the Yule log was carried in. This tradition was called Mumping or Gooding.

Nowadays sadly, the only Yule logs we really see are chocolate ones found in the frozen section of the supermarket, but we can change this and start our own Yuletide tradition. For those of you who do not have an open fire or even a fire pit outside why not buy or make candle holders out of small branches and logs. Pinterest has many examples of Yule log candle holders. Eitherwise, another idea could be to actually buy a chocolate Yule log and put birthday candles in it. Blow them out and make a wish.

More Yuletide traditions tomorrow.

Brightest Blessings,

Hazel

xxx

 

The Origins Of Yule

Yule, also known as Saturnalia, Alban Arthan or the Winter Solstice is a Winter celebration of light. It has been observed by our ancestors for thousands upon thousands of years, especially in the Northern Hemisphere. The Winter Solstice typically falls between 21st – 23rd December. It is a  day when the sun is at its lowest, making it the shortest day of the year.

This Midwinter celebration brings our hope for the returning light to the fore and it gave our ancestors great joy in the middle of a terribly bleak time. Daylight lengthens minute by minute as the waxing half of the year comes around once more. But instead of yearning for the warmer months during this dark half of the year, we can instead use the opportunity to go deep within, just as Mother Nature does. To go still, reflect and gain wisdom so that we too can grow with the ever increasing light. Our visions, hopes and goals are slowly germinating, readying to burst forth in the new year.

Yule was typically celebrated by the Norse and the Romans and it is from these cultures that many of our traditions of today come from. The name Yule comes from the Anglo Saxon word “lul” meaning wheel or “jol” for the Germanic peoples. The Northern peoples would celebrate Yule with feasting and sacrificing.

Not much is known about how the Celts celebrated this time of year, but ancient writings do tell of how Druids would sacrifice a white bull and gather mistletoe. The Celts also hung evergreens above their doors to keep evil spirits away.

The Romans, however, celebrated a festival called “Saturnalia” which would last a whole week from 17th – 23rd December to honour the God Saturn who is the God of agriculture. It was also a time of gift giving, feasting and sacrifice. The Romans would gift coins for prosperity, cakes for joy and burning lamps to light the way through one’s life. Slaves were also allowed to take on the role of their master which meant no work was undertaken during this week.

Another Roman festival was called “Brumalia” which honoured the Gods Saturn, Cronos and Bacchus as well as the Goddesses Ceres and Demeter. The festival began 24th December and lasted four weeks.

In Scotland there was a tradition called “first footing” in which the first person to cross the threshold would bring good luck to the household for the coming year. However, this only applied if the visitor was a dark haired male. It is believed that this tradition goes back to the time of invading Vikings who would have had fairer hair.

Tomorrow I will be writing in more detail about the traditions of our Europen ancestors and how some of them are still practiced today.

Many blessings of love and light.

Hazel

xxx

 

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