Merry Yule to One and All
Updated: Feb 3, 2019
My Irish Celtic ancestors celebrated this time of year as a means to honor Mother Earth and the changing of the seasons. Winter Solstice is when we experience the shortest day and longest night of the year. The celebrations were in honor of the resurrection of the Sun encouraging an easy birth. It is at this time when the sun begins its journey back and we begin to experience shorter nights and longer days. It heralded in hope that the sun’s rays would return once again to feed their crops and usher in the time when their cattle and sheep were once again put out to pasture in the abundant meadows that was their landscape. They were a spiritual people with their daily lives interconnected and interdependent on the whims of Mother Earth. They were keenly aware that the sun’s rays also nourished their bodies, hearts and souls and hence, these rituals were found throughout the land.
They understood that times of dormancy and deep rest are essential to all living things. A turning inward, resting more, reflecting and embracing the quiet reflected in what surrounded them; a renewal of the mind, body and soul. A knowing that Mother Nature doesn’t die during winter; she has merely gone underground to renew herself and prepare for spring. The trees are bare, stripped of their protective leaves. Plants do not visibly grow. The sun’s rays are not as abundant; a slowing down of sorts. We too are meant to slow down. Take time for our own renewal; of reinvigorating ourselves for the coming of spring and all that it entails as we prepare for planting. A time of self-reflection; a time of letting go of what no longer serves us and bringing to mind what we would like to manifest in our lives in the coming year.
My spiritual tradition reveres Mother Nature and all she provides. Ritual and prayer is part of our daily living. There is much to be grateful for during Yule and Winter Solstice. And the ancestors celebrated this time of year in ways that are reflected in our modern traditions.
Many customs, lore, symbols and rituals associated with Christmas are actually linked to Yule and Winter Solstice celebrations of ancient Pagan cultures. (Pagan coming from the word Paganus meaning country dweller) Yule begins at sunset on December 20th and lasts for 12 days ending December 31st known as the night of the Oak King or 12th Night. The last 3 days of Yule are set-aside for the Old Crone/Wise Woman Goddess or Caelliach (ky-lock) who is honored for her wisdom and as our teacher into the cosmic lessons of life and spiritual transformation. In modern times, under the solar calendar, she might also be honored as the waning year giving way to the New Year. Winter Solstice is one day, December 21st – honoring the shortest day and longest night of the year. And is embedded in Yule celebrations.
Now here are some of those traditions and symbols that are rich in meaning~
Bells are a throwback to our ancestors. Ancient Pagans rang bells to drive away malevolent spirits that might surface during this cold dark time of the year.
Druids (Priestesses and Priests - practitioners of healing & magic – their colors for thousands of years while celebrating “holy days” were red, green & white) embraced the Oak Tree (an evergreen) as sacred. Pagan families would bring in a live tree into their homes so the wood spirits would have a place to keep warm during the cold winter months. Bells were placed on the limbs so it would be known when a tree spirit was present. They were known as Yule Trees.
Long before Christianity, the circle shape was (and remains) the primary Pagan symbol of life everlasting. The never ending cycle of birth, death and re-birth. Wreaths were given as gifts to symbolize the infinity of goodwill, friendship and joyfulness. And the on-going turning of the wheel from season to season.
Being fire melted winters chill and was thought to encourage the Sun to shine, it was an important part of winter festivals. Candles became a symbol of fire as a much more practical way to bring this tradition into our homes.
Mistletoe was ritually harvested by Druids and used in sacred rituals and ceremonies. It was believed to symbolize fertility, love, promise and abundance and hung over the ancestors’ doorways. It was also believed to protect from thunder, lightening and malicious spirits. The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe is thought to have evolved from the belief of its magical powers of fertility and love.
The Yule log was a symbol of the Oak King adorned with traditional evergreen signifying the death of darkness, the return of the warmth of the sun and the newly born solar year. The ancestors believed (as do many Pagans/Earth based practitioners today) that the Yule log should burn continuously for the 12 days of Yule with a bit of the wood being saved to light next year’s Yule log carrying the sacredness of the ritual from year to year.
All spiritual traditions are worthy of, and deserve, our respect. I believe one of the most healing gifts we can give to one another, throughout the world, is the gift of acceptance of our different journeys to spiritual peace and enlightenment. I often think of what it would be like to live in a world where killing each other in the name of God no longer exists. Where we accept and approach our differences with curiosity, wonder & love rather than hating those different from ourselves. Where we no longer persecute those who pray differently than us; whose sanctuaries look different from ours and where we break bread together with mutual respect and love. Where we no longer believe our way is the only right and true way condemning those who don’t embrace our spiritual path. When we honor others’ journeys, we honor our belief in the goodness of humankind. When we no longer fear our differences, when we no longer believe that embracing these differences somehow diminishes our truths, when we understand, to the depths of our being, that embracing one another and who we pray to or find solace in is THE HOPE of living in a world based in peace and mutual respect.
May you and yours celebrate this season bringing love and hope to one another and to those whose lives may not reflect your beliefs and traditions.
May we not get lost in the acquisition of things but in spreading compassion, love, joy and good cheer to one and all ~
May the blessings and magic of the New Year fill your hearts and souls ~
Love and light to each of you ~
Janet (aka Crone)