Witchy Wednesday: Yule Knowledge & Info

Yule, (pronounced EWE-elle) is when the dark half of the year relinquishes to the light half. Starting the next morning at sunrise, the sun climbs just a little higher and stays a little longer in the sky each day. Known as Solstice Night, or the longest night of the year, much celebration was to be had as the ancestors awaited the rebirth of the Oak King, the Sun King, the Giver of Life that warmed the frozen Earth and made her to bear forth from seeds protected through the fall and winter in her womb. Bonfires were lit in the fields, and crops and trees were "wassailed" with toasts of spiced cider.

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 Kriss 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. Deities of Yule are all Newborn Gods, Sun Gods, Mother Goddesses, and Triple Goddesses. The best known would be the Dagda, and Brighid, the daughter of the Dagda. Brighid taught the smiths the arts of fire tending and the secrets of metal work. Brighid's flame, like the flame of the new light, pierces the darkness of the spirit and mind, while the Dagda's cauldron assures that Nature will always provide for all the children.

One ancient belief is that dreams during the Twelve Nights predict the events in one's life for the coming year. An interesting activity would be to keep a log of one's dreams for each of the Twelve Nights.

Gift Giving
The tradition of gift giving goes back to Heathen times when gifts were exchanged throughout the Yuletide and not only on one day of the tide. Therefore, it is fitting that Heathens do this as well. Gifts need not be expensive and handmade gifts are often better than something purchased at a store. Ideal gifts are those relating to our religion, books, ritual gear, art, tapes, and of course drinking horns.

Holly, Ivy, and Yule Decor
At Yuletide, the Elder Heathens decorated their homes with ivy, holly, and boughs of evergreens. Ribbons were also used and the entire home covered with garlands and wreathes. Modern Heathen should do not less in an attempt to capture the Yuletide spirit. Below are three of the more common house decorations. Children were escorted from house to house with gifts of clove spiked apples and oranges which were laid in baskets of evergreen boughs and wheat stalks dusted with flour. The apples and oranges represented the sun, the boughs were symbolic of immortality, the wheat stalks portrayed the harvest, and the flour was accomplishment of triumph, light, and life. Holly, mistletoe, and ivy not only decorated the outside, but also the inside of homes. It was to extend invitation to Nature Sprites to come and join the celebration. A sprig of Holly was kept near the door all year long as a constant invitation for good fortune to pay visit to the residents.

Yule Tree: The tradition of the Yule tree comes from Germany. Originally, it is believed the trees were decorated outside and gifts left for the land wights. This custom can still be observed in other parts of Northern Europe. With Christianity, the trees were brought inside to hide from the church. Modern Heathen trees can be decorated with Heathen symbols as well as the commercial lights, glitter, and ornaments. If one wants they can decorate a tree outside instead as the Heathens of old did.
Yule Wreaths: Modern tradition uses a Yule wreath at the Mothers' Night symbol as an oath ring. This wreath is oathed upon as well as wished upon, and then burned at the Twelfth Night blot. Therefore these wreathes are best made out of natural substances such as cedar branches. Other wreathes can be used as decorations around the house.
Lights: In the more northern countries, Lucy Day, which was a festival of lights, is celebrated and seems an ancient holiday in connection with Yule. Candles, torches, and other forms of light were left burning to light up the night skies. Today we can use electric lights for the same purpose.

Morris Dancing
Morris dancing, particularly the variety consisting of swordplay also took place during the Yuletide. Morris dancing to quote Linetwigle of the Ealdriht in her paper, Dance in Northern Tradition consisted of "stamping, leaping and hopping, rapping of swords or planting rods against the ground (these denoting a connection to fertility of the land), and the wearing of bells, plus a plethora of regional variations." Morris dancing also consisted of blackening of the faces (as did often mumming and hoodening) to either scare off evil spirits, or to mock the Wild Hunt.

Something more practical for Heathens than Morris Dancing is mumming. Mummer plays take place in all of England, usually in pubs. All of the plays consist of five to twelve cast members and follow the same basic plot. 1) A hero returns from a distant land. 2) The hero is challenged and killed. 3) A doctor is called and revives the hero. 4) All hostilities are ceased. Some see this as a ritual reenactment of the birth and death of a sun god. This is highly unlikely, as Heathen lore seems to have preserved no myths of this particular type. More likely, the plays were for entertainment value alone, and if anything to celebrate the healing powers of the gods, particularly Woden as a healer, and to educate that Yuletide is a time for kinship and wishes that come true. Day 8 of the Yule rites presented here consists of a Mummer Play.

Sword Dancing
Another form of dance performed at Yuletide besides the Morris Dances were the Sword Dances. These were at one time performed with the long sword and seem to be quite ancient. Most of the dances consist of a procession and the clashing and leaping of swords as well as the formation of various patterns with the swords. Often the dance ends with a mock death and revival by a "doctor" as with the Mummer Plays.

The wassailing of Victorian times resembled caroling more than it did its earlier counterpart, and is the form most are familiar with. Ancient wassailing consisted of making the drink wassail, originally mulled ale, curds, apples, and sometimes nuts. A group of wassailers would then go out with bowls filled with wassail from house to house and wassail the apple and cherry trees with songs and loud noises to ensure a good crop from the orchards the next year. A few wassailing songs survive, but these seem to be of a later variety.

Yule Log
The Yule log has not survived into modern celebrations for the most part, and for most modern Heathens would be difficult to do without a fireplace or wood burning stove. You may therefore wish to set up a symbolic Yule log. You can carve it with wishes for the New Year, garland it, do what you wish. If you have a place you can burn it outside during Yuletide, you may wish to do so. Traditionally, the Yule log was brought in on Mothers' Night, it was then set ablaze and hoped to burn all Twelve Nights (remember this log was nearly an entire tree to be burned in the long pits of a long house). Different areas had different customs concerning the Yule log. Everywhere the log was garlanded and decorated with ribbons before the procession to the longhouse. The procession was, as most procession during the holidays, a joyous one. Once burning no one could squint in the presence of the log, nor were barefooted women allowed around it.

The ceremonial Yule log was the highlight of the festival. In accordance to tradition, the log must either have been harvested from the householder's land, or given as a gift - it must never have been bought. Once dragged into the house and placed in the fireplace it was decorated in seasonal greenery, doused with cider or ale, and dusted with flour before set ablaze be a piece of last years log, (held onto for just this purpose). The log would burn throughout the night, then smolder for 12 days after before being ceremonially put out. Ash is the traditional wood of the Yule log. It is the sacred world tree of the Teutons, known as Yggdrasil. An herb of the Sun, Ash brings light into the hearth at the Solstice.

A different type of Yule log, and perhaps one more suitable for modern practitioners would be the type that is used as a base to hold three candles. Find a smaller branch of oak or pine, and flatten one side so it sets upright. Drill three holes in the top side to hold red, green, and white (season), green, gold, and black (the Sun God), or white, red, and black (the Great Goddess). Continue to decorate with greenery, red and gold bows, rosebuds, cloves, and dust with flour.

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