d Katydid's Yule Page

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An Abbreviated History of Yule
The Astronomy and Science behind Winter Solstice
The Real Meaning of Yule
The real meaning of Christmas. What is it?
A Warm Yule and Winter
The Winter Solstice
Reclaiming the Winter Solstice
Yule Traditions 1
Secular Yuletides of Yule
Our Yule Log
Yule Meditation
Winter Solstice Celebration
Craft Projects
Spells for Yule
An Abbreviated History of Yule The history of Christmas dates back over 4000 years. Many of our Christmas traditions were celebrated centuries before the Christ child was born. The 12 days of Christmas, the bright fires, the yule log, the giving of gifts, carnivals(parades) with floats, carolers who sing while going from house to house, the holiday feasts, and the church processions can all be traced back to the early Mesopotamians. Many of these traditions began with the Mesopotamian celebration of New Years. The Mesopotamians believed in many gods, and as their chief god - Marduk. Each year as winter arrived it was believed that Marduk would do battle with the monsters of chaos. To assist Marduk in his struggle the Mesopotamians held a festival for the New Year. This was Zagmuk, the New Year's festival that lasted for 12 days. The Mesopotamian king would return to the temple of Marduk and swear his faithfulness to the god. The traditions called for the king to die at the end of the year and to return with Marduk to battle at his side. To spare their king, the Mesopotamians used the idea of a "mock" king. A criminal was chosen and dressed in royal clothes. He was given all the respect and privileges of a real king. At the end of the celebration the "mock" king was stripped of the royal clothes and slain, sparing the life of the real king. The Persians and the Babylonians celebrated a similar festival called the Sacaea. Part of that celebration included the exchanging of places, the slaves would become the masters and the masters were to obey. Early Europeans believed in evil spirits, witches, ghosts and trolls. As the Winter Solstice approached, with its long cold nights and short days, many people feared the sun would not return. Special rituals and celebrations were held to welcome back the sun. In Scandinavia during the winter months the sun would disappear for many days. After thirty-five days scouts would be sent to the mountain tops to look for the return of the sun. When the first light was seen the scouts would return with the good news. A great festival would be held, called the Yuletide, and a special feast would be served around a fire burning with the Yule log. Great bonfires would also be lit to celebrate the return of the sun. In some areas people would tie apples to branches of trees to remind themselves that spring and summer would return. The ancient Greeks held a festival similar to that of the Zagmuk/Sacaea festivals to assist their god Kronos who would battle the god Zeus and his Titans. The Roman's celebrated their god Saturn. Their festival was called Saturnalia which began the middle of December and ended January 1st. With cries of "Jo Saturnalia!" the celebration would include masquerades in the streets, big festive meals, visiting friends, and the exchange of good-luck gifts called Strenae (lucky fruits). The Romans decked their halls with garlands of laurel and green trees lit with candles. Again the masters and slaves would exchange places. "Jo Saturnalia!" was a fun and festive time for the Romans, but the Christians though it an abomination to honor the pagan god. The early Christians wanted to keep the birthday of their Christ child a solemn and religious holiday, not one of cheer and merriment as was the pagan Saturnalia. But as Christianity spread they were alarmed by the continuing celebration of pagan customs and Saturnalia among their converts. At first the Church forbid this kind of celebration. But it was to no avail. Eventually it was decided that the celebration would be tamed and made into a celebration fit for the Christian Son of God. Some legends claim that the Christian "Christmas" celebration was invented to compete against the pagan celebrations of December. The 25th was not only sacred to the Romans but also the Persians whose religion Mithraism was one of Christianity's main rivals at that time. The Church eventually was successful in taking the merriment, lights, and gifts from the Saturanilia festival and bringing them to the celebration of Christmas. The exact day of the Christ child's birth has never been pinpointed. Traditions say that it has been celebrated since the year 98 AD. In 137 AD the Bishop of Rome ordered the birthday of the Christ Child celebrated as a solemn feast. In 350 AD another Bishop of Rome, Julius I, choose December 25th as the observance of Christmas. Origins of Solstice Celebration The seasons of the year are caused by the 23.5º tilt of the earth's axis. Because the earth is rotating like a top or gyroscope, it points in a fixed direction continuously — towards a point in space near the North Star. But the earth is also revolving around the sun. During half of the year, the southern hemisphere is more exposed to the sun than is the northern hemisphere. During the rest of the year, the reverse is true. At noontime in the Northern Hemisphere the sun appears high in the sky during summertime and low in the sky during winter. The time of the year when the sun reaches its maximum elevation occurs on the day with the greatest number of daylight hours. This is called the summer solstice, and is typically on JUN-21 — the first day of summer. "Solstice" is derived from two Latin words: "sol" meaning sun, and "sistere," to cause to stand still. The lowest elevation occurs about DEC-21 and is the winter solstice — the first day of winter, when the night time hours are maximum. In pre-historic times, winter was a very difficult time for Aboriginal people in the northern latitudes. The growing season had ended and the tribe had to live off of stored food and whatever animals they could catch. The people would be troubled as the life-giving sun sank lower in the sky each noon. They feared that it would eventually disappear and leave them in permanent darkness and extreme cold. After the winter solstice, they would have reason to celebrate as they saw the sun rising and strengthening once more. Although many months of cold weather remained before spring, they took heart that the return of the warm season was inevitable. The concept of birth and or death/rebirth became associated with the winter solstice. The Aboriginal people had no elaborate instruments to detect the solstice. But they were able to notice a slight elevation of the sun's path within a few days after the solstice — perhaps by DEC-25. Celebrations were often timed for about the 25th. The Astronomy and Science behind Winter Solstice Northern Hemisphere: In the Northern Hemisphere, Winter Solstice falls between December 21st and December 23rd, and marks the modern official beginning of winter. We begin to notice the sun getting lower in lower in the sky after Summer Solstice as it travels southward. At Winter Solstice the sun is at its most southeastern point over the Tropic of Capricorn in the northern hemisphere and has no apparent northward or southward motion. In other words, the sun rises and sets in its southernmost point at the time of Winter Solstice. Winter Solstice marks the longest night of the year. During the winter the North Pole1 of the earth is tilted to its extreme away from the sun and the it's position is south of the equator, creating winter's increasingly longer days, as we receive less direct sunlight than the southern hemisphere. From the point of Winter Solstice the days begin slowly to become longer and longer. The word Solstice is ancient Latin meaning, "sun" (sol) and "to stand still" (stice); it is a time when the sun and the moon appear to stand still in their nightly migration across the sky. Solstice occurs twice a year, summer and winter, when the sun is furthest from the Celestial Equator in its yearly figure eight migration pattern, called the analemma. At Winter Solstice, the sun, in fact, does remain in its furthest southeast position for a period of three days, before resuming its northerly movement. Depending on one's physical position in the northern hemisphere, to the naked eye the sun's apparent journey would halt for a period of almost two weeks to under a week. Southern Hemisphere: Winter Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere is on or about June 21st, it is when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer, furthest north in its annual migration pattern. In the Northern Hemisphere, it is Summer Solstice. During this time the north is receiving far more direct sunlight than the Southern Hemisphere due to the Northern pole begin tilted towards the sun. Winter Solstice Celebrations and Customs Introduction: The word winter comes from the Old English root word Wed, meaning water and also wet. In the Germanic word for winter is wintruz meaning the "wet season", thus winter was always taken for a wet and thus uncomfortable period of time. The Welsh word for winter, Gaeafu, means not only winter but hibernate as well, a sentiment we can all understand when winter is upon us. In the larger sense Winter Solstice is the time of seasonal renewal, the beginning of an emergence from winter, and from communal and personal hibernation. It is the time of internal and external renewal, as the Sun renews and begins its return journey to spring, so too does the soul. Since times no longer remembered, Winter Solstice was a time of celebration, for it meant the turning point of winter and the eventual arrival of spring. The return, the rebirth, of the Sun was celebrated merrily across the globe with rituals that span back through the reaches of all time. Winter Solstice was called Mid-Winter, in reflection that from this point forward the sun was beginning its return journey to its summer zenith. Winter Solstice is the season of light and dark, of chaos and order, of upheaval and stability, of despair and hope, of sorrow and joy, of old and new, it is the season of change, and change, then again. It is a time to look deep inside the darkness, deep into the abyss, into the unknown, deep into the chaos, into that is arcane and mysterious and find that new hope, that new light that guides us through, that light that lend its strength to understand and that light that prevails over the ever encroaching darkness. Winter serves as a reminder that chaos and darkness does indeed exist and does at times, in fact, threaten to overtake our lives, our world and being. Chaos and darkness touch upon our very basal fears of being consumed by the seemingly ever-expanding void of disorder. Stirring those worries that hit our primeval determinations of survival. Causing doubts that we will lose all we have created, all we have known and all we have ever hoped for. Like the darkness in winter, the light never truly goes away, but rather it withdraws and does eventually return, always. Light, ebbs and flows with the rhythms of all time, the rhythm that is life, death and life once more, the rhythms by which existence dances. We assume that in an idealistic state there would be balance between light and dark always, idealistic or not? This idealistic world would be stagnant, arduous, never changing. If perfect balance existed continually between the light and the dark, we would be apathetic, unchallenged, and ordinary. For it is in this eternal ebb and flow of life that we find that beauty that is hope, compassion, love, grace and light. We would never reach the heights of rapture and understanding of ourselves that only the battle and victory over darkness can bring. Darkness exists for the very good reason that without it, there would be no light, there would be no opportunity to find that strength that dwells deep within us, to touch the face of compassion, to understand that we need not fear the darkness for it allows us to find that inner light, and in understanding we find the path to the wisdom that only comes through our comprehension that darkness dwells so can we find the true light that resides within. It is this light that becomes the beacon of our lives, our understanding and our being, it guides us through the darkest times and brightens our journey in merry times, once found it is never lost for it is a part of who we are and the gift we bring to others. Winter Solstice and its celebrations serve to remind us not to become fully engulfed by darkness, but rather choose to understand it and the gift it can bestow in the form of hope. The Winter Solstice has always been associated with the return of the Light, the Sun and Hope as well as the retreat of the Darkness, Chaos and Despair. It is the time when the young king battles for control of the year from the old king, when the young God challenge the old God, when the Light takes domination from the Darkness, when Order is reinstated, when the Sun returns and with the young God takes command of the year. Although folk customs may vary, the theme remains the same -- it is the time of the return of the light, the sun, order, hope, remembrance of the ancestors and the times before. Acknowledgement of the rhythms of life, the need for order from chaos, the victory of light over the impending darkness all herald winter celebrations. As too is the knowledge that we, as the children of our ancestors, sprung forth, as their symbol of hope and promise and too that our children hold our hope and promise of life and that above all, the spark of hope is always there. Essential to all Solstice celebrations is Light -- in times past this was hearth fire, bonfire, and candles. Light and its consequential heat, were imperative to survival in the winter months. Light and fire also symbolized the return of the light in the form of the sun and a return to the glorious days of spring, summer, harvests and times of abundance. Periods of somber, serious rituals, which were encompassed in a sense of urgency, were followed by feasts, gift giving, the visit of otherworldly gift givers, visiting, celebrations of family and friends and wonderful festivity mark Winter Solstice celebrations. The struggle, both personal and tribally, that was needed to endure winter was recognized and understood, as was the need to celebrate the midpoint success of doing so as one's spirit can begin to wane mid-winter these festivities served as reminder that one was not alone and that the splendid days of spring and summer were indeed returning. Winter Solstice rituals and celebrations recognize that this darkness is not just the physical darkness of winter, but also the darkness that creeps into our minds, clouds our vision, brings despair and hopelessness. The Light of Winter Solstice is as much about the outer light as it is about the inner light, that light which will guide us through our darkest times and serve as a beacon by which to live our lives. The effort needed to overcome any area of darkness should never be trivialized or left without recognition, for it is the greatest battle we face, one certainly we could loose. However once battled and conquered, one always knows that one can again look into the face of darkness and be victorious. Winter Solstice is a time that is marked by stories of those who have large changes of heart, of generosity, forgiveness, understanding, a time that is marked by those better qualities of humanity. It is only the journey through darkness that can bring true understanding of life's journey and reminds us of what is truly important. Symbolizing the impending chaos, role reversals were common, mock kings, who were slaves that became the owners for a period of time. As well as the practice of slaves and owners, rich and poor, those considered unlikely dining partners ate together. Winter Solstice practices such as these offered not only restructured the chaos but also offered a period of time to atone and release ourselves from old practices and patterns and offer us an opportunity to restructure our relationships. For the Light of Hope ever-present at Winter Solstice, offers us not only the light to see clearly but also an opportunity and a vehicle to create change. Allowing us time for new resolutions, for life changes, it is the opportunity that warms the heart and soul, and allows us to soften and transform, as the light transforms the winter. Dramatizations of the Old King of the waning year and the New King of the waxing year were ever dominant of mid-winter celebrations. Passion plays of the struggle of the Holly King, he who rules winter, against the Young Oak King, he who rules summer for domination of the year were played out. In some areas, the ruler stepped down, went on a symbolic hunt assisting the God of Light regain His power, upon his return ascended to power once more. The Solstices have been celebrated throughout all time by indigenous folk throughout the world, from the Celt lands to the mountains of South America, from the far northern reaches of Norway to the eastern reaches of the Orient, from Mesopotamia to Rome, from Persia to Russia and into Greece, we find the celebration of light and the return of sun during Mid-Winter. Ancient customs and folklore still permeate current winter celebrations worldwide; we need only to look with an open heart and open mind to find the never-ending cycle that is life. Winter Solstice affords us the opportunity to deepen our relationship with the world, to give meaning through understanding, a chance to make the mundane and ourselves sacred. Personally, Winter Solstice is the time when we honor the Goddess for giving birth to the Sun once more. It is the time we celebrate the victory of the Oak King over the Holly King, the Holly King representing death and darkness and the waning sun, and the Oak King representing the rebirth, life and the waxing sun. Winter Solstice is the time of rituals and celebrations centered on renewal, increasing light, and to see the world through the wondrous eyes of a child. Spells to raise our spirits bring harmony, peace, and joys are done. It is at Winter Solstice we strive to see the wisdom harvested from past experiences begin to glimmer, and in that glimmer we find hope, understanding and a renewed sense of being and direction. It is now we strive to have those personal experiences we yielded over the harvest season of the times gone past, begin to be reborn with as wisdom, new light, to guide us further down the Paths we have chosen to trod. We decorate a tree; adorn the house with holly, ivy, pine and other evergreens to remind us that life is present even in death; they are entwined and never parted. We are visited Solstice eve by Father Winter, a white bearded chap dress in red, fur trimmed robes, who arrives bearing gifts to surprise the children on Solstice morning. We also exchange gifts and cards with family, friends and love ones, acknowledging their light and love in our lives. The Real Meaning of Yule A Reading: Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock, “Now they are all on their knees," An elder said as we sat in a flock By the embers in hearthside ease. We pictured the meek mild creatures where They dwelt in their strawy pen, Nor did it occur to one of us there To doubt they were kneeling then. So fair a fancy few would weave In these years! Yet, I feel, If someone said on Christmas Eve, “Come; see the oxen kneel “In the lonely barton by yonder coomb Our childhood used to know," I should go with him in the gloom, Hoping it might be so. (“The Oxen" by Thomas Hardy) The real meaning of Christmas. What is it? I keep hearing that we have lost sight of the real meaning. Too much Santa Claus. Too much emphasis on gift-giving. Too much feasting and making merry and mistletoe and … not enough talk about the baby Jesus! I’d like to offer a slightly unorthodox version of the real meaning of these holidays. But first we’ve got to do some straightening out about some facts. First, Jesus was not born on December 25. Couldn’t have been. There were no “shepherds watching their flocks by night" in or near Bethlehem in December. Sheep were taken on a constant journey all year long, spending certain seasons in certain parts of Israel. In December, the sheep would have been across the Jordan river (having been taken over the “Valley of the Shadow of Death," a real river crossing described by a shepherd psalmist named David), miles from Bethlehem. Shepherds would have been in Bethlehem only in the spring. In fact, the church celebrated Jesus’ birthday in the spring for hundreds of years, until it saw that the masses had their biggest festival on December 25 and moved his birthday to mid-winter. This wintry season has nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus the Nazarene. Second, a mid-winter’s festival on or about December 25 is an ancient event predating Christianity (and Judaism) by thousands of years. The festival traditionally featured gift-giving, evergreens, lots of food, circular wreaths, fires, and (in the north) a flaming yule log plus holly and mistletoe. Sound familiar? The evergreens, holly and mistletoe symbolized life in the midst of winter. The fires, log and wreaths symbolized the reborn sun at the winter solstice. The food and gifts were in honor of the bounty to return with spring. Virtually nothing in the modern-day celebration of Christmas has anything whatsoever to do with Christianity. Third, Santa Claus is not Saint Nicholas. Santa Claus pre-dates Nicholas by thousands of years and was a traditional element of the ancient mid-winter’s festival. Santa Claus today might be traveling under a bit of an alias, yet he actually has much more right to this holiday season than does the baby Jesus. Face it, there is something comforting about Santa Claus. He’s a friendly old fellow. Does only good things. Lives far away in the northlands. Laughs a lot. Likes children. And, as I say, he fits in better at Christmastime than all that stuff about the Christ-child. Evidence indicates that the Christ-thing is just window-dressing added on to an ancient festival to make it more palatable to the Church, and that the whole rigmarole about magi and shepherds and mangers is part of a charade that the mass of people put up with in order to be able to celebrate Yule as they have for thousands of years. I submit that to be true. And that the way we celebrate Yule today is quite fittingly similar to the way our nordic ancestors celebrated it long before Christianity arrived on the scene. Yule, of course, is the time of the winter solstice. The word is derived from two ancient words: one meaning “to turn" and thus similar to the Latin word “solstice" (describing the sun’s standing still before it turns). And the other meaning “feast" and describing the eating that traditionally went on at the solstice season. (The ancients apparently liked puns as well as we do! They combined the two words into one season: “jul geol" (pronounced “yule yule") would mean “feasting at the solstice.") This season traditionally was celebrated by our nordic ancestors like this: A large log would be burned in the home, a symbol of the sun’s warmth. Candles would be lit throughout the house, symbolizing the sun’s light. A fir tree (usually undecorated) would be placed in the house because the evergreen was a promise of coming spring. Mistletoe, another plant that was green in winter (and which lived on the sacred oak), also would be brought into the home. It was believed that enemies meeting beneath a mistletoe-bearing oak tree would become friends at least for the day, and that couples kissing beneath the mistletoe would be married within the coming year. Kissing beneath the mistletoe was a way of announcing your engagement. Gifts would be given to friends and family. Singing and dancing, usually in circles — witchcraft style — would be featured at Yule. The word “carol" derives from a Greek word meaning “to chorus with flutes" (compare “choreography") and referred to the popular circle dances of pre-Christian Europe. Drama would be used, and often gifts would be brought by a symbolic figure. In Russia, children to this day receive gifts from “babushka" or grandmother, a winter figure, or by Father Winter. Father Christmas was the name used in England for awhile. Before the Christians, he was called Father Winter in England as well. The Germans called him Knecht Ruprecht — Knight Robert. Originally, he was someone quite different! Gradually the gift-giver in Christianized Europe took on other forms. In Italy, the gift-giver is called the Christ-child. German children once called this the Krist-kindel, which became eventually our alternate name for Santa Claus: Kris Kringle. Food, of course, was important at Yule. Fruit, candied or preserved, would be served. (The fruitcake, and plum pudding, are modern equivalents.) A major meal would be served on the day of winter solstice –with a roast pig or goose (the turkey, of course, is an American species). If this all sounds familiar it’s because our culture hasn’t really changed the holiday much over the years. They’ve added new names and tried to put new meanings onto things, but really haven’t changed things a lot. The central figure of our holidays is a person called Santa Claus. Not Jesus. Not Mary. And certainly not Joseph. Let’s look at Santa Claus a minute. Nicholas was a bishop in the city of Myra in Asia Minor. The historical reality is just that. He was supposed to have been imprisoned by the Emperor Diocletian and later released by Constantine. And he died about the year 350. Around the turn of the first millennium, his remains were dug up by Italian merchants and taken to the city of Bari in Italy. Nicholas hated to see women unmarried, so he went around giving money to unmarried women so they could have a dowry and get married. That’s it. The myths, of course, are numerous. He is a patron saint of mariners, of unmarried women, and of children. He was supposed to have given gifts by throwing money in the windows of homes (always of unmarried women, of course). The church recognizes his feastday as December 6. At some point, his name was transferred to the gift-giver of Yule. Dutch children brought their favorite Yuletide character, “Sinter Klaus," to New Holland (later New York) and English children picked up the name. And the church pretended that “Santa Claus" was the Dutch pronunciation of “Saint Nicholas." Not only is that not true, but no Asia Minor bishop would have been caught dead wearing furs and red clothes and driving a sled pulled by reindeer. Santa Claus, I’m afraid, is not Saint Nicholas. Santa Claus is someone altogether different. The common people of medieval times probably thought it a great joke on the church to call their gift- giver “Saint Nick"! Nick was the usual name for the consort of the Goddess in pagan Europe (compare our expression “Old Nick" for the devil.) Nick was one of the names given to the most popular of the pagan gods. Before the Aesir — the stern warlike gods of the Norse led by one-eyed Odin – were worshipped by the peoples of northern Europe, another race of gods were revered, the Vanir. Later myths place the two races of gods side by side in the nordic pantheon, though sometimes they seem to be opposed to one another. The reality is that the Vanir are the original gods worshipped in northern Europe and the Aesir are the usurpers, the gods worshipped by the warlike hordes which overran Europe not long after the advent of Jesus. The Vanir were gentle farming deities, led by Erda, earth, also called The Goddess. When the warrior classes conquered the aboriginal farmers, Erda was destroyed, but some of the Vanir, like Niord and Freya, survived. In the place of a seasonal honoring of earth and sky and weather, was placed a stern, vengeful set of gods who lived in Valhalla (the Hall of Death) and honored war and killing and dying. One other of the Vanir refused to die. The rulers might honor stern Odin (or Woden, for Wednesday is his), but the common people preferred the kind god Thor, Thunder. The rulers later transferred the day and the honor of Odin to Peter — who is worshiped by the church each Wednesday! And the people transformed Thor into Santa Claus. Who was Thor? Thor was originally the son of Erda and was associated with the sun and with fire. As such, he is the same as the druidic “Be al," and the Phoenician “Baal" and the Roman Apollo or Mithras. And as such he shares their birthdate — for the sun is reborn each year at the winter solstice. Thor was worshipped in every home: his altar was nothing but the chimney itself! When a person translocated he or she would take the entire fireplace, or at least a brick from the fireplace, so that Thor would have a place to live. The first European structure in Iceland was a chimney transferred intact from Norway as an altar to Thor. Thor was dressed always in red — the color of fire — with fur boots and hat. He visited homes by coming down the chimney, of course. He drove a chariot pulled by two goats (called Cracker and Gnasher). He lived in the Northlands, in a castle surrounded by icebergs. He was elderly, always jovial and laughing, and of heavy build. He could be expected to visit between December 21 and 25 and would bring gifts when he came. Our modern Santa, of course, lives at the North Pole, drives a sled pulled by reindeer and … that’s really about all the difference I can think of. Two of Santa’s reindeer, fittingly, are called Donner and Blitzen, and it’s only right that Thor’s sled should be pulled by thunder and lightening! Santa Claus is the god Thor. The Dutch name Sinter Klaus was the children’s title for Thor as the Yuletide gift-giver. It means simply “Klaus of the cinders." However much rulers try to substitute the stern Yahwehs and Odins for the gentler goddess and her children, the people will refuse and will continue to worship as they feel best. The church has known this for all time, of course. Much of the history of Christendom has involved an attempt by the Church to abolish Christmas. Christmas was completely banned over and over again throughout the Medieval period, only to be reborn again by popular demand. The Puritans in England tried to abolish Christmas and faced rioting which virtually destroyed some cities! Every year I hear people attacking Christmas as being too “commercialized," that is, too much Santa and not enough Jesus. That, of course, is hogwash. Christmas is commercial because we happen to live in a commercial, capitalistic society. As long as we choose this form of society, don’t knock our most popular folk holiday as reflecting that form of society. My feeling, of course, is that there is too much Jesus and not enough Thor – or Santa, if you will. Some years ago I formed the National “Keep Christ Out of X-mas" Committee. I might be the most active member but I think it’s necessary that we remember our true roots as human beings. I’d like us not to forget the old ways, not to lose touch with our ancient verities, not to fall from the path of the Goddess. The solstice, the time of the turning of the sun in its path down toward darkness, is a time of looking back and of looking forward. It’s a time of analyzing one’s life and making changes, if necessary. The solstice is a time of being thankful for life itself. That is the meaning of the fires and the evergreens. Life is precious and we need a time of year to express that preciousness. For had the sun not turned each year, there would be no spring and no life at all. Yuletide is a time of joy and happiness, a time of honoring the fact of life itself. And the Yule is a time for reaching out to others. To bring people in to our homes, to give gifts to children and grownups, to provide aid to those in need. This again, is an extension of the joy of life itself. And is a reflection of the concept in ancient goddess-worship that all humankind are of one family. Of one flesh. Of one kind. There is much meaning in the festival of the Yule. The northern people at this season wish “God Jul" or a “Merry Solstice." The word “merry" did not originally mean “joyful," but meant: “peaceful." In the carol,"God rest ye merry, gentlemen," the wish is that they remain peaceful and contented. That should be our wish this solstice season: may you be peaceful and contented in the year to come. May you be grateful for continued life and have good health the year through. May the goodness and kindness personified in the image of the good god Thor be yours, not just at Yule, but all the year around. God Jul! And Blessed Be! A Warm Yule and Winter As we approach the shortest days of the year, our house is a snug haven from the cold rain and winds of autumn. The horses’ coats are thick and full in preparation for the cold days ahead. We watch the steady retreat of the Sun. Each day, it sets just a bit earlier and farther south over the distant hill. We spend time preparing gifts for our loved ones: homemade soap in a variety of scents and colors brightly wrapped in baskets; felt “melted" snowmen from a pattern at the craft store. We bake and decorate holiday cookies and get messy making gingerbread houses out of graham crackers and lots of frosting. I gather fir boughs and wire them to a frame, then attach a bright plaid bow. Soon a sweetly scented wreath hangs cheerily on the front door. My husband makes his annual trek up our tall ladder, standing precariously as he strings holiday lights all along the roofline. One year, he fell off the roof as he strung lights. Fortunately for him, a potted rosebush broke his fall. It wasn’t quite so fortunate for the rosebush or its pot. This year, I remember to send a little extra protective energy his way as he heads up with hands full of lights. He takes the children down to the bottom of our property where the former owners planted a grove of evergreen trees. They choose a fine Douglas fir for our Yule tree and triumphantly drag it up the hill to the house. As they huff and puff from the strain, the curious horses follow them. Inside the house, I’ve prepared a place for this lovely tree, and we spend the evening stringing lights and placing ornaments on it. The scent fills the house. We discuss every ornament, for they all have meaning and memories. Some are from my childhood, and some belonged to my grandparents. Each year, the children are given one new ornament each for their own collections. We have many stars on our tree! Finally, the Sun halts its southward journey. It seems to stand still for a day or two. On the longest night, our family holds vigil and awaits the rebirth of the Sun. The Holly King arrives and leaves gifts under the tree and in our stockings. My husband and son reenact the Oak King/Holly King duel, with the Oak King triumphing at this turn of the Wheel. We bid good-bye to the ancient Holly King, ruler of the darkening days, and celebrate the birth of the Oak King who rules the brightening days. A few days later, we’re able to mark the slight northward passage of the setting sun behind the hill. The growing days give us hope as we enter into the coldest and stormiest time of the year. We eagerly await Imbolc and our local BrighidFest, which marks the beginning of the end of winter. I take my spinning wheel to the BrighidFest and demonstrate how to spin wool. I have a steady stream of people, men and women, eager to try their hand at spinning. Most of them get the knack of it enough to take home a length of lumpy yarn that they spun themselves. Truly a bit of real magick! Imbolc is traditionally the time of year to make candles. This is something I’ve never done. I think it’s time for the children and I to try our hand at this new skill. I ponder the endless possibilities: the colors, the shapes and the scents. We have a huge collection of old crayons that can be used for color, and some glitter, and I can “frost" the candles by whipping some warmish paraffin with the hand mixer. Oh my, what fun we’re going to have! I hope you have a warm and cozy winter, filled with much love and learning. The Winter Solstice The Winter Solstice has been celebrated for millennia by cultures and religions all over the world. Many modern pagan religions are descended in spirit from the ancient pre-Christian religions of Europe and the British Isles, and honor the divine as manifest in nature, the turning of the seasons, and the powerfully cyclical nature of life. Most pagan religions are polytheistic, honoring both male and female deities, which are seen by some as two aspects of one non-gendered god, by others as two separate by complementing beings, and by others as entire pantheons of gods and goddesses. It is common for the male god(s) to be represented in the sun, the stars, in summer grain, and in the wild animals and places of the earth. The stag is a powerful representation of the male god, who is often called “the horned god." The Goddess is most often represented in the earth as a planet, the moon, the oceans, and in the domestic animals and the cultivated areas of the earth. In many pagan traditions the Winter Solstice symbolizes the rebirth of the sun god from his mother, the earth goddess. The Winter Solstice is only one of eight seasonal holidays celebrated by modern pagans. One Example Of A Winter Solstice Reading: This is the night of the Solstice, the longest night of the year. Now darkness triumphs, yet gives way and changes into light. The breath of Nature is suspended: all waits while within the Cauldron, the Dark King is transformed into the infant light. We watch for the coming of Dawn, when the great Mother again gives birth to the Divine child Sun, who is bringer of hope and the promise of summer. This is the stillness behind motion, when time itself stops; the center, which is also the circumference of all. We are awake in the Night. We turn the Wheel to bring the Light. We call the sun from the womb of night. Reclaiming the Winter Solstice I’m know I’m not the only person, pagan or otherwise, who approaches the winter holiday season gingerly. To begin with, Americans generally consider Christmas a time to gather with their families. Even for those who get along with their relations, the togetherness (and the cleanup afterward) can be stressful. Further, as a non-Christian, I find it somewhat alienating how Christmas permeates our culture. It’s hard for any non-Christian to ignore — witness the Jewish households with Christmas trees. Specifically, as a pagan, I find Christmas the height of the borrowed holiday double-bind. The holidays of the winter solstice are the pagan holidays most thieved from and later overlaid by Christianity. Granted anything appropriated by Christians from pagans can be appropriated right back, but the holiday feels somewhat marred in the process. I think this feeling arises partly because the forced marriage of pagan and Christian traditions I grew up with doesn’t entirely work. The symbolism of giving gifts seems flawed, unless you see the receivers as avatars of the infant Christ gifted by Magi(cians), which philosophy I haven’t seen promulgated. In Christmas gift-giving, the traditional pagan solstice gifts have lost their former meanings of luck and fertility and the propitiation of the dead. Because the symbolism no longer works, greed and guilt are often the main components that remain. Thus, when I was a child trying to be Christian, I found Christmas the holiday that required the most hypocrisy. You knew if you were told to write an essay about the true meaning of Christmas you weren’t supposed to lust for presents, but rather to harp on peace on earth and the blessings of the Christ child. Peace on earth is a fine hope, but I only wrote about it as a child because I knew I was supposed to. But I’ve always loved the Christmas traditions of my childhood. The Christmas tree spangled with tinsel and glowing with colored lights, Christmas feasts, the house warm and scented with baking, snow on the hills, a holly wreath with blood-red berries — because these symbols were Christianized, they remained to color my childhood, and they speak as deeply to me as anything Halloween does. More than any other Sabbat, the winter solstice I think requires a conscious act of reclaiming. We have many solstice traditions to choose from, more than meet an initial glance. It’s a glorious time, a deep symbol, the return of the sun and the many myths that stem from it. I think the time and symbol are worth reclaiming. I think we owe it to ourselves to meditate, dig deep and choose and practice the solstice traditions that most speak to us. The Pagan roots of Christmas: The early Christians quite consciously chose the pagan sun holiday for the celebration of their Son-god’s birth. Christmas falls during the Roman Saturnalia and at the birth of the Mithraic sun god. According to A Witches Bible Compleat, by Janet and Stewart Farrar, the Archbishop of Constantinople wrote that church fathers fixed the Nativity during the pagan holidays because “while the heathen were busied with their profane rites, the Christian might perform their holy ones without disturbance." Other Christians accused those who kept Christmas at the solstice of performing sun worship. Armenians, who celebrate Christmas on January 6, elsewhere Epiphany, called Roman Christians idolaters, according to Funk and Wagnall’s Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend. Similarly, under the Puritans in 1644, the English Parliament expressly forbade observing Christmas. Augustine admitted that putting Christmas at the winter solstice was a conscious identification of the Son with the sun but defended the symbolism. The Christmas most Americans know as children mixes a celebration of the birth of Christ with traditions from the Roman Saturnalia, the Northern European Yule, and the Celtic solstice. Saturnalia, The Great Leveler: Saturnalia, a string of related festivals beginning December 17 and lasting a week in its final incarnation, celebrated the Golden Age of the Roman god Saturn. Its roots lay in a solstice ceremony designed to protect winter-sown crops. One of its signal customs was a leveling of rank and age; during Saturnalia, courts passed down no punishments, schools closed, wars ceased, gambling was encouraged, and social distinctions were leveled or reversed. The slave was equal to the freeman, and the master served the servant. All took bawdy liberty in speech and action. Christmas inherited this turnabout of power. Early Europeans’ Christmastime saw the reign of the Lord of Misrule, called in Scotland the Abbot of Unreason. The Lord of Misrule ran the revels from All Hallows until Twelfth Night, arranging parties and theatricals and inflicting penalties for any misdeeds he saw fit. A related custom survived in York till the eighteenth century, as Doreen Valiente writes in An ABC of Witchcraft; there the people carried mistletoe to the high church altar and proclaimed (in the words of a contemporary) “`a public and universal liberty, pardon and freedom to all sorts of inferior and even wicked people at the gates of the city, towards the four quarters of heaven.’" Saturnalia may have given us our tradition of decking interiors with evergreen boughs, and may be the source of Christmas gift-giving. In the latter days of festival week, Romans exchanged gifts of wax fruit, candles and dolls. Funk and Wagnall’s identifies the fruit as symbolizing fertility, the candles as echoing the customary new fires of solstice, and the dolls as a remnant of human sacrifice. Reports from a Roman outpost reflect the sacrificial aspect of Saturnalia, Funk and Wagnall’snotes; inhabitants there elected a King Saturn and gave him great freedom, only to ritually murder him at feast’s end. Yule: Fertility And Ghosts At the winter solstice, Scandinavians worshipped Frey, god of fertility; further south, the Angli celebrated December 24 as New Year’s Eve, called modranecht (mother night), a vigil also connected with fertility rites. In general, the traditional Yule (from the Norse Iul, meaning wheel) was a feast devoted to fertility and the ancestors, which passed on to Christmas fecund and ghostly traditions. The Christmas roast pig is kissing cousin to julgalti, the pig offered to Frey for fertility in the coming year, according to Funk and Wagnall’s. Hence the apple in its mouth. Similarly, Yule was a time to charm grain and fruit to grow thick. Traditional Scots kept the Corn Maiden from harvest till Yule and then distributed her to the cattle, according to the Farrars. The Germans scattered the ashes of the Yule log on the fields for fertility, or kept its last charred pieces to bind in the last sheaf of the coming harvest. The French retained a piece of Yule log through the year to protect the house against fire and lightning, to ensure bountiful crops and the easy birth of calves. The solstice was also a weather predictor, according to Funk and Wagnall’s. In more recent tradition, a white Christmas is said to mean a prosperous New Year, while a green, cloudy or hot Christmas fills the churchyard. Yule is a time for spirits. European tradition, transferred to the Christian holiday, held that each house should be clean and prepared for Christmas before the household went to church, so the spirits could inspect it. Spirits likewise stayed for Christmas dinner. In Sweden, householders set a special table for them. European folk beliefs say that someone who sits under a pine tree on Christmas Eve can hear the sound of angels — but death will soon follow. Death also awaits one who hears farm animals converse in the barn that night. A person born on Christmas can see spirits. Dreams on the Northern modranecht were believed to foretell the coming year, according to Nigel Pennick in The Pagan Book of Days. We Tree Kings: In the British Isles, Celtic Yule traditions survive with amazing resilience. The fight of the Oak and Holly Kings, representatives of the waxing and waning year, is recalled in the still-current hunting of the wren — a custom also found in ancient Greece and Rome. In the myth behind the practice, the robin redbreast, identified with the Oak King, caught and killed the wren, representative of the waning year and the Holly King. The robin traditionally trapped the wren in an ivy bush, in Ireland a holly bush, the Farrars write. The robin’s tree was the birch, the tree associated with the after-solstice period in the Celtic tree calendar. In the wren hunt, according to Pennick, a group of droluns(Wren Boys) captured the wren, which during the rest of the year was sacrosanct. The droluns ensconced the bird in a lantern and trooped it around the village on a holly branch on its way to death. Alternatively, men with birch rods chased the wren and killed it. Wren Boys still tour County Clare in west Ireland on December 26, now a group of adult musicians who go door to door with a wren effigy on a holly branch. In County Mayo, Wren Boys are holly-bearing children, including girls, who knock on doors repeating a traditional verse that asks for money to bury the wren. In Scotland and the North of England, in a possibly related custom, masked and caroling children formerly celebrated Hogmany on New Year’s Eve, traveling the neighborhood soliciting oat cakes. The wren’s rival, the robin of the waxing year, was linked to Robin Hood, according to Robert Graves in The White Goddess. Robin was a god of the witches; Graves writes that a London tract of 1693 named Robin Goodfellow an ithyphallic witch-god. In Cornwall, he notes, “robin" means phallus. Robin “Hood," or “Hod," was thought to exist in the hod, the log at the back of the fire, in other words the Yule log. Woodlice who ran from the burning Yule log were called “Robin Hood’s steeds," and Robin was said to escape up the chimney as a robin. The Yule log is traditionally of oak, again connecting it with the Oak King; in some places it’s burnt bit by bit through the twelve days of Christmas, but elsewhere celebrants retain a chunk to light the next Yule log. Another British Christmas custom recalling the kings’ fight was traditional mummery, in which the brilliantly armored St. George fought and defeated a dark Turkish knight. But, as Valiente notes, the victorious St. George immediately cried out he had killed his brother, showing that “darkness and light, winter and summer, are complementary." A mysterious doctor revived the Turk, and all rejoiced. Too often, as the Farrars write, this understanding of light and dark’s balance turns to a contest of good vs. evil. In Dewsbury, Yorkshire, for nearly seven centuries, church bells knelled “the Old Lad’s Passing" or “the Devil’s Knell" at Christmas Eve’s eleventh hour, warning the Devil that Christ was coming. Other connections link the Holly King and the Devil. The Farrars tie the Devil’s nickname, Old Nick, to Nik, a name for Woden, “very much a Holly King." Santa Claus — St. Nicholas — is likewise a disguised Holly King. Not only do households put up holly garlands in his honor, in early tales he rode a horse, as Woden does, rather than driving reindeer. More Solstice Tree Traditions: Another Celtic Yuletide custom was wassailing, in which a group of people carried a bowl of wassail (cider) into an orchard. The celebrants chose one tree to represent the whole grove and dipped its branch tips in wassail, stuck bits of wassail-soaked cake among its twigs and sprinkled wassail on its roots, according to Pauline Campanelli in Wheel of the Year. Morris dancers might mime the abundant harvests they hoped the orchard would produce in the following year. Similarly, traditional British believed that Christmas sun shining through fruit trees foretold a big harvest, according to Funk and Wagnall’s. It’s not surprising a culture that named its letters and months for trees had many tree customs. Only one day of the Celtic calendar lacks a ruling tree and ogham letter. The Celts called this day, December 23, the Secret of the Unhewn Stone. Like apples, evergreens also connect with the solstice, as a symbol of eternal life. Christmas Eve mystery plays of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries combined evergreens and apples, the fruit tied to the trees’ branches. Seasonal celebrants decked interiors with holly, fir, pine, bayberry, rosemary, branches of the evergreen box shrub and also ivy and mistletoe. Ivy is sacred both to Osiris, the Egyptian god of death and rebirth, and to the Greek wine-god Dionysos — both gods traditionally resurrected at this time of year. In the England of previous centuries, Campanelli writes, harvesters bound the last sheaf of grain with ivy and called it the Ivy Girl, a figure considered to combat the Holly Boy. This combat marks an older competition between Goddess and God, from before the Oak King’s entrance on the scene. Such a scenario also appears in the tradi- tional carol “The Holly and the Ivy." Mistletoe in contrast connects with the Oak King, found suspended as it is on the Celtic magick oak. The Druids collected mistletoe at the winter solstice, their ritual Alban Arthuan, as well as at the summer solstice; in winter, the mistletoe has white berries, representing the semen of the God and bringing fertility. Traditionally, a girl who stands under mistletoe tacked up indoors may be kissed by any boy who comes up. Traditions of tree trimming and evergreen decoration may have combined to engender the Christmas tree. Campanelli writes that the first Christmas tree was decorated in Riga in Latvia, in 1510, when a local merchants’ guild carried an evergreen festooned with fake flowers to market and burned it there, a sort of combination Christmas tree and Yule log. The Christmas tree has become popular only in the last 150 years, migrating to the United States from Germany. However, its German name, Tannenbaum, may reflect older roots; Campanelli relates the word to tinne or glastin, the sacred trees of the ancient Celts. More distantly, Funk and Wagnall’sconnects the Christmas tree to flower-decorated May trees and May poles. Campanelli draws in the cult of Cybele and Attis, in which ritualists dragged a fir tree into the temple and adorned with it violets, mourning the dead Attis, soon miraculously to rise. A fir cone tips Dionysos’s thrysus, and the pine is sacred to Pan and Sylvanus. Whatever their provenance and meaning, seasonal evergreens shouldn’t hang too long. Funk and Wagnall’s says you must throw them out of doors by Epiphany; Valiente gives you till Candlemas but says if you’ve not done it then, hobgoblins will haunt you. The Yule’s For You: Given that the Christmas we know comes from the Celtic and Northern Yules and from Saturnalia, using parts of one, several or all of these rites in your rite is only appropriate. Create a Yule of the spirits, or a ritual for garden or personal fertility. Choose a Lord or Lady of Misrule, Holly and Oak Kings or an Ivy Girl and Holly Boy. Or turn to other traditions. Ancient Athenians at the winter solstice held the Lenaea, the Feast of Wild Women. The nine Wild Women of the ritual reenacted the death and rebirth of Dionysos. Once probably a human sacrifice, the god’s representative by classical times had become a goat kid, which the Wild Women killed, then mourned. Then Dionysos was reborn in ritual, and the Wild Women rejoiced. The winter solstice similarly commemorated the rebirth of Egyptian Osiris, who after a mummification beginning November 3 was buried on the solstice. Two days later, his sister and wife Isis gave birth to his son and second self, the sun-god Horus — the return of light to the world. In this hemisphere, the Hopi and Pueblo Indians of the American Southwest hold solstice rituals over several days, including kachina dances, corn and meal rites and war society ceremonies. The Hopi also perform phallic rites and hawk dances. Their neighbors the Zuni relight their sacred fire for the solstice. You can look for inspiration to nonpagan religions. Though Judaism is a monotheistic tradition, it has roots in an ancient pagan past. Hanukkah, the Feast of Lights, most recently celebrates the dedication of a new altar in the Temple after the old had been destroyed, but the feast falls during a much more ancient Jewish solstice observance. The lighting of the lamps parallels the celebrations worldwide in which a lit fire hails the returning sun. Work with any of these traditions, or find one of your own, perhaps connected with your heritage or travels. The solstice holiday comes woven of many strands; choose one that feels right, learn all you can about it and do what speaks to you, honoring the places and peoples your ritual comes from. Reclaim this Sabbat, and let the reborn sun fill your life with light. Yule Traditions 1 Burn a Yule log or build a small fire in your cauldron. Decorate altar with natural winter gatherings like pinecones, Winter berries, Holly, Mistletoe Oak leaves, acorns, Cedar tips and boughs, Pine branches etc. Red & green candles as well. Keep a Gold candle lit to rejoice in the rebirth of the Sun God. Burn winter incense, such as: Pine, Juniper berries, Cedar, Balsam Fir. Feast with coven, family, and friends and remember to leave an offering for the Gods. Place a bowl of Balsam Fir needles on altar sprinkle with Juniper berries & Angel wings to honor. Secular Yuletides of Yule Because Christmas happens during extreme summer temperatures in the southern hemisphere, a few Australians celebrate a second festival, known as Yulefest, at the southern winter solstice in June. A much more popular winter celebration is "Christmas in July", not surprisingly celebrated (several times by some) in July, removing the celebration from all religious connections both Pagan and Christian. Though notionally synonymous with Christmas, both religious and secular, Yule and Yuletide are sometimes used by English speakers as secular names for December 25th and late December in general in much the same way that the Scandinavian "Jul" does not distinguish between the Germanic Pagan feast, Christmas, and (quite possibly) the pre-Indo-European winter solstice celebration. Our Yule Log 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. The Yule log can be made of any wood. Each releases its own kind of magic: 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. On the night of Yule, carve a symbol of your hopes for the coming year into the log. Burn the log to release its power. Save a piece of this year’s Yule log for kindling in next year’s fire. You may also wish to decorate the log with greenery, flowers, ribbons and herbs for magickal intent. Some choices might be: Carnations: protection, courage, strength, healing, increases magical power, vitality Cedar: wealth, protection, purification, healing, promotes spirituality Holly: dreams, protection Juniper: Exorcism, protection, healing, love Mistletoe: a catalyst, fertility, health, success, protection, banishing evil Pine: healing, wealth, protection, purification, exorcism, exorcism, fertility, wealth Rosemary: health, love, protection, exorcism, purification, increase intellectual powers, peace, blessing, consecration, very powerful cleansing and purifying Roses: love, courage, luck, health, protection, beauty Ribbons can be used according to their color magic correspondences. Each year my family gathers to decorate and burn the Yule Log. We have collected what we wish to use for days and we all have an assortment of colored ribbons, fresh sprigs of pine and holly, anything to make it merry! We have little slips of paper and once we have decorated our log, we each write down on those papers all of the things we wish to banish, let go of or remove from our lives; those things that are simply in the way or no longer useful. Then on more scraps of paper we write all of our wishes, all of our dreams, our hopes – what we want to manifest in the coming year. All of these tiny scraps of paper are then tucked in amongst the decorations to be offered to the fire. Then we turn on some good dance music, something that will induce trance and we all dance, keeping our focus on that which is yet to come, igniting the spark of creativity within us. When the music ends we gather around the Yule Log and together we toss it on the fire. My daughter has prepared a mix of powdered coffee creamer and glitter and all of us sprinkle or toss this onto the fire. It ignites into many sparkles of light. Shouting with glee we all stand transfixed as our log burns and as we see our dreams in the fire. Recipes Yule Stollen You Will Need: 1 1/2 c Milk; scald/cool to lukewarm 3 1/2 Yeast; dry/envelopes 3/4 cup Water; lukewarm 3 cups Flour; sifted 1/2 cup Eggs; yolks/lightly beaten 3/4 cup Sugar 2 teaspoons Salt 1 cup Flour 1/2 cup Butter; softened Flour; 10-11 cups, as needed 5 cups currants 1 1/2 c Almonds; chopped or slivered 1 cup Citron; chopped 1/2 Lemon; rind only/grated 2 teaspoons Rum Procedure: Milk should be cooled to about 100 degrees. Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water and add 1/4 cup of the cooled milk and 3 cups sifted flour. Cover the sponge with a cloth and let it ripen until bubbles appear on the surface and it is about to drop in the center. Pour the remaining milk over the sponge. Add the egg yolks, sugar and salt and beat until the ingredients are well blended. Add 1 cup flour and beat well. Blend in the butter. Add more flour gradually to make a smooth dough, or until 10 to 11 cups have been added. Some flours absorb more liquid than others. Knead in the currants, almonds, and citron, along with the lemon rind which should be mixed with the rum. Knead the dough until the fruits and nuts are dispersed well through it and it is smooth. Dust the top lightly with flour and let it rise in a warm place about 45 minutes. Punch it down and let stand for 20 minutes. Divide the dough in half and knead the pieces until smooth. Let them stand for 10 minutes longer. Place one ball of dough on a lightly floured board, and with a rolling pin, press down the center of the ball, and roll the pin to and fro 4 to 5 times, pressing all the time to make an elliptical shape 6 inches long and 3 1/2? wide. The center rolled part should be 1/8? thick and 4 inches long. Both ends should remain untouched, resembling rather thick lips. Place this rolled out piece of dough on a buttered baking sheet and brush the center part with melted butter. Fold one lip toward the other and on the top of it. Press the fingertips down near and below the lips, pulling somewhat apart. Give a pull away from each end, pointing them toward the lips. The shape should resemble a waning moon. Repeat the process with the second piece of dough. Let the Stollen rise, covered in a warm place until they double in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours. Bake them in a moderately hot oven (375 degrees) for 35 to 40 minutes. Do not overbake them. Cool them on racks. Brush them with butter and cover with vanilla sugar. Rolled Oat Yule Cookies Preheat oven to 375F During the Yule season you can add either red and green M&M’s or dried cranberries to the batter. You Will Need: 1 cup butter 1 cup packed brown sugar 1/4 cup water 1 tsp vanilla extract 3 cups quick-cooking oats 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour 1 tsp salt 1/4 tsp baking soda 1 cup M&M’s or dried cranberries Procedure: In a large mixing bowl, mix butter and brown sugar. Mix in water and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine the oats, flour, salt, baking soda, and M&M’s or cranberries. Mix the dry ingredients into the butter/sugar mixture. Shape the cookie dough into two long logs, cookie size in diameter. Wrap the logs in wax paper, parchment, or plastic wrap. Chill for 2 hours. Preheat oven to 375 F. Unwrap cookie logs and slice into ½ inch thick cookies. Place 2 inches apart on cookie sheet and bake for about 12 minutes. Gingerbread This is simply the best gingerbread in the world. The recipe is not original with me, but it has changed more than a bit in my keeping and may in yours as well. Preheat the oven to 350F You Will Need: 1/4 cup butter 1/4 cup sugar 1/2 cup molasses 1 teaspoon ginger 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon cloves 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg 3/4 very hot water 1 1/4 cup flour 1 egg 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda Procedure: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and flour your baking pan. (I use a 9-inch round pan, but a pair of loaf pans also works well.) Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the molasses. (It is very efficient if you pour the hot water in the same measuring cup you just poured the molasses out of — it will dissolve the molasses residue and save you time.) Add spices. Alternately, add a bit of the hot water and a bit of the flour until both are thoroughly blended. Beat in the egg, and then quickly whisk in the baking powder and soda. Now quickly, before you lose any rise from your leavening, pour the batter into your pan and pop it in the oven. Cook for about half an hour, or until the middle is firm. Moldable Shortbread When I was young, I found a variant on this recipe and used it to make cookies in the shapes of fruit, stippling little balls of orange-colored dough to give them the texture of citrus peel, piercing them with a clove to make a blossom end, painting a blush on the surface of peaches and so forth, rather in the manner of marzipan. But the dough can be made into almost any form, as long as it is mostly flat. You can think of it as an edible, cookable play-dough. Don’t be timid with the food color — bright colors make it much more fun. Preheat oven to 375F You Will Need: 1 part sugar 2 parts butter Flavoring to taste 5 parts flour Food coloring Procedure: Cream together the butter and sugar, add flavoring if desired and then blend in flour. (If your one part is equal to half a cup, you can use half to 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or a bit less almond extract, a bit more Grand Marnier, a teaspoon of citrus zest, a couple of tablespoons of minced candied ginger or whatever suits your fancy.) Divide the dough into sections and add a different color of food coloring to each one, mixing it in first with a fork and then with your fingers. Form each color into a ball, wrap with plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour. When it is chilled, form it into whatever shapes you — or your children — like. Bake at 325 for 20 to 30 minutes. If the dough becomes hot and sticky while it is being worked, just stick the cookies into the refrigerator to chill before you bake them. As long as they are cold when they hit the oven, the texture will be fine. Yule Meditation Winter Solstice marks the longest night of the year. The altar is decorated with mistletoe, holly, and evergreens, such as pine, bay, rosemary, juniper, or cedar. With the solstice, the dead of winter is passing, and you can light a red, orange, or yellow candle as you wait for the coming of light. A Yule log is burned to symbolize the return of the Sun, whose coming marks the beginning of outward expression, within nature and ourselves. The best time of day to burn a Yule log, traditionally oak or pine, is at dusk. Light your Yule log, sit before it, and try this fire meditation: Through your stomach/solar plexus, direct your consciousness into the flames. Take a deep breath and let the fire reach the extremities of your body, mind, and soul. As you breathe in, you expand the fire. As you breathe out, soot and ashes dissolve and recede back to the Mother to be recycled. Take another breath and feel the fire increasing – strengthening, and cleansing your whole being. Listen for any messages. Direct any of the excess heat to go down your arms and legs and out through your hands and feet. See yourself as illuminating light. Say: May the log burn, May the Wheel turn, May evil spurn, May the sun return. Your strength and power are ever growing. The fire before you is a reflection of warmth, love, and comfort. It is the true representation of the wealth, abundance, and goodness within you. Everything that you thought during this meditation can and will come to you because you have prepared the fire of action, determination, and success. Writings Winter Solstice Affirmation I am grateful for that which I have. I am not sorrowful for that which I do not. I have more than others, less than some, but regardless, I am blessed with The Sun Returns The sun returns! The light returns! The Earth begins to warm once more! The time of darkness has passed, and a path of light begins the new day. Welcome, welcome, the heat of the sun, blessing us all with its rays. See the Gray See the gray skies overhead, preparing the way for the darkness soon to come. See the gray skies overhead, preparing the way, for the world to go cold and lifeless. See the gray skies overhead, preparing the way for the longest night of the year. See the gray skies overhead, preparing the way for the sun to one day return, bringing with it light. Waiting For Yule Snow gently falls through the night, Rich, pure and deep, it covers the bear branches, crisping every last solitary Mabon leaf. As Her icy blanket drapes lovingly across the land. We wait… The dream of Spring glows within us, stirring in our hearts. The gentle chimes of Hope ring in Our words and blessings. Our candles flicker in the heavy darkness, We wait… Wrapped in our faith, surrounded by the bonds of love, family, friends, near and far. Our altars and hearths, brimming with evergreen, We wait… The Yule Moon, Magnificent in the black beyond, whispers of the coming Light. In Our silent moments of contemplation, We wait… The World around us, bustling with preparations, stress, chaos, war and loneliness… We, The Watchers…look on… waiting for the turning of the Wheel. In anticipation, we long to reach out to the coming Spring, smile and say… “You are most welcome in our hearts and homes, Good Friend!" Till then… We wait and watch the snow gently falling beyond the window pane…. A Sunset Prayer for Yule The longest night has come once more, the sun has set, and darkness fallen. The trees are bare, the earth asleep, and the skies are cold and black. Yet tonight we rejoice, in this longest night, embracing the darkness that enfolds us. We welcome the night and all that it holds, as the light of the stars shines down. Yule Tree Blessing May this tree, arrayed in it's beauty and splendor, remind us of the life-giving Lord & Lady, and may we always rejoice in the new life that shines in our hearts. Blessed Be. A Holly Jolly Yuletide Tune: “A Holly Jolly Christmas" Have a holly jolly Yuletide It’s the best time of the year I don’t know if there’ll be snow But have a cup of cheer Have a holly jolly Yuletide And when you walk down the street Say hello to friends you know And ev’ryone you meet Oh, ho, the mistletoe Hung where you can see Somebody waits for you Kiss her once for me Have a holly jolly Yuletide and in case you didn’t hear Oh, by golly have a holly jolly Yuletide This year! Yule Prayer Song Mother Earth I offer to you this song For I am earth and to the Earth, I belong Mother Earth help me grow as you need me to Mother Earth show me what I am here to do 'Cause I am growing, I am changing on this darkest day I am growing, I am changing in my darkest place I am growing, I am changing on this darkest day I am growing, I am changing in my darkest place Blessed Be! A Poem for Yule I hear the wind howling The ice has entered my soul The cold seems endless The darkness black as coal. Yet a spark of something Shines bright through the night Could it be the dawning Of approaching light? For it’s always coldest In the hours before dawn Darkness is its deepest, Facing fears we’ve drawn How can loneliness dwell With loved ones nearby? Why the tiny doubts Filling me with their cries? So I turn my face away Forget the winter’s chill Celebrate Sun’s return As my spirit thrills. A Poem for Yule I hear the wind howling The ice has entered my soul The cold seems endless The darkness black as coal. Yet a spark of something Shines bright through the night Could it be the dawning Of approaching light? For it’s always coldest In the hours before dawn Darkness is its deepest, Facing fears we’ve drawn How can loneliness dwell With loved ones nearby? Why the tiny doubts Filling me with their cries? So I turn my face away Forget the winter’s chill Celebrate Sun’s return As my spirit thrills. Incense Yule Incense Recipe #1 2 parts Frankincense 2 parts Pine needles or resin 1 part Cedar 1 part Juniper berries Yule Incense Recipe #2 3 parts Frankincense 2 parts Sandalwood 2 part Chamomile 1 part Ginger 1/2 part Sage A few drops of Cinnamon oil Yule Incense Recipe #3 3 parts Pine needles or resin 3 parts Cedar 1 part Bayberry 1 part Cinnamon Yule Incense Recipe #4 3 parts frankincense A few drops orange oil A few drops juniper oil 1 part crushed juniper berries ½ part mistletoe Yule Incense Recipe #5 You Will Need: 1 part crushed Juniper berries 1 Part Balsam Fir needles Procedure: Mix together Ingredients. Burn on charcoals, perfect for Winter & Yule rituals Craft Projects Yule Log Recipe Preheat oven to 350F You Will Need: Cake: 2/3 cup flour 1/4 teaspoon soda 1/4 teaspoon salt 4 eggs 3/4 cup sugar 3 squares unsweetened chocolate 2 tablespoons water Filling: ½ pint whipped cream 2 tablespoons icing (confectioners’) sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla Icing: 1/3 cup butter 2 cups icing (confectioners’) sugar 1/4 cup cocoa 2 tablespoons milk ½ teaspoon vanilla Procedure: Cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 15 x 10 inch jelly roll pan, and line with waxed paper. Grease waxed paper. Mix flour, soda, and salt together. Beat eggs in a small mixer bowl at high speed, until thick and light – about 5 minutes. Gradually add the sugar, and beat until thick. Melt the chocolate and water together, and add to the egg mixture. Fold in the dry ingredients, and mix gently but thoroughly. Spread in prepared pan, and bake for 15 – 17 minutes, until the cake springs back when lightly touched. Remove from oven and turn out immediately onto a tea towel that has been sprinkled generously with icing sugar. Remove waxed paper, and trim of any crisp edges of the cake. Begin at the narrow end, and roll up the cake and the tea towel together. Allow to cool. Filling: Whip cream until soft peaks form. Stir in icing sugar and vanilla and whip until stiff. Unroll the cake when cool, and spread the top with the whip cream. Re-roll, without the towel. Cut a thin slice off of each end of the roll, to make them even. Icing: Soften butter. Combine all ingredients and beat until smooth and of good spreading consistency. Use the centres of the ends you sliced off the cake to make bumps on the log : Use a little of the icing to affix the bump to the side of the cake – one on each side. Ice the entire cake with the icing, including the ends and the bumps. Run a fork along the icing so that it resembles tree bark. Sprinkle with icing sugar, and decorate with holly or other Christmas decoration leaves. Store in refrigerator. How to Make a Yule Log Preheat oven to 425F You Will Need: parchment papers powdered sugar for garnish baking pans knife rubber spatula 1 1/2 c. chopped milk chocolate 1/4 lb. unsalted butters 1/4 c. cocoa 3 egg yolks 1/2 c. chopped bittersweet chocolate 6 eggs 1 c. bread flour 1 c. granulated sugar 2/3 c. heavy creams 1/4 c. cornstarches 3 1/2 c. chilled heavy whipping cream 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract 1 lb. semisweet chocolate squares (about 3 cups) Procedure: Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a 17-by-12-inch sheet pan (called a half-sheet pan) with parchment paper. Whisk eggs, yolks and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer set over a pot of lightly simmering water. Whisk until the mixture forms a thick ribbon when it's drizzled back over the surface (about 5 to 8 minutes). Remove the bowl from the warm water bath. Beat the mixture with an electric mixer for 5 minutes more. Sift together flour, cocoa and cornstarch. Stir the vanilla into the egg mixture, then fold in the flour by hand using a flexible spatula. Quickly spread the batter evenly over the lined pan until it's about 1/2 inch thick. You may have batter left over. Bake at 425F for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven. As soon as the pan can be handled, run a knife around the edges to loosen the cake and slide it out of the pan, still on the parchment. Sprinkle some granulated sugar over the top and roll the cake up lengthwise, still on the parchment. Let the rolled-up cake cool. If necessary, secure it with string or a wedge to keep it from unrolling. Making the Filling and Frosting: Make the filling by placing chopped milk chocolate and bittersweet chocolate into a large metal bowl. Heat 1 c. chilled heavy whipping cream until it steams, then pour it over the chopped chocolate. Let the hot cream melt the chocolate. In a separate bowl, beat the remaining 2 1/2 c. chilled heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Don't overbeat the cream. Let the melted chocolate-cream mixture cool for about 15 minutes. Fold the whipped cream into the chocolate in thirds, using a flexible spatula. Cover and chill until needed. Make the frosting by placing butter in a double boiler set over slowly simmering water. Add semisweet chocolate squares and allow the chocolate and butter to melt, stirring often. This won't take very long. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the 2/3 c. heavy cream. Let the icing sit at room temperature, stirring occasionally as it cools, until needed. Assembling the Yule Log: Carefully unroll the cake and remove the parchment paper. The cake will want to stay rolled; don't worry about it. Spread the mousse as evenly as possible over the inside surface of the cake; a spatula works best for this step. Try not to let the cake crack, but if it does, don't worry: Icing will cover the cracks. Roll the cake back up. It may be easier to add the mousse and roll as you go. Choose the best looking end of the cake and cut off a 3-inch section, making a diagonal cut. This section will be the branch. Place the rolled-up cake on a serving platter, seam side down. Trim a bit from the branch section, so that the branch is thinner in diameter than the log. Eat the extra piece. "Glue" the branch onto the log at a diagonal with a little icing. Remelt a few tablespoons of icing and drizzle it over the branch to cover it. Work carefully - the branch won't be secured tightly. Spread icing on the log, dragging it with the spatula, to imitate bark. Serve the yule log immediately or chill it until needed. If chilled, allow it to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. Sift powdered sugar over the top and onto the serving platter just before serving. Cinnamon Stick Bundles Bundle a few short cinnamon sticks together using a bit of slender ribbon and tie a bow and a loop at the top. Then glue on little sprigs of holly, pine or dried flowers like rose buds, marigolds or baby’s breath, tucking the stems under the bow. Bay Balls Take some Bay leaves. Fresh is best but if all you have is dried, then soak them overnight in warm water to make them pliable (that means you can bend them more easily without breaking them). The next morning, pat them dry. Next, take a Styrofoam ball and use Tacky Glue to cover it with bay leaves. Start at the bottom of the ball and work your way toward the top so they overlap a bit. Some of the leaves you may have to hold in place while the glue dries so they don’t pop up. Cloves or rosebuds stuck through the leaves into the ball will help hold the leaves in place and look pretty besides. A very pretty effect is to “dust" your finished ball with a light spray of gold paint. Pin a pretty loop of ribbon or gold cording to the top to hang it by. Pinecone Ornaments You Will Need: pine cones glue glitter spray paint (optional) ribbon Procedure: If you have pine trees in your area, collect the fallen cones. If not, you can buy the cones in a craft store. Cover the very edges of the pinecone with glue and sprinkle glitter over the glue. It will look like the cones are tipped with frost – very pretty! You can also simply spray paint the cones gold or silver and then immediately sprinkle them all over with iridescent glitter. Pine cones are light enough to just tuck into the tree’s branches or you can glue on a ribbon loop to hang it with or twist a loop of wire around the base. Cinnamon Stick Pentagrams This project uses hot glue, so parents might wish to help younger children!! You Will Need: hot glue and gun 5 cinnamon sticks twine or raffia Procedure: Soak 5 cinnamon sticks (each about the same length) overnight in warm water. In the morning, pat them dry and form them into a pentagram. The soaking will make them pliable so that as you overlap them, they will bend more easily. Hot glue the ends together and then wrap the ends also with twine or raffia and tie it off. Use extra raffia to create a loop at the top for hanging. Yule Sachets You Will Need: 2 parts fragrant pine leaves 1 part rosemary 1 part cinnamon 1 part cloves 1 part dried orange peel broken into little pieces. 4 inch square fabric cinnamon oil jar Procedure: Take about a 4 inch square of lace or fabric (if you’re going for a very “organic", natural look for your tree, then burlap works well) In the center, put a tablespoon of Yule sachet mixture. Bring the ends of the fabric up and tie ribbon or twine around the top making a little pouch with the herbal mixture inside. Tuck a sprig of holly, mistletoe or little birch pinecones into the ribbon. If you can find a rubber stamp at the craft store with a sun, star or moon on it. You can stamp the outside of the fabric with a picture before adding your herbs. Add a bit of cinnamon oil. Stir it up good and let it sit for a few days in a closed jar. Pomanders You Will Need: ribbon orange, lemon or lime 4 large cloves nail, wooden skewer or an old crochet hook Procedure: Tie a loop in a length of ribbon leaving the ends long enough to wrap around a small orange, lime or lemon. Wrap it around the fruit and then tie it at the bottom. If you want you can cut the ends off, let them dangle or even add a tassel. Then, poke large cloves all over into the fruit. You can use a nail, wooden skewer or even an old crochet hook to get the holes started if you want. Completely cover the fruit with the cloves or create a pattern with some of the fruit showing through. Gilded Acorns Often, when you find acorns on the ground, their little caps have come off. If that’s the case, then collect both caps and bases. If not, then remove the caps yourself when you get home. You Will Need: acorns gold or silver paint 3 inch slender ribbon glue watered down white glue glitter Procedure: Paint both halves with spray paint or craft paint using either gold or silver. Then cut a slender ribbon about 3 inches long and glue each end to the inside of the cap so that it forms a loop. Then glue the cap back on to the base of the acorn. When it’s done, you can paint the cap with watered down white glue and dust it with glitter. Cinnamon Ornaments You Will Need: 1 cup applesauce 1 strainer 1 cup cinnamon 1 tablespoon clove 1 tablespoon nutmeg 2 tablespoons of white glue ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon and/or apple oil (optional) cookie cutters drinking straw ribbon Procedure: Put about a cup of applesauce in a strainer and let it sit & drip for a few hours. Then combine 1 cup cinnamon with one tablespoon each of cloves and nutmeg. Add 2 tablespoons of white glue and ¾ cup of drained applesauce. For a more intense fragrance, you can add about ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon and/or apple oil. Mix it all up with your hands until its a smooth ball, all mixed up. (Be careful to wash your hands after handling the oils. You don’t want to accidentally get any in your mouth or eyes) Roll it out about ¼ inch thick and either cut shapes out with cookie cutters. Use a drinking straw to poke a hole in the top. Let them sit out to dry for a few days. Turn them over once or twice a day so they don’t curl up. Then, poke a ribbon through the hole to hang them with. Yule Spell Ornament As Yule approaches, the opportunities for spellwork are seemingly endless. If you have a holiday tree this year, why not use ornaments as a way of directing your magical energies? Make a spell ornament to bring prosperity, love, health, or creativity into your life. You Will Need: Clear plastic fillable ornament Filler material associated with your purpose: herbs, small stones, colored paper or glitter, etc. Colored ribbon Procedure: Fill the plastic halves of the ornament with items that are associated with your purpose. Try a couple of the following, or come up with your own combinations: For a money spell, add shredded bits of play money, Bay leaf, basil, chamomile, clover, cinquefoil, tonka bean, Buckeye, pennyroyal; stones such as turquoise and amethyst; bits of green, silver or gold glitter. For love magic, use Allspice, apple blossom, bleeding heart, catnip, lavender, periwinkle, peppermint, tulip, violet, daffodil; crystals such as rose quartz or emerald, coral; small heart-shaped cutouts, bits of pink or red glitter. For workings related to creativity and inspiration, add feathers, sage, tobacco leaf, hazelwood or birch, symbols of artistry such as paintbrush tips, crayons, or colored thread. Add diamonds, quartz crystals, also consider colors like yellow and gold. If you're doing healing magic, use Apple blossom, lavender, barley, comfrey, eucalyptus, fennel, chamomile, allspice, olive, rosemary, rue, sandalwood, wintergreen, peppermint. As you're filling your ornament, focus on your intent. Think about what your purpose is in creating such a working. For some people, it helps to chant a small incantation while they work - if you're one of those folks, you might want to try something like this. Say: Magic shall come as I order today, bringing prosperity blessings my way. Magic to hang on a green Yule tree; as I will, so it shall be. Once you've filled your ornament, place the two halves together. Tie a colored ribbon around the center to keep the halves from separating (you may need to add a dab of craft glue for stability) and then hang your ornament in a place where you can see it during the Yule season. Gift-giving tip: Make a whole box of these with different purposes, and share them with your friends at the holidays! Yule Gift Idea Infused Vinegars You Will Need: your favorite vinegar 1 large bowl or jar garlic orange zest strips, cinnamon sticks, herb sprigs or fresh fruit decorative cruets ribbon tag Procedure: Take your favorite vinegar, pour it into a large bowl or jar, and add garlic, strips of orange zest, cinnamon sticks, herb sprigs, or fresh fruit and set in a dark, cool place for a couple of weeks. Strain out ingredients and store flavored vinegars in decorative cruets. Tie a ribbon around them with a tag that lets your giftee know the type of gourmet vinegar you’re sharing. Spells for Yule A Yule Fire Spell You Will Need: 3 dried leaves of holly 4 inch x 4 inch piece of paper 1 red ink pent 1 red candle Procedure: On the darkest night of the year, gather together three dried leaves of holly and pulverize them into powder. On a clean, four-inch by four-inch piece of parchment paper, write a single word in red ink that represents what quality or trait you would like to be born within yourself along with the newborn Yule Sun. Sprinkle the holly powder into the center of the paper and twist the whole thing closed with the holly powder inside. Light the wick of a red candle, and from this flame, light the holly-filled paper on fire. As it burns, see your wish fulfilled. Yule Spell First, light the semi circle of candles going from left to right. Say: These brightest of flames Lights the fire within Its passion proclaims A new life will begin. I will then read out my statement of intent from the previous day’s tarot reading (which I am going to write on red paper), focusing on building excitement as well as conviction! Say while taking the apple in hand: My apple is bounty Ripened by the waning sun My abilities are plenty Growing and just begun My aim is to discover And to enhance all areas of my sphere My potential I will uncover The path ahead is to become clear. For the following 7 days I am going to light one of the candles for 5 minutes, repeating the first section of the spell. Then I will open up my mind to images, thoughts and any inspiration that comes to me to aid me in this new beginning. As ever, there is so much that you can do to adjust this spell if you want. I always fully recommend the personal touch, never more so than when you are looking for new beginnings and self discovery. Remember to harm none!!!! Click for the Site Index