Yule is one of the Sabbath all witches should honor and celebrate! It’s a wonderful time for some witchy craft and to do some introspection. Let’s learn more about its origins and history, and see how to celebrate it.
So here we are in Yule, the first Sabbat of the Wheel of the year (if we consider that with Samhain, the circle closes). As with Ostara, the name Yule also has an obscure origin that goes back to Northern Europe.
According to linguists, the word "Yule" (jo'l) derives from the Old Norse Hjól, which means wheel, and this is with reference to the fact that at the solstice, the sun is at the lowest point of the horizon and begins to rise. Yule is the festival of rebirth, the return to a new life, and this meaning has remained immutable over time. During the night of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, when darkness seems to have the upper hand over everything, and nature is full of novelties to come, and we await the dawn of a new day. The "great Mother," as well as Mother Nature, will give birth to the "Child Sun." The night gives birth to the sun. Yule is the mother who, in the sacred presence of fire, burns the old in favor of the new, nullifying with its power the old fears, the past, the doubts, and all that is negative. This is the time to renew our promises of change, reinforce our good intentions, to take "the big step" to make a new being of light arise in us. This is the time of the year when the spirits of the earth rest with all the creatures that belong to them and then give new life in spring.
Its history and origins
In tradition, Yule commemorates the death of King Holly, which symbolizes the old past year in favor of the new, depicted by the Oak King. The Holly King, which represents darkness and, therefore, negativity, wins at every summer solstice by fighting against the Oak King. This light is a positive force, which in turn, defeats him at every winter solstice. They fight each other forever, and there could never be a definitive victory for either of them. Both are essential for the balance of the world and for allowing its transformation and generation.
Other Yule time traditions
The word Yule of Nordic origin seems to be translated as "wheel," the wheel that represents the entire solar year, and the same that is placed in the form of a garland outside every door to wish everyone good luck for the year to come. The garland symbolizes the wheel that always turns and the circle that has no end. Life, therefore, with its cycles and eternal returns.
Even today's Santa Claus is read as a transposition of the Viking god Odin, and Yule is also his real name as a god-giver of gifts. The old man showed himself to be a complacent figure for those who behaved well and, on the contrary, proved terrible for those who were guilty of evil intentions.
Another famous custom is that of the "oak log" decorated with pine needles and pine cones that are burned in the fireplace and then taken from the fire and kept as a good omen during the year to protect the house. Today, sometimes the stump is replaced with a pine or oak branch and adorned with three candles, one red, one white, and one green, and with buds, cloves and spices. The candles represent the season, the sun god, and the great goddess.
Branches of holly, butcher's broom, and ivy were kept inside the house all year round. In some places in Germany, on the top of the tree, there is a little witch (and not an angel) symbol of Crona, the old goddess who presides over this part of the year.
You eat nuts, seasonal fruit, mead, potatoes, onions, and spiced or cumin sweets. We use herbs such as mistletoe, ivy, cedar, bay leaf, juniper, pine, valerian, and myrrh. Even essential oils are very effective in this period, such as rosemary, nutmeg, myrrh, and cedar. Incense based on pine, cinnamon, and myrrh are burned to warm the soul. It is adorned with warm-colored crystals such as red jasper, carnelian, and garnet.
Four simple ways to honor Yule
In winter, nature rests to prepare for a new cycle of life, and we, too, should take a break. Let's try to take advantage of the Christmas holidays to dedicate ourselves to the things that make us feel good: reading a book, meditating, doing relaxation exercises ... A hydromassage might be ideal: the bubbling water recreates the uterine waters from which to be reborn symbolically for the New Year.
And how do we deal with the stress of the holiday season? Dinners, lunches, relatives, duties "as per tradition," gifts ... it is no wonder that many suffer from depression and have a desire for isolation. Even the least amount of sunlight affects our mood, so much so that it is precisely at this time of the year that the greatest number of suicides is recorded. This is why celebrating the Solstice can be even more important for us and our psyche: in the silence and calm that the darkness offers, we try to contact the spark of the new rising sun. And just as the sun rises, we too can have the hope of coming out regenerated from winter.
Solstice Tree and Gifts to the Sun
But how is the sun celebrated in a symbolic way? An example is decorating a house with Yule plants or preparing a solstitial tree, which is not a Christmas tree, but a tree decorated with many representations of the sun. Or, if material things aren't your thing, you can get up at dawn and greet the new sun. You can light candles (which represent light) and associate each of them with your hope for the new year.
A more ritual celebration is that of lighting the log. Both a home fireplace and a corner in the garden where you can burn a log of wood are fine. Take a piece of wood (possibly oak) and decorate it with sprigs of various plants: yew, holly, birch, ivy ... tie the sprigs to the log with a red ribbon and, if you did it last year too, also tie the piece of the log left over from last year. Before burning the log, you will say the ritual phrase, "As the old log is consumed, so is the old year." And when the fire is lit, and the log begins to burn, you will say, "As the new log is lit, so will the new year begin". Toast with mulled wine and eat sweets and leave a part of our party in homage to Mother Earth. When the log is completely burnt, you can scatter its ashes around the garden or in the pots of the plants you have at home as a sign of fertility.
Branch of Desire
Another way to celebrate Yule is that of the branch of wishes, as per Breton tradition. You need to get a fairly large dry branch, paint it with gold paint (a spray can is fine, too), and hang it inside the house near the front door. Then, make strips of red paper to keep near the branch, and invite anyone who comes into the house (if they want) to write a wish on the strip of red paper, fold it up to remain secret, and then tie it to your branch with a colored ribbon. Then when the fire of the Solstice is lit, the branch and the "wishes" linked to it will burn, which will become smoke and ashes and welcomed - who knows - by some entity. Traditionally, the drinks and foods connected to this ritual are nuts, seasonal fruit (apples and pears), cumin-based desserts, cider, Wassil, Lambswool, hibiscus tea, and ginger.
Other Yule Celebrations
As diurnal beings, we attach great importance to the prolonged presence of light. Instinctively in the dark, we feel insecure and in danger. Today we have artificial lights but think of our primitive ancestors who, once darkness fell, were no longer able to act with the same promptness and safety demonstrated during the day. Unlike cats, wolves, dogs, and nocturnal birds of prey, we humans in the dark become almost blind, extremely vulnerable, and disoriented. This has resulted in not only a very natural and instinctive fear of the dark but also that we humans give great importance to the beginning of darkness but more to the return of light. It thus happens that the Solstice has kept intact its importance and almost perfectly intact also its customs, symbols, and the very meaning of the festival, which, from Scandinavia to Palestine, is the "festival of Lights."
Yule is not, like other Sabbats, a festival of fire but of lights. The protagonists are not the big bonfires but candles, lanterns, and flashing lights, a symbol of the light that has just been born and that must be protected, nourished, and defended so that it grows and manifests itself in the great bonfires of the following seasons.