Indistinct Mumblings of an Unsound Mind

Learning of Yule

History and Background:
To start with, there is but one divine being. This being is incomprehensible, and as such will divide itself up into different aspects so that we can better understand it and so that it can relate to us: its creation. Each aspect takes on it’s own individual thoughts, feelings, and actions. Two of these aspects are that of the Holly King and the Oak King.

These two kings are guardians of the earth and protectors of nature. The Holly King is lord of the Earth during winter snow. In his care are all the creatures of winter. Animals like the fox and the wolf prosper during these times and plants like the holly trees and shrubs and the evergreens thrive. During the winter, it is the Holly King’s responsibility to take care of these and all other living things. The Oak King reigns over the Earth until the height of summer. All the plants and animals that live under the warmth of the sun are under his care.

During the weeks before the Winter Solstice, the Oak King is reborn, and on the Solstice itself, the Holly King is slain at the Hand of the Oak King. As the Oak King is crowned, we celebrate and welcome in the new year, with the lengthening of the days, the increase of sunlight, and the knowledge that we are on our way to the Spring and the Summer again. The inverse happens on the Summer Solstice as well, when the Oak King is defeated. At that time we welcome the coming of autumn and prepare for winter. This is all part of our yearly cycle.

During this celebration, we exchange gifts in thanks that we made it through this year. The gifts are important, as they give us something to look forward to during the coming year. We feast with each other, remembering the good times we have had during this year and others past.

We also mourning the loss of the Winter King and in his honor hang wreaths and boughs of evergreen plants in his remembrance. These wreaths help to remind us of others that are gone. It is customary to decorate these boughs and plants with lights. Originally, candles were used as a sort of vigil for the departed, but candles are just too much of a risk for fire. We also decorate trees like the conifer, as these best represent the Winter King and remind us that there is great life, even in the midst of a cold, dead winter.

Anyway, that’s the history and the religious significance. The true mythology behind all this is a bit gruesome. It involves the cutting off of heads and a great battle. I’ll spare you the details on that one. The one below is much more child friendly and is the one that many of my friends tell their children until they reach a more appropriate age for the full story:

The Defeat of the Holly King

We all know that Yule is at the end of December, but the story really starts much earlier; In fact over a month earlier. Surely you remember that in August the Harvest Lord laid down his sword of power and went away to Summerlands to rest. Well the Goddess missed her husband so much that she began to grow old just with the grief alone and that is why we have Winter: It is the time when the Earth grows barren and cold, moving further away from the life of the sun.

After a time the Goddess, because of her sadness, left us also and went on a journey to Summerlands: In hopes to try and find him. Now, she doesn’t die just yet, as that is the only way to get to the Summerlands. No: she only goes on a vision quest. But she is gone so long that at Samhain her body passes on. When she is found frozen in the forest two weeks later, a wake was held for her in the royal hall of the Holly King.

It took over a week for all the faeries and other mourners to come. For they came from all corners of Creation. But there was one unexpected guest: A haggardly old woman. She was so old, in fact, that she almost looked like a walking skeleton. So of course everyone there was mean to her out of fright and disgust, pointing and laughing at her just because she was old.

Yet when she greeted the Holly King, and called him her Son, everyone realized with much fright that this was the Goddess returned to them. The very Goddess whose death that had come to mourn. She had thawed out when she was moved to the Holly King’s castle.

So angry was she about being treated so poorly, the Goddess passed a prophecy to the Holly King. She told him that she had within her pregnant belly the Oak King, who was soon to be reborn. And for letting his court rebuke her, the Holly King would pass to Summerlands upon the birth of that child.

Now this scared the Holly King. So much so, that he decided to lock the old Crone away in the top room of the tallest tower in all the world. Then he walled up the doors and all but one of the windows so that she was trapped within this room at the top of the tower. The window he left open so that he could have the birds fly food to her, and no one would be able to leave the tower.

Of course, all this was done hoping that he could escape the doom that was foretold to him. But the Crone knew that the birth of her child was her only hope of escape. In the coming weeks, the Crone wove magic into her unborn child. She took the light and warmth from the Sun and passed it to him, ascribing the powers of the sun itself to her future baby.

It came to pass that, in just four weeks, she gave birth to the Oak King. For the bright countenance surrounding him and his glowing warmth, he was also given the name of the Sun King; and with all that magic woven into him, he was born fully grown and glowing with a golden light so bright that it began pulling the Earth closer to the sun.

Those four weeks of magic are why we light the candles for the four weeks before Yule. One candle for the first week and two for the second and so on until we have four candles lit on the night of Yule. This represents the growing light and the growing king inside her. But the birth was hard on the old Crone, so hard that she slipped into a sleep very near to Death.

The Sun King became angry, thinking his mother was dead. Determined to avenger her, he turned into a large, golden eagle and flew out the lone window to hunt the man responsible: the Holly King, Lord of the Wintertime. He searched high and low, traveling all the lands until he finally cornered him at the shores of a great ocean. In anger, he took aim, throwing his magical spear fast and true at his target. The spear hit the Holly King so hard that his body just vanished.

But don’t worry, for the Holly King simply re-appeared in the Summerlands, and when he did, he found the Crone in one of her other aspects, the Young Maiden. She spoke to him of the other half of the prophecy and that, because of their nature, they would spend eternity repeating the seasonal cycle. She said that the events of the last year would repeat themselves forever and ever; and that although the Holly King had passed away now, he would return just past the height of Summer to take the Sun King’s place again.

This is why the Holly King brings us gifts every year, in apology for the Winter that he brings with him. But he only brings presents to the good children because he wants us to learn to not be cruel and mean like his court was to the Crone on that first night of her return so long ago. And while the Lord of Winter is in the Summerlands, the Oak King, now called the Sun King, reins.

When the Sun King returned to the Crone, he saw that she wasn’t really dead at all, but only asleep. Hoping to wake her, he went out and cut a log from the largest Oak tree he could find – the first Yule Log  – and lit it on fire to perform special magic. This log carries the fire of the past year into the future and it was that very quality he was hoping to us in revival of his mother.  Knowing the old king was greatly skilled in life magic – being he kept all the world alive in the midst of winter – he also decorated her room in holly and other evergreen plants, in hopes that the Holly King’s magic might still save her. The servants and citizens of winter saw this and, in honor of their beloved king, hung candles from the boughs.

But, despite all this work, the magic only helped to make her youthful again, so that now she was a beautiful youthful Maiden. Beautiful, yet she still sleeping a deep sleep.

Categories: Everyday

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