The Festival of Yule celebrates the Winter Solstice, the darkest part of winter. It contains the longest night and the shortest day- anywhere between 20 – 22 December. From then onwards, the Sun will slowly gain strength, and the barren Earth will commence its regeneration, though it will be Imbolc before this is obvious.
The celebrations of Christmas rejoice in the birth of a new life, just as people have always celebrated since time itself began – a new year and a new cycle. All the traditions of Christmas as we know them today have Pagan and Druid roots and although we carry out these traditions, few people actually know why.
The traditional Holly Wreath has been used for over 4000 years to represent the Wheel of the Year and a new beginning in the ever-turning circle of life, and, being holly, it was also a symbol of protection for the home, just as a holly tree in the garden is.
The Celtic and Norse people used a Yule Tree to represent the continual circle of life, the return of the Sun and to represent their wishes for the forthcoming year. The tree would be decorated, not with bright shiny plastic as we do nowadays, but with amulets and talismans, made to ensure a happy time ahead. The tree would be brought inside and decorated with fruit for a successful harvest, nuts for fertility, coins for wealth, love charms for happiness and candles to light the way for the returning Sun. As you can see, without knowing, we still do the same, but with electric lights and a bit more glitter, that’s all. So, when decorating your tree this year, really put your wishes and dreams into it, and you will be doing the same as the “old ones” always did. Don’t forget to burn plenty of candles over the holiday to welcome back the Sun.
More on that tree? Get the kids to make garlands for the tree with popcorn and cranberries (white and red for holly and mistletoe berries) to provide food and shelter for tree fairies and elementals sheltering in the greenery. They can also string together juniper berries, also for the tree, for a home full of love, and also add little bunches of cinnamon for healing & abundance. Add chocolate money for prosperity, hearts and charms for love and happiness, nuts for fertility and use your imagination to help bring your dreams & wishes to fruition next year for you and yours. Finally, don’t forget your Goddess in pride of place on the top of your pine tree, observing all the fun and festivities. Thus year, decorate your home with meaning and wish on each object as you hang it on your tree whilst your festive incense burns and red, green and gold candles flicker – this is a sacred and ancient tradition and the Christmas we know now is relevant to witches as well as Christians, because the symbolism we now know as Christmas is as ancient as the celebration itself.
Santa and his reindeer capture the essence of the horned God and every good Christmas tree has its fairy on the top – welcome the beautiful goddess of light and love and peace into your home. The top of the tree was always important and most people place a fairy or a star in the prime position – the star, of course, is the 5-pointed pentagram representing the 4 elements and spirit – in a way using all the elements to ensure their wishes materialised, and the fairy represents the “wee folk”, who at this time of year would be invited indoors to shelter from the cold and dark, and the tree would be their obvious haven. Your Christmas colours of gold and red are the colours of the Sun, and green the colour of the Earth. Santa and his reindeer capture the essence of the horned God and every good Christmas tree has its fairy on the top – welcome the beautiful goddess of light and love and peace into your home.
Mistletoe, if it could be obtained, would be hung to ensure another prosperous year. Kissing under the Mistletoe is as old as the Celtic/Druid way of life. Sacred to the Druids, their legal agreements and hand-fasting ceremonies (marriage) all took place “under the mistletoe”, as the agreement was then truly sealed – so just be careful who you kiss this year under the mistletoe, or they might just hold you to your word.
The centrepiece of Celtic celebrations was the Yule log, which is still around today. Back then, it would have been Oak, the king of the waxing year, and decorated with Holly, the king of the waning year. Three holes would have been drilled into the top to represent the triple aspect of the Goddess, and candles would have burned in the log for the festivities, to ensure fertility and abundance for the forthcoming year.
The magickal Yule insists on no excessive work, but to all of us in the retail trade – fat chance, though I tend to add a little bit of brandy to the mulled wine so if too much is consumed, then work just becomes a giggle and customers have to tend to themselves!! – However, I simply transfer my days of rest to later on at 25th when it is now more allowable to stop work for a couple of days. An apple eaten at Yule will ensure health, the mistletoe hung at Yule will ensure a year of happiness and a magickal cleansing bath will free your body of the worries you may have been carrying over the past few months and these are traditions that can still be done at Yule itself.
Yule is a time of relaxation and time out half way through the year and people since time began have always ate and drank too much at this time so no reason to not enjoy Christmas like everyone else – gifts have always been given to symbolise the turn of the year even if it was a new fur-skin coat or a necklace of shells in a cave with a freshly roasted deer for dinner, the meaning is still the same. The festivities have always gone on till 12th night when fires would be lit on every headland and beacon round the country to ensure fertility for the land in each area and the next day it would be back to work – nothing new then!
As the Sun is at its weakest, so the moon is at her strongest nearest to Yule. This makes it a good time to work with her when she is full, so check the Moon calendar for strongest moon. Because of the cost at this time of year, we will all be spending money we don’t have so maybe remember to definitely do a prosperity spell with the full moon as we will need all the help we can get!!
A tip or two for Yule
To ensure that your festivities go without a hitch, here are a few tips for you. Whilst Mistletoe represents wisdom, prosperity and fertility, the Holly (male) and Ivy (female) represent balance and luck. Again, bring these into your home at this time. Always hang the holly before the mistletoe as this then avoids any ill-luck or family quarrels. Never burn the Yule holly as, if you do, a misfortune is sure to follow and remember to leave the mistletoe hanging all year round to ensure a year of protection and good luck – replace it when you get the fresh mistletoe next year.
As the Sun is at it’s weakest at Yule, the Full Moon that usually follows Yule is regarded as the most powerful of the year – make use of it. . Decorate your Home & tree with symbols of fertility, health, wealth and prosperity – nuts, fruit, suns (male), stars (pentagram) and moons (female), elemental symbols such as icicles, snowflakes, and protective herbs and spices such as cinnamon sticks etc – even chocolate represents the luxuries of life – just use your imagination.
As for the aromas of Christmas, those who burn oils regularly should use oils such as cinnamon and orange, mandarin and clove, frankincense and myrrh, to bring the season into the home. Clove and cinnamon are very antiseptic, killing off all those bugs that may be hanging around, to ensure nothing spoils your festive season. Frankincense and myrrh are spiritual aromas, bringing the heightened awareness of the spiritual realms, whilst reducing stress and tension, ensuring a relaxed Yule. Orange and mandarin are your fun-filled aromas, ensuring your festive arrangements are full of joy, energy and magickal fun.
I always get asked about guilt at this time – enjoying and joining in the family Christmas when it isn’t our celebration. Don’t worry; it is how you use the experience and what you take from it that counts. My house looks like everyone else’s only we work at Yule but not at Christmas. I don’t have to throw my religion down everybody else’s throats. I grew up alongside Jehovah’s witnesses, who seemed to suffer at Christmastime and I wouldn’t want that for my own children. My partner is a Christian but we have leaned to combine and honour each other’s religion, not condemn it. I will be attending a Carol concert with him and join in his joy of the occasion. Some of the Carol’s are pretty pagan; “the holly and the Ivy” is as pagan as it gets!! I will have my symbols and he his. The only way we will have our beliefs respected is to respect others and this is the point. Send Xmas cards; just look for the ones that state “Seasons greetings” or “Yuletide greetings” – subtle but honest. Gifts at this time represent the gifts that our Lady and Lord have bestowed upon us – that of life, love and prosperity. It is all a matter of prospective; that’s all. See what you can see within the customs of your family and friends, join in, enjoy and simply smile, count your blessings and give silent thanks.
My extended family celebrate with a meal together on Yule and a get-together on Christmas day, exchanging small gifts and consuming fabulous food and excellent wines and beer…no extending credit cards here; it just brings misery in January when the statement arrives!! It is more about quality time together playing stupid games and having a laugh with our extended family than being about piles of expensive ‘stuff’. The festive time was always over a few days, so don’t feel guilty about being really busy at Yule but enjoying Christmas Day! It is now seen in our multi-cultural society as a festival for all creeds to enjoy in their own cultural way with family. Quality time spent with kin is what life is about. Time is such a rare commodity that any time together is a time of celebration!
Yuletide punch – Wassail
Wassail is a traditional drink of Yule for wishing good health. The drink would be “cooked” on the stove, then would be put in a large cup and passed around with the blessing of “Waes Haelinch” meaning Good Health. So if you want to know how you make this magickal festive elixir, here is a recipe:
1 ltr apple cider and 3 apples, grated
2oz brown sugar, 2.5ml ground ginger and grated nutmeg
Put a mugful cider in a pan and add the grated apples. Cook till the apple is soft and add the sugar, ginger and the rest of the cider. Heat through but DO NOT BOIL. Add some grated nutmeg and keep warm and serve to friends and family to wish them well for the forthcoming year. YUM…
A Yule spell for new beginnings…using onions and some twigs
A Russian spell to ease us into the new wheel and help us move forward can be done with the use of 2 small onions, 3 white or beeswax yellow candles, a little salt, 2 pieces red ribbon or cord and 2 birch twigs. Salt is a purifier as are the onions and birch symbolises new beginnings. On the eve of the winter solstice, light the candles. In their light, peel the onions and thread with the red ribbon/cord saying:
Spirits of past and present, keep evil sorts at bay;
Let harmony and joy prevail at the turning of the day.
Hang the onions at the front and back door (if no back door, use a back window instead). Hang the onions until the 24th, take them down and sprinkle them with the salt. Remove the cord and bury the onions in the garden.
Hold the birch twigs to your 3rdeye for a moment, then tie with the red cord and replace above the doors.The birch will help you begin your new cycle. Let your festive fun be the mark of this new beginning…cheers!!
A Yule-time wish
The rebirth of the Sun today gives a feeling of hope and warmth, and we can harness that in a wish.
You will need a red Yule candle and a depiction of a reindeer to represent the horned God – picture, xmas stamp, table confetti or similar, a gold pen, some fairy dust, a piece of writing paper and a small envelope.
When you have your Yule candles ready, turn off all the lights and sit and feel the darkness.
Now light your candles, one by one, fill the room steadily with candlelight and sit and think of what you would like to attract during the next year.
Once you have decided on your wish, write it on the paper in gold pen and fold, placing it in the envelope. Add a sprinkle fairy dust, seal your wish inside with your stag and then hide the envelope away where no-one will find it, until the longest day and hopefully, as the light grows in strength, your wish will come into being!
Mayan Sachet for Yule…
It is customary at Yule to hang the Mistletoe but I needed something extra to mark this auspicious occasion. An old Yule recipe was prepared and wrapped in either green or red cloth and given as gifts at this time using 12 herbs for the 12 festive days. I have selected my own version using Juniper berries, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, rosemary, cinnamon, orange flowers, lavender, mistletoe, lemongrass, Grains of Paradise and rice and mixed it all together for love, luck, wealth, harmony and happiness. These pouches are something you can do too.
Light incense and candles on the altar as above, and mix the blend of herbs and spices in a bowl with your fingers saying “Luck and prosperity, happiness and harmony” (as above) as you mix the blend together. Spoon it into green/red pouches and give as gifts to those friends and family who need a little luck, love or abundance in their lives Paper wishes can be added too before hanging. Help them achieve new hope this Yule.
A family wishing spell…
When you and the family/friends get together, have a go at this little bit of magick for you all. You will need a little reindeer to represent the Horned God, along with some nuts, pine cones and maybe a sprig pine, mistletoe and holly and a nice set paper and envelopes. On your altar/mantle, make a small circle with the nuts and pine etc encircling the reindeer and a red candle. Using a gold pen, let every member write their wish for the forthcoming year on a piece of paper and seal in their own envelope. Leave the candle to burn for the rest of the day or until it is no more, then tie all the envelopes together with red ribbon and store in your magickal box until Midsummer. Burn all the unopened envelopes together in your Midsummer ritual fire to nudge the spell once more!
Saturnalia and the Romans…
No-one throws a party like the people of Ancient Rome, their revelry and debauchery being well known through the ages. In ancient Italy planting of crops took place between October and January and their God of Agriculture was Saturn. Saturn was depicted as a working God, who is also now known as Old Father Time. Today, we think of Saturn as a planet in our Solar System rather than a God of old, who, astrologically enters your horoscope to teach you the lessons of life to ensure Karmic balance! Portrayed as an elderly, bearded man, he carries the scythe, sometimes a time-piece, and is always draped in robes. He is the giver of plenty from the Earth, so around 17thDecember, the party began until well after Yule to encourage a great harvest.
The Roman parties were awesome, and slaves became free of work, worries and rules for the week. They would eat with their master and wore a red freedom hat, called a pileus and everyone had a good time honouring Saturn.
Saturn was the Roman God of seed and time, and I have visited the remains of Saturn’s temple in the Forum in Rome, where the state treasury was also held. Here also took place fertility rites, to ensure the seeds grew to give an abundant harvest the next year. Food and wine would be in plenty, businesses, courts and schools were closed and the peasants ran the City. Feasts and banquets were held everywhere people gathered, and simple gifts were exchanged, including such things as a writing implement, tool, cups and spoons, clothing and food. Also given were tapered candles, the giver of light and these were burned in plenty to ensure the return of the sun to warm the ground and help the seeds grow. There would be naked partygoers in the streets singing like the drunks of today, and the halls of their homes were decked with boughs of laurel (no holly or pine in Rome!) This ended up a sort of drunken Roman Mardi Gras that went on for days, & would be the highlight of their year, before the hardness of a slave’s life resumed.
Saturnalia was a Roman Holy day, regardless of the partying, to honour their God. Saturn statues were traditionally bound with woollen ties all year round to stop him leaving Roman territory, but were cut at this time to allow Saturn to join in their fun. The final day of celebrations was known as Sigillaria (day of little figurines). Simple figures were made of wood, wax or clay to celebrate the New Year, and symbolise the letting go of things they needed to change to move forward. They may have begun with a sacrificial meaning but ended up as toys for the little ones. Saturn’s hands and feet would then be bound once more as the celebrations came to an end.
New Year’s Eve (Hogmanay here!!)
New Year or Hogmanay over the past centuries has also brought about a few traditions of its own. Burning 7 candles ensures lucky homes, though we more and more see the line of 7 lights in windows in every town and wonder why we do that, but now you know. The body would have been bathed and new clothes put on, the home would have been thoroughly scrubbed, the locks all opened (open house) and a new clean knife left at the door for protection for the next year. All jobs no matter how hated are to be done before the New Year celebrations begin and the New Year enters your home. A fire would have been burned all night to complete the New Year ritual, and this would have been the actual fire but these days, candles will be sufficient. We then are all aware of the New Year tradition of bringing in coal, bread and whisky (fuel, food and drink) and this tradition still goes on as does that of the dark male but where did that come from? It was apparently that the Celts were dark haired but the Norse and Vikings were not – dark hair meant friend not foe…so there you go, another mystery unravelled. It is also important that the bringer of the New Year isn’t wearing all black or carrying a knife (but these days the Skein Dubh is part of the kilt so it isn’t counted!!) If someone enters by mistake before the entry of the New Year, it can be counteracted by throwing salt into the fire so don’t panic!!
To continue the New Year traditions, ensure your cupboards are full of fresh food on New Year’s Day and your pockets and wallet/purse full of cash to ensure a year of plenty all the remainder of the year.
If your year has been fraught with problems, and you can get to a coal fire or bonfire, try this spell.
Take the calendar of the year just passing and bind it with wool. Then, place it in a fire, be it coal or an outside bonfire and say with feeling:
“Burn, burn, you calendar burn and last year’s worries never return.”
Apparently, another tradition of mine at New Year is actually Scottish – that must have come from a past life then. I always go into the New Year clean and tidy. On New Year’s Eve, before I go out and celebrate, I take down the tree, put away the decorations, clean and tidy the house, have a purifying bath and put on clean clothes and start the Year afresh. I always pay the bills as well (even if it means putting them on my credit card or overdraft!!). Any bills that have arrived get settled on the last banking day of the year. I never start the New Year with bills outstanding. It doesn’t mean I don’t owe anybody anything. It just means that everything that needs paying at that time has been paid. Once all this has been done, the magickal New Year can proceed with a fresh beginning. Try it, especially if the last year has been dogged with troubles. If you have had money troubles, fill your pockets with money on New Years day as a symbol that you would like your pockets to remain full during the year – though it is traditional here in Scotland that the home’s First footer brings in coal for heat, bread for food, money for wealth and a “wee dram” for luck. Another wee thing to remember – never hang up your new calendar for the year until New Year’s Day.
After it is all over…
So, Christmas and New Year has been and gone. You have overdone it all – food, wine, alcohol, chocolate and your body is now exhausted – how can you protect yourself from too much damage and what do you do to recover!!
Well, try and drink water as well as alcohol and that will at least keep the body flushing the alcohol through and limit the problems i.e. have a glass of wine or gin and tonic and have a drink of water next to it. Take plenty of Vitamin C over the festive period to keep those free radicals down and help keep viruses at bay at the same time. Omegas mentioned above can also help limit hangovers of an extra one is taken before bed after overindulging.
Once it is all over, try and cleanse the body. Do the candidiasis diet for a couple of weeks to give the body a well-earned rest and if the alcohol was far too excessive, take some milk thistle tincture over a few weeks to help the liver recover and regenerate. Continue with some good vitamin supplements plus extra 1000mg Vitamin C throughout January and February to ensure the viruses stay away and your immune system is back to full strength. If you feel depleted, get some Echinacea as well so ensure immune system is working properly. Following the festive season, people pick up everything as their body is too depleted and then spend the next couple of months unwell and depressed but a few simple measures can prevent this. You have been warned.