Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Yule or Winter Solstice

We continue our journey through the Cauldrons Calendar feast/festival/holidays.  (Thanks Debbie)

Sunrise on the winter solstice 2010, 
looking over Cavan Uppertoward Bohanboy/Killygordon
 © Copyright Sian Lindsey licensed for reuse.

 The word solstice comes from the Latin Sol (Sun) and Sistere (to stand still). The Winter and Summer Solstices are the points when the Sun seems to stop in its journey North or South and stand still, before reversing and moving back.

It’s not surprising then, that in the darkest depths of Winter that there was always a fear that the light would not return, and that it needed help. Many ancient myths surrounding this time involve the death and rebirth of a God, usually the Sun Child in all his glory.

In Britain, The Holly King (representative of the waning year or death aspect of the God) is defeated by the Oak King (who represents the waxing year, or the rebirth of the God, also known as the Divine Child).

In Egypt, Isis and Nephthys mourned for Osiris and Isis gave birth to Horus on the Winter Solstice.

In Athens, Lenaea was celebrated at or around the Winter Solstice, the death and rebirth of Dionysus.

In Norse tradition, this was the night of the Wild Hunt, when Odin rode forth on Sleipnir and brought fertility to the fields.

As most of our traditions come from the Northern Hemisphere, the closeness and links with Christmas traditions shows some overlap between faiths too.

The name Yule has come to mean Christmas for many, but the name has been around for much longer. I’ve been trying to find the meaning of Yule, after reading one account that said “according to the Venerable Bede, Yule comes from the Norse Iul meaning ‘wheel’.“ Another source stated that other linguistic studies suggest that this is a myth and Yule has always simply been the name for the Winter Solstice Festival.

There are many traditions to be kept on the Solstice. In Scotland, the Corn Maiden (the last handful of corn reaped at the harvest) was kept until Yule when it was fed to the cattle, to make them healthy and thrive for the next year. In Slovakia, it was believed that the rites held for the Winter Solstice would protect the crops and livestock from harmful demons, that they’d ensure a good harvest and bring happiness to all for the coming year. Whatever you do on the Solstice will set the rule for the year, for example, nothing should be lent as then all of your property would be lent out for the year.

The Yule log is a widespread tradition. Either the burning of the Yule tree, or a log kept from last year’s Yule fire (traditionally Oak or Pine) is used to start the fire, with another being kept to protect the home throughout the year. The Germans would scatter the ashes of the Yule log over the fields or keep it to bind in the last sheaf of the next harvest.

In modern Women’s Mystery Traditions, it’s common to keep a vigil for the whole night of the Solstice, accompanying and supporting the labouring Goddess through her birthing of the Sun Child, and then singing the Sun up when it does rise.

Another modern tradition is the Mid-Winter Swim. All over the world it seems, people celebrate the shortest day of the year with a swim in icy cold waters. I’ve been trying to find the origins of this and it seems that the closest I can come is that it was part of the Hogmanay celebrations in Scotland.

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