Now, with Yule upon us, here's what I wrote for that holiday.
The Wheel turns, the year flows, and now, in the darkness of the year, we come to Yule. Yule is one of those names with many layers of meaning. Some sources claim the word means "feast" or "winter". I've even seen one claim that traces it back to Jolin, a nickname for Odin. Yule is, ultimately, a holiday for the Lord, who is reborn on this day. It makes sense that it would be named after a male god, and the head of the Norse pantheon. Bede is cited as an authority tracing the word back to the Norse word "iul", meaning "wheel". It turns out that he's probably right. Michael Medved, in his exposition on the "Secret History of Christmas" traces the word back to the Anglo-Saxon "Hweal". As it drifted northward, linguistic drift turned the "Hwee" into a "Yu" sound. His sources claim the wheel referred to is not only the round shape of the sun, but also the cyclic approach and withdrawal of the sun and his light.
The connection between this holiday and the wheel is very appropriate. Yule is not only the end of the wheel of the solar year, it's actually the day on which all the strands of the solar cycle come together. This day is the beginning and the end of the story of the Lord, and it is graced by the presence of the Lady in a very special way. All the year is reflected in the mirror of the Yule day.
Yule is the day the light is born. The Lord is born of the Lady, and as the Sun Child, returns to life from the realm of the dead. He will grow through youth and into manhood during the waxing year. During the spring months, He will be nurtured by, court, and finally marry the Lady in the seasons of planting. At Midsummer, the Lord is at the peak of his strength never again will He be this strong.
During the waning year, He declines in power until He is sacrificed and takes his place in the underworld in his darkest and yet most heartening aspect, the Lord of Death and Resurrection. He is the Lord of the Shadows, who passes through the gateway between the Realms of Light and Darkness. He is truly a creature of the shadows, since both light and dark are required to create shadow.
Another male cycle tied in to the Wheel of the Year, and to Yule, is the cycle of the Oak King and the Holly King. The Oak King rules over the waxing year, when the seeds that have been planted grow and thrive. At Midsummer, the Holly King takes the life of the Oak King and inaugurates the waning year, during which life recedes from the world and the harvest is gathered in. At Yule, the Oak King takes the life of the Holly King, and the cycle of growth begins anew.
Now "takes the life" is an interesting phrase. Normally, we use it to mean "kill". After all, when we take the life of any living thing, as we must do in order to live, we can't give it back. That which we kill remains dead. But the Oak King and the Holly King take each other's life back and forth throughout the succession of years. It's as if they have but one life between the two of them, and must take turns living it. At the solstices, the two Kings do ritual battle, and the winner takes the life and the power of the other, and the threshold between the halves of the year is inevitably crossed.
The year is evenly divided between the phase of growth and increase, and the phase of decrease and death. Each king rules over his half of the cycle, and each hands the other a world that is primed and ready, on the verge of toppling into the opposite phase. Each half of the cycle feeds the other. We've seen how the new growth of the waxing year feed the harvest. It also feeds the eaters of the dead, the predators, the carrion eaters, the worms and insects that break down corpses into their components, in short, Nature's clean-up crew.
And the waning half of the year feeds the waxing half. Just as the waning half marks the harvest of what has grown during the spring and summer, so the waxing half of the year is a harvest of its own. It harvests, and feeds upon, the elements to which all has been reduced in the time just past. The Wheel turns, the light half rolls into the darkness, and the dark half rolls into the light. Were we to try to eliminate either side of the Wheel, the other would fly out of control and crash, never to move again. And what we see in the world, we see in individuals around us, and in ourselves.
It is a truth that living things enter the world at birth, they grow in strength to their full power, and then they fade and weaken until finally, death takes them. Life can either be growing or fading – there is no middle path. Stasis is not an option. The Wheel is always turning, and the Lady's dance is never still. One may walk the path of the Oak King, the path of growth and increasing power, or one may walk the path of the Holly King, retreating into the quiet darkness of the harvest of one's life. In all lives, and in all aspects of life, we walk both paths again and again. We build some things up, and we tear some things down. We sow, we reap, we sow again.
And the Lady presides over all.
The Lady brings change to all she touches, but is herself unchanged by circumstance. She is eternally Herself. While the Lord dies and is reborn, grows to full strength and withers into old age, the Lady presents different faces to us as the time is right. She is Maiden in the spring, Mother in the summer, and Crone in the darkening days of autumn. And behind all Her masks, She is Goddess.
Yule is the time when all the threads of the Lords tale come together, and it is a time when all three aspects of the Lady are in play. In the last hours of the waning year, She is the Crone at her darkest, harvesting the last of the year that has gone before, and discarding the rest. In the first hours of the waxing year, She is the Maiden of newborn light, not yet tempered by entry into the material realm. This is the Maiden at her purest.
Between the last hours of the Crone and the first hours of the Maiden, between the end of the year gone by and the year yet unborn, a miracle occurs. Between the years, outside of space and time, the Lady becomes the Mother once again, long enough to give birth to the Lord. On the day of Yule, three queens come to preside over the birth of the Lord, each with Her unique gift.
Yule is the gate between years. It honors the principle of separation of time. Each year, and indeed, each moment, is its own unique entity. There has been no time quite like this one any time in the past, and there will never be another moment quite like this one ever again. The time to deal with the injustices and the virtues of the past is in the past. The only things we can deal with, for good or ill, are those things in the present. Let us plant and tend the harvests of this year, and leave the harvests that lie beyond the gates of Yule to those who must tend them.
Although separate, each from the other, each year is still part of a continuous stream of time. That which we harvest now is the fruit of seeds sown in years gone by, and that which we sow now will be our harvest in times to come. This is the law of cause and effect, also known as Karma. We cannot unplant the seeds we have planted, nor harvest the harvests of tomorrow, yet we have the responsibility to keep in mind those moments beyond the present, for we are responsible for our actions.
The Lady has the three holidays of sowing and the three harvests. Yule and Midsummer are the times of the Lord. The Lady presides over these days, and guards the gate through which the Lord must pass, but it is the Lord Himself who passes through the gates, and we pass through with Him.
At Yule, the rebirth of the Sun Child is the most dramatic turning point in the Lord's year. Here, the passage from the realm of death into the realm of life is unmistakable. Here, in the darkest time of the year, with death and cold all around, we see the spark of life and light. The decline into darkness is reversed, and all will be well. At Midsummer, we honor the Lord at the peak of His strength, but here we also recognize the spark of death in the middle of life. This is the time when the Lord is as strong as He'll ever be. From this point forward, he must decline and his powers fade. On this day, the Lord passes through another gate, and on this day He begins to die.
On the day of Yule, the Year of the Lord comes full circle. The Oak King and the Holly King battle for supremacy, and the Lady shows all three of Her faces. It may truly be said, everything comes together at Yule.
Light a log the Horned God rules!
There are two meanings that may be found in the phrase, "light a log the Horned God rules". We may read it as instruction to light a fire in a log which is ruled by the Lord. Traditionally, oak or ash will be burned at Yule. Ash is suggestive of Odin, who hung from the World Ash for nine days to achieve wisdom. Oak is a tree of the Lord, and can be seen as welcoming in the waxing year and the namesake King of that time.
The burning Yule log is the wintertime reflection of the Midsummer bonfire, set to bring fertility and repel evil and misfortune. Here, also, burning the Yule log releases the light which has been stored in that log since the summer, a very fitting symbol for the day when the Light is reborn from the realm where He has dwelled since the time of harvest.
The burning of the Yule log also binds the years together. Traditionally, the Yule log is not allowed to burn completely, but is extinguished, and the remaining brand saved and used to start the following year's fire. In this manner, we save the best from the year before and pass it on into the year to come. The years, though separate, are linked and brought together in a continuous flow of time.
"Light a log! The Horned God rules!"
This is a celebration! We are leaving the dark time of the year, and entering the light time. We have survived to the halfway point, and we see the light at the end of the tunnel. The world is not falling into unending darkness and utter cold. Light a log!
The Lord, the Sun Child is born on this day. With this rebirth comes the promise that all that have died, all that will yet die, will be reborn. Death is not the end of everything, but a stage of life from which we will emerge into new life, and in His rebirth, the Lord has shown the way. Light a log!
The Yule log carries the strength of the Midsummer sun, and of fire and light stored over years gone by. In honor of this strength, and of the strength the Lord will attain by Midsummer, and for Midsummers yet to come, light a log!
Here, we stand at a turning point in time. At any turning point, we face a choice. Three-faced Hecate has often been given rulership over the crossroads, with one face looking at each path that lies ahead in the crossroad. It is significant that all three faces of the Lady are presented at Yule; here, at this turning point in the year, we make choices for the year to come. The tradition of the New Year's resolution did not come about because people lacked for anything better to do!
At Yule, we make our choices, and we consciously renew our vows and rededicate ourselves to our life's path. In honor of this conscious choice, and in order that we may see our path clearly, light a log!
At Yule, families come together. The holiday brings together families of blood, and families by choice. Light is not just outside us. There is an inner glow which makes life meaningful. We share with friends and family, and come together in the light of love. That we may share the light, light a log!
The Wheel turns a Yule. Happy birthday to the Lord, to the Sun, to the Light, and to the year!