Yule begins at the Winter Solstice, which falls around the 21st December. At Samhain, we honour our ancestors, we welcome the return of the dark and begin our journey within. At Yule, the winter Solstice, we land at the depth of the darkness with the longest night, the darkness has reached its peak, the Sun stops its descent and for a few days rises in the same place, a magical liminal time. Everything is suspended, waiting, the cusp and then we begin to notice, little by little, the light returning, getting stronger and longer and we know that we can begin our ascent into the light once more, the wheel is turning!
What Is Yule, the Winter Solstice?
Yule, or Yuletide / season, is another ancient festival, historically observed by the Germanic peoples, who celebrated The Wild Hunt, with the God Odin and the Pagan Anglo Saxon Modranicht, but has been observed and celebrated by all ancient peoples throughout the Northern Hemisphere. It can be seen as The Suns birthday, and as such a cause to celebrate!
With the ending of the longest night and the returning of the light and the sun comes the promise of better things to come! We can begin to formulate our intentions and plans for the Spring, the first shoots of bulbs may begin to emerge. The message of the solstices is about balance – the balance of the light and the dark – the balance of things within ourselves.
The Story of Oak King and The Holly King
The Holly King, the god of the waning year, comes into power at Midsummer, and rules over the dark half of the year, but with the returning light at Yule he surrenders his life to the young Oak King who then takes up his mantle as god of the waxing year and rules over the light half of the year, from midwinter to midsummer. According to ancient belief, they each rule for half of the year, fighting for the love and favour of the Goddess, and both give up their life force for the good of her, for the well-being of the land. In truth they are one and the same entity.
Traditions of the Season
This story is similar and played out in different cultures across time around the world, and the traditions are abundant and varied. As with most Pagan traditions, they were Christianised, with the Suns birthday becoming the Son of Gods birthday, The Christ Child, but many of the ancient customs remain.
Bringing greenery into the home is an ancient tradition that we still do today! Evergreens represent everlasting life, and that despite the land looking dead and barren, life is still there and will return. Each one has a meaning and symbolism of its own.
Holly – this symbolises protection, bringing it into the home would bring good luck. Symbolising the old year, the holly king passing – it’s traditional to burn the holly sprigs you bring into the home on the yule fire. Its red berries represent feminine blood – a symbol of fertility!
Ivy – is a plant associated with long life and resurrection, often continuing to live long after the tree it has grown on has died – a reminder of the endless cycle of life, death and rebirth.
Mistletoe – a plant sacred to the ancient Druids, regarded as a powerful healing plant, full of magic because it lives between the worlds, between the sky and the earth.
Yew – the yew is seen as the greatest symbol of eternal life – living as they do for thousands of years. It is deeply connected to the underworld and the spirit realms, to the ancestors. It is also connected with regeneration, as many trees can grow from an ancient central tree. Because of its association with life after death you will always find yew trees in graveyards. It is highly toxic.
Pine – is a very cleansing and purifying tree, burning the wood and the boughs will help keep disease and illness from the home.
Making a Wreath from the yule evergreens was a way of bringing their energies into the home, the circular wreath another symbol of eternity.
Candles – yule is a festival of light, so bringing candles into the home is a way to drive out the darkness and herald in the return of the sun.
The Yule Tree – Pines and firs were acknowledged as symbols of rebirth and life, and they were brought into homes in the depth of winter to remind the people that new life would return. It was also believed that the wood spirits inhabited the trees (this is where we get the expression “knock on” or “touch wood”, for luck) and bringing them into the home through the winter would shelter them from the harsh winter so they would bestow on the family good luck.
Yule Log – Northern Europeans, and The Vikings celebrated and honoured the winter solstice by burning a huge log at yule, either oak, ash, cherry or pear, and they would keep it alight through the darkest days of winter, saving the very last piece to relight at the following winter solstice celebrations.
As you can see, the traditions of Yule / the winter solstice are many and varied, culturally and globally, but deeply entrenched into our psyches. However our modern lifestyles have meant that we have lost connection with why we do these things. Yule and the winter solstice have been overtaken by the over-indulgence and excesses of the Christmas rush. Pressures and stress override our systems, and many of us feel depressed, anxious. We put so much of this on ourselves! It doesn’t need to be this way – implementing a simple routine of self-care into our lives can make massive differences in how we cope with this time of year. Just to pause and slow down, take just 5 minutes a day to bring a mindful breath practice into your life will make a huge difference. Book a treat for yourself, learn a new skill.
At AuroraStar, I not only give beautiful relaxing treatments, I run meditation groups, classes and 1 to 1’s, as well as teach Reiki at all levels – Reiki is the ultimate self-care tool!! I am running Reiki 1, 2 and 3 courses, as well as workshops all through 2020. Self-care can be something a simple as running yourself a bath with some of your favourite bubble bath or bath salts and a few candles, or taking a few minutes a day to read a proper book, creating a quiet corner for yourself, and learn to practice Hygge!!
The Danish Hygge – Let’s Cozy Down for Winter!
Along with Samhain, Yule is one of my favourite festivals. I welcome the chance to nestle down for winter – cosy fires, twinkling lights, lots of meditation and fire gazing!
The Northern peoples of Denmark have a word / feeling for this – Hygge (pronounced “hoo – ga”) it’s more of a concept rather than being able to be translated into a single word, and encompasses the feeling of cosy contentment and well-being through enjoying the simple things in life. If you have ever enjoyed that feeling of snuggling up in front of a fire on a cold wintry day, candles a glow, or taken pleasure in a warm cup of coffee or hot chocolate indoors on a rainy day then you have experienced hygge – without even knowing it!! If you’d like to learn more about this, then there are many books now on the subject, such as the great ‘The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well’ available on Amazon.
Hygge has become a bit of a fashion buzz word of late, but the concept is ancient – as we turn into the dark and cold days of winter, and the shortest day at the Winter Solstice, it is easy to feel depressed, to get overwhelmed by what seems like the endless dark days, and cold, wet, damp ,weather. For our ancestors winter could literally mean death and starvation! So the importance of huddling together around a cosy fire, socially interacting with one another, sharing of food, resources and stories not only kept them going through those long dark days, but also kept them alive!!
There is another physiological reason why sitting around a fire is so relaxing and good for us – studies are showing that fire may have influenced the development of the human brain! Fire is associated with creativity, dreaming, deep meditation. Not only has fire served our most basic needs for survival for cooking, heating, protection etc, now research into cognitive evolution, a field of study that brings together psychology, anthropology, neuroscience and genetics, suggests that fires most lasting impact was how our responses to it altered our brains, helping endow us with capabilities such as long-term memory and problem solving.
Sitting around a campfire in a social setting would have provided a social relaxation effect that would have benefitted the whole group and would have provided relaxation and activated calming behaviour. Studies have shown that sitting around the fire can lower blood pressure. There is something deeply primal about social gatherings around fire, fire “fires” up responses within our reptilian brain – the amygdala, which is why we all enjoy large social gatherings around bonfires! – think bonfire night, May Day / Beltane, the summer solstice, in fact our ancestors always had bonfires going at any outdoor celebration (called Balefires ).
We know that looking at the blue light on our smartphone screens, laptops and tv’s are not good for us, particularly at night. Blue light supresses the release of melatonin in our brains, which leads to a lower quality of sleep, which in turn can lead to a variety of negative health effects. However, not all of us have access to a real fire or wood burner to create hygge, but we can turn off the technology, light candles, cuddle up with cosy blankets, and invest in a salt lamp! Salt lamps give off a warm red glow, similar to that of a fire, so they trigger those calming relaxing responses in the brain, as well as having a host of other benefits, such as promoting negative ions, soothing allergies and cleaning the air!
Promoting Self-Care & Creating Hygge
Another way of promoting self-care and creating hygge for yourself is to come into AuroraStar Holistic Therapies and have one of my relaxing treatments, such as my Winter Rebalance Package.
You can come and cosy up on the warm couch, soft snuggly blankets tucking you up, in the glow of candles and salt lamp, while enjoying a deeply restorative bespoke combination of treatments, including reflexology, reiki, aromatherapy, sound and crystal healing – together, these will balance your mind, body and spirit!
Or why not treat someone you love with a gift voucher, so they can experience hygge at AuroraStar too?
The winter solstice speaks to us of balance – if we can create balance within our lives we can begin to slow down, to create harmony and to align with our inner guidance and intuition.
Yule blessings to you all, may you have a peaceful and balanced Winter Solstice. Love Sam xxx