Yule (or EWE-elle) is the ancient name for the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year and the longest night. At this holy time, we honor the power of darkness, the divine mother, and the womb of creation. We celebrate the rebirth of the golden solstice Sun, who will bring warmth, light, and life back to Earth again. This is the time when the Wheel of the Year turns beyond death and towards new light and new life.
At Samhain, we welcome the darkness, for we know that without the dark nothing could live or grow. Babies develop in the darkness of their mother’s wombs and seeds must be put into the dark earth in order to germinate. Winter and its longer nights, offer us the magical gifts of quiet, calmness, and introspection. And when we allow ourselves to fall in sync with the rhythms of our mother Gaia, we can slow down and reflect on the past with grace and gratitude. In the darkness, we have the gift of time to dream and ponder, what to finish or leave behind, and what to pick up or begin anew.
And as the Wheel turns, sleep is followed by an awakening for the Solstice is a turning point. The balance has tipped as far toward the dark as it can go; the sun symbolically dies and is reborn from the womb of the Goddess. We are ready for the light to come back and during this season people of many faiths and spiritual paths strive to strengthen the light.
At the Winter Solstice, the Goddess appears to us as the Mother in a very special way. She is the Dark Mother, Mother Night, Mother Winter. She is the Crone Goddess of Samhain who becomes the Mother giving birth to the new year. On Solstice night, some who follow our tradition stay up all night to keep the Mother Goddess company as she labors to give birth to the sun, while others ask for special dreams as they sleep in her womb.
In the Druid tradition, we call this midwinter celebration "Alban Arthan", which is Welsh for "Light of Winter", and we honor the Dagda and Brighid. Brighid, the daughter of the Dagda, is the bearer of the flame of inspiration, which penetrates the darkness of spirit and mind, just as the light of the reborn Sun penetrates the darkest time of the year. And the Dagda’s cauldron assures us that nature will bear fruit once again and care for all beings on Earth.
The Winter Solstice (along with the Summer Solstice) is probably the oldest seasonal festival of humankind. Our ancestors did not have our current scientific understanding of the solar system and so never took the return of the Sun for granted. They suffered more under the hardships of winter than we can begin to imagine and as an agricultural society, the return of the Sun was not just a matter of casual celebration, but rather a matter of life and death. Given that our physical survival is now far more assured, we have the opportunity to explore the mystical side of the solstice and the return of the light. How can we cycle through the darkness and back into the light? During this holy season, we can celebrate the extraordinary capacity we have to transform ourselves and the incredible potential we have to be the brightest light we can be in our lives and on this earth.
Yule is a magical time of renewal, when we have the opportunity to let go of the old, leave the past behind us, and embrace all the new possibilities of the next turn of the Wheel. This magical time reminds us of our true Divine spiritual essence. It is a time to welcome the light returning within each of us and allow it to refill us with peace, love, and hope as we begin another cycle. In a few months the time for planting new seeds and intentions will arrive, so at this time of Yule we take the opportunity to fill the deep, fertile essence of our beings with light so that whatever grows from us may be a Divine blessing for ourselves and all we touch throughout year.
Symbols of Yule:
For thousands of years, a central feature of Solstice celebrations has been the Yule Log, symbolizing the power of the sun. According to tradition it must come from one's own land or be a gift, for it cannot be purchased, and it is ignited with the remaining piece of last year's Yule log. This way, the light is passed on from one year to another. The Yule log is to burn slowly for 12 days in the fireplace, before it is extinguished. The ashes are then stowed away and in springtime mixed with seeds and brought out on the fields. Thus, the power of the Sun is distributed over the land.
Traditionally, we decorate our homes with evergreen branches. The green reminding us of the promise that nature will be green again in springtime and life will return to our lands. In the Irish tradition, a house decorated with greeneries is also expected to offer a place of rest to nature spirits fleeing from cold and darkness.
Additional decoration ideas:
a small Yule log with 3 candles
holly and mistletoe hung in doorways
gold pillar candles
baskets of clove studded fruit
a simmering pot of wassail,
plants such as poinsettias and Christmas cactus
Herbs we use at this time include:
Bayberry, blessed thistle, evergreen, frankincense, holly, laurel, mistletoe, oak, pine,
sage, yellow cedar.
Some of the foods we enjoy are:
Cookies and caraway cakes soaked in cider, fruits, nuts, pork dishes, turkey, eggnog, ginger tea, spiced cider, wassail, or lamb's wool (ale, sugar, nutmeg, roasted apples).
We burn incense of:
Pine, cedar, bayberry, cinnamon.
And decorate with the colors:
Red, green, gold, white, silver, yellow, orange.
Stones of Yule:
Rubies, bloodstones, garnets, emeralds, diamonds.
Activities of Yule:
Burning the Yule log
Decorating the Yule tree
Kissing under the mistletoe
Honoring Kriss Kringle the Germanic Pagan God of Yule
Spellworking, we focus on:
Peace, harmony, love, and increased happiness.
Faces of the Divine:
Goddesses: Brighid, Isis, Demeter, Gaea, Diana, The Great Mother
Gods: Apollo, Ra, Odin, Lugh, The Oak King, The Horned One, The Green Man, The Dagda, and Jesus
Blessing for the Longest Night
by Jan Richardson, from The Cure for Sorrow
All throughout these months
as the shadows have lengthened,
this blessing has been gathering itself,
It has practiced
walking in the dark,
traveling with its eyes closed,
feeling its way
by the pull of the moon
even as it wanes.
So believe me
when I tell you this blessing will reach you
even if you have not light enough to read it;
it will find you even though you cannot see it coming.
You will know the moment of its arriving
by your release of the breath you have held so long;
a loosening of the clenching in your hands,
of the clutch around your heart;
a thinning of the darkness that had drawn itself around you.
This blessing does not mean to take the night away
but it knows its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path,
knows what it means
to travel in the company of a friend.
So when this blessing comes, take its hand.
Set out on the road you cannot see.
This is the night when you can trust
that any direction you go,
you will be walking toward the dawn.