Winter Solstice – Yule
December 21, 2014
In Pagan times the Sabbats (from the Greek “sabatu” meaning to rest) were festivals honoring the growth cycle of crops – planting, tending, harvesting and allowing the land to rest. They celebrated the path of the Sun from high in the sky and warm to low in the sky and cool – the seasons. Many Pagans saw time as one eternal whole. The god is born of the eternal goddess, dies, and is reborn. A life well lived was lived in harmony and rhythm with these cycles.
It is thought the Sabbats have been celebrated in many places and in various forms for at least 12,000 years. Some estimate much, much longer. In modern times there are still those who follow the old Pagan ways.
With the advent of Christianity and the brutal persecution of any non-Christians, the Pagans went into hiding which preserved the old ways. Even many Christian holy-days are based on these ancient Pagan rites.
The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year and the official beginning of winter in the northern hemisphere. Christmas – the birth of Jesus Christ – is now celebrated on December 25. It was originally set at this time of the year to coincide with the Pagan solstice or Yule celebrations. The solstice can occur on different days each year – this year it will be on December 21. The actual date of the birth of Jesus Christ is not known. It has been speculated to be in the Spring of the year. You can read an interesting article concerning his birth on Astrology News Service here.
In the Pagan traditions at Yule or Yuletide the God, who died at Samhain, is reborn of the Virgin Goddess. The God is represented by the sun which returns after this darkest night to again bring warmth to the land.
Lights on houses and trees are a modern version of the Pagan custom of lighting candles and fires as acts of magic to lure back the waning sun. Today it is still a custom in Ireland and Norway to leave lights burning all through the house on Yule night to not only lure back the sun, but also to honor the Virgin Goddess who gives him birth.
Interestingly enough, the word “virgin” is one which was mistranslated and misrepresented by the early Church, enough to make even people today forget that the term had absolutely nothing to do with the hymen. The term “virgin” was first applied to priestesses in Mediterranean temples, particularly during Rome’s Pagan period. The term identified a woman who was a complete entity unto herself, who was not bound by secular law, had no husband and was free to take all the lovers she chose. She needed nothing else and no one else for completeness. In other words she was said to be “intact” – a virgin.
The word Yule comes from the Old Norse traditions and means wheel and was often referred to as the turning time. In the Norse tradition Yule was a twelve night long celebration.
Wreaths have been used in a symbolic way for more than 4,000 years. The wreath’s circle has no beginning and no end, illustrating the Wheel of the Year is also like this with everything in time coming back to its point of origin and traveling onward, over and over again. Pinecones in wreaths represent male fertility and fruit such as apples represent the Goddess and female fertility.
Many, many modern customs at this time of year have their origin in old Pagan traditions from the various cultures.
Sabbats by Edain McCoy, 2011