Yule, an ancient tradition, a time when families gather to exchange gifts, and enjoy the time they have together, a time when the days are short and in some places our Folk reside the sun never, or rarely, shows herself. What are the origins of Yule, the traditions, spiritual foundations, continuations, and finally, modern celebrations by those who still hold true to the ways of Our Ancestors? In the following these questions will be answered, so the reader can understand this beautiful expression of the hospitality and giving nature of Our Folk past and present.
Origins of Yule
Although the ancient origins of Yule are lost in the annals of time, we, as a Folk, can determine from the lore several constants. Yule was at the end of the year and heralded in the rebirth of the Sun. Held on the Winter solstice (around the modern Dec. 21st), Yule, which literally means wheel, was the ending of the cycle of the year. There is no specific reference in texts of 12 days, but there is reference to a several day celebration extending beyond, at least 7 days. The first night is dedicated to Mothers, called The Mother night Blot. The last night is called the “Twelfth Night” where oaths are sworn for the coming year. The ancients first believed the year to be split into halves: light half and dark half. Later the year progressed into thirds and finally fourths. The year was also viewed as a ring that passed in cycles. (Grimm) There is some confusion regarding the actual date. Some believe that Yule was in what is now January from either the 7th to the 19th, or the 13th to the 25th. Regardless of the ancient origins, Yule (or a very close variation) has been, and still is, the most celebrated holiday across European/Western Civilization.
To understand the spiritual foundations of this Folk Celebration, one must understand our Northern Folk. Our Folk lived in a harsh environment that saw anywhere from 15 to 20 hours of darkness during the winter months. They had no outside distractions being confined to only their longhouses or close surrounding land. This was the time to develop their minds through meditation and mind challenging games. Through mediation they became synchronized with the Gods and Goddesses within them and their kin. During this time Oðin wanders Midgarð visiting His faithful Folk. Being the God of wisdom through meditation, it makes sense that our Folk would meditate and challenge their minds during these dark and cold months. Baldur the shining God is said to be born on the Solstice to Frigga and Oðin. This birth of light also coincides with the rebirth of the sun. Up until Mother’s night, the sun was waning. From Yule till Summer Finding the sun waxes, after which Baldur diminishes into Hel to only be reborn again on Yule in the great cycle of the year. Here lie many intriguing myths that hold the spiritual truths of our Folk.
As related in myth, Oðin goes wandering during the winter months. Beginning with Winterfinding and possibly ending on Walpurgisnact, Oðin leaves Asgard, to Ullr the hunter, to wander Midgard. During this time Oðin visits the homes of His Folk. Leaving a gift for the gifts left for Him by the household. It is said that there was a great war (referred to in the Edda as the First War between the Aesir and Vanir) and Oðin was dethroned. Ullr is said to take the throne and rule Asgard till Oðin’s return. Ullr is considered the Winter King. Although not definitively known, Ullr could be another face of the All-father. Traditionally children would leave out hay and sugar for Sleipnir (Oðin’s eight-legged steed), in return Oðin would leave a gift for the children.
This is also the time that the Folk would celebrate the return of the sun. They would go into the woods and bring back a large tree to burn all night. This fire was tendered all night—the longest night of the year—to welcome back the sun from her slumber. The remnants for the log were carefully gathered and put aside to kindle the flame of the next Yule. This was a tradition that was continued unbroken. It was believed that if the fire did not burn all night that the sun would be weak or non-existent the light half of the year. The sun Goddess Sunna would not bless the land with her life-giving rays. It could also symbolize the flame of the Folk, and its importance to continue the ageless traditions of the Folk. The perseverance to stay with the flame and never letting it go out all night showed the dedication to the good of the Folk.
The Yule tree, representative of the Great World Ash (Yggdrasil) would be decorated and honored. The tree chosen was left alive outside to honor the endurance of life in the coldest, darkest of nights. As to is the symbol of the wreath made with fresh sprigs from the evergreen, is a enduring symbol of life.
Continuation of Traditions
Since Christians couldn’t get rid of this holy celebration, they decided to absorb it. Instead of Oðin visiting, it was a Saint who rewarded faithful followers of the Christian God. Since celebration of heathen traditions were punishable by torture and death, the Folk kept the Folk way alive in their homes by bringing a fresh cut tree to decorate. Instead of Baldur’s birth or the birth of a God (as in Mithra), Christ was born on Christmas. Although frustrating with all the bastardizations, these absorptions have ensured the continuance of the traditions of our ancient Folk till now. The folkway never died, it was only taken on a 1500-year + detour to be saved for future generations to re-ignite. Much like Ragnrok and the ensuing fimbulwinter, our Folkways are shrouded in a thin veneer of alien doctrines. The Folkway is just now coming out of the cold alienation to the warm home of the True Folkway.
Old ways, New times
Such is the variety of our Northern folk, so to is the variety of celebrations for the return of the Sun. The way one celebrates is completely individual, and individuality is a trait of our Folk, so the following modern celebrations are only a sketch of the myriad of way to honor the High Ones and Sunna’s return. This is a good time to meditate on the years activities. It is also a good time to call on the powers of the Gods and Goddesses as well as the ancestors. This is a time when the veil between the worlds is thin and the ancestors can more readily share their wisdom.
The Yule Tree/Log
Many chose their Yule tree on Mother’s Night (Yule eve) and decorate that day. Although it is still a strong tradition to bring the tree in from the cold to the warmth of the Family Hearth, others still decorate a tree outside their homes. It is hoped that this small step will herald in the reawakening of our Folk and victory over the desert God. The Tree is topped with a shining symbol, either a representation of the Polar star (Tyr’s Nail) or of the Irminsul (the World axis, appropriate for Yggdrassil). Also, the tree is decorated with red and white symbols in either lights, red berries, or tinsel as is the Yule wreath. On New Year’s Eve, the gathered Folk swear oath’s on the Yule log for the coming year. This tree or log is burned on New Year’s eve and is lit with the previous year’s Yule log. Remnants from the Yule tree/log are kept for the next year. This tradition can be mirrored with a piece of the trunk of the Yule tree to represent the Yule log and placing three candles: red, white, and green, atop it, thus re-igniting our Folkway.
The Wanderer’s Visit
To honor the Wanderer, Oðin, the children (and parents) leave out their stockings accompanied with milk and cookies, or whatever gift they wish for Oðin and Sleipnir, to refresh the wanderers on their long journey. Oðin in turn leaves gifts in the stockings. This is celebrated each of the 12 days, representative of the 12 months of the year. Often a candle is also left out each evening to light Oðin’s way to the home.
The Sun Reborn
To honor the sun reborn, a Blot is performed to usher in the victory of the Sun. It was believed that the Winter and Summer battled and at each respective Solstice one or the other won. The Winter prevailed in Summer and vice versa. (Grimm) To ensure victory of the Summer, Heathen Folk now kindle a fire to be tended all night until sunrise. This not only symbolizes the return of the sun, but also, it is a testament to our Folk and their ancient ways. Candles can be in place of a fire. It is what that flame symbolizes, that is important.
This has never died out among our Folk. The Yule Feast, often some form of pork, is celebration of kinship and comradeship. This is the time when kith and kin gather to partake in the warmth of family and friends. There is a great celebration with several Folkways continued. The ritual meal is often pork and late harvested crops such as squash. The Boar, sacred to Frey, sacrifice and eaten to partake in the fertility of Frey and His ability to grant fine crops. Some Folk also swear oaths on a representation of a boar. During the feast a sumble is performed in which the gathered Folk boast, oath, and even sing/read poetry. It is also a time to play mind challenging games such as chess, charades, etc… with the gathered Folk.
Yule is the victory of the light over darkness, the turning of another year, and to enjoy the warmth of kith and kin. The enduring Will of our Folk and the High Ones has kept these ancient traditions alive. This Yule when one is opening gifts from family and friends, raising a glass toasting the greatness of our comrades, eating the Yule feast, pondering the waning year and making plans for the next, singing carols, and decorating the home and tree know that it is these simple acts that keep the Flame of our Folk alive for future generations.
Hail Baldur! Hail the Return of the Sun!
Teutonic Mythology, Grimm.
Mother Night Blot, Odinic Rite: Book of Blotar
Poetic Edda, Larrington Translation