A Wiccan “Sabbat”

halloween candle closeupWicca is derived from ancient European agrarian societies. As a result, their “Sabbats” or holidays are closely tied to the seasons and the calendar. Foremost among the eight Wiccan “Sabbats” is Yule.

Yule, the Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere, is the shortest day of the year. It occurs circa December 21 but may take place between December 20 and 23 according to the particular date on the standard calendar that coincides to when the solstice will occur astronomically. After the longest night of the year, Yule is the turning point after which the days grow longer as winter begins its passage into the coming spring. Starting the next morning at sunrise, the sun climbs just a little higher and stays a little longer in the sky each day. From this day forward, the days become longer.

The festival associated with this “Sabbat” celebrates the birth of the new solar year. The solstice is linked to the rebirth and renewal of the Sun King, the Giver of Life that warmed the frozen Earth. It is, in goddess worship, the time when she gives forth again to the birth of the Divine Sun Child who shall be both child and eventually lover and father of the next child in the cycle.

To celebrate Yule, bonfires were lit in the fields and crops and trees were “wassailed” –noisily and lively celebrated – with toasts of spiced cider. Children were escorted from house to house with gifts of clove spiked apples and oranges that were laid in baskets of evergreen boughs and wheat stalks dusted with flour. The apples and oranges represented the sun. The boughs were symbolic of immortality. Evergreens were sacred because they did not “die” thereby representing the eternal aspect of the Divine. The wheat stalks portrayed the harvest, and the flour was the accomplishment of light and life.

Holly and ivy not only decorated the outside, but also the inside of homes, in hopes Nature sprites would come and join the celebration. Holly and Mistletoe bear berries at this time, symbols of fertility. A sprig of Holly was kept near the door all year long as a constant invitation for good fortune to visit the residents. Mistletoe was also hung as decoration. It represented the seed of the Divine.

The ceremonial Yule Log was the highlight of the Solstice festival. In accordance to tradition, the log must either have been harvested from the householder’s land, or given as a gift. It must never have been bought. Once dragged into the house and placed in the fireplace, it was decorated in seasonal greenery, doused with cider or ale (to make it feel welcome), and dusted with flour before being set ablaze by a piece of last year’s log that was held onto for just this purpose. The log would burn throughout the night, then smolder for 12 days before being ceremonially put out. Why twelve days? It was part of the pagan tradition that for twelve days at the end of December, the sun stood still which is why the days grew shorter and shorter. If the Yule Log could be kept burning bright for those twelve days, then the sun would be persuaded to move again, and make the days grow longer. The magical properties of the Yule Log were believe to ensure good luck in the coming year and if the log were allowed to go out, terrible luck would be the result.

Winter Solstice for pagans, Yule, is a time of feasting and the exchanging of gifts. It is the original holiday that the Christian religions modified into their own Christmas, even substituting a December date for the birth of the child Jesus who was actually born in either March or April according to most theologians who have spent considerable time studying this subject. The celebrated Christmas date we all know from the standard calendar was moved to this December date to help induce Pagans to give up their old ways yet allow them their holidays during the spread of Christianity throughout Europe and the British Isles.

Many customs created around Yule are identified with Christmas today. If you decorate your home with a tree, holly, mistletoe or candles, of if you have a Yule Log in any form, you are following some of these old Wiccan traditions all of which were later plagiarized into contemporary Christmas experiences.

Whatever it is called, or any way it is celebrated, enjoy the Wiccan Yule and have a Happy Holiday and a wonderful New Year!

 


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