The Magic of Yule is honored in the Pagan Sabbat, a festival to celebrate the Winter Solstice. On this shortest day of the year we honor the stillness of death, that quiet moment right before the inspiration of rebirth. In Northern Europe where these traditions originated, even the sun seems to have died as they experience days of greater darkness. This festival invites us to travel deep inside ourselves to the heart of our primal nature. In the stillness, we are one with Mother Nature and her seasons. We are one with our ancestors, our bloodlines, and the magic that reaches back to the dusk of time. For out of the primal source of chaos we came to express our true natures in the physical world.
The Magic of Yule - Winter Solstice
Yule is the Pagan name for the Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year. It’s dark by 4 pm and often the skies open, the rain pours and cold winds rage across the land. Frost settles on the landscape killing insects, plants, animals, birds and even old and infirm humans. If we understand the seasons as a wheel then Yule sits across from and opposite Litha. At this festival of death and quiet all the beautiful colors so prominent at the Summer Solstice have dissolved and vanished. The land and the skies are gray, the colors too have died.
The Precision of the Equinoxes which causes the Earth to wobble on its axis and changes its relationship to the night sky. For this reason we now celebrate Yule on the cusp between the constellations of Sagittarius and Capricorn. Originally Yule was the middle of the winter in Northern Europe where this kind of Paganism evolved. Now Yule marks the beginning of winter and the stillness of the Bardo where we await the rebirth of the sun and ourselves.
A Celebration of Nature’s Death and Rebirth
Light is returning
Even though it is the darkest hour
No-one can hold back the dawn
Pam Blevins Hinkle
The Story of Arianrhod a goddess of Yuletide
In parts of Northern Europe Arianrhod is honored at Yule. She’s the Welsh goddess whose crown is the constellation of Corona Borealis, the stars which circle around the apparently still North Star. Arianrhod is the goddess of reincarnation and therefore fertility and childbirth. She represents the original definition of the concept of virgin, a woman complete in herself not requiring the protection of a man.
The stars in the northern skies house her palace of Caer Sidi. They are the rotating spiral, like an island of healing, the labyrinth which you can follow to the center of yourself. Arianrhod trails a line of red thread to lead you. Caer Sidi is another name for Annwn, one of the Pagan names for the Otherworld, a land of the dead. Arianrhod is the goddess of the silver wheel, upon which magic is weaved like a tapestry of new life and manifestation. She’s the goddess that ushers our new selves into the world.
The Law of Correspondence at Yule
The old pagan traditions are unlike modern cultures where age and death are fearful things to be avoided at all costs. For them the seasons were personified in divinity and represented the spiritual life of people. The hermetic law of correspondence states, as above so below. Pagan peoples viewed the seasonal changes and the stages of human life to be reflections of the same cycle. The wheel of the year takes them from birth, through the stages of physical life and growth, and the sacred stage of life that is death and reincarnation. In this tradition each part of life is honored as sacred.
What is the Spiritual and Magical History of the Pagan Calendar?
Many forms of Pagan spirituality and magic celebrate the passing of time as a spiritual experience. The tradition of the Sabbat festivals is focused on Sun magic, as we trace the cycles of the sun throughout the year. The gods and goddesses are the forces of nature deified and are realized in the different seasons. Human life is seen as a part of this process. The seasons of the year are an expression of humanity from birth to death and onward to rebirth.
Samhain (October 31st)
This is a celebration of the goddess as bringer of death, the spark that stimulates the new cycle of rebirth as new life. For many pagans Samhain is the death of the old year and the birth of the new.
Yule (December 21st)
On the shortest day and the longest night of the year, the Sun god is reborn. It’s the pagan version of the Tibetan Buddhist Bardo where the soul between death and life awaits rebirth. At Yule, we reflect on our lives and what we need to shed to evolve on our spiritual and magical path.
Imbolc (February 1st)
This marks the first day in the new year that you didn’t need to light a candle in the daytime, as there was sufficient light. It’s literal translation is Ewe’s milk as the first lambs of the year were born, although often the snow was still on the ground. The promise of Spring was realized after a cold winter, white snowdrop flowers poke their heads out into the world. Imbolc is a celebration of the god and the goddess as young children.
Ostara (March 23rd)
At the Spring Equinox, the light and the darkness are equal at 12 hours each. All of the world is alive with new life, green is seen everywhere. In Avalon the goddess is honored as Arta the Mother Bear who gave birth to the human race. The god as the Green Man is alive and thriving, the spirit of nature as divinity has empowered himself, the light is on the ascendance.
Beltane (May 1st)
The god and the goddess are young adults, this is the time of the union between the masculine and the feminine, the season of sexuality. As the sap rises in the trees and the animals mate, Beltane is the celebration of sex and sex magic.
Litha (June 21st)
The Sun is at its height, the land alive with heat, the light has reached its zenith. This is the expression of life at its most physical and external as we celebrate divinity as fire.
Lughnasad (August 1st)
This is the time of the first corn harvest, the goddess is pregnant, divinity as parents. Love becomes focused on the love of a parent for their child.
Mabon (September 23rd)
The Autumn Equinox, light and darkness are again equally balanced and the darkness is on the ascendancy. This is the main harvest of the grasses, seeds, nuts and vegetables. This is the time we celebrate the abundance of the land and life as we prepare for the winter.
Tell me more about the Spirituality and Magic of Yule
The Magic of Yule and the Right-hand Path
Much of Pagan religion is about Immanence. That is all of its spirituality is about gods and goddesses as they are represented in the physical world and universe beyond. By consciously moving through life aligned with the seasons as a spiritual metaphor the adept aligns herself with the deeper mysteries of life and thus spirituality and magic.
Ultimately, this path is about surrender to the Divine as goddess and god, or just goddess depending on the tradition. This path is still taught by the neo-pagan schools like Avalon. Each year the priestess moves deeper into the mysteries of life, sexuality and death. The path and the mysteries are eternal, it is a journey of polarities, of balanced dichotomies. The feminine and the masculine energies, life and death, celibacy and sexuality, happiness and sadness, and all other physical and emotional experiences are sacred and honored in and of themselves.
Initiation often (although not always) takes place in groups, covens, the druidry and groups of priestesses and priests. There are exceptions, hedge witches who work magically and spiritually alone and the Dianic witches which are usually composed of only women. Initiation is not just for the beginning of the journey but also at every new level. Each new deity one works with demands of the practitioner to “meet” them, develop a connection with them, and learn to understand them.
The Magic of Yule and the Left-hand Path or Independent Path
There’s another path that views pagan divinity as deific masks, a term coined by the magician Michael. W. Ford. Each goddess and god are forces of nature and a representation of the spiritual aspects of collective consciousness. Whether they’re considered real or not isn’t important and is left up to the individual practitioner to determine for themselves. Immanence is only worked with as an initiatory experience and as a magical way to work with the darker elemental spirits and necromancy.
For this path Yule is about contemplation and self-examination (a rebirth in and of itself). It is a stripping away of parts of self that don’t serve you or impede your spiritual and magical growth. Magic is an empowerment of self, seeing yourself as a divine being on a path to ascendancy and beyond. Through ritual, you experience yourself as a creator god or goddess, lord or lady of the universe itself. The traditional Magic of Yule is the opportunity to use the energy of the sabbat when it is most powerful in the collective unconscious.
What Are Some of the Yule Traditions?
The Yule Log:
One of the traditions related to Yuletide is the burning of the Yule tree, or the Oak to use its common name. The giant Yule trees usually provided enough wood to keep a fire burning throughout yuletide, Winter Solstice through to the early days of January. These fires provided heat and light to the community on the darkest days of the year in Northern Europe. Another tradition around the yule log is to use the Oak log as a natural altar. By placing candles and incense on their natural altars, religious celebrations and magical working could be realized. We prefer these magical traditions to their modern replacement, a chocolate cake shaped like a log.
These practices stem from the archetypal story of a battle between the Oak and the Holy. Each of these trees are seen as kings of the different poles of the year. The Oak is the king of the light and wrests control of physical and spiritual reality from the Holy tree (King of darkness). His victory brings the light back into its ascendancy again at Yule. The magical symbolism is that the Oak tree grows to a great height in the physical world while its roots reach far down into the soil below. It represents a clear, awakened and grounded mind, perfect conditions to bring forth new life, both literally and in the senses of spiritual growth.
Stories of the Tribes and Ancestors
These stories are told to honor the collective, the continuation of local pagan religion and worship. Even more important, however, these stories map a way of knowing self. They offer perspective on where you come from, who you are, and who you’re yet to become. This remembrance is a key aspect of the rebirth cycle of Yule. Knowing where you come from is vital when designing how you choose to evolve in the next chapter of your life.
Sacred Sites and the Henges:
A few miles from Stongehenge in South West England, we find the remains of another henge originally constructed from wood. It is built upon the same ley lines as the Tor in Glastonbury and Stonehenge itself. This henge relates to the sun at the Winter Solstice, the diametric opposite of the sun at Stonehenge at Litha. These two henges can be seen together as symbolizing the journey from life (Summer Solstice) to death (Winter Solstice). Connecting them shows us the great rebirth of the never-ending divine cycle.
Glastonbury Tor and the Sun at Yule
The Tor is the sacred hill of the goddess in Avalon. This was an Island near Glastonbury, England before medieval Christain monks drained the lake around Avalon. It’s well documented that the sun appears to rise from the Earth and roll up the hill on the morning of the Winter Solstice. This breath taking sunrise symbolizes the return of the light and rebirth.
Both the traditions and the locations relating to Yuletide honor the journey of life, death and rebirth. These are the central themes of celebration related to Yule. The traditions around the Winter Solstice are dark, powerful and at times exhilarating. This time of the year, more than any other, is the time of honoring your ancestors and the everlasting journey of life and death.
Yule is the name of the festival of the Winter Solstice in the various pagan traditions of Northern Europe. Paganism is an umbrella term for those religions and magical practices which honor and work with the land. They hold the animals, the trees and plants of the natural world as representations of Divinity.
Yule is the pagan name for the Winter Solstice, December 21st in Northern Europe, which is the shortest day of the year. It is considered to be a festival of life, death and rebirth.
Yule is much older than Christmas, a pagan festival reaching back thousands of years in Northern Europe. It represented the birth of the Sun god. Around AD 273 the Church and its officials declared Christmas to be at this time. Thus absorbing and transform the pagan traditions and myths of the Sun god into Christainity.
Yuletide is the period of time between December 21st and the early days of January in the ancient pagan religions. The church absorbed this tradition by declaring the birth of Christ to have been at this time. Therefore, Yuletide as a word has remained in our language.
Ideas for Your Yule Magic
Yule essentially is about honoring the rebirth of self. It’s about the nature of contemplation and self- examination in order to accelerate your magical and spiritual growth. At times rebirth can be seen as being reborn into the next stage of your life and at others as reincarnation itself. Yule is like the time of the Bardo where the individual awaits rebirth. It’s the quiet place between death and rebirth where we await the start of the next chapter or lifetime. This is a time of the year that’s about darkness and death. Yule celebrations revel in the darkness and welcome the ecstasy of revealing your inner self.
This is the time of quiet introspection as we await the birth of the new year, our next chapter, and our more empowered selves. Taking time to lean into building your practice allows you to capitalize on the sacred energy of the season. The dark phases of the sun and the moon capture the destructive power that creates space so the new may grow.
Just banishing negativity is problematic in that it robs you of the chance to examine your own darkness and transmute the power within it. The banishing of negativity is also unbalanced, we grow and evolve from both the negative and the positive. Hence, a ritual that evokes the negative parts of self could be a path of gratitude. It is a chance to celebrate of all parts of you on your journey to ascension.
The late magician Austin Osman Spare in some of his magic used the phrase Intoxicate me with self-love. The magic of Yule gives you a way of forgiving yourself for those parts that you judge to be unworthy. Gratitude and forgiveness permits you to call forth the freedom of your primal self.
Ritual to Honor the Magic of Yule
The following ritual creates a powerful sacred circle of fire and utilizes the four elemental directions. In order to appreciate every level of this pagan magic you may wish to understand the elemental powers (Air, Fire, Water, and Earth).
I have simplified the ritual as much as possible. Further discussion about the elements is available in our books and our classes in the Spiritual Crossfit Gym. The ritual itself, however, is accessible within the framework of pagan celebration and magic.
Find a space to work in where you won’t be disturbed.
Stand in the center of the space and face East.
Control your breathing for a few minutes, breathe in for five, breathe out for five until you feel calm and centered.
Turn your attention into your body. Make the seed sound Ahhhhh and imagine/feel that you are pulling magic up from inside you that you can use.
Look upwards and imagine you can look deep into the Universe. Raise your arm and point the two largest fingers on your right hand to the heavens. Imagine magic as white light streaming downwards from the skies, down your arm, and mingling with the magic you’ve already raised from your body.
Point your two fingers down to the ground in the East at the boundary of your sacred space. Make the Ahhhhh sound and imagine blue flames pouring out of your fingers and alighting as flames on the boundary.
Turn from East, to South, to West, to North, and back to the East. Imagine a circle of fire and protection forming around you on the boundaries of your sacred space. Say aloud:
The circle of protection is enforced, none may enter without invitation.
Focus your inner sight far out into the spirit worlds beyond the East of your sacred circle. Call out in a powerful voice:
I call to the Guardians of the Watchtowers of the East, be here and enliven my sacred circle. Guardians of the Watchtowers of Air, on the winds come.
In your mind's eye see, feel, imagine, the sylphs, the spirits of the air, eagles, air dragons, condors, and all the creatures of the skies arriving on the inner periphery of the circle of blue flames.
Turn and face the South
focus your inner sight far out into the spirit worlds beyond the South of your sacred circle. Call out in a powerful voice:
I call to the guardians of the watchtowers of the South, be here and empower my sacred circle, guardians of the watchtowers of fire, on the flames come.
In your mind’s eye see, feel, imagine, the salamanders, the fire spirits, the angels of flames, the fire dragons, lions, and creatures of flame arriving.
Turn and face the West
Focus your inner sight far out into the spirit worlds beyond the West of your sacred circle. Call out in a powerful voice:
I call to the guardians of the watchtowers of the West, be here and purify our sacred circle, guardians of the watchtowers of water, on the rivers come.
In your mind’s eye see, feel, imagine, the undines, the water spirits, the water snakes, the whales, dolphins, and fish of the ocean and river arriving.
Turn and face the North
Focus your inner sight far out into the spirit worlds beyond the North of your sacred circle. Call out in a powerful voice:
I call to the guardians and watchtowers of the North, be here and ground my sacred circle, guardians of the watchtowers of Earth on the land come. In your mind’s eye see, feel, imagine the elves, gnomes and fairy folk, the Earth dragons, angels of the land, foxes, wild dogs, bears, and big cats arriving.
Look up into the heavens, focus your inner sight far out into the Universe. Call out in a powerful voice and as you invoke imagine the words you’re saying:
I invoke you, Arianrhod,
Goddess whose crown is the constellation of Corona Borealis
Goddess of reincarnation, fertility and new life
Come from Caer Sidi, your labyrinth
In the Otherworld from where I follow your red thread
Into a new life of power and joy
Arianrhod of the Silver Wheel upon which my magic
Is weaved like a tapestry of new life and manifestation.
Intoxicate me with self - love and the power of my primal magic
As I usher my new reborn Divine self.
Make the Ahhhhh seed sound ushering her magic and energy into your body, filling you with dark, starlight and power.
Sit in meditation for as long as you wish. Contemplate those aspects of your life, physical, emotional, financial, familial, sexual and spiritual you choose to transmute into your power.
Stand and face the North.
Guardians of the Watchtowers of the Earth, thank you for your presence and grounding power, return to whence you came, I honor you.
Imagine all the creatures of the Earth turn and leave, vanishing on the horizon.
Turn to the West
Guardians of the Watchtowers of Water, thank you for your presence and power of emotion, return to whence you came, I honor you.
Imagine all of the creatures of water turn and swim away, vanishing on the horizon.
Turn to the South
Guardians of the Watchtowers of Fire, thank you for your presence and power of spirit, return to whence you came, I honor you.
Imagine all of the creatures of Fire turn and blaze away, vanishing on the horizon.
Turn to the East
Guardians of the Watchtowers of Air, thank you for your presence and power of mind, return to whence you came, I honor you.
Imagine all of the creatures of Air turn and blow away, vanishing on the horizon.
Place your attention inside your body. Focus your attention on Arianrhod’s magic and say aloud:
Great goddess of Yule, thank you for your transmuting presence, return from whence you came, I honor you.
Make the sound Ummmmmmm as you imagine starlight pouring from the crown of your head back into the Universe.
Face the East and point the two largest fingers on your right hand at the blue sacred flames. Say aloud:
Great sacred fire of power and protection, thank you for your presence, return from whence you came, I honor you.
Chant the seed sound Oooooh as you turn from East, to North, to West, to South, back to East while visualizing the flames vanishing.
Focus your attention on the bottom of your feet and sense roots reaching down from your soles. They travel deep down into the Earth carrying away the magical energy for transmutation. Now focus on your heart and send a beam of light down from your heart deep into the Earth carrying magical energy for transmutation.
Stand still with your eyes closed and imagine all the transmuted magical energy pouring up from the Earth and back into your body, transforming everything it touches.
It is done, it is done, thrice it is done!
Leave the sacred space, eat and drink something.