Sunday, November 17, 2013

Cuidle - Yule - Winter Solstice

Yule (December 21/22) is also know as the Winter Solstice.  
In our tradition, it is often referred to as "Cuidle" 
which means "wheel" in Gaelic.
This refers to the Wheel of the Year.

This is the longest night of the year. 
In our mythology, 
this is the night that the Mother Goddess is in long labor, 
awaiting the birth of the new Sun. 

It is an important point in the annual cycle, 
and is marked by a fire ceremony. 
Due to the harshness of the winter weather,
 this ritual was generally celebrated inside the house,
 although sometimes there is a bonfire lit outdoors.

In the times of our ancestors, 
the high point of the Cuidle celebration was the bringing in of the Yule log 
and its ceremonial burning. 
Traditionally, the Yule log was never paid for, 
but always came from the householder's own tree 
or was a gift from a neighbor.
 It was dragged to the house by horses or oxen 
after being decorated with evergreens. 
Sometimes ale or cider was poured over it 
and it was sprinkled with grain before being lit.

In our tradition, 
we burn a piece of last year's Maypole.

The Yule log could only be lit with a piece from the previous year's log. 
It was kept smoldering for as long as twelve days, 
at which time it was ceremonially quenched
 and the remnants saved to protect the house
 during the year from lightning or fire. 

If steeped in water which was then drunk by cows,
 it would help them in calving, and the ashes, 
when scattered on the fields prevented mildew on the crops.
 Perhaps the minerals released by burning and contained in these ashes 
really DID help make the cows stronger 
and the crops less likely to blight. 
It is well known that soaking hardwood ashes in water makes lye, 
and a weak lye solution is likely to kill many nematodes, viruses, and bacteria. 
The part of the Yule log which had not been charred 
was prized by ploughmen, 
who used it for the wedge on their plough, 
not only providing a very hard piece of wood for the wedge, 
but bringing its fertilizing influences close to the receptive earth.

The Yule log was expected 
to perpetuate the well-being of the homestead 
and the fertility of its lands and beasts. 
At the same time it helped repulse the powers of evil and death. 

In the Scottish Highlands, a semblance of an old woman, 
the Cailleach Nollaich, was carved into the log. 
In Cornwall, a figure of a man was chalked into the log. 
This was possibly a remnant of human sacrifice,
 but more likely simple sympathetic magic.

Today, many important pagan symbols have been adopted by the Christian religion and used in their celebration of the Christ-child's birth.  We can, however, reclaim these symbols with a deeper understanding of their true meaning and happily share them with our Christian neighbors and families!
The solar star is a good example of how a symbol can lose its meaning over time.  The "star" on the Tree of Life, where you find the "Christ Consciousness" is Tipareth, and is represented by the sun, itself a star. What better symbol to be placed atop a "tree" at this time of year, when ancient humans needed to give to each other in order to survive!

We decorate the interior of our homes with evergreens to reaffirm the ever present vitality of the life-essence. Holly, ivy, and mistletoe were traditionally used, and are still popular for Yule decorating.

Mistletoe was an herb used for healing and magical rites. The milky, white berries in olden times were likened to droplets of sperm – the seed of the Sun – and those seeking fertility in one aspect of their lives or another kissed under the mistletoe.

 Holly and ivy are associated with the robin (holly) and summer wren (ivy), and make up the crowns of the Winter and Summer Kings.

the plant being referred to in most old songs and rhymes
 is not "holly" as we know it. 

The word "holly" referred to the "holy oak" 
and was used in the crown of the Old Winter God, Lord of Death.

The Yule Tree is, among other things, a symbol of hope for the returning spring.  Its evergreen branches remind us of the life sleeping beneath the snow. The lights on its branches remind us of the Sun Child, whose strength will increase from this night of his birth until Samradh.  The shape of the traditional tree is conical or triangular, reminding us of Father, Mother, and Son.

For Oakmist students, it also, of course, references the Hermetic Tree of Life. I like to decorate my tree with symbols of the newborn Sun, gold disks, and holly berries. Apples, symbols of the Goddess, and pentagrams/stars also make nice Cuidle decorations for the pagan tree.  The angel sometimes seen on top of the tree might represent the Mother Goddess.

Carolers are the Christian answer to wassailing. The widespread custom of wassailing took place between Yule and Twelfth Night. The original intention behind the custom was to frighten away evil spirits and to encourage the trees to bear a good crop. Cider and toast or cake was taken to the orchard at night, and the cider was poured around the roots of the oldest or best tree, a gift to the dryad (spirit of the trees). The toast or cake soaked in cider was placed in a fork of the tree to keep the dryads warm-hearted and happy, and the tree was toasted with cider.

Finally, shotguns were fired into the branches, or noises made with trays, pans, cow-horns, or voice, to frighten away the evil spirits and to wake up the trees! These are strangely similar to the firecrackers and noisemakers of our present New Years' celebration!


An ornate Welsh Wassailing Bowl

In later years, the wassailing bowl was filled with lamb's wool, a drink made from hot ale, spices, sugar, eggs, thick cream, and roasted apples.

 It was ceremonially circulated around the company and healths were drunk.  In even more recent years, wassailers carried the bowl around the houses in the neighborhood singing wassail songs and offering a drink from the bowl in return for a gift of food or drink. Lamb’s Wool could have gotten its name from the whiteness of the frothy roasted apples as they float on the top. But more likely, as Richard Cook in 1835 believes, it stems from being served at the ancient Celtic pagan festival of La mas ubal, that is, ‘The Day of the Apple Fruit’; and being pronounced lamasool, it was corrupted to Lambs Wool.

Lamb's Wool



6    Apples, baking, cored 

2  tb  Sugar, brown, up to 1/2 cup 
2  qt  Cider, sweet, or hard cider     -or a mixture of cider & ale
1/8  ts  Nutmeg
1/4  ts  Cinnamon
1/4  ts  Ginger, ground


Roast the apples in a baking pan at 450F for about an hour, or until they are very soft and begin to burst. (An alternative - and quicker- procedure is to peel and boil the apples until they are very soft and flaky.) You may leave the apples whole, or break them up. In a large saucepan, dissolve the sugar a few tablespoons at a time in the cider or ale, tasting for sweetness. Add the spices. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Pour the liquid over the apples in a large punch bowl, or serve in large heat resistant mugs.

 MAKES: 8 1 cup servings 

Note: Nuts make a nice accompaniment to Lamb's Wool (they were originally roasted in with the apples.)

Here is a link to another recipe:

Now, adults and children gather to sing carols from house to house, enjoying the occasional invitation in for a cup of hot coffee, cider, or chocolate. Many of the carols sung by unsuspecting Christians herald the birth of the sun (Deck the Halls, Hear We Go A' Wassailing) so the ritual remains a blessing from the caroler to the pagan, and should accepted graciously and rewarded generously, if possible.

Many rituals or divine plays revolving around the bull/horse/sheep head were known at Yule. In villages round the South Yorkshire-Derbyshire border there was the tradition of the Old Tup. Old Tup was a sheep's head made of wood with real horns. 

Here is a wonderful link about Old Tup,
including the lyrics to the traditional song.

Old Tup appeared with a group of characters who performed a traditional hero-combat play where the Butcher stuck his knife into Old Tup, who was then brought back to life by The Doctor. Other characters were Beelzebub, the Old Man, and the Old Woman, who was played by a man with blackened face and who sometimes carried a broom.

 A similar ritual using a horse called Mari Llwyd was performed in South Wales. The Mari visited houses with a party made up of Leader, Sergeant, Punch, and Judy. The party gained entry by singing traditional verses answered from within, the side which ran out of rhyming insults first having to give way. Judy swept outside the house, Punch stirred the fire with his poker and chased and kissed the girls. They would depart leaving a blessing.

The Christmas Bull, known as The Broad, appeared in a few villages in the south Cotswolds and in Wiltshire. The head was a stuffed skin or cardboard mask with real horns and glass eyes. It was held up on a pole while the performer was covered with a sheet or sacking. Some of the Broads went alone, house to house, carrying a wooden wassail bowl. Some traveled with Mummers. The 1914 War ended the appearances of the Broads and they seem never to have been revived. These rituals, along with other horse-head rituals through the year, and the plays that are performed along with them, have obvious connections with the theme of the sacrificial king who dies and is resurrected. The Bull would seem to have strong connections with Taranis, the Bull-Horned God of Winter. 

And in fact, the horse is said by present day villagers to represent "a cow." .... curious...

The reindeer represents the Stag-Horned God of Spring, the new Sun, Teutates, and his presence in the forest and in our lives.

Throughout England and Wales, and making a revival in the United States, the Morris dancers and Mummers are still at large. The "play" which acts out the death and resurrection of the "hero" or our Sun God, is performed in a variety of fashions, but its deeply running undercurrents are understood in the heart of the pagan. For more information on Mummers and Morris Dancers, see Earth Rites by Janet & Colin Bard, or check the web.

The Nativity Scene of the Christ child's birth is reminiscent of the birth of the Sun Child. Contrasts between Christ's birth and death and previous sacrificial kings would take an entire book to discuss and it presents a fascinating subject for study.

Snowflakes and icicles decorating our house at Yule remind us of the cold winter frost. 

The Snow Queen is none other than the Leprous White Lady 
and her consort, 
Old Jack Frost,
 is the Old God himself!

 Even Santa Claus is the God in disguise. In different countries, he's called by different names. For an interesting surprise, research the roots of Santa in various countries. A good book on the topic is When Santa Was a Shaman by Tony van Renterghem. Another, with wonderful photos is Krampus: The Devil of Christmas by Monte Beauchamp.

Black Pete is the grandfather of Santa Claus. He is known in Holland as Zwarte Piet, and like his ancient shamanic ancestor is horned, fur clad, scary and less than kind to children! He's often portrayed as the salve helper of St. Nicholas, but the two are often blended into one character. He is known by a variety of names throughout Europe: Grampus, ru Klas, Hans Trapp, Klawes, Ashenklas, Klas Bur, Bullerklas, Joseph, Pelzmarte, or sometimes in female form as Berchte, Budelfrau, Befana, or Buzeberght. 

In this old Yule card, you can see him standing behind the Ice Queen as Hans Trapp as well as beside her in this modern play:

Here he is as Bullerklas:                 

And here SHE is as Befana from Italy

The colors of Yule are the colors of the God as in the counting song, "Two for the Two-Faced God in gold, and red, and green-o!"  Gold is for the Sun, red for the life blood, and green for the vegetation of the forest. Red is also the color of the Mother Goddess, heavy with child and waiting through this long night for the true 'gift'... the new King.. the Sun.

All of these symbols paint a rich picture for the practicing pagan, and many can be incorporated into decorating the home and the Yule ritual.

For Oakmist, the main ritual theme is the waiting mother, the long, dark winter's night, and finally, the joyful birth of the Sun-Child!  We feel joy and relief knowing the child will grow stronger with each passing day, and that the days, in turn, will grow longer and warmer. This is truly a turning point. The fear is passed. We've made it through the worst and the best is on its way!  We try to imagine the fear that the Sun might possibly not return. It would mean certain death for the entire tribe or village. Then we imagine the joy knowing the longest, coldest night has past, and now we can look forward to Spring!

Sometimes, we use the Cauldron of the Dagda as a theme for Yule, filling it with gifts which are distributed during the rite. For this, Oakmist uses my great grandmother's cauldron, a cherished heirloom.

We all need to remember that Yule is not a time for asking.
It is a time for giving.
So that the entire tribe makes it through the winter months.
Help your neighbors.
Forgive indebtedness.
Be thankful for all the gods have given you.
Most of all, Yule is a time for hope, joy, and rejoicing!

* * *
I rewrote the words to the Greensleeves tune - it makes a beautiful ending to our Cuidle Rite.
Please feel free to use them, but do not post without giving me credit.

What Child Is This?
(Rowan of Oakmist)

What child is this
who lays to rest
upon the breast of the Mother?
His little light
shines oh, so bright
as he gazes in love at his brother...

This, this is the newborn Sun
The most Holy One
who will warm the earth!
Re-Joice! All ye Pagan hearts
at the promise of life
in the new child's birth!

The Old Lord speaks and the winds blow cold
As the breath of death touches tree and field.
He knows that soon he will lose his reign
To the Young Lord give Arrow, and Spear, and Shield!

This, this is the newborn Sun
The most Holy One
who will warm the earth!
Re-Joice! All ye Pagan hearts
at the promise of life
in the new child's birth!

* * *

May your Yule be Blessed!
Sun Child by Michael Shapcott

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