Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Wednesday – Christmas Eve – Christmas History & Lore

* The Holly King and Other Lore *
From the earth Witchery Webpage; Source no longer available : (

The Holly King

From the Celtic tradition, we get a pair of ancient pagan images who fight for supremacy at Yule. The Holly King and the Oak King are probably constructs of the Druids to whom these two trees were highly sacred. The Oak King (king of the waxing year) kills the Holly King (king of the waning year) at Yule. The Oak King then reigns until Midsummer when the two battle again, this time with the Holly King as the victor. The Holly King, who has evolved into the present day Santa Claus, wears red, dons a sprig of holly in his hat, and drives a team of eight (total number of solar Sabbats) deer, an animal sacred to the Celtic Gods. Holly and mistletoe are traditional to the season through commemoration of the battle. The holly was hung in honor of the Holly King; the mistletoe (which grows high in the branches of oak trees) in honor of the Oak King. The Oak King and Holly King are mortal enemies at Midsummer and Yule, but they are two sides of a whole, and neither could exist without the other.

Santa Claus

Today's Santa is a folk figure with multicultural roots. He embodies characteristics of Saturn (Roman agricultural god), Cronos (Greek god, also known as Father Time), the Holly King (Celtic god of the dying year), Father Ice/Grandfather Frost (Russian winter god), Odin/Wotan (Scandinavian/Teutonic All-Father who rides the sky on an eight-legged horse), Frey (Norse fertility god), the Tomte (a Norse Land Spirit known for giving gifts to children at this time of year), and Thor (Norse sky god who rides the sky in a chariot drawn by goats). Julbock or Julbukk, the Yule goat, from Sweden and Norway, had his beginnings as carrier for the god Thor. Now he carries the Yule elf when he makes his rounds to deliver presents and receive his offering of porridge.

When Early Christians co-opted the Yule holiday, they replaced the ancient Holly King with religious figures like St. Nicholas, who was said to live in Myra (Turkey) in about 300 A.D. Born an only child of a wealthy family, he was orphaned at an early age when both parents died of the plague. He grew up in a monastery and at the age of 17 became one of the youngest priests ever. Many stories are told of his generosity as he gave his wealth away in the form of gifts to those in need, especially children. Legends tell of him either dropping bags of gold down chimneys or throwing the bags through the windows where they landed in the stockings hung from the fireplace to dry. Some years later Nicholas became a bishop--hence the bishop's hat or miter, long flowing gown, white beard and red cape.

When the Reformation took place, the new Protestants no longer desired St. Nicholas as their gift-giver as he was too closely tied to the Catholic Church. Therefore, each country or region developed their own gift-giver. In France he was known as Pare Noel. In England he was Father Christmas (always depicted with sprigs of holly, ivy, or mistletoe). Germany knew him as Weihnachtsmann (Christmas man). When the communists took over in Russia and outlawed Christianity, the Russians began to call him Grandfather Frost, who wore blue instead of the traditional red. To the Dutch, he was Sinterklaas (which eventually was mispronounced in America and became Santa Claus). La Befana, a kindly witch, rides a broomstick down the chimney to deliver toys into the stockings of Italian children. These Santas were arrayed in every color of the rainbow--sometimes even in black. But they all had long white beards and carried gifts for the children.All of these Santas, however, never stray far from his earliest beginnings as god of the waning year. As witches, we reclaim Santa's Pagan heritage.


Santa's reindeer most probably evolved from Herne, the Celtic Horned God. Eight reindeer pull Santa's sleigh, representative of the eight solar Sabbats. In British lore, the stag is one of the five oldest and wisest animals in the world, embodying dignity, power and integrity. From their late Autumn dramatic rutting displays, stags represented strength, sexuality and fertility. As evidenced by multiple prehistoric excavations of stag antler ritual costumes, the wearing of stag antlers in folk dance recreated the sacred male shaman figure called Lord of the Wild Hunt, Cernunnos, or Herne the Hunter, among others--he who travels between worlds, escorting animal spirits to the afterlife and sparking wisdom and fertility in this world. Likewise, the stag's branching antlers echo the growth of vegetation. In America, the stag represents male ideals: the ability to "walk one's talk," and powerfully, peacefully blend stewardship and care of the tribe with sexual and spiritual integrity.

In Northern European myth, the Mother Goddess lives in a cave, gives birth to the sun child, and can shape shift into a white hind, or doe. Therefore, the white hind was magical, to be protected and never hunted. In myth, graceful running women of the forest--who were actually magical white hinds--brought instant old age or death to hunters who chased them. To the Celts, all deer were especially symbolic of nurturing, gentle and loving femaleness. White deer hide was used to make tribal women's clothing. White deer called "faery cattle" were commonly believed to offer milk to fairies. In Britain amongst the Druids, some men experienced life-transforming epiphanies from spiritual visions or visitations by white hinds, balancing and healing their inner feminine energy. In Europe white hinds truly exist, and are many shades of warm white cream-colors, with pale lashes--otherworldly in their peaceful and modest behavior. To many Native American tribes, deer are models of the graceful and patient mother who exhibits unconditional love and healthy, integrated female energy.


The Wheel of the Year is often symbolized by the wreath. Its circle has no beginning and no end, illustrating that everything in its time comes back to its point of origin and travels onward, over and over again. Scandinavians began the tradition of hanging the wreath at Yule, the beginning of their new year, to commemorate new beginnings in the cycle of life. Today in rural Germany, a giant wreath, known as St. Catherine's Wheel, is a holdover from another pagan custom which involved sympathetic magic to lure the sun's warmth back to the earth. A giant four-spoked wheel with an effigy of a person bound to it, is lighted on fire and rolled down a hill. (The effigy probably hearkens back to a time when human sacrifices were made in plea to the sun.) In some traditions, Yule was a more important holiday for honoring the Sun God than Midsummer. In Winter, Mother Earth was cold and barren without the fertilizing power of Father Sun.


Mistletoe was also known as the golden bough and was held sacred by both the Celtic Druids and the Norse. Mistletoe was used by the Druid priesthood in a very special ceremony held around this time...five days after the New Moon following winter solstice, to be precise. The Druid priests would cut mistletoe from a holy oak tree with a golden sickle. The branches had to be caught before they touched the ground.

Celts believed this parasitic plant held the soul of the host tree. The priest then divided the branches into many sprigs and distributed them to the people, who hung them over doorways as protection against thunder, lightning and other evils. The folklore, and the magical powers of this plant, blossomed over the centuries A sprig placed in a baby's cradle would protect the child from faeries. Giving a sprig to the first cow calving after New Year would protect the entire herd. Now for the kissing part. Although many sources say that kissing under the mistletoe is a purely English custom, there's another, more charming explanation for its origin that extends back into Norse mythology. It's the story of a loving, if overprotective, mother.

The Norse god Balder was the best loved of all the gods. His mother was Frigga, goddess of love and beauty. She loved her son so much that she wanted to make sure no harm would come to him. So she went through the world, securing promises from everything that sprang from the four elements -fire, water, air, and earth - that they would not harm her beloved Balder. Leave it to Loki, a sly, trickster spirit, to find the loophole. The loophole was mistletoe. He made an arrow from its wood. To make the prank even nastier, he took the arrow to Hoder, Balder's brother, who was blind. Guiding Holder's hand, Loki directed the arrow at Balder's heart, and he fell dead. Frigga's tears became the mistletoe's white berries. In the version of the story with a happy ending, Balder is restored to life, and Frigga is so grateful that she reverses the reputation of the offending plant -making it a symbol of love and promising to bestow a kiss upon anyone who passes under it. Balder is sometimes seen as the sacrificed and resurrected god, who is restored to his people after the Battle of Ragnarok.


Winter was a time of death and stagnation in the eyes of early humans.The earth was barren and unproductive, shelter was drafty, disease was common, and food was scarce. Little wonder they did all in their power to assure the Sun's return each year. During the festivals of the waning year, fire became a form of sympathetic magick to entice the Sun back to the earth. Bonfires were lit; Flaming wheels rolled down hillsides; Burning candles were placed in windows. Candles were later placed in the boughs of evergreen trees, later evolving into lights on our holiday trees.

Honor the new solar year with light. Do a Solstice Eve ritual in which you meditate in darkness and then welcome the birth of the sun by lighting candles and singing chants and Pagan carols. If you have an indoor fireplace or an outdoor fire circle, burn an oak log as a Yule log and save a bit to start next year's fire. Decorate the inside and/or outside of your home with electric colored lights. Because of the popularity of five pointed stars as holiday symbols, this is a good time to display a pentagram of blue or white lights.

Saint Nick, Old Nick & The Good God Thor
Talk by Rel Davis,
Minister of the Unitarian Fellowship of South Florida,
1812 Roosevelt Street, Hollywood, Florida 33020,
December 18, 1993

The festival of Christmas has always been a controversial one in Christianity. The Puritans banned Christmas altogether and during the Cromwellian period in England, anyone celebrating Christmas was jailed for heresy. Probably the most hated of all Puritan laws was the one abolishing Christmas and probably led to popular acceptance of royalty - at least the king allowed the masses to celebrate Yule!

In America, Christmas was generally outlawed until the end of the last century. In Boston, up to 1870, anyone missing work on Christmas Day would be fired. Factory owners customarily required employees to come to work at 5 a.m. on Christmas -- to insure they wouldn't have time to go to church that day. And any student who failed to go to school on December 25 would be expelled. Only the arrival of large numbers of Irish and northern European immigrants brought acceptance of Christmas in this country.

Even today, large segments of the fundamentalist movement oppose Christmas as a pagan holiday. In some homes, Santa Claus is called "Satan Claus" and St. Nick is considered to be identical with Old Nick. So who is this Santa Claus character who is really the main emblem of Christmas? The Church says that Santa Claus is nothing but Saint Nicholas, an austere bishop of Asia Minor who lived in the fourth century. There are two stories about Nicholas. One, the expurgated version taught by the modern church, and the other, the colorful one taught by early Christians. Let's look at the modern version first.

Nicholas was born into a rich family in the city of Parara but his parents died while he was only a child. He was raised an orphan and became a priest. When he did so he gave all his possessions to the poor, and especially to orphans. He made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and on the way a storm threatened to swamp his ship. He prayed and the storm was calmed. He is now patron saint of some sailors. When he returned he was elected bishop of Myra. Under Diocletian he was imprisoned but freed under the Emperor Constantine. That's the story. According to the church, his feast day of December 5 was transferred to Christmas by the Dutch, who called him Sinter Klaus.

The older story is a lot juicier. In reality, of course, there is no historical record of a "Nicholas" ever having been born. The story went that he was born a saint, fasting even as an infant. They said he would only take his mother's breast on Wednesdays and Fridays. According to the stories, he became a bishop because his predecessor predicted it in a dream, and he was the first person to enter the church the next day. He was said to bring back the dead from a magic cauldron. He could stop any storm at sea by ordering it to calm. He miraculously multiplied a shipment of grain so it could feed his entire diocese for two years, with enough left over for a new crop of grain. When he died, his bones exuded a huge quantity of holy oil capable of curing any known disease. One of his most famous acts of charity was the throwing of money through open windows to provide dowries for unmarried women. He really did not like spinsters and believed all women should accept the slavery of lawful marriage!

One group of Christians followed Nicholas' teachings. They were a gnostic sect called the Nicolaites who believed that the only way to salvation was through frequent intercourse between the sexes. Though they were brutally suppressed by other Christians, they recognized Nicholas, and his cauldron of regeneration, as a pagan fertility god. In fact, Nicholas was nothing but the ancient Roman God Poseidon in new guise. Poseidon was the god of the sea, possessor of a magic cauldron and capable of calming the sea with his voice. The Teutonic equivalent was called Hold Nickar, king of the nixies. A nixy was a sea nymph, like a mermaid or water fairy. He was the Danish sea-god. The English called him Old Nick and when the Europeans brought their "St. Nicholas" to England, they instantly recognized him as their own. By the way, the symbol of St. Nicholas in the church is either a phallus in a yoni (the older symbol) or three golden balls (later the symbol of the Medici family and now of pawnbrokers). Both of these are ancient fertility symbols.

Today, we think of Old Nick as synonymous with the devil, the Christian anti-Christ. Old Nick is a bad guy. His alter ego, St. Nick, however, is a good guy. Let's get back to Santa Claus, or Sinter Klaus, the real hero of Christmas. Christian scholars claim that the Dutch "Sinter Klaus" was really Saint Nicholas, and that "Sinter" is Dutch for "saint." Well, don't you believe it. The best evidence is that the term was originally "Klaus of the cinders," that is, the man from the chimney. This explains the color of his clothing (red and white, the color of fire.) The Dutch really weren't so stupid as to confuse December 5 (St. Nicholas' day) with December 25 (Yule). Santa Claus never was St. Nicholas. So who was he?

Let me quote from a nineteenth century book on nordic mythology, H.A. Grueber's Myths of Northern Lands, published in 1895. He wrote:

“Thor was the god of the peasants and the common people. He was represented as an elderly may, jovial and friendly, of heavy build, with a long white beard. His element was the fire, his color red. The rumble and roar of thunder were said to be caused by the rolling of his chariot, for he alone among the gods never rode on horseback but drove in a chariot drawn by two white goats (called Cracker and Gnasher). He was fighting the giants of ice and snow, and thus became the Yule-god. He was said to live in the "Northland" where he had his palace among icebergs. By our pagan forefathers he was considered as the cheerful and friendly god, never harming the humans but rather helping and protecting them. The fireplace in every home was especially sacred to him, and he was said to come down through the chimney into his element, the fire. Every Yule, the good god Thor would visit every home with an altar to him (i.e., every home with a fireplace!) and bring gifts to children, who would put out their sabots (wooden shoes) the night before. Good children would receive gifts of fruit, candy and pieces of coal to burn in the fireplace. “

He had another name to the ancients, Kris Kringle, Christ of the Wheel. This was his name as solar deity, reborn at the winter solstice, as the wheel (yule) of the sun turned slowly around. Again, the church pretends that Kris Kringle is the germanic expression, Kristkind (Christ-child). But if that is true, why has it always applied to Santa Claus, and not to the baby?

Yule was a time of feasting and celebrating the eventual end of the winter. The word Yul meant wheel and the day of Yul was the first day the sun visibly turned in its long drop toward the horizon, the day the sun-wheel turned. The month of December was also called Yule, but it was a different word, the word Geol or feast. December was a month of feasting to our ancestors. The aspects of Yule or Christmas are all of pagan origin. The mistletoe (banned by the early church, by the way) was an ancient symbol of rebirth, being associated with the menstrual blood of the mother. Traditionally, couples "kissing" or making love under the mistletoe would have a child of their own in the coming year. Later, the mistletoe was symbolic of engagement.

The holly was also sacred, maintaining its greenness on the sacred oak. It symbolized eternal life. The fir tree was the ancient grove of the Goddess brought into the house. We call it a Christmas tree, but the Germans use the old word, tannenbaum, literally "fir tree." Gift-giving, feasting, burning the yule-log, displaying circular wreaths (symbol of the sun's wheel), and singing carols (literally, "dances"!) are all of pagan origin. Even the creche, the manger scene, is of traditional origin, for this was always the season for the birth of the child- god. The infant surrounded by adoring gods (wearing the halo or sun-symbol on their heads) predated Christianity by many thousands of years as well. Baal was honored by similar scenes in ancient Palestine. Osiris in Egypt. Even the Biblical story of the birth of Jesus was borrowed unashamedly from ancient tales. Clouds of singing angels, the virgin birth, even the obligatory flight of the small child and the death of other infants - all occurred in similar tales long before.

There is really very little in Christmas that would not have felt completely comfortable to our pagan ancestors. Just remember when you sing the carols that the "virgin mother" is nothing less than the primal queen of heaven: Mariamne, mother of god; Aphrodite-Mari, mother of the ocean foam; Stella Maris, Isis' name as Star of the Sea; Maya, the oriental mother of the savior, and all the other forms of the ancient goddess.

Worried about the name of the holiday, Christmas? The Mass of Christ. That's an ancient term as well. Christ merely meant "the anointed one" and originally referred to the oiling of the god's phallus before intercourse. "Thou anointest my head with oil" had an altogether different meaning than today's theologians like to admit! A Christ was anyone who had been treated with oil -- usually a god. And the word "mass" is also pagan in origin. The Latin word is missa and was derived from the Persian word mizd, which was the communion cake used in Mithraic ritual. The mizd cake was said to contain the divine flesh and blood of the sacred bull-god sacrificed by Mithra. (Mithra, by the way, was born on December 25, of a virgin. His birth was witnessed by shepherds and magicians [magi]. Mithra raised the dead and healed the sick and cast out demons. He returned to heaven at the spring equinox and before doing so had a last supper with his 12 disciples [the 12 signs of the zodiac], eating mizd, a piece of bread marked with a cross [the symbol of the sun]. Any of that sound familiar?)

So Christmas is simply the "bread feast of the anointed god's phallus." Pretty darned pagan, wouldn't you say? The yuletide is a time of peace. Of joy. Of giving to others. It's a beautiful old holiday that Christianity has never quite been able to stamp out.

* The Yule tree (lore, correspondences, decorating, and consecrating) *
From the Earth Witchery Website; Source no longer Available : (


The Celtic Druids venerated evergreen trees as manifestations of deity and as symbols of the universe. To the Celts, these trees were sacred because they did not die from year to year like deciduous trees. Therefore they represented the eternal aspect of the Goddess who also never dies. Their greenery was symbolic of the hope for the sun's return. The Druids decorated the evergreen trees at Yule with all the images of the things they wished the waxing year to bring. Fruits for a successful harvest, love charms for happiness, nuts for fertility, and coins for wealth adorned the trees. These were forerunners to many of the images on today's Christmas trees. Candles were the forerunners of today's electric tree lights. In Scandinavia, Yule trees were brought inside to provide a warm and festive place for tree elementals who inhabited the woodland. This was also a good way to coax the native faery folk to participate in Solstice rituals. Some believed the Saxons were the first to place candles in the tree. Gradually sacred tree imagery was absorbed and minimalized by the Christian church--but it was never able to destroy trees' resonance within our collective unconscious completely. We realize when we plant a tree we are encouraging the Earth to breathe. And when we decorate our evergreen trees at Yule, we are making a symbol of our dream world with the objects we hang upon it. Perhaps a chain or garland, reflecting the linking of all together on Earth. Lights--for the light of human consciousness, animal figures who serve as our totems, fruits and colors that nourish and give beauty to our world, gold and silver for prosperity, treats and nuts that blend sweet and bitter--just as in real life. The trees we decorate now with symbols of our perfect worlds actually animate what we esteem and what we hope for in the coming year; as from this night, the light returns, reborn.

 Decorating the Tree

It's best to use a live tree, but if you can't, you can perform an outdoor ritual thanking a tree, making sure to leave it a gift when you're finished (either some herbs or food for the animals and birds). Start a seedling for a new tree to be planted at Beltane. If apartment rules or other conditions prevent you from using a live tree indoors, be sure to bring live evergreen garlands or wreaths into the house as decorations.

  • String popcorn and cranberries and hang them on the Yule tree or an outdoor tree for birds.
  • Decorate pine cones with glue and glitter as symbols of the faeries and place them in the Yule tree.
  • Glue the caps onto acorns and attach with a red string to hang on the Yule tree
  • Hang little bells on the Yule tree to call the spirits and faeries.
  • Hang robin and wren ornaments on the tree. The robin is the animal equivalent of the Oak King, the wren of the Holly King. Each Yule and Midsummer they play out the same battle as the two kings.
  • Hang 6-spoked snowflakes on the branches of the tree. The Witches Rune, or Hagalaz, has 6 spokes.
  • Hang sun, moon, star, Holly King, faery, or fruit decorations.
  • String electric lights on your tree to encourage the return of the Sun.

Consecrating the Tree

Consecrate the Yule tree by sprinkling it with salted water, passing the smoke of incense (bayberry, pine, spruce, pine, spice, cedar, or cinnamon) through the branches, and walking around the tree with a lighted candle saying:

"By fire and water, air and earth, I consecrate this tree of rebirth."

Christmas Tree Legends
(unknown source)


Many legends exist about the origin of the Christmas tree. One is the story of Saint Boniface, an English monk who organized the Christian Church in France and Germany. One day, as he traveled about, he came upon a group of pagans gathered around a great oak tree about to sacrifice a child to the god Thor. To stop the sacrifice and save the child's life. Boniface felled the tree with one mighty blow of his fist. In its place grew a small fir tree. The saint told the pagan worshipers that the tiny fir was the Tree of Life and stood the eternal life of Christ. Another legend holds that Martin Luther, a founder of the Protestant faith, was walking through the forest one Christmas Eve. As he walked he was awed by the beauty of millions of stars glimmering through the branches of the evergreen trees. So taken was he by this beautiful sight that he cut a small tree and took it home to his family. To recreate that same starlight beauty he saw in the wood, he placed candles on all its branches. Yet another legend tells of a poor woodsman who long ago met a lost and hungry child on Christmas Eve. Though very poor himself, the woodsman gave the child food and shelter for the night. The woodsman woke the next morning to find a beautiful glittering tree outside his door. The hungry child was really the Christ Child in disguise. He created the tree to reward the good man for his charity. Others feel the origin of the Christmas tree may be the "Paradise Play." In medieval times most people would not read and plays were used to teach the lessons of the bible all over Europe. The Paradise Play, which showed the creation of man and the fall of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden was performed every year on December 24th. The play was performed in winter creating a slight problem. An apple tree was needed but apple trees do not bare fruit in winter so a substitution was made. Evergreens were hung with apples and used instead.


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