of the Winter Goddess
We invoke Thee,
Luminous Lady in White,
sweeping mount and vale with falling flakes
as Thy Winter-wand
scatters upon us
a spell of sparkling snow!
star-studded Goddess of Northern nights;
Thy frosted garments
shimmering in the slumber-still
visions of December dark
as Thou guardest the gateway
to the portals of polar Mysteries.
We invoke Thee,
Crone of cold and Artic climes;
in this season of barren woodlands
and naked branches
upraised to grey-veiled sky,
we invoke Thee
to be here among us!
Winter Solstice is a magical season . . . one that marks the journey
from this year to the next, journeys of the spirit from one world
to the next, and the magic of birth, death, and rebirth. The longest
night of the year (December 21 in the Northern hemisphere) is
reborn as the start of the solar year and accompanied by festivals
of light to mark the rebirth of the Sun.
In ancient Europe, this night of darkness grew from the myths
of the Norse goddess Frigga (also known as Freya) who sat at her
spinning wheel weaving the fates, and the celebration was called
Yule, from the Norse word Jul, meaning wheel. The Christmas wreath,
a symbol adapted from Frigga’s "Wheel of Fate",
reminds us of the cycle of the seasons and the continuity of life.
Frigga/Freya was the goddess of beauty, love, and marriage. Wife
of the powerful Norse god Odin, Frigga/Freya was a sky goddess,
responsible for weaving the clouds, and therefore responsible
for rain and for thunderstorms.
Her sacred animal was the goose, and in her Germanic incarnation
as the goddess Holda or Bertha, she was the original Mother Goose
(causing it to snow when she shook out her bedding). Sitting at
her spinning wheel weaving the fates, she was also a goddess of
divination and credited with the creation of runes (though other
stories give their creation to Odin)...more precisely she was
a 'seer', one who knew the future but could never change it or
reveal it to others.
In Northern Europe, the year's longest night is called "Mother
Night" for it was in darkness the goddess Frigga/Freya labored
to bring the Light to birth once more. The Young Sun, Baldur,
who controlled the sun and rain and brings fruitfulness to the
fields, was born. Frigga's blessing is invoked for all birthing
women, and a white candle that last burned on the solstice is
a charm to provide a safe delivery.
Being a seer, she foresaw her son Baldur’s death. Knowing
that there was nothing she could do to avert his fate, the hapless
goddess extracted a promise from all things that they would play
no part in his death. Unfortunately, thinking the mistletoe was
too insignificant to bother with, she neglected to secure its
And when the malevolent prankster Loki discovered her oversight,
he crafted a dart made of the poisonous plant. Devious and evil,
he brought it to Baldur's brother who was blind, suggesting a
game of darts and agreeing to guide his hand. And this he did,
directing the dart directly at Baldur's heart.
The plant's white berries were formed from Frigga’s tears
of mourning when her beloved son Baldur was killed Some versions
of the story of Baldur’s death end happily. Baldur is restored
to life, and the goddess is so grateful that she reverses the
reputation of the baleful plant, making it a symbol of peace and
love and promising a kiss to all who pass under it.
Mistletoe is also thought to be the "golden bough" of
Virgil's Aenid, a plant that once offended the gods and was cursed
to have to look on while beautiful girls were being kissed. In
Rome mistletoe played a role in the Saturnalia, festivals held
during the Yule season to celebrate the birth of Saturn. The tradition
of kissing under the mistletoe (and removing one berry with each
kiss until none remained) emerged from that fertility rite. This
may explain why, unlike other pagan traditions, banning the plant
from churches is still widely practiced even today.
The Druids (British) also revered the plant's powers as an aphrodisiac,
believing the berries to contain the sperm of the gods. On the
sixth night of the new moon of the winter solstice, they would
use a golden sickle to cut the mistletoe from the sacred oak,
letting it fall into a cloth held under the tree by members of
the order so that the sacred plant would not touch the ground.
The Chief Druid would cut off sprigs for distribution to the people,
who hung them over their doorways for protection against thunder
That the timing of the Christian celebration of the birth of Christ
occurs in the Yule season is no coincidence. Christmas was once
a movable feast, celebrated many different times during the year.
The decision to establish December 25 as the "official"
date of Christ's birth was made by Pope Julius I in the fourth
century AD, hoping to replace the pagan celebration with the Christian
one, since this date coincided with the pagan celebrations of
Winter Solstice with the Return of the Sun Gods occurring throughout
Numerous Christmas traditions derive from the earlier pagan celebrations.
Yule, celebrating the birth or rebirth of a god of light, made
use of fire, both in candles and the burning of a Yule log. The
Christmas tree has its origins in the practice of bringing a live
tree into the home so the wood spirits would have a place to keep
warm during the cold winter months. Bells were hung in the limbs
so you could tell when an appreciative spirit was present. Food
and treats were hung on the branches for the spirits to eat and
a five-pointed star, the pentagram, symbol of the five elements,
was placed atop the tree.
Throughout the world gods and goddesses of light were being born
during the Winter Solstice. The Egyptian goddess Isis delivered
Horus whose symbol was the winged Sun. Mithras, the Unconquered
Sun of Persia, was born during the solstice, as was Ameratsu,
the Japanese Goddess of the Sun. Rhea gave birth to Saturn (the
Father of Time), Hera conceives Hephaestus, and Qetzalcoatl, Lucina
("Little Light") also celebrate birthdays at this time.
Lucia, saint or Goddess of Light, is honored from Italy to Sweden,
crowned with candles to carry us through the darkness. Sarasvati,
Queen of Heaven in India, is honored during Yuletide.
The Solstice is also a time of plenty. The Hopi Kachinas return
to the Earth during the solstice, and the Deer Mothers dance for
the fertility of the earth. The hearth fires of Hestia (known
as the Roman goddess Vesta) are quenched and then rekindled. The
"first fruits" festival, Kwanzaa, is held to honor the
seven major deities of Yoruba.
And Winter Solstice is a time for visions. Rhiannon, a Welsh incarnation
of Epona, the Celtic Mare Goddess, rides through the dreams of
her people by night, transporting them to the place between the
worlds where they can create their own visions, giving them a
gift of what they need most, helping them to make real their dreams.
In Scotland, the last night of the year is Wish Night, a holiday
when wishes made for the coming year are at their most powerful.
Skadi, Goddess of Winter
As we move toward the cold darkness of winter, we enter the dark
Goddess Skadi’s realm. Skadi (sometimes spelled Skathi)
is the Viking Goddess of winter. Her name is said to mean shadow
or shade. She is the Queen of the shades.
She is a huntress, a dark magician, a giantess Goddess, ruling
especially over mountains, wilderness, winter, revenge, knowledge,
damage, justice, and independence. It is said that she gifted
hunters with the bow and the skill to use it. The scythe, wolves
and venomous snakes are sacred to her. Also sacred to her are
skates, skis and snowshoes. She often did her hunting while on
of Scandinavia is named after the Goddess Skadi, and she is said
to dwell in the high snow-covered mountains there.
Skadi is the daughter of the giant Thiazi. In one of her myths,
her father Thiazi kidnapped the Goddess of youth, and then was
killed by the Aesir who came to rescue the Youth Goddess. Skadi
then went after the Aesir to get revenge for the death of her
To appease her, the Aesir said that she could choose any god to
marry, but no god wanted her. Odin declared that she must choose
a god as a husband anyway. There was a catch, though, and Skadi
had to choose her husband by looking only at their feet. Bare
feet are thought to be the ancient Norse symbol of fertility.
Skadi was secretly in love with the most handsome of all Gods,
Balder. Thinking that Balder would have the most beautiful feet,
she chose the God with the cleanest, fairest feet. Instead of
this being Balder, it turned out to be Njord, the homely God of
the sea, and she wed him.
After they married there was some debate about whether they would
live in his realm or hers. They decided to live nine days in her
mountains and then nine days in his sea. After the eighteen days,
the couple separated because they did not like each other’s
"I could not sleep on the sea's beds for the birds' screaming;
he wakes me who comes from the sea every morning, that gull."
their separation, Skadi had several sons with the god Odin. Skadi
also has close ties with the trickster god Loki. As part of her
agreement with the Aesir, they not only allowed her to choose
the god of her choice for a husband, but they also promised to
make her laugh, since she had not laughed since her father’s
death. This task was given to Loki. In an effort to make her laugh,
Loki tied one end of a rope to the beard of a goat, and the other
end of the rope to his own testicles.
As the goat tried to get away, both Loki and the goat shrieked
in pain, and this did make Skadi laugh. It is said that Loki then
fell onto Skadi’s lap bleeding, and his blood fertilized
her. When Loki killed or aided in the killing of the God Balder,
Skadi was sent to punish him. He was bound to a rock by Thor,
and Skadi then placed a poisonous snake on his head. The venom
of the snake slowly dripped down upon Loki’s face, forever
burning and torturing him.
In some of the more negative tales of Skadi, she was named Mornir,
the troll woman, and was said to have castrated and then collected
the penises of heroes. It is said that offerings of men’s
blood were made to Skadi, symbolizing the blood of Loki that had
fertilized her. Priestesses of Skadi were said to have bathed
in blood as preparation for their rituals.
Skadi is not an evil Goddess; she symbolizes the many dark times
that we all go through. She also symbolizes the primordial womb.
Without the dark there is no light.
From information obtained from folklore sources Motz established
that the folk figures of Holda, Holle, Bertha and Percht/Perchta
originated from the divine female guardians of nature and animals
found among the ancient hunting culture. This primitive image
developed into the complex female deity known in early civilisations
as - The Lady of the Beasts -. This folk figure of Holda/Perchta
had many local manifestations, but one basic form with definite
characteristics can be recognised. In a Christian culture, where
paganism was supposed to have been eradicated, this form was still
given divine status by the common people. In fact it was worshipped
within a ritualistic structure that included sacrificial offerings
and the wearing of ritual animal disguises in seasonal celebrations.
The Roman Catholic Church recognised the existence of this goddess
figure and feared her popularity among the peasantry. In the 13th
Century one clerical text complained that young people would rather
pray to Perchta than offer prayers to the Virgin Mary. Two hundred
years later, just before the beginning of the witch hunts, the
Church was still condemning sinners who left food out for Perchta
during the Christmas period to ensure good luck and prosperity
for the coming year. These offerings were placed on the roof of
houses in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria and are an indication
that Holda/Perchta was regarded as the female leader of the Wild
Central European folk culture the Hunt was mimicked by men wearing
black fur cloaks and terrifying masks who ran through the streets
ringing bells, brandishing whips and shouting.
physical appearance reflected her position as both a bright and
dark goddess figure. She might appear as a beautiful young girl,
veiled, crowned or clothed in a shining white dress. On other
occasions she was seen as a hunchbacked, wizened old crone with
long tangled grey hair, a beaked nose, wolf fangs and glowing
red eyes. As the White Lady, Holda was invoked to increase fertility
of the fields and to bring prosperity to home and family. If she
was insulted however or ignored then she became the Old Hag or
Crone whose gifts were misfortune, illness and death. In this
form she was responsible for the snow and fog, and is a typical
dark goddess of death, the underworld and winter. As a deity who
originated with the ancient - Lady of the Beasts - Holda had many
totem animals. They included wolves, hounds, pigs, goats, horses,
bears and birds of prey. She was also associated with the wildwood
and, while seldom linked to male figures - she is represented
as an uninhibited patron of orgiastic sexuality - in the Southern
Tyrol she appears as the wife of the arboreal - Wood Man. In common
with this male forest spirit/god, Holda was the protector and
guardian of woodland animals.
Another indication that Holda was regarded as the goddess of death
and destiny is her association with spinning. She was the patroness
of women who were spinners and weavers (and of spinsters) and
she punished those who failed at this craft or produced shoddy
work. Those who did not pay her respect while carrying out the
craft could be struck blind or Holda would materialise and beat
them with a whip. During the twelve days of Yule all spinning
ceased in her honour and bad luck came to anyone who defied this
custom. Holda's attitude to children, who also come under her
protection, was also ambivalent. If they behaved
themselves during the year then at Christmas she rewarded them
with gifts and good luck. If they had been naughty they would
be severely punished. Sometimes Holda was used as a bogey figure
and mothers threatened their children that if they did not behave
then she would come and take them off to the woods and teach them
good manners. Holda allegedly kept the children in a well, endowing
the good ones with abundant luck, health and wealth, and turning
the bad ones into Faery changelings.
It is not fanciful to see folk memories of Holda in popular fairy
tales. Stories of faery godmothers, wicked stepmothers with spinning
wheels and old witches living in gingerbread cottages in woods
spring to mind. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel
and Little Red Riding Hood all have elements that could be derived
from folk tales about Holda. The Grand Dame of fairy tales, Old
Mother Goose, is another version of Holda. In 18th and 19th century
bowdlerisation of fairy tales Old Mother Goose, degenerated into
a comic figure, a foolish old woman who told old wives tales.
Originally she was the wise Sibyl who instilled moral values,
the knowledge of the world, foresaw the future and prepared her
charges for it. (See Marina Warner's From the Beast to the Blonde
- Chatto and Windus 1994). Eventually Mother Goose became the
stereotyped witch with her conical hat, pointy nose, lantern,
jaw and stick. The Sibyl/wisewoman had become the wicked stepmother
- the alter ego of the faery godmother or gossip who protected
and blessed the new born.
Holda's connection with witchcraft is mentioned in several historical
accounts. Church records quoted by Motz as late as the 15th Century
describe women who rode with Hold/Perchta. In 1630 an allegedly
male witch in Hesse, Germany confessed he had ridden with Dame
Holda on New Year's Day and had followed her into the sacred mountain
of the Venusberg. A 16th Century woman from Bern was exiled after
she admitted riding with the Wild Hunt led by Holda. In common
parlance to ride with Holle meant to be dishevelled, to be an
unkempt hag or to ride with witches. This was a reference to the
long flowing hair of the goddess which was also regarded as a
physical characteristic of suspected witches of both sexes, and
was regarded as of magickal significance.
The evidence provided by Motz offers considerable proof that goddess
worship survives into the early modern period and beyond. These
beliefs still survive in seasonal customs enacted at the summer
and winter solstices. In a lesser way it also links with the connections
between werewolves and witches.
Germany, for instance, December was known as the month of the
wolf or wolf moon. The wolf was one of Holda's sacred beasts.
Motz says that because the Church identified Holda with Diana
some historians have assumed the cult of this Southern European
moon goddess of hunting was imported into Austria and Germany
by the Romans. Motz however, believes that the hunter goddess
image arose independently in these areas, although it was influenced
by beliefs from the North.
In fact Holda shares many similarities with the Norse goddess
of fertility and magic, Freya. M Oldfield Howey is more explicit,
comparing Freya with Nerthus, Hel and Holda he says - . . .she
was not only the goddess of Life but also of Death. But Death
was not to her worshippers a ghastly grinning skeleton, but a
loving mother recalling her tired children to sleep in her bosom.
- (The Cat in Magic page 59)
Motz concludes that Holda has the common feature of the Mistress
of the Wild Things symbolised by Diana/Artemis, - who represents
. . . the force of nature which is both life giving and life taking
-. She is therefore the archetypal witch goddess.
pure veil of darkness.
A mysterious fog.
The Moon is full.
And the Wolves you call.
Red as my blood it is the sky above us.
As I witness the arrival of the Winter Solstice.
And I cry from the abyss with the legions of Lilith.
Who grant me, son of Goat, the virtues if the black oath.
And I climb upon the Raven Mountain and yell.
Oh! Thunders of light and pyres of flames
- Fire is my domain -
Oh! Freezing breezes, rain and snow
- Winter is my domain -
So I invocate: Eaaaaaaa! Winter rise!..
And the Ancient Winter Goddess rises
and sits in her throne of snow and stone.
Soon red morning will born and white is the sky above us.
And by the powers of Winter
varies about the type of wood to be used. Oak logs were popular
in the north of England, birch in Scotland and ash in Cornwall
and Devon. Ash is the only wood that burns freely when green and
the world-tree, Yggdrasil, in the Nordic tradition was an ash-tree.
It is important that the Yule log be the biggest and greenest
log available since the Christmas festivities will last only as
long as the Yule log burns.
In some parts of the Scottish highlands, the head of the household
finds a withered stump and carves it into the likeness of an old
woman, the Cailleach Nollaich or Christmas Old Wife, a sinister
being representing the evils of winter and death. She's the goddess
of winter, the hag of night, the old one who brings death. Burning
her drives away the winter and protects the occupants of the household
The Yule log is left to burn all night, and, if possible, through
the next twelve without going out, although it may be extinguished
with water. The ashes are kept for good luck. They have magical
properties and can be scattered in the field to fertilize the
soil or sprinkled around the house for protection.
Day of Queen Sigrith Celebration
Sunday November 9, 2008
In many Norse Heathen traditions, November 9 is the day to honor
the great Queen Reina Sigrith of Sweden. The legend goes that
the Norwegian king, Olaf the Lawbreaker, asked Sigrith to marry
him. The queen said yes, but then the Christian Olaf asked her
to give up the gods of her ancestors. Sigrith declined, refusing
to abandon her faith or that of her kinsmen who came before her.
Olaf had a hissy fit and cancelled the wedding, and the Swedish
people retained their Heathen faith for another three centuries.
Today, many Asatru mark November 9 as a day of celebrating Sigrith,
defender of the ancient ways.
Winter Solstice is celebrated as the feast of the Baltic goddess
Saule in Latvia and Lithuania.
Saule's connection with light -- in this case, the golden apples
of the sun:
....At Winter Solstice, Kaleda, Saule is reborn as her daughter
Based on data from "O Mother Sun" by Patricia Monaghan
(Crossing Press), this page gives more information on Saule. My
favorite part is this beautiful passage on the goddess, her sun-stone
(amber), and spinning…
Among the Balts, the connection between the sun and spinning is
very old, and the sun-stone, amber, forms the link....Sometimes
amber discs were also placed in the grave, perhaps as prayers
to the Sun Goddess to spin forth the lost life in another body....
[A]mber was considered a magical substance for a spinner; as the
light never tangles in the sky, so an amber spindle protected
the new thread from snarls caused by unhappy or malicious spirits...
"Saule, my amber weeping Goddess
creating light like thread.
As "Saules Mat" my mother sun, daily blessing
your thankful world with light."
The Great Goddess, Saule, (pronounced SOW-lay) whose name means
the sun itself, is queen of heaven and Earth and matriarch of
the cosmos. She is a beloved and popular deity of the Lithuanians
and Latvians, as many old hymns and prayers attest. Her main feasts
occur at the summer solstice (Rasa or Kupolines), winter solstice
(Kaledos) and the equinoxes.
As the days grow shorter in the fall season, Saule weakens in
Her battle against the powers of darkness. Many rituals and spells
are undertaken to aid and strengthen Her at that time. Lithuanians
begin awaiting "The return of the Sun" around November
30th. Closer to the end of December, festivities in Her honour
begin and last until the 6th of January.
This period of awaiting Saule's return, became the Christian Advent
in later times and Kaledos is now synonymous with Christmas.
Saule is often portrayed as a golden-haired woman, richly dressed
in golden silk raiment with a golden shawl and crown. She drives
her chariot across the heavens, pulled by two white, golden-maned
steeds, called the "Asviniai" or the Divine Twin Sons
of Dievas (God of Shining Sky). Saule has close associations with
the sea, into which She sinks at the end of her daily journey
to bathe and wash her steeds and then crosses by boat. By night,
She travels through the underworld, shining in Her dark aspect.
As the female head of the heavenly family, Saule is the mother
of the planets. Among Her daughters are: Vaivora (Mercury), Ausrine,
(Morning Star or Venus), Zemyna (Earth), Ziezdre (Mars), Selija
(Saturn) and Indraja (Jupiter). Thus, according to some scholars,
Lithuanians named the planets during a matriarchal age. i.e. earlier
than the Romans.
On December 13th, (Feast of St. Lucia), Saule pauses on Her return
to dance with Her daughters. She also dances at Velykos (Easter)
and Rasa (summer solstice).
Saule was married to Menulis (the Moon), but divorced Him due
to His infidelity with their daughter, Ausrine (the Dawn). Saule
scarred His face for this deed. In other versions, Dievas smote
the handsome Menulis and disfigured Him.
The Sun Goddess is associated with the magical Smith God, Kalvis
(comparatives in Latvian - Dangaus Kalvis and Finnish - Ilmarinen.)
It is said that He created the Sun and placed Her in the heavens.
Other mythologies include tales of Her imprisonment and rescue
by a hero or the signs of the zodiac.
Saule is wealthy, but works hard to care for Her lands, fields,
cattle and family. Unlike the fickle Menulis, who occasionally
disappears for a few days, Saule always rises and attends to Her
duties. In a sense, "Her work is never done."
She loves all people and shines on all equally and unconditionally.
Her love for humanity is likened to that of a mother. Good women
are often compared to Her. In Saule's presence, demons and wicked
spirits flee and people feel safe to go about their businesses
and tasks. But, once She leaves the skies, certain work must end.
To continue, without Her guardianship, would be inviting trouble
from dangerous spirits.
Within Saule's garden, situated in the west, are apple trees bearing
their fruit of gold, silver and diamond. In traditional riddles
and kennings, Saule is often referred to as the "golden apple."
Other associations include: Fire, horses, zalciai (Lithuanian
grass snakes) birds and trees; in particular, the Linden; Roses
and daisies; White cow or white she-goat at dawn and a black one
as She sets; Bees; Her sled and later, Her multi-wheeled chariot
or wagon; Her golden boat; Burning solar wheels; "Saules's
Medis" (the Sun's Tree) and, of course, the solar crosses,
which dot the Lithuanian landscape.
Saule is connected to the wheel. In Lithuanian, She is sometimes
referred to as 'Ridolele', the rolling sun. In Latvian, there
are solar songs with the refrain 'ligo', ('Ligot" means to
sway), and 'rota' from 'rotat', to roll or hop.
summer solstice morning, Balts anxiously awaited the sunrise,
in order not to miss even Her first blessed rays. Everyone wanted
to see how the sun danced, how it ascended and then descended
for a moment, and how it finally shone in various colours. In
Latvian songs about such feasts we find the refrain: "The
sun, dancing on the silver hill, has silver shoes on Her feet."
Shepherds in Lithuania consider Saule to be their only guardian
and have many devotional prayers dedicated to Her. Lithuanians
address Her in the morning, as She sets and at the end of harvest
with other songs and rites. All spheres of traditional women's
work are under Her guardianship, as are earthly fecundity and
healing; and it is She who plays the kankles (a traditional, ritual,
Saule has been described as the wife of Dievas, God of Shining
Sky; of Perkunas, the God of Thunder, and Menulis, the Moon. Yet,
in the end, She remains the independent and powerful matriarch
of the Heavens and divine inspiration to all 'single' mothers.
Beside the Balts, we find many other peoples with female solar
deities; as in the Norse, Germanic, Japanese, Hindu, ancient Arab
and numerous Native North American cultures. Where one does find
a contemporary masculine sun, (Celts, Greeks and Romans) one also
finds vestiges of Sun Goddesses in myth and place names.
Snorri Sturluson's Edda, trans. Anthony Faulkes, accessed at:
Prane Dunduliene, Lietuviu Liaudies Kosmologija. Vilnius: Mokslas,
Dainius Sirutis, "The Lithuanian Sun Goddess Saule",
Romuva/U.S.A, issue #4, 1991.
Lietuvos Kulturos ir Meno Institutas, Senoves Baltu Simboliai.
Vilnius: Academia, 1992.
published in Sacred Serpent: Journal of Baltic Tradition, Issue