It All Turns Toward Yule

by Elaine Ek,
Wiccan Temple of the Celtic Way

The Wheel turns, the year flows, and now, in the darkness of the year, we come to Yule. Yule is one of those names with many layers of meaning. Some define Yule’s meaning as "feast" ‘wheel’ or "winter". The wheel referred to is not only the round shape of the sun, but also the cyclic approach and withdrawal of the sun and his light.

Yule is the gate between years. It honors the principle of separation of time. Each year, and indeed, each moment, is its’ own unique entity. There has been no time quite like this one any time in the past, and there will never be another moment quite like this one ever again. The time to deal with the injustices and the virtues of the past is in the past. The only things we can deal with, for good or ill, are those things in the present. Let us plant and tend the harvests of this year, and leave the harvests that lie beyond the gates of Yule to those who must tend them.

Although separate, each from the other, each year is still part of a continuous stream of time. That which we harvest now is the fruit of seeds sown in years gone by, and that which we sow now will be our harvest in times to come. This is the law of cause and effect, also known as Karma. We cannot unplant the seeds we have planted, nor harvest the harvests of tomorrow, yet we have the responsibility to keep in mind those moments beyond the present, for we are responsible for our actions.

There is also a male cycle tied in to the Wheel of the Year, and to Yule, it is the cycle of the Oak King and the Holly King. The Oak King rules over the waxing year, when the seeds that have been planted grow and thrive.

At Midsummer, the Holly King takes the life of the Oak King and inaugurates the waning year, during which life recedes from the world and the harvest is gathered in. At Yule, the Oak King takes the life of the Holly King, and the cycle of growth begins anew.

Now "takes the life" is an interesting phrase. But the Oak King and the Holly King take each other's life back and forth throughout the succession of years. It's as if they have but one life between the two of them, and must take turns living it. At the solstices, the two Kings do ritual battle, and the winner takes the life and the power of the other, and the threshold between the halves of the year is inevitably crossed.

The burning Yule log is the wintertime reflection of the Midsummer bonfire, releasing the light, which has been stored in the log since the summer. The Yule Log also binds the years together. Traditionally, the Yule Log is not allowed to burn completely, but is extinguished, and the remaining brand saved and used to start the following year’s fire. In this manner, we save the best from the year before and pass it on into the year to come. The years, though separate, are linked and brought together in a continuous flow of time.

It is a truth that living things enter the world at birth, they grow in strength to their full power, and then they fade and weaken until finally, death takes them. Life can either be growing or fading, there is no middle path. Stasis is not an option. The Wheel is always turning, and the Lady's dance is never still.

One may walk the path of the Oak King, the path of growth and increasing power, or one may walk the path of the Holly King, retreating into the quiet darkness of the harvest of one's life. In all lives, and in all aspects of life, we walk both paths again and again. We build some things up, and we tear some things down. We sow, we reap, and we sow again.

Karl Lembke
Elaine Ek - Hps. Wiccan Temple of the Celtic Way
Carnegie Mellon University.
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