Deities of the Winter Solstice

While it may be mostly Pagans and Wiccans who celebrate the Yule holiday, nearly all cultures and faiths have some sort of winter solstice celebration or festival. Because of the theme of endless birth, life, death, and rebirth, the time of the solstice is often associated with deity and other legendary figures. No matter which path you follow, chances are good that one of your gods or goddesses has a winter solstice connection.

· Alcyone (Greek): Alcyone is the Kingfisher goddess. She nests every winter for two weeks, and while she does, the wild seas become calm and peaceful. Here is her story:

Once upon a time there was a princess of the winds, named Alcyone. And she was married to the prince of light, Ceyx. They were a passionate couple and their famed love was known throughout the lands. One day, after war broke out in the land, Ceyx felt the need to seek the Oracle's help in restoring peace. So he set sail on a long voyage to the island of the Oracle. Alcyone waited everyday on the shores for his return. What she did not know was there was a terrible storm and the boat and crew were lost at sea. The Oracle saw this with her third eye and sent Alcyone a vision to let her know of the shipwreck.

Alcyone refused to believe Ceyx was dead and was determined to swim the sea to find him. Just as she was about to dive into the water, she turned into a beautiful bird, the mythical kingfisher Halcyon. She flew over the sea, calming the winds and waves in search of Ceyx. She found him adrift on some wreckage and when she landed, he too became a kingfisher. And together they flew over the sea for the rest of eternity.

The kingfisher became known as the symbol of the winter solstice. She brings the Halcyon Days, fourteen days of calm seas which allow for easy sailing. The bird was only seen during the summer and winter solstices and became associated with goddess of life and death. She appeared at the setting of the Pleiades and is known as the bird called by kings for a peaceful death.

· Ameratasu (Japan): In feudal Japan, worshippers celebrated the return of Ameratasu, the sun goddess, who slept in a cold, remote cave. When the other gods woke her with a loud celebration, she looked out of the cave and saw an image of herself in a mirror. The other gods convinced her to emerge from her seclusion and return sunlight to the universe.

· Balder (Norse): Balder is associated with the legend of the mistletoe. His mother, Frigga, honored Balder and asked all of nature to promise not to harm him. Unfortunately, in her haste, Frigga overlooked the mistletoe plant, so Loki - the resident trickster - took advantage of the opportunity and fooled Balder's blind twin, Hod, into killing him with a spear made of mistletoe. (In alternate versions, Loki shapechanged into a young girl and threw the mistletoe spear). Balder was later restored to life.

· Bona Dea (Roman): Translated, Bona Dea means "Good Goddess". She is most often referred to as a Roman goddess of fertility, virginity and women, though she also has ties to agriculture and healing. She was also called by Fauna by some and still others believed that her true name could not be spoken.

Her sacred rites were celebrated in December (an 'invitation only' event hosted by the wife of the senior magistrate of Rome at a location other than her temple) and her public festival was observed on May 1. These celebrations were attended by women only and even pictures of men and male animals were considered a sacrileges. At these events it was also forbidden to say the words "wine" and "myrtle" because she had been beaten by her father with a myrtle stick after getting drunk. As wine was an important part of any celebration or rite, the word "milk" was used instead.

Bona Dea is often depicted with snakes. Some sources say that this is because of her association with healing and medicine and others argue that this has to do with the snake being a phallic symbol and she being a fertility goddess. She is also pictured with herbs as her priestesses grew medicinal herbs and tended to the sick in the gardens of her temple. Many images of her show her sitting on a thrown, holding a cornucopia. Her image can be found on many Roman coins. The image on this page is called "Peace" and has Bona Dea crowned with corn to symbolize plenty, sitting with a lion to represent majesty, underneath the star of divinity.

· Cailleach Bheur (Celtic): In Scotland, she is also called Beira, the Queen of Winter. She is the hag or crone aspect of the Triple Goddess, and rules the dark days between Samhain and Beltaine.

· Demeter (Greek): Through her daughter, Persephone, Demeter is linked strongly to the changing of the seasons and is often connected to the image of the Dark Mother in winter. When Persephone was abducted by Hades, Demeter's grief caused the earth to die for six months, until her daughter's return.

· Dionysus (Greek): A festival called Brumalia was held every December in honor of Dionysus and his fermented grape wine. The event proved so popular that the Romans adopted it as well in their celebrations of Bacchus in their Saturnalia celebrations.

· Frau Holle (Norse): Frau Holle appears in many different forms in Scandinavian mythology and legend. She is associated with both the evergreen plants of the Yule season, and with snowfall, which is said to be Frau Holle shaking out her feathery mattresses.

Frau Holle is a fateful crone goddess who initiates young woman and rewards them according to their merits. She is especially pleased with compassion and generosity.

The folktale of Frau Holle's Well takes up this theme. A mistreated stepdaughter is made to spin til blood runs from her fingers. She goes to wash the spindle in the well, and it falls in. The cruel stepmother tells her she has to go in and get it out. The girl jumps into the well and loses consciousness. She awakes in a beautiful sunny meadow full of flowers. She begins to walk and soon comes to an oven full of baking bread. The oven calls out to her, asking her to take out the loaves before they burn. She willingly complies. Then she comes to a tree loaded with ripe apples. It asks her to shake them down, and she does that too. At last the girl came comes to a cottage where an old woman with big teeth sits looking out at her. The girl is afraid at first, but the crone reassures her. She asks her to stay with her and help around the house, especially to shake her down comforter so that the feathers fly, causing snow on earth. "I'm Frau Holle."

The girl stays with the old woman and leads a comfortable life with plenty of good food. But after a while she becomes homesick. Frau Holle offers to take her back to her world. She leads the stepdaughter under a big gate, which showers down gold that sticks to her. Walking through the gate, the girl sees she is not far from her house. She returns to her family and tells them the whole story.

When her stepsister sees how Frau Holle has treated her, she decides to also pay a visit to the world under the well. She passes through the same cycle of events, but refuses to take the bread out of the magical oven or to shake the apple tree, and avoids work at Holle's cottage. When she passes through the gate, she is drenched with tar.

· Frigga (Norse): Frigga (also known as Frigg, The Beloved) was the goddess of love, marriage, and destiny. She was the wife of the powerful Norse god Odin, The All-Father, and the mother of the Norse god Balder.

A sky goddess, responsible for weaving the clouds (and therefore for sunshine and rain and the fertility of the crops), she was also responsible for weaving the fates.

She was known as a 'seer', one who knew the future though she could never change it.

In ancient times the end of the Winter Solstice, when the hours of sunlight began to lengthen, marked the beginning of the new year and was a time to think of new possibilities that would unfold.

The Goddess Frigga, who sat at her spindle weaving the destiny of man and gods alike, was the goddess associated with the beginning of each new year.

New Year's eve, the longest night of the year, is called "Mother Night" in Northern Europe for it was in the darkness of that night that the goddess Frigga labored to give birth to Baldur, the young Sun God who controlled the sun and rain and brought fruitfulness to the fields was born.

The blessing of Frigga is still invoked for birthing women with a white candle that last burned during the winter solstice being used as a charm to ensure a safe delivery.

· Holly King (British/Celtic): The Holly King is a figure found in British tales and folklore. He is similar to the Green Man, the archetype of the forest. In modern Pagan religion, the Holly King battles the Oak King for supremacy throughout the year. At the winter solstice, the Holly King is defeated.

· Horus (Egyptian): Horus was one of the solar deities of the ancient Egyptians. He rose and set every day, and is often associated with Nut, the sky god. Horus later became connected with another sun god, Ra.

· La Befana (Italian): This character from Italian folklore is similar to St. Nicholas, in that she flies around delivering candy to well-behaved children in early January. She is depicted as an old woman on a broomstick, wearing a black shawl.

· Lord of Misrule (British): The custom of appointing a Lord of Misrule to preside over winter holiday festivities actually has its roots in antiquity, during the Roman week of Saturnalia.

· Mithras (Roman): Mithras was celebrated as part of a mystery religion in ancient Rome. He was a god of the sun, who was born around the time of the winter solstice and then experienced a resurrection around the spring equinox.

· Odin (Norse): In some legends, Odin bestowed gifts at Yuletide upon his people, riding a magical flying horse across the sky. This legend may have combined with that of St. Nicholas to create the modern Santa Claus.

· Saturn (Roman): Every December, the Romans threw a weeklong celebration of debauchery and fun, called Saturnalia in honor of their agricultural god, Saturn. Roles were reversed, and slaves became the masters, at least temporarily. This is where the tradition of the Lord of Misrule originated.

· Spider Woman (Hopi): Soyal is the Hopi festival of the winter solstice. It honors the Spider Woman and the Hawk Maiden, and celebrates the sun's victory over winter's darkness.

~~ Source Unknown ~~