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