My Thoughts on Yule
Posted by Byron Pendason on , in Heathen worldview, Heathen worship
Disclaimer: This post is a sharing of my thoughts. There will be a lot of Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG). Take it with a grain of salt, but feel free to adopt it if it feels right.
In my reconstructed Anglo-Saxon Calendar, the month of Ærra Gēola begins today, on November 28. That means, the begining of the Yule season!
In Old English (the language of the Anglo-Saxons), Yule is Gēola. The g is soft, pronounced like the y in yellow. So Gēola would be pronounced like Yay-oe-lah. Bede tells us that this is “the day the sun turns back and [begins to] increase.” This is describing the day of the winter solstice. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, it is the longest night of the year, but afterwards the days begin to get longer.
Some Heathens wait until the full moon after the new moon that follows the Solstice to celebrate Yule, in accordance with their definition of a Lunisolar calendar (they celebrate each of their holy tides on the full moon following the first new moon after the relevant solstice or equinox), and there’s nothing wrong with that. One of the principles of my reconstructed Anglo-Saxon calendar, however, is that it follow Bede as closely as possible, since he’s the only historical source we have on the ancient pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon Calendar, so I celebrate it on the night of the Solstice. This is usually on December 21, but can be anywhere from the 20th to the 22nd.
Many Heathens celebrate twelve nights of Yule. So if you start at the Solstice, the twelfth night will be January 1st.
So what is the main themes of Yule? Historically, the Wild Hunt played a prominent role. The Wild Hunt is led by Woden (Odin), and is (in my UPG, at least) an army of ælfs (spirit beings of Anglo-Saxon lore, usually translated as elves) that hunt down the restless souls of the dead and lead them to the underworld. It is said that bad winter storms are the army of Woden passing overhead, and if you give him an offering he’ll give you a blessing.
In my practice, Yule is also about cherishing your family. In ancient times, you were never sure which of your family members would survive the harsh winter season. In modern times, winter isn’t quite as dire as in ancient times. But Yule is still a good excuse to gather with family and get festive. With the importance of the gifting cycle in Heathenry, gift giving is not out of line!
I think honouring the dead is also an important theme of Yule. Bede tells us that Mōdraniht (Mothers Night) is on Christmas Eve, but most Heathens celebrate Mothers Night on the first day of Yule. This was when the Anglo-Saxons worshipped the Mothers. A lot of modern Anglo-Saxon Heathens equate these spirits to the female ancestral spirits that protected and cared for the family, like the Disir of Norse lore. (Other Heathens equate them to the Matrones of continental sources. These were local female deities and other female wights. Still other Heathens combine the two in their recognition of the Mothers, recognizing both female deities and female ancestors.)
A lot of modern Christmas traditions (minus the explicitly religious ones) have pagan origins, such as the Yule log, the Christmas tree, and even possibly Santa Claus (who many believe is based at least in part on Odin and his role in the Wild Hunt). So the great thing about Yule is you can celebrate it in many the same ways you have always celebrated Christmas!
Have a happy Yule season. May Woden bless you as he passes over you in the Wild Hunt!