The return of the sun – Winter Solstice

This Monday is Yule, the Winter Solstice, with the shortest day followed by the gradual return of the sun. Solstice has its etymological roots in 13th Century French which itself derived it from the Latin solstitium – its Latin roots being sol ‘the sun’ and  sistere ‘to stand still’ as on this day the sun appears to stand still in the sky. 

I was curious what the traditional pagan celebrations would be for this day and found the following:

1. Sharing food. This was done to show confidence in the return of the sun and new crops.
2. Buring the Yule log to mark the return of the sun
3. There were stories of shamans climbing high into the upper worlds and returning with gifts of wisdom. it’s speculatedthat this was one origin of Santa Claus.
4. it was seen as a time of letting go and forgiving and moving into the new year uncluttered.
5. Spending time in nature, at a shrine, such as Stone Henge, and performing ceremonies to celebrate the passing of the old year and the coming of the new.
6. Bringing greenery into the home to decorate it. Holly was brought in to honour the Oak King, and mistletoe to honour the Oak King, as it is found growing in Oak trees.

A central myth for this time is of the fight between the Holly King and the Oak King. In Cletic mythology they were twins, pitted agains each other in a never ending fight for supremacy.  Each year they fight, and with the victory of the Oak King the sun returns, then they fight again in six months at the Summer solstice and here the Ivy King wins and the sun retreats.



They are seen as two sides of a whole –  birth and regeneration, and death and decay. It is not a battle between good and evil, but the harmony of life where birth and death are both integral parts. The Holly King is also seen as part of the inspiration for Santa Claus as he was depicted wearing a sprig of Holly.

The myth is a reminder that nothing lasts forever. However strong and great the Oak King might be, he eventually falls. The same for the Ivy King. And each one brings gifts that are needed – a time for growth, activity and fecundity, a time for withdrawing, letting things pass and slowing down.

As we spend this time in increased isolation, without the opinion to go out and socialise with many others, you may like to mark tomorrow in some way and connect back to the pagan origins of many of our Christmas festivals. Perhaps you can bring in some holly to decorate your home. And spend some time reflecting on what you are letting go of as you move into this phase of renewed growth. You may even use the day to have a clear out and free yourself of any clutter that is taking up space. This mix of mental and physical decluttering will prepare the ground for new seeds to germinate.

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