ONCE upon a time, when all lies were true….
The Oak King and the Holly King were twins. Every year at the winter and summer solstices, the two brothers fought for dominance.
The Holly King ruled the waning, dark part of the year, from Midsummer to Yule. The Oak King ruled the waxing, brightening part of the year, from Yule to Midsummer.
The Holly King represents darkness, decay and destruction. Our earth during winter.
He’s often associated with the Underworld gods Pluto or Hades, or the Celtic Underworld god, Cernunnos. He often appears in red winter clothing, wearing the antlers of a stag, or goat horns, sometimes even with cloven hooves and a beard. Sometime during the medieval age, his image was merges with the Christian devil.
In many countries worldwide, the twin figures of the Oak and Holly Kings have remained separate, and it is the Oak King who has been assigned the “good” role of the rewarder/gift giver, while the Holy King has been assigned the “wicked” role of punisher/depriver.
Here in the US, the modern Santa Claus has become a melting pot of the two pagan gods. The Oak and Holly kings reunited as one dual-faced entity. For Santa Claus is both the rewarder and the depriver, marking children as naughty or nice. Giving them presents. Or sticks and coal.
From house to house he travels in his sleigh, drawn by the beasts sacred to Cernunnos, the Stag Lord. Eight reindeers pull the sled over rooftops, the number of men required to heft the Daghda’s might club, and the number of legs boasted by the Scandinavian god Odin’s horse, Sleipnir.
And, just as the spirits of the dead were believed to do, Santa enters the houses he visits via their chimneys. The Celts shoved whole trees in the hearth, trunk first, and burned it for several days, to keep spirits out. We stay up and wait for him, with cookies.
We decorate our homes with the Holly King’s sacred plants: Fir, spruce, yew, rosemary and holly.
We trim our evergreen tree in Yule colors: Red for the waning Holly King, green for the waxing Oak King, and white for the purity and hope of the light reborn.
When I first started studying the Wheel of the Year, I found the timing of the Holly and Oak King battles a bit confusing. Each king fights to win back the crown when the other is in his full strength.
For example, we have been in the dark, or waning, part of the Wheel of the Year since the day after Midsummer. At Midsummer, or Litha, on June 22, the Oak King was slain, put to bed under the earth, and the Holly King began his rule.
I don’t know about you, but living in Arizona, there is no way I think about the dark part of the year, or the days getting longer, or the Holly King…in June.
But if you look at it astrologically, the timing makes sense.
EQUINOX in Latin means Equal Night.
And SOLSTICE comes from the Latin SOL (sun) + SISTERE (stop or stand still). For the three days and nights before and after the solstice, the sun appears to stand still in the sky, to rise and set in the same place. That’s because the Earth is tilted on its axis as it rotates around the sun. When the North Pole is tilted as far away from the sun as it ever gets, we are at Winter Solstice. To early astronomers, it appeared that the sun paused, and then changed direction.
Christian scholars don’t know when Jesus was actually born. It was a Roman king who decided to proclaim Dec. 25 as the day of Christ’s birth. I think he mainly wanted to keep it close to the solstice, and auspicious and important time.
When does your inner clock begin to note the shift from the waxing to the waning part of the year? When do you FEEL the darkness settling onto the land? When do you begin to settle in, to nest? When do you find yourself looking inward more, becoming introspective, and reviewing your year and measuring its worth?
For me, it’s somewhere around the end of the school year, right around Mabon at the end of September.
And then, by Samhain, the dark half of the year is upon me, and the introspection. I love it. Embrace it. Look forward to Yule.
And then, *Poof*…Yule’s here, it finally feels like winter in the desert…and it’s gone!
…And the wheel turns, and turns once again.
One thing I have learned as a witch, and now a witch approaching her Croneage, is that perspective is everything. Your perspective changes your life. Every single thing you do or think, wish for or achieve, is affected by your unique personal perspective.
We have a month before December 22, the Winter Solstice and the shortest day of the year.
Let’s begin now to honor the Holly King, who will soon sacrifice himself to nourish our beautiful earth and renew its growth and bounty.
Embrace his Underworld energy for these days before he dies, and turns the wheel back to light.
Let’s embrace the darkness. The quiet. The shadow side of our lives.
Let’s get introspective. Investigate the darkness, maybe even face down an inner demon and finally put it to rest.
Sandy Wright resides in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband, her college student son, a rescued Australian Shepherd named Teak, and two twenty-pound domesticated black panther cats. She fell in love with the southwest desert, including its Native American influences, when she relocated from the Midwest.
Song of the Ancients, the first novel in the Ancient Magic paranormal suspense series, introduces readers to witchcraft and shamanism, seen through the eyes of an ordinary woman.
Readers interested in witchcraft—or just a dark, spooky tale—will enjoy this paranormal suspense, written by a real-life Wiccan High Priestess.
Song of the Ancients was published in May 2015 and is available on Amazon.
Stones of the Ancients, the 2nd book in the Ancient Magic series, will be published in 2018.
Visit Sandy at www.writersandy.com.