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Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Winter Solstice Day 4 Of Yule The Gods Of Yule The Holly King And The Oak King

Winter Solstice Day 4 Of Yule The Gods Of Yule The Holly King And The Oak King Image
During the Yule holiday we honor a few different types of Gods. Gods who are solar in nature and images of the the God in his stage of the Youthful One or Young God (the God is seen by some as having a triple aspect in much the same way the Goddess is seen which includes the stages of Young God, Warrior, and Sage). What God you decide to honor is naturally something that is personal or traditional, depending on how you work with your spiritual practice and ritual.

During these 21 Days of Yule we'll take a look at a few of different Gods that are often honored at Yuletide. There are a number of different Gods that are honored by different traditions during Yule. Today we're going to take a look at a duality that is quite popular this time of year, especially in Wiccan, Celtic, and Druid traditions; this comes in the form of two brothers, the Holly King and the Oak King.

The story and theories of the Holly King and the Oak King were most made popular by Robert Graves in his book "The White Goddess". These two Gods are seen as representing the two halves of the Celtic year. They meet to battle twice a year at the solstices for the turning of the seasons. At each point one defeats the other and takes reign of the seasons.

The Oak King

The Oak King by Anne Stokes

"The Oak King rules the light half of the year. He takes his place of power at the Winter Solstice after he defeats the Holly King and he reigns until the Summer Solstice. The Oak King is a young God, he's fresh and child like in many ways. He is often depicted much like the Green Man or the Lord of the Forest. He is covered in greens and often made to look as though the top of his head is an oak tree. The Oak King represents life, rebirth, growth, and opportunity.

The Holly King

The Holly King by Anne Stokes

"The Holly King rules doing the dark half of the year when life is waning. He defeats the Oak King in battle at the Summer Solstice and rules until Yule when they battle again. The Holly King is often depicted as an old man with long grey hair and a beard. His cloths are often similar to those of an old-fashioned Santa Claus image; he wears a long red coat and red pants and has holly sprigs twisted into his hair. Some in the neo-Pagan community believe that the Holly King is actually a precursor to the images of Santa Claus. The Holly King represents wisdom, completion, the learning of life's lessons, and a time for rest and withdrawal. "

The Oak and Holly Kings are associated with two sacred Druid trees, holly and oak. The Holly King is obviously associated with the holly but the Oak King is associated with not only the oak itself but also mistletoe. Mistletoe grows at the high branches of the oak and so we may often see depictions of the Oak King with mistletoe among his branches. Two of the sacred plants for Yule are holly and mistletoe. Mistletoe is a symbol of love and protection but we also see the white berries of the mistletoe to represent male life essence (quite literally representing semen) and the red berries of the holly to represent life energy and the female life essence (representing menstrual blood). Together they spark new life and creation.

While this is the time that the Oak King takes his reign we stop to honor the Holly King as well because it is the time that he is defeated and goes to rest until the Summer Solstice. So while we honor is demise we also honor the rise and return of the Oak King.

The battle between the Oak King and the Holly King help to turn the Wheel of the Year. One cannot live without the other and together they usher in the changes of the two halves of the year.

To Honor the Oak King and the Holly King

One popular way for groups or covens to honor the Oak and Holly Kings at both the Winter and Summer Solstice is to have two males from the group act out the battle through ritual pageantry. In a group I was in some years ago two men where chosen to represent each King. They would battle at the Winter Solstice and the one who was chosen to be the Oak King would win and then take the role of male lead in the group for the next six month (he would act as High Priest in rituals, for example). He would then battle the Holly King come summer and the Holly King would take charge. The person who had been in the position of Oak King would then pick another man to take his place as Holly King. He would then lie in wait for his battle and time to rule come the Summer Solstice. It was a lot of fun and an interesting way to see how the male dynamic would play out.

Here are some correspondences for the Oak and Holly Kings that you can use for your Yule rituals this year.

Holly King

Colors: red, white, silver, black

Plants and Herbs: holly, red berries

Animal: Wren

Associated with: Bran the Blessed, Mordred, The Green Knight, Santa Claus

Oak King

Colors: green, brown, yellow, gold

Plants: oak, mistletoe

Animal: robin

Associated with: Robin Hood, Jesus, Balder, The Green Man

A last thought

I know a lot of Wiccans and Pagans who, in the early stages of their practice, reject a lot of things associated with Christmas because of their desire to embrace as much of the Pagan tradition of Yule as possible. One of the things I see people reject is the idea of Santa. While we're be talking more about the Santa Claus myth in the next week or so, think now about how the Holly King has ties to Santa Claus. Many of the mainstream holiday symbols, including Christmas symbols, have some reflection on Pagan tradition either because they have their origins there or by the very fact that, without a doubt, this is the most Pagan co-opted holiday of them all.

Books in PDF format to read:

Aleister Crowley - Liber 1066 A Study Of The Ruling Class Of England
Basil Crouch - The Darkside Of The Moon A Complete Course In Magic And Witchcraft

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