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Friday, 9 July 2010

Wicca Day 14 Of Yule Logs And Woods

Wicca Day 14 Of Yule Logs And Woods Image
Today we're going to look at the basics of Yule logs. Believe it or not this is actually quite a topic. There is a lot more to Yule logs than you might think. For this post we're going to start with looking at some of the basic history as well as the kinds of woods that are often used and what they represent. When you are making a Yule log as an altar piece picking out the kind of wood you're going to use is especially important. When you're putting one together to actually use in a fireplace like a regular log, it's still important but it is a little different because it's going to burn with intention.

A few days ago I talked about the holiday tree concept while answering an Ask A Witch question. In there the topic of Yule logs came up briefly since the two seem to be somewhat tied. In Scandinavia whole trees would be cut down and brought back to the home. In a somewhat ritualistic way a team of men from the family would go out, pick the tree, chop it down, and have it dragged home by house and oxen. They would come singing songs and celebrating. Once they arrived the tree would be brought into the home an the log end would be dressed in cider and wines and then decorated with pieces of greenery.

The log end of the tree would be placed in the hearth and would burn either for 12 days straight or 12 hours depending on the log. The timing of when this would happen would depend on the holiday being celebrated and various family traditions. Each day as the log burned down the tree would be pushed a little more into the hearth to put more of the log into the fire. When the log was finally extinguished the ashes would be tossed into the local wells to purify them of harmful energies. It was also believed that these ashes would help remove disease from the wells and water too. A small piece of the log would be saved to use at the starter for the next year's log.

The Yule log and the tree itself were honored as representations of Yggdrasil, the World Tree. Burning the log was thought to bring blessings, healing, and good fortune. When the tradition was adapted into the Christian holiday of Christmas it was burned as a representation of the light of the Baby Jesus. Today many Pagans who still work with the Yule Log burn it for the same reasons that our ancestors did, to bring back the light and bring in blessings and luck for the coming year.

Eventually the tradition died out in Europe during the 19th century as the inclusion of hearths and fireplaces began to decline in new homes. The use of existing hearths began to die down as well but many Pagans seemed to carry on the tradition. Today we often see the log fashioned into a decorative altar piece with holes for candles. So while the log itself isn't burned it is still set alight in a manner of speaking and often serves as the center piece of many people's rituals.

What Wood to Use

There are a few different schools of thought when it comes to picking the wood for a Yule log. You can work with something that is traditional to the season, or you can work one of the nine sacred woods.

Traditional Woods

During the winter season there are a few trees and woods that are common.

* Fir - used for protection, guarding against harmful influences and spirits, helps to prevent and ward off illness
* Spruce - very similar to fir trees in properties but spruce is particularly helpful in warding off harmful spirits
* Pine - has properties of immortality and resurrection, particularly helpful for work that deals with rebirth and bringing in new life
* Yew - a traditional tree the symbolizes death and rebirth, eases fears of darkness and the unknown

The Nine Sacred Woods

There are nine woods mentioned in the Wiccan Rede that are considered to be sacred. These are birch, oak, willow, hawthorn, hazel, apple, fir, and vine. However there is another set of nine sacred woods that are acknowledged that vary slightly which are taken from the first nine woods of the Celtic Tree calendar. These are birch, rowan, ash, alder, willow, hawthorn, oak, holly, and hazel. Which nine you decide to honor and work with would depend on tradition. As I'm not Wiccan and I do work with the Celtic path, I honor the nine form the tree calendar.

* Birch - considered in some Celtic traditions to be a Goddess tree, honors the Goddess and the feminine aspect, adds life to things
* Rowan - a strong protector that creates a shield of protection around those who work with it, also brings strength, inner peace, patience, and wisdom
* Ash - a holy wood, sacred to the dead, connected to spirituality and spiritual growth
* Alder - another protection wood but one that is particularly inclined to protection in emotional situations and helps to protect against broken hearts, it has also been seen as a warrior's wood since the heads of the slain where often displayed by warriors on spears made of alder wood
* Willow - a healing wood, brings blessings and healing
* Hawthorn - (also known by some as just "thorn") honors the faeries when combined with oak and ash, cleansing, keeps negative energy away, protective and defensive
* Oak - brings balance, fertility, protection, draws good luck and success,
* Holly - mainly used for protection and prosperity
* Hazel - prophecy, divination, wisdom, water magick and energy

One you have picked your wood you'll want to go through the process of blessing it and preparing it for ritual use, whether you're going to burn it or turn it into an altar tool. Tomorrow I'll share some rituals for your Yule log and tips on crafting one for your altar.

Books in PDF format to read:

Jean Seznec - Survival Of The Pagan Gods
Gabor Klaniczay - Witchcraft Mythologies And Persecutions
Michael Jordan - Dictionary Of Gods And Goddesses

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