Guest Author – Leslie Ravenwing
Yule, pronounced “you all”, or jol is the Winter Solstice, the
shortest day and the longest night of the year. Yule, in Old Norse
means, Wheel. As the Wheel of the Year is significant in pagan
culture, it is important to note that Yule of the year means wheel.
Which, if having read the previous article, Samhain, in the 99,
October issue of The Seeker, it was noted that Samhain, may not have
been the Celtic New Year, but rather Yule. Yule, starting with the
birth of God, and a celebration of beginning of longer days, makes
sense as the beginning of the New Year.
Yule, of all the Sabbats, is the one that causes the most confusion
among those who follow the pagan path. Specifically those who are new
to the path and are breaking away from their Christian faith and way
of life. Yule, is, has, and always will be a pagan holiday. With that
said, I guess I need to further elaborate.
Yule has many pagan elements and more pagan history in it’s
foundation and pagan rites than Christian has. Yule has been
celebrated since the beginning of time in the Northern Hemisphere.
Many of the cultures located in the Northern Hemisphere celebrate
Yule, all with a common theme, the birth of a God. Most of these Gods
are associated with the Sun or with death and re-birth. Yule, like
Christmas, celebrates the birth of God. Several pagan Gods, have Yule
as their birth date:
This list is my no means complete, but does give you a general idea,
that more than one God has celebrated his birthday during Yule.
However, the Roman God Mirthra plays a most important role in the
preservation of Yule, and it’s other name, Christmas.
Approximately in the year 312, Constantine, Emperor of Rome, declared
Rome Christian. This however was not done because Constantine was
Christian, he was not baptized until 337, it was more do to the fact,
that Rome was declining, and Constantine saw in Christian religion,
what Rome lacked, moral fortitude and the ability to self organize.
To attempt to persuade his fellow pagan Romans, he choose Mirthra’s
birthday (Yule) as the same a Jesus’, and from there just let human
nature take its course. It didn’t hurt that after many hard fought
battles, of which he won, had all armor and shields painted with
Christian symbols, and that he told the populace that the Christian
God granted Rome these Victories. In Rome, whoever controlled the
Army controlled Rome. Which raises the question of confusion again.
Did the Christians steal Yule, or did they preserve it for us? It is
important to understand that while historical facts and data are important, they are not necessary to enjoy the Sabbat. If one believes that Yule is a celebration of the coming of light, warmth, and the birth of (insert god of your choice) that whether we call it Christmas, Yule or the Winter Solstice is unimportant. Yule is the one Sabbat that allows us to celebrate with other faiths without compromising our own. There are many pagan/pre-Christian customs that are still part of the Christmas celebration. The giving of gifts was first founded in Rome to celebrate Saturn’s Festival. The use of jingle balls is and Old Norse custom to drive away the evil spirits, in a time and place where night was longer than day. Mistole is an old Celtic custom and is commonly part of every household during Yule. The wreath, the complete circle, representing the Wheel of the year, is also still a custom.
Which brings us to the Yule tree. The tree of choice is the Fir, Evergreen or Pine. The reasons these particular trees where probably use is because that these where the only trees that were considered to be still alive, enternal. According to McCoy, these trees where sacred among the Druids, as they were the trees that didn’t die. The Druids would decorate the trees with images that represented their wants and desires for the coming year.
It should be noted that while Yule is considered a primarily Christian Holiday, it does not do anyone any good, declaring their theft. Rather we should be thankful that they have done such a great job of preserving it for us, and relish the fact that you know, and understand, why they decorate the tree, give gifts, and use bells. It might make Yule at the homestead easier on those families of mixed religion philosophies. So when someone wishes you a “Merry
Christmas”, don’t tell them I am not a Christian but rather say, “Merry Yule to you also”, and know that Jesus wasn’t a bad guy, but rather in a very elite group of Gods, who all celebrate their Birthday on Yule.
March 2011 Issue of Main Street Magazine.
by Ron Leadbetter
The daughter of Leto and Zeus, and the twin of Apollo. Artemis is the goddess of the wilderness, the hunt and wild animals, and fertility (she became a goddess of fertility and childbirth mainly in cities). She was often depicted with the crescent of the moon above her forehead and was sometimes identified with Selene (goddess of the moon). Artemis was one of the Olympians and a virgin goddess. Her main vocation was to roam mountain forests and uncultivated land with her nymphs in attendance hunting for lions, panthers, hinds and stags. Contradictory to the later, she helped in protecting and seeing to their well-being, also their safety and reproduction. She was armed with a bow and arrows which were made by Hephaestus and the Cyclopes.
In one legend, Artemis was born one day before her brother Apollo. Her mother gave birth to her on the island of Ortygia, then, almost immediately after her birth, she helped her mother to cross the straits over to Delos, where she then delivered Apollo. This was the beginning of her role as guardian of young children and patron of women in childbirth. Being a goddess of contradictions, she was the protectress of women in labor, but it was said that the arrows of Artemis brought them sudden death while giving birth. As was her brother, Apollo, Artemis was a divinity of healing, but also brought and spread diseases such as leprosy, rabies and even gout.
Being associated with chastity, Artemis at an early age (in one legend she was three years old) asked her father, the great god Zeus, to grant her eternal virginity. Also, all her companions were virgins. Artemis was very protective of her purity, and gave grave punishment to any man who attempted to dishonor her in any form. Actaeon, while out hunting, accidentally came upon Artemis and her nymphs, who bathing naked in a secluded pool. Seeing them in all their naked beauty, the stunned Actaeon stopped and gazed at them, but when Artemis saw him ogling them, she transformed him into a stag. Then, incensed with disgust, she set his own hounds upon him. They chased and killed what they thought was another stag, but it was their master. As with Orion, a giant and a great hunter, there are several legends which tell of his death, one involving Artemis. It is said that he tried to rape the virgin goddess, so killed him with her bow and arrows. Another says she conjured up a scorpion which killed Orion and his dog. Orion became a constellation in the night sky, and his dog became Sirius, the dog star.
Yet another version says it was the scorpion which stung him and was transformed into the constellation with Orion, the later being Scorpio. Artemis was enraged when one of her nymphs, Callisto, allowed Zeus to seduce her, but the great god approached her in one of his guises; he came in the form of Artemis. The young nymph was unwittingly tricked, and she gave birth to Arcas, the ancestor of the Arcadians, but Artemis showed no mercy and changed her into a bear. She then shot and killed her. As Orion, she was sent up to the heavens, and became the constellation of the Great Bear (which is also known as the Plough).
Artemis was very possessive. She would show her wrath on anyone who disobeyed her wishes, especially against her sacred animals. Even the great hero Agamemnon came upon the wrath of Artemis, when he killed a stag in her sacred grove. His punishment came when his ships were becalmed, while he made his way to besiege Troy. With no winds to sail his ships he was told by the seerCalchas that the only way Artemis would bring back the winds was for him to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia. Some versions say he did sacrifice Iphigenia, others that Artemis exchanged a deer in her place, and took Iphigenia to the land of the Tauri (the Crimea) as a priestess, to prepare strangers for sacrifice to Artemis.
Artemis with her twin brother, Apollo, put to death the children of Niobe. The reason being that Niobe, a mere mortal, had boasted to Leto, the mother of the divine twins, that she had bore more children, which must make her superior to Leto. Apollo being outraged at such an insult on his mother, informed Artemis. The twin gods hunted them down and shot them with their bows and arrows; Apollo killed the male children and Artemis the girls.
Artemis was worshiped in most Greek cities but only as a secondary deity. However, to the Greeks in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) she was a prominent deity. In Ephesus, a principal city of Asia Minor, a great temple was built in her honor, which became one of the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World”. But at Ephesus she was worshiped mainly as a fertility goddess, and was identified with Cybele the mother goddess of eastern lands. The cult statues of the Ephesian Artemis differ greatly from those of mainland Greece, whereas she is depicted as a huntress with her bow and arrows. Those found at Ephesus show her in the eastern style, standing erect with numerous nodes on her chest. There have been many theories as to what they represent. Some say they are breasts, others that they are bulls testes which were sacrificed to her. Which is the true interpretation remains uncertain, but each represent fertility.
There were festivals in honor of Artemis, such as the Brauronia, which was held in Brauron; and the festival of Artemis Orthia, held
at Sparta, when young Spartan boys would try to steal cheeses from the altar. As they tried they would be whipped, the meaning of Orthia and the nature of the ritual whipping has been lost and there is no logical explanation or translation. Among the epithets given to Artemis are: Potnia Theron (mistress of wild animals) this title was mentioned by the great poet Homer; Kourotrophos (nurse of youth’s); Locheia (helper in childbirth); Agrotera (huntress); and Cynthia (taken from her birthplace on Mount Cynthus on Delos). When young girls reached puberty they were initiated into her cult, but when they decided to marry, which Artemis was not against, they were asked to lay in front of the altar all the paraphernalia of their virginity, toys, dolls and locks of their hair, they then left the domain of the virgin goddess.