The Story of Yule

The Story of Yule

How Christianity and Paganism are alike
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Christmas is, by all means, an extremely diverse holiday. While we fail to notice it most of the time, cultural aspects from all around the world come together and merge into the holiday that we know of as Christmas. Of course, Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ, the son of God. However, Christmas isn't as simple as that, especially when gift-giving, reindeer, elves, trees, and snow are thrown into the mix; after all, baby Jesus certainly never saw snow!

This raises the question: where do these aspects come from? While there are many different cultures and religions that have inspired the modern-day celebration of Christmas, one religious celebration stands out the most: the pagan celebration of the winter solstice known as Yule.

Out of all winter celebrations that take place during this time of year, one of the least-recognized seems to be Yule, celebrated by both pagans and Wiccans. Historically celebrated by Germanic pagans, Yule is the celebration of the coming light, which will bear itself when spring arrives. Similarly to Christmas, Yule marks the time in which the new year begins, as seen in the wheel of the year.

As with most Sabbats, we pagans decorate our altar (our sacred place of worship) in honor of the holiday:

When you look at these pagan altars, you can see the similarities between Yule and Christmas imagery: snow, ribbons, candles, evergreens, etc. My personal altar features similar aspects, such as candles, ornaments, and even a small tree.

Of course, you probably noticed the strange logs featured in each of these images. These are known to pagans as (not surprisingly) Yule Logs, which actually are an ancient Celtic phallic symbol (ancient paganism was quite fond of phallic symbols). The use of phallic symbols in Yule comes from the fact that Yule is considered to be the day of rebirth of the Horned God, who, in turn, symbolizes the sun. Of course, considering that the days after yule will be longer and the nights shorter, it makes sense that ancient Pagans would believe this to be, quite literally, the birth of the sun.

Yule logs are one of the many pagan symbols that have made their way into the modern Christmas; after all, one of the most popular Christmas dishes is the Yule log cake.

Somewhat less apetizing after realizing what it represents...


Since these pagan traditions came from primarily Germanic regions, symbols such as snow, reindeer, and evergreen trees came to represent the season. Of course, since Yule is the celebration of the coming of the light, candles were a very prominent symbol to the pagans of the past. To modern pagans, not only candles, but also artificial lights uphold the symbolism of the Horned god.

Yule, like most other Sabbats, is a massive celebration, celebrated with caroling, wassailing, mistletoe, and gifts, as well as prayers and elaborate rituals performed to honor the coming of the Horned God, one of the primary Wiccan deities. Gift-giving was very prominent in the Roman holiday Saturnalia, which was adopted by the Germanic pagans, and, finally, adopted by the Christians.

Of course, many Christians are horrified at the realization that their holy day is so similar to a pagan holiday. However, it is important to remember that history isn't always exclusive; cultures have always merged and split over time, and customs have always been adopted and abandoned. This does not mean that Yule is Christian, nor that Christmas is Pagan; it is simply a similarity developed due to cultural exchanges. Some other similarities between Pagan and Christian traditions are Ostara and Easter, as well as Lughnasadh and Thanksgiving.

It's so easy to alienate those who have different customs than us, but it's of upmost importance that we remember that, within all of our differences, we can cherish the things that bring us together. Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa, and Blessed Yule.

Cover Image Credit: https://ueat.utoronto.ca

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I'm Tired Of Trendy Christianity

Life with Jesus is so much more than one big coffee break.
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Okay, you're a Christian. After all, you have all of the tools you need.

You have your densely highlighted and underlined Bible, your Eno, your Chacos, your Patagonia backpack and of course, your beloved Camelbak or Nalgene water bottle that is covered in name-brand stickers.

Your days consist of going outside, chilling in your Eno and blasting "Oceans" by Hillsong and "Good, Good Father" by Chris Tomlin. Your room is decorated with lots of inspirational quotes, maps with variations of "send me" close by and probably some pictures of your last mission trip. Your Instagram page is full of pictures of your friends that are "gems," captions of how thankful you are for certain things and pictures of the last country you visited that say "take me back."

Oh, and you might have a tattoo in Greek.

Okay, if you know me, you know that I literally just described myself. So, when I say what I'm about to, I'm not bashing anyone at all. I am guilty of all of these things and God has really laid these things on my heart that I've found myself doing time after time.

It seems that in the time we live in, if you're going to be a Christian, you have to have all of the right things, and I'm tired of it. Christianity is not about having a certain look or personality, but about having a deep, meaningful relationship with Christ. I think a lot of people have the wrong idea about what being in a relationship with Christ actually looks like. I'm here to tell you that it's not anything like what I described.

Being in a relationship with Christ is not easy, and it's certainly not the most trendy thing out there (maybe on your college campus, but not in the real world.) It's about surrendering everything you have to a God who sent his son to be crucified for things you've done wrong.

It's more than just drinking designer coffee and Bible journaling and "being intentional."

It's about finding peace and joy in spending time with our creator. I know a lot of people just like me who fit the stereotype perfectly who have some of the deepest, most meaningful relationships with Christ, but I also know a lot of people who fit the stereotype who are just faking it.

I'm so tired of people who do not know Christ thinking that they have to have a certain look or personality about them and it hinders them from running into the loving arms of Jesus. We've made Christianity a club, and that's not okay. We have taken God's beauty and grace and made a fad out of it.

So, friends, I'm not saying that we can't have these things and still be Christians (because honestly, I like the way I live life with these things I've been given, and this is just who I am,) but I am saying that having these things are not what makes us Christians. So, be careful how you live out your walk.

Are you just doing it to be trendy, or do you have a deep and meaningful relationship with Christ?

Walking with Jesus is more than just a big coffee break.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Cover Image Credit: Tumblr/Psalm Thirty Seven Four

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How Superstitious Sheep Herders Started Beltane, The Irish Fire Festival

Mayday, still a popular holiday across Europe, has its roots in an important festival of the past.
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A Celtic tradition, Beltane was still practiced until the 19th century. As one of the four major Gaelic holidays (Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane, and Lughnasadh), it was a celebration of the changing seasons. They divide the year into seasonal quarters. Beltane is the beginning of summer and marks the beginning of the second half of the year; the time of light.

Pastoral Ireland


This tradition is much older than the mayday festivities seen in Germany and Scandinavia. It dates to a time when Ireland was a pastoral community. May 1st holds no value for agricultural communities. It marks the transition of livestock to open pasture.

Herding is at the root of Beltane. Called Lá Bealtaine in Gaelic, it means “bright fire” or “lucky fire.” The tradition is celebrated in not just Ireland, but Scotland and the Isle of Man. It centers around the lighting of large bonfires to protect the herds.

Aos sí


Therefore, it’s one of the most important of the four Gaelic holidays, second only to Samhain, the beginning of the dark half of the year. This is because, at the split between light and dark, the veil separating our world from the aos sí is at its thinnest.

Aos sí translates to “people of the mounds.” They’re a supernatural race of spirits, gods, and ancient ancestors similar to the elves and fairies, thought to live in mounds or across the western sea. Inhabiting Ireland before the arrival of man, they live in an invisible world parallel to ours. Think of it as a mirror where they walk among the living.

Belenus


One such god, Belenus, is called the “bright one.” Speculation insinuates that Beltane is for him. Beltane can be translated as “bright fire” or “Bel’s fire.” He is likened to Apollo; he brought the sun across the sky in a chariot pulled by horses.

Belenus was one of the chief and most prominent deities worshipped in Ireland. Essentially, he was the sun god. He represented rebirth, youth, and life. With the coming of summer, and the entrance into the light half of the year, its not an unreasonable speculation that he was associated with Beltane.

Need-fire


A need-fire or wild-fire is used to start the Beltane fires. This is a very sacred and ritual tradition: rubbing two sticks together. It’s a primal method of fire lighting reserved for emergency and festival. It’s usually done by certain individuals, most often while naked.

In Scotland, the men starting the need-fire must devest themselves of metal. In the Herebides, the archipelago off the coast of Scotland, the tradition is that the age of the men lighting the fire must total to 81, and they must be married. In Germany, two chaste boys, while naked, must start the fire. The ritual varies culture to culture.

Murrain


Aside from Beltane, need-fire might be used in times of murrain. Murrain’s literal meaning is “death” which refers to various spreading diseases among sheep and cattle. It’s an antiquated term from when people believed disease was a sign of ill luck and they’d ask the gods for favor. They’d light a large need-fire for healing.

The ritual


Before lighting the two need-fires for Beltane, all the hearth fires in the surrounding area, the area between the two closest streams, needed to be extinguished. Each person would carry a torch or lantern and light it from the need-fire. Then after, re-light their hearths.

Once the two fires were blazing, the community’s herds of cattle would be run between them. It’s thought the smoke would cleanse the livestock of illness and bring productivity and fertility to the herds. Scientifically, this may have rid the beasts of some insect pests or at least repelled them with the smoky odor.

The ash was particularly powerful and would be sown in with the crops. Ash is heavy in nitrogen, which grows strong crops. These fertility traditions were applied to humans as well as crops and livestock.

Gone a-maying


Beltane was seen as a festival for fertility. Often a woman would be named May Queen (or the May Bride or Goddess of Spring) and a man would be May King (also known as The Young Oak King or the Green Man). Depending on the community, they’d go either into the woods to consummate the coming of Summer or publicly celebrate it.

This was a time for marriages, as well. Couples would often jump the fire for fertility in the coming year. Handfasting, the tradition of tying hands and committing each other for a year and a day, often happened on Beltane. And many went “a-maying” in the woods.

“Giving it to a pebble"


You could also jump the fire for luck in the coming year. An Irish tradition is to whisper a wish to a pebble then put it in your pocket. Walk around the fire three times and toss it in. You’ll wish will come true. Others believe the dew collected the morning of Beltane had the power to restore youthful skin.



It was recommended you wear your clothes inside out to confuse them, thus stopping them from taking you to the otherworld. People would also keep their need-fire torch with them to prevent spirits from attacking them.

Stay safe this Beltane, folks!

Cover Image Credit: Tookapic

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