Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of December 19th, - December 25th, 2008

The Yule Log

Columns Archive

  This Sunday, December 21st at 7:03 AM the Sun passes through the stone gates of the Winter Solstice, its somber grey facade hard and cold to the touch.

Yule Logs

Yule Logs

  As one of the four cornerstones of the seasonal year, many traditions honor this festive time of the wheel when the Sun dips lowest in the sky. In northern latitudes we find the seasons more dramatically pronounced, particularly with regard to the cold and winter.

  One Solstice tradition begins the week before Christmas and lasts for two weeks. Known as the Halcyon Days, seas are calm and by extension, the world at peace. It was thought to be a time of tranquility and happiness. While the kingfisher (halycon) was breeding the sea might be navigated 'in perfect security' by the mariner. The name, "halcyon", derives from two Greek words meaning 'the sea' and 'to conceive'. From Dryden's lines,

  'Admidst our arms as quiet you shall be,
As halcyons brooding on a winter's sea.'

  Another ritual associated with the Winter Solstice was the burning of the Yule Log. At one time living trees, later ritual poles and finally standing stones and temples were used to mark the axial rotation of the heavens, to find true north. As an early marker the tree became associated with the turning of the year, and the burning of the Yule Log the symbol of the coming year, the New Year, along with all its hopes and good wishes.

Chambers Yule Log

Chamber's Yule Log

  From Chambers Book of Days,

  "The burning of the Yule log is an ancient Christmas ceremony, transmitted to us from our Scandinavian ancestors, who, at their feast of 'Juul', at the winter-solstice, used to kindle huge bonfires in honour of their god Thor.

  "The custom, though sadly shorn of the 'pomp and circumstance' which formerly attended it, is still maintained in various parts of the country. The bringing in and placing of the ponderous block on the hearth of the wide chimney in the baronial hall was the most joyous of the ceremonies observed on Christmas Eve in feudal times. The venerable log, destined to crackle a welcome to all-comers, was drawn in triumph from its resting-place at the feet of its living brethren of the woods.

  "Each wayfarer raised his hat as it passed, for he well knew that it was full of good promises, and that its flame would burn out old wrongs and heartburnings, and cause the liquor to bubble in the wassail-bowl, that was quaffed to the drowning of ancient feuds and animosities. So the Yule-log was worthily honoured, and the ancient bards welcomed its entrance with their minstrelay."

  The Yule Log is the new year, together with all the promises it may bring. If everything that will transpire for the coming year is represented for you, your kin, and everybody else- then you tip your hat and welcome the New Year in.

  As the year turns, whether your calendar marks spring, summer, fall or winter, traditions agree. It is a time to let go of the old and welcome the new, to forget grudges and welcome friendships, to let go of a layer and start a-fresh.

  The Sun's passage into Capricorn gives to Saturn strength and power. The Lord of Karma now holds sway.

  So give something nice. Best wishes to all.


to top of page