Athena's Web Weekly Column
Week of January 1st - January 7th, 2010
The Tree of Life
The tradion of the Yule Log radiates from the Tree of Life in the Germanic, Nordic and Celtic traditions. The Winter Solstice, Christmas and New Years are all holidays that deal with both the end and the beginning of the year. At Christmas we look back on all that has been, at New Year's we look ahead to the promise of life made new.
The Yule Log ritual can be part of the Winter Solstice or the Twelve Days of Christmas, Chrismas Eve, Christmas Day, or even New Year's. Each of these holidays generate the cheer needed to keep the Wheel of Life turning during this especially important time, the birth of the year, together with the promise of keeping you warm and protected.
Orignally the Germanic customs selected an entire tree, inserting the heavier end into the hearth first, allowing the rest of the tree to project into the living space.
The first mention of the Yule Log in England dates to no earlier than the 17th century. Clergyman Robert Herrick called the tradition a "Christmas Log" and said that it was brough into the farmhouse by a group of males, who were then rewarded the free beer from the farmer's wife. The clergyman claimed, in keeping with tradition, that the fire used to burn the new Yule Log be kindeled with a remnant from the log that had been burned the previous year.
One year emerges from the next.
In Catalonia, a log is wrapped with a blanket and given special care several days ahead of Christmas. On Christmas Eve the log is hit to go 'cagar'. The blanket is then removed to reveal the gifts that have been 'expelled' by the log.
Since the Yule Log represents the shaft around which the world turns, it is linked to the coming year and how it will fare. This is the birth of the year. The gifts 'expelled' by the log are the gifts the coming year will bless you with, starting now.
The 'magic' of this moment, is of giving and recieving gifts for twelve days so rich rewards might be returned for the coming twelve months. If this is the New Year, the Tree contains the 'essence' of the following year.
Among Serbs, the Yule Log is known as a Badnjak and was felled early Christmas Eve morning. In a solemn procession a young straight oak is brought into the house and placed on the fire. As the fire is lit, prayers are sent up so that the coming year may bring much happiness, love, luck, riches and food.
In Bulgaria, a young man of the family was sent out in his best clothes to cut down an oak, elm or pear tree. A prayer of forgiveness was necessary before it could be chopped down. It had to be carried on the right shoulder and was not allowed to touch the ground. After arriving at home, the end of the tree is bored out and filled with Chrism made of wine, cooking oil and incense. The hole is then plugged, with the end wrapped in a white linen cloth before being burned on the hearth. The log is said to have special healing powers.
Left over pieces of the burned Yule Log are especially lucky. Items carved out of the wood were thought to be blessed.
Myths regarding the Tree of Life can be found in many traditons all around the globe. The Yule Log is simply one 'branch' of the Tree.