Around the Cauldron · Celebrating the Sabbats · Pagans Down Under

Celebrating Midwinter

solstice-backyard
Awaiting the birth of the Sun, Midwinter 2015 © Ooh Chiara @ Book of Eucalypt

We wait in the dark for the light to appear,
Mother, give birth to our brother the Sun.
We wait in the dark for the light to appear,
Mother, give birth to our brother the Sun!
We wait. We watch.
Out of the cold comes the promise of newness.
We wait. We watch.
Out of the cold comes the promise of day!
~ Solstice Prayer Chant, Thorn Coyle 

The Holly King
‘The Holly King’ by Anne Stokes

“I am the Holly King, King of Winter, the dark time of the year, Lord of the Underworld. I am the dark twin of my brother, the Oak King, the King of the Summerlands, the Lord of Light. I am the wolf and he is the stag. I am the dark to his light. It is his birthday – the birth of the conquering sun – that we celebrate on winter solstice.

“The winter solstice is the longest night of the year. Pagans today call this time by its ancient Anglo-Saxon name, Yule. Yule is the night when I am the strongest. But it is also the time when I slowly begin to grow weak again, as the Sun slowly returns from land of darkness. This is night that the Child of Promise is born from the dark womb of the earth.. The Child of Promise is the new sun, which is small and weak at this time of the year, but will grow stronger and stronger until he defeats me in the springtime. This is a time for celebrating new beginnings.”

My favourite aspect of the Wheel of the Year celebrations is the story of the Oak and Holly Kings and their transition in governing the land. It is the story that resonates with me the most. And, being in the Southern Hemisphere, it works quite well. Not all celebrations translate from northern hemisphere to Australia due to our vastly different weather and crop harvesting patterns, so I love the Oak and Holly story.

The Holly and Oak Kings

The Oak King by Anne Stokes
‘The Oak King’ by Anne Stokes

Holly and Oak Kings, who are twin brothers who control half the year each, and at the Equinoxes die only to be reborn to continue the cycle.

At the Winter Solstice (which falls between June 20-22 in the Southern Hemisphere) we welcome the birth of the Oak King, the King of the Summerlands, the Lord of Light. His reign begins with his birth as the Holly King, at the end of his, is old and frail. The Oak King will now bring light back to the land while the Holly King rests and waits to be reborn at the Summer Solstice.

It’s a beautiful tale of nature, the cycle of nature’s changing with each season. The Oak King brings life and fertility back to the land. He ensures the days grow longer giving light so the crops may grow. The Holly King allows the earth to transition into slumber. The trees lose their leaves, animals hibernate, the days grow short and darkness reigns.

As much as it’s a celebration of the return of the light, it’s also a celebration of surviving the darkness. In the depths of our soul, in hidden passages and unlocked chests within ourselves, we carry secrets and frustrations, fears, regrets, loneliness, pain. The darkness is our place of safety where we can rest and hide.

And, as many who read my blog are aware, the darkness is the balance of the light. The light is the balance of the dark. What waxes must wane. The Oak and Holly Kings are the natural Kings of earthly balance!

Individual Celebrations

With the rising of the Solstice Sun over the foggy morning horizon, may there be peace is the East!
With the rising of the Solstice Sun over the foggy morning horizon, may there be peace is the East! © Ooh Chiara @ Book of Eucalypt.com

So far I have celebrated the Solstice in three separate rituals, with a fourth to come. I have given Herne honour for his night of the Wild Hunt, and we exchanged gifts. He told me what he wanted and guided me to it, and in return he gave me something I’m not yet ready to write about publically. I have celebrated with friends and welcomed the sun after surviving the longest night in front of a warm fire. Delicious food, great wine, fantastic company – it is easily one of my favourite Solstice celebrations yet! Still on a high from little sleep after surviving the night, I gave honour again to the Sun and to Herne in the parklands, and laid an individual offering. With that, I did as I was told and guided, having received more messages from Herne throughout the night.

Saturday night I had every intention of doing one thing, but Herne wanted something else. I had an idea for the Wild Hunt in mind, but he reminded me of something he told me at the Summer Solstice.

“Your birthday falls in August, in Winter, but August is in Summer in my Forest. You do not change the date of your birthday, and I do not change the date of my Hunt.”

The symbolism of the Hunt was honoured, but in the end was not the focus of my Saturday night rite. I gave him a gift of fluorite, which is what he asked for, and he gifted me in return with something I was not prepared for, but graciously and happily accepted!

solstice-darkness
Celebrating the Longest Night with good company © Ooh Chiara @ Book of Eucalypt.com

I say that the celebration with friends was by far my favourite I’ve –ever- celebrated because nothing can go past a night of good food and great company! The effort my dear friends put into the night, into the feast and celebration was amazing! I did have some moments of tired rambling, and survived the night through being cold and steer determination. I think it was also a test by Herne, as we had the opportunity to go inside but something told me to put more wood on the fire, so out in the cold we stayed. And I had crackling for the first time ever! Delicious!

[Edit: I might add that I woke Sunday morning at 8.30am, had an hour nap during the day, then went to bed around 10.30am Monday morning. So we waited in the darkness, throughout the night in front of a wonderfully warm bonfire for the Sun to rise!]

When I got to the car I had every intention of going home and going to sleep, but I was guided to the Western Sydney Parklands because Herne had other plans. It was incredibly simple, but it was strong and powerful and so many questions from Saturday and Sundays were answered. I laid my final offering, drove home, unpacked the car, and crashed.

Midwinter offering of land, sea and sky
Midwinter offering of land, sea and sky © Ooh Chiara @ Book of Eucalypt.com

Some of my friends within the Australian Pagan blogging community have made some beautifully constructed, detailed and thought-provoking posts about Yule and the Winter Solstice, so please check them out!

Spinning Webs – Yule, the Winter Solstice
Australis Incognita – Dual Roles
PaGaian Cosmology – June 2015 Winter Solstice
The Hedgewitchery – Winter Solstice Rite

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