Yule is the Sabbat that follows Samhain, the Sabbat that marks the midpoint of the Shield Season. Yule is the winter solstice, marking the shortest day and longest night. From this point on the length of the days will increase as light returns.
The Yule Sabbat is when modern knights finalize the plans and strategies that they need to make the resolutions that they made at Samhain a reality. Yule is when we make the preparations necessary to achieve the objectives that we have set for ourselves. The Yule season is the time of year when we finalize the lists of things that we need and things that we must do, for in the coming seasons we must get down to working towards these objectives. You must turn your list of objectives into a more detailed “to do” list which outlines all of the steps that you need to carry out to achieve your objectives. This is the time to lay down the magickal foundations for what you hope to accomplish in the coming cycle of seasons. For example: The resolution that I’d made to found the Order of Paladins at Samhain had been developed into a syllabus and lesson plans and classes had commenced in November. By Yule I had finalized the plan for the coming year. This is a busy time for planning what is going to be happening in the garden in the coming year and setting up things in the greenhouse for that coming season.
This is the time when the novices of the Order are learning about the Wiccan Rede and ethics, about responsibility and taking charge of their lives. They start to learn how they can create their own reality steering their course through life instead of being tossed about by the waves and currents of fate. They start to learn methods of meditation, both the traditional stationary/passive methods and more dynamic systems of meditation in motion. As part of this they begin to learn basic stick work with exercises like Siniwali (“weaving”) and Sumbrada (“shadowing”). They strive for those flow states that I mentioned earlier, those states of heightened awareness. They strive for “no mind”, becoming pure awareness and following the flow of energy. The novices start learning exercises to send energy back and forth to one another and how to “push” and “pull” that energy. They are learning how to “launch” their energy towards magickal objectives.
The shielding work that was introduced to the novices in the Shield Season has now progressed to learning how to put up wards, including the spherical ward that is the ritual Circle. They are taught techniques like holding the ball and pushing sky that they can use to make their own Circles and wards.
This is where the novice’s psychic training begins as well. They are asked to create their own astral temples to get used to working in psychic space. They are asked to see if they can visualize what the Order of Paladins’ group astral temple, Caer Paladin, looks like.
Yule is traditionally a time to cleanse the household in preparation for the return of the sun. As the light begins to increase, so do your plans begin to grow and take shape. This is when we use our magick to “clear the decks” for action.
The short days characteristic of this Shield Season remind us of the precept: Do not engage in useless activity. We need to use these short days wisely. It is a time to help each other through the lean months, in the spirit of loyalty, which is of one of our principles of chivalry. It is a time for demonstrating our sincerity to one another.
These dark days are also a time of meditation, seeking to nurture the ability to perceive the truth in all matters. In order to succeed in the months ahead we need to chart our course accurately. We can only do that if we have a clear vision of what lies ahead.
Yule is a time of rebirth, symbolized by the return of the light of the sun. It is a time for modern knights to use their resolutions of Samhain to bring about their own rebirth: To reinvent themselves in the image that they have chosen. It is also a time for the elimination of obstacles. We don’t want anything to stand in our way of our progress once we arrive at the next Sabbat, Imbolc.
The modern celebration of Christmas has been turned into a commercial rat race where people bankrupt themselves attempting to buy everyone that they know presents to prove how much regard they have for one another. Christmas decorations appear in stores as early as September and Christmas sales catalogues appear even earlier to facilitate this. With all due respect to the merchants who make a living selling all this, this is utter nonsense. Exchanging gifts in this season is a very old custom, certainly, dating back to Roman times. You can and should demonstrate your love and feelings to others. I would suggest that it is possible and desirable to demonstrate those feelings in ways other than handing over swag.
In these uncertain economic times this material one-upmanship is simply going to add unwanted stress to already stressful lives. I can’t think of anything less sincere than substituting material gifts for loving interaction. This is one of the reasons that the Order of Paladins’ precept of the month for December is: “Do not engage in useless activity”. All of the time that you saved by not having to shop for an SUV full of presents you can spend actually interacting with your friends and telling them how you care for them.
Demonstrate your love by doing things for others. Yule is about celebrating peace and your community. It is all about showing good will towards one another. These celebrations afford an excellent opportunity to connect with your loved ones. Handing people gifts is a way to avoid taking the time to tell people how you feel. Yule isn’t about trying to outdo one another. It isn’t about buying people’s love. Love cannot be bought. Yule is about loyalty, which is why loyalty is one of the principles of chivalry that the Order of Paladins focuses on in the month at this time of the year. Loyalty is won by supporting your friends, keeping your word, and showing you care.
Do you want to observe the old custom of gift giving? Buy a simple gift for your celebration and put it under the Yule tree; one gift only. Each person at the celebration does this. When everyone leaves, each person takes one gift. In the time between these two events give yourself to your friends and loved ones. It’s you they want, not something in a box.
The longest night and shortest day at the apex of the season of darkness has always been a time when people reenact myths explaining the cycle of darkness of light of the seasons of the Earth. The darkness often is used as a metaphor for the want and depression and conflict which are often amplified in the cold dark Shield Season. Often the myths concern a figure of light or solar divinity bringing back light to banish the darkness. Their light often represents the giving and caring and service which can drive out ignorance and hatred and greed. . Lords and Ladies of Light and Dark battle endlessly, maintaining the balance of nature.
In our Yule ritual the Seneschal reminds the participants that our precepts and code of chivalry stand as examples, guiding us to face or fears and deal with challenges and obstacles, which often occur in cycles as do the seasons. By standing as examples, we light the way for those who follow us, banishing the darkness, using our service to relieve suffering and bring hope. This is my challenge: In the coming season, as the light of the sun returns, how will you light the darkness? What will you do for yourself, for kith and kin, for the greater community, and for the earth to make life better? This is the shield season. How will you shield yourself and others from the darkness? Who here will carry the torch? Who will be the light?
The Seneschal takes a candle and hands it to the first person in the Circle in the East and the Seneschal says:
“(Name) will you hold the light?”
The person takes the candle and tells the assembled company how they will live according to the precepts and code of chivalry to help “spread the light” for others during the coming year. When that person finishes they take the candle and light a candle on the Yule Log stating:
“I will shine.”
The person who has just held the candle now turns and challenges the next warrior in Circle:
“Will you hold the light?”
The process repeats itself until all members of the Circle have lit their candles on the Yule Log. This is best suited for a small group: It takes a while to do this, especially if it is a large group, but it is a very emotional ritual.
In Order of Paladins Yule celebrations, we may go out before the dawn and sing up the sun. This commemorates the myth commemorating the Goddess as Mother giving birth (once again) to the Sun God. For us this often this takes the form of getting up before the sun rises and lighting a bon fire. The celebrants stand around the fire, “singing the sun up” in celebration of the returning light. We’ll sing traditional wassail songs like the Malpas Wassail song. We often appoint members to represent the Young Lord (or the waxing year) and the Old Lord (the waning year) and play out a ritual drama of the Young Lord’s victory over the Old to mark the point from which the days will lengthen. Each participant carries in a piece of holly or willow. As each participant enters the Circle, they are marked on the forehead with a feather dipped in clay paste or mud (as this is the season of earth) and smudged with incense. The Gods are honored in song, with both group songs and individual offerings of song and poetry. Celtic deities like Brigid, Gwion Bach, Cerridwen, Mannanan, Belenos, Ogma, the Morrighan and the Dagda are invoked. The participants bestow a kiss upon the earth with their fingertips (you can bestow this kiss directly if you want, but it can be very uncomfortable kissing frozen ground). Instead of the apple juice that we use for our Agape in most rituals we may substitute cranberry juice for this one. Each participant offers some to the ground, makes a statement or toast, then drinks from the cup. The holly or willow branches are offered to the bon fire.
When we return to the Order’s Motherhouse, we have a Yule breakfast and a gift tree: Each person brings only one inexpensive gift with no label and puts it under the Yule gift tree. They may also bring an ornament to hang on the tree and make a wish for the coming season: This is similar to the well dressing customs that I will tell you about when I describe Beltaine rituals later. When people leave our Yule celebration, they take one gift from under the Yule gift tree with them. This way, no one ends up paying off massive credit card debts and no one feels pressured to get “just the right gift” for anyone.
Yule was another time of year that the custom of “Hodening” or “Hoodening” was practised. The Hodening horse would go about from household to household at night with a small group of attendants. His visit was said to bring fertility and good fortune to the household. One of his attendants would lead him by the reins or a rope, another would carry a whip, sometimes a lighter person would ride on his back. Another of the attendants was a man dressed as a woman called “Mollie” or “Old Woman”, who carried a besom. Originally this was probably a woman, perhaps a priestess. When we do this, the group greets the celebrants at the door of the Motherhouse, the Hodening horse snapping his jaws and The Old Woman sweeping the entrance way to sweep out any bad luck. The Hodening party then enters the Motherhouse and the celebrants tie a red ribbon on the horse’s head.
In Wales this custom was referred to as Mari Lwyd. A horse’s skull or wooden replica, decorated with ribbons and draped with a long white sheet was carried around on a pole, the sheet concealing the man who carried it. The Mari Lwyd was led about by five or six men wearing coloured ribbons or rosettes. They started out at dusk and carried on until late and night. They went door to door, asking permission to sing and then entering into a singing contest with the householders. The troop would then be invited into the house to bring in good luck. The “horse” would gambol about the house, snapping at the women. Once they were done the Mari Lwyd troop would sing a song in blessing and go on to the next house.