I’m trying to write a post on the legend of the Holly King and the Oak King, but it’s slow going… most of the explanations I’ve read tend toward the scholarly – i.e., boring – and I’d rather write something you’ll enjoy reading. In the interim, if you don’t mind being bored a little, just Google “Holly King and the Oak King”…
My Personal Yule Ritual
You won’t find this in any book. I created it pretty much out of thin air, and it’s changed very little over the years.
I live in an apartment, and just across the street is another apartment complex. It’s surrounded by a holly hedge – which is, in its turn, surrounded by a chain-link fence. The holly grows through the fence (as holly is wont to do) and November will find me there with a canvas tote bag and a pair of plant shears.
I snip enough 3-4″ lengths of holly to fill a small cast-iron cauldron (the womb of the Mother Goddess) about three-quarters full. (I wear heavy gloves during this procedure; holly is as prickly as an agitated cat.) There are lots of pine trees around and I’ve occasionally been known to add a handful of dry pine needles to the mix.
In either case, I set the cauldron aside until the Winter Solstice; by this time the holly is all nice and dry (and pricklier than ever). I go online to verify the time of sunset and about fifteen minutes beforehand I douse the holly with charcoal starter, sometimes adding a stick or two of incense – cedar, pine, spruce, cinnamon… even frankincense and myrrh have put in an appearance. I think about the significance of the Solstice for a few minutes, and when the sun disappears below the horizon, I use a fireplace match or a grill lighter to ignite the holly.
I tend the fire until it burns itself out (which can take a while; dry holly burns quite enthusiastically – and incidentally, so do eyebrows). In the meantime, I’ll drink a glass of homemade wassail (or store-bought eggnog) and toast the reborn Sun.
For more information on the Winter Solstice and Yule, go to http://twitter.com/#!/candlegrove, or read The Winter Solstice, by John and Caitlin Matthews.