The Yule log and other rituals


Yule (Júl) is the name given by the Germanic and Nordic peoples to the period that follows the winter solstice (December 21-22 in the northern hemisphere and June 21-22 in the southern hemisphere). Throughout the world it has always been a festival of great relevance due to the importance of the movement of the sun from these dates, in relation to the length of the days and the fruit and care of the crops, as well as to bless the animals. . In northern Europe, these festivals had a series of characteristics that have become popular and, in addition, preserve their symbolism in the environment of Asatrú neo-paganism and Wicca, two of the most influential within the esoteric-religious revival.

Christmas tree

Without a doubt the Christmas tree is the most general example for the survival of paganism. Its origin seems to go back to the cyclical and natural symbolism represented by the Yggdrasil tree, although the symbolism of the "perennial tree" is evident, and Frazer, in his day, already noted the importance that sacred trees had for pre-Christian peoples. Decorating a tree or a trunk, both in Europe and in other areas of the world, was a way of celebrating the fertility of nature, of remaining "perennial" until the harshest season passed. But the true pagan part of the matter is the fire, since there are testimonies in which even in the 15th century, with Europe completely Christianized, the trees that decorated the squares were burned on specific nights or at the end of the season. Why fire? Very easy. As occurs in Midsommer, Midsummer or Midsummer Night, the fire, by sympathetic magic, is the sun itself, which is fed and given strength, and at the same time has a purifying value, since the year (whether it was in the Julian calendar or in the natural calendar) is about to end, and it is good to enter the next one having gotten rid of everything negative and receptive to the positive. These dates in the northern hemisphere also coincide with the increase in sunlight, which gives even more reason to requests for the fertility of the land and well-being. The trees were decorated with flowers, pine cones, garlands or fruits, which symbolized all the fruits that the trees would bear the following year, far from our colorful plastic balls, which only retain their shape as a souvenir. The lights of the trees, from a magical perspective, can be understood as substitutes for flames.

Those who still remember this ritual or seek to revive it, or preserve some folklore tradition, usually put candles on or around the tree, and sing or dance around it, in a very similar way to what certain pagan groups do in Beltane. The star at the top of the tree is not coincidental, although it has been attempted, from Christian tradition, to associate it with the Star of Bethlehem: in reality, it was not a star as such, but a solar symbol intended so that, from above, would transmit the energies sought to the true sun. In this way, dancing or singing with candles in our hands served the same function.

The Yule Log

The Yule log of today has some remnants of this tradition, but more of others that are much clearer. In a notably more modest and discreet bonfire, a chosen log is burned in the fireplace of the home, and it is attempted to be kept lit for 12 hours, or according to other traditions, day and night during the days that the festivities last. This occupation involved the participation of all members of the household, which made it an occasion to spend time together, preparing a meal, telling stories, singing or playing. The ashes are collected and saved for the following year, where they will fulfill their mission of helping to light another log, although there are those who directly cut a small portion of the log, which they use to light the following year's log. These ashes are also an amulet of protection for the home, although in the towns, a part of the ashes was saved to be scattered over the farmlands, to nourish them.

This log ritual was common throughout pagan Europe, and even in Christian Europe, as it is a very appropriate and close rite for rural people, who in many cases still perform it, although it has later adopted varied forms, such as the well-known Christmas log, which evokes, in the form of a cake, the moment of reunion.

Neopaganism has resurrected this ritual and schematized it, trying to restore all its religious value. To do this, he has divided it into different phases: personal and home purification, the selection of the log, the consecration or blessing of the log (since, otherwise, it is considered to be any trunk), the lighting of the log and the collection. from the ashes.

Purification can be through baths or incense. Just as they are used to decorate trees, fruit with its aromas and colors is also considered a good system, especially in the decoration of altars: oranges, tangerines, apples and lemons are some of the fruits that appear in the usual correspondences. , along with dried fruits, especially walnuts and pine nuts, whose pine cones serve as decoration. Among the favorite spices for incense or accompanying fruits we find cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon.

The selection of the log is not random, first of all because, as the ancients knew, there are woods that last in the fireplace and others that do not. They generally preferred pine for its ease of obtaining, but also oak, cedar or fir. It is preferable, for natural reasons, to select a broken trunk or a fallen branch; Also, in an esoteric-religious environment, a tree may have been previously consecrated or selected for this purpose, having taken care of its growth: in these cases, it is necessary to note that branches are usually cut and not the entire tree, as a sign of respect for nature, by the Goddess.

The blessing or consecration can consist of a simple act, placing the trunk in a sacred space, altar or circle prepared for this purpose, and praying or casting a spell over it, or painting with chalk, charcoal or wax solar symbols or of the God in his surface. Some practitioners prefer to engrave their personal runes and sigils with fire or with their athame, invoking their wishes. Specifically for Wiccans, it symbolizes the death and resurrection of the God in the womb of the Goddess, so any song or reference to it is considered good, just like Balder in his resurrection in Norse paganism.

The lighting of the log will preferably be lit with wooden matches or with the light of a candle instead of an artificial lighter: the more natural, the more accommodating the act will be. It is also acceptable to insert a piece of burning charcoal inside the trunk. Some people take advantage of the trunk's own decorations, which are usually holly leaves, fir or pine twigs, ivy, etc., to make the trunk itself catch fire. It is also considered valid to sprinkle dry spices such as rose buds, hibiscus, tea leaves... During the lighting ceremony you can choose silence or sing in a group, but the important thing is that all participants, in the case of not be a solitary rite, be present and show expectation and joy.

Those who do not have a fireplace or cannot burn a log safely, decorate the log and place lit candles in it or around it in which to burn their wishes, or simply to resemble the flames that should burn it. In groups it is common to hold hands around it or rotate around it clockwise. In these cases it is the entire trunk that is saved until it is discarded the following year once a substitute is found. Specifically in these cases there are those who use the trunk as part of their magical or religious altar, keeping it with them all year round.

Another option to burn a log safely is to use the cauldron. The log is inserted inside it (if it is a hand cauldron or censer, then smaller logs can be inserted, in magical numbers) and it is set on fire with the help of a charcoal tablet or papers with written magical wishes or sigils. If you still cannot get a log, some practitioners have a red candle placed inside the cauldron as a symbol of these dates.

There are also "modern" or "design" trunks, in which holes are provided to place the candles, or which already include the supports as a kind of candelabra. Although most of these trunks retain their elongated, rough or curved shape, there are also some as simple wooden boards with the pentagram inscribed, or in the shape of a five-pointed star. These logs are sometimes lit like incense wreaths, preparing for the arrival of Yule, where they must all burn, but it is not the most common.

What does not exist in neopaganism, and which to some extent would be considered inadmissible, is a trunk or support that is not made of wood. The natural is necessary in this aspect. The same goes for candles, which should preferably be real and not artificial.

Finally, the collection of the ashes. Some take the first twelve hours that the log spends burning as sacred, and then use it as a general fire, until it burns completely and the ashes can be collected. To extinguish it, if necessary (especially in large logs), following a ritual performance, a little wine or cider is consecrated and poured over the flames until they are extinguished. It is a memory, intermingled, of Greco-Roman libations. When everything is cold and dry, they are collected and stored: there are those who store them in a cloth bag to always carry them with them, and those who put them in a bag or box and leave it in some place that they consider strategic in the house, such as the room, the entrance or the altar. Some Wiccans use ashes in their rituals, as an element of earth or wood, or to evoke the wishes and intentions expressed on the dates of Yule.

Other rituals

Among these steps there are those who perform accessory rituals, such as writing wishes or requests (usually 7 or 12) and burning them in the log fire, like a pagan letter to Santa Claus. It is common to perform spells that require an object, symbol or message to end up burning, either to also use the ashes or for purification/elimination.

It is the most common, along with the celebration of a small banquet, personal or community, near the fire. Before we have mentioned pouring wine or cider over the log, as it is usually the most common drink to accompany, but there is a Yule drink: Wassail, a hot cider with spices and slices of citrus, designed to give to those who on these dates They go from door to door singing and offering gifts (which is now popularly singing Christmas carols or asking for a Christmas bonus).

You can also perform lunar rituals that can complement the desired objectives, following its different phases. Probably one of the most common is the request for money through the burning of laurel along with the trunk, or throughout the days, or the preparation of bags with coins or herbs and part of the burned trunk, citrus peels... .

Like all solstices, they are favorable moments for divination: looking at the tea leaves or filling cakes with different assorted charms (as in the Roscón de Reyes) to see who gets what (for example, putting in a lucky charm, another for money, another for travel, another for love... and distribute the pieces, predicting something different as chance decides). In some British areas, the quintessential bun is pudding, while in continental Europe a sponge cake or donut seems more popular; perform rune or tarot readings to obtain an overview of the coming year, usually with twelve pieces or aspects. Likewise, these days special attention is paid to natural omens and wonders (the weather, the attitude of animals, the colors of the sky...).

Yule is also a time for reflection and meditation: it is a good day to think about those who have gone, and to guide with candlelight those who we think may be lost. It is a turning point: after darkness comes light. And let's not forget the gifts: already in the Roman Saturnalia festivals and in many others it was common to give small gifts to get through these hard seasons.

Likewise, you can walk these candles or incense sticks around the house to purify it, or clean it with essential oils. The broom, an essential element of witches, is effective here for cleaning bad energies, not being necessary for it to touch the ground. To defend the house from evil spirits, there must be laughter and joy in the house, but in the absence of company or in a situation where this is not possible, you can make noise with cowbells and bells to scare away the evil spirits that seek their last. opportunity before the light returns. Leaving candles in the windows is also a common custom, although in most cases they are allowed to be artificial for safety, so they can be left lit all night.

Decorating with mistletoe is a pagan-based tradition, although it has been associated with Christianity. Mistletoe, a magical Celtic plant par excellence, grows on oaks, sacred trees in their tradition. But garlands are also made with natural elements such as citrus peels, cinnamon sticks, and various twigs. Red candles (for the fire) and white and gold (for the sunlight) are the favorites to set the mood, combining with popular decoration.

Pietro Viktor Carracedo Ahumada -


-Cunningham, S. Wicca. Una guía para la práctica individual. Arkano books, Madrid 2016

-Frazer, J. G. , La Rama Dorada. Fondo de CE México-Madrid-Buenos Aires, 1944

-Susan Pesznecker, Ll., Yule: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for the Winter Solstice, Llewellyn Worldwide, 2015

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