Wednesday the 21st is the Winter Solstice, the time of year with the shortest amount of daylight and the longest night. It's also the time of year where the sun appears to pause from it's lowering and then from this day forward appears to riser higher in the sky. The term "solstice" actually means "standstill" and is a reference to this. The Winter Solstice is also the official start of Winter.
Nearly every single culture on this planet has given this time great religious significance. It is often perceived to be "the rebirth of the Sun god", a reference to the pausing of the lowering of the sun and then it's rising movements. Both Pagans and Christians invested heavily into this astronomical observance. For many people this is their favorite time of the year.
Despite the fact that the Pagans may have believed this was the rebirth of the Sun god, things were not all rainbows and roses. The Pagans feared the Winter Solstice. Yes, you read that right.This leads me to the other purpose of this blog entry. I need to explain some things.
The one thing I've noticed among Wiccans and NeoPagans is this obsession with all things Celtic. In fact, the fascination with the Celts is so strong that I've heard repeatedly that Wicca is somehow the survival of Celtic paganism. It's not. In fact, the only thing that Gerald Gardner took from the Celts in order to create Wicca was some of the pre-Christian Celtic holidays. If you actually take a closer look at Wicca you will discover that there is a far stronger Germanic influence.
I've noticed that many Wiccans and some NeoPagans have this bias against the Germanic pagans. I'm not sure if it's from the stereotype of the Germanic pagans as being brutish or savages or the fact that there are some modern Germanic groups that are quite racist. I really don't know the reason why. The Germanic people were instrumental in the development of European culture and civilization and most white people alive today are of Germanic heritage.
What do I mean when I write "Germanic people"? The Germanic tribes were the tribes that arose in the area of modern day Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Belgium. These tribes then spread mostly northward, eastward, and westward, with some southward expansion.
So two great peoples of pagan Europe where the Celts and the Germanic tribes. The Romans really didn't distinguish between the two. In fact, many of the quotes from Roman historians that you read about in books, articles, and essays on the Celts are actually now believed to have been on the Germanic tribes. What distinguished the two was mainly that the Germanic tribes were more homogeneous. Their languages were very similar. They worshiped the same gods, with possibly only slight variations in names, such as Odin to the Norse and Wodan to the Angles and Saxons. The Celtic tribes were very dissimilar to each other, spoke different languages, and worshiped different gods.
For the Germanic tribes, the Winter Solstice may have been the most important celebration of the year. Each tribe may have called it by a different name but it seems to have been important to each. The Norse called it Yule. That's why Yule is used as a synonym for Christmas to this day.
The pagan Germanic celebration of Yule originally lasted 3 days but was later extended to 12 days. This is where the 12 days of Christmas came from. Yule not only was the celebration of the Winter Solstice but it was also the celebration of the New Year. Yule was a time of feasting, drinking, merry-making and all-around-fun. However, it was also the scariest time of the year. In spirit, Yule was like squashing Halloween and Christmas together to make a brand new holiday.
The 12 days of Yule was a time of celebration but also the scariest time of the year. Just like with the Celtic Samhain, the veil between this world and the next was considered to be at it's thinnest. The spirits of the dead roamed the land. Witches and Alfar (elves) where most active and both could prove quite fatal to humans. Additionally, the king of the gods, Wodan (Odin), from where we get "Wednesday" (Wodan's Day) from, rode through the air with supernatural companions. It was called "The Wild Hunt" and in the form of nocturnal storms it raced through the sky at night. Any unfortunate human in it's path was killed or abducted, never to be seen again. Because of the supernatural threats active during this time, and due to the fact that it was freezing cold outside, most people thought it best to stay indoors. They decorated with evergreens to remind themselves of the promise of the eventual return of the warmth of Spring and drank, dance, feasted and told stories well into the night. All of this would be transformed into Christmas with the coming of Christianity.
Other traditions celebrated at this time that have pagan origins is the Yule log, part of a sacred bonfire believed to ward off evil and possibly imitative magic meant to strengthen the Sun, as well as the feasting on Christmas ham. On Yule, a sacrifice of a boar was given to the fertility god Freyr to ensure bounty and blessings in the coming year. The flesh of the slain boar would be shared and eaten by the community. Interestingly enough, Christmas trees are a modern invention and do not date back to the actual Germanic pagans. However, the Christmas Tree was invented by modern, Christian Germanic people.
So why am I bothering with the history lesson? Well, it's because most of the lore and symbolism associated with the Winter Solstice (and Christmas) that is practiced today ultimately derives from the German tribes. I fell the need to point this out as I've recently seen many Wiccan websites trying to attribute the symbolism of Christmas to the Celts. Not so! It's is thoroughly Germanic in origin. Not only is it Germanic, but the influence of Germanic paganism on Wicca is also very strong as well.
Wicca gets its name from the Old English word "wicca", meaning a male witch. The feminine form is "wicce". Old English is the language of the Anglo-Saxons, a Germanic tribe created from the merger of the Angels and the Saxons. The Wiccan holiday of Yule comes from Germanic paganism. So does Esotre/Ostara, the celebration of the Spring Equinox. Additionally, the Wiccan holiday that is celebrated on August 1st is called either Lughnasadh or Lammas. Lughgnasadh (festival of the god Lugh) come from the Celts. The name Lammas (loaf-mass, a blessing of the bread loaves) comes from the Germanic people.
So for my Wiccan and NeoPagan friends and readers, the Celts are cool and all, but why not get in touch with your Germanic roots?
Note: If you are Wiccan or NeoPagan and you would like to research your Germanic roots, the NeoPagan religion of Asatru may be of interest to you. Asatru, means "faith in the gods". There are many groups that fall within this heading. Please research each group before you get involved with them as unfortunately there are some groups which are racist. Here is a cool video about Asatru, or modern Germanic Paganism.
In keeping with the Germanic tradition of viewing the Winter Solstice as being a scary time as well as a time for fun, I like to celebrate the day by listening to Lovecraft Solstice Carols as well as watch Christmas-themed horror movies. I'm just weird like that. These Lovecraftian songs are set to traditional Christmas carols but display lyrics befitting the Lovecraftian mythos. I don't have time to explain the mythos of H.P Lovecraft but if you are interested you can research it for yourself. I will share some Lovecraft Solstice carols below so that you too can enjoy this spooky time!
Wishing My Readers
A Very Scary Solstice!