Yule is most known and associated with Nordic culture and practice. One Nordic tradition is of swearing oaths on the god Freyr’s sacred boar. In days of old, a living boar was brought forth in a Yuletide celebration and everyone would lay their hands upon the animal and swear personal Oaths for the coming year to be sent directly to Freyr himself. After the animal was blessed with these powerful Oaths and adorned with decorations and oils, it was sacrificed to him. This tradition continues into neopagan times in the form of new years resolutions.
Another fairly well known tradition is that of the Yule log. The Yule log was originally an entire tree that was cut down and burnt in a community area over several days, giving warmth during this dark and cold time of year. Over time, smaller offerings were burnt, often times decorated lavishly with ribbons and oils. Individual wishes were made on the Yule log in hopes that they would be granted in the following New Year. The Yule log became a catalyst of hope, of dreams, and of personal desire and once lit aflame those wishes were sent up to the Gods and Goddesses to grant at their will.
Today Neopagans celebrate with much smaller versions of the Yule Log and in various forms. One form is that of a physical wooden log that is burnt for warmth and celebration and another is by making a Yule Log roll cake that is eaten at a feast or gathering in celebration of the hope of the new year. Some forgo the Yule log altogether and place an erect tree in the home and decorate it lavishly for the season.
Yule falls on Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, when night is the longest, and the months are long and cold. The celebration of Yule was (and still is) crucial to keep spirits high during these difficult times and so focus is placed on the birth of the sun (rather than on the darkness) and the reminder that daylight will be returning soon enough again.
How I interact with my deities:
In ritual I wouldn't use the word "Worship" because it seems to christianized but I do often say "Honor" the gods because I am "paying respect and honoring the old ways". Some gods/esses I honor with love and others I honor at a distance as love would not be appropriate a feeling to offer.
When I think of the gods, I think of them as both ancient answers to life's challanges and also personification of specific characteristics put into human form. There are exceptions to the human-form part but for the most part I see the God's as spirits that when spoken about in modern times keeps them alive and keeps their power strong.
I believe the gods I work with the most definitely take an active role in my life as I honor Brigid when I am in good spirits and ask her for healing and strength when I am in need of assistance. I speak to Brigid at my shrine daily and often see her as a maternal guardian almost always at my shoulder when called too. I also honor The Morrigan and many times I feel Her at my side speaking into my ear and sometimes I see her in the mirror and feel her resonate inside me as my own personal shadow. I don't see my gods as locked into a location but more as free moving spirits that come and go as needed. While I often call to Brigid, the reverse is true of The Morrigan, She calls me when there is reason too, often times against my own enjoyment or will.
*When I first started working on my Dedicant path I broke my foot within 24 hours of Spring Equinox (2015) and missed the ritual. So, a year later, I finally attended a Spring Equinox ritual with my local grove. Here is the recap from that experience (2016)*
I attended a Spring Equinox ritual with my grove honoring Hellenic Gods and Goddesses. This ritual was the first ritual since starting the Dedicant path that I had no involvement in writing or preforming and that in itself was interesting. I don’t generally resonate with Hellenic deities and that was still the case for this one but being able to be a guest fully did lend a different perspective. This ritual was to Kore coming from the Underworld to be reunited with her mother Demeter and 3 grove members “drew down’” the goddesses of Kore, Demeter and Hekate. They put on a passion play to share the story with the guests. It was beautiful and truly powerful. There were real tears in the passion play and it made me tear up as well as Kore was welcomed back to her mother. All of the grove members were in colored Hellenic gowns and togas (so were several guests) and this added a whole new community element to the ritual that was truly stunning. Emotionally, this was a very moving ritual and the leaders had hand made woven headbands for each guest to take home. Each color woven in the headband represented a different goddess and I thought it was a tremendously thoughtful element to a fantastic ritual.
For the Winter Equinox, I led a Yule ritual with Columbia Grove on December 16th 2016, honoring the Norse culture and their deities. This was one of the first rituals I have had a heavy hand in writing and preforming and I learned quite a lot from the experience. The ritual incorporated a few extra themes outside the core order of ADF ritual, and that made the ritual itself pretty long but the guests didn't seem to mind. I had made a paper maché boar for Freya for our guests to write down oaths to for the new year and this was paraded around in place of a real boar offering. There was a Yule log presented that everyone was able to write down their wishes for the new year on strips of paper and these were also paraded around. This ritual told the story of Odin as outlined in the Poetic Edda and called upon the 9 Nordic realms. A theme I really enjoyed was that we had our Grove members each represent one of the 9 virtues of ADF and share them with the public. I personally really enjoyed having the virtues as part of the ritual as they are crucial to my personal practice.
We had over 40 guests attending this ritual and it was a really high energy environment. I couldn't stop smiling the entire time and although I didn't feel any new strong spiritual pull during this public rite, I had a lot of fun.
Samhain is one of the known Irish Celtic fire festivals. Throughout history, this holiday has been associated with ancestors and honoring the dead in one form or another across many cultures, especially Indo-European cultures. As ADF druids, we regularly work with the Ancestor Kindred through the Well Portal in each devotional ritual but in ancient times there were High Days specifically for them. Samhain is seen as a liminal time when the veil between the world in which we walk and the world of magic, the otherworld were opened and the Sidhe (faerie) folk and the Dead were close enough or able to walk among us.
Samhain is the end of the growing season and a noticeable point in the dying season as one can see by looking at the leaves change colors and fall. The frost begins to creep in and slowly kill the vegetation and animals go into migration or hibernation for the coming winter.
Today Samhain is observed by wearing costumes (as to distract the dark Sidhe spirits) and pumpkins are carved grotesquely for the same effect. Many build shrines do deceased loved ones and occasionally dumb/silent suppers are held to share a meal with the dead. The idea of Trick or Treating likely comes from those pesky Sidhe spirits who sometimes will give you gifts and otherwise will bring pain.
Samhain also marks the Wiccan New Year.