Yule (pronounced EWE-elle) is celebrated in modern paganism with many folk traditions from northern and western Europe. Decorating evergreen trees, lighting candles, decking the halls with boughs of holly, kissing under the mistletoe, and burning the Yule Log, have always been my favorite parts of the winter season kick-off!
Witches celebrate the Sabbat of Yule at the Winter Solstice, when the Sun enters the zodiac sign of Capricorn. Typically, this occurs around December 20-23 in the northern hemisphere, and is the longest night of the year. For exact dates of sabbats, see archaeoastronomy.com.
Capricorn is the cardinal sign, meaning it begins the season of Winter, it also begins the light half of the wheel of the year, because the days will lengthen, and the sun will rise just a little bit higher in the sky every day until its peak at summer solstice.
Preparing a Yule Log
Folk magick tells us that a Yule log was typically of Ash wood, sacred for its associations with the Norse tree of life, Yggdrasil. However, I think any wood log that is native to your land, or auspicious to your own pagan path, is magick enough. I like the idea of harvesting the fattest part of my Yule Tree stump from the previous year for use as my Yule log the next year. This way it has a whole turning of the wheel to dry out and be perfect for burning. To get started, any log you like will do.
The yule log may be prepared early in the season as a centerpiece to your household altar, or perhaps as decoration on the mantel, until winter solstice night when you will burn it. To prepare a yule log, flatten one side enough so that it sits stably upright on a table. Drill three holes in the top, centered on the log, and about 3-4 inches apart. Make the holes with a diameter wide enough to securely hold three 6-12″ taper candles. Personally, I like to have a white one in the center for Spirit, Green for the eternal Earth Mother, and Red for the Solar God, born anew.
I love the smells of the winter holidays, so I craft an oil blend to anoint the log and candles. Before beginning the ritual, I will also offer to anoint each celebrant with it on their Crown Chakra – the top of their head. Just be careful to ask if anyone has a cinnamon sensitivity, as it can sometimes irritate the skin.
Yule Anointing Oil
- 1/2 oz. glass vial, darker in color the better
- 6 drops Pine essential oil: protection, purification
- 6 drops Cinnamon essential oil: Fire, sun,
- 2 drops Clove essential oil: Fire, divination
- one frankincense tear: Fire, courage.
- one dried Rosemary needle: purification, sun, fire
- one tiny stone chip of bloodstone, garnet, or emerald
- Fill to the top of the vial with Jojoba or another carrier oil for dilution.
- Add each ingredient as you awaken it to it’s power, and charge the whole bottle as an awakening to inner fires and hopefulness.
Festoon the log with boughs of holly, branches trimmed from your Yule tree, or juniper, pine cones, rosemary, etc. Any evergreen plants, or herbs associated with Saturn, the Sun or Capricorn are appropriate additions. Fabric ribbons can be used to secure the decorations artfully to the log. Just make sure everything is natural and flammable. DO NOT add mistletoe to burn – the smoke is toxic to breathe.
Herbs of Yule:
Holly, Mistletoe, Pine, Oak, Birch, Cinnamon, Myrrh, Frankincense, Nutmeg, Clove, Blessed Thistle, Hyssop, Rosemary, Ginger, Bayberry.
Yule Log Burning RitualOn winter solstice night, you can begin as the sun sets into the full darkness of evening. Light your hearth fire. Open your sacred space and create your temple in your usual manner. Evoke the Great Mother Goddess, and the new baby solar god, reborn into the new year, and light their candles.
As part of this ritual of renewal and hopefulness for the New Year, charge a chalice of wassail with solar powers, (recipe here) then take turns toasting your wishes for the coming Turning of the Wheel. Pour a bit of Wassail on the log. The term “wassail” itself is said to originally mean a toast to “good health!” It is also tradition to then sprinkle a bit of flour over the log. All these acts are in sympathy with the calling of the Wild God of nature back to the earth, with boughs of evergreen, grain (the flour) and the fruits of last year’s harvest (the apple cider in the wassail.)
We appreciate our bounty by sharing holiday treats, lavishly decorated and sparkling with surety that the spring growth will return once more. Generosity of Spirit is key to the lessons of winter’s cold, dark retreat, which is why folks tend to do lots of baking to give as gifts around this time.
If your family enjoys the rite of the simple feast, now is a great time to pass around the gingerbread men, a perfect altar cake, with a blessing of “May you never hunger.” Pass the chalice with a blessing of “May you never thirst.” The spices of gingerbread (and wassail) have solar associations, so the figures are in sympathy with vitality and happiness.
Yule Loose Incense Blend
I like to craft a loose herbal incense blend with Fire and Solar associations and burn that in a censor, as well as sprinkling some on the log itself.
- 1 T. Powdered Pine or Cedar wood
- 1 T. Powdered Frankincense tears: Fire, purification
- 2 t. Cinnamon: Fire, sun, protection
- 1 t. Clove: Fire
- 1 t. Juniper berries: Fire, sun
- 1 t. Rosemary: fire
- Awaken each ingredient to its power, blend together charging with power to align us with Highest Divine Will. Store in an air tight jar until ready to burn.
As the Yule log candles burn, sit in its light with the children and friends, telling stories, drinking wassail punch, singing the old carols, and jingling bells. The candles are a vehicle for imbuing all these intention into the log itself. While they burn, its a great time for a “holiday party” vibe, sharing gifts, and being merry together. Our coven does a group divination with the tarot, pulling a card for each zodiac sign of the coming year. We will then use the message of that card as the inspiration for each Full Moon Esbat working we hold during the next Great Work.
At Midnight, (or thereabouts) once the taper candles have burned all the way down into the log, conclude your ritual by placing the entire log – ribbons and evergreen boughs, and candle stumps and all – directly onto the hearth fire (or in a firepit outside, if you don’t have a fireplace.) Pour in the rest of the Yule loose incense blend. Then spend that time in silent meditation, scrying into the flames, praying and visualizing your wishes coming true over the coming year.
To conclude the ritual, close your sacred space in your usual manner, and allow the fire to burn all night, as it entices the sun back to earth at dawn. Make sure to save the ashes from the Yule fire for your Imbolc Sabbat workings, to enrich the earth in preparation for the next Great Work.