Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Holly King and The Oak King

The Holly King and The Oak King

oak-and-holly-battle

Getting confused ….

During a broadcast on Penwith Radio (26th December) I got myself into a right mythological tangle.

I was talking about Wren Day, the 26th December, when wrens were hunted by wren boys, sacrificed (killed) and then paraded around the town.

The Wren and the Oak are symbolically related and so in my muddled state I mixed up the Holly and the Oak king suggesting that it was the Holly King who defeated the Oak King at the Winter Solstice – a slip of the tongue, but one which resolved me to double check my thinking. A resolve further enhanced because listening to the show was Priestess of Kernow, Sue, who contacted the show and gently suggested that I had got it the wrong way round.

A quick studio reference to Wikipedia revealed…

“The Holly King is a speculative archetype of modern studies of folklore and mythology which has been popularized in some Neopagan religions. In his book The White Goddess, the author Robert Graves proposed that the mythological figure of the Holly King represents one half of the year, while the other is personified by his counterpart and adversary the Oak King: the two battle endlessly as the seasons turn. At Midsummer the Oak King is at the height of his strength, while the Holly King is at his weakest. The Holly King begins to regain his power, and at the Autumn Equinox, the tables finally turn in the Holly King’s favor; his strength peaks at Midwinter.”

In a Druidic sense the Light Half of the Year is Beltain to Samhain and the dark half is Samhain to Beltain.

If the Solstices represent the turning point of the year then one would assume that the respective kings are at their height at this time.

Summer Solstice – The Oak King

Winter Solstice – The Holly King

Moerover if this is the case the the equinoxes represent periods of ‘balance’ between the two Kings.

For my own clarity I chose to compile the following notes, I hope you find them interesting too….

The battle between the Holly King and the Oak King. for a number of Pagan traditions, represents a central theme surrounding the solstices – the concept of light and dark; of birth, death, and rebirth.

The Holly King and the Oak King are two sacrificial Gods who, in the manner of such deities, are two aspects of the same being. The Holly King represents the waning year, and battles the Oak King at Midsummer (probably once at Bealtaine) for rulership. Likewise, the Oak King is the God of the waxing year, and battles with the Holly King at Yule (probably once at Samhain) for the same honour.

Actually there are two themes which collide at the Solstices, two distinct concepts which merged together to create the modern-day Wheel of the Year : a solar concept and the natural-fertility concept.

The sun based solar theme is one we can observe on a daily basis as we watch the sun rise and set, and view the dominance of the Sun God during the solstices and equinoxes.

It is a theme in which the Sun dies and is reborn at the Winter Solstice (Yule), begins his maturity at the Spring Equinox (Ostara) when he impregnates the Earth Goddess, peaks in a blaze of glory at the Summer Solstice (Litha), and begins to wane in his power around the Fall Equinox (Mabon).

The natural-fertility concept is a little more complex, involving two God-figures: the God of the Waxing Year and the God of the Waning Year.

The Waxing God is also known as the Oak King, and the Waning God as the Holly King. Although rivals, they are also considered to be twins – each other’s “other self,” the light and dark aspects of the male deity.

(source : Deaf Pagan Crossroads)

The Solar twins compete with each other for the favour of the Earth Goddess; each serves as her child, consort and lover during his half-year reign – he mates with her, dies in her arms, and is then born of her to carry on the never-ending cycle.

The Spring Equinox (March 21st)  can be seen as celebration of Light and Dark being in harmony.

The Darkness does not conquer Light, nor does the Light conquer Darkness. They are at equilibrium.

We can see this time as one at which the “battle” between the two is at its height;  a time of high energy and of the concept of killing off the old and bringing in the new.

Beltaine (May 1st) : This is the time when the Holly King dies.

Darkness dies in order to give way to Light. The Oak king defeats Holly king!

This is a time of a celebration of procreation; a time of sex, and the life bringing energies associated with it.

Litha or the Summer Solstice (June 23rd) : The Oak king reigns supreme and we celebrate the Oak King or the Bright Lord with bonfires.

Today is the longest day of the year. People in the Northern regions celebrate the light and brightness of summer. As we celebrate the light and creation. It is also the day that the Dark Lord or the Holly King is reborn.

Lammas (Aug 1st) : This is the day, which is opposite to Imbolc a celebration of  the anticipation of the Light. Here we celebrate the first harvest, Perhaps we can see this as the  Holly King’s first victory in the killing off of the crops for the first harvest?

Autumn Equinox (September 23rd) : This is the celebration of Light and Dark being in harmony once again. The Darkness does not conquer Light but the Darkness is getting stronger.

This is a time that the Light does start giving way to the darkness and we start reaping the rewards of a dying Earth. The Oak King’s light is starting to give way. He has trouble hanging on. We give thanks to the Oak King for all he has given us.

Samhain (October 31st) : the Final Harvest or Hallowe’en. This is the Oak King’s death – he is dead until the Winter Solstice! This is a time for darkness to reign. The days get shorter and the nights grow longer. This is at time for us to withdraw and hide in solitude.

Winter Solstice (December 21st) : the rebirth of the Sun or the Oak King. On this day the light is reborn and we celebrate the renewal of the light of the year. This day is still the Holly King’s day as the god of transformation and one who brings us to birth new ways.

Imbolc (Feb 2nd) : This day is the day of the Goddess Brigit, later Christianised into St. Brigit. This a time when Darkness still rules but the light is coming into power and it is celebrated by the celebration of candles, which was Christianised into Candlemas. The darkness or the Holly King still rules but the Oak King or light is growing in power.

wheelOAKHOLLYKing

The Oak King

greenkingThe Oak King, the Lord of the Greenwood and golden twin of the waxing year, rules from Midwinter to Midsummer. At Midwinter, he goes to battle with his twin, the Holly King, for the favour of the Goddess. He slays the Holly King, who goes to rest in Caer Arianrhod until they do battle again at Midsummer. The Oak King and Holly King are mortal enemies at Midsummer and Midwinter, but they are two sides of a whole. Neither could exist without the other.

The Oak King

Represents: Growth, Expansion

Gods: Jupiter (Roman god of light and sky)

Janus (Roman god of planting, marriage, birth, and other types of beginnings)

Dagda (Irish-Celtic god of the earth)

Frey (Norse fertility god)

Pan (Greek god of fertility, unbridled male sexuality and carnal desire)

Colors: Red, green, yellow, purple

Plant: Oak, mistletoe

Bird: Robin

Associated myths: Robin Hood, King Arthur, Gawain (when he meets the Green Knight), Jesus, Balder, Green Man

The Holly King

440ebcde4b332f0a001e167dbddce681Represents: Withdrawal, lessons, life, rest

Gods: Saturn (Roman agricultural god)

Cronos (Greek god, also known as Father Time)

Father Ice/Grandfather Frost (Russian winter god)

Odin/Wotan (Scandinavian/Teutonic All-Father who rides the sky on an eight-legged horse)

The Tomte (a Norse Land Spirit known for giving gifts to children at this time of year)

Thor (Norse sky god who rides the sky in a chariot drawn by goats)

Color: Black, Red, Green, Gold

Plant: Holly

Bird: Wren

Associated myths: Santa Claus in all his variations, the Green Knight from Arthurian legend, Mordred (who struck down King Arthur), St. John, Corn King, Bran the Blessed.

Samhain is the night when the Old King dies, and the Crone Goddess mourns him greatly during the next six weeks.

Arawn and Hafgan

These two kings of Annwan appear in Welsh mythology as joint kings of the otherworld who are constantly battling.

We are told that their dominions sit side by side.

In the story of Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed we learn that he agrees to switch places with Arawn for a year and a day in order to battle against Hafgan.

Before they exchange places, Arawn gives specific instructions to Pwyll to kill Hafgan with one stroke and no more. In the past when Arawn had battled and had struck Hafgan nearly to his death, Hafgan had begged him to give another stroke, and when Arawn had done so, Hafgan recovered from his injuries and was in good health for battle again the next day.

In one year Pwyll, wearing the guise of Arawn, goes to battle and succeeds in injuring Hafgan nearly to death, breaking through his shield and armor and knocking him to the ground. Just as Arawn had warned, Hafgan pleaded that Pwyll finish the slaughter and kill him thoroughly.

Pwyll refuses to do so, saying, “I may yet repent this, but, whoever else may slay you now, I will not do so.”[

Hafgan then tells his lords he has met his death and will no longer lead them. When Hafgan’s men see their leader is at his end, they realize there is no other king but Arawn, and consent to be the subjects of the new and only king of Annwn.

In later tradition, the role of king of Annwn was largely attributed to the Welsh psychopomp (the spirit or deity who leads newly deceased souls to the otherworld), Gwyn ap Nudd. However, Arawn’s memory is retained in a traditional saying found in an old folktale:

Hir yw’r dydd a hir yw’r nos, a hir yw aros Arawn

“Long is the day and long is the night, and long is the waiting of Arawn

Hafgan as a male or female name means “summer song” HAF gan the story could be a seasonal myth, such as the medieval battle between the Oak King and Holly King, with Arawn as the Holly King.

the_holly_king_by_hikari_ryu1

 

Published: December 27, 2014

Alban Arthan

Alban Arthan

holly-oak-kings-battle

All Hail  Iolo Morganwg, the 19th-century radical poet and forger who gave us Alban Arthan which is said to translate to  “The Quarter or Light of the Little Bear” and inspired the alternative respelling is Alban Arthuan – ‘light of Arthur’…

Of course we’ve very little idea of what the Druids did or did not believe, but re-creationist tradition sees the four astronomical festivals (The Solstices and Equinoxes) as being ‘high times’ for celebrations. With the amazing solstice alignments at Newgrange, Stonehenge and other neolithic sites there was certainly some tradition relating to this time of (and these times) of year – but all of these pre-date the Druids (as well as the Pyramids).

druidMistletoeRomantic re-creationists  speculate that druids would gather by the oldest mistletoe-clad oak where the Chief Druid would make his way to the mistletoe to be cut whilst below, other Druids would hold open a sheet to catch it, making sure none of it touched the ground. With his golden sickle, and in one chop, the Chief Druid would remove the mistletoe to be caught below. (Thank you Robert Graves)…

Of course the winter solstice may have been immensely important because the people were economically dependent on monitoring the progress of the seasons.

Starvation was common during the first months of the winter and in temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began.

Isolstice_stones_by_badgersoph-d5dzsgmt is suggested at this time  cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter, thus it was almost the only time of year when a plentiful supply of fresh meat was available.

The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking at this time. The concentration of the observances were not always on the day commencing at midnight or at dawn, but the beginning of the pagan day, which in many cultures fell on the previous eve.

Because the event was seen as the reversal of the Sun’s ebbing presence in the sky, concepts of the birth or rebirth of sun gods became common and, in cultures which used cyclic calendars based on the winter solstice, the “year as reborn” was celebrated with reference to life-death-rebirth deities or “new beginnings” .

 

For Celtic pagans, Yule is the time when the Sun God Lugh is reborn in human form to rejoin his  beloved wife Eriu

She is described as a hag, who transformed into a beautiful Goddess by the marriage and personifies the land of Ireland in her every feature and character. She becomes known in legend as the “Sovereignty of Ireland”.

In these legends, Lugh takes his bride in the form of the Maiden Goddess, to look out upon their land and in seeing the suffering of their people they grow worried and concerned.

The summer High Holy Day Lughnasadh is celebrated by many traditions as the moment when Lugh, as the Sacred King, sacrifices his own life to save his suffering people.

In doing so his blood is spread across the fields to ensure the fertility of the fields and a bountiful harvest of crop and herd.

As the harvests are brought in, and winters covers the land, the Great Mother (the Mother Goddess) resurrects Lugh from the ground, rising him up into the dark sky and returns him (as the Sun) to the universe.

The effort to raise Lugh into the sky causes Eriu to grow old as she shared her knowledge with the God to teach him all he needed to know to govern over his people once more.

Bestowing her Old Crone wisdom upon Lugh brings the cycle back to the  beginning of the legend.

Yule is also the celebration of the cycle of life through Eriu and all her incarnations as the Maiden, Mother and Crone Goddess.

YuleNews2014

The Goddess Eriu at Uisneach

Today’s celebrations of the Solstice, Yule and Christmas-tide represent a patch-work of solar traditions, pagan practices, Christian symbolism and neo-Pagan folklore.

Yet beneath it all there is one simple observation…

We are at mid-winter, the shortest day.Before the Winter Solstice there was the promise of coming darkness – after the promise of the light.

The symbolic battle between the Oak and the Holly, the wren and the robin mark the turning points of the year – and by extension the turning points in our own lives and communities. It is this cycle which we celebrate, by whatever name or mythology we choose … it is the perpetual cycle of life death and re-birth of the nature which inspires us in our darkest depths.

So may I wish you all a Cool Yule, a Super Solstice and a Creative Christmas …

May You Never Thirst

moonbear

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Published: December 21, 2014

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