The holly and the ivy
Now both are full well grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The shining of the winter stars
As the longer days draw near.
— Hilda Marshall’s Pagan adaptation of the traditional carol.
One of the ancient stories of the Winter Solstice is about the struggle between the Oak and Holly Kings, both being aspects of the Horned God, or the Green Man. At Yule, the ruler of the dark half of the year, the Holly King, is overcome by the new born Oak King, who reigns until Midsummer (Litha).
Holly, with its bright red berries and spiky evergreen foliage, has been revered since ancient times as a symbol of life everlasting. It was associated with strength and masculinity and was considered useful in the treatment of various ailments which were seen to lower the vital spirits.
In old England, holly was considered a bringer of luck — particularly in rural areas where a bunch of holly hung on Christmas Eve in the cow shed or stable was thought to be good for the animals that dwelt there. Many people used to take a piece of holly from the church decorations at Christmas as a charm against bad luck in the coming year. Holly was also considered a very protective magical tree which, if planted outside the house, was believed to avert lightning, fire and evil sorcery.
An old holly spell describes how to know one’s future spouse. At midnight on a Friday, nine holly leaves must be plucked and tied with nine knots in a three-cornered cloth. This is then placed under the pillow. Strict, absolute silence must be observed from the time of plucking until dawn the next day. If you comply, your future spouse will come to you in your dreams.
In certain areas of Wales, it was thought extremely unlucky to bring holly into the house before December 24th, for if you did so ,there would be family quarrels and domestic upheavals. You would also be inviting disaster if you burned green holly or squashed the red berries.
In the present day, Holly is a powerful Bach Flower Remedy, used often for healing anger caused by hatred, suspicion, envy or jealousy. The Holly remedy is used for healing very negative, aggressive feelings directed at others. It has been observed by many that Holly helps to overcome the feeling of an absence of love, and the remedy works to encourage generosity of spirit and openness towards others, by feeling compassion, love and inner harmony within yourself.
Sounds a lot like what Yule is all about, doesn’t it?
For those who did not light their final Solstice candle on Solstice Eve, tonight is Christmas Eve, and you should do so this evening, if you are participating in our annual prayer-spell.