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Anna Franklin  Author & Illustrator Blog Yule


By Anna Franklin

But then winter came. Darkness and cold increased daily, causing plants to shrivel and animals expired while struggling to find fodder. Humans died from cold and hunger. Every day, the sun seemed to grow weaker, as if it too were dying. Every day, it rose lower and lower in the sky. Darkness and death threatened to overwhelm the world forever. And yet, in the very moment of greatest gloom, the sun was reborn. Life and hope were rekindled - the light would grow, warmth would increase, spring, summer and harvest would come. The Wheel of the Year, which had been briefly stilled, would spin on.   

The sun governs the pattern of life on Earth, its cycles dividing the hours, days, months and years, and the round of sowing, growth, harvest and decay. It is only the movement of the sun that makes life possible. The Egyptians called the sun the divine creator of all things, the master of time and the seasons. Its regular daily and seasonal rotations stand as a symbol of cosmic order. From where we stand on earth, each day the sun seems to rise in the east, scattering the powers of darkness and diffusing light and fertility as it climbs to its zenith at noon. Then it declines, descending into the west and eventually sinking below the horizon, only to return with the following dawn.

The word solstice is derived from Latin and means ‘sun stands still’. The sun usually rises at a different point on the horizon each day (it only rises due east at the spring equinox). It travels north-east to its furthest position at the summer solstice and appears to stand still for three days before heading south-east, reaching its southernmost position at the winter solstice where it seems to rest again for three days before heading north once more.

The Sanskrit root of the word summer means ‘half year’, suggesting the light and dark halves of the year were marked by the two solstices. This division of the year by the solstices into two halves was common in the ancient world. The Saxon year began at the winter solstice and the summer solstice marked its mid-point.

Ancient man would have realised that we depend on the sun for life - in the summer the long hours of daylight and warmth make the crops grow but in the winter darkness and cold, they shrivel and die. Each day, up to the winter solstice, the sun grows weaker and weaker. Each day it is lower and lower on the horizon, and each day the hours of daylight grow fewer. Darkness is spreading; everything is winding down, threatening to come to a standstill. As the Roman writer Lucan (39-65 CE) described it:

“Nature’s rhythm stops. The night becomes longer and the day keeps waiting. The ether does not obey its law; and the whirling firmament becomes motionless, as soon as it hears the magic spell. Jupiter – who drives the celestial vault that turns on its fast axis – is surprised by the fact that it does not want to turn.”

If the sun does not regenerate then time will come to an end, life will be extinguished and the world will return to the dark womb of night from which it emerged. And when the sun decays towards its death at Yule, that primal chaos threatens to return.

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The sun god is born at the winter solstice and grows until midsummer, afterwards declining towards his death at the midwinter solstice, where he languishes for three days in his grave before rising from his tomb, reborn. Sun gods born at the winter solstice include Zeus, Dionysus, Bacchus, Osiris/Horus, Adonis, Zeus, Chris of Chaldea, Mithras, Sakia of India, Chang-ti of China, Jesus and Krishna. These gods have several things in common:

It is only at the vernal equinox in March that the sun is strong enough to complete its final triumph over darkness, when the daylight hours become longer than the hours of night.  Until then, the sun god is seen as a youth who has not come into his full power.

The Roman Emperor Aurelian (270 to 275 CE) blended a number of Pagan solstice  celebrations of the nativity of such saviours into a single festival called Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, the ‘Birthday of the Unconquered Sun’ on Bruma, the winter solstice or December 25th.  Roman women would parade in the streets crying “unto us a child is born!” The god Sol Invictus had been introduced into the Roman pantheon from Syria during the first century CE by Roman legionaries stationed there. The cult grew more influential by the reign of Commodus (180-192 CE) and in 272 CE it became the chief imperial cult of the Roman Empire, until it was replaced by Christianity.

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Chapters 1 - The Darkest Hour before the Dawn

The Sun Sets the World in Motion

The Threat of Chaos


The Wheel Stops Turning

The Spirits of Chaos

Misrule – the World Turned Upside Down

Chapter 2 – The Rebirth of the Sun

Sun Gods

The Sun Turns Back

The Sun’s Birthday

Nurtured by the Goat

The Gate of the Gods

The Polarity of the Solstices

Rebirth from the Rock

Chapter 3 – The Once and Future King

The Great Bear

The Undying Bears

The Wise Men

The Wagon

Arcturus Rising

Chapter 4 – Punishment and Reward

The Wild Hunt

The Winter Hag

Thor and Odin

Christmas Fairies

Father Christmas

Saint Nicholas

Santa's Little Helpers

The Evolution of the Modern Santa

Chapter 5 – Wildmen

Chapter 6 - The Twelve Days of Yule

Chapters 7 – The Customs of Yule

Bringing Home Christmas

Christmas Straw

The Kissing Bough


Christmas Waits

Ghost Stories


Mummers and Guisers

The Star Watch


The Tree


The Yule Log

The Feast

Animals at Christmas



The Battle of Light and Dark

 Chapter 8 – Christmas

Following the Star

Wise Men

The Virgin Birth

The House of Bread

Happy Mithrasmas

The Puritans Ban Christmas

Chapter 9 – Herbcraft

Chapters 10 – Animals of Yule

Chapter 11 - Yule Rituals

Themes of Yule

The Yule Log

Solstice Ritual

Wassailing Ritual

Midwinter Ritual

The Rite of the Oak and Holly King

Gardnerian Yule Ritual

Solo Yule Rite

Chapter 12 - The Feast

Savoury Dishes

Sweet Dishes

Gift Recipes


Appendix 1 – The Calendar of Yule

 Appendix 2 - Songs, Stories and Poems for Yule

 Appendix 3 – Herbal Correspondences

Appendix 4 - Cornish Mumming Play

Appendix 5 - Yule Incense

Yule by Anna FRanklin




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252 pages