Hello everyone, and welcome to LukeLore. A quick deep dive into a folklore topic, where I share some of the stories from around the world that have piqued my interest. Happy holidays, whichever of those holidays you happen to be enjoying! This episode our 2022 exploration of the The Pagan Wheel of the Year finally comes to its rest and we talk Yule. It’s something we’ve touched upon for a few year’s of December specials, especially the Krampusnacht ones, but there’s still plenty of details to dig down into. Quite frankly, this isn’t all of it. I have a fair few fun folklore facts to share to cap off this eight part series, and it’s mostly Nice stuff. For the more Naughty list facing side of the holidays, you want the previous episode full of Christmas monsters. This episode is full of feasts, and Santa being awesome. SECTION BREAK – Blessed Yuletidings Yule doesn’t quite align with Christmas, being the Winter Solstice - so around the 21st or 22nd. It does frequently seem to have associations with a three day long celebration, so the pagan roots do squeak in across the line to overlap with the modern era celebration. Weirdly, with Boxing Day tacked on the far end, it looks like the three day holiday has persisted across the ages. Just nudged up a bit. It’s a tradition with recorded mentions at least from 1500 years ago, and almost certainly extended back beyond the time anyone bothered writing it down given that it’s a simple point of the year to keep track of. For example, the Norse variations of the holiday seem to pile up for thousands of years. It’s just that there are certain parts of the past that fade into myth and conjecture, with what survived through to the modern day being clues about what used to be. The holiday is pretty deeply rooted in Europe, and that includes the Christian tradition of it being Eurocentric as opposed to the religion’s Middle Eastern roots. While you can’t rule out how much the spread of Christianity mattered for the long reach and ongoing impact of the holiday, it has well and truly fused with several other origins to get to where it is now. For biblical example the shepherds who feature in the nativity were tending fields when they saw the star over Bethlehem, something that would have been pointless in December. Biblical scholars debate over whether the birth of Jesus would have been in August or maybe as late as September, but the midwinter date is a mutant fusion of a lot of traditions that even the dominant Christianity couldn’t survive unscathed. Around the Winter solstice was believed to have been a twelve day long lowest point of the year. I’m honestly not sure if that preceded the twelve days of Christmas or not, numerological significance gets weird across cultures, but it’s either a fixed part of the holiday that endured or else impressive synchronicity. The time of year was a blend of significance to Europeans; it was the darkest part of the year, which in turn also meant the days were about to begin to get longer. This deepest point of the dark was a huge tipping point that could easily be the last chance you had to feast with family and friends. There was less food. It was COLD, and heating your home was a lot simpler back then, which is to say a lot easier to go wrong and leave you to freeze. The Yule Log, now a tasty chocolate cake treat I for one will definitely be indulging in this and every possible holidays, was originally supposed to be a substantial actual log of former tree that was supposed to be kept burning for as much as the twelve days as possible - warding away the darkest and coldest nights of the year both spiritually and as something to literally warm yourself beside. Germanic tribes got a bit sacrifice-y around this time. The preparations for the feast included the slaughter of livestock, which kind of makes sense. It would have been hard to feed the livestock as much as it would people, so there was a key low point before everyone got to spring that turning animals into food would have been a massive boon to a community. These tribes did this in their own inimitable style, however. The livestock would be bled dry after being butchered followed by using sticks to sprinkle the blood all over temples and the attendees as an offering to the gods, followed by the meat then being cooked up for feasting. A Christmas Ham has a direct line to this messy tradition! A Yule Boar, or a Sonargöltr, was an important sacrifice, so the honey glazed ham fans out there are making their pagan ancestors proud this time of year. A lot of the pagan fertility rites persisted in what is pretty open defiance of the cultural shift into Christianity, when you look at how much of it is hiding in plain sight. A Christmas wreath is a household blessing made out of evergreen plants to celebrate enduring life, for bonus home blessings make sure to make your own fresh each year. The Christmas tree itself is a notoriously pagan rite, given that its only mention in the bible is express instructions NOT to bring a living tree indoors like a filthy heathen. It’s a celebration of enduring life again, and also according to some sources an express treatise for supernaturally assisted fertility. Not sure if there’s a phallic implication here, or if it’s just related to nature living on even in the darkest times, or a bit of both, or a plethora of things I haven’t even listed. It’s adorably pagan any which way you cut it. Especially if you plonk a Christmas Fairy on top of it, although the less said about inviting the Good Neighbours in out of the cold the better Brennan will sleep after editing this. Mistletoe is a massive pagan symbol! You had the umbrella implication of anything evergreen, hanging in there in defiance of the dying winter world. But then there’s what it means due to the particular way in which it grows. Mistletoe is parasitic, growing high up on other trees including culturally significant oak and yew. The really interesting implication the plant then took, came from how it never touched the earth. It was a plant that thrived in Winter, an automatic win for Yule significance, and it was of the sky. It took on a whole lot of mystical significance for this. If you are wondering just how much kissing under the mistletoe may mean for fertility between the couple’s doing it, congratulations on paying attention so far! Make sure to have responsible fun at any Christmas parties where you partake of the minor magic spell you’re doing. SECTION BREAK – Santa Was Always Kind of a Badass There’s been a bit of a modern revival of the idea as Santa as some sort of apex man among men. Likely fuelled by his clear beneficent patriarchal aspect you will see Santa popping up in media ready to rumble. Violent Night is this year’s example of this, being an ultra violent Die Hard starring Santa, played by David Harbour, and I am HERE for that. I will hopefully have been the cinema before this airs, so come look up my inevitable chat thread about it in the LukeLore Facebook group if you want to share thoughts. The thing is, this isn’t far off the mark. Rather than being a counter cultural take on a harmless icon that corporations co-opt for commercialism, it may well be a return to a tradition where being on the naughty list could get you a broken jaw off the jolly omnipotent one. Looking specifically at our journey across the Pagan Wheel of the Year, the height of Summer was the peak of the power for the King of Oak. The Green Man, and symbol of unfettered life. There is a counterpart who rules over the darkest times of the year though, and that is his brother deity The King of Holly, symbol of life defying the coldest days of the deepest dark. The namesake holly gives us the Green and Red colours for Christmas. Green from the leaves, red from the berries. The dominant red colour scheme being the Coca-Cola twist of recent generations, but it isn’t completely inaccurate. Nor is Santa the invention of the soft drinks company. The battle between the Holly King and the Oak King is an eternal reflection of the turning seasons, of life and rebirth. Both are avatars of life, as much as they are in opposition by merit of the seasons they represent. The King of Holly takes up his mantle at the Autumn Equinox when he defeats the King of Oak for that year, “killing” his rival who will be reborn next year to kill the King of Holly in turn come the Spring Equinox. This cycle of death and rebirth continues in balance, giving the living world periods of life and death the neither of which become overwhelming. Too much death is obviously bad, because then you’re dead. Don’t assume this makes the King of Oak the default good guy here, however, as too much life includes rampant disease and fungus. Also bad, especially if there’s no way for it to end naturally. The key to the dichotomy is balance. If you want yourself a more traditional Santa you need to lean into the Holly iconography. A crown of holly itself, get a lot more green into the outfit with red more as an accent, and take on some aspects of mischief. This is the personification of the seasons, of the inevitable death, of life enduring despite the worst, and it’s an avatar that defeats the mighty Oak King every year. Santa is definitely a lot tougher than the superficial layer of more modern whimsy lets on. But that’s far from the whole story about badass Santa. SECTION BREAK – Better Stay Off The Naughty List There are other gods who have a claim to the pagan origins, one of who lends a name to Yule. That would be the allfather of the Norse, Odin. As with most older pantheons, Odin is complicated. As the father of their particular pantheon, he represents life. Yet Odin is also a god of the dead as the head of Valhalla, and a leader of the Wild Hunt which is a midwinter supernatural event. This multiplicity gives him a lot of weight around this particular holiday. Norse celebrations had an emphasis on alcohol, which to be fair has happily endured, but they really went for it. Celebrants were supposed to gather a three day supply of booze, the three day holiday popping back up again. Then from there the first drink of Yule feasts were supposed to be dedicated to Odin, one of his names directly tying in to the celebration: Jolnir. Hence Yule, alcoholic carnage AT Yule, and a whole heap of other traditions with the name. Except weirdly not the use of Yuletidings, which despite borrowing the traditional name is pretty solidly tied to Christians and Christmas. Go figure, this holiday is one heck of a pastiche and has been for centuries. The whole Nordic block, and especially Iceland, are very proudly tied to Yule. I stand by Iceland especially having some of the greatest figures of holiday folklore with Mother Gryla, her boys the Yule lads, and her pet Jólakötturinn: The Yule Cat. For their full stories previous midwinter episodes have you covered but in brief order they are: Angry ogress who will eat naughty children, thirteen prankers who bother families at Christmas, and a giant cat that eats children who don’t wear new clothes for Christmas. The Yule Cat is up there with Krampus and the Mari Lwyd for me as festive MVPs. All these Yule names, however, are giving glory unto Jolnir himself. Allfather Woten, or Odin as he’s better known. It’s not uncommon for contemporary fantasy stories, especially modern set urban fantasy, to conflate Odin, Santa, and anything else that could vaguely be the Holly King. Effectively a god of the dark half of the year, plus via Odin quite possibly an aspect of death and the afterlife. They may not be too wrong doing it, either. Don’t assume Santa needs his goat demon Krampus to handle the naughty list, it could be season’s beatings for you if you think you can take his jolliness for granted. SECTION BREAK – A Wholesome Christian Story For The Holiday Okay, I’m going to be fair here. I frequently crash into a Christian tradition yelling about pagan things, so I’m going to afford Christianity the same treatment and let it wade in on the Yule episode. Only with a bit of a difference, because this is me after all. The tale of the nativity is pretty much everywhere this time of year. Even if you’re not somewhere going overboard on Christmas, it’s certainly not hard to look up. Yet there’s a bit more to it than the familiar manger donkey and crib for a bed baby Jesus stuff. The core beats are all there: family on the run having to make do in a manger, star leading onlookers over for a nosey, divine birth of the saviour of mankind. But hold on… What was that “on the run” bit again? This is where it all takes a sharp detour into the mythic and dark. The coming of The Christ, “Christ” being a job description for the coming “saviour” and not a surname, was heavily prophesied. That’s how the three Magi knew to get on the move, as much as divine revelation. The King of the Jews was destined to be born within a certain span of time in Bethlehem, which annoyed the current King of the area Herod the Great. Herod the Great is more known simply as King Herod in Christian sources, they don’t like him quite as much as non-Christian sources do. Having to deal with this prophesy, the first thing Herod attempted was guile. While such foretelling is vague for the most part, there was enough information to work out that the Magi would be involved. More commonly known as the Three Wise Men in modern nativity tales, probably because calling them Magi makes them sound like badass wizards in a modern context, Herod approached them under the guise of just wanting to check in. You know, cool child of destiny, going to replace the current King on an existential level that threatens to erase all his worldly might, I can come visit the baby too, right? The Magi prove they earn the Wise tag by politely going along with this, and making themselves scarce after the events unfold. Neither the baby nor the Magi ended up on the pointy end of the furious Herod’s army. But the emphasis here is on the “furious”. Herod had a back up plan so terrible it would echo down the centuries known as The Massacre of the Innocents. His forces were dispatched across Bethlehem and the surrounding area with orders to kill every baby boy up to the age of two. His target managed to escape this purge between ongoing Divine Planning along the determination of mortal parents escaping persecution for a better life. One minor problem here is that this epic tale of legendary mass murder doesn’t seem to be a historical event. There was a time appropriate King Herod, who had the moniker The Great, but the regional infanticide is only featured in a single book of the bible, the Gospel of Matthew, with maybe a mention in the Book of Jerimiah. Besides being bible light, it has no back up historical sources. No biographer of Herod I across the ages seems to believe The Massacre of the Innocents actually happened as depicted, and large number of biblical scholars seem to agree this was not a literal historical event. Not that Herod wouldn’t kill kids, he’s on the record of killing three of his own for starters, but doesn’t seem to have done this particular atrocity. He’s still a very polarising historical figure even if he gets a pass on The Massacre of Innocents. By many accounts he was a tyrant who ruled with an iron first, but what he did with that rule led to earning his millennia spanning title of The Great. He forged an aristocracy out of nothing, became a Roman Client King of Judea, and used the position he carved out in the world to do an incredible amount of building works as well as historic restorations for the region he ruled over. If you’re still worried about how he managed to do this as a tyrant, you may be assuaged to know he had a death so horrible it got named after him. It went down in the history books as “Herod’s Evil”, a pestilent condition of unknown origins that rotted him alive. He was in so much pain he at one point tried to stab himself to death, which he was quote unquote “saved” from by an advisor determined to keep him alive. The affliction that became known as “Herod’s Evil” would eventually finish him off, and then in addition to an ignoble place in history as the bad guy of the birth of Jesus something else odd happened at some point in the years after his death. As folklore blends in both directions, no matter how clever the hegemonic culture thinks it is being trying to subsume the less powerful around it, Herod has been scooped up into a Pagan Tradition. That being of the Wild Hunt. While powerful hunters of legend will typically be heading these otherworldly rampages, so your archetypal Horned Gods again, Odin when he’s not delivering presents to good children taking time to run naughty children down in a blizzard with a pack of single L Hel Hounds, etcetera, there’s another type of Wild Hunt out there. The curse upon a wicked soul, someone who is doomed to lead these hunts instead of find eternal rest. Notorious figures of history will get the dubious honour of being associated with the Wild Hunt, sort of a posthumous societal shunning, an ongoing infamy awarded to controversial as well as often brutal figures. The people have spoken, and the sentence was the eternal chase, not even a nice cage reserved in hell. Only an eternal debt to pay hunting other unworthy souls or creatures that should no longer be meddling with the mortal world. A type of prison so bad you get magically bound to also be the guard for all eternity. I name checked Herod before when I discussed the Wild Hunt earlier this year on the Predator & Prey episode, so full details for the hunt there, but it’s interesting that as the religion moved Westwards from the Middle East thanks to the Romans this more Germanic tradition of maligning a monster of history scooped up King Herod. The Wild Hunt claimed the historical figure, when the snow storms across the deserts and mountains of the Middle East criminals sneaking out in the night are not necessarily safe just because they’re outside of the usual European haunts of the hunt. Herod the Great has an obligation to serve beyond the grave to atone for his misdeeds, which means the hunt will ride far beyond its original boundaries in the dead of Winter. The baying of monstrous spectral hounds being the last thing the guilty hear, run down in the dark. SECTION BREAK So…. That’s the Pagan Wheel of the Year covered! We learned we did it slightly wrong following the modern calendar, as Samhein was the Celtic new year, but we also learned that taken as a whole gestalt legend Santa is a God of Death via Valhalla. Which is pretty damn cool. That’s all for another year, I hope everyone has the best time they can getting through the darkest days. Stay on The Nice List just in case, even if you don’t get supernatural punishment for it it’s the right thing to do anyway. I’ll see everyone for another year of fascinating folklore where weird history meets the dark fantastic. I don’t know about all of you, but I haven’t had my fill of these stories yet! LukeLore is a Ghost Story Guys production. If you do want to contact me there’s the show’s dedicated email firstname.lastname@example.org, and the general show email email@example.com. Both myself and the main show are really easy to find on Facebook and Twitter if you want to make day to day contact, as well as a very active Instagram account a lot of the community gets involved with. If you want to support the show directly check out our Patreon at Patreon.com/ghoststoryguys. We do have LukeLore merchandise available at the Ghost Story Guys online store, feel very free to show off any you get online! We have an ongoing push to promote LukeLore more, and the dedicated Facebook group for the show is now live if you want to come join us over there.
As ever though, the absolute best thing anyone can do to support the show is to give it a listen. Share this around if you think you may know someone who may be interested, leave a review if you get the chance to help signal boost me, and most of all I simply hope you enjoy what I’m doing here.
Goodbye for now.