Ule, Ule, Ule, Ule,
Three Puddings in a pule,
Crack nuts, and cry Ule!
~Traditional Yule song, 1670 CE, Yorkshire England
According to the Compendious of Anglo-Saxon and English Dictionary (1876 CE):
“Geòl, having the root of gàl, meaning merry”, has the additional meaning of “merry feast”.
And that, “The Anglo-Saxon forefathers held Êre (Honor) at its highest” during this celebration. The Compendious further relates Geòl with Sanskrit Ywala, the “sun”. It’s more accurate to define this latter as Hindi –wālā, from Sanskrit pāla, meaning protector, herdsman.
There seems to be no definitive guide as to what the ‘Twelve Days’ of Yule mean.
However, the Nordic Wiccan blog is identical to the 12 Days of Yule By Vincent Enlund (Chieftain, the Wanderer Kindred, and Chieftain, the Asatru Alliance). The differences being that each site places more emphasis on its particular interpretation; but again, the primary verbiage remains the same. And, as such neo-Pagan / neo-Asatru sites generally agree upon is that Yule commences with Mother’s Night, or Old English Mōdraniht, meaning “Night of the Mothers” or “Mothers’ Night”. Even so, there is no historical correlation to this as the first night of Yule. According to Bede’s De temporum ratione:
.. began the year on the 8th calends of January [25 December],
when we celebrate the birth of the Lord.
That very night, which we hold so sacred,
they used to call by the heathen word Modranecht,
that is, “mother’s night”, because (we suspect) of the ceremonies
they enacted all that night.
The confusion comes when one thinks of the traditions that have come to us as singular. For example, most scholars consider Mōdraniht as a West Germanic sacrificial festival, particular to the Matron cult; whereas among the Medieval Scandinavians, it corresponded with Disting and the Dísablót. Which further corresponds with Germanic and Celtic Yule Tide festivities. In any event, the historical record relates that Mōdraniht was marked on what is now Christmas Eve.
Instead of trying to force a connection, I find it more rewarding to find a connection. However, be aware that such comparison, though far from conclusive, merely seeks to find an equivalent representation for our current age. With that said, it’s notable that almost every day of the 12 Days of Yule corresponds with ancient Pagan celebrations that were appropriated by the Church. Let’s look at these days (starting conveniently, but not always accurately, on December 20):
-Solstice Day (December 20): Celebration of the Longest Night, of Sol Invictus. The sun is an ancient symbol of worship. Among the Old European tribes this could relate to Sunna (Old High German), Sunna, Sól (Old Norse), and Sunne (Old English). Notably, the sun among many of the Old European tribes was female, and the moon male.
-Day 2 (December 21): In ancient Rome this was Janus Day, a god of beginnings and transitions, of doorways and passages. The month of January is named for Janus; but of interest here is that he had two faces, which denotes a dual aspect. He did indeed have a twin / consort: Juno; so perhaps this day could be associated with coupled deities: Janus and Juno, Frey and Freyja, the Lord and Lady.
-Day 3 (December 22): Saturnalia, dedicated to Saturn, whose name is seen today in Saturday. There is no Germanic correlation that I was able to find here. However, if one considers Saturn as Cronus, the, by association of time and its measurement, one could find common function in Mundilfari, the “Measurer of Time”. Notably (and if this is the case), Mundilfari is associated with the World Mill, or the Axis Mundi, and so the very foundation of Wyrd itself.
-Day 4 (December 23): Larentalia, a Roman holiday to honor the Lares, the “hero-ancestors; guardians of hearth and fields; fruitfulness”. This directly relates to the Germanic Wights (spirits of land, sea, and sky), to the Fylgja (the “follower”, an accompanying spirit that watches over one), to the Vǫrðr (“warden; watcher”) or Hugr (one’s soul).
-Day 5 (December 24, Christmas Eve): According to Anglo-Saxon texts, this was Mother’s Night, the Matres and Matronae (“Mothers”) found throughout North-West Europe from the 1st to the 5th century CE. Always in three, this archetype can be seen in the Old Norse Norns, the Greek Moirai, the Roman Parcae, the Slavic Sudice and Polish Rodzanice. By extension, it could be said that this tripart feminine can be further related to the Greek Hecate, the Irish Morrigna, the Gaulish Mātronā (“Great Mother”), and, I could go on, for the list is extensive. The idea of the Triple Goddess reaches deep into the mists of the Proto Indo-Europeans.
-Day 6 (December 25): Nativity of the Invincible Sun, or the nativity of Mithras, whose name is Sanskrit “Mitra”, meaning ‘friend; agreement; contract’. His worship is recorded as early as the 1st century BCE. This was the day the early Church equivocated to Jesus, but the early Germans dedicated to Frau Holle, or the Germanic Supreme Goddess according to Marija Gimbutas. It is notable that the names: Holda, Hludana, Huld, Hlóðyn / Jörð, Nehalennia, Hel, and Gullveig-Heiðr, are all chthonic (‘earth) goddess and Divine Mothers.
-Day 7 (December 26): St. Stephen’s Day, Celtic Lá Fhéile Dreoilín, meaning, “Day of the Wren; Wren’s Day”. Thought to be related to a Druidic ritual, this day commemorates when the Celtic hero Lleu Llaw Gyffes killed a wren, which is actually a tale of the Goddess Arianrhod, she of the “Silver Wheel” – who is a key PIE goddess, namely: Arta. The holiday is found during the Viking Age, and is also celebrated in Spain and France (Celtic-rich countries).
-Day 8 (December 27): Nativity of Isis (which the Christians gave to St. John the Evangelist). Isis was a patroness of nature and magic. Her image with the child Horus is one of the earliest depictions of the Mother With Child. Using interpretatio graeca, she is compared to Greek Demeter and Astarte, in Rome she retained her name and reigned over the Priestess / Prophetess’ of Delphi. Tacitus recorded that, among the Germanic Suebi, she was worshipped and her symbol was a ship. (Other Germanic goddess’ mentioned by Tacitus include: Nerthus, Baduhenna, and Tamfana.)
-Day 9 (December 28): Day of Sekhmet, ancient Egyptian goddess of healing. Depicted as a lioness, she is a protectress, and related to the sun. Based on healing along, she could be a ‘cousin’ to Greek Hygieia, and Old Norse Eir (“help, mercy”).
-Day 10 (December 29): Feast Day of Ptah, the ancient Egyptian god of Creation via thought and Word; related to Greek Hephaestus, and from both Norse and Germanic mythology, Wayland the Smith. Blacksmithing was once considered a divine art, and its god-like Smiths are found in the Old English epic poems Beowulf, The Lament of Deor, and Waldhere, and in the German poem Father of Witige. Additoinally, Wayland is depicted on the Front Panel of the Franks Casket.
-Day 11 (December 30):
-Day 12 (December 31)
It is my intent to find the root of such matters, and to the best of my ability, I have done so with the above days / dates. Each can be related back to a pre-Christian celebration, but that does not mean it was part of Yule. For every region, every culture, at every time, there were particular traditions. So today, we must find those aspects that resonate most with us, and if we so choose, try to uphold the Old Ways – those Mysteries that seem to beckon us, yet remain elusive.
So, to recap (if not simplify), the 12 Days of Yule could be viewed as:
-Solstice Day (December 20): Honor the Sun / Sunna, or the Sun’s Passage Across the Sky
-Day 2 (December 21): Honor the Divine Twins, the Lord and Lady
-Day 3 (December 22): Honor the Moon / Mundilfari (Mani), or the Moon’s Measure of Time
-Day 4 (December 23): Honor the House Wights, and those beneficial beings of Land, Sea and Sky
-Day 5 (December 24, Christmas Eve): Mother’s Night, Honor the Divine Mothers Three
-Day 6 (December 25): Honor the Earth Mothers, the Goddess Supreme
-Day 7 (December 26): Honor Arianrhod, or the Wheel of the Year
-Day 8 (December 27): Honor the Seið-ways, the Mystery of Rune and Galdr
-Day 9 (December 28): Honor Eir, the Goddess of Healing
-Day 10 (December 29): Honor Wayland, the Divine Smith
-Day 11 and Day 12. I was unable to find any correlations here, so if someone knows of any, by all means, please drop me an email with your ideas and supporting links.