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Celebrating Yule at the Winter Solstice: Understanding the Great Wheel of the Year

Updated: Jun 22, 2023

Yule reminds us that when things are at their bleakest, darkest point, and when we are perhaps without any hope at all, something shifts, the Wheel turns, and the Light returns! Life continues! Yule assures us of Life's ability to renew itself, even from the apparent brink.


A snow-laden pine tree in a winter forest, surrounded by a halo of sunlight.

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🎄 Happy Yule!


Hang on a minute . . . Yule??


"Don't we celebrate Yule at the end of December? Isn't Yule the same thing as Christmas???" 🤔


Yeah . . . nah and nah.


I mean, yes, those living in the Northern Hemisphere celebrate Yule at the end of December. But as we explored in my earlier article on Samhain, the Sabbats are not celebrated on specific dates on the calendar. They're not like a birthday that is recognised on the same day every year, no matter where you happen to be travelling on the planet.


Instead, they celebrate one of the eight major astronomical or seasonal events that we experience each year: the March and September Equinoxes, the June and December Solstices, and the four cross-quarter days in between them.


And, therefore, the date we celebrate the Sabbats will not only change from year to year . . . but, more significantly, it will change depending on which hemisphere we're living in. 'Cause, as we all know, when it's Winter here in Australia, it's Summer in Finland, or Ireland, or Canada. Right??


Well, Yule is celebrated at the Winter Solstice.


And today is the Winter Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere.


So, today is the day we honour and celebrate Yule!


Let's energetically align with the magic and energetic cycles of Life where you actually live, rather than unquestioningly adhering to a calendar that is created for the Northern Hemisphere.



(Of all the Sabbats, I think this change of dates gets particularly tricky to grok with Yule. Why? Because the Christians co-opted this ancient Pagan celebration and re-named it Christmas, supposedly for the birth of Christ. Celebrating a birthday makes it feel like it should be locked into a specific date on the calendar, right? So, if you'd like to celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus on 25 December each year, please go ahead. But I'd encourage you to separate that from the celebration of Yule or Litha, i.e. the Sabbat of the Summer Solstice. They have nothing to do with each other.)



The Dark of the Moon, the New Moon.

From the Dark of the Moon to the Dark of the Year


Tonight, we experience the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and the longest night of the year. And this heralds the ancient Sabbat of Yule, the second Holy Day (holiday) on the Great Wheel of the Year.


But what does this mean for those of us wanting to align our lives with the greater rhythms and cycles in play? Well, it signals the energy that we'll be working with for the next seven weeks or so. (Remember, each of the eight Sabbats on the Great Wheel of the Year last for a whole season, not just a single day of celebration.)


Let's consider the monthly lunar cycle, as I'm sure this is something many of us are familiar with, and it aligns beautifully with the Great Wheel of the Year.


Many of us celebrate the New Moon and the Full Moon, regularly.


Having said that, there are actually eight Moon phases that we observe throughout Her cycle, not just two. And we celebrate these Moon phases 13 times a year, as that's how often the Moon orbits the Earth in a calendar year. (This is why the Number 13 is considered especially holy for those working with the Divine Feminine. Rather than being an unlucky number, as the Christian Church has told us, the Number 13 was traditionally considered auspicious.)


Simultaneously, while the Moon orbits the Earth, it's important to remember that the Earth is orbiting the Sun. And as it does, it moves through the same eight phases that the Moon does when She orbits the Earth. Cycles within cycles within cycles. When considering these eight phases from the perspective of the Earth's orbit, rather than the Moon's, they take an entire year to move through, not just a month. Why? Because it takes an entire year for the Earth to orbit the Sun.


Therefore, each phase lasts for up to seven weeks, instead of the short 2½ days of the equivalent Moon phase. And so, if you understand the lunar phases each month, you already intuitively understand the Sabbats of the Great Wheel of the Year.


(Side note: Astrology and astronomy are anchored together. In the days of old, astronomy was considered astrology's hand maiden, for in order to to do astrology, you had to first know what was actually happening in the skies above so you could cast astrology charts. Astronomy was a field that astrologers had to learn (and, in fact, first developed), as a small part of mastering their overall craft.)



Here in the Southern Hemisphere, we'll experience the precise moment of the Winter Solstice at 12:58 am, tonight - so, technically, it'll be the 22nd of June. You can think of Yule, or the Winter Solstice, as the New Moon phase of the whole year.


It’s a time of darkness and letting go, as well as a time of faith and preparation for the new beginnings that beckon us forward. It's a time of ritual; a time to make course-corrections; and a time to dream into our New Moon intentions (aka New Year Resolutions) for the whole year ahead. And it's a time of celebration, as we'll touch on, below.


A New Year's Resolution list, waiting to be written.


New Year Intentions


Yep. This is when you're supposed to be creating these. Not at Litha, in the heat of the Summer Solstice Sun.


Just as we don't set New Moon Intentions at the Full Moon, we don't set our New Year Intentions at the Summer Solstice, the energetic height of the year. Does this make sense?

  • Winter Solstice = New Moon phase

  • Summer Solstice = Full Moon phase

Why do we societally create our New Year Intentions then? Because that's when the Northern Hemisphere do it, when they are experiencing their Winter Solstice. THEY are in Yule at that time of year. And we've just copied their calendar, accepting it as a date, instead of aligning with the seasons.


Now is the time to be setting our intentions for the year ahead.


We are at Yule. We are at the New Moon phase of the Year. Now.



Key Dates


As a season, Yule will span from 12:58 am, 22 June, to Imbolc, which begins at 4:21 am, 8 August, 2023 (AEST).



Infographic: The Eightfold Cycles


Astrologically, we can think of Yule as collectively crossing the threshold from the 12th House into the 1st House, each year . . . crossing the Ascendant, and beginning a whole new cycle around the Astrology Chart.


Numerologically, Yule is like collectively crossing the threshold between Epicycles . . . moving from the dying of the light in Number 9, into the birthing, initiating energy of Number 1.


I created the infographic, below, to show the correspondences between:

  • the eight seasonal events of the year;

  • the eightfold lunar phases;

  • the eight Sabbats; and

  • their alignment with the Houses of the Astrology Chart.

I hope it's helpful. I'd love your feedback on it!


Infographic of the Pagan Great Wheel of the Year and the Eight Lunar Phases
The Eightfold Cycles: The Great Wheel of Life and the Lunar Phases

Hands offering a wrapped Yule gift.

Celebrating Yule at the Winter Solstice


At Yule (or Winter Solstice), we are crossing a sacred threshold.


The Old Sun is dying and, in the same night, the New Sun is being born.


A whole new cycle begins.


With the dying of the light of the old Sun, we identify those aspects of our own Light that need to die, too. Yule invites us to consider the habits, fears, beliefs, conditioned patterns, relationships, addictions, and worn-out stories that need to be released, if we are to move forward into the more empowered, authentic life that we've envisioned for ourselves throughout Samhain. As the Dark Moon phase of the whole year, Yule is our chance to let it all go, with the full energetic support of Life itself! Write down everything you want to release, and burn it in your hearth fire or your vigil candle tonight, if you’re going to hold vigil for Yule. (See the full article, here.) NOW, is your chance to let it all go! (Can you feel the wisdom of the Number 9?) Personally, I've been on a sugar detox, as I don't want to bring that energy or that habitual way of eating into yet another year. And tonight, in my own ritual space, I will further lean into this awareness of what needs to be released, and left behind.

There may also be areas of life that you thought had "died". All may have seemed bleak, hopeless, and lifeless, and perhaps you’ve given up on something? Or perhaps there are parts of yourself that you'd rejected, denied, or repressed. Or elements of your life that you just haven't devoted time to, and so you believed it was no longer part of your life experience?

And yet, Yule reminds us that just when you thought all was lost, something shifts and you realise it’s not too late. In fact, you’ve still got time! All is well. You can still embrace the path or the opportunity you thought you’d lost. You can reclaim those parts of yourself that you'd long forgotten. The new born Sun is coming! (Can you recognise the wisdom of the Number 1?) As well as recognising the dying light of the old Sun, Yule is simultaneously when the fragile new Sun is being born, heralding a new Light into the world. It's the New Moon phase of the year, as I keep saying! So, too, are you invited to birth new aspects of yourself, of your Light into the world (1), unencumbered by all that you've released with the dying Light of the old Sun (9). And, in this rich darkness of the year, you are called to hold and protect the tender visions that you received at Samhain, like seeds waiting in the rich, dark, loamy soil of the Earth. This is not a frightening darkness. It is the darkness of the womb, the darkness of the night sky just before dawn . . . it is nurturing, caring, protective, and full of promise. (Can you recognise the Number 1, the presence of a new spark of life, a new possibility, waiting to be fanned into flame over the coming months?)


(Can you hear why this is when we write our New Year Intentions?)


The Deeper Wisdom of Yule


All of Life depends on the Sun’s light and warmth. So, at this time of the year, the ancients in colder climes waited with trepidation as the Sun got weaker and frailer . . . colder and darker. For many of our ancestors, the depths of Winter was the time of greatest danger, of longest hunger, and of bone-chilling cold. It was a time of death.


Deep in our ancestral memory, we remember a time when the Sun did not return from the darkness. We hold the collective memories of the great Ice Ages within us.


Even in a time of modern conveniences, with central heating and supermarket shelves brimming with food to ensure our survival throughout the dead of Winter, Winter Solstice can be a time of great fear and darkness for many . . . especially for those who are intuitively, empathically connected with our ancestors and with the Earth Herself.


The Sun symbolises our own individual Light, as well as our collective Light. At Winter Solstice, as the Sun weakens, many may feel the struggle for the continuation of Life, as though it were intimately their own.


What can we do at this sacred time when all seems bleak?


Milky way and Tatras Mountains in winter at night, Poland
I love the stillness and darkness in this photo by Shaiith: the Milky way and Tatras Mountains in winter, Poland.

Our Modern World's Apocalyptic Myth


In our modern society, many of us fear that all of Life could soon be extinguished on our planet. We fear the end. We resist 9's domain of death and the deep grief, pain, and complex emotions it stirs within us. But now, more than ever, remembering and embracing the sacred wisdom and traditions of our ancestors is vital—Yule, in particular.


Why?


Because Yule, itself, means ‘Wheel’. It refers to the Great Wheel of Life that perpetually turns and re-turns, returns, returns.


Yule assures us of Life's ability to renew itself, even from the apparent brink. Yule reminds us that when things are at their bleakest, darkest point, and when we are perhaps without any hope at all, the Wheel turns, and the Light returns! Life continues!


Yule assures us that we can trust Mother Nature's perpetual cycles of day & night; the monthly phases of the Moon; the ebb and flow of Her mighty tides; and the greater cycle of Her seasons. These are as reliable and predictable as they are seemingly changeable.


As a culture, we've forgotten the cyclical nature of Life (4). We're no longer familiar with Her natural rhythms and cycles. We no longer trust Her. And when Life seemingly threatens to stop? We panic. But we NEED to remember (and to trust) these deeper cycles and the rhythms in play— ever-constant, ever-changing, ever-returning.


I encourage you to reconnect with these cycles by celebrating the New and Full Moons each month, and by honouring the eight Sabbats of the Great Wheel of the Year. This will restore your faith in Life’s resilience. It will awaken within you a deep soul memory that Life goes on . . . that you can safely traverse the threshold from the very brink of 9's domain of endings into 1's territory of rebirth and Life! It will anchor you in a lived, conscious experience of these eternal, archetypal cycles.


Aligning yourself with these deeper seasonal and cosmic cycles will guide you away from despair and hopelessness (9), and bring you back into right relationship with an ensouled Universe (9). (Note that it's all 9.)



Mother Nature, from the fabulous lantern parade held in Lismore each Winter Solstice.
Mother Nature, from the fabulous lantern parade held in Lismore each Winter Solstice.


Yule Traditions


There are many traditions associated with Yule, but they primarily centre around a form of sympathetic magic, where we hold vigil all night long on the evening of the Solstice. As the old Sun slowly dies, the Goddess assumes Her role as Great Mother and prepares for labour, to birth the new-born Sun into the world.


Like the ancients before us, we are called to intentionally offer flame to flame, in direct relationship with Life itself! We hold lantern parades; gather together to drum and dance around magnificent, communal bonfires; and we have firework displays. We kindle the fires and offer the Light of our hearts, our candles, our hearth fires, and our bonfires to strengthen the Great Mother and the Sun itself, in labour.


Heat to heat!

Light to light!


We offer our own Light to the Sun at Winter Solstice to ease His birth pangs, and to remind Him that he MUST be reborn!


A bonfire in on Winter Solstice night, in a snowy pine forest.

Midwives to the Light of the World


We offer ourselves and our magic as midwives, to support the Sun (i.e. Life itself) to successfully traverse that threshold from 9 into 1, from death to new life.


Through the longest night of the year, we anxiously await the news that "Both Mother and Child are well." The Sun’s annual rebirth heralds the continuation of all Life on Earth. While Winter Solstice is a time of darkness and fear, it's also a time of faith and of magic. It's a time of individually and collectively remembering our power as midwives. And with the Sun’s blessed rebirth, it is a time of renewal and great celebration!


(No wonder Christianity co-opted such an enormous Pagan celebration of the Birth of the Sun and turned it into the Birth of the Son, the Light of the World.)


Importantly, in holding vigil in a time of darkness and offering ourselves in service, we’re reminded that we have our part to play in the Great Turning of the Wheel; that we are in relationship with Life itself. We’re not supposed to just sit idly by in desperation.


We are midwives to the Light of the World, as well as to our own Light.

As Above, So Below. As Below, So Above.

We are significant. We are empowered. We are necessary.

A pine forest covered in snow, with the sun rising in the distance.  A new year is born.

Thank you for taking the time to find out more about Yule and the Great Wheel of the Year. I hope you enjoy celebrating Yule at the Winter Solstice, this year.


If you have any queries, drop me a line. Always happy to connect! I truly hope you journey with me through all eight Sabbats over this coming year.


Deep blessings on this holy night. (I love remembering that this is where we derive the word holiday . . . holy day.) I'll be holding vigil all night. If you are, too, we'll be energetically connected as we help midwife the birth of the new Sun.


Thank you for your company. You know I'm so grateful for it. 🙏



Peace Juliette xo



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