by Joanna Poppink

Darkness and light are always in motion on this planet. Either darkness rows in length while light recedes or vice versa. The solstice is the exact moment of change when darkness recedes and light continually shines longer.

The moment of the solstice occurs when Thor hurls a bolt of lightning through the black night storm and strikes an oak tree. In that moment light and dark are simultaneously both powerful. The moment marks the shift where the power of light now takes dominion. Dark is good because it holds the beginning new life. Light is good because it brings birth. Such tremendous goodness requires a tremendous celebration.

The flash of lightning, bright and hot, creates mistletoe. Mistletoe, called allheal, a bestower of life and fertility, a protection against poison and a provider of safe conduct through the underworld, is of the dark, fertile, gestating side of mid winter.

Born in fire, mistletoe puts out fire and keeps the dark safe. Hung on doorways of homes an barns it keeps evil spirits and witches away.

Kissing under the mistletoe is a remnant of the old fertility rites. In parts of England people burn the Christmas mistletoe on Twelfth Night. If they don't they believe the boys and girls who kissed under it will not marry.

The power of the mistletoe comes from the solstice moment backed by the force of Thor himself.

Fire Festivals

Mid-winter festivals turn night into day an dark spirits into enlightenment. Both the dark and the light are honored. Mistletoe's partner, the oak, brings us to the growing sun side of mid-winter and the fire festivals.

Oak, revered above all trees, is sacred to Jehovah, Zeus, Jupiter, Hercules, Demeter, Teutonic Thor, ancient Celtic druids, the old Irish Dagda and more.

Up until the 19th century, the custom of burning the Yule Log flourished in England, France, Germany and among the South Slavs. Out of oak, families carved a heavy, wood block. They placed it into the floor of their hearth. It glowed throughout the year under the flames of household fires. Gradually it became ash.

By the next mid-winter, the ash and any remaining wood was ground to powder and strewn over the fields during Twelfth Night. This would nurture and protect the coming crops.

Pieces of the Yule Log or ash protect a house from lightning and fire. The Yule Log cures cattle of illness and helps them give easy births. Like the mistletoe, it prevents fiends from harming the house.

And the Yule Log, as part of the coming sun, also protects and nurtures new life. Many European peoples believed that they would have as many lambs, pigs, kids and calves as sparks spewing from the Yule fire.

Throughout mid-winter, especially from Christmas through Twelfth Night in Normandy, men, women and children ran through fields waving torches around branches of fruit trees. Flame crashed into tree trunks, burning moss and driving away moles and field mice.

People paraded through villages carrying blazing torches and ringing bells. The fire rid the fields of creatures, plants and evil spirits which might threaten the trees. The ringing bells frightened away evil spirits. The flames also made the trees, earth and cattle more fertile.

In a similar ritual in old Bohemia, people believed that the corn would grow as high as the people could fling blazing brooms into the night sky.

We still have our festivals of light. We light candles and have hearth fires. We string lights on Christmas trees, lamp posts, roof tops and store fronts. We have light parades of boats, floats and dancing, costumed people. We light up the night at Christmas. We ring bells and turn darkness into light.

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Joanna Poppink, M.F.C.C., licensed by the State of California in 1980, is a Marriage, Family, Child Counselor (License #15563). She has a private practice in Los Angeles where she works with adult individuals and couples. She specializes in working with people with eating disorders and with people who are trying to understand and help a loved on who has an eating disorder.

Contact Information:
10573 West Pico Blvd. Suite 20
Los Angeles, CA 90064
(310) 474-4165 phone
(310) 474-7248 fax

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