Yule Rituals

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Yule, the winter solstice, is a time of great symbolism and power. It marks the return of the sun, when the days finally begin to get a little longer. It's also a time to celebrate with family and friends, and share the spirit of giving during the holidays. Here are some great Yule rituals that you can do to celebrate this winter Sabbat, either as part of a group or as a solitary.

The winter solstice is a time of reflection, during the darkest and longest night of the year. Why not take a moment to offer up a prayer on Yule? Try a different devotional each day, for the next twelve days, to give you food for thought during the holiday season — or simply incorporate the ones that resonate with you into your seasonal rituals!

Setting Up Your Yule Altar

Yule Altar
Patti Wigington

Before you hold your Yule ritual, you may want to set up an altar to celebrate the season. Yule is the time of year when Pagans around the world celebrate the Winter Solstice. Try some or even all of these ideas — obviously, space may be a limiting factor for some, but use what calls to you most.

Ritual to Welcome Back the Sun

Snow covered trees at sunrise
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The ancients knew that the winter solstice was the longest night of the year—and that meant that the sun was beginning its long journey back towards earth. It was a time of celebration, and for rejoicing in the knowledge that soon, the warm days of spring would return, and the dormant earth would come back to life. On this one day, the sun stands still in the sky, and everyone on earth knows that change is coming. Perform this ritual to celebrate the return of the sun.

Yule Cleansing Ritual

Yule is a good time to get rid of things you no longer use. Image by Kelly Hall/E+/Getty Images

About a month before Yule rolls in, start thinking about all the clutter you've accumulated over the past year. You're not obligated to keep things you don't like, don't need, or don't use, and the less physical clutter you have laying around, the easier it is to function on an emotional and spiritual level. After all, who can focus when they're constantly having to step over piles of unused junk? Do this ritual to help clear out your physical space in the weeks before Yule arrives.

If you're one of those people who feels bad about getting rid of stuff, donate it to a charity if it's still clean and in usable condition. Many organizations do coat and clothing drives this time of year; look for one in your area. If you haven't worn it, used it, played with it, listened to it or eaten it in the past year, pitch it.

Before you start decorating for Yule, you'll want to get things organized. If you're not organized yet, now's your chance to get there. Each member of the family should be responsible for their own belongings. Sort your belongings so they're in a place you can find them later, in a way that makes sense to you AND your family members.

If your home has a common area like a family room or kitchen that tends to attract clutter, get a basket for each person who lives there. Throw all their stuff in their basket — the next time they go to their room, they can take all their stuff with them to put it away.

Do you get magazine subscriptions? Newspapers? Create a place that's a permanent home for them — a basket in the bathroom, a drawer in the kitchen, wherever people read. Then get into the habit of only keeping the last two issues of each. Recycle the old ones as new ones come in. Remember, the floor is not a storage place. If you can't get something put away, get rid of it.

Clean your windows. You'd be amazed what a good window washing can do for your house, to say nothing of the way you feel. Mix a cup of vinegar with a gallon of warm water and spray down your windows, inside and out. Wipe them off with old newspapers. If you can't stand the smell of vinegar, toss some lemon verbena or lemon balm in the mixture. If you have curtains, take them down and launder them. Throw a bit of dried herb, such as sage or rosemary, into a cloth baggie and add them to the rinse cycle.

If your windows have mini-blinds, dust them and wipe them down. If it's warm enough outside, take them outdoors and spray them with your garden hose. Let them dry completely before hanging them back in. While you're cleaning the windows, do your mirrors too, using the same mixture as above. As you see your reflection in the mirror, visualize cleaning away negative energy from your life.

If you have carpets and rugs, sprinkle them with baking soda and give them a good hearty vacuuming. Make sure you move the furniture around and clean beneath each piece — it's time to get all the yuck out of your house, and dustbunnies are notorious for getting in the corners under the couch. If you have an extender on your vacuum cleaner, use it to suck up cobwebs and dust from the ceiling fans, baseboards, and other hard-to-reach spots.

Use a broom to sweep out any little bits of dirt and grime — it's also a symbolic way of sweeping negative energy out of your home. If you've got a filter on your home's heating system, now's a good time to replace it with a new, fresh one. Do you have hardwood floors instead of carpet? Use an environmentally-friendly cleaner to get rid of dirt and grime. Clean baseboards and other woodwork.

Get your bathroom clean. It's a place in our house we try not to think about unless we're using it, but there are few things more impressive than a clean bathroom. Scrub toilets, wipe down countertops, and spray out your bathtub.

Once you've got the physical stuff done, now it's time to focus on the fun part. Smudge your home with one of the following:

To do a smudging, start at your front door with your incense or smudge stick in a censer or bowl. Move the incense around each door and window, and go through each room, following along the lines of the walls. If you have multiple levels, continue up and down stairs as needed. Some people like to add a small incantation to the process, like this one:

Yule is here, and I smudge this place,
Fresh and clean, in time and space.
Sage and sweetgrass, burning free,
as the sun returns, so it shall be.

Once you've completed the smudging, sit back and enjoy the positive energy that comes with having a clean physical space.

Hold a Family Yule Log Ceremony

Firewood Burning In Fireplace
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A holiday celebration that began in Norway, on the night of the winter solstice it was common to hoist a giant log onto the hearth to celebrate the return of the sun each year. If your family enjoys ritual, you can welcome back the sun at Yule with this simple winter ceremony. The first thing you'll need is a Yule Log. If you make it a week or two in advance, you can enjoy it as a centerpiece prior to burning it in the ceremony. You'll also need a fire, so if you can do this ritual outside, that's even better. This rite is one the whole family can do together.

Holiday Tree Blessing Ritual

Favourite Christmas traditions
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If your family uses a holiday tree during the Yule season —and many Pagan families do—you might want to consider a blessing ritual for the tree, both at the time you cut it down and again before you've decorated it. Although many families use fake holiday trees, a cut one from a tree farm is actually more environmentally friendly, so if you've never considered a live tree, maybe this is a good year to start a new tradition in your house.

Goddess Ritual for Solitaries

Smiling Woman In Warm Clothing Standing Against Trees During Winter
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Yule is the time of the Winter Solstice, and for many Pagans, it's a time to say goodbye to the old, and welcome the new. As the sun returns to the earth, life begins once more. This ritual can be performed by a solitary practitioner, either male or female. It's also easily adaptable to a small group of people.

Goddess Ritual for Groups

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As the sun returns to the earth, life begins once more—it's a time to bid the Crone farewell, and invite the Maiden back into our lives. This ritual can be performed by a group of four or more—clearly, it's designed for at least four women, but if you don't have that many, don't sweat it—improvise, or allow one woman to speak all the roles. Likewise, If you have an all-male group, you could revise this rite so that it focuses on the battle of the Oak King and the Holly King, rather than the Crone and the Maiden. If you have a mixed group, make adaptations as necessary.

First, set up a Yule tree near the north side of your altar. Decorate it with lights and symbols of the season. If there's no room for a tree, use a Yule Log instead. Cover the altar with a winter-themed altar cloth if possible, and in the center, three white candles in individual candleholders. The oldest female present should take on the role of High Priestess (HPs) to lead the ceremony.

Of the other women present, one represents the aspect of the Maiden, another the Mother, and a third the Crone. If you're really into ceremony and symbolism, have the Maiden wear a white robe and stand in the east. The Mother can wear a red robe and stand to the south, while the Crone dresses in a black robe and veil, and takes her place to the west of the altar. Each holds one of the three white candles.

If you normally cast a circle, do so now. The HPs says:

It is the season of the Crone, the time of the winter goddess.
Tonight we celebrate the festival of the winter solstice,
the rebirth of the Sun, and the return of light to the Earth.
As the Wheel of the Year turns once more,
we honor the eternal cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth.

The Maiden then takes her candle and holds it while the HPs lights it for her. She then turns to the Mother and lights the Mother's candle. Finally, the Mother lights the candle held by the Crone. The High Priestess then says:

O Crone, the Wheel has turned once more.
It is time for the Maiden to claim what is now hers.
As you lie down for the winter, she is born once again.

The Crone removes her veil and hands it to the Mother, who places it on the Maiden's head. The Crone says:

The days will now get longer, now the Sun has returned.
My season has ended, yet the season of the Maiden begins.
Listen to the wisdom of those who have come before you,
and yet be wise enough to make your own way.

The Maiden then says:

Thank you for the wisdom of your years,
and for seeing the season through to its end.
You have stepped aside that the new season may begin,
and for this we give you honor.

At this time, the High Priestess should invite anyone who wishes to make an offering to the Goddess to come do so— offerings can be placed on the altar, or if you're outdoors, in a fire. The HPs concludes the rite by saying:

We make these offerings tonight,
to show our love to you, O Goddess.
Please accept our gifts, and know that
we are entering this new season with joy in our hearts.

Everyone present should take a few moments to meditate upon the time of the season. Although winter is here, life lies dormant beneath the soil. What new things will you bring to fruition for yourself when the planting season returns? How will you change yourself, and maintain your spirit throughout the cold months? When everyone is ready, either end the rite, or continue on with additional rituals, such as Cakes and Ale or Drawing Down the Moon.

Blessing Ritual for Donations

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In many modern Pagan communities, an emphasis is placed on the idea of helping those in need. It’s not uncommon to attend a Pagan event in which guests are invited to donate clothing, canned goods, toiletries, books, and even pet care products. Donations are then presented to local aid groups, food pantries, libraries, and shelters. If you’re gathering up some sort of donations, good for you! Before you drop them off, why not invoke the elements to do a formal blessing of the donated items? This can be a great way to honor your deities and your Pagan community, as well as help others recognize what an important occasion it is.

Some Pagans do charitable works because it is part of their group’s standards. For instance, you may honor a god or goddess that expects those who have to help those who have not. Or maybe it’s time for a local harvest celebration, and you’d like to contribute something to celebrate the season of abundance. Perhaps your deity has blessed you in some special way, and to honor him or her, you want to share your good fortune with others.

Whatever your reason may be, if you’re gathering up some sort of donations, good for you! Before you drop them off — at the shelter, library, food pantry or wherever — why not invoke the elements to do a formal blessing of the donated items? This can be a great way to honor your deities and your Pagan community, as well as help others recognize what an important occasion it is.       

You’ll need the following items:

  • All of your donated materials
  • One candle for each person participating
  • Items to represent the elements of earth, air, fire and water

If your tradition requires you to formally cast a circle, do so now. However, because this ritual invokes the four elements, and thus the four directions, you may wish to skip this step if you’re pressed for time. Ask everyone who’s participating to stand in a circle around the donated items. You can place them on your altar if you like, and place that in the center.

Place each of the elemental markers in its corresponding location of the circle. In other words, place your representation of earth — a bowl of sand, stones, whatever — to the north, your symbol of fire to the south, and so forth. Ask a participant at each directional point to hold the item. Pass the candles around to the group so that each person has one of their own. Don’t light them just yet.            

Remember, you can adjust the wording in this ritual as necessary, to accommodate the needs and requirements of your group’s purpose.

The leader of the ritual begins with the following:

We gather today to celebrate community.
To honor those who contribute selflessly,
Those who contribute what they have to those who have nothing,
Those who speak out for those who have no voice,
Those who give to others without taking for themselves.
Each of you has contributed something to this community today.
Whether it is a monetary donation, a packaged good, or simply your time,
We thank you.
We honor you for what you have given, and we celebrate these donations
By blessing them before they move on.
We call upon the elements to honor the many aspects of community today
.”

The person standing at the north should take their bowl of earth or stones, and begin walking around the outside of the circle. Say:

May the powers of Earth bless this donation.
Earth is the land, the home and the foundation of community.
Nurturing and solid, stable and firm, full of endurance and strength,
This is the base upon which we build our community.
With these powers of Earth, we bless this donation
.”

Once the Earth person has returned to his or her spot in the circle, the individual holding the Air symbol, at the east, begins a rotation around the circle, saying:

May the powers of Air bless this donation.
Air is the soul, the breath of life in a community.
Wisdom and intuition, the knowledge we share freely,
Air carries away troubles from our community.
With these powers of Air, we bless this donation
.”       

Next, the individual holding the Fire symbol - a candle, etc. - at the south, begins moving around the group, saying:

May the powers of Fire bless this donation.
Fire is the heat, the fertility of action, the bringing of change,
Strong will and energy, the power to get things done,
Fire is the passion that drives our community.
With these powers of Fire, we bless this donation
.”

Finally, the person holding water begins to walk in a circle, saying:

May the powers of Water bless this donation.
Cleansing and purifying, washing away ill will,
Carrying away with it need, want, and strife.
Water is what helps to keep our community whole,
With these powers of Water, we bless this donation
.”

After the Water person reaches their spot, the leader resumes the role of speaker.

We bless this donation in the name of community and of our gods.
Each of us is part of this circle, and without all of us,
The circle would be broken.
Let’s join together, in a circle of wisdom, generosity, and caring
.”

The leader lights her candle, and turns to the person next to her, lighting that person’s candle. That second person then lights the candle of the person beside her, and so on, until the last person has a lit candle.

The leader says:

Let us take a few moments to consider what we have given. Perhaps someone in this group will benefit from what others have contributed. There is no shame to be found in accepting help, and there is no superiority in providing it. We give what we can, when we can, to aid those in need. We do so with no expectation of reward or celebration, but simply because it needs to be done. Take a moment now and consider how much good your donation might do.”

Give everyone a few moments to meditate on this thought. When everyone has finished, you may either dismiss the circle — if you cast one to begin with — or formally end the ritual in the ways of your tradition.