The roots of Yule – and how you can celebrate locally

Jessica Fuller • Dec 17, 2018 at 7:00 AM

For centuries, the longest night of the year has sparked traditions across cultures throughout history.

Throughout history, cultures have celebrated the return of the sun as one by one, the days stretch longer on the other side of the winter solstice. Yule is one such holiday, a pagan celebration with roots in Norse and Celtic cultures.

Pagans in the Northern Hemisphere celebrate Yule for 12 days and centers around the rebirth of the sun, symbolized in the days getting longer after the solstice. Some of those traditions made their way to other cultures and customs, including Christmas.

Jenn Hill and Shyla Ralphina, leaders of the chapel “Spiritual Awakenings” in Johnson City, will be leading traditional Yule rituals this year. Celebrations include burning a Yule log. Traditionally, Ralphina said, Celts would burn a Yule log for 12 days beginning on the solstice.

To modernize the tradition a little, the tradition will be a log with holes drilled into it for candles that will burn instead of the log, but that doesn’t change the spirituality behind it.

“Yule has been around longer than the traditional Christmas,” Ralphina said. “It’s a celebration of our winter solstice, it’s a celebration of getting through the longest night of the year.”

For pagans, Yule is the celebration of the goddess’s birth of the sun — a masculine figure in pagan belief, while the moon represents femininity. Other Yule traditions include evergreens, which represent immortality, and mistletoe, which represents the seed of the divine.

“Any time you decorate with evergreens or mistletoe, (those traditions) are actually from the pagans,” Hill said. “It got adopted over to Christianity; a lot did. Throughout history, you’ll see where a lot of different pantheons and spiritual paths kind of became a melting pot, and that’s OK.”

Spiritual Awakenings moved to its new home off West Market Street earlier this year, where Hill, Ralphina and a third leader offer not only rituals, but different classes on paganism. Classes are carried out under the name “We 3 Witches,” and range from how to set up an altar to art classes.

In addition to serving as a spiritual hub for the community, the pair said one of their goals is to open minds to people who may practice spirituality differently. One way they aim to do that is by cultivating an accepting environment in their chapel, where anyone can come in to meditate, practice a ritual, or even just find out more about paganism.

“We would like to be that example of those that are proud to call themselves a witch,” Ralphina said. “We do charity, we love everybody that comes in. We may not agree with everybody that comes in, but everyone is treated (equally) here, no matter their beliefs.”

The Yule Ritual will begin at 3 p.m. on Saturday, with a pot luck and book exchange to follow. Bring a wrapped book to participate in the exchange, and a dish to participate in the potluck.

Hill and Ralphina said everyone is welcome to the ritual.

“We want this to be a safe place for people to explore their spirituality with no judgments,” Ralphina said. “Everyone is welcome if they come in love and light and (bring) harm to none, that’s all we ask.”

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