yule log

If you have heard the word yule, it probably was in a song or verse related to Christmas, but the Yule time predates Christmas.

Modern Christians all over the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas, December 25. However, it is believed that this date was chosen to offset the pagan celebrations of Saturnalia and Natalis Invicti. 

Yule is also known as Alban Arthan and was one of the “Lesser Sabbats” of the Wiccan year in a time when ancient believers celebrated the rebirth of the Sun God and days with more light.

In 2022, Yule began with the solstice on December 21 and ends on Sunday, January 1, 2023. For a long time, I have believed that any Yule/Christmas celebrating (decorating etc.) should only begin with the solstice. Retailers do not agree with me.

For Christians, celebrating the birth of the “true light of the world” was appropriately set to synchronize with the December solstice because from that point onwards, the days have more light (at least in the Northern Hemisphere).

Christmas is sometimes referred to as Yule. The word “yule” may have derived from the Norse word jól or juul, referring to a pre-Christian winter solstice festival.  This took place annually around the time of the December solstice and lasted for 12 days. (The Lesser Sabbats fall on the solstices and equinoxes.)

Yuletide comes from Yule +‎ –tide (“period around a holiday”), from the Old English tīd (“time”)

The Feast of Juul was observed in Scandinavia at this winter solstice and fires were lit to symbolize the heat, light and life-giving properties of the returning sun.

A Yule or Juul log was brought in and burned on the hearth in honor of the Scandinavian god Thor. A piece of the log was kept as both a token of good luck and as kindling for the following year’s log.

In England, Germany, France and other European countries, the Yule log was burned until nothing but ash remained. The ashes were then collected and either strewn on the fields as fertilizer every night until Twelfth Night or kept as a charm and or as medicine.

French peasants believed that if the ashes were kept under the bed, they would protect the house against thunder and lightning.

The present-day custom of lighting a Yule log at Christmas that is sometimes adorned with evergreens, holly and pine cones is believed to have originated in the bonfires associated with the Feast of Juul.

That Yule Log cake that people buy in the stores is pure retail marketing. Thor would not be happy.


According to the Yule Blog, the Yule Goat is a Scandinavian tradition that predates the arrival of Christianity in Northern Europe. The goat was a symbol of the Norse god Thor, whose flying chariot was pulled by two goats.

When entertaining the other gods, Thor would kill goats to feed his guests and then resurrect them afterward, using his hammer Mjöllnir.

In Sweden, a Christmas custom based on this tale of Thor is still performed in the Juloffer, or Yule Sacrifice. Two actors sacrifice a third player dressed as a goat while singing a song, but at the end of the song, the goat is resurrected. Yule Goats are also made of straw both large and small as decorations.

The Yule Goat was once considered to be a bringer of gifts, but this role has been taken over by Father Christmas, who sometimes rides the Yule Goat.

The Thunder Moon

I will look for the Full Moon low in the eastern sky around sunset tonight, July 8. It will be highest around midnight. In my neighborhood it technically was “full” at 12:07 am EDT, but most of us only count it as full when we see it at night no matter what time the scientists tell us.

July is typically the stormiest month of the year for the Northern Hemisphere. The hot weather makes thunderstorms fairly common, so the Thunder Moon is a good name for most of us this month.

Thunder is the sound caused by lightning. Depending on the distance and nature of the lightning, thunder can range from a sharp, loud crack to a long, low rumble. As we learned in science class, the sudden increase in pressure and temperature from lightning produces rapid expansion of the air surrounding and within a bolt of lightning which creates a sonic shock wave, similar to a sonic boom.


The name of the Germanic god Thor comes from the Old Norse word for thunder. Thor is the most well-known of the many thunder gods in world mythologies.

Thor is also the origin of the weekday name Thursday. During the Roman Empire period, the Germanic peoples adopted the Roman weekly calendar, and replaced the names of Roman gods with their own. Latin dies Iovis (‘day of Jupiter’) was converted into Proto-Germanic Þonares dagaz (“Thor’s day”), from which stems modern English “Thursday.”

The July moon that is also called the Buck Moon or Deer Moon because deer begin to show antlers which are in their “velvet” stage. That is a name that both American Indians and colonists might have used. Some farmers refer to it as the Hay Moon as they take in their first cutting of hay.

Some Indian tribes, based on location, treated this as an early harvest moon. The Choctaw called it the Little Harvest Moon. While the Cherokee of the Southwest called this the Ripe Corn Moon, the Potawatomi (people of the Great Plains, upper Mississippi River and Western Great Lakes region) called this the Moon of the Young Corn.

The European Mead Moon name didn’t hold over in the colonies although this would be a time when increased honey harvest would lead to mead making.

Balancing the Week, Day and a Dark Night of the Soul

Ecliptic path
The Earth in its orbit around the Sun causes the Sun to appear on the celestial sphere moving over the ecliptic (red), which is tilted on the Equator (white)

This year the autumnal equinox is on Wednesday, September 23.  The Harvest Moon is the Full Moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox and that arrives 4 days later.

The equinox is all about balance – specifically balancing day and nightEquinox is from the Latin words for equal and for the night. We know now that this day is not exactly equal with 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness, but on both equinoxes (autumn and spring), the very center of the Sun sets 12 hours after it rises.

Of course, we commonly think of the start of the day as the sunrise when the upper edge of the Sun peaks over the horizon a bit ahead of the Sun’s center. Conversely, the clock and human adjustments to it can say what they will, but in our heads night arrives when the entire Sun disappears at that opposite horizon. This we share with the ancients who were much more interested in and followers of the celestial dance.

We call the equinox this week the start of autumn, and in the Southern Hemisphere, they will be entering spring.

This year it occurs on a Wednesday and that got me thinking about balancing the week.  Wednesday picked up in modern times the nickname of “Hump Day,” an unfortunate dubbing connected to getting over the middle of the work week and taking the slide to the weekend.

According to the international standard ISO 8601 adopted in most western countries, Wednesday is the third day of the week. In countries that use the Sunday-first convention, Wednesday is defined as the fourth day of the week. Actually, many computer-based calendars (such as those connected to email) allow you to set for yourself what day begins the week. I am surely not alone in thinking of Monday as the start of the week with the weekend being its own little two-day holiday hanging off the end.

Odin the Wanderer (1896) by Georg von Rosen

For English speakers, Wednesday is derived from Old English Wōdnesdæg and Middle English Wednesdei, “day of Woden.” This is what is known as a calque of dies Mercurii “day of Mercury”.  A calque is a word or phrase borrowed from another language by literal, word-for-word or root-for-root translation.

Good ol’ Woden is in Germanic mythology, the god Odin (from Old Norse Óðinn).  In Norse mythology, Odin is associated with healing, death, royalty, the gallows, knowledge, battle, sorcery, poetry, frenzy, and the runic alphabet. He was married to the goddess Frigg. In wider Germanic mythology and paganism, Odin was known in Old English as Wóden.

I like the simple illustration of him I included here where he looks less godlike and more of the old wandering wise man.  J.R.R. Tolkien’s wizard Gandalf was surely influenced by Odin, especially Odin in his “Wanderer” guise. There are many works of art and literature over the centuries that have used Odin. The comic book character Odin was created in 1962 by Stan Lee and as in the Norse mythology, he is the father of Thor.

My own favorite modern incantation of Odin is in a novel by Douglas Adams – an author I very much miss having on the planet. His Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (Dirk Gently Book 2) finds Odin in our modern world. The lead character of the book is a “holistic detective” named Dirk Gently who believes that gods are created by humans’ necessity and desire for them. They were once worshipped by man, but when that fell away they didn’t disappear but remained on Earth forever. Because nobody worships them, many of them became destitute and depressed. In the novel, Dirk encounters and works with Odin and his son Thor. I like that Odin, like all the gods, is naïve and quite literally unworldly. In this telling, the gods’ world exists in parallel with our own – and the St. Pancras railway station is their Valhalla.

This all sounds quite silly, but I never saw the book that way. The title is a phrase that had appeared earlier in Adams’ novel Life, the Universe and Everything (the third book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy a trilogy that was expanded to a pentalogy ) to describe the wretched boredom of being immortal.

It is also a reference to the theological treatise Dark Night of the Soul, by Saint John of the Cross which was a book I read in a college religion class that made a deep impression on me. It is a poem written by the 16th-century Spanish poet and Roman Catholic mystic and the treatise he wrote later comments on the poem. The term “dark night of the soul” is used in Roman Catholicism for a spiritual crisis in a journey towards union with God. Though much of the serious study I did then is lost to me now, “Dark Night of the Soul” also refers to the ten steps on the ladder of mystical love, described earlier by Saint Thomas Aquinas who in turn built from ideas of Aristotle.