We have been enjoying the Yuletide, but for many of us, the only real days of rest are Christmas itself, and perhaps the day after. For some of us, there are no days of rest. This year that is especially true for those defenders of our country, who in a desperate time guard against those who would murder our weakest. I salute my brothers in arms.
This is a time to renew our devotion to old traditions, both Christian and Heathen, as they together make up the Order of the West. Here are some thoughts on Pagan Yule traditions:
For the Vikings, the yule log was an integral part of their celebration of the solstice, the julfest; on the log they would carve runes representing unwanted traits (such as ill fortune or poor honor) that they wanted the gods to take from them.Waes Hael! We know the phrase thanks to Geoffrey of Monmoth's Historia Regum Britanniae. Geoffrey attributed it to the Anglo-Saxons Hengst, Horsa, and Hengst's beautiful daughter Rowen, who caught the eye of Vortigern. That Vortigern is the same one you may have heard about, who according to Arthurian legend invited the Saxons to Britian, and then lost it to them.
Wassail comes from the Old English words waes hael, which means "be well," "be hale," or "good health." A strong, hot drink (usually a mixture of ale, honey, and spices) would be put in a large bowl, and the host would lift it and greet his companions with "waes hael," to which they would reply "drinc hael," which meant "drink and be well." Over the centuries some non-alcoholic versions of wassail evolved.
The connection of the phrase "Waes Hael!" to Arthur continued into the 19th century. This is odd in a way, as Arthur was the enemy of the Saxons, and spoke Cymric or Latin. Still, poets who had read Geoffrey of Monmouth in their education put "Waes Hael" with Arthur, and Arthur with England. Thus Robert S. Hawker's "KING ARTHUR'S WAES-HAEL" which begins:
Waes-hael for knight and dame!The proper answer to "Waes Hael!" was "Drinc Hael!" Sir Walter Scott knew that, and used the device in Ivanhoe in the encounter between Friar Tuck and a disguised King Richard Lionheart:
O! merry be their dole;
Drink-hael! in Jesu's name
We fill the tawny bowl;
But cover down the curving crest,
Mould of the orient lady's breast.
The hermit only replied by a grin; and returning to the hutch, he"Waes Hael" became "wassail!" in the Middle English, and there were a number of wassailing ceremonies practiced by the English. The word also became associated with several kinds of festive drinks, often mulled wine or hot, spiced ale. I myself recommend a touch of nutmeg and ginger in a good ale as a suitable wassail. You may heat it if you like--I prefer mine cold. Hot, spiced cider is a good alternative.
produced a leathern bottle, which might contain about four
quarts. He also brought forth two large drinking cups, made out
of the horn of the urus, and hooped with silver. Having made
this goodly provision for washing down the supper, he seemed to
think no farther ceremonious scruple necessary on his part; but
filling both cups, and saying, in the Saxon fashion, "'Waes
hael', Sir Sluggish Knight!" he emptied his own at a draught.
"'Drink hael', Holy Clerk of Copmanhurst!" answered the warrior,
and did his host reason in a similar brimmer.
Waes Hael! Drinc Hael! Merry Christmas, and a fine Yuletide to you all. Let us gather in our halls and drink like men, to celebrate love and kinship, warmth, and the company of the brave.