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The Holly King

PostPosted: Thu Jan 05, 2012 10:32 am
Author: Morgan
Any discussion of the Winter Solstice and holly from a Pagan perspective would most likely include at least a mention of the battle between the Holly King and the Oak King. For a number of Pagan traditions, this battle represents a central theme surrounding the solstices – the concept of light and dark; of birth, death, and rebirth.

Two themes run throughout the Holly King and Oak King saga. The first, of course, is the two great yearly battles between the two. The second is the sacrificial mating, death, and resurrection of each in his season. At Lammas, the peak of the Holly King's reign, he sacrificially mates with the Great Mother, dies in her embrace, and is resurrected. This is an enactment of the natural fertility theme of the season, and is not uncommon in other mythologies: Osiris, Tammuz, Dionysus, Balder, and Jesus are only a few other gods who die and are resurrected. (The Oak King on the other hand, mates, dies and is resurrected at Beltane.) This aspect of the Holly King and Oak King is not widely discussed, but is an important element in their roles as fertility gods.

Often, these two entities are portrayed in familiar ways - the Holly King frequently appears as a woodsy version of Santa Claus. He dresses in red, wears a sprig of holly in his tangled hair, and is sometimes depicted driving a team of eight stags. The Oak King is portrayed as a fertility god, and occasionally appears as the Green Man or other lord of the forest.

The Holly King, the Lord of the Winterwood and darksome twin of the waning year, rules from Midsummer to Midwinter. At Midsummer, he goes to battle with his twin for the favour of the Goddess. He slays the Oak King, who goes to rest in Caer Arianrhod until they do battle again at Midsummer. Ultimately, while these two beings do battle all year long, they are two essential parts of a whole. Despite being enemies, without one, the other would no longer exist.

These two aspects of the Nature god were later incorporated into Mummers' plays traditionally performed around Yuletide. The Holly King was depicted as a powerful giant of a man covered in holly leaves and branches, and wielding a holly bush as a club. He may well have been the same archetype on which the Green Knight of Arthurian legend was based, and to whose challenge Gawain rose during the Round Table's Christmas celebrations.

Light and dark, life and death. A time to grow and expand, and a time to withdraw and rest. This is the lesson of the two kings, the twin brothers. As we celebrate the holiday season, let us not forget the presence of the Holly King and the Oak King in our lives, and remember that in the midst of the struggles we must all occasionally endure, comes the opportunity to learn and discover new strengths and new possibilities. With the death of the Holly King at the Winter Solstice, we begin a new waxing year and a chance at new growth.

The Holly King's time is for rest, reflection, and learning. Thus the Holly King is honoured with the boughs of Holly, and the Oak King is honoured with Mistletoe – the belief being that Mistletoe is best grown on the Oak as Mistletoe’s most powerful host, (a belief strengthened by the opinion of the 17th century herbalist, Culpepper). Ivy is representative of the Goddess; mother of both Kings, both Kings also being her consort – again powerful ideas of duality.

"Deck the halls with boughs of holly!" So go the words of a popular Christmas carol, thought to have originally been based on an old Welsh melody. Although the well-known English lyrics probably were not written until sometime in the late 19th century, the motif of holly leaves used as a symbol for the midwinter season is truly ancient.

Various myths associated with the Holly King include Santa Claus in all his variations, the Green Knight from Arthurian legend, Mordred (who struck down King Arthur), St. John, Corn King, Bran the Blessed

Re: The Holly King

PostPosted: Fri Jan 06, 2012 6:34 am
Author: Skywalker (Deceased)
"....while these two beings do battle all year long, they are two essential parts of a whole. Despite being enemies, without one, the other would no longer exist."

I think I have been listening to this counsel about the meaning of opposites, about light and dark, all my adult life but never has it struck me so powerfully or vividly or with such meaning.

Once again, the Craft teaches me what I have not learned elsewhere and and points me where I need to go.

Thank you, Tylluan,

Brightest Blessings,


Re: The Holly King

PostPosted: Sat Jan 07, 2012 8:09 am
Author: Morgan
Don't you think it is absolutely wonderful when something comes along like that and you realise what you were being told all along. It's all about balance as far as I am concerned, there is good and bad in all but you need to acknowledge both to be able to grow.

Many blessings to you Jim

Re: The Holly King

PostPosted: Sat Jan 07, 2012 1:59 pm
Author: Skywalker (Deceased)
I haven't even gotten to the balance part yet, Tylluan.

:c )

There are strong parts of me that I reject fiercely and would love to pretend I could get rid of if I were just well adjusted enough or wise enough or something. But, like the two Kings, they keep coming back.

In reading your description, it hit me very hard that these are phases of me, like the Year's phases, Summer and fruitful, Winter and fallow. They make one whole if I accept myself as a human being and not some disembodied spirit.

Perhaps your image that I'm seeing, dimly, is that as rich human beings, we are not blended, integrated, into one thing. Like the Lady herself, we show different phases of ourselves at different times and Wisdom is not to blend them but to recognize them for their worth and show them in their season.

This acceptance of Nature as it really is, is part of the wisdom of the Craft and especially, if I may say so, of the Hedgewitch.

Brightest Blessings,


Re: The Holly King

PostPosted: Mon Jan 09, 2012 9:28 am
Author: Morgan
Jim, I completely understand what you are saying and trust me when I say I've been there and still am at times but over the past year I've done some serious work at accepting me for who I am, warts and all! It's been very intense and at times I've wanted to ignore everything but I feel that myself, with the Lord and Lady right beside me, have kept me at it. I now know that at some of the times that I thought I was being weak, I was actually the strongest I have been. I no longer deny the parts I don't like but accept them (even if I can't embrace them yet) as being part of me. I know that by trying to pretend those parts don't exist, I'm not the person I could be, the person I wish to be.

We are all different people to whoever we're talking to/dealing with. It is still me. I deal with my children in a different way that I do my husband (although I'm sure he'd disagree at times lol). I am different with my sister than I am with my friend. These are all aspects of the completeness that makes me, good and bad, happy and sad, helpful and ignorant.

This is still a work in progress so please feel free to give me a swift kick up the rear if you think I'm regressing! :lol:

Right, waffling now so shutting up. I don't think any amount of work will stop that!!!

Blessings to you and yours

Re: The Holly King

PostPosted: Mon Jan 09, 2012 7:10 pm
Author: Hazel
Hi Tylluan and Skywalker
after reading your comments it made me think of a prayer I heard when a lot younger *Footprints in the sand*

Footprints Prayer

Footprints in the Sand

One night I had a dream...
I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord, and
Across the sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand;
One belonged to me, and the other to the Lord.
When the last scene of my life flashed before us,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that many times along the path of my life,
There was only one set of footprints.
I also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in my life
This really bothered me, and I questioned the Lord about it.
"Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you,
You would walk with me all the way;
But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life,
There is only one set of footprints.
I don't understand why in times when I
needed you the most, you should leave me.
The Lord replied, "My precious, precious
child. I love you, and I would never,
never leave you during your times of
trial and suffering.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.
I have grown to think that the Lord and Lady do this for us more and more often in latter years, food for thought.
I feel that we are never alone, and we as humans are to complexed to ever completly gain 100% ballance but we need to constantly work at trying to acheive it.
Bright Blessings

Re: The Holly KinTylluan, You just keep on waffling. I kno

PostPosted: Tue Jan 10, 2012 4:48 am
Author: Skywalker (Deceased)

You just keep on waffling. I know how hard this is going to be and it is comforting and encouraging to know that a friend has gone there before me.


Thank you for the poem. I had seen it once before and had the same reaction you had. Even tho the poem used Christian images, it reminds me that something holds us when we feel in free fall.

What you said about never being 100% in balance reminds me of something I heard or read one time in martial arts. Something to the effect that "balance" is sometimes a controlled fall.

Brightest Blessings,


Re: The Holly King

PostPosted: Tue Jan 10, 2012 5:53 pm
Author: Morgan
Jim, it is never easy when dealing with yourself for what is the use of lying or pretending?! Just know that we are all here for you should you want or need us. I will help wherever I can and I'm sure the others feel the same.

Hazel - I love that poem but the Goddess version that I have seen. Maybe it isn't as "profound" as the original but it suits me better :D

One night I had a wondrous dream
I dreamed I was walking along the beach
with the Goddess. And on the shore
were Her footprints -- nothing more.

Then suddenly prints I did see,
I asked the Goddess, "What kind are these?
These aren't my knees, these aren't my hands,
these aren't my footprints in the sand!"

"My child," She said in somber tones,
"For miles I carried you alone.
I challenged you to walk in faith,
but you refused and made me wait."

"You would not learn, you would not grow,
The walk of faith, you would not know,
So I got tired, I got fed up,
And there I dropped you on your butt."

"Because in life, there comes a time
When one must fight, and one must climb,
When one must rise and take a stand,
Or leave their butt prints in the sand."

Re: The Holly King

PostPosted: Tue Jan 10, 2012 6:33 pm
Author: Skywalker (Deceased)


Re: The Holly King

PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2012 3:44 pm
Author: Hazel
Wow thats strong Tylluan. too true!

I am a bit confused about the poem that I placed??? I just checked up on the internet and it says that it was written by Per Magnusson (born on May 30, 1969) as you can see he was born in 1969. but the copy I have was given to me by Granny when I was ten years old and is outlined in celtic design, and I was born in 1954 but he wrote it in 2008 apparently.

But I like to think it can be interpreted as a pagan deity it does only say Lord, Lol!