The Faeries of Winter
For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, the month of December is chilly and cold, if not downright frozen and filled with ice and snow. Yuletide and the Winter Solstice is usually not a time when most people are thinking of the fae, yet even on the longest night of the year, they are still all around us, carrying out their ancient duties.
It is easy to see Jack Frost hard at work, creating delicate crystalline patterns on windows and biting exposed noses and fingertips. A true winter faerie seen at no other time, he travels between the hemispheres on the back of the chilliest gusts of air as Old Man Winter. In Russia, he is Father Frost, a veritable blacksmith able to forge great swaths of frozen tundra by welding together water and earth. Travelers had best take care to avoid his icy and deadly embrace.
Let us not forget his feminine counterparts. The Snow Queen, a Danish faerie, brings the winter snow and lives in a cold, white palace; to embrace her is to embrace death. Childless and beautiful, she is always on the lookout to snatch away a child whose absence will go unnoticed. The Germanic hag faerie Frau Holda and the Teutonic hag faerie Frau Holle make snow by shaking the feathers from their feather bed and quilt, respectively. On Yuletide, Frau Holda rides across the sky in her chariot carrying her sickle to assure an auspicious harvest and bringing blessings to the newborn and dying during winter. Sometimes she will throw gold coins down to the deserving below. These ancient “hags” eventually became the current day Mother Goose.
Of course, we all recognize the “right jolly old elf,” Santa Claus, whose “big, round belly…shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly.” Like many Germanic traditions adopted by Christianity, Saint Nick left behind him a host of kindred. There is the Swedish jultomte, the king of the house faeries. He delivers Yuletide presents and receives Yuletide pudding in payment for good behavior in the coming year. In Iceland, there is the julbuk, a horned faerie dressed in furs who is part goat and who visits homes at Yule. He will leave peacefully if he is well fed; if not, he will rot the stored grain and spill the stored beer. The Norwegian julenisse is another house faerie, one who looks like a little old man dressed in red with a red cap. He makes his abode under the stairs or in dark, unused corners, and creeps out at night to eat leftover porridge left for him by the household children. He is also a bringer of Yuletide gifts.
The Celts brought evergreen trees into the home not only because the Druids venerated the tree, but also because the tree symbolized the eternal aspect of the Goddess that never dies. They decorated the tree with items meant to manifest blessings in the year to come: charms for love, fruit for a good harvest, nuts for fertility, coins for wealth, and candles to lure back the sun. We recognize this custom today as decorating a “Christmas tree.” Scandinavians took this idea a step further. They brought evergreen trees and greenery into their homes so the forest elementals (such as hamadryads) could use them to enjoy the warmth of the hearth and find rest from the weary cold. This also afforded the woodland faeries the opportunity to join in the Yuletide festivities.
For reading to young children on Yuletide, I highly recommend D.J. Conway’s “The Yule Faeries,” a story reprinted and quoted often around the web as “author unknown.” With the central theme being the rebirth of the baby Sun King, it is “a must” for pagan parents, and the book in which it appears is appropriately categorized as “juvenile fiction.”
If you want to work with a flower faerie during the winter, one is available: the lily. This flower faerie will connect you to the mysteries of new birth and beginnings, and will help in the development of purity and humility. You can bring a lily, which grows from a bulb, indoors as a potted plant, and some can even be “forced.” A good choice would be Lilium “Bright Diamond,” a hybrid lily with pure white up-facing flowers. Warning: Many varieties of lily are toxic to cats.
So, as your Yule log is blazing away merrily in your hearth this Yuletide, spare a thought for the faeries and invite them in with a sprig of holly or a golden bough of mistletoe to share in the light and fun. Some faeries will flock to southern locales (like some Canadians I know) and others will snooze away the winter dark. However, as long as Mother Earth never ceases in her course, there will always be fae out and about, guarding the spirit of Nature and ensuring the continuation of Her courtly dance of life and death as the Wheel of Life turns.
- Bibliography and Works Cited/Recommended Reading:
- Andrews, Ted, “Enchantment of the Faerie Realm: Communicate with Nature Spirits & Elementals,” Llewellyn Publications (2002)
- Conway, D.J., “The Ancient Art of Faery Magick,” Crossing Press (2005)
- Franklin, Anna, “The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Fairies,” Paper Tiger (2002)
- McCoy, Edain, “A Witch’s Guide to Faery Folk: Reclaiming Our Working Relationship with Invisible Helpers,” Llewellyn Publications (2002)
- McCoy, Edain, “Sabbats: A Witch’s Approach to Living the Old Ways,” Llewellyn Publications (2002)
- Moorey, Teresa, “The Fairy Bible,” Sterling Publishing Co. (2008)