December in the Wheel of the Year Part 2: Holly and Ivy By Lucya Starza

09/12/21 | By Lucya Szachnowski

December in the Wheel of the Year Part 2: Holly and Ivy By Lucya Starza

Bringing holly into the house in December is more ancient than Christmas trees. Romans decorated their villas with holly for Saturnalia, on December 17, which was somewhat like modern Christmas Magically, holly has protective powers. Planted around your home, it helps ward all who dwell within from harmful spells, malicious fairies and evil spirits. It brings good luck if you hang it inside at Yule and is supposed to help your dreams come true if you put it in the bedroom. It was traditionally considered unlucky to bring holly into the house at any time other than midwinter.

Rachel Patterson in A Kitchen Witch’s World of Magical Herbs writes that you should put holly sprigs on your altar at the winter solstice to invite happiness, balance, success and luck into your life. She adds:

“The holly berry is symbolic of the life-giving blood of the Goddess. To work with fertility and feminine sexuality take three holly berries and throw them in water (the ocean, a river or a pond) and make your request to deity as you do so.”

I agree with Rachel that holly is a tree of the Goddess, although many books on herbal magic list it as male. Actually, holly trees (or more accurately shrubs) can be male or female. Only the female bushes have berries, and they need to be close enough to a male bush for the flowers to be pollinated. So, if you have holly in your garden that never produces berries, it’s a male or a lonely female. The tale of the Holly King ruling over the half the year from midsummer to midwinter, then fighting with his rival the Oak King at Yule, who defeats him to lead us back into summer, is a relatively modern myth. It comes from Robert Graves’ The White Goddess, although he was inspired by older mythology of battling heroes.

Holly berries are poisonous, so don’t eat them, and make sure they are out of reach of any pets, but hung on the wall or from the ceiling they are the perfect Yuletide decoration. You can also use it for fortune telling, as both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve are customary times for that. Melusine Draco offers a Witch’s Yuletide Divination using holly in her book Traditional Witchcraft for Fields & Hedgerows:

“If a sprig of holly is thrown on the fire and burns with a crackling noise, it is a sign that the auspices will be fine; but if it burns with a dull flame and does not crackle, it is a sign that all will not be well in the coming year.”

Ivy, Holly's co-star in the carol The Holly and the Ivy, is another Yuletide evergreen. The carol itself also feels somewhat pagan. In Have a Cool Yule, Melusine Draco writes: “…the symbolism of this anonymous early carol relates to ancient fertility mythology.” Whether or not the carol itself is ancient, Ivy is certainly associated with both Saturn and Bacchus. Both deities were honoured by the ancient Romans with festivals at midwinter. Worshippers of Bacchus and his Greek counterpart Dionysus carried a thyrsus - a staff wound with ivy leaves - in dances to honour their god. The staff is thought to represent the male while the ivy symbolises the female.

In magic, ivy represents fidelity in love. It can be used in spells to keep a partner true. Rachel Patterson writes that an ivy wreath in your home can bring love and abundance in and keep negative energy out. Ivy flowers from September to November in the UK, and its fruits are ripe from November to January. Luckily there’s usually enough of it to go around for both decorating the home and leaving plenty outside as food and shelter for wildlife.

This is part of a series of posts I’m writing for the Moon Books Blog on the theme of the Wheel of the Year. They will be compiled and edited into a book: Pagan Portals – Wheel of the Year. Other books by Lucya Starza in the Pagan Portals series include Candle Magic, Guided Visualisations, Poppets and Magical Dolls, and Scrying. Lucya edited the community book Every Day Magic – A Pagan Book of Days.


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