Monday, September 15, 2014

Holly King: Wiccan God of Winter


The Holly King is a speculative archetype of modern studies of folklore and mythology which has been popularized in some Neopagan religions. In his book The White Goddess, the author Robert Graves proposed that the mythological figure of the Holly King represents one half of the year, while the other is personified by his counterpart and adversary the Oak King: the two battle endlessly as the seasons turn. At Midsummer the Oak King is at the height of his strength, while the Holly King is at his weakest. The Holly King begins to regain his power, and at the Autumn Equinox, the tables finally turn in the Holly King's favor; his strength peaks at Midwinter. Graves identified a number of paired hero-figures which he believes are variants of this myth, including Lleu Llaw Gyffes and Gronw Pebr, Gwyn and Gwythr, Lugh and Balor, Balan and Balin, Gawain and the Green Knight, the robin and the wren, and even Jesus and John the Baptist.

A similar idea was suggested previously by Sir James George Frazer in his work The Golden Bough in Chapter XXVIII, The Killing of The Tree Spirit in the section entitled The Battle of Summer and Winter. Frazer drew parallels between the folk-customs associated with May Day or the changing seasons in Scandinavian, Bavarian and Native American cultures, amongst others, in support of this theory. However the Divine King of Frazer was split into the kings of winter and summer in Graves' work.

These pairs are seen as the dual aspects of the male Earth deity, one ruling the waxing year, the other ruling the waning year. Stewart and Janet Farrar, following Graves' theory, gave a similar interpretation to Wiccan seasonal rituals. According to Joanne Pearson, the Holly King is represented by holly and other evergreens, and personifies the dark half of the Wiccan Wheel of the Year.  He is also seen by some Neopagans as an early inspiration for the Santa Claus legend.

The battle of light with dark is commonly played out in traditional folk dance and mummers plays across Britain such as Calan Mai in Wales, Mazey Day in Cornwall and Jack in the Green traditions in England which typically include a ritual battle in some form.

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