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Of Milk And Cookies: The Yule Father And Modern Heathenry

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The days grow shorter, the nights longer, and the cool crisp wind speaks of the coming season; Yule is upon us. The delight of children opening gifts, the joyous hours spent with loved ones, and the countless traditions to which we all cling, bring to mind a bit of Yuletide UPG I hold near and dear… The Yule Father.

Countless articles have been written about the Yule Father, “Santa” to the uninitiated, and the historical track is muddy and uncertain at best. So much so that many individuals eschew the idea of the Yule Father as a meaningless tradition devoid of any real value in a Heathen household.

On the contrary, the tradition of Yule Father is decked with value to the Modern Heathen parent. Leaving aside historical origins (one can simply peruse the internet for a moment and be met with a myriad of attestations to the Gift Giving Elf’s origins) let us explore the practical side and my own unusual interpretation on this Yuletide spirit.

When asked if I believe in the Yule Father, I (as a full grown man) quite emphatically state “Yes! Just not how others see him.” My personal belief is that Yule Father, as we have come to know the spirit, is indeed just that: a spirit.

Yuletide is the time of year wherein the veil between the waking world and the underworld is at its thinnest. It is at this time that we are most easily contacted and influenced by our ancestors. This phenomenon begins around the time of Winter Nights and continues on till the dawning of spring.

During this time, tribes gather and celebrate one another, reveling in the close bonds of kith and kin. Our ancestors look in on us during these times, and like any doting grandparent, they seek to spoil the children and to bring smiles to the faces of their descendants. While they cannot come and spoil the children themselves, they can do so through us. They instill in us the desire and need to gift more heavily than we might otherwise. This is the role of the Yule Father (or Yule Mother in the case of the Disir).

On Mother’s Night, we celebrate the Disir, the female ancestors of our lines, and ask that they grant us Luck and favor during the coming year. I see Yule Father as a means of the Grandfather’s to jump in and get their piece of the pie as well. Through inspiring us to give, touching our hearts with generosity and Love, they spur us on to bring joy to the children and to exchange gifts with one another, building Frith and strengthening our ties of Wyrd.

Do I think that a man in Earth-toned furs enters the house during Yule to leave gifts in the night? Not so much. However, I do believe that the Fathers of old enter our homes during Yule and, through their influencing us, leave gifts and presents for the children and family members that keep their names alive.

Why would our ancestors do such? We are the living embodiment of their legacy. It is through us that their names live on and their stories remain. Our ancestors have a vested interest in our success and growth. They thrive as the tribe thrives, and building these strong bonds ensures that their names will live on even longer. This ancestral intervention, in the role of Yule Father, includes them in our gifting and revelries.

The practical element of the Yule Father tradition comes into play in a number of ways. First, children that learn of Yule Father and his gifting discover that he only gives gifts to the “good kids,” those that are helpful to their families and communities. Those children whose actions are a detriment to the tribe or family receive coal or are overlooked instead. These children learn a direct correlation between their behaviors and the blessings bestowed as a result.

Within the context of a Heathen Worldview, they learn the relationship between ones Deeds and one’s Luck. Those that do good things in life earn strong Luck. They reap the benefits of that Luck as they are bestowed with blessings by both the Gods and their communities.

From a psychological perspective, the human brain doesn’t develop the capacity for abstract thought until roughly the age of puberty. As such, the fullness of complex concepts, such as Luck and reputation, are outside the grasp of their developing minds. Prior to roughly 10-12 years of age, children largely operate from a point of concrete thought and understanding.

The tradition of Yule Father boils down the complexity of reputation and the resulting blessings into a concrete form. This format allows younger minds to grasp these more advanced concepts and begins understanding individual accountability and that their Deeds directly influence how they are seen in the eyes of others.

Similarly, within the tradition, children are taught to leave out an offering of milk and cookies in thanks for the blessings bestowed upon them by this ancestral spirit. This is a simplified form of the ancestor offerings present in our rituals and festivals throughout the year. By understanding the basis of this concept in a concrete form, they can better understand the process of ancestor offerings and why we give them.

Ultimately, the tradition of giving gifts in the guise of Yule Father also allows us to sacrifice the glory and accolades we would receive as a result of giving these gifts. We are, in essence, sacrificing our gain from the gift in hopes that it will bring joy and prosperity to the younger generations. When these children mature and learn that Yule Father is the spirit of their ancestors acting through living adults, they gain a deeper respect for their ancestors as a result as these forbears continue to look out for them.

In the end, it is up to each hearth to enact the traditions they feel best fit their family and hearth culture. Not my Hall, not my call. However, this is a tradition I feel merits a second look due to its value as a teaching tool and a method of engaging our ancestral spirits in an act of mutual gifting to the children.

Regardless of its origins, this tradition is rife with nuances that lay the groundwork for solid Heathen teachings as the children grow and mature. The Yule Father is the form and name we assign to the feeling of warmth and love bestowed upon us by our ancestors. Through this tradition, we are able to teach valuable lessons to the future generations while including the previous generations in our merriment.

Whether or not you embrace the tradition of Yule Father, from my hearth to yours: God Jul!

Eric Word-Weaver Sjerven is the Gođi of the Hridgar Folk, a Heathen Tribe in Texas.  He has been a Heathen since his teenage years and has a unique view on the world that he shares through his writings and his YouTube channel.  His focus is largely on Grassroots Heathenry and finding a balance between innovation and tradition within Heathenry today.  His YouTube channel can be found at https://www.youtube.com/ericwordweaversjerven.

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