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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Yule carols

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
In the Castle of the Holly King

Nou Is Yole Comen: A 15th-Century Yule Carol

 

The “secular” carol is no new thing. Most of the oldest surviving Yule carols are thoroughly non-religious, describing the earthy joys of the season with little (if any) religious content.

What follows is a 15th-century English carol, set to music by Early Musicologist Shira Kammen on her stunning 2003 album The Castle of the Holly King: Secular Songs for the Yuletide. For those of you who didn't happen to grow up speaking Middle English, a modern English rendering follows.

Note that personifying holidays as guests who come to visit is an ancient Indo-European poetic trope with its roots in deepest antiquity. Note also the playful AAAB rhyme-scheme, and that the poet uses only two rhymes through the entire song. That's a pretty bravura performance.

 

Nou is Yole Comen

 

Hay, ay, ay, ay:

make we merry as we may.

 

Nou is Yole comen with gentil chere,

of mirth and gomen he has no pere;

in every londe where he comes nere

is merthe and gomen, I dar wele say.

 

Now is comen a messingere

of your lorde, Ser NuYere—

biddes us all be merie here

and make as merie as we may.

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  • Chris Sherbak
    Chris Sherbak says #
    Excellent pointer! I still cherish my 'Pro Dea' Winter Solstice songbook you all published so many years ago.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Warlock Carol

English composer Peter Warlock ( Philip Heseltine, 1894-1930) wrote this mysterious little carol, a variant on the traditional I Saw Three Ships, in 1923. It didn't get its pagan words until nearly eighty years later, but—considering Warlock's lifelong interest in the occult—we can be sure that he would be delighted to know that the witches were singing his carol at their Yuletide festivities. Absolutely delighted.

As for the meaning of those three mysterious ships...well, all will be revealed.

Just watch this blog.

The Sycamore Tree

 

As I sat under a sycamore tree,

a sycamore tree, a sycamore tree,

I looked me out upon the sea,

a Midwinter's day in the morning.

 

I saw three ships come sailing there,

come sailing there, come sailing there:

the Horned One and His Lady they bare,

a Midwinter's day in the morning.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Is 'Silent Night' Reclaimable?

I've always hated “Silent Night.”

The whiny tune, the maudlin lyrics, the sappy sentimentalism it evokes. Its unassailable preeminence in the Christmas canon. Ugh.

I also think that some texts are best left unreclaimed. “Our Mother who art in Heaven....” “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound/that saved a witch like me....” “The little lord Sun God, asleep in the hay....”

Kill me now, please.

Given these two facts, one would expect that I would categorically reject my teacher Tony Kelly's pagan “Silent Night.” And, for the most part, I do.

And yet.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Tyger
    Tyger says #
    I'm a non-theist pagan. I left my christian roots behind a long time ago, but I still love the sacred music from that time. "Sing
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Oh, I think that there's something to be said for reclaiming. Much has been lost, and we have to start somewhere. As for gravy,
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I tend to view Christianity as just another layer in my Euro-Mediterranean Heritage to build on, not something to reclaim. I do l
  • Mark Green
    Mark Green says #
    Try the fact-checked version: Axial tilt The way the world’s built: Sun is north, then sun is south. Axial precession makes seaso
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    1. I'm in love. 2. Is it yours? 3. Do you know Chris Raible's "God Rest Ye, Unitarians?" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PBxsf0IzA

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Horned One and His Ladee

Rewrites can be problematic.

They call for a certain delicacy of touch, and need to be rooted in respect for the original. You can't impose; you need to work with, matching style for style and diction for diction.

When done well, though, they can potentially both renew and transform the original.

Possibly forever.

 

 I Saw Three Ships

 

I saw three ships come sailing in

on New Year's Day, on New Year's Day

I saw three ships come sailing in

on New Year's Day in the morning.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Yules

They say that if you add up all the gifts in The Twelve Days of Christmas, you get 364.

364.

The Twelve (witches would say Thirteen) Days of Yule are a microcosm, a year in little.

So Yule is actually the Yules: Twelve (witches would say Thirteen) of them, and every one a Yule.

The same pattern of the Twelve Between turns up elsewhere. The old Zoroastrian New Year, Nawrúz, at the vernal equinox, is a festival of thirteen days.

Mircea Eliade suggests that the intercalary dozen serves to reconcile a solar year of 365 days with a lunar year (= 12 lunations) of 352.

There's actually an old (15th century) Scots song kin to the one you may know called The Thirteen Days of Yule. It begins:

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Carol of the Swallow

In English, it's called Carol of the Bells, and has become a regular part of the December soundscape.

But the Ukrainian original—like folk carols all over Europe—although sung at Christmas, doesn't have anything to do with Christmas.

Or bells.

Instead, it's about spring.

And fertility.

And sex.

Which is to say: it's thoroughly pagan, through and through. Because to pagans, Yule isn't just a self-referential blaze that sits in its own golden halo at the end of the year; it's the first spark of what comes next, a collective turning towards spring, and the growing season to come.

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A Yule Carol by (I Kid You Not) Margaret Murray

Early 20th-century maverick archaeologist Margaret Murray (1863-1963) needs no introduction, her 1921 Witch-Cult in Western Europe having been instrumental in getting the whole witchcraft-revival wheel turning.

Before becoming a revisionist historian, however, she was first and foremost an Egyptologist. Her somewhat libertarian translation of a 19th Dynasty hymn to the Sun’s rebirth makes a charming (if rather ponderous) addition to the repertoire of Yule carols, especially for those of us weary of “little Lord Sun God, asleep in the hay”-type rewrites.

For the non-Egyptians among us, I've appended a de-Kemetized version as well.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Haley
    Haley says #
    But, of course! Thank you.
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Good question, Haley. Judging from the lyrics, I could imagine something joyous, triumphant, maybe a little bombastic, rather like
  • Haley
    Haley says #
    Thank you, Steven. What sort of tune do you have in mind with this?

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