Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Why the Oak King/Holly King Story Doesn't Work for Me

Ah, Yule coming up. (Or Midsummer.)

Time to take the old Oak King/Holly King trope off the shelf and dust it off.

No offense intended if they're friends of yours, but the Oak King/Holly King just don't work for me.

It's not that they're a modern creation. Robert Graves had some good ideas: the Triple Goddess, for one...or three.

Gee, two guys in never-ending combat over who gets the girl. Gets her for the next six months, anyway.

Is that really the story we want to be telling the kids?

So who (or what) are Oak and Holly, anyway? Are they actual beings? Are they personifications? Are they gods? If they're gods, where are their temples? Does anybody actually pray to them? Make regular offerings? Do they ever even come up at any time besides Midsummer and Yule?

Yes, men are competitive. (It's one of the things that makes us so beautiful.) Yes, we can be combative. (Try keeping the tribe alive without it.)

We can also be cooperative. We can also be collaborative. Look around you: we do it all the time. The whole point of Oak and Holly is that their leaves look so much alike.

Me, I'm a man for men. (“Look at the gods, they're all gay,” Sparky T. Rabbit once said to me.) Me, I would (and do) tell the story of the Red God and the Green, or of Sun and Thunder, differently. Really, gentlemen, there are much better things to do together than fight.

Down the long years, we've lost much—maybe even most—of our mythology. The Age of the New Paganisms is the Age of Creative Mythology, to be sure.

Oak King/Holly King? Yeah, there's truth to the tale, I'll admit, while ever we are as we are, and Summer and Winter continue their age-old rivalry for Earth.

But, folks, we've got lots more stories to tell.

Lots more.

Above: Andy Gosling, Oak King/Holly King




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Tagged in: Holly King Oak King
Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


  • Nimue Brown
    Nimue Brown Tuesday, 26 September 2017

    I am so very with you on this. And why midsummer and midwinter, surely if they're doing any kind of swap over it should be at the equinoxes?

  • Thesseli
    Thesseli Tuesday, 26 September 2017

    I prefer the one Feri version, where the two are lovers.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Tuesday, 26 September 2017

    I thought that Andy Gosling's treatment of the theme--the illustration at the head of this post--captured that aspect of the story very nicely.
    As anyone who has ever been in one can readily tell, there's complimentarity in same-sex relationships, too.
    I've always liked the story of Earth and her Two Husbands, Sun and Thunder: a Holy Threesome, in fact.

  • Tasha Halpert
    Tasha Halpert Tuesday, 26 September 2017

    Hello and thanks for this commentary. I like what you have to say and think it makes lots of sense indeed. Is it reflected also in the tale of Bride and Candlemas/Imbolc? You've got the striving of the old with the new there, only it's maiden and crone. I love all mythology. Wish it were taught in school from kindergarten through High school, at various levels starting with the stories and ending with explanations of nationalities and their symbols. Blessings Bright, Tasha

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Tuesday, 26 September 2017

    I read that book Oak King, Holly King and the Unicorn about the Unicorn tapestries. As I remember the argument the Unicorn is Jesus as the horned god while the oak and holly represent the seasons. I don't remember there being an actual Oak King or Holly King.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Thursday, 28 September 2017

    Thanks for the reminder, Anthony: I remember trying to read it when it first came out, but not managing to get very far. Maybe it's time to pull it off the shelf again and give it another go.

    Generally, I assiduously avoid anything having to do with unicorns. Cutesy withers.

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