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The Yule Goat Sneaks Heathen Tradition into Christmas

The Yule Goat Sneaks Heathen Tradition into Christmas

If you’re new to Heathenism, or even if you’ve been a Heathen for a while, you may or may not have seen the Julbock or Yule Goat as part of the Yule celebration. The Yule Goat or Julbock is a pagan Scandinavian tradition that predates Christianity that sneaked into Christmas celebrations in Scandinavia. It’s an interesting tradition that we can easily incorporate into our Yule festivities.

What is the Julbock? 

You may be wondering what the Yule Goat is and what significance it has for Heathens. After all, a goat is a goat, right? Well, maybe.

The Julbock is associated with the last sheaf of grain harvested, which in the past was considered to have magical properties. Called the julbocken, it was associated with proto-Slavic beliefs with the god of the harvest and the fertile sun, Devac, represented by a white goat. It was common for someone to dress up as a goat and demand presents as offerings. In this way, Yule was part of the harvest festival that has been carried into the winter solstice, perhaps as a way to entice the sun to return by paying tribute.

Historians think the Yule Goat may be linked to Thor’s goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr  in many respects.  Given that Thor provides rains and Sif, his consort, is the goddess of grain, you can kind of see the relationship and symbolism.

The current Julbock appears in Scandinavian tradition as straw tied with red ribbons in the shape of a goat. The Gävle Goat is Sweden is probably the best known Julbock since 1966.  Not surprisingly, it has been vandalized by arson at least 36 times and has been hit by cars, kicked to pieces, and stolen.  Apparently it is too big of a temptation to not offer it to the sun.   

Julbock Festivities 

In the past, the Julbock kept watch to ensure the Yule, and later Christmas, preparations were done correctly. It seems to be a benevolent Krampus in that respect.  In medieval times, the Julbock was associated with wassailing, playing pranks, and performing plays.  Youths in costumes would go house to house singing and performing plays for food and spirits.  These plays would often feature a Julbock in them.

In the 19th century, the Julbock was the bringer of presents before the whole Santa Claus thing took hold in Scandinavia.  An adult male relative of the house would dress up as a goat and hand out presents.  This eventually faded out as the Santa Claus tradition took hold in the latter half of the 19th century. Even so, there is at least one piece of art showing a rather pagan Santa Claus riding a goat. This artwork is entitled “Old Christmas” which gives us an interesting mix of the two traditions.

How to Add the Julbock in Your Heathen Celebrations

Julbock for sale at Amazon

Now that you know a bit about the Julbock, you may be wondering how to add it to your own Heathen celebrations.  Unless you’re a farmer, chances are you don’t have the last bundle of wheat from the harvest, so you may have to be satisfied with your own Julbock decoration or even these nice Julbock Yule tree ornaments.

But you don’t have to stop there with relegating the Julbock as a Yuletide decoration. If you have a large party on Yule, you can add your own Yule play which includes the Julbock.  Celebrate Yule by wassailing.  When it comes time to handing out Yule presents, who says you wouldn’t look marvelous in horns and a goat hide?  Many cool possibilities here.

So, those are my thoughts on the Julbock.  Maybe you have some ideas for celebrating Yule that I haven’t mentioned.  Let me know how you incorporate the Julbock in your Yule.


Disclaimer: I’ve included some links to my affiliates in this post where I may receive a small percentage of compensation from your purchase. If you’re planning on buying ornaments or your own Julbock and enjoy this blog, I would encourage you to use my affiliate links.  The money helps support this blog.  Thank you.

Is Thanksgiving Dying?

Is Thanksgiving Dying?

I was reading a blog post on Patheos about society and merchants killing Thanksgiving.  I found it an interesting read and I had to sit and think about the idea a bit. The blogger, I think, got it right in some ways and wrong in others.  Since I am most likely older than the blogger (I painfully admit this), I can probably add my two cents as to what is happening to the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States.

What Thanksgiving was in Relation to Christmas

Before I get some push back, let me state that even though I’m Heathen, I recognize that the “holiday season” is largely the Christmas season.  That’s because the majority of people in the US are still Christian, and even those who aren’t Christian still celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday.  So even though Christmas is just a hijacked Yule, I’m going to be a realist here and talk about what the majority of Americans celebrate.
Thanksgiving was born out of the traditional harvest festivals. It became an official American holiday in 1863 thanks to Abraham Lincoln.  Before that, it was mostly celebrated in New England, although presidents before Lincoln would often declare a day of Thanksgiving.  If you want the whole story, you can read my post on it.

Thanksgiving, due to its proximity to Christmas, was a natural start of the holiday season, once Christmas became popular, thanks to Charles Dickens and Queen Victoria. (Christmas, by the way, was not that popular of a holiday in the New World, thanks to our Puritan founders.)  Even in Europe, Christmas was unpopular by the 19th century, requiring Dickens to give it a facelift.  In Medieval times, it was a time of communal feasting and playing games.  Much of that stopped abruptly when the Black Death hit.

So, by the time World War II came along, Christmas had enjoyed enough popularity to have President Franklin D. Roosevelt tinker with the date of Thanksgiving to be the last Thursday of the month so that merchants could plan their holiday sales.  Seriously.

Thanksgiving and the Christmas Buying Season


The blogger bemoaned the fact that Thanksgiving is being run over by black Friday sales that start on Thursday in the hopes to lure more shoppers to buy.  And in truth, the holiday season is often a make or break time for many merchants. But should it mean that the stores should be open for you to buy stuff when people should be staying home with their families?

As old as I am (old as dirt, I reckon), I seem to recall that the Christmas buying season started around Thanksgiving, but I don’t remember Black Fridays until at least the 70s, but the term was coined in the 50s because cops had to pull 12 hour shifts to deal with the shoppers.  Since I didn’t live in Philadelphia, that’s probably why I don’t remember it much when I was a kid.  This Christmas shopping on Thanksgiving is a headache and one either people will embrace or decide to skip.  It depends on how popular it will be for the trend to survive, but I’m counting on people to use their smartphones and buy online on Thanksgiving.

What I’m More Concerned With

As depressing as Christmas shopping taking over Thanksgiving is, I’m more concerned with the lack of association of the Thanksgiving and Harvest festivals.  Sure, kids learn to draw turkeys and pumpkins and corn, but in most cases kids don’t see turkeys other than in books and in videos and have never stepped foot in a field where corn and pumpkins are grown.  They and probably their parents look at the world through their extremely urban or suburban living.  Sure, they might get a chance to visit a farm on a school trip, but that really is about the extent.  So when they have their highly processed bird at Thanksgiving, they haven’t really had a connection to the harvest.  Instead, it’s an excuse to eat and then sit on the couch and play video games or watch football. And yes. we look at Thanksgiving as the beginning of the Christmas buying season.  Yay.

There’s a town I enter when I hunt in a certain area which has an honest-to-gods harvest festival annually.  That’s because it’s a farm town.  When I saw the signs, I was delighted and intrigued.  If it wasn’t hunting season, I’d be there just to watch what went on.  Unfortunately Skadi has not gifted me an elk this season thus far, so I’m busy looking for those.

Understanding harvest, which is where Thanksgiving comes from, is important.  Knowing where our food is from.  Actually growing crops and tending livestock. Thanking Freyr for the abundance. Saving the last sheaf of wheat for the wights and gods.  Remembering ancestors.  That’s what I believe is endangered.

Thanksgiving will undoubtedly morph into something more commercial, if Madison Avenue has its way.  But hopefully as Heathenism grows, perhaps more people will pay attention to its roots and recognize the importance of Harvest.

Yule as a Non-Event

Yule as a Non-Event

First, before I launch into my blog, I really do want to wish you all a very merry Yule.  I know I
missed Mother’s Night/Solstice, but honestly things have been a bit busy for me lately, so I apologize to my readers.  So, without further yapping about my tardiness, let’s get to the post…

It was my intent to write about Yule, the history, and the feelings one gets this time of the year.  All that went out the window when not long after hunting season ended, my husband had an operation (to repair an injury).  I was suddenly thrust into doing everything.  And I mean EVERYTHING.

Courtesy of Magickal Graphics

Life Intrudes

Before I knew it, I was taking him to physical therapy, taking care of our ancient parents by driving them to doctor’s appointments, and having all the farm chores to do.  This is above my normal work as a freelancer. So, I watched as Yule approached, unable to even get my house clean because too many other important things needed to be done.

On top of that, Skadi lived up to her promise to me.  I had gotten a buck for hunting season, but for various and sundry reasons, I failed to get my doe.  The goddess is generous and I found a freshly killed fawn just out of its spots by the side of the road, only a few hours dead and well preserved because of the negative temperatures.  As I drove the deer over to the game wardens to get my salvage tag, I reflected at how redneck I’ve become.  (Incidentally, the meat was good.)

The Solstice

So, I had a roast I had planned for Yule along with a bottle of my best mead.  I spent the  afternoon

Courtesy of Magickal Graphics

giving water to my animals in 10 degree Fahrenheit weather. I hauled wood for the night.  I finished writing blogs for a drug rehab site (stuff I get paid for), and I had to dress a deer before it got dark.

There’s something oddly primeval when you’re dressing out a deer on solstice.  Even though I didn’t kill the deer, I went ahead and apologized to it for it losing it’s life in a meaningless fashion. I thanked it and Skadi for the meat.  And I finished the work before it got dark.

Dinner ended up late but very good. I had some mead and reflected on how Yule wasn’t anything I envisioned.  I spent the day doing things for other people.  Come to think of it, that’s what I’ve been doing for the past several weeks.  Instead of focusing on myself, I’ve been focusing on others.

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve came around, and with it came a surprise kidding.  I had expected another doe goat to kid first, but while I was watering the goats, I noticed two hooves sticking out of a younger doe’s rear end.  I delivered the kid (a hard delivery) and to my chagrin, the doe had no milk.  To top it off, the kid had been so big, he had cramped up his front legs in utero and I’m working to get them stretched out so he isn’t crippled.   That makes two goat babies I have inside because the weather is so nasty.

Courtesy of Magickal Graphics

Twelve Days of Yule

At first, I blithely announced that I was damn glad Yule goes over 12 days.  Tonight, I sort of look on the whole process in despair.  Whatever I thought Yule would be just isn’t going to happen, because life just is. At the same time, in between all the craziness of life, I realize that we celebrate our family and the return of the sun. And to be honest, I’m looking forward to the increase in light.

This Yule will be memorable to me. Not because of the feasting and celebrating, but more because it is about the season and my family, more than anything else. I give thanks to the gods and wights for their help, and I look forward to a better, upcoming new year.

To all of you, I hope you had a good Mother’s Night/Solstice, Christmas, and I hope you enjoy the rest of Yule.

Coming Out as a Heathen

Coming Out as a Heathen

When I’m talking about “coming out,” I’m using the term as it relates to letting loved ones know that you’re a Heathen.  I can’t speak in terms of homosexuality because I am very heterosexual, but telling a loved one that I’m a Heathen was harder than you can ever imagine.  If you’re a closet heathen as I was, perhaps you will glean something useful about announcing to your family you are pagan.

Source: Magickal Graphics

A Little Background

Those who have read my posts know I was raised Roman Catholic.  In retrospect, I recognize that Roman Catholicism is closer to paganism than a lot of Christianity, but it isn’t heathenism by a long stretch. I even went to parochial school for a while, which in the long run made me less Christian as I started going beyond the fear of hell and damnation. Religion, in one form or another, is a method of control, in my not so humble opinion. While I am far from communist, I do think that Marx did hit it on the head that religion is an opiate of the masses.

So. with these beliefs, how could I possibly be a theist, let alone a heathen? As they say on the Facebook relationship status, “It’s complicated.” Tyr and Thor pretty much drove me back to the theist realm, even if at times I appear agnostic. 

Source: Magickal Graphics

Announcing my Heathenism

It took years for me to tell my husband I was a heathen. It was hard.  Very hard.  Even though he wasn’t surprised, he was puzzled why I didn’t tell him before.  It’s hard to express the feelings: worry that he’ll think I’m crazy, worried that he’ll find my beliefs too weird, and a concern about what happens next.  I should have spoken sooner, but I didn’t.  I told him the story and I couldn’t tell what he was thinking.  I supplied my own condemnation.

In the end, his response was more wait and see.  Basically, he had no way to judge heathenism except through my behavior.  So, I relaxed a bit and decided I was far too anxious about it. I realized that being heathen hadn’t changed who I was.  I am who I am.  I still celebrate the secular version of holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving, but I can now add Yule and other holidays to the mix. I’m pretty toned down when it comes to religion, so that aspect is private. (Yeah, me.  Go figure.)

My response to those who say I’m going to be burning in their hell.

Some Practical Advice

If you’re a heathen who hasn’t told your family about your change, take a deep breath and think about it. Not everyone is going to have a open mind like my husband.  If, for example, you come from a Bible-belt family who is staunchly Christian, you’re probably not going to get much support from them by announcing you’re heathen. Only you can decide if it is the right thing to do, or whether they’ll ostracize you. I’d like to say it doesn’t happen, but obviously, it does. If you’re going to make the announcement, find someone in your family whom you can trust, who can also be sympathetic and helpful. If they have advice, listen. Maybe your older sister is good with you being pagan, but she knows darn well that your parents couldn’t deal with it. Maybe it’s not that important to tell them and estrange your family members.

If you don’t have a person in your family who wouldn’t be shocked by your change in religion and who can’t help you and give you good advice, ask yourself honestly what you hope to gain by letting your family know of your heathenism.  It sounds harsh, but you have to understand what you hope to gain by it.  Put aside the feelings of guilt that you inherited from Christianity and look logically at the best (and worst) outcomes. Will your family tell you that you are going to burn in hell for eternity and make your life hell on earth? Or are they more relaxed and open-minded?  Knowing where your loved ones stand is important when it comes to whether to tell them or not.

Be Yourself

Source: Magickal Graphics

If your family does accept your newfound faith, don’t weird them out.  Instead, be yourself as you have in the past. Maybe they’re curious as to what holidays you celebrate. Don’t put their religion down when you talk to them; instead, consider drawing the parallels between the two religions. One easy time to deal with is Yule. You can point out all the similarities of Yule and Christmas and your family will enjoy learning about Yule. You can incorporate whatever you and your family have celebrated in the past while still adding pagan twists. This isn’t a particularly dogmatic religion here.  Heathens have and do incorporate other traditions in our religion.

For example, I love Christmas carols. There’s no good reason for me to give them up.  My husband loves medieval music, so it’s no big deal for us to incorporate seasonal music with Christmas carols.  Yule and Christmas just means we have more feasts and more celebrations. I know of at least one heathen who celebrates Mother’s Night and secular Christmas. All good, in my opinion.

Being a Solitary Heathen

Telling or not telling may put you in the role of a solitary heathen. It can be lonely choosing that, but since you may be the only one in your family, whether you announce your heathenism or not, it’s pretty much the road you’re traveling. I would recommend seeking out other heathens in your community or online in order to have someone to talk to about it. There are plenty of heathens willing to talk to you and give advice. Want face-to-face time?  I run into heathens all the time at science fiction conventions. Yes, you will find heathens there as well as the various gatherings for pagans.

The main thing is to keep your perspective on things. I believe strongly that your beliefs are your own, and it is yours to share or keep as you see fit.  With the Internet comes groups of heathens who are willing to reach out to you as surely as the gods reached out to you.  It’s your choice to decide whether to tell or not tell your family and friends.  Just choose wisely.

Has Heathenism Beaten Christianity?

Has Heathenism Beaten Christianity?

I got in a conversation with another pagan on Huginn’s Heathen Hof, and he had a different outlook on the whole Christianity versus Paganism argument.  It hit me as having some merit, so I’d thought I’d explore it more in depth.

The Argument

The person who put forth this argument to me was a Heathen and a Gnostic. (Let that sink in a bit before dismissing it outright.)  His basic argument was that Christianity at its beginning had nothing — no holidays, no formal sacraments, etc, — so it took from other religions.  In fact, it took so much from pagan religions that the pagan religions actually triumphed.  I’ve been mulling it over for some days and while I don’t think it’s entirely correct, I think it has some merit to at least think about.

Christianity at its Core

Christianity is, at its core, a death cult. It focuses not on rewards in the here and now, but after one dies. It even focuses on the gruesome torture and death of their god. While I think that knowing where you’re going when you die is important, I think that this life is just as important on how we live.  Yes, Christians do focus on how well behaved they should be because they will receive a reward in “heaven,” but honestly, it takes a fear of eternal punishment to behave correctly?  Think about that for a bit.

The major holiday that Christians have recognized since its inception would be Easter, that is the day when Christ allegedly rose from the dead.  We know that Easter arose from the Passover festival, around which Christ was allegedly crucified.  Easter follows Passover.   But we know that it took the name Eostre, and it may have borrowed the pagan trappings of festivals during that time, presumably to make it more palatable to the audience.

Yule and Christmas

We do know that Christmas was pretty much taken from pagan midwinter festivals, celebrating the celebrating the god of agriculture for a full month starting a week before the solstice.  We know that Christmas wasn’t instituted until the fourth century CE when the Church thought to take those midwinter festivals and sanction them.

return of the sun.  While us Heathens can lay claim to Yule, we aren’t the only ones that had midwinter celebrations.  The Romans had Saturnalia, which was spent

The Puritans actually banned Christmas (and the saints) because they recognized the pagan origins. For about 25 years England under Oliver Cromwell made Christmas illegal.  That joy was brought over with the Puritans who made Christmas illegal.  Such was the control of the Puritans that anyone found in Boston exhibiting the Christmas spirit during the years 1659 to 1681 could be fined. What a great bunch.

Incidentally, the Christmas tree came into vogue with Queen Victoria, taking the customs of her husband’s homeland.  The Christmas tree popped up around the 17th century in Germany have its, …ahem, roots in paganism.

Plenty of pagans have pointed to Odin’s ride, Slepnir’s eight legs changing into eight reindeer, and other similarities, that suggest Odin is Santa Claus, so I don’t need to go through that argument.

Harvest and Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, itself, is more of an American holiday that was celebrated in New England for some time before Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday in 1863.  George Washington issued the first national Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789, thus putting it on the table, so to speak, when it came to having a national day of thanks.  A quote from History.com:

Autumn Comments & Graphics
Image by Magickal Graphics

“As an annual celebration of the harvest and its bounty, moreover, Thanksgiving falls under a category of festivals that spans cultures, continents and millennia. In ancient times, the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans feasted and paid tribute to their gods after the fall harvest. Thanksgiving also bears a resemblance to the ancient Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot. Finally, historians have noted that Native Americans had a rich tradition of commemorating the fall harvest with feasting and merrymaking long before Europeans set foot on their shores.”

We have our own celebration of Harvest Home, so saying that Americans “invented” a harvest festival like Thanksgiving isn’t truthful.  Now, we did put our own spin on it, but in the end, it is the celebration of family and home, as well as harvest.

The Days of the Week

The months are named after Roman months (gods, Caesars, and numbers), but the days of the week were Roman names changed to our gods, with the exception of Saturday because people probably thought Ymirday might not catch on.  (Yeah, I know the story is that there’s no German equivalent to Saturn who was an agricultural god slain by Jupiter, but that’s another story for another time.) So, when we say we’re meeting someone on Thursday, we’re meeting them on Thor’s-day.

Saints versus Polytheism

Becoming Polytheistic was easy after being Catholic for me. Any religion that allows veneration of saints actually lost to the polytheism.  Even the Episcopalians have the saints and the time I went to an Episcopalian mass proved to me that they’re Catholics without a pope who allow divorces. We know that some saints were actually gods that got incorporated into the ranks of saints to make the religion more popular (such as Saint Bridget).  So, yeah, in some Christian religions, we got some of the gods and goddesses in.

Catholics will tell you that they do not worship saints. That is true at the highest level, but the line gets mighty blurred with the veneration of Mary and other saints.

So Did Heathenism Win?

That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? I would argue yes and no.  In the long run, we still have the Christian god, complete with all the stupidity that has subjugated women, condoned slavery, and given us plenty of hangups due to the “do this or you go to hell” mentality.  I’m not saying that heathens were morally superior as we had slavery and human sacrifice, but most of us are willing to make the change in the right direction.

By the same token, we got our holidays and other pieces infiltrated into Christianity. People who celebrate the holidays are often celebrating the secular holidays rather than what their church would like them to celebrate.  Sure, they keep Jesus in Christmas, but seeing as the whole nativity scene is pretty much made up, and seeing we really don’t know much about the historical Jesus, or even if there was one, we can call it a myth and be done with it.

What it does say to me is that Heathens can celebrate those so-called Christian holidays and feel good about putting their own spin on things. At least, that’s how I look at it.

Added for Clarity:

The point the person made was that arguing whether or not to worship Christ was irrelevant because basically Christianity took all the trappings from pagans anyway. We can argue semantics, but that was his point. I was willing to consider his belief and came up with a yes and no observation. I rushed the conclusion, which perhaps I shouldn’t have done, but I wanted to get the piece out, late as it was.

That being said, I think he does have a point. Is it Heathenism under another flavor? No. Our gods are not revered, although one might be able to point out some obscure saints the Church may have created to appease Heathens. Is Christianity the same as it was when it was conceived? No. It is mostly pagan with the foundation of the Abrahamic faith. Depending on your beliefs in Asatru and Heathenism, you can argue that what parts of paganism was added is superficial. Maybe so, maybe not. I just found it an interesting opinion, and one I couldn’t completely dismiss.

An Undercover Heathen around Christmas

An Undercover Heathen around Christmas

If you’ve been following my blog, you know what I think regarding Christ. But you may not realize that I’m a bit of an undercover heathen, especially around Christian holidays. There are many reasons for this, most being convenience and a desire to not get into an argument with family members who will not change their minds.

Merry Christmas?

Christmas is really a holiday appropriated from pagans. Rather than try to stop pagan Saturnalia, Solstice, and Yule celebrations, Christianity took the holiday and moved Christ’s supposed birthday to coincide with it. Originally Christmas was even banned in the American colonies because of the pagan origins. In fact, most of the Christmas celebrations we have now were instituted in the 19th century.  Christmas trees were brought over from the Germans when Queen Victoria created Christmas in an image she wanted to see. Charles Dickens created a Christmas mythos in his novels.  Basically what we have now wasn’t how Christmas was celebrated in the past.

The Feast of Yule

The Feast of Juul was pervasive in Scandinavian countries where the Yule log was lit to honor Thor. People lit bonfires to herald the return of the Sun, and those who celebrated welcomed the return of the sun as a symbol that Fimbulvetr, the long winter that preceded Ragnarok, had not come. People who gathered the ashes from the Yule log scattered them in the fields or used them for magic and medicine. In France, some folks kept the ashes under the bed to ward off lightning strikes.

Odin and the Wild Hunt

The solstice was considered the closest time when the veil between the worlds was more thinly stretched.  Odin would ride Sleipnir, accompanied by the dead during the Wild Hunt. Children would leave hay for Sleipnir in their boots, and in return Odin would leave them gifts.  Hmm, sounds a bit like another old guy who leaves presents for children. I wonder if they’re related? (If you don’t get the sarcasm here, check out the link first.)

Nowadays, Heathens recognize the twelve days of Yule starting with Solstice or Mother’s Night — the time of the year when our northern hemisphere is closest to the world of the dead. The shortest day of the year even feels magical. Especially up north, you’re more likely to see auroras, snow, and just a more magical landscape.

A Heathen in a Christian Land

For those of you who celebrate Yule, the season is indeed magical. For those of us whose families are mostly Christian, Christmas season can be wearing. I actually do love the trappings of Christmas, because, by golly, they’re Heathen with very little disguise. My thought is perhaps even though we do celebrate Christmas, it’s actually celebrating Yule, and maybe that’s all that counts. I certainly have a special celebration of the solstice as part of the festivities.

So, even though I keep my Heathenism more or less quiet, maybe it doesn’t matter. By celebrating the season, I celebrate Yule.  So, I’m a bit undercover on this. Well, our ancestors were too.  So, from one Heathen, albeit an undercover one, to another, I wish you a most happy Yule. Oh and check out a book by my friend, Josh Heath, who wrote a cool Yule book: