Many Christians freely acknowledge that holidays such as Christmas are largely derived from ancient “pagan” customs. For this reason, some conservative Christian churches, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and at one time the Worldwide Church of God, have shunned Christmas because of its association with paganism.
Others, however, have argued just the opposite: that it is the very “pagan” elements within Christmas that makes the season special. Some have gone so far as to attempt to recapture the original pagan or heathen meanings of Christmas or “Yule-Tide” season, as it was called in Germanic countries.
One such person is Dr. Stephen Flowers, who has been instrumental in attempts to revive the old Germanic culture and religion. Flowers is one of the world’s foremost experts in the ancient “magical” writing of the German and Norse peoples, the runes. Flowers, of Smithville, Texas, holds his Ph.D. in Germanic Studies and has published numerous scholarly articles on the Germanic revival movement as well as several books on the runes that have become classics of the runic revival. Among his books are Runelore: A Handbook of Esoteric Runology, Futhark: A Handbook of Rune Magic, and The Nine Doors of Midgard. I interviewed Flowers on the subject of efforts to revive the original meaning of the Yule-Tide season.
[C.W.] A lot of Christian fundamentalists realize that there is a lot of “paganism” in Christmas (not to mention commercialization) , and so they come up with slogans like, “let’s put Christ back in Christmas.” But wouldn’t it be more accurate to say, “let’s put Odin back in Yule?”
[S.F.] Christians who have educated themselves on the history of these things know as well as anyone that there is nothing originally Christian about the late December holiday. Jesus was born in the spring and all of the particulars of the “Christmas season” are pagan in origin. To put Odin back in place would be an act of cultural restoration.
[C.W.] When and why did the Christian church begin to adopt the customs of Yule Tide and incorporate them into Christmas (as well as customs related to Mithraism and the Sol Invictus mysteries)?
[S.F.] Most people are slow and reluctant to change, especially when their culture is working well for them. In general the Germanic culture was working well as it encountered Christianity. It took almost a thousand years before the whole of the Germanic world from Germany to England to Scandinavia could be Christianized.
This process started in the 300s among the Goths and ended in 1100 in Sweden. The church did not want to accept pagan practices; it simply had to do so in order to be successful. Their “prime directive” was to be successful – at all costs. In the end it was more a matter of Christianity being paganized than it was a question of pagans being Christianized.
[C.W.] Have you seen any effort in the general public to reclaim the “pagan” roots of holidays, such as Christmas?
[S.F.] Not in the “general public.” Only a relatively few educated and dedicated individuals to my knowledge have attempted to restore our cultural authenticity and thereby radically heal our culture of its deep-seated malady.
[C.W.] Can a genuine Yule celebration ever happen again? How much of the original meanings can be reconstructed versus how much was lost?
[S.F.] Certainly it can. The true spirit of the time never left. It’s not a matter of reviving something that has died, merely reawakening a sleeping cultural giant from within. The exact forms and customs, although many have survived albeit in often “Christianized” forms, are not as important as the spirit and knowledge with which the celebration is approached.
[C.W.] What is some of the Germanic symbolism in Yule that you still see today in Christmas decorations and customs and whatnot?
[S.F.] The most important symbols of Christmas time, such as the “Christmas tree” and Santa Claus both have pagan origins. The tree was originally one in the forest, an ancestral tree, which received sacrificial gifts during the Yule-Tide and was illuminated and decorated with symbolic signs and tokens to attract the ancestral spirits. When the church banned such practices the tree, or a symbol of it, was simply brought inside, away from the prying eyes of the churchmen. Santa Claus is a “jolly old elf,” as we all know. In the Germanic world, elves are ancestral spirits.
Santa dresses in red, which is the traditional color of the garments of the elves. He is also related to the old gods Thor and Odin he lives in the North Pole, he flies through the air distributing blessings and his sled is drawn by reindeer called Donner and Blitzen, German for “thunder’ and “lightning.”
One of the most important aspects of the Yule-Tide is economic. In ancient times all the best things were saved for Yule-Tide celebrations and then splurged during those celebrations. This has translated to our whole worldwide economy, where a huge portion of business is done in and for the so-called “holiday season.”
[C.W.] What is the esoteric (secret) meaning that Yule had for the German and Norse peoples?
[S.F.] This is the end of the year, and the rebirth of the sun and of the new cycle of the coming year. This is why it was traditionally celebrated over twelve days, to symbolize the twelve coming months, as well as to reflect over the past twelve.
It was a time when the inner seeds of action were planted for the coming year, and reconnection with the ancestors was firmly established. The Yule-Tide is a time to remember ancestors, and to celebrate their rebirth in the small offspring. The old belief in rebirth, or “reincarnation” if you will, is behind the hidden fact that all holidays originally celebrating the ancestors was also a “children’s festival.” This can be favorably compared to the effect of Halloween in the Celtic world.
[C.W.] What kind of effect would it have on society to reclaim or remember some of the original meanings of the Yule-Tide Season?
[S.F.] As I have said, our culture is sick. Most people recognize this on some level but don’t know how it got this way. Most blame “permissiveness” or “ungodliness, ” but the problems have much deeper roots. The problems began with the coming of Christianity because it demanded that we abandon our traditions, our ancestral authenticity and many other priceless aspects of culture. (This was historically done mainly to gain economic benefit from trade and relations with the richer Christian countries of the early Middle Ages.
To cure our radical, fundamental cultural sickness it is required for us to discover it cause and treat the illness at its root cause. This necessitates the restoration of cultural authenticity and traditional mythic values, which are our own, and not those imposed on us from the outside. Restoring the Yule-Tide is just one step in the great act of cultural healing.
By Corey Wicks