Winter Solstice Ghost Stories and Legends Throughout History

Happy Yule, everyone!

(Additional Note: It didn’t dawn on me at the moment, but I really should have included a reference to the Christmas carol “Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” which mentions the English tradition of telling ghost stories around Christmas with the lyrics:

“There’ll be parties for hosting
Marshmallows for toasting
And caroling out in the snow
There’ll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories…”

As you’ll see below, there’s a belief that ghostly ancestors make their presence known in the days leading up to Dec 25th. Perhaps this is where the tradition comes from – not just telling ghost stories, but having paranormal experiences! Food for thought, if nothing else.)

Understandably, much of the early traditions based around Dec 21, the darkest day of the year revolves around farming, harvest and therefore pagan traditions, since we looked to the heavens to know when we’d be able to grow food again.

The word solstice literally means “sun stands still” in Latin. Talk about days getting to be less, sun rise/set location staying the same 22nd-24th.

But before we get into American & European traditions, let’s look to the east…

The Yellow Emperor of China made the Winter Solstice New Year Day. And then Yao Emperor, a legendary monarch in ancient China, ordered people to observe the activity of the sun specially.

In ancient time, there was a wicked man who died on the day of the Winter Solstice. After he died, he became an evil ghost and continued to harm people. However, he either hated or was afraid of red beans (some things get lost in translation), so people cooked red beans on the Winter Solstice to avoid evil spirits and to prevent diseases. 

(from https://guide.michelin.com): They believed the red beans had the power to chase away evil spirits. The color of the red bean was believed to symbolize positive energy or ‘yang’ and hence effective in thwarting dark energy or ‘yin.’

According to tradition, families first place a bowl of red bean porridge in the ancestral shrine, and then place more bowls of porridge around the house – in the rooms, in the barn, by the well, and by the jars containing fermented foods. It was also common practice to smear some porridge on the main gate and the outer walls of the house in the belief that this will keep evil spirits and misfortune at bay.”

Many ancient beliefs from this time talk about celebrating and honoring family and taking a moment to remember loved ones who were lost.  It’s amazing that 3,000 some years ago, the message of the Christmas spirit was in place long before Christmas.

We are around the time of the holiday “Yule.”  First off, does anyone know what a yule log is?  We’ve all heard the phrase.  It was a massive block of wood that burned for the duration of the 12 days of Christmas.  A piece is saved to light the following year’s yule log, but in the meantime, it was kept in the house as a sort of magical, positive relic.  However, like a lot of these ‘modern’ Christian traditions, it was stolen by the Celts… the Yule log being a substitute for human sacrifice.

(from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_Hunt): This is also the night of the Wild Hunt.  Wild Hunts typically involve a ghostly or supernatural group of hunters passing in wild pursuit. The hunters may be elves or fairies or unidentified lost souls or spirits of the dead, and the leader of the hunt is often a figure associated with Odin or biblical figures including the Devil.

Seeing the Wild Hunt was thought to announce a coming catastrophe such as war or plague, or at best the death of the one who witnessed it.  People encountering the Hunt might also be abducted to the underworld or the fairy kingdom. In some instances, it was also believed that people’s spirits could be pulled away during their sleep to join the cavalcade.

The song, “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” is based on the Wild Hunt.

(from https://blog.vkngjewelry.com/creatures-of-norse-mythology): The Draugar creature often live in their graves in order to defend the treasure that they were buried with, but they are also known to enter communities in order to wreak havoc on the living, often tormenting those who wronged them in life.

They can kill by crushing someone with their superior strength, eating their flesh, eating them whole in their enlarged state, or kill indirectly by driving a person mad. These creatures were said to be able to enter the dreams of the living in order to torment them, and would always leave behind a gift to show the victim that the encounter was real.

(from http://www.isisbooks.com/The-Spirits-and-Ghosts-of-Yule-s/396.htm): Celtic Mounds and burial sites are considered gateways where people alive or in spirit form can travel between worlds.  On the solstice, Fae (fairies) come over in pairs to haunt us, but actually this haunt is an effort to help us better celebrate the yule, encourage us to engage in acts of kindness, compassion and hospitality, going beyond our usual conception of what it means to be human (so feel free to practice that by liking this video & sharing it with anyone who may also find it interesting).  Green and red are used for decorations to celebrate plant and animal life.

The Wandering Stranger – a spectre that comes to you in a dream tonight.  Usually a weary middle-aged man or woman in some sort of need.  This could be a sign that someone in your life needs this type of help.

(From https://culinarytalesofthesecondcity.com/2012/12/10/ghost-stories-for-christmas-part-i): When at home at night during the Yule (13 – 25 December), listen for strange knocks at the door; especially during storms or windy weather. The door-latch may rattle, and you think you hear a voice – not a threatening one; perhaps just a murmur or a word – but when you go to the door, there is no one there! In Celtic mysticism this is said to indicate the coming of the Mysterious Stranger. If it happens twice or thrice, you might invite the invisible presence into your abode, saying, “May the gods who sent you come and bless this hearth!” Sometimes a kind of strange ‘rapping’ may be heard at a windowpane on dark Yuletide nights. If you hear it – especially at a window – throw open the sash and allow the night air to flood briefly into your room. Say as you do so, “May the Mysterious Stranger come in and warm herself/himself at our hearth.” 

If you are out walking along a path at any time – but especially at dusk or dawn – keep your eyes open for any sign of a strange visage or ‘ghost’ as you go along your chosen course, as the Mysterious Stranger is wont to appear briefly to travelers, awakening them to supernal possibilities in the mundane rounds of daily life. The Stranger sometimes comes and appears, just briefly, along a path or road you are taking, perhaps standing by a tall Oak or Willow. Yet when you turn to look, there is no one there! If this happens, say, “Hail, Mysterious One, I bless your journey; prosper mine in return.” The appearance of the Mysterious Stranger is thought to signify the presence of divine beings (like gods & goddesses) in your vicinity. By hailing the Stranger, you may address deities in their nearness without danger of affronting them.

This is the night of the rebirth of the horned God in Wiccan and LeVeian Satanist traditions.  This God dies on Halloween and is reborn today.

(From http://www.isisbooks.com/The-Spirits-and-Ghosts-of-Yule-s/396.htm): A rush of spiritual energy is released at the birth of New Sun at dawn on the 22nd of December, as a result of which it is believed spirits & ghosts become much more active for the next few days, presencing to mortals more frequently than they did before Alban Arthuan (a seasonal festival in the Druidic tradition during the Winter solstice.  Alban Arthan translates to The Light of Arthur the legendary King). It is during these days that the ghosts of relatives and ancestors, lovers and friends usually come visiting. Then – beginning on the 26th of December – all of these discarnates will begin to grow quiet and then depart, going back beyond.

Pliny the elder wrote of a ritual where druids would gather by the oldest mistletoe-clad oak. The Chief Druid would cut the mistletoe while below, other Druids would hold open a sheet to catch it, making sure none of it touched the ground to invoke prosperity from the gods. This was followed by a sacrifice of two white bulls.  How we turned that into an excuse to get a holiday party kiss is anyone’s guess.

Mistletoe – symbolic of the rebirth of vegetation that will eventually occur in spring & mistletoe could blossom even during the coldest of winter months. The Celtic Druids also believed it to have medicinal qualities that could help with vitality and fertility. In Norse folklore, Frigga, the goddess of love, was trying to save her son. He was revived with the help of mistletoe. Her tears blessed the plant so that anyone who should stand under it would never be harmed and would receive a kiss as a token of love.

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