The holly and the oak


Out of the Broomcloset

It’s been some time since this column offered a Solstice tale as more pressing events have been intruding daily, taking away our calm, our leisure. And, perhaps, someday, a tale of changing seasons will no longer make much sense. But here we are now, still a distance from that potential future.

Light and Darkness, the contending forces, each having their season to ascend, then to decline, an almost imperceptible shift as they engage in their eternal dance. In many strands of modern Paganism this is delineated in the tale of the Holly and the Oak.

Both trees have substantial folklore, and so particular properties are associated with them and they are employed in various magical workings.

The Oak, having achieved full vigor at the Summer Solstice, has given its all by the end of harvest, dropping first its acorns and then its leaves before going dormant in hibernation. The world now belongs to the Holly, its evergreen branches bearing fruit as the Winter Solstice approaches, one of the evergreen sentinels. Here we remain until the Sun returns and the Oak reasserts its position.

Holly, associated with Mars, Saturn, and all that implies, is, above all, protective; animals nesting higher up the tree are surrounded by leaves with spiked ends, certainly but the association extends beyond the obvious. Planted in pairs, they are the guardians of entrances (and misfortune follow those who cut down one, or both). It was one of the sacred trees to the Druids, a sprig carried to ward off misfortune, which extended in lore to, when displayed in the house, keeping away undesirable spiritual entities, and haunting.

This was one of the plants brought into Roman households during the Saturnalia, one of the many customs for this holiday that were lifted wholesale in our Yuletide celebrations (along with candle lighting, giving presents, a common celebration in which distinctions of economic and social status were temporarily suspended). Finally, it was felt to ward off lightning strikes, poison, and fire. All of these attributes may be incorporated into all manner of protective charms or spell work.

The basics of this one are courtesy of Judika Illes, contained in her “Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells”, which is a treasure and perfect for self-gifting- ‘tis the season, and all that. Having problems with a coworker being too chummy? HR or Compliance doesn’t feel the need to intervene? Fill a jar with holly leaves, add to it a “tag” representing the individual- a photo, a part of a coffee cup they’ve touched, or if all else fails, just write their name on a piece of paper add a stick figure if you like. Pour in black coffee, no sweetener.

Focus on the rat in question while assembling all this, their clammy hands, leering eyes, whatever is most annoying, or loathsome; you’ll do fine hitting the right frame of mind for the sleaze. Seal tight and put in a safe place- my default is generally the refrigerator. They’ll be fine, as long as they don’t return to their tacky ways. If they do, you should see them soon out of the picture, various afflictions occupying their attention.

The Oak, conversely, was associated with thunder and lightning, associated with Zeus, or Thor, as you like. Once struck by lightning, however, it too would protect against calamity, when carried, especially for sailors. Acorns (no surprise here) are strongly tied to male virility and potency. We’ll deal with all that some other time, or, referring to the above ritual, one could say, take two acorns and add them to the jar as is or smashed, as you like.

Far be it from me to pass judgment on what brings joy to you this holiday season (and yes, Holly, Holy, and Holiday are all interrelated). May you and yours have a joyful, prosperous 2022. Now, go deck your halls with… you know what.