There was a festival celebrated in December in Rome. It is necessary to any
understanding of what is happening at Christmas. That festival was termed
the Saturnalia. It was the festival of Saturn to whom the inhabitants of
Latium, the Latins, attributed agriculture and the arts necessary to
civilised life (Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, 2nd ed.,
London 1851, p. 1009). It fell towards the end of December and was viewed by
the population as a time of absolute relaxation and merriment. During its
continuance, the law courts were closed. No public business could be
transacted. The schools kept holiday. To commence a war was impious and to
punish a malefactor involved pollution (ibid.). Slaves were relieved of
onerous toils and permitted to wear the pileus or badge of freedom. They
were granted freedom of speech and were waited on at a special banquet by
their masters whose clothes they wore (ibid.). All ranks devoted themselves
to feasting and mirth with presents exchanged among friends.
Wax tapers were given by the more humble to their superiors. The crowds
thronged the streets and Smith says many of the customs had a remarkable
resemblance to those of Christmas and the Italian carnival (ibid.).
Public gambling was condoned by the authorities as was later card-playing
indulged even by the most rigid in later times at Christmas eve. The whole
populace threw off the toga, wore the loose gown called the synthesis and
walked about with the pileus on their heads. Smith's Dictionary says this
practice is reminiscent of the dominoes, peaked caps and other disguises
worn at later Christmas festivals by masques and mummers. The cerei or wax
tapers or lights, were probably employed as the moccoli are on the last
night of the carnival. Our traditions of Christmas lights probably stems
from this tradition.
Lastly, for amusement in private society, was the election of a mock king
which is immediately recognised in the ceremony of Twelfth Night (ibid.). We
will come across this later.
Sir James George Frazer, in his classic study of magic and religion (The
Golden Bough, McMillan, 1976), says this mock king was an allusion back to
the idyllic days of the reign of Saturn and the slaves being given temporary
freedom at this time hearkened back to these days when all were free and
things were just (ibid., ix, p. 308 ff). Roman soldiers stationed on the
Danube in the reign of Maximian and Diocletian are recorded (by Franz
Cumont) to have chosen a young and handsome man to resemble Saturn from
among them by lot thirty days before the festival. They dressed him in royal
attire to resemble Saturn. He went about in public attended by a retinue of
soldiers and indulged his passions no matter how base and shameful. At the
end of thirty days, he then cut his own throat on the altar of the god he
personated. In the year 303, the lot fell upon the Christian soldier Dasius
but he refused to play the part of the heathen god and to soil his last days
by debauchery. He refused to give in to the intimidation of his commanding
officer Bassus and was accordingly beheaded by the soldier John at
Durostorum on Friday 20 November 303 being the twenty-fourth day of the Moon
at the fourth hour (Frazer, ibid.).
This historical account has been confirmed, after its publication by Franz
Cumont, by the discovery in the crypt of the cathedral at Ancona, of the
white marble sarcophagus in script characteristic of the age of Justinian
with the Greek inscription:
Here lies the holy martyr Dasius, brought from Durostorum.
The sarcophagus had been brought there from the church of St Pellegrino in
1848 where it lay under the high altar and was recorded as being there in
1650 (Frazer, p. 310).
Frazer says this sets a new light on the nature of the Lord of the
Saturnalia, the ancient Lord of Misrule, who presided over the winter revels
at Rome (ibid., p. 311). Here we see the extent of the traditions and the
elements of human sacrifice which extend into the festivals in both December
and at the equinox. Dasius the Christian suffered martyrdom rather than
participate in these revels.
As Saturnus was an ancient national god of Latium, the institution of the
Saturnalia is lost in remote antiquity (ibid.).
There are three traditions associated with it.
It is ascribed to Janus who on the sudden disappearance of his benefactor
from the abodes of men erected an altar to him as a deity in the forum and
ordained annual sacrifices.
According to Varro, it is attributed to the wanderings of Pelasagi on their
first settlement in Italy. Hercules then on his return from Spain was said
to have abolished the worship and practice of immolating human sacrifice;
The third tradition attributes the Saturnalia to the followers of Hercules
who set it up after his return to Greece.
In either of the last two we see a commonality. The practice of this
agricultural festival thus has certain common elements with the spring
festival of Easter as we will see later. The element of human sacrifice
common to all traditions can also be traced to the worship of Moloch as the
Moon god Sin and also of Ishtar (see the paper The Golden Calf (No. 222)).
This sacrificial aspect also appeared in the worship of the god Attis (see
The erection of temples in historical times are recorded, such as during the
reign of Tatius, Tarquinius superbus, to the consulship of A Sempronius or M
Minucius (497 BCE) or in that of T Larcius the previous year. It appears the
ceremonies were at varying stages neglected or corrupted and then revived
and extended (ibid.).
The Saturnalia originally fell on 14 Kalend January. When the Julian
calendar was introduced it was extended to 16 Kalend January which caused
confusion among the more ignorant and Augustus enacted that three whole days
(namely 17, 18 and 19 December) should be hallowed in all time coming
(ibid.). Some unknown authority added a fourth day and Caligula added a
fifth day, the Juvenalis. This fell into disuse and was later restored by
the emperor Claudius.
Strictly speaking, one day only was consecrated to religious observance in
the days of the Republic. However, the celebrations lasted over a much
longer period. Historically, Livy speaks of the first day of the Saturnalia
(Liv. xxx, 36). Cicero writes of the second and third days (ad Att., v 20;
xv 32). From Novius (Attelanae) the term seven days of the Saturnalia was
used and this phrase was also used by Memmius (Macrobius, i, 10) and Martial
(xiv, 72; cf. Smith, ibid.). Martial also speaks of the five days enacted by
Caligula and Claudius.
These five days have an ancient calendrical significance also.
Smith says that in reality three festivals were involved over this period.
The Saturnalia proper commenced on 17 December (16 Kalend December).
This was followed by the Opalia (14 Kalend January or 19 December) which was
anciently coincidental to the Saturnalia. These two together lasted for five
days. This festival was celebrated in honour of Opis who was allegedly the
wife of Saturn. Originally, it was celebrated on the same day and, thus, the
Mother goddess and lover theme is evident in the origins of this festival.
We will meet this theme throughout. The followers of Opis paid their vows
sitting and touched the earth of whom she was goddess (Smith, ibid., art.
Opalia, p. 835).
The sixth and seventh days were occupied by the Sigillaria which was named
for the little earthenware figures which were displayed for sale on the
period as toys to be given as presents for children.
Thus, the period ran from 17 December until 23 December under the Julian
Calendar, when the presents were given to the children.
We now proceed to examine further the theology behind these festivals. The
commonality of the traditions of the festivals are too obvious to be
The Heavenly Virgin as Mother goddess
Frazer notes that:
the worship of the Great Mother of the Gods and her lover or son was very
popular under the Roman Empire (v, pp. 298 ff),
From the inscription we know that the two [as Mother and lover or Mother and
son] received divine honours not only in Italy but in all the provinces -
particularly in Africa, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany and Bulgaria
(ibid.). Their worship survived the establishment of Christianity by
Thus, the symbolism of the Heavenly Virgin and the infant child paraded on a
yearly basis are not of Christian origin. They stem from the Mother goddess
religion which is very ancient. We will see more of this later.
Frazer notes Symmachus as recording the festival of the Great Mother. In the
days of Augustine her effeminate priests still paraded the streets and
squares of Carthage and, like the mendicant friars of the middle ages,
begged alms from the passers-by (ibid., cf. S Dill Roman Society in the Last
Century of the Western Empire, London, 1899, p. 16; and Augustine City of
God, vii, 26).
The Greeks on the other hand rejected the more barbarous rites in favour of
those similar but gentler rites of the worship of Adonis (ibid.).
Frazer says that the same features which shocked and repelled the Greeks
were what attracted the Romans and the barbarians of the west (ibid., pp.
The ecstatic frenzies which were mistaken for divine inspiration, the
mangling of the body and the theory of a new birth and the remission of sin
through the shedding of blood, have all their origin in savagery (ibid.).
Frazer holds that their true character was often disguised under a decent
veil of allegory and philosophical interpretation which drew the more
cultivated of them to things which might otherwise have filled them with
horror and disgust. Modern Pentecostalism draws its inspiration from the
ideas behind these religious festivals.
The religion of the Great Mother was only one of a multitude of similar
oriental faiths which spread across the Roman Empire imposing themselves on
the Europeans. According to Frazer, this gradually undermined the whole
fabric of ancient civilisation.
The entire Greek and Roman society was based on the concept of the subordina
tion of individual to the state and one's whole life was dedicated to the
perpetuation of the society. If one shrank from supreme sacrifice then it
never occurred to anyone that they acted other than for base reasons.
Oriental religion taught the reverse of this doctrine. It inculcated the
communion of the "Soul" with God and its eternal salvation as the only
objects of existence and in comparison with the prosperity and even the
existence of the state were insignificant.
The inevitable consequence of this selfish and immoral doctrine was to draw
the individual more and more from the public service and to concentrate, in
the individual, a contempt for the present life.
The misapplication of these mystery doctrines or oriental religions and
their application in Gnosticism, when placed on the biblical narrative of
the City of God as a spiritual edifice, was to have disastrous consequences
for the ordering of society. The effect was to loosen the ties of the family
and the state and to generally disintegrate the political body of the state.
The society tended to relapse into its individual elements and thereby into
barbarism. Civilisation is only possible through the active cooperation of
the individual and the subordination of the interests of the individual to
that of the common good (ibid., p. 301).
People refused to defend their countries and even to continue their own kind
in ascetic celibacy (ibid., see also the papers Vegetarianism and the Bible
(No. 183) and also Wine in the Bible (No. 188)).
Frazer holds that this obsession lasted for a thousand years. He held that
it only changed at the end of the Middle Ages with the revival of Roman law,
of Aristotelian philosophy and of ancient art and literature to saner and
more manly views of the world. The fact of the matter is that if the true
biblical model was implemented no such problem would have existed. The
problem arose from Oriental Mysteries combined with the Gnostic system which
is more prevalent today. Frazer held that the tide of this oriental invasion
had turned at last and was ebbing still. He was wrong in this regard
although he also allows that bad government and a ruinous fiscal system are
two major causes which strike down civilisations as they did the Turkish
Empire in his day.
We will look at the effects of the Great Mother religion and the Mithras
system and its applications under Gnostic influence in Christianity to see
that it is still there as strong as ever in more subtle forms. Yet much of
its traditional trappings are the same.
One of the gods who competed for the worship of the west was the Persian
The immense popularity of this cult should not be underestimated. The
monuments dedicated to this system are scattered all over the Roman Empire
and right through Europe (a map of the extent of the monuments is found in
David Ulansey The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, Oxford, New York, 1989,
This was a secret cult whose mysteries were never written down and, so,
little is known exactly of their ritual except what we can deduce from their
shrines and places of worship. However, we do know that they had two forms
of worship. The private and secret form was Mithraism. The public form,
however, was Elagabalism and we know more of its system from this. Both were
based on Sun worship.
Much of its religion was similar to the religion of the Mother of the Gods
and also to what was understood to have been later Christianity (cf. Frazer,
ibid., p. 302). The similarity struck the Christian doctors themselves and
it was explained to them as the work of the devil by counterfeiting a
version of the true faith (ibid.). Tertullian explained how the fasts of
Isis and Cybele were similar to the fasts of Christianity (De jejunio 16).
Justin Martyr explains how the death, resurrection and ascension of
Dionysius, the virgin birth of Perseus, and Bellerophon mounted on Pegasus
were parodies of the true Christian stories written by the demons in
advance, even down to the story of Christ riding on an ass which was
contained in the Psalms as prophecy (cf. Apol., i, 54).
The conflict between Mithraism and Christianity was so great that for a time
the outcome hung in the balance. The fact of the matter is that the result
was decided by adopting their practices and giving them Christian names. The
most important single relic of this pagan syncretism is that of Christmas
which Frazer says the Church seems to have borrowed directly from its
heathen rival (p. 303).
The army became devotees of Mithras and it is obvious from the records
regarding Dasius that the Saturnalia was held in conjunction with the
worship of Mithras. Thus, the Saturnalia simply preceded the Solstice
festival and became a part of it.
Christmas and the Heavenly Virgin
In the Julian calendar, 25 December was reckoned as the winter solstice
(Frazer, ibid., p. 303; cf. Pliny Natural History, xviii, p. 221). It was
regarded as the nativity of the Sun as its days began to lengthen and its
power increase from that turning point of the year.
The ritual of the nativity, Frazer holds, as it was celebrated in Syria and
Egypt was remarkable. The celebrants retired into certain inner shrines from
which at midnight they issued a loud cry, The Virgin has brought forth! The
Light is waxing! (ibid., cf. Cosmas Hierosolymitanus, see fn. 3 to p. 303)
The Egyptians even represented the newborn Sun by an image of an infant
which, on his birthday (the winter solstice), they brought forth and
exhibited to his worshippers (ibid., cf., Macrobius Saturnalia, i, 18, 10)
No doubt the Virgin who thus conceived and bore a son on the twenty-fifth of
December was the great Oriental goddess whom the Semites called the Heavenly
Virgin or simply the Heavenly Goddess; in Semitic lands she was a form of
Astarte (ibid., noting Franz Cumont s.v. Caelestis in Pauly-Wissowa's
Real-Encyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, v, 1, 1247, sqq).
This is the origin of the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of the mother
of Jesus Christ. It has no basis in the Bible or in fact. Christ's mother
was not named Mary and the Bible is clear that she bore other children. We
will return to this myth later.
The legend of the three kings
25 December was an ancient Sun-worshipping festival and the three kings
associated with it do not appear to relate to the wise men from the east in
the biblical narrative but to a perhaps older tradition relating to the
so-called twelve days of Christmas. The Twelfth Day sequence is associated
with the three kings in France, Spain, Belgium, Germany and Austria. Their
names are Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. In Germany and Austria it is known
as the Day of the Three Kings (Dreikonigstag) and in France as the Festival
of the Kings (Fête des Rois). The kings go around in some areas represented
by mummers who sing songs and collect from the householders. It is given a
Christian basis but there is no basis in the Bible for assuming there were
three people (other than the three types of gifts) or that they were kings.
They are recorded as magi or wise men. This seems to have another basis (cf.
Frazer, ix, p. 329). From the customs in Franche-Comte and also the Vosges
Mountains, Melchior is supposed to have been a black king and the face of
the boy playing him is blackened (ibid., p. 330). These three are invoked
for healing with rituals involving three nails placed in the earth. This
smacks of the triune systems of the Celts in France long before the
In Czech and German Bohemia, the rituals of fumigation and spices are found
being used on the twelfth day. The initials C.M.B (Caspar, Melchior and
Balthasar) together with three crosses are marked on doors after fumigation
to guard against evil influences and infectious diseases. They were invoked
under the words pray for us now and at the hour of our deaths.
The Lord of Misrule and the King of Beans
In this tradition also we see the Lord of Misrule emerge among the
traditions. The full extent of time was from All-hallows eve (31 October,
the eve of All Saints day) to Candlemas (2 February). Generally, it was
however confined to the twelve days at Christmas, termed the twelve nights.
The Lord of Misrule was elected from the Court of the Sovereign in England
through every office of the land. This Lord of Misrule was also elected at
Merton College Oxford as King of the Beans (cf. Frazer, ix, p. 332).
The Festival of Fools
In France, the counterparts of the English Lords of Misrule masqueraded as
mock clergy, bishops, archbishops, popes or abbots. This was known as the
Festival of Fools and was held either on Christmas day, St Stephen's day (26
December), New Year's day, or Twelfth day depending on place.
At these times there were parodies of the most solemn rites of the church
where priests wearing masks and sometimes dressed as women danced in the
choir and sang obscene chants; laymen disguised as monks mingled with the
clergy and the altar was turned into a tavern where the deacons and
sub-deacons ate sausage and black-pudding or played dice and cards under the
nose of the celebrant. The censers were filled with bits of old shoes,
filling the church with a foul stench.
In some areas of France, for example at Autun, an ass was led into the
church where a parody of the mass was said over it. A regular Latin liturgy
was said over it and the celebrant priest initiated the braying of an ass
(Frazer, pp. 334-335).
At Beauvais on 14 January a young woman with a child in her arms rode on the
back of an ass allegedly in imitation of the flight into Egypt. She was led
in triumph from the cathedral to the parish church of St Stephen where she
and the ass were placed on the left side of the altar. A long mass was said
consisting of scraps borrowed indiscriminately from many church services
throughout the year. The singers quenched their thirst in the intervals as
did the congregation and the ass was fed and watered. Afterwards, the ass
was brought from the chancel into the nave where the entire congregation,
clergy and laity danced round it braying like asses. After vespers, a large
procession proceeded to a great theatre opposite the church where they
watched indecent farces.
All of this is reminiscent of the rites in North Africa of the effeminate
priests of the Mother Goddess system and the Saturnalia. Frazer says there
is no direct evidence that one is derived from the other but the Saturnalia,
with the licence that characterised it and the temporary reign of a mock
king, makes it appear so (ix, p. 339). These traditions were kept up until
the nineteenth century when Victorian England and Napoleonic France
following on the Revolution did away with them in some fashion. They were
replaced as we will see with another form of the same errors. Much of the
modern insanity derives from the USA and its commercialism.
The twelve days of Christmas, cakes, beans and money
The King of the Bean is also associated with the Festival of Fools in France
and there is a more ancient significance to it. The Festival of Fools goes
on to the Twelfth day of Christmas (Twelfth Night is the night of 6
January). The eve, which is 5 January and thus the Epiphany of 6 January,
marks the end of the two periods of the pre-Christmas festivities which are
associated with the Saturnalia and the Sun system which commence from the
Solstice on 25 December and continue until 5 January.
In some areas, the king has a queen consort both of whom have an
agricultural significance and seem to be related to the rites also of the
The king and queen are elected by lot on the Twelfth Night (i.e. Epiphany 6
January) or on the eve of that festival on 5 January. It was common in
France, Belgium, Germany and England. It is still kept in some parts of
France. The Court acknowledged the practice and each family elected its own
king. On the eve of the festival, a great cake was baked with a bean in it.
It was divided into portions - one for each member of the family; one for
God; one for the Heavenly Virgin and, sometimes, one for the poor. The
person getting the portion with the bean was proclaimed King of the Bean
(Frazer, ix, p. 313). Sometimes a second bean was placed in the cake for the
election of the queen. At Blankenheim near Neuerburg, in the Eiffel a black
and a white bean were baked in the cake - the black for the king and the
white for the queen. In Franche-Comte they used to put as many white haricot
beans in a hat as there where people present. Two coloured beans were
included and drawn at random by a child. Those receiving the coloured beans
were king and queen.
In England, the practice was to put a bean in the hat for the king and a pea
for the queen. However, in some places, only the king was elected by lot and
he chose his queen himself. Sometimes a coin was substituted for the bean in
the cake. This custom was followed in southern Germany as early as the first
half of the sixteenth century. It is, however, considered by Frazer to be a
variation on the earlier bean. It shows reasonably clearly that the custom
of placing coins in Christmas pudding stems from this custom of an earlier
In France, the young child present was placed under a table. It was
addressed as Phoebe or Tebe and he answered in Latin Domine. The pieces of
the cake were distributed according to the child's direction. The etymology
has been attributed to the oracle of Apollo by some scholars. Frazer thinks
it may be simply derived from the word for the bean (Lat. faba, Fr. fève).
Every time the king or queen drank the company cried the king or queen
drinks and they all did likewise. Anyone failing to do so had their faces
blackened by corks or soot or the lees of wine. In some parts of the
Ardennes, the practice was to fasten great horns of paper in the hair and
put a huge pair of spectacles on their nose. This was worn until the end of
the festival. This is probably the origin of the Dunce's Cap.
This is still kept in northern France where a miniature porcelain figure is
substituted for the bean and drawn by a child. If it is drawn by a boy he
chooses his queen; if it drawn by a girl she chooses her king.
These kings and queens placed white crosses on the rafters of houses to ban
hobgoblins, witches and bugs. There was, however, a more serious
significance to some of the office. In Lorraine, the height of the hemp crop
was said to be determined from the height of the king and queen. If the king
was taller, the male hemp would be higher than the female and vice versa. In
the Vosges Mountains on the border of France-Compte, the practice of dancing
on the roof was observed to make the hemp grow tall.
In many areas, the beans used in the cake were taken to be blessed by the
clergy and divination was employed on Twelfth Night to determine the month
of the year in which the price of wheat would be dearest.
The practice of lighting bonfires is still carried out in some areas and, at
the time Frazer wrote, it was still done in the Montagne du Doubs on the eve
of Twelfth Night (ix, p. 316). This was seemingly to ensure the fertility of
the crops. There seems to be a definite, if distant, relationship to the
Yule festivals of the pagans.
While it burned, the people danced around it singing Good year come back,
Bread and wine come back!
The youth of Pontarlier carry torches over the sowed lands shouting
couaille, couaille, blanconnie; the meaning of which is lost in antiquity.
In the Bocage of Normandy on the same day, it is the fruit trees that are
fired. These twinkling lights are everywhere as the peasants celebrate the
Ceremony of the Moles and Field-mice (Taupes et Mulots). Villages compete in
the blaze and woods and hedges are scoured for materials. They scour the
fields threatening the moles and field mice and, thus, they believe the crop
will be larger that autumn.
The bonfires on the eve of Epiphany were also observed in the Ardennes. It
is useful to look at the customs here in regard to festivals of the goddess
Hecate in Rome and Europe generally and the fields and the crosses involved
there (cf. the paper The Cross: Its Origin and Significance (No. 39)).
Similar fire customs are experienced in the UK in Gloucester and in
Hertfordshire with twelve fires at the end of twelve lands (Gloucester)
designed to prevent smut in wheat. There is a thirteenth larger fire lit in
both cases - the latter being on a hill (Frazer, ix, p. 318).
This custom of making twelve fires of straw and drinking toasts of cider or
ale is called Wassailing and is ancient. Oxen are also toasted in this
strange ritual in some areas with a cake placed on the horns of the lead ox
and then thrown by tickling the ox.
The explanation of the practice of lighting fires and especially this
largest is found in examination against the practice not only in UK and
France but in Macedonia. The large fires are to burn the witches and
malefactors that roam the fields at night. They are called by the
Macedonians karkantzari or skatzanzari. They are overcome by binding with
straw rope. They resume their human shape during the day. Over the twelve
days of Christmas, they must be overcome by strenuous effort. Some places
start on Christmas eve and in others it continues or is done on Twelfth
On Christmas eve, some people burn the karkantzari by burning holm-oak
faggots and throwing them out in the streets at early dawn. Here, again, we
have reference to the Yule festivals of the Druids. The later oak faggots
were remnants of the earlier log burning.
In Ireland, they set up sheaves of oats. This was done in Roscommon where
they held that Twelfth Night which is Old Christmas Day is greater than
Christmas Day itself (Frazer, ix, p. 321).
They set up thirteen candles in the sheaf, twelve smaller and one greater in
the centre and attribute these to the apostles at the Last Supper; but these
are at Christmas and not Passover. Thirteen candles of rushlight named after
each member of the family (or relations to make up the number) are placed in
cakes of cow dung and burned to determine the length of life of each person
(ix, p. 322).
The origin of candles
The use of candles goes back to the ancient Aryan religion which used them
at the Yule ceremony to ward of the gods of thunder, storm and tempest
(Frazer, x, p. 264 (n. 4) and also p. 265). They were lit and tied to the
sacred oak (ibid., ii, 327).
In some areas (Ruthenia and Europe generally) they were used by thieves and
burglars to cause sleep (Frazer, i, pp. 148-149) and in this case they were
made of human tallow (ibid., i, p. 236). Parts of the human anatomy were
also used as candles or human bones were filled with tallow made from the
fat of hanged men (ibid., p. 149). Sometimes, candles were made from the
fingers of new born or, preferably as they saw it, unborn children. As late
as the seventeenth century in Europe robbers used to murder pregnant women
to extract such candles from their wombs (ibid.).
Candles were burnt to ward off witches. They entered Christianity through
the Catholic or Orthodox Church (cf. Frazer, ibid., i, p. 13).
The ancient Aryan practice continued among the Germans of lighting new fire
by means of a Bonfire at Easter and sending the sticks to each home to start
the fires to ward off the gods of thunder, storm and tempest. The practice
was introduced to Catholicism as the Easter candle. This single giant candle
was lit at Easter on Saturday night before the Easter Sunday and then all
the candles of the church were lit from it. This continued for the year
until next Easter when the single Easter candle was again lit.
The practice of lighting the candle appears to take place on the night
before the day of the Sun as part of the ancient Sun worshipping system.
In the Temple, incense was burned. Candles were not burned other than as the
This practice of burning lights as candles or tapers was similar to that of
the Saturnalia. We know from the Book of Baruch 6:19 ff that the practice of
lighting candles before idols overlaid with precious metals was Babylonian.
The practice of lighting multiple candles probably entered Judaism through
the Babylonian system. We will deal with it in more detail in the section on
The Menorah was seven branched and ordered by God for the Temple. In
Solomon's Temple, there were ten tables of seven candles representing the
Council of the Elohim of which the Sanhedrin was a copy. The nine branches
are given mystical symbolism. There is no biblical authority for them.
The weather of the twelve days of Christmas was said to determine the
weather of the forthcoming year.
It is based on what appears to be a form of ancient zodiacal division of
dividing the twelve days into four quadrants of three days per quadrant.
This was done in the British Isles and it extended through Germany and
German Austria into western Europe.
From the weather on each of the twelve days it was possible to divine the
weather of each successive month of the year. It was held to be accurate and
apply also to the Twelfth day itself where the weather on each hour would
determine the weather for the corresponding month. The days were thus a
system of divination for the year ahead in its agricultural aspects.
In Swabia, the days were called the twelve lot days. More precise divination
was determined by making twelve circles divided into four quadrants. Each
quadrant represented a quarter of the month. These were drawn on paper and
hung over the door. As each day of the twelve days passed from Christmas to
Epiphany, the weather on each quarter day was shaded and the weather for
that quarter month was determined.
In Switzerland, Germany and Austria it was done somewhat differently. On
Christmas, New Year's day or on another of the twelve days, one sliced an
onion in two, peeled off twelve coats, and sprinkled a pinch of salt in each
of them. From the moisture left in them the next morning, it was considered
possible to determine the weather for the next twelve months of the year.
This was not confined to the Germanic tribes or the Teutons - it was found
also in France and among the Celts of Brittany and in Scotland.
In the Bocage of Normandy, the temperature was divined for the year from the
temperature of the twelve days. This was considered more accurate than the
predictions of the Double-Liégois. In Cornouaille Brittany, the twelve days
were determined from Christmas to the Epiphany - being the last six days of
December and the first six of January. In other parts of Brittany and in
Scotland the twelve days were determined from 1 January. They were known in
Brittany as the gour-deziou or male days. It is said to mean properly the
additional or supplementary days. This concept takes us back to another
ancient concept of the calendar and the five excess days of the year.
The Scots from their almanac from the last day of December or the first day
of January (depending on place) determining the weather by that of the
twelve days. Thus, January is determined by the weather of 31 December and
so on as an infallible rule.
The Celts of Scotland, as elsewhere in France, are divided as to the
beginning of the days either at Christmas on 1 January or on 31 December.
Frazer considers this an important indicator of the origin of the beliefs
(ibid., ix, p. 24).
This concept is very ancient and is found among the Aryans of the Vedic age
in India. This predates Christ by many centuries.
They, too, appear to have invested days in midwinter with a sacred character
as a time when the three Ribhus or genii of the seasons rested from their
labours in the home of the sun-god, and these twelve rest-days they called
'an image or copy of the year' (Frazer, ix, pp. 324-325).
Frazer follows A Weber in this explanation of the common views of the East
and West (cf. fn. 3 to ix, p. 325).
The system was thus an ancient system of the Aryans who conquered India from
the Steppes with the use of iron age implements and harnessed horses about
Their relatives took the same festivals west into Europe. These movements
are part of the dispersion of the ancient mysteries of the Babylonian system
which found its way into the nomadic Shamans. This religion was Animism.
Ancient calendar systems
The division of the twelve days came from the ancient Aryan calendar which
was divided according to the phases of the Moon and not that of the Sun. The
various Aryan languages have the name for month as the name for Moon.
The days of the month alternate between twenty nine and thirty days every
two months. These days at fifty-nine times six fall short of the actual
solar year by almost twelve days (eleven and one quarter days).
This appears to have been an intercalation to adjust the lunar to the solar
year which was a perversion of the true intercalation system adopted by the
Hebrews and the Assyro-Babylonians and the Greco-Romans. It thus seems to
have been a perversion of Sun-worship from the earliest days of the
movements of the Middle Eastern tribes. The Celtic Hittites, being the first
to move into Europe, took the system with them and its implementation
corrupted subsequent colonisation from the Assyrian relocations and the
movement of the Parthian and Gothic horde.
We now know much more about the calendar system in use in Europe and the
midwinter solstice in use in Europe and the UK. The circles were designed to
determine the solstice exactly on midwinter's day.
The twelve days were distinct from the five days and they appear to have
been variously added to or combined in different areas.
It appears that the five extra days of the year making the 365 days over and
above the 360 days considered to be the normal year was a very ancient
belief and system of intercalary practice where, from the Mayas of Yucatan
to the pyramids of Egypt, people regarded them as useless for any religious
or civil purpose and did nothing on those days. This may have also had some
basis for the practices. The texts of the pyramids expressly mention the
five days over and above the year comprised of twelve months of thirty days
(ibid., p. 340). The Aztecs and the American system, however, has eighteen
months of twenty days and so did not follow any lunar system. The five days
were considered, because of their mathematical values in the divisions of
the calendar, to be useless and the object of no work and a general malaise
of the society. This had no relationship to the Hebrew prophetic year of
twelve thirty-day months which is a symbolic idealisation of the actual
revolutions of the true intercalary nineteen year cycle. This religious
symbolism and structure is detailed in the Bible.
The five day sequence related to the calendar in
use in solar systems or Sun-worshipping systems. The twelve days were an
adjustment of the lunar to the solar which one would expect to find in the
more ancient Moon-Sun-Morning Star systems which were common at the time of
the Exodus (see the paper The Golden Calf (No. 222)).
The Sun god
25 December was also associated with Mithras, as he was Sun god.
The Catholic liturgist Mario Righetti (in addition to Duchesne and also
Cullman) held that:
After the peace of the Church of Rome, to facilitate the acceptance of the
faith by the pagan masses, found it convenient to institute the 25th of
December as the feast of the temporal birth of Christ, to divert them from
the pagan feast, celebrated on the same day in honour of the "Invincible
Sun" Mithras, the conqueror of darkness (fn 74, II, p. 67 quote also in
Bacchiocchi, From Sabbath to Sunday, Pontifical Gregorian University Press,
Rome, 1977, p. 260).
Thus, Mithras was the god of the festival of the solstice on 25 December
which followed immediately on from the Saturnalia. With this deity, we see
Sunday worship emerge in Rome.
The dedications to Mithra was as Soli invicto Mithrae or the Invincible
Sun - the Unconquered Sun as Frazer terms it (p. 304). It was also related
to him as Sol Invictus Elagabal in the public form of the religion.
The term Father was a rank held by the priests of Mithra. The term is
forbidden to Christians (Mat. 23:9). It entered Christianity with the
What actually occurred was that the original calendars of the Roman system
began the week on Saturday and were in use in the first years of the
Augustan era (27 BCE to 14 CE) following the discovery of the calendar of
Nola (cf. A Degrassi, fn. 26, p. 104; cf. Bacchiocchi, ibid., p. 244). This
structure appears to be related to the system of Mithras (as we know from
the Epicurean Celcus (c. 140-180 CE) where the Sun occupied the highest
place on the ladder of ascent through the seven gates of
the Mithraic ladder from Saturn to the Sun. This is classic Shamanism and is
practiced by animistic religion throughout the world. In Origen Contra
Celsum, 6,21-22 we see that Celsus lists the planets in the reverse order
enabling the Sun to occupy the significant seventh position.
We later see this system emerge as the eight day symbolism in the Roman
system for the week beginning on Saturn's day or Saturday and ending with
the day of the Sun or Sunday which was always a holiday. The planetary week
was also not in the accepted order of the planets and people could not
account for the difference (cf. Plutarch Complete Works, III, p. 230; cf.
Bacchiocchi, ibid., p. 246).
The differences can be seen also by comparison with the Ziggurat of the
Babylonian system and the seven levels of ascent to the Moon god there (cf.
the paper The Golden Calf (No. 222)).
The statement of Tertullian (Ad Nationes, 1, 13, ANF, III, p. 123), attempts
to refute the charge of Sun-worship. Tertullian admits that, by then,
Christians had commenced praying towards the east and made Sunday a day of
festivity. He directly places the responsibility for Sunday worship over the
Sabbath on the Sun-worshipping cults where he says they selected its day in
preference to the previous day of the week (i.e. the Sabbath or Saturday)
(cf. Bacchiocchi, pp. 248-249). However, by then, they were both worshipping
on that day as well as the Christian Sabbath.
Prayer to the Sun in the east
Apparently, prayer to the east originated by prayer towards Jerusalem as
Irenaeus mentions being the custom of the Ebionites (Adv. Her., 1,26, ANF,
I, p. 352). By the time of Clement of Alexandria and Origen, we see the
orientation to be towards the source of light that dispels the darkness of
the night although Clement still mentions the ancient temples (Stromateis,
7,7,43, GCS, 3, 32; cf. Bacchiocchi, p. 255).
Bacchiocchi makes it clear that the association between the Christian Sunday
and the pagan veneration of the day of the Sun is not explicit before the
time of Eusebius (c. 260-340 CE). Although previous writers associated him
as true light and sun of justice, no deliberate attempt prior to Eusebius
was made to justify Sunday observance by means of the symbology of the day
of the Sun (ibid., p. 261).
The process thus entered Christianity by means of the earlier December
festival, which was originally derived from the worship of Saturn and Opis
in the Saturnalia, and its association with the Heavenly Virgin or Mother
goddess and her infant child.
The gospels say nothing as to the day of Christ's birth and the early Church
did not celebrate it.
The custom of celebrating Christ's birth began in Egypt, being derived from
the Mother goddess cult there, and the Christians there celebrated it on 6
January. By the fourth century it had become generally established in the
East (Frazer, v, p. 304). The western church had never recognised 6 January
as the true date and, in time, its decision was accepted by the eastern
church. At Antioch this change was not introduced until about 375 CE
The origin of the practice is plainly recorded by the Syrian Christians as
we see from Frazer quoting also Credner and Momsen and also Usener (v, pp.
The reason why the fathers transferred the celebration of the sixth of
January to the twenty fifth of December was this. It was a custom of the
heathen to celebrate on the same twenty-fifth of December the birthday of
the Sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these
solemnities and festivities the Christians also took part. Accordingly when
the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to
this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should
be solemnized on that day and the festival of the Epiphany on the sixth of
January. Accordingly, along with this custom, the practice has prevailed of
kindling fires till the sixth.
Thus, the Saturnalia led up to the solstice when presents were given to
children from 23 December or now Christmas eve on 24 December in the
Gregorian calendar. The rites of the solstice then took over from the
original Saturnalia but the period then became lengthened from three to
seven days to which was added the twelve days.
When we count five days from 25 December we come to 31 December from which
some of the Celts and Germans begin the count. The addition of St Stephen's
Day (or Boxing Day) brings the five day period from 27 December in line to 1
The pagan origin of Christmas is also evident in Augustine when he exhorts
his brethren not to celebrate this solemn day like the heathen on account of
the Sun but on account of him who made the Sun (Au ustine Serm., cxc, 1; in
Migne Patriologia Latina, xxxviii, 1007). Leo called the Great likewise
rebuked the pestilent belief that Christmas was solemnised because of the
birth of the new Sun, and not because of the nativity of Christ (Frazer,
ibid.; cf. Leo the Great Serm., xxii (al xxi) 6 and Migne, liv, 198).
However, by then, it was a hopeless cause. The entire system was endemic to
Christianity and the Mother goddess cult was entrenched.
Thus it appears that the Christian Church chose to celebrate the birthday of
its Founder on the twenty-fifth of December in order to transfer the
devotion of the heathen from the Sun to him who was called the Sun of
Righteousness (p. 305).
There was a theory put forward by one Mgr Duchesne that 25 December arose
from the conformity with the equinox on 25 March and this was the day on
which Christ was killed and also on which his mother conceived. This digs an
even deeper pit because 25 March was indeed initially adopted in Africa and
elsewhere as the date of the crucifixion. However, it was on a Sunday in the
only year that 14 Nisan could have fallen on 25 March. It is thus
destructive to the theory. Moreover, 25 March is associated with the
festival of the god Attis as Frazer notes in his footnote to page 305. We
will examine this in the sections below.
The Goat and the Bear
On the twelve days we also see mummers playing the part of a goat and a
In the highlands of Scotland and St Kilda down until the last half of the
eighteenth century, at least a cowherd would wrap himself in a skin on New
Year's eve. The young people would meet and with staves they would beat the
hide as a drum and proceed from house to house where the one covered with
the hide runs three times round deiseil, i.e. in the way the Sun revolves.
He was pursued by the crowd crying in Gaelic:
let us raise the noise louder and louder let us beat the hide (Frazer, viii,
They go from house to house repeating verses. On entry, they call down
blessings on the house and its cattle, stones and timber, its produce and
health. A part of the hide was then burnt and applied to the noses of every
person and domestic animal in order to protect the inhabitants against
disease and misfortune for the coming year.
This last day of the year is called Hogmanay.
Each of the party, after the rhyme had been said and the Rann Calluin or
Christmas Rhyme had been repeated, in return entered and had refreshment.
The general thing that was burnt in lieu of the strip of hide was a
Casein-uchd made of the breast strip of a sheep (or deer or goat) wrapped
around the point of a shinty stick. This was singed in the fire and put
three times around the family and to the nose of all. No drink was taken
until this ceremony had been completed. The purpose was to protect the
household against witchcraft and disease.
On the Isle of Man, the feather of the wren was used (viii, p. 324).
The custom appears to be related to an older custom involving human
sacrifice. Frazer notes that the Khonds slew a human victim as a divinity
and took him from house to house and everyone took a relic of his sacred
person (cf. i, pp. 246 ff). The cowhide no doubt substituted for this
victim. The communion substituted for the body and blood of the god.
While these customs may not have connection with agriculture, the similar
customs of Plough Monday certainly do and the processions we see in Europe
of men clad as animals probably identify with the corn spirit. They may have
association with the Gilyak procession of the bear and the Indian procession
of the snake (ibid.).
Often in these processions (as in the last days of the carnival in Bohemia)
a man was swathed from head to foot in pease-straw and wrapped around in
straw ropes (Frazer, ibid.). This harkens back to the wicca man in ancient
These festivals of agriculture were associated with both the midwinter
solstice and the spring equinox - both heralding the return of growth and
warmth and life as the power of the Sun and summer to nature.
The Bohemian man goes by the name of the Shrovetide or Carnival bear
After he has danced at every house with the girls and maids and the
housewife herself they all retire to the ale house:
For at Shrovetide, but especially at Shrove Tuesday, every one must dance,
if the flax, the vegetables and the corn are to thrive (Frazer, viii, p.
The straw of the bear is put in the nests of the hens and geese. The bear
represents the spirit of fertility. The purpose of the dancing is to make
fertile both animal and vegetable in all aspects.
In parts of Bohemia, this person is not called a bear but an oats-goat.
In Prussian Lithuania on Twelfth day a man is wrapped in pease-straw to
represent the bear and another in oats-straw to represent the goat.
In Marburg in Steiermark, men appear as both a wolf and a bear (Frazer,
The man who gave the last stroke at threshing is called the wolf. He keeps
the name Wolf until Christmas when he is wrapped in a goat's skin and led
from house to house as a pease-bear at the end of a rope. His dress as a
goat marks him out and appears to associate the symbols of goat and bear and
wolf in this ancient ritual of the corn-spirit.
In Scandinavia, the appearance of the corn-spirit as a goat is common
(ibid.). In Sweden, led about with horns on his head, he personated the
Yule-goat. In parts of Sweden they make a pretence of slaughtering the goat
who comes to life again (ibid., p. 327). The two men who slaughter him sing
verses referring to the mantles of varying colours, red, blue, white and
yellow, which they laid on him.
After supper on Christmas evening, the people dance the "angel dance" to
ensure a good crop. Yule straw, either of wheat or rye, is made into the
likeness of a goat and thrown among the dancers with the cry of catch the
Yule-goat. In Dalarne it is called the Yule-ram.
In Denmark and Sweden, it is customary to bake cakes of fine meal at
Christmas in the shape of goats, rams and boars (Frazer, ibid., p. 328).
They are often made out of the last sheaf at harvest and kept until
sowing-time where they are partly mixed with the seed corn and partly eaten
by the people and the plough oxen in the hope of securing a good harvest.
The commonality of the customs from the British Isles to Europe and
Scandinavia and the East establishes beyond doubt the ancient practice as
appeasement of the corn-spirit and the ancient gods. The appearance as a
wether and a boar is also ancient and widespread.
The Straw-bear was witnessed in Wittlesy Cambridgeshire, being performed as
it had been for centuries on the day after Plough Monday, by Professor Moore
Smith of Sheffield University in January 1909 (see letter of 13 January
1909; cf. Frazer, viii, p. 329).
Plough Monday is the first Monday of January after Twelfth day. It is beyond
dispute that we are dealing with an ancient agricultural festival which is
directed at appeasement of the ancient agricultural gods in the sequence of
the midwinter festivals which run from the Saturnalia to the solstice high
day and then on to the twelve days of so-called Christmas to the plough
festival of Plough Monday and Shrove Tuesday.
It appears to have been anciently associated with human sacrifice - perhaps
in each of the three aspects or perhaps as single festivals.
Plough Monday in England was normally associated with a team of human plough
bullocks, one of whom was disguised as an old crone called Bessy. They went
about leaping and dancing in high fashion presumably to make the corn grow
as high as they leapt. This was similar to the practice of the Straw-bears
or Yule-goats on the continent and elsewhere in UK.
The same practices are found in Thrace and Bulgaria on the same day, i.e.
the Monday of the last week of Carnival. One dancer (the Kuker) is a man
clad in goatskin. Another dancer (the Kukerica), disguised in petticoats as
the old woman or baba, has "her" face blackened.
Bears are represented by dogs wrapped in bearskins. A mock court is set up
of a king and judge and other officials. The plays of the Kuker and Kukerica
are wanton and lascivious.
Towards evening, two people are yoked to a plough and the Kuker ploughs a
few furrows and sows some corn. He then takes off his disguise and is paid
for his trouble.
The people believe that the person who plays the Kuker commits a deadly sin
and the priests also make vain efforts to abolish the customs. The Kuker in
Losengrad district has a cake with money in it which is distributed to those
present. If a farmer gets the coin, the crops will be good; if a herdsman
gets it, the herds will be good. The Kuker also symbolically ploughs the
ground and waves to and fro to imitate the waving corn. The man with the
coin is bound and dragged by the feet over the ground to quicken the
fertility of the ground. This drawing by lot is reminiscent also of the
Saturnalia sacrifice we saw above.
In Bulgaria itself, the festival has the Old Woman or Mother as the leading
personage, played by a man in woman's clothing. The Kuker and Kukerica are
subordinate to the "Old Woman". They wear fantastic masks of human heads
with animal horns or birds heads and skins with a girdle of lime bark. On
their back is a hump made out of rags. This festival in Bulgaria, being the
Monday of the last week of Carnival, is called Cheese Monday. It is
nevertheless associated with the Ploughing festival.
The same rituals associated in western Europe of going round the house and
the blessings conferred by the presence of the "old woman" on the fertility
of the village is uppermost in the minds of all. Incursion by masked people
from any other village is seen as a threat and a drawing away of the
fertility of the village. Such incursions are resisted.
The similarity between the Old Woman with the black face of Demeter and the
two aides of Pluto and Persephone are probably behind the origins of the
three kings custom, with the black Mechior representing Demeter.
The festival of Befana in Rome on the night before Epiphany is clearly
related to this festival of Demeter and the term Befana is obviously a
corruption of Epiphany. She is clearly an old witch and the noise of this
festival is clearly associated with an ancient custom of clearing the area
of evil influences (see also below). The same ceremonies involving Befana on
the eve of Epiphany were or are observed in Tuscan Romagna and elsewhere in
Italy (Frazer, ix, p. 167).
Frazer rightly sees in the Old Woman of the Bulgarian and Thracian system a
reference to the Corn Mother-goddess Demeter who in the likeness of an old
woman brought blessing to the house of Celeus, king of Eleusis and restored
the lost fertility to the fallow Eleusinian fields. The Kuker and Kukerica,
the male and female mummers, represent Pluto and Persephone. These rituals
are extant from East to West and represent the oldest of the religious
festivals (Frazer, viii, pp. 334-335). We are thus directly in the middle of
the Eleusinian Mystery cults and linked with the same Mystery cults of
ancient times from the cult of Apollo in early Europe and of Dionysius and
of agricultural symbols in the cult of worship of the Sun god. The
Bull-slaying cults are thus also involved and we see from the times of
dedication of the Bulls sacrificed by the Greeks in Magnesia after its
dedication in the beginning of the sowing that we have a common idea of the
festival. Zeus is the partner of Demeter and the final product is the
slaying of the Bull to Zeus in the equivalent of the month of May.
Yule logs, the holly and ivy, and mistletoe
The summer and winter solstice were seen as the two great turning points of
the year. Fires were lit on both solstices. The midsummer fires were lit in
the open and youths jumped the fires. This practice was found among the
Celts in Ireland, Britain and Gaul and also among the north Africans in
Morocco and the Atlas Mountains. Their practice is much more ancient than
the Islam they also profess. The practice of lighting fires happened
anciently among the pagans on May Day and on Halloween (1 November) called
All Saints Day. The asymmetric nature of these festivals with that of the
solstice should be noted. The Festival of Walpurgis on the last day of April
preceding May Day is the Festival of the Burning of the Witches. This type
of festival is also associated with the twelve days between Christmas 25
December and the Epiphany of 6 January. Fires of pine-resin are lit on these
nights to keep the witches away. The fires are generally larger on Twelfth
Night. In Silesia, people burn fires of pine-resin between Christmas and New
Year to drive witches away from the farmhouses. This was the "proper time
for the expulsion of the forces of darkness". On Christmas eve and New Year'
s eve, shots are fired over the fields and people wrap straw around the
fruit trees to prevent evil forces from doing them harm.
In Biggar in Lanarkshire UK, New Year's eve is the traditional time for this
fire which has been lit since time immemorial.
In 1644, nine witches of flesh and blood were burnt on Leith Links in
Scotland (Frazer, ix, p. 165).
Fires are lit in the Autumn but are not significant. The festival of the
nativity of the Virgin on 8 September was traditionally associated with
noise and uproar associated with Befana at Rome and traditionally involved
assassinations. Prof. Housman noted that when he witnessed the festival at
Capri in 1897, a few more than the usual eight or ten were murdered (Frazer,
x, p. 221).
Fires are also traditionally lit on the midwinter solstice on 25 December.
The difference between the midsummer and midwinter fires being that the
midwinter fires are lit indoors and form part of the ritual of the
invocation of the Sun god to his place of supremacy in the heavens. Thus,
the midwinter fires developed a more cloistered or family type atmosphere.
It is perhaps of significance that in the Shetland Islands, the Yule or
Christmas holidays began seven days before Christmas and ended at Antinmas,
i.e. the twenty-fourth day after Christmas.
The Shetlanders name these holidays the Yules. Seven days before Christmas,
the elves called Trows by the Shetlanders are let free from their homes in
the earth and dwell above ground if it pleases them. This is the probable
origin of the elf symbolism of and with Santa Claus. It seems to relate back
to the concept of the misrule of the seven days of the Saturnalia leading up
to 25 December.
The most important of the rituals in Yule was the saining which had to be
properly carried out to deal with the grey folk as the elves were called.
The modern myths emanating from the USA regarding alien greys is none other
than the revamping of the elves at Yule.
On the last day of the holidays, the twenty-fourth day after Christmas,
called up-helly-a, or Uphalliday in Shetland, the doors were all opened and
a great deal of pantomimic chasing went on to rid the area of the
mischievous elves. People piously read the Bible and displayed iron
ostentatiously "for it is well known that elves cannot abide the sight of
iron." The infants were carefully guarded and sained by learned wise women.
No doubt, we have the sign of the evil eye involved here as an ancient
custom (cf. also the paper The Cross: Its Origin and Significance (No. 39)).
When day dawned after twenty-fourth night, the Trows or Grey-folk had
vanished and the Yules were ended.
The customs of banishing evil forces and witches on a night set aside for
the purpose in the period of the winter solstice and festivals can thus be
traced from Rome and Calabria in the south as far north as the Shetlands. It
also runs from Ireland to the Steppes and down to North Africa.
We know that the Germans burnt the Yule log which was an ancient custom even
by the eleventh century. In 1184, the parish priest of Ahlen in Münsterland
records bringing a tree to kindle the festal fire at the Lord's nativity
(Frazer, x, p. 247). This was found in Britain in ancient times and was
common to the Teutons and apparently the Celts. John Brand is quoted by
Frazer as saying that the Yule block is a counterpart of the midsummer fires
made within doors because of the cold weather at the winter solstice (ibid.,
n. 2). This was nothing other than the erroneous application to 25 December
of the solstice which was set aside for the worship of the Sun (Frazer, x,
p. 246). This lighting of the tree fire was to assist the Sun to relight its
ailing lamp, and the entire system of fires and candles at the nativity
before the Heavenly Virgin is the ancient worship of the Mother goddess and
her infant child, the Sun. The lamps assist in the lighting of the heavenly
fire of the Sun and this is the basic idea behind flame and its use in
The Yule log was also kept among European groups and placed on the fire to
ward off thunder and the effects of storms. Thus, the relationship is
clearly made between the ancient gods of the Teutons over thunder and
lightning and weather and the Yule log at the solstice.
Mistletoe was sacred in the religion of the Druids. The Druids who came via
Egypt as Magi were picked up by the Milesians in Spain from among the
Gadelians before the Scoto-Milesians went to Ireland. From there they spread
into Britain and Europe (MacGeohagen The History of Ireland, Sadlier, NY, p.
42; cf. Frazer, ii, pp. 358,362; xi, pp. 76 ff,301).
Pliny (Natural History, xvi, pp. 249-251) derives the word Druid from the
Greek word for oak which is drus. It is, however, the same or similar in the
Celtic being daur. The Druids are thus priests of the oak. Their cult is
thus ancient and associated with the oak groves. Other scholars prefer to
derive the name from the root meaning knowledge or wisdom - hence, they were
the wizards or magicians. This is also borne from the title Magi which they
held (cf. Frazer, xi, pp. 76-77, n. 1 to p. 76).
The Druidic cycle of the calendar was of thirty years and there appears to
be a common relationship in their worship with that of the Boetians who,
like they, worship or conjured the oak and, thus, both may have a common
Aryan connection. The Boetian cycle, in the festival of the great Daedala,
was one of sixty years and not thirty. This may have application to the
Aryan practice observed among the Indians of the sixty year cycle based on
the sidereal cycle of Jupiter.
The mistletoe is cut with a golden scythe on the first or sixth day of the
Moon (Frazer, xi, pp. 77-78). It is associated with fertility and was held
to make barren animals and women to bring forth. It was thought to have
fallen from the sky and was called the all-healer (Frazer, xi, pp.
77-79,82). Two white bulls were sacrificed at its cutting on the sixth day
for this purpose. The priest was dressed in a white robe. It was cut on the
first day of the Moon by the Italians and on the sixth by the Druids. This
difference is probably accounted for because of the commencement of the
lunar month in both systems. Neither cut the mistletoe with an iron
implement. It was not allowed to touch the earth and, hence, it was caught
in a white cloth.
The Italians believed that mistletoe growing on oak had similar properties
if we accept Pliny and, thus, there was a commonality of belief to both
We are thus back again to the fertility system of the Saturnalia and the
healing of the Mysteries and Apollo, but in an ancient form common to the
Aryans before 1000 BCE.
This system was so ancient that it was common even to the Ainu of Japan who
also held it sacred. They, however, use mistletoe cut from a willow because
that tree is sacred to them. They agree with both the Druids (in its
curative properties) and the Italians (regarding the fertility of women for
childbirth) in their beliefs (Frazer, xi, p. 79).
This belief extends down to the natives of Mabuig Island in the Torres
Strait (ibid.). The common belief is also found in Africa among the Walos of
The veneration of mistletoe as an all-healer is found among Swiss peasants
and among the Swedes (ibid., p. 82).
The Norse god Balder was said to have been slain by mistletoe and Frazer
gives an extensive account of this matter in his work.
Mistletoe was used as a remedy for epilepsy generally and by high medical
authorities in the UK and Holland as late as the eighteenth century (ibid.,
p. 83, noting Ray of UK in 1700, Boerhaave of Holland in 1720 and his pupil
Van Swieten in 1745).
Mistletoe is held to be a protection against lightning and fire and, hence,
associated with the Yule system also (Frazer, xi, p. 85).
It was most commonly used at the midsummer fires and at this time was
associated with the death of the god Balder. This seems to have involved
actual human sacrifice at this time in Denmark, Norway and Sweden (Frazer,
xi, p. 87). The practice of throwing the victim chosen by lot into the
Beltane fire and also the Green wolf of the midsummer fires are associated
with this system of worship as tree spirits or gods of vegetation (ibid., p.
The worship of mistletoe is associated directly with the cult of the worship
of the oak and was common to all the Aryans. The Celts in Asia Minor
worshiped at the grove called Drynemetum which is pure Celtic, meaning
Temple of the Oak. These are the groves which also contained a phallus
spoken against by the Bible.
Among the Slavs, the oak was the sacred symbol of the great god Perun and
the oak ranks first among the holy trees of the Germans. It was adored by
them anciently and certain of these practices and attitudes survive to the
present day (Frazer, ibid., p. 89).
The oak was also sacred to the Italians and the image of Jupiter on the
Capitol was originally nothing but a natural oak tree. At Dodona, Zeus was
also worshipped as being immanent in the oak. Frazer concludes that the
Aryans, including Celts, Germans and Lithuanians, commonly held the oak
sacred before their dispersion and this common land must have been
plentifully supplied with oak. The mistletoe is merely its symbol, as heaven
sent aspect of healing, protection and fertility.
The kindling of sacred fire, whether among the Celts, Germans or Slavs, is
always by use of the oak in rubbing two of the sticks together or by rubbing
oak on a grey stone (not red). The same types of practice are found from
Germany to the highlands of Scotland in kindling the need-fire (cf. Frazer,
xi, p. 91).
Frazer says the perpetual fire of Vesta in Rome was fed with oak wood. Oak
wood also burnt in the perpetual fire before the sacred oak at Romove in
Lithuania. The blocks of oak are burnt also from the midwinter solstice
through to the end of the year and replaced with the new log and the ashes
are mixed among the seed etc. for fertility.
The common link in all these stories is the burning of the fires and the
cutting of the mistletoe. The ancient Aryans believed, as we can deduce from
the myth of Balder, that the oak was the god and the mistletoe's link with
it ensured its longevity. The human sacrifice at the midsummer fires ensured
the life of the crops. The use of mistletoe and the Yule log at the
midwinter solstice also looked to the sacrifice of the god represented by
the human who took his place, and the return of the Sun system. This is the
underlying symbolism of the Christmas tradition (cf. Frazer, xi, p. 93).
While the mistletoe stood, neither the god nor his substitute could be
injured. The cutting of the mistletoe was both the signal and the cause of
Holly and ivy
Holly and ivy allegedly represent male and female. The ivy clings and
twines - supposedly representing the female. The holly is prickly and
erect - supposedly representing the male.
In Surrey England, a holly tree is used to pass a child through a cleft to
heal rupture whereas it is usually an ash elsewhere (Frazer, xi, p. 169, n.
The holly-oak was sacred to the Fratres Arvales or Brethren of the Tilled
Fields. This was a Roman college of twelve priests who performed public
religious rites for the purposes of agriculture. They wore wreaths of ears
of corn. Their sacrifices were made in the grove of the goddess Dia some
five miles down the Tiber from Rome. This grove contained laurels and
holly-oaks. It was so hallowed that expiatory sacrifices were offered every
time a tree or even a bough of a tree fell to the ground. This was obviously
especially prone to occur with the advent of snow and storms at the winter
solstice. Hence, the concept also of holly and the white Christmas. More
elaborate sacrifices had to be made when one of the trees were struck by
lightning. They were then dug up by the roots, split and burnt and others
planted in their stead. At the Roman festival of the Parilia which was for
the welfare of flocks and herds, peasants prayed for forgiveness if they
entered a hallowed grove, sat under a sacred tree, or lopped a holy bough to
feed sheep (cf. Frazer, ii, p. 123).
Pliny says the woods were formerly the temples of the deities and that even
in his time the peasants dedicated a tall tree to a god with the ritual of
olden times (Pliny Natural History, xii, p. 3).
The ivy is the symbol of the Mystery cults. It is chewed by the Bacchanalian
feast-goers. It is identified with the god Dionysius, or Bacchus.
Ivy was used by the Greeks as one of the two firesticks. The board of the
pair was made out of a parasitic or creeping plant which was usually ivy.
The borer was usually laurel. Oak was also used as the borer.
The ancient Indians used a parasite (the climbing fig) as the borer using
the parasite as the male concept. The Greeks seemed to have reversed this
concept. The ivy is considered female and the laurel male. Yet in the Greek,
the word ivy is masculine and the ivy was identified anciently with the male
god Dionysius. The word for laurel is feminine and is identified with a
nymph. Thus, we may conclude that the Greeks, like the Indians, considered
the concepts similarly in very ancient times but modified them perhaps
though expedience (Frazer, ii, pp. 251-252).
Anciently, ivy was prohibited to touch or name (Frazer, iii, pp. 13 ff.).
Ivy was also sacred to the god Attis and, hence, we come then to the pine
tree which was also sacred to that god (cf. Frazer, v, p. 278 and see the
paper The Cross: Its Origin and Significance (No. 39)).
Ivy was also sacred to the god Osirus (Frazer, vi, p. 112) and also for
dreams (ibid., x, p. 242). Thus, we see a commonality to the system of the
Triune god and the Mystery cults generally which ties in naturally with the
solstice system and Sun worship. Thus, the holly and the ivy are the symbols
also of the oak and other groves dedicated to the deities so condemned by
The Christmas tree
The decorated pine tree stems directly from the Mystery cults and the
worship of the god Attis. He is held to have been a man who became a tree
and, hence, is the embodiment of the ancient tree-spirit we meet in ancient
Indian or Indus mythology from as early as Harappa and Mohenjo Daro. He is
clearly a fertility god of corn and wears a Phrygian cap like Mithras (from
the statue in the Lateran; Frazer, v, p. 279).
The bringing in of the pine tree decked in violets and woollen bands is like
bringing in the May-tree or Summer-tree in modern folk custom. The effigy
which was attached to the tree was a duplicate representative of the god
Attis. This was traditionally kept until the next year when it was burnt
(Firmicus Maternus De errore profanarum religionum; cf. Frazer, v, p. 277
and n. 2).
The original intent of this custom was to maintain the spirit of vegetation
intact throughout the coming year. The Phrygians worshipped the pine tree
above all others and it is from this area that we derive the Mysteries and
the Mithras system. It is probably sacred to the cults in that it is an
evergreen lasting through the solstice period over a large area, when other
trees are bare. Remember also that pine resin was burnt at the solstice
festivals. The origins are lost in the antiquity of the Assyro-Babylonian
The resemblance of the god Attis was changed to the Sun symbol as a
monstrance on the top and then to angels and other types of decorations. The
decorations are easily identifiable as the Sun, Moon, and stars of the
Triune system of the Babylonians as Sin Ishtar and Shamash or Isis, Osirus
and Horus of the Egyptians (see the paper The Golden Calf (No. 222)).
Ivy was also sacred to Attis and his eunuch priests were tattooed with the
symbol of the ivy leaf (Frazer, v, p. 278).
Pine nuts were used to produce a wine used in the orgiastic rites of Cybele
which were in effect counterparts of the Dionysian orgies and Strabo
compared them (Strabo, x, 3. 12 ff).
At the festival of Thesmophoria, they were thrown along with pigs and other
agents or emblems of fertility into the sacred vaults of Demeter for the
purpose of increasing the fertility of the earth and of women (Frazer, v, p.
278). Thus, we are back again to the Demeter festivals and the aspects that
have kept on and which are associated with Christmas in Europe generally as
we have already seen.
The term Epiphany means manifestation as the appearance of some divine or
superhuman being. It was applied to Antiochus IV Epiphanes, king of Syria
It was also known as: the dies luminum (day of lights); as three kings day
or the twelfth day. All of these are dealt with above. The practices
associated with it are all derived from the ancient sources we see in the
text and have little to do with the faith.
The name survives in the great festival of Befana at Rome (cf. Catholic
Encyclopedia, art., Epiphany, Robert Appleton, NY, 1909, Vol. V, p. 504).
The CE says:
It is difficult to say how closely the practice then observed of buying all
sorts of earthenware images, combined with whistles and representing some
type of Roman life, is to be connected with the rather similar custom in
vogue during the December feast of the Saturnalia (ibid.).
It is hardly difficult to identify. The practices were the same and the term
is applied to the manifestation of the Befana as the goddess as we see
above. The attempts to place the reference in Hippolytus on the Sacrament of
Baptism is incorrect as he uses the term theophaneia not epiphania (ibid.).
The first substantive reference is in Clement (Stromateis, I, xxi, p. 45).
The CE quotes this text as follows and then goes on to say:
'There are those, too, who over-curiously assign to the Birth of our Saviour
not only its year but its day, which they say to be on 25 Pachon (20 May) in
the twenty eighth year of Augustus. But the followers of Basilides celebrate
the day of his Baptism too, spending the previous night in readings. And
they say that it was the 15th of the month Tybi of the 15th year of Tiberius
Caesar. And some say that it was observed the 11th of the same month.' Now,
15 and 11 Tybi are 6 and 10 January.
Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church try to draw from this
practice of the Gnostics under Basilides (teaching at Rome in the middle of
the second century) support for the celebration of the nativity as well as
the baptism of Christ but there is no real evidence for this conjecture. The
evidence of the festivals themselves indicate that the practice was the
ancient fertility festival and the blessing of the produce. From this arose
the practice of blessing the waters and the practice of throwing crucifixes
into the sea to make the seas productive for fisherman. All are based in
ancient paganism and were not evident in Christianity until the fourth
century. This addition was well after Origen writing in the third century as
he makes no mention of the Epiphany in his list of the festivals. The first
reference to it as a feast of the church is in 361 (cf. CE, p. 505).
From Saint Nicholas to Santa Claus
Santa Claus is a rather late invention and comes to us as a product of late
American commercialism. It is derived chiefly from German and Dutch
folklore. It has its origins in the entity referred to as Saint Nicholas.
The man usually known as Saint Nicholas is Nicholas of Myra in Lycia. He
died on 6 December 345 or 352 (Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. XI, p. 63). He is
popular in both the Greek and the Latin church but there is scarcely
anything certain about him except that he was bishop of Myra in the fourth
century (ibid., p. 64). He was born at Parara in Lycia of Asia Minor. In his
youth, he made a pilgrimage to Egypt and Palestine. On his return he was
made bishop of Myra and was imprisoned during the persecution of Diocletian.
He was released on the ascension of Constantine. The Catholics allege he was
present at Nicaea but his name does not appear on any of the records by
their own admission (ibid.).
In 1087, Italian merchants stole his body at Myra and took it to Bari. His
cult in Italy dates from this point. It appears this may have been prompted
by a cult that had developed concerning him in Europe. The numerous miracles
attributed to him are the outgrowth of a long tradition but, as we will see,
much of it has pagan origins that would have little to do with the original
His cult in the Greek church is old and especially prominent in the Russian
church although they were long after him (c. 1000 CE). The emperor Justinian
I built a church in his honour at Constantinople and his name appears on the
liturgy ascribed to John Chrysostom (ibid.).
His cult in Europe started from the time of Otto II whose wife Theophano was
a Grecian. Bishop Reginald of Eichstadt (d. 991) wrote a metric entitled the
Vita S. Nicholai. He is, or was, honoured as patron saint in Greece, Russia,
the kingdom of Naples, Sicily, Lorraine, the Diocese of Liege, and many
cities in Italy, Germany, Austria and Belgium, Campen in the Netherlands,
Corfu in Greece, Frieburg in Switzerland and Moscow in Russia (ibid.). He
was patron of mariners, merchants, bankers and children.
His relics are still preserved in the church of S. Nicola in Bari. An oily
substance, known as Manna di S. Nicola, is said to exude from his relics. It
is valued for medicinal purposes. His relationship with the festivals of 5/6
December are examined below.
One legend associated with him relates to the formation of three golden
balls, each made from his wages for one year, and rolled through the window
of a needy family of good birth over a period of years. The first ball
allegedly landed in a stocking (hence the Christmas stocking). This enabled
the needy recipients to marry off their daughters. He was allegedly seen on
the last time. This is no doubt the origin of the three golden balls of the
pawn brokers and the symbol of his patronage of merchants. These stories we
will see have relationship with other myths.
The traditions associated with his generosity caused the practice of Norman
French nuns giving to the poor on Saint Nicolas day or eve and this came to
be called Boxing Day from the alms box of the church. This became the
tradition behind the Boxing Day of 26 December. In Germany, Christ Bundles
were also given to the poor and the annual parades took on the Heavenly
Mother goddess tokens of the Mysteries.
The practice of children saving all year for the annual pig at Christmas in
Holland led to the introduction of the piggy bank.
The amalgam also of the false Roman robes of the clergy worn on the Festival
of Fools and the tales of Odin's wild ride and the beards of the Magi with
the elves of the Yule festivals saw a gradual evolution.
Nicholas of Myra was a saint in the Roman Catholic Church until 1969 when he
suffered the fate of many other myths.
Sinterklaas - the precursor of Santa Claus
Sinterklaas, or Saint Nicolas, is a typical Dutch folklore, celebrated in
the Netherlands and partly in Belgium.
The celebration of Sinterklaas is always on the evening, after sunset of 5
December in the Netherlands and 6 December in Belgium.
In the celebration of the evening and night, the children are assembled
around the chimney, singing songs to Sinterklaas:
"Heerlijk avondje is gekomen. Kom maar binnen met je knecht".
"The nice (or lordlike) evening has come. Come in with your servant".
His servant, Black Peter, is black. He is always portrayed as a Negro with
thick lips and earrings and clothed in funny clothes. This probably stems
from the Demeter/Melchior nexus and later associated with good and evil
being embodied in the legend of Woden and Nöwi.
Sinterklaas himself is as a bishop with mitre and a book with the good deeds
and sins. He has the staff of a shepherd and rides on a white horse over the
roof tops. Black Peter listens at the chimneys to determine whether the
children are singing the right songs and presenting the right offerings to
the horse in the form of hay and carrots.
The presents for the children are put through the chimney.
Sinterklaas is a syncretic product of the old Germanic or Teutonic religion.
The Germanic roots can be explained as follows:
The god Woden (also known as Odin), who is still remembered by the use of
Wednesday, was the most important god of the old Germanic tribes (not the
small group of people we understand as Germans today). Woden, who is a
figure of history, was made into the personification of the multitude of
earlier gods - the gods of wind and war, the god of the dead, the god of
fertility, the god of wisdom and the Sun god. We will find him in
mythological legends "riding through the air on his faithful white horse,
clothed in a flowing robe." Further, he is described as a figure with a long
white beard, and with a big hat on his head. Because he was also held to be
the god of wisdom, he had a book in his hand written in rune letters, and he
carried a great spear.
In these stories Woden was accompanied by the giant Nöwi, who had a black
countenance because he was the father of the night. He was, according to
legend, well versed in making rhymes and poems. He carried in his hand, as a
sign of fertility, a bunch of twigs.
From these aspects - the white horse, the wide robe, the big hat, the book,
the spear, and the black Nöwi, with a bunch of twigs, and the poems or
poetic traditions - we have so many parallels with our today's Sinterklaas
and Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) that is beyond mere coincidence. We see here,
also, the parallels with Demeter and the three wise kings one of whom was
also the black Melchior.
If we now add to this the traditional customs, we will complete the picture.
The old Germanic tribes or Teutons always left, after the harvest, a sheaf
on the land for the white horse of Woden. The children offered, during the
Sinterklaas time, hay in their shoes at the chimney (stockings at the
chimney at Christmas) for his horse.
We see here the same traditions as found among the Celts of burning the
twelve fires and the thirteenth major fire of the straw. We also see the
black faces of the Mother goddess system. We can deduce a much earlier
origin than that attributed to Woden. This is part of the early cults of
fertility related to Apollo as Sun god and master of the Mystery religions
among the states of the Danube and into the Hyperborean Celts. He was drawn
across the sky in a chariot and often this was pictured being drawn not just
by horses but by geese or swans. The similarity of these feasts was with the
old ceremonies of the Saturnalia which was traditionally prior to Christmas.
In the Netherlands, we see a much earlier date than is normal now. It was
some thirty days before the Epiphany. It was, however, not thirty days
before the solstice as we saw in the Saturnalia examples above. We see the
same tradition but removed so that the thirty days of the Lord of Misrule as
the god Saturn and Apollo relate to the Epiphany rather than the end of the
Today's tradition in the Netherlands is to give letters of chocolate or
almond pastry. The connection with the ancient runes seems very obvious. The
German Wotan feast was a mixture of sacrifice and fertility festivals during
and around the midwinter feasts. The lads and lassies of the Germanic tribes
prayed in those early times for a partner. The presents from Sinterklaas
were also in the form of lovers made from speculatius or other cakes. Also,
presents were of animals in the form of sugar mice and pigs, to substitute
for the real animal sacrifices.
Sinterklaas is also the patron of the city of Amsterdam and the seamen who
sail from her ports.
The apparel of Sinterklaas is Roman Catholic. It was little wonder that, in
the sixteenth century, the Reformation tried to stamp out these customs. It
was not entirely successful in the Netherlands. Sinterklaas came to life
again after an absence of some centuries (or being underground) in
Protestant Netherlands in the first half of the twentieth century.
Sinterklaas disappeared in England and Germany and went underground. Many of
the traditions simply were moved to 25 December and completed with the
Christmas tree and Santa Claus. The acceptance of the 'rebirth' of
Sinterklaas in Protestant Netherlands was sooner and earlier than the
acceptance of the Christmas tree. Today, commercialism has to fight to get
Santa Claus accepted in the Netherlands, as many are against this imposter
of Sinterklaas, even though its rebirth in the Netherlands was because of
what was done in the USA.
Santa Claus in the USA
When migrants went to the United Sates, they brought with them the Yule
traditions from Europe and particularly the three elements which went to
make up the Santa Claus myth.
The Dutch contributed the Sinterklaas myth which was adapted from its
traditional place. The Pere Noel tradition of the red robes was also
contributed from Europe. The Germans brought with them the Christ Bundle
tradition and termed it Christkindl or Christ Child tradition. The name Kris
Kringle developed from this term.
Washington Irving in the Knickerbocker Tales (c. 1820) discusses the elf
Santa Claus who presents the stocking as did St Nicholas.
Clement Clark Moore introduced many new elements in his poem A Visit from
Saint Nicholas which was renamed 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. He
introduced new elements such as eight reindeer including the traditional
representation we see regarding thunder and lightning as the gods of the
Yule festival in the form of Donner (Donder) and Blitzen.
Santa Claus was still an elf of the Yule tradition however until the
American Civil War when Thomas Nast of Harpers Weekly was commissioned to do
a series of Santa Claus cartoons. He continued this after the Civil War and
the publishing company McLaughlin Brothers Printing Company experimented
with the colour of Santa's leather and decided on red.
The final change was made in 1931. The Scandinavian Haddon Sundblom was
hired by Coca Cola to paint Santa Claus. On the death of his model, he
fashioned Santa Claus on his own face. This continued for twenty-five years.
In 1941, the song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was written. It was
recorded by the cowboy singer Gene Autry.
The Coca Cola model and colours and the American myths surrounding the
figure are now the final product of at least 3,000 years of pagan idolatry
wrapped in the crass commercialism that first emanated from the merchants of
the Roman Saturnalia and which was perfected in the USA.
There is nothing Christian about so-called Christmas and, indeed, it is so
steeped in false religious superstition that it is a direct breach of
biblical law. No Christian can observe it and remain a Christian.