Throughout Celtic and Pagan traditions, there is the enduring legend
of the battle between the Oak King and the Holly King. These two
mighty rulers fight for supremacy as the Wheel of the Year turns each
season. At the Fall Equinox, the Holly King conquers the Oak King, and
then reigns until Spring Equinox, making him reign over our dark half
of the year and Yule. Once the Spring Equinox arrives, the Oak King
returns to do battle with the Holly King, and defeats him, presiding
over our light half of the year and Midsummer.
In some traditions, the Oak King and the Holly King are seen as dual
aspects of the Horned God. Each of these twin aspects rules for half
the year, battles for the favor of the Goddess, and then retires to
nurse his wounds for the next six months, until it is time for him to
reign once more.
The Oak King is often portrayed by lush Ivy, and the Holly King by, well, Holly.
Green groweth the holly, so doth the ivy.
Though winter blasts blow never so high, green groweth the holly.
As the holly groweth green and never changeth hue,
So I am, ever hath been, unto my lady true.
As the holly groweth green with ivy all alone
When flowers cannot be seen and greenwood leaves be gone
-King Henry VIII
Often, these two entities are portrayed in familiar ways— the Holly
King frequently appears as a woodsy version of Santa Claus. He dresses
in red, wears a sprig of holly in his tangled hair, and is sometimes
depicted driving a team of eight stags. The Oak King is portrayed as a
fertility god, and occasionally appears as the Green Man or other lord
of the forest.
In the time of the Holly King, we go inward and reflect, and the time
of the Oak King we go outward and grow under the rays of the sun. In
this dark season, take this time to reflect on your journey, your
growth, struggles, dreams. Journal, move in peace and slowly, take
time for yourself. The Oak King will be coming to help put all this
into action come spring!