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Yasmine Galenorn






The Oak King-Holly King Ritual

by Yasmine Galenorn  2001


During Litha, there seem to be two main focuses-one is the Midsummer Faerie aspect, which I explored in a ritual sometime back.  Here is another focus-the Oak King/Holly King duality.  Here we have the changeover from Waxing Year to Waning Year and so I devised a ritual which celebrates both the ascendancy of the Holly King and the death of the Oak King.  This ritual is from my book, Dancing With The Sun-you may not reprint it without permission.

This ritual, taking place at sunrise on the Summer Solstice, requires some advance planning and practice, but is a striking ritual to perform. 

One man will represent the Holly King and one man the Oak King.  If they are married, their wives will represent the Oak and Holly wives, if not--then choose other women from your group for these parts.

One woman will represent the Goddess Arianrhod.

The Priestess leads the ritual.

The rest of the participants join in when they are called to do so.

Lay a bonfire ready for the torch.

A little before sunrise, the Oak and Holly Wives go through the woods or around the ritual space, one with a small gong, the other with a drum, and call everyone to the ritual. 

The Oak Wife should be dressed in full summer regalia, with a wreath of red roses around her head.  The Holly wife should wear a traditional winter dress and a wreath of white roses.  The Priestess wears black with gold accents and a simple gold head circlet.

As everyone files into the circle, the Priestess hands them a small oak branch tied with a red ribbon. 


(The circle is triple cast by the Oak Wife, the Holly Wife and the Priestess)


OW:  I cast this circle in the name of the Oak King, Lord of the Summer, may His fiery breath surround and protect us.

HW: I cast this circle in the name of the Holly King, Lord of the Winter, may His icy breath surround and protect us.

PST: I cast this circle in the name of Arianrhod, Goddess of the Silver Wheel, may She balance all elements and bind the light and the dark.


(When the circle is cast, the Oak and Holly Wives move to the side and the Priestess stands in the center of the circle)


PST: We gather to witness the zenith of the Oak King even as He relinquishes His throne and gives way to the Waning Year.  We celebrate His life and His death, and call upon the Goddess Arianrhod to balance the brilliance and the shadow.

OW: (Turns to the South)  I call you, element of Fire, you who are the Summer Sun and the mighty Oak!  I call you, element of vitality and growth.  Power of life, light, abundance and action, come to our circle and join our rites!  Blessed Be.

HW (Turns to the North)  I call you, element of Ice, you who are the Winter Moon and the stalwart Holly!  I call you, element of restraint and barren lands.  Power of death, shadow, sagacity and thought, come to our circle and join our rites!  Blessed Be.

PST: (Turns to the East) I call you, element of Balance,  you who are the Silver Wheel upon which turns the cycle of the Year!  On but four days do you touch the world, two days of balance and two days when the elements wage war for that balance.  On this,  Midsummer, when Light spreads across the land, when Shadow rises to do battle in their age-old conflict, come to our circle and join our rites.  Blessed Be.


(After a moment of silence, the Oak Wife raises her hands to the South) 


OW: Oak King, Lord of the Greenwood, come to this circle to meet Your challenge, You who shine Your light throughout our lands and bring life to the Lady's forests and fields!  Come, my husband of Summer, be with us now.

(The Oak King enters the circle from the South.  He wears a crown of Oak and Ivy, and his clothing is of green and gold.  He carries a staff adorned with gold accents.  He enters the circle and stands by the Oak Wife.  The Holly Wife raises her hands to the North)

HW: Holly King, Lord of the Winterwood, come to this circle to give Your challenge, You who glaze the lands with ice as the Lady's forests and fields slumber under Your kiss.  Come, my husband of Winter, be with us now.


(The Holly King enters the circle from the North.  His clothing is of green and silver.  He carries an identical staff to the Oak King, except the accents are silver.  He enters the circle and stands by the Holly Wife.  The Priestess raises her hands to the East)


PST: Arianrhod, Goddess of the Silver Wheel, come to this circle to keep the balance, You who dwell in Caer Arianrhod as You watch over the world.  Come, Lady of the ever-turning Wheel, be with us now.

(Arianrhod enters the circle from the East.  She wears a black dress and is cloaked in a black veil, with accents of silver.  The Oak and Holly Wives and the Priestess retreat to the edge of the circle.  Arianrhod stands at the Eastern Quarter, watching)

HK: I raise my staff in challenge, Lord of the Oak!  I claim the right to ascend the throne.  Will you meet me in battle?

OK: I raise my staff in answer to Your challenge, Lord of the Holly.  I fight to keep the throne!


(The Oak King and Holly King engage in a pre-choreographed battle.  After a few moments, the Holly King lands the decisive blow and the Oak King drops to the ground.  The Holly King picks up the Oak King's crown and hangs it on his belt.  He then parades victorious around the circle, bellowing out his triumph)


HK: I have slain my brother!  For six months I will rule over the Waning Year.  The Holly is King of the Forest once again!


(Arianrhod kneels by the Oak King and drapes a sheer black veil over his head and shoulders.  He stands and she leads him towards the West.  Before they leave the circle Arianrhod turns to the Holly King)


AR: You have won the battle, King of Holly.  But remember that you have only gained your kingdom for half-a-year. Your brother will be born again on Midwinter and there he will challenge you and you will lose your crown once more.


(The Oak King turns to the Holly King, still veiled)


OK: I have relinquished my throne for now; but Yule will come again and there I will challenge you on the field. Until that day I dwell in Caer Arianrhod, the castle of the ever-turning Silver Wheel.


(As Arianrhod leads the Oak King west, out of the circle, the Oak Wife starts to mourn and wail.  Everyone joins in)


OW: The Oak King sleeps in the arms of the Goddess!  Mourn my Lord, the King of the Waxing Year!


(As Arianrhod and the Oak King disappear from sight, the Holly Wife begins to cheer for the Holly King.  Everyone joins in as he parades around the Circle)


HW: The Holly King lives again!  Hail the Lord of the Waning Year!


(The Oak Wife lights the bonfire) 


HK: Be not saddened, for though my season is barren and sometimes harsh, it is a beautiful time.  Frost kisses the fields with delicate lace, trees color the forest with their flame-dipped leaves, snowflakes drift down to gently blanket the fields that they might sleep and rest after the season of growth.  Icy is my grip, and chill my breath, but we shall also rejoice in our Yule celebrations and I will welcome my brother's rebirth, even as I prepare for battle. 


(He holds up the Oak King's crown)


HK: The King is dead!  (throws crown into fire)


(The Holly Wife presents the Holly King with a crown of holly and He takes it and places it on His head)


OW: Long live the King!


(a drummer starts a simple, consistent single-beat.  The Oak Wife kneels at the Holly King's feet)


OW: You have vanquished my Lord of the Oak, thus the balance is maintained.  I recognize your reign over the Waning Half of the Year.  As proof of your power, I cast my token of summer into the fire and accept the coming seasons for what the Goddess means them to be.


(She tosses her oak branch in the bonfire, then the Holly King gives her a holly branch tied with a green ribbon for protection during the coming months.  The Holly Wife follows suit, then the Priestess, who leads the rest of the circle in a line.  Arianrhod and the Oak King slip in at the end of the line, just before the drummer, and toss their branches in the fire as their turns come.  When everyone has tossed their oak in the fire then the Oak King, still veiled joins the Holly King in the center of the circle, with Arianrhod between them)


PST: So the balance is struck.  Light for dark and dark for light.  Fire and ice.  Summer into Winter.  As it has always been in our lands, it shall always be.  The Oak fades as the Holly rises.  Midwinter they shall exchange places and the cycle begin anew.  So Mote It Be.


(Together, the Oak and Holly Wives sweep the circle open with their brooms, and the Holly King, Oak King and Arianrhod lead the way out)


After the circle is empty, the Oak and Holly Kings and Wives, Arianrhod and the Priestess should gather and take a few minutes to formally devoke any lingering energies that might tie them to their respective 'parts'.