Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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A Matter of Magic, or: When Is a Yule Log Not a Yule Log?

When is a Yule log not a Yule log?

When it's split, that's when.

The Yule log is probably the most ancient symbol of Yule. It's a cross-cut section of tree-trunk that goes onto the hearth on Midwinter's Eve, large enough to burn through the year's longest night, from Sundown to (hopefully) Sunrise.

(In these hearthless days, the Yule Log often reincarnates as a mere domestic decoration, a “log” only by courtesy, adorned with candles and faux greenery. Well, a symbol of a symbol is better than nothing, I suppose. Still, it seems a sorry fate for the former lord of the feast, ancient and massive.)

The symbolism you can figure out for yourself. (If you can't, there's always Wiccapedia.) Since most American homes lack hearths these days, here's the thing to remember: that the Yule log is precisely a log is what makes it what it is.

In the course of everyday life, you don't burn logs on the hearth. A whole—unsplit—log doesn't burn well. Since it has no sharp edges, it doesn't light readily, and when it does finally catch, it burns slowly and—frankly—doesn't give off much heat. Also, unsplit logs are big, heavy, and impractical to schlep. For day-to-day use, you split your logs into firewood.

That it's unsplit is what makes the Yule log unique. On all other nights, we feed the Fire with split wood. Why, tonight, do we burn a log whole instead?

The reason? It's ultimately (surprise) a matter of magic.

Once you split the log, you've broken the circle.





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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


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