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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Rhymes with Blithe

Midwinter is to Midsummer as Yule is to —?

If you answered Litha,'re mostly right.

Midwinter and Midsummer are ancient. Cognate names survive in every living Germanic language, so they must have been known back in Common Germanic times, more than 2500 years ago.

Both holidays have by-names as well. The Hwicce—the Anglo-Saxon tribe ancestral (some say) to today's witches—also knew Midwinter as Géol and Midsummer as Líða.

Down the centuries Géol morphed into Yule. Líða didn't survive the passage of time, but during the 80s pagans rediscovered the word and gave it a new lease on life.

It's unclear what either word originally meant. Some have suggested that “Yule” may be kin either to gel—because it marks the coming of winter—or to yell, because “crying Yule” is a fine old midwinter's custom. In northern England, after Christmas services, people used to join hands and dance through the church shouting “Yule! Yule! Yule!”

I'll bet the vicar just loved that.

According to 7th century historian Bede of Jarrow, Líða (writing in Latin, he says “Lida”), “means 'gentle' or 'navigable'” because at this time of year “the calm breezes are gentle, and they were wont to sail upon the smooth sea” (Shaw 49).

Clearly this is just a guess, and Bede has no better idea of the word's origin than we do. No matter.

If Líða had survived into modern English, as Yule did, we would today name the holiday Lithe, as the hobbits did. (The Lithedays—there are thirteen of them, just like Yule, starting on Mid-year's Day—were their major holiday of the year) (Tolkien 478).

As for me, I don't see any reason why we shouldn't go crying Lithe today just like we used to. In the Baltics they still do. The refrain for many Latvian Yule carols is commonly Kalado, Kalado! (“Yule, Yule”); it's Ligo, Ligo! (“Lithe, Lithe”) at Midsummer.

Here's a gale (chant)—supposedly an Ulster kids' street rhyme—that we've used at Yule for years. No reason why it shouldn't do service for the Light Twin as well as the Dark.

After all, what's good for the witch is good for the warlock.

There's no particular tune. Just join hands and dance in a circle, galing (chanting) in your best children's sing-song:

Lithe, Lithe, the Wheel swings round:

the year swings round from Lithe to Lithe.

Swing on the Year, swing on the Sun,

swing the year round from Lithe to Lithe.


Philip A. Shaw, Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World: Eostre, Hreda, and the cult of Matrons (2011). Bristol Classical Press.

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King (1965). Ballantine.












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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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