The Celtic Legend of the everlasting cyclical battles between the Oak King and the Holly King is the basis for one of the main tenets of Modern Day Celtic paganism, which in the UK, is primarily represented by the Druidic and Wiccan orders. The Oak King represents the god of Summer and the Light and is closely associated with the rising Sun and the full Sun; The Holly King is the god of winter and Darkness, and is closely associated with the setting Sun and its subsequent death and rebirth.
They fight each other twice a year for the right to become the Consort of the Goddess, Gaia, our mother Earth. The loser licks his wounds and prepares for the next battle.
The dual male to female relationship is often depicted by 3 visible phases of the Sun, the rising Sun(boyhood), the full Sun(Manhood), and the setting Sun(old man). This triple-glyph also represents for Wiccans, the same stages represented by the lunar cycle – Waxing moon(Maidenhood). Full moon(Womanhood) and waning moon(the old crone). The 4th stage when the Deity is not visible is associated with night-time(solar) and the new moon(lunar) and both are associated with death and rebirth. Eclipses, which occur with predictable regularity for the moon and are less frequent for the Sun are both considered magical and associated with increased energies.
There are two schools of thought about when the battles take place. Some believe they occur on the Solstices, when one King is at his strongest and the other at his weakest, while others believe the battles take place on the Spring and Autumn equinoxes. This seems to fit better with the realities of the agricultural year and of folkloric understanding.
On the Spring Equinox, both Kings are equal in strength, but the Oak King’s power is increasing as the Holly King’s power is on the wane, and so the Oak King wins the battle.
On the Autumn equinox, the reverse holds true and the Holly King achieves the ascendancy.
Having won the battle, the winner hopefully impregnates Gaia and the result of their union is born on or shortly after the succeeding Solstice. So the Oak King wins the battle on Spring Equinox, known as Ostara to pagans, and may impregnate Gaia immediately, and their son is born around Yule, the midwinter Solstice. If the impregnation doesn’t happen on the first attempt, he has 2 more chances – on Beltane, May 1, which is regarded as the 1st day of summer, and Litha, the Summer Solstice. The result of their union will be born on or shortly after Yule, the midwinter Solstice.
Conversely, the Holly King may impregnate Gaia on the Autumn Equinox and has 2 further chances – on Halloween(Samhein) and the midwinter Solstice(Yule). Their son will be born on or shortly after Litha, the Summer Solstice.
The remaining 2 Sabbats, Lughnasadh or Lammastide and Imbolc or Candlemas, represent the embryonic stage, where Imbolc in early February is associated with the first signs of spring, while Lughnasadh at the start of August is associated with the first signs of Autumn.
And so the battle continues endlessly, with the sons of the Oak and Holly Kings taking their father’s places as the Wheel of the Year keeps turning inexorably.
This is why the Solstices are considered the 2 most important dates in the pagan Calendar.
On summer solstice, the Oak King is at the height of his powers and has his last chance to impregnate Gaia, notwithstanding the fact that she has just given birth to the Holly King’s son.
So if on Midsummer Morning, you go to Avebury Stone Circle or Stonehenge, or any other of the Stone circles or Tors dotted around the UK, and considered sacred sites by Pagans, don’t be too surprised to see men dressed in green. All male pagans consider themselves to be Green men and the sons of one of the Kings. I myself am a son of the the Oak King, and was born in January. My relationship with the Roman god Janus is a whole other story………
And if you’re in a relationship with a Green man, expect a night of passionate lovemaking on Midsummer night 🙂
Roy Harper: The Green Man
Jethro Tull: Songs from the Wood
David Gilmour: Fat Old Sun
More Green man pics here: