Sunna Ritual for Yule
by Raven Kaldera
This is a Neo-Pagan rite that has been adapted for the Northern Tradition, honoring the Wheel of the Year, to be performed at Yule when the Sun is at its lowest point.
We made a Sun Wheel by lashing pieces of wood to a yard-wide metal hoop bought in a craft store, so as to form an eight-spoked wheel, and we covered the unsightly metal by wrapping it with colored yarn. More yarn was tied to the ends of the spokes and knotted together, about four feet up from the center of the wheel. A flat candle holder was affixed to the center. The first time that we did the rite that this one is based on, the wheel acquired its eight sacred dangly objects. After that, we would bind (with more colored yarn) evergreen boughs onto it.
We always lit a short fat red candle in the center, where the strings were farthest away, but sometimes we put candles on the edges as well. When it was covered in fresh evergreens, we would cut oranges in half and hollow out the inside (throwing the orange bits into the Yule punch), and nestle the half-orange-peel cups in among the boughs holding votive candles. We never had a problem with the candles burning the fresh greenery or the wettish orange peels (if carefully arranged and watched), but if you try this, be very careful that no candle flames are near enough to the supporting strings to burn through them, or the whole thing will come down in a flaming mess.
This rite uses at least nine people, so it’s a good one for an inside ritual where you’ve got a lot of folks who want to participate. Each person was dressed in the appropriate colors. Our sun symbol was trashpicked, someone’s thrown-away art project, a base with a big gilded metal spiral and a candle holder on top. One could just as easily be made from a toy horse and cart and a wooden disk, all sprayed gold.
(Eight people gather around the sun wheel, decorated and hanging from the ceiling. The ninth—the Sunna officiant—is clothed in colors of glittering flame and carries the sun symbol. The Sunna officiant lights the candle in the center of the sun wheel and says:)
Hail to the Sun who walks the way
Of dusty dawn, of golden glow,
Of glint of growing, turning Day.
Hail to the cycle and the flow.
Welcome to our hearth and home and tribe.
This is the darkest day of the year, the longest night, when the Sun is swallowed up and dies. In ancient times, the Sun was brought back to life with fire and light on the Solstice.
Let us imagine, now, those dark and ancient times. Go back six thousand years to a cold place. You are clad in clothing of rough wool and fur, and you speak a language unlike ours, yet with some words that will someday be passed on to us. Your people have lived in this cold place for so long that you remember the glaciers melting, the Ice Age receding. It is part of your creation myths.
Imagine that you are standing in a clearing in the woods, the scent of pine all around you, just before dawn. It is freezing cold, and for days uncounted you have huddled inside next to a fire, with the sky too dark to work or even to see outside. Yet on this morning your eyes are fixed on a single standing stone, or perhaps a pole driven into the earth, which will prove the rebirth of the Sun which gives all life.
Imagine that you watch the Sun rise, seeing it come up in its appointed place as it always does, and a hush of wonder falls over your tribe, crowded around you. It is the promise of the new year, the promise that the days will get longer, and eventually warmer, and the spring will come. You rejoice. You cheer. You weep with joy. You beat on drums and shout. You call this day Yeohwla, which means simply, the Winter Solstice.
Someday strangers will come, driving wagons, great numbers of them. They will settle next to you, and intermarry with you, and teach of things like wheels and horses, and you will give them the words “wife”, and “child”, and teach them the mysteries of “Yeohwla”, which their descendants—and yours—will pass on as Yule. You will teach the mysteries of Hope and Rebirth, of fire and light that resurrects the year. And they will stand in that cold place and learn to praise the coming of the Sun, and so will their children=s children. And so do we.
Take flame now, flame from the wheel of the Sun, and carry it close to you, for fire is precious. It means warmth and light and cooked food. Be careful with it, neither letting it spread nor go out. Each of you light a candle and hold it close.
(Everyone comes forth with small candles and lights them from the wheel’s flame. The Sunna officiant lights the Sun symbol. Then the first of the eight callers steps forth, dressed all in white and gold. The Sunna officiant moves to stand behind them, and holds up the Sun symbol so that it can be seen above their head.)
First Caller: Hail to the sleeping Sun Maiden who awakes!
Hail to her first steps, like one newborn,
As she feels the change, the shift,
The turn from downward to upward!
On this the shortest day of all,
Odin leads the Wild Hunt in shrieking furor,
Bonfires burn and voices are upraised in song,
And Sunna blinks her sky-bright eyes
And blesses us on the frosty Yule morning.
(The first caller ties a straw pinecone to the end of one wheel spoke. The second caller steps forward, dressed all in red and gold.)
Second Caller: Hail to the Sun over the snowfields!
Hail to her light over the frozen land
As the lambs are born and the ewe’s milk flows.
Frau Holle shakes the snow from her pillows
Like clouds of feathers in the sky,
We hail the Disir of our ancestors,
The women who survived to watch in wisdom,
And Sunna lights the darkened sky
And blesses us on this frozen Oimelc morning.
(The second caller ties a snowflake to the end of one wheel spoke. The third caller steps forward, dressed all in blue and gold.)
Third Caller: Hail to the Sun in the time of Spring!
Dawn’s own moment, the in-breath of perfect air,
The time of wind and rain, fierce storms
And freshest of wet mornings. Hail Ostara
As she dances through the greening fields, hail Freya
With flowers blooming in her footsteps.
Hail Thor who brings the rain and washes clean,
And Sunna lights the equinox sky
And blesses us on this wet Ostara morning.
(The third caller ties a colored egg to the end of one wheel spoke. The fourth caller steps forward, dressed all in green and gold.)
Fourth Caller: Hail to the Sun in the time of Greening!
The trees spread their leaves, the flowers bloom,
The pole rises to touch the sky!
For deep in the darkness Odin the Wanderer
Who hung three nights in the embrace of the Tree
Has won the runes and broken free, and we rejoice!
Walburga walks the woods, the Hunt can never catch her,
And Sunna lights the green-leaved sky
And blesses us on this fair Walpurgisnacht morning.
(The fourth caller ties a bunch of colored ribbons to the end of one wheel spoke. The fifth caller steps forward, dressed all in yellow and gold.)
Fifth Caller: Hail to the Sun on her most perfect day!
We are torn between great joy and great sorrow
For the Sun is golden overhead, and abundant are the fruits
Of the earth, and yet Baldur’s blood soaks
Into that earth as well. It is the first sudden funeral
Of the year, and we dance for sorrow and for joy.
The first golden king walks the Hel Road,
And Sunna reigns over the tear-blue sky
And blesses us on this bright Litha morning.
(The fifth caller ties a tiny golden sun to the end of one wheel spoke. The sixth caller steps forward, dressed all in amber and gold.)
Sixth Caller: Hail to the Sun over the fields of grain!
On this day Frey, the second golden king,
Walks willingly to his doom. As the sickle cuts,
As the grain falls, as the harvest is begun,
The people are fed, and the Sun’s bounty is collected.
Hail to Frey and his willing sacrifice, no sudden thing
But measured, open, gentle-handed like Death
And Sunna lights the summer sky
And blesses us on this golden Lammas morning.
(The sixth caller ties a tiny wheatsheaf to the end of one wheel spoke. The seventh caller steps forward, dressed all in orange and gold.)
Seventh Caller: Hail to the Sun over the Harvest Fair!
We have worked and toiled on Jord’s fertile breast
And we reap the abundance that we deserve, or at least
That we have been lucky enough to get this year.
Hail to the scythe, the winnowing basket, the honey in the hive,
The grain and beer, the milk that flows and the flesh
That is sacrificed that we might live and thrive,
And Sunna lights the autumn sky
And blesses us on this cool Harvest morning.
(The seventh caller ties a straw horn to the end of one wheel spoke. The eighth caller steps forward, dressed all in black and gold.)
Eighth Caller: Hail to the Sun on Winter’s Gate!
The leaves fall like a carpet before Sunna’s fading path
And the barrows of the Ancestors call us, looming
Like dark shadows through the bare black trees.
Darkness is setting in, but we do not fear,
For all things turn again unto the light, as Sunna
Herself has taught us, in her dancing round of the year.
And Sunna lights the clouded sky
And blesses us this Winternight morning.
(The eighth caller ties a skull to the end of one wheel spoke. The Sunna officiant steps forth.)
Sunna officiant: Hail to the Ancestors who lived that we might live,
Who watched the Sun’s round and praised her mightily.
Hail Sunna! Bless us all with your bright gaze
And bring the light of contentment
With all things that flux and change
And yet always come around
Into our questing hearts.
All: Hail Sunna!
(A horn of mead is passed, and folk speak of some great difficulty that troubled them, but that they have now come to terms with, and how they came to understanding on a day-to-day basis. This is the sort of thing which Sunna excels at—aiding those who would learn how to cope daily with something hard that will not pass, and teaching them never to let it dim their light. The candles are not put out until everyone has left the room, unless they become a fire hazard.)