For my second round of Yule study, I decided I’d research the symbols of the Yule Goat, Yule Boar, Mistletoe and the lore/traditions behind each of them.
The Yule Goat is a symbol that is believed to have originated in Germanic Paganism/pre-Christian times and remains popular today particularly in Scandinavia/Northern Europe as both a Yule and Christmas tradition. Usually the Yule Goat is displayed as a decoration in the home or as an ornament on the tree and commonly made from straw wrapped in red ribbon. The Yule Goat is believed to be a symbol of worship to the Norse God Thor, who had two goats of his own, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr, which pulled his chariot.
“Yule Goat” (or Julbocken) is also the term for the last sheaf of grain that is bundled from the harvest, which was believed to have magical properties and would be used in Yule festivities. The Yule goat has been used and viewed in different ways throughout the centuries, for the most part, he seems to have been clumped in with Christmas gift giving (either giving them himself or demanding them from humans) and has been tied to Saint Nicholas in different interpretations. A funny thing I read was that the Yule Goat would be used as a holiday prank in Scandinavia. The prank is that a family would make a Yule Goat and attempt to hide it in their neighbor’s house without them noticing and if the prank succeeded then the neighbors would have to get rid of the Yule Goat in the same fashion.
The Yule Boar (or sonargǫltr) is the boar that is sacrificed for Yule. It began in Germanic Paganism (just as the Yule Goat) and was a big part of the Yule celebration. The boar’s bristles were believed to be sacred and people would swear oaths on the bristles of the boar before it was sacrificed. The use of the boar is believed to honor Freyr, who had a boar mount with golden bristles, named Gullinbursti. Other representations of the Yule Boar in later times were pig shaped cakes for Christmas and boar’s head served in large banquets.
Mistletoe has a couple of different Pagan connections to the season from what I could find. One is with Celtic Druids in 1st Century A.D. as they viewed the plant as a sacred symbol for vitality since the plant flourished through the winter (and that the berries of the mistletoe represented the sperm of the gods…kinky). It was used as a remedy for different ailments, such as infertility, and as an aphrodisiac. Of course, we know now that mistletoe is quite toxic and shouldn’t be ingested, but you live and you learn…when you survive, that is.
The more popular lore comes from Norse mythology. The legend goes: Frigg, the Goddess of Love, found out that her son, Baldr, was fated to die, so she went around the world to all of the plants, animals, rocks, etc and made them swear oaths to never bring him harm. From this, Baldr became invincible and would sometimes allow himself to be used as target practice for the other Gods. However, she overlooked the mistletoe in her journey, and when the mischievous God, Loki, realized this he fashioned an arrow using mistletoe and killed Baldr by having Baldr’s brother, Hod, shoot the arrow at him as though it was for practice, so that the blame would be placed squarely on Hod’s shoulders. Frigg was so heartbroken over her son’s death that her tears became the berries on the mistletoe and, rather than seek vengeance, she made it so that the mistletoe would forever be a symbol of love and peace.
I really enjoy this research. It’s been so much fun looking this stuff up and reading the different legends, interpretations, and evolutions of these symbols and traditions over time. There are still a plenty other traditions to learn about, of course, but I think these three are enough for this entry. Hopefully the information is useful, informative, and fairly accurate. I tried to keep my searches to more factual based sites rather than personal beliefs. Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend!