In Celtic mythology, there is a dark Holly King, disguised as a wren, and his twin, the light Oak King, disguised as a robin.
Every year at the Winter and Summer Solstices, these two fight for dominance. In actuality, these brothers are two parts of the same thing, the waxing and waning of the yearly cycles of the Earth. The Holly King rules the waning year, from Midsummer to Yule, and the Oak King rules the waxing year from Yule to Midsummer. The Holly King represents darkness, decay and destruction, however, also represents inner knowledge and mysteries. The Oak King, on the other hand, represents light, growth and expansion. These two mighty kings fight a symbolic battle to win the Crown of the year, at Yule when the Oak King wins, and at Midsummer when the Holly King wins.
To the early Celts, trees, especially the Oak tree were considered sacred. Oak trees are deciduous, meaning that they go into a dormant state during the winter months. English Christmas Holly trees are evergreen, and maintain their foliage year round. As the cold weather approached and the Oak trees lost their foliage, the Holly trees, which had been hidden amid the leafy Oaks now stood out in their full beauty in the barren landscape. At Midwinter, it seemed that the Holly King had won and his brother, the mighty Oak King now stood naked in defeat. But, the Holly King did not really win the battle, because as the Sun begins to return once again, The Oak King rallies, and begins to re-establish his supremacy, even though it won’t be until Midsummer when the Oaks will once again be in full foliage. The battle continues at Midsummer and the Oak King appears to win, overshadowing and pushing his opponent out of sight, but once again appearances are deceptive as the Sun begins to leave once more and the Holly King rallies and begins to make his full appearance once more. Interestingly enough it is at the time when each King is in his full strength and splendor that he is defeated by his opponent. Despite being enemies, without one, the other would no longer exist.
Image: © Anne Stokes