The Oak King and the Holly King
For many, the Wheel of the Year celebrates significant seasonal and weather changes, but the origins of the Wheel of the Year holds a different story. According to its Celtic roots, the Wheel of the Year detailed the relationship between twin brothers, the Oak King and the Holly King.
The Oak King and the Holly King represent a version of the Horned God, so they are always in a battle over who should have supreme power. Some celebrations on the Wheel of the Year detail fights where a brother takes power and control away from the other. Their constant fights are so powerful they can change the seasons and weather to fit their needs. They are both powerful beings that deserve respect, so it is up to us witches to appease them after each fight. One of their most essential battles occurs during Litha. But before we go over how important they are to Litha, we will go over who each brother is and how their role looks like throughout the year.
Who is the Oak King?
The Oak King, the Lord of Greenwood, is the golden twin of the waxing year, and rules from Midwinter to Midsummer. He is the light side of the Horned God legend as he oversees bringing the Sun to the day and keeping life prosperous and abundant during his reign. He is named for the decoratively shaped leaves of Oak that represent the height of summer. Here is a list of his correspondences.
• Green Man
• King Arthur
Who is the Holly King?
The Holly King is the twin brother of the Oak King and represents the dark half of the Horned God legend. He is Lord of Winterwood, the darker side of the waning year, and rules from Midsummer to Midwinter. When the Holly King takes control, he is in charge of bringing longer nights, colder days, and stops harvests and growth. He is named for the evergreen tree whose bright green leaves and red berries symbolize a welcoming image of winter. While what he does may seem dark, it is necessary to give the Earth a couple of months of rest and bring us together by spending more time together during the nights where it is too dark or cold to go outside.
Here is a list of the Holly King's correspondences.
• Father Ice
• Corn King
• Green Knight
• Santa Claus
• St. John
The Brother's Constant Battles
The battle between these Solar Twins is their competition against each other for the favor and love of the Earth Goddess. They are sacrificial gods, which means that they are killed and revived, as is seen fit for their role. When each brother has their turn in being with the Earth Goddess, they serve as her child, consort, and lover. They are intimate, die in her arms, and are born from her in a never-ending cycle of the seasons. There are five major points in the Wheel of the Year-aside from Litha, but we will discuss Litha in detail later-that represent significant shifts in the change of power between the brothers. We will be briefly going over how each point is important to the brothers and us.
Ostara (Vernal Equinox)
It is a time of celebration during this Equinox, as it is when the brothers are in harmony. Neither tries to conquer the other as they have found a balance, at least for a limited time. But there is high energy between the two brothers that can easily cause one to turn on the other.
On this day, the Holly King is defeated by the Oak King. The darkness dies and gives way to the light to grow and flourish. Life energies are starting to return, as is growth, abundance, and fertility amongst people and crops.
Mabon (Autumn Equinox)
The Autumn Equinox is another point on the Wheel of the Year when both brothers are in harmony with each other. Neither is trying to overcome the other, but it is evident that the light is growing weaker, and the dark is getting stronger. The days are getting shorter, and the nights are getting longer as the shift of power naturally occurs between the brothers.
Samhain is known as the Final Harvest, for it is the day that the Oak King dies. The nights are now at their longest, and darkness can take its reign. During this time, many withdraw into solitude to avoid the trials of darkness and wait for the Sun to return.
Yule (Winter Solstice)
During the Winter Solstice, the Oak King is reborn, thus bringing the power of the Sun back. We celebrate the return of the Sun soon to come, but we also celebrate the Holly King's leading role. The Holly King represents transformation, so it is with his help we are able to make goals to shed our old ways and be born anew. We can consider this day a celebration of abundance thanks to the return of the Sun and of renewal due to the ambition for change.
Their Role in Litha
Litha is the Wiccan Sabbat that celebrates the Summer Solstice. It is the Solstice in the middle of the year that marks the longest day and the shortest night of the year. Litha is celebrated on a day between June 20-22, depending on the rotation of the Earth around the Sun. During Litha, both the Sun King and the Goddess are at their highest power. The Goddess is heavily pregnant carrying the Sun King's child, which in turn mirrors the abundance and lush growth occurring on Earth. The Goddess is protected and nurtured by the Sun King, who is the Oak King during this Solstice. Their mature love promotes abundance in crops and ensures that farmers will have the abundant harvest they have been striving for not just to feed their families, but to have plenty of harvest for the seasons where farming is hard or impossible to do. The Oak King is at the height of his power during Litha. He is responsible for bringing the Sun that grows and feeds the crops and to protect those he finds dear. But on the day of the Summer Solstice, a challenge to the Oak King is born. The Holly King is born again from the shadows and prepares to fight the Oak King for his power. While Litha marks the time of the longest light, it also marks a day of sadness for some. After Litha, the power of the Oak King will start to falter. He will get weaker and weaker as the days go on while the Holly King gains more power, and the nights grow longer.
Eventually, the Holly King conquers and smites the Oak King and takes his position for the remainder of the year. When the Holly King finally takes his place, the light half of the year has ended, and the colder days and longer nights have returned, thus marking the return of winter.
Without the switch of power from the brothers during Litha, we would remain with longer and sunnier days, which is unnatural, as good as it may sound. We need the winter months to allow the Earth a chance to rest and restore the nutrients that have been used during harvest time. It is sometimes sad to see the Oak King pass, but his passing allows the Holly King a chance to bring his power and influence over the Earth.
The Oak King and the Holly King are always going to battle over who has the right to watch and control the world order. They are never going to stop their battles, which is great because if they were to find some agreement, it could cause the seasons of the year to go out of whack. As witches, it is up to us to appease whoever has control during the season so that they are happy, are respected, and will continue to keep the season as it needs to be. Not just in Litha, but during any celebration on the Wheel of the Year, we need to honor either the Oak King or Holly King and be ready for the next one to take control. It doesn't take much to honor the Oak King or the Holly King to your established celebrations. The simplest thing you can do is leave them offerings and say a prayer of thanks. Of course, there are more significant forms of celebrations you can do for either brother, but you'll need to do a specific one for each season, so that may require some research. But so long as you appease either brother, the world should maintain its balance.
I hope you have enjoyed learning about the Oak and Holly Kings. Remember that your craft is your own and you can practice as you see fit.