Holly And Oak
Connecting the two solstices—Litha and Yule—is the axis of the solstices, which cuts diametrically across the Wheel of the Year, and the revolving movement around the Wheel’s circumference, which is expressed in the myth of the Oak King and the Holly King. The relationship of the solstices recalls Kierkegaard’s idea in The Sickness Unto Death of the relationship between possibility and necessity, with the abyss of despair at either pole, and human selfhood existing in the relationship between these polar complements.¹ In this way, the dance of the Oak and Holly Kings can be understood not just mythopoetically but also existentially. Each solstice is a return, a turning back at the edge of despair, to return back to the human equation of the relationship between possibility and constraint. The triumph isn’t of the Oak King over the Holly, or of the Holly King over the Oak, but the triumph of the integral, human self (as a relationship of limitation to possibility) over despair, either the despair of Winter’s bleak vision of limitation, or Summer’s expansive sense of possibility. The two six-month arcs of the Oak King’s reign and the Holly King’s reign are the “long way around” between the solstices. the North-South axis through the center of the Wheel is the other route between these two poles. The “way around” is narrative, experiential; the “way through” is a still revelatory instant disclosing the underlying Mystery.
¹ Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling and The Sickness Unto Death, pp. 168-174.