Music for Winter Solstice and Yule: Performances and Facts

Updated on June 15, 2020
AliciaC profile image

Linda Crampton has loved music since childhood. She plays the piano and recorder, sings, and listens to classical, folk, and early music.

Winter solstice sunrise in Iceland
Winter solstice sunrise in Iceland | Source

Winter Solstice and Yule

Winter Solstice is a special time of year for pagans, nature lovers, and others attuned to the seasons. It's the name of the shortest day of the year. In the northern hemisphere, it usually occurs on December 21st or 22nd but sometimes happens on Dec. 20th or 23rd. It's a wonderful sign that the days are about to lengthen and the light will gradually return. Some lovely music is associated with the solstice. I've included six of my favourite pieces in this article as well as some facts about the music and the performers.

The Yule festival is associated with Winter Solstice. Some pagans celebrate Yule on a single day, which coincides with the date of the solstice. Other groups—especially those associated with a Northern Europe or Germanic tradition—celebrate for twelve days, starting on the day of the solstice.

"Yule" is sometimes used as an old-fashioned name for Christmas, but this is not its original meaning. The word is an ancient one and is believed to have originated in Norse culture. The word "Norse" usually refers to Scandinavian culture and language as they existed long ago. It sometimes refers to modern language and culture, however, which is why the quote below refers to "Old Norse".

Middle English yol, from Old English geōl; akin to Old Norse jōl, a pagan midwinter festival

— Etymology of "Yule" from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary
The Wiccan wheel of the year
The Wiccan wheel of the year | Source

Wiccans and some other pagan groups celebrate the wheel of the year. The celebrations occur at solar events (the solstices and the equinoxes) and at times midway between them. They have different names in different belief systems. The events are also celebrated by some non-pagans who are interested in the cycle of the year.

Yule by the Sowulo Band

Sowulo is a band from the Netherlands. According to their website, they play modern Viking folk music. They use instruments from today but dress as Vikings during their performances. They try to create a specific atmosphere with their clothing, hairstyles, lighting, onstage behaviour, and special effects. The package seems to work well for their fans.

The band aims to celebrate the pagan legacy. I think "Yule" is a beautiful piece. It stirs the emotions in me and in others who like the group's style of music. Despite its title, the link between the piece and Yule is not obvious and is open to the listener's interpretation. There's plenty of scope for the imagination.

Yule Song by Tor Lundvall

Tor Lundvall is a musician and painter. He was born in New Jersey in the United States and is based in New York today. He once said that his musical creations are essentially a painting in music. The music is the most important aspect of his "Yule Song". There are only six lines in the lyrics.

The singer is viewing a town from a high point. The streets of the town are covered by snow and glowing trees can be seen. The town is empty and silent, apparently because people have left to join the singer and celebrate the day. He says that "Nothing this day could bring us down" and mentions the laughter that he has heard. As the sun disappears at the end of the day, the celebration ends.

A fire is burning

The long night draws near

All who need comfort

Are welcome by here

— Verse one of "Solstice Carole"

Solstice Carole by Wyrd Sisters

Wyrd Sisters is a folk music group based in Winnipeg. The group has existed since 1990 and began as three female vocalists. The members have changed over time, though Kim Baryluk, one of the original singers, remains. Today the group contains three vocalists and a variety of instrumentalists. On their website, the group switches from calling itself "Wyrd Sisters" to "The Wyrd Sisters". I've chosen to use the first version of their name.

An interesting episode in the group's history occurred in 2005. The group sued Warner Brothers for using their name for a band in the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire movie. The final outcome of the court battle occurred in 2010 and has remained a secret.

"Solstice Carole" is a Wyrd Sisters creation and was first sung by them. It's sometimes said to have been composed by Kim Baryluk instead of by the group as a whole. It's often sung a capella (without accompaniment). The first version below is sung by Sirens, a Canadian vocal group from Prince Edward Island. I've included the Wyrd Sisters version of "Solstice Carole" as well. Its audio quality isn't as good as in the first video, but I think it's important because it's the original version of the song.

The word "carol' in the song's title has an e at the end. This isn't a mistake. A carole was a historical dance in which people were linked in a ring and sang as they danced. The lyrics of the song mention a bonfire and a plan to dance under the stars. A repeated idea in the lyrics is the fact that the dancers welcome everyone to join them by the fire in the spirit of the solstice.

Come by the fire

The harvest to share

For the spirit of solstice

Is still living here

— Verse six of "Solstice Carole"

The Pentagram in Wicca

The pentagram is shown several times in the video below. It's an important symbol for Wiccans. It's a star with five points that is associated with mysticism and magic. Wiccans prefer to write the second word as "magick" to distinguish it from the magic tricks performed by stage magicians for entertainment. For most Wiccans, magick is an attempt to work with the energy of the universe in a beneficial way.

The figure is arranged so that a single point of the pentagram is pointing upwards. This point represents the spirit. The other four often (but not always) represent the elements of earth, air, fire, and water. A pentagram is not part of my life, but I've discovered that it has a fascinating history. It has been used in multiple cultures and religions.

Winter Solstice morning in Pacific Rim National Park, Vancouver Island
Winter Solstice morning in Pacific Rim National Park, Vancouver Island | Source

Bring Back the Light by Gypsy

Gypsy is the performer in the video below. She's a singer and songwriter who was active in the 1990s. From what I've read, she was very popular in pagan circles at that time. Her music is still appreciated by some people today. I'm unaware of her current situation or whether she's still performing. She sings the first part of the song, chants with music in the background in the middle part, and then sings the last part. I think the rhythmical chant is especially effective.

The lyrics of the song are an invocation to the Lord and Lady asking them to bring back the light. Wiccans are generally duotheistic and believe in a god and goddess, or the Lord and the Lady. They may believe in other deities as well, but these deities are usually thought to be an aspect of the Lord or Lady. As in Christianity, individual beliefs may vary in Wicca. The song asks the god and goddess to "hearken to this witches' rune". Witches may be Wiccans, and vice versa, but this is not always the case. Wicca is a religion while witchcraft is a practice.

Yule: The End of Darkness by Trobar de Morte

Trobar de Morte is a Spanish group. According to their website, they create music in the dark, medieval, pagan, and folk categories. The group first came together in 1999. It was started by a woman who bills herself as Lady Morte, which can be translated as Lady Death. Today it consists of Lady Morte, another woman, and five men. The group sings and plays instruments.

Like the Sowulo band, Trobar de Morte dresses and behaves to match their theme. Their website says that their performances include "performances, dances and ritualistic elements which enhance the audience's experience". "Yule: The End of Darkness" is performed in the video below. It's a loud and dramatic piece that seems suitable for a triumphant event such as the defeat of darkness.

Light Is Returning

"Light Is Returning" was written by Charlie Murphy, who was a singer as well as a composer. His music contains themes related to paganism and LGBT rights. Sadly, he died in 2016 from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). The disorder is a form of motor neuron disease.

I haven't encountered Charlie Murphy's work before, but it seems to have been popular. In the video below, his song is sung by Freyja Wild. She's a classically trained vocalist from Boulder, Colorado, but sings songs from multiple genres. I think she has a lovely voice.

On her Facebook page, Freyja describes herself as a "tree-hugging dirt-worshiper, singing to the wild places". I suspect that Freyja Wild in her stage name, not her real one. Freyja was a popular Norse goddess. I've found additional evidence to support my suspicion. On YouTube, a listener complimented Freyja for her performance in the video below and referred to her by a different name. The singer thanked the listener for their comment without mentioning that there was an error in the name.

Light is returning

Even though this is the darkest hour

No one can hold back the dawn

— Charlie Murphy in the first verse of "Light Is Returning"

One planet is turning

Circles on her path around the Sun

Earth Mother is calling her children home

— Charlie Murphy in the last verse of "Light is Returning"

The Cycle of Nature

Though Winter Solstice and Yule are highly appreciated by many pagans, the solstice is also noted by other people where I live. Nature in its widest sense seems to be important to many people here, though the shortest day of the year is most often referred to as the winter solstice (usually uncapitalized), not Yule.

We've learned how to compensate for the cycle of the year in various ways, but the seasons are still noticeable and still affect our lives. Perhaps that's part of the reason why the solstices and equinoxes remain important and attract our attention. Although science is advancing in many areas, there's still a lot of mystery associated with the universe and the nature of reality.

I think that listening to music is a lovely way to celebrate the arrival of the winter solstice and the approach of longer days. For some people, the celebration and the music may enable them to connect to a numinous dimension that is important to them. The solstice can be important for multiple reasons.

© 2019 Linda Crampton

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    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      5 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the visit, Peggy. I enjoy exploring different belief systems and listening to their music, too.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      5 months ago from Houston, Texas

      It is so interesting learning about different customs and belief systems. I enjoyed listening to several of the songs which were quite haunting with the melodies.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      6 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Linda. I like both Winter Solstice and Christmas. I agree about the "consumer crazy" aspect of Christmas, though. It's a great shame when the desire to buy things dominates the season.

    • lindacee profile image

      Linda Chechar 

      6 months ago from Arizona

      I like Winter Solstice much more than the consumer crazy Christmas season. The lovely Yule magical music.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      6 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Nell. I think that winter solstice is a special time, too. The celebrations associated with it are enjoyable. Thank you very much for the comment.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      6 months ago from England

      Hi Linda, I really enjoyed reading and listening to this. Being a Pagan myself I will definitely be looking into these groups and singers again. Winter solstice is a special time, and one celebrated all over the world, loved it!

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      6 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Adrienne. I enjoy celebrating events with music. I've heard of Saint Lucy but don't know much about her. Based on what I know, she sounds interesting.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      6 months ago

      It's nice to celebrate the arrival of the winter with music. It's such as magical time of the year. I am sure in your neck of the woods, the winter solstice is a wonderful time to enjoy nature. When I lived in Italy, we celebrated Saint Lucy on December 13th which is considered the shortest day of the year.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      6 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much, Genna. I hope you have a great new year and a wonderful 2020.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      6 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Winter Solstice is indeed a special time of year, Linda. It represents so many things...the heralding of change, the holidays, and the turning of seasons in nature. I love the quotations and music selections in this magical piece. Well done!

      Happy New Year. :-)

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      6 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much, Nithya.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 

      6 months ago from Dubai

      Interesting and informative article about the winter solstice and the Yule. Great music videos, thank you for sharing.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      6 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks, Dora. I hope you have a very happy Christmas!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      6 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thank you for this interesting presentation. My first in-depth information on the winter solstice. Also listened to the music. Good singing!

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      7 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, Devika. I enjoy celebrating by listening to music.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      7 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I would love to visit Stonehenge during a solstice! I think that would be a moving experience. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas, Heidi.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      7 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the lovely comment, Manatita. I appreciate it. Merry Christmas to you, too!

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      7 months ago from london

      Your Hub is like a breath of fresh air and very timely for this winter solstice. There's talk of fire and light which is so common to us as mystics. We worship in so many ways using different terms and names, only to arrive at the same dawn … the ocean. Yet it is all good in such many ways! Love Itself has deemed it so.

      The musical videos convey a sacred feeling. Merry Christmas!

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      7 months ago from Chicago Area

      Lovely, as always! One of my online author pals and I hope to one day celebrate the Winter Solstice at Stonehenge. That would be very cool!

      Have a delightful Yule and Christmas!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      7 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      A unique song list for the Winter Solstice sounds the best songs for this season and I like it.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      7 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Audrey. Thank you very much for the visit and the kind comment. The first video is my favourite, too. It's interesting to hear that you have Viking ancestors. I hope you have a lovely holiday season.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      7 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Denise. I think that music is one of the joys of the December celebrations. I didn't need to do much research about Yule. I have eclectic beliefs and enjoy celebrating both Christmas and the solstice.

      Blessings to you as well. I hope you have a very enjoyable Christmas.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      7 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Oh, how I've enjoyed each of these videos. In fact, I'm purchasing a few for myself. My favorite is "Yule" by the Sowulo Band. My ancestors are original Vikings, so this modern Viking folk music strikes a chord within me. (No pun intended.)

      What a beautiful, interesting, gift you've given us.

      Happy Holidays, Linda.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 

      7 months ago from Fresno CA

      Very interesting research about Yule. I didn't know most of that before. Cool music too.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      7 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, Liza. I enjoy discovering new things and learning about new ideas, too. It's an interesting process.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      7 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Flourish. I think this is a very interesting time of year. There's a lot going on. Thanks for the visit.

    • lizmalay profile image

      Liza 

      7 months ago from USA

      I have heard the "Yuletide" word in the Christmas song but, I have very little knowledge about the winter solstice and yule facts. You have written another exciting article, Linda. I like learning something hidden or obscure that I've never known enough. Thank you for sharing!

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      7 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much, Shaloo.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      7 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the comment, Bill. I find some of the pieces haunting, too. I think they are interesting as well as enjoyable.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      7 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Pamela. I appreciate your visit and comment. I enjoy learning about religions and belief systems. I think their different ideas and customs are often interesting.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      7 months ago from Sunny Florida

      This is a well-written informative hub. I like to keep Jesus's birth at the core of our celebration, but I know there were pagan rituals. I do not know, nor do I want to know, anything much about the Wiccans. I do, however, like to know this history of holiday celebrations. The music was very good.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      7 months ago from Olympia, WA

      A fun read...information and haunting music.....I'll be listening to those tunes all morning now...so thanks for my playlist on this Monday.

    • swalia profile image

      Shaloo Walia 

      7 months ago from India

      Enjoyed the hub as well as the music videos.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      7 months ago from USA

      I had never heard of the Wiccan wheel and many of the details you revealed. Thanks for sharing this information and the music for this time of year.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      7 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Mel. Yes, there are several Pagan aspects to the traditional Christmas celebration. It's interesting to study how religions emerge and develop. Thanks for the comment.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      7 months ago from San Diego California

      Kind of reminds one how Christmas has pagan roots and how the twelve days of Christmas with lords a leaping and maids a milking is not a Christian thing to start with. Very informative hub.

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