The land is cold, harsh and barren. The fruits of the earth have been harvested and stored against the hunger of the long winter. The Lady wears a tattered dress of white, the twigs and branches of her hair dance and whirl in the cold, winter wind, making a forlorn music filled with a distant, gentle laughter. Close your eyes and listen to the music the branches make in the wind on a cold, wintry morning. Through this great forest walk the twin kings, the Oak King and the Holly King.
Now the Oak King is the king of light. He is the summer king whose magical touch brings new growth to the land in the spring. His warmth moves within the animals who carry their young through the final days of cold, to be born just as the buds of spring burst forth. Where he walks in the woods, the trees move in their sleepy winter dreams and they remember the shape of the leaves they once held and that will come again to flutter in the warm spring winds.
The Holly King is the king of dark. He is the winter king who helps bring the cloak of cold to the land so that it may rest and renew itself within the quiet darkness for the labor of birth that comes in the spring. He is the one who tucks the lady in for her long sleep in the fall so that she may face the hard work to come. Where he walks, the plants and animals sigh, comforted in their long sleep that he watches over them and protects them.
The Holly King walks until he reaches a clearing in the woods, past the bear asleep in her cave, the deer nibbling hungrily at the moss and the white rabbit, hidden and still. He is met there by the Oak King, standing still and strong as the tree for which he is named. The Oak King has been waiting, for he knew this moment would come this night as it will come again on the day of Midsummer.
Under the dark of the night sky on the longest night of the year, the Holly King strides forth with the last of his strength and lifts his mighty sword, forged of darkest steel and reflecting the light of the silvery moon. He lifts his sword to meet the shining steel blade of his brother, the Oak King, whose own sword gleams with the brightest light, seeming to reflect the very rays of the yet hidden sunlight.
The two brothers fight long into the night, drawn together in their love for the lady and land upon which they stand. They battle fiercely on this night as they battled the previous Midsummer and will again as the wheel of the year turns.
They meet not with anger or hatred, but with the respect each honorable warrior has for his brother. With great sweeps of their swords, they circle each other in the clearing. They fight with every bit of skill and strength that they have, but as the first rays of dawn begin to creep over the horizon, the Holly King is defeated. The Oak King bows his head in love and respect for the warrior king who fought so bravely, a single tear falling, crystalline and shining as snow. The reign of the Holly King is ended and slowly the land, given strength from the sacrifice of the Holly King, will free itself from the cold.
And the lady, who walks in darkness, cloaked in starlight, face hidden in shadows, begins at that moment to give birth to the child she has carried within her. That which lives and dies is also reborn. The Holly King who sacrificed himself so bravely is once again reborn and the child shines with all the warmth and light and all who see him know that the Sun Child has once again come.
And though winter for us does not mean counting our stored and canned food, for we can go to the grocery store, that food must still be grown somewhere on our earth…and though we have electricity to light our way in the longest and darkest night of the year, we still give thanks and rejoice, with the voices of nature, who live closely with the cycle of life, death and rebirth, that the warmth of the sun will come again in the spring and our lovely earth will continue to grow and renew with each turning of the wheel.