Holly King and Oak King

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The Holly King and Oak King are personifications of the winter and summer in various neopagan traditions. The two kings engage in endless "battle" reflecting the seasonal cycles of the year: not only solar light and dark, but also crop renewal and growth. During warm days of Midsummer the Oak King is at the height of his strength; the Holly King regains power at the Autumn equinox, then his strength peaks during Midwinter, at which point the Oak King is reborn, regaining power at the Spring equinox, and perpetuating the succession.


Robert Graves in The White Goddess identifies other legends and archetypes of paired hero-figures as the basis of the Holly/Oak King myth,[1][2] including:

Similar comparisons had been previously suggested by Sir James George Frazer in The Golden Bough in Chapter XXVIII, "The Killing of the Tree Spirit" in the section "The Battle of Summer and Winter".[2][3][4][5] Frazer drew parallels between the folk-customs associated with May Day or the changing seasons in Scandinavian, Bavarian and Native American cultures, amongst others, in support of this theory.[3] However the Divine King of Frazer was split into the kings of winter and summer in Graves' work.[2][4]

Stewart and Janet Farrar characterize the Oak King ruling the waxing year and the Holly King ruling the waning year, and apply the interpretation to Wiccan seasonal rituals.[6] According to Joanne Pearson, the Holly King is represented by holly and other evergreens, and personifies the dark half of the Wheel of the Year.[7] The Holly King is also seen by some Neopagans as prehistoric forebear of the Father Christmas legend.[8]

In culture and modern beliefs[edit]

The battle of light with dark is commonly played out in traditional folk dance and mummers plays across Britain such as Calan Mai in Wales, Mazey Day in Cornwall, and Jack in the Green traditions in England that typically include a ritual battle in some form.

Some adherents of Modern Paganism consider the two counterparts as dual aspects of the Horned God waging for the favour of the Goddess.[9][10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Robert Graves (1978). The White Goddess: a historical grammar of poetic myth. New York: Octagon Books. ISBN 9780374932398.
  2. ^ a b c John Williamson (1986). The oak king, the holly king, and the unicorn: the myths and symbolism of the unicorn tapestries. New York: Harper & Row. ISBN 9780060155308.
  3. ^ a b Sir James George Frazer. The golden bough; a study in magic and religion, Volume 6. New York: Macmillan.
  4. ^ a b "Pagan Readings". uueugene.org. Archived from the original on 27 February 2012. Retrieved 29 November 2012.
  5. ^ Anna Franklin. "Midsummer". merciangathering.com. Retrieved 29 November 2012.
  6. ^ Farrar, Janet and Stewart (1988). Eight Sabbats for Witches, revised edition. Phoenix Publishing. ISBN 0-919345-26-3.
  7. ^ Joanne Pearson (2002). A Popular Dictionary of Paganism. London: Taylor & Francis Ltd. p. 80. ISBN 9780700715916.
  8. ^ Raven Grimassi (2000). Encyclopedia of Wicca & Witchcraft. St Paul, Minnesota: Llewellyn Worldwide. p. 219. ISBN 9781567182576.
  9. ^ "The Legend of the Holly King and the Oak King". Learn Religions. Retrieved 2019-12-08.
  10. ^ "The Oak King and the Holly King: Aspects of the God". Wicca Living. Retrieved 2019-12-08.