Can’t get your head around the Oak/Holly King cycle?

Since my last post I’ve heard from a number of people who cannot get their heads around the Oak/Holly King cycle. I was always confused about this too until I realised that I was trying to fit a ‘cosmic’ event into an agricultural cycle. It clicked when I realised that the Oak/Holly King is about light and the Sun, and this is personified by the evergreen Holly and the mighty Oak.

So at the Winter Solstice, at the time of greatest dark, the King of the Waxing Year is born and crowned, symbolised to many as The Mabon, and within this mythos as The Oak King. His light grows throughout the Waxing half of the year until the Summer Solstice, his Zenith, the Longest Day. But at this time the Holly King is also born, and the crown is passed over to the King of the Waning Year who rules until the Winter Solstice when the Wheel turns once more.

So the Oak/Holly King cycle doesn’t fit very well into the agricultural cycle of the 8 festivals of the modern Pagan Wheel of the Year as that is more about temperature and things that grow. This cycle is much more about the activity of the great Eye of Bel, the King of our Solar System, our Sun. The Oak/Holly King cycle is his mythos, the symbolism of his Journey.

At least that’s how it works for me.


  1. Andrew Bridges January 9, 2012 at 11:31 am - Reply

    A very concise and simple way of putting it Damh, for those out there who like youself and I initially had difficulty wrapping our heads around it.

  2. catherine harris January 9, 2012 at 12:35 pm - Reply

    Eye of Bel? What that in Laymans terms I’ve heard it before but can’t ask..

    Thanks Dahm

    • Damh the Bard January 9, 2012 at 12:41 pm - Reply

      Bel is a God, and he is represented by the Sun. Beltane means the ‘Fire/s of Bel’ and so a poetic way I view our Sun is as the Eye of the God Bel.

      • catherine harris January 9, 2012 at 6:50 pm - Reply

        What is the word source for that ? Welsh? I’m interested in Etymology just passing interest though. cheers

  3. Rachel Schmidt January 9, 2012 at 12:46 pm - Reply

    This makes sooo much more sense. lol, I hadn’t exactly had trouble understanding the mythology, it was just a bit puzzling trying to fit it into the Wheel of the Year. ^^;;

  4. Narcissa Mia January 9, 2012 at 1:39 pm - Reply

    thank you! very clear and beautifully written.

  5. Ross January 9, 2012 at 1:57 pm - Reply


    At last, a clear explanation put simply.

    Many thanks


  6. crimson stormfire January 9, 2012 at 2:49 pm - Reply

    your qoute from mr hutton reminded of a story i had written, showing the softer side of the horned god Pan…. i know it is a bit off the subject of the oak/holly king subject but i think all the ” wild” gods are capable of compassion…. heres the link

  7. Lynda Cloudberry Ryder January 9, 2012 at 11:29 pm - Reply

    Put like that, it makes a lot of sense, thank-you! 🙂

  8. John Willmott January 10, 2012 at 1:27 pm - Reply

    I feel it is very important thing not to loose touch with the nature events that actually happens to symbolize this cycle.

    Holly trees often grow beside Oak trees.
    They grow beside deciduous trees, its what they do.

    At mid-summer the holly can be totally hidden by the abundance of deciduous tree leaves, especially oak, so the Oak is now King !!!

    From mid-summer the strength of holding onto those leaves weakens so by mid-winter the holly and its green leaves are clearly seen but not the oak, which is now bare, so at mid-winter the Holly is now King !!!

    A bit OT, but I think also wonderful is Holly the protector.

    Of all the trees, Oaks attract lightning more than any other tree.
    It is how Brighid, Brideog gets her name, the fiery arrow, the lightning
    and her association with oaks.

    However, if a holly is present by the oak
    the thorns on its leaves are excellent lightning conductors
    so when lightning strikes them neither the holly tree or oak tree are harmed.

    Alas, this also reduces the chance of creating a fire source that ancients yearned for. It maybe that ancients chopped holly trees down at mid-winter to improve their chances or receiving lightning’s fire from the oaks. That may well be an origin to us cutting and bringing holly into our homes at Yule.

  9. […] Can’t get your head around the Oak/Holly King cycle? « The Bardic Blog. […]

  10. Alice December 23, 2017 at 11:55 am - Reply

    Thank you to John above for the succinct explanation of the Holly/Oak tale; I had long wondered about it!

Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.