The Holly King, the Lord of the Winterwood and darksome twin of the waning year, rules from Midsummer to Midwinter. At Midsummer, he goes to battle with his twin, the Oak King, for the favor of the Goddess. He slays the Oak King, who goes to rest in Caer Arianrhod until they do battle again at Midsummer. The Oak King and Holly King are mortal enemies at Midsummer and Midwinter, but they are two sides of a whole. Neither could exist without the other.

Two themes run throughout the Holly King and Oak King saga. The first, of course, is the two great yearly battles between the two. The second is the sacrificial mating, death, and resurrection of each in his season. At Lammas, the peak of the Holly King's reign, he sacrificially mates with the Great Mother, dies in her embrace, and is resurrected. This is an enactment of the natural fertility theme of the season, and is not uncommon in other mythologies: Osiris, Tammuz, Dionysus, Balder, and Jesus are only a few other gods who die and are resurrected. (The Oak King on the other hand, mates, dies and is resurrected at Beltane.) This aspect of the Holly King and Oak King is not widely discussed, but is an important element in their roles as fertility gods.


The Holly King

Represents: Withdrawal, lessons, life, rest

Gods: Saturn (Roman agricultural god)

Cronos (Greek god, also known as Father Time)

Father Ice/Grandfather Frost (Russian winter god)

Odin/Wotan (Scandinavian/Teutonic All-Father who rides the sky on an eight-legged horse)

The Tomte (a Norse Land Spirit known for giving gifts to children at this time of year)

Thor (Norse sky god who rides the sky in a chariot drawn by goats)

Color: Black, Red, Green, Gold

Plant: Holly

Bird: Wren

Associated myths: Santa Claus in all his variations, the Green Knight from Arthurian legend, Mordred (who struck down King Arthur), St. John, Corn King, Bran the Blessed