The Myth of the Holly King and the Oak King

Posted on in On Our Radar by Tina Deason

The Dualities That
Dwell Within


A new year brings the turning of the “Wheel of the Year,” and the changing of seasons offers a time to go within ourselves. We may visit our shadow side, the darker half of who we are. This slow time of year presents an opportunity for us to transform.

In ancient Celtic times the belief was that there were two seasons: winter and summer. There is a Celtic myth that tells of the Oak King (summer) and the Holly King (winter) who twice each year duel at the solstices to rule the sky. These kings may also reflect the dualities that dwell within us. Not only do they battle for the dark and light in the sky, they also symbolize internal conflicts that we want to resolve.

At summer solstice (usually June 21) the Holly King wins the battle to rule the sky; days grow shorter, leaves fall from trees, and we reflect upon the past year. For some people this is a cozy time, but for others who fear the dark, it can be a dreaded time. Some don’t like the winter because they would rather be in the sunshine and play until all hours of the well-lit night.

Still, some of us enjoy the darkness because it allows for serious soul searching. The dark offers time to reflect and resolve, to let go of what we no longer need in our lives: addiction, boring or stressful jobs, draining and unhealthy relationships, poor lifestyle choices, or simply the habits and self-concepts that hold us back. In any case, the descent into darkness is a chance for transformation. Letting go of things we hold onto in the dark makes room for the light to enter.

Embracing the dark is difficult, yet it is necessary, as it prepares us to step into a new year. As these beloved Celtic kings eternally battle for the right to rule the sky, they turn the Wheel of the Year—another cycle of life. When the Oak King returns to us at winter solstice (usually December 21), he brings light, hope, and growth. We are ready to act upon our new choices, and freed from our shadows, we can strive toward our greater potential. Hail to the Oak King!

Tina Deason is an ordained priestess, Practical Magic Women’s Circle facilitator, and author of the blog La Bona Dea.

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