Vana Grimoire: The Story of the Holly King and the Oak King

In the Vana Grimoire series, we share tips and background information on pagan festivals, recipes, mythologies, history and other worth knowing subjects that are related to our events. In this blog we will tell you the story of two of our statues. 

The statue of the Holly King can be found at the Castlefest Winter Edition. The Oak King, his brother, welcomes you when you enter the Keltfest terrain. Both statues are created by Jeroen of Magic Within. The story of the two brothers can often be heard at the campfires of the Castlefest Winter Edition. 

Two brothers

The brothers King Holly and King Oak once lived together in a large kingdom far, far away. The Holly King was the older and wiser one of the two. He lived in the North. He wore a thick winter cloak and a holly wreath on his head. In his hand, he carried a staff made of a beautiful sturdy holly branch. His wife, Elder, wore a cloak of thick soft fur, a crown of Elderflower and a staff made of Elderwood. King Oak wore only a wreath of oak leaves. His wife Hedera wore a wreath of ivy leaves. This way all they needed, for at their home in the south of the kingdom it was always warm and the sun was shining brightly. 

The influences of the Kings

On the day of Midsummer, the Oak King was strongest. It was that day that the Holly King came from the underworld and was born into this world. From that moment on, the days got shorter and shorter, the leaves fell from the trees, the heat of summer left and the cold of winter swept over the land. He brought peace, repentance and renewal to the country. It was icy, snowy and dark in this northern part of the land.

Because it was cold and dark in the Holly King's lands, he taught his people to rest and be frugal with the available food. He also taught his people to think about life and how to deal with the difficulties of the cold region.

His younger brother lived on the other side of the country, in the south. He too came from the underworld and was born in this world when his brother King Holly was at his strongest. Which was on the day of Midwinter. The birds began to sing again, the trees began to leaf again, the earth began to live, the cold of winter left the lands, and the warmth of spring returned. He brought light, fertility and joy to the land.

The Battle

Just like in the north with his brother King Holly, it became winter in the southern part of the country where the Oak King lived. It was cold, dark and the people in the south were no longer cheerful and happy. And they did not know at all how to deal with this situation of cold, little food and darkness. His people of the south had no idea how to survive a cold winter. That is why King Oak decided it was time to visit his brother Holly and make sure the weather would become warm again, so there would be enough to eat and the party could start again.

After a full moon's journey, he arrived at his brother's palace on December 21st, the day of midwinter. How beautiful it was: bright white, glittering ice crystals and the whole palace was decorated with fragrant green fir branches and red holly berries. There his brother King Holly sat on his throne. Oak walked up to Holly and said: “My dear brother, my people are not happy, and we want the light and the sun back in our land. Help us bring back the sun." "Your people must first learn to be frugal with what they have. They must learn that there is also a time of moderation and reflection, in which they can make new plans for the years to come.” said the Holly King. But the Oak King knew there was no time for that now: “If I have to fight for the return of the light, I will do it.” He got up and walked towards the throne. The Holly King immediately jumped up and attacked his brother.

The Oak King was weaker than his brother but persisted, thinking of the people who needed him. The sun burned in his mind. That gave him strength. In one last blow he defeated the Holly King, who was now wounded on the ground. The Oak King ordered his brother to give him back the sun and he said, “My dear brother, if you want the dark days back, come on June 21st to my kingdom in the south of the country. Then you can measure your strength with me again. And then will I give you the knowledge of how to survive in the time of light and warmth, because even though I have defeated you now you are my brother and I love you." The Holly King answered, “I'll be there on June 21st. Look for me from the highest mountain and if I win the fight that day, I will give you all the wisdom for your people how to survive the dark days of the year and unwind during them, because I love you too. Take the crown and know, my brother, even if you are now king, my cold has not yet left immediately and snow will cover the land. I know from now on your power of light reigns and I will keep my cold and darkness until my time is there again on Midsummer.”

From that day on, the brothers Oak and Holly visited each other on the day of the solstices and claimed their share of the year. For example, in the light months there was feast, abundance, healing and fertility for the entire country from north to south, and in the dark months there was time for rest, reflection and making new plans for the new year. Both nations now had the knowledge of light and darkness and lived happily ever after.

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