9th of December 2017, Saturday
According to Robert Graves many mythological stories are rooted in ancient archetypes, of the Oak King and the Holly King. Each one is a personification of one half of the year – the first one of summer, the second of winter. At solstices, summer and winter, the brothers face each other. In December, the Oak King wins, and the days become longer, but at Midsummer, the Holly King triumphs. Among the examples of such pairs of mythical heroes based on the cycle of seasons, Graves cites: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (J.R.R. Tolkien wrote about this story as well, the robin and the wren, the Oak Knight and the Holly King from Welsh myth about the goddess Creiddylad (the knights duel for her hand every year, at the first of May, until the end of the world and Doomsday).
Graves points out that in the middle ages, many elements of the Oak King symbolism were reassigned to St. John the Baptist, whose feast is located close to the summer solstice. Jesus Christ is St. John’s ‘successor’, therefore in folk traditions, he was associated with the Holly King (as Christmas comes close to the Midwinter, English name of holly means saint and a holly wreath is quite similar to the Crown of Thorns).
In The Last Hero and the King of Corn LML proposed that the plotline of Renly and Stannis is based on the Oak & Holly King cycle – Renly dies at the hands of Stannis, who reigns until his brother is ‘reborn’ – during the Battle of Blackwater, Stannis’ forces are defeated by army from The Reach, lead by Ser Garlan Tyrell, who wears the late king’s armour. Crowfood’s Daughter believes that the myths about Garth Greenhand and the Grey King are based on those archetypes as well.
In The Golden Bough, Frazer describes numerous customs which he calls ‘the battle between summer and winter’ (for example, carrying Marzanna outside the village and drowning this straw effigy in a stream). And among them, we find ‘The Wren Hunt’.
Wren is called ‘the little king’, ‘the king of hedges’ and ‘the king of birds’. According to the legend, this clever bird won this title with trickery. The God announced that the bird who flies the highest will become their king. One by one, the birds had to give up, and in the end only the great eagle remained, soaring high in the sky. But when he too grew tired and started to fall, the wren emerged from beneath his wings, where he’d been hiding for the whole time.
In many regions of Europe, there was a tradition to organise hunts for this bird, symbolical or literal. Although the dates vary (the first Sunday of December, Christmas Eve, Christmas, St. Stephen’s Day – Wren Day, The New Year’s Day), all such ceremonies take place in winter, close to the winter solstice.
In The White Goddess Graves explains that wren is the King of Winter and The Ghost of Year Present, while robin (who in many legends kills his kinsman hiding in an ivy bush) is The Ghost of the New Year. According to Graves, robin is similar to Latin robur (oak) and related words.
‘Renly’ is curiously similar to wren… Is the young Baratheon, dying in his green tent, killed by Stannis, a reference to this very custom?
It’s worth to mention that one of Renly’s guards was Ser Robar Royce, called Robar the Red – and robin is called ‘redbreast’… When he dies at the hands of Ser Loras, The Green Knight (who becomes one of The Kingsguard, a Knight of Winter), is this the next stage of the Holly-Oak King eternal cycle?