12th Night: Hunting the Wren





Saturnalia and the celebrations of Janus ran alongside the solstice celebrations of the birth of the new son/sun/aeon within all the ancient mystery religions. Janus wields the key [of life] in his left hand and the sceptre [of death and judgement] in his right hand. These two emblems once signified power and glory, wisdom and might, truth and revelation, past and future, mercy and severity.IMAG0243

He is the first and the last, the end and the beginning, a seeming paradox. But in reality these concepts symbolize unity and wholeness, not polarity, for all is within the one, and the one is within the whole.

 He is represented in the sky by the constellation of Gemini, which appears appropriately in the midwinter sky, in the east. Janus is also perceived as the Master of Destiny, being a product of ‘kairos’ – sacred time, rather than linear time.  His two faces depict the synthesis of priest and monarch, a true unity in spirit. Curiously, this leads him to represent all symbols of inversion and mutual sacrifice. ‘Sacrifice’ in all its forms, ranging from the primitive forms of actual life to personal acts [psychological] and those of humility, of placing one’s own needs last  form the oldest and most universal acts of piety. Archaeological evidence reveals its practise going back many, many millennia.


More than an act of mediation between the sacrificer and deity, it is the call of blood to blood, of life to life in death and beyond death – an eternity within the realms and province of the universal life spirit –the supreme life force, the generative essence of all mankind. in holy communion; a recognition of mutual symbiosis.

It honours our begetting, from god to man, and so we reciprocate, man to god. Moreover in times of Ur-Khaos, it was believed by our primitive ancestors that only blood sacrifice achieved equilibrium and harmony, life in death and death in life.

 But it would be wrong of us to dismiss this as ignorant superstition, rather it belies a deeply instinctive act underpinning almost all religions from Hinduism to Christianity, and from paganism to Judaism. It forces us to re-evaluate everything we do magically, after all, everything we eat dies for us, so isn’t it more appropriate that we give all life taken some meaning and relevance? Even more significantly, the giving of anything precious, or the banishment of anything unnecessary to our progress brings a closeness to god that cannot be ignored, impelling a true fusion of spirit, a unity of microcosm and macrocosm, signifying the end of disharmony and khaos.

 pig_sThe date for this act is thus perfectly placed within the epiphanic rite of Twelfth Night, a date sacred for millennia, beginning with the celebration of the new son/sun and culminating with the renewal of blood awareness, covenanting the magisterial ties to the gods.Throughout Old Europe, Greece, Rome and Egypt, the Midwinter festivals, all celebrated this darker aspect of life in death – of sacrifice. Saturn, the dark Lord of Misrule, has a Celtic counterpartBran [Lord of Death, oracular wisdom, prophecy and necromancy], to whom the wren is sacred.

Here, the wren is known as the ‘King’ of birds, and is subsequently killed by the ‘Robin’ who then becomes king for a time. This annual sacrifice takes place as you would expect during the midwinter festivals and places the totem animal – the wren, whose death is taboo at any other time, firmly in the role of scapegoat – of substitute for the king who must shed his blood for the health and salvation of his clan and community. This royal bird becomes the ‘Blood Royal’ spilled in a ritual that takes us back to the first time, when kingship was established upon earth from the gods.

The Wren-boys of Dun by John Campbell

Related to this is the myth of the twin waxing and waning year kings, the youthful, vibrant and wild Holly King [of the waxing, solar seasons] and the wise, old ‘father’ Oak King [of the waning, lunar seasons], its origins and truths being garbled in the mists of time. They are here represented by their sacred totems: robin [holly] and wren [oak]. Once killed, the ‘Wren’ is then mounted upon a stang or pole and paraded around the boundaries by he who has slain it – the ‘Robin’ in recognition that he is alive and King for another year. This assertive activity is accompanied by the following verse:


“We hunted the Wren for Robin the Bobbin

We hunted the Wren for Jack the Can

We hunted the Wren for Robin the Bobbin

We hunted the Wren for everyone.”


If we look further into the following verses we can see that the ‘Wren’ is in fact a substitute for the death of a man, who is hunted, killed and consumed.


“Oh where are you going? says Milder to Malder.

We may not tell you says Festle to Fose –

We’re off to the wild wood, says John the Red Nose

We’re off to the wild wood, says John the Red Nose.


And what will you do there? says Milder to Malder.

We may not tell you says Festle to Fose.

We’ll hunt the Cutty Wren says John the Red Nose.

We’ll hunt the Cutty wren says John the Red Nose.


How will you shoot him?……

With bows and arrows………

 That will not do -….

What will do then?….

Big guns and cannons !….


How will you bring him home?….

On four men’s strong shoulders…


That will not do-…..

What will do then?…

Big cart and big wagons….


How will you cut him up?…

With [hunting] knives and with [pitch] forks.


That will not do-…

What will do then?….

Big hatchets and cleavers.


How will you cook him?…

In pots and in pans.


That will not do-…

What will do then?…

In a bloody great brass cauldron!…


Who’ll get the spare ribs?…

We’ll give all to the poor.”


Bill Gray, in citing the celebration of the ‘Cult of Kingship’, writes – “They gave their late leader the most honourable burial of all – in their own stomachs.”


We all know that eventually human sacrifice evolved into animal sacrifice, finally developing into the form of the Eucharist, used by Church and Craft alike, for blood is the power and seed of life.

This Midwinter Sacrifice has within the Craft become symbolized by the death of the Wren, [whom even the Druids recognized as King of the birds] the totemic substitute of the Old, Oak King, a manifest and graphic substitute that illustrates how life comes from death retaining as it does its own seeds of generation. The ‘Robin’, totem of the Young Horned, Holly King and synonym for the dying King where ‘Hunter and Hunted are but One’. This solemn rite recognizes that sacrifice is necessary for the continuation of life, for without death there would be no life. 

 Twelve days of chaos and reversal signifying the primordial state are transformed into balance and harmony, of order restored – a recognition of the introduction of cosmic Law  of Maat. In order to assert these principles within the temporal realms, we feast on pork and toast the gods and ancestors. But Why?


Pig and its wild counterpart, the boar, represent for many ancient religions the definitive sacrificial animal, sacred to the many peoples of Old Europe and Asia [Norse, the Greeks, the Turks, Egyptians and Hindus’]. Even for the Semitic peoples, the proscription to eat it actually reveals a ‘taboo’, wherein the ancestral totem is forbidden consumption. This feasting animal, traditional served whole with an apple in its mouth reveals a significant esoteric secret. Apples, the fruit of immortality, contain the sacred starry pentagram of seeds within, announcing both our heavenly origins and the promise of new life. These seeds hold the soul, to be reborn from the earth, the body of the Mother.

The Boar’s Head Carol

      The boar’s head in hand bring I,

Bedeck’d with bays and rosemary.

      I pray you, my masters, be merry

                   Quot estis in convivio.

                     Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino

                     The boar’s head, as I understand,

                     Is the rarest dish in all this land,

                    Which thus bedeck’d with a gay garland

                     Let us servire cantico

                     Caput apri defero 

                    Reddens laudes Domino

      Our steward hath provided this
      In honor of the King of Bliss;
      Which, on this day to be served is

Reginensi atrio.

                     Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino

      The mightiest hunter of them all
      We honor in this festal hall
      Born of a humble Virgin mild,
      Heaven’s King became a little child:

                    Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino

He hunted down through earth and hell

That swart boar Death until it fell.

      This mighty deed for us was done,
      Therefore sing we in unison:

                    Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino

      Let not this boar’s head cause alarm,
      The huntsman drew his power to harm.
      So death, which still appears so grim,
      Has yielded all its power to Him!

                    Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino



And so the old boar is sacrificed for holy feast; yet first it is presented holding the seeds of its own generation within its mouth, the seat of the soul – hence the kiss of death that draws it out.

This fruit of immortality is no more than the ‘soul-cake’ exclaimed within midwinter folk songs.

Fermented apples in the form of apple ales and ciders are used for the ‘Wassail cup’ [to your health], a seasonal drink that on a mundane level toasts the immediate company, the ancestors and the gods.



Trees, especially fruiting ones are also hailed to induce their productive blessings. More esoterically, the ‘Bragarfull’   –  Holy Cup,  is drunk at Twelfth Night to raise a toast to the ancestors and to all to come.  This rite offers the most beautiful of all Eucharist’s, drawn from the spirit of sacrifice, and of binding to the Gods  in Truth and Beauty.


Eucharist :    Buddhist Tantra – Amrita;  Gnostic – Kia ; Islam/Sufi – Haoma’; Judaic/Kabbalah – Manna.


These names refer to deeper essences within or fused with the wine or mead as the Houzel – the ‘flesh’ of the gods and source of all life, ergo, magick.  Partaken in all religious and magickal practices for aeons.


Mass:           A ritual service for ingestion of magickally enhanced body/flesh/substance of the gods – literally or figuratively.

Sacrifice:      The giving up of something precious as an offering to God. To offer something of little or no value dishonours your gods. It is a spiritually powerful tool for bringing you closer to them.

Life follows death in an unending circle, and thus the energy is self-perpetuating.

 This kind of ritualistic and sacrificial conception of life is found in many ancient texts. The sacrifice is an act that forms an immediate bridge between the doer and his fulfillment. 

Sacrifice is in the form of renunciation of fruits of action. Every work becomes a sacrifice without attachment and desire of fruits. The renunciation of the fruits that may result from an action in error is surrendered before it becomes manifest. Detached and disinterested actions are desirable both for individual progress on the path of spirituality and the welfare of others. A desire-less work becomes a sacrifice, a work of love and establishes a link between the doer and his God. Thus, each and every work is a ritual, a prayer if done out of love of the humanity and without selfish motives.



Worship the gods with sacrifice,

And they will nourish you in their turn.

Thus nourishing one another

You shall reap the highest good.

Cherished by your sacrifice,

The gods shall grant you your desires.

  A thief verily is he who enjoys their boons

   Without giving anything in return.

   Longing for success on earth

   They sacrifice to the gods,

   For quickly success is born

   From sacrifice in this world of man.

   Of one unattached and liberated,

   With mind absorbed in knowledge,

   His actions become a sacrifice,

   His entire actions melt away.

   Brahman is all, the clarified butter,

   The offerer and the fire.

   Unto Brahman verily he goes who contemplates

   On Brahman alone in all his actions.

The Bhagavad Gita,III ll-12; lV,23-24.




Waes Hael!!!


Images: wiki commons and digilibraries and Dayton art Inst. & Shani Oates


~ by meanderingsofthemuse on January 1, 2015.

One Response to “12th Night: Hunting the Wren”

  1. Very Good, nice to see the Milder to Malder song , Thanks Shani for sharing ….. 🙂

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