Yule Goat Magic Making, Burning, and the Stories of Tradition

Yule Goat Magic: Making, Burning, and Stories of Tradition

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The Yule Goat is an iconic symbol woven in Scandinavian traditions and history. Crafting your own DIY Yule Goat ignites an almost child-like imagination during the Christmas and Yuletide seasons.

A Yule Goat is also known as a Yule Buck. This Yuletide decoration or ornament carries meaning beyond its simple straw form. Let’s dive into the origins and history of the Yule Goat, and then I’ll show you how to make your own.

Please note that I make every effort to ensure this information is correct and accurate through my own experiences and referencing sources throughout AND at the bottom of this article.

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Yule Goat History

Many people believe that Norse mythology is the origin of the Yule Goat. In fact, goats are prominent in many Norse stories, including The Poetic and Prose Edda.

We can find in several provinces of Norway the belief in the movement of fantastical animals. Trettainreidi is described as a flying goat in Hordaland; in Vest-Adger, a billy goat and nanny goat (julabukk and julegeita) have neither blood nor bone, but they do possess eight strong horns; and in Rogaland, a goat (jula-gjei do) bites the horses in the stables.

Lecouteux, Claude. Phantom Armies of the Night. page 31 – 32

On the other hand, it’s likely Yule Goats predate Norse mythology by many years. Let’s jump into both theories, and you can decide for yourself!

Thor’s Goats Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr

One theory connects them to Thor, the Norse god who rode a chariot drawn by goats across the sky. According to Snorri (6), these goats were called Tanngrisnir (meaning teeth-barer) and Tanngnjóstr (meaning teeth-grinder). People possibly crafted Yule Goats as a tribute to the God Thor.

In towns and cities throughout Sweden during the Christmas season, large goats are constructed out of straw. It is thought that the [Yule Goat] tradition originated in ancient times, perhaps as a tribute to the god Thor, who was said to ride in a chariot pulled by goats.

Britannica – Yule festival

During the Yuletide season around Winter Solstice, people celebrated with feasts and lots of drinking. Considering the significant role of drinking in winter festivities, Yule Goats might also have ties to Heidrun, a Norse female goat who supplied Odin’s warriors with her milk (mead).

A goat called Heidrun stood on the roof of Valhalla, where she fed on the leaves of the tree called Lerad. Mead flowed from her teats and filled up a large pot each day.

This provided the large quantity of mead necessary to get the Einherjar [those who died on the battlefield and now live in Valhalla] as good and drunk as they wished each day.

Brian Burfield – Odin, Warrior God: The Influence of the Viking God of Warfare
Thor with goats Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjostr
Thor with goats Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjostr. WikiMedia: Photo credit: Max Friedrich Koch

Yule Goat and Julbock

Christianity has always linked the goat with the devil, likely due to its association with the Norse god Thor. Eventually, the church banished all gods connected with the Norse pantheon. However, Yule Goat folklore appears to be much older than Norse mythology; it just went by a different name: Yule Buck.

From Sanskrit to Welsh to Middle English, the word buck, or a variant thereof, meant “male goat” long before it was applied to a male deer.

The Scandinavian terms Julebukk (Danish and Norwegian) and Julbock (Swedish) are still often translated as “Yule Buck” instead of the more modern-sounding “Christmas billy goat”

Linda Raedisch – The Old Magic of Christmas

The word bukka (aka buck) has Indo-European** origins and refers to a wicked horned spirit. This concept can be found in a variety of worldwide customs and traditions, including the Irish pooka, the Baltic puk, and Shakespeare’s Puck. Eventually, the term made its way to Finland, where we’ll find a goat man, known as Joulupukki, believed to be the predecessor of Santa Claus.

Yule Goat Julbocken
Julbocken (yule bok) with Julenisse (yule gnome) on top. Wikimedia: Photo credit: John Bauer

Yule Goat Traditions

Until the late 1800s, it was tradition for someone to dress up like a Yule Goat (Julbock), complete with horns and an unruly beard. Initially, the Yule Buck didn’t give gifts; he took them from families in exchange for a bountiful harvest.

The Yule Goat would stomp around and bully children with his horns if no gifts were given. Scandinavian stories frequently feature the straw Julbock in significant roles, sometimes dragging unsuspecting people away. (sounds similar to Krampus doesn’t it?)

Norwegian children would leave barley grains under their bed for the Yule Buck on Christmas Eve. If any of the grains were left behind on Christmas morning, this meant the following harvest would be bountiful.

Like the ram, the he-goat symbolizes the powers of procreation, the life force, the libido and fertility, but at times this becomes the likeness of opposites since the ram is a solar creature of the day while the goat, more often than not, is a lunar creature of the night…

…According to Grillot de Givry, the goat-headed Satan of Christian iconography is “the god of Mendes, of Egypt in its decline, a mixture of faun, satyr and goatlike Pan, with the tendency to become the pattern of all factors militating against the divine.”

Witches used to ride goats like broomsticks, to their Sabbaths.

Dictonary of Symbols (pages 435-436)
Yule buck traditions
A group of characters from a traditional Swedish christmas celebration, including a Yule Goat. Wikimedia Photo Credit: Thors Erik

Swedish Yule Goat Burning

In Sweden, you’ll often find straw Yule Goats (Julbocks) for sale at holiday markets during the Yuletide season. In Gävle (pronounced yeah-vleh), Sweden, a large Yule Goat display is set up in late November or early December each year.

This Yule Goat is notorious for being repeatedly burned down in acts of vandalism. Despite being a target for arson, the Gävle Goat remains a popular local tradition. Security measures, including camera surveillance, have been introduced to protect the Yule Goat. Despite efforts to fireproof it, the goat has been damaged or destroyed 38 times.

Gavle goat

Yule bucks [Yule Goats] and Yule logs are very often burned in combination with herbs and resins. The holy, healing ash is retained…

…Burning the Yule buck and Yule log not only provides healing ashes, but also brings outward and inward wealth. If you make a smoking fire with ash wood at the time of the Yule feast, wealth and luck will be yours!

These old Scandinavian traditions can be found in rudimentary forms in regions far from their origins.

Rätsch, Christian, and Claudia Müller-Ebeling – Pagan Christmas page 116

How to Make a Yule Goat

Crafting your own Yule Goat is such a fun and creative process to do with kids, loved ones, or even by yourself! Feel free to adjust the design and embellishments to suit your preferences; that way, your Yule Goat will be completely unique to you!

Typically, Yule Goats are made out of straw, but I didn’t have any available, so for a unique twist, I made mine out of palm tree leaves. Feel free to improvise and use whatever natural materials are available to you in your area.

Gather Your Supplies

  • Straw, palm tree leaves, or material of your choice
  • A bin to soak the leaves (I used a bathtub)
  • Twine or string (I used jute)
  • Scissors
  • Any decorations you’d like (ribbon, raffia, bells, etc.)

Crafting a Yule Goat Step-by-Step

If a video is easier to follow, check out how I made my Yule Goat here!

Yule Goat 1

Step 1

Tie two 3″ bundles of hay or palm tree leaves.

Submerge them in hot water and allow them to soak for at least 5 hours. This ensures they’re pliable and won’t break.

Crafting a Yule Goat 2

Step 2

Split one end into two sections to create the legs.

Do this to both bundles.

Crafting a Yule Goat 3

Step 3

Decide where your torso ends, and make a bend at its little behind. Press to create a crease.

Crafting a Yule Goat 4

Step 4

Do this to the second bundle for the front legs as well.

Crafting a Yule Goat 5

Step 5

Grab both bundles and tie them together.

Crafting a Yule Goat 6

Step 6

Choose which end you’d like to be the head and which will be the tail.

Crafting a Yule Goat 7

Step 7

Figure out how long you’d like the Yule Goat’s neck to be, and bend it upward.

Crafting a Yule Goat 8

Step 8

Fold the top of the neck down to create the face and head.

Crafting a Yule Goat 9

Step 9

Tie off the head. Secure any other weak spots with your twine.

If you’d like to braid your tail, I’d recommend doing this now.

Crafting a Yule Goat 10

Step 10

I recommend letting it dry completely by placing its legs in a small container to help it keep its shape.

Trust me, it will stand so much better this way!

Crafting a Yule Goat 11

Step 11

Trim any excess material.

I decided to trim my tail, so now it’s a cute little stub.

Crafting a Yule Goat 12

Step 12

Begin adding your decorations. I tied raffia to its head so I could create horns.

Crafting a Yule Goat 13

Step 13

I split the raffia into two sections and braided each of them.

Crafting a Yule Goat 14

Step 14

Wrap each braid around so it ends at the top of the goat’s head. Secure in place.

Crafting a Yule Goat 15

Step 15

Trim any excess material, including any twine or unwanted straw.

Crafting a Yule Goat 16

Step 16

Begin adding your decorations. I added small red ornaments to the horns.

I think it would be beautiful to add dried flowers or herbs, too.

Final Steps

Finally, take a step back and appreciate your one-of-a-kind Yule Goat! It’s pretty impressive that you’ve crafted a unique representation of this age-old tradition. Enjoy your Yuletide, and happy holidays!

Yule Goat DIY Finished Piece

Speaking of creating your own Yule Goat, I highly recommend you check out The Yule Goat Visits a Yule Market – Julbocken by Nymla. They created the most unique Yule Goat costume I’ve ever seen! Such amazing work!

I hope this article about the Yule Goat was helpful! Lots of love to you, and remember, as always…

SOURCES

Burfield, Brian. “Odin, Warrior God: The Influence of the Viking God of Warfare.” Medieval Warfare, vol. 6, no. 1, 2016, pp. 39–42. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/48578535.

Chevalier, Jean and Alain Gheerbrant. The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols. Penguin Books. 1 March 1997.

Eldridge, Alison. “Yule”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 7 Nov. 2023, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Yule-festival.

Lecouteux, Claude. Phantom Armies of the Night: The Wild Hunt and the Ghostly Processions of the Undead. Inner Traditions. 16 August 2011.

Rätsch, Christian, and  Claudia Müller-Ebeling. Pagan Christmas: The Plants, Spirits, and Rituals at the Origins of Yuletide. Inner Traditions. 24 October 2006.

(6) Simek, Rudolf. A Dictionary of Northern Mythology. 26 September 1996.

**Indo-European is a set of languages spoken in Europe and Asia that stem from one common ancestor language spoken thousands of years ago. This includes English, Spanish, French, German, Russian, Hindi, Persian, and many others.

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