The Oak King & The Holly King


Sir Gawain & the Green Knight

According to Barbara Davies, Robert Graves used James Frazer’s Dying and Reviving God as a source for his vision of the Con­sort of the Goddess. Graves “split Frazer’s dying and resurrect­ing god into the gods of the waxing and waning year, probably from Welsh stories of annual fights, such as Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwythr in the Mabinogion.” According to Graves, “the central chapters [of this myth] concern the God’s losing battle with the God of the Waning Year for love of the capricious and all-power­ful Threefold Goddess, their mother, bride and layer-out.” Graves explained that the Triple Goddess has a Son, the God of the Waxing Year, who is also her lover and, ultimately, her sacrifi­cial victim. The Goddess alternates in her favor with his opposite, darker self, the God of the Waning Year. The Gods of the Waxing and the Waning Years are at war:

“One succeeds the other in the Moon-woman’s favor, as summer succeeds winter, and winter succeeds summer; as death succeeds birth and birth succeeds death. The Sun grows weaker or stronger as the year takes its course, the branches of the tree are now loaded and now bare, but the Light of the Moon is invariable. She is impar­tial: she destroys or creates with equal passion.”

These two aspects of the God are often referred to as the Oak King and Holly King. In addition to Celtic myth, this dynamic was also probably inspired by the theatrical contests between figures representing summer and winter that were a part of medie­val May Day celebrations and mummer’s plays in Britain.

Updated 2019