|Avebury, England at winter, photo by Chris Turner
Winter Solstice, Yule, December 21, is the longest night of the Wheel of the Year’s annual cycle of seasonal festivals. The power of the sun is at is lowest point. But from this day onward, the sun experiences a rebirth, where each day we will begin to see more and more sunlight until we reach the Summer Solstice. In ancient times, the return of the sun meant people could once again plant and harvest food, ensuring their health and longevity.
Winter Solstice’s significance lies in the fact that although everything appears dead, we can remember and celebrate that new life will burst forth come the spring. It is a time of inner preparation for rebirth.
As part of our inner preparation, we can use the Winter Solstice longest night to focus on the power and blessings of darkness. Not the negative connotation of darkness as evil, or even winter‘s suppression of nature’s bounty – but, rather, the richness of the fertile, fecund, gestating earth, and that same dark richness within each of us. This rich darkness holds the divinity in matter, as well as our intuition, our creativity, and all potential. Divine Darkness, according the to the spiritual path of embodied love called ‘Adorata‘, is the Divine Mother in God, the divinity inherent in all physical matter.
The Earth Mother births the sun/divine son at the Winter Solstice. Legends around the world carry this theme – Isis rebirths her son Horus, Demeter gives birth to her sacred daughter Persephone, Rhiannon gives birth to her sacred son Pryderi. In 336 A.D., to align with the theme of the returning power of light, Jesus’ Nativity was moved to coincide with the Winter Solstice, thus changing his historical birth to December 25th in order to merge Christianity with ancient religious rituals and customs.
|Oak King and Holly King picture from deafpagancrossroads.com
At Winter Solstice, the ancient Celts lit bon fires with the purpose of driving the cold winter away. They would beckon the Sun God, known as the Oak King, to rise and defeat the long dark winter which is the dominion of the Holly King, thus ensuring that the sun would return to rise and triumph again. When the Norsemen invaded England and brought their Yule Tide traditions with them, the Celts adapted it to their own bon fire ritual and the Yule log was born. Lighting the oak log also gave reverence to the Earth Mother and her wisdom in nature. The Yule log would be lit on the eve of the solstice, using the remains of the log from the previous year, and would be burned for twelve hours for good luck. Today, candles are lit in many religions around the world, in celebration of returning light.
Our Christmas tree tradition was brought to England and Ireland by the Norsemen who, in their land, would cut boughs of evergreen fir trees and bring them inside to decorate and enliven their homes as a symbol of life amid the death like grip of winter. The fir boughs eventually led to bringing in whole trees that would later be dressed with offerings to their various gods and goddesses, and also items to represent wishes for the coming year, such as an abundant harvest, a marriage, or children.
Mistle toe and Holly
To the Druids, holly’s evergreen nature made it sacred. It was believed Holly remained green to help keep the earth beautiful when the deciduous trees, like the oak, shed their leaves in winter. The holly berries represented the sacred menstrual blood of the Goddess. People would decorate doors and windows with holly to capture any evil spirits before they could enter the house.
In the Celtic language, Mistletoe means ‘All Heal’. Mistletoe was considered so holy that even enemies who happened to meet beneath a Mistletoe in the forest would lay down their weapons, and keep peace until the following day. From this old custom came the practice of suspending Mistletoe over a doorway or in a room as a token of good will and peace, which led to the popular custom of kissing beneath the mistletoe.
More Christmas traditions roots
Alban Arthuan was a Celtic festival held during the Winter Solstice. Alban Arthuan means ‘the Light of Arthur’, celebrating King Arthur, who was said to be born on the Winter Solstice.
Santa’s elves were once the ‘nature folk’ of ancient Celtic religions. Santa’s reindeer were associated with the Celtic Herne, the Horned God of the forest and its animals.
2012 Solstice is special
We’re well aware of the upcoming Shift of the Ages.
December 21, 2012 is predicted to be the onset of the golden era prophesied, among others, by the Hopi Indians, the Maya, as well as the procession of the Astrological Ages. It also marks the end of the Hindu dark ages called the Kali Yuga. It is said we will rise out of degenerate ways into a new consciousness and a new way of being.
Before I learned about all the prophecies, New Age or ancient, I had a vision when I was in my late teens. I always remembered it, although at the time I had no context for it. I sensed and saw this turning of the ages. Not the chaos, turbulence, and destruction which always precedes rebirth. But, rather, a peaceful quality of life possible afterward.
So, at the 2012 longest night, at the end of the epoch of degeneration and turbulence, we can use our inner preparation to choose to align with love and the hope of a promising tomorrow. That is why I write visionary fiction, where the emphasis is on our limitless human potential, and transformation and evolution are entirely possible. (see the newly formed Visionary Fiction Alliance)
That is why my novels offer not only a vision of humanity as we dream it could be, but also some practical tools to get there.
I agree with Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit, who says, “I think I am quite ready for another adventure.”
“Carry on the flame to a new dawn. I am with you.”
~The Goddess of the Stars and the Sea
1. Hang a wreath of holly sprigs on your door for protection from unwanted energies entering your home, and to celebrate the greening power of nature – the ‘Veriditas’, as named by Hildegard Von Bingen..
2. Place the gemstone that symbolizes the Winter Solstice, the Red Carnelian, on your altar; or you can simply place it on your kitchen counter or bedroom dresser. Imbue it with your wishes, prayers, and intentions for the upcoming year. Everytime you see your Red Carnelian, or hold it in your hand, you can remember your wishes and feel the power of your intentions.
3. Sit in quiet contemplation of this time of inner preparation and rebirth. Connect with the Divine Mother, the Divine Darkness, within your body. She is the divinity of God in physical matter. Let her love fill you and nourish you so you can meet the demands of this busy holiday season, or of any stressful occurrence in your life. Ask Her to increase your capacity to receive and give love, to create a harmonious balance between the two. Give Divine Mother your thanks.
(Adapted from the Adorata Virtue of Service)
Some traditions information from Mara Freeman, Celtic Spirituality teacher.