The original version of this meditation was published in Mother Earth’s Winter Solstice Colouring Book, 1989. This version amended 2017 – may be used freely with acknowledgement
You can use this meditation as part of the Winter Solstice celebrations I’ve described in my earlier post, or as you wish. Read slowly!
To begin, first disconnect all phones, then extinguish as many lights as possible. If you have a fire or stove, damp it down so as not to produce bright flames. If sharing this with a group, make this darkening part of the process. Lie down, or sit yourself comfortably, as you prefer. Close your eyes.
Imagine the that the world about you has shifted, you are no longer in your own warm and comfortable home of today. The world is as it may have been long ago, and you are sitting in the meeting lodge of your village. It is is the night of the winter solstice and all the people of the community are gathered here together. It is very dark, except for the last embers of a fire at the centre of the lodge. Children are asleep. All is quiet. Darkness and silence enfold you in their wings.
Slowly the village shaman is moving among the people in the lodge. You remember how, during the short daytime, before the last sunset of the year, you searched for a stone to bring to the lodge. Some searched the hillsides, some the stream, some looked among the stone heaps cleared from the fields, some went to the seashore, all looking for the stone that would call them. After you had found the stone, quietly, you told it of all that the past year had brought you, the hungers and the fulfillments, the sadnesses and the joys. The stone you chose is in your hands now. The stone has become your year that has passed. Parents hold those of the sleeping children.
The fire grows lower, and the darkness deepens. The shaman kneels in front of you and takes the stone from your open hands. She places your stone into the sack she carries. You can barely see her in the darkness, but she seems old and tired, bent almost double with the weight of the sack, for she carries the burden of the past year for all her people.
The last embers of the fire go dark. You can see nothing at all within the lodge, but you sense that the shaman has gone. None knows where she travels. Some have said that she rides the last of the smoke up through the smoke-hole, out to the place of the Old Ones, carrying the years of her people.
There is less smoke now. Your eyes rise to look out through the smoke-hole, and you can see the pin-points of starlight. Your spirit rises like the shaman’s, until you can see the whole Earth beneath you, blue and green and brown and white against the starfields, spinning onwards, circling the unquenched fires of the Sun.
After a time that is not a time, your spirit returns to the lodge. Though it it is still completely dark, you sense that the shaman has returned, and is moving again among her people. She carries no burden now, moving easily, almost with a skip. She stands before you again, and this time she presses something against the centre of your forehead. It feels like a tiny crystal, very cold. You feel it pass through the skin into your body. No words are said but you know that this is the gift of the Old Ones, taking the offering of your past year, the sadnesses as well as the joys, giving back wisdom as their gift, and a promise for the year to come.
Suddenly at the centre of the lodge, fire flares brightly. You can see people’s faces again. The shaman, standing by the fire, straight-backed as an arrow. Smiling, she tells how the Old Ones have given their promise that the Sun’s warmth will come again, that life will be renewed. It is time for the midwinter feast to begin, and in the dawn, everyone will greet the Sunrise renewed.
For us, we must take our leave of the lodge and return to our own place. You bring back with you blessing of the Shining ones, looking forward to your own Solstice Dawn.
Become aware once more of you own floor beneath you. Stretch your limbs, open your eyes, greet your friends. It is time for the midwinter feast to begin!.
This year, 2017ce, Winter Solstice happens at 16:28 (UTC) on Thursday, 21st December. This is a single moment, astronomically-determined, applicable world-wide. In the UK, this point will happen about an hour after sunset – it will already be dark. So to celebrate the renewal of the Sun, the dawn of December 22nd is the time. This scenario happens for us three years out of four – in leap years, the point of solstice times at around 10:00, an hour or so after sunrise on December 21st. Folk in other lands have to relate to their specific timings.
If ‘belief’ is not the primary concern for Pagans celebrating Winter Solstice, just what is it we actually do in order to experience the Mystery? Many of us are a bit unsure, I suspect. It’s difficult not to feel swept by the Xmas juggernaut. We can cope with dressing the house with holly and ivy, and are often willing to be kissed under the mistletoe.
Most important surely, is actually to celebrate Winter Solstice as our festival at this time of year, at its proper date, and as far as possible ignore the goings-on elsewhere. It’s good to meet up with others of the Pagan community but often these events are not at the date of the actual solstice. Pagan events vary from those intended as deeply psychologically transformative, to those involving wild drumming at midnight bonfires but both ends of this spectrum are often more suitable for adults than for children To involve kids, you need more home-centred activity. The traditions of present-giving and feasting are excellent – you just have to do them all three days before the rest of the world. (If you can get away with it, no nonPagan family to entertain, go for beans on toast as your actual Xmas day diet, or even fast!) The most difficult part of this timing is to hit the day after Solstice, realising that we’ve done it all while the rest of the world is still ‘getting ready for Xmas’. You may feel the need to hide out for a bit – enjoy some quiet.
Those in 24/7 public service employment may well be able to switch shifts so as to work instead on Xmas day itself. This is always appreciated by workmates. If you have no option but to work over Solstice day, the simplest personal devotional action makes the difference. We don’t usually imagine that it is our individual ‘magic’ that brings the sun to rise – Earth will keep turning on its axis, and will continue its orbit around the sun whatever we do as individuals – it’s our own heart and spirit that is transformed by the devotional rite. I like to simply light a candle, in a wind-proof lantern, to burn through the night in my outdoor Circle space.
One small candle casts a little light
One small candle chase away the night
So much darkness, small bright light
You know, the darkness cannot stand the light
(from Beautiful Darkness – I put this on loop!)
Within the Pagan community, there is often little chance to meet with others except for an evening dedicated to one of the standardised eight major festivals. But our spirituality doesn’t have to be restricted to eight evenings a year. For Solstice itself, most of us prefer to celebrate the renewal of the Sun rather than the moment of longest night. Nonetheless, going into the Darkness, welcoming Winter Cold, feeling the withdrawal of Life back under the Earth – all these things are important in the Year’s spiritual cycle, so are worth focusing upon in the days / weeks prior to the date of Solstice.
Finding a published rite suitable to this time isn’t always easy. I find the Pagan Book of Hours (online as well as printed) very helpful – though not necessarily child-appropriate. For example, their rites for December include invocations to both the Frost King (Dec 4) and the Snow Queen (Dec 11).. Their ‘Calendar of the Moon’ rites for the Elder month include two multi-day sequences – five days focused on the ‘Underworld’ and a four for ‘Dark Magic’.
Anger comes for us like a beast, And prowls through our depths,
May anger turn to solace now,
By the work of our own hands.
We adults may feel psychologically and spiritually battered by propaganda, commercial pressure and general falseness at this time of year. We feel stressed by it but it’s worse for our young ones, overwhelmed by Santa and his freebie-bringing Elves. They actually need extra support at this time as a counter to all that. Indeed it seems to me that the biggest single Xmas issue for children is ‘The Santa Question’. Outside primary school it’s quite unusual to see ‘Nativity’ tableaux, but Santa is everywhere, and readily encountered in corporeal form, nowadays complete with DBS certificate. Santa gives out gifts, apparently for nothing – even the requirement to have been ‘good’ is waived. Belief in the Nativity Story is optional, but belief in Santa is seriously encouraged by most parents. Strange that we are so reluctant to admit to giving our children presents in midwinter blessing! But then, a few years later, the truth is revealed and children are mocked if they are slow to give up on him. Just think what it means to children that their first experiences of the mystical / numinous / spiritual world are revealed as lies. No wonder our society is so bereft of inner meaning!
In modern media, Santa takes his appearance as much as anything from Coca-Cola’ advertising department. In earlier days he often wore green. Still, it’s clear that he comes from an older religious tradition. Many have linked him to Odin, and the reindeer to the Wild Hunt. Still extant in northern Europe are the traditions of Mother Holle, Frau Berchta and others who are sometimes called Frau Gode (“Odin’s wife”), lead the Wild Hunt themselves, and are also gift-givers. These seem to link us to even old traditions, of the Reindeer Mother. It’s good to celebrate Odin, Holle, or deity of your choice . We can see that these beings, as well as their other attributes, are the ‘First Shaman’ of primordial times.
Something else to get you into the shamanic mood is the ‘Solstice’ radio play by Alison McCleay, first broadcast by BBC Radio 4 FM, 21 December 1985 – I listen to it most years to help ‘get me in the mood’. The voices are Michael Elder , Diana Olsson and Paul Young. There are numerous copies, not always of good sound quality, now on the net. For example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrI1tio2P6k This can serve as a Solstice-eve meditation, or you can try my own, linked below.
When my children were young I wanted to do something in place of ‘Santa’. I had read a great deal from Eliade and others, which seemed to lead to shamanism as the source of our faiths. And then the Solstice Shaman presented herself. She’s not a deity, but one of us, walking the ways between mortality and infinity. many years later, I am still happy to follow a perspective and tradition for Winter Solstice that She inspired. It feels to me that it is reasonably complete and coherent, both consistent and entirely plausible as a more ancient practice. It’s not a rigid framework, and can be expansible as required. What this does for me is that rather than lying to our children, we are instead presenting ourselves as capable of handling spiritual transformation.I think the underlying ideas are just as meaningful for adults as for children. If you like this tradition, you are most welcome to adopt it and spread it more widely. The basic outline of what she told me works like this:
Our celebrations span the period from before sunset on Solstice Eve to after sunrise on Solstice Day, and onwards. Those who have a feast to cook next day may prefer going to their beds over staying up all night by a bonfire! You need a substantial woodpile to keep an adequate fire going until after dawn, and a lot of energy to give the sunrise its due.
On Solstice Eve, before sunset, everyone goes outdoors – garden, park, mountain, beach – anywhere that you feel welcome from the land-spirits – to find a stone for themselves. There are certainly lots of stones immediately to hand here – the village is named directly after them. Any kind of stone can be used, doesn’t have to be something especially crystalline or otherwise pretty – just look and ask for one to invite itself to your hand. It can be very small, or more substantial, just not larger than you can easily carry.
Then, in their own space, each person quietly tells the stone the story of the year that has gone. The idea is to ‘give-away’ the old year that they have lived, both the good things and the bad things. We cannot healthily hold on to either the sadnesses or the joys. Both must be transformed into wisdom. We must give away before we can hope to receive.
Small children put their stones into their ‘stockings’ when put to bed. Adults keep theirs for later. One of the adults of the house takes on the role / duty of ‘Solstice Shaman’. There is no gender expectation here, and the role need not always be taken by the person most experienced in Paganism. It is explained to the kids that this is a human, not a supernatural being, and what their job is.
After dark, adults / older kids do whatever meditation / ceremony they wish. The essential part of this is that the Solstice Shaman collects all the stones, including – quietly – those of the sleeping kids. She / he then goes off with the stones in his / her sack, whilst the adults wait in silence and as much dark as manageable. All lights, even candles, are extinguished, though it’s amazing how much light there is everywhere these days, leds and so on.
You may think in terms of the SS climbing the ladder of smoke to the spirit world. The burden of the past years for Shaman and her / his household can be heavier than you expect. In the material sense, the SS goes out(side), journeys to the Spirits (in the manner they think appropriate) and gives the stones to the Spirits, asking (and hopefully receiving) a gift of ‘crystal’ in exchange. I’m fortunate in that I live in a place where midwinter nights are quiet and with minimal light pollution. You need to be familiar enough with where you go not to need a torch – if there is no Moon, just trust in the stars. Walking in the darkness opens the soul to change. For practical purposes, ice / snow / frost is definitely crystal, just as much as quartz and other hard stuff, but much more generally available on midwinter night.
When SS returns, free of spiritual burden, positively skipping in fact, they press the ‘crystal’ cold to the foreheads of each adult to ‘absorb’ the new year’s gift from the Spirits. Then the lights / fires are re-lit and adult feasting begins (quite possibly including nice booze and chocolate). Shamans do traditionally employ the odd ‘trick’ to help the process. For example, it’s not easy to relight a fire when you can’t find the matches in the dark… So I leave a glowing charcoal in the incense burner and two matches in a known place beneath it. Then I can put them to the ember and get a flare. (I suppose flint, ironstone and proper ‘tinder’ would be more authentic, but you need serious practice to get a result with those) A small present of some sort is put into the little kids’ stockings (hopefully enough to keep them from waking you too early!)
On Solstice morning, everyone gets up before dawn, so as to light the Fire of Welcome and greet the New Sun with whatever level of ritual feels right. This often involves lots of noise (that’s the joy of being a drummer and bagpiper!) Make sure you keep your kindling, matches and dry wood indoors a few days before hand or you’ll have the embarrassment and the psychic disruption of failing to get a flame.) If you plaited a Wreath of Remembrance at Samhain, this is a good time for its atoms to be dispersed into the world. New Year Oaths, accompanied by incense offerings are appropriate, as long as you really do intend to keep them. Further pressies and feasting follow as per usual goings on, again with additional ritual as you desire, but three days before everyone else. If you don’t say a grace blessing on your meals normally, you surely should for this one. You can tell whatever stories suit you as to the ‘meaning’ of Solstice itself.
Next post has the download for the colouring book, and also my own Solstice-eve meditation
Thought of calling this ‘Reasons to Believe’ but crackpot creationists got there first…
I can’t help feeling deeply annoyed by Xmas. It’s difficult to pin down precisely what it is that’s the problem. It’s easy to feel that ‘our festival’ has been ‘stolen’ and rebranded so as wholly overshadow the original. It’s easy to feel unhappy at the gross commercialism of it all. It would be nice to be able simply to ignore Xmas, but it has too great a momentum for that. I can’t help feeling that ‘my’ festival, and my own involvement in it, is unavoidably polluted. I know perfectly well that there is no single ‘pure’ Solstice, but still there is a craving for it that doesn’t apply so much to other festivals.
The problem of Xmas, it seems to me, is greatly compounded in that it is not a ‘proper’ religious festival at all. Rather, it is quasi-religious, that is, purportedly or nominally such, whilst for almost all participants, religious meaning is not actually believed and indeed is fundamentally irrelevant and quite ignored. Xmas is also pseudo-religious, by which I mean that the ‘religion’ being propagated is largely a spurious counterfeit of ‘real’ Christianity. This bizarre combination is something of a problem for Pagans, in that that our own attempts to counter-present the ‘True Meaning of Winter Solstice’ struggle to find any grounding.
I am unsure as to whether it is really a help to expand a bit further on the idea of Xmas as pseudo-religion. However much I think of myself as someone receptive to rational thought, I am aware that the force of Xmas is completely non-rational. Arguing against it is like trying to punch a ghost – one is more likely to fall flat on ones face from the momentum of the attempted blow than to make any contact.
The pseudo-religion that is presented to us, uncritically, at this time of year is the ‘Nativity Story’. It is fundamental to the nature of Christianity that their stories are literally, historically true. Nonetheless, almost nobody actually believes in the NS. In fact even the most conservative Christian scholars now regard the stories of Jesus’ miraculous birth as being historically unreliable. The idea of the ‘nativity play’ or ‘nativity scene’ is usually first credited to ‘St. Francis’ at 1223 ce – which means that it did not feature in Christian practice for the first 1000 years or so. It would be perfectly reasonable to argue that the NS is effectively a new religion in itself – if it were actually believed in.
Here in the UK we have a prevalent ‘tradition’ of nativity plays being presented by primary school children. I suspect that the ‘traditional’ use of young children as actors dates only from the late Victorian era, as children were gathered into compulsory state education. Nowadays, in more multicultural communities, there has been some movement away from this stuff, but here in rural Wales, there’s no let up from it. I was horrified, if not especially surprised, to read in the local newspaper that ‘Carmarthen residents’ were ‘flooding’ into a local church where adult actors presented a nativity play – a ’20-minute spectacle’ apparently with children as the intended audience.
One child was reported as ‘liking’ the birth. I suspect that there were no maternal screams, nor blood, despite these being a normal part of the birth process, now familiar even to the youngest via television soap operas. I suspect too that the kiddies may well be confused as to what a Virgin might be. Theologically, a painless birth could be valid – Christian doctrine is that difficulty in childbirth is the punishment for Original Sin, but that Mary was Without Sin. Lucky girl. What I do find deeply distasteful though about all this is that, according to usual doctrine, Mary was indeed a ‘girl’ – more specifically aged no more than 13 or 14, and hence in modern view, not legally capable of consent to any use of her reproductive and sexual organs. This issue is easily ignored when all the actors are children, but to have Mary presented by an adult is fundamentally dishonest.
There are scenes similar to the Annunciation in Pagan religions – the story of Zeus and Danae for example. One could even conjecture that the fable of Mary’s Annunciation was in fact derived, or even directly appropriated, via a process of ‘iconotropy’, from this specific ‘myth’. In any case, there is no question that Danae is other than adult and wholly consenting. Some other impregnations narrated as by Zeus are clearly less than consensual, and for these the word ‘rape’ is used explicitly. A quick google with ‘mary jesus rape’ will find you ample discussion of this issue – typically the Christians ‘apologise’ (that is, explain away and make excuses). The similarity of such discussion to Trumpist rape-denial (often also by ‘Christians’ in the US) is very apparent.
Most of the rest of the NS is just silly rather than objectionable. The ‘Mark’ gospel is considered to be the earliest written of the four, and broadly the ‘factual’ basis for the others, but it does not mention the NS, implying that it was not considered of much importance by early Christians. Nor is the more mystically-minded ‘John’ concerned with the NS. The other two, ‘Matthew’ and ‘Luke’ present their own stories which are inconsistent with each other to a remarkable degree. If you’re interested in details of all this, try a google with ‘nativity story inconsistency’. The NS is more of a pastiche than what is actually in the Bible. Fascinatingly, the NS religion has such hegemony that even Christian priests are surprised if they actually check the texts. (I have observed this phenomenon directly!)
I’ll leave to readers to follow this up for themselves. It’s well-known that the notion of the census is absurd, as well as undocumented by the bureaucracy of the Augustan Empire. Less discussed are the homely themes that provide the ‘human interest appeal’ – it takes a hard heart not to be moved by the idea of a homeless young parturient. If only similar consideration were given to present-day refugees from that part of the world… Unfortunately, the inn, the stable, the manger – all this stuff is either mistranslation or just not there in the original texts. Likewise donkeys, oxen and camels.
Pagans are more comfortable with the window-dressing. We are quite clear that holly and ivy are nothing to do with any original NS. Likewise the Yule tree (condemned in the Bible, as noted in previous post) It’s generally fairly easy for us to incorporate any of the midwinter ‘folk customs’ into our own Solstice practice, both as practical things and linked to spiritual meaning. More difficult however is actual ‘belief’. Some would say that we don’t necessarily have or need ‘belief’ – that Paganism is based on ‘orthopraxy’ rather than ‘orthodoxy’. Nonetheless, in the absence of definitive and authoritative texts, Pagans have typically felt obliged to develop ‘belief’, though usually not requiring all to be literally true. We know, of course, that both in historically documented Paganisms, and in the many continuing Pagan cultures, there is an enormous variety of belief in general, including details as to Winter Solstice. Writers of the past – some sympathetic, some hostile – have often attempted to construct some single primal Pagan belief system. All such attempts seem to fail from the weight of counterexample.
The sympathetic or inquisitive will readily ask us “So what do Pagans believe about Winter Solstice ?’ and we are often challenged to provide a coherent response. We feel that we ‘should’ have coherent answers to such a question and so try to fudge them into a theology. It remains though, that our answers, unlike those of the Abrahamic religions, are best not presented as Universal Truth.
Modern NeoPaganism began as a movement in Britain and north-western Europe, then spread mostly to similar temperate climates. It’s only to be expected that our ‘beliefs’ or theology regarding Winter Solstice should be connected to our actual experience of the midwinter in this part of the world. Experiences elsewhere can be very different. The most fundamental issue with this is that in the southern hemisphere things are opposite – this time is their Summer Solstice, and from the point of view of Earth as whole, of that Gaia Herself one might say, these are simultaneous. Moving further south from our UK latitude, things get steadily warmer, the path of the sun is higher, and the solstice easily feels much less significant. Our word ‘solstice’ is derived from Latin, so surely the event was readily noticeable in Italy. But it’s hardly as astronomically dramatic as in Scotland, say.
Go much further north, cross the Arctic Circle, and the phenomenon of polar night becomes dominant. For example, on the Norwegian territory of Svalbard, civil polar night lasts from about 11 November until 30 January. It’s not pitch-dark for 24 hours – there can be a distinctive blue twilight around mid-day. But the sun itself is not seen above the horizon, and so any significance of dawn on Solstice day must fall away. If the great temple mound of Newgrange had been built on Svalbard, it would have had to face a different direction, and its carvings would not have been illuminated until as late as our Imbolc festival.
Within Wicca-inspired Paganism, certainly the most popular theme, if internet memes are to be credited, is that ‘the Goddess becomes’ the
Great Mother’ and gives (re)-birth to the Sun God. It is quite basic, I think, for human beings to be inspired both by actual birth and by the sight of any sunrise. At my home a clear view is not so common – skies are often overcast, and all we get is a progression from dark gloom to a lighter grey. Even when skies are clear the combination of hills and trees complicates the horizon, delaying visibility of the sun’s ‘limb’ – a clear sunrise is something special! I can easily imagine how for someone, maybe for many, the sunrise at Solstice could go beyond ‘ordinary everyday inspiration’ and take on the character of religious vision. Those who are seriously spiritually inspired tend to spread their views. Indeed, I would speculate that the many wonderful ‘illuminated barrows’ found in Britain and Ireland derive from a specific religious movement of our early Neolithic period. There seems to be evidence now that this spread southward from Orkney.
I could further speculate that practices linked to the barrows, and such phenomena as the chiaroscuro upon the spirals and other carvings actively stimulated trance and ‘altered states’ that perpetuated this new religion. The problem for me though comes in trying to turn such vision into theology, words and concepts. When I first became Pagan, the idea, that is, the gender assignment, of the ‘Sun God’ was pretty much unchallenged, despite the absence of this concept in both Celtic and Norse myth. The idea seems to have been derived not from the personal vision I imagine above, but rather from Victorian scholarship, for which all Paganism was ‘sun worship’ anyway. In 1990, Janet McCrickard published ‘Eclipse of the Sun’, and after that, it became generally acknowledged in the Pagan community that the Sun is thought of as Goddess in a large proportion of historical and current Pagan cultures. In the many ancestral Pagan traditions, including Celtic, Norse, Slav/Baltic, Japanese, where the Sun is seen as a Goddess, surely rather different stories are told. In Britain for example, the Goddess Sulis (known at the city of Bath, by Her hot springs) is said to be the Sun underground in winter.
Another Wiccan / Druidic theme, with allegedly ‘Celtic’ connection, is that the winter solstice is the time when the Oak King of the waxing year once again vanquishes the Holly King of the waning year – possibly as in the 14th century poem ‘Sir Gawayne and the Grene Knyghte’. This idea is largely derived from the work of Robert Graves, moving into wider popularity via the writers Stewart and Janet Farrar in the late 1970’s. The poem may well be fun enough to enact. It might even be psycho-spiritually transformative – I can honesty say that my own first encounter with ‘Sir Gawayne’, at eighteen, was one of the events that set me on the Pagan path. I still feel a close connection to Gawayne, especially in the form of his Welsh ‘counterpart’ Gwalchmai.
But I’m not at all sure I want to make this idea the centre of my religion. I’m suspicious of dualism in general, and especially of forcing all dualisms into one super-principle. The actual stories told in Britain don’t make a good fit to Oak / Holly dualism. In ‘Sir Gawayne and the Greene Knyghte’ the return bout is not after six months, but rather a full year afterwards, and there is no suggestion of any repetition. For me, the story reads more like a warrior’s initiation rite. In Scotland, there are stories of a Cailleach / Bride opposition, but these are both Goddesses, and their story focuses at Imbolc. In Wales, the story is that Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwythyr ap Greidol fight for the love (or posession) of Creiddylad. But they do this at Beltane (and, somewhat less-mentioned, at Samhain). Is my religion really based on the idea of two blokes fighting over control of a woman? When I worked with prisoners, the thought occurred that some were there for doing precisely that!
You can see that I’m getting away from any idea of ‘belief’, in the sense of well-formulated and conceptualised doctrine. We often say that Paganism is ‘mystery religion’, meaning not ‘secrets’, but rather that it must be experienced. Concepts, as intellectual things, generally fail to reach the deep psychic places, nor do they unite community in any positive way. In fact, they often serve only to divide, as exemplified by the holy wars of the Abrahamists.
When we try to respond to ‘what do we believe’ we generally tend to slide the answer into description of what we do. That’s what really matters to us. Celebrating the Solstice. As an astronomical event it is unavoidable. Each of us will get their own inspiration from the actual celebration of Solstice, renewed each Solstice Dawn. I find it more satisfying to move into my ‘Simple Country Pagan’ consciousness at this time, celebrating the renewal of the Sun, just as it is (and even if rain hides Her.). I am happy that the Sun is not simply a dead ball of nuclear fire – and so it seems most appropriate to honour Sunna as culturally the closest Goddess.
Hail to the Sun who walks the way
Of dusty dawn, of golden glow,
Of glint of growing, turning Day.
Hail to the cycle and the flow.
(opening poem from http://www.northernpaganism.org/resources/prayers-rituals/sunna-ritual-for-yule.html)
Next post will focus on what one actually does at Solstice practice, including my own attempts to get away from the dreaded Santa
Here in Wales our winters are becoming increasingly soggy. All too often they are grey and depressing. But today, after a light snowfall, skies are blue and the horizon is clear. Hearts sparkle again like the snow on each twig.
Feels like cue a song!
Winter calls a clear horizon
Like the sea calls to the port
Like the sky calls to the desert
Like a love calls too the heart.
Imminent in the festival calendar, leading up to Solstice, are the various festivals of ‘Saint Lucy’ tomorrow on December 13th. A northern version is that known as Lussi Long-Night. Read more here: Lussi Long-night in Maria Kvilhaug’s blog. Maria’s page includes a further link to a recipe for luscious-looking Lussi-cat buns. We have lots of wood cut, and my cake is baked, so hopefully Lussi won’t find the household unready, and give her blessing to the baking.
Here in the UK the annual orgy of consumerism, debt, drunkenness and over-eating is well under way. I prefer to use the name ‘Xmas’, which though perfectly legitimate in origin, in modern usage has the connotations of secular tawdriness that I want to express. In addition, saves me having to use the C-word any more than necessary. The UK stands out from other ‘formerly Christian countries’ in the massive distortion of the festival calendar towards this single event.
Those of us who are Pagan, of whatever form, often hate this time of year. On the one hand we want to be enthusiastic about our festival of Yule (or whatever), and do our best to tell the noisy rabble of street revelers just how spiritual it all is really. For ourselves, we want to actually contact some of that spiritual meaning. If we are parents we want to try to share something of the ‘real magic of it all’ with our children – we are convinced this isn’t plastic and electronics. But on the other hand, we cannot avoid being swept along by the pressure of commercial advertising and media mania. We struggle not to be defined as ‘Scrooges’ (or Grinches maybe, as a more recent literary creation), or as boring party-poopers. We know that if we try to call out that the whole thing is ‘humbug’ (Dickens-speak for cant and hypocrisy) then the world just laughs at us.
All this tends to bring on (hopefully non-clinical) depression. Much about the season pushes us that way in any case. In Carmarthenshire, Wales, where I live, the weather has been very grey, most days filled with rain that has varied from penetrating drizzle to full-on horizontal. The ground is sodden. Work in the garden is largely impossible (even though my standing joke is of gardening as ‘playing in the mud’). A walk on the hill, where the weather would certainly blow or wash ‘the cobwebs away’, all just seems far too much effort. One might try a little Hypericum as remedy – derived from a beautiful golden-yellow flower traditionally linked to Midsummer – in the hope of recapturing a little of summer’s light. We hope for clear horizons on the day of Solstice Dawn, December 22nd . (here in the UK). We’ll be lighting a fire to greet the Sun.
For some further thoughts and inspiration, you might be interested in the next posts on the themes of
Winter Solstice – believe it or not? – what do we actually believe?
Many years ago, at a time when the Internet was a military secret, I edited a magazine, the sort one typed by hand, printed on paper and sent by snailmail. That was “Pandora’s Jar”, the title succeeding from “The Pipes of PAN”. Life being what it was, publication ceased in 1993.
It would surely be wrong for me to say that I’m carrying on where that venture left off. I would hope I’ve learned a thing or two since those days. My whiskers have whitened, my trees have grown, and likewise the children, now beautiful adults who have brought grandchildren into my life.
I’ve lived in this place for more than thirty years now – an acre on a watershed hillside in Carmarthenshire, Wales, adjoining an anciently sacred mountaintop. I grow vegetables, cut firewood, dance in a maze, talk to the rocks, light the circle fire to greet the spirits.
Being a Virgo, I tend to think too much about everything. That’s never been easy – much in the world seems closer to disaster than when I was younger. Back then, I was very much an eco-activist – it’s good to see a new generation picking up this task. I hope you will find these posts interesting, challenging, and sometimes inspiring. I wanted to subtitle them as “Pagan Spirituality, Pagan Ministry, Pagan Life, Pagan Politics”. That could encompass just about everything I might think of! If you like them, please follow the blog and share it with friends in the usual way.