Open the Winter Solstice celebration pages as a pdf Winter Solstice Festival Pages
As part of the 2015 Earth Pathways Diary festival pages we are including extra information on these festival web pages, to encourage you to explore the energy of the festivals yourself through stories and storytelling. We have been gifted these beautiful stories and chants by Marion McCartney.
The Sun enters the sign of Capricorn as her rays shine directly at their southern extreme for the year. This is the shortest day and the longest night of the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere they celebrate the Summer Solstice at this time.
The great cosmic wheel of the year, the fiery hub of the universe, the symbolic Wheel of Time, is acknowledged here. Jul or Yule means wheel in Norwegian. Northern Europeans of our Celtic past believed this mystic wheel stopped turning briefly at this crucial point as one cycle ended and a new cycle of the Sun began. It was taboo to rotate any wheels at the Winter Solstice, from cartwheels to butter churns, as they waited for the return of the Sun. The Solstice was a moment to stop, to look backwards in inner reflection and to look forwards to a new active season as the Sun’s returning power brings increased daylight, growth and activity. From now on the days will lengthen and the warmth will come again. This was an important moment in our Celtic past. Megalithic monuments acknowledged this return of the Sun. The outer Sarsen ring of Stonehenge is orientated to the Midwinter Solstice sunset. Newgrange in Ireland is aligned to dawn on the Winter Solstice when a shaft of light pierces a long tunnel deep into this burial mound to illuminate an inner chamber. It is possible still to be one of a handful of people who experience this moment standing deep inside this earth-womb chamber.
To understand this moment, it is important to realise that this festival is not the beginning, in a linear way, of looking at things, but a rebirth within a cycle in which the starting point chosen here is part of a vibrant whole. Therefore it is necessary to make a connection to what has gone before. Since the last festival at Samhain, the Earth has been withdrawn within itself. The darkness of the receding daylight hours has been felt by all of nature and humankind. Root energy has been strengthened, the dreamworld explored, mysteries understood. The deep wisdom of the unconscious has brought spiritual insights. The old year has died and, through reflection and assimilation, the way is now prepared for rebirth of the active principle. The ‘Cauldron of Regeneration’, as this process was known, was central to Celtic and pagan understanding. Something old must die in order for something new to be reborn. The period of rest and darkness is a vital link in the cycle of life.
Homes were decorated with evergreens such as holly, ivy, mistletoe, yew, pine, all of which represented the cycle of everlasting life. The church tried to stop these old customs but they have endured. Other traditional customs for the Winter Solstice included yule logs, door wreaths to symbolize the wheel of the year, feasting, gifts, dancing, masks, mystery plays, mummers’ plays, processions, decorated trees, and candlelight. These were to honour the return of the Sun and the cycle of life.
A traditional story told at Winter Solstice tells of a Sun king who ripened the harvest at Lammas and was sacrificed back into the land within the seed. (This signifies the sacrifice of the active principle as the Sun loses its power and the energy turns within.) He stays underground as the Dark Lord of the Underworld, Satan, Pluto, Hades, the Grim Reaper, Lord of Death. At the Winter Solstice he is reborn as the Lord of Light, the Sun king, the Sun god.
The christian church adopted this time to celebrate the birth of the ‘Son of God’, Jesus, the newborn king, on the 25th of December, just a few days after the Winter Solstice. The Mithraic religion had a similar saviour, Mithra, who was also born at the Winter Solstice after his death and conception nine months earlier on the 25th of March (Spring Equinox/Easter). He too was called the Light of the World. Norsemen celebrated the birthday of their Lord Frey at the Winter Solstice. A similar story is the one of Heracles, a Greek saviour, also born from a virgin. His twelve labours symbolized the passage of the Sun during the year through the twelve signs of the zodiac. After this journey, he was clothed in scarlet robes, killed, resurrected as his own Divine Father, to marry the Virgin Mother Goddess and be reborn all over again at the Winter Solstice. The ancient myths and legends have many stories and versions of wheel kings who were wrapped in fiery cloaks or fiery wheels. Divine Fathers and Divine Sons were one and the same person, cyclically alternating and uniting through marriage with the Virgin Mother Goddess to be reborn as new again.
In the western pagan tradition, the Sun is masculine, active, outward, creative energy, but there are older traditions which celebrated the Winter Solstice as rebirth of a Sun goddess. Anastasia was one of Rome’s great goddesses. Her holy day was that of the Sun’s rebirth at the Winter Solstice. This festival began with its eve called ‘matrum noctem’, the night of the mother. There were many earlier goddesses, all systematically destroyed, turned into devils or demons, masculinised or turned into saints to be incorporated into the church. Another interpretation of this part of the year is explained through the story of Demeter and Persephone who was abducted by Pluto and taken into his Underworld for the winter months. But Persephone was queen of the Underworld long before there was a Pluto, and Pluto was an earlier female deity, a daughter of the Cretan Earth mother Rhea. Pluto became masculine in christian times and given the qualities of the devil. Other female goddesses include Epona, Macha, Artemis, Astarte, Blodeuwedd, Kali, Demeter, Diana, Branwen, Creiddylad, Cerridwen, Morigan, Ceres, Grain, Brighidh, Kore – to name but a few.
Celtic understanding saw the Earth as a manifestation of a Triple Goddess. This included the Virgin Goddess of the Spring, the Mother Goddess of the summer and harvest, and the Crone who represented wisdom and the inner world of the winter months. This triple deity is found all over the world and is understood as three aspects of the same energy. During the christian era, the Crone became the dark witch-woman, the object of fear and superstition. Her connection to the inner world of wisdom, intuition and insights from within, almost became lost to humankind. As the Sun is reborn at the Winter Solstice, she becomes her virgin self again, echoing the virgin birth of the Sun king. It is interesting that at the time of the Winter Solstice, the constellation of the virgin rises in the East.
But times are changing and an even bigger cosmic wheel is turning as 2000 years of the Piscean Age give way to a new 2000 years of the Aquarian Age. Now at Winter Solstice let us acknowledge not a Sun god or a Sun goddess, but celebrate the return of the Sun’s energy, whether male or female. The growth period to come will bring the return of our active selves. Let us celebrate a time of a united humanity to come, a healing of the wounds of separation, fear and dominance as a new cycle begins.
THE UNDERLYING ENERGY OF WINTER SOLSTICE
The Earth has been withdrawn inside herself. Winter brings the hardships of cold and shortness of daylight. Very little outer growth has happened, but deep within the Earth, roots have been growing, bringing stability and nutrients to the plants and trees. Now we can see the new buds forming on the trees and bushes and bulbs are beginning to send up their first hardy shoots. All of nature has slowed down, waiting for the energy to change and for warmth to return. Due to the restraints of winter, we too have slowed down and have been conserving energy. We have spent time withdrawn within ourselves.
The time between Samhain and Yule is the darkest time of the year. As the outer world is darkened by shorter days and cloudy cold weather, the inner realms can expand. This has been a great opportunity for us to experience the world within our selves. It has been a time to assimilate our experiences and an incubation period for our own personal seeds, plans and ideas. Now with the return of the active outward energy that the Sun brings, all of these can slowly begin to manifest.
Winter Solstice is a celebration of the rebirth. of the Sun’s active cycle. Being part of this cycle means that we too are reborn at this time. We bring the wisdom of our inner journeys out into the world, to grow with the increasing light from the Sun. It is a time for birthing our visions and naming the dreams that we have been incubating so that we can assist their manifestation consciously in our lives. This is the time to celebrate the active principle whose positive qualities of logical thinking, determination and assertiveness bring independence and purpose to our lives.
Extract from Sacred Earth Celebrations by Glennie Kindred
Standing in the circle
Beneath the web of light
Dancing in the moonlight
On a cold new year’s night
And it seemed we were lifted
Flown across the years
By power-circle seers
And the Goddess and John Barleycorn
Will put flesh upon the bones
Fly ribbons round the barrows
Plant footprints round the stones
The Goddess and John Barleycorn
Will keep the spirit strong
For those who remember
For those who sing the song
So stand in the circle
Weave the web of light
Dance in the moonlight
Bring fire to the night
Release the past that made us
Release the fire within
Revel in the mystery
And embrace your sacred kin.
For Brian’s music and songs www.brianboothby.co.uk