The Winter Solstice is upon us! The sun has ventured down to the lowest point in the sky, bringing with him the shortest day and the longest of nights. It doesn’t get any darker than this. Ever since the Autumn Equinox back last September, the balance of power between the light and the dark has been in the grip of darkness. We have all experienced the chill of the drawing in of the nights and the gloom of the grey and misty morn, even if the weather recently has been abnormally warm.
The rhythms of the natural world around us have ebbed, and energy flows back into roots and trunks. Woodland floors are carpeted with fallen leaves revealing the bones of the trees, black silhouettes against richly hued, vibrant sunsets.
Those birds whose bodies observe this pattern of behaviour will have flown to far off lands, and some animals will now be deep in hibernation, awaiting the coming Spring.
Yet other life continues here. In plant life, the evergreen of the holly, ivy, pine, fir, cypress, cedar and yew give us hope of the Spring to come.
Sometimes new life may appear – the sound of geese and other birds migrating here in search of shelter and food from their harsh homelands.
Life goes on in the natural, but at a slower pace than before. Compare this with the rush of the mad panic buying of Christmas shopping with its blaring tunes, flashing lights and pressure to conform to the grinding wheel of rampant consumerism. Or compare this with the feeling of being obliged to attend each and every event that’s taking place around and about us because we feel we are being judged if we don’t partake. We can actually burn out on religion if we’re not careful to practice what we preach about Advent being a time of watching and waiting – having the full joy of the Christmas season (which actually starts on the 24th December) be nothing more than collapsing in exhaustion. We would do well to take stock of the natural world’s ways – there is wisdom for those who will stop and listen.
In all traditions, this is seen as a time of celebration, and rightly so, for after the Winter Solstice, the light will return once more, bringing with it the warmth necessary to revive that which is dormant in our landscape.
In the story of certain Pagan traditions it is the time where the Winter Queen reigns, where the perpetual fight in the wyld wood between the leaf giants, the Oak and Holly Kings, comes to a head. The dark Holly King surrenders his crown to the lighter Oak King, to rule once more from now until the Summer Solstice. We are reminded that in the darkness, light has always been present, fighting valiantly, so that even the smallest light can never be fully smothered by darkness. We must remember that the promised cycle of the seasons will continue as long as the earth endures. Hope remains in that promise, no matter how barren the landscape, the land will be reborn every spring. Some even tell the story of Yule and the birth of the Sun God at this time.
In the Christ Tradition, it is a time for celebrating the incarnation of the Son of Righteousness, the one of whom ancient prophets spoke; the Divine Child of Promise, a child who brought hope, light and justice in a world of turmoil and darkness. His birth was announced in the skies in two ways. Firstly, a heavenly host of angelic beings to the lowest of the low, the shepherds in their fields at night, showing that the Divine is interested in those generally cast out by society.
And secondly, it was announced by three triple conjunctions of the planets Venus (the Mother Planet) and Jupiter (the King Planet), and the King Star, Regulus, in the constellation of Leo, the Lion of Judah. It was an immutable sign, one which the ancient world marvelled at. Those in high places, who listened to the voices of the ancient prophets and opened their hearts to leading of the Eternal Spirit were moved to trek hundreds of miles in order to worship the Christ Child, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Like the sun moving down from its high point at the Summer Solstice, to its lowest at the Winter Solstice, the Son of Righteousness moved from the highest heavenly plane to this earthly one at his incarnation. And from the highest ranks of the Chaldean astrologers, to the lowest outcasts in the shepherds, the Almighty Starbreather calls all us and creation into deep relationship, regardless of background or past experiences.
At this time where our very life breath becomes visible to us in the cold, may we give thanks for that breath each day.
May we ask the Light Eternal to shine into the darker areas of our hearts, minds and spirits, burning away the negative things that bind us, that we too may walk more fully in the light, as He is in the light.
A Winter Blessing
Blessings of the Ever Present One fill you with hope, joy, love and peace
Blessings of the Oak Moon shine upon you
Blessings of the Bright Morning Star give you hope for each day
Blessings of the Holy One work through you.
And may the light given to us shine out in the darkness this wintertime.
Matthew Arnold, 2016