Today is the winter solstice, marking the shortest day of the year and the longest night. Rather than trying to think of some beautiful, new words all my own, I will let a few of our authors handle it. Here are a couple excerpts to enjoy while sipping something warm and watching the snow fall in the dark afternoon.
December is a month for holiday celebrations, no matter which religion you follow. For Pagans, that holiday is Yule, which falls on or around December 21st. Yule is a celebration of the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year.
In the Wiccan symbolism of the turning Wheel of the Year, this is the time when the Holly King (who represents the dark half of the year) is overthrown by the Oak King (who represents the light half of the year), thus ensuring the slow return of light and warmth. The goddess, as Mother, gives birth to the infant god, completing the cycle of birth, growth, death and rebirth. Hope is born again.
Wiccans celebrate Yule by making wreaths of pine boughs or holly, or by bringing a small living tree indoors and decorating it with apples, cinnamon sticks, or popcorn to feed the wood sprites that might come in with it. Fir trees are traditional because they are symbolic of the “life in the midst of death” aspect of the season, since they remain green when most other trees are bare. We kindle bonfires and light lots of candles to represent the return of the light, and burn a Yule log for good fortune in the coming year.
From Circle, Coven & Grove by Deborah Blake
Yule (also called winter solstice), Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year, and St. Valentine’s Day are holidays that reinforce our desire for togetherness. The chill in the air and the dramatically reduced presence of the sun play into our need to pull inside. We pull into ourselves as readily as we pull into our homes. This is a time to balance introspection with finding clever ways of demonstrating our feelings for others. Winter is also a time to plan and to dream, as it is the season of the sleeping bear, and the time of mid-winter dreaming festivals for some Native American nations. The elder, symbol of the winter season of life, is also celebrated. Yes, it is a challenging time, but if it is approached with an appreciation for what it offers us it can be a free gift to all.
From Four Seasons of Mojo by Stephanie Rose Bird
In this excerpt, Dianne Sylvan looks at Yule as a holiday representing elemental Earth:
Earth stands still, silent, waiting. It is the body, wrapped tightly in coats and blankets against the frigid air of winter. It is the silhouette of the trees, the track of a wolf in snow or mud. It is the element of the physical, and in winter it is concerned with survival.
Even if you live in a mild climate, winter is still a time to stay close to the safety and comfort of home. Traditional holidays during winter are those that encourage family gatherings, coming together around the hearth fire. The sounds and smells of this season are those things that endure: evergreens, the scent of your mother’s baking pies, the sound of family in the next room. Earth hides the roots of plants, and in winter we seek out our own roots for comfort, fellowship, and rest.
At Yule – the moments of greatest darkness – we experience true stillness. Yule is the pause between one life and another; a time to consider what choices we will have to make before rebirth. The forest is quiet, the fields are bare. In winter we can see the shapes hidden beneath outer form. Even your breath hangs in the air.
From The Circle Within by Dianne Sylvan
The following excerpt explores solar male deities born at this time of year… if you want to read about the female deities, you’ll have to get the book! I already had to snip quite a bit to edit this down to a blog-friendly length.
There is much more to the winter solstice beneath all the relief and the assurance that the thaw really will come a few months from now. There’s a spiritual excitement in this season as white-bearded Father Time exits into the snow and the night, and each of us welcomes the exuberant, laughing Golden Boy of life itself. The winter solstice promises immortality, as the new moon once did. Just as the first sliver of the new moon suggested that she has come through what looked like the loss of her light, and extinction, the winter solstice also symbolizes – only now on a grander scale that is twelve times as long as the moon’s—the human soul’s survival beyond death.
The message is irresistible. If the Light Renewer, the Solar boy, can be born again in this way after having given his light and warmth to others, then perhaps I can too. That’s why the winter solstice, and December 25 in particular, has been celebrated in the Northern world for more than six thousand years as the birth or feast day of many solar deities, resurrected kings and queens, and saviors. Countless sacred figures celebrated as the Light of the World were born on this day. The parade begins, as usual in the Middle East.
In the ancient Egyptian calendar, December 25 is the birthday of the great warrior hero Horus the Younger, son of Isis and Osiris. This falcon-headed Sun child, destined to battle Set, neter of destruction and chaos, for the survival of life on Earth, is solar energy in active physical manifestation. His birthday comes, fittingly enough, at what is not only winter-solstice time, but is also the middle of the spring season of Peret in Egypt, so his coming aligns with both the return of the light and the sowing of the Black Land by the river. December 25 was also the birthday of the Babylonian god Baal, or Bel. Baal, like Horus, is a figure whose brilliance represents the rational order symbolized by the Sun’s unchanging course in the sky, and his vitalizing force in the growth of all life on Earth.
The Greeks celebrated on this day the birth of one of the ideal images of male beauty: Apollo, god of light, intellect, rational order, classical form, and the mystery of prophecy. On the same day, curiously, some of Apollo’s opposite numbers were born and honored too: Dionysus and Attis, the great deity of Phrygia, both associated with ecstatic revelry, blood, wine, and the wild, sensuous Phrygian mode of music, which was considered by some an affront to public decency. The incomparably beautiful Adonis, lover of Aphrodite, was also reborn on this day each year, to die a few months later, not long after the spring equinox.
In ancient Persia, before the arrival of the inspiring new faith of Zoroaster, December 25 was the birthday of the solar deity Mithras, whose ritual slaying of the Bull enacts the ascendancy of the light of spirit over the darkness and density of matter.
In the ancient Norse tradition, this is the birthday of Baldur, yet another beautiful young god who dies in the bloom of youth in spring, and returns as winter begins again. His day is associated with wreaths of greenery and holly, such as the famous Evergreen Festival that the peoples of central and western Europe celebrated for the five days of the solstice in the planting of new evergreens and the making of evergreen wreaths. Baldur’s legend tells us why holly has long been associated with this season, and still is. The story is that Loki the trickster playfully tossed a holly wand at Baldur, and the shaft pierced his heart like a spear. Baldur’s blood fell on the young white holly berries, staining them red.
The last of these divine birthdays is the one everyone knows. December 25 is Christmas, birthday of Jesus of Nazareth, considered by his devotees to be the Promised One, the Messiah, whom Christians revere as the fully realized embodiment of divinity, the Christ.
From Dance of the Moon by Dan Furst
Take some time this holiday season to reflect on the greater themes of this solstice in your life. Happy Solstice, everyone!