Winter Solstice Mysteries

Winter Solstice Mysteries


The longest night of the year is at hand. For three days and nights the sun stations below the rim of the horizon, deep in the underworld. Our ancient ancestors, immersed in, and dependent upon, the fluctuations of natural light and darkness, feared what would happen if the sun failed to return to the upper world, leaving them in perpetual night.

The further north our ancestors lived, the greater was their necessity to insure the resurrection of the sun, yet the sun’s strength was needed in all lands for the growth of the crops , whether they be fields of grain or vineyards.

In the pre-Christian world, people perceived that everything was alive, that all of nature was imbued with spirit; animals and plants were animated by the same divine life force that filled mankind. The planets and stars, remote and shining, were gods, the earth was the fertile mother.

The sun was the most glorious of the heavenly gods, for it provided heat and light and quickened the life in the soil. The sun was thought to be a living being that died and was reborn, whose return from death made the plants blossom, the animals give birth, and gave joy and prosperity to the people. Therefore was the sun considered to be the savior of mankind. Because of this, Winter Solstice has always been a time of encouragement and celebration.

It is interesting to note that in northern climates, where the dark is long and cold, the sun is perceived as exclusively benign, whereas in countries closer to the equator, the sun becomes a tyrant that dries up the land, whose heat and light is oppressive. These qualities are reflected in their religions. The extremes of dark and light mirror the duality of good and evil in Northern Europe, whereas a harsh, angry jealous god who must be placated in the Mediterranean and South America.

The symbols of Christmas come out of the ancient Mysteries. The evergreen tree symbolizes everlasting life. Lights are placed in the trees to simulate the sun shining in the branches, ornaments in the shape of pine cones are added to encourage the trees to bear, shining orbs of all colors are also representations of the sun. Before electricity, candles were lit in the trees; fire stolen from the gods has the power to lure them closer to the earth.

Cultures from ancient Egypt to Northern Europe celebrated the return of the Light of the World around December 21st or just after with feasting, songs, and gift giving. The giving of gifts was not always a commercial activity, but an affirmation, and participation with the earth bringing forth its many gifts to support the lives of the people.

Saturn and Santa

Folk tale depiction of Father Christmas riding...
Image via Wikipedia

The Romans celebrated Saturnalia in honor of Saturn, god of agriculture, with a celebration of Misrule, turning everything topsy-turvy to break apart the old crystallized pattern of the previous year and create a new order. The tradition of ordaining a peasant King for a Day, and making the real king a pauper, symbolized transformation from darkness into light. This practice also accorded the king the same status as the sun, hidden away in the darkness for one long night before he returns to set things right again.

Santa Clause has his origins in Saturnalia. As God of Agriculture, he gives many gifts in anticipation of the plenty to come. He carries the holly, an evergreen tree with berries that mirror the stages of life, and the mistletoe with its suggestions of Druidic fertility rites. Originally called Saint Nicolas, or Father Christmas, he was slender and dressed in green before the Coca Cola company requested he be dressed in the red and white of their logo and associated with merchandising. He grew fat and greedy, reflecting a more sinister alignment with Saturn as devourer of his own children.  With this stroke of marketing propaganda, the true Spirit of Winter Solstice, of Christmas, of Hanukkah, and all festivals of light, has been confined in the darkness of the unconscious of modern people to make way for a frenzy of consumer spending. Yet we, though all of focus on material things, a longing for the return of the Child of Light can still well up in those moments when we stand in the glow of the colored lights on the houses, smell the fragrance of the tree, or are stilled by the sight of candles flaring in the darkness. We may still even pray for the spirits of peace and goodwill to shine over the earth with the rays of the new born sun.

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Have Joyful Winter Solstice! Celebrate and be Inspired!

Have Joyful Winter Solstice!

Let’s have a magical feast and invite everyone who desires to share in the spirit of love,  generosity, elegance, and creative imagination.

Cheers!

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The Struggle Between Darkness and Light: The Old Meaning of Christmas

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The Color of Christmas is Black

Christmas is a celebration of the dawning of the light.

In the Western World we have combined elements of Pagan rituals with the Christian Mystery of the nativity for a joyous recognition that new Light comes out of Darkness, that the resurrection of life after death is part of the cycle of nature.

Red, green, gold, tinsel, these are the colors associated with Christmas. But the old color of Christmas is black. The black of the long night filled with stars, the black of life still quickening under the soil, The darkness of the evergreen forest with glints of sun shining through,  the darkness of snow banked  houses inwardly lit by candles and hearth fires.

saturnalia

And then there is the old tradition of Saturnalia.

Ancient Romans told tales of a Gold Age ruled over by King Saturn, God of sowing and husbandry. Old King Cole was a Merry Old Soul could have been written about him. The earth brought forth abundantly  as King Saturn brought people together from far and wide to teach them how to plant an harvest and till the ground, how to live lawful lives under his generous and peaceful rule. All property was held in common, greed and war were not even thought of.

After King Saturn vanished, or died, his reign continued to be commemorated by the Romans with shrines and festivals in his honor. And every winter from the 17th to the 23rd of December, great revels took place led by the Spirit of Misrule. Slaves were freed and allowed to act the part of Masters. Masters waited upon slaves. Class barriers were further razed as everyone indulged in feasting, drinking, dancing and orgies. The high point of this carnival was the coronation of the Mock King. Usually chosen by lot, the slave who was mad King, ordered the people around, often requesting the drunken revelers to perform ridiculous antics, like silly dances, mimicking animals, or carrying musicians on their backs.

But as was the case in most ancient agricultural societies known for an abundantly fertile and yielding earth. there was another side to these festivities. For the Mock King, who for a few days enjoyed every indulgence, for whom was his command, ended his reign with his head on the block, burned in the fire, or hung on the gallows tree.

It was believed that the Sun actually died on Winter Solstice, and that the only way to bring it back to life, was to exchange one life for another — a human life for the life of the sun.  The Mock King of the Saturnalia, chosen by chance — and therefore by the Gods — drunken and in a state of high excitement, was a slave for whom these few days may have been worth the price of his short and miserable life.

old king cole

The Battle of the Summer and Winter Kings

What is this connection of Christmas time and death? For Christians it would be a pre-configuration of Easter, when the Son would die as a human being and be resurrected as God, and bright solar God at that.  In December, the Mock King, a Christmas Fool dies to bring back the Sun.

The Celts had a tradition of the Oak King and the Holly King meeting on the field of battle at Winter Solstice. The Oak King o Summer must give way to the Holly King of winter, but will not do so without a fight. That it was a fight to the death is a given in the books I have read on the subject. Was this another way to insuring the sun coming back in exchange for a human life? Or was this battle enacted in the Dreamtime — the Otherworld realm where European  shamans battled witches to protect the fertility of the land?

HollyKing

It is the brightness over the darkness that gives Christmas its special character. Gold over black. The warm glow of fire, the colored lights, the shining evening clothes and jewels shining in the long dark night of winter is the glamor of Christmas. But under the reassuring images of Santa Clause, and  abundant gift giving in honor of King Saturn’s Golden Age, and the Peace on Earth that also characterized his mythical reign, is the deeper complication of our mortality and our place in the scheme of things. We call on angels, wise Kings and a Great Mother Goddess to bring forth the Light now.  The Mystery still remains — the birth of the Divine Child, the one and only God, entering the darkness of the flesh to awaken the Light within us all.

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