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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Ogham: The Mysterious Language of Trees: Rowan

Rowan

After November 1st, we enter the darkest time of year. A bright branch of Rowan is like a torch in the night and at the heart of each flame-colored berry is the five-pointed star of protection. Little wonder a Rowan wands were used to ward off enchantments.

The Faery gateway of the Green and Burning Trees, suggests the  green and burning quality of Rowan.

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Linda6769 photostream

Witches Wheel

Rowan berry, rowan berry
Ends in a yellow star.
A wand of rowan above our beds
Is an anchor in dark December dreams…

Luis ( loush)

The lovely Rowan is the fire in the night. With its bright orange berries, it lights up the perpetual twilight of winter with a touch of brilliant warmth much like the hearth fires our ancestors gathered around as they hunkered down for long hours indoors.  For most of their waking hours, the fire and the candles were the only sources of light. Small wonder that a tree bearing the color of flames would be perceived as protective.

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There was a time when fire was so scarce that it was kept very safe and was never allowed to go out. Our very early ancestors did not know how to create fire; they knew it as a gift from the Gods. Fire was carried in lamps and delivered from lamp to lamp. Woe to the person who let the fire go out!

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In the Book of Balymote, “Luis is the delight of eye that is Luisu”, or the lambent color of flame. In modern Irish Luise indicates a red glare with added luster or sheen. As fire keeps off predatory animals and freezing cold, it also has the power to ward of demons, faeries, and ghosts. To that end, rowan is planted in graveyards to keep the dead from rising. The wood of the Rowan was used by the Druids on funeral pyres for it had power over death and rebirth.

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The association of Rowan with fire is one reason it is ascribed to Candlemas and the Goddess of the eternal flame, Brighid. The poetry of this may be why the Ogham was made to correspond to the Julian calender of a January 1st New Year. But the symbolism of the Rowan also suits the festival of Winter Solstice. The use of Rowan as a protective amulet toward off the darkness of December, to survive for the time when the light begins to return, is a strong point in favor of Rowan belonging to December.

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The magic of Rowan guards us against the forces of chaos and destruction, strongly linked in the minds of our ancestors with darkness and the creatures that prowl unseen and hungry at the doors and windows. Rowan promises rebirth with the increasing warmth and light that comes after the Winter Solstice.

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Rowan was said in ancient times to have been guarded by dragons.

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Rowan Tree and Red Thread,
Gar the Witches tyne their speed.

Rowan tree and red thread slow down wicked witches, for it has the power to bind to malevolent forces. Magic wands made of Rowan branches are excellent for this purpose. In celtic countries, spindles and spinning wheels were made of Rowan.
Rowan, also known as Mountain Ash, is one of the trees of the sacred Faery groves of oak, ash, and thorn.  Scottish Faeries are known to hold celebrations within stone circles protected by Rowan trees.

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It is so sacred to the Scots that the old law does not allow use of any part of the tree except for sacred purposes.
Another reason for the Rowan’s protective influence, and its magical nature, can by found by examining the berries themselves, for at the end of each one is a tiny five-pointed star, or pentagram.

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Rowan Working

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It is the deepest dark of winter. You sit close to the fire to stay warm. The fire sets you dreaming so that you see the flames part and desire to walk between them. In you minds eyes, they flames become two Rowan trees. Pass between the trees, bright with red berries, into the snowy landscape on the other side, bringing with you the fire of Luis. Let it illuminate your path.
A necklace of Rowan berries is the Red Thread that confers protection from evil spells.

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Divination by Rowan: You need protection and nourishing through this time. Creativity, vision art, poetry and storytelling are inspired as you slow down and focus inwards with the flame of passionate inspiration to guide you. Health and strength improve.
Magic can be done by placing Rowan twigs above the doors and windows for protection. Place Rowan twigs in the shape of a cross and bind with red thread to be carried as a protective amulet.

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Another name for Rowan is Witch Tree or Wicken Tree and can be used for divining precious metals in the way hazel is sued to find water. Rowan can be used to increase psychic powers, and is a fine ingredient in spells for healing, success, safety, and is used to make excellent magic wands.

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Magical Correspondences:

Ogham Name:
Letter: L
Tree: Rowan
Deities: Brighid
Birds: duck
Animals: unicorn, bear
Color: flame red
Uses: magical protection

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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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