Winter Solstice, unfolding

Whenever you celebrate Winter Solstice, ENJOY! This is a multi-day unfolding.

Rather than measuring minutes & seconds of daylight, our ancestors celebrated the return of the Sun as it began moving again, coming north as seen along the horizon at dawn or sunset. Their sacred sites were created to mark the solstice extreme points, from which you could then observe the return motion away from those points.

“Solstice” means the sun (Sol) standing still (stasis) – Thanks to Earth’s axis-tilt, the Sun reaches it southern-most point and then STAYS THERE for two-three days, before our tilt starts bringing it northward again. * 
Sun’s southern-most standstill dates, this year: December 21-22, 2015 at 23º S 26‘.

This year, the northern motion – the Sun’s return – can first be measured (though maybe not seen by the naked eye) on
* Wednesday, Dec. 23, as the Sun’s declination shifts to 23º S 25‘.

By Distaff Day, January 7, the Sun will have come a full 1º back northward – clearly noticeable if you’re using markers in the landscape (like Stonehenge), sunbeams within sites (like Newgrange or Fajada Butte) or shadow-casting markers (like a sundial). 
Marking the Solstice can be super-simple: Just mark where the rising or setting Sun’s light strikes a wall inside your home.

* Shortest days/longest nights:
December 18 thru 25, 2015 – 9 hours & 33 minutes
*Earliest Sunsets – the first week of December: 4:50pm
(before the Sun’s standstill)
*Latest Sunrises – the first week of January: 7:25am
(after the Sun’s standstill)
*Sun enters Capricorn, the so-called “first day of Winter”: Sorry, but thanks to the Precession of the Equinoxes, the Sun doesn’t get out of Sagittarius and into Capricorn until about January 20.

We measure lots of minutia now – length of days down to the second – because we can, but that doesn’t mean it needs to rule us, or our ritual dates and choices. Since I’m most thrilled with the return of the Sun and its light, I personally want to see that motion back to the north, but I’m also thrilled to celebrate with friends throughout this season, whatever the theme, date, or rationale.

Bless the root-growth and hibernation of the long dark nights, and bless the returning light!

Image: The Sun card from the “Golden Tarot of the Renaissance”

Christmas Eve – Mother’s Night

T-holly

Our calendars call it the first day of Winter, but the Yule Solstice actually signifies the return of the sun and the beginning of the end of Winter — small wonder it’s a time of celebration. Thanks to the Earth’s own axis tilt, the sun has been heading into the south since the Summer Solstice. From the Autumnal Equinox onward, the results have been ominously obvious: As the sun goes farther and farther south, it stays lower in the sky and the days are progressively shorter. Plants wither, animals migrate or hibernate, the Snow Demons reign. In ancient times, if the harvest was poor and the hunting was meager, Hel, the Norse Queen of the Underworld, began calling frailer folk to Her realm, optimistically called the Summerland.

newgrange-light-box

Newgrange & winter sun.

In an age when winter was so potentially lethal (as it still is for some among us), knowing just how far south the sun would go was of crucial importance. The psychological impact would have been considerable — it still is. Hundreds of geographically diverse sites from antiquity, from Stonehenge and Newgrange to Chaco Canyon, incorporate sun-watching markers — stand right here and you’ll see the sun rise or set over that special hill, between those particular rocks, or reach in to illuminate this otherwise-dark place.

When that happens, the sun has stopped moving south and will briefly hold its position, rising in the same spot for a few days. The Latin roots of “solstice” mean just that: the sun stands still. In December, the sun’s southern-most declination (23º 25’ S) is reached around the 19th and held through about the 23rd.

Then the sun begins its move back toward the north. The longest nights grip us from about December 18th through around the 26th, after which the days begin to lengthen. “Sol” to the Norse peoples, “Sulis” to the Celts and “Sunna” to the Old Germans, the Goddess of Many Names begins returning north, gradually bringing with Her the birds and beasts, the green growing plants and the blesséd warmth. Slowly the earth becomes fecund and lush again.

Fertility is the underlying theme behind many Yule-season traditions, with the plants carrying much of the symbolism. In its living state, mistletoe was considered the genitalia of the oak-god, Zeus-Jupiter, and its white berries were equated with semen (Graves describes the berries as having a “spermal viscosity”). Virgil wrote of it as Golden Bough, saying the mistletoe gave access to the Underworld; in fact its Norse name is Guidhel, or “guide to hell.”  Mistletoe’s wood is also extremely strong, apropos of its legendary use in spears (another phallic association).

Holly gets its name from Hel or Mother Holle, the Underworld Goddess, its red berries signifying female moon-blood. Linguistically, “holly” also connects with “hole” and the German word Hohle means both hole and cave.

Put this is sexual terms, and the symbolism becomes as clear as a snuggle-inducing midwinter night. Holly and mistletoe displayed together betoken female/male union, a ritual sacred marriage to re-fructify the earth. With a nod (and a wink) to the sexual preferences among your householders and holly-day guests, you might consider hanging the two plants in combination in some doorways, Holly alone hung in other spots, and the familiar Mistletoe on its own elsewhere. Bound to liven up the festivities.

Christmas trees originated with the sacred groves of trees consecrated to the Great Mother. Like caves, circular groves symbolized the Goddess’ vulva; a single tree within the circle represented both Her child and Her lover.

Suddenly the phallic significance of that yule log also seems obvious, if not downright blatant: the folk songs of Provence (fabled retreat of Mary Magdalene) tout the fertilizing prowess gleaned from even the ashes of the French “Noel Log.”  Put a simple circle of small pine clippings ‘round the base of a hefty candle and and  bring on the generative heat!

Single standing stones were credited with similar powers. With the winter Sun traveling low in the sky even at noon, the stones’ shadows remain at their annual most-virile extreme from sun-up to sundown.

This holiday seems far more sensual than our Fundamentalist friends might prefer for their lone divine birthday party. Jesus wasn’t always a Capricorn, of course. His official birth date didn’t land on Christmas until the 4th century. December 25 — often the first day of northerly solar motion after the solstice’s standstill — was already widely celebrated as Mithra’s “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.” The nouveau church fathers, as usual, simply co-opted that date for their own Son. The Winter Solstice also marked the birthdays of Attis, Dionysus, Osiris, Zeus, Cuchulain and other northern hemisphere deities.  The annual rebirth of the Norse god Frey was also marked then by the celebration known as Yule, the pagan name by which we know the holiday.

Lest all the emphasis seem to be on the son/sun, please note that Christmas Eve — known of old as Modranect  or Mother’s Night — used to be considered an even greater festival than Christmas Day itself.  Mother’s Night probably emphasized the act of giving birth, letting the Solstice itself emphasize that which was born: why not have two holidays?

In Yule ritual, darkening the room completely is very effective, as we journey into our own deep hearts on this long night — what inner work, “root-work,” is occurring now?  What will we bring forth into the light in the coming months?  And then we return, with lights, candles, perhaps a brilliant cauldron-fire (of clean-burning epsom salts and  rubbing alcohol) to welcome the inspirations we give birth to.

RITUAL IDEAS and  QUESTIONS

– Darken the room and  then invite light to return

– Consciously cast off something in your life that feels “dark,” perhaps by writing it out and burning the paper

– Consciously invite in the “light” — ask for inspiration

– Perform a “Birthing,” pulling each person in turn through an arch of legs

– “What inner work — root growth — are we doing now?”

– “What will we take forward into the light?”

It’s hard to begin manifesting something we can’t at least imagine. Let your long-winter-nights dreaming spark forward into waking reality.

______________________

Some sources:

Janet and  Stewart Farrar, The Witches’ God, (Phoenix Publishing: Custer WA, 1989).

Robert Graves, The White Goddess, (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux: New York, 1966).

Gerald S. Hawkins, Stonehenge Decoded, (Dell Publishing: New York, 1965).

Lucy Lippard, Overlay, (Pantheon Books: New York, 1983).

The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Published annually.

Renna Shesso, A Magical Tour of the Night Sky, (Weiser: San Francisco, 2011).

Peg Streep, Sanctuaries of the Goddess (Little, Brown and Co: Boston, 1994).

Barbara Walker, The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and  Secrets, (Harper and  Row: New York, 1983).

Spirals, and Spring fever

sun-dagger

Almost Spring!  This Wednesday is the Spring Equinox, the halfway point in the Sun’s journey between Winter’s southern-most extreme (short days, long nights) and Summer’s northern-most point (long days, short nights).  Equinoxes, this one in March and its opposite in September, mark the midpoints, when day and night are equal.

Those spirals above? That’s the “Sun Dagger,” a petroglyph on Fajada Butte in Chaco Canyon, a remote site in New Mexico.  Angled noon light marks the sun’s seasonal passage: at Summer Solstice slicing the large spiral’s center (top), at each Equinox bisecting the smaller spiral (center), and at Winter Solstice bracketing the large spiral (bottom).

The Solstices are times of contrasting extremes: heat or cold, light or dark, sun far north or sun far south.  The Equinoxes are – in sun-terms – times of balance.  Days and nights are of equal length, and the Sun is “balanced” along the horizon: It rises due East and sets due West.

Chaco Canyon and its extensive ruins are something of a monument to Equinoxes, with alignments to that twice-annual sun-balance embedded throughout the vast site.  Chaco was also the “only culture known in the world to align their buildings to the Moon’s cycle.”*

Spring Equinox is a spring-feverish time as we break out of Winter.  Here in the Rocky Mountain West, Ostara can bring new buds or blizzards, or both.  Mama Earth kicks off Her blanket of snow, and starts to stretch and wake up… and then maybe curls back under Her snow-covers again for a few days.  But from Wednesday onward, the days will be longer than the nights… She’ll be wide awake and leaping up soon enough.

On Wednesday, I’ll watch sunrise and sunset, and note my shadow’s shape at noon.  Balance.  But meanwhile, the weather can’t make up its mind.  The winds are wild and the clouds are crazy… well, me, too.  Spring fever sets in, an undercurrent of anti-hibernation sensory awareness.  So I’ll explore my imbalances and move gently to adjust them, but I might enjoy them, too.  “Dance like no-one’s watching…”  The world is new again.

____________________

* Anna Sofaer, quoted in the video “The Mystery of Chaco Canyon.”  More on Chaco, and understanding and working with Moon and Sun cycles in A Magical Tour of the Night Sky.  Chaco Canyon is an Ancient Puebloan site, c. 850-1140 BCE, and is designated a National Historic Park, covering nearly 34,000 acres.

A National Memorial for Survivors of Rape and Abuse?

File:MayaLinsubmission

A National Memorial for Survivors of Rape and Abuse?  Wow.  A couple of ideas here immediately.

  • Many of the ancient sacred sites in the US were earthworks, colossal mounds of earth shaped as animal figures (i.e. Ohio’s Serpent Mound) and/or aligned to particular sky-actions (solstices, equinoxes, lunar extremes). Few remain, but they are profound, and often huge.
  • We have a modern “sacred site” that parallels much that we find in the ancient places: a sense of both privacy and community, connection with “something greater,” aesthetically evocative, aligned… That place is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (shown above in the original design submission).

What could a A National Memorial for Survivors of Rape and Abuse look like? More important, what could it FEEL like?  Safe for all, at all hours of day or night? Open to the moon?  So much food for thought here!