A Celebration of the Season of Darkness

(So why does it have everything to do with the Light?)

If you think of the Sun rising on the eastern horizon, like a swinging pendulum, it stops in the northeast at the Summer Solstice (Sun standstill) and begins its downward swing, moving slowly at first through the time of Lughnasad, until, by the time of the Autumnal Equinox, it is moving at its peak speed along the horizon each morning. Then, as the pendulum begins its ascent to the other end of its swing, at first, the Sun still moves quickly along the horizon until Samhain, when its rising position begins to slow down visibly each day until, in the gathering gloom of November and into December, it inches its way along the south eastern horizon towards the darkest day of the year, the Winter Solstice. This is the time when the Darkness really descends upon us in the Northern half of the northern Hemisphere.

5 December – In the Netherlands this is Sinterklaasavond ("avond" = evening). The Dutch believe that Saint Nicholas was the Bishop of Mira in Turkey, and he rides his horse up through Spain to the Netherlands. In Spain, he picked up a Moor named Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), the "respected fool" who is always played by a white man in black-face. If a child has been good, he gets presents, but if he has been naughty, Zwarte Piet will put him in his bag and take him back to Turkey! This event is around the Christian time of the beginning of Advent, and helps to keep the commercialism separate from Christmas.

13 December – It’s about the Light going away. The 13th of December is Santa Lucia Day. Lucy/ Lucia = lux/lucas = light. When I was a kid, my younger sister, wearing a crown of candles, would bring cookies and cakes to our father while everyone sang “Santa Lucia.” She was the early Christian Saint who, when an admirer told her that she had beautiful eyes, she plucked them out and gave them to him! The lights are going out.

17 December – Saturnalia was the Roman event of choice just before the Winter Solstice. The Old Man Saturn was, among other things, keeper of boundaries. Winter Solstice marks one of these boundaries – the furthest south the Sun will rise on the eastern horizon each year. Saturnalia was a time when Rome went wild. It originally was held on the 17th and 18th; however, during the empire, it was extended to a week (December 17-23). It was a time of wine, women, song, and general debauchery. The annual Christmas Office Party is a pale remnant of this celebration. A time to stretch beyond the usual boundaries.

21 December +/- – Winter Solstice – Unlike the Cross Quarter Days, which are moveable feasts (depending upon how you choose to determine them), the Winter Solstice itself can be determined with extreme accuracy. This year it will occur at 00:22 GMT on Monday morning, December 22nd 2006.

The Solstices are the days when the Sun reaches its farthest northern and southern declinations.

As the Earth travels around the Sun in its orbit, the apparent north-south position of the Sun changes over the course of the year. This is because the equator is tilted at 23.45 degrees to the plane of the earth's orbit, also known as the ecliptic. So, at summer solstice in the northern hemisphere the equator arcs below the plane of the ecliptic and the northern hemisphere is closest to the sun. At winter solstice it arcs above the ecliptic and the northern hemisphere is farthest from the sun, and vice versa for the southern hemisphere. When both hemispheres are equally presented to the sun, we have the Vernal and Autumnal equinoxes.

Full solar year

All days at 12:00 Noon GMT, so London is always facing the Sun in these images

(I am told by astronomers that I have the Earth moving in a clockwise direction which is incorrect when viewed from above (from the North). I have always seen the eight point year moving in a clockwise direction with the Winter Solstice at the bottom and Summer Solstice at the top, and the Spring Equinox at 9:00, so please imagine that you are seeing this yearly cycle from below the Sun (from the South), and this is then an accurate representation.)

In the Northern hemisphere, the Winter Solstice is the day of the year when the Sun rises and sets farthest to the south; however, in the Southern hemisphere, Winter and Summer Solstices are reversed so that the Winter Solstice is the day on which the Sun rises farthest in the north east. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice marks the first day of the season of winter. The declination of the Sun on the (northern) Winter Solstice is known as the Tropic of Capricorn (declination -23° 27').

Neolithic people knew about the Winter Solstice – New Grange in Ireland (sun rise) and Maes Howe in the Orkneys (sun set) are both oriented towards the Winter Solstice Sun. While the Maes Howe window is rather wide, the New Grange “light box” works for only a few days.

In ancient Egypt, the god-man/saviour Osiris died and was entombed on December 21st. At his moment of death, the priests brought out a baby, indicating his immediate rebirth; the Christians celebrate a birth of a god just after this time as well.

In Greece, the Winter Solstice ritual was called Lenaea, the Festival of the Wild Women. In very ancient times, a man representing the harvest god Dionysus was torn to pieces and eaten by a gang of women on this day. Later in the ritual, Dionysus would be reborn as a baby - birth again being celebrated as well as ritually eating the deity.

For Sacred Plants of Winter Solstice, check out this link.

The festival now known as Yule originated with the Teutons and Norse, who celebrated it the night before the Solstice. The traditional Yule season is thirteen nights long, the Weihnachten. These thirteen nights mark the space between one year and another, the border where the worlds overlap. This border seen Saturnalia is also celebrated on Artemis/Diana’s Birthday.

Despite popular belief, Druids and the Celtic people as a whole did not celebrate the Equinoxes and Solstices as holy days, only the Cross-Quarter Days. There is no evidence for Winter Solstice celebrations in Celtic lands until after the conversion to Christianity when Christmas was introduced. Therefore, the closest Celtic equivalent to Yule is Samhain.

23 December – Artemis/Diana’s Birthday – the ‘Day’ of the “Year and a Day.” The no day. This was the last day when the Sun stood still in the South. Truly the last day of the old cycle.

Ephesus was the greatest Temple City in Asia Minor. It was dedicated to the Great Goddess Artemis Diana. This Temple was the last of the Great Goddess Temples to remain open and was the site of Goddess worship well into the Christian era. One of her names was Mother of All. Like Mary, she was a virgin.

25 December – Christmas. Emperor Aurelian (270 to 275 CE) blended a number of Pagan Solstice celebrations of the nativity of such god-men/saviours as Apollo, Attis, Baal, Dionysus, Helios, Hercules, Horus, Mithra, Osiris, Perseus, and Theseus into a single festival called The Feast of Sol Invicta, "Birthday of the Unconquered Sun," on December 25th.

At the time, Mithraism and Christianity were fierce competitors. Aurelian had declared Mithraism to be the official religion of the Roman Empire in 274 CE. The similarities between Mithras and Christ are legion. Christianity won out by becoming the new official religion in the 4th century CE under Constantine, but for a while, it had been a very close contest.

John the Baptist day, the 24th of June, is the first day after the Summer Solstice when you can see that the Sun is beginning to rise towards the south. His job was to say that the Light is coming. His birthday is the first day when you can see that the Light is going away. Likewise, Christmas, the 25th of December is the first day that you can see that the Light is coming back (the sun is rising further to the north).

1 January – Janus - God of Beginnings and Gates; Solar God of Daybreak; Creator God. The New Year begins. The Light IS returning!

I leave you with a “Christmas” Carol that might be better called a Fractured Christmas Carol. Enjoy!

God Rest Ye Merry Pagan Folk

God Rest Ye Merry Pagan Folk
Let nothing you dismay
Remember that the Sun returns
Upon this Solstice Day!
The growing dark is ended now
And Spring is on its way

O, tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy!
O, tidings of comfort and joy!

The Winter’s worst still lies ahead
Fierce tempest, snow and rain!
Beneath the blanket on the ground
The spark of life remains!
The Sun’s warm rays caress the seeds
To raise Life’s songs again!

O, tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy! O,
tidings of comfort and joy!

Within the blessed apple lies
The promise of the Queen
For from this pentacle shall rise
The orchards fresh and green
The Earth shall blossom once again
The air be sweet and clean!

O, tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy!
O, tidings of comfort and joy!

(Thanks to the Greenwood Singers)

Have a wonderful Winter Solstice!

May the returning Light Bring you the vision that you seek for the New Year.

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