As I prepare to celebrate
the Winter Solstice, down in Australia, my friends will be celebrating
the Summer Solstice; perfect opposites, our worlds turning beautifully
back-to-back, like two sides of a coin. As their days begin to close to
darkness, ours begin to open to light and visa-versa. Darkness is, of
course, merely the other side of light; without darkness there would be
no light as without light there would be no darkness; and our world is
balanced really splendidly right between. It is good to know and feel
the incredible beauty and balance of this dance. Gaia is one fantastic
My prayer for you is
one of peace
Bless you, my friends,
wherever you are.
The Chickadee flits,
The tiny ball of furry
Amid the Dim Days
The bonfire roars amid
All manner of creature
But tonight is no night
Wine sits in earthen
For these magical creatures,
If a wanderer happens
But now I must leave,
-Josh Parkinson, 12-2003
Flip to Summer Solstice
Solstice - A Seasonal Merry-Go-Round
Someone once asked me if the Solstice was the beginning of the year. In the typical linear world-view there are many "beginnings" to the year. There is January 1st and "New Years Day", closely followed by the Chinese New Year which changes according to an ancient calendar. Rosh Hashanah is commonly known as the Jewish New Year. In Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah means, literally, "head of the year" or "first of the year." There are many people who persist into middle age thinking of Autumn, when school begins, as the beginning of the year, and longing each September for a new box of crayons.
The Solstice, however, is not the "beginning" of the year. There really is no "beginning of the year" when you view the year as a circle. I think of the Solstice as a turning time. "Solstice" is Latin for "sun stands still" (sol "sun" and sistere "to stand"). In both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, the journey of the sun pauses, and when it begins again, the tide of the year has turned. At this circling of this Solstice, those in the South will feel their days beginning to shorten as they begin the slow journey toward winter and darkness again; in the Northern Hemisphere, our days will begin to lengthen as we travel once more toward the light.
As I prepare to celebrate the Winter Solstice, down in Australia, my friends will be celebrating the Summer Solstice; perfect opposites, our worlds turning beautifully back-to-back, like two sides of a coin. As their days begin to close to darkness, ours begin to open to light and visa-versa. Darkness is, of course, merely the other side of light; without darkness there would be no light as without light there would be no darkness; and our world is balanced really splendidly right between. It is good to know and feel the incredible beauty and balance of this dance. Gaia is one fantastic choreographer!
It is also good to mark these turnings, to begin to feel them both physically and on a metaphorical level; the quarters of the year, Summer Solstice, Autumnal Equinox, Winter Solstice, Vernal Equinox. When my children were young, we celebrated the Summer Solstice by baking for the Faeries on "Midsummer's Eve" making tiny cookies and wee loafs of bread; the children made crafts and pictures for the Fae, usually with a lot of glitter which they assured me was a hit in the Faery Kingdom. We moved a lot when they were growing up and so it was necessary to intuit the proper place for the Faerie Ring in each new location. It was touch and go in the suburbs of Washington D.C., but a suitable place was finally found underneath the completely covering boughs of an ornamental flowering cherry tree. There was never a question where it was located in my mother's backyard in Utah, as there was a perfectly round real Faery ring there complete with mushrooms; you could practically see their foot-prints in the grass. Here, in southern Oregon, the Faerie Ring is built of beautiful rocks and stays pretty much intact all year long beneath the sheltering boughs of the Grandfather tree in our front yard.
I always let the children stay up late on Midsummer, they built the ring of rocks where they would then leave their presents for the Fae along with the tiny baked goods on little plates with miniature goblets of wine. Sometimes we read Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" together. The language is delicious and it is especially great when read by firelight! Then there were bonfires and dancing barefoot in the wet grass under the moon. In the morning, the children would wake up and go together to the Faerie Ring where the cakes, wine and gifts would be gone and crystals would be left for them.
On the other side of the year, our family celebrates the Winter Solstice in several ways that are mixed and mingled into our general December celebration of Christmas, Yule, and the Solstice Turning. It is a season, occurring in the darkest part of winter that is illuminated by many different sources of light. There is a thought that you should enjoy yourself as much as possible during the time of Winter Solstice because this will bring light back (and lightness) into the world. During the dark of winter, invoke all the forces of pleasure and love that make life worth living. This is a worthy goal that we strive for, though like the rest of the world we get caught up in deadlines and details.
The season begins for us the day after Thanksgiving when we go into the woods to select the Yule Tree and evergreen boughs with which we will "Deck the Halls." Interestingly, this foray into the mountains to come home laden with greenery has become one of my children's favorite day's of the year. The symbolism of the evergreen is rich and meaningful. As the bright world of summer grows cold and dark and the fields lay fallow, barren and seemingly lifeless; we bring into our home the branches of evergreens to serve as symbols of hope, undying life and continuity. The wreath that goes on the door represents the circle of the seasons and eternity. We also bring from the woods boughs of wild holly. In ancient Rome, holly was sacred to the god Saturn, who is associated with time and agriculture; holly wreaths and garlands were used extensively in the celebration of the Saturnalia, which also occurs in December. The Holly King was the Druidic lord of the waning year, with holly representing masculinity and steadfastness; when paired with the feminine ivy, it makes a Druidic blessing and a lovely, traditional Yule time decoration.
The Solstice generally falls on December 21 or December 22. In 2003, the Solstice falls on December 22, at exactly 7:05 a.m. Universal Time or GMT. Solstice celebrations and rituals are often planed for either the moment of the turning itself or sunrise, sunset, noon or midnight. In our family the rituals and celebrations occur whenever everyone gets in the same place at the same time! Over the years these have included many different things. We have a fifty-year-old tradition in my family of having a candle lit ice cream dessert on Christmas eve that I have only recently discovered is also a traditional Solstice ritual, with the candles representing the returning sun. Each family member makes a wish for the holiday season or the upcoming calendar year and blows the candle out to send the wishes on their way into the universe. We have always saved a piece of last years Christmas tree to serve as a Yule Log in the following years Yule fire. This can also be done to link the Solstice's. Oak represents the waxing solar year, Winter Solstice to Summer Solstice, and the Holly represents the waning solar year, Summer Solstice to Winter Solstice. Often wreaths are made and kept from Solstice to Solstice and burnt on the Summer Bon fires and with the Yule log at winter.
Both bells and circles have a long association with the season and through the years we have done many different kinds of ring dances with bells on our wrists to 'ring out the old and ring in the new.' This is an ancient form of dance and ours have varied from being only the children and myself to a multi generational family reunion with sixty or more people involved. The dances have also ranged from fast, difficult patterned steps to simple walking steps. Children, as a general rule, like as many bells as they can possibly get and love having bells on both their wrists and their ankles.
On the night of the Solstice, we symbolically put out all the fires in the house and let everything go dark. For a while, we stay in the darkness contemplating it's richness, then we return the light by lighting one small candle and we do our Solstice readings. We relight the fire in the fireplace and then get ready to Wassail.
The word wassail is derived from the Anglo-Saxon phrase "waes hael," which means "good health." Originally, wassail was a beverage made of mulled ale, curdled cream, roasted apples, nuts, eggs, and spices. It was served for the purpose of enhancing the general merriment of the season. Over the centuries a great deal of ceremony had developed around the custom of drinking wassail. The bowl was carried into a room with great fanfare, a traditional carol about the drink was sung, and finally, the steaming hot beverage was served. Following this it, became a custom to go around the town singing carols and stopping at different houses for a glass of punch or hot "wassail."
We have taken it one-step further, or perhaps a few steps backward in time, and turned it into a blessing for the trees, for our land, for the earth. I make a huge caldron of what is essentially spiced apple cider, and everyone dips up big mugs full, and takes a candle in their other hand and we head out into the yard to 'Wassail the trees.' This is an occasion of both solemnity and merriment as each tree is splashed and bid to grow and prosper during the coming year. A lot of unabashed Oregonian-style tree hugging goes on and it takes us quite a long time to make the circuit of an acre of land without missing any trees. We do the garden as an entity; the grape arbor, and each flower-bed. My mother has an orchard so it takes even longer when we celebrate Solstice in Utah, where we are usually walking in the snow.
It is at this point, in the midst of the laughter, under the colder winter stars, that I always think about the balance; how short a time it seems since we were building the Faerie ring for Summer Solstice, and especially of the remarkable, wonderful symmetry of it . . . like a beautiful Mandala halved by the Solstices then quartered by each Equinox, in exquisite, perfect balance. If only we, as a species, could learn that one simple, elementary yet deeply profound lesson that the earth is constantly teaching us. Balance!
And that is the message of the Solstice, in the end. In our lives, as in the turning year, we come to places of darkness and cold when everything seems barren and broken. It is then we must wait for the turning. Life goes through seasons and hope returns. The lamps burn for eight days when there was only enough oil for one. There is a star over Bethlehem. Dawn is breaking and the light is returning.
Edwina Peterson Cross ©2003
Deep Winter Affirmation Prayer
The year ends in darkness, with absence of light
Yet, the voice of a dream affirms meaning in night
In the deep cold of winter, in the length of the night
Each soul, as the seasons, turns like a wheel
And so we believe that the darkness will end
Once a heart understands the nature of change
The heart speaks a promise the mind cannot break
Darkness can be washed away by the light
Even bone-cracking winter ends with new birth
Though our world is still threatened by darkness and pain
Edwina Peterson Cross ©December 2002