DARKNESS RULES (part 2)
SHADOWS LENGTHEN - As our Earth spins on its journey around the Sun, this is the time that the northern hemisphere is tilted away from Sol, bringing winter. When that tilt is at its most extreme is when we have our shortest day and longest night - the Winter Solstice (Dec.21). Throughout human history this darkest time has always inspired festivals of Light. The Roman’s Saturnalia is one example, in which they paid homage to Mithra, the ancient Persian God of Light. Among the disparate pagan peoples of northern and western Europe, Jul or Yule-tide was celebrated. I think “-tide” was particularly appropriate because if the summer solstice is the high-tide of light, and therefore, of life, in our part of the world, then the winter solstice is certainly the low-tide. But we must never forget that just as even when we’re encompassed in what seems like the deepest dark, there is always Light, if we only know where to look. This was an extremely important - and scary - time of year for early hunter-gatherers. It could be a fatal time for a tribe or clan if they hadn’t been able to store enough grain for the winter, or if game wasn’t plentiful enough to supplement what grains remained. Sometimes tribes starved to death or were forced to merge with others in order to survive.
Considering this, it is no surprise at all how important what we now call the solstice was. All peoples carefully watched the movements of the Sun, the Moon, the planets and the stars, and they knew that on the day after the Solstice the days would start getting longer, very gradually at first, but enough that, by January, there would be a noticeable difference. They also knew that approximately 100 days after the solstice it would be time to plant the first crops of the coming season. The literal “light at the end of the tunnel”. Also - and just as important - opening day of baseball.
CELEBRATION OF LIGHT AND LIFE - It can be a demanding, inward-looking time for us. With the shorter and colder days we tend to spend less time outside and therefore get less exposure to sunlight. This contributes to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which just adds one more challenge for us in what is commonly a challenging time for most. The Winter Solstice has long been among the holiest of holy days, special to many cultures. We know that in the Northern Tradition of Europe this was the time to celebrate life and light, when they were waning (at Stonehenge, for example). It also appears that the solstice was celebrated or observed in North America, as well. There are many stone structures across the United States which, like those elsewhere in the world, have features that align to the major solar events - the solstices (winter & summer) and the equinoxes (spring & fall). One feature that runs through our own area is a solstice alignment called the Hamonnassett Line. It runs from extreme eastern Long Island, diagonally across Connecticut, through the Catskills, all the way to Manitou Island in Lake Superior. On this line lie numerous lithic (stone) features - ancient walls, cairns, mounds and standing stones - probably Native American, that indicate the likelihood of spiritual practices related to the solstice. For more on the Hamonnassett Line see Glenn Kreisberg’s excellent article about it at grahamhancock.com/kreisbergg3 or simply Google “Hamonnassett Line”.
THE TREE - Nothing symbolizes the perseverance of Life and Light through the time of the greatest darkness than the Yule tree. Found in many forms throughout Europe - in the house, outside the house, with lights, without lights - it is an ancient Pagan tradition, ever full of Life, Ever Green. In the Northern Tradition it symbolizes Yggdrasil, the very Tree of Life itself, connecting Earth and Sky - the sacred Kundalini manifest.
WATERSHED OF LIGHT - Each day gets shorter as we wend our way to the Winter Solstice - Midwinter Day. The shadows steadily lengthen. The sun seems to barely make it above the horizon. No wonder this was always a special time in the northern hemisphere. We forget what creatures of light we truly are until it is taken away from us. Watching the sun - the source of light and life - steadily dwindle in strength, was of paramount importance, knowing that it would gradually resume its former power - the Unconquered Sun of old. BE THE LIGHT - I’m going to try to BE the Light I want to see in the world, to BE the Love that is needed. It’s a challenge sometimes, but let’s all PLEASE try harder to be patient and loving with each other, maybe even more so in this time. Remember, that grumpy person in line might be sick or worried about someone else who is ill, or they may have just lost a job or face eviction. It is easy to want to make a hurtful remark in return but it’s also possible you could talk to them and maybe even help them - same as you might want or need some time. So, let’s take that extra breath and BE the Light that is what our world truly needs right now. WINTER RULES - Always keep a flashlight or headlamp when in the woods now - dark can come on fast. Those of us who spend much time in the woods in this season will carry 1 of each. Warm accessories are a must now, too - hat, gloves, scarf, as well as warm/waterproof boots or shoes with good tread. Basic traction-aids like YakTrax and a trekking-pole or two can also be a big help if even a hint of ice. Pick up after Fido and bring it out with you, please - “tootsie-rolls” on the snow are not cool. Please respect Hunting Season - wear bright clothing, make noise, avoid off-trail and keep dogs on leash. See catskillmountainclub.org and NYC DEP for non-hunting places to walk, if you like.
TRIUMPH OF LIGHT - In truth, the Winter Solstice is a glorious, unadulterated, pure celebration of the Return of the Sun, of the triumph of Light over Darkness. May your solstice be warm and merry, full of Light and Life. Merry Christmas to All and to All, a Good Night! (sounds familiar). Happy Hannukah. God Jul. Happiest of Holy Days in whatever form you celebrate.
Thank you . Take Care, “Ranger” Dave Holden
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