triumph of light
As our Earth spins on its journey around the Sun, this is the time that the northern hemisphere is tilted away from it, 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, 10:27pm). 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 fatal 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 planets and the stars, and they knew that the day after the Solstice the days would start getting longer, very gradually at first, but enough that, by February, 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 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. 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, that 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 long-distance 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 https://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 (at left is a Sitka Spruce in Alaska, festively decorated with Bald Eagles). 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. Astronomically speaking, Dec. 21 is considered the first day of winter. I don’t agree. I think it should be called Mid-Winter - as the Summer Solstice is Midsummer. Also, by the 21st it has felt like winter for a while already. 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. THE BARDO OF THE YEAR - This is a little esoteric, so please bear with me. I find it interesting and coincidental (the older I get the less I believe in coincidences) that the time between All Hallow’s Eve - Samhain, the beginning of the Celtic New Year - and the Winter Solstice (in other words between the end of the old year and the beginning of the real new year), is 49 days, same as the length of the Bardo, the period in the Tibetan Book of the Dead between when a person dies and when their spirit truly moves on. This time always feels like that - an “in between” time - the old year is past but the new year has really yet to start - the Bardo of the Year. A time for much deep reflection on our past year and prayers for our future.
BE THE LIGHT - I’m going to try to BE the Light I want to see in the world, to try to BE the Love that is needed. It’s a challenge sometimes, but let’s all PLEASE work harder to be patient and loving with each other, maybe even more so in this sometimes stressful time. Remember, that grumpy person in line might be sick or worried about someone else who is, 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. Thank you. THE SUN - 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 (if you do). Also, please remember to take the following items into the winter woods - a flashlight, hat & gloves, possibly traction-devices and most important of all - Common Sense.
Thank you all. Take Care, “Ranger” Dave Holden / (845)594-4863 / firstname.lastname@example.org / Dave Holden on Facebook / rangerdaveholden on Instagram / www.woodstocknytrails.com