The Sun Reborn
The Winter Solstice- on the 21st December in the Northern Hemisphere -is that wonderful time on the Wheel of the Year when The Sun returns to the world. From out of the darkest day of Winter comes the rebirth of the light.
Ancient cultures have always marked the Winter Solstice with rituals and celebrations. On this shortest day of the year our ancestors would gather to light fires and perform rituals to honour The Sun and welcome it’s return to us.
Many of us continue to do so, and at the most famous spiritual sites here on Earth, gatherings will still be held to mark the Winter Solstice.
The 5000 year old Burial Chamber at Newgrange, County Meath, Ireland. The chamber was built so that on the Winter Solstice a beam of light penetrates the roof-box and travels up the 19 metre passage and into the chamber. As the sun rises higher, the beam widens so that the whole chamber is dramatically illuminated.
Greeting the Winter Solstice Sun at Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England.
This time of year has always been celebrated
The Romans held the week long festival of Saturnalia around the time of the Winter Solstice. This was held to honour the god Saturn and involved extensive, lavish feasts and gift-giving. Ancient Egyptians honoured the rebirth of Ra, the god of the sun.
The Yule celebrations of Northern Europe also arose from the ancient tale of the eternal battle between the Oak King, who symbolises the warmth and light of the Summer months and the Holly King, who represents the cold darkness of Winter.
Here in The British Isles, celebration of the solstice included Druidic traditions, like the gathering of mistletoe- the symbol of fertility and the seed of life. The ancient Druids believed mistletoe to be an indicator of great sacredness. On The Winter Solstice, the Chief Druid would cut the mistletoe from the sacred oak, using a golden sickle. A cloth would be held below the tree to catch the sprigs of mistletoe as they fell- as it was believed that it would have profaned the mistletoe to fall upon the ground.
Having no roots, and no connection to the earth, it was considered the sacred plant of the sun. A tree that hosted a mistletoe plant was a tree marked as particularly sacred
The mistletoe was divided and distributed to the people, who then hung them over doorways as protection. With its golden colour, and growing high off the ground without roots, it was naturally associated with the sun.
It was considered to be the semen of the solar deity and carried with it the promise of the rebirth of the Sun God
So mistletoe was considered a fertility symbol – hence the ‘kissing under the mistletoe’ tradition that is carried on right into the present and no doubt will continue far beyond….
Christmas And The Winter Solstice
The birth of Jesus Christ is celebrated on Dec. 25 or Christmas Day all around the world. One theory is that this date was chosen after early Christian scholars debated when it should best be marked to gain widespread attention
Some theories suggest that Christians co opted existing and already powerful times of the year to mark it for their own religious needs. The Romans were already celebrating the festival of Saturnalia on The Solstice and in Northern Europe, Pagans marked the Winter Solstice itself. Yule the ancient name for Christmas, comes from the Scandinavian word Jol
Today’s ‘Santa Claus’ is a folk figure with multicultural roots.
He embodies characteristics of Saturn- as I mentioned earlier in connection with the Roman celebration of Saturnalia. He has elements of Cronos – the Greek god, also known as Father Time.
We also see echoes of
- The Holly King ( the Celtic god of the dying year),
- Grandfather Frost ( a Russian winter god),
- Thor (The Norse sky god who rides the sky in a chariot drawn by goats)
- Odin/Wotan (The Scandinavian ‘All-Father’ who rides the sky on Sleipnir , his eight-legged horse)
- The Tomte (a Norse Land Spirit known for giving gifts to children at this time of year)
- ‘Santa’s reindeer’ can also be viewed as forms of Herne or Cernnunos, The Celtic Horned God
So for us in the 21st century, many of these ancient traditions appear and persist- whether we are aware of this or not:
Evergreen plants are brought into the home in the form of trees, holly and mistletoe, to remind us that life grows and continues.
Even a store bought chocolate Yule Log is the modern- and edible- version of the dressed Oak or Birch log. These logs would carried or dragged into the home, with much celebration and then placed on the great fires of our forebears. As the old year burned away -symbolised by the Yule Log- a piece of it was kept to place on the fire of the following year.
The Celtic Horned God Cernunnos manifests in images of reindeer. In the festive colours of red, green and gold that are all around us, we can see the elements of earth and fire- and of course – The Sun itself. We give gifts to one another and hold great feasts while a Father Figure continues to bestow bounty on us from above as he rides high up in the sky…….
Marking The Winter Solstice
We can all physically mark the Winter Solstice, in our own way- even if we aren’t able to visit sacred sites or follow all the traditions of our ancestors.
Watch the sun rise and light beautiful yellow or white candles in your home to mark it’s the return. Bake your own specially decorated Yule Log and share it with loved ones, along with cinnamon spiced wine or cider.
Winter Solstice celebrations don’t need to be complex. It’s truly a time to celebrate and enjoy the awakening of the world again… remembering that all is birthed anew. Light comes back in the midst of darkness and as we celebrate life we also set our intentions and wishes for the coming year. It’s the perfect time to write out a list of all the things you would most like to manifest in your life.
A Winter Solstice Ritual
This involves your wishes, your desires or your goals for the year ahead. Take some time over this and carefully consider all your reasons for them
Once you’ve finally decided, then write them one by one on very small pieces of paper ( any colour will be fine, but yellow or white is good)
The next part of the ritual will require:
Spring bulbs- preferably snowdrop or crocus bulb
Earth to plant them in – a garden or even just a pot.As you plant your bulbs in the earth, add the very small pieces of paper into the soil, one piece at a time.
Visualise your desires as you do so and imagine the warmth of the sun on the flowers as they emerge through the earth and into the light- along with the joy that you feel as your wishes manifest with them!
Wishing you love, as we all celebrate the return of the light.