A guest post from JJ Middleway written on the Winter Solstice…
Last night as dusk fell, the sun was still headed imperceptibly south. By the morning it had turned and was just as imperceptibly heading back north again,where we in the northern hemisphere need it to be in order to get any sort of Summer.
So, in the middle of this longest, deepest, darkest night of the year – what the ancients called ‘Modre Nicht’, or Mother Night’, – the sun reached the end of its pendulum swing and after a brief standing still (Solstice = sun standing still) it turned, and began its return journey. Technically and scientifically, I gather this point was at 23.03, when the sun also moved astrologically from Sagittarius into Capricorn (my home sign!).
Mythologically, the child (called the ‘Mabon’ in native story) is born out of this deepest darkest night and the glimmer of a new-born sun (spelled ‘son’ in Christianity) appears. It is also a metaphor and teacher for what has happened to me in life: through experiencing the deepest, scariest, darkest places,(when I have had the nerve to stay with it ) eventually a new and delicate light has emerged from this blackness, to illuminate and enhance my life, in a way not available to me before. Sometimes this is expressed as “What doesn’t kill us , makes us stronger”.
It is a beautiful and wondrous time of transition:- for me this is the time of going into New Year, with the sun ‘reborn’ last night and then this very deep and still time – expressed perfectly for me in the hymn ‘Stille Nacht’ – Silent Night.
And now, here we are in a magical ‘between time’ because although the sun has turned, this isn’t yet evident to the naked eye for another three days – i.e. Christmas Eve. In that sense, solstice is a three-day ‘non happening’.
Christians apparently, in the early centuries AD, used to celebrate the birth of Jesus in February; but rural people (the word “pagan” means ‘of the countryside’ or ‘peasant’) still stuck with the old ways of celebrating the sun’s rebirth around 21st December, so the festival of Christ’s birth (‘if you can’t beat them , join them’ ) was moved to mid-winter.
So here we are now in this ‘three-day’ between time, waiting for the sun to “turn homewards”. I have a candle burning on my window ledge as I write this, which was lit last night and will stay alight until the night of Christmas. It is a sort of sympathetic magic, ‘calling back the sun’ kind of thing. It makes no sense scientifically – and probably very little non-scientifically, yet at some level it links me, as a poet, into the poem of this time of year. So that means a lot to this old fool.
Ironically, at what feels to me to be the perfect (and most appropriate) time to be serene, resting and still, our culture unconsciously marks this key point in the turning of the wheel, with a bout of frenetic, last-minute ‘run round like headless chickens’, buying spree.
It is estimated that something around £10 billion will be spent in this three day period in the UK alone. How strange and odd and divorced from nature have we become?. Surreal; bizarre; quasi-comical; comi-tragical.
Meanwhile, I am finding this to be the perfect contemplative time. There is a depth and peace and tranquility to be found in these deep dark nights which is unsurpassed in its quality and natural capacity to link me to the deepest, most evocative landscape of my soul.
Turn off all things electrical and simply sit by the light of a solitary candle for a couple of hours – ten minutes if you can’t manage that. It is quite possibly the best gift you will receive this Christmas.
Solstice Blessings, JJ