by Danu Forest
The Winter Solstice falls this year on the 22nd of December. The shortest day and the longest night of the year, the sun is now at its very lowest point. For three days, its position in the dawn sky will appear to ‘stand still’ in the furthest south-easterly position of its its cycle, before it begins rising ever so slightly further north each morning until the Summer Solstice, or longest day.
This is a traditional time of holiday cheer and celebration. As it is seen as the build up to Christmas for many, it can sometimes be forgotten that the solstice has been marked as a sacred time for millennia. Many gods and solar heroes were said to have been born at this time, representing the return of the sun, and a rekindling of the spiritual light within us all. Mithras, Attis, as well as Orpheus and Sol Invictus (the unconquered sun) are all born or said to descend into the underworld to arise renewed at the winter solstice, and we all can share in this spirit of renewal at this sacred time.
In the Celtic tradition, the sun is associated with both male and female deities, such as Lugh and the goddess Greine, but also with various ‘child of promise’ characters, such as the divine child Mabon son of Modron (meaning ‘son of the mother’), the young Merlin and the infant Taliesin, whose name means ‘radiant brow’, and who was able to utter prophecy and wield magic from birth. Winter solstice is also associated with the mythological figure of King Arthur, who also falls with a promise to rise again when Britain needs him most. The winter solstice is called Alban Arthan, or ‘the light of Arthur’, by the druids, referring to the sovereignty of the land represented by this divine solar or stellar light, being reborn and renewed at this time.
As well as all the busyness of festive celebrations, the winter solstice in nature is a time of deep stillness. The earth sleeps, animals hibernate, and the life force of the green world sinks into the cold soil, growing deep roots and preparing for the spring to come. At this time of reduced light our physical as well as spiritual energies are at a low ebb, and we can often feel the call to go within and attend to our deeper natures with rest, contemplation and stillness. These things may be hard to respond to in the modern world, but with a little compassion for ourselves we can find a middle ground between our hectic lives and the call of our souls.
Here are some things to help you mark the winter solstice in your own way…
1) Spend some time out in nature. Take a walk in the woods on a bright winter day and just sit in silence somewhere and just be. There is a stillness and a beauty to these quiet winter days that is so special and healing for the soul, lending you a fresh perspective when you return to the everyday world.
2) Create an indoor altar. This needn’t be complicated, just a space on a shelf for a scented candle and some evergreen boughs to evoke the season is enough. This can act as a focus in your home for your spiritual journey. Setting aside some physical space for spiritual needs tells your subconscious that you regard it as important and will encourage you to develop and sustain this aspect of your life. Light the candle for a few hours each night to honour the light of spirit within you and as a reminder that the sun will be renewed and grow in strength from the solstice onwards.
3) Give back. Now is a time to honour our part in the whole of creation. If you can, take this time to seek grace, and donate to charity, remembering those less fortunate but also the rest of nature – animals and ecological causes.
4) Find peace. Take a moment each day for silence and stillness. Just the act of turning off the internet or the TV, can be immensely powerful especially on a busy day. As soon as we enter silence we are confronted by the present, by our inner natures just as they are, without distraction. At such times we can glimpse what really matters in our lives as well as heed the call of our own souls, our intuitions, dreams and innermost feelings. Let this wisdom rise up from within, to guide and heal you through the darkest days, and encourage your faith that the light will indeed return.
However you choose to honour the winter solstice, remember during these cold dark days to hold compassion and gentleness towards others, but also towards yourself. This can be a challenging time in our modern world, that is often at odds from the spiritual call within, but with a little care we can keep our centre, and remain present to the beauty of nature and the wonder of the now. In amidst the hustle and bustle there is magic; in the gifts we give to others, in the sensual delights of feasts and firelight, but also in those small moments of kindness we can all afford. Here is where the magic of this season lies – in the love and care we hold for each other, through the long nights of the year, awaiting the dawn.
Share your winter solstice rituals, thoughts and photographs with us, using the hashtag #the_magic_of_winter_solstice
Danu Forest is a witch, seer, shaman, walker between the worlds, healer, druid, priestess, teacher, writer, gardener, herbwife, stargazer, faery friend, tree planter, poet and wild woman. She lives in a cottage near Glastonbury Tor in the midst of the Avalon lakes, in the South West of England.
Exploring the Celtic mysteries for over 25 years, and noted for her quality research, practical experience, as well as her deep love of the land, Danu writes for numerous national and international magazines. She has a regular column on seasonal celebrations and earth based spirituality for families in UK magazine The Green Parent and is the author of three books; Nature Spirits, The Druid Shaman and coming soon, Celtic Tree Magic as well as The Magical Year which will be published in 2016.She is a respected magical teacher with three online courses as well as regular ceremonies and workshops in the UK. For more information, visit: www.danuforest.co.uk
The Magic of the Winter Solstice
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