Friday, December 21, 2007

Winter Solstice: Darkness and Light


From ancient times, the winter season has been seen as part of balance of nature...a time where the balance point changes between the darkness and the light. With the shortening of the day and daylight, comes an increase in the lengthening of the night and darkness. It is a natural time for letting go of all that which seems dark within one's life, and a time for making choices to bring in the light. Throughout history, in all of the world's cultures, through belief systems, festivals, traditions and practices, the changes in the cycles of birth, death and rebirth have been intrinsically and symbolically honored. From this honoring comes our holidays...our 'holy days.'

When we walk between the veils of one season and the next or one change or one emotion and the next, or even one 'holy day' and the next, we find ourselves always balancing our emotions...balancing the dark emotions, the very ones which create power and change, or the light emotions, the ones which bring in joy and abundance. One of hardest of the darker emotions is that of sorrow, grief and loss. Today, I am recognizing and honoring the gift that the darkness brings in as I honor the sadness of many as they face, or as they remember loss.

Winter Solstice falls on December 21 (Northern Hemisphere) or December 22 (Southern Hemisphere) and is the moment when the earth is at a point in its orbit where one hemisphere is most inclined away from the sun. Solstice is of a Latin borrowing and means 'sun stand', referring to the appearance that the sun's noontime elevation stops in its progress. It is both the shortest day and the longest night of the year. Many cultures the world over perform solstice ceremonies. At their root is the ancient fear that the failing light would never return unless humans intervened with some vigil or celebration.

Many ancient cultures built astronomical observatories...tombs, temples, or cairns, to align with the solstices and equinoxes. Structures such as those at Stonehenge or Newgrange are illuminated by the winter solstice sunrise. A shaft of sunlight shines through the Newgrange chamber and lights up its chamber for 17 minutes from dawn of the 19th to the 23rd of December. The light illuminates intricate carvings of spirals, eyes and solar shapes. Hundreds of other megalithic structures throughout Europe are oriented in similar ways.

The celebration of "Yule/Jul/Joulu" or winter festival, is at the time of greatest darkness and the longest night of the year. In pre-Christian times, Germanic tribes celebrated Yule from the late December to early January. Thus, the terms Yule and Christmas came to be used interchangeably in many countries. The Winter Solstice has always been associated with the birth of a divine king in many different cultures, long before the rise of Christianity. Since the Sun is considered to represent the male divinity in many pagan traditions, this time is celebrated as the return of the sun god where he is reborn of the goddess. Other cultures have similar beliefs and associations.Many cultures celebrate or celebrated a holiday near (within a few days) the winter solstice... Yalda, Saturnalia, Christmas, Karachun, Hanukkah, Festivus, and Kwanzaa.

Christmas, like all holy or holidays, is a special time of remembrance of both the birth of the new, divining power, and the symbols of home and family. It is a time when we can most acutely feel the greatest darkness or the brightest light...a time of giving, of receiving, or for some a time of loss of light and a feeling of going into the dark.

This is a deep time and a sacred space, a time and a symbol for all of us about being lost, facing those emotions and feeling the sadness, the yearning, and the grief that such loss brings into our lives. Such is the sadness, the loss and the acceptance of the dark into our lives that each of us is asked to face at different times. Knowing that the dark will eventually find its way back into the light again is also the knowledge of the power of this holy time in our own lives.

4 comments:

  1. We can't fully comprehend the Light of the World if we've never experienced standing in the shadows. This is a thoughtful post today, thank you dear Michele.

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  2. Thank you Michelle. I agree with mrs. goodneedle, this was a very thoughtful post. On a lighter note, Merry Christmas!

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  3. Awesome post, Michelle ~ Thank you!!

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Michele Bilyeu blogs "With Heart and Hands" as she journeys between Douglas, Alaska and Salem, Oregon.