Winter Solstice/ Alban Arthuran
Timing of Winter Solstice
Alban Arthuran is celebrated on June 20-23 in the Southern hemisphere and December 20-23 in the Northern hemisphere. Winter solstice or Yule is the shortest day of the year and marks the lengthening of the days from this point on. The solstice occurs when the rotational axis of the Earth is titled by an angle of 23.5 from vertical. The Earth leans on its axis causing the solstice (solstice means ‘sun standing still’ – which means literally the sun will rise and fall in the exact position) and the variation and cooling in seasons as we tilted far from the sun.
History and Stories of Winter Solstice
The Solstice is the rebirth of the Sun and the rebirth of the mother’s son. On the solstice the Sun returns and the days become longer and warmer from this day forward. It is also the day that birth of the Sun God is celebrated. The Solstice has been an important marker in the landscape across time. Hundreds of megalithic sites around the world are constructed to honour this exact moment in time.
Darkness is celebrated before the birth of the sun. In the old times people kept fires burning through the longest night and would feast as winter set in. They would remain with the Goddess as she laboured through the darkest night and sit in stillness until that moment of the birthing dawn, as the Sun/Son returned to the landscape once more.
In the northern Hemisphere midwinter falls on the christian calendar date of Christmas. However the returning light and birth of the divine son at midwinter has been honoured well before Christianity was ever practised. The Celts honoured the Sun God at this time, other gods (Dionysus, Attis, Mithras and Baal to name a few) were all Gods born into the world at the point of midwinter.
Evergreen wreaths symbolising the wheel of the year are placed on doorways. I often start a wreath at Samhaine (the Celtic new year) and thread herbs and ribbons from each festival into the wreath as the year goes on, then burn it the following Samhaine.
At winter the Crone Goddesses are also honored. They are our ancient ancestors, wise and bold. They stare through our souls and sit calmly in the stillness of winter. The crones, hags, grandmothers…they are the gatekeepers of death and transformation, holders of the keys to the underworld. When we listen to their wisdom and have the courage to walk beside them, it is here in the darkness that we uncover the secrets to our souls. From their wisdom we learn that life is continually reborn and death is part of the cauldron of life that spins and circles, transforming all it touches. It is here that we pass through the pain of our challenges and are re-born in the light of the winter solstice dawn.
It is the season that in the cold of winter, we celebrate and strengthen the coming light. Pagans would decorate evergreen trees with shiny ornaments, to remind us even in the darkness of winter the light is emerging. It is also a reminder that for light to grow, we need to take action to strengthen and nurture that light. It is essentially a season of emerging hope. The Mother births the Sun/Son- she also births hope and renews our trust in a world of possibilities to come. We move through the darkest point of the year, and from the intensity of the mother’s womb, we birth hope and light into our lives.
As Starhawk so beautifully stated…“Each year the Great Mother labors through the long night to give birth again to the new year, to hope and light. This year the darkness has been intense. The bright hopes of last year are worn and tattered from obstructions and betrayals and compromise. Our personal health and the health of all the life support systems of the planet hang in balance, and how can we tell whether we’ve inched forwards or been sucked back into deals and appeasements worse than what went before. Last year we hoped for an end to war—this year we see war escalate. Last year we chose a road of change; this year it looks only too much like the same old road we were on before.
But the message of Solstice is this: hope does not come once into the world and fulfill itself. Hope and light must constantly be reborn, over and over again. They wax and wane, and must be renewed. That renewal, that birthing, requires labor. Labor means work, commitment, perseverance through that time when it seems you just can’t push any more. The cervix dilates slowly, pang by pang. The child begins to emerge, is drawn back, pushed forward another increment.
We are the laboring Mother, we are the spark of light. New possibilities kick and squirm within us. No, it’s not easy to bring them forth, but we are strong, and we are made for this work. Bear down…breathe…push. This morning the sun rises; each day a new world is born.” From Starhawks online blog… http://starhawksblog.org/?p=261#comments
Herbs and Symbols of Winter Solstice
Mistletoe- Represents friendship and affection. Add mistletoe to your solstice incenses, hang it in doorways and toss Mistletoe berries into the fire to represent your wishes and dreams increasing as the Sun grows. Associated strongly with the Celts as a fertility and protection herb, an aphrodisiac and a visionary herb. It is a herb of re-birth and joy. Traditionally used in incenses and hung at mid-winter.
Holly- Ruled by the moon and sacred to the Celts, this herb was brought into the home during midwinter. It was thought holly would give the faeries safe refuge during the cold times. Ironically many people (in the northern hemisphere) still decorate their homes in holly during midwinter today.
Camomile- Symbolises the Sun God and return of the light and warmth to the land. You can decorate your altar or circle with chamomile flowers and bring a burst of sunshine to the space. I also like to add marigold, wattle or calendula flowers for the sun.
Pine cones- Traditionally used at winter solstice, the fresh sent of the pine cones and evergreens are used for cleansing a space, creating a positive energy and returning to source.
Milk and honey- I also like to pour milk and honey over the stones of my circle, or into the
Earth Mother, to bless her and bring her sweetness and nourishment as she labours.
Colours- red, green, gold and white
Activities during Winter Solstice
- A ceremony to honour men in your life as the Sun God is re-birthed. You may want to write a poem or letter to a man in your life that has supported you with his strength and light.
- A ceremony to honour birthing or nursing mothers (like a blessing way) to celebrate the beauty of birth at the time when the Great Mother gives birth to the divine son. Share beautiful birthing stories and give gifts to a new mother, and honour the power and strength of motherhood as the Goddess labours.
- Choose something to let go of into the longest night, then from the seeds of winter decide what you want to grow in yourself as the sun grows, which part of your life you want to grow….
- Wreath making- The wreaths (that hand on doors) are an old symbol of the wheel of the year. Decorate or make a wreath that represents either the growing light, or the wheel of the year.
- Decorate a tree or bring evergreen boughs into the house decorated with shiny or bright objects that remind you of the returning light of the sun.
- Make and serve hot apple cider and feast together to celebrate the longest night
- Make an altar that celebrates women, fertility and birthing as the Goddess gives birth to the promise of light
- Children may like to do paintings of the sun, or make shiny decorations to hang around the home or garden. You could also cook a birthday cake to celebrate the birth of the Son/Sun, and decorate the cake with bright yellow and orange to reflect the sun’s light.
- As the old people did, have a bonfire and stay up during the night to be with the Goddess as she labours in the darkest night (or maybe just the last part before dawn), chant to her labouringythm, and then celebrate as the dawn sun rises to welcome the sun’s/son’s return to the land.
- In the dark, the Mother labours…we sit with her through the longest night. Then at solstice dawn as she births the Sun, the light, the divine son… our warmth and hope is reborn to the world.