For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, today marks the Winter Solstice. It is the day marked by the shortest period of daylight and the longest night. It is midwinter, even if the weather hasn’t reached its coldest or its most harsh, that is often still to come. At a time of such metrological and astronomical lows, why is there an abundance of ritual celebrations?
I remember stories or is it just my imagination, of Neolithic people praying to the spirits of the local flora, fauna and lights in the sky, pleading that the sun would return in all its blazing glory. Their prayers and sacrifices, always around a burning fire, were a call for the current period of darkness and infertility to be banished.
However, to see these ancient animists in a negative way is a disservice. Wisdom would have walked among them. Some would always know that the world went through cycles. And those who held such wisdom were able to demand the greatest sacrifices from the people… or am I just too cynical?
I am a syncretist (“cyn”cretist!) at heart. It is easy to hold as one, the plethora of myths and legends that abound at this time. An abundance of rituals and celebrations gravitate to this time of year. Solstice, Yuletide, Christmas etc. The similarities resonate; light, darkness, new birth, potential, death and salvation.
The solstice is an astronomical fact. Our myths and legends interpret that fact; interweaving our beliefs, faiths and hopes. As the earth lies barren beneath the short-lived daylight hours, we consider what lies beneath. The land is full of dormant seeds. Roots stretch and reach and seek nutrients. Other creatures hibernate, waiting.
The moment of least realised is the moment of most potential
There is potential. The sun will again lengthen the daylight hours. Plants will grow. New life will begin. But we can’t see it. We can’t feel it. But we can believe. We can have hope.
Things are dark, they should get lighter.
Things are bad, they should get better.
The wisdom of the solstice is one of hope, hope for the light that is to come.
Hope for the future. That is why we celebrate at a time of scarcity. That is why we survive because we can imagine and realise what could and can be.
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