The Winter Solstice
People have celebrated the Winter Solstice for many of thousands of years – traditionally it was an open air ceremony. This ceremony was held in special sites that had orientations to the Solstice sunrise and in some cases the sunset too. Solstice means standstill for every year, about the 21st of December, the sun seems to rise and set in the same place. This is the longest night, the night of rebirth.
This is the time the Sun God, the Mabon, was reborn as the Celtic Son of Light. We celebrate the death and rebirth of the sun at this time. Each day the sun grows a little stronger as the Sun God grows towards maturity and full strength. The longest night is over now, rebirth is here. Many now see the Sun God as Arthur reborn as is prophesied in many myths and legends.
We have had many Sun Gods over the ages, now many see Jesus as the Sun God as in the 3rd century BCE, the church officially made this the day of Jesus’ birthday. Before Jesus, the Sun God was Mithras. Each spent days within the earth before being raised up and reborn.
At Stonehenge the rising sun on Midwinter’s day can be seen coming in through the south-east trilithon. The departing sun is seen from the south-west trilithon. The Great Bear in the Northern skies has been the guiding star telling us the Solstice is near and Stonehenge has many alignments built by ancient astrologers and priests. As worshipping the Sun and Earth was important to the Ancient Celts, Stonehenge and many other sites became the place where celebrations were carried out, honouring the Sun God in his many guises throughout the years and, as well, Earth Mother Gaia. The Triple Goddess is now in her aspect of the crone, the ancient wise woman. This is the time of old age and wisdom.
Newgrange in Ireland, County Meath is an ancient earth chamber, the largest in Europe. It has the midwinter sun pass along the upper passageway straight into the central chamber. The Sun God mates with the Goddess of the land to conceive new light. Newgrange was constructed some 4,500 years ago or more for this purpose. It was and is a place of great spiritual meaning and people travel from all over the world to watch the miracle of the sun connecting with the land.
For many Pagans and Druids, the ceremony at winter Solstice is the most important of the yearly festivals. They see this as a turning point, where one inner cycle ends and the next begins. This is the time of the year when we look inwards and see where we need to grow on our spiritual journey. We know we have darkness but also light within us, and as the sun has its rebirth, so does our spirit too. Often all the candles are blown out or the lights are turned off and a time spent in total darkness before the symbolic relighting of the candles to hail the new Sun.
Carol singing has its beginnings in the ancient Solstice ceremonies as at this time of the year we would celebrate for two weeks. We would surround our homes with evergreen and holly with berries to symbolize warmth and life. We would dress up in disguise of ancient Gods gone by, do plays and have fun. There was no work to be done at this time so it was a party to celebrate as the Sun was reborn and soon the earth would be ready for the plough and the planting.
The Yule log would be found, the biggest log in the forest in the hope that it would burn and provide heat and light for the full two weeks of the festival. A piece of the Yule log from the previous year would be placed with it and also ivy and other greenery, it would be blessed by pouring ale or cider over it. Mistletoe is associated with the Winter Solstice as this is the time of rebirth and the mistletoe has its seeds already on its branches in the form of its berries.
This is the time to dream and plan for the coming year ahead, for dancing and singing and having joy. Let the light get stronger within you as it gets stronger without. Blessed be