Winter Solstice is the name we give to the shortest day and longest night of the year, when the sun’s elevation in the sky is at its lowest. The word ‘solstice’ literally means ‘sun stands still’, for at this time the sun appears to halt in its incremental journey across the sky and to change little in position. So ‘solstice’ refers to a single moment; for this reason, other words are often used for the day itself: ‘midwinter’, or simply ‘the shortest day’. And so the significance of Winter Solstice is two-fold: it is the darkest time of the year, and yet also it is the moment at which we begin the journey out of the long darkness. It is the time when we celebrate the return of the light. We are reminded again of the great cycles of nature.
Many cultures have stories about the rebirth of kings or gods, including Divine Children, which occur at this time, and about battles between the dark and the light – with the light, of course, winning.
We know that Winter Solstice was of significance to our ancestors because of the great monuments which were built to celebrate it: monuments which were aligned to the sunrise on the day of the solstice (Newgrange in Ireland and Maes Howe in Orkney, for example). Fires used to be lit at midwinter to welcome the return of the light: the death of the old sun and the rebirth of the new. Lighting the fires was an act of faith, because Winter Solstice occurs at the height of what was historically a time of great uncertainty. Starvation, disease and death was common during the cold and barren winter months.
Winter Solstice, then, is:
• a time of renewal
• a time to immerse ourselves in the healing, creative dark
• a time for visioning and dreaming
• a time for listening to our own inner wisdom
• a time to contemplate the cycles of nature – of death and rebirth
• a time to ponder on constancy of change
• a time to appreciate the still point before the next cycle is underway
• a time to let go of the old and welcome in the new
Here’s a lovely meditation for the day of Winter Solstice (this year, December 21) written by Ruthie Kolle for my online course, Sisters of Rock & Root:
On the morning of the Winter Solstice, wake just before the sun. Let some part of your skin touch the earth. Set your bare feet on the cold, slumbering ground, or rest your hands on a silent tree trunk. Feel its solidness. What other creatures are with you? Is there a lonely crow cawing, or a hungry squirrel rustling in the leaves? Breathe in the crisp air. Do you smell woodsmoke or the tang of pine in the air? You now occupy the darkest place in the year. Let that darkness have its rightful place, acknowledging its importance in the celestial dance happening above our heads, within us, and in the unseen world below. As the sky begins to lighten and the first sunbeams break the horizon, imagine the gentle rays of light chasing away any shadows that harbour despair and depression. Let the sunlight enter your eye, and imagine it bouncing off every internal surface like angels’ mirrors, directing this beam of light to your core, concentrating it along the way. Allow it to illuminate every nook and cranny, from your fingertips to the cradle of your pelvis. No stagnant energy can remain wherever this light flows. Invite it to ignite a creative, generative flame in areas that have been in darkness too long. Know that these beams of light are constant and faithful, subject to the sacred rhythms of our life-giving Earth. This is the Great Rekindling of the year.