WINTER SOLSTICE 21 JUNE 2012 AUSTRALIA
Traditionally celebrated in Europe during Yule December
The rituals applicate with subtle differences as Christian Witches of Australia celebrate Winter Solstice In June and Yule in the Summer months.
The Winter Solstice is unique among days of the year — the time of the longest night and the shortest day. The dark triumphs but only briefly. For the Solstice is also a turning point. From now on (until the Summer Solstice, at any rate), the nights grow shorter and the days grow longer, the dark wanes and the Sun waxes in power. From the dark womb of the night, the light is born.
Many of the customs associated with the Winter Solstice (and therefore with other midwinter festivals such as St Lucy’s Day, Saturnalia, Hanukkah, New Years and Twelfth Night) derive from stories of a mighty battle between the dark and the light, which is won, naturally, by the light. Other traditions record this as the time a savior (the Sun-Child) is born to a virgin mother.
The Battle Between Old and New, Dark and Light
The Romans celebrated from December 17th to December 24th with a festival called Saturnalia, during which all work was put aside in favor of feasting and gambling. The social order was reversed, with masters waiting on their slaves. The Saturnalia is named after Saturn, who is often depicted with a sickle like the figures of Death or Old Father Time. Astrologically speaking, Saturn is saturnine: gloomy, old, dutiful and heavy. He was the god who ate his own children rather than let them surpass him. For new life to flourish, for the sun to rise again, it is necessary to vanquish this gloomy old fellow. Therefore, the feasting and merriment of the midwinter season are religiously mandated in order to combat the forces of gloom.
The day following the Saturnalia, was the Juvenalia, according to Z Budapest in The Grandmother of Time, a holiday in honor of children who were entertained, feasted and given good luck talismans. The union of a virgin and a supernatural force, like the couplings between Zeus and various nymphs, was shorthand indicating the presence of a miraculous child, a child with the powers of both worlds. Dionysus is such a child, born of a union between Zeus and Semele.
The Lenaia occurred on the twelfth day of the Greek lunar month, Gamelion, which falls in early winter. The twelfth day of a lunar month (which begins with the new moon) always falls on a full moon night. If we move this lunar festival to the solar calendar and count from the winter solstice, the festival would occur on January 5th or 6th.
Until the fourth century, Christ’s birthday was celebrated on January 6th, on the same date when the Virgin Kore gave birth to the year God celebrated in Alexandria with a festival called the Koreion. St. Epiphanius complains about the hideous mockery of this rite but it preceded the story of Christ’s birth. In the original ritual, the image of the goddess, decorated with gold stars, was carried seven times around her temple as the priests cried, “The Virgin has brought forth the new Aeon!”
Although Aeon, or Eon, is now defined as “an indefinitely long period of time; an age, eternity,” its Indo-European root aiw conveyed “vital force, life, long life, eternity,” and the Greek form Aion meant specifically “vital force.” [Farias]
This description recalls the Egyptian ceremony re-enacting the birth of Horus, the sun-god to Isis. All lights in the city were doused while Isis circled the sarcophagus seven times, then brought forth Horus who was called “the Light of the World.” Statues of Isis holding the newly born sun God on her lap, presenting him to the world, are similar to pose to later statues representing Mary and Jesus.
The Solstice candle, a large candle of red or orange or some other bright color decorated with holly or other evergreens type plants, was at one time a popular custom throughout Great Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia. One person, usually the eldest or the head of the household, is designated as the lightbringer. lights the candle for the first time on the Eve of Solsticebefore the festive supper and during each of the remaining evenings of the Twelve Days of Solstice. To extinguish the candle, You snuff it with tongs rather than blowing it out, since that would blow the luck away. The candle sheds a blessing on the household and so is protected from accidental quenching. It seems likely that the candle also represented the coming year, just as the weather of each of the twelve days of Solstice foretell the weather of the corresponding month. It had protective or fertilizing powers and was kept as a charm. In Denmark, during a lightning storm, the remnant would be brought out and lit to protect the household.
Similar customs once surrounded the Yule log. The Yule log must never be bought but should be received as a gift, found or taken from you own property. Often the log to be burned at midwinter was chosen early in the year and set aside.
Tradition varies about the type of wood to be used. Oak logs were popular in the north of England, birch in Scotland and ash in Cornwall and Devon. Ash is the only wood that burns freely when green and the world-tree, Yggdrasil, in the Nordic tradition was an ash-tree. It is important that the Yule log be the biggest and greenest log available since the Christmas festivities will last only as long as the Yule log burns.
In some parts of the Scottish highlands, the head of the household finds a withered stump and carves it into the likeness of an old woman, the Cailleach Nollaich or Old Winter Wife, a sinister being representing the evils of winter and death. She's the goddess of winter, the hag of night, the old one who brings death. Burning her drives away the winter and protects the occupants of the household from death.
The Yule log is first brought into the house with great ceremony on Christmas Eve (or the eve of solstice, if one prefers). Usually it is decorated with holly and ivy and other evergreens of the season. Some people prefer to use the Yule log as a decoration and place candles on it instead, thus transforming it into a candleabra like the menorah or the kinara. It is lit with a piece of last year's log as described in Herrick’s poem, “Hesperides:”
In Italy, the Yule log is called the Ceppo. Boccaccio in the fourteenth century described a Florentine family gathering about the hearth and pouring a libation of wine upon the glowing wood, then sharing the remaining wine, thus linking the Yule log with the custom of wassailing, pouring out libations to the trees in the orchard.
The Yule log is left to burn all night, and, if possible, through the next twelve without going out, although it may be extinguished with water. The ashes are kept for good luck. They have magical properties and can be scattered in the field to fertilize the soil or sprinkled around the house for protection.
The Solstice Evergreen
Another ancient midwinter custom is decorating with greens. The Romans decorated with rosemary, bay, laurel, holly, ivy and mistletoe. The holly and ivy were both important midwinter plants in Great Britain and Ireland, as seen in the mysterious medieval carol which mentions the rivalry between them. Matthews in The Winter Solstice provides the lyrics of a 15th century carol which refers to an ancient battle between the two, with the Ivy representing the cold gloominess of winter and the Holly King, the jolly spirit of the season.
Sitting in the Dark
Earlier traditions focused on the battle between the dark and the light, but we know both are valuable. Honor the dark before calling in the light. This is the season when animals hibernate and nature sleeps and we can turn inward too. Perhaps some of the depression people feel during the holidays comes from not providing a space for feeling the sadness associated with this season. Set aside time (hard to do amidst the frenzy of the holidays) for sitting in the dark and quiet. I like to spend the entire day of the Winter Solstice in silence and reflection.
TASK - Welcoming the Light
Light 12 candles for 12 days say a prayer blessing for each candle use 1 candle for each day
This is a natural time for letting go and saying farewell. Release your resentments and regrets into the darkness, knowing they will be transformed. Write about them in your journal or write them on slips of paper which you can burn in a fire. Use old cards or letters to make amends to people you've hurt or neglected or people you need to let go of this is a time for peace and release. Throw the ashes to the wind while saying "that which seek it be in love and light so mote it be"