Before electric lighting was such an integral and now oft ignored part of modern life, we humans lived more closely in process with the seasons. Returning to this innate body wisdom is key principle of White Horse Medicine.
Tomorrow is an important day for those of us who resonate with the cycles in nature, and remain tuned in to the mysteries of Light and Darkness. The Winter Solstice marks the beginning of a new winter and the longest night of the year. (Unless you live in the Southern hemisphere where the opposite is happening. The Q’ero and most of Peru celebrate their winter festival Inti Raymi in June.)
It must have seemed to our ancient tribal ancestors that the sun was dying as its light got weaker and the days shorter. At a time when the earth seemed to stand still during the winter it was thought that the sun needed humans’ help to bring the light back into the world. This is why our celebration and feasting at this time of year is so focused on light and life.
After this darkest time of the year begins yielding to the light, we celebrate the return of the Divine Child and the rebirth of the Sun. Both bring warmth, light and life back to Earth again. The Divine Child archetype is seen across many civilizations who welcomed their solar gods at this time of the year when darkness was most marked. Ancient Romans welcomed Mithras, the bull-headed Warrior God, the Egyptians celebrated Horus and Christians, Jesus Christ.
It’s understandable that in the time of our ancient ancestors there was reason to rejoice as the sun was “reborn” and the days started to lengthen again. People oriented their lives around this most important time of the year. Crops required light. Ancient monuments around the world were constructed to align with the sun on this auspicious day.
Sí an Bhrú or New Grange, is a neolithic monument in Ireland that is at least 5,000 years old. Each Winter Solstice a shaft of light enters a perfectly positioned window and lights up a 60 foot corridor leading to a burial area. This NatGeo video gives a fascinating glimpse.
Last Winter Solstice I had the privilege to visit one of my own region’s monuments located not far from me in Paint Rock, Texas. Juan Mancias is the tribal chairman of the Carrizo-Comecrudo Tribe of Texas. We took a day trip out to Paint Rock arriving in time to witness a shaft of sunlight that marks an ancient pictograph there at almost exactly noon. His ancestors and other nomadic indigenous Texans have used that area for thousands of years to tell their stories.
No matter who your ancestors were, they broke the monotony this time of year with vigils, festivals, and feasts of sweets. (Sound familiar?) Celebrating arose as a way to fill the darkness and prepare for the time when hope would prevail and the light would return.
In the months since the Summer Solstice, the North Pole has been turning further and further away from the Sun, our days shrinking into night. For many people this is a time of cold, ice, snow, and shoveling. Is it any wonder than in our time Christmas lights, feverish shopping, and distraction are the order of the day? Perhaps not such a bad idea if the idea of surviving the physiological and psychological hardships of cold and darkness is truly daunting to you. We’ve been conditioned in recent centuries to fear the darkness, and to focus only on the light.
I hope you’re not afraid of the dark. I hope that, as I do, you see the darkness before the dawn as a rich, fertile time of preparing and planning for spring and its increased fertility in many areas of your life.
If so, then I urge you to follow the always poetic word medicine of Philip Carr-Gomm and “bathe in the fertile darkness.” I think it’s important to explore our relationship with darkness itself. Rather than flinging yourself at the light in all the ways possible, try simply dwelling in the darkness this Winter.
Try this: Avoid turning on all the lights in the house tomorrow night. Feel what it is like to navigate the midwinter darkness. Light a candle and sit for a while in quiet contemplation and then blow out your candle. What thoughts and feelings come to mind?
This Winter Solstice, I invite you to lean gently into the contrasting energies of yearning and thankfulness, grief and love, light and dark as we await the time of renewed energy and light that we know is coming. It’s been a rough year.
My prayer for all of us is that our coming days be filled with joy, warmth, community and love.
A blessed holiday season to you and yours, no matter how you celebrate it.