It is not a revel I anticipate, but a solemn pilgrimage. I am beyond the emotional highs of Christmas-tide celebrations and the myth-induced fervor of my younger days; yet I am vibrant, awake and spiritually expectant as Winter Solstice draws near. Winter Solstice is a natural event, and it is full of wondrous possibilities for experience; both imaginative as well as in the ordinary daily rounds of work, play and rest. So, as I become aware that the Winter Solstice is just three weeks away, I grow silent and still_ full of an adventurous energy_ for Winter Solstice is coming; inevitably, as always—unstoppable and ineluctable.
Winter Solstice happens whether we want it to or not. It is a fact of existence for anyone living in the temperate zones of our planet. At this time of the year, the days grow persistently shorter; while the nights grow conspicuously longer. It is for me a time for recollection and remembrance. It is a time for nocturnal meditation and festive contemplation. It is a time to decorate my place of dwelling and to find joy in rest.
To experience the Winter Solstice we must embrace the darkness. Natural darkness is not a negative phenomenon; it is not to be equated with the ‘dark side’ of life; e.g., with greed, violence, selfishness and other manifestations of the loss of human potential. Natural darkness is just the absence of natural light, and while it may seem frightening to some – and while experiencing the absence of light may lead to lethargy and even depression or sadness for certain individuals – darkness is a natural phenomenon; one that can be experienced constructively or destructively—it is our choice. We bring to it what we will; and we take from it what we are able.
I anticipate making a solemn pilgrimage each year at this time; a journey imagined and spiritually indicated. I move toward, then into and through the longest night of the year, experiencing the season day by day and night by night. The night of 21 December becomes the fulcrum of the natural pilgrim’s way. I will pick one or two goals to pursue this year; questions to be asked, perhaps—ones that are appropriate to this season of gathering darkness and its festive decorations meant to illumine the mind and spirit as well as the rooms in which we dwell in colorful patterns. Appropriate questions have to do with endings and new beginnings; with death (symbolic and actual) and rebirth, with turnings and changes that we want to make in our lives.
The Winter Solstice used to be thought of, mythically, as the time when the Sun of the Old Year died and the Sun of a New Year was born. Thus the old habit of making “New Year Resolutions” flows from the realization – stemming from a mythic or symbolic interpretation of the tides of December – that after Winter Solstice a new ‘cycle’ will have begun, and as such we should try and make new beginnings of our own.
So I will set out on this journey; my destination is an existential and imaginative place of renewal and resourcement. I imagine this ‘destination’ as an internal nemeton (a “sacred place”). I often speak of it symbolically as “the Hearth of the Heart”—the “center” of my being-in-becoming. I imagine this ‘place’ as a place to ‘dwell’ in meditation and I picture it as a fireplace in a cave at the fulcrum deep center of my being; the “Heart.” I used to imagine it as an external place; in The Fires of Yule (2013) I present it as a fictional version of “Glastonbury Tor.” Over the years I have also imagined it as a “Garden of Meditation” surrounded by snow covered pines, within the poetic space of which is a bonfire near which I sit in meditative imaginings on Winter Solstice Night.
However I imagine the destination, I walk through the three weeks leading up to 21 December hoping to arrive at my Winter Nemeton, there to find ‘answers’ to the 'questions' I’ve been seeking along my pilgriming way. In the days following Winter’s Solstice, I hope to ‘reap what I have sown’ on the Way to the Tor/Hearth/Garden—to cull whatever positive result from my pilgrimage is possible this year.
Along the way I will engage in nocturnal meditation and festive contemplation!
As a way of embracing the darkness, I switch my primary meditation time from morning to evening as the days grow shorter. This usually happens in the days just after Samhain (Halloween), in the glooming tides of November. This change of time for meditation puts the focus on the lengthening nights. I’ve sometimes made my move to nocturnal meditation on the first day after we switch from DST back to EST; though this is an artificial turnstile (as it changes at human whim and political necessity). Whenever it happens, to begin to meditate after getting home from work or even later – before retiring to bed – decisively refocuses me on the growing darkness.
During the weeks leading down to Winter’s Solstice, I engage in a more festive contemplation than at other times of the year. Listening to carols and other seasonal music often leads to imaginative frolics and playful reflections, drawing on all of the traditional symbols and motifs associated with the ‘Christmas’ season. Remembering the Yule from years past, I recollect myself and re-affirm the best of what has ever happened at this time of the year. In building up these memories and re-living them through recollection, the sometimes negative effect of the longer nights can be more or less off-set or diminished. The lighting of colorful lights and the decking of halls and rooms of dwelling opens the ordinary spaces that we normally inhabit to ‘otherworldly vistas’ that can only be experienced via active fantasy and free imaginings! The long evenings leading up to the Winter Solstice are an excellent fostering ground for such flights of re-creative fancy!
As the season progresses and the world around me seems to get more and more frantic and unpleasant – with rabid shoppers running around seeking the ‘best deals’ and people being mean to one another in ways that would be just ‘appalling’ at any other time of the year – I turn to the Quiet and seek Joy in Rest. Though work keeps me very busy, and while decorating and gifting keeps me more active than I might be otherwise, I make it a point to cherish the quiet moments. I relish the thought of a half hour spent alone, between obligations; between work and decorating, or between getting up in the morning and heading off to work. I cherish my day off. I allow that I might be drawn down into the Quiet in Solitude in myself at any moment of any day—and I await the Call to the Silence I so need to bring resourcement to my spirit. To sit in quiet meditation, gazing at colorful, lights flickering, or perhaps looking out a window at a snowy scene – is simply restorative, making beauty and vigor back manifest once again.
In many other ways, I anticipate the Winter Solstice; not least of which is paying attention, from day to day, to the recession of dusk and twilight into the late afternoon.
Stay in touch with Nature at this time of the year!
Dwell in the Darkness, and embrace it!
So mote it be!
Let the journey begin!
Have a Blessed Winter Solstice Season!
And Remember_ the Winter Solstice is the Reason for the Season!
[The early church set Jesus’ birth on the Winter Solstice because 25 December was the Winter Solstice at that time]