I am very excited as it is the winter solstice today marking the shortest day and longest night of the year, hoorah, which means we will now start to gain light (albeit perhaps only a minute or 2 each day) up until the summer solstice on 21 June, even more hoorah.
The winter solstice – also called the Celtic Festival of Yule – is one of the most evocative and significant festivals for us Pagans and Wiccans. On this day Wiccans and Pagans traditionally choose what to take with them into the New Year and what to leave behind.
An ancient belief is that the wheel of the year stops briefly at this time – it was a taboo to turn a wheel or even a butter churn on the shortest day. This time of stillness was a precious opportunity to consider the year gone by from a point of stillness and, equally calmly, a chance to look forward to the increasingly active months to come.
Traditionally Pagans and Wiccans spend the days leading up to, and following on from, the winter solstice in grateful reflection on life, enjoying plenty and laughter with friends and family, as far removed as possible from the strains and stresses of everyday life – sounds good huh!
The ancient Celtic term for this day is Alban Arthuan and it was recognised as the festival of peace to celebrate the coming of light. As Christmas honours the birth of Christ, the winter solstice celebrates the rebirth of the Sun God, son of the Goddess. In ancient times, people were more intimately connected with the cycles of nature – the worship of the sun is understandable in view of our reliance on its warmth for food and life itself.
Mistletoe used to be a part of the winter solstice celebrations – sacred to the Druids it would be cut using a golden sickle in a ceremony shortly after the winter solstice and divided up and dispersed to the people who would hang it over their doors for protection – mistletoe is associated with peace and goodwill.
The tradition of the Yule log also began with the Druids – the log was lit to banish evil spirits, defeat darkness and bring good luck for the coming year. Yule logs would smoulder for 12 days before another ceremony to put them out – a part of the log would be kept to be strapped to the plough the next spring to bless the land, and another piece would be taken to light the next year’s Yule log.
Sprigs of holly and ivy were traditionally brought into the home to celebrate the winter solstice – they are both evergreen plants, symbolising the eternal nature of the sun, which never dies, but merely sleeps during the winter months.
Needless to say I made a visit to the fairy ring at Pleinmont today to give thanks to the sun, enjoy quiet reflection and make a wish (of course) for the coming months ahead. All rather exciting when you think about it, that the light has returned, an opportunity for rebirth, and now a few days of further reflection before Hayley, Caroline and I partake in our annual burning bowl ceremony to let go of those aspects of life we no longer want to carry around with us into the New Year, and to encourage the new instead.
So happy winter solstice to everyone, enjoy. And if you look closely at the photo below you can see something etheral going on - although my cousin would argue it is just a lense thing on the camera!