As the Sol-Wheel Turns
I am taking some time to be still with the true magic of the Winter Solstice. Often, it is too easy to be caught up in - if not your own - other people's and the collective, cultural buzz and stresses of the festive season. The consumerism and hectic social calendars - the rush to see everyone, do / eat / buy / indulge in everything - before the year is out - is highly stimulating. And in this the spirit of the time can be lost or dampened. Add to this the often triggering aspects of spending time with people you may not always choose to be with (be that family members or work social parties) - the expectations we put upon ourselves at this time, combined with meeting our day-to-day needs, can be draining. This can be multiplied many times more if there are unresolved issues surfacing, disputes or feelings of isolation added into the mix. This post aims to offer some story, magic and spirit-infused lore to support those who relate to any of the above. Tuning in to the underlying, seasonal, timeless energy of this time can be a warm medicine to the soul. I also share some self-care rituals to enhance winter wellness & peace.
Winter Solstice Lore & Dreaming...
Firstly, the Winter Solstice, when I am writing this, is one of the four ancient fire festivals of Germanic / Northern European origins in the Pagan Calendar. The contemporary observation of the Wheel of the Year (blending Germanic / Anglo-Saxon with Celtic and Druid influences) moves from the womb-tomb gestation time of Samhain or Halloween (the modern incarnation), into Winter Solstice. Samhain symbolised the end of the previous harvest-year / the pre-Roman calendar of Celtic peoples and those who observed the Fire Festivals of Old. Leading up to this is a time of increasing darkness and shortening days: the inspiration for many of the customs of this time.
Much of what Christian peoples observe about Christmas has roots in the Winter Solstice or Yule: celebrating the Returning Light. The re-birth of the Sun. There are many beautiful, diverse stories of Gods, Spirits or elemental beings at this time of year being reborn in some way. The neo-pagan stories of the weakening Winter Holly King/Spirit surrendering to the strengthening Oak King/Spirit of Summertime - The Summer Solstice signals their change-over. These stories hold reverence not only for Gods and supernatural or spirit-beings, but also for plants, Earth-beings and the seasonal behaviors of animals, people and the weather.
There are stories that relate to the observation of the lengthening days preceding the Solstice (translation as: Sun-standing-still in old Germanic). Four days after this, the 24th December, was revered as a day of solar deity birth by many cultures and old religions before the Birth of Christ - for example Mabon - Welsh; Isis - Egyptian and Apollo - Greek - were all solar deities said to be reborn/born at this time, and celebrated on the time we have come to know as Christmas, when Christ consciousness was born. It is believed that the Christian Church saw these much older revelries as clearly of worth to the peoples they sought to convert - beginning their colonialist approaches with Europe and the British Isle before wider shores were colonised. These were places full of diverse Earth-connected and shamanic religions of thousands of years of age, many of whom honored the Solstice time (as do many global religions) with their own cultural stories and traditions often related to solar re-birth. In Norse and Germanic culture, the winter time was held in dark and dramatic poetry with Ragnarok - the demise of the Gods and all life - preceded by 3 terrible, long winters. Winter for people in these places was often harsh, dark and long.
Yule, or Jol, was a time of fire and welcoming the new light as a smaller version of this Ragnarok may have been told in relation to winter, a time that was especially dark and still and cold for those residing in Northern Europe and towards Siberia. The Norse Solar Goddess would give birth to her new daughter, the new sun-deity, after riding her chariot around the Earth as the Sunna / Sol and then being eventually caught in the mouth of a great wolf, to represent the onset of the deathly, dark winter-time. The wolf here is a creature of formidable, primal power, signalling transition into the otherworld / underworld state - awaiting rebirth of the the life-giving Sun Goddess (in this tradition, it is the birth of the Sun and a Goddess / daughter that is sung of here, as opposed to the more familiar Son stories). It is said this Heathen myth and the many stories and poems that incorporate these themes could be the seeds of much older Viking Sun-worship, and hold the seeds of the Winter Solstice / Yule tide.
Eina dottvr ————–A daughter berr Alfra/ðvll———–is birthed by Elf-Splendor (the Sun goddess) aþr hana Fenrir fari; —after she is swallowed by the wolf sv scal riða, ————–She (the New Sun) shall ride þa er regin deyia, ——as the gods are dying modvr bra/tir mer.—–the old paths of her mother. - Vafthrudnismál st.47, Poetic Edda
These stories resonate on my journey, as I have some Germanic ancestry and also have studied the prose Edda and often found great excitement, vision and drama in these poems. Though they retain much mystery, as do many of the old ways in lands that have little written record of our pagan ancestral practices and shamanic ceremony. They can be revered, speculated, sung, told and also revived as new stories that we each carry - from our peoples, lands, ancestry, or personal revelation and connection to spirit and the seasons where we live.
Many of the traditions that are so taken for granted in my home land (Northern England) originate from these colder lands, as well as the seasonal observation of the Earth's tilt - as today it is the most far away from the sun's light - the shadow cast over the Northern Hemisphere is at it's most dark - as the Southern Hemisphere experiences the opposite for their longest day! Decorating homes, altars and outside fire-spaces with evergreen trees and foliage ceremonially cut to great cheer e.g. the Yule log cut and burnt throughout the 12 days of Yule (Christmas), a piece of which is kept firing up the hearth each year. This tradition would remind people of the everlasting green vibrancy that is visible even during this slumber time, combined with warmth and light.
The freshness of pine needles underfoot or in the home - a scent that lifts the spirits as incense or decoration - and one which was no doubt a sensual experience adding to feasts, warm hearths, community fires and long nights. The holly or ivy wreath - a protective, vibrant Wheel-like evergreen decoration far older than Christmas! Many of these traditions and customs were held dear, as Pagan in their roots for thousands of years, and so were blended into the new religion of Christianity. These traditions are beautifully preserved even in mainstream secular settings - though oftentimes their origins are forgotten, somehow misplaced with the confusion of a new monotheism that forbade the old earth-ways, disregarding the wounds this may have left, but also the encroaching materialism of a post-industrial, urbanised culture that has turned the shamanic Santa with his red-and-white fly agaric mushroom cloak (my favorite Santa origin story!) into a coco-cola advert!
What traditions resonate with you? What childhood experiences of the festive season do you miss - how can you revive them (be playful, creative!)? What sensual experiences bring you comfort now - old or new - foods, herbs, spices, music? What stories of Winter, Christmas or the Solstice do you most enjoy or feel drawn towards? Whether in solitude or with others, self-care and simple rituals can help to bring some magic into an otherwise confusing, hedonistic or draining time. And many of these customs come from the elements, the land we live in and the seasonal messages around us. I invite you to open up to these stories or to seek out and re-make your own...
I also add some guidance and tips for keeping healthy and enhancing your well-being during this darker time of year.
Above: Art by Susan Seddon-Boulet
Welcoming the Return of the Light / Nurturing your Senses:
Even without a hearth or fire pit outside somewhere, you can simply create a beautiful space which will instantly lift your spirits. Fairy lights, lower lighting, and the golden-glow of a dancing tealight or candle flame is a primal, comforting practice, no matter your beliefs. This low light gives you permission - or signals to your nervous system and heightened senses - to calm, slow and turn inward. Accompanied with a warm nourishing meal of root vegetables and quality protein or a hot bath (for those in colder climates!) - you can calm an over-stimulated, tired, empathic nervous system and tired body with simple steps that also serve to honour the magic of darkness and winter.
If you feel this is appropriate, make a small altar or tranquil space in your home from evergreens, holly, ivy, berries, dried flowers, photographs of loved ones or sacred / special objects. Burn a gold, yellow or white candle here and have this as your place of nourishment and reflection over the Winter Time. Begin to reflect by this light, on your visions and wishes for the coming year. Or ceremonially burn paper with what needs to be let go of, returning ash to the earth with love.
Connect with the Slumbering Earth
If you can, even if it's cold, try to wrap up warm and leave the house during the daylight hours (or if there's shooting stars or a clear sky like we are promised here in the North of England tonight - a night walk!) or plan a Solstice time weekend trip to woodlands, water or hills.
Even in the city, find a quiet corner (safely) - a park, or a tree in your garden even - for some peaceful reflection time in the full spirit of the season. Nowhere more than the Earth's current seasonal state - in your local landscape - will resonate what your body and soul needs just now! And allow some space to open up to peace and that crisp, chill air, that can be captivating particularly with low-rising / setting sunshine, misty trees or to observe the birds feeding in your garden. Take some time to let nature speak to you, and then enjoy returning home to warmth. It's also healthy to get some much needed Vitamin D during the dark time and some exercise, so if it's sunny - grab a rare glimmer of light for your health and mood enhancement too!
Especially for empathic, highly sensitive types; energetic hygiene - like physical hygiene - is vital. If neglected, this can turn into fatigue, illness, moodiness or even overwhelm. And during the festive season this can be even more crucial. A simple technique for this is to begin, end and sometimes even middle your day (even on public transport or when walking the dog!) with some energy-body cleaning and boundary-protection!
Many shamanic cultures have techniques here, as do those who work with light and light beings, mindful practices and earth-based religions. But try this out and see what comes for you, play with this over time if you like to adapt to specific scenarios, and remember to take it with you into stressful situations, busy shopping centers or difficult family encounters this Christmas (before and after!):
1. Envision a sphere, cocoon or egg-like light around you: it could be golden and glowing like the Midwinter Sun or fire - celebrating also this returning light around, as well as within you. Envision or feel (practice makes this stronger so persevere!) this light circling all of your body, like a healing, protective, energising coccoon. Notice any tension, troubling thoughts or body-held emotions - observe them lovingly, shake them off (literally if you like) or let them go with exhaled breath as the circle of light grows stronger around you.
2. Send some of this light to any sore, tense places. Align your breath to the pulsating light, breathing slowly - inhaling light - exhaling anything to remove outside of the circle. This can be closed when you feel more peaceful, present and re-energised.
3.If you seek to add a boost for extra-stressful situations, ask for your cocoon / light to protect your boundaries and boundary-holding. See what happens. The circle may grow, transform into something that represents protection to you - e.g. a cloak of light or a particular Spirit Guide / Being / Animal / Elemental...merging with you (if you work with Spirit or Ancestors more directly - make sure you only merge with beings you have met before, or request enlightened / light beings - to avoid feeding any unwell attachments that may be lurking energetically. Practice healthy boundaries and clear intentions in all realms).
4. Then open your eyes when you feel refreshed and present, stretch, move, continue with your day and return to this practice regularly.
Extension for extra grounding / when feeling disconnected from your body / too caught-up in the mind or anxiety: Before closing your cocoon / sphere of light; you may wish to anchor yourself to the earth and envision the light shining through your core and up from your base-body (tailbone / pelvis or feet upwards), from the earth, up your spine and to your crown to the solar / lunar cosmos. You are balanced perfectly energetically with this thread and sphere holding you in space, grounding and protecting. Feel your body's weight return, present to your breath and physicality. This may help you feel more grounded. It can become a 2-5 minute ritual - or a lovely, longer meditative practice.
And finally, I'd like to share some self-care holistic guidance from One Willow Apothecaries - Asia Sula's beautiful blog, videos and online seminars offer grounded, plant-inspired healing wisdom and practical support for this challenging and magical time of year. I love this post and 20 minute video to Navigating the Holidays as An Empath and her excellent advice "say-no December" - try it out!
I am off now to gather evergreens in the rapidly fading light of the shortest day, in excitement and anticipation of my second local Circle event as Roots & Resonance, tomorrow. I intend to share and post more over the holidays, including explorations into collaborations, video and podcasts - some visioning is already happening here! I wish you a peaceful, restful time with precious moments of stillness held in vision, dream-scapes and candle light.
With Warmest Wishes and Blessings for the Winter Solstice time!