28 December 2010

Reflections on the Winter Solstice

The whirlwind of family that is the holiday season is over.  Thank the Gods!  Don’t get me wrong, I love the holidays.  I love the lights and decorations, seeing family and friends, and the recognition of the turning of the wheel.  It’s just that it’s exhausting.  For me, the hardest part of the secular holiday season is the fact that all those gatherings make it really difficult to get quiet time for magick and reflection – hence these thoughts not being set down until a week after solstice.

This year the Winter Solstice happened to coincide with a full lunar eclipse.  I was fortunate enough to have the house to myself on the night of the 20th and decided to do my Yule ritual then.  During that ritual I spent a fair amount of time meditating on the return of the light.  Traditionally, Yule is celebrated as the return of the light.  The longest night is filled with lights and feasting to drive out winter’s chill, with revellers safe in the knowledge that from then on each day would get a little longer until winter finally gave way to spring and summer.  However, I’ve always had a hard time thinking of Yule that way.

The Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year – about 16 hours of darkness here in the Pacific Northwest.  In the old Celtic calendar Yule was considered the middle of winter, but in modern times we call it the beginning of winter.  I’ve always tied my practices to the weather I actually experience so I’ve always considered Yule to be just about the beginning of winter.  Sure, we may get the occasional Thanksgiving snow storm, but in most years the weather here in Seattle is wet and chilly until the end of December and then it goes to wet and cold.  Yes, the days get longer after Yule, but they also get colder and a lot less pleasant.  Anyone who’s spent a long time waiting for the bus in the wind and rain on a really cold day knows the misery of which I speak.  So yeah, not so much mid-winter for me.

To make it more complicated, I also don’t see winter as something that needs to be driven away or something from which to hide.  As I mentioned before, I worship the Crone – this means winter is a time of power and profound spirituality for me.  When I feel the wolves of winter screaming across the skies I feel power.  When the skies are dark and the rain comes in constant sheets it isn’t time to run and hide, it’s time to stand up and let those rains cleanse you.  Winter is harsh and it brings death to the land, but without it there would be no rebirth in the spring.  The land needs time to rest, time for the autumn leaves to compost and make the ground fertile.

Like the land, we also need that time to rest and reflect.  That’s what Yule has always meant for me.  It’s a time to set yourself apart from the bustle of the everyday; to take a moment to really look at your life and to determine what you no longer need.  Yule is a time for banishing, a time to let that which no longer serves to die and fall away so that you’re actually ready for the new growth of spring when it comes.  It can be hard to look at yourself and admit what isn’t working, but it’s very necessary.

This year I took the time to look at myself and realized that I’m still trying too hard to fit other people’s ideas of what I should be.  No, I am not a ray of sunshine.  No, I will never voluntarily wear pink.  Yes, I was a bit goth in college and yes I practice some very dark and spooky stuff, but that does not mean that I look like an extra in The Crow.  To be frank, I’m a geek and I look like a geek.  I am happy looking like a geek; by choice I wear jeans and t-shirts.  Yes, the colors to tend towards black, red, and purple but that’s not that unusual.  I really don’t feel the need to proclaim my alignment literally on my shirtsleeves.  I like my witchyness to be subtle.  Yes, being flashy gets you noticed but that’s just not who I am.  I am going to wear what I want to wear and act the way I want to act because it makes me happy.  I don’t have anything to prove.

This year I also spent some time reflecting on the spiritual significance of the winter sun.  As I mentioned before, I have a hard time seeing Yule as the return of the sun because the weather is so crappy immediately after.  Even when the sun does shine in the dead of winter it doesn’t seem to warm – instead of having things be dark and miserable it just makes things bright and miserable.  (Yes, I venerate winter and the introspection it forces on us, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy cold, wet feet.)  However, amidst my musings I found a reason to be grateful to the winter sun.  At the winter solstice the earth is at its farthest point from the sun, after that it begins to travel back towards the sun, light, and warmth.  What would happen if it didn’t go back?  What if the earth didn’t tilt back and forth?  The side farthest from the sun would likely freeze and become uninhabitable and the side closest to the sun would burn away in an eternal summer.  The winter sun might not be as friendly as the spring sun, but it keeps us alive.  Thanks for keeping us all alive Apollo, don’t be a stranger.

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