by Danu Forest
Winter is here, and with it the sun sinks to its lowest arc upon the horizon upon the winter solstice. This year the winter solstice falls on the 21st of December. Solstice means ‘solar standstill’ and this is when the sun appears to rise and set in the same positions on the horizon, pausing for a couple of days, before beginning to rise and set gradually further south again each day until the summer solstice. From the winter solstice the days will begin to lengthen again, and more warmth and sunlight will come, though in the storms of January this may still give little comfort!
The winter solstice is a time of spiritual renewal, marked as a sacred holy time by religions all around the world for millennia. Many of our ancient stone circles and barrow mounds are aligned to it- Stonehenge for example marks the winter solstice sunset, while Newgrange in Ireland marks the winter solstice sunrise- the first rays of the solstice sun reaching deep into the burial mound to illuminate the triple spiral design carved upon the back wall. Such structures suggest that in the distant past our Neolithic ancestors saw this as a time when the spirit world came closer to ours, and perhaps the spirits of the dead and their living relatives both could find renewal and rebirth with the renewal of the sun. Something similar can be seen in the death and birth of Christ as well as many other ‘sun kings’ who were said to be born at this time.
These days the winter solstice is often subsumed by our modern Christmas celebrations, where family obligations and the pull of commercial and material festivities leaves little space for contemplation and renewal of the spirit. Yet with a little care we can acknowledge these deeper spiritual currents and find a little rest and renewal within.
Try if you can to take some time with the sun on your face, perhaps meeting the sunrise, or the sunset. The days after the solstice before the suns arc finally starts to visibly shift position further south again around the 25th can be seen as a sacred time out of time, when the demands of the outer world must retreat for a while and the inner life can come into greater focus.
Many Christmas traditions have pagan origins, and marking this time with a Yule log, which can be decorated with ribbons and written prayers before being burnt is a lovely thing. Traditionally you must save a piece from the fire to be kindling for the next years Yule log, and so on, creating continuity and a visual symbol of the cycle of life. Another simple way to mark the season is to have a large solstice candle, which can be lit every day, or perhaps at dusk every evening, as a symbol of the sun and as a reminder that even in this darkest of times, the light will return.
You might like to add a prayer or an invocation to the sun whenever you light your candle. Try these words, or use your own.
Lord of the sun, you who gives life and light to the world, let us here be blessed by your renewal, let us know your promise of spring to come. Blessed Be.
As you light your candle, take some deep breaths, and feeling your feet on the ground, try to tune into a little of the sacred stillness of this time. Take a few minutes to meditate upon the candle flame, to bring peace to your spirit and remind you of the suns rebirth.
Leave the candle to burn for as long as possible, somewhere safe, but central. On a mantelpiece or as part of a winter solstice altar is great. Extinguish or snuff out the candle when it’s time, before re-lighting the next day, throughout the festive season.
Also at this time, it’s important to remember those less fortunate than ourselves. Often at this time the need to buy and spend can be overwhelming, and the gesture of giving can be another source of stress and materialism. Instead consider what charities you can give to, local supermarkets often have boxes for the local food bank for example. Consider, if you can, what gifts you can make and share with your loved ones instead. Often these more heartfelt gestures do more to bring us together and can strengthen our connection as well as being lots of fun!
Solstice blessings to you and yours!
Danu Forest is the author of The Magical Year. has been a practising druid witch and Celtic shaman for over twenty years, has been teaching Celtic shamanism and witchcraft for over a decade, and runs a shamanic consultation and healing practice. She is the author of Nature Spirits: wyrd lore and wild fey magic (Wooden Books), The Druid Shaman (Moon Books) and Celtic Tree Magic (Llewellyn), creates and teaches email correspondence courses, writes a “Danu’s Cauldron” blog for witchesandpagans.com, and has been published in magazines such as Kindred Spirit, Soul and Spirit, and Pagan Dawn. She is also an Ard BanDrui in the Irish Druid Clan of Dana, an ordained priestess, a druid grade member of OBOD (Order of Bards, Ovates (healers/seers) and Druids) and a member of the Society for Shamanic Practitioners