The Winter Solstice

People have celebrated the Winter Solstice for many of thousands of years – traditionally it was an open air ceremony. This ceremony was held in special sites that had orientations to the Solstice sunrise and in some cases the sunset too. Solstice means standstill for every year, about the 21st of December, the sun seems to rise and set in the same place. This is the longest night, the night of rebirth.

This is the time the Sun God, the Mabon, was reborn as the Celtic Son of Light. We celebrate the death and rebirth of the sun at this time. Each day the sun grows a little stronger as the Sun God grows towards maturity and full strength. The longest night is over now, rebirth is here. Many now see the Sun God as Arthur reborn as is prophesied in many myths and legends.

We have had many Sun Gods over the ages, now many see Jesus as the Sun God as in the 3rd century BCE, the church officially made this the day of Jesus’ birthday. Before Jesus, the Sun God was Mithras. Each spent days within the earth before being raised up and reborn.

At Stonehenge the rising sun on Midwinter’s day can be seen coming in through the south-east trilithon. The departing sun is seen from the south-west trilithon. The Great Bear in the Northern skies has been the guiding star telling us the Solstice is near and Stonehenge has many alignments built by ancient astrologers and priests. As worshipping the Sun and Earth was important to the Ancient Celts, Stonehenge and many other sites became the place where celebrations were carried out, honouring the Sun God in his many guises throughout the years and, as well, Earth Mother Gaia. The Triple Goddess is now in her aspect of the crone, the ancient wise woman. This is the time of old age and wisdom.

Newgrange in Ireland, County Meath is an ancient earth chamber, the largest in Europe. It has the midwinter sun pass along the upper passageway straight into the central chamber. The Sun God mates with the Goddess of the land to conceive new light. Newgrange was constructed some 4,500 years ago or more for this purpose. It was and is a place of great spiritual meaning and people travel from all over the world to watch the miracle of the sun connecting with the land.

For many Pagans and Druids, the ceremony at winter Solstice is the most important of the yearly festivals. They see this as a turning point, where one inner cycle ends and the next begins. This is the time of the year when we look inwards and see where we need to grow on our spiritual journey. We know we have darkness but also light within us, and as the sun has its rebirth, so does our spirit too. Often all the candles are blown out or the lights are turned off and a time spent in total darkness before the symbolic relighting of the candles to hail the new Sun.

Carol singing has its beginnings in the ancient Solstice ceremonies as at this time of the year we would celebrate for two weeks. We would surround our homes with evergreen and holly with berries to symbolize warmth and life. We would dress up in disguise of ancient Gods gone by, do plays and have fun. There was no work to be done at this time so it was a party to celebrate as the Sun was reborn and soon the earth would be ready for the plough and the planting.

The Yule log would be found, the biggest log in the forest in the hope that it would burn and provide heat and light for the full two weeks of the festival. A piece of the Yule log from the previous year would be placed with it and also ivy and other greenery, it would be blessed by pouring ale or cider over it. Mistletoe is associated with the Winter Solstice as this is the time of rebirth and the mistletoe has its seeds already on its branches in the form of its berries.

This is the time to dream and plan for the coming year ahead, for dancing and singing and having joy. Let the light get stronger within you as it gets stronger without. Blessed be

Sabbats ~ Yule
(21 - 22 December)

Also known as-: The Winter Solstice, Christmas 
Associated Deities: - Mother Berta, Father Winter, Santa Clause, Kriss Kringle, St Nick, Kings of Holly and Oak 
Associated Herbs: -Chamomile, rosemary, ginger, sage and cinnamon 
Associated Stones: - Quartz crystal, blue sunstone, emerald, ruby, sapphire

The world is frozen and looking on the surface of nature everything is asleep. But deep in the earth, plants are now quietly putting out their shoots and building themselves up for the arrival of spring. This is the season of rebirth. All the dreams and ideas you had at Samhain can now be born and will grow in strength as the Sun now begins to grow in strength on its journey towards the summer solstice.

The origins of Yule date back to the Egyptians who held the festival to celebrate the rebirth of Horus who was the son of Isis and Osiris and Horus took the form of the Sun. Because greenery was seen as magical growth and they wanted the Sun to stay longer, they decorated every thing in sight in all the greenery. Others followed and when the Romans came along they named their festival Saturnalia and brought in things such as candles, singing, lavish feasting and extravagant gift giving. This spread through Europe and became Yule. The wild partying and chaos of the Roman festival can still be seen today in the seasons parties and normal behaviour being replaced by people acting the fool, thus it is also known as the ‘Feast of Fools’.

Witches bring evergreens into the house to remind them or the return of the Son and the growing season. The red berry of the holly symbolises the resting mother giving birth and life returning to the land. The green reminds them of the Holly King who rules until this time. Mistletoe is another decoration with a strong pagan connection where it is considered magical because it grows between the earth and the sky and is not rooted to the ground. The berries of mistletoe symbolises the semen of the God. Many pagans go out before dawn on the Summer Solstice to welcome the return of the Sun.

At Yule the Oak King is reborn. The Oak King and the Holly King, in legend, rule the year between them. The Oak King rules from midwinter to midsummer, when the light increases and the Holly King rules from midsummer to mid winter when the light decreases. At the solstices covens may enact the battle to see which King wins the battle but the rightful King always wins.

A Yule log would have been brought into the house and decorated with candles and each person would light a candle to express a wish for the season ahead. Nowadays, it is usual to make a Yule log and cover it with chocolate as not many home have an open fireplace.

Ways to celebrate Yule:- 
The alter can be decorated with evergreens, poinsettias, holly and mistletoe. Red white and green candles to symbolise the birth and regrowth of the season can be placed on the alter. Ginger pine and sage oils or incense can be burned.

Cast the circle and invite the elements of air (east), fire (south), water (west) and earth (north) to join you and protect you in your rite. Now ask the God and Goddess to join you and start with an apple juice toast to the Holly King.

Name and think about some of the traits of darkness such as peace, quiet, regeneration and dreams. Then imagine the Sun rising high up in the sky out of the darkness and reflect on all the things you hope for in the New Year. Thank the God and Goddess for being with you, then say farewell and thank the elements in the order you invited them in. Close the circle.