Yesterday was the longest night of the year, the deepest darkness of our annual cycle, and this morning, the 21st December is the turning point of the cycle. The shift towards the light.
It has been celebrated in many religions as the birth of Light. Christians have moved the tradition to the 25th December, Christ's birthday, the coming of the son of God, the Light of the World. Hindus have Devali or Diwali, the 'festival of lights', a beautiful five day celebration.
The ancient Earth religions around the planet also have their traditions, many of which have been merged and absorbed by the 'newer' religions. Our ancestors had an intimate knowledge of the Equinoxes and Soltices, the turning of the year, and devised celebrations to mark the changes of the seasons, the shifts from regeneration and harvest to the withdrawal of the light and then its re-emergence.
As we reconnect with the growing seasons and the natural world around us by sowing our own seeds, growing food, planting trees and engaging in other activities related to the practice of permaculture, the meaning of the old seasonal festivals becomes ever more relevant. These festivals are vital points in our yearly cycles, marking endings and beginnings, opportunties to sow, plant, harvest, reap and store on practical and symbollic levels.
Whatever your beliefs, we find ourselves symbollically in a place of change, the transition from darkness into light. It seems even more relevant on the day that the Mayan Calendar, a 30,000 year cycle comes to a close. I therefore feel prompted to share with you some of Starhawk's suggestions for celebrating this turning towards the Light. You can take any of these ideas, alone or with friends, and try them out anytime between the 20th and 23rd December.
I would emphasise that these thoughts are about anchoring postive intentions, bringing about positive change both in our own lives and in the lives of those around us. They are based on a sense of deep gratitude towards Mother Earth, our home, for Her bounty on which we depend. Most of all, they engender Love. So whatever your personal practises and beliefs, they can be adapted in a spirit of Unity, to strengthen our will and plant the intention that we will work more effectively towards a more harmonious world.
"Solstice can be a time for personal work, for letting go of inner pain, regrets, mistakes, blocks. Fire and water can both be good tools for doing this. Stir some salt into a bowl of water. Sit with it, and let the painful feeling arise, and as they do, breathe them into the water, stirring counterclockwise. When you feel the wave of emotion has passed, sit for a moment and allow yourself to believe that change is possible. Imagine it as a spark of light, that begins to grow as you stir clockwise. You can sing or chant or breathe to raise the energy. When you feel the bowl is glowing, take a small sip and consciously take back the transformed energy. Look back at some of the situations that have been painful and imagine how you might do them differently.
"If you have a fireplace or woodstove or a way to make a fire outside, you can do a similar cleansing with fire. Sit by the unlit fire, draw or write your regrets on paper, then light the fire and let them burn up in the flames.
"Solstice is also a time to honor the cycles, the seasons and the elements. You don't have to be at an ancient pyramid to watch the sunset or to gather with friends at dawn and sing up the morning sun.
"And Solstice is a time for connection, with friends, family, children and community. Gather with friends and create a feast, and take time for each person to name their hopes for the new era as you raise a glass or pour a libation, and to commit to something they will do to help midwife it into birth. At my house, we like to bake bread, kneading in our dreams and visions. The rising dough is like the swelling belly of the Great Mother, pregnant with the New Year Child. At dawn, the bread is ready, and we bring it up to the hill, still warm, to eat as the sun rises.
"And Solstice is a time for magic - for linking our intentions with symbols and images that channel energy to bring them about. Symbolically, the Great Mother goes into labor tonight, to bring forth the Child of Light, the new sun, the new era, the new day. We support her efforts with our gatherings, our chants, our songs, our ceremonies, and the real work we each do, our own labors toward the Great Turning. Change always requires sacrifice - letting go of something, if only our old, destructive ways of being. But every loss, every emptiness, opens the way for something new to be born. In darkness, the seed takes root and the new sprout pushes toward the light. In the dark of the womb, the spark of life is kindled. Out of the longest night, the new day is born.
"So let this Solstice be a time when we all put our intention toward the change, and draw forth the strength, the courage and the determination to bring that new world into being. A world where we know that we are not separate, but connected, not the masters of the world, but nature's children, her partners and healers, where the currency we strive for is not money or power, but love. We are creative, magical, radiant beings, and when we link our hearts, our vision and our actions together, as the Wheel of the Year turns, we can indeed turn the world around."
I am, as always, entranced by the symbol of the Earth as a being, a body, the Great Mother and the idea of this being going into labor tonight, to bring forth the Child of Light. I hold in my being the sense of the Earth as a great being, and experience this when I walk through ancient landscapes. I am also entranced by an image from the Vedas, those ancient Hindu scriptures of the universe being Ananta Shesha, a massive form that floats coiled in space, or on the universal ocean. As Ananta Shesha uncoils, time moves forward and creation takes place. When he coils back, the universe ceases to exist. This form is the bed on which the god Vishnu lies. As Vishnu dreams, so whole realities are created.
I am reminded of the marvellous lines of Shakespeare from the Tempest using the image of the play to betray the fragile reality of our lives:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
The Tempest Act 4, scene 1, 148-158
Happy Winter Solstice. May your revels be filled with fun. May the next turning of the seasons be fruitful for you. Let's plant the intention that this new era will bring greater wisdom to humanity and an ever-growing realisation of our love and gratitude to Mother Earth.
Maddy is the editor of Permaculture magazine. She also edited and co-wrote The Song of the Earth - A Synthesis of the Scientific & Spiritual Worldviews, part of Gaia Education's Four Keys to Sustainablity series endorsed by UNESCO. YOu can read it in PRINT or as a FREE DOWNLOAD.