WHAT IS SOLSTICE?
The word solstice is used to describe celestial events that take place in the winter and summer; the word’s origin, derived from the Latin word sōlstitium, which is translated as “the standing still of the sun.” Occurring at the exact moment all over the world, the season being experienced is based upon which side of the equator you reside. The Earth is tilted about 23.5 degrees. As it moves in its orbit, the tilt of the North Pole changes; the hemisphere tilting away from the Sun experiences the cold of winter while the other, tilting toward the sun, experience the heat of summer. Solstices occur when the Earth’s North Pole is at its maximum tilt either towards (Summer) or away from (Winter) the Sun; they were named such as, to the viewer, the sun indeed appears to stand still in the sky during these times.
Although each hemisphere experiences both solstices, they occur at opposite times of the year. In other words, the winter solstice, also known as the hibernate, hiernal or hibernal solstice, occurs typically between December 21 and 22 in the Northern Hemisphere; experienced as the shortest day and longest night of the calendar year, it marks the astronomical end of autumn and astronomical beginning of winter and the end of the solar year. Considered the turning point of the year, after the winter solstice, the days get longer and the nights get shorter until the longest day and the shortest night of the year is reached on the summer solstice, which typically occurs between June 20 and 21. In complete contrast, for those living in the Southern Hemisphere, December 21-22 marks the astronomical end of spring and the beginning of summer.
NOTE: In 2019, the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere will occur on Saturday, December 21st at 8:19 pm (PST), 9:19Ppm (MT) & 11:19 pm (EST).
What is vital to understand—and worth reiterating—is that Winter and Summer Solstice, as with the Spring and Autumn equinoxes, are NOT RELIGIOUS HOLIDAYs; instead, these four were and still are, recognized, acknowledged and honored as recurring celestial events. Due to the cyclic regularity of these occurrences, astronomical events such as these were often used to guide and facilitate scheduling of activities, such as the mating of animals, the planting, sowing, and harvesting of crops, and the monitoring and timing of distribution of winter reserves of food. Archeological research confirms that, since Neolithic times, these events were marked with ritual as many of the stone circles found are oriented to points of their sunrise or sunset. The use and significance of these circles are corroborated with what is known of the cosmological evolution of those who inhabited the areas near the circles; historically, by the time the circles were built, the inhabitants had become a pastoral people, and times of sowing and reaping were vital to them.
Wikipedia provides greater detail in this regard: “The winter solstice, in particular, was immensely important because the people were economically dependent on monitoring the progress of the seasons. Starvation was common during the first months of the winter—from January to April (northern hemisphere) or July to October (southern hemisphere); these times were also known as “the famine months”. In temperate climates, the midwinter, also known as yule or winter solstice, the festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began. Most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter, so it was almost the only time of year when a plentiful supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking at this time. The concentration of the observances were not always on the day commencing at midnight or at dawn, but as with many Indigenous and tribal cultures, especially those who followed a lunar-based calendar (including Celtic and Jewish calendars), ceremony and ritual were initiated on the evening prior to the day of events such as solstices and equinoxes.”
Our ancestors, then, did not take the return of the Sun lightly or for granted; primarily living off the land without even some of the basics found in the nearby cities, they suffered to a much greater degree during the dark time of winter and they depended on their relationship with earth and sky cycles. For an agricultural society, whose survival depended mostly on crops, the return of the Sun was not just a matter of casual celebration; it was a matter of life or death.
Winter Solstice in particular, then, has been considered to have been the most significant and recognizable astronomical event of humankind, acknowledged and observed in specific ceremonies throughout the world relative to each culture’s unique cosmology and customs. Its importance is understandable; this celestial event provides a visible manifestation of the cycles of life, death, and rebirth mirroring, for many, their personal existential perspectives of the human life cycle. Although in some cases, winter solstice customs and traditions have changed over time, the basis and fundamental premise for most has remained constant –it is the understanding that we all ultimately come from tribal and earth-based traditions; our relationship with the land is in our DNA. But even more vital is the innate wisdom derived from understanding the deeper connection we, as humans, have with the land and sky energies, the tides, celestial and earth cycles and our relationship with Pancha Mama, Gaia, seeing her as a living entity—to comprehend the meaning of “as above, so below.” Especially seen with the festival of Winter Solstice as we simultaneously honor death and loss and celebrate new beginnings and the return of life’s light—to honor the changes around us is to honor the changes within ourselves—it is to live consciously in relationship with all, to act and walk through life knowing that we are all part of the web of existence, we are all interconnected—to live with the truth of MITAKUYE OYASIN—we are all related.
The Energies of Winter & Solstice:
A Moment of Receptivity & Release
At a Time of Death, Rebirth & Renewal
As a celestial phenomenon, winter solstice acts as a pivotal point in time and space, marking the turning between the year’s darkness and its new light. It is a time of both a completion and a beginning. And so it is for us as well. As microcosm of the greater world, the energies of winter solstice create opportunities to relinquish old outmoded habits and thoughts, supporting us in letting go of old regrets and awakening to new goals, of releasing and casting away those things that create darkness in our lives and opening up to the light of the sun which permeates our souls.
It is a time of death, gestation, regeneration, and rebirth.
There is unique energy inherent within Winter solstice. Beneath the apparent stillness of winter, lie unseen powerful forces of regeneration and renewal silently germinating.
As darkness overcomes the sun, the loss of light is mourned.
Yet the same darkness that swallowed life’s light holds the potential for all creation, simultaneously offering itself as both a vehicle for receptivity, reflection and introspection and as womb—a place of incubation for inspiration, intention and the gestation of dreams and visions.
Within the dark silence, we are offered the opportunity to face and release our own limiting darkness…loss alchemically transmutes to potential gain, grief turns to gratitude, emptiness provides fertile space for implantation of creativity’s seeds, and, as a new year’s light dawns, limitations are cast off, self-illumination is birthed and the world is reborn.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER FOR THE SEASON
OF WINTER & THE SOLSTICE**
**NOTE: If anyone feels they would like assistance in any of these areas, I am happy to schedule a time to assist and facilitate. Please consult for available options and fees, located on my website, prior to our discussion. dhp .
The changing seasons not only represent our move around the sun, but they also symbolize the internal growth we, as spiritual beings, have the opportunity to experience. Honoring the sun festivals is a good way to align ourselves with the forces of nature as each new season ignites a transformation to the landscape around us and coincides with an inner shift that marks the progression each of our spirits travels through. The questions below offer examples that can facilitate awareness; they can be utilized within the context of meditation, guided imagery, writing/journaling, hypnosis, shamanic journeywork or just quiet contemplation and soul searching. Whatever method is used, know that this is a process that involves looking at our whole journey with compassion and nonjudgement—and excitement as well; allowing the process to unfold can not only help to resolve the past and clarify the present, it can also assist in paving the way for our future.
Note: regardless of what form this process takes, or from whence the responses come, it is always appropriate to voice gratitude—if only to yourself for taking the time and care.
Winter solstice is a time meant to reflect and recreate yourself, to celebrate our journey back into the light, leaving behind anything that keeps us from allowing ourselves the fullness of our power and divinity. Allow yourself to embrace the fertile darkness of this season. Take some time to reflect deeply, without criticism about previous decisions and actions, about yourself, your past, and what you want for your future. This is a time for equanimity and gentle recapitulation, a time to consider what your soul requires to shine.
To Begin: Create whatever image you need to ask these questions. Be comfortable, feel safe, have a pad/pen or writing device available. Just trust what you hear. Write first, read and analyze later. Perhaps, if you’d like, first look at the questions and choose whichever feels most pertinent for you at this time; you are also welcomed to create some of your own.
Scene: You are standing on a threshold between what was, and what will be. Now is a time to reflect between your past and your future. Look back at where you’ve been— what teachings and wisdom have been gained, what accomplishments achieved, what areas of your life are ready to be relinquished to create new possibilities.
Music: If you choose to do so; best without lyrics
OPTIONAL EXAMPLE OF SET UP FOR QUESTIONS: If you would like to, visualize a place you have been in nature-a place in which you feel comfortable and safe. You are perfectly safe traveling alone but, if you choose, you are also welcomed to bring with you any of your helping spirits. You look around and see a beautiful giant pine…..it is the eternal pine tree that reaches up to the sun….take a moment to introduce yourself and ask permission to climb up, alone or with your spirits. If you are given permission, then, if you choose, you begin to climb….all the way up to the point of the sun—to where it is just returning…where the light is just moving out of the darkness……and. if you choose, take a moment and bask in that light, allowing it to fill you…to move in through your pores and fill you up on every level, feeling all of your cells being filled with that light…..and when you are ready…….if you choose, ask to speak with the Spirit of the sun and ask the following questions…….
(please be considerate—if you have more than one, ask if it is ok to do so, or ask if you may return at another time to ask another. If it is agreed that you may return, please consider setting a time or date with the Spirit.)
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER ASKING:
**WHAT FROM MY PAST WOULD BE BENEFICIAL FOR ME TO LET GO OF & RELEASE AS I MEET THE SUN’S RETURN?
**WHAT IS TO BE REBORN WITHIN ME THAT WILL BRING NEW & RENEWED LIGHT IN MY LIFE? (& HOW CAN I NURTURE THE GROWTH OF THIS LIGHT IN THE YEAR AHEAD?)
**WHAT IS MY VISION FOR MY FUTURE?
**WHAT STEPS MUST I TAKE TO MANIFEST MY VISION? WHAT ACTIONS CAN I TAKE?
*WHAT NEEDS TO BE RELEASED IN ORDER TO MANIFEST MY VISION?
*WHAT BEHAVIORS WOULD BE BENEFICIAL TO RELEASE?
*WHAT NEEDS TO BE REBORN?
*HOW DO I BEST NURTURE AND CULTIVATE MY VISION?
*HOW CAN I BEST “FEED” MY VISION
**WHAT DO I WANT?
**WHAT IS STOPPING ME FROM GETTING WHAT I WANT?
**WHAT AM I AFRAID OF?
**WHAT BEHAVIORS NO LONGER SERVE ME OR ARE HOLDING ME BACK IN MY LIFE?
**HOW CAN I BEST CLEANSE AND RELEASE UNHELPFUL ENERGIES, THOUGHT FORMS, BELIEFS, PATTERNS AND BEHAVIORS?
**WHAT STEPS CAN I TAKE TO BEST ACHIEVE MY GOALS, DREAMS & HEART’S DESIRE?
WAYS TO HONOR THE ENERGIES OF
WINTER AND SOLSTICE**
**NOTE: If anyone feels they would like assistance in any of these areas,I am happy to schedule a time to assist and facilitate. Please consult available options and fees, located on my website, prior to our discussion. dhp.
There are many ways to honor the energies of winter and the solstice. Some rituals, ceremonies, and activities are specifically intended to honor the cycles of nature and the spirits associated with them. However, just as with the other seasonal markers, it is important to remember that we are a vital component and an active participant in the relationship; we hold the space between earth and sky and act as antennae when energies are invoked and evoked. We not only have the potential to act as the modulators and mediators between heaven and the natural world, we have the responsibility to do so. To remember and act to maintain our relationship with all the realms is to take a stand and make the commitment that WE will stand for the continuation of wisdom and the future of our children.
HONORING THE SUN, LIGHT AND THE DARKNESS
Many solstice rituals include candlelight. Flames connect us to life and light and lights are brought into the home and kindled to represent the Sun; sometimes candles are lit, prayers said, then the candles are extinguished to experience the darkness, after which they are relit and thanks given. As the winter solstice is considered the seasonal dark night of the soul, it is a time to not only honor the Sun, light, and the light within, it is also a time to recognize the darkness, its power, and gifts, as well as the darkness that resides within; it is a time to go inward and to identify and perform rituals to release whatever is creating darkness in our lives, impeding or stopping the light from coming in or keeping us from our own light.
**FIRE RELEASING CEREMONY- This can be done as a personal ceremony or with a group. Begin by giving out small pieces of paper and pencils so each can write down what they want to release and let go of. When finished, each person can take a moment to thank whatever it is for the teachings it gave and then throw them into a fire, allowing the flames to transform darkness into light. In addition to this ritual is to write, on another piece of paper write your aspirations and intentions for the coming year; your heart desires you hope to fulfill. These can then be held and read or not, or say a silent pray of intention and then throw them into the fire as well. The idea is to cast off that which holds you back, making space to birth your hopes and dreams.
**BURNING OF A YULE LOG
Yule logs is named after the Yule celebration of the solstice. A yule log is a special log that is burned on the night of the winter solstice. The fire is kept burning all night as a symbol of light on the darkest night of the year, and, to help re-ignite the Sun. In ancient times, the burning of the yule log would take place in a fireplace or at a large bonfire to celebrate Yule and the return of the light. Traditionally, a piece of the yule log was saved to help ignite the next winters’ yule log.
**SPENDING THE NIGHT BY CANDLELIGHT
Many people choose to not use electricity on the night of the solstice, and instead, enjoy the darkest night of the year by candlelight; they would often stay up all night, first in darkness and then lighting a candle, meditating on that which they intend to let go of and then what it is they are desiring to bring in.
**STAYING UP ALL NIGHT TO WELCOME THE RETURN OF THE LIGHT
Stay up all night on the night of the winter solstice to welcome back the light. GREET THE DAWN In ancient days, people stayed awake to make sure the sun was really coming back, while today many people stay awake on the darkest night of the year to celebrate, hold reverence, and see the light return.
CELEBRATE WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY
To celebrate life and light is to also celebrate love. Gathering together and sharing food and laughter, music and prayers is an integral part of the time of winter solstice. Also included in Winter solstice seasonal ritual is the act of gifting as a manifestation of offering love and light to others.
CREATING THE INTENTION FOR WHAT WE WANT FOR OUR FUTURE
AFFIRMATIONS, VISION BOARDS, JOURNALING
When something is released, there is an empty place that must be filled; in regard to solstice, after releasing that which no longer serves us, the next logical step is to create the intention of what we would like to bring into our lives. It is one thing to set energy in motion by stating it verbally; by putting it in writing, it makes the intention concrete and brings the energy into the material world. In a similar vein, a journal can be purchased and dedicated to the winter solstice, utilizing it for releasing, gratitude’s, and intention s for the new year.
CONNECTING WITH THE NATURAL WORLD
**BRING THE NATURAL WORLD INTO YOUR HOME
During this solstice season, it is typical to decorate our homes with evergreen branches, trees, and wreaths. The green reminds us of the promise that nature will be green again in springtime and life will return to our lands. In the Irish tradition, a house decorated with greeneries is expected to offer a place of rest to nature spirits fleeing from cold and darkness.
**SOLSTICE NATURE WALK
Spend time walking in the countryside, grounding, being mindful and thankful for nature’s wonders. Spend quality time with loved ones on a nurturing nature walk. Spend some time sitting on the Earth, or place your hands on the Earth, connecting with the pulse of life.
**GO OUTSIDE DURING SOLSTICE
Meditate on the rising and/or setting of the Solstice Sun; breathe in the night. Note planetary positions on the horizon at this time of year and observe its change in position on the horizon as the days start lengthening again
**VISIT SACRED SITES OR THOSE THAT YOU FEEL ARE SPECIAL
…..but also realize that everywhere we walk is sacred space. If you find a particular place that calls to you and you spend time there, be sure to express gratitude either in words or laying down such sacred substances as blue corn or tobacco.
EXPRESSING GRATITUDE, GIVING THANKS & HONORING
HONOR THE OLD — ANCESTORS,ELDERS
Offer to feed or do something for the elders in your community.
HONOR THE NEW—CHILDREN
Find ways to support the children in your community or somewhere you feel aligned.
HONOR ANIMAL KINGDOM
Take time to care for and express gratitude for those non-human domestic relatives who provide us with support and unconditional love; support the continued existence of our wild relatives from whose lives we learn.
GRATITUDE FOR THE PAST
Incorporate ancestral wisdom, traditions, and customs, foods, stories and honor those who helped get you here; one way to do this is to re-tell stories from your heritage or your tradition or solstice legends to connect us with ancestors.
GRATITUDE FOR THE PRESENT
Find ways to express gratitude and support for the friends, loved ones, teachers, and all others who were the wind beneath our wings. Also give support to those less fortunate and join with others in celebration
OFFER GRATITUDE FOR THE FUTURE
Find ways to show support for those individuals or institutions of which we intend to be part.
OFFERINGS OF GRATITUDE-DONATING TO CHARITIES
Focus on world peace and planetary well-being in your rituals, meditations, prayers, and other workings. Peace-making was part of Winter Solstice among many peoples in the past. Keep this tradition alive in the present and future.
WRITE DOWN YOUR GRATITUDES FOR THE YEAR
Each family member is invited to write down the things they have been grateful for in the past year. It could be the returned health of a loved one, or a new job or shared activity. It could be a memorable shared experience. It could simply be precious time as a family. You can either hang these gratitudes on your Yule tree or burn them ceremonially in the Solstice fire. It is also a good chance to think about habits, activities, or aspects of your life you’d like to let go of in the coming year – these can be symbolically burnt while speaking your intention aloud.
It is a time of gratitude for the gifts given by nature or the animals and humans in our lives. Whether simply spending time alone in nature or together with loved ones, to touch the energy of solstice and to acknowledge and honor the relationship with that something greater is to honor our own life as well. Solstice season can be an opportunity to reflect in stillness our lives and to breathe, be present and give thanks.
REDEDICATE, RENEW, START FRESH-PURIFICATION RITUALS
—Moving “stuff” in our homes and hearts is to increase the flow of fresh energies. Ideas include cleaning your sacred spaces that include your home, car and yourself as well! Can include use of sage, herbs, salt/soda, etc.
–Declutter., get rid of things you no longer need or use; includes canceling subscriptions and clearing internet media accounts.
**MAKE YOUR OWN RITUALS AND CREATE NEW TRADITIONS FOR YOURSELF AND YOUR FAMILY—Continuation of the sacred is up to us.
Regardless of what actions you take, rituals you make or questions …no matter what form your honoring takes, be sure, always, to say thank you to the spirit and energies of the season…those unseen forces, whether natural or divine, that assist us to release, move forward and grow into our empowered selves…those who have been the wind beneath our wings.