Today marks the arrival of the Winter Solstice. The Winter season officially begins but along with it, the day when light hours will begin to lengthen once again.
For thousands of years, this day was greatly celebrated, not just for the passing of the darkest of days, but to commemorate the Eternal Light ever present with the return of warmth.
One can read how in Europe, among the Germanic folks, they honored the birth of the god Oden; the Scandinavian Vikings celebrated the festival of Yule; in Rome it was the birth of Mithra, the allegorical godman who taught the way of freedom. In fact, the one in Rome was the most popular and for a time, roles were reversed and the servants and slaves ruled the towns in a time of celebration and hilarity.
It was no accident that in the 4th century of our era, the man called Pope Julius officially declared December 25th the day to commemorate the birth of Jesus. It was another 400 years before the feast of Nativity then became common throughout the European continent, mostly through the destruction of other celebrations as “pagan.”
I think of the stories surrounding Jesus’ birth then as the Christian form of very similar stories prevalent for many thousands of years. 12,000 years ago the Egyptians celebrated the birth of Horus, born of a virgin in humble surroundings, later to be baptized by Anap the Baptizer. (Who later was decapitated such as the Christian John.)
What does all this mean on a inward, spiritual, or more esoteric level? To appreciate these stories, one needs to see them not as literal but as allegorical depictions of the way to freedom and liberation. For our own Christian traditions came from the same Lunar ideas prevalent in all those earlier, similar traditions of the winter solstice.
We know what darkness can really symbolize; loneliness, fear, guilt, anger and death. This sense of darkness lingers in our hearts for all our lives. Cold, dark winter days and nights can heighten these feelings of isolation and hopeless. They depict the insanity and lunacy we seem to observe in our lives and in the lives and stories of our world.
The darkness and sense of hopelessness, so prevalent in winter months, is connected with our identities, our attachments with the mortal-ness of the world about us, including our bodies. What we see is all so transient and limited. We turn away burying these thoughts as much as possible with busyness, partying, and things which help us avert the senseless of so much of our living. We turn outward to find something, somebody, some place, to alleviate our loneliness and sadness, to “save us.”
All the ancient solstice stories, including our own Christian one, are actually then allegorical ways to help us awaken to another kind of Light, the one within us all, which is Spirit, and which connects us to the eternal transcendent world everywhere, in everyone!
The birth of Jesus thus symbolizes the birth of awareness to the Christ Center in us, in all. The idea of Virginity symbolizes the individual choices we must make in order to receive it and the practice of living in its awareness.
The star above symbolizes the deep Wisdom part of our creation as God’s Children, leading us, if listened to and followed, back to our Center, our Light.
Surroundings of cattle, donkeys, and stables depict the humility and surrender we feel when we give in, letting go, and accepting we have been basically chasing illusions all our lives, never having found satisfaction, our one True Love.
The word “solstice” even gives a key technique in which to receive this awareness and release; “to stand or sit still.” Of course, the primary meaning is lunar derived, the day when the sun and earth both seem to stop and stand still. But over centuries, the wise saw in it the most basic technique to be renewed in the Light of Awareness, sitting in silence. As the ancient Hebrew Psalm goes, “Be still and know I am God!” It’s the realization of the God-in-us, the Emmanuel.
Throughout the coming year, we can seek to remember and renew this awareness each day in our prayers and “sittings.” It’s like the old Wiccan tradition of the King of Holly (Holly Berry symbol) doing battle with the King of Oak (hardness and ego symbol). Each year, these kings battle for the favor of the Goddess, the Oak King seeming to gain the upper hand for half the year, but then the Holly King, at the winter solstice, in the deepest time of darkness, wins out again. As we sit, walk, or remember, we seek to move past the Oak King’s guilt, fear, and sadness to the Holly King’s victory of Life by once again remembering we are Light.
On this Solstice Day, let us determine to “see the Light of Christmas,” the experience of deep peace as we observe and celebrate all the wonderful symbols of this rich season. And come Christmas Eve or Day, let the symbols of joyful music, rich colorful visuals, and poetic expressions resonate with our deepest love, the Presence of that Transcendent Self we name God, Jesus, Christ, or whatever.
A Merry Christmas to you all, in the very deepest level, the one that brings abiding peace.