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The Wisdom of the Winter Solstice

On Tuesday, December 21st, 2023, we have the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. In pagan mythology, the Winter Solstice is particularly significant because it is the turning point of the Wheel of the Year.

At the Solstice, the god is born as the Sun Child. Just as night triumphs over day, he is born and grows, diminishing the darkness and bringing the day to its height. Through the turning of the Wheel, he grows into the young child of Imbolc (February 1), the impish youth of the Spring Equinox or Ostara (March 21), the lustful suitor of Beltane (May 1), then the husband and lover of the Summer Solstice (June 21). He ages and reaches his prime at Lammas (Aug 1) and dies at the conclusion of the Autumn Equinox or Mabon (Sep 21). He is mourned and then, at Samhaim (Oct 31), he enters the Underworld, where he journeys through the sacred dreamland to be reborn, yet again, the day after the darkness reigns supreme.


In our modern culture, we tend to rail against the very idea that the darkness could overtake the light. We see darkness as evil, as wrong. So we attach our biggest holidays to the time when the darkness is the deepest, hoping against hope that if we fake the smile long enough, we can fight the dark.


But if we step back and bear witness to the Wheel of the Year, perhaps we can find some perspective and wisdom.


Darkness is not, in itself. evil. Yes, when things are not visible, they are scarier. They are unknown. They are mysterious. But this also means that they are in a state of potential. Anything is possible while we are in darkness. The stark reality of light is what makes things observable and solid. Darkness is where the imagination reigns supreme. Where possibilities are endless and creativity is primordial. I like to think of darkness as a rich soil, from which all life can spring.


Of course, we cannot have spring without winter. We cannot know light without dark. Just as the longest night triumphs, the light is reborn. The two are not enemies, but rather, two halves of the same whole. And every shade in between is where our lives are lived.


And so, let us lean in to this darkness. This sacred pause. This moment between the exhale and the inhale, when we feel most breathless and uncertain and unsure. This is the time to trust our inner selves, to turn to our imaginations and to be inspired. Spring will return, day will extend. But let us not rush the magic of darkness.

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