Winter Solstice – The Sun has Been Reborn
Winter Solstice, also known as Yule, Alban and Midwinter represents the darkest and shortest day of the year. The Sun is at its lowest point shortening our daylight hours. As I sit here at my desk on this very special date, 21st of December, it is but 2.00pm in the afternoon and already the darkness is beginning to fall. I have just put the lights on in the room so I can find my way around. My home is Ireland, an island of majestic beauty and unpredictable weather. Here the Sunshine is prayed for, the rain a constant blessing. The heavy dark sky and torrential rain cover my environment like a wet and sodden, grey wool cloak. The Sun has sunk to its lowest point, is weak and lacks warmth. I will huddle around my fire tonight and wait.
Understanding Winter Solstice
The Holly King – Ruler of The Waning Year. Reigns from Summer Solstice 21st/22nd June to to Winter Solstice 21st/22nd December. His power over the natural world steadily increases from Summer Solstice, reaching maximum strength at Winter Solstice.
The Oak King – Ruler of The Waxing Year. Reigns from Winter Solstice 21st/22nd of December to Summer Solstice 21st/22nd June. His power over the natural world steadily increases from Winter Solstice, reaching maximum strength at Summer Solstice.
Both The Holly King and Oak King share equal power and strength at the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes when day and night are almost the same length. The Holly King’s power begins to overtake that of The Oak King once Autumn Equinox has passed and vice versa at Spring Equinox.
The Holly and Oak King know their time and place in the law of nature, and work in tangent to maintain balance and harmony. Their combined and cyclical Waxing and Waning, Waning and Waxing, create our four seasons of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.
Ancient Pagans believed that on Winter Solstice, The Holly King, challenged by The Oak King (sensing his return of power), went into headlong battle to retain his reign over the Waning part of the Year. The Holly King battled this same Oak King (ruler of the Waxing part of the year) on Midsummer’s Eve (Summer Solstice), 21st of June, when the Sun had reached its maximum strength and height in the sky. At Summer Solstice, The Holly King prevailed, becoming champion and ruler of the natural world since then. He knew it was his time to ascend the throne once more, that The Oak King’s days were numbered regardless of his dazzling display of fortitude and courage on the battlefield. The Oak King conceding defeat began to withdraw bringing the Sun with him as he sank lower and lower into the underworld.
The weakening power and presence of The Oak King was not immediately noticeable. Neither was the increasing power of The Holly King discernible. However, as the days and weeks progressed, especially once the equinox had passed, it was obvious who had control over the natural kingdom and skies. As the days grew shorter, darker and colder, The Holly King’s power strengthened. Signs of The Oak King began to fade. Trees shed their leaves, flowers withered and died, sharp rain raced from the sky, and a coolness whistled through the breeze. Sometimes the land was covered in a mantle of frigid white. The Holly King thrived in this environment, not feeling the cold or mourning the loss of brilliant colour. He brought his own magical beauty with him as he moved swiftly through the darkening landscape. He favoured evergreen trees over the deciduous species for they were impervious to the absence of The Oak King. They mirrored and reflected The Holly King’s dark essence and mystery.
The Holly King triumphant and splendid, grows stronger and stronger as December 21st begins to draw ever closer. Daylight hours become more scarce. Some days there appears to be no light at all. The Holly King can feel his powers and strength increasing. As Winter Solstice approaches, he will begin the day as Supreme Ruler, but just like The Wheel of Fortune in The Tarot reminds us, once the Wheel has reached its highest point of rotation, it must by the laws of Nature and the Universe, begin once more its downward turn. It follows a repetitive cycle. As The Holly King reaches the upper most point, his peak, The Oak King, Sun, will likewise reach his lowest. What goes up, must come down and what goes down must come up.
The Holly King can no longer retain his ultimate hold on power. At Winter Solstice, the Sun begins its slow ascent once more, igniting the passion of The Oak King who now has everything to fight for. His throne is in sight and he will reclaim it. Just like The Holly King, The newly arrived Oak King will take some time for his presence to be noticed. By Spring Equinox his strength will overtake that of The Holly King until he too reaches his peak at at Summer Solstice. Then the battle for supremacy begins once more and we all know which King will triumph.
The Holly King today finds himself in an exalted position but he knows the cycle of things, and must revel in this day for he has reached the ultimate point of his power. The Wheel, The Cycle of the Year, is forever turning, never standing still. As night follows day, the Wheel will make a very important move that will topple The Holly King from his throne. Regardless of his ancient knowledge, The Holly King will relentlessly endeavor to retain his reign by going into mortal battle with The Oak King, The Lord of the Waxing part of the year. It is the nature of the beast. The battle happens every year on the 21st/22nd of December, and this eve, The Holly King will lose, just like he loses every year. The Oak King will Slay him just as he does every year. It is now time for The Lord of The Waxing year to reign, but to do so, The Holly King must die. To the ancient Celts, this was a constant reminder of the cyclical nature of all things. Birth, Life, Death, Rebirth, Life, Death, Rebirth.
As The Oak King stands victorious over the slain Holly King, the slumbering Goddess in the underworld gives birth to a new son, the Sun, and hope returns to the land with the promise of growth and abundance once more. The nights remain dark and cold but the Sun, still young and weak, gains strength with each passing day, stretching the daylight hours minute by minute until suddenly we notice a real difference as darkness and nightfall come later and later. The Waxing Sun and Goddess breathe life back into the Earth, and soon we shall see the first signs of growth once more. The Wheel is turning and The Oak King sits proud on its upward ascent. He too knows that his reign will come to an end, but accepts that is how the laws of nature work. He will enjoy his time on the bright side of The Wheel. All will hail and welcome his return to power. He has much work to do during his reign: trees to bud, grass to grow, crops to flourish, fruit to ripen, life to birth and bodies to heat. He will struggle to protect the ewes during the lambing season from the harshness of snow and driving winds. He is but new to his reign. The effects of The Holly King still evident. It will take time for the newborn Sun to be fully effective, but all now look towards the sky and salute it. As the Sun rises higher and higher, the first signs of growth become noticeable once more.
There is much to rejoice at this time of the year. Yes, there are still hard days to come but from here on the days will become brighter and longer, lifting our mood and re-energising our spirit. The darkest days are over and it is a time to let go of anything negative in our lives so that we can move positively forward into the light with a renewed faith and strengthened resolve.
Winter Solstice is symbolised by Wreaths, Yule Logs, Holly and Evergreen Trees (Christmas trees)
A little Winter Solstice Ritual
(This involves candles so please take every precaution necessary to ensure safety. This is a great ritual for all the family to take part in)
Take some time today to write down a list of all the things you wish to leave behind in the dark, Waning Part of the year and your life. Write a second list of all the good things you are determined to work towards in the coming Spring (Waxing) and year. Have two candles prepared, one dark in colour, black would be good, and the other a pale colour, especially white. Now light the black candle and set it in a fireproof container. Meditate for a few minutes on those things that you wish to leave behind. When you are ready, take the list of all the negative things you wish to let go of and hold it in the flame until it catches fire. Now set it down in the fireproof container or throw it into the fireplace. Blow out the Black Candle which will represent The Death of The Holly King. Watch the list burn, setting the intention that as it burns, so too do all the negative things you wish to release. Sit for a moment and meditate on this.
Now take your pale coloured candle and light it. This represents the new-born Sun and the Victory of Light over Darkness with the reign of The Oak King. Place the list of positive things you wish to achieve beside it. Meditate on its contents and set the intention that it is done. Roll up the list neatly and taking the candle drip some wax onto the edge of the paper. Let it cool and set. Your list is now sealed with your intention. Leave the candle burning in a safe place for the evening but do not leave it unattended. Store the sealed list in a place that is close to where you sleep.
On next Winter Solstice you can break the seal and read your list which will now be a year old. Compare it to how the year has turned out for you. Did you hold hard and fast to your intentions, or did you let some of the old negativity back into your life? There is always time to start again. The Wheel is constantly turning.
Newgrange in Ireland was constructed over 5,000 years ago. It was built during the Neolithic period in the Boyne Valley of Ireland. Newgrange is a passage tomb and temple which has strong astrological and spiritual associations. Very special spiritual and religious ceremonies were held there, but there is something very important about Newgrange. At dawn, from the 19th to the 23rd of December each year, the rising sun enters the passage way and illuminates the inner-chamber. Just above the entrance to the passage way is a small opening and it appears to have been specially built to allow the rising sun to enter on the shortest day of the year. As the sun rises, the rays push further into the inner chamber and dramatically light its interior. This only last a matter of minutes but for the ancient peoples of the time it must have been very spectacular and of immense importance. It meant that all was in Divine Order and the Universe was working as it should. The range of dates from the 19th to the 23rd show us that their calculations were not exact and precise but they knew that it would be within
that time frame. For them it would have marked the rebirth of life after death.
Hundreds gather every year to witness this spectacular event. They stand in the darkness and wait for the sun to rise. The feeling must be incredible as the inner chamber becomes alive, and for those lucky people who are allowed access on this special day, they must be aware of the spirits of all those who have stood there before them so long ago, waiting as they do today for the sign from the Gods that the Sun has been reborn once more.
Here is a link to one of our National TV Stations RTE who covered the wonderful event at Newgrange this morning.
The Goddess has given birth to the New Sun. Let us all rejoice,
Copyright © 2006 Vivien Ní Dhuinn