The Winter Solstice

Winter Fog I wish it were snowing… or   snowy. But right now as I look out of my window, the sky is overcast with thick grey and white clouds and a strong wind has been knocking the bare lilac branches against my window for a few days now.  For me, this time of year is very ‘inner’ and reflective. I keep journals and I can see that for a long time, years — almost decades, in fact — this has been the pattern my psychology follows. I don’t really think I want to change it. I like that part of myself. It makes me recognize and understand and feel personally in tune with what the cycles of the seasons are. I feel calm, pensive, sleepy, meditative.

As far as common Pagan or Wiccan thinking goes, this is the time of the year that the sun is reborn and will begin to grow in light and strength until its peak on the opposite day of the Summer Solstice near the end of June. There are many holidays and names for holidays that all kind of focus on this natural occurence. There is Yule, Alban Arthan, Midwinter, Saturnalia, Dies Sol Invictus, and the latest incarnation of Christmas.

I’m not going to get into the whole “Christmas is Pagan” or other such pointless arguments. I’m tired of it, and again with the season and my own energy level wanting to rest and reflect, I think it’s just stupid. Yes, the symbolism of what is popularly seen or acknowledged as ‘Christmas’ is Pagan in origin. Big flippin’ deal. If you go back far enough in history, EVERYTHING was Pagan, because that’s quite literally all there was.

While reviewing thoughts and journal entries over the years I can also see where my own focus really began to shift from using mythology to understand these amazing cycles of time to recognizing that the natural phenomena is… well… phenomenal enough without the need for the overlaying cultural psychology and storytelling. I talk about the psychology of myth more in another post. 

The Sun is ‘born’ on the Winter Solstice. Going on a purely scientific understanding of what the earth is doing as it moves around the sun, we can see  through observation and experience that this is so. Beginning on the Winter Solstice, the earth (for the northern hemisphere — since that’s where I live, that’ll be what I’m describing. If you live in the southern hemisphere, reverse the cycle and it will do the same thing) has reached one of the ‘end points’ of its elliptical orbit and the northern hemisphere is angled away from the sun. So, we are the farthest from the sun as we are going to get. This is experienced by cold weather and little sunlight. Then, following this orbit around towards one of the nearer points we hit upon the Spring Equinox and both hemispheres of the earth face the sun equally, so we have equal day and night or light and dark.

Schoolchildren are taught early on that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. What isn’t really explained is that ‘east’ and ‘west’ are really more subjective than that unless you live along the equator. I’ve always lived north of the equator, so my experience has been that the sun rises in the east, arcs through the southern sky, and sets in the west. If you live in Australia, it’s the opposite: it rises in the east, arcs through the NORTHERN sky, and sets in the west.

To briefly digress a moment, that is why I have an issue with people (re: authors) who incorrectly use the words ‘clockwise’ and ‘deosil’ as interchangeable. Deosil (pronounced jesh-ill not dee-oh-sill) means ‘sunwise’, following the direction of the sun. For the northern hemisphere (ie. Western Europe/British Isles where the term originated) this follows an east-south-west-north path, which lines up with our idea of ‘clockwise’ following the hands of a clock around: 3:00, 6:00, 9:00, 12:00 respectively. However, for those in the southern hemisphere, the sun rises and then moves through the NORTHERN sky, which would make the sun’s path east-north-west-south. This is why Australian Pagans use deosil and its opposite widdershins in the reverse order of Pagans in the UK and America. Clocks do not go 3:00, 12:00, 9:00, 6:00 in Australia. So referring to deosil as clockwise is just wrong.

Back to the main point.

Observably, the sun has been moving farther north on the horizon from the Winter Solstice. This makes the hours of daylight longer and thus warms up the earth because we are beginning to be angled more towards the sun’s rays. On and on we go until we hit the spring equinox which is right in the middle of the close part of the elliptical orbit, balancing light and dark, but we don’t stop there. Ever onward, the earth continues to the other end point of the ellipsis with the sun rising further and further northeast, it has a longer path now to travel as it moves through the southern sky, and it arcs higher making the weather much warmer until the end point of the orbit at the Summer Solstice when the same thing happens, the sun stands still (which is what ‘solstice’ literally means) and from this point the cycle begins again with the sun moving farther south on the horizon for sunrise.

Personally, I tend to view the equinoxes and solstices as minor sabbats because they aren’t as tied into the mythos of my beliefs (in terms of stories and characters) that the greater sabbats (Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnassadh, and Samhain) are. They aren’t less important, but I focus more on the natural cycles of seasons, the stupefying knowledge that our planet is really just floating around in space in this orbit, spinning like a wobbly top and that creates this amazing cycle of birth, growth, death, that we can not only see, but are a part of if we allow ourselves to recognize it during these times. Gods and such are really the focus during the greater sabbats. During the lesser ones, I like to just ponder my place in the cosmos and marvel at how fortunate I am to be living here, now, on a planet so teeming with life where I can experience the cycles of time in a perfect way and know that I am a part of that.

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