Winter Solstice Ritual: The Return of Light

"December is a holy month. Maybe it is the dark, silky silence that descends so early that speaks to me of reverence. Maybe it is the promise that December holds -- that no matter how dark, how cold, how empty it can get, the light is coming back. Something always shifts in me when December arrives -- I embrace the darkness, and am eager for the coming solstice when the whole world is still and holds its breath, waiting to be reborn again." - Meg Casey



Dear one, can you hear it? The quiet stillness in the dead of night? Life at rest and soundly sleeping in the warm embrace of hibernation away from the cold clutch of winter's grasp?

December is finally upon us which means that we have officially entered into the womb of the year. I love this image of the womb because when viewed from the stages of the life cycle it is considered the gestational period of the year where life is beginning to take form internally (within the darkness) but is not yet ready to manifest externally (brought forth into the light).


For many cultures, including the worldview of my ancestors, the Celtic day began at night because they understood that from dark silence come whisperings of new beginnings and the stirring of the seed underground. It is for this reason that the time leading up to Winter Solstice on or around December 21st is considered a very powerful and holy time of the year. It's a time of waiting and expectancy for the light of the sun's return.


For Christians, this is the season of Advent, derived from the Latin term adventus which means "coming" or "arrival." It is the period of four Sundays and weeks before Christmas which is often marked with fasting and purification rituals. Of course, like many aspects of Christianity, this observance hails from much older traditional practices. The exact nature of early Celtic celebrations are not known because in the fourth century C.E. the Church of Rome overlaid the old festival of the birth of the Sun with the birth of the Son (Christ). Though our friend Craig over at @practical.animist shares that...


"Many European cultures observed the moon cycle leading up to the winter solstice as a time of preparation, anticipation, and drawing near to loved ones. It involved the twin themes of celebration and faith: celebration over the harvested fruits of the land and slaughtered animals, and faith that their stores would be replenished in the coming season. Renewal was only possible with the rebirth of the sun, so this season of anticipation culminated with the great celebration of the winter solstice."


Whether you consider yourself religious or not, these weeks in December truly are a time of "advent" for all of us. The light is coming, and together with all of creation we wait for that coming. For me it's been an important part of my healing and ancestral reclamation journey to tease a part Christian traditions that have their roots in early European earth-honoring lifeways.



Nature's Wisdom


In the dark silence and stillness of Winter, all of life returns to the roots. Many animals have migrated to warmer climates or have shifted underground into a period of hibernation. Food sources are scarce and the abundance of Autumn has been stored away. Energy must now be reserved since that which is superfluous is stripped away. For this reason, Winter is a time of rest as opposed to energetic activity.


Sadly, this is in stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of today's consumer oriented hallmark holiday season that we are all too familiar with. For many, this is a time of increased stress and activity as the pressure to show up a certain way grows and our tendencies to over-indulge and over do it lead to fatigue and burn out. I wrote a reflection piece on this theme here if you want to go deeper.


Orienting to nature's rhythms is a powerful way to reclaim your ancestral connection to this holy time of the year and to receive the inner gifts inherent in this season. This time can be made more meaningful by slowing down your pace and stepping back from outward activities and social obligations. Instead an emphasis can be given to fasting, meditation, prayer, and dreaming. In this way, embracing the seasonal energy, and leaning into the invitations nature brings, will really help you THRIVE in these days of darkness.


Winter comes on silent feet drawing darkness in
The colder longer days increase with each revolving spin
I will not fight the shorter hours ignoring Nature's calls
Instead, I'll slow my hectic pace and rest as Winter falls
The night invites me to my sleep, the dawn is slow to come
I slow my pace and calm my pulse and march to Nature's drum


What is the Winter Solstice?


Winter Solstice is the time when light is born out of the womb of winter's darkness. Every year, on or near December 21st when the Sun's journey through the zodiac shifts from Sagittarius to Capricorn, the sun appears to stand still, or rise and set in the same place for a few days. This moment marks the longest night, when Earth's very breath seems to falter in the face of the overpowering dark. Then, almost imperceptibly, the sun begins its long journey toward the south again, and all of creation begins to exhale after a period of building anticipation.


We have finally arrived at the close of the year, a time of endings and new beginnings. At Winter Solstice the seed of light is tightly folded within the bud of darkness. From now on, as the days lengthen, the sun-seed slowly begins to unfurl from this center, though the spring days of Imbolc and Beltaine, to its full flowers at Summer Solstice. At this point it will reach the outermost ring of the year's spiral and begin to contract slowly back toward the center once again.


Rituals for welcoming back the sun date back from the dawn of civilization, as communities came together to celebrate life with feasting, music, dance, drama, and above all, light and fire. Today under modern capitalism we tend to think of Christmas as a single day or weekend event, enjoying outward celebrations and festivities leading up to the big day on December 25th. Whereas, most cultures and specifically my Celtic ancestors used to reserve the time leading up to the Winter Solstice for contemplative ceremony which was only then followed by twelve days of celebration after the rebirth of the sun.


Below we offer some ideas to support you in creating your own Winter Solstice Ritual, as a way to mark this threshold moment and to honor where you are in the spiral dance of the seasons.



Winter Solstice Rituals: Honoring the Return of Light


Like all of the Celtic holy days, the Winter Solstice marks an important threshold moment when, at the tail end of an out-breath and right before the in-breath, there is a sacred moment of pause. This pause gives birth to the miracle of existence itself and expresses the nature of love, that is the dance of opposites and the ebb and flow of all things.


Here at this threshold, we look toward the seed of light and sense the importance of what it means to give birth to new life and what it takes to nurture that which longs to reveal and express itself in the world. We must show up with renewed commitment and faith in the journey that lies ahead, trusting that our dreams will carry us into a new tomorrow, and always with the light of love guiding us on our way.


This ritual is for the one who feels called to the Winter Solstice as a threshold crossing, initiating you into the energy of rebirth. It's an opportunity to shine your inner light on the dream seeds you have been gestating after an intense period of integrating the learnings associated with the death process/descent. It is time to acknowledge and celebrate the journey of transformation currently underway within your inner cocoon.



Pre-Solstice Ritual: Circle Of Light


Depending on when you read this, you may have some time to build up to the Winter Solstice by creating the conditions for quietude, prayer and/or contemplation. New life is taking root in the great cosmic womb space and DREAMING is your super power. It is up to each of us to respond to the call of the Great Mystery, and to reimagine what is possible, not only in our own personal lives, but for the whole earth community. The Circle of Light is a simple yet very meaningful ritual to be with the mystery of darkness and to offer our dreams and prayers for the world.


STEPS

  1. Find or make a space (like a table) in your home that won't be disturbed and that will be used for this ritual.

  2. Create an altar with one large candle at the center. This candle will represent the light of the sun and will be lit on the night of the Winter Solstice. Decide how much time you are able to dedicate to this and select one of the timelines* below to determine how many candles you will need. Set up your space accordingly and bring in any other meaningful elements that will bring beauty and inspiration to the space.

  3. Find a jar to place at the altar. This is where you will write your prayers, wishes, or dreams for yourself, loved ones and the world.

  4. On the nights that you choose to engage with your altar, set aside at least 30 minutes for quiet contemplation and prayer. Prayer is nothing less than the service of love. All love is generated by giving and receiving, and so you can regard prayer as the lungs of love, which breathe in and out.

  5. Begin by closing your eyes and settling into your seat by drawing your attention to the base of your spine, sit bones, or wherever you're making contact with the ground.

  6. Take a few moments to notice how you feel. Notice your breath. Invite your body and breath to deepen into presence. You might repeat the word "soften" or "relax" and visualize yourself doing so.

  7. Take another few moments to contemplate the darkness, envisioning yourself held within the loving womb of the earth. See what comes.

  8. Next, take one or several pieces of paper and write any prayers or dreams that you carry for yourself and the world. Place them in the jar while speaking them allowed. Take your time with this part. You may feel called to doing this slowly, one at a time, while breathing deeply into your heart, sensing the enactment of prayer as the lungs of love and connecting your breath to that visualization.

  9. When you feel ready, light your candle. What does this symbolize to you? Take a few minutes to be with the flame.

  10. If you are engaging this ritual over the course of many days, light the previous day's candle along with the current day's candle, so that by the time you reach Winter Solstice, all of the candles have been lit.