Dark shepherdess of many a golden star,
Dost see me, Mother Night?
~ From The Electra of Euripides
Hail and Merry Meet on this Eve of the Winter Solstice.
This is the night we light our 4th candle.
This is the night of the great celebration of Mother Night.
Today is the last Sun Day before Winter Solstice, Christmas, and Kwanzaa. Tonight, you are invited to join once again (or for the first time) in our Yule/Advent ritual. For the basic guidelines and our intention, please click here.
As far as we know, our ancestors did not have atomic clocks or satellites to help them dissect Time to the nanosecond. Instead, they had to figure by their keen observation, by dead reckoning, by the plants and animals, by the stars, Moon, and planets.
And that is why they named this time “Solstice,” because it comes from the Latin “solstitium,” from sol, which means “Sun” and –stitium, which is “a stoppage.”
For a brief time, it appears that the Sun’s arc from sunrise to sunset is unchanged. The long, steady darkening we have felt and seen, ever since mid-June, now stops… and then…. one day, our own dear source of life, will rise a little more to the north east, and the daylight will lengthen, little by little.
But not yet.
First, as She is now doing, we pause.
This is the time to give honor to the vast, deep dark that cradles us.
Mother Night is observed in honor of the Dark Goddess, who holds us at our beginnings and our endings. She may be Frigga, or Freya, the Cailleach, the Crone, or nameless. But this is Her doorway, after which the days of Yule begin.
In their beautiful book, The Winter Solstice, John and Caitlín Matthews write, “There is a moment of silence that occurs every year… a moment we have all experienced at least once in our lives, maybe more than once. It can silence a great city like London or New York, and it can bring stillness to our hearts, whoever and wherever we may be.
“That moment is like no other. It offers the promise of new beginnings, of the clean slate of new year, and it incorporates the breathless expectancy of Christmas night itself, when a familiar figure enters our lives and changes them briefly.”
Do you recall such moments? Times when you stepped out of the rush, and were flooded instead with quiet wonder? Have you ever gazed off into the Winter’s night sky, in search of a Star?
This pause between Dark and the return of the Light is an ephemeral moment, full of magic. Tonight, give yourself time to allow the delicious dark to fill your awareness.
Be with it, without fear, without the need to distract yourself. Notice how calm, how tender, how quiet it can be.
If you will allow it, this night can be a balm for the sometimes too hard-shiny-bright intensity that shuns this time of year’s truest gift: its reminder of our own mortality, and the deep surrender of all things, even the Earth Herself, to times of darkness.
Ancient Days, Holy Ways
Without question, this is the most intense week in the Western European spiritual traditions. Its roots go deep into the Mesopotamian New Year’s celebrations of ancient Persia and Babylon.
From Greece’s rites to honor Kronos, known later by Romans as Saturn; merging, as Rome conquered northern Europe, into the Celtic and Norse Solstice observances, this powerful time of the rebirth of the Sun echoes through the blood memory of all the Western tribes.
So powerful and popular is this time, so deeply ingrained the welcoming of the returning Sun, that the new religion was obliged in 350 C.E. to change the observance of their sun God’s birth (which their scholars are well aware was in the Springtime) to December.
They found it utterly impossible to put a halt to the revelries of the Saturnalia, so they attempted to Christianize them instead.
But solemnity and piousness are feeble playmates, and there is no place at this groaning table of joy for the guilt-ridden. For we are the children of the Earth, and our bodies and our spirits remember this.
We feel what our Mother Earth feels, and when our chattering minds and noisy toys are silent, we can hear Her singing in the rush of our blood.
Who can help but celebrate in the splendor of the taste of Her fruit and the scent of Her sweet fertile body?
In every cell of our physical being and in the soul’s ancient awareness, we know and remember the darkness that now gathers deeper around us. We know and remember that the Wheel is turning, and we wait.
Tonight We Light Our Fourth Candle, Celebrating Love
For many Christians, this candle is sometimes called the Angel Candle, and is in remembrance of the divine songs of the heavenly host, who announced the coming of the King – which is also why this candle is sometimes royal purple. This would be the perfect occasion to sing Advent hymns, which are focused, not yet on the celebration, but the anticipation (for the Child has still not yet been born).
Others consider this the Candle of Peace. Heaven knows good-hearted people everywhere need to pray and embody peace at this watershed moment of history.
But most denominations seem to agree that if the previous three candles represented hope, peace, and joy, then tonight’s flame is the candle of Love.
So tonight, you will first light the other three candles, and then this second to last one, calling forth the love that is the Divine gift that we receive, and give, and are.
This is the acknowledgement that there is no greater power than love. This is not wishful thinking or some sappy cliché. I mean, truly, it is the greatest and only ultimate power in this world.
As one theological writer describes it, “It is stronger than rulers and empires, stronger than grief or despair, stronger even than death. We love, because God loves us.”
May people of every faith remember this, and live by it.
By the Earth That Is Her Body
For many who practice an Earth-centered spiritual path, the fourth candle is for the direction of North, and the Element of Earth. Isn’t it beautiful how the Christian and Pagan views – celebrating Love and the Earth – can mingle and co-exist?
Tonight, let us honor Gaia’s bone and stone, seed and flower. We give thanks for the dark, for the blessed Earth. We bow to the Mother Night, and the Silent Guardian of the North.
Keeper of the deep places in the planet, the roots that are beyond knowing, we give thanks to you. We stand on the very edge of your gift of Winter.
Let us light our candle tonight on our wreath, and stand in awe of the great and beautiful dark. We welcome the Dark Goddess, and the loving, fiery heart of Holy Mother Earth. We sense and know the power of the light that dwells within the land, even in the darkest moment of the year.
In the blazing light of your candles, like four stars of guidance, rebirth is on its way. Depending on your time zone, the Solstice arrives Dec. 22 in the easternmost Canadian provinces, Europe, Asia, Africa. It also arrives on Tuesday in Australia and New Zealand, but there, it is the Summer Solstice — the longest day of the year.
In most of North and South America, it will arrive late tomorrow night. Here in North Carolina, in Eastern Standard Time, it comes at 11:49 pm.
But before that birth, before the moment that will signal the turning, enter now the dark quiet Mystery of this Mother Night.
May She teach and bless you well.