This is the Eve of the Winter Solstice.
This is the great celebration of Mother Night.
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, “a stoppage.” For several days, in fact, it will appear that the sun’s arc from sunrise to sunset is unchanged. The long, steady darkening that our Old Ones watched, ever since mid-June, now appears to pause… and then…. one day, the sun will rise a little more to the north east, and the daylight is a little longer. And so the days can be seen to lengthen, and all can know that even now as we enter the doorway to Winter, Spring is a certainty.
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; she may be the Morrigan, the Baba Yaga, the Crone, or nameless. But this is Her doorway, after which the days of Yule begin.
In the words of one beautiful Heathen rite:
“Well have we worked this year, and now our work is wrought. So Perchte sees my full spindle; my house is swept, my candles lit. There shall be no more spinning these days; the loom lies still, the distaffs do not turn while the wih-nights last. These Yule nights are a time for the mind and body to rest, while the soul reaches out to the Gods.
“These twelve nights represent the coming year. It is a time set aside from the old year and the new, and a time when the greatest wyrds are turned. Perchtenlauf and the Wild Hunt ride during this time. And the walls between the worlds are thinned; the Gods’ might is at its peak, the wights and the dead walk freely among the living. Let us remember them on this Mother Night.”
It is also a night for honoring the Fey, toasting and giving thanks:
“Hail the holy Elves, Shining of the harrow,
Whole Ye hold the Hearth,
Mighty elders of old. Turn our minds toward you!”
This pause between Dark and the return of the Light is an ephemeral moment, full of magic. And so tonight, we light the fourth candle of our Solstice Sunwheel. It is not too late to join this ritual, even if you have not done so before. Instructions can be found here.
Honoring this ancient festival of Mother Night, 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 deep, how quiet it can be. This night can be a balm for the sometimes too hard-shiny-bright intensity that shuns this time of year’s true gift: its reminder of our own mortality, and the deep surrender of all things, even the Earth Herself, to times of darkness.
When you are still and ready, now re-light first your East, then South, then West candles. Give thanks for the gifts and blessings of each of those Elements: Air, Fire, Water. Or if you have given other meanings to those candles (such as hope, joy, etc.) focus upon each as you prefer.
Then let us light our fourth candle tonight on our wreath, welcoming the blessings of the North, the Guardian of Earth.
By bone and stone, seed and flower, by cave and womb, by field and forest, we give thanks. In what ways can you and your loved ones honor the sweet Earth? As we now move into the final night before we cross the threshold of Winter, we welcome the Keeper of the deep places in the Earth, and the roots that are beyond knowing.
Tomorrow (or on Christmas, if you prefer), we will light the final candle in our Solstice Sunwheel, for tomorrow brings the Solstice dawn.
But for now, enter the dark Mystery of Mother Night, and the Holy Earth. May She bless you well.