Hail to the returning Sun.
We drink to the Old Gods.
To the Holly, to the Oak, and Lady.
A Merry Yule to all!
— A very old Yuletide toast from the collected lore
of my dear magical sister and Plant Spirit Medicine Priestess, Alruna
The Winter (and Summer!) Solstice Sabbat is joyfully celebrated today by Pagans and Witches throughout the world, as well as rural and indigenous peoples who pay attention to the rhythms of the seasons.
Tonight, at 6:38p.m., Eastern Standard Time, the Sun enters the sign of Capricorn. In lands below the Equator, it is the zenith of the daylight hours and the first day of Summer. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, Winter begins as the Sun reaches the 270° point on the zodiac wheel. After this, the days will begin to grow longer and the hours of darkness will decrease.
Winter Solstice (which is also known as Yule, Winter Rite, Midwinter, and the Druids’ Alban Arthan) is the longest night of the year. In the ancient Egyptian reckoning, this is the 6th Mechir, and a Feast of Isis.
This is the oldest of all human holy days that we know of, estimated by some scholars to be approximately 12,000 to 20,000 years old.
Newgrange, a beautiful megalithic site in Ireland, is a huge circular stone structure, estimated to be 5,000 years old. It is centuries older than Stonehenge, and older than the Egyptian pyramids! It was built to receive a shaft of sunlight deep into its central chamber at dawn on Winter Solstice.
Hundreds of other megalithic structures throughout Europe are oriented to the solstices and the equinoxes. The field of archaeoastronomy studies such sacred sites in the Americas, Asia, Indonesia, and the Middle East. Recent research into the medieval Great Zimbabwe in sub-Saharan Africa (also known as the “African Stonehenge”) indicates a similar purpose. In North America, one of the most famous such sites is the Sun Dagger of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, built a thousand years ago by the Chacoans, ancestors of the Pueblo people.
But Solstice observance is far older still, for recent research has found indications that Neolithic agrarian cultures tracked the phases of the Moon, and it would be quite surprising if they did not also observe the waning and waxing of the daylight and night hours.
Many Solar Gods were honored on this day, including Horus, Helios, Dionysus, and Mithras. On this Sabbat, Witches honor the Great Mother and welcome the newborn Horned God. The aspect of the God invoked at this Sabbat by certain Wiccan traditions is Freyr, the Scandinavian fertility God and a deity associated with peace and prosperity.
An old tradition many Witches and Pagans still observe in this season is bringing in the Yule Log, wishing on it, and lighting it from the remains of last year’s log. Once, the Yule log had been the center of the celebration. It was lighted on the eve of the solstice (it should light on the first try) and must be kept burning for twelve hours, for good luck. Riddles are posed and answered, magic and rituals are practiced.
Love, family togetherness, and accomplishments of the past year are also celebrated.
Fresh food and drink (like milk and cookies for Santa) may be laid out as a feast for roaming Yuletide ghosts and the Fae are toasted and welcomed during this magical time. Holly and ivy, traditional Yuletide decorative plants were adopted from Odin and Dionysus. The Christmas tree may have been adopted from Yggdrasil.
And don’t forget:
Tonight is the completion of our Solstice Sun Wheel prayer-spell (unless you prefer instead to do this on Christmas Day).
At sunset, wherever we are across the planet, we will gather in spirit, and light the Center candle. The Center is the direction of Spirit, of Mystery. Center is the cauldron of transformation, and holds all possibilities. It is the ethereal, the doorway between the Worlds, and the coming together and releasing of forms. It is the center of awareness and our connection to the Divine.
So, first light your candles for East, and then South, West, then North, calling once more their energies and blessings as you have in past weeks.
Then reflect on what Center means to you — perhaps how your own centeredness affects the world around you, informs your choices, and enables you to become the Light of the Child of Promise. When you are ready, light the Center candle and offer your prayers.
Sing, chant, drum, or dance – let the Spirit move you. This is our awakening, the miraculous rebirth! Or simply meditate in peace and serenity.
At last, when you feel the time is right, in this final time of our spell-weaving, from Center and going widdershins, extinguish your candles.
It is done.
May our rites be blessed, and may we celebrate seeing our loving magic at work, in our lives and in the world. Starting now.
As we have said it, so mote it be.