Halcyon days, now wars are ending.
You shall find where-e’er you sail
Tritons all the while attending
With a kind and gentle gale.
~ Halcyon Days by Thomas Shadwell (1642 – 1692)
With the Winter Solstice now only a week away, we here in the Northern Hemisphere have come to the deepest darkness of the year. Yet, at this time, when everything can be so rushed and hectic, darkness, quiet, and calm can be especially precious.
And so, as I have ever since I discovered the beautiful seasonal practices of Waverly FitzGerald long ago, I invite you to join with me in a Time Out of Time called the Halcyon Days.
This period, which traditionally begins the week before Solstice and ends the week after, is the time we step out of our ordinary cares and the workaday world.
This ancient practice calls us to pause, honor the rites of Yule, and celebrate with peace and kindness. So for the next two weeks, that is what exactly I propose we do.
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful young woman named Alcyone (also called Halcyon). She was the beloved daughter of Aeolus, King of the Winds, and the dear wife of Ceyx, King of Thessaly. Alcyone and Ceyx loved each other devotedly and were never willingly apart
Nevertheless, a time came when Ceyx decided he must make the long journey across the sea to consult the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi. When Alcyone learned what he was planning, she was overwhelmed with grief and terror, for she knew the power of the sea’s Winter winds and feared his death.
Ceyx was deeply moved, but his purpose held fast. Alcyone yielded at last, and let him go alone.
Alas! As everyone knows, men should listen to their wise and loving wives, for Ceyx was shipwrecked and died the tragic death that Alcyone had feared.
The Gods appeared to Alcyone in a dream in the image of the drowned Ceyx, and told her of his death. Alcyone ran to the seashore and found Ceyx’s body drifting slowly towards her.
Stricken with grief, Alcyone jumped into the sea to join him in death, but the Gods took pity on her and before she could be overcome by the waves, she was transformed into a kingfisher.
Ceyx was reborn also into a kingfisher and together, their love endures forever. To this day, they are always seen together, flying or riding the waves.
To honor their love and to prevent any others from meeting such a tragic fate at this holy time of year, Zeus forbade the winds to blow for seven days prior to and seven days after the Winter Solstice.
The Tritons, attendants to Triton, the son of Poseidon, were called upon to ensure that this was made so. And henceforth, every year at this time, the Mediterranean Sea is supposed to lie still and calm; no breath of wind stirring the waters.
For this is when the kingfishers brood over their nests near the waters. After the young birds are hatched, the charm is broken.
So every year, at Winter’s threshold, these days of perfect peace come, and they are named after Alcyone, or, more commonly, “Halcyon Days.”
It Begins With Us
Last year, at the beginning of the Halcyon Days, the horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Connecticut shocked the world. I vividly remember sharing my post here, even as their terrible story was unfolding in the news.
On this anniversary, hoping to avoid the media circus and offer a more meaningful commemoration, the town has agreed to focus on generosity, kindness, and, according to the Christian Science Monitor, “working for positive change as an ongoing tribute – and that’s what they hope people around the world will focus on if they feel the need to mark the anniversary.”
That is exactly the meaning of the Halcyon Days.
Even as I write this today, new and chronic suffering continues across our stormy globe. War is increasingly commoditized and glorified in ways not seen since World War II. Civil rights, personal liberties, and our food, water, land, and air are under siege. I could go on and on.
But I won’t.
You know it.
I know it.
Which is all the more reason for us to deliberately, fiercely join together in this Time Out of Time. Peace begins only one place: with us.
With our guardianship and care, may the restless inner and outer waters become quiet, that the Divine Birth may come in peace.