Dark shepherdess of many a golden star,
Dost see me, Mother Night?
From The Electra by Euripides
Now we journey into the darkness before the profound stillness that is the Winter Solstice. This is the traditional 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, 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 northeast, and the daylight will lengthen, little by little.
But not yet.
First, as She is now doing, tonight we enter the pause that is at the heart of this time out of time. This is the time to give honor to the vast, deep dark that cradles us.
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.
Especially since this year on Solstice, we are undergoing a chthonic change not seen in over 800 years.
Be with this, 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.
Who Calls from This Dark?
Mother Night is observed in honor of the Dark Goddess, who holds us at our beginnings and our endings. She may be Frigga, Freya, Holle, Hecate, the Cailleach, the Crone, or nameless. Also known as Mōdraniht, this night is Her doorway, after which the days of Yule can begin.
Tonight we give honor to the Dísir, the holy ancestral mothers of our families. We pay homage to all feminine guardians of the home and family.
As historian Carolyn Emerick has explained in her fascinating two-part article, “The Lost Female Figures of Christmas,” our Americanized secular culture has obscured the importance of women’s stories and roles in our Yuletide legends.
In the old countries, this was not the case. The Germanic holidays honored female ancestors at Yule and the pre-Christian Northern European cultures placed enormous importance on women’s gifts of magic and wisdom. There are still traces of female Christmas figures with ancient Pagan roots to be found across Europe.
Sadly, with the aggressive conquest of Christianity over the old folk religions, many of these Goddesses of Winter were twisted into demonic monsters, similarly to how other misogynist attitudes of the Church took hold.
But we know better.
And, as I have stated many times, our civilization is out of balance in direct proportion to the distortions, fears, and rejection of the Feminine Divine, especially in Her less comfortable aspect as Dark Crone.
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.
This is also a night for honoring the Sidhe, toasting, and giving thanks with song and offerings:
Hail the holy Elves, Shining of the harrow,
Whole Ye hold the Hearth,
Mighty elders of old. Turn our minds toward you!
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 the songs of birth 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?
It is unnatural for our modern culture to have so much fear and denial of the dark. The night is our teacher, our healer, and it is absolutely necessary if we are to know peace. It brings the stillness in which the seed may gestate. It is the womb from which the Child of Promise will emerge.
So turn off the electric lights, and by candlelight, feel the presence of the Shining Ones drawing near. Listen and hear the whispers of the Ancestors who may offer council or loving greetings in the darkness.
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.
Enter now the dark quiet Mystery of this Mother Night.
May She teach and bless you well.