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)
As I do each year, I invite you step into a magical Time Out of Time with me, called the Halcyon Days. I first learned of this practice many years ago, from my favorite holiday curator and friend, the late Waverly Fitzgerald.
And each year, similarly to our growing tradition of the Advent Solstice Wreath ceremony, more and more of you report you are making this a conscious part of your holiday customs, too.
This is a very old tradition that begins a week or so before Winter Solstice and ends about one week after. Some prefer to begin on Christmas Eve and continue through 12th Night, or they might observe these time-out-of-time days between St. Lucy’s Day (Dec. 13) and New Year’s Day.
In these hectic, too-bright-and-shiny modern times, and maybe because of its dramatic disconnect, I think we need it more than ever. So I observe it for the 10 days before and 10 days after Winter Solstice. I like this timing because it concludes on New Year’s Eve.
In the Halcyon Days, we enter a period when 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 several weeks, that is what exactly I propose we do.
The Story of Halcyon:
Once upon a time, Alcyone (also called Halcyon) was the daughter of Aeolus, King of the Winds, and the 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 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 sea swallow and together, their love lives 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 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 are meant to come, and they are named after Alcyone, or, more commonly, “Halcyon Days.”
So starting now, my friends, let us bid them welcome.
At our next lighting of our candles during this threshold time, be aware of the heightened power that now comes upon us. Especially since this past Sun Day’s 3rd candle may have represented the Element of Water in your practice – so apt for this story of the sea.
Let Us Be the Peace We Wish to See
Every year, I have invited my readers to do all that is in our ability, to ensure that the restless inner and outer waters become quiet, so that the new birth may come.
This year, in view of the ever more frightening divisions among our people, an impending new wave of pandemic, and the ceaseless rancor that has settled over everything like a grimy cloud, I think we need this time more than ever.
Because it’s all souls on deck, at this especially perilous juncture.
Perhaps to align with this period, you may decide to take a media break. Or turn off the news, or perhaps step away from the clamor of social media — just for now. Reconnect with those you love and what nurtures your spirit.
Reducing our time in the artificiality of the digital world, except for what is necessary in order to be with our friends and family, may be helpful for you. As this pandemic has taught many of us, the time we spend in Nature is a healthier, more grounded choice than the endless loop of angst, fear, and seduction we are pushed to consume.
Maybe you’d like to join me in doing one thing — large or tiny — every day, as a random act of kindness, or to embody the peace we wish to see. On every day of this Halcyon time, let us each bestow with clear intention a special blessing to our troubled planet.
You might wish to donate to a cause or charity that is important to you. Or perform a community service — organized, or simply spontaneous. Even small acts of compassion can make a huge difference, especially as thousands continue to perish every day from covid-19, with our medical support workers dropping in their tracks.
But every gesture of generosity matters to someone.
So breathe and be still.
Replenish yourself by embracing the beautiful wisdom of Nature at this time of endarkenment. For instance, you might wish to observe one quiet hour each night with the lights and media off.
What settles and calms you? I invite you to post and share your own ideas and activities in the Comments.
In all cases, let us pray with all our hearts, and then follow through. By the Gods, and by our own hands, may real peace come to our troubled world.
And may Love abide forever.