This is the time of the year when we witches and pagans start our Winter Solstice celebrations, but what does that actually mean? From a scientific standpoint the Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Literally, the axial tilt of the planet is pushed so far away from the Sun that we have the least amount of daylight on the Winter Solstice than on any other day of the year.
Depending on exactly where you live in the Northern Hemisphere, the sunset is happening around 4 pm. Leading up to the Winter Solstice we spend an increasingly longer time in the darkness than we do in the daylight. On the Solstice we reach the fulcrum point where all of that changes. It’s the center point of the pendulum swing and from that moment forward, we begin gaining more minutes of daylight each day.
How do we as modern witches and pagans honor and connect to this celestial and earthly happening with our personal magic? What do we honor and celebrate at this time of the year?
We’ve noticed rituals often focus on the light returning. Makes perfect sense, of course, but if we only look to the light we can miss the beauty and importance of the dark. Dark is not bad, light is not good. There are so many wonderful, transformative, and delicious moments that happen in the dark. A Winter Solstice ritual is a powerful time to sink into the darkness all around and see what might be waiting there. Yes, this time is traditionally a moment to celebrate the Sun, but let’s also celebrate the Sun’s luscious sister, the Darkness.
Let’s explore magic and the dark.
There’s been a meme going around with this quote “They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds”. This is a beautiful example of the power of the dark. Seeds begin their germination in the dark, in the deep enriched soil. What seeds are you looking to plant in the coming year? What seeds are you holding in your belly waiting for the right time to germinate? How are you preparing your own rich, loamy soil for the coming warmth of Spring? These might be tantalizing quandaries to explore during Solstice-tide.
Magic happens in the dark. More often than not our coven(s) meet in the evening, with rituals beginning in the darkness. This is where the mystery lies. In many of the tales of the Godds there is a reckoning with the Underworld/Otherworld that must happen. A mythical character often journeys to a place of death, darkness, regeneration and re-birth. For example, the light of Inanna cannot shine until she meets her sister in the Underworld. This may not be a Yule story, but it can be viewed with the same energy as the Winter Solstice. Finding the truth in the dark, finding our beauty in the darkness. Getting the rest and power to return renewed.
Raven Grimassi tells a fabulous story of a circle gathering with new witches where he built up the energy around this “mysterious thing” that would happen as soon as he turned off the lights. When the suspense was thick enough to cut with a knife, he turned the lights off for a few moments. When the lights came back on again, the students were asked what they expected to happen when the lights went off. One brave attendee responded that they didn’t know what to expect, that anything could have happened. And Raven drove home the point with a resounding “Yes! That is magic. The potential of what is possible in the dark.”
We might gather in the darkness, but what is the first thing that we do in circle? We light candles. We bring the fire, the heat, the light into the ritual space. We honor the balance of dark and of light.
Just as there is power in the darkness there is a power in stepping into the light. Like the story of Amaterasu, Goddess of the Sun, who upon stepping out from a cave sees her beauty for the first time. Allowing ourselves to shine can be tricky and can sometimes feel dangerous, but allowing ourselves to shine is one way to find our own balance in the world.
We once attended a ritual where a beautiful piece of pottery was brought into the center of the ritual and smashed. As two hundred or more witches spiraled and sang and raised energy, Priestesses worked furiously in the dark to glue the pottery back together again. When the spell was completed and the cone of power was released into the world, the reconstructed vase revealed. What we saw was a cracked and imperfect thing of beauty. With one candle burning in the center of the vase, sending out such a sweet little light we began singing: “Forget your perfect offering. Ring the bells that still can ring. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”, an adaptation of the Leonard Cohen song “Anthem”.
This year we will be gathering in public ritual as our local community has for nearly 30 years. Many of us are feeling stuck in the shadow; the world, the political climate, and our personal struggles feel harder this year than they have for a long time. As we move forward, through the Winter Solstice and into a new calendar year and, perhaps, a scarier uncertain time, we will sing and spiral. As we move forward we invite the Sun to shine on the things that need healing. As we move forward we honor the restorative justice of the things grown in the dark.
The Witches Next Door wish you and yours a wonderful Winter Solstice.