The winter solstice this year for me is different and new. I went to Iceland this past September, wandered out with some friends into the dark night, and stumbled, very literally, upon something that made me rethink my entire approach to holy days. Everything since then for me has been about finding a new approach to holidays, one that isn’t about agricultural cycles or human connections to seasons but about the stars, the Otherworld, and the way that those two things may overlap. This has left me looking now for a way to celebrate the winter solstice that feels genuine and true to this new paradigm – a fey winter solstice if you will.
Appreciating the Darkness
In the decades I’ve been pagan the significance of the winter solstice as a holiday has waxed and waned for me but has always tended to focus on the idea of the sun’s rebirth and the renewal of the light after the longest night. I have a yule log and many of our household traditions are very home and family focused, such as offerings to the house spirits on the eve of the solstice and remembering female ancestors on the solstice itself. Basically a lot of what you’d find in any neo-pagan discussion of winter holy days. And I do still think there’s value in these practices, especially those designed to protect and bless the home.
But as I’ve found my focus shifting over the last few months I’ve found myself increasingly restless and dissatisfied with this domestic celebration, so much of which is aimed at keeping the Other out or at least tame. I’ve written before as have others including Seo Helrune and John Beckett about the way that the Otherworld seems to be increasingly present in our world – or at least humans are increasingly aware of the Other – and the need to acknowledge and engage with that reality.
Many of us have seen an uptick in activity in our areas over the last several years in particular* and not all of this activity has been benevolent. Maybe that argues for a need to focus more on protective efforts and I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone from bringing in some extra evergreens or burning some more juniper but for myself I’ve found that it’s nurtured a growing appreciation and respect for the variety of beings out there. Just like our natural world needs a full range of animal life to flourish I think our connection to and with the Otherworld needs variety to be healthy.
New Meaning to the Old Holiday
I’ve started to see this time of year not about the shortest day and the sun’s return but about the power and beauty of that longest night. This is when the stars rule and those spirits and Otherworldly beings who prefer the darkness roam most freely. Some of them are dangerous and need to be respected as much as we need to be aware and careful of the cold weather but just like the weather danger doesn’t mean hiding inside and waiting for spring. As much as this is a time for dangerous beings it is also a time with folkloric connections to witches and magic, and it’s that thread that is speaking to me, the idea of remembering what it’s like to be out under the dark moonless night standing in my own power. It’s also important to me to keep my focus on the connection between this world and the Otherworld, and how the Other would celebrate this time.
I also want to make this a time where I am remembering to appreciate the variety of beings in the Otherworld. My witchcraft and my personal practice has hinged on creating these relationships and its past time that my holy days reflect this idea rather than follow the more standard ones found throughout neopaganism and other traditions. This isn’t about retelling or re-enacting a sun/son/birth myth or celebrating the return of the sunlight and warmth, it’s about acknowledging and appreciating the Other Crowd as they are even if this time of year that means sharp teeth and ragged claws. It means re-enchanting the human world by embracing the fullness of the Other within and throughout it, even if that other is inimical to humanity.
Sun, Stars, and DatesThe biggest challenge right now, more than figuring out what my focus should be, is deciding when to celebrate. Since Iceland most of my holy day scheduling has been based on stellar alignments and events, particularly around the Pleiades but there isn’t a significant one right now. The solstice in itself isn’t speaking strongly to me on it’s own but I’m thinking I might do something on each of the days that the neolithic monuments would have been aligned to the solstice light. This year taking Sid in Broga as the basis that means the 18th through the 23rd, although I may use the 24th as the final day to make it a full week. This will give me a week to work in rituals and practices that could include both family and home oriented ones as well as more wild and fey oriented ones.
Ultimately I won’t know until I try it if this is viable, but I’m looking forward to seeing how it works out.
What I’m Doing Now
Moving forward with a more fey winter solstice right now means finding a balance between personal practice and family. My children will still have their tree and their visit from Santa, but I need to go out under the star-lit sky and speak to some spirits. My house spirit will still get porridge and butter in thanks for everything that is done in my home, but at the boundary of my property there will be a more wild offering to the Others who go unnamed and usually unacknowledged.
The Queen will get her due, as always, sweet honey cakes and a share of our holiday meal but there’ll be something this year for the Wild Hunt as well. And in keeping with a more fey feeling to things there will be a party with food (some of which will be offerings), and music, and dancing because if there is one thing I am sure of its that joy and enjoyment are fixtures of how the Good People approach celebrations.
Each day I’ll keep working on figuring this out, as my premise is basically to look not at how humans connecting to an earthly cycle would do things but how the Othercrowd would celebrate holidays. I realize that sounds a bit odd, but the way my perspective has shifted has led me around to this different viewpoint. Of course I’ll never get it exactly right from that view and I know that but I’m going to try my best to get as close as a I can.
This is all still a work in progress for me, in fact the next year – maybe several years – will be as I try to work out a new system of holy days that works and feels right. It’s scary but it also feels important and I’m excited for it. I’m sure there will be mistakes and missteps along the way but so far it’s looking positive.
It’s unnerving to move away from decades of my own practices and ingrained pagan approaches, to stop looking at the winter solstice as a time when we celebrate the renewal of the sun and the light in the dark, and to start shaping my own more intuitive practices. The last few years have been a time of major shifts for me more widely though and it feels like this is a natural progression of that. As I become more attuned to and in tune with the Otherworld it makes sense that the old ways of doing things including celebrating holy days would need to change.
*it started longer ago than that but 2016 seemed to be pivotal in some sense at least in several parts of America