Of Snow and Stars - Yule
"Mother Goddess, giving birth, bring the Sun back from the Earth.
Winter’s ground seems like a tomb: let this Circle be Your womb.
I wait my rebirth with the year—Dear Sun, you are welcome here!"
Welcome to the last blogpost in the Wheel of the Year series, this year on each natural turning point that is celebrated in the Wheel of the Year, I will share with you my thoughts and some history around these specific days.
Today, on the shortest day of the year, the Earth is at its greatest distance from the sun on the celestial equator, and the sun shines directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. The winter solstice is the time of longest night, when the sun is at its lowest point on the horizon.
The Winter Solstice
The word solstice comes from the Latin sol stetit , which literally means “sun stands still.” Most likely, this description came from the illusion caused by the sun’s position in the horizon. For six days around the time preceding and following the solstice, the sun appears to rise and set in the same place. The sleeping earth is filled with magic and mystery. We contemplate the beauty of the night sky and marvel at the rebirth of the light.
Along with Samhain, the winter solstice and the observance of Yule are probably the most widely celebrated today of the ancient rituals. Although today Yule is linked to the Christian observance of the Nativity, there is no biblical or historical evidence that Christ was born on Christmas. Rather, December 25 was long held to be the celebration day of the Roman deity, Mithras.
Regardless of its modern associations, it is no wonder that this time of year is and was celebrated as a holiday season. In addition to the advent of lengthening days, winter solstice was the time when much of the work of the year was complete. Harvest was long past. Provisions were stockpiled, and the ale was brewed. Winter solstice was unique in that it was a rare time for fresh meat. In pre-Christian times, the cycle of the seasons meant that fresh vegetables were available throughout the summer, but the long cold nights of winter made it the only time of year when the flesh of slaughtered animals would keep for any length of time without salting. So the winter solstice became characterised primarily by leisure and feasting.
Mithras, Legends & Lore
The worship of the god Mithras is thought to have arrived in Rome from its Persian origins. Mithras is portrayed as a god of light and truth who reluctantly slaughters the sacred bull at the insistence of the sun god. As the magnificent beast lies dying, time comes into existence and the universe is created. The heavens above become the cloak of Mithras, emblazoned with the stars and studded with the planets. From the body of the bull the living earth arises; all plants, flowering and fruitful, along with creatures of the land and of the air spring forth. The elements and the seasons are created.
The blood of the bull pours forth, bestowing blessings upon the newly created land. The forces of evil respond by attempting to assert their dominance. They do not want the earth to be blessed or sacred and seek to impose their malevolent ways, preventing the blood sacrifice from protecting the land. Thus begins the struggle between good and evil, which will continue for all of time.
There is a Scottish Gaelic word that describes the depths of winter: an dubhach, “the gloom.”
However, the majesty of winter can be considered far from gloomy.
There is a time for activity, and there is a time for quietness. On the winter solstice, contemplate the beneficence of stillness and solitude.
The change from fall to winter is apparent, and energy is conserved for days of growth yet to come. Observe the silent earth, the sleeping seed, and marvel at the lengthening of days.