Friday, December 21, 2007

Winter Solstice

Today is Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. Tomorrow marks the turn away from the dark night of the soul. Each day the sun will now stay a little longer in the sky and climb a little higher. When you live in the north you can track the orbiting and tilting of the earth by simply watching the sun as it dances with the dark.

Because I walk along the same paths each morning, I see the sunrise of summer slowly shift from the left of Nanabijou's head towards the feet. Unlike summer, when you can lie on the grass and be blinded by the sun directly overhead, in winter the sun skirts low in the sky, casting long dark indigo shadows across the snow.

Known by many names, Winter Solstice is a constant in the north, unlike the month of December, which is a new invention. From the Latin 'decem', meaning 10, December is a vestige of the 10th month of the old Julian calendar of the Romans. January and February were added later; then the Gregorian calendar took over. This calendar making is of Greco-Roman history and its philosophical / epistemological fall-out, as there are many, many names and ways of marking this time of year.

The time that corresponds with what we now call December is also known as Full Long Night's Moon, Moon of the Popping Trees, Evergreen Moon, Winter Moon, Her Winter Houses Moon, Ka Ha Ka (Kiakh), and many other names. I wonder what Joulukuu was called before Christianity? Joulukuu (Finnish) literally translates to "Christmas month" which speaks to its renaming into Christian thought. But "kuu" (moon in Finnish) shows that the old moon calendar couldn't be wiped out for good! But I wonder, what was Joulukuu before the proselytizers did their trick?

Winter Solstice marks the beginning of the waxing light, when the dark half of the year yields to the light half. Darkness slowly retreats as light is reborn. The darkness living in our spirit is pierced by the slow seduction of the sun as s/he rises in the sky (the sun is figured as both male and female, depending on your cosmology!)

It's no wonder all sorts of celebrations were dreamed up to mark this transition to enlightenment. The moon of December is a time of giving thanks for our blessings, for the blessings given to us that we must send out again into the world to those in need. It is a time of hope and healing. Moon of resilience. Moon of endurance. Moon of resurrection. Moon of protection.

The month of the Snow Queen. The honoring of Bruna, the Roman Goddess of the winter season. Tonantzin, our dear Mother. Our Lady of Guadalupe. The sacred 7 days before and 7 days after Winter Solstice of the Halcyon bird. Rebirth of Spider Woman and Hawk Maiden. Ariadne. Artemis. Athena. Dedicated to Epona, the Celtic Mother Goddess of horses. Frey and Freyya.

A time to drink hibiscus tea. Meditate for world peace. Light candles of all colours, but especially white and red. Dust wheat stalks with flour; lay them in a basket. Burn bayberry incense (also known as myrtle). Hang sacred holly in the house to invite the snow faeries in (be sure to remove it by Feb 2nd!) Breath the scent of cedar and pine. Feast with friends and family. Reach out to those in need. Sip cider spiced with cinnamon and cloves. Make a toast to the trees.

Take ptarmigan steps in the snow*.

* visit Rauna Kuokkanen's blog for more about bird steps in snow!


Johanna said...

Christmas greetings from Finland!

No beautiful snowy sceneries over here, but a bare ground and dull grey skies. Hopefully that will change soon. :)

About your name of the month ponderings, joulukuu was called talvikuu in Finnish until the 17th or 18th century. The word 'joulu' was borrowed from Swedish. More about old Finnish months here and here. An interesting discussion in English on Finland Forum, which I recommend to anyone interested in discussing the Finnish language in English.

Great blog, by the way, and beautiful photos. :)

northshorewoman said...

thank you, johanna, for this! I enjoyed reading the materials you suggested. The book on the Waxing and Waning Moon in Finnish folkways sounds fascinating. Interestingly, out on my morning walk after I wrote this, I met up with an old Finnish fellow and we were talking about what December used to be called and we even thought, hmmm. Maybe talvikuu? Thanks again, I will go back and read some more from these pages!