As the Romans used to say, twice a year at specific times the sun stops. Hence the word solstice, when to astronomers the sun seems to stop, reaching its maximum or minimum point of declination.
Today at 10:02am GMT, to be exact, we enter the Winter Solstice, which marks the transition from autumn to winter.
Nature, in its never-ending cyclical metamorphosis, goes into retreat until it freezes. Trees that have long since begun to lose their leaves, become completely bare. The beauty of previous seasons seems to have vanished and everything gives the impression of being asleep. Temperatures drop significantly. The climate hardens until it freezes, giving the impression of life stopping. Everything slows. Winter nights are long, cold and very dark.
Some animals hibernate, adopting this as a survival strategy if they live in cold, hard environments that can no longer offer them food as in other seasons. Starting a few months before hibernation, they prepare their cosy burrows and make sure to have plenty of energy to cope with a long rest period where their vital functions will be reduced to a bare minimum.
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Winter begins when the Sun enters the constellation of Capricorn. Symbolically, Capricorn is linked to rocky peaks and deep caves that open up in the Earth’s abyss. In cultures with initiating rituals caves have great symbolism. Often initiates were taken to dark, gloomy, hidden caves to spend an extended period exploring their secret and inner subconscious, facing up to their fears, phobias, anxieties and worries. Caves thus present a true human internalisation of the idea that we can access a new light, a new life only once we have overcome the darkness within us.
In accordance with the laws of nature governing our being, we should take advantage of these important times of the year. The winter solstice, in particular, is a good moment to listen.
While the autumn equinox is associated with letting go of everything that is superfluous and of little use in our lives – just as trees let go of their falling leaves – when the winter solstice begins we metaphorically strip ourselves of everything and are left with the essential, with what is really important to us. We are left with who we are in our deepest being, with what we really want, able to satisfy spiritual needs even more than our material ones, with our affections and with our most intimate, true and sincere feelings. It is time to listen, to care for the seeds of life because it is only in the darkness that a seed can ‘die’ in order to reach the life for which it is destined. This can only occur in the darkness of the soil so we need to allow the dark to nurture us.
And yet, on the day of the winter solstice the sun already begins the small, slow and steady reversal of its movement. From this day onwards, days gradually begin to lengthen; in a seemingly imperceptible way, days begin a journey towards new light. For this reason, the winter solstice has always had a multitude of symbolic and esoteric associations. This nascent light was celebrated by various ancient cultures in history with different rites and functions, which emphasize the transition from darkness to light.
The ancient Greeks, for example, used to celebrate the birth of Dionysius during the winter solstice period, a divine child born of the virgin Semele who they considered to be ‘the saviour’. In ancient Rome the solstice was associated with the feast "Dies Natalis Solis Invicti", or The Day of Birth of the Invincible Sun, which marked the beginning of a new season. According to the ancient Egyptians, the god Horus was born at this time of year, while for the Babylonians it was the feast of the sun god Shamash. It is no coincidence, Christian religions celebrate the birth of Jesus at this time, born in the dark and the cold. The small, new-born light is for them a symbol of hope, joy and salvation.
By creating stronger connection with natural cycles and with the most mysterious aspects that nature preserves, we can truly make these moments special as they invite us to give greater importance to our inner life. It is a good time to ‘be inside ourselves’ and feed our essential inner being. It is a good time to crystallise the work done throughout the year, but even more so it is a fruitful time to bring new ideas and new projects to light, which we might - for the moment - keep protected from the outside world. Let us access the burgeoning glow of a new light, so that we may continue our journey in private and family life as well as in daily and working life as new and renewed selves with a restored energy for life.
Happy Winter Solstice to you all!