Today is the Winter Solstice. The sun’s daily path, as we perceive it from Earth, has stopped. The earth’s axis that has tilted away from the sun is about to shift and tilt towards the sun. Chicago’s daylight has shrunk to nine hours. For my Swedish relatives near Trondheim, Norway, daylight has shrunk to four and a half hours. It is a moment that happens at the same time throughout the planet. The pause in the earth’s natural rhythm invites us to stop, too, and reflect on what this astronomical phenomena means to our earth and to us as humans.
Aligned Rocks and Festivals
In ancient times, knowing when winter’s dark days would begin to lengthen was important news. Any people trying to make their food supplies last until plants would grow again followed the astronomical signs. Evidence of this day’s significance is seen in structures of stone aligned with the rising or setting sun on the solstice. Examples: Stonehenge in England. The passage tomb at Newgrange in Ireland. In Sicily, Italian archaeologists found a 5000 year old rock formation with a 3.2-foot diameter hole, aligned with the winter solstice sun.
From ancient times to today, people have celebrated the shift towards light in this time of darkness, whether specifically speaking of the solstice or not. Among contemporary celebrations are Hannakuh, Christmas, Kwanzaa and Eid Al-Fitr.
Respect for Rhythm
Scientific studies on the rhythms of both animals and humans have shown how tied our bodies are to nature’s cycles, whether we think about and respect them, or not. Richard Heinberg wrote in his book, Celebrate the Solstice:
“Today….we human beings have created a situation unique in nature, as well as in the history
of our own species. We have gradually but decisively cut ourselves off from many of the cycles
of the cosmos and of the biosphere and substituted arbitrary, economically determined temporal
patterns. We have overridden the natural daily rhythms of light and dark with the artificial illumination
of cities; the rhythms of the seasons with greenhouses and supermarkets, jet travel and central
heating. Electromagnetic fields from power lines, house wiring, and appliances drown out subtle
geomagnetic signals from the Earth. Clock times has replaced Sun and Moon times; nanosecond
computer time makes heartbeat time imprecise and irrelevant.” (1)
Heinberg’s book offers information about solstice festivals ancient and current and guidance for people interested in creating solstice rituals of their own.
For many of us, the ability to celebrate during this dark time of year may be difficult. If we have suffered trauma, we may find it hard to open our hearts to the dark we experience inside ourselves. The challenge is to find safe and meaningful ways to consider our lives and to turn towards the light. This week, I chanced on Jeff Brown’s summary of the situation in our culture in his article, Praises For The Trauma Speakers – Let Them Whisper Your Heart Back To Life.
“We are only just beginning to understand the nature of trauma on this planet. We are only just
beginning to understand that we are all trauma-survivors, to one degree or another. We are only just
beginning to listen to the real story of our lives, after generations of denial, victim-bashing, ungrounded
attempts to ‘rise above’ it.” (2)
The challenge for each of us to create safe places where we can be still and listen deeply to ourselves.
(1) p.22, Celebrate the Solstice: Honoring the Earth’s Seasonal Rhythms through Festival and Ceremony, 1993, Quest Books
(2) The Urban Howl, November 23, 2017