Saturday, December 21, 2013

Winter Solstice

One of my Winter Solstice altars

Today is the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. We've had a very cold, dry winter so far, and my heart and soul yearn for the rain. I am a true Northern California girl - I need wet, moist earth and green, dripping branches to truly feel at home and to truly feel the magic of the season. The cold, bright landscape of this strange winter we're having leaves me feeling lost and confused. It's too bright. It's too cold. My plants are dead from frost and my lips are constantly chapped.

This is a time for nesting and reflection. When I can, I like to have a big bonfire and invite all my friends to gather round it and let go of the old year by burning various ephemera from the past, but this year, I'm going to celebrate a bit more quietly. No bonfire this year, but there will be lots of candles lit throughout the house. This is a night to stop and breathe - to take in the year that is about to exit out the door and dream about what is to come, when the light returns. I want to nestle in my little nest, curl up with my beloved husband and kitty cats, sip hot cider and LET GO. The solstice is a time of wonder, of ritual, of candles lit under shivering stars.

Painting of Antlered One by Susan Seddon Boulet via Turning Point Gallery

It's important to me to re-claim this holiday season from the corporate, industrial world. Thankfully, every season still celebrated, has a Goddess beneath it - you just have to scratch the surface a bit - and my favorite Goddesses of the season are Beiwe, Beiwe-Neia and Rozhanitsa. All could fall under the archetype of the "Antlered Goddess."

The Saami, indigenous people of Finland, Sweden and Norway, worship Beiwe, the sun-goddess of fertility and sanity. She travels through the sky in a structure made of reindeer bones with her daughter, Beiwe-Neia, to herald back the greenery on which the reindeer feed. On the winter solstice, her worshipers would sacrifice white female animals and thread the meat on sticks which they bent into rings and tied with bright ribbons. They also cover their doorposts with butter so Beiwe can eat it and begin her journey once again. 

Sami woman reindeer herder, Berit Logje
with cast antler at round-up near Kautokeino. Northern Norway.
In twelfth century Russia, the eastern Slavs worshiped the winter mother goddess, Rozhanitsa, offering bloodless sacrifices like honey, bread and cheese. Bright colored winter embroideries (usually red on white) depicting the antlered goddess and her children were made to honor the Feast of Rozhanitsa in late December. For her feast, small, white-iced cookies shaped like deer were given as presents or good luck tokens.

The antlered woman is really an iconic figure in art and mythology. I'm actually working on my own antlered crown that I hope to complete before the year is complete (wish me luck)!

More reading about the Antlered Goddess:
In Search of the Antlered Goddess of the Ways by Robert Moss

Amanita Muscaria mushroom

I also really love the old stories about the origin of Santa Claus. It's no coincidence that Christmas colors are red and white. Just look at the mushrooms the old shamans used to take, because really, Santa Claus is just a Bear Shaman on mushrooms anyway!

What about music? I plan on making a mix of all my favorite Winter Solstice music (stay tuned!) but until then, I recommend listening to Beautiful Darkness, Celebrating the Winter Solstice, by Jessica Radcliffe, Lisa Ekström & Martin Simpson. It's a quiet, sweet, powerful album and a great companion for nesting through the winter cold.

I am wishing you all a joyous and delightful new year full of light, love and vigor.

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