Monday, 2 January 2012

Winter Solstice : Interviews with three people who mark it.

These 3 interview responses explain why 3 people in Newcastle celebrate solstice.

I really like them so I thought I would share them now, rather than wait for them to appear in the zine that will be coming out in Spring. (The zine aims to explore the meaning of the pagan year - I don't have a name for it yet).

The first person:

  1. What did you do on winter solstice this year?

Me and some friends created our own ritual day. We firstly gathered some evergreenery from the nearby woods and came back and made an altar emblazoned with candles, the greenery and lovely damp twigs covered in lichens and mosses that were revealed by the falling of the leaves and that jumped out at us in all their bright green finery. We all like dancing so put on a bit of music and danced around together, then we did some hindu chanting then got the tarot cards out and shared our present moment issues and future hopes. Then as it finally got dark we each had a candle set before us and I invited us to share something about the year, or any gifts the dark had given us, each spoke in turn then snuffed their candle out until we were enveloped in the glorious dark. Then after a time I lit the main candle again to herald the (slow) return of the light. We then shared what we hoped and dreamed this light might bring and anointed our heads with glittery scented water to symbolise spring and sunshine! Then we drank a fair bit of alcohol and ate a massive dinner.

  1. What influenced or inspired you to mark solstice in this way?

Ceremony and ritual can help to simplify and relax in the midst of the complexity and hubbub of our electronically infested lives. I have an ever deepening connection to nature which is my inspiration and to readily mark the turning of the year is clarifying and helpful. For example it is darker and I do feel sleepier so why fight it? Winter always ushers in a sense of interiority and reflectiveness. It is imperative for me to honour this deep and natural link rather than gloss it over with internet use and buying stuff. And also I LOVE the dark and yearn for it in our orange light polluted world so I guess this is a potent celebration for me. As there is no clear tradition as such to follow that is unified or has wider community endorsement we have a lot of freedom to create which rituals we want and pull from whichever cultures we want, so the ritual was essentially a mish mash of elements that basically was tailored to suit us.

3. Why celebrate the solstice/what makes this particular time of the year worth marking?

As said because it is at a clear turning point of the year when it's darkest...because the darkness is deliciously special and healing and needs to be honoured...rituals and gatherings are nurturing especially in this cold weather when people get all snotty and a bit mopey, it helps clarify, gives direction, meaning, a sense of, “this comes with winter, I am not alone”, rather than the isolation of, “I am a manic depressive”. Helps people reach out and share, rather than close off and mope. Also, the solstice is like the real christmas to me and that is where my heart is, though i love meeting up with my family and sharing the usual presents and eating etc too.

The second person:

  1. What did you do on winter solstice this year?

    Each year at the time of Solstice I am working up at Kielder Water with friends, and each year we have some kind of fire ritual. This year, our work had actually finished on the day before the longest night, so some people had had to go, but 3 of us stayed up especially, and the other 2 got their partners up so we were 5 people in total. We had candles in jars and went walking through the dark wood to a quiet spot where you can get down to the lake on a slipway. There was quite a wind and we had trouble keeping the candles going, but it was a magical sight following the bobbing jar along the path, and it was only once we'd climbed fences and reached the slipway that the last candle failed. Then it was just the darkness, a glowstick, and, for a little while, Susan spinning her fire poi. The others wrote down some things they wished to leave behind, and burnt them. And they shared things they wished to keep and see flourish in the new year. I went into the lake in the dark up to my knees, and that was as much as I could stand! Then we cleared up some smashed glass and took the dark walk back to our cabin to eat chestnuts!

    2. What influenced or inspired you to mark solstice in this way?

    I personally like to mark the four solar points of the year (solstice and equinox), and also the cross quarter days (beltane etc..), to retain my connection with the seasons and the planet's other life-forms, and also to enable me to have a moment of pause and reflection. The winter solstice is the point that is easiest for me to do this, because I am always in the same place with sympathetic friends, so the night-time ritual lets me remember what I was doing last year, and it helps me realise that this is the darkest moment, and it is emotionally strengthening to be able to share this time with people. Over the last 7 years we have burnt straw bales; jumped over fires; hung burning things from trees; pushed out a little wooden boat aflame onto the waters and watched it bob out beyond visible distance; and last year with the strong ice I was able to build a fire directly above the lake and walk around it making my commitments and working through my thoughts. So we've kind of made up our rituals as we've gone along, and what we do varies each year according to who is there.

    I don't know exactly where the different ideas come from, but the two most important elements are to me the fire (as a kind of sympathetic magic- it is the fire of the sun that we wish to return to bring us summer, so we call it back with an earthly fire), and the marking of the changeover (until now, the light has been reducing, and this moment is the fullest extent of the dark: it is very important to me to recognise this, to realise it, and a ritual is a helpful way to support and fix this realisation and recognition in my mind). I also have to be outside when the clock strikes 12, but that's just habit! – to see and feel the sky and the weather.

    3. Why celebrate the solstice/what makes this particular time of the year worth marking?

One thing about solstice for me is to realise and remember why humans get so superstitious – whatever our scientific and unthinking expectations (that of course summer will return and of course the year is cyclical ), this is a moment of awe and thinking “shit! What if the sun never came back? Please come back!” It reminds you that we are entirely dependent upon a wider nature, that our survival and all these edifices we build are founded upon a hope. Hope that the planet will keep supporting us, with sun, heat, fertility, life. In my opinion this hope is the deepest root of religious thoughts. And during the past, the vast majority of the time that we humans (and other animals) were on the planet, this was the time to realise that not everyone was going to make it to next year – is there enough food in store, enough animals, enough health, will our shelter hold us together and is our community strong enough that even though some of us won't make it, our group will survive till summer? So it's a pretty serious, grave moment too. And so perhaps it's an honouring of our ancestors to continue to mark it. A way to step out of the day-to-day headlong rush of this and that, and to connect with those ancients, to connect with time itself!

The Third Person:

  1. What did you do on winter solstice this year?

Started by making my way to cow hill with my son where we met a a couple of friends, their daughter and my brother. We had a very small bonfire and watched the sunrise. We sang and chanted some sun songs, some of us danced and once the sun was up we sat around the fire as it burned down and had hot chocolate/coffee/herbal tea. I said a bit about winter solstice, my son explained about how it was the shortest day and we all talked about our plans for the year to come. We heard the siren of a fire engine and joked that it was for us. about 20mins later three firefighters trekked up the hill, water backpacks and all, closely tailed by two out of breath police officers. The fire was nearly out by this point, but we were told to stand back whilst they put it out with the hose pipe (children excited as allowed a turn). Somebody had reported us, so five adults and two 4yr olds warranted this 5 man rapid response unit. It was a beautiful morning and the officials soon buggered off so we finished our hot drinks and went on our way.

My son and I went home to be with Joe (partner/father) and had a lovely solstice breakfast and a house ablaze with fairy lights. We exchanged gifts and spent the next few hours playing and making sweets for the evening party.

The evening was the party that my family has held for the last 9 years or so. We have family and friends around at my mother's house. Many people bring something to eat - at least there is always a good meal provided. We have a ritual that follows more or less the same course each year. This year I was master of the ceremony so to speak, and lead us through blowing out our candles in turn as we let go of something from the year past. We were then left in darkness apart from the large candle burning in the middle of the circle - I said a few words about letting go and also about light always remaining, dawn coming - we sat quietly and then went round one by one and lit our individual candles from the centrepiece and spoke aloud a hope for the year to come. Once the room was again ablaze with lights we burst into a hearty round of 'deck the halls'. After this small homemade gifts were distributed and appreciated and people chatted and appreciated each other's company - some of us only see each other once a year at the solstice party and it is always a lovely evening.

  1. What influenced or inspired you to mark solstice in this way?

The evening solstice party has been family tradition for the last decade and aims to do something different from the usual commercial christmas rubbish. The ritual can feel quite meaningful and I enjoy the conscious time I spend reflecting on the year gone and to come. The Sunrise was a new thing for us this year and I loved it! Love fires, singing with friends, watching the sky. I love to feel connected to the environment and to the people around me, and times like the winter solstice can help me by providing a focus.

  1. Why celebrate the solstice/what makes this particular time of the year worth marking?

See above! And I would add, winter solstice is, for me, a time of hope. Midwinter, and the lengthening of days that follows is a vivid representation of rebirth and renewal. I find the solstice dates to be a more meaningful measure of time, years passed, than the new year of dec 31st/jan 1st. Love to party then too though! Find wintertime an important time for celebration and socialising, and winter solstice is for me a very special time of year.

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