For a long time, I would share this seasonal expression, with little awareness of what I was saying, or where the words came from.
Because I am passionate and curious about the etymology or origin of words, I have done research over the years as to the origins of the words Solstice and Yule. These are two seasonal words that we hear often and that are connected to my own heritage. Of course, there are many other terms that represent various traditions, that you may want to investigate as a part of your own heritage and /or traditions. I strongly encourage you to do this.
I found through my own research, that the world Solstice is an English word, derived from the Latin word solstitium, meaning “sun standing still”. It suggests a brief pause as the sun reaches its most extreme point (as experienced on Earth) before the direction of travel is reversed. Many solstice celebrations involve gathering in the early morning to welcome the sun, lighting fires, singing, dancing, and feasting. The term Yule is related to the Old Norse jōl, the name of the Pagan winter feast lasting 12 days whose name was later applied to Christmas. I found one reference that said yule is an archaic term, which I trust my Pagan friends would take exception to. Even many Christian traditions continue the use of this term, as a synonym for Christmas.
One tradition associated with Yule is the burning of a log. The custom, which spread all over Europe, involved burning different kinds of wood. In England for example oak is traditionally burned, which in Scotland it is Birtch and France Cherry. In most traditions, the ashes are saved to add to the garden in the spring, and it is considered unlucky to throw the ashes outside during the holiday season.
In this seasonal transition, it is a good time to let go of what is no longer serving you and intend what you would like to bring with you as the light returns. In this return, we often have more energy, more enthusiasm, and motivation. I see this reflected in my ducks and chickens, who naturally have decreased or completely stopped laying eggs with the darkness. As the days become longer they will begin laying eggs again. Some farmers will put lights on them, to continue production, but I trust that if they need a break, this needs to be honored, just as all of the natural cycles need to be respected and honored. This is hard for someone like me, who does like to eat a lot of eggs. In order to prepare, I made egg bites to freeze and have been eating them throughout the past month and will continue until their egg production increases.
This is my humble way of working with the seasons in a tangible way. In the tradition of healing that I practice, the focus is on nourishment and natural cycles. The earth’s body, the human body, the body of the plants, and the critters, all have an innate sense of wisdom, a regenerative approach to responding to needs as well as the environment. Farmsteading and working with herbs and critters, has taught me much about what works and what does not.
The extremes of both this season, the Winter Solstice as well as the Summer Solstice, which is when the light begins to decrease, literally and metaphorically call our attention to our role in nature. To the interface that is within and thus without. Like the tides, the changing light affects humans and other beings on earth dramatically. The ebb and flow is resisted by a culture that seeks to control it, yet at certain seasons, there is no denying natural forces. We can also see this present in current weather patterns, as well as the response of nature. I saw dandelions blooming here in Wisconsin on this day, December 20, 2021. Not typical, but nature’s response to the erratic weather patterns we are seeing.
As we welcome the sun, we can release the darkness and welcome the light in many ways. Here are some of my favorite rituals:
On the eve of the solstice, the night prior, I harvest evergreens to place on my altar and to make a wand with. Then take time to reflect and write on a piece of paper what you would like to release. Set in on an altar or table where you have set up something meaningful. I often set an altar of evergreens, photos of ancestors whose support I would like, candles, a cedar wand, a small cauldron that I can burn something in, during the solstice ritual, and a rabbit hide that I have tanned and smoked. I leave the paper folded on the alter overnight. I add to it if other things occur to me as I honor the darkness. This can be done with others, or as a solitary ritual. If you will only be together with friends/family on the solstice, ask others to do this ahead of time.
On the solstice, light a candle or a fire (I like to have a fire outside in the fire pit, but you can do this in your cauldron or pot) and as you do thank the darkness for it’s significance, Honor that without the dark, there is no light. Take the paper where you wrote what you will leave behind and burn that in the fire, followed by stating what you intend going forth into the light. Keep the intentions specific and doable, as if it is not doable it will only cause you strife going forward. This is simple, I like to end with a song, and if you are with a group everyone can help to choose or create the song, or you can find one you like and sing it. If you are practicing solo find a song that resonates with your intentions for the coming of the light, which will span the next 6 months, until the summer solstice.
This is often followed by feasting. I like to bake bread, make a nourishing pot of soup, using much of the food I have put up throughout the year.
As we spiral into a new cycle, we can plan for learning and exploring ourselves and nature, for healing, growth, and transformation. As I am envisioning the many activities I will partake in during the upcoming year. I am grateful that I am able to continue offering rich learning and community experiences that are steeped in the natural world. I invite each of you to consider joining us. Below you will find a list of offerings. As we traverse the spiral and move toward the light, I hope you will consider joining me, either virtually or in person.
With much gratitude to each of you for being on this planet at this time and for showing up everyday and every season. Happy Holidays to you, your family and all of your loved ones.