Now we have made our journey through the darkness, Winter Solstice invites us to come out of hibernation to celebrate with our community, to feast and be generous, light candles and fires, sing and tell stories. We are heralding the rebirth of the sun and rejoicing in the returning light. But first we must honour our journey through the darkness and the reign of the Holly King...
In Celtic mythology the Oak King and Holly King were twins, pitted against one another in a never-ending fight for supremacy. As the Oak trees would lose their leaves come autumn, the Celts would marvel at the evergreen holly trees that stood out in the otherwise barren landscape of winter. And so, the Holly King reigns supreme during this time, adorning our doors and homes with its deep green and vibrant red beauty. At the Winter Solstice the tide turns and the Oak King begins reclaiming his majesty, growing its buds and leaves, until he reaches his zenith at Summer Solstice, when the oaks will be in full leaf again and regal in their presence.
The Holly King has been our guide through the darker months and now is the time to give thanks for his protection and wisdom. We have been ‘worked on’ during these darker months; drawn inwards to reflect on our way of being in the world - our habits, beliefs and thought patterns.
Winter Solstice is the Festival of Rebirth, heralding a new beginning and opportunity to step into a new vision of ourselves. What is the unique medicine you are here to bring into being in the world. What might that gift be? We find our gifts by exploring the darkness. That quiet place that is pregnant with potential, the birthplace of all our creations. And when we look outside ourselves and feel a sense of darkness in the world; all the chaos, destruction and separation, we can remember it is all part of creation, this dance of light and dark, and however we can, remember to give thanks for this dance. For our wholeness. Our humanity. Our divinity. And for love. For love can hold it all.
Although it might seem as though nature is at her quietest and most dormant phase in Winter, the earth is at her busiest. Within the darkness, in the unseen, there is extraordinary transformation taking place. The fruits of the year past are composting and regenerating the soil, ready for next year's growth. It's a time of digestion and integration.
At Yuletide we are due North in the medicine wheel, the realm of Earth, and it is here we have the opportunity to cultivate a more intimate relationship with the land, our home, and deepen our love and connection with Her. It is when the earth energy is at its strongest, and why trees direct their energy downwards during the winter months. Trees are the most amazing teachers! We can intentionally connect with the earth by planting trees and spending time gardening, clearing the ground in preparation for spring. We can also spend time with rocks and stones, our earth elders. They are the living memory of the earth and such masters of meditation!
It's helpful to adjust our diet to include more root vegetables and mushrooms, earthy spices and grounding herbs. And adjust your practices to support the physical changes of winter - the need for rest, warmth and periods of darkness. Spend time off screens and in the company of candlelight to attune to the natural energy of this time. Allow yourself to do nothing. It is a time of rest, peace, inner focus and reflection. The flow of life naturally slows down and turns inward in this season, and it strains our physiology to resist this rhythm.
Although Solstice and Christmas invite us to join in community, to celebrate and give thanks, the season of Winter is our call to stillness. Here we are able to dream and incubate our vision for the cycle ahead. To pause, connect and reflect. To give thanks for all aspects of our journey. To tune in to something beyond ourselves. To live more intentionally and cultivate reverence and appreciation for the natural world.
"Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each." -
Henry David Thoreau
On the darkest night of the year Holly is our ally, as the sacred tree of the Underworld Goddess, guardian of everlasting life, bringer of renewal.
Holly blesses us with the qualities of detachment and compassion to look at our emotions without judgement, to recognise our responsibility as human beings and how to direct our energy and power. She also offers us the medicine of unconditional love, based on the deep knowing that we are all connected and woven as one.
It is a custom we have adopted so heartily at Christmas to decorate a tree, and what a joy it is to see so many trees cherished and adorned in our homes, but what about all those left outside? Find yourself a tree, you'll know which one! It doesn't need to be evergreen because bare branches work just as well, and adorn with natural decorations. Children love to help with this one! Spend an afternoon making decorations (using pine cones, shells, ivy, dried oranges, cinnamon sticks...) and the decorate the tree - speaking aloud your gratitude for the tree, for nature, for your journey with the darkness.
Celebrate the sun's birthday with a ritual fire, alone or with friends. As you light the fire give thanks for the returning light and warmth, and all the gifts the sun bestows. Build up the energy with some drumming and singing and dance clockwise around the fire to reflect the path of the planets around the sun. Make a symbolic offering of all that you are releasing from you journey since Summer Solstice and share your aspirations, your vision for the next cycle with the flames - offering some herbs, flowers or songs in gratitude for its power and creative energy.
Either alone or with a circle of friends, collect images from magazines and the internet that inspire you and resonate with your vision of what you wish for in life. Images that awaken some passion or dream. Invite in your Highest Self to guide you and Inner Child to inspire you. Without too much thought, start sticking them on to a big sheet of card - A3 is good - in whatever arrangement feels good. Leave some gaps if you like, and add your own words, phrases, symbols or doodles. Throughout winter, spend some time meditating with your board in front of you, drinking in the images and feeling gratitude for all that is becoming. I like to create a dreaming cave with past boards that are still humming for me and anything else that feeds my inspiration.
To really connect with the energy of winter, find some time to spend with stones and rock. Their stillness, watchfulness and longevity are beautiful qualities to align with and bring instant grounding. You could make a pilgrimage to visit some standing stones (Check https://www.megalithic.co.uk for those nearest you), head to the coast to the cliffs or pebble beaches, or seek out rocks in nearby places like your back garden, local park or riverbed. Connect with the rock by sitting on it or next to it, or holding a stone in your hand. Introduce yourself if you like and ask if it could teach you its ways or help you to find stillness or balance in your life. Spend time in silence with the intention to be open to receive and feel your boundaries merge. If there is one you are drawn to, you could offer something to the earth in exchange for bringing it home with you. And enjoy a daily meditation practice holding it in your hand.
To reflect the Wheel of Life and returning sun, gather evergreens to adorn a wreath (either make a circle from willow or invest in a mossy ring from your local florist). Have everything ready and light a candle to set your intention. Weave the evergreens in to the ring, speaking aloud your prayers or dreams for the future. Hang on your door to bless all visitors as they come in to your home.
Prepare a room where you will not be interrupted and has some floor space (alternatively do this outside with headphones - this is particularly fun!). Smudge the space and yourself and set the intention to explore the darkness with your body. Turn the lights out! Have a playlist ready or just press shuffle on your music, allowing whatever music plays to guide your body to move. Be aware of the sensations in your body, sounding anything you feel to, and make love with the darkness!
It is a time for celebration as we honour the journey we have made in the darkness and welcome the returning light. So gather with your tribe, bring food to share, instruments to play and dancing shoes! Create 2 altars from natural objects, one to represent the light, and one the dark. Invite everyone to approach the dark altar and share what they are grateful for about the darkness. And then in turn approach the light alter and each light a candle and share what you wish to grow or create in the coming cycle.